When Andrew Long decided to host the inaugural Arizona Game Fair in January 2017, he knew it could easily be a bust.
“I decided I was going to do this, and if it was good, I’d do it again. Iif no one shows up, my friends and I will have a good weekend playing games – very expensive games,” he laughed.
But nearly 400 people showed up, partaking in board games, card games, role playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeon & Dragons, and socializing around tables with people they’d perhaps never met before.
This year, Long, who owns Spielpro.com and sells game parts and accessories with a warehouse in Tempe, is expecting a much larger audience for the second annual Arizona Game Fair, Feb. 9-11 at Mesa Convention Center.
“We’re starting to be a regional convention this year,” said Long, an Arizona State alumnus and former journalist. “We’re drawing a lot of gamers from western states and throughout Arizona.”
He came to the prospect of hosting his own tabletop gaming convention after realizing that the West Coast lack gaming convention sites in a boom period for board games.
The gaming site Euromonitor International noted sales increased 15 percent in 2016 and more than 5,000 new board games were introduced in the U.S. last year alone.
“There are a lot of big (gaming) conventions on the East Coast, but we didn’t have any large gaming conventions here in the West. Our goal was to fill it, and it looks like we are,” he said.
The games renaissance has a lot to do with German games like Catan. Now there are a lot of American game designers, too,” said Long, 47. “There are an insane number of games out there now.”
Ahwatukee game designer and publisher Charlie Bink is a first-time special guest this year. Among his original games are PUPS and Trekking the National Parks – the latter garnering a 2015 Mensa Select Award.
“In my earlier days, I was originally drawn to art and animation,” said Bink, a 2004 grad of the Art Institute of Phoenix. “My passion for gaming started in my early 20s, and around that time I started designing and creating art for my own games. This will be my first Arizona Game Fair, and I’m excited to be a guest.”
Bink’s favorite games, other than his own, are Splendor, Onitama and For Sale because “they’re all easy to learn but have a ‘wow’ factor that draws in new players and keeps old ones – like me, coming back for more.”
Long said gamers are as varied a group as games themselves.
Yes, the traditional backgammon, cribbage, chess, checkers and Monopoly fans remain, but with the increase in best sellers such as Catan (formerly Settlers of Catan), Pandemic and Codenames, there’s a passel of new enthusiasts.
This year’s Arizona Game Fair is an official host of the Catan U.S. Nationals qualifying tournament with the winner scoring an expense-paid trip to the national competition at the Origin Game Fair in Ohio. The winner in Ohio advances to the finals in Germany.
The Origin Game Fair, begun in 1975, is now run by the Game Manufacturers Association.
To enter the Catan competition – which begins Friday at the Mesa Convention Center with preliminary contests and concludes with Sunday’s finals – contestants must pay a $10 entry fee in addition to the $45 all-access, three-day entry badge for the convention.
Day game passes are available for $25, with Sidekick badges for children 12 and under, $5.
This year, the purchase of a $75 Library Patron Badge will help provide funds toward increasing the games library.
Prices at the door are higher, and pre-registration can be done at ArizonaGameFair.com
Overseeing the role-playing games at the Arizona Game Fair is Mesa resident Darrell Lynn, who is well-known among gamers for “Podcast: The Wreckening.”
That is an outgrowth of his membership in The Wrecking Crew, a demonstration team for White Wolf games that travels throughout the U.S. “running adventures” in games they publish.
“My job is to gather people to run role-playing games for the convention, schedule those games, and then help get players seated in them,” Lynn said. “It’s part project manager, part marketing and part carnival roustabout,” said Lynn, an analyst in the aerospace and defense industry, adding:
“In addition to my convention activities, I also run a monthly game meet-up in the East Valley, providing epic game nights both in my home and at game stores around the Valley. One of the focuses of my gaming group, ‘The Guild of Gamers’ is to teach the next generation of gamers, and we sometimes hold games specifically for kids and teenagers.”
Lynn, 34, started his RPGs with Dungeon & Dragons, a game of choice for the 80s, as illustrated in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
“My mom bought the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set for my sister’s 16th birthday and ran a game for her and her friends. I was around 6 at the time and was fascinated with the fantasy artwork and dice,” Lynn recalled.
Lynn said after abandoning gaming as a young adult, he was approached by a friend a few years ago to play a game of Dark Heresy.
“It was a punishing system, and I was incredibly frustrated, but it made me curious to see what else was out there,” he said. “I found that while classic games focused on statistics and exact rules, a new variety of game has emerged that focuses more on storytelling and narration, which really appealed to me.
“In short time I was running games at local conventions, and collecting a treasure trove of gaming books, bags of dice, and many excellent friends.”
His current favorites include Chronicles of Darkness and Hunter: The Vigil.
“I’m always happy to be able to sit around the table with my family, with friends, or with strangers and share in fantastic adventures,” said Lynn.
If the titles of some newer games don’t ring a bell, there’s help for that.
As a break from traditional gaming conventions, Arizona Game Fair offers a game library in the Convention Center’s A building, where attendees can, with presentation of their badge, literally check out games to try.
“We have this big room with over 50 tables and we bring along a library of games for anyone to try,” Long said. “Last year we had more than 600 different games. Other conventions offer scheduled gaming, which we also offer, but we think this library of games appeals to families as well as gamers who want to try out new games.”
And there are other events on tap at the Arizona Game Fair, including Saturday’s 6 p.m. “Happy Time Dungeon Hour,” when gamers Brendan Carrion of Tempe, Adam Sink of Gilbert, and Mesa’s Holly McGinty and Jim Miller bring an audience member onstage to illustrate live-action role playing.
This is included in the event pass, with seating first come, first served said Long.
A games flea market is scheduled for 9-11 a.m. Saturday, Feb.10
Doors open at 8 a.m. Friday through Sunday, with closing at 11 p.m. the first two days, and 5 p.m. Sunday.