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Zenkaikon 2017, A Wild Ride

It’s a beautiful Monday in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I sit here listening to birds chirping, Vel playing video games and the pounding of the keys between sips of coffee and I can’t help but feel an empty little spot in my soul, a spot known to well as Post Convention Blues.

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Cosplay Masquerade

We spent three days at Zenkaikon, held at the Lancaster Convention Center in Lancaster, PA. With a star-studded guest line-up, a full schedule of panels and some amazing places to eat nearby, we were excited to go… and a bit nervous, as this was our very first Zenkaikon.

The convention is celebrating its 11th year, which is no small achievement for a growing convention with a highly dedicated fan base (for years, my friends have been screaming at me to go) that will fold you in like family as soon as they realize you’re a newbie. Over the course of those three days, we were so positively overwhelmed that it was exhilarating. Even the local restaurants were happy to see the flood of cosplayers, some embracing the event by giving discounts to con-goers and holding cosplay contests.

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Noodle King

Before I go into more about the convention itself, I want to point out that central Lancaster, surrounding the convention center, is beautiful. Even on the outskirts, I loved the area. It had the center city feel without the center city issues. There were some traffic pattern issues to deal with, of course, the convention was in town and there was a race on Saturday, so some streets were closed. However, I never felt the need to rush back to the car, the walk to the car (there was more than one parking garage within a two block radius) was refreshing and the weather this weekend made it more of a stroll than a rush. Not to mention the diversity in food and food pricing was an added bonus. From The Rabbit and The Dragonfly, a coffee bar with a great theme and amazing food, to The Noodle King, a treasure of Pho that we found thanks to our good friend Paul and even the smoothie shop across the street. We were not disappointed by our eats and the walk to each location was worth it.

Now, Zenkaikon…

I’m not even sure where to start. The lines for registration moved quickly and the staff at the front was not only knowledgeable and friendly, but also confident to tell me when they didn’t know the answer to a question I had. This wasn’t just a theme for the front, but for all of the staff I encountered that weekend. They were friendly, willing to walk with me if I was confused, and quick to go find an answer (if they were in a position in which they could leave their post) or tell me who to speak to. What I appreciated most, besides the friendliness of staff (so many pleases and thank yous), was the admittance of lack of knowledge on a particular subject. I’d rather get an “I don’t know” than several different answers from several different staff. I loved how they handled lines (Cosplay Burlesque’s line spanned two floors) and how, even come Sunday, they were still pleasant in making sure everyone was having fun. I want to thank the whole staff for a wonderful experience.

On to the guests! Charles Dunbar (Author), Cosplay Burlesque (Preforming Arts), Cosplay

The Slants

The Slants

Pro Wrestling (Preforming Arts), Ellen McLain (Actress), Greg ‘Greggo’ Wicker (Game Show Host), John Patrick Lowery (Actor), Karl ‘Uncle Yo’ Custer (Comedian), Keith DeCandido (Author), Kuniko Kanawa (Cultural Presenter), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Actress), Sonny Strait (Actor) who had to cancel last minute due to illness, Steve Blum (Actor), The Slants (Musical Guests). So many guests and so little time. We had the pleasure of speaking with Cosplay Burlesque, Ellen McLain, John Patrick Lowery, Uncle Yo, Keith DeCandido and The Slants (EPIC CONCERT!). Every one of them was an absolute delight to speak with and I will treasure those experiences forever. Those interviews and insights will come up in other articles as soon as possible.

The chosen theme for the year was ‘Under the Sea,’ so of course we started our Opening Ceremonies with Uncle Yo in… what I can only explain as an octopus corset (complete with tentacles) and swimming goggles being the amazing MC that he is, introducing guests, throwing candy and making jokes with the wonderful Maddy from Staff, who had a squid on her head. They spoke of cosplay contests, LARPing, game rooms, video rooms, events big and small, also panels, 18+, Con Safety from the lovely Princess Kiwi all before Uncle Yo lead us in a beautiful promise pinkie swear to leave the rest at home, be at the con for us, to have fun and make new friends.

Videos included Black Butler, Assassination Classroom, One Punch Man, RWBY, Yuri!!! On Ice, Baka and Test and many, many more. It’s a wonderful time to catch that first episode to see if you are really interested and want to dive in. I now have Yuri!!! On Ice on my list along with Erased, Steins Gate and a few other wonderful recommendations from other con-goers.

18157271_1071751016303094_6028366417503715593_nOf course, gaming was well represented and I don’t just mean THE MASSIVE AMOUNT OF OVERWATCH COSPLAYERS (I loved them all) who all looked amazing. Aside from LARPing and a room full of people playing board games was Artemis (which I forgot all about and am so mad at myself), Pokemon Sun and Moon, Mario Kart 8, Rocket League, Smash Brothers U and more. I was impressed by the steady stream of gaming through out the con and a Magic: The Gathering Tournament. I’m sorry I didn’t get to play some video games while I was there, but, alas, I was there as press and not to play games. However, I’m getting a game in next year.

Also, a congratulations to the winners of the Cosplay Contests, Cosplay Masquerade, AMVs and Karaoke. We had the pleasure of seeing thousands of cosplays, witnessing all the entries to the Masquerade and seeing the winning AMVs. Everyone did and incredible job. Even if you cosplayed just a little (such as I did) or a lot, everyone looked wonderful. I was even sandwiched between two doctors in my closet TARDIS cosplay. Most of all, I’m so proud of every one of you. It takes such heart, courage and bravery to step out in the first place, even if it is just presenting the AMVs you’ve worked so hard on, getting up on stage in front of hundreds to preform a skit with your friends or by yourself, or buying a cosplay or making it. I’m so proud and was so honored to be among you. You made the convention and kept it going. It’s your work, your ideas, your dedication, and your patronage that keeps Zenkaikon going each year and makes it so special. I love your love!

The Fan and Guest panels where filled with diversity, fun and interest. From Steven

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Uncle Yo

Universe to Doctor who, Retro Gaming to The K-Pop Dance Challenge, Dungeons and Dragons to Mermaids, virtually no fandom stone was left unturned. There were food panels, game design, make up, paper-craft, Miyazaki (honestly it’s not an anime convention without a Miyazaki panel), Fan Fiction, Orphan Black, Kimono Dressing, Star Trek… the list goes on. One I will note is that as much as Zenkaikon looks like an Anime convention it is so much more than that. It is evolving into an all-out nerd fest and I love it. There are still heavy anime elements, but there was literally something for everyone. From Vendors, Guests and Panels you didn’t have to be Anime savvy (cause I’m certainly not) to have the best time. If you are reading this and ever thought that Zenkaikon isn’t for you, I’m telling you that you are so wrong, just go. If you don’t have a blast, I’ll owe you a milkshake, but it’s an incredible melting pot of the nerd culture and you deserve it as much as it deserves you.

Bring the kids! I saw much more children there than I’m used to seeing at a convention. They were in cosplay and loving life. The con is full of family friendly content! However, if you are a bit twisted like I am, there was plenty of 18+ panels to wet your whistle. I saw my first ever Burlesque show and I got so excited, I accidentally slapped a friend in the face (I promise to tell the story in another article). From Mature Anime to What Did I Just Watch? to Guests Against Humanity (I MISSED IT), there is enough warped to go around and plenty of people who will happily welcome you!

If I haven’t convinced you to go by now, there is no hope for you. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this convention. I honestly can’t. I only wish there were clones of me and my staff so we could have literally been everywhere and seen everything. We are already making game plans for things we should do differently next year, plans to make to be better organized, equipment upgrades and gaming ideas.

To all the friends I’ve made, the friends I found, the people I’ve hung out with and the amazing guests and staff of the convention… thank you for giving me a weekend I will never forget. Thank you, thank you, thank you… and see you next year!

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Real Women of Gaming & CommonGeek.tv

Convention Impressions: Too Many Games 2016

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Date: June 24 – 26, 2016
Venue: Oaks Convention Center in Oaks, PA

Real Women of Gaming is getting on the convention beat! Our first Press Pass came from Too Many Games and it was a great convention for us to get our feet wet with.

What Kind of Convention is it?
As the name suggests, Too Many Games is a gaming convention. The Convention had 3 panel tracks and an event stage, but the majority of the space was given over to a large gaming room and an even larger marketplace. The arcade/gaming room had arcade machines and consoles running fighting games, racing games, and rhythm games for anyone to test their skills against their fellow con goers. There were also at least 30 machines running various versions of Nintendo’s beloved Super Smash Brothers for both free and tournament play. Rounding things out were a tabletop gaming area and a indie game showcase.

Too Many Games is definitely a small convention. The focus is on the games room and the marketplace. The convention did manage a respectable lineup of guests from the gaming youtube and podcast ‘verse including The Completionist and the Angry Video Game Rolfe, but don’t expect representation from major studios or established indie studios. Sorry, no autographs from Ken Levine or surprise game announcements from Double Fine.

The panel tracks covered a decent range of topics but didn’t offer anything you wouldn’t typically find at a small enthusiast convention. There were Guest FAQs, retrospectives, music and animation appreciation panels, and discussions about current topics. It was a full schedule but I’m guessing that the fairly sparsely attended panels were not the draw for most people at the con.

What was cool?
By far my favorite part was the Indie Games showcase. I got to spend time with at least twenty developers of both video and tabletop games, trying their games and talking to them about their projects. The items on offer ranged from rough prototypes to extremely polished and professional demos. Everyone I met was eager to show off their work and talk about what they wanted to accomplish, what their influences were, and what got them into game design in the first place. There were definitely a few creators there whose projects I will be following closely from now on and some of them may even be featured in future posts on this blog.

The marketplace had a heavy focus on retro video games and I saw a few rare finds on offer. If you’re a collector then you already know that events like these can be a goldmine or a bust depending on what the vendors have on offer. Board games also had decent representation and I was pleased to see a few items that I had been keeping an eye out for. There were also a few booths selling figures and other collectables and, of course, enough funny t-shirts to clothe an army.

I also liked the arcade more than I thought I would. I’ve never been a big fighting game fan, but there was enough variety that I could find plenty to keep me occupied. There were also a few Japanese rhythm game cabinets which were in high demand. Fortunately, I never had to wait too long for a turn at a cabinet and there was always someone ready to jump in and play a round with me. (I lost, a lot).

What was lame?
The venue itself is nothing to write home about. The Oaks Convention Center is essentially a big steel warehouse with concrete floors. Because the convention was divided between two large halls, one for the marketplace and indie showcase and one for the arcade and event stage, it could be awkward getting around. The bathroom lines could get pretty long (it is a con) and the food was overpriced and mediocre (again, con). That said, it’s not the worst place to hold a convention, but it’s not as interesting or cool a venue as some that I have been to.

Who is it for?
If you are all about buying and playing games, this is a great convention. There was a lot on offer to play and over 50 vendors in the marketplace, making the whole thing feel like a big swapmeet. If you are interested in indie games or talking about game making with the people who are doing it right now, then the Indie Showcase alone is worth getting a ticket. There were concerts and cosplay wrestling, so if those kinds of shows are your thing then that’s a decent reason to attend. Just expect to kill some time in the arcade and marketplace between shows you want to see.

If you are more interested in the cosplay scene, community meetups, or people watching, then Too Many Games is hard to recommend. The venue is bad for photography and there wasn’t a lot of cosplay around. Aside from smash tournaments and a pokemon event, there wasn’t a whole lot in the way of organized community meetups either.

Did you like it?
I definitely did. Too Many Games felt kind of like someone had taken the gameroom and dealers hall from a larger convention and turned them into their own thing. I’m used to attending conventions that are a little more scattershot in what they offer and it was cool attending a convention that had a strong focus on gaming. I also liked the fact that I could get to things that looked interesting without fighting through fifteen thousand other people to get to it. Sometimes small conventions can feel empty or like they needed to stretch their content but Too Many Games stayed engaging and entertaining for the whole time.