This past weekend I attended the first ever GameHole gaming convention here in Madison, WI. I can’t recall how I initially found out about the event. I know I ran into Josh Hoyt, overseeing gaming for the con, when I gamed with him at GaryCon in March. He was promoting the con there at the con located in Lake Geneva.
I can’t even recall if Madison had a gaming convention prior to this new venture. Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong. I don’t include WisCon, or any other of the geek-related events like Odd Con, Tesla Con, Geekkon, etc. Gaming seems to take a back seat at those events. I really wanted to see GameHole to succeed. The Madison area has more gaming stores (read it folks, we have at least 5) per capita than anywhere else in the US. We’re a decent sized city, population 250k for Madison and more than 150k for the burbs an outskirts. We’re about an hour away from Milwaukee, 4 hours from the twin cities, and a couple hours from Chicago. Not a bad place for a weekend of gaming fun.
There are certainly obstacles and hurdles to having a successful gaming convention. Having 5+ gaming stores in the area makes one wonder ‘why go to a local con when I can just game at one of the stores’? Some may even prefer to game with their own group in the privacy of someone’s house. Then there’s the cost of renting a hotel, the huge amounts of time that you have to dedicate to coordinate everything to include finding sponsors, speakers, a website, food, ecommerce, policies, marketing, and the list goes on and on. There are probably more reasons on how a con can fail than succeed. It can be a scary endeavor. Sure, many people are happy to just break even, but running in the red does nobody any favors. I gotta give these guys a lot of credit just based on the gumption to try and make it happen.
What can I say? I was really impressed. There was a bit of a snafu in the registration process, but I still got my badge and correct tickets when I showed up on the first day of the con. If there was one piece that could be improved, it would be the registration process. The gist, there was a technical issue between the con’s website and paypal. Besides this, the con, in my opinion, was quite a success. I’m not sure the final numbers, but the turn out was solid. There were plenty of people I didn’t recognize, which is good. There were also a good amount of attendees from outside the Madison area – to include Milwaukee, Chicago and Iowa. I heard that Alex, the Executive Director (I think that’s his title) was interviewed by Roll for Initiative podcast, and I know those guys are not in the region. I was actually disappointed that some of the local gamers that I personally know did not show up to the event. I hope they can make it next year! Yes, I’m talking to you. 😉
The program book was in color and outlined all the events, sponsors, and guests. Guests include Jen Page, Dungeon Bastard – Bill Cavalier, Frank Mentzer, Tom Wham, Ernie Gygax, Terry Pavlet, Jeff Easley, Chris Perkins (WotC), Jim Ward, and David “Zeb” Cook. Keep in mind that Chris, and I believe, Jen flew in from Washington.
There was over 200 events held in 9 rooms over 3 days. An entire room was dedicated to Pathfinder Society, where it was mentioned that every society game had been sold out. There were many of the classics like AD&D, Top Secret SI, Traveller (I gotcha Victor) and the TSR version of Marvel Superheroes. Shout out to The Dead Games Society guys – Collin, Chad, and Michael.
Oh, did I mention there was a bar with $3 pints of Spotted Cow beer? There were not a lot of restaurants in the immediate area so the staff had about 6 vendors show up in the parking lot and sold their different offerings of grub via their trailer/food carts.
The exhibit room had many local game stores setup – Pegasus Games, Chimera Games (Appleton), The Last Square, I’m Board (who actually sponsored the nice nylon with zipper badge holders), TPK Games, and Albion Swords that I can recall off the top of my head. I know Troll Lord Games, a vendor that only goes to GaryCon and GenCon, had a table and a good amount of their products on hand. Good to meet you Tyler!
The largest room was dedicated to board games and miniatures. I even saw my Ben Cone there doing some Warhammer or was it Warmachine? There were even some guys running a 6 person Star Wars miniatures event. Madison Traditional Gaming had a table, promoting their group as well.
One of the aforementioned nine rooms was dedicated to seminars where Chris Perkins discussed Wizards of the Coast’s next D&D endeavor, D&D Next. Ernie Gygax, son of Gary and one of the original D&D playtesters, spoke about the roots of gaming. Jeff Easley was on a panel talking about fantasy art. Dungeon Bastard had ‘Ask the Bastard!’, Frank Mentzer looked back at 1980-85 and his days with Gary, and Zeb Cook talked about TSR and life after Planescape. James Ward spoke about Astronauts and Game Designers. Not a bad line-up folks.
They already scheduled GameHole Con 2 for next year but have moved it one week later to Nov 7-9. I’ve been informed that the space will also be expanded to include the second floor of the Sheraton which will offer a larger exhibit area. Someone is serious about making this a success.
I hope my enthusiasm appeals to your sense of curiosity. I’d love to see you there next year. Hell, maybe we can game at the same table. Lets make GameHole a continuing success for years to come!
Sponsors of GameHole for some additional ‘exposure’…
- Misty Mountain Games
- Mox Mania
- Armored Gopher Games
- Universe Games
- Planet Chaos
- Galaxy Comics, Games and more
- The Only Sheet
- The Game Crafter
- Noble Knight Games
- The Board Game Barrister
- The Free House Pub
- Kryptonite Kollectibles
- Netherworld Games
- Labyrinth Games
- Game Universe
- Scrying Eye Games