Last Saturday I headed down to Richmond to go to Boardgame Camp, a boardgaming “unconference” organised by my friend and publisher James Wallis. I will talk about how it went and what I did, but I should probably first answer the question that’s probably occupying the minds of a good chunk of those reading this, which is: “What the hell’s an unconference?” Well Wikipedia defines it thus:
An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose.
…and with the exception of the regrettably American spelling of the word “centered” I think that’s not a definition I could improve on. But what does that actually mean, in practice? Well when I arrived I wasn’t quite sure. But within a couple of minutes, I found out, when I bumped into Jeff Sheen (@stargazystudios), who I’d met a couple of weeks previously at a James Wallis boardgame evening, and who turned out to be one of the organisers of the event.
We got chatting, and I – for reasons that now totally escape me – segued onto some kind of “I’m so old I remember the time before computer arcade adventure games stole the phrase roleplaying from us real roleplayers (a rant I previously wrote about in Critical Miss), and he said:
“You should do a talk about that!”
A “what?” a “huh?” and a “come this way” later, I found myself standing in front of the following board.
There were three tracks at Boardgamecamp: a design competition; playing boardgames; and the unconference discussion track. This board was the heart of the unconference track.
At a conventional convention, talks/panels/events are curated; that is the organisers organise in advance a programme of events and select people to appear/talk at those events. This isn’t the case with unconferences. At the start of the day there is no programme; whatever events may take place are decided by the participants, on the day.
Boardgamecamp did this via a board and postit notes (there are other methods). The board was marked up with half hour time slots along the top, and the six locations for event along the left-hand side. If you wanted to host an event, you simply wrote a description of it on a postit note and stuck it into an empty slot.
Which I did.
This was my first experience of an unconference, and it seemed to go really well. My own talk got a pretty healthy ten or so people, and produced what I personally felt was an entertaining and perhaps even thought-provoking chat (especially, given that it was really just a rant). And the couple of other talks I went to, about blogging and what a course on game design could teach, were both very interesting.
I also got to teach some people TransAmerica, probably my favourite boardgame of the moment, and I got to play in a game of RoboRally (possibly my favourite board game of all time).
On the basis of my first visit, I’ve say that Boardgamecamp (and its sibling Gamecamp) are well worth going to. The unconference track itself would make it worthwhile, but the opportunity to play a whole host of boardgames (they had a games library, which any participant could borrow games from, that weighed 61.7 kilos!) makes it a winner in my book.
I can’t wait until next time.
And I’d say hi to all the cool people I got to chat to, but there’s probably too many, and a lot of names I haven’t got. So apologies for that. But it was really good to talk to you all, and I hope to catch up with you in the future.