The great American road trip is a thing of legend. America is a land of possibility in so many ways and one of the greatest unknown possibilities is the open road. Few countries have as much space to explore as the US and over the last few years I’ve slowly developed a deep desire to explore. Maybe it was sitting in a cubicle for 5 years or discovering a love for photography and videography, but whatever the reason I want to see new and beautiful things.
The Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex has a lot to offer, but abundant natural beauty isn’t on the list. Also thrown into the mix is my love of tabletop gaming and the community around the hobby so because of this I decided that I wanted to take a Great American Board Game and Videography/Photography road trip. Rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? I don’t know why but the idea of driving to a big board game convention that I had never visited in a state that I had never seen sounded like a grand adventure.
So I had a trip in mind, I just needed a destination. Of all the big board game conventions around the country either PAX Unplugged or Origins sounded like the ones for me. I go to BGG Con both in the spring and fall every year and have made some wonderful friends, but I wanted to experience the big con…with lots going on and lots to see.
So I decided to plan it and do the research and book the rooms. I decided to go to origins in Columbus Ohio. I wanted this to be a trip of firsts, and I didn’t want to go alone so I asked my brother Matt to come with me. We were both really excited for the trip. I was only going to visit cities I had never seen and we had no set schedule whatsoever. The only timelines we had to stick to were getting to our rooms in time for check-in. Since this was a trip of firsts I decided to book rooms using only Airbnb and VRBO; something I’d also never done.
So Matt got his car detailed, and pulled up in front of my house a little after lunch on a Tuesday afternoon and we set off and drove north east. As suburbs slowly blended into grassland, and grassland morphed into pine trees my brother and I had great conversations about life and what had been going on in a way that only being in a car together for close to six hours can produce. Our destination for the first night was little rock Arkansas, and even though we were in the confined space of a Mazda hatchback, the endless parade of forest on both sides like a repeating cartoon landscape gave the feeling of nature and open spaces. As we drove and saw things in such contrast to my cubicle walls I thought to myself this is exactly what I needed.
A view from the back of the bus at the civil rights museum in Memphis…
For many people a disruption in their routine can upend their life in the worst possible way, but for myself I felt that if I didn’t upend my routine for a few days I might go crazy. So we disrupted our routine, we were hitting the road and being spontaneous and it felt wonderful. We drove this way through Arkansas, and Tennessee and Kentucky and Ohio. We tried world famous barbecue and Thai food that wasn’t even city famous. We visited civil rights museums and spent a whole day doing street photography. We visited more loves truck stops then I can remember and tried Tim Hortons and Whitecastle for the first time, (spoiler alert both were a bit of a disappointment) but they were new and that was the goal.
Our world famous Memphis BBQ visit…
In my mind when I started this trip a big part of the experience would be going to the origins game fair, I had a YouTube channel and a podcast which before this I haven’t posted on in almost a year and going to conventions like this are what people with YouTube channels and podcasts are supposed to do in the boardgame community.
A time lapse in Nashville…
I left my house with the thought that the highlight of my trip would be walking the halls of the Origins convention. Being at Origins was great and I had fun exploring and seeing some old friends and making new friends. As I walked through the halls and saw rows and rows of people with very exciting products and crowds of people looking to buy those products I started to feel overwhelmed, and eventually even though it makes no sense to say it a bit lonely.
More Nashville Street Photography…
It makes no sense to say that unless you know a bit about me, I’m very introverted and social interaction while enjoyable can drain me emotionally. Even though my brother was with me, I began to feel as though we didn’t really have a place to be calm. I started to feel lost in the crowd and the experience that I’d imagined in my head was in stark contrast to the hectic and bustling reality. I was experiencing essentially a trade show where a large focus is exhibitors trying to sell products. Not to say that you can’t have a wonderful time at origins with your friends; it’s very possible I’m simply saying that I didn’t have that experience.
This place was great…
I’ve been in the board game hobby for probably about three or four years and I’m just now really starting to understand what my personal tastes are and how important that is in considering an ideal game night or convention experience for me. Gaming tastes and personalities are an entirely different subject that I want to explore in great detail in future podcast and blog articles. What I’ll say about it now is that I think my desire to go to a big convention and have this type of experience was driven by the excitement of other people’s experiences.
I follow many people in the boardgaming hobby on social media and watch the youtube channels of people who go to conventions and talk about the experiences that they have at shows.When you watch these videos or listen to podcasts you see the highlights of what happens at these conventions with people who many times are good friends. So what you hear about are awesome get togethers and intimate moments shared over a table that create inside jokes and fond memories.
My brother Matt who is infinitely cooler than me…
As an introvert who has to really try to engage new people socially I didn’t have any of those moments and what I realized is that I was trying to recreate someone else’s experience to hopefully share in some of that convention magic that I had heard so much about on podcasts and twitter. I think maybe I was looking to boardgames and a convention by itself to take me outside of my life and stresses for a bit. What I ended up finding however was that the most refreshing part of my trip was sitting in a car, seeing new things, and having meaningful conversations with my brother. The trip was amazing but not for the reasons I thought it was going to be.
Nightlife in Memphis…
To me this just further illustrates the fact that board games are tools that allow people to connect. I think board games are the most effective way for me right now to connect with my friends and family in a way that is meaningful and memorable. Games create fun and present challenges and strengthen teamwork skills and allow our brain to work out great puzzles. The real magic of games however is that they create a fun excuse to be around the people that you love. I get to spend quality time each and every week with my Daughter and my Wife in a way that has us both laughing and strengthening our relationship.
All of this to say, it helps to understand your needs and wants when it comes to the tabletop hobby. This hobby is filled with some of the most passionate, kind, caring and wonderful people I have ever met. There are lots of times when you can go and meet new people and make new friends and start lifelong relationships at conventions. You need to approach it the right way for you though. For myself, I had a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) when it came to the “convention experience” and found myself feeling overwhelmed and lost. Origins was a great learning experience. I know now that I mainly want to go to smaller conventions that are focused on playing and less on selling. I also always want to try and invite my friends and family to come along. I can make new friends and meet new people but I have to take that a bit at a time because it drains me emotionally to have to make small talk and try to be outgoing. So having my group of one or two people that I can just know and recharge with is such a boost to my convention experience.
I think at the end of the day what I’m learning is that you should definitely learn from other people’s opinions and take into account what lots of people think is good or fun. What’s even better is taking other people’s opinions into account and comparing them against what you know you love. For instance for me the convention experience is amazing, but it has to be the right convention. When I walk into the Hyatt Regency for BGG con I feel exhilarated because there are lots of people there and there’s excitement in the air, but I can also find a spot to breathe and just be quiet for a minute if I need it. I’m excited because I know there’s a library of thousands of games waiting for me to explore. I have friends that come to the con with me, but there is also a great system in place should I want to demo a game or find someone to round out the player count of something I want to play. That’s the type of experience I love.
So here’s my two cents worth of unsolicited advice (this is of course advice that you can hear but it may not be the best path for you to follow). Listen to all the podcasts you want to and watch lots of media creators that talk about their fun convention experiences and try to get a feel for which convention seems like it would be the best fit for you. Try to learn when someone is excited by the experience because it’s just something that’s awesome and anyone would enjoy it, or they’re excited because the experience that they are talking about is in line with their tastes. There are lots of personalities and many different ways to enjoy our hobby. For me I need a smaller experience that feels less overwhelming and more intimate. For you, you may need to be in the big halls seeing only the newest of the new.
Personal tastes in gaming and the tabletop hobby is such an interesting topic to me. It affects everything from what games you want to play, to the type of people you want to play them with. I’m learning more and more about my personal tastes and want to pass on what I’m thinking about in more articles and podcasts. Hopefully this was an interesting first step. More to come.