The Tabletop Network Conference and BGG Fall

This past November, I was awarded one of the New Voices Scholarship from the Tabletop Network. The scholarship was created to increase diversity within the gaming community, and thanks to it, I was able to attend both the TabletopNetwork Conference and BGG Fall in Dallas, Texas. I want to delve into my impressions of both, and what you can expect going to either.

The Tabletop Network Conference is a two-day event where prolific industry professionals speak on specific aspects of game design. From morning to early evening there are seminars scheduled. The seminars are scheduled back to back, usually no longer than an hour.The seminars were set up so that you could attend the majority of them. Half the time, only one seminar would occur per time slot. At max, two seminars would occur at the same time, which gave you the opportunity to decide which topic interested you the most.

I had no idea what to expect when I attended the conference, and once there, I saw it was unlike anything I’d ever attended. The atmosphere, particularly during the day, felt very academic to me. There were times during the seminars where I would be on the edge of my seat, rapt with attention at the stories being woven. There were other times were I slumped wearily in my chair as someone went over the mathematics of some aspect of game design and my brain just couldn’t comprehend it.

We had a lunch break where we formed groups under chosen leaders (the conference speakers) and got the opportunity to chat with them informally over lunch. That part made me think of freshman year at college, where you walk outside with your class and have kind of an informal chat with your professor. It was a very surreal experience, because when I sat back to think about it, all these people had gathered to seriously discuss game design on an academic level. They loved boardgames so much that they wanted to discuss the intricacies that your average player would never explore. It was such a cool feeling to be surrounded by that energy and concentration.

The highlight of the conference for me however, was the networking which happened in the evening. As a scholarship winner, I was partnered with a mentor, and amazingly enough my mentor was Elizabeth Hargrave. I was able to connect with her as well as many other amazing designers such as Gil Hova, Peter Olotka, Martin Wallace, R. Eric Reuss, and Geoff Englestein. Everyone was very relaxed and open to play games. There was a mutual spirit to play each others games and talk candidly about what we were trying to do and how we were doing it.

I learned so much from observing designers who’d been in boardgames for decades. For some, it’s easy to get discouraged or bored with something after a few years, so it’s amazing ti find someone who has loved and pursued game design for over half of their life. When you hear their failures and triumphs, but still see the spark of excitement they have in their eyes 50 years later, it’s inspiring. Even listening to the blunt words of advice were precious to me, because whether I agreed with the conclusion or not, there is so much value in the honesty of experience. More than the seminars, I feel the value of the conference comes during the networking portion, and you would do yourself a disservice to skip out on that portion of the evening.

The conference is very short, but it feels like a four day event thanks to how effectively they pack everything into two days. It’s definitely a splurge, budget-wise. Paying for a flight to Texas, a hotel, and tickets to the con aren’t easily within reach for a lot of people, but if you have the opportunity to go, then do. I’m so grateful to the New Voices Scholarship fro helping me get this experience, and I hope in the future they will be able to help many other new designers attend this inspiring event.

I was doubly lucky, because this year the Tabletop Network Conference was in the same building as BGG con, and all of the TTNC attendees gained entrance to it with their badges. For the Tabletop Network Conference it felt like there were one hundred of us. Once BGGcon started, that number jumped somewhere between three and five thousand.

I usually get overwhelmed in large crowds, and found myself intimidated at BGG Spring. Ironically, even though BGG Fall is the bigger con, I rarely found myself anxious. Honestly, I think the difference was not feeling alone. When I went to BGG Spring, I knew absolutely no one. BGG Fall was different, because I’d made so many connections at the Tabletop Network conference. There was almost always a table I could sit at to play a game, or a friendly face I could at least talk to while I caught my breath. It made a world of a difference.

Every day was fun at this con. I woke up, walked a few blocks to downtown for some local eats, then enjoyed the day gaming. I always took proper food breaks, gave myself time to decompress in my room, and allowed myself to socialize as much as I gamed. I was able to meet people I’d only interacted with online. BGG Fall is one of the great midsize cons that draw attendees from all over the country and outside the country as well.

The staff were visible, always there, and so very helpful. There was food available in the hotel, but amazing food also within walking distance. The gaming room never overwhelmed me with its noise level, and even though there were thousands of attendees, I always had room to breath.

BGG Fall was probably the con where I was the most social with the least anxiety. I don’t know if it was the overall duration I was there, or the joy of sharing my new game with everyone and being met with positive responses, or the excitement of meeting so many people in the industry I respect, but I had the time of my life.

I would recommend both cons hands down, especially since they are now conveniently in the same week at the same location. If you’re looking for a good mid-sized convention to attend, this one is it.