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Published on September 22nd, 2016 | by Brent Jans


Tabletop Tips: How to be a good con gamer

Here on the Canadian Prairie, fall is upon us and winter is not far behind. Which means all the introverted nerds like me can take in that most glorious of indoor gaming activities: the gaming convention. Locally, the Edmonton Expo is coming up this weekend, and while not a dedicated gaming convention it still features quite a robust tabletop gaming area (Hall H, come visit!). With Edmonton’s gaming convention season in full swing, I thought I’d share some tips on being a good con gamer. These are important if this is your first gaming convention or your fiftieth, and can be stretched to apply to any nerdy event.

Image courtesy of Wil Wheaton

Keep it Clean – Every convention is a busy place filled with nerds. And where there are nerds, trash is sure to follow as we consume our snacks and drinks, scribble on scraps of paper or character sheets, and generally just live in the convention space for a few days. While no one is expecting you to clean up someone else’s trash, you should always pick up your own. I can promise that no convention has enough volunteers that they can dedicate them to constant trash policing. Looking after your own mess makes the con space a much friendlier place to be.

Of special note at a board game convention, cleaning up after yourself means helping to pick up the game you just played. Don’t be that jerk that figures out his/her final score and then walks away from the table. You played it, you clean it up. If you’re old enough to go to game conventions, you’re too old to need to be reminded to help put your toys away.

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Don’t Be a Downer – You’re at a gaming convention, and of course you want to talk about games. But there is a right way and a wrong way to start that conversation. One wrong way: walking up to a table with a game just being set up or already in progress, and saying any variation of, “This game sucks!”

It is a fact of life that not everyone is going to like the things you do, and vice versa. Nowhere is this more true than in the gaming hobby. Tastes, preferences, and play styles can vary greatly from gamer to gamer. But just because you don’t like a game does not make it a bad game. Let me repeat that on its own, because it’s important:

Just because you don’t like a game, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game.

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So making a table of gamers feel bad for liking a particular game when you don’t is a dick move. Don’t do it. If you can’t manage to say something positive about it, follow Thumper’s Law and say nothing. And if you do find yourself talking to gamers who are playing a game you don’t like, maybe try asking positive questions. “What do you enjoy about this game?”, or “This game isn’t my bag, but could you recommend anything similar?” are questions which will lead to actual useful conversation. Which is a good thing, unless…

Don’t Be an Interrupting Cow – I’m sure you’re familiar with the old joke:

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Interrupting cow. Interrupting co– Moo!

There is a right time and a wrong time to ask gamers questions about a game. The wrong time is right in the middle of a game, when it is quite obvious all the players are focused on playing; the right time is just about any other time. While I’m sorry you are waiting for your game to start, or haven’t found a game yet, I’m busy doing the thing I came to the con to do. Don’t spoil that by engaging me in an interrogation mid-game. If you have questions, wait until the players are taking a break or have finished and are cleaning up; we’re happy to talk then.

The exception to that rule is when I am officially demonstrating a game in my capacity as an organized play volunteer or con volunteer. Then I’m happy to give you a brief bit of information about the game. Emphasis on brief, though, as my attention belongs to the people for whom I’m demoing. And if the question is involved, I’ll likely just invite you to join the demo, as playing usually answers the question.

Thank the Volunteers – I’ve said it numerous times in the past and I’ll keep saying it: without volunteers, cons can’t happen. No convention can afford to pay wages to every person needed to make a con run, and if they tried they’d have to jack the ticket price so high no one could attend.

The volunteers at your con have given of their free time to help put on an event for your enjoyment. They do it without the benefit of pay and with no thought of getting thanked. So thank them. When you see a volunteer picking up garbage somebody left on a table, thank them (and if it’s yours, help pick it up, you jerk). When a volunteer gives you your badge, a program book, directions, opens a door for you, thank them. If you see a volunteer, period, thank them. Thank your volunteer game master, thank the room monitor. Just thank every volunteer too slow to get out of your reach, and then shout thank-you to the fast movers. Trust me, they can never hear it enough.

One caveat: if you see a volunteer obviously on a break, leave them be. They deserve their time alone, undisturbed.

Volunteer – Just like volunteers never get enough thanks, conventions never have so many volunteers they won’t take one more. Most cons have perks for volunteering, which at minimum is usually a reduced price or free badge, depending on how many hours you volunteer. Beyond that, volunteering for your local events is a great way to meet new people, grow your hobby locally, and give back to the community of gamers to which you belong. Plus it can be metric buttloads of fun. All of the Edmonton conventions I linked earlier can certainly use enthusiastic volunteers, so check them out and give it a shot.

I hope to see you at the gaming table at one of the local cons. Until then, good gaming!

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