Conpulsion 2017

At the start of the year I visited Conpulsion in Edinburgh, my local games convention. I attended to run a small playtest track alongside the Edinburgh Board Gamers, but I also took the time to wander as one does and would like to share some thoughts on the con itself.

First up, I enjoyed myself doing what I went along to do. I met some new local designers I hadn’t come across before, I played games with new faces and generally chatted about the hobby with friends old and new.

There were a decent amount of activities to take part in at Conpulsion from RPGs to board and card games as well some miniature game demos, although the RPG track did seem to be the main focus . Alongside this was a track of talks from various gaming notables, exhibitors showing new and forthcoming games as well as fairly well stocked bring and buy, well attended bars and decent food should you want it. All good.

Here comes the criticism bit, and I do this out of love for the gaming scene in Edinburgh and Scotland not out of malice. Conpulsion seemed disorganised, is in a bad venue in the form of Teviot Row House in Edinburgh, seems to have little to no involvement with the local community and and has a major problem between what it is and what it thinks it is. Let’s dive into these issues.

Organisation and Venue

When I arrived there were few Con staff and no one seemed to know what was going on. Myself and the others from the board game group had to go about setting up tables and chairs but we had to talk to the Teviot Row staff to find out where to get all these things from. Best I can tell the ‘organiser’ of the con turned up about an hour after myself and most of the other exhibitors were on site.

We got a good few people in the boardgaming room through the day which was great but finding that room was a bit of a nightmare. See Teviot Row House is a great venue as a student haunt and is a beautiful old building. From the point of view of flowing people through a con it’s an absolute nightmare with lots of tiny rooms squirrelled away all over the place and even the main area of the con is split into two with lots of pillars in the way obscuring line of sight.

I went searching for the signup sheets for games, out of curiosity more than anything, to find them hidden away at the back of the traders room. Whilst I get the desire to move people past these traders it seems insanity to hide away the main table for signing up for events.

Conpulsion needs signage and lots of it if it is going to keep using this most byzantine of venues. Even better would be to maybe not use some of the upper floors at all, and compact the con into a smaller area, making it feel busier and not so stretched out. The RPGs were in another building and I think could have been accommodated in Teviot Row alongside everything else. RPGs need their own space of course and there are lots of little rooms that could have hosted them most comfortably. In the meantime I would move the more visual activities, board game and miniature game demos, into a more public space where passersby can more easily join in.

Traders and Reachout

There was a distinct dearth of traders at Conpulsion, especially surprising considering the number of local shops and groups we have in Edinburgh. A couple of the local designers had stalls which was nice to see but out of 4 gaming venues/ stores in town, only one of them was represented at the con, and they were doing mini demos all day. I have no idea what is going on there, but that seems like an extremely odd situation, especially considering there were representatives of shops from further afield.

Conpulsion is seriously lacking in reach-out to the local gaming community, and that is a crying shame. Let me give you an example from this year. There was a room, a big room, set aside for card game tournaments that was empty for most of Saturday, I think it was used as the charity auction on the Sunday. I know for a fact that there was a Netrunner tournament going on in town that day that could easily have been enticed to run there and maybe that would have even picked up some competitors from the Conpulsion crowd. Why this didn’t happen baffles me.

Conpulsion has been like this for a few years, though I do recall a time when it was a lot better: busy with tournaments, traders and all sorts of games and events. In recent times it seems to be content to just tread water and not really engage with the wider community. Surely this can be rectified by someone willing to go out and talk to the various clubs and shops: build, or mend bridges, and get them back on board with running an excellent con. There are folk out there, like myself, who want to run events and introduce people to the hobby. Bring them alongside and you will have a bunch of content for your con that people will clamour to get involved with.

A problem of identity

I think a lot of these problems stem from the difference between what Conpulsion actually is and what it thinks it is. The con passes control from director to director but always that person comes from the University Roleplaying Society, GEAS, of which I was a member myself when I was at Uni. This means that what you get from Conpulsion is a lot of the older members coming back together with the newer and playing games together, which is totally fine and it’s nice to see familiar faces.

Screenshot (10)

Screen grab of last year’s Conpulsion website.

Where I have a problem is when Conpulsion claims to be Scotland’s biggest weekend gaming convention so I dug around to test the veracity of that claim. Technically they are correct, as Compulsion is the only tabletop gaming weekend in Scotland at the moment, not including some computer game focused cons, but that is comparing apples to oranges.

However let’s look at attendance numbers compared to other conventions in a similar vein. Glasgow Games Festival, which is a relatively new addition to the scene had just over 300 attendees last year and it was Saturday only. Claymore, a wargames only festival, had about 850 paying customers and 100 volunteers, again Saturday only. Both these conventions are getting more attendees in a single day than Conpulsion got over the two days in 2017: 262 attendees, 162 pre-order and around 100 on the door. All these numbers come from direct communication with the conventions in question.

Conpulsion’s problem lies in thinking it’s bigger than it is. If it wants to be a slightly ramshackle student run con I have no problem with that. If it wants to stand tall and proud and declare itself to be the ‘biggest weekend gaming convention’ in Scotland then it must be open to the criticism that comes with that claim and should look to do better year on year. At the moment I have no faith that 2018 will be any better than 2017 and find it hard to recommend to anyone to attend.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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6 Responses

  1. Bill Heron says:

    Got to agree with your review – I raised similar concerns a few a years back. As one of the RPG GMs and non-GEAS member (I run ORC Edinburgh), it feels tired. The venue is part of the problem and is unlikely to change – perhaps the new building will help. Many of the RPGers I know now see no reason to go there.

    • Glad I’m not alone in having concerns about the Con and it’s future. I hope this is taken in the right spirit and it will get people talking.

  2. “Conpulsion got over the two days in 2017: 262 attendees” – Ouch. For some reason I’m both surprised and not surprised…

    As Bill knows I started a (relatively) concerted effort into looking at running a 2-day con in Edinburgh.
    Venue was selected. Hotel “block book” was organised. Event schedule was drafted. Website design was drafted. Logo was drafted. Con team was largely in place.
    Why didn’t I do it? Financial risk mostly but also because my work levels exploded.

    Edinburgh, nae Scotland, deserves more games conventions. Given the number of cons that pop up all the time in England and Wales – – the complete dearth of cons in Scotland is an embarrassment.

    Will I revisit that plan? Maybe. If only because I know I can do better.

    • Sounds like an interesting project and I would be happy to be involved and help in anyway I can.

      • Well it’s currently on the back burner (original aim was to hold it last year) but it’s a recurring theme with me. I will revisit it albeit not necessarily in Edinburgh. At the Tabletop Day event that I organised in Dunfermline earlier this year we had 70 attendees with 4 RPGs (2 slots, 2 games per slot) and a load of boardgamers.
        Next year is going to be much bigger. If that grows then that’s what I will put my weight behind.

      • Excellent. I’ll have to attend one of those.

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