AireCon 2022 Convention Report
AireCon is a huge tabletop gaming convention held annually in Harrogate, UK, and this year yours truly decided to attend. Just making the decision to attend was a big one for me, as Harrogate is a long way away from me. I had the choice of a ten hour train trip with at least three changes, or making the ~400 mile drive, so I decided to drive.
My convention experience so far (for board games at least) has been the behemoth that is the UK Games Expo, and the smaller, friendlier GridCon. People had told me that AireCon sits somewhere between the two, so I was keen to find out what it was like. I also knew plenty of designers, publishers, and online friends who were going to be attending, which helped swing the decision to go.
I loaded the car with games, more games, and some other things which are apparently necessary, like clothes and toiletries. After eight hours in the car, and a disastrous stop at Bridgwater service station (where I managed to fall, take the skin off my palms, crack a rib, and hurt my shoulder), I was ‘up North’. Before we get to the convention, I want to take a moment to mention how beautiful Harrogate is. Make sure you plan in some time to take a walk around the town.
“I suffer from anxiety. Is AireCon for me?”
Plenty of people were – understandably – anxious about attending, what would be for many, their first big convention. Lockdown drew a lot of new players into the hobby, and turning up to a strange show, with thousands of strangers in attendance, is a daunting prospect. I wasn’t too worried, but I had the benefit of previous experience, and knowing a few people who would be there.
I think the first thing that really struck me about AireCon, and this includes the build-up, as well as the event itself, is how welcoming it is. Emails before the big day outlined what was expected, where people can go, and what help and support was on-hand. It was all evident from the moment we walked in. Friendly staff and volunteers were at the door, welcoming attendees, disabled access was everywhere, including priority tables in the open gaming areas.
The long conservatory was flooded with natural light, and some quieter space to play games, while still being close enough to feel the buzz from the main hall. If all of that sounds like it’s still too much, AireCon did two especially nice things. Firstly, upstairs they have quiet gaming areas, which can be a welcome reprieve from the noise downstairs. Secondly, and best of all, is the Roll Through It area. There’s a friendly team of volunteers who take the time to make sure you feel welcome, and will even play some games with you if you don’t feel ready to face strangers yet.
Games, games, games
I went with the intention of playing lots of games, and I wasn’t disappointed. I met up with some people I know from the Gaming Rules! community, and we camped out on some tables for the entire weekend. I’ve had to go back through my photos to remember which games I played, and I think it was: Dinosaur Island: Rawr and Write, Watergate, A War of Whispers, Echidna Shuffle, Almadi, Libertalia x 2, Brian Boru, Snowdonia, and Anomia. There are some great titles in there, and reviews of at least two of them on the way.
Along with playing, I spent a lot of time walking and talking. Rodney and his crew from Watch It Played made the long trip across the Atlantic to come to the show, and I managed to grab both he and Paula from Things Get Dicey for a chat and photo ops. Both were very humble and only too happy to stay and talk. It was just another thing which helped make the event feel comfortable and inviting.
I also got to meet some people I’ve been interacting with over the last two years, which was fantastic. I bumped into Lawrie from SDR Studios (I previewed Earth Rising for them last year), Joe and Maddie of Cogito Ergo Meeple (Solar 175 preview here), the ever-present Bez, Flavien and Cyprien of Hachette UK and FunnyFox respectively (distributors and publishers of Almadi), Will from PSC Games, Ellie Dix of The Dark Imp, and the guys behind The Detective Society.
That’s before even mentioning the legends I played with all weekend. Scott, Mark, Jill, Peter, Bob and the rest of the Gaming Rules! crew, thank you. A big hello also to Craig of Meeples of the North Kingdom, who I first met up with last year at UKGE, and played games with again this time around.
If your idea of a good convention is one where the emphasis is on playing games, AireCon is fantastic. Everyone, from staff to other attendees, was so friendly and welcoming. If you’re worried about coming along on your own, don’t be, there are always plenty of people happy to invite someone new to their table. The sales stands were good, and I love that the vast majority of the space in the halls is given to people, and the games they play, not just businesses looking to make a buck.
The catering – by way of a variety of food trucks – was great, and it was never too difficult to get a drink or a snack. The games library was well-stocked, and free! Okay, there’s a £10 deposit, but you get that back. Upstairs, the bring and buy was fantastic, and I’ll admit I grabbed a couple of bargains I hadn’t intended to. With so much of the weekend’s proceedings going towards charity, including a cut of the bring and buy sales, I can justify my new-to-me games to myself.
I’m equal parts surprised and delighted that the AireCon crew have managed to expand so much in such a short space of time, but without losing the feeling of friendliness that pervades the weekend. Everyone there is just happy to be with likeminded people who just want to take a day or two out from the stresses and worries of life, and enjoy something approaching normal, after a torrid couple of years.
I had an amazing time, and I’ll be back. If you’re on the fence about coming, or nervous of attending, I urge you have a look at their beginner’s guide, and to come along. If you live closer than I do, then definitely go and check it out. It’s a celebration of all that is wonderful about out hobby, and the people who share it.
See you next year, AireCon!