Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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DunDraCon 47 Brings Four Days of Gaming to the Bay Area

Over Presidents’ Day weekend, tabletop gamers, board game enthusiasts, and card game fanatics made their way to the Santa Clara Marriott for DunDraCon. This celebration of tabletop games hosted its 47th convention with a full four days of gaming, LARPing, and shopping, so let’s take a look at the ups and downs of the long-running convention.

The Venue

DunDraCon was held at the Santa Clara Marriott, utilizing the hotel space nicely. The largest rooms were set aside for shopping, open gaming, and similar large-scale events, while smaller rooms were set aside for individual games throughout the weekend. That allowed players to gather in a nice quiet room for their scheduled game sessions without fear of being interrupted or drowned out by background noise, and let players focus without disruption.

The hotel itself offered a decent variety of food options, from the hotel restaurant to daily buffets. Of course, those were all sold at typical hotel prices, so it wasn’t the cheapest. However, a row of restaurant options was just a short walk away, so attendees could grab a bagel, pizza, or burrito at far more reasonable prices.

Additionally, the Marriott had plentiful parking space and enough rooms for all attendees. Many who had attended the con before it moved to Santa Clara still have painful memories of struggling to find parking at any point in the day, but that was no longer an issue.

Games

Obviously, the biggest draw of DunDraCon was the gaming, and there were plenty of options. Attendees could schedule games in advance, which others could sign up for online. There was a wide variety of games, including several RPG systems and in-depth strategy board games, as well as LARP sessions where players could take on the role of characters and act through their adventures.

However, even those who didn’t sign up in advance could still find plenty to do. Several open gaming areas were set up so attendees could grab a game, grab a seat, and find players to befriend. The convention also offered a hefty game library with a nice assortment of options.

For attendees more interested in large-scale miniature games, there was an entire room dedicated to it. These often featured large diorama bases with detailed terrain, covered in hand-painted miniatures engaging in skirmishes, battles, and tests of ingenuity.

For younger gamers, there was a Children’s Room set up. This featured plenty of games designed for a younger audience, which they could pick up and learn under the guidance of staff members.

Those who wanted to try out new games before they hit the shelves (or demonstrate their upcoming games) could go to the Protospiel Room, where local game designers were running playtests and demos all weekend. Protospiel is an exciting opportunity to try out games while they’re still works in progress and provide feedback, and the room also offered raffle tickets to everyone who participated.

However, there was one very noticeable absence this DunDraCon: the lack of D&D or Pathfinder “organized play” games. Previous years would host both Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League and Pathfinder Society games, and while last year only had Pathfinder, both were absent this time around. While there were rumors that the groups organizing those games disbanded, those were proven false by the local Adventurers League community hosting their own offsite event, with the organizers explaining that they left the con due to certain disputes.

While attendees interested in tabletop RPGs could still sign up for sessions hosted by other attendees, or run their own games, the organized play environment and the players that came with it were still missed. Many are hoping that the organizers will be able to come to an arrangement next year.

Shopping

While there were plenty of games to play, there were just as many to buy. DunDraCon’s Dealer’s Hall gave local vendors and artists a place to sell their goods, and there was no shortage of options. Several booths sold discounted games, while others offered handmade goods, artwork commissions, homemade dice, and more. Many an attendee left the hall with their wallets lighter and bags much heavier.

Attendees could even find hidden gems for free on the convention’s Freecycle Table. People could drop off games they no longer wanted there for others to pick up, and the offerings rotated significantly throughout the weekend as attendees snagged free games or left their own.

On Monday, DunDraCon held its Bazaar, where attendees could sell their old games and goods. The room was filled with shoppers looking for a great deal on well-loved games, helping the convention weekend end on a high note.

Seminars & Demos

Throughout the weekend, DunDraCon was host to an array of seminars, covering everything from wargame history to RPG horror stories. As 2024 celebrates the 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, there were plenty of D&D-themed panels, including “50 Years of Dungeons & Dragons” and the “PlunderQuest Dungeon Grinder Game Show,” which also gave away D&D books as players introduced their characters only to meet a hilariously gruesome death.

A player dies to a Chaos Hag in the PlunderQuest panel

Other seminars covered important topics, such as “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Context of Tabletop Gaming,” or provided advice on designing and running games or adventures. In short, there were plenty of panels for all to enjoy.

Several seminars also fell under the “War College” banner, focusing on not only wargames but real world and potential conflicts. While some of these were more sensitive subjects, such as the ongoing war in Ukraine, they were still engaging and informative sessions.

Additionally, Amtgard and the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) were also present, featuring workshops, discussions, and combat demonstrations throughout the weekend. These included fencing, whips, and similar demonstrations for interested attendees.

Miniature Painting

Arguably one of the most popular rooms throughout the weekend was the Miniature Painting Room. Attendees could stop by, pick up a free miniature, and start painting. The room’s organizers were enthusiastic, friendly, and helpful from the moment the doors opened to the time the convention ended, making it a welcome environment for painters of all skill levels.

One of the Painting Room's organizers provides tips to attendees

On Saturday and Sunday, the Miniature Painting Room hosted all-day speed painting contests. Interested attendees had until 5 PM each day to start and finish painting a miniature, and all competition pieces were put on display for attendees to vote on. Beginners and experienced painters alike were encouraged to compete in their categories, and several amazing miniatures won prizes. (Full disclosure: this reporter also entered on Saturday and ended up placing in the advanced category.)

Saturday's miniatures for the painting contest on display

Game On

This was a year of many changes for DunDraCon, including an overhaul of its volunteer system. However, the convention remains a fun and exciting event for gamers of all ages, experience levels, and favorite games. There was no shortage of games to enjoy, shopping to do, and miniatures to paint, and anyone walking the halls could see plenty of attendees enjoying themselves.

(The lack of D&D Adventurers League and Pathfinder Society was a notable omission, but hopefully it will work out for future conventions. After all, it feels odd to have a DunDraCon without the DUNgeons or DRAgons.)

So as the long weekend came to a close, DunDraCon attendees returned to their homes with new games, new miniatures, and new memories of a weekend well-spent.

Players relax with a game of Red Dragon Inn

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