Review: Airecon 2023

A reluctant gamer visits the North's biggest games expo

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The analogue gaming festival Airecon returned to Harrogate Convention Centre on 9-12 March. Originally set up by director Mark Cooke as a place for him and his friends to play games for a weekend, AireCon 0 was held in Cooke’s north Leeds flat before he teamed up with accountant Ben Clarkson and moved to a venue in Bradford for two public events in 2016. The event has continued to expand and in 2017 took over the Harrogate Convention Centre. It’s been growing into this huge space since, this year adding a fourth day of gaming and hosting over 80 of the biggest names in gaming from around the world, including YouTube board game favourites Watch It Played, who have come from the other side of the pond to do a Q&A and record a special live episode.

Attending somewhat reluctantly with my gamer husband and two children, I was lured in with the promise of a snowy weekend in Harrogate, a nice meal out, the chance to explore some high-end charity shops and the option to go solo to Betty’s with my book if things became too nerdy. Things probably did, but as it happens I didn’t have to. And a beautiful meal at the Greek Taverna while gamers queued at overpriced street food trucks made me feel like a winner.

Here are five highlights from a reluctant gamer at the North’s biggest games expo.

Imagination Gaming
Nigel Scarfe and his team were set up at the entrance to the main hall and families might not have explored further than that. They offered a huge selection of games to try and Scarfe was brilliant at spending time with inexperienced gamers and patiently explaining rules to children in an engaged way. He talked us through Kameloot and spent a good 40 minutes playing Archroma one on one with my 11 year old. He explained how the company offers board game sessions in schools and social organisations, specifically tailoring games to suit needs – to assist with maths, for example. What a brilliant idea!

Yay Games
Run by a husband and wife duo who design and produce their own small selection of indie games, Yay was set up adjacent to Imagination Gaming and invited passersby to have a go. After a lengthy debate over which headband to buy from one of the stalls, my younger daughter and I found my husband and elder daughter playing Thunderbirds: Danger Zone with designer Andrew Harman. A co-operative card game based on the original series, the 11 year old concluded that she enjoyed it, but it was a bit too much about Thunderbirds – go figure. Jenny Harman asked if we would like to play a round of Ominoes – a dice tactics game with an Ancient Egyptian theme – while we waited. I was reluctant to get sucked into anything too lengthy or complex, but Jenny assured me it was quick and simple, and was true to her word. We left with our own copy for just £10.

Werewolf with Ivan Brett
Ivan Brett made a name for himself recently as a contestant on BBC’s hit show Traitors. What we didn’t realise at the time was his name was already occupying our games cupboard, with his bestselling The Floor is Lava book. He ran games of Werewolf throughout the weekend – a party game that is essentially Traitors in wolf’s clothing. The sessions filled up early so we grabbed Ivan for a quick chat instead (which turned out to be a long one thanks to my daughter’s onslaught of questions – sorry, Ivan). He told us to pop along to the session and that he’d make room. This laidback approach led to a game of 26 players, four of whom were werewolves the villagers were trying to find out. Against my will I became fully immersed – Ivan gave me little choice by selecting me as the werewolf and I was proud to outlast my canine co-conspirators and make it to the final five before being found out and thrown to the angry villagers (by my husband and daughter). I’m still bitter about the player who ousted my nine year old early in the game for no apparent reason. I suppose some gamers are just that cut-throat.

Jolly Boat
Airecon would do well to programme a few more acts like this next year, allowing families to break up their day a bit. As it was we had to wait until 9pm for the only live performance of the weekend – and I wasn’t easy to convince to return after visiting Taverna. It was worth it though, as comedy sibling duo Tommy and Ed ripped through an hour’s worth of parody songs, pirate spoofs, and a sing-a-long, whilst jokingly insisting that their set hadn’t changed in 15 years – good enough for the audience, which was in stitches the whole time. With Ed on acoustic guitar and sharing vocals with Tommy, whose instrument was a slideshow remote, Jolly Boat took us through a set of songs that poked fun at their own beloved nerd culture – looks like high school bullies are now out of a job! Despite performing together for such a long time, the brothers still forgot their lines and were prone to mishaps. At one point Ed stomped so hard on the stage that he broke their equipment. But their ability to improvise and laugh at themselves proved to be the biggest highlight as their sincerity shone through.

Indie stalls
There was a good range of stalls from independent crafters in the main hall and if you were a Dungeons and Dragons fan or in the market for a pretty 20-sided dice then you were spoilt for choice. For those of us who aren’t – and for kids interested in offloading pocket money burning a hole – there were a few that stood out from the crowd. Misty Moon Illustration was selling beautiful and reasonably priced prints, stickers and badges (some D&D inspired), Chaos Curios was selling pricey but difficult to resist scented candles (some D&D inspired) and a stall whose name I didn’t get was selling handmade scrunchies and headbands (possibly some were D&D inspired but also lots of Studio Ghibli).

Main image: Hubert Hung, H2Photography

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