Game On Expo 2018 | Event Review

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game on expo
Photo by Chocozumo.

The fourth annual Game On Expo is in the bag, and judging by our own experience and comments from attendees, organizers, vendors, and guests, it looks like it was a win! The event added quite a bit of new content this year, and while Game On hasn’t announced any numbers yet, a chat with one of the organizers revealed pre-sale tickets were up over last year. It seems this local con just keeps learning and getting better.

Game On Expo really cemented its start in retro gaming and it continues to show its retro colors year after year, but they add a little more to their repertoire with each event. This year, they boasted a huge expansion into tabletop gaming and another push into anime and Japanese games.


Tabletop

Tabletop programming was sponsored by local partners in the tabletop community, which was a smart choice. Arizona Game Fair brought in a board game library of over 300 games, and together with Crit Hit, they commanded about a tenth of the space in the main hall with tables for open play and scheduled demos. The library and tables looked impressive as guests entered the floor, and there were always at least five or six active games, sometimes more.

Gateway Games and the local Pathfinder Society hosted Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder RPG games all weekend, and those rooms likewise always had at least a few active tables playing. At one point in the Pathfinder room, each table was tackling the same scenario at different levels in a race to see which team could solve the puzzle the fastest. The room hosts were also super friendly and happy to teach and invite new and returning players to roll some dice with them.

Photo by Chocozumo.

The card gaming side of things was hosted by Amazing Discoveries and they seemed to have at least a game or two going all the time. When we visited the room Sunday afternoon, a staffer was teaching an eager kid how to play Magic: The Gathering for the first time and the kid was putting up a pretty good fight. Competitive card gaming is tough to pull off as an auxiliary event at conventions, likely in part because tournaments typically have an entry cost to support prizes, so it was encouraging to see the activity in the room.


Journey to Japan

Anime seemed like a less natural addition to a gaming convention, but it worked pretty well in practice. The Pachinko Parlor was a hit. It was just fun hearing the mechanical clicking and bells coming from that area every time we walked by, like a mini-casino. The bright little games had themes like underwater animals, romance, and there was even a Star Wars themed Pachinko game.

The maid cafe and late-night Dobutsu lounge were a new experience this year as well, but they fit right in! It was less “cafe” and more party games and silly performances. We expected to stay for an hour or so and ended up playing games the whole evening. It was a good way to end the night.

Photo by Chocozumo.

The visual novel lounge was a bit of a mystery. We didn’t find it on Friday or Saturday, so we set out on Sunday to hunt it down only to discover it had been canceled that day for some reason. We hope it returns with a bit more oomph next year because it sounded promising. (For more of our thoughts on what we were looking forward to this year, see our Game On Expo preview article.)


Vendors, demos, and the main hall

The vendor hall was bigger this year and had a nice variety of items to tempt attendees.  There were a lot of independent artists selling handmade jewelry, pixel art to decorate your home and your outfits, soft plushie crafts, and art of all kinds. It was nice to see both fan art and plenty of original work side by side.

At least a dozen or two of the exhibitors were indie developers of video or board games, and almost all of them were demoing their games with passers-by. Local game stores and companies also held giveaways for big-ticket items like gaming chairs and monitors.

Photo by Chocozumo.

The main stage for panels and concerts was situated on one side of the main hall again. If there’s one thing we could change, it would be moving that to a more, shall we say sound-proof area. It was hard to hear panels with the noise of the hall right behind us, and the louder panels echoed over the vendors and attendees throughout each day. But all in all, it’s a smaller complaint about an otherwise great event.


The takeaway

If we had to pin it down, Game On Expo focuses on the shared experience of being a gamer. It’s the community, the history, the thrill of the chase for high scores or pieces to add to your collection. Their guest roster is always filled with game developers, historians, commentators, cosplayers and voice actors for beloved characters, and attendees get ample opportunity to chat with their heroes without waiting in long lines or selling a kidney. The event is intimate and homegrown. It’s carving out a unique place in modern fan conventions because it always seems to feel a little bit like meeting friends to game and enjoy each other’s company in someone’s basement, and we mean that in the best way possible. Here’s to adding more friends and more games to the party next year!

Check out our photo gallery of the event HERE!

Photo by Chocozumo.