This article was first published at http://www.everythingboardgames.com/tokencon-okc-recap. It is reproduced here with kind permission of the author.
TL;DR: If you only take one thing away from this recap, know that TokenCon is a good board game convention and you should make the trip if you are in the Midwest. More takeaways below.
Once upon a time, in what now seems like a lifetime ago, I used to work in the non-profit sector. I would assist in fundraising events and we would often try to establish new recurring events with the optimistic title of “First Annual…”. There was always nervous energy and excitement leading up to those events. Will people show up? Will it be worth the time and energy? Are we going to meet the participants’ expectations? Will this event make it to the “Second Annual…”?
As I was taking the short drive to the First Annual TokenCon in Oklahoma City, I had the same nervous energy. While I wasn’t directly involved in the preparations for the event, I still felt a sense of ownership. This was the first board game convention in Oklahoma City. This was my area of interest, a stone’s throw from my house, and I desperately wanted it to be a success. The same questions I had back in my non-profit days were popping to mind. What if no one shows up? What if the guest of honor is there and the event is a flop? Would the word spread, making it harder to bring someone next year? Will there be a next year? On and on I went through every worst-case scenario during the drive. To make matters worse, it was pouring rain – like a “we’re meeting our monthly average for rain in one day” amount of rain.
My anxiety was reaching a critical peak until I pulled in the convention parking lot. There were cars.
Lots of cars.
I went inside and there were just as many people. There was signage and several volunteers in bright yellow shirts helping attendees register and directing them to the various areas of the con. There were publishers, vendors, a play test area, a game library, and tables and tables of people playing games. And there was Rodney Smith from Watch It Played, doing what he seems to do best – teaching games and making friends.
As I stood there taking this all in, I felt a great sense of pride. I was proud of the organizers (Mike Dattolo, Paul Burton, Adam Roach), the Oklahoma Board Game Community, the volunteers, the participants, and the state itself. I was there taking something in that I didn’t think I would ever be able do within my home state’s boarders. Oklahoma finally had its own board game convention.
It wasn’t that this was just a board game convention. This was a good board gaming convention. TokenCon didn’t meet my expectations, it exceeded them. And for that, everyone from the organizers down to the attendees should feel very proud.
You did it, Oklahoma Board Game Community. And I cannot wait to attend TokenCon again next year.
So, much like my experience at BGG Spring, I wanted to do all the things, play all the games, and meet all the people. But this time, I was a lot closer to meeting that goal.
Do All the Things:
As mentioned in the introduction, TokenCon offered more than just a place to play games. There was a good presence of local publishers. I was able to talk with all of them over the two-day event (putting Twitter handles with actual names – more on that in a moment) and demo some games in the playtest area that were either recently released or are hitting Kickstarter soon.
One such game was Winter Rabbit by Absurdist Productions. I wont go into much detail about it here since it is still in the playtesting phase, other than say that I really liked this game – it may have been my favorite game of all the new games I played over the two days. It is a 60-90 minute euro-style hidden worker placement game, combining resource management with a hint of bluffing and deduction. And if that wasn’t enough to peak your interest, it includes this nice twist of co-op that makes players tip-toe this delicate balance of meeting group objectives while gaining the victory points necessary to win. I would have played it again if I had the time. Even a few days later, and after my initial – and second draft of my review of TokenCon, I still want to play it again. If you take two things away from this recap 1) TokenCon is a good board game convention and you should try to make it next year, and 2) Follow Abusrdist Productions on your social media of choice and be on the lookout for more information on Winter Rabbit.
TokenCon also had several state championships in games such as New York Slice, Diamonds, and Coup. I participated in in the Oklahoma State Coup Championship. After winning a preliminary match and my semifinal table, I ended up getting third runner-up (I’ve decided that sounds better than fourth place) in the finals. It was my first board game tournament, and it was interesting to see the moods change as we got closer to the finals. It’s a completely different feel playing a game competitively rather than for recreation, but I earned a copy of the Dice Tower Coup promo pack for my efforts.
The third activity I participated in was playing a scheduled game of Mansions of Madness with Rodney Smith. I was really fortunate to snag one of these spots and had been looking forward to it for months, because Rodney is really good at something that I am terrible at – explaining rules. I hate doing it. I hate reading rules, I hate rehashing rules in reviews, but as this is a necessary evil for a content creator, I had decided that I would use this opportunity to learn how I could explain rules better in my reviews.
Prior to the event, I had learned how to play Mansions of Madness and had a pretty good grasp of the gameplay, but I wanted to hear him explain it and see how he would express and condense some of the things that I would have had trouble explaining if I was asked to do the same. I got to see him in action, simplifying the rules and condensing them when they could be more concise and explaining them in greater detail when it was needed. I asked questions about the gameplay just to see how he would explain it, and he could simply and eloquently provide the details necessary to keep the game flowing smoothly. I may have not been directly asking how to better explain rules, but I was learning a great deal about it. I was really starting to figuratively pat myself on the back for my cleverness when my character was hit with this:
That’s right. I couldn’t speak and thus couldn’t ask any more questions. And this wasn’t at the end of the game, either, so it resulted in nearly 45 minutes of silence on my part, and all of my communication had to be through pantomime.
My secret operation of learning through questioning Rodney Smith may have hit a snag, but I did learn a lot from him and his approach to explaining rules. And we did end up winning.
I was really appreciative for the opportunity and thoroughly enjoyed my time playing alongside Rodney. He also documented his time at TokenCon in a vlog that you can watch here. If there’s three things you can take away from this recap: first, go to TokenCon; second, be on the lookout for a game from Absurdist Productions called Winter Rabbit; and third, if you ever have the chance to play a game with Rodney Smith, do it.
As a bonus, I got to do most all of the things alongside my number-one gaming partner, my wife, Bekah. It was such a pleasure to spend this time with her.
I did venture outside of the convention to eat, and there were a couple of places of note. First, Tamashii Ramen House. It’s exactly what the name suggests. The ramen was good (they also have vegan options for our vegan readers), and the atmosphere is super chill.
Second was Off The Hook Seafood. It was good – like, mouth-watering-while-I-type good. I’m not a food critic, but I know good southern food, and they had it. Seasoning was on point and the “butt-burning” sauce was more than just heat, but it had a great flavor as well. I’d recommend it if you’re in the area. #GetHooked indeed.
Play All the Games:
Since I spent more time trying to do all the things than I did at BGG Spring, I didn’t get to play as many games as I would have liked, but here are some of the highlights:
The Mind – In my BGG Spring recap, I thought that The Mind “created a real stress among some of the participants that I have not seen created by any game prior, to the point that the stress seemed to be more of a mechanic…than a byproduct.”
While I still agree with my original assessment, I have cooled on The Mind since BGG, but it’s something that I like for new people to experience. That being said, as many times that I have played it, I’ve never tried to go back to it with the same group. While the stress is unique, I don’t know if it is a stress that everybody wants to recreate on a regular basis and it seems to be a one-(play)-and-done title within the majority of my groups.
I did play it at TokenCon with some players that were new to the game, but I think the stress may have been too much for them. Every play was so overthought that I don’t think they enjoyed it. C’est la vie.
Gizmos – Take Splendor, add a dash of additional strategy, mix in the chain reactions from Ganz Shon Clever, and toss in a few marbles and you have Gizmos, a delightful little engine builder about building machines. If you are on #TeamTheme, the theme is a little light on this one, but I really enjoyed the chain reactions and working towards plays that would result in additional moves. It was like a Rube Goldberg machine that kept leading to more and more actions, and in that sense, the game was great. I would recommend giving it a play if you have a chance.
Reef – I am a big fan of abstract strategy games, and I was glad to get a chance to play Reef. This game gets a “buy” recommendation from me. Reef if a 2-4 player game where players are selecting different colors and shapes to build a reef. There is a great deal of pattern recognition in this game, and I have lauded the benefits of pattern recognition in some prior reviews; this is no exception. Pattern recognition is a big part of Reef, and developing pattern recognition in children is shown to boost math comprehension, creativity, memory, and critical thinking skills. So play Reef with your kids and make them smarter. Plus, it looks really good on the table.
All Hands on Deck! – I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down at the Salamander Games table, but I agreed to play a few rounds of this rummy-esque game to see what it was about. Then the few rounds turned into a few more, and the next thing I knew I had played a full game. All Hands on Deck! is a card game for 2-6 players that integrates an auction mechanism with a little bit of take-that to create a hand management card game that was quick, simple, and fun.
Fae – Fae has been my favorite game of 2018 and it is still in the number-one spot (though one game is quickly closing in). The genre works, the mechanisms work, and the theme works. It is a game that I enjoy as much now as I did when I first played it at BGG.
Don’t Drown – This was a Kickstarter preview from local publisher IION Games. It’s a co-op style game that requires players to balance what the designers called “apologetic take-that” actions. During the game, players are trying to tread water while their teammates must apply various weighted objects to them making it harder to stay above the water line. The cool thing is that the players are tethered, so adding weight to your teammate makes everyone sink, and conversely, if they rise, the other players rise closer to the surface too. It’s a tricky little co-op played over a number of rounds that requires a delicate balance of peril distribution. If you’re into co-ops, be sure to watch for this one on Kickstarter.
Century: Eastern Wonders – This game took the prize from my wife as her favorite game of the con. The most recent addition to the Century line of games, Eastern Wonders is a grid movement game for 2-4 players. Much like the other Century titles, this game requires that players manage their resources so that they may trade up for more rare resources, but in this version, the game is played on a modular board and players can build outposts on tiles, upping the price to trade for their opponents. Century: Eastern Wonders can be combined with Century: Spice Road to play From Sand To Sea, or as a standalone game.
Meet All the People:
Along with a host of local publishers and designers, I was also able to meet my “Twitter friends,” people that I had interacted with on social media but had never met in real life, at TokenCon. The first night, a group of us went to the aforementioned Tamashii, and as we went around the table, we introduced ourselves, describing our role in the industry and sharing our Twitter handles (since that is how we may have been initially introduced). It was a nice dinner, and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to meet these people and just talk board games – likes/dislikes, the state of the hobby, themes, and so on. It was great food and great conversation.
To loosely quote Rodney from the vlog posted above, “Board games are not just boxes (of components)…(they) turn strangers into acquaintances – into friends – into lifelong friends.”
I was glad to make some new friends at TokenCon.
u should make them your Twitter friends too (in no order with the picture):
Malthaus Games – Podcast and Content Creation: @Malthausgames
Gates Dowd – Marketing Wizard for Floodgate Games: @fencedingates
Absurdist Productions – Game development studio out of Oklahoma City: @absurdistprod
Shuffles – A board game cafe in Tulsa, OK: @shufflesTulsa
DC Bueller – Owner of Loot & XP in Norman, OK: @DCBueller
Bekah – Host of 90 Second Nerd: @90SecondNerd
Pround Games (not pictured) – Oklahoma based board game designers: @proundgames
There were more people that I was unable to connect with, but it was nice to meet these kind folks. It was also really nice to extend my streak of not being murdered by meeting people in real life that I originally met online. Take that, 1990’s Internet safety PSA!
So, if you take four things from this recap – 1) Go to TokenCon, 2) Get ready for Winter Rabbit, 3) Rodney Smith is a cool dude, and 4) Cons are a great place to meet your friends and celebrate your common interests.
That’s it. I had a lot of fun and played a lot of games, and I hope that both of those things showed through in this recap. Thank you to Everything Board Games, all of the TokenCon volunteers, the Oklahoma Board Game Community, my wife, and my Twitter friends – thank you all for helping make this weekend possible.