Memoirs of a Convention Organiser (OxCon 1998)

by Dave Percik

At a meeting of the Oxford University Diplomacy Society in January it was discovered that no-one had seen the President since before Christmas or knew what preparations he had made for the games convention that the society was supposed to run days later. I was therefore inaugurated as President for 1998-9 slightly early to deal with the situation. From such an inauspicious start, it was gratifying to see how the members worked together to produce a reasonably successful convention.

The venue was a good start. A room had been booked at St. John’s College for the whole weekend, but the college decided that they would rather use it for a concert on the Saturday evening on the grounds that the organisers offered them £250. This caused some people to wander around St. John’s in the mornings, but also resulted in the venue being a house, providing four rooms on two floors and an interesting and extensive cellar that nay well be used next year. With a refreshment table on each floor and occasional trips to the supermarket for more biscuits and milk, most of the games-players’ needs seemed to be satisfied.

The Saturday

The organising committee arrived early to set things up, then took money from and gave information to people as they arrived. Some chatting took place with people who hadn’t been seen since the last convention, and there was a panic when the amount spent on trophies was reported. Then it was time for the main event of the day, and as thirty-five people went upstairs to contest the Diplomacy tournament organised by Mark Stretch, poor Chris Dickson was left almost alone with some old zines to deal with late-comers. I hope that he didn’t have too bad a time before those eliminated early on joined him for some games.

Meanwhile, I was busy. I received a reasonable draw despite having to play my least favourite country, Turkey. I survived the proxy of the Austrian units to Russia, and Russia’s well-timed stab was foiled by an Italian betrayal. I ended on twelve supply-centres, my best convention result, and, it turned out, just enough to win the tournament. Suddenly the expense on the trophies became worthwhile.

Once the tournament was over, the players scattered around the building to play other games. There were a lot of these around, the Diplomacy society’s cupboard being rather full at the moment and many people bringing their own games to the convention. Prominent was Loupin’ Louie, the ever-popular convention game where players protect counters representing chickens from a circling plane with paddles. It is probably necessary to see it in action to fully appreciate it, but it is entertaining.

The keys had to be returned to the college porters at eleven, so once everyone was out, various members and ex-members of the Diplomacy Society adjourned to their traditional convention curry. After some eating, joking and singing, we returned to our homes to prepare for the next day.

The Sunday

Very little sleep later, it was Chris’ turn to shine, running the Settlers tournament, while I looked after the door. After, of course, we had cleaned up the mess from the previous day. The trophies available were displayed on the admin desk, and as on the previous day caused a certain amount of comment. Susie Horton seemed particularly interested in the trophy for first place, but was told not to get her hopes up by husband David.

I was joined at the admissions table by several latecomers and some people who had decided to sit out the first round of the tournament. Occasionally interrupted by the hilarity caused by the draw, we played a couple of games of Titan: The Arena. Not to be confused with the very long board game Titan, this is a very good card game. Players bet secretly and openly on which of nine monsters is going to survive a conflict, playing cards to gradually eliminate the monsters one by one. At the end, bets on the surviving monsters are added up to produce a winner.

After lunch, I joined a game of Age of Renaissance, about conflicting trading powers in the early modern world. Despite not having played the game before, I enjoyed myself. Unfortunately, it went on rather too long, and became rather a free-for-all towards the end. Admittedly it wasn’t helped by my being called away a couple of times to deal with problems that had arisen, and then to help clear up at the end of the day. Meanwhile, the Settlers tournament had been convincingly won by David Horton, apparently with Susie in second. Had they known something in the morning when they were looking at the trophies?

The Summation

The convention ended with tidying up the venue, returning the keys to St. John’s and the games to the society’s cupboard, and discussing how things had gone. Finally, some well-earned sleep was had. I thought that things went well, with only minor problems, and the society made enough money to cover its expenses for the university’s Freshers’ Fair in October, which is the purpose of the convention. That said, after the experience, the organising committee can see ways in which the event can be improved, for example starting to organise it a little more in advance, and next year should be better, assuming that the help that I get is as good as it was this time. I’m looking forward to it already. Perhaps I’ll see you there at the end of January 1999.

first published in one Man’s Rubbish (editor Mark Stretch), issue 27, March 1998