When you commit to traveling more, it means things can get hectic really quickly. We’ve almost been to more conventions and events already than we had originally anticipated we might for the entire year. Aside from TantrumCon in February, we also participated in a private retreat and a handful of local demo days and game nights. Last month we had Great Plains Game Festival on the agenda and it was far more chill than we expected it would be. It is a convention filled with 1000+ people after all, so it would be normal to anticipate some degree of chaos. But Great Plains Game Festival is held in Nebraska with the bulk of the attendees hailing from the region. That should have been a hint right there. If you’ve ever heard the phrase Midwest Nice, apply that to this game convention and it sums it up: Friendly in all the right ways.
I mean, how many conventions put up a sign on the exit to the parking garage reminding you to get your parking pass validated? I honestly cannot think of any others. But that’s just a Midwest thing so let’s get to the heart of this convention itself: the things relating to gaming.
Let’s start by talking about the gaming area. It’s pretty standard with nice tables and decent spacing. What I liked is that there were two different banquet halls. The one on the main floor was close to the exhibitor space, food and events. The one on the lower level was near the library and play to win check-out area, RPG space, swap meet and quiet room. Neither space was overwhelming loud either. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being in hotel ballrooms vs traditional expo/convention spaces.
In addition to the traditional game library, there was also a large selection of giant-sized games available to check out. Rhino Hero, Codenames, Block and Key, Onitama, Azul, Kabuto Sumo, Age of Steam, Carcassonne, Curious Cargo, Hive, Mint Works and so many more. It wasn’t uncommon to find people sitting on the floor maneuvering giant pieces of some modern board game.
One of the coolest features of Great Plains Game Festival that I have NOT seen elsewhere was the option to reserve a table. Attendees could basically rent a table for the weekend, ensuring they had a consistent place to play. If you’ve ever been to a busy convention then you know how frustrating it can be to walk away to check out a game or have lunch only to return to a table filled with strangers. To be fair, some don’t mind just sitting down and playing a game or two with strangers for the weekend. But if you’re there with a group, it’s nice to know they can always find you in the same spot.
We’ve picked up games at flea markets and swap meets at pretty much every game convention we’ve attended and each has a unique take on the same process. Often, it’s like a traditional flea market where attendees rent a space for a designated time period where they can sell used (or new) games, supplies and accessories. It’s typically for a set amount of time and is often a chaotic mess with people tripping over each other to grab the best deals. But at Great Plains Game Festival, it was different. There was a room, set up like a consignment shop, where games were available for purchase. Sellers weren’t even present. They had recorded their games with requested prices in advance and event volunteers logged the sales all together. A percentage of each sale went back to the convention with the balance being digitally transferred to the seller. Not only was it not as crowded, but the selection changed throughout the weekend as more people dropped off games.
I would be remiss if I didn’t allocate some time to talk about the mission of the charitable organization behind Great Plains Game Festival. The Great Plains Gaming Project is a 501(c)(3) organization established to promote the educational and cognitive benefits of tabletop gaming. They work with a variety of organizations in an assortment of ways. Cameron Iwan, President, explained the backstory of the quilt that was hanging above registration and the positive impact gaming has had on inmates at a correctional center. He said the inmates learn about games then teach to their families during visitation hours. I was in awe just listening to him as this is an initiative I had not previously heard about.
That welcoming Midwest attitude translated to the game tables as well. I consistently crossed paths with people willing to strike up a random conversation and invitation to play. The event also had a Discord server for people who found it easier to look for players digitally. Great Plains Game Festival is just hitting its stride and I expect it to continue to grow by leaps and bounds now that it’s in a larger venue. It’s already on the calendar for next year and I suspect more members of our local gaming group will be joining us. Grab your Great Plains Game Festival 2024 ticket, rally your friends and plan to be there March 22-24, 2024. Keep an eye on Facebook for announcements regarding upcoming events.
What features and events inspire you to attend a specific game convention?