It’s the time of year again where the greatest convention has come and gone again. I have incredibly fond associations with AireCon, the board gaming convention up in Harrogate (and named for the river, not an industrial way of keeping buildings cool.) Last year, on our first visit, my fiancée and I got engaged the night before it, we played a whole bunch of games over the two days we attended, and we got some great games out of the Bring & Buy. We had so much fun, we decided to return again for the upgraded four-day convention. That’s right – four (mostly) whole days of gaming. Buoyed by the success from last year and the collaboration with YouTube channel Watch It Played, the convention this year went from 4pm on Thursday to 6pm on Sunday. So, with the memories fresh in my mind, here is my AireCon Diary of 2023.
Thursday was weird. I’m sure you’ll remember that there was some incredibly odd weather happening last week and Thursday was the oddest of it all. We had dropped the dog off with my parents for the weekend the night before so we could head straight off, anticipating some delays due to the snow. Happily, once we got onto the M1, the only thing I really had to worry about was the fact my cruise control wasn’t working properly. It felt weird to be driving with sunglasses on under the grey snow clouds, but it helped me see better so hey ho. We arrived safely and went to Betty’s tearoom for lunch whilst I awaiting the arrival of the Zatu van to help unload. Boxes a-plenty were wheeled out into the retail hall and stacked on shelves. The convention this time was in some of the larger rooms, so it was a nice sneak preview of the hall.
After lugging some boxes about, I picked up our passes and went to our hotel room to pick up the massive box of games I had for the Bring & Buy. On the way, I bumped into 4/6ths of the Watch It Played team and caught up with them whilst the snow fell around us. After I gathered my box, I queued up to drop off the games and then headed into the hall to meet up with some friends from a Discord group. Finally, we set up for our first game of the convention – Lost Ruins of Arnak with the Expedition Leaders expansion. Excellent game, expansion is fantastic for it and the final scores were very close… for three of us. The winner smoked us by about 20 points. The game took us a while to play, because of the teach and people coming over to say hi, but we thoroughly enjoyed our game. We called it a night there so we could go for dinner and rest up for the night.
Friday morning was a retail day. We stopped in at a little café called Fik for a quick breakfast and then headed to the stalls to explore. Because we’d collected our passes already, we were able to head in early. I’d prearranged a pickup of a copy of Roll Player with the Monsters & Minions expansion, but I also found a copy of Unmatched Robin Hood & Bigfoot which is going out of print in the not too distant future. I bought a lovely D20, a copy of the Friar Tuck in Danger expansion for Adventures of Robin Hood and entered prize draws with Geeknson and Meeple Design, chatting to the vendors as we did. We even had a chat with Honey Badger Games about providing some gummy dice and meeples for our wedding.
Then we went to the Bring & Buy. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Bring & Buy is the equivalent of a car boot sale for board games. Thousands of games were brought in and left in a room for people to browse and purchase. I managed to find a copy of the Pantheon expansion for 7 Wonders Duel, a good copy of an Unlock game and a really well-maintained copy of Tales of the Arabian Nights – a game which I’ve been on the hunt for for a couple of years. I’ll admit, I um’d and ah’d about it because Tales of the Arthurian Knights is due out this year but I figured why not?
The opportunity is unlikely to come up again.
Morning of shopping complete, we went into the halls to play. And boy, did we play. We jumped into a Mega Sagrada tournament to play a couple of games, tried a new dexterity game called Shape Invaders, and filled the time with some Marvel: Remix. Whilst waiting for a player to join in for Planet Unknown, I hopped into a game of KLASK 4, which is about as mad as a four-player game of KLASK sounds. The hugely over-produced Foundations of Rome hit the table, which I did enjoy quite a bit. I just wish it had a smaller price tag. Then we headed up for the board game pub quiz, playing Infinity Gauntlet: A Love Letter Game and Similo Fables whilst we waited. Our team came 10th overall in the quiz, though we couldn’t fathom how – the questions were brutal. Satisfied, we headed for bed, but not before checking out the library and checking out Wonderland’s War for the next day.
Saturday began with gladiatorial violence. Well, a bit of a later start for breakfast, but then the gladiatorial violence. Watch It Player were hosting a Strike tournament, which is a game that has no right to be as fun as it is. I didn’t win the overall tournament, but I made a good go of things. On the way out, we tried Crokinole for the first time, another game which had been on my gaming bucket list to try. (Good fun, would play again. Probably wouldn’t buy it though.)
Cartographers made it out of the bag, with the Frozen Expanses expansion giving another new twist to one of my favourite games, then we opened up Flamecraft. It had been a goal of ours to play Flamecraft with a higher player count, since we’d only played at two, and happily we found it scaled (pun unintended but appreciated) very well to 4. Next, we were introduced to Rumble Nation, a really clever area control game set in Japan that has now made it onto my list to find at a future Bring & Buy. In return, we taught him Bandida, the excellent co-op game that is a sequel to Bandido.
We made our way up to the charity raffle, fingers crossed to win one of the massive tables of games. And we did… kinda. After we bought our tickets, we found one lost on the ground, which, of course, turned out to be a winning ticket. Since I had it, I went to stand a little sheepishly next to the prizes until the original buyer came over with the strip of the other tickets as proof of purchase. Very kindly, she let me have one of the games from the table, and I walked off with the Dice Throne Season 1 Rerolled Battle Box.
Wonderlands War reached the table after dinner, something I’d been looking forward to playing pretty much all day given the heft of the game. I enjoyed it and would play again, but I’m definitely glad I tried before I bought it. To decompress from the massive experience, we played some quick card games, SCOUT and Sushi Go! Sushi Go is an old favourite and SCOUT is the newest hotness.
I can’t say I thought SCOUT stood up to the hype, but then it is a trick taking game which isn’t my favourite mechanism. Maybe I just don’t like hype, that’s a very real possibility.
We rounded out the night with a late-night play of Disney Villainous, using the Bigger & Badder and Wicked to the Core expansions. We finished up at around 1am on Sunday morning but it was a deeply satisfying experience to play as long as we could in the halls.
Sunday was a bit of a slower day. My fiancée slept in after the late-night gaming so I went solo into the morning, doing a last sweep of the Bring & Buy and grabbing Twilight Inscription for a friend at a steal. An early warm up had a dabble with Doughnut Drive-Thru, an order fulfilment game with… well, doughnuts. I had entered into the Unmatched tournament, and made it through to the semi-finals with Sinbad, defeating Ghost Rider and Bloody Mary before he was shot down in a close battle by Robin Hood.
We watched a recording of a Watch It Played On the Radar, which will be on their YouTube channel in the next month or so, before heading down to play a final game ahead of the convention closure. We ended up playing Architects of the West Kingdom, which is still my favourite game at the moment.
I love AireCon – I love the feel of gaming together being the focus rather than a massive retail spot like UKGE tends to be. At the end of the weekend, we had played 22 different games, with 36 plays recorded and 19 different players joining us at the tables. The food available at the trucks was fantastic and Harrogate in general is a really lovely city. We stayed at the Travelodge just up the road from the convention hall and it was super convenient compared to last year’s AirBnB. There are a few things I think we would do differently next time.
- We would dedicate a game to gaming with different people. We ended up gathering with a group of people we know and, whilst I love gaming with them and really enjoyed my time, sometimes it’s nice to make new friends and get a game with them. The people make this hobby and I would love to get to know more people out there.
- Maybe plan when I would drop off the games for the Bring&Buy better. When I joined the queue, it took nearly an hour to get around. It could be just the timing of it all, the weather, or the new layout impacted things, but when you’ve got a box of 20 games, it’s not fun.
- Pack a few more smaller games. I had some small games in the bag, but mostly I had some bigger games with me at all times. These were harder to get to the table and teach, especially if I didn’t know the game that well. There is also a potential issue with getting certain time slots in place to meet people before stuff happens and quick games are the best way to get that dedicated game time in.
- Fewer events. We had a good time with some of the events, the Strike Tournament and the Mega Sagrada being two standouts, but a couple of the others gave us a bit of stress to attend and weren’t as satisfying. That’s probably down to our own organisation though, but we did think we’d rather spend that time gaming in hindsight.
- More Demos. We didn’t really take the chance to try out any of the demo games, and there were a couple my partner wanted to try. Next time, we’ll slow down during our retail morning and take a look at what they’ve got going on.
So that’s my thoughts on AireCon 2023. I’m definitely going to be back again in the future, though if that will be 2024, I’m not sure. There’s a few “life” things happening around then so we’ll have to see closer to the time. In the meantime though, thank you to everyone who played a game with us and generally spent time with us. It really does mean the world to me to share this hobby and experiences, so next time, let’s get some more games to the table.