GAMA Expo 2023 -
Updated: May 2
This was the most industry focused event I have attended so far. It was different than even a distributor open house. Those events are retailer and publisher focused and have some similarities to a show like Expo, but this one had a mix of all types of board and tabletop game related people. As a sponsored media, GAMA (The Game Manufacturer's Association) tried to include people like me in the show as it continues its vision of "A game on every table, a table for everyone."
If you are just here for pictures, scroll past my writing on the convention.
First off, for those unfamiliar with GAMA, a brief explanation of the different divisions and its history. GAMA was formed in 1977 as an extension of the Origins Game Fair. Origins was originally held in Baltimore, MD and was connected to the Charles S. Roberts Awards. This connection is due to the history of wargames, historical games, and miniatures games of companies like Avalon Hill in the eastern U.S (You can read more about the history here). In 1996, Origins moved to Columbus, OH. As to the divisions of GAMA, for a long time the publishers, manufacturers and retailers were the main parts of GAMA. Only recently, did additional divisions open up to people like myself. In full disclosure, I also work for a publisher (Catastrophe Games) which is a GAMA member in that division. I have chosen to be a voting member of recently created Media & Events division because I want to grow in my connection to this part of the industry because I both create media and also work with media for Catastrophe and Valor Mountain Games.
Each division has communicating and voting membership levels. Communicating members can gain access to the educational materials and news that GAMA makes available. Voting members also have a chance to vote on their representatives to the GAMA board. Additionally, they receive two complimentary tickets to both Origins Game Fair and Expo each year. In addition to the general board, there is a separate board for the retail division as there was a time when they considered starting a separate entity to protect their interests. The other divisions are: Publisher, Wholesaler, Creator, Retailer, and Production. You can see this breakdown largely focuses on the financial relationship between the different divisions. As a point of clarification, the Creator division is the division which invites game designers, writer and editors, and artists into its fold. This is different than how the general public uses the term creator, and although I understand why the term was chosen it can be initially confusing.
Alright, back to Expo 2023. On day one, we had a brief introduction to the convention and a very brief reminder about media ethics from one of the two directors of our division. Not all sponsored media at Expo 2023 were current GAMA members. Nicole Brady of SAHM Reviews did a great job introducing the show to those who did show up to this orientation. We were invited to the Power Retailers luncheon where the best retailers in North America were celebrated. It was good to see the ways different stores were doing things and focusing on community. After that point, we were largely on our own for the week. There was one small tour where we briefly met the Horizons Fellowship people.
This is where I would like to say, networking is great, BUT we need more focused ways for Media & Events to participate fully in GAMA as an organization. It would be good in the future to have a meeting time or luncheon set aside for all voting members of our division. This way, we can come together and share what vision, contacts, and resources we have for new members and ways to show how we are essential to GAMA as an organization. If we don't do this, we are staying a bit disorganized and with disparate goals. Even if there is overlap, no individual can currently state why we are important as a whole to GAMA. It would also be good to have another separate time to think about educational opportunities we could share.
In a similar way, I saw a good number of designers at the show, but I didn't see a lot of direct ways for them to get involved in the organization. I had the chance to talk with several and enjoyed those times, but a more focused approach to connecting designers, publishers, retailers, and even media and events would have been nice. For example, I host designers at Meetups I run in the Cincinnati area and I would have loved to find more ways to connect with designers and retailers to quickly to highlight that as a type of event stores may want to try in the future. I am not sure if there were any artists at the show, and I would have loved to talk to a couple just to get their rates for future projects. It wasn't clear how to find them unless I already knew someone who knew someone.
Relying solely on the power of networking and mixers fails to create equitable spaces for all. I had a great show, but I also saw some other people struggling to make any connections.
As to games, it was interesting to see what games were being presented. At a trade show, you hope to see a lot of new products. However, it felt like much (maybe half) of what I saw had already been on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Gamefound. As a note, I did not see a booth for either of these major players in the industry. It was a noticeable absence for a show where over 350 retailers were present. Making these connections from publishers, manufacturers, and retailers seems like an important part of what a show like this should be doing. Incentivizing greater cooperation while avoiding problems of price fixing should be of paramount importance to a growing industry.
I did get to play a few different prototypes and found a game I hope to be signing and announcing soon. It was especially good to meet some designers face to face.
Games, there were plenty of games to talk about. As mentioned before, I tried to not get in the way of retailers as I know the publishers and retailers are really there to put in a bunch of the orders for the year. I did get to look at a lot of games though, and play a few.
First up. A preview of the Cascadia: Landmarks expansion from Flatout and AEG. The pieces looked great and the box art was beautiful. For a game I already loved, I will be checking this out more later.
I love some good terrain. Monster Adventure Terrain from Monster Fight Club grabbed my interest right away.
I briefly stopped by the Thunderworks Games table and talked with the people there. Keith Matejka was there and I may try to have him on the podcast eventually if he is available. Dawn of Ulos had a great table presence, like most Thunderworks' offerings; it's a 1-5 player economic game I look forward to trying later this year.
I had seen Origami Whale's Danger: The Game which is a party game before, but it was good to see that they had expanded their line and had a booth at the show.
We had picked up Rainbow Bunny Bop as a local game in Seattle from a friendly local game store and we met Becky Young who created the game. We played the game with her- it's essentially a faster, prettier version of Dutch Blitz. Good game to have around to just play quickly with friends and family.
Bezier Games had the new expansions for Maglev Metro- Maglev Metro Maps: Volume 1 proudly on display, and rightfully so. They add a ton of content and look absolutely fun on the table. Each one was a little different. For those who already enjoy Maglev Metro, they are going to get a huge kick out of these.
I hadn't seen Mega Man Adventures before even though it has been out for a little while. It's a card and dice game for 1-4 players from Blacklist Games.
I stopped by and checked out the tile laying game DorfRomantik from Pegasus Spiele. It's a peaceful, puzzle game for 1-6 players based on the same premise as the popular video game. Players expand the environment and try to lay as much connected track and connect the longest river they can. This is on my personal need to play list.
Vivarium from Studio H was one I had missed last year. It has art by Satoshi Matsuura and looks great. I'm intrigued enough by what they presented to return to this one. It looked like a fairly light set collecting game for 2-4 players.
Of more immediate interest to me was Tribes of the Wind by Joachim Thome and with art by Vincent Dutrait. This 2-5 player game with objectives has grid coverage system that intrigues me. This one is from Hachette.
I got to check out Sky Team from Hachette too. It's a two player, limited communication cooperative game where one person is the pilot and the other co-pilot as you land a plane. I loved the theme and it was a must buy for me after seeing it and how the dice selection and placement works. *These components were pre-production components and may be subject change.*
I got to see a copy of my friend Darren's (Durdle Games) new Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze from Restoration Games. This cooperative version of Unmatched has cryptids, including a local Ohio one - the Loveland Frog. I'm looking forward to when I can play this one for lots of reasons.
Brothers Nathan Jenne and Jake Jenne had some fine games to show off. Their game The Finest Fish is actually up for an Origins Award for Social/Light Strategy. Their company is Last Night Games.
Trailblazers from Ryan Courtney and Bitewing Games was nice to see in person after the successful crowdfunding campaign. This one will connect with people who like abstracts with a nice bit of deeper play, and you can still take the game anywhere.
Lottie and Jack Hazell of Birdwood Games had a lovely new game about taking in shelter dogs called Forever Home. It's a 1-5 player set collection, drafting, and pattern building game for dog lovers like me. I have a feeling it will appeal to a lot of people. They also showed off their new expansion to their hit game Dog Park with the expansion New Tricks.
I couldn't avoid taking a little time to check out the new versions of Axis and Allies from Renegade Games. The maps are simply gorgeous. This is going to get a lot of people interested in these games all over again. Will historical game companies be ready for those who are looking for lighter historical war games after these great production values?
It's not hard to see why people are so excited about the Kinfire Chronicles: Night's Fall from Incredible Dream Studios. Lots of gorgeous components and artwork. Looks like tons of stories. Maps! This just says "come and play!"
Monster Hunter World: The Board Game has the minis fans will enjoy. I showed my older son when I got home and he was blown away. It's one thing to get emails about these things and it's another to see them in person. What spectacular minis for the board. I don't know much about the gameplay, but seeing them has caused me to want to check it out more. Steamforged knows their audience.
Speaking of miniatures- All Game Terrain has some fantastic pieces for those looking for the highest quality terrain pieces to fill out their RPG and tabletop experiences. I really enjoyed the different small details they put into the scenes (check out their IG).
Just because of the theme, I was interested to play Holotype: Mesozoic North America by Brexwerx Games. It was one of those tables that was busy with retailers playing the game every night though, so I chose to check some other games out instead. It's a fairly quick worker placement game for 2-5 players, and I love me some dinosaur themed games.
BOOoop by Scott Brady and published by Smirk and Dagger Games was another one a lot of retailers were interested in and I'm sure it will do well at Halloween time. It's a simple abstract with a grid for two players, and who doesn't love a Halloween game with cats?
I got to play some of the Masters of the Universe: The Boardgame - Clash for Eternia game and really enjoyed it. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this CMON game, but the rules are simple and it's easy to start playing. Who doesn't want to try to foil Skeletor's plans? It's a 1-5 game where you can play one versus many or fully cooperative. I'm looking forward to playing this one at GrandCon with my friends.
The last game, which I wish I could have actually played so I could see how smoothly the mechanics work is The Witcher: Old World which was at the Asmodee Booth. The map and dice looked like a good game night game. Will be looking to try this 1-5 player game at some point- who wants to try it out?