Saturday, June 24, 2006

Another report on the Australian Games Expo

I finally finished jotting down my thoughts about the recent Australian Games Expo and sending them off to the organisers, so I thought I would also post a version for the extra reader here :-)

A lot of this has already been said by Melissa already last week, but this is my take on events. I had never spurned Bob, so there won't be a lot of talking about him.

My gaming convention background – I have attended role playing conventions in around the country for many years and was one of the organisers of one of the largest ones in Melbourne (peaked at about 650 players) for many years too. With the exception of one convention (now defunct), the standard venue for Australian gaming conventions is at schools or universities. The one large gaming area does not suit role playing tournaments at all. It's OK for miniatures and table top gaming which are often run at the gym in a school. Since the arrival of Daughter the Elder our attendance at gaming conventions has reduced somewhat. There are still quite a few role-playing conventions, one wargaming one that I know of, quite a few Warhammer 40K events and CCG stuff. A few of the role playing conventions and the war gaming one have Euros in attendance but this is the first Euro only event that I know of.

The Venue
The building, the Albury Convention Centre, was very good. The general gaming area was close to full or full most of the times I looked at it and on Sunday had begun to spill over into the tournament area – that in itself speaks volumes about the success of the event.

It is probably worth remembering that the games expo has two main types of attendees. Short stay people who drop in for anything up to a couple of hours (e.g. families, teachers etc) and long stay (tournament players and gamers). The latter group are a sort of captive audience, possibly having two meals a day on site and thus create a lot of rubbish that the short stay people don’t. I noticed on the first day that the tournament area was drastically short of suitable sized rubbish bins but this was quickly remedied. It brought back memories of role playing conventions where we had
to ensure that bins were emptied at least three or four times a day.

The toilet facilities were always clean and well stocked which is an important thing.

It was very cold outside, but the venue was heated. It is winter in Australia at the moment and unlike Coldie I am looking forward to the return of Summer.

The mobile coffee truck was great, I just wish that they had stuck around into the afternoon! There are those of us who enjoy a post lunch coffee on occasions.

The organiser mentioned that the main vendor and general gaming area could be expanded next year. Given that the area was basically full and feedback has been very positive I would definitely say that they will need the room and a lot more general gaming tables and chairs to go with the extra space. I have a gut feeling that less people will play multiple tournaments next year and that combined with the extra patronage that is bound to occur will escalate the demand for general gaming tables.

The initial draw. I’m not sure exactly what information was available for scheduling purposes but in an initial draw I believe an effort should be made to place people with people that they do not know. Thus rule 1) no family members in the same group. Rule 2) Try and go for people from different geographical locations. It may not avoid the issue but is probably better than putting four people from the same city in a group together. I accept that this may be difficult to arrange and is by no means foolproof but it is worth trying.

It became evident towards the end of the initial Carcassonne rounds that scoring system which was based purely on points scored was problematic. A tight competitive game could easily see all players scoring under 80 points. A cooperative game could easily see all players scoring over 100 points, leading to the situation that the loser of the one games scores 25% more points than the winner of another game in the tournament standings. I believe a weighting needs to be given to winning and/or placing in the game as was done in Settlers. Otherwise some players will identify an
opportunity to maximise their placing in the tournament scoring as opposed to winning the games. This was not a problem in the finals, but was in the initial games leading up to the finals.

It would probably be worth reviewing any proposed scoring system in this light. Look at it from the point of view of players who want to maximise their position by playing the scoring system as opposed to playing to win. Possibly float it to a few games groups or the geek for review.

I also found that the restriction of only using the base set of Carcassonne made the game much more luck dependant than if The Expansion (Inns and Cathedrals) had been included. In each game that I saw one player draw three or more monasteries, that player won the game. In my opinion, including the expansion would make it more balanced. This may be one of the occasions where the expo was dictated to by the governing body though.

The Settlers of Catan tournament was great (with the possible exception of my results!). I thought it was a good idea to have the random map each time. I noticed that in the Malaysian competition they used the beginner’s map from the Almanac, which does not seem like a good idea to me.

Whilst playing both tournaments was theoretically two chances at a trip to Essen, realistically it just took up too much of my time. My opportunities to spend time perusing and talking to vendors, tying out new games or old favourites in the general gaming area was severely curtailed. I freely admit that this was my choice, but next year I doubt that I would enter more than one tournament so that I could guarantee my self more 'free' time.

Personally I am not a big fan of Eurogames being played as tournaments if there are more than two competing players. The possibility of collusion or king making, accidental or otherwise, always exists. Two player games, or games where there are two teams reduce or eliminate this possibility, but lack the more social aspect of your average multiplayer Euro. It’s all swings and roundabouts isn’t it? My background is role playing tournaments where it is the players against the game, so it is not an issue.

I’ve heard that the intention is to have at least one different tournament game next year. That could be interesting, although I still think I will limit myself to a maximum of one tournament game so I can have time to enjoy the other aspects of the expo at my leisure.

Other thoughts
Speaking as a gamer, the more general gaming space and times the better. Role playing conventions generally run three days and some run four. They usually run games 12-14 hours a day. I accept that the vendors will not wish to keep those hours and their area should be able to be isolated. The gamers however would like to game on, preferably at the same venue, or otherwise at a suitable heated nearby venue. I would guess a fair percentage of the gamers at the Expo have travelled quite a way and have nothing better to do with their evenings. I noticed that Borders (the local game club and supplier of many volunteers at the expo) was full to the seams on Saturday night. This will be even more so next year as the evening gaming sessions will not be competing with the World Cup as they were this year.

Another option would be to extend to include the Monday public holiday as well. The little voice in my head mentions that venue cost would probably be the decider on this point.

The support that the Expo got from the council was great. From the reception on Friday and we saw the Mayor and quite a few staff at the expo over the weekend.

Since most gamers from Melbourne or Sydney can probably get retail –10% back at home, the lack of discounting means that gamers probably didn’t buy many games. Gamers generally expect some discounting and/or new stock at conventions. It will be interesting to see if there is any movement on this front next year.

Another good thing was to catch up with people who I knew via BGG. There were quite a few. There's some that I met that only afterwards I found out of about their BGG personas.

All in all a bloody good event. Thanks to everyone who made it happen - there were lots of you and I probably only know a few names - so thanks again all of you.

Mmm meeples taste like...


1 comment:

Gerald McD said...

You and Melissa both provided excellent reports of this.

I certainly agree with your thoughts about the tournament ranking systems. I don't believe that points scored in a game such as Carcassonne (or several others I can think of) should be used to determine participants in higher rounds. I think the idea of giving the non-winning players ranking points based on their scores' percentage of the winner's score is the best way to approach it. In that manner, it doesn't matter whether the game is generally low-scoring or high-scoring. Of course, collusion could still play a part, but with much less total impact. Hope they work that out better next year.

Sounds like you have a good thing going there. Good luck in the future.