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In a high-tech world, board games can still draw a crowd

Tim the Enchanter from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (Tim Neppel of Olathe) served as game director and teacher Saturday for the Pathfinder Adventure card game during the KantCon convention in the Overland Park Convention Center. John McCarty of Kansas City tried to learn the game.
Tim the Enchanter from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (Tim Neppel of Olathe) served as game director and teacher Saturday for the Pathfinder Adventure card game during the KantCon convention in the Overland Park Convention Center. John McCarty of Kansas City tried to learn the game. Special to the Star

Matt Harrop hovers over two oversized tables covered in cloth and cardboard. Before him stands an intricate array of miniature “Star Wars” spaceships, placards, multicolored dice, special rulers, a sheet of glass — and a handful of friends.

Harrop, of Leawood, calls out instructions as players roll the dice. Measurements are taken. Tokens are moved. Someone stoops to take a smartphone photograph of the action.

“Red’s attacking, green’s defending,” he explains. “Starburst means a hit. Squiggle means a dodge. It’s a blast.”

It’s also pretty incomprehensible, at least to a neophyte. But it makes perfect sense to Harrop, his friends and hundreds of others gathered this weekend in the Overland Park Convention Center for KantCon, a board-gaming festival.

For a small fee, players work their way through dozens of fantasy board games with obscure titles like Rise of the Runelords and Ultimate Werewolf.

Monopoly and Risk are available, and unused.

“Our favorite is Pandemic,” said Marisa Means of Kansas City, attending the convention with her daughter. “You’re trying to save the world from four diseases. It’s fun.”

The three-day gamefest is a smaller cousin of GenCon, a national board-gaming festival expected to draw more than 50,000 people to Indianapolis this week. KantCon started several years ago as a more modest alternative, with just a handful of local board gamers meeting in a basement.

It’s since grown to more than 400 attendees, attracting gamers come from as far away as Canada.

Some wear costumes, or T-shirts emblazoned with characters and game names. Hair colors display the more aggressive parts of the rainbow. Exhibitors line the hallway, offering the latest gaming challenge.

And the Awesome Fist of Doom to anyone who thinks board-based zombies and trolls are old-fashioned in a world awash in high-tech computer games.

Video gamers play alone, in darkened rec rooms, board gamers say. Better to look your opponent in the eye as you do battle against the Evil Cult of the Howling Hatred.

“People need to get together to play a social game,” said Jeremy Putnam, one of the original KantCon organizers. “Different fantasies, different settings, different stories. For a lot of people it’s about the story.”

Gamers are stereotypically young men, but organizers say women also are increasingly interested in board games.

“The men probably hear about it first, just because of the circles they hang around,” said event organizer Angela Robertson of Shawnee. “But a lot of them bring their spouses and girlfriends, and we now have lots of women.”

Gamers at the “Star Wars” table Saturday seemed interested in a different type of diversity — Sith, Jedi, the Empire.

“We all like ‘Star Wars,’” Harrop said. “We all like rolling dice and pretending we’re Luke Skywalker. It’s awesome.”

KantCon concludes Sunday evening.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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