About the Convention
Based on what I know from experience and some recounting from the founders of this convention, the idea for DunDraCon started in 1975 at the Claremont Hotel between a few folks who just genuinely wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons. A Dealer’s Room was introduced at DDC 2 and individual gaming rooms at DDC 3. The choice of President’s Day weekend was more a matter of convenience, and because the attendance was consistent during this holiday they chose to stick with it ever since. You can even look through all the old event guides here.
Teen and Kids Rooms
I never really checked out whether the teen or kids rooms were all that great, mostly because I don’t have a teen or kid in my life. Just passing through though, I do recall plenty of space and a decent game library. So bring your children!
One of the main things about this convention that dazzles me to this day is their scheduling system. It’s awesome — they break down the sessions into schedule chunks, you sign up ahead of time for what games you want as 1st 2nd or 3rd choice and then they throw it all into an algorithm! I really wish that other conventions knew how to deal with crowds in this way. Mind you, it’s not perfect. Some conventions I got into all the events I signed up for and others I only got into one or two. But I’ve always found that there are a plethora of things to do last minute and as long as I’m open to exploring, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Open Gaming on the other hand, I strongly dislike. It just seems like that room is taken over by big groups of friends wanting to have table space to themselves. I get that perhaps that’s appealing for those who have long-distance companions but when I go to conventions I would rather see folks I’ve never met before. A lot of the interaction and benefits to conventions is experienced with new people and I think it’s important to branch out. If I wanted to just play games with people I knew, I would just have a regular game night.
Then, not every game is in retail; designers from across the state bring their prototypes to the convention for playtesting. I haven’t been as good about heading to Protospiel but they do reward you for participating with raffle tickets. It provides such great feedback to folks designing often their first games ever and I even saw one kickstarter I previewed show up!
Just outside the protospiel hall were miniatures-painting stations. It’s really cute to see all the ranges of ages and seeing the interactions between painters. You could tell that everyone was focused and engaged in their activity, and as a fellow introvert in disguise the co-puttering was relatable. Of course, what’s a convention without a massive miniatures gaming area? Wish I could see more women in there — mostly much older men being grumpy with measuring tape.
Spend Your Money
The Dealer Room wasn’t ever fancy but it did satisfy needs for niche purchases. There was always some amount of cool handmade cosplay stuff, art, gaming accessories and supplies as well as one or two FLGS bringing inventory to the masses. I was happy to see games that I had just finished some reviews on, too.
It’s important for me to have my own space and I have the unique opportunity to detail two different results through this convention since rooms sell out quickly:
It’s definitely nice to stay offsite if you’re wanting to get away from the noise and the people. However, getting access to a shuttle takes so long because they’re going to try and maximize the number of people that are riding on it together. The satellite hotels are also not a short walk, and if you’re hauling tons of games like I am, a late night trek doesn’t feel safe at all.
If you want to feel like you never left the convention, it’s probably best to stay onsite. You just have to drag yourself into an elevator and you’re good, assuming that you’re not at the very top floor. On the other hand, in my experience lower levels always have a weird risk of plumbing issues. The one benefit to lower levels is the possibility you get to take the stairs if the elevator takes too long. But, if you huge crate of games like I do you still have to bite the bullet or decide that it’s a legs and arms workout day and take the stairs with your games in your hands. Outside of navigating stairs vs elevantors, if you have late night hunger pains the convention itself often has specials late at night for con food.
My Years in Attendance
Dundracon 41 was a playing convention for me. That year was the first year that I really even knew that boardgame conventions existed. I had no idea what I was doing even with the support of the gaming friends I had at the time, but I recall it being such a welcoming environment. Even without signing up for any of the games, there were always folks willing to take newbies on.
Dundracon 42 was another playing convention, but I finally felt like I wasn’t such a newcomer. Tried getting into some roleplaying games but their popularity squeezed me out of a spot. Later on during the weekend after sharing my despair I found out that I could get a priority slip to use for games if I became a Gamemaster! I love to teach and meet new gamers, so it just seemed like a win-win.
Dundracon 43 was my first Gamemaster year! I taught Lorenzo il Magnifico with the Houses of Renaissance expansion and Gaia Project. Those were absolutely grueling to teach, since none of the players had played before and I chose to teach with full player count. That year was also my first exposure to Bluebeard’s Bride; for those who have played, I chose to take on the Virgin, which was a fairly difficult roleplay considering it’s a horror genre and I needed to act innocent the entire time. I actually ran into one of the other players during DDC 44 and they remembered me right away. Super nice!
Dundracon 44, I taught Wingspan for two different sessions and had it completely full at five players both times. It wasn’t quite my first choice though; tried to GM Bluebeard’s Bride but my request was denied. Apparently they slipped up last year and let it get on the table when they didn’t intend to. Such a bummer.
Side Note: People know about Girls’ Game Shelf all the way out here in this local convention! It was too cool to reveal that tidbit about myself to folks at my games.
This was also my first experience in a homebrew LARP with a Lovecraft setting (p.s. cultists won), and my first exposure to combat Play-Doh in Monster Smash. I wasn’t sure if I would get into the game because LARP spots run out very quickly so their photographer actually caught me in my 1930s outfit. I look so out of place but I clearly was having a ton of fun playing that game with the kids.
On the last day during their free swap meet, I was able to secure a copy of Risk 2210 A.D. ! I’ve been trying to find a copy of this game for such a long time. As much as I think plastic armies on boards is not the best way to engage in warfare, the fact that there are underwater cities, risk of experiencing nuclear fallout and being able to get onto the moon is just… c’mon! The setting is just too cool, and with the other reskins of Risk I just… yeah I needed it.
2021 – Location Change!
For 29 years Dundracon has been at the San Ramon Marriott, and I was only present for four of those years. It’ll definitely still be a change, and I’ve actually been to the Santa Clara Marriott for other conventions so I know the vibe there really isn’t the same. Still the good news is there will certainly be much more space available for running events and the rooms will likely not sell out a year in advance like they consistently did for San Ramon. I’m unsure why they chose to move to this location… my guess is the hotel is already used to the boardgame presence and setup for another local game convention. I’m no event manager, but I can assume that working with experienced venues takes the headache and worry away. I’ll be in attendance, but wary.