Chicago Geek Guy

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Tag: Midwinter Gaming Convention

Come Get Some! Midwest Convention Schedule

Earlier this week, a friend asked me if, as the Chicago Geek Guy, I knew of local gaming conventions scheduled for the near future. I had to confess. I didn’t. Undaunted, I reached out to groups on Facebook and Reddit to compile a convention schedule of events in the Midwest.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

October

  • Dan’s Con of the Vale, Brookfield, WI – http://coldironconventions.com/
  • Mini-Hoopla, Janesville, WI – http://www.gaminghoopla.com/mini-hoopla.html

November

I consider this a work in progress. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.

Midwinter Gaming Convention: Scythe

I will admit. The vibrant colors of the plastic miniatures first caught my eye; then, the gorgeous art of the game board. It took a second to sink in. Oh, that’s that game my friend Dan’s been raving about.

The Midwinter Gaming Convention gave me my first opportunity to block out enough time, sit down and play Scythe, a worker placement game set in an alternate 1920’s from Stonemaier Games. The game takes its tone from the works of artist Jakub Rozalski and feels a lot like the world of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan Trilogy.

The game looks intimidating. Plastic miniatures, cards, wooden blocks, a large map, and cardboard playmats fill the box. Laid out, the materials take up more table space than there might be table. All these parts serve a noble purpose. Once set up and briefly explained, Scythe offers a relatively easy to play experience. The blocks and plastic simplify bookkeeping, allowing the player to focus on the game itself.

The combination of two different player boards per participant and hidden objective card make the game different in each playthrough. Playing the same faction will feel different from game to game, and strategies and tactics need to reflect the current setting. This game allows for all sort of different game play. Players may explore, produce, or fight their way to victory.

I greatly enjoyed my introduction to the game. Host Kevin Jung and his crew understood the rules well and conveyed them effectively. This session’s players each approached the game differently. One tried to win through conquest. Another though production. I completely failed to utilize my faction’s special abilities and flailed through the playthrough. I don’t think I impressed anyone with my gaming acumen.

Still, the group let me flounder pleasantly, providing help, support, and a sense of humor when needed. Overall, the experience left me ordering my own copy of the game right after the session so I can practice in private. Scythe calls for ONE to five players. After a few rounds with the automation, I figure I’ll be ready to face real people again.

Midwinter Gaming Convention: Vendor Room

From my perspective, one of the highlights of every con is the vendor room.  As usual, I was pulled in by the vendors’ siren song of at Midwinter.  At first glance, I wasn’t all that impressed with the vendor room.  When compared to other cons I’ve attended, like Anime Boston, which has a giant hall with hundreds of tables, the smallish ballroom of 38 vendors was unimpressive. Upon further examination, I changed my mind.

The vendors were a variety of mostly smaller, individual crafters as opposed to larger retailers selling mass produced products like posters, magic cards, etc. They were selling all types of wares that would be of interest to gamers with a variety of interests including stuffed dice, weaponry and various steampunk items.  I will admit to being a girly-girl, so my own personal focus was more toward the ornamental as opposed to weaponry. 

I purchased items from a number of vendors, and sharing my favorites with you.  In my opinion, the most talented vendor was LisaSell, a 2D and 3D artist who is a magician with resin.  Lisa Sell, the owner, makes gorgeous resin masks from obviously laboriously hand-carved molds, with breathtaking results.  I had spent most of my money by the time I arrived at her table, but I happily plunked down $25 for two smaller pieces (a beautiful steampunk metal fascinator and a resin steampunk charm).  Luckily, Lisa also has an ETSY store (also called LisaSell) where I can purchase one of her lovely masks once I’ve saved up my pennies.

Another favorite vendor was Tops It Off – Custom Crochet Shop, owned by Mimi Refici, from Kenosha, Wisconsin. She makes and sells wonderful, winter, geeky creations including but certainly not limited to pokeball hats, a batman hat complete with a mask to cover the wearer’s eyes, and a variety of other characters.  If she doesn’t have the exact item you want, I understand that she can make anything (based upon what I saw, I believe it).  I fell in love with an adorable hippo hat and hard warmers that I’ve worn pretty much every day.  If you can’t wait until the 2018 Midwinter Gaming Convention, you can contact her on her Facebook Page, Tops it Off – Custom Crochet. 

If I had one complaint about the vendor room, it would be the jewelry.  Practically every vendor selling jewelry carried some form of chainmail necklaces and bracelets.  There was else to choose from, other than the not necessarily geeky beaded jewelry, although I did see one vendor selling a variety of jewelry with bones (or resin looking bones).   

My final shout out goes to the Mobile Stress Relief Unit, who did a fabulous job of massaging away my aches and pains.  In general, I have to declare the vendor room a success.

Midwinter Gaming Convention: Tokaido

I did not expect to play Tokaido at Midwinter. I bought a copy at my FLGS  six months ago and haven’t even had a chance to open it.  However, Saturday evening as we headed over to the board game library checkout desk, we saw a group of three geeky hipsters opening the Tokaido box. Trusting the friendly environment fostered by Midwinter, we took a risk and asked if we could join them.

The game and the company did not disappoint.

We found Tokaido remarkably chill and seriously fun. Each player takes the role of a traveler walking the “East Sea Road.” Temples, farms, picturesque panoramas, souvenir shops, and inns dot the trail, each offering a unique experience. There’s no dice rolling, fighting, or killing. The players just walk a beautifully rendered game board, soaking up as much culture as they can. At the end of the journey, the player collecting the most local knickknacks, donating the most to the temples, eating the most expensive foods, and viewing the most beautiful landscapes wins the game.

It’s a well-constructed game, easy to understand and lovely to look at. I offer only one complaint. The subtle color scheme of the game makes it difficult to tell the difference between different experiences. The color used for hot springs looks awfully close to the color used for the panoramas.

Sharing the travels with others adds a full measure of enjoyment to the game. Our group of players chose a freewheeling ronin, a geisha, an itinerant monk, and a starving artist. Together, we carved a fun story of adventure and involvement, all in less than 60 minutes.

Tokaido, from Passport Game Studios, for 2 to 5 players, age 8 and up.

Midwinter Has Come! (and Gone!) – First Impressions

2017 marked Chicago Geek Guy’s first visit to the Midwinter Gaming Convention, but not that last. The two of us enjoyed ourselves immensely across two floors of the beautiful Milwaukee Hilton City Center, playing games, shopping, and making new friends. 

Over the next few days, we plan to share our impressions of the convention, the games we played, and thoughts raised by participating. Today, we’ll focus on the Con’s organization.

“We found the size of Midwinter a perfect fit.”

Small when compared to industry power houses like Gen Con and Origins, we found the size of Midwinter a perfect fit. The con grouped registration, events, and the exhibition hall close together, with food and drink offerings just a short elevator hop away.

The size of the convention helped foster a greater sense of intimacy and friendliness. One would likely have an opportunity to game with the same folks multiple times, helping to foster a budding acquaintance or even friendship. Special guest mingled freely among participants. John Wick talked to people in character at the 7th Sea LARPS. Danielle Lauzon deftly led tabletop and live action sessions of the system. All the special guests felt approachable and took care to remember names and offer guidance based on a player’s experience and familiarity with the game.

“It was not difficult to find convention organizer Anne Holms…”

Event staff kept a watchful eye on the proceedings, doing their best to find answers when asked. It was not difficult to find convention organizer Anne Holms lurking the hallways and play area, chatting people up and listening to feedback. Anne and staff member Meredith Gerber welcomed criticism, often anticipating it, ready with suggestions for next year that would address the problems. Working the registration desk, Jonathon offered an immediate solution to a pressing problem and helped relieve a potential heap of confusion. JR Cillian Green kept things flowing smoothly in the board game library. Nearly constantly filled with happy gamers, we think the convention can count the board game room a growing success.

“I can’t believe how nice people are.”

We got to learn a new game with these friendly folks.

“I can’t believe how nice people are.” We heard this refrain constantly throughout the convention areas. People treated each other with respect and civility. Gamers of different ages blended seamlessly in a safe environment. Hotel staff greeted each participate warmly and felt ready to engage us individually about our hobby.

We believe Midwinter Gaming Convention offers something for all gamers in a healthy milieu.  We’ll dig into the specifics over the next few days.

Midwinter is Coming – Part 3: The Event Nears

With a little over a month to go until the convention, it’s clear. Midwinter is coming. I’ve spent some time over the past few months talking about Midwinter Gaming Convention’s origins and growth with the convention’s founder, Anne Holmes. As I look forward to attending for the first time, I decided to find out what makes the con worthwhile for some of the regular attendees.

“Everyone affectionately called it ‘gamer prom,…”

I’ve learned that gamers still tightly associate the con with the World of Darkness. “It was for a long time solely a Vampire event,” one gamer related to me. “Everyone affectionately called it ‘gamer prom,’ since it was kind of THE showcase for costuming and crazy national political plots.”

The commitment to One World by Night, the international organization of World of Darkness LARPs, drew storyteller Curt Goble to his first Midwinter in 2015. “I came in to play OWbN werewolf and vampire. I had great fun at the werewolf game, so much that I ended up skipping playing vampire to continue to play werewolf afterhours and at the OWbN Mage game that was running in the evening.”

Curt, a frequent storyteller at the nation’s largest gaming convention, GenCon, also appreciates the intimacy and structure of the smaller con. “At Gen Con, most events are single session games, and classically they haven’t been national-level plot – though there is the occasional fallout from a game that happens there.”

Midwinter allows for multi-day gaming sessions. “… there is more time to get into the swing, and the plots we deal with there are usually fairly large in scope and have effects on OWbN as a whole for years to come.”

However, this strong connection between Midwinter and One World by Night put off some people.

Chef Val remembers going to the con about six years ago. “I wasn’t particularly fond of the venue/hotel and I wasn’t that into the variety of games the con provided,” she told me. “I started back up 2 years ago and it had changed significantly. It has a much bigger variety of games and vendors, which always keeps me interested with stuff to discover and do.”

“It’s a beautiful Hilton that loves having us,…”

The venue also made an impression. “It’s a beautiful Hilton that loves having us, lovely spacious venue and guest rooms, and the location provides for nice dining/drinking in-house or you can venture out into the city on foot and explore all that beautiful downtown Milwaukee has to offer. It’s really a whole new con now and my personal favorite!”

The con’s diversification appeals to other, more long time attendees. Mike Surma started to attend back when it only targeted World of Darkness, specifically Vampire, players. “Over the years, it’s morphed from a targeted LARP gathering to a full blown convention. What keeps me intrigued is the continual addition of tabletop RPG games – where my heart lies – in which the creators show up and run sessions for players.”

“I’ve sat at tables with Ivan Van Norman, Eddy Webb, and this year I’ll be at a table run by John Wick.”

The closeness and intimacy of Midwinter speaks to Mike’s passion for tabletop RPG’s. “… these games are typically new releases and Midwinter is one of the few venues you might get to see them before they’re released. I’ve sat at tables with Ivan Van Norman (of Geek & Sundry), Eddy Webb (author of the Pugmire RPG), and this year I’ll be at a table run by John Wick (Author of 7th Sea, a swashbuckling RPG). It’s a fairly unique experience, and one that I look forward to each year in a less crowded (than GenCon, for instance), more personal venue where I don’t have to pay extra to play.”

As a storyteller and franchise owner of the LARP Dystopia Rising, Mike takes advantage of the format to spread love for his ongoing game. “First, it’s a medium sized venue that attracts a variety of people. With its initial posture supporting LARP, it still draws a strong crowd, many of whom like new options. Second, the events are free for the most part, and by offering a free short module, indoors, without a full weekend long commitment, people can get a ‘try before you buy’ concept of what the game (Dystopia Rising) is about.”

“Running a game, for me, is a good opportunity for exposure to something that people would potentially be hesitant about, or have never heard about before. We love what we do, and we hope others will join us and find that they love it too.”

The expansion has left some long term attendees doubting if they will go this year, however.

“Honestly, it’s kind of the variety that has decreased its appeal for me.”

“Honestly, it’s kind of the variety that has decreased its appeal for me,” a gamer said to me. “So many people have so much fun at the event now, but not much of its offerings justify the expense for me. The vendors are cool, but I have little need for their paraphernalia. I don’t dislike board games, but I don’t like them enough to need a whole event for them. And while there are options for LARP, most of them are lost among the sheer quantity.”

“The last few years I’ve gone almost exclusively for the Werewolf: the Apocalypse LARP, but the games that used to be the foundation of Midwinter have been largely sidelined to small, crowded rooms among dozens of other small, crowded room filled with other LARPs. It doesn’t really feel like an ‘event’ anymore, so much as a regular Werewolf game played where it’s OK to be in-character in public and then drink a lot and hang out with friends.”

For myself, even after all these conversations. I find myself looking forward to attending Midwinter and finding out if it’s a good fit for me.

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Midwinter Gaming Convention 2017 will be held January 12-15, 2017 at the historic Hilton Milwaukee City Center and will include more events than ever before. 

Photos by  C.Wenzel Photography

Midwinter is Coming – Part 2: The 10th Anniversary

It only just turned to fall, but Midwinter is coming; Milwaukee’s Midwinter Gaming Convention, that is. CGG’s last article on the convention talked about its origins. I had always known Midwinter as a World of Darkness LARP gathering. I hadn’t known it started as a Toreador Masquerade, but I did notice its popularity among local Vampire and Werewolf players. Growing out of that niche took, and continues to take, some serious effort. Once again, I turned to Anne Holmes, owner of Daydream Productions and the creator or Midwinter Gaming Convention to find out how it happened.

“We’re all gamers here!”

“It was a challenge to be sure,” Anne described, “as so many people were skeptical that we would never be more than a ‘LARP convention.’ Even still, as we are so LARP heavy, there are people who question if the other tracks get as much love. I want Midwinter to be a place where any gamer can come and experience the events they know and love, as well as explore new options. I want it to be the place where people don’t say “those are the LARPers, or, those are the Tabletoppers, ect… I want it to be the place where people say hey, we’re all gamers here!”

Anne seems to have met, and exceeded, her hopes of expanding Midwinter into an inclusive gaming convention. As of this writing, the

Midwinter, it's not just for LARP anymore.

Midwinter, it’s not just for LARP anymore.

2017 convention offers 38 LARPs, but more than 134 tabletop RPGs, and 30 board game sessions. It also offers a large board game library for participants to drop by and use at any point during the convention. There’s even a smattering of card game events available and more events get added daily. Anne also recognized that it takes more than a wider selection of games to attract the crowds.

“There was no way of telling what types of companies would do well at Midwinter.”

“In addition to welcoming other types of games, my convention needed to have an exhibit hall. Because there was no way of telling what types of companies would do well at Midwinter, I cast out the net and offered first year exhibitors free space. It was a gesture of good will that has definitely paid off. From that first year with exhibitors we have retained three ‘Legacy Exhibitors,’ or companies that have been with us every year since. At that first event I joked that in ten years Legacy would mean something really cool and now that’s only three years away!”

Anne readily admits to making mistakes as Midwinter grew. For example, it turned out I wasn’t the only one thinking the convention was limited to One World by Night LARPs.

“We had been around for ten years… nobody had heard of us.”

“… the show was just learning how to reach out with marketing, explaining to people that yes, we had been around for ten years at that point but we had been limited in scope which was why nobody had heard of us. We spent several hundred dollars on terrain and prizes for an event that nobody showed for. We had presenters that were awesome, but not really in our wheelhouse, because we hadn’t gotten completely comfortable with what our wheelhouse was.”

When asked to reflect on the 2010 Midwinter Convention, Anne replied:

“Was the 10th anniversary the moment? Yes and no. I don’t think there will ever be a moment where I say ‘we have made it’, because that feels like saying we’ve reached the summit. We will never reach the top, because then there will be nowhere else to go.

The10th anniversary did show me that we were ready as a show to make the leap into a full convention, and it was an amazing revelation to me that I had been doing this now for a decade. I had ‘made it’ to the point where I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do as a career.

A bigger ‘made it’ moment for me was when the Best Western could no longer host us, we were bursting at the seams with space issues and needed to make the move to a larger venue in Downtown Milwaukee.”

Midwinter Gaming Convention 2017 will be held January 12-15, 2017 at the historic Hilton Milwaukee City Center and will include more events than ever before. 

Photos by  C.Wenzel Photography

Midwinter is Coming – Part I

The conversation started with, “OK. Who are you and what is your relationship with Midwinter.”

“I’m Ann Holmes,” she replied. “I am Anne Holmes, owner of Daydream Productions and the creator or Midwinter Gaming Convention.”

It seemed that I had found the right person to talk to.

For the first time, the staff of Chicago Geek Guy (all two of us) are planning to attend the Midwinter Gaming Convention, January 12 to 15, 2017 in Milwaukee. The convention has been through a number of changes in its 16 years. Before we showed up, we thought it best to get some background. This post marks the first of a series about the convention, its creation, its development, and the event itself.

Back in 2000, Anne itched to hold an event as her character in One World by Night. OWBN provides a common story and rule set for the Vampires LARP-ers of the World of Darkness. Firm in her belief the best games are played in the dead of winter; she decided on January as the perfect month. She rented a VFW hall in West Allis. It would make a great venue, even though the players couldn’t use the basement of the hall until the standard Wisconsin Friday night fish fry had wrapped up!

Anne held the first Midwinter as a Toreador Ball, hoping to gather all the artists and actors of that fictional vampire clan as hostesses with the most-est. She expected only a handful of participants to attend during the middle of a raging, January snowstorm. Her favorite memory from that night was stepping out into the ballroom to see 150 smiling faces. Fortunately, someone had a camera handy and captured the photo above.

From the beginning, the intention was to expand into a full gaming convention. Anne has been diligently working to grow and expand Midwinter ever since. She modestly credits much of Midwinter’s success to a team of extraordinarily talented people, committed to her dream of building something lasting. Their willingness to help in this vision, humbles her.

On the 10th anniversary, in 2010, Anne incorporated as DayDream Productions. Bringing in exhibitors, special guests, tabletop RPG. The event made the leap from Midwinter Event to Midwinter Gaming Convention.

The Midwinter Gaming Convention has become an annual event for multiple international gaming organizations, including One World by Night and Mind’s Eye Society. Both organization offer four-day LARP extravaganzas throughout the weekend.

As Midwinter Gaming Convention continues to grow, Anne keeps a few goals and core tenets in mind. She desires to promote as many free or low-cost games as possible without levying additional costs on any fan produced events. She also strongly believes in growth through quality, as opposed to quantity, and strives to promote a friendly and welcoming atmosphere for all attendees.

Midwinter Gaming Convention 2017 will be held January 12-15, 2017 at the historic Hilton Milwaukee City Center and will include more events than ever before. 

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