The Toy and Game Expo is Australia’s only public expo with “the latest in toys and games”. Running from Saturday the 5th of July to Sunday the 6th 2014 in The Dome at Sydney Olympic Park, the expo features a massive games library with all games available for borrowing by attendees, exhibits by manufacturers, displays, stage shows, and the Australian Boardgame Championships for Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne.
Patrick and Eleanor are flying up to Sydney for the expo so here’s a sneaky interview with the co-convenor Steve Rohan-Jones to get you excited! Read to the end to hear about some exciting giveaways!
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE ROHAN-JONES
Eleanor: Alright so first up… how did you end up convening this expo? How’d it all begin?
Steve: Yeah how long have you got? I’ll give you the backstory. I’m one of the conveners, the other is Charles Bishop, and we’ve been friends since 1987, we studied at the Australian Defence Force Academy together. After we both subsequently left the army some years later we started a company in 2003, around training, consulting, and facilitation, and all sorts of things like that. We don’t sit still very well so we’re always following bouncing balls and seeing what we can do next, so we got involved with Australia’s biggest chess tournament, the Doeberl Cup.
We got to know Phil Davies, who was the local owner of Mindgames Canberra, now called Capital Games. Phil said, look I’m running this thing called Australian Games Expo, and he got the idea from going to Essen. So he wanted to do Essen in Australia, and he started in Albury and moved it to Canberra, and he said, look why don’t you guys take it on, because he’d seen what we had done with the Doeberl Cup, so we said sure, and then hilariously we bought it for a dollar because legally that’s what we had to do. And Phil stayed on in a sort of helping us through the initial year or two, just with meeting people, building relationships, advice, which was fantastic.
E: So how does the current Toy and Game Expo differ from the Australian Games Expo?
S: Okay, first of all it’s got toys and hobbies, whereas the old one was purely games – purely exhibitors.
E: So not so much of an interactive element?
S: It had the tournaments and the exhibits, but it didn’t have the range of exhibits that you get when you include toys and hobbies, and it was more designed for a really high-end user – the people that have already decided that they love board games.
E: Not so much for families and kids.
S: Exactly. Inclusion of toys and hobbies expands the breadth of audience to include your regular family, cause we’re keen on letting family know that there’s many ways you can have fun and they can involve something other than a screen.
E: So what would you say the target audience is now for the expo, what kinds of people?
S: Now you can also be an enthusiast of any type – so you can be a lover of board games, you can be a hobby lover, you might like remote control stuff. Whatever age that is you become an enthusiast – I’m not gonna give you an age cause it obviously varies – you can come to the expo and rekindle your passion for that particular thing, or you can continue your love of it. So if you just love boardgames and love playing them and you’re not interested in the tournaments you can spend all weekend in there quite happily playing a different game every hour or so for the full two days. So I’d say that’s your second big group that come along, is those people that really love a particular something and then they come along to experience that.
E: So what is the Toy and Game Expo 2014 going to be like?
S: There’s different components to it – there’s the high-end user board game tournaments, then there’s the downstairs area which comprises the Toy and Game Expo where you can learn to play and see all the new games that will be there from different contributors. And there’s the gaming library – I think there’s probably 350 games in there. I’m not 100 percent certain but it has to be one of the bigger private collections in Australia, as opposed to getting 10 from this person and 20 from over here and all that sorta stuff.
E: Sounds like a very expansive collection!
S: To give you an idea they lived in Charles’ shed and my shed for a long time and after the last expo we said we need to get the stuff out of the shed so they went in one of those storage units. So we’ve got all the games living down there catalogued in, let me think, 20 plus plastic box style containers.
E: Oh my god, wow.
S: So we’ve got everything from Squatter to, I think we’ve got Monopoly, Scrabble, all those let’s say more traditional games, all the way up to the latest releases so we’ve got things like Survive from Stronghold, we’ve got things like Fistful of Penguins, we’ve got River Dragons, Bonanza.
You’ll get lost quite happily, I think. That’s the games library where you can check a game out and just play with friends. It’s a bit like going into the library and just picking any book up and just sitting down and trying to understand it, or you can pick a book you’ve read before.
So what we’ve got next to that is a learn to play area. Chris Wayle and a couple of other guys, but Chris is the main organiser, who will assist with teaching people set games – something you can get people playing with quickly.
E: Carcassonne, all that.
S: Carcassonne, yeah. We’re gonna put Ortuga in there, which is a game that’s been Australian designed and developed, a bit like a pirate game with a backgammon feel to it, is the easiest way of describing it.
And then obviously the 3rd step along is tournament play, which again my argument is that you don’t have to have any tournament experience whatsoever, you show up and go play a tournament and we’ve seen that at a number of state titles where we get all sorts of people turning up from all sorts of places, so we’ve had kids as young as 7 or 8. So yeah, games can be accessible even at the tournament level, it’s more of a fun environment rather than a tournament because of the nature of board games.
E: Do you have a favourite game or activity that’s being featured over the weekend that you’re particularly looking forward to?
S: We get asked that every year, so you could sorta say, ‘well it should change, Steve’. Or surely it would be the latest new thing that’s come out. But my favourite board game would probably be Saint Petersburg, which is a card game.
E: Oh I haven’t actually played that one.
S: Basically there are four rounds and in each of the rounds you get to do something different. In the first round you generate income, and in rounds two and three you then spend income either on people improvements or facility improvements, and then there’s a bonus round and you score along the way. So why do I like that one? Well because it reminds me of my son, Simon, because we used to play all the time. Now he’s gone off to uni I don’t so much play. Another one I do particularly enjoy is 7 Wonders, if you’ve come across that one.
E: I have in fact, I enjoy that one too.
S: That’s good fun, and the sort of games I guess I enjoy are fast paced active sort of ones. Another good one which is more of a family game which we play a bit of and the kids enjoy is called River Dragons and that’s easily explained. Essentially, think you are trying to get from one side of the river to the other. That’s physically what you, you know if I said let’s go and play stepping stones and put some planks out, well that’s what you do in this game. You actually build your way across a river, and of course you can fall in and all that sort of stuff.
E: Right, cool, so what about a favourite activity at the Expo?
S: Things that were cool last year and I think will be cool again this year – probably the coolest thing we had was a remote control helicopter from RC crew. 250ks an hour, apparently that thing was doing.
S: Yeah not inside though.
E: Oh yes okay good to know!
S: And the thing that’s caught my attention most this year, and we’ve had some pretty good stuff, I’d have to say – and you have to remember I’m a big boy at heart – so the thing that’s catching my attention is apparently – I haven’t seen them – but apparently we’re having these miniature but monster trucks, and there’s scale semi-trailers and scale model tanks. Think about maybe the size of your entire arm. And I’m 6′ 2” so we’re talking the size of my arm. So that’s caught my eye so far and there’ll be a chance to watch demonstrations of those, and the guy that does the helicopter demonstration, Craig, he’s a pretty impressive pilot.
E: So I noticed you’ve got a section on demo games, the Protospiel.
S: In terms of game design part we’ve actually got a couple of different levels that you can access the expo at. At the first level we’ve actually got some people that have got a bit of a game and they want to come along and they just want the public to play it, so they’re going to occupy a table out on the main floor and they’re just collecting feedback on their games. So it could be a really basic prototype they’ll have out. Next level I guess are the people that’ll go to Protospiel so they’re obviously relatively serious. What they’re really interested in is other game designers and experts providing their opinion back to them about what works, what doesn’t work, etc. So that’s a really good thing we can put on each year, and last year we arranged with Richard Vickery at Board Games Australia, and he hosts that.
E: So is the Protospiel’s more about gaining exposure and experience rather than getting things out on the market?
S: Yeah, it’s more about the game development, getting some feedback. Moving their game closer from prototype to actual production. That might mean they get a couple made, but most of these guys, whilst yes commercial is a thought, it’s probably more, ‘I just wanna make a game’, know what I mean.
E: Cool. So my next question is what do you think the biggest challenge has been in organising it so far?
S: Good question.
E: Or clearly it’s just been really easy this whole time.
S: Heh, nothing’s easy. But nothing’s hard. Charles and I started, and we have an interesting relationship. So I have a ridiculous idea, right, so some of my ridiculous ideas have been that we should get Gary Kasparov to come to the Doeberl Cup. That was a ridiculous idea.
Charles is also very good at ideas but he takes my ridiculous ideas and says how am I going to make it work. To give you an idea he is unbelievably logistically organised. So he’s able to break the venue down and we know exactly how many square metres we have available, accounting for all the different needs, the stuff that I wouldn’t have thought of.
In the first year people would say were we worried it was going to be unsuccessful, and my answer would have been no, never in a million years. Charles’ answer would have been yes every day. Every day leading up he was concerned about, are we going to get enough exhibitors, are we going to get enough people, so probably the biggest challenge is people. It’s about connecting with people and letting them know of what is a really fabulous experience for them and their family and getting that message out there – I actually think that is interestingly, in spite of all the communication channels we have, I think that’s actually the most challenging one,.
E: I guess the flipside of that question is what have the highlights been?
S: I think on a macro scale the highlight would be actually setting it up in the first year and the second highlight, on a macro scale, is even now being able to look back – I know it’s only year three of the Toy and Game Expo in Sydney – but to look back and go, actually in some ways how did we pull that off?
E: Yeah and the joy is just seeing it grow and grow and grow and get better and better every year.
S: I think so, and certainly the joy is for me, when you open on the first morning and you get the kids and the families to walk in, and you start to hear their conversation and their stories. I mean I met a parent there last year who just walked in at 10:15 or so and was sitting down actually at the U Games area, doing the nails with the girls there. I came back two hours later and I said you’re still here? Do you wanna see the rest of the expo? She said, ‘well I do but the kids are super happy so I’m thinking I’m gonna have to come back by myself tomorrow’.
So for me that’s part of the reason why we did it, to bring that fun back to families, having families ourselves, and you can have those sorts of stories, I mean it’s priceless.
E: So you mentioned before that you’ve been getting calls since January about exhibitors attending. What are the big names that you’ve gotten in as exhibitors?
S: There’s Moose, Hasbro, Rio Grande, Days of Wonder, Mayfair, they’re probably the most well known.
E: And any expert players or speakers that you’ve got coming in for activities?
S: So I’m pretty sure David Cordova’s coming, he’s won the Settler’s national title. A guy called Clifford Hull – he won the ACT state titles in Settlers and Ticket to Ride. And we had guys that have gone overseas representing Australia in previous years, people like Randy Dreger, I haven’t seen his name yet, but I would be hopeful.
Ian Rogers – First Australian Grand Master
There’s also going to be a simultaneous chess display by Ian Rogers, the first Australian Grand Master. He’s retired from chess now but he does a lot of analysis and helping juniors and things like that, so essentially the way that that works is, if we assume 20 boards set up, they’ll be in a circle, Ian will be in the middle and away he’ll go, he just walks around, board to board to board to board, playing move, playing move, playing move, so you get as much time as it takes for Ian to get around to think and he gets three seconds.
E: And I bet he will win every single game. I would be very surprised if he lost any games.
S: Typically yes, you might get a draw if you’re super lucky and you’re actually quite good. There’s no way you can take anything off him if you’re just an average chess player. You’ve actually got to have a reasonable clue about what you’re doing and then you’ve got to take advantage of the fact that he’s moving super quickly and then, because you are reasonably good, you’ve got a bit more time to think. I would anticipate if he played 50 games he’d probably win 49 and maybe draw 1.
E: Right, last question. What would you say are the top 3 or 5 things that you’re most excited for this year?
S: Okay, top 3 things in no particular order, we’ve got the Nikki Webster dance troupe, so she’ll be there with her little dancers, they’ll be there on Saturday, giving live performances on the stage at 11, 1, and 3. So I think that’s pretty cool.
Second thing would be the whole monster semi-trailers stuff, and monster tanks, that’s a bit blokey, I know, but I just think that stuff is cool.
And the third thing, I love new stuff, so I always, although I never get a chance at the expo to play them, I’m actually a bit keen to see what are the new games, and if the exhibitor is there who actually owns the game. So I’m always keen to see what is the latest in games and to see which ones it is that we’ll be adding to our collection.
E: Awesome, so what will you be doing while all this stuff is going on?
S: Well, as MC for the whole expo I’ll be going along to the exhibitors, so if we use Ortuga for a minute, and they’re gonna dress up as pirates apparently so that’ll be cool, so I’ll go over to their stall and have an interview with them, or they might be offering a special or they might have a little game that we can play and we can get some kids involved. So I tend to do that while I’m visiting all the different exhibitors and get a rent-a-crowd following me.
E: Well that’s all my questions – thanks for you time Steve. I guess we’ll see you at the expo!
S: Alright, take care.
So a big thank you to Steve for being available and willing for an interview – sounds like it’s going to be really fun!
BOARD GAME GIVEAWAY!
To celebrate this fantastic and amazing event, the Toy and Game Expo would love to share it’s love of toys and games with you by giving away some games! All you need to do is head over to the Australian Tabletop Gaming Network Facebook Page and Share, Like, Comment and you’re in the running to win one of five classic board games!