This article was first published at http://www.everythingboardgames.com/tokencon-2019-recap. It is reproduced here with kind permission of the author.
A few days before TokenCon, I looked back over my review of the event from the previous year. A rush of memories came pouring back – meeting Rodney Smith, new friends, playing games, demoing prototypes, entering tournaments. It was all such a blur at the time and I am so glad in hindsight that I was able to capture so much of my experience. But in taking this trip down memory road, I realized one thing:
I didn’t want to do that again.
Now this is not be misconstrued as me not wanting to attend. I definitely wanted to attend and had been looking forward to the second annual event since the first one ended.
Nor was I trying to avoid doing the things I did last year – Rodney wasn’t there this year, but I got to play Eminent Domain with Seth Jaffee. I still met up with old friends and made a few new ones. I played plenty of new games and had the opportunity to teach some others. I spent time in the prototype alley, and entered a SHOBU tournament. Much of my experience in year two was like the inaugural event and again, I loved every minute of it.
No, what I wanted to avoid this year was repeating the perspective of my review. Rather than focusing solely on what I did, and what I liked, I wanted to focus on the other attendees – attempting to capture their feelings about the event, what they participated in, which games the other attendees were lined up to play. The Oklahoma board game community is a strong and thriving group of publishers, designers, reviewers, players, and fans, and there is much more to capture and share than one reviewer’s opinion.
So below are some observations – some of which were the result of me asking attendees directly, and some while observing – but all that better encapsulate the impact of TokenCon in a way that I could not do on my own.
“Yeah, it looks like it.”
My first interaction of TokenCon 2019 wasn’t actually at the convention, but rather at Off the Hook, the restaurant of which I waxed poetic in last year’s recap. Since then, the restaurant has gone on to win a Food Network competition and open a second location and a food truck. So naturally I had to stop there prior to the event and who did I run into? Joel Eddy with Drive Thru Games.
Since I had never met him, and not wanting to hassle him outside of the convention, I simply said in passing that he made a good decision to eat here. He replied with “Yeah, it looks like it.”
I thought that over the course of the three-day event that I would have the opportunity to formally introduce myself and talk further. But while I did see him again, our paths were constantly in opposite directions so the entirety of my interaction with Joel consisted of me making small talk about a restaurant in passing and him agreeing.
Though I didn’t get to talk with him, he was active at the con playing, teaching, doing panels, and interacting with attendees. It is really cool to see these popular figures in various board game fields attending TokenCon.
“That is a move you could make.”
Speaking of the special guests, my wife and I did have the opportunity to play Eminent Domain with Seth Jaffee and it was one of the coolest experiences I have had playing a board game. Not only did he take the time to teach us the game, but he also went into the backstory of its creation – how the various planets were named, why there were different sized ships in the base game, the highest and lowest scores he had seen, etc. Getting those personal, behind-the-scenes-type insights made playing the game seem more special.
And as cool as those moments were, the one that sticks out is how patient he was teaching the game. He had estimated that he had played/taught the game over 500 times and yet he still took time to explain the pros/cons of certain moves and did it in a way that showed a great deal of patience. When my wife asked if a certain play would be good, instead of saying “no” he said that was a move she could make, but then directed her to a better option.
“Loved getting to show off Set a Watch.”
A convention is only as good as its staff and volunteers, and TokenCon has some of the best that I have ever been around. It was obvious that there were many hours of preparation before, during, and after the convention to make things run smoothly. Everything from the check-in process, to getting games from the game library, to the table set-up, and the volunteers teaching games – it all came with a precision that can only come from a dedicated group of individuals. There were close to 500 attendees and with the layout, availability of games, dedicated spaces, etc., you were still cognizant of the crowds, but at the same time could feel that it was just you and your gaming group.
One of the things that really stood out was that I didn’t see as many volunteers playing games as much as I saw them teaching or recommending them to other attendees. One of the volunteers admittedly didn’t get to play any games during the convention, but rather explained that they were enjoying showing others new games like Set a Watch.
It has been my experience that volunteers, no matter how well-meaning, are only as good as the direction they receive from the leaders. Co-directors Mike Dattolo and Paul Burton have created something special in Oklahoma City and I would highly recommend TokenCon to…well, everyone…but especially those in neighboring states that are looking for a regional convention to attend.
“I may get to go to GenCon!”
One of the many events at TokenCon are the various tournaments. These tournaments are qualifiers for a regional tournament in Kansas City, and if players win there, they get to go on to nationals at GenCon.
Last year, Oklahoma had representation at the Coup tournament at GenCon, and they may have representation again this year.
I attended TokenCon with my friend Dallas, who entered the Wordsy tournament on a whim as he waited for my wife and me to finish playing Eminent Domain with Seth Jaffee. I kept receiving texts from him as I played.
Won the first round.
Won the second round.
We finished our game shortly thereafter and I went to congratulate him on the victory and wished him luck in Kansas City. He looked confused and I told him that I was sure that the Wordsy champion would be moving on to compete at KantCon with a shot at going to nationals at GenCon and that he should check and make sure. He came back a few minutes later confirming my thought and expressing his desire to win his way to GenCon.
To all the tournament winners, best of luck in Kansas City and I hope you all win your way to GenCon.
“It was a great prototype alley this year.”
Last year I was able to play every prototype. I just went down the row of three or four designers and knocked them out one after another.
This year, if someone wanted to play every prototype they would have need to spend the entire weekend doing just that. The prototype alley was much bigger and indicative of talent that resides in the state.
There were games about fighting meeples in a mint tin, dice-rolling dinosaur veterinarians, co-op play set in a steampunk wild-west, swimmers trying to not get eaten by sharks, conversation starters, and everything in-between.
Based on the turnout of designers and the attendees willing to demo a new design, I wouldn’t be surprised if TokenCon continues to see a rise in attendees that are also designers as it seemed like a good place to get design feedback.
“I’m pretty sure this is the way The Joker starts.”
Without a doubt, the most memorable part of the weekend was the very last thing on the schedule. The team from Malthaus Games, the aforementioned Dallas, and I were given the opportunity to present the awards as part of the closing ceremonies.
It was my first time to do anything like this. I mean, it’s one thing to by funny(ish) given several takes on a YouTube video, but to do it live, and with so much of the content being off-the-cuff, there was some concern on my part. So much so that I was envisioning an Arthur Fleck (aka The Joker) type reaction to our humor attempts. To add to that stress, what I initially imagined as a small gathering turned into a venue that quickly became standing room only.
Long story short, we didn’t bomb. We got laughs where we expected and none where we didn’t. The Malthaus crew was an absolute delight to work with and we successfully played off of one another. We got to recognize the outstanding player, volunteer, and prototype as voted by the attendees. We also got “present” awards such as game of the year to Wingspan, and most innovative game to Keyforge.
To the Oklahoma Board Game Community, TokenCon staff and volunteers, attendees, Malthaus – thank you for letting me be a part of this event. It was an experience that I will never forget.
“Have you ever played Troyes?”
Black Angel was one of the “hot” games at TokenCon. It is a dice rolling and placement, hand management, tile laying game set aboard an A.I. controlled spaceship trying to reach Spes, a planet that may be compatible with human life.
I talked to a lot of attendees that played Black Angel either at the con, or elsewhere, and on multiple occasions and I was surprised that so many people posed the same question: Have you ever played Troyes?
I also found it interesting that this question was not a good indicator on their thoughts on Black Angel. If they loved it, they asked about Troyes. They hated it, they asked about Troyes. Indifferent, Troyes. Didn’t play it, Troyes.
For better or worse, it seems like the newest Dujardin, Georges, and Orban game is linked in the minds of gamers to their 2010 title.
I played Black Angel and enjoyed the experience, but the biggest take-away was that I apparently need to try Troyes.
“I think I still like Scythe better.”
One of the hot games tables that was consistently occupied was that of Stonemaier Games’ newest civ-builder offering, Tapestry. I noticed players stalking around the table waiting for their chance to play it.
I had played Tapestry prior to the event and being familiar with the title I was able to talk with many that had played it for the first time over the weekend to get their thoughts. What I found interesting, was that while most seemed to have a positive opinion of the game, most still pointed at Scythe as being their favorite Stonemaier title without prompt.
Tapestry may have had the same Black Angel/Troyes comparison problem, but the biggest difference was that I didn’t speak to many that didn’t like Tapestry. Most liked it and had nothing but good things to say about the game, but the majority of comments seemed to echo the same theme – Tapestry is good, but Scythe is great.
Personally, I fall into a similar camp. I think that the two best Stonemaier titles are Tapestry and Scythe (with Wingspan being a close third). However, I find the divide to be a little narrower. If you asked me today, I may say Scythe is better, but tomorrow I could just as easily say Tapestry is the better of the two. I guess that it is a good problem for a designer when people describe your newest game as only good because your previous title is great. But the real winner are the players. Stonemaier consistently puts are high quality, mechanically-solid games that the worst people can say is that they like one of their other titles better.
“This just made my top games of 2019 list.”
The game that seemed to receive the most universal praise from those I spoke with was Hadara from Z-man Games. It too drew comparisons to other games, specifically 7 Wonders, but not with the same longing as the Black Angel/Troyes comparison seemed to evoke.
Hadara is a simultaneous action, set collection game where players are trying to balance growth of their civilizations culture, military, and agriculture. Each turn, players draft from two cards from one of five different resources, keeping one card and discarding the other for potential use in the next round.
I had the opportunity to play it a couple of times during the convention and I think that it is a very good game. It wasn’t difficult to learn, but it creates some agonizing decisions from beginning to end. The game plays in about 45 min and I could see this being a game that finds its way back to the table a little more frequently than most.
Overall, TokenCon exceeded my expectations once again. It is a great convention staffed by some great people. Be sure to follow TokenCon on Facebook for updates throughout the year, and if you can make it in 2020, you should.