I spent last weekend at one of the UK’s bigger board gaming conventions, Mid Con! This was my first visit to a gaming convention of any kind so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but really it should have been obvious. Board games. Board games everywhere! Board games to buy, board games being played, and piles and piles of board games people brought with them as options but I refuse to believe they managed to get them all played! It was awesome. Read on to find out what I got up to for 3 days in Derby!
What’s a Mid Con?
Mid Con is an annual board game convention held in Derby, heart of the Midlands (hence “Mid”). It’s one of the UK’s biggest conventions, by which we mean there are a couple of hundred people and it lasts for 3 days. While this might be nothing compared to the tens of thousands at US conventions, the UK convention scene, and board game industry for that matter, is growing steadily. Plus, Mid Con is pretty much entirely about playing games; it’s not a trade show like Essen or Gencon. And it means we just about fit inside a comfortable hotel!
There were three main rooms full of tables, and even then you could be hard pushed to find space for a game. Lots of people had spilled out into the bar to occupy that area. There was an extra room dedicated to 18xx games, but I was too scared to go in there. There was a heated Diplomacy game occupying a smaller room off to the side, and occasionally the corridor for conspiratorial discussions. And in the big room, one wall had been set aside for Spirit Games to tempt us all into buying new games. I’m actually surprised by how well I managed to resist (though I did pick up a copy of Codenames).
Sadly (for my wallet) I was less able to resist the Bring & Buy that was too good an opportunity to pass up. All those cheap deals! For better or worse I picked up XCOM, a two-player game called Basilica, and a copy of the Reiner Knizia classic, Modern Art. All for £55. What do you think? Good deal or rip off? Speaking of Knizia, the weekend ended with a special Kniziathon featuring dozens of his games available for play. There were some prizes for the best players too, but that’s not the reason to get involved!
And that, structurally, was the Con! It was all meeting people and playing games! I managed to squeeze in some 23 games over the weekend, including 14 completely new ones. It was generally easy to get a game; just walk up to a table that was setting up and ask if they had a spare seat! Everyone was very friendly and generally happy to teach new games. It was much easier to get a game just as 1 person though; Chris joined me for the Saturday and it took us a while to find a game we could join during the afternoon. If you’ve got friends you’re meeting, be prepared to bring your own games, and grab a table as soon as you can!
If there was one disappointing thing then it was the demographics. While not necessarily surprising, the attendees were at least 80% male and 100% white. I certainly never came across anyone being made to feel unwelcome, but it is still something of a sad statement on the diversity of our hobby.
Full of enthusiasm I bounded on to my 7am train on Friday morning, arriving a little after the official start but still early enough to grab a seat with some chaps setting up Forbidden Island. We were feeling cautious, so tentatively plumped for the normal difficulty and set to work shoring up our rapidly sinking island. A lucky opening hand nabbed us the first treasure in short order and with our Pilot’s thematic ability to keep drawing helicopter lift cards we escaped the island successfully! A couple of hands of Coup followed, but sadly my enthusiastic lying served to be my downfall (as usual) as I was ‘couped’ and assassinated in all too short order.
I decided to leave the table in search of new games as they settled down to a game of Betrayal at House on the Hill, and ended up joining a game of Castles of Burgundy. I have played a couple of games of this now, but this was my first try beyond the starting estate. I had tremendous fun with this one, and I suspect Castles of Burgundy is rapidly becoming my favourite game (plausibly because I seem to be able to win it reliably…). Expect a review on the site at some point in the near future!
A few more people joined the table at this point and 7 Wonders was cracked out. In the past I’ve struggled with 7 wonders, finding the iconography and free building opportunities frustrating to get to grips with. But it seems the long break I’ve had since my last play had worked wonders (puns!) and I placed a respectable 3rd! Some new games, to me at least, were cracked out from this point and I ended up spending the rest of the day at this table, stopping only to fill up on beer and food. I will be writing First Impressions articles other the coming weeks but briefly I got to try Thunder Alley (fun but mean), Lancaster (fantastic game), Castles of Mad King Ludwig (ugly but fantastic), Roll for the Galaxy (a little confusing to start with but improved as we went on) and finally Felix: The Cat in the Sack (hmm…).
I managed to drag myself out of bed in time for a gigantic pile of assorted fried goods (which was fortunate as I ended up missing lunch) and headed down to the game hall. I joined up with a couple who were just setting up La Granja, one of this years’ releases, so I put on my best smile and asked if I could join them. They hadn’t played the game before either so we worked our way through the rulebook together and had a very enjoyable time with our small hold farms and incredibly aggressive markets!
By this point my friend (and occasional contributor to this site) Chris had arrived and while sampling a few short games had been co-opted into play testing Escape the Nightmare that we reviewed yesterday. As you might have gathered from that, he more or less marched me down to meet its designer, Greg, and get some games in. While we started off with 4 of us, the noise and excitement from our corner of the bar dragged steadily more players in until we had a full complement desperately trying to survive the game and the demo team were reduced to watching from the sidelines! Needless to say we enjoyed it, but you should go read our review anyway.
After this point we seemed to have gotten out of sequence with the rest of the convention, everywhere seeming full and games midway through. We raided the Bring & Buy where Chris forced me to buy way more games than I had intended (I swear that’s how it happened!) and we gave Chris’ new copy of Dominion Intrigue a spin. I lost, as is usual, but only by a single draw of the cards!
We finally found space for two of us on half a table in the furthest corner of the hotel with Kingsburg and a couple of friendly guys from Sheffield. Kingsburg had been on my radar for a while so it was great to give it a play. I was rather impressed by how close all the scores ended up! Our new friends then suggested some Cosmic Encounter, which was totally ok with us! I had tremendous fun as the Fungus and my ever-growing pile of acquired troops, but Chris’ Disease proved all-powerful in the hidden aliens variant we were playing.
After a relievingly cheap kebab dinner, and to clear space for the Saturday evening pub quiz, we moved back to the main hall for a quick game of Between Two Cities before Chris had to leave. We had played it earlier in the day and I was definitely not the most peaceable neighbour, but in this second game it appeared I was able to channel the spirit of the master architect and with the assistance of my neighbours construct two beautiful cities. The final game of the day was the surprisingly good train and stocks game Union Pacific. I say surprisingly due to my recent emotional scaring at the hands of 1830. It was a lot of fun but ran on till 2am, so it was without a doubt time for bed!
Sunday dawned all too early, as I was keen to get in as many games before my 4:30 train as I could, and more importantly wanted to take part in the Kniziathon. I’ve played very few Knizia games, so saw this as a great opportunity to try them out! While there were prizes available for the day, I was just there for the fun! At least, that’s what I keep telling myself!
It was quiet at the start, so I played a quick two player game, Carcassonne: The Castle, in which the usual Carcassone tile laying is forced to remain within the walls that double up as the score track. A really nice version of Carcassonne that I suspect will be all too difficult to get hold of! As numbers built up, we moved on to heavier material courtesy of Luke Hector aka the Broken Meeple. He taught and concurrently crushed us at Tigris and Euphrates, although I was able to defeat him in a series of water related wars! We followed this with Taj Mahal, a neat auction game and a quick game of the Keltis travel edition (apparently subtitled Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel on Board Game Geek). I sadly had to dash off before the conclusion of the Decathalon, but I understand Luke managed to walk away with the top spot!
It was a long trip home with numerous train issues to circumvent, but without a doubt I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Mid Con! Over the coming weeks I’ll be writing a series of First Impressions articles for the substantial pile of new games I got to play this weekend.
I’m already looking forward to next year, but hopefully I shall be able to squeeze in some other conventions before then!