I’m on my way to Winter Fantasy in Fort Wayne, Indiana! What is that, you ask? Why it’s one of the greatest gaming conventions around!
I love enormous gaming conventions. Seeing 60,000 people who all know what a wood elf ranger is gathered in the same place for four days at Gen Con is astounding. It’s an immersion in geekdom like no other. The convention floor is enormous, there’s games in the meeting rooms of every hotel in a six-block radius, and the local dining establishments change the names of food items on their menu to include Drizzt Do’Urden’s name. (I hear his lavender eyes dark chocolate cupcake is delicious.)
If you have a taste for gaming and the means to get to Gen Con or some other large convention, I suggest you do.
That said, small conventions are equally incredible for a different reason. They feel like a relaxing vacation. Big cons have a lot going for them in terms of number of games, stuff to demo/buy, celebrity guests, and variety of experiences, but they’re also a grind. They’re crowded, expensive, sprawling, and a hustle.
If you’re ignoring the small conventions (less than 1,000 people) because you don’t think they’re worth it, I urge you to think again. I get a ton out of Winter Fantasy, AcadeCon, and others.
As many Winter Fantasy veterans say, “Fort Wayne hates money.” Small conventions don’t need enormous city centers, so they happen in smaller towns with convention centers. Every price from badge to food to hotel is cheaper at a smaller convention as a result. You can eat like a king for a day in Fort Wayne for the price of a beer and a burger during Gen Con in Indianapolis.
With less people competing for events it’s easier to get the games you want, a hotel nearby, and take care of registration issues. Planning for Winter Fantasy is much easier than planning for Gen Con.
Enormous cons take over entire convention centers and the surrounding hotels. Smaller cons generally have one large room in a convention center or a few meeting rooms close together in a hotel. You don’t have to sprint from one event to the next, because at worst your next game is 100 feet away. You can easily get back to your hotel to grab something you forgot or put away leftovers before your next game.
Because no one is rushing and everyone is gathered in the same place, it’s easy to stop someone and ask them for help. With less people, convention organizers and staff handle even the smallest of problems with gusto, making it very easy for you to relax. (Side note: Even small conventions are a TON of work for the organizers and staff, so be kind and grateful for their amazing work!)
It’s easier to make new friends that you play with multiple times over the course of a small convention. Old friends have more time for meet-ups and games. You have time to have actual conversations rather than quick hellos with people. It’s astounding!
Even small cons tend to have amazing special guests like Rob Schwalb, Chris Lindsay, Lysa Chen, Satine Phoenix, Ruty Rutenberg, and/or Shawn Merwin. If you want some good one-on-one time with those people, catch them at a smaller con where their time is a little less constrained. (They’re likely still busy, so don’t hog all their time.) I made a lot of great contacts and friends by attending smaller conventions.
Shout Out Your Favorites
I’m discovering new conventions I love every year. Tell me your favorites in the comments below! And don’t forget to come join me at a very small D&D convention in a castle in France!
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