Friday, May 29, 2009

Play On Con 2009 wrap-up

As I mentioned in my previous post, Hillary and I had an absolute blast at last weekend's Play On Con 2 convention, held at the Alta Vista Hotel and Conference Center in Birmingham. It wasn't a huge con (estimate was around 250-275 paid attendees), but there was rarely a lack of things to do, people to talk to, or games to play.

I touched on the traditional gaming side of things in my last blog entry, but I wanted to write about some of the other experiences we had over the course of an amazing weekend.

On Friday night, we cleaned up at the Blackjack table during the charity casino event. Over the course of two hours our chip totals stayed fairly static, so we decided to go "all-in" on the last hand. The dealer busted, and we cashed out for some pretty good prizes.

Next up was the Chick Flick Trivia Pajama Party. Neither of us know a damned thing about chick flicks, so we attended more for the spectacle than a desire to actually participate. We both surprised ourselves by answering one question each for our respective teams: me with my unexplainable (and somewhat embarrassing) knowledge of "Spanglish", and Hillary with her spot-on Thriller dance from the scene in "10 Things I Hate About You".

Saturday was all about gaming for us. Morning featured a live-action game of Wiz-War, complete with life-sized board, costumes, props, and oversized spell cards. I heard a few people mention that it was their favorite event of the entire weekend, and I can't disagree. Hillary entered the game as a wizard and did very well; I ended up helping the organizer by handing out kill trophies and occasionally entering the map as a summoned bat or fire imp, yet I had no less fun than the participants.

The evening capped off with a hypnotism show in the main programming area, which drew a lot of laughs. Sadly, none of the participants was ordered to act like a chicken.

As everything moved upstairs for the night, we discovered that a few events had been delayed or canceled without notice, causing us to miss a couple of things that we'd wanted to attend. I was a little bit annoyed about the nighttime programming breakdown (hence my unhappy Twitter post that night). I mentioned it to a director, and he was very understanding and apologized profusely (so much so that I felt kind of bad about bringing it up).

Sunday featured a patio picnic and hula hoop party, complete with live surf music. Daikaiju was awesome, as expected. I wish they could have performed a longer set, but they were playing the con as a courtesy and were double-booked for a "real" show later that evening.

The main programming for the evening was a Rock Band tournament. This was not a question of "how good are you at Rock Band" -- there was a Guitar Hero event for the score whores earlier in the day. This was "how much of a spectacle can you make of yourself?", and the answer is "huge". Great costumes and an energetic crowd made the event truly memorable, with a Jimmy Buffett cover band ("James Tiberius Buffett and His Enterprising Young Men") coming out on top.

Monday morning brought a Dance Dance Revolution tournament, which attracted an impressive three participants. Note to organizers: maybe no physically-taxing events on the last morning of a con. It was decided that the three of us were all winners for actually being awake and ready to dance after such a long and sleepless weekend, so we just played DDR for fun until we could barely stand up.

This did not take long.

A "con in review" session and a short Memorial Day ceremony on the patio overlooking the city wrapped up the weekend nicely for the walking zombies who made it through the weekend.

To keep from going over-the-top with praise for the con, I should definitely point out two significant (as compared to the Saturday night programming breakdown) problems that arose over the course of the weekend.

The hotel had opened up a jazz club sometime after the convention organizers booked the place, which meant that nighttime programming on Friday and Saturday had to be moved upstairs. This wasn't a huge issue, but the upstairs areas (especially the RPG/boardgaming area) sometimes felt cramped. Also, it would have been nice to have the restaurant and patio available for gaming or audience-friendly programming.

A somewhat larger issue was the hotel's Sunday double-booking with a local hip hop radio station's "Wet 'n' Wild Pool Party". We had more problems with this conflict, because the downstairs areas became extremely crowded, and the participants of the party kept wandering into our events. There was a bit of culture clash too, but we gaming nerds tend to be very open and accepting, and I didn't hear of any real altercations between the two groups.

Despite these problems, the Play On Con directors and staff were extremely friendly and helpful, and someone was usually on-hand to help or answer questions. The weekend was a shining example of the old "when life gives you lemons" proverb, and the con staff handled every obstacle masterfully.

This post has grown much longer than I originally intended, so I'll wrap it up.

I will say that we've already preregistered for Play On Con 3 sometime in 2010 (dates and location should be announced in the coming weeks), and I strongly urge our gaming friends not to miss it.

If you haven't been convinced yet, let me offer two little words that might do the trick:

Free alcohol.

See you next year!


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