Brisbane Oz Comic-Con 2014: recollections and reflections

On the weekend of September 6th & 7th I attended the first ever Brisbane Oz Comic-Con. Now, I am a veteran of the Supanova convention circuit but I never got around to traveling to another state for Oz Comic-Con. As the result, this was my first ever Oz Comic-Con and I was quite excited, so I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 9 am when the doors opened at the Brisbane Exhibition Centre.

My first impression was a pleasant one with many joyous convention goers, in costume and otherwise, lined up in several queues eager to start a great con weekend. While simultaneously admiring the excellent cosplay in the line and despairing at the thought of lining up, I spotted the media check-in desk. After showing my media credentials, the nice PR lady was happy to guide me past the queuing proletarians (oh how quickly my ego inflated!) into the Media room. After a quick media briefing, I was off to explore the con while it was still relatively empty. The following is my thoughts and experiences from the weekend that followed, loosely organised in an order only a schizophrenic would call logical.

Tabletop Presence

IMGP5220As a media representative for ATGN I focused my attention on all things Tabletop gaming related at the Con. As most of you know, tabletop gaming is not usually one of the main focuses in a general pop culture Cons and as a result, usually doesn’t have a significant presence. For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised by the size tabletop gaming presence at Oz Comic-Con.

IMGP5316The majority of this presence can be contributed to The Four D4’s tabletop gaming area and Wizards of the Coast’s gigantic Magic the Gathering mega-booth. There was plenty of others present as well, with many exhibitors that either entirely focused on tabletop products or at least had it as a portion of their wares. On the demo games front, other then Magic the Gathering, I also spotted ‘learn to play’ areas for Pokemon, Buddyfight!, and My Little Pony.

IMGP5267As a side note, I managed to find time in by busy schedule to play a demo game of the ‘My Little Pony’ card game. While this particular property and fandom remains divisive in our nerd culture, I can definitively say the game is of quality. Though I only played a single game, the game seems to have a solid foundation and is, dare I say it, fun. All in all, if you are fine with the idea of controlling a herd of teenage ponies in order to solve problems this game is mechanically sound enough to genuinely entertain you.

There were also panels on Tabletop Gaming, featuring gamers and designers alike. I had a chance to chat with game designers and view their projects in various stages of development. I was also able to have a couple of games in the Four D4’s Tabletop area. All in all I would say Oz Comic-Con had a strong Tabletop presence.

Magic Mega-booth

IMGP5207The single largest presence from a tabletop property was unsurprisingly the TCG giant, Magic the Gathering. Their mega-booth was very striking, decorated with various planeswalkers with the current main man, Garruk taking centre stage. The greatest thing about the booth was that all of the space available was dedicated to entertaining Magic fans and new comers alike. There was a large number of volunteers standing by to teach Magic to interested passers-by by giving them demo games. While the booth itself sold no merchandise, all those who participated in a demo game were treated to a discount voucher for a starter pack.

IMGP5210Those sly Wizards of the Coast folks even had a program to encourage people to hang about and use these newly acquired starter packs. If you played different games with your new starter deck, you were treated to a free booster pack and a premium foil ‘Stealer of Secrets’ as well as various little trinkets such as an inflatable sword or Garruk’s mask. I was personally very impressed with their attempt to introduce people to MtG. For someone entirely new to tabletop gaming, the final barrier of entry could bethe  social aspect in which they have to seek out like minded people to play with. What the Magic mega-booth offers goes a long way towards shattering that final barrier.

IfIMGP5293 you are more interested in MtG’s digital counterpart, they had those running on multiple handy iPad kiosks on the side of the booth as well. They also had a photobooth in case you were interested in taking a photo with Garruk, the sole  planeswalker. Overall, the booth served as a great way to introduce your friends and innocent bystanders to MtG. Considering MtG has acted as a gateway drug for large numbers of people getting into TCGs or tabletop gaming in general, this can only have positive effects on the hobby as a whole.

Tabletop Gaming Area

10655237_10152485960489160_7938839058769202165_oOne of the best feature of Oz Comic-Con was the tabletop gaming area which was run by The Four D4. The premise was a simple but brilliant one. You go to the counter and borrow a board game from the large selection available that ranged from Munchkin and Settlers of Catan to Firefly the Board Game. Then you relax and enjoy and a game on one of the many tables set up. Since there are a few volunteers around that would be happy to teach you certain games or even sit down and play with you, this is a good way to finally check out that one game everyone keeps recommending to you. I found this area to be a godsend when the convention fatigue set in and you need to sit down and recharge your batteries before you are able to stalk Captain Kirk some more. It’s also a great way to catch up with your con-friends or even meet new ones. I have to give full marks for Four D4s to their effort in having this up and running.

“So You Want to Make a Board Game?”

IMGP5586The Four D4 also took charge of organising and emceeing the board game related panels. I managed to catch the “So You Want to Make a Board Game?” panel with Christy Dena (Game Designer and Lecturer at SAE QANTM), Allen Chang (Rule & Make), Jason Kotzur-Yang (End Game Games), and ATGN’s very on Toby Toogood. The turnout was surprisingly high and the audience seemed to be engaged and interested throughout. After the brief introduction, the panel quickly turned into a Q&A session. The audience had plenty of interesting questions, coming from gamers and aspiring designers alike. The panel was up to the task as well, providing nuanced and often humorous insights into all aspects of game development from conception of the first idea to getting the final product into player’s minds, and hopefully their hands. The panelists were also more than happy to provide aspiring game designers with industry tips and trick in one on one chats after the panel. Me and Toby also managed to sit down and interview Allen and Jason afterwards about their projects that recently got funded on Kickstarter, ‘Rise to Power’ and ‘Hedron’ respectively.

Sneak-peeks of upcoming indie games

IMGP5587 I managed to sit down and pick the brains of the three indie designers that made up the panel as they had their next projects on them in one form or another. Allen Chang had a prototype of his kickstarter funded game ‘Rise to Power’. I was once again blown away by how much I love the art of this game. While Allen informed me that there will be a couple of differences in the final product, if what I saw is any indication, the backers are going to be plenty happy with what they are going to get this October.

IMGP5601Not to be beaten by Allen, Jason also showed us his kickstarter success, ‘Hedron’. While ‘Hedron’ was mostly a print-and-play campaign, those who opted for the physical tiers should be happy with what they ordered. I hope they like dice because they will certainly be getting plenty of them. Jason also had with him his next project, Ragnaroll. It is a dice based player elimination game set in a world where Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, has come in the form of the great wolf Fenris devouring the sun. (Norse mythology is so damn metal!) Each player control a tribe of Vikings fighting to survive in this icy post-apocalyptic wasteland. The main object of the game is to outlast all the other tribes simply by being able to feed your own. Each turn all the players secretly decide on how much of their tribe will either raid, defend or hunt for food. After revealing their distribution each player takes their turn performing their raids, with the target tribe’s player putting up a defence. Specialised dice are rolled for this and for every attack the raider beat the defender by, the player has the option to either kill a Viking or steal 1 unit of food. In the event that the defender wins they can only kill a character for every point of attack they win by. After all the raiding and pillaging, those players who assigned a hunter can go hunting and pray the Allfather has favoured them with some fat prey. Afterwards it’s time to feed your tribe, with each member of your tribe consuming one unit of food. The tribe who are unfortunate enough to have less food then Vikings are forced to turn everyone they can’t feed out into the cold. This cycle of attrition continues until all the tribes but one have been eliminated and the surviving tribe has the satisfaction of being the last of the human race. This is, of course, a very reductive run down of a game with more nuance and depth. Overall it seemed to be a reasonably quick and fun game with a lot of humorous moments such as Toby’s tribe being forced to eat their own dog for lack of food. (I suggested straight up cannibalism as an emergency measure but was told not to pervert the game.) Since I have an innate interest in ancient mythologies, I really loved the setting of the game. I had a lot of fun with the game, especially since I emerged the winner. Jason informed us that while he initially hoped to release the game before PAX Aus, a more realistic projection would be sometime after. For future, more in depth coverage of Ragnaroll, keep an eye on ATGN.

IMGP5595Christy Dena brought with her a game she is currently putting through play-testing called ‘DIY Spy School.’ Without meaning to be reductive, a shortcut to describing this game is to liken it to Charades meet Cards Against Humanity meets your local improv night. The game centres around the idea of a low budget spy school that requires its trainee agents to carry out their missions with readily available household objects. The basic game-play loop of this begins with the active player drawing a mission card. The mission card will describe a spy related action such as ‘defuse a bomb’ and the active player will need to play out that action using household objects around them. The other player makes this more complicated by playing modifiers on the mission such ‘while talking in a French accent’ or ‘without using your hands’. When the mission is concluded other players offer their opinions using prop cards which contain advice not even remotely related to the mission at hand such as ‘good but could have been better with the use of cheese’. While the game is still in its early stages of development, I can see this coming together into a light and simple party game to play with friends after having a few drinks.

Overall Impressions

IMGP5258Looking back, the convention was definitely a pleasant experience for me and all of the convention goers I spoke to. The exhibition hall was vast with big spaces left for traffic between stalls, a simple necessity that some conventions still ignore. The stalls were a mix that catered to many different aspects of nerdy interests, which was bad news for my wallet. I managed to pick up board games, model kits, and animes by the time the weekend was through and comics and other various merchandises also flowed steadily though this nerdy Valhalla.

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Emma Caulfield (Anya) and Nicholas Brendon (Xander) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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The one and only William Shatner

On the panel front, there were multiple theaters running exciting programmes all weekend that you could enjoy while you regained the energy you spent trawling the exhibition floor. There were anime screenings, guest interviews and industrial panels from various fields. While the long distance between most of the theatres and the exhibition hall was the subject of much grumbling, I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the theatres. Even the most popular of panels such as Mr Shatner’s Q&A was comfortably seated despite the enormous interest. One volunteer informed me that the main theater seats over 9000 people, but I cannot be sure she wasn’t making a Vegeta Joke as that is no longer a number that can be trusted.

IMGP5202I met up with a lot of friends over the weekend, some of them con-virgins and others con-veterans. They all spoke positively of the con, especially highlighting how it wasn’t over crowded. While this was to the benefit of the convention-goers, some exhibitors I talked to and some artists in the artist alley expressed dismay at the reduced traffic which resulted in reduced sales. While the attendance was not small by any measure, it was comparatively lesser than other conventions of this size. Sunday especially saw a drop in numbers considering it coincided with both fathers day and the ‘Bridge to Brisbane’ charity run. Judging from the chatter on social media lamenting the fact that they did not know of the Con in advance, there may have been a shortcoming in the marketing department as well.

However, this type of growing pains is to be expected when it comes to a convention starting in a new location. Despite the less then ideal attendance, the conventions still ran smoothly in all other aspects, keeping the crowd thoroughly entertained. Oz Comic-Con has certainly built itself a solid foundation and precedence in Brisbane and all the evidence indicates that its future success now just depends on local interest and support. I urge such support because competition can only be good for us customers and the convention circuit certainly could use this kind of competition.

Comic Conventional Advice

~ Lin

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