I have attended quite a few different board game events in my time. I’ve been visiting conventions in Germany and the United Kingdom as a paying visitor, a member of the press as well as part of a demo team. From the more sedate and gaming-focussed AireCon to the crazily busy more business-focussed Essen Spiel and various exhibitions, shows, conventions or whatever you want to call them somewhere in between. So if you’re planning to attend a board game event yourself and want to make the most of your experience, here are some tips that come from my own experience and that I hope you will find useful.

If you’ve never been to a board game event yourself before, then let me tell you that it’s like stepping into a different world where passion, excitement and endless gaming possibilities collide. I always get a buzz as soon as I enter the show halls. The idea that I will be sharing the same space with like-minded enthusiasts is wonderful. Board game events offer a unique opportunity to dive deep into our hobby. You will come across games you’ve not seen before or heard of, you will see accessories that you never knew you needed and you will meet people who love what you love. It’s amazing.

Plan Ahead and Prioritize

Attending any board game event starts with planning. You need to work out which days you want to go, how you will get there and where you might stay, unless you are able to travel there and back in one day. Pretty much every board game convention website can tell you the best transport links and about parking, if you intend to use the car. There will also be a page with special accommodation deals. It’s worth looking at those, but also do your own research. You might find a better option that’s more suited to your needs.

Whatever you do though, start planning as early as possible. The later you leave it, the more expensive it will be. Many hotels offer free cancellation up to a certain number of days before your stay. I used it before and even though it’s a little extra money, it’s worth the peace of mind. Don’t forget to book your attendance tickets. Some events don’t offer admission at the door.

Once you’ve dealt with tickets, travel and accommodation, you need to plan the convention itself. Take time to schedule and prioritize activities and games you definitely don’t want to miss. Research the event’s website to get an overview of special events, featured games, tournaments, workshops or panels that might interest you. You can never do everything, but a rough plan will help you make the most of your time.

The wonderful Tabletop Together Tool by Peter B. Hoffgaard is available for many of the larger exhibitions and is a great way to see what games will be available at the event and track which ones you’re interested in. There are also usually lists on Board Game Geek that track the new releases for upcoming exhibitions, which will help you in that respect.

the 7 Wonders Duel demo table at UK Games Expo 2023
the 7 Wonders Duel demo table at UK Games Expo 2023

While You’re There

Once at the show, there are a few things first-timers might not think of doing. You may have planned to buy lots of games and attend lots of panels, but board game conventions are also about playing games. Some events are less focussed on this aspect, but pretty much every exhibition will have demo tables. Keep an eye out for them and check if you need to book in advance. Publishers want to showcase their latest and upcoming games, so do take advantage of that.

It’s great when you get to try a game you’re really interested in before you buy it, but don’t hesitate to try out new games and explore different genres and mechanisms. Take advantage of the opportunity to get demos from knowledgeable volunteers or sometimes even the game designer themselves. Demo tables offer a fantastic chance to discover hidden gems and expand your gaming horizons, while also being an invaluable opportunity to sit down and rest your feet.

If an event is set up for it, then don’t underestimate the value of sitting at an open gaming table. Open gaming areas are the beating heart of many board game conventions, designated to play games or join impromptu gaming groups who may have a “Need a Player” set up. It can be a bit daunting, but please do embrace the spirit of the convention by joining open gaming sessions, whether it’s trying out a game you’ve always wanted to play or joining a group of enthusiastic players eager to teach and share their gaming experiences. Open gaming is an excellent way to meet new people, make friends and immerse yourself in the communal joy of gaming. Of course, it’s also a brilliant way to rest your feet.

Look After Yourself

Some things might be obvious things to remember, but when you get to a board game convention, they can be quickly forgotten.

Stay hydrated by bringing a refillable water bottle and keeping it topped up throughout the day. Keep sipping from that bottle, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Exhibition halls are very artificial environments that will dehydrate you much quicker than you will be used to. So unless you want to have a thumping headache at the end of the day, keep drinking and make sure you regularly refill your bottle.

Pack some energy-boosting snacks or consider having a meal plan in place to ensure you eat enough food to keep your energy levels up. In the same way that you dehydrate more quickly when at an exhibition, all the walking and paying attention to what’s going on around you will sap your energy levels much quicker than during a normal day.

Adequate rest is equally important, so listen to your body and take short breaks when needed, taking advantage of demo or open gaming tables being one option. Maybe even leave the exhibition halls and wander around outside to reset and recharge. It might even allow you to decompress a little and step back from socialising for a while.

a selfie of four men in UK Games Expo's open gaming area (photo courtesy of Scott Lowe-James)
playing with friends at UK Games Expo (photo courtesy of Scott Lowe-James)


Also make sure you wear comfortable shoes. When you walk around for most of the day, you want something that hugs your feet without being too tight, because your feet will swell over time. Lacing up your shoes really tightly avoids rubbing and blisters, but you don’t want to restrict the blood flow either.

If you can wear your clothes in multiple, thin layers, then go for it. Exhibition halls can get very hot until the aircon kicks in and then it can get very cold. Different halls will also have different temperatures. So being able to peel off a layer or two is very useful. You can make really fine adjustments to make sure you’re always comfortable.

Speaking of getting hot, it will never hurt to take some deodorant and freshen up from time to time in one of the toilets. You might not notice it yourself, but others might. Also take hand sanitizer with you. Board games, by nature, are about touching the same components. Wet wipes can also be really useful to clean your hands and wipe your face to freshen up.

Actually, toilets are another thing to consider. Ideally, plan ahead where they are, but I find it usually easier to orient myself when I get there. Ask the exhibition staff about where they think the best toilets are. Sometimes it’s worth walking five minutes to avoid having to spend an urgent few minutes in a really smelly place. The people who work in the halls will usually know where you’re most likely to get the best experience from your comfort break.

Last Few Tips

Depending on the event, bringing a backpack is probably a good idea. Some places do allow trolley suitcases, but many don’t. So check before you go, but anything you can carry on your back will be very helpful. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, being able to stow away coats and other bits and having somewhere for your snacks is really useful.

Remember also that pacing yourself will allow you to fully enjoy the convention experience without burning out. It’s tempting to pack everything in, especially if you’re only there for a single day, but you will enjoy your time much more and fondly remember the event later on, if you take your time.

There you have it, that’s my wisdom for you. I hope you’ll find it useful, but if you have any tips of your own, please do share them in the comments below. I always want to learn new tricks to make my next exhibition attendance more enjoyable.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Mario Bava Sleeps In a Little Later Than He Expected To by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Source: http://chriszabriskie.com/vendaface/

Artist: http://chriszabriskie.com/


These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:


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