Tailor the event to the games you want to play and the people you want to play with…

Last year I was chatting with a co-worker who asked about my plans for the weekend since I was taking an extra day off to make it a long weekend. When I described the gaming weekend my friends were hosting at their house, he replied, “Oh, it’s another one of your bespoke, artisanal conventions then.”

Anyone who has read my articles knows I love conventions. I’ve got several scattered throughout the year, with Origins being a highlight in June. Gen Con used to be part of my regular rotation each year, but I eventually had to back off due to expense and size of the con. As much as I love the big cons with throngs of people, there is also something wonderful and amazing about getting together with a smaller group still focused on enjoying each other’s company while playing as many games as possible. My co-worker may have been joking by describing my upcoming weekend as bespoke, but it does ring true. Bespoke essentially means custom tailored for the specific needs of a person, or in this case, a group. It’s a funny, but true way to describe a private mini-convention.

What qualifies as a ‘bespoke’ mini convention? By my definition, it’s any time you get together with a group of select people and play multiple games over the course of a day or several days. Here are some of the ones I have attended:

  • This year will be the 10th anniversary of a ‘House Con’ that friends have been holding for the last decade. They average about twenty-ish players a year with four slots of games between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. They often have three to four games running during each slot.
  • When a GM running an ongoing, annual invitational game at Origins decided to end a session in a cliffhanger, we were ‘forced’ to gather a couple months later to find out what happened next. The group of us crossed several states to hang out and play the sequel to that game as well as a couple of other games that weekend.
  • One mini-con was born out of a desire to thank a group of GMs for running consistently awesome games at Origins and some other cons. For the last three years, about 25 folks have gathered at a hotel in Ohio that was chosen for being somewhat central to people in multiple states. We get downright serious about games and squeeze in five games between Friday evening and Sunday morning.

Beyond the fact that you’re getting to play games with people you know you like, there are a few different benefits to having a small gathering like this:

  • The cost can be significantly lower, opening up the opportunity for people to attend who may not be able to afford the not insignificant cost of a larger convention.
  • Many people don’t enjoy big conventions because they don’t like large crowds, or find no joy in playing games with strangers. Coming to a smaller mini-con gives them a safer space to still enjoy multiple games.
  • Events held close to home allow those with family or work responsibilities a chance to attend. While they may not be able to get to a big con in another town, getting to a friend’s house for a day is more doable.
  • A more intimate event can provide newer GMs a chance to run a con-style game in a safer space. Running for friends, but in an organized setting is really good experience for new GMs.

Group shot from one of these events.

A potential downside to be mindful of is the perception (or reality) of exclusionary gatekeeping. Any time a group gets together with a closed invite list, it can be purposefully exclusionary in all the wrong ways. Now, with each of the mini-cons I have mentioned above, they were essentially extensions that grew out of the larger cons we all attended. A goal of most public conventions should be to open doors and create welcoming, inclusive environments for gaming. This is my goal and the goal of many of my friends, but we all still want an opportunity to focus our gaming time with each other.

So, let’s get into some of the specifics for organizing a “bespoke, artisanal convention”:

  • Understand the space you’re working with. If you’re going to hold this at your home, be realistic about the number of people you can fit in the space. An apartment will work fine if you’re only having a handful of people, but isn’t a good idea if you’re inviting enough people for multiple games at a time. You also need to consider crash space if you’re inviting folks from out of town. Do they need to get a hotel room or do you have a guest room? When you’re organizing and hosting, it’s your job to at least consider the options available to your guests.
  • Have a plan, but be flexible. You’re holding a con, so you need to have a general itinerary of what’s happening when. Regardless of whether you have multiple games happening at the same time or just one table with different games throughout the weekend, your GMs need to know what they’re running and when so they can prep. You also want to tell the players what they’re playing when. Respect your attendees’ time and make sure you have a plan in place. At the same time, maintain enough flexibility to adjust on the fly when people can’t make it or other issues pop up.
  • Food is a thing. People need to eat. Whether you’re hosting this at your home or some external location, you need to account for how and when your attendees are going to be eating. Believe me, you don’t want to leave it up to the last minute and end up with a dozen or more people all going, “What do you want to eat? I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” Decide ahead of time if you’re ordering in, caravanning the group to a particular restaurant, or ambitious enough to try and cook for the crowd you’ve invited.
  • Keep in mind your costs. Organizing one of these isn’t necessarily cheap. If you need to rent a room or cover the cost of food and snacks, make sure you recognize when you need to spread the cost out to your attendees. No one is going to begrudge you asking for $20 if you’re feeding them for the whole weekend.

As I said, I love conventions. The people, the games, the concentrated gaming. It’s one of my joys in life. But, my friendships with my fellow gamers always end up stronger after these smaller, more intimate gatherings. There’s still a ton of gaming, but the chance to hang out with a smaller group makes my gaming even stronger.

Have you ever hosted or attended a ‘house con’ or a small mini-con like this? I’d love to hear about your experiences with them.