by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games
As I recall, the idea for a PLAAY Games convention was sprung during a Rockies game in July of 2016. A group of Denver-area PLAAY Gamers were sitting in the Rock Pile at Coors field after having pre-PLAAYed the 2016 All-Star Game with HMB in the stadium food court. Steve Heller suggested that it would be fun to have a live event that featured not just baseball, but multiple games, multiple events, spread out over an entire weekend. Jason Retallack quickly agreed, and added "we could call it 'PLAAY-Dot-CON!'" We all laughed, but the idea stuck with me. After the 2017 Time Machine Tournament, when Steve again brought up the idea of a convention, I was ready to move on it. Steve's wife is an event planner and graciously donated her time to get some price quotes from possible venues. Late in 2017, I decided to roll with it, and "PLAAY-Dot-CON 2018" was set for the weekend of July 13th.
One word: FUN!
The entire event was a (no pun intended) BLAST, from the informal tailgate party Thursday night at PLAAY HQ, to the grand finale event, the HMB Trading Card Tournament Sunday afternoon. In all, 32 tabletop sports gamers and five gamer wives participated in a full weekend of doing what we love to do.
It's impossible to fittingly recap this event in a single page or article. So, I've created a one-page overview of the event here, linked to separate pages for each day of the event, complete with game details and photos.
Folks started arriving in Denver as early as 8AM Thursday morning! Most flew commercially, some drove. Last year's Time Machine Tournament featured a night-before gathering at my house, with an impromptu "tailgate party," brats, chips, drinks, etc. We decided to do the same thing for the con (except that we added a make-your-own ice cream sundae bar at the end!). About two dozen convention-goers and spouses met at PLAAY HQ, which afforded a super opportunity for a good chunk of the convention group to get to know each other a little better event before the event began. It was a GREAT way to kick off the convention.
We got to the hotel around 10:30AM and set up a registration table in the lobby. Every convention-goer got a special "swag bag" that included an event program, water bottle and snacks, convention tee-shirt (if they ordered one), tickets to Saturday night's Rockies game against the Mariners, commemorative convention dice, souvenir pin, personalized set of HISTORY MAKER GOLF pro-level golfer cards, HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL "Quick-Rate" trading card guide and four packs of authentic baseball cards. As a special bonus, everyone AlSO got a hand-crafted dice tray, made by Scot Long. Yes, he made one for EVERY attendee: amazing. The dice tray features the convention logo on bottom, laminated into the wood so that it won't chip or scratch. VERY cool.
Additionally, as part of registration, each convention-goer got to choose the team he wanted to manage in the HMB Time Machine Tournament. These were special cards created specifically for this event by Al Wilson. Al made a full-color version of each team included in the three published "Famous Fall Classics" card sets, as well as the sixteen teams to be included in the not-yet-released FOURTH Famous Fall Classics set. Thus, we had a pool of 64 great teams from baseball's past from which to choose. Most teams included 30-36 players, but we set a 24-man roster limit. For many attendees, then, the first order of business was deciding which of their players to use in the tournament. The trading card packs were also a big hit, with spontaneous "Hot Stove" action breaking out immediately as many gamers began building their trading card teams for Sunday afternoon's closing event.
As convention-goers signed in, we set up a sports game Flea-Market/Garage Sale in the meeting room. Anyone who had spare games/card sets/accessories to sell/trade—PLAAY Games or otherwise—were given space to spread out their stuff and make a few bucks. Fresh copies of PLAAY Games were spread out in the hotel common area for informal play. It didn't take long before RWBR races were being run, FTTM wrestling matches were being held, and various ball games played. We had two official organized events scheduled for Friday afternoon. The annual HMB All-Star Game Pre-PLAAY, which was won by the NL 5-2, saw Nick Markakis turn in an MVP-worthy performance, scoring the NLs first run and blasting a three-run homer in the third inning. Meanwhile, the annual SECOND SEASON College All-Star Game was won by Philadelphia (coached by Keith Curtis and David Santistevan) 26-15, despite a solid performance from Baker Mayfield, who was 22 of 34 passing, 186 yards, 1 INT, 1 TD. Erik Holdaway and Brian Preece reprised their coaching roles from last year's College All-Star Game—one of these year's, they'll steal a win!
At 4PM, we gathered in the meeting room to open the convention with our first scheduled event, a panel discussion featuring three of the hobby's opinion leaders: Mike Boling, Steve Tower and Al Wilson. It was pretty cool having these three guys in the same room. The heading for the discussion was, "Sports Board Games State of the Union." The discussion was streamed live on the PLAAY Games Facebook page, you can watch it here.
We had pizza brought in so as to minimize the down-time, and everyone dove right in, starting just after 5PM.
Then, after pizza, it was time to "Let The Games Begin!" The convention began in earnest promptly at 6PM with Phase One of the HMB Time Machine Tournament. Everyone was assigned to a game table, with the team they'd chosen earlier at registration in hand. For the opening phase of the tournament, each gamer played two games. Each table's game-one winners and losers were paired against each other for the second game. Those who won both games earned a "golden ticket" to Phase Two's "Sweet Sixteen." Those who lost both games were eliminated. Those who split their two games—half the field—would have a chance to advance: nine of the fourteen 1-1 teams would be drawn at random Saturday morning to continue play.
Saturday's activities began with the random draw of 1-1 teams who would continue in the HMB Time Machine Tournament, along with table/opponent assignments. From here on out, it was "win to stay in," no second chances!
Meanwhile, at the meeting room's "green tables," the SOCCER BLAST World Cup Knockout tournament was getting ready to begin. We had twelve gamers signed up to participate, and we did a quick dice roll to determine draft order.
Around noon, we broke for lunch—once again, we had it brought in and served in the hotel common area so as to maximize game time! (Lunch menu: assorted sandwiches, chips, apple pie).
At 1PM, the tables came alive again with the sound of rolling dice, with two separate tournaments taking place simultaneously...
At the purple tables, hockey fans chose their favorite All-Time Franchise Great Hockey team, and squared off for the title of All-Time Champion. We put all 30 franchise great teams in the mix, as well as the Oakland/Cleveland team, the two All-Time Legacy teams, the All-Time "Iron Curtain" Soviet team, AND the ATFG "One-Hit Wonders" newsletter freebie team! Ten hockey hopefuls took the ice as the tournament began.
At the green tables, it was time for football: we had "Fab Finish" tournaments scheduled for both Canadian and American pro football, with the SECOND SEASON and COLD SNAP 2017 Pro Season card sets. The football tournaments were different from the other events, in that we started with real-life 2017 playoff match-ups, and had gamers choose the team(s) they wanted to guide. From there, we let coaching prowess and dice results determine who advanced. Both tournaments ended up with different champions than were delivered in their respective real life leagues!
When the hockey and football events wound down, convention-goers transitioned to the Rockies game at Coors Field. We let everyone get to the stadium at their own pace, and since we'd bought a block of tickets that had everyone sitting together, it was easy to reconvene. The night's opponent: the Seattle Mariners. As a special bonus, the first 10,000 fans each got a Nolan Arenado bobblehead: I think all of us got there early enough to get one! Jeff Gray pitched outstanding for the Rox, giving up just two hits through seven innings. Carlos Gonzales blasted a 440-foot homer in the third inning, turned out that was all the home side needed. In the bottom of the sixth inning, we got our moment of fame on the JumboTron scoreboard—hooray! The seventh inning stretch is always fun, although when we got to the part about "Root, root root for the Rockies," I heard a few other team names thrown in there by our group instead! Back to the game: Seattle made it interesting late with a couple of base hits as Gray began to tire, but Adam Ottavino came in and shut down the Ms to earn the save and seal the win.
The final day of the convention began with a "Sneak Peek Into PLAAY Games Laboratory," at 8:00 Sunday morning! Yes, it was early—and we didn't hold it against anyone who wanted to grab an extra hour of sleep instead! But early-risers and curiosity seekers got a chance to see what we're working on behind the scenes at PLAAY HQ! Some ideas were better-received than others, all generated interest. Can't reveal anything more here!
Then, at 9AM, we began one of the convention's most-anticipated events: the HISTORY MAKER GOLF PLAAY-Dot-CON Open! Every attendee had been given a set of special commemorative golfer cards, each one representing a different skill set of a top-tier pro golfer. There was the "big hitter," the "fairway wizard" and the "seasoned pro." You had to choose which card you wanted to use for the tournament and stick with it. We'd done tournaments previously in Atlanta and Charlotte, but this was the first HMG tournament to consist of two full rounds. We let everyone choose their own foursome for the first round, and then, for the second round, re-arranged the field and staggered the start times so as to have the leading golfers tee off last, just like on TV. We regulated pace of play to ensure that the earlier foursomes wouldn't get ahead of the later ones. It was a very exciting finish, with a late charge by one of the trailing golfers, and—just like on TV—a final, tournament-winning putt to conclude the event!
After an informal lunch break, we re-convened for the concluding event of our convention: the first-ever HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL tournament to be played with ordinary baseball trading cards. As most know, HMB was designed to be played that way (with ordinary baseball cards). While time/experience has proven that most of our sports game hobby crowd prefer game play with pre-rated cards, my sense/hope is that there's still a space in the non-hobby crowd for a game that uses baseball trading cards. So, in a sense, this closing event of the convention served as a "grand experiment." And what fun it was! We conducted this tournament as "group play," with six groups of four gamers, playing every other gamer in the group once. ONE team emerged from the tournament with a perfect 3-0 record, which earned its manager the Trading Card Title!
We wrapped up the event at 4PM, right on time. Yes, it had all gone by too quickly! A number of gamers were heading home either late Sunday evening or early Monday morning, so the crowd in the hotel common area dissipated slowly, which was nice. Several folks headed out to grab a bite, forming an "ex-con stragglers" group that kept the party going on into Sunday evening.
Looking back at the convention, I really think things went even better than I'd hoped. Especially considering that this was a first-time effort, with no previous "convention" experience. A lot of that is a credit to the community of gamers who participated: to a person, every single gamer was flexible, fair-minded and focused on having fun! Bravo!
We learned some great lessons and gained valuable insights about how an event like this works, with an eye toward the future. Our meeting room size was small-ish, so the noise level got pretty boistrous! (Thanks to the staff at the Hampton Inn, they were very gracious and understanding about this!) A couple of the events had to be truncated in order to fit into the available time constraints. We ran six inning trading card games, and "Fab Finish" football—I would have preferred to have been able to play full games. And several games had no presence at all, save for "pick-up" games played by gamers not involved in organized play. I really wanted to have a roller derby "draft-N-play" event and a Pioneers stock car race, among other things, but alas—there was no room in the schedule to fit them all in. All things considered, though, the glitches and hitches were minor, and the fun factor was huge.
Will there be a PLAAY-Dot-CON 2019? At this point, I'm thinking that's a fairly safe "yes." I think the July time frame works best for everyone, and we would probably stick with the basic timeline of events: a January announcement of venue and convention dates, reservations/deposits accepted through March or April, detailed planning in May and June. Probably we would expand to a full day of gaming on Friday, and move the (optional) preliminary activities to Thursday afternoon/evening. That will allow for the schedule to be a bit more relaxed, and perhaps accommodate a few additional organized events. One thing we'd like to consider is to offer the opportunity for gamers to plan and execute their OWN game events. If someone wanted to run a bowling tournament, for example, we could provide the materials and time slot, and they could recruit gamers and decide how the event would run. We'll make these decisions later this year, as we put together our annual "Year In Review." Stay tuned!
In the meantime, a big THANKS to EVERYONE who made PLAAY-Dot-CON 2018 such a rousing success!
Questions? Comments? Let us know!