It is a difficult thing to prepare for meeting people that so far, you have only really interacted with online. I'm happier to share a direct message, or Facebook chat, because you can't really see that what I've done is deleted the sentence some seven times before I sent it. It's allows me to self edit in so many ways on the fly.
Even in the realms of the podcast, while I give the impression that the conversation is free flowing and goes anywhere, I don't necessarily have to worry about people experiencing what I'm actually like in real life. Every time I cringe at something I've said, every point where I want to beat myself up for being stupid, I can simply highlight the guilty sound wave and delete with the press of a button. The final version, a trimming down of potential embarrassment. The only person who knows at the time is the guest and so I pray for short term memory loss and forgiveness. Even if they do remember, it can later on be a little in-joke, something special that we can share in the future while I scream internally. My brain serves me well for filling up those blank gaps in the silence during a show, but also brings the fear when I know I'm stepping away from that control. It is something I promised myself I would try to do better at.
It was the motive for deciding to drive four hours down to Harrogate some two weeks ago, (in the dark and at the mercy of the mystery tour that Google Maps took me on.) and also because I promised on the Kickstarter campaign to get out there and meet those wonderful guests, that I found myself venturing to Airecon, a home grown event, which literally started in someone's home and has grown to be one of those events that needs to get checked off in the 'must do' list if you are wanting to experience the best of tabletop.
Conceived by the now legendary warm and friendly Mark Cooke, who towers above the guests like a protective father, arms ready to hand out hugs and help wherever it is needed. Like someone who still thinks they are looking after their guests at a house party that got slightly out of hand and ended up with a couple of thousand people grabbing spaces to sit and just play games. Or sell games, or buy games, or meet people they've only listened to, or seen on videos, or maybe bought their creations. He has been the architect in creating an atmosphere can only be described as busy with contentment, as for some here, Airecon gives them the chance to spend an entire day just playing games and talking nonsense and deepening friendships. It's that kind of a place, where play is given priority over most of everything else. It's allowed.
I must admit I lucked out on a number of occasions, firstly though the generosity of Tom from Redwell games, who offered to share a room with me at the Premier Inn just around the corner, which meant that long trek to the venue was dispelled in place of a casual stroll for breakfast and then a saunter in to get set up. Parking was a little steep but I managed to get one of the few remaining spaces in the underground parking. So with that sorted, I checked in, and made my way to the room, making polite conversation with two gents in the lift as we ascended to the fifth floor, only for one of them to ask if I was that person who did the podcast. You can't be prepared for 'being recognised' and I suitably wasn't, having just finished a four hour drive. I grinned like a buffoon, over-thanked them profusely, unpacked and headed down to the bar to find out you Englanders close everything at 11pm.
Breakfast was in the company of friends at the local Wetherspoons which happened to serve a decent gluten free fry up to fuel me up for the day ahead. Meeting people for the first time and eating in front of them? The stuff of potential social nightmares, however Stu and Janice from Wren games turned up with their adorable kids and so I could literally sit there with egg on my face and not have to worry a jot.
Airecon is a decent size. Accessible with enough space for hundreds of enthusiasts to sit down and play, and ease of access to temptation in the form of a well stocked and extremely well organised bring and buy sale and a smaller smattering of commercial sellers presenting their wares. For those those who just wanted to sit down and play there was a plentiful collection from the Games Library where the queues never seemed to be huge and painful, although as with all these things, popularity would control choice.
Walking around the tables was a joy, seeing copies of Dinogenics and Heroes of Land, Air and Sea hit the table and taking up huge amounts of space. While off to the side smaller huddled groups would be gathered together playing cards game or social deduction games and genuinely having fun. It made you realise that games were always best when they weren't sitting there as some kind of bragging window-dressing backdrop for a play though video, but alive and free and fulfilling their purpose.
The role-players were given their own space to play, off in the corner, while near them was the playtest zone, where budding and seasoned designers were showing off their latest ideas or giving punters a chance to play their fully produced games. Mark of Wreck and Ruin Fame was now selling and demoing his fully funded and operational game, while Bez brought Wibbell ++, Kittys on a wall and extremely good hair. It was a chance to meet some former guests and catch up with old friends like Tristan Hall and Nigel and Sarah from One Free Elephant, and sit and play Magnate with James Naylor, which is definitely 'A game to watch'. I even met Emma from Emmerse Studios, pog free, which was a thing.
|Magnate, Money and the best looking Buildings|
|WE'RE NOT TWINZARDS|
For those who were organised and put their name down, Paul Grogan was there to run some how to play sessions. I'm a huge fan of Paul's work and what he brings to the hobby in terms of videos and rule books he painstakingly creates and it was wonderful to meet him. Oh, and someone called Rodney Smith was there as well, who apparently does videos too. I wasn't too sure why there was a such a fuss over him. I never understand fans in these situations. What kind of person, walks up to someone they've seen on YouTube and embarrassingly asks as to whether or not they would like to come on a podcast with no wizards and talk about things? eh? ridiculous..
Rodney of course was as down to earth and friendly as you would expect him to be and judging by how busy his table was during the day, he put in a shift and a half.
There's no real way to keep playing unless you keep the fuel cells charged and special shout out must go to the catering vans who not only served delicious food, but served delicious Gluten free food. As a coeliac, finding something to eat that isn't a packet of crisps at these type of venues can be a chore, as falling sick will pretty much mean the rest of the day is a complete write off. So finding such a choice or burgers and pizzas and crepes was a total delight, with no compromise on taste and quality. I was really impressed by the choice on offer and hope other venues take note as it is so important in the overall experience for me.
For those who wanted to spend some time away from the table, Polyhedron Collider ran their own live show, while I Play Red ran a hilarious take on Family Fortunes called 'Fameeple Fortunes, where it must be noted that Jon Cage from PHC played a blinder when asked his question about naming a famous board game designer. Nothing was ever taken too seriously and much fun was had by all. It provided a welcome respite from those wanting to spend some time away from the table.
|Only one can win best of Breed..|
Airecon for me was outstanding, but it was a combination of factors that made it that way. I got to meet so many people who I only had previously interviewed online for the podcast. I got to sit down and play games with some genuinely lovely people including the internet Titan Dan Hughes, Ross Connell from More Games Please, and Steve Tudor and Jon Cage from Polyhedron Collider. As well as spending some time with the Unlucky Frog and Tabletop Scotland crew. It reminded me again that this hobby flourishes because of the people involved and that events like Airecon and Tabletop Scotland are relevant and important for keeping the wonderful hobby growing and spreading.
I only managed to stay for one day, leaving early on the the Sunday morning to get back up the road. I was tired, but happy, and even think I got away without saying too many stupid things. Well, as many as I noticed. Promises for repeat episodes being made, handshakes and awkward hugs exchanged, Airecon was a fantastic experience and I look forward to next year.