“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts
A lot has happened since I walked out of the Westport Sheraton Chalet on a late Sunday afternoon in May of last year. I changed jobs. I quit writing for a while. My wife took a new position at her work. We cut the television chord, a big change for our kids, so on and so forth. I have often felt that I am still trying to find rhythm in this new dance; finding the groove so I can move within all of it with some manner of grace, rather than stumble. My existence has been in a swirl of change.
For me, Geekway to the West was starting out much the same. We started out overbooked, with my oldest having a sleepover on Friday night of the convention, which required one of use to leave. My youngest had her Girl Scout Bridging Ceremony on Saturday morning, which is entirely about change and growth, requiring another break in the action. The opening of Geekway also coincided with the last day of school this year. With my family joining me on Friday to stay the rest of the convention, this meant that Thursday was going to be my only day for any of the heavier games that I wanted to play. This left me in a conundrum. Do I take my (well deserved, says selfish Toby) Thursday of heavy gaming and let the kids fend for themselves? The oldest would be o.k.. The afternoon would give her ample time to send as many text messages as humanly possible. Our youngest though, would be holed up in after-school care, summer anxiously waiting just outside of the gymnasium doors, but still hours away. I couldn’t let that happen, so in the morning I told them I would leave mid-day and pick them up. After all, I could still get in a crunchy game or two and everyone’s a winner. When I arrived, the lines were huge but moving fast. A chance to help out arose and I immediately tossed my gaming plans aside and jumped at the opportunity. Being on the other side of the table was a perspective that was new to me and it was immensely frantic and fun. Time flew by and next thing I knew, it was time to pick up the kids. I headed straight for school, hustling in to bust out my youngest. We blew out the doors and straight into the car. School’s Out, by Alice Cooper, blared from the truck as we barreled home to grab her sister. Next thing you know, we were all heading back to the convention.
I was still unsure if they were into going to Geekway because it was a thing to do, or if it was the thing they wanted to do. This was my oldest’s third year, so I felt pretty good about her, though she appears to have taken early delivery on the teen’s and that can stunt any sense of outward enthusiasm. Our youngest just turned seven and though her delight was the surprise of last year’s experience, I wondered if the magic would still be there. It certainly was and more. In the Play & Win section, where there is a special library of games and every game session enters you and the other players in a drawing for one of the copies of the game, we immediately found her convention quest. Here, Kitty, Kitty was the family hit of the convention. Being a family with two promising future cat ladies, it totally made sense. What was surprising was how fun it was to play. The goal of the game is to get the most points by luring more cats to your property, specifically your porch and house, than the other players. You do this each turn by performing two actions from three choices: move a cat one space, play a card, or discard cards. There is a bit of the “take that” element, but in such a lighthearted way that no ones feelings got hurt. Her quest had begun and she was going to win that game come hell or high water. It appeared our chances were good at first as no one else appeared interested. I think word spread that there was more to the game than meets the eye though, and by Saturday, the vendors that carried the game were sold out and it was hard to find a copy to play. Footnote: She didn’t end up winning a copy, but there happened to be a package sitting on our porch come Monday afternoon.
We ended up playing games way later than planned, then filled our bellies and headed home to prepare for the weekend. As we walked the parking lot, I watched my kids dance and sing and laugh all the way to the truck. They were silhouetted by the sunset and it was perfect. There are times the moment stops you and your mind drifts back to the crossroad; the decision that led you to this exact spot. Sometimes you think about what you could of done differently, other times you reflect on how perfectly it played out. From the onset, my day changed and I wouldn’t have it any other way. All of it was grand, and opening day of Geekway was the perfect way kick start Summer.
Geekway to the West was at full capacity this year. They used all the available conference rooms and their attendance reached record proportions, selling out months before the convention. At times you could feel it. Saturday bustled and burst with players, occasionally making it hard to find a spot to lay claim for some game space. Fortunately, the gaming gods looked down on the convention and the weather was beautiful all four days with only a slight, cool breeze. This allowed gamers to take full advantage of the tables on the patio, as well as the picnic tables throughout the scenic pathways, which made for an even more relaxing environment as you could enjoy the weather and move a meeple or two.
While certainly not specifically a family convention, and I am not sure that was ever an intent, Geekway is a welcoming environment for those that want to bring their kids. On the whole, it felt like there were a lot more families this year than in the previous two year’s I attended and I was very happy to see that. Last year being the first I brought both my kids, I remember how much I appreciated that families were welcome. The hobby is growing and I think more families are rethinking what family time means. More people are trying to find ways to unplug and recenter. I hope Geekway can continue to be an environment that enables families to spend time in such an engaging way. I think it’s important for kids to see how positive this type of community experience can be.
I mentioned at the first of the post that I took a break from writing. Part by choice and part by necessity of other obligations. I recently started spinning the blog back up, but an opportunity came about to help out on a rule book for a game called Dragon Brew. It’s designed by Daniel George and will go to Kickstarter in early 2017. This little adventure has turned out to be such a great learning experience and interesting collaboration; I am very proud to be a part of it. The game is in the final stages of playtesting and Daniel whipped up a prototype for me, shipping it out in time for me to take to Geekway to the West and let people try it out. This was something of a new experience, actively seeking out people to try out a game. Though I teach games all the time and very much enjoy that aspect, I was a bit out of my comfort zone, setting up a game and teaching it to people I didn’t know and who had no previous knowledge of the game. It ended up being quite gratifying to watch people play and listen to their opinions of the game. I played it several times over the weekend and in the process, made a few new friends.
I judged the game design contest again this year, with a big change to the format. This year, Mayday Games sponsored the event and chose the four finalists to the Mayday Game Design Contest prior to the convention. The finalists competed Shark Tank-style, with all the designers pitching, teaching, and demoing the game to the judges in front of an audience. This made for a lively, interactive event, with the audience being included at the end of each session to ask questions, give suggestions, and offer feedback. All four games were very well designed and full of potential, but Beeees! by Marcus Ross took home top honors. I hope it finds a publisher and it would be great if it were available to play at next year’s convention. Mayday Games provided great prize packages to all the finalists, including a box chock-full of bits and pieces that can be used for prototyping games. Geekway topped off the grand prize with a generous monetary prize to boot.
On top of the flurry of activity that made up my Saturday, it was an emotional day for me as well. Saturday marked ten years since my mother passed away. As much as I can, I try not to dwell on those types of things, to keep moving forward and celebrate life. Life that was and life that is. It is a transition that we all will experience from both sides at some point. It’s the longest running fad, if you will. It’s funny in an odd way, how you think you’ve moved forward, then those feelings sneak up, grab you, and hold on – always when you least expect it – and you find yourself stuck back in the emotion. As time passes and I reflect back, I’ve realized that out of that episode in time – that sudden and horrible change – came the start of my journey to find who I really was and who I wanted to be. That journey, in part, led me back to gaming. Gaming in turn, led me to Geekway. Being there and being able to surround myself in companionship and conversation was very therapeutic. It didn’t help me forget, I don’t want to, but to just be; to join the dance, if you will.
Sunday came and tried to pull us by our ears, back into the day-to-day reality, but we would have none of it yet. There is an annual church carnival just down the street from our house. For the second year, Geekway and the St. Cletus Picnic have lined up on the same weekend. For the second year, we have gone home from the convention, put the hammer down on some chores, then put on our Sunday (carnival) best and ridden rides until late in the evening. Is it the smart thing to do? Not really. It all makes for a long Monday and Moby Dick and The Sizzler don’t really mesh well with four days of very little sleep, bad diet, and too much excitement, but sometimes you have to keep on keeping on.
Change is constant, yes. Change is also not always good, right? Change, however, is opportunity. It is a chance to see where left takes you when you thought you were going right. It is the possibility that exists as a reward for riding it out or picking yourself back up. For this convention, very little went as I’d originally planned, but my willingness to roll with it led me to new experiences and opportunities. It made my convention a rich and memorable experience. It made me better. Change is essential to being better.
Next year Geekway is moving to a new location and expanding again. Capacity could grow as high as 2300 attendees. There isn’t a Geekway Board Member, Organizer, Sponsor, Vendor, or attendee that knows what it’s going to be like, but I have a high level of confidence that however it plays out, it will be great. In the short time that I have been going to the convention, it’s gone through changes, but the spirit of Geekway to the West has remained. It’s that same spirit that I wrote about last year.
“It was a place we could meet people and families with like interests, where we could play new games for free and enjoy friendly competition. It provided us events where we could dress up fantastically and compete in total silliness. All of us.” – The Spirit of Geekway to the West (pt. 2)
Three years ago, Geekway was the catalyst for me to take my love of the hobby to another level and in doing so, meet many wonderful people that I now get to share some of my time with. I understand the spirit now, so next year I plunge further down the rabbit hole to try to get to the soul of this gaming convention. More events, more participation. I have already decided on my outfit for the Fancy Gaming event next year and maybe Battling Tops will see the first appearance of El Perpetual Groove…
Roll well. Groove on.
Sunday: Dragon Brew, Felix: The Cat In The Sack