San Diego will always have a special spot in my heart: it was my home away from home during the summers of my teenage years. I spent many weekends there hanging out with my buddy Dave, playing games, listening to music, and practicing our WWF moves on his younger siblings.
These days I’m not down there much (and I no longer practice wrestling moves on anyone), but when I am, I think of how much fun we had, especially after we got our driver’s licenses and discovered the wonders of the backyard parties that kids threw when their parents were out of town.
And that’s exactly what I loved about Kingdom-Con, an annual gaming convention in San Diego: it had that vibe of a huge party while the adults were gone, but instead of tons of cheap booze and teenage shenanigans, there were tons of games being played and the adults were actually in on the fun.
While the con was a three-day affair, the Saturday was International Tabletop Day and I couldn’t think of a better place to spend an afternoon at the tabletop. My first order of business was getting to know the lay of the land at the Crowne Plaza. It’s an older hotel north of San Diego, but the convention center facilities were just right for the thousand or so attendees. Two big ballrooms were dedicated to miniature gaming and for open gaming; there was also the San Diego Unpub event, which featured demos and play tests of unpublished and still-developing games.
Some of the established publishers were there and I saw demos of various games, including Rayguns and Rocketships, and I got to try The Blood of an Englishman. It was an interesting abstract game using cards, neatly packaged in a Jack and the Beanstalk theme. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but then I played a game of Lotus, which I always enjoy. It’s definitely the prettiest-looking card game out there.
When I finally got to meet the con’s organizer, Ross Thompson, he greeted me with a big hug and introduced me to a few people before getting back to running the con. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy: his energy and enthusiasm for gaming is contagious and it’s no wonder that Kingdom-Con continues to grow.
There were a few smaller meeting rooms for various games and another ballroom for the vendors’ hall. While I enjoy checking out all of the goodies for sale, I’m all about the gaming experience whenever I’m a convention so most of my time at Kingdom-Con was spent at the open gaming area. This is where I met my old friend Rick (who I’d met through Dave back in the day). He’s been a gamer for as long as I can remember, much longer than me, and I always learn something new when I talk to him about games. He’s also quite the beer connoisseur, so it was no surprise when he had a cooler full of great craft beer and a bag full of unplayed games looking to hit the table.
We played a few games that were on Rick’s Shelf of Shame and I enjoyed all of them: Alien Frontiers, La Granja: No Siesta!, and Dead Man’s Draw. La Granja: No Siesta was a brilliant roll-and-write game, Alien Frontiers was an awesome dice/worker placement title, and Dead Man’s Draw was a terrific push-your-luck filler.
Rick and I also played AquaSphere, a Stefan Feld design that seems to be permanently on sale at the online game sites. I’m a Feld fan and AquaSphere was another solid point-salad game. It took us a bit longer to grok the rules, but thankfully Rick’s supply of beer kept us well-hydrated.
Speaking of beer, several kegs were on ice in the room reserved for Drunk Quest, a Kingdom-Con tradition. While my Saturday nights of drinking beer and getting rowdy are a thing of the past, I certainly appreciate the sentiment and it was inspiring to see so many gamers gathering for a cold beers and hot gaming action. Perhaps I’ll partake next year.