You can keep GenCon and Origins. For my money, the best two days in gaming is Fear the Con.
Now, I will admit to being ridiculously biased as I’ve never been to either GenCon or Origins, so there is nothing scientific about my opinion. But I can’t imagine either of those bigger conventions beating 26 hours of gaming in a 48 hour period interspersed with hanging out with some of my favorite gamers.
People say GenCon is like going to a class reunion at the high school you wanted to go to but my high school was only 200 people, so the idea of being surrounded by tens of thousands of people, even ones who share my hobby holds no appeal to me. I also get the feeling that GenCon is as much about announcements and sales as it is about really gaming. This is not true of Fear the Con. Other than a booth from a local gaming store, there is nothing for sale. There is no wandering the dealer hall because there is no dealer hall. While this might disappoint some people, it fits what I want perfectly as all the focus is on playing, playing, playing.
Hanging out with a hundred or so people who are focused on gaming, having fun and sharing their love of not only the games but the community and the con..that’s pretty close to perfect for me.
I’ve been to Fear the Con all five years that it has existed and almost without exception it has gotten better. Let me clarify that statement. This year was not quite as good as last year. Last year was ridiculously phenomenal, with 4 of the 6 slots I played being spectacular and the other 2 being only great.
This year, everything was just great. Under any other circumstances, it would have been the best Con ever. In fact it was likely better than the other 3 Fear the Cons. It simply had to compete against a Con with an unfair advantage.
And honestly, the reduction in my enjoyment was my own fault. I learned a lesson last year that I did not follow this year. Last year, all of my sessions except for 1 included at least one person that I knew well and had played with often. This gave me a person whose play style I understood and who I knew I could play off of. Not only did this help me relax around the other people around the table who were strangers to one degree or another, but also it allowed me to set up both my own character and theirs for awesome and/or hilarious situations. I knew how far I could go without offending them and the liberties that I could take without going too far with their characters. Likewise, there was someone at the table that I trusted and that allowed me to go along with their ideas knowing that the payoff would be worth it.
This year, that happened only a couple of times and my Con suffered for it. Not that there weren’t still some amazing sessions, including a couple that my friends were not involved in. I played in a game with a lot of creative role players that was the perfect introduction to the tension of the Dread system.
Of course, I was afraid that the Con would suffer for entirely different reasons. Fear the Con is no massive money making enterprise and, in fact, I suspect that the hosts over at feartheboot.com likely lose money on the proposition. Thus, I can’t expect them to have a fabulous convention center to throw the Con in and, indeed, the first 4 were held in a relatively small, out of the way, old venue. A relatively small, out of the way, old venue I loved. Free drinks all weekend (including booze, thank you Midwest,) cheap food and the sense of community that only exists when everyone has to help everyone out to make sure that things go well. Oh, and two older gentlemen serving drinks who clearly had no idea what we were doing but were polite and friendly to us weirdoes, anyway. It was not what I expected the first year but ended up being better than I could have imagined.
Two things were changed this year. The announcement that Fear the Con would be at the beginning of May rather than the middle of March did not affect me, much. In fact, I enjoy May in St. Louis much more than March. There is much less chance of snow. But the announcement that they would be changing venues made me wary. It felt very much like trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.
World Wide Wing night was as good as always, with St. Louis standard fare that reminded me that people in Texas don’t eat the unhealthiest food in America and conversation with old friends and new that was so good I stayed up way too late so that it wouldn’t have to end.
The next day, I entered the new convention hall sure that it would not be as good as the old one. I was pleased to discover that it was wrong.
There was a stage in the new one with a real PA system so that the announcements that were made throughout the con were loud enough for everyone to hear and in a place that everyone could easily see. The concession stand was also just a few steps away from all the tables rather than on another floor, a fact which no doubt pleased the volunteer waitresses as much or more than it pleased any of the con goers.
But most importantly, this place had carpet. This may seem like a minor thing but the floor in the old convention hall was made of lovely hardwood. Lovely hardwood that was incredibly conducive to echoes. To be heard across the table at a game you had to yell to be heard over the conversations going on at the tables around you and even at the other end of the hall. Of course, yelling meant that the people around you had to yell to be heard over you at their own table creating a spiral of voice shredding shouting that left everyone hoarse by the end of the weekend. With the carpet to deaden the noise it was easy to be heard by the people at the table. Fear the Con already nearly perfectly scratched my convention going itch but little things like this make a convention better.
Of course, the new place wasn’t better in all regards. I did miss the two old guys and there were no windows in the new convention hall. Without being able to see outside, I completely lost track of time and was continuously surprised when I went outside and the sun was still up.
Amusingly enough, there were not one but two children’s birthday parties at the community center while Fear the Con was there this year. Hearkening back to the famous Princess Party, one can only question what the poor parents thought of the conglomeration of nerdism and geekery they faced when coming to what should have been a simple celebration.
I think the best praise I can give Fear the Con is that there are many people there that I see only once per year who I consider friends. It is just as telling that the last day of the con I wanted just one more day to game, to talk and to hang out.
I can’t imagine better praise for a gaming convention.