Over the weekend I went to AireCon, an analog gaming convention held in Harrogate. Analog basically means (as far as I can tell) no computer games. The main focus is on board games, although there was also a roleplay section and a few other types dotted about.
I’ve been to Comic Con before, as well as going to a geek convention called Nerd East a few times during uni and to the eSports con Insomnia in 2014. But somehow I’ve never gone to the UK Games Expo, or to AireCon the previous times its been run, despite it being held only an hour away from me.
So even though I was shattered after a full day at a wedding fair and staying up late playing games the night before, on Sunday 10 March I headed up to Harrogate Convention Centre along with Tim and Ellie.
Arriving at AireCon
Within moments of arriving we ran into our friend Ralph, who had been at the con on both of the previous two days, and he was happy to show us around and explain how it worked.
In the centre of the room were the expo stands, with two large gaming areas either side, full of groups of people engrossed in their game of choice. Here and there were balloons dotted around – black for under 2 hours, white for over 2 hours – indicating that those games were short of the full complement and accepting players.
Over in the far right was an RPG area, which I didn’t get a chance to go to, and on the far left was a family gaming area. At the back was a bring-and-buy sale full of second hand games, of varying condition, and there was also a games library, supplied by Travelling Man, where you could rent out games all day for a £10 deposit.
Foodwise there were a few good options – pizza, burgers, crepes, waffles, hotdogs, you get the idea. It was reasonably priced and tasty, although you did need to go out into the cold to get most of it.
Expectations vs Reality
I had very few expectations about the con. I hadn’t bothered researching into it that much, as I wasn’t sure until last minute whether I would be able to come. However it was easy to rock up, grab a ticket (£12 for the day) and start gaming.
The con was larger than I expected, with the great majority of the space given over to large tables for playing games at. Signage throughout was incredibly effective, and although we were pretty clueless when we arrived, we soon picked it up with help from signs, staff and Ralph and the other attendees. Unlike Comic Con, cosplaying didn’t seem to be a thing.
Overall it was one of the friendliest and most welcoming events I’ve been to, and reminded me what I enjoy about the board gaming community. The people playing games were super approachable and the staff manning the reception, the library and the bring-and-buy were all lovely to deal with. I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of people I knew who we ran into!
The variety of games on offer was just as impressive as I’d hoped, and there wasn’t a time when I felt bored or at a loose end (well, maybe a little when waiting for people to join us for Pandemic). In fact, my only regret was not having spent more time at the con.
The exhibition stands were diverse – everyone from well know gaming suppliers to independent gaming shops, from game designers showcasing their latest idea, to merch sellers including the largest d20s I’ve ever seen.
We had hoped to take part in The Experiment, a mega escape room run by someone I’d met through the Lucky Ones, but unfortunately it was fully booked. Unfortunately the website didn’t have info about when special events were being run or how to get tickets for them.
Games We Played
While wandering around the expo stands, we happened across a stall demonstrating a dice-based board game, Ominoes. The concept is akin to checkers or mah-jong, but with added dice. You collect groupings of your own dice, but can never control the dice roll of course! The three of us played with the woman demonstrating, and I managed to snatch victory by getting a sneaky group of five early on in the game.
I enjoyed the fun little game and thought it would work well at something like my work board game sessions, but overall it wasn’t enough of my sort of thing to purchase it. We thanked her and walked on.
Tim snuck off to take the last spot in Captain Sonar, which he described as a “real-time shouting strategy game” (aka playing right into his skillset).
Meanwhile, Ellie and I borrowed Pandemic from the extensive Travelling Man library. Pandemic is a cooperative crisis management game where you are trying to cure four different diseases before they take over the world. I received Pandemic Legacy for Christmas, and wanted to familiarise myself with the base mechanics a bit more before we play through it. We grabbed a black balloon, set up the game and waited. And waited.
Eventually we decided to start playing as a two, but then almost immediately a guy came up to ask if it was too late to join. We dealt him in and started the game… but again, immediately someone else came up to join in. We reset for a second time, but were excited to have a full game.
It’s been a while since I played Pandemic, but we caught on to the fairly simple mechanics quickly, and managed to save the world with no cards left in the player deck and only one outbreak away from disaster.
It was really fun to play a game with some completely new people, and surprisingly easy to get started.
Tim had finished his game. Ralph had finished his game. So we settled down with some waffles (too delicious to photograph, clearly) to play a game together. The game suggested was Cryptid, a problem solving competitive game where you’re seeking out a strange beast by putting your own clue together with other people’s, based on their moves.
This game was right up my alley, and I managed to win both games. You need to carefully analyse the connections between the hunts given by other players’ moves, while keeping your own obscure enough to prevent anyone from working out what your own clue is.
I think it’s the sort of game that benefits from all players being similarly familiar with the game however, as more practice is likely to make you a much better player. I’ve added it to my wishlist, either way.
Moments before the library closed at 4pm, we checked out one last game – Tortuga 1667. It’s a hidden role card game where you play pirates on either the French or British team (or Dutch, if there’s an odd number of players). You have to try to obtain as much treasure as possible, by either starting brawls on Tortuga, attacking the Spanish Treasure Galleon or stealing your opponents’ chests.
Honestly, with only four players the secret teams came out pretty quickly, and then it was just a team card game. But with a bit of better bluffing and a couple more players, I could see it being a bit more interesting.
Games I Bought
Exit The Game
I’ve been hoping to play a few of the Escape Room In A Box type games, considering what a fan I am of the real things, and Ellie recommended this brand. I’ll post back when we successfully escape it!
I played this when visiting a friend a couple of weeks ago. Honestly, I mostly bought it to help me playtest my megagame, but it was a fun social card game that I enjoyed playing. Looking forward to playing it some time this week.
Games I Almost Bought
I had only a few minutes to look around the bring-and-buy area, and two games caught my eye: T.I.M.E. Stories and Watson & Holmes.
T.I.M.E. Stories is a time travelling adventure game with a range of scenarios available as add-ons. It has been on my wish list for a while, and while it looked complete I wasn’t 100% convinced – and it’s the sort of game where, if a single card is missing, it will really mess up the game.
Watson & Holmes is a competitive version of one of my favourite board games of all time, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Unfortunately I ran out of time to go check it out properly, but definitely still one I want to play given the chance.
AireCon was a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to heading back again next year – hopefully this time for more than one day. I’m also hoping that I’ll be able to speak to someone about running a megagame there (though I might be a bit busy in early 2020…).
The next AireCon has been announced for 13-15 March 2020. Will I see you there?