Spaghetti ConJunction 4a - February 2020

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Spaghetti ConJunction 4a - Saturday 8th February 2020

TLDR: Small ,scrappy, friendly - 2 slot game day in central Birmingham. Sometimes things don’t have to be perfect to be great.

Full disclosure - though you probably know by now - I am one of the the two organisers for Spaghetti ConJunction. The other one is “Pookie”, TTRPG editor and the UK’s most prolific reviewer of TTRPG’s. Which makes him a great general factotum on the hobby.

Most of the DNA of SCJ is lifted from the wonderful Concrete Cow. The only major differences are the location, venue and number of game slots. Birmingham - not Milton Keynes. A Gaming Cafe - rather than a Community Centre. Number of game slots - we offer 2 rather than Concrete Cow’s 3.

This was the SEVENTH event we’ve run. The gaming cafe we use - Geek Retreat in Birmingham - benefits from being in an excellent location. If you can get into Birmingham city centre by train, tram, bus or car, you can get to Geek Retreat. It’s massively convenient and custom designed for tabletop games. As it’s all set up ready to use there’s less of a burden organising events at it than at other venues.

For a number of reasons, both organisers found ourselves busy in the early part of 2020 and weren’t able to devote a lot of time to promoting this event - merely going through the usual motions. Also the venue has changed its opening times - usually opening at 12 noon these days. Luckily we were able to negotiate a 10am start, just for SCJ.

SCJ is an event which is predicated upon NOT arranging everything up front. There are no pre-event ticket sales, no game booking, no registration. We ask people to let us know if they plan to offer games and use those details to promote the event - but we don’t hold anyone to this. If you change you mind and want to offer another game or, even, decide not to run a game, that’s fine. If you don’t pre-advertise a game and turn up and feel like refereeing, that’s fine too.

But that means we’re hostages to fortune on the actual day, not knowing who is coming or how many until the doors actually open. However, when we met for our pre-event breakfast, both of us expected the attendance to be down. Our expectations were confirmed when we got to the door and found one person waiting. However, as we waited, more people began to arrive. Due to transport delays, the doors didn’t actually open until 10:10am, but everyone took this in good grace.

As usual, the first 10 minutes of SCJ are a mad blur for me. I have to run upstairs - we book the top floor for our event - get out cash box and tickets and start to take the money. Entry costs £3 and - today - got you an orange raffle ticket. Most people pay £5 to cover entry and buy a couple of (green) raffle tickets. Pookie manages to acquire some superb prizes for the raffle via his professional contacts. This time, some people event paid £15 for entry and 12 tickets. All money taken goes to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital and people are very generous.

Anyone who wants to run a game puts a sign up sheet on the designated table. We provide blank ones for anyone who needs to write one up on the day. Most sheets were handwritten today, as it happens, even mine. (I usually have fully colour masterpieces desperately trying to attract attention to my games.) Only 5 games were offered in the morning but we did a quick count and it was more than enough for the number of attendees.

Sign ups use the patented Concrete Cow system. The numbers from 0-9 are listed in a random order (we do it before the event). These are called in order and if that is the last digit on your (orange) ticket, it’s your turn to go to the table to sign up. This avoids rushes and crushes at the table. The numbers are reversed for the afternoon games. (Newbies, referees etc. can can claim the chance to sign up in the first group.)

After the sign-ups, four games (The Expanse, Alien, Liminal and my own Blakes Seven adventure) all had enough players. A fifth (Shadows of Esterren) only had one player so that player and the Referee arranged to take part in other games.

The games started. And that was when things became a little awkward. Of the space of the next couple of hours, people began turning up for the convention late. In between refereeing and playing we were able to greet them and take them round the games to find spaces. But pretty soon all four games were full and still people kept coming until we actually ran out of spaces. By then it was too late to ask the fifth referee to pull out of the game they were playing to resurrect their game.This ended in a couple of latecoming couples agreeing to wait until the afternoon game session and fill their time in other ways - such as board games. This is the first time this has happened to me and I felt guilty but they were vehement that it was their fault for arriving hours after the published starting time.

Also, the venue’s other punters started drifting upstairs in search of tables to play on or to player the newly installed game console. In the past we would have pointed out we’d booked the top floor for our event. However, as were weren’t using all the tables this time, it would have been churlish to fuss. We just had a quiet chat explaining about our event and they all responded extremely reasonably and continued their own activities alongside our games without any problems.

For me, my Blakes Seven game was fun. I had five players playing Blake, Avon, Carly, Vila and Gan. Pretty much the original crew. (Thinking back I should have pulled Orac out and shoved in Jenna as the NPC in its place.) The game trundled along quite nicely. It was due to run from 10:30am to 2:30pm but we broke at about 1pm for people to order lunch - if they wanted - to be brought to the table as we played.

The adventure built to a satisfyingly edgy climax with Cally agreeing to act as the operating system for an awakening Shadow Vessel (I was doing a crossover of Blakes Seven, Total Recall and Babylon 5) only to substitute an atom bomb for herself at the last minute. Only Vila was left standing after the subsequent explosion.

The break between games was filled with tidying my table, preparing for the afternoon games and networking. It flew by. As usual I called the raffle very quickly. Many people’s prizes had a value which exceeded their costs in attending the event.

Then the afternoon signups took place. Again, there were four games which ran but there was one game without players. However, this was the referee who’d run The Expanse game in the morning. And the Esterran referee from the morning got a full table in the afternoon, so every Referee ran at least one game during the day. (I got to run two!)

My afternoon game was my Judge Dredd meets Agatha Christie one, with Judges being murdered one by one as the try to escape the Cursed Earth. Again it bobbled along nicely and built to a crazy climax with the bulk of the survivors succumbing to massively superior forces whilst two of their number were busy arguing a key point of The Law. The PC Judges needed to rely on some very underhand tactics to overcome their opponents.

Then it was just a matter of saying goodbye, shaking hands and waiting for my fellow organiser to count the takings with me. £191 - all due to go the children’s hospital. A good haul given that there were less than 30 people present.

We certainly took our eye of the ball with regarding promoting this event. We were late starting and had other gamers sharing the space we’d booked. Finally we were unable to find games for some of the latecomers. However, we still had enough attendees to offer a range of games and everyone that came (on time) played two fun games. Even the couples who only played in one game said it had been worth their while coming. And the other gamers present playing in the same room as us didn’t cause any issues. We were all just gamers, gaming in the same room.

So despite us not showing her much love in the run-up to SCJ4a, the old girl still delivered us all a fun day out.

Spaghetti ConJunction 4b is coming sometime in October. Watch this space.

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The Guvnor
Staff member
I suggest explicitly "have a boardgame if you are late" policy on your promos.

Or.. start your own game at noon or do a patented "Burley drop in - out taster table"