Con Report: DexCon 2019

Hey, everybody-

A lot of you are aware of my long-standing close relationship with the Double Exposure family of conventions that happen 3 times a year in Morristown, NJ (A northern NJ bedroom community of NYC). DE started as a gathering of LARPers who played a big shared campaign, but rapidly grew to be a combination gaming/relaxation convention (DexCon and later Dreamation) and further grew to include support for game design and professional development with Metatopia. 

DexCon is the summer convention and these days almost always occur over some version of the Fourth of July weekend, in this case July 3-7. It’s a 4-day show, which for me means setup on Weds, then sales Thursday-Sunday. It’s right around an hour drive from my doorstep, which makes travel a snap, but it’s still a long and pricey hotel stretch. 

I love attending the Double Exposure shows; the organizers treat me very well and respond to emergencies promptly. Like just about literally every other tabletop gaming convention, their dealer room hours are too long, and make it hard for vendors to actually do any gaming, and literally impossible for them to attend any of the big social events they hold (which incidentally also draw folks way form the dealers room), but that’s a ship that sailed a long time ago. To be fair, I’ve secured a spot inside the gaming area itself, which means I’m not necessarily beholden to those vending room hours but I try to keep to them for consistency. 

I really enjoy attending DexCon. The pace is modest, I know many of the attendees quite well, and there’s enough flexibility built into my self-directed setup that I can usually get meals and breaks without any hassle. It’s a really nice hotel (given what we pay for rooms it needs to be), vegetarian food options are abundant and excellent nearby, and the DE folks are responsive to any problems or concerns. It’s a nice summer break.

All that said, it’s been modestly frustrating to me that sales have been slowly but steadily dropping over the last several years there, along with general energy and enthusiasm level on the RPG side. I’m not sure why that is, though there a number of factors that I suspect may have something to do with it: expansion of the con calendar, increasing focus on the DE events as board game spaces for client of Envoy (a board game marketing and demo service offered by the DE crew), and growing attendee-wide frustration with their antiquated registration system. (For an understanding of the trapped-in-amber quality of some parts of the show's image, you needn't look any further than their web site.)

If I were evaluating whether to attend DexCon independently of the other two shows (Metatopia in particular has been one of my biggest success stories as a vendor) it’d be on the edge: sales are just OK for a show this size (even compared to their own other 2 shows), but expenses are pretty significant, and it’s not trending the right way for now.

That said, there’s also an intriguing phenomenon I’m noticing on the RPG side: there are too many events, but not nearly enough IN-DEMAND events. So, we’ll see a wall full of signup sheets that show half a dozen games with overflowing wait lists, and another half-dozen that are empty. I’m happy to report that my own 2-game run of Hearts of Wulin filled right away with 4 amazing players, so I’m one of the lucky ones, but I also heard of events that got cancelled because they didn’t fill even as I heard gamers complaining there weren’t enough RPGs they wanted to play. I guess I’m not sure what solution is available to us here, this may be just be an example of a market that will sort itself out. There is a nascent Games on Demand scene there that goes by the name ‘Spark’ that might help meet this desire for more popular indie games by vetted GMs, but it’s run on a loose ad-hoc basis right now. 

In conclusion, if you want a sprawling, relaxing summer tabletop convention experience with a good shot at some pretty great RPG play, and you can afford a $500ish hotel bill and amazing meals, this is a fine summer show. They provide snacks around the clock, there’s big ice cream and candy socials you can attend if that’s your thing (and you’re not a vendor), and the atmosphere is laid-back, progressive, and quite personal, even if (perhaps sometimes because) the system stuff is often shaggy and old-fashioned (or outdated, depending on if it’s charming or frustrating you at that moment). I’ll certainly keep coming back every year, and hope to see you there, maybe even in one of the 2-3 games I run!

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  • Jason S. on

    So, having given the post a chance to settle, I do think there’s a tie between those two elements you call out. Of the things that trouble me about the Double Exposure game sign-up procedure, it’s that the list of games doesn’t go public until the day or so before the con. That’s a month or six weeks after the submission deadline closes, and several months after you have to book your hotel or be locked out.

    Aside from what it does to my nerves personally, it suggests that the con is supposed to be treated like a Gen Con, where the appeal is “going to the con” rather than any specific game. But after Gen Con’s signup burst, you can see what games are full and submit new ones to fill in gaps. You can’t do that at DexCon, so they can’t respond to demand.

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