Goodness me, how busy life can be! I'd barely returned from India when I was off for a week to the Australian Games Expo and On the Beach. It seems I rarely get a chance to blog these days, even though I'm weaning myself off Mafia Wars.
The Australian Games Expo is a gaming convention held in Canberra on the Australia Day weekend. It was originally conceived by Phil Davies of Mind Games Canberra and Albury as a retailers' convention to be held in Albury. There were a couple of flaws in the plan, e.g. Albury is quite hard to get to for people like me, and the retailers all agreed to sell games at regular prices. So I would travel for 24 hours to get to the middle of nowhere to pay full price for games? I didn't attend the first few times.
Luckily, Australia has charismatic gamers such as Queen Melissa and Neil Thomson (from Albury), who organised free gaming in the vicinity of the convention, and made it attractive to people who just want to play games and can't fit any more in their suitcase on the way home. It also moved to Canberra, which is more annoying than Albury but easier to get to. This year as well, we organised the Australian Maths Trade to finish shortly before the convention, and Julian from unhalfbricking organised for geeks from all over the country to drop their games at his stand. That was a very clever move, because he got to meet the ones who weren't already his customers.
Phil has decided to hand administration of the con over to a team of young professionals, and I wish them the best of luck. I do hope they recognise that the Australian gaming community is not a mass of faceless consumers, it is in fact a well-informed, well-organised network. The leaders of games clubs know each other from BGG and increasingly Facebook, and increasingly in real life as well. Any Australian board game con is enhanced by the presence of Giles (caradoc) working for Rio, Mickey and Mike from Paradise Games, Alison and Neil from Caterpillar Games, the Albury front-row forwards, and of course Her Majesty Queen Melissa and her royal court.
Scrabblette was in Canberra the day before the con started for a conference in her field, so she spent the weekend in Canberra with me. That meant I wasn't able to go feral and game myself into a blithering mess of caffeine and pizza; instead I went to the National Library and the Art Gallery (impressionists display) and the Botanical Gardens. Consequently I spent most of my time at the con just chatting to old and new friends - Shingo, Tim Woodhams, Sacha Spinks, gmcnish, Da Pyrate, sbszine, Phil Harding, Alvin, mr_lunch, fFish, tiggers etc... people I'd desperately love to see more of, if only Australia was a smaller place.
Once Scrabblette left for Brisbane again I got a chance to play some games, and the first was Tobago which Giles taught to me and some guy called Nick. Wow, that's a cool game. It's just at that level of being pretty easy, but you can still apply thought to increase your chances. The deduction aspect is so much fun. We managed to borrow fFish's copy to play at On the Beach, so I enjoyed it twice more. After Tobago I was looking to play Maori, but couldn't find an opponent. I noticed a table of guys trying to figure out Stone Age, so I decided to play with them and teach them that game. Stone Age is a pretty easy game to teach because the theme works so well. I discovered as I was playing that two of my opponents were BGGers... but the other guy won. I also managed to play Finca, which I would play again but I hesitate to say it's a good game. It's just outrageously pretty.
After the con I was off to On the Beach with Julian etc. Julian was quite stoked with the sales he'd made, and had good information on what new games he needed to stock, e.g. Tobago. Nevertheless, there was a lot of stuff to put back on his trailer, such as all the unwanted Martin Wallace games. I rode up to Jindabyne with Brendan Mahony from Adelaide, his daughter, and AJ.
A few people have asked what On the Beach is. It's sort of like an Australian Gathering of Friends. It grew out of ConVic (Julian's convention) where a few of us saw the Australian gaming community being born, and had the idea of getting together for a week each year and being good buddies and playing a heck of a lot of games. The theory is that we hold it somewhere in the middle of NSW where people from Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney can congregate with maximum inconvenience to everybody. We're very limited for space, because finding accommodation for a week in country Australia is limited to shearing shed dorimtories and suchlike. At the moment we've found a nice ski lodge which is happy to have customers in summer. Because space is limited, and because we don't want to spoil a good thing, we're very very selective about who gets invited - generally we want people who want to play lots of games, and aren't psycho bastards, no matter how many times you get blocked out of a city - because, we're going to be there for a week, we can't afford group dynamics problems.
Anyway, I had a great time at OtB this year, and there is very little evidence that I was actually the psycho bastard everyone hated. My good geekbuddy aaronseeber and I played a few abstract games, CyberKev coerced us all to play his party games, and Julian and Brendan played their Martin Wallace games in a back room where nobody could be grossed out. Peter Hawes was tirelessly teaching his games, as always! M. Squelart was an astonishingly good breakfast chef, while Brendan had the bacon and eggs under control. Aaron Seeber cooked some lovely dinners then AJ did the dishes. Randy (genesteeler) and Melissa (not the Queen, another one) were invited as well, and I thought were great people to have around. It helps that my gaming tastes tend more towards Melissa's than towards Brendan's or Kevin's :-).
I played 68 games in 6 days at OtB, including 18 that were new to me. However, that will have to be for another blog post.