Oz Comic-Con Sydney has come and gone, and there was plenty there to keep the average punter happy. The convention itself had some dedicated areas to gaming, including a big screen for the new Super Smash Brothers, a dedicated dance area for some of the Wii games, and plenty of space for sitting and chatting. There were more booths for game stores and game related clothing stores than the generic pop figurine and t-shirt stalls that you see at other conventions, however there were less booths overall here. The main attractions, however, were clearly the different stages for celebrity panels and the incredibly long lines for photo and autograph opportunities.
As for myself, however… I was there for one thing and one thing only: Tabletop gaming.
The first thing I did upon entering the event was to track down the places I planned on spending the majority of my time over the weekend. I went in knowing that there was a Magic the Gathering booth, since I had already been asked if I wanted to help run it for the weekend, but I was also on the hunt for a gaming area. When I found it and saw the wall of board games, I immediately wanted to sit down and unbox something. Instead, I introduced myself to the staff running the area, and explained that I may be taking some photos and talking to some of the players. They seemed happy enough with that, so I started to set up.
To my dismay, however, there wasn’t much happening here. After about twenty minutes of talking to the few people who wandered in, I got the hint that most were here for the celebrity panels and probably wouldn’t be sitting around to play board games with friends until they were tired later on in the day. On top of this, there were more younger children and families around than there are at other conventions (which most probably comes down to the fact that Comic-Con is a much more recognisable brand for the average public). That all seemed fair, so I packed up and went looking for the Magic booth.
It wasn’t hard to find. The area that Wizards of the Coast had set up was easily twice as big as the board gaming area, but it was just as desolate.
It didn’t take long for the public – whether interested by the Planeswalker cosplayers or vaguely familiar with the idea that the game of Magic existed – to start to pool in to see what all the fuss was about. I even sat down to have a few games myself over the course of the weekend when I was tired or when there wasn’t anything else interesting happening. The booth was lined with iPads on the outside running the latest version of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015. On the inside it was split up into two sections. The largest was the beginner player area where representatives sat down with interested players in a one-on-one introduction to the game with 30-card decks. The smaller area was set up for players who had decided that they liked the game enough to purchase an intro pack to play with their friends. It was a delight to me, as a judge and …let’s say committed player, to see people coming into this booth with a bemused look on their face (or looking nervous), only to leave smiling and clutching a new collection of cards.
After spending some time taking some photos, chatting with staff, and annoying some of my friends who were helping to run the booth, I headed off in the direction of the board game area again to see if anything had picked up. Not much had changed from earlier, so I figured I’d whip out the camera and go cosplayer hunting for a while before heading home for the night.
I arrived late on the Sunday, but what was immediately apparent to me was that it was already much busier than it was on the Saturday. The general area was fuller, lines were longer, and it took twenty minutes to find somewhere to sit down to eat lunch.
I headed over to the board gaming area and while it wasn’t completely bustling with players, it was already getting more attention than it had received on the Saturday. Here I found a nice mixture of people. Entire families sat down to play some board games, card game veterans (some whom I recognised, but very clearly didn’t recognise me) sat staring at convoluted board states, and friends cracked open brand new games to see if they’d be interested in picking up a copy. I grabbed a few snaps and asked people what they were playing and if they were enjoying it, and the responses I received were overwhelmingly positive.
I even had the chance to sit down and play a game of Civilisation with a group of cosplayers. I’m still unsure if we lived up to the name of the game.
After that, I got to do something really cool: Interview someone from Wizards. I sat down with Craig O’Neill, who was one of the two in charge of the booth, for a chat with the plan of asking him about the booth and the people who had come through. What ended up happening was what always happens when two Magic players get together without decks – we geeked out. Craig was really cool and told me about the decks that he likes to play in different formats as well as his colour preferences (I may have cheered “BW for the win!” at one point) and some of the experiences he has had working for Wizards. He also asked me about some of the work that I do for the Magic community. I refrained from trying to ask questions about the next set, but luckily Khans of Tarkir had been officially spoiled already so I was able to ask him about a few of the cards that he enjoyed playing with and how he thought the set was going to come together. I also may have raved about the raid mechanic and a particular Champion of the Bloodsoaked variety, to which he explained that it was probably his favourite black card from the set.
When my girlfriend rocked up to see how the interview was going, I remembered I was meant to be in an interview and started to ask some more focused questions about the weekend and the booth. I mentioned that people seemed to be looking genuinely happy with the experience and he concurred. His early estimates were within the 1000-2000 mark of newer players coming through over the course of the weekend, with the added “don’t quote me on that” caveat. When I asked about the 30-card decks that they were using, he explained that they like to keep it at 30 because the focus is on speed. Quick games help to nut out the basic mechanics of the game with less confusion, and with less cards there’s not as much variance.
After the interview, I had another walk around the new players section and grabbed some snaps.
Then I got an idea…
I set up a shot. It was silly. It took some time and a lot of organising, but the folks at the magic booth were really cool about the whole thing and even kept a table clear for us to pull it off. But I must say, there were plenty of people standing around laughing and pulling out their phones once they had realised what we’d done.
Ladies and Gentleman… Deadpool vs Spiderman in Magic: the Gathering: