Are you looking for new ways to experience tabletop games, meet new friends, and play the latest stuff the board gaming world has to offer? Or maybe you want to plan a gaming holiday with your friends or family, or are interested in becoming a game designer yourself?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you should definitely visit a gaming convention, an event where you’ll get to see more games than you can count and meet up with thousands of wonderful people from all walks of life. Continue reading as we’ll go through the list of all popular board game conventions and give you a short overview of what to expect at each of them. Let’s go!
What Is a Board Game Convention?
First things first – let’s talk about the convention scene. A board gaming convention is an event where fans of everything tabletop get to explore various sides of their hobby, connect with like-minded people, buy a bunch of stuff, and play as many board games as they can.
Gaming conventions are usually divided into two categories: small (typically local) and large conventions, depending on the number of visitors. Generally speaking, once a convention grows to more than 5,000 attendees, it’s considered a large event that’s not restricted to a single exhibit hall. These larger conventions are what we’ll be talking about today.
They also differ based on their program. Some conventions are just gatherings of people that go there for a couple of days of gaming, with maybe a side activity or two. Others offer panels, tournaments against other gamers, gaming events, and raffles.
Why You Should Visit a Board Game Convention
Obviously, the main reason to visit a convention is if you love board games. They’re a great way to discover new titles and companies making them, try out the games, and score some really nice deals on merch.
Most conventions have various events running throughout each day, so you can learn more about the industry, meet designers and artists, participate in raffles and tournaments, or join special events where the audience gets to play large-scale games. It’s like a music festival but for board games.
While major conventions can get overwhelming, these are still events worth visiting at least once. The experience is well worth the hassle.
Calendar of Board Game Conventions
Now that you know what’s a convention and what to expect, let’s move on to the calendar. As you’ll see, the year is packed with various conventions all around the world and it doesn’t matter if you’re in North America, Europe, or Asia, there’s always a cool convention to visit there.
- When: March 6 – 10
- Location: Las Vegas, NV
The convention season starts in March with Dice Tower West. As the name implies, it’s organized by the legendary board gaming crew, who brings five days of gaming to the entertainment capital of America.
At this convention, you’ll get to try over 6,500 games, explore what dozens of exhibitors have brought to the show, listen to exciting panels, and meet the Dice Tower crew, of course. This is a medium-sized convention with about 2,000 attendees, so you’ll be able to explore every activity and vendor without much hassle.
Tokyo Game Market
- When: May 13 – 14
- Location: Tokyo, Japan
If you’re up for a trip to Japan, Game Market is the place you want to visit during May. This convention started more than 20 years ago and, unlike other gaming conventions in Japan, is dedicated exclusively to analog games. It’s also a family-friendly event with many spaces dedicated to kids’ games.
The concept of the Tokyo Game Market is similar to European conventions, specifically Essen Spiel. That means many booths, big sales, and a couple of panels held by game designers. Tickets are inexpensive, so it’s worth visiting if you’re already in the area.
- From: May 26 – 29
- Location: Dallas, TX
Board Game Geek also has its own conventions and the Spring edition is the first of them. The location – Hyatt Regency DFW Airport in Dallas. Visitors can expect four days jam-packed with serious gaming and access to BGG’s massive library of games.
This con is ideal to catch up with all the hottest releases and games that have won or were nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres awards. You’ll also be able to score some deals through the charity and library cull sales. It’s highly recommended to sign up for events before you arrive at this con, as it gets crowded really fast.
- From: June 2 – 4
- Location: Birmingham, UK
In Europe, the convention season starts with the UK Games Expo. This massive show has a lot to offer, so those four days will wizz past you while running around, trying to see and experience everything.
Aside from the free play area, and hundreds of games to try and buy, UKGE hosts various seminars where you can learn more about board games and their history. Competitive gamers can join some tournaments, a mega game of Risk, or try their luck at various giveaways. Finally, UKGE gives out awards for the past year’s most excellent games during the final day of the show.
All in all, a convention well worth visiting. Just be sure to plan your visit on time, so you don’t miss anything.
- When: June 21 – 25
- Location: Columbus, OH
Origins is one of the biggest conventions in the US, a place where fans of tabletop gaming converge and get to experience tons of activities over those early summer days. Greater Columbus Convention Center is the location and the whole expo is more structured than your average con.
This convention features a lot of interesting and unique events, from playing mega games and organizing a blood drive, to comedy shows, costume contests, and even a full-blown (and free!) film festival. The events run almost back to back and, if you ever get overwhelmed (or want to read some rulebooks in peace), you can chill own in the Quiet area.
Like the UKGE, Origins also hosts its own awards show, which is the grand finale of the four-day expo and something you shouldn’t miss. This is also a great place to be for up-and-coming game designers and store owners, making it a must-visit con.
Dice Tower East
- When: July 5 – 9
- Location: Orlando, FL
Four months after its West edition, the Dice Tower convention moves to Orlando, where it offers the same amazing experience and a great way to spend your summer vacation days. Especially considering it’s close to various other attractions and amusement parks.
This con, dubbed as one of the “friendliest conventions on Earth,” is split into several areas – exhibitor hall, demo zone, social games zone, quiet game room, and several big open gaming areas. Curiously, it also hosts a Sunday service, for the religious folks in the crowd.
- When: July 28 – 30
- Location: Helsinki, Finland
Ropecon might sound like a small geeky gathering, but over the years it became the biggest European convention for tabletop role-playing games. It was also expanded to board games, card games, and even war games like Warhammer 40k, so it has something for everyone.
This convention is spread across several halls of Helsinki Expo and Convention Center with a full schedule of events and panels during those three days. Whether you’re a LARPer, Warhammer fanatic, or you’re just starting your first Dungeons & Dragons adventure, you’ll feel at home when you go through the Ropecon doors.
- When: August 3 – 6
- Location: Indianapolis, IN
Gen Con is the biggest and longest-running tabletop event in the United States, attended by more than 50,000 visitors. Started way back in 1968 by no other but the father of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax, the convention was first held in Wisconsin before moving to Indiana in 2003.
For American gamers, this is THE place to be if they want to check out the hottest new releases, participate in various organized play events and contests, and learn all about tabletop gaming. All four days of Gen Con are packed with events, most of which you’ll need to pre-register for on the website, but some of them require an additional payment besides getting the Gen Con badge.
Gen Con is not just interesting for gamers, but for business people, too. During the Trade Day, which is held a day before the convention opens, students, retailers, and professors learn about the industry or make business deals with B2B partners.
- When: October 5 – 9
- Location: Essen, Germany
The most significant and exciting time of the year for every board game enthusiast, Essen Spiel is a board gaming wonderland. More than 150,000 people flock to northern Germany every year to visit this convention and for a good reason – most new releases are scheduled for this event.
Spiel is the traditional European fair, with hundreds of booths and stands where you can buy board games, RPGs, miniatures, and all kinds of accessories. Of course, you get to try most of these games, too, and you only need to pay an entry ticket for the con itself. Deal-hunting at this convention is great, as many booths slash their prices or, if you go with German editions, you save some extra cash.
That said, there aren’t any special events running during Spiel. It’s not the style of convention you may have gotten accustomed to in America. Still, you can participate in various giveaways and daily tournaments, but be ready to walk a LOT.
- When: early October
- Location: Vancouver, Canada
An event run by the Shut Up & Sit Down team, SHUX is a relatively new board gaming convention, originally started in 2017. Typically lasting for three days, this expo is a great place for Canadian board gamers to meet up, enjoy various panels, and play games throughout each day.
SHUX is a two-part experience. You can either enjoy the free play area with over a thousand board games provided by the exhibitors and partners, or you can go to the stage and watch (or even participate in) various shows like live podcasts and mega games. Sadly, the 2023 edition of the con was canceled and the next edition will be held in October 2024.
- From: November 15 – 19
- Location: Dallas, TX
The Board Game Geek convention returns for another round in Dallas in late Fall with its main convention running for four days.
Similar to its spring event and Gen Con, BGG.CON has a ton of events throughout each day, to which you’ll need to sign up in advance so you can secure your seat. Since it is scheduled right after Essen Spiel, it’s a great way to catch up with all the latest releases and meet game designers from across the globe.
- When: December 1 – 3
- Location: Philadelphia, PA
Last, but not the least convention of the year, PAX Unplugged is a culmination of everything happening in the board game space throughout the past year. It’s three days of (almost) non-stop gaming, from the free play zone to tournaments and even a dedicated Crokinole zone.
At PAX Unplugged, you can listen to various panels, learn the ropes of popular games with the help of popular tabletop celebrities, try the games freshly imported into the US, or join an RPG session and let your imagination run wild. Aspiring game designers can learn the craft or help each other test their unreleased games, while the competitive crowd can join a three-day Omegahon tournament and win fabulous prizes.
Preparing for a Gaming Convention
You’re now probably planning to visit some of these conventions and need to plan your trip. Where to start? As the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy taught us – don’t panic – as there are several simple steps for organizing the perfect convention trip.
Get Your Ticket/Badge
Obviously, you’ll first need to secure your entry to the convention. Every convention now posts its schedule and dates several months in advance. The tickets and badges can be bought way ahead of the convention, usually through the event’s own website
Although most of the time you can get the tickets on the day of the convention (especially for European expos), it’s better to complete the purchase in advance and save a few bucks in the process.
Take note of convention entry rules, though, and whether you need to print out your ticket. If in doubt – contact the organizer.
Time to get settled! With your badge and ticket secured, look into reserving a room either at the convention or somewhere nearby. Hotels tend to get booked quickly, so the earlier you start preparing – the better.
Depending on the convention, you might find a room at the same hotel. This is ideal, as you won’t have to travel too far at the end of each day. Of course, hunting for deals may net you equally good, but way cheaper, housing options.
Book Your Flight
You’ve got your ticket and hotel booked, now it’s just a matter of getting there. The distance to the convention is what’ll decide whether you’ll be hopping onto a plane or organizing a road trip. In any case, our recommendation is to try and get to your hotel a day before the convention starts (so book your room accordingly). Not only will that reduce the chances of missing anything in case of flight delays, but you’ll be able to explore the location at your own pace before the morning rush even starts.
Plan Your Visit
One of the best ways to get the most out of expos and conventions is to look up in advance the schedule and layout. Conventions typically post those once they open their ticket sales, so people can pre-plan what they want to do and see.
If there are any events you need to register for, make sure you do that, otherwise, you’ll end up missing them. Board Game Geek forums are a great way to learn about what you can expect at a convention you haven’t been to before and good folks there oftentimes share tips and tricks based on their experiences.
What To Bring to a Convention
It’s time to pack your bags! One misconception is to lug your own games to the con. There’s no need for it, as you’ll find plenty of games to play at the location.
But, there are some essentials that you should be bringing with you to make the whole trip more comfortable and to get the most out of the event.
First of all – a pair of comfy shoes and a backpack. Since you’ll be walking around a lot, you don’t want to get blisters after just a few hours at a con. As for your backpack, it will literally be your lifesaver, not just storage for all the games and merch you end up buying.
Ideally, you want to bring some snacks (nuts, fruit) and sandwiches to last you for the whole day. Aside from food, always bring a big bottle of water to stay hydrated, especially if you’re going to a hotter place. Don’t forget a portable phone charger, so your phone doesn’t get out of juice. We also recommend a pack of wet wipes. Con crud IS a thing, you know.
Lastly, bring an extra shirt or some other piece of clothing that you can put on in the evening when it gets colder. Or just to have something to change to. Accidents happen.
Of course, check with the convention rules about what you can bring to the event. Some conventions might prohibit bringing your own food and drinks, while others allow it.
And those are all the big conventions you need to know about, along with some extra information to make your experience as enjoyable as possible. After all, it’s all about having fun and finding your next favorite games and gaming people.
So, pick your destination, pack your bags, and take a trip of a lifetime to a board gaming event you’ll never forget!
Essen Spiel is the largest board game convention with over 147,000 visitors in 2022 and a record-breaking 209,000 attendance at the 2019 edition. Right after it is Gen Con with 50,000+ attendees.
KublaCon is a gaming convention held in San Francisco, California, over Memorial Weekend. While it started as a small-scale convention, KublaCon is now typically crowded by 4,000 fans of tabletop games.
Board game conventions are places where fans can gather and experience their hobby together, explore new games, rediscover old favorites, and participate in various activities.