Castle TriCon 2020: A virtual step in the right direction

Castle TriCon 2020 was my first virtual con. It was set up jointly by three board game publishers: Czech Games Edition, Horrible Guild and Heidelbar Games. I can only talk about attending on the press day, which was very quiet and calm. Things may have been very different on the days open to the public. But my brief experience has given me more faith in the future of online board game conventions.

Storming the Castle

Getting into the con was a simple process, familiar to anyone that’s gone through an online ticketing system. Sign up with a few basic details, confirm you’re not a robot, then wait for your email with its unique entry code.

Next you had to download a small software package. This felt very much like the start of going into an online game such as an MMO. Run the program, let it do its online updates, then sign in and away you go. And it’s a fitting analogy, as once inside it looked like an online game environment. Admittedly one from the 2000s, but hey. This one used the Unity game engine and was run by Confer-O-Matic.

As you’ll see from the screenshots, you’re soon in a 3D virtual world, running around via your choice of avatar. Circles on the ground highlighted places you go and chat, which was a bit of a free-for-all but worked well with the limited numbers on press day. Then, alongside a few screens for showing video, there were three portals – one for each publisher.

Entering the CGE portal

Once inside the portal, each of CGE’s highlighted games had its own demo area. Stepping onto the area put you straight into the chat channel of that table. While clicking the game table took you to a new browser and opened up a playable hosted demo on Tabletopia. This had obvious issues, particularly players getting their browsers/internet connections to work well enough to play. But teething problems are to be expected.

I zoned into a table for CGE’s upcoming release, Lost Ruins of Arnak. It was nice to be able to sit in on the demo, knowing I didn’t have enough time to play. And the game looked great on Tabletopia, proving a great showcase for this interesting looking blend of deck-building and worker placement. It certainly piqued my interest and I’ll be reviewing it later in 2020.

Also on display were solo sci-fi game Falling Skies (again, expect a review later this year) and Codenames Online. I’d also like to give a shout-out to one of Heidalbar’s new releases at the event, Anansi. I didn’t get a chance to look at it here. But it’s a retheme of 2016’s excellent trick-taker Eternity (click the link for my review). I’m not sure about the re-theme to a West Africa myth, as I loved the original artwork. But any attempt to get this great game to a larger audience deserves a bit of press coverage.

A screenshot of the CGE portal at Castle TriCon 2020

Final thoughts on Castle TriCon 2020

It was a shame I didn’t have time to spend a bit longer at Castle TriCon 2020, but unfortunately it fell on a very busy weekend for me. However, I can see no reason for publishers to make these one-off events. In time, especially larger publishers should be able to set this kind of thing up on a permanent basis, visited via their websites. Make demo slots available and have a member of staff spending an hour a day giving demos.

It would certainly be cheaper than opening your own store! And at a time when cons are being cancelled, players are desperate to try their hand at the new titles. It has to be worth a few hours a week for bigger name publishers such as CGE to turn this virtual con into a permanent feature of their empires.

But as I left Castle TriCon 2020 my thoughts turned to Spiel Digital, now just three weeks away. I’d be more than happy if it was just a massive version of TriCon. But I would think that’s a bit ambitious for 2020. Then, having played games such as World of Warcraft, I know having thousands of players online at once in a persistent world is possible. So who knows what the future may bring…?

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