Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My First Gaming Convention: Pointcon VIII

GenCon has always dominated as the grand pilgrimage convention for roleplaying gamers, with Origins coming in second place; but in my early gaming years they seemed little more than an unreachable dream one only read about in the pages of Dragon Magazine or other industry periodicals. Those resources, however, led me to the only game convention in my area at the time…Pointcon at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

As a high school kid and avid reader of Dragon Magazine, I quickly came to believe GenCon and Origins were the hobby’s leading gaming events, Meccas every truly dedicated gamer would reach in making the ultimate roleplaying game pilgrimage. At the time, however, I realized it was unrealistic to commandeer the family summer vacation to go to a gaming event only I’d enjoy, and one that seemed overly expensive given admission, travel, and hotel expenses, let alone shopping cash for purchasing dream game product I never imagined my local hobby shop carrying.

Dragon Magazine used to run a listing of conventions in each issue, vital to the gaming community at a time when print periodicals -- not the vast and instant internet -- served as the only efficient means of disseminating news of gaming events. I always perused the listings, desperate to find any gaming activities within range of my home in southwestern Connecticut near New York City. The “Convention Calendar” in Dragon Magazine #94 (Feb. 1985) finally printed a listing for a convention nearby:

Sponsored by the Military Affairs
Wargames Committee, this convention will
be staged at the U.S. Military Academy in
West Point, N.Y. Board and role-playing
games, tournaments, and demonstrations
will be some of the activities featured at the
convention. Note that admission to this
event is free. For more information about
Pointcon VIII, contact….

West Point was less than an hour’s drive away from my home. After convincing my father to drive us, a neighborhood gamer friend and I went to the convention. For the uninitiated con-goer who had no idea what to expect, the convention was a fun day of games, discussions, and dealers. I attended both Pointcon VIII and IX (in 1985 and 1986) some 30 years ago, so from here on out my memory’s merging impressions and events from the two years I went.

The convention occupied a large function space in Eisenhower Hall, with dealers at one end, game table set up throughout the rest of the space, and an area sectioned off for a few panel discussions…all with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Hudson River. I’ve since come to really appreciate these “open community” convention set-ups where everything occupies a central location and gamers can flow between games, dealers, and just hanging out with friends. That’s pretty much what this awkward high school kid did for the day.

I have fragmented, faded memories of the two Pointcons I attended. I recall purchasing FASA’s Doctor Who roleplaying game from a convention dealer, but can’t remember anything else I might have bought. My friend played a game of Avalon Hill’s Kingmaker (which we subsequently discovered we were playing “wrong” with my copy at home). Despite the convention listing in Dragon Magazine, I don’t recall seeing any roleplaying game events. But the numerous miniature wargaming tables intrigued me with their terrain and meticulously painted troops. Notwithstanding my complete ignorance of miniature wargaming at the time I joined a Northwest Frontier miniature wargame: Pathans versus Highlanders! I ran a horde of Pathans led by a “mad mullah” who gave them some degree of a morale boost, though not enough inspiration for them to reach the British field gun I ordered them to foolishly charge. Ouch.

One recollection I definitely have from Pointcon VIII was the roster of game industry guests. I talked with Al Leonardi about his Ace of Aces and Lost Worlds game books, which revolutionized head-to-head combat gaming before the Age of Computer Gaming. Lou Zocchi gave me his pitch about the quality of his dice and his 100-sided Zocchihderon die. Mark Herman and Eric Lee Smith of Victory Games gave an interesting talk on wargames based on a seminar they gave at Origins ’84 (I still have their dot-matrix-printed outline somewhere). I was (and still am) impressed to see these guests at what amounted to a small university gaming convention; what brought them all to Pointcon at the time remains a mystery. To find a line-up like that today one must head out to a venue like Origins or GenCon, the aforementioned gaming Meccas to which only a fraction of active gamers can make the pilgrimage.

I haven’t returned to Pointcon since then. Game conventions, especially those at universities, ebb and flow over time with the turnover of dedicated volunteer organizers who help set the tone and establish time-honored programming and themes. In today’s world security at West Point remains high, something we never worried about when our parents frequently took us there for day-trip tours, occasional parades, visits to the museum, or concerts at the magnificent, neo-gothic Cadet Cathedral; perhaps security concerns (or the inconvenience of security checkpoints and complexity of parking on campus) deters some attendees. Instead of the spacious Eisenhower Hall the con now lurks in a collection of classrooms in Thayer Hall. The convention has long since shed its general gaming coverage and focused on miniature wargames (though some board games are represented to some small degree). A cursory internet search reveals some concerns about advertising and promoting the convention. Where once Dragon Magazine served as the central clearinghouse for such information, now gamers and con organizers must cover a number of online news sources; few serve as the acknowledged leaders in hobby news.

Pointcon VIII and IX served me well as my first gaming conventions. They offered opportunities to explore and engage in games close to home. They exposed me to gaming luminaries, new types of games, and alternate ways of looking at games. I’ve since attended cons of many different magnitudes, from small university game days to almighty GenCon, as an individual gamer, company representative, industry freelancer, even as a “celebrity” game designer guest. Each convention possesses its own character, reflected by both organizers and attendees; I’ve learned to try enjoying each one for what it offers and what I can contribute.