Airecon 2023 Convention Report
I’m writing this on the train back from Airecon. Or at least, I’m trying to. The WiFi on the train is like being back on dial-up, and I’m not even on the train I’m meant to be on. My first train was delayed, so I missed my connection and had to wait another hour for the next (delayed) train. I’m not even sure I’ll make my final connection at this rate. But you know what? I couldn’t care less. Airecon once again showed why it’s one of the best conventions not just in the UK, but anywhere in the world. The post-con glow is most definitely with me.
Heading to Harrogate in March should mean trees coming into leaf, with crocuses and daffodils adding colour like an embroidered carpet throughout the town. Not this year though. It was all white. There was snow – lots of snow. Still, the intrepid tabletop community weren’t about to let something as trivial as sub-zero temperatures, dangerous travelling conditions, or the risk of slipping over stop them. (For the record, I slipped and fell just once, which is a win in my books).
Harrogate Convention Centre was teeming with people, and despite the huge numbers of people, it didn’t feel crowded. That was thanks to the Airecon crew who rented much bigger areas of the centre to run the convention this year. Even then, it still felt pretty full on Saturday, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it grow again in 2024, if money and Mark’s (the founder of Airecon) stress levels allow.
Come and play
Airecon is a play-focused convention, which means it caters to the likes of you and me: people who want to meet up with like-minded people and play games. It’s in contrast to something like UK Games Expo (you can read my previous reports for UKGE here and here) or Essen Spiel, which have open gaming areas but are set up for vendors first and foremost. Last year’s Airecon (which I wrote about here) had a retail and publisher presence, but it was pretty small. This year the exhibition space was much bigger and felt more like one of the halls at UKGE.
The purists among you might want to turn their nose up at the growth of places to spend your money, but I’m actually in favour of it, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the additional income from exhibitors means Airecon can afford to occupy as much of the building as it did, and allows it to cater to increased numbers of attendees. Secondly, and maybe most importantly from an attendee’s point of view, the exhibitors were in a completely separate hall from the rest of the convention. If you wanted to you could spend the whole weekend at Airecon and not step foot inside the exhibition hall once. If it continues to grow, I hope the convention keeps this feeling of separation, because it helps Airecon to feel like it has in the past. It’s that spirit and feeling of a gathering of people who just want to play games which makes Airecon what it is.
Airecon isn’t just about playing or buying games. They also run a ton of events. I didn’t attend many, but I did take part in the board game pub quiz again, which was great. Despite having had quite a few drinks between us, our team – Full Fact Hunts (sorry Mark!) – came 4th out of 30+ teams, which was great. Mark runs a great quiz, and we had an absolute hoot. I watched some of the giant Just One game which seemed to be getting a lot of laughs, not to mention the Jolly Boat show, the charity raffle, the Park Run, beer tasting, or the morning meetup for coffee and breakfast. It’s fair to say there’s plenty to be doing at any given moment.
I had a great time at the convention. On Thursday evening after heading out for a beer and pizza with Iain from The Giant Brain, I nipped over to the hall to collect my pass, only to bump into a certain Mr Rodney Smith, who many of you may know as the face of Watch It Played on YouTube. I went back to the bar with him and Matthew Jude from the same channel (among other things), where we had a couple of beers, waxed lyrical about what makes a good wargame rulebook, and shared our mutual admiration of The Players Aid (go and check them out, Grant and Alexander are great).
It kept snowing overnight, which meant my genius idea backfired on me. I took a large, rolling suitcase with me to transport my games, thinking the rollers would help me. Clever, right? Not so. The snow was so deep that the rollers never touched the tarmac, and I used my case as a makeshift snowplough as I trudged through the streets, dragging it behind me.
You’re welcome, residents of Harrogate.
Once in the halls, I met up with my extended, adopted family of people from the Gaming Rules! Slack server, who I tend to spend time with at every convention. I pretty much just played games all day, which was amazing. I played (and won at!) The Great Wall, which was very good, Yokohama, Ominoes, No Thanks, Scout, Gorilla Marketing, and Can’t Stop.
Saturday was when I took some time out to go and speak to people in the exhibitors’ hall, which was really good. I met a load of new people, including, but not limited to – Andrew from Yay Games, Tristan from Hall or Nothing, Tim from Critical Kit Ltd, and Tony from Meeple Design. Along with them, I managed to bump into old friends too: Tom from Trolls & Rerolls, Laurie from SDR, Paul from Patriot Games, Flavien from Hachette Boardgames UK, and Nicky at Kosmos Games, I could have spent much longer talking to more people in that hall, but that’s the sort of thing I prefer to do at UK Games Expo. Airecon is for playing games for me.
For the rest of that day I played a few games, including Atiwa, Cuba Libre, and frustratingly a game I can’t tell you much about! I booked in a few months ago for a demo of a new game by David Turczi (Tawantinsuyu) and Simone Luciani (Barrage). I’m not allowed to show you photos of it, I’m not allowed to tell you what it’s called – it’s all very hush-hush. What I can tell you is that it feels like someone made a game using 60% Brass, 20% Barrage, and 20% Concordia. I can tell you it won’t get crowdfunded. I can tell you it’s coming from a big publisher. I can tell you you should be able to pick it up at Essen this year. I’m very excited to play it again, and I can believe it might already be my game of the year.
Thank yous & final thoughts
There are so many people I want to thank, I’m bound to miss some of them. With that in mind, THANK YOU to:
Mark, Ben, and everyone who set up and ran Airecon, from the organisers to the stewards and everyone in between. From the planning to the execution, without each and every one of you, we wouldn’t have the Airecon we all love.
Rodney, Matthew, and Paula from Watch it Played for taking the time out of their crazy schedules to share a drink and a laugh with me.
Dina from Dina Said So, who not only pushes new indie studios my way, but also brought me Moomin fudge from Finland. MOOMIN FUDGE!
Iain from The Giant Brain, who I’ve known for ages, but met for the first time. We had fun playing games and setting the world to rights over Norwegian breakfasts. Gavin and Sara-Jayne were very welcome additions to our games too, so thank you all.
Last, and in no possible way least, thank you to Mak, Jill, Mark, Bob, Neil, the other Bob, and everyone else from my Gaming Rules! Slack extended family. You guys make conventions for me, and there’s no other group I’d rather play games and drink beer with.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – if you’re on the fence about going to a convention, or you’re nervous about going, Airecon is a fantastic place to start. There’s no denying that it is very busy, and from the outside, it can seem intimidating. However, in all my years of attending events in different places, for different hobbies, there is nothing that compares to the friendliness you’ll find at an event like Airecon. No matter which demographic you fall into, you’ll be made to feel welcome, and I’ll wager you a bratwurst from the food trucks that you leave with more friends than you arrived with. Even for someone like me who lives a long way away, the 16 hours on trains and 800 miles of travel to get there and back is more than worth it.
See you all next year.