conception-2011By Paco Garcia Jaen

Over the last few days, the first (or one of the first) conventions of the year. And what a start of the year it’s been!

Conception takes place in Christchurch, close to Bournemouth at the Hobourne Naish Park in Dorset, where for 5 days, all sorts of characters take over the premises and fill up the tables with more games you know exist.

The venue is smashing. Plenty of cabins and lodges on site and they’re all very clean, well stocked and very comfortable. Although the kitchens are not as big as to be able to cook big roasts and the rooms not big enough to host a banquet, they provide more than adequate accommodation and comfort for the times when one wants to get away from the gaming and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. Or those who can’t get enough and want to organise private games.

Of course all of this can only happen if you hurry up. Although there are quite a few cabins to be hired, they go very quickly, so you have to be pretty sharp to get one. There are hotels, b&bs, houses for rent and other types of accommodation around the area, so one is never more than 10 minutes away from the convention. The only difference is you have to drive to and from, which will (should!) have an impact on how much you can drink while you play.

Once you get to the convention, you can buy tickets for as many gaming slots you want to play. There are thirteen slots along the five days. Two on Wednesday and Sunday, and three each day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The slots start at 9:00am and the last one ends at 11:00pm. A long day full of gaming goodness.

At £3 per slot, it is not a cheap game, but all the proceeds go to charity, with this year Help for Heroes receiving the donations. I don’t know you, but that’s more than enough for me to part with my money more than happily!

You can also host games for free. You can arrive, fill up the registration sheet, a table is allocated to you and your responsibilities are simply to collect the tokens the players at your game bought earlier. You then receive a special token that gives you free access to a game. A pretty good deal, I’d say!

Games go from the ultra well known like Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu, to truly small and unknown games like Dead of Night and Kagematsu.

Descent, Heroclix and Wings of War were some of the board games also played at the convention. Indeed a diverse and varied selection of games that could and should keep even the most demanding gamer well entertained for the five days. And you can always bring your own games!

There are a few traders present. From the big boys, Cubicle 7, Leisure Games and Moongoose Publishing, to a table with a fantastic stock of second hand Role Playing Games, Boardgames and miscellanea and some retailers providing with jewellery and game leather good and LARP props. Now, I am not one of those traders, but they looked pretty busy, and the convention provides with the perfect breeding ground for new fans of games that can be immediately purchased.

The convention feels a bit chaotic. There is a lot of trying to get into games and the sharpest and quickest get there first. Know that you will not always be able to join all the games you want.

That is the only thing about the convention that is remotely negative. I say remotely because it is not. Chaotic it might be, but it more than makes up for charm and the willingness to help and make sure you have as good a time as you can from the organisers.

I truly cannot praise them enough. Always a nice word and a smile, always a keen eye for detail, always a word of advise and always happy to help. And yes, they had plenty of people needing help and asking questions.

And then there is the people. Not a bad face, not a bad word, not a tantrum (well… one, but it was limited to a guy at my table leaving my game five minutes after it had started with the lamest excuse on the planet) and the friendliest, and at times weirdest!, bunch of guys on the planet. And safe too! I saw a table, at the corridor leading to the exit of the premises, with an iPad on the table, rucksacks around, pens and pencils, coats, all unattended and all left alone. A place where anyone can feel safe and relaxed enough to leave rather expensive belongings on a table and then come back and still find them where you left them has to be a good place.

If you’re a game designer, publisher or retailer, you should come to this place. It is perfect to playtest your game (and indeed a lot of playtesting went on), hold official sessions (Pathfinder Society and the like) and promote your games. In fact there were two very small tables with indie games that could give a lot of the big boys a run for their money.

The only thing I truly missed were for more demo slots with complicated board games. Retailers and manufacturers, if you get 20 people in 5 days and you teach them how to play the game and how fun they are, they’ll be very likely to buy the game!

Conception 2011 has indeed cemented even more it’s reputation as a quality and fun event that any gamer should keep in mind if they want to start the year with big blast.