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Gaming turned up to 11 - SnowCon marks 11th year

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Intense gaming action from last year's SnowCon X. Intense gaming action from last year's SnowCon X. (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR – For 11 years, gaming enthusiasts of all stripes have descended on Bangor in the throes of winter to come together in celebration of their passion. For 11 Januarys, people have come to our area with the sole intent to play games for a weekend. Board games, role playing games, you name it – if it’s a game, you can find someone with whom to play it.

The eleventh SnowCon is nigh.

For the uninitiated, SnowCon is an annual celebration of all things gaming. It is devoted to the enjoyment of games of all stripes. No matter what sort of game you’re into, you’ll almost certainly find some kindred spirits wandering the wilds of SnowCon.

The gaming convention will once again take place at the Cross Insurance Center on January 19-20, with the delightfully (and aptly) named “So You Meet in a Tavern” kickoff event taking place on January 18.

Online presales of gaming passes had ceased as of press time, but passes will also be available onsite during the event. The costs involved are: $35 for a Saturday-only pass, $25 for a Sunday-only pass and $50 for the weekend. In addition, SnowCon offers single-day Observer passes for just $10 for those unsure if they want to participate; those passes can be upgraded to Gaming passes at any time. While Observer passes mean that the holder cannot play in the organized games or access the game library at SnowCon, once can still join in on the fun in Demo Alley.

(Editor’s note: There really is a lot to see, though you should be warned – odds are good that you’ll wind up upgrading that Observer badge. Just letting you know.)

Kids under 12 get in free with a paid adult, and SnowCon also features what they call a “Family Cap,” meaning that no family will be charged for more than four passes, regardless of size. Finally, SnowCon offers free admission on Sunday to full-time educators and current military personnel.

This year’s “So You Meet in a Tavern” – with the delightful subtitle of “Turned Up to Eleven” - is being held at Queen City Cinema Club. The event will feature a “Rock Band” tournament, a special film screening (I have no inside info with regards to the movie, but I have a hunch) and – of course – plenty of games. The event is on January 18; doors open at 7 p.m. and the cover is $5 (free for preregistered GMs).

And of course, the event itself. Things are set to kick off at 8 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, with games being played well into the night on Saturday and probably slightly less well into the night on Sunday. Make no mistake – you’re going to get your fix.

Building something that lasts for more than a decade – particularly a volunteer-driven cultural event like this one – is no small feat. Monique and Drew Bouchard and Gibran Graham have been key figures in bringing SnowCon to life every year. It has been said before, but there’s a LOT of sweat equity invested here, by everyone involved from the organizers to the volunteers to the vendors to the gamers. All of these people have a real love for what this event has become. Passion is what keeps something like SnowCon alive and thriving for over 10 years – and these folks have passion to spare.

“SnowCon has been always been a bright spot at the beginning of every year for me,” said Graham. “The gaming community seems to get bigger each year and seeing people come from far away to play games in Bangor is a joy to watch. I already can't wait for SnowCon 2020!”

We went in-depth with SnowCon organizer Monique Bouchard, asking her about putting the event together, its evolution over time and some of the many things that attendees can look forward to at this year’s convention.

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A Q&A with SnowCon’s Monique Bouchard

TME: What has the process of putting together this year’s SnowCon been like? Have there been any new challenges?

Monique Bouchard: We started meeting shortly after the last SnowCon to debrief and covered budgets and staffing in mid-summer. Finding ways to streamline our small staff’s workload was one of our goals this year. The largest challenge is also the largest solution - we started using a modern, online registration system that can pretty much do everything. It’s reduced the madness for key staff and we hope that it will ultimately streamline the registration process for our attendees too. However, it’s a learning curve, and we’re still working on understanding how to make this the most successful tool for us.

TME: What do you have for SnowCon XI that is new/different for longtime attendees? Old favorites?

MB: SnowCon is never the same twice, but it is fundamentally similar from year to year because we know that what people want to do is play games! I feel like everyone finds a favorite and something new as well! I am always delighted and surprised by something that I experience during the weekend. Last year, it was the new board game “Fire Tower” (which was just produced!); who knows what it might be this year!

The miniature experience has gone maxi this year with the bolt-action WWII tabletop game gang back with their infantry, artillery, and tank minis; also Warhammer Fantasy, Star Wars miniatures games and “Gaslands - Car-on-Car Destruction!” in which common die-cast cars are tricked out to be post-apoc-wasteland war machines - I can’t wait to see that one!

I love homegrown mashups and Chris Michaud has created “MONOPOZEE: Yahtzee vs. Monopoly (A Home-brewed Mashup),” a variant of the classic game Yahtzee which folds in elements of the classic game Monopoly.

(In that spirit, I may bring out my own “Scrabbalderdash” which is a Scrabble variant in which if you convince everyone that what you put down SHOULD be a word, it counts.)

Also, who can resist the Second Annual Christmas Candy Poker Tournament? Texas Hold'em for Christmas Candy! That’s being hosted by the National Winner of the Iron GM Tournament, Chris Pierce, who will also be running lots of interesting role-playing games, as usual.

We are also always delighted when game designers bring what they’ve worked on - we are fortunate to have the "Legends of Barsaive", presented by Earthdawn developer Josh Harrison. (If we’re lucky, Mary, another developer - and Josh’s wife - will attend too!)

This year there are also some great learning sessions - Drew Bouchard and Ray Sprague are running sessions on game mastering and artist Lloyd Metcalf is hosting an artist gathering, inspired by the ones at GaryCon.

And speaking of GaryCon, I’m pretty excited about this one: “Chat with a Gygax” as Luke Gygax, CEO of Gary Con and son of Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons, Skypes with Lloyd Metcalf to chat with our attendees. I personally think that will be AWESOME!

TME: What’s the general breakdown between board games and RPGs in terms of participants?

MB: The mix changes from year to year, but this year we have about twice as many board games, card games and minis games as we have RPGs on the schedule. However, we also have experienced an increase in people who just come without any set schedule, who bring their own games, play demos with developers and utilize the game library and play-to-win games. And some folks who come with an RPG session at the ready too from time to time, which is great!

TME: What are some of your favorite games/events/what have you from the years that you’ve been running Snowcon?

MB: Iron GM Local is always one of our favorite events, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out every year. I know a lot of folks live for the annual “McDonald’s The Board Game” Tournament. I also really appreciate how willing people are to teach and how many games are novice-friendly.

Drew Bouchard: Our friend Chris Pierce runs role playing games that are innovative and unusual. He’s also the current (and a past) Iron GM champion which reinforces how good he is.

Jesse Bouchard: A lot of people like the game developer demos. My personal favorite is PBL Robots (“Pro Bionics League Robots”), which is even made in Maine!

TME: What are some of the keys to the ongoing success of SnowCon, both in terms of the organizational folks (yourselves) and of the event itself?

MB: We have a tight and effective all-volunteer staff and we’re more comfortable with our roles and with delegating. But honestly, the greatest key to success is the super community of attendees. SnowCon is consistently friendly and generous, and I always love seeing the faces of people while they are playing games. We literally can’t do it without our game masters and the love of gaming they bring and the openness with which they share it never fails to inspire and move me.

I think another part of the success is that as a family-friendly, all-ages convention, we have a diverse array of people in terms of age and we have a balanced community of ladies and gents. It’s important to me that it feels comfortable for everyone. We don’t have gatekeepers - we have only people who want to share their love of the games they love.

TME: What kind of community has grown up around this event? How far-ranging a group is it?

MB: It’s certainly diverse in terms of age, gender, occupation and pretty much everything else!

We’ve seen game groups start at SnowCon, which is obviously lovely. We have some attendees who have moved away and come back for SnowCon. We have also watched our attendees branch out and attend other conventions - including the largest regional convention, TotalCon, and national conventions GenCon and Origins. We typically have game developers from all across the northeast showing off their wonderful games, in all stages of development.

Our Facebook community group, the SnowConMunity, is fun and entertaining. It’s active all year and folks post items the community finds of interest. It’s really nice. There’s currently a pre-convention meme war going on and it delights the heck out of me!

TME: An event like this is obviously a labor of love. What keeps you coming back, putting in the work year to year? What do you love about Snowcon?

MB: I keep rolling critical failures to stop running SnowCon. Once I roll a 20 all bets are off!

But seriously, whenever I start to falter or think that I’m maybe done now, someone says something about how they found this game at SnowCon, or shares a story of something that happened in a game, or how they’re looking forward to the next one, or when registration will open...and I’m reminded that this is something that is important to my community and I want it to be here for everyone.

Also, I love that SnowCon exists - I want to live in a region where this is a thing and is important to people. So we keep going!

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It’s a truly fortunate person who finds a pastime about which they are passionate. What makes SnowCon so wonderful – and keeps people coming back year after year – is the fact that it serves as a place for that passion to be shared. Being able to spend time with like-minded folks who share your feelings about, well … anything really – it’s important. This convention does that.

Kudos to everyone involved, top to bottom. Bringing something like this to life, nurturing it and helping it grow for over a decade – it’s a real accomplishment, something of which to be really proud. Even if gaming isn’t necessarily your cup of tea, there’s no denying that SnowCon is a welcome addition to the area’s cultural calendar.

Let it SnowCon.

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 January 2019 14:24

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