July is the time for 2 big cons in the UK. We need something to distract us from all the horrible events going in the real world, what else than a weekend away playing board games with old friends and new while drinking large amounts of beer.
Stabcon – Stockport
StabCon takes place twice a year, the first weekend in July and the first weekend in January. It is at the Britannia hotel a little distance away from the centre of Stockport, maybe a 20 minute walk away from either Stockport or Davenport train stations. There has been 60 StabCons now. An amazing number to reach and it is going from strength to strength. I am a mere newcomer having been to about between 10 and 15. I usually attend with my partner and this time was no exception. We got to play Caverna on Friday night and after my other half retired for the night after that while I went on to play Food Chain Magnate. I went to bed pretty early for me, but I am getting on a bit.
Gaming in full swing as Stabcon
The Saturday started off with a couple of rounds of Qwixx before the gaming started in earnest with the excellent Steamrollers, even more excellent Concordia, Indonesia, The Captain is Dead, Frontier Stations and a big game of Perudo. There were still a lot of people up playing games when we went to bed at about 2am! How a con should be.
Sundays at Stabcon are reserved for Descent 1st edition. The best board game, ever. Or the best one I have played so far in my decade of being a gamer anyway. It is usually with the same people each time, but it usually gets attention when we are playing it as it is such a big impressive looking game. I was the overlord and I had to prepare the adventure on Thursday night. I have all the expansions so have a good number of quests to pick from. So I went with one from the Altar of Despair expansion. I only really get to play this game at Stabcon due to the fact that to transport it anywhere is a problem as the base game box is HUGE and there is also 2 other standard board game boxes filled with other parts of the game from the expansions. Plus a scenario can take many hours. The longest I have been a part of was seven and a half hours. This time it took six and a half hours and I kept my membership of the overlords union. They were happy with my performance! Afterwards we all had a friendly game of Concordia.
Descent 1st edition gets started
Attendance at Stab has been climbing gradually for many, many years. It is now hitting the 300 mark, which is the capacity of the conference rooms. It has been described by many as a games club that meets twice a year for a full weekend rather than a convention. It mixes Role playing games with board games, with several side rooms available usually used by the role players away from the noise of the main gaming room which is the biggest main games room of any con that I have attended. The split is approx. 80/20 board gamers to role players, so there is a sizeable amount of role playing going on too.
2am Saturday, still a large number of people gaming
Now onto the hotel, the Britannia. Let’s not beat around the bush here, it has a terrible reputation. It won the worst hotel in the country a few years back 2 years running. To be fair it was pretty bad until a few years ago, but during its tenure as the country’s worst hotel I did manage to find worse one. However, the hotel has a new manager and it seems that he has turned it around. Now don’t get me wrong, it is still not great, but the food served is good, tasty and excellent value. It also turned up very quickly and was hot and not lukewarm or cold. The menu was very limited to about 8 different meals, but there was something there for most people. The breakfast was also getting better too, it could be better but the Britannia have certainly pulled their socks up in the food department over the last couple of years. The rooms are still pretty small and cramped but there is not much that can be done about that without a huge rebuild. But you also have to bear in mind that it is cheap, really cheap. A double/twin room with breakfast is £49 a night (although I am reliably informed that this is going up soon). A room at the hotel where Midcon is held is £79 for a double/twin, although that hotel is a fantastic hotel. There was free tea and coffee during the day too.
Planning the hero’s downfall pre-Stabcon
ManorCon – Leicester
A fortnight after Stab is ManorCon held at the University of Leicester. Oddly enough living in Manchester this is slightly more difficult to get to than Stab, but it is certainly worth the trip. I attend this one sans girlfriend. ManorCon lasts an extra day and ends on Monday at 2pm but a lot of people leave on the Sunday. The accommodation is student halls of residence, so all the rooms are single, so if you are a couple or usually travel with a friend you will find the accommodation more expensive than a twin/double found locally, however the supercheap con fee of £10 for the entire weekend should make up for it. The event has been moved about the different halls around the uni over the years and this year was again in a new building across the road from the one used the last couple of years.
I got there pretty early on the Friday but was happy just loitering and chatting with friends who I had not seen for some time but managed to get a game of Colonia and try the upcoming Czech Games Edition release of Adrenaline, which was pretty good fun, courtesy of Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules! I decided to have an early night so I could get up early no problem and get gaming in the morning.
Adrenaline – the final testing stages
Saturday involved no new games but did involve games of La Granja, Outpost, Power Grid Warehouse 51, Far Space Foundry and an amazing game of Dungeon Lords. A game that I really liked when it was released. It wasn’t really suitable for a lot of the gaming groups I go to, so it just sat on the shelf in shrinkwrap just gathering dust. It still is. My dungeon got totally trashed, but it was really funny. I do like this game a lot.
Sunday was a pre-arranged game of Blood Rage, I was a little sceptical about it, but I was very impressed with it. I also played games of Battalia, Temple of Elemental Evil and To Court the King before I headed home on the Sunday.
The new main games room had more room than the last one
The gaming and the vibe of the con was excellent, as always at ManorCon. The new gaming hall was nowhere near as hot as the last one was, but although it did have air con in, they didn’t want to use it often and it was still pretty warm in the main gaming room. The food and drink at the venue left a lot to be desired. The real ale served was pretty flat and was served directly from the barrel. The breakfast was a farce, they might as well not have bothered. Everything ran out pretty quickly and took an age to reappear (sometimes over half an hour for about 8 rashers of bacon to appear, yeah that will last to serve the 20 or so people patiently waiting for some warm brekky), there were hot drinks machines all around but none worked apart from a hot water dispenser. The evening meals served were not particularly good quality, expensive and the portions were small. I only had dinner/lunch (the meal in the middle of the day) once and although was slightly cheaper than the evening meal their impression of burger and chips, well, you could just about use the plural for chips. The food for evening meals also ran out quickly and was served sometimes cold. When the venue was challenged about the food being cold and being of tiny portions they responded that they had to make it last to feed 120 people. Although I saw them throwing out trays of stuff at the end of the evening. Terrible. I expected the food to be pretty poor, as it has been constantly at Leicester University and did have some food in the car and knew where to get some quick grub from, a nice little Chinese take-away about a mile away. I even took a fork with me to scoff it in the car so the venue couldn’t grumble about taking my own food in, although if I did eat in the venue and they did moan at me I would have been scathing asking them to provide value for money food that was edible. I just couldn’t be bothered being grumbled at and it didn’t take me long to throw the portion of Singapore fried rice down my neck. Note to self: I have given the venue enough chances with the food in the past, from now on I’ll just stick with the Chinese.
Leicester Uni, you could learn a lot from the Britannia.
All in all, it has been a cracking couple of long weekends, with great games played with fantastic people and some fun memories to be had.