Con report: ColCon 2018, near Colchester

Having just gotten back from the first running of the UK’s newest board game convention, ColCon, what better time to give it a bit of a write up; especially as it looks like it will become a regular fixture on the gaming con calendar.

My biggest takeaway was that, despite being very small (they didn’t have that long to promote it, from conception to event), it got all the most important thing right. So if you’re looking to plan your own convention – or wondering whether to come along to this one next year – hopefully this will stear you in the right direction.

I’d never heard of Marks Tey, a small village outside of Colchester – but the important thing is that its easy to get to either by train (the station is a 10-minute walk from the hotel and less than an hour to London) or car (its right on the A12). We rocked up Friday afternoon and checked straight in.

The venue

The Marks Tey Hotel is a Best Western, putting it firmly in the ‘better than a Travelodge’ category. And the organisers had worked out a price deal on a room that was a genuine bargain (£65 a double for two people, including brekkie).

I’ve been to cons before where the deal is no better than promos you’d find on hotel comparison sites – while the larger cons pretty much leave you to fend for yourself, with local prices rising as the event gains traction over the years. The place was a little tired, but the bed was comfy: sold.

Apart from the large (air conditioned when needed) room we were playing in, the hotel had loads of other areas (large and small) to expand into if we needed them – plus two bars, a restaurant, bar food. The food was pretty good too; standard hotel prices, but filling and tasty – as was the full buffet breakfast.

There’s even a spa on site (steam room, sauna etc), plus a 15m pool and gym; even a tennis court. Did I use any of them? Of course not – I was too busy losing at games in a darkened room. But it’s nice to have the option – especially if you have a partner, children etc who want a little more to do.

The con

Like most smaller conventions, ColCon had a very friendly vibe. You got a name badge as you came in and there was a small but interesting game library on hand – although most people brought huge bags full of their own favourites with them.

It was great to see a dedicated designer playtest area set up, with several playtest demos set up all weekend – as well as an upcoming Kickstarter title SSO (a narrative sci-fi game) you could try out. There were also a couple of small tournaments you could sign up for (Codenames and Terraforming Mars), but you got the feeling you’d have been welcome to try something yourself if you were so inclined.

Alongside the games library (probably about 50 titles) there was retailer Xtreme Trades on hand, as well as a ‘bring and buy’ area for anyone trying to sell some of their unloved games. There were the obligatory ‘looking for players’ signs to pop on the table if you were – you guessed it – looking for more players; and you could get food brought to your table from a reduced-price menu. For £25 for the weekend (Friday to Sunday) you certainly couldn’t complain.

Other important things: As well as Guinness on tap (a proper tap – not one of those shaky can thingies), the organisers had arranged for five (!) different real ales to be delivered from the local Colchester Brewery. Unfortunately one of them wasn’t their magnificent Brazilian Coffee and Vanilla Porter, but there was another nice porter amongst them (until it ran out early on Saturday – can’t think why…).

The games

As usual I seemed to spend as much timer faffing, drinking, talking and eating as I did playing games, but that suits me fine. I did manage 10 plays (despite no early starts or late nights – getting old!), with the only game I had to learn from scratch being a prototype.

I played four medium weight euros with old friends Keef and Clare: Yokohama, Deus, Transatlantic and Caverna. I started brilliantly in Caverna, but as always started to fade as the decision tree grew beyond my tiny mind – but managed to hang on for a share of the win. I also put in a decent display in Yokohama, coming a close-ish second, but I need to master the game’s arc. Again, I felt like I was motoring only to fizzle out toward the end.

This was our first play of Deus with the Egypt expansion – and perhaps stupidly we used all the new cards at once. This led to an awful lot of reading between turns, and not really having a clue what synergies might be on offer, but the consensus was that while really changing the game’s feel it kept all the things we liked about the original intact: a big win. Transatlantic was a little less well received, but more of that in my next four-sided review (next week).

Sarah joined us on and off through the weekend, which gave us the perfect opportunity to rest our addled brains with three lighter favourites: Ticket to Ride, Africana and Thurn and Taxis.

It was a first play of the Legendary Asia map for Keef and Clare, but it didn’t stop them coming first and second. It was the same in Africana – mainly because it is such a different game with four than with two. By the time Sarah and I had adapted our play, we were already dead and buried! At least I won Thurn and Taxis…

The prototype I got to play was The Seven Dwarves: a Kingsburg-style dice placement game. As the dice roll/placement system is currently identical to Kingsburg, it may be one publishers turn their noses up at: but the goals have a simpler set collection/recipe completion feel, making it a faster but equally satisfying experience. It needs some work but showed potential. Finally, Sarah and me had a couple of games of the cruelly overlooked Adios Calavera: now our go-to two-player game.

The end

I had a really nice time at ColCon. Staff and gamers were friendly, the facilities were excellent and prices reasonable: what more could you ask for? I expect the organisers will be a little disappointed with the attendance on the Friday and Sunday, but there must have been 50-100 there on Saturday – a sure sign of what is possible in future. I’m certainly hopefully of attending again next year. As long as there’s more porter…

As well as the link to its website above, you can also stay up to date with future events by following ColCon on Facebook.

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