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Game On!

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Photos by Jakub Cernoch

In the main board-gaming hall

Board games have blown up. Where once the typical options were Monopoly, Sorry!, Battleship, and Clue, now there are thousands upon thousands to choose from, with many complexity levels, themes, and genres. The advent of crowdfunding has helped, as some of the best games I’ve played have come from Kickstarter campaigns rather than first-party publishers.

Hardly surprising, then, that there are board game conventions. Las Vegas didn’t have its own until 2015, courtesy of Timm Metivier, owner of Meepleville, a local board game cafe. “My friend Dave and I were heading to Bryce Canyon, Utah, for a board game convention,” Metivier says. “We wondered why we were driving four hours for this.”

So Metivier got a conference room at the Alexis Park Hotel to hold the first MeepleCon just two months later, with a turnout of around 200 people, a number that has only grown in the following years.

Last year, Metivier had finalized the details of a joint venture with Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower, a well-known group in the board game community with a game convention under its name already. The venture became the Dice Tower West convention, which took place recently, drawing in a global audience of roughly 1,100 attendees. Including me.

The convention space was full of people playing board games, no matter the hour, as it didn’t formally close during the convention. Ecstatic cheers from some tables mixed with sorrowful “oohs” from others. The primal bellows, echoing alongside the sounds of dice hitting tables and cards being played, made the hall quite the fitting atmosphere for Las Vegas.

Inside the convention hall were some 100 tables to accommodate any game. Exhibitors ranged from well-known publishers with dozens of games to some first-time developers who were showing demos of their almost-on-Kickstarter game, just looking for feedback. There was also a long list of panels. But who wants to go to those when you can linger in the convention’s board game library? That’s where players peruse the shelves of board games, checking out the ones they want or signing up to play with others.

Among the games I played were a Kickstarter game called Vindication. Each character starts off as a jerk who spends the game trying to obtain honor while darting around a hexagonal board. The rules were hard to follow in the first round but became clear quickly — I like that in a game, and my goodness, did I wish I backed the Kickstarter!

The biggest surprise for me was a 2013 German game (worth noting that the largest board game convention in the world is in Germany and drew in almost 200,000 attendees last year) called Rococo (right), where each player acts as a dressmaker who must get enough of their designs into this large mansion where a ball will take place at the end of seven in-game rounds. As a theme, I couldn’t believe it even existed as a board game. But the gameplay was unbelievable. I had an enormous amount of fun deciding whether I was going to spend my turn making mediocre dresses with the paltry resources I had, spend my turns getting more resources to make better ones later, or whether my time was better spent trying to add decorations for the ball, which also scored points. I wanted to buy the game immediately, only to hit a wall: the game was no longer in print, and as a result, secondary-market prices were a little unfavorable. But this convention gave me the opportunity to give this strange game a try and left me entranced, and in a constant search for someone who may want to part with their own copy.

Of course, I’ll never get to play all the games I want to try. There are just too many. But this convention, and eventually others like it, will get me closer.

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