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A Brief History
of WBC

by Don Greenwood

Greetings fellow gamer -

The World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) has existed in its present form since 1999. For eight years prior to that, it was called Avaloncon. In both cases, we’re talking about a unique gaming convention that many consider the best boardgaming experience on the planet. Allow me to try to explain why many a gamer feels that the WBC is Disney World without lines.

I’ve enjoyed a lifetime fascination with boardgames that spans five decades. If you’ve been a gamer long you may have heard of me. My name is Don Greenwood. For 27 years I worked for the Avalon Hill Game Company as a designer, developer and editor—and was responsible in varying degrees for such games as Squad Leader, Third Reich, Up Front, War At Sea, March Madness, Titan: The Arena, Rail Baron, History of the World and dozens more. During that time I also started ORIGINS—a gaming event widely credited as the first annual boardgaming conference of national consequence in the U.S. I ran five of those conventions and many more regional ones during the “golden age” of gaming when boardgames were commonly seen in national toy outlets.

But times change, and with the rise of the computer age, the fortunes of boardgames ebbed. One by one, the major publishers fell and the boardgaming hobby reverted to niche status. Aside from the occasional fad, it exists today largely through the magic of the Internet, which reaches out freely to its far flung adherents and makes play of these wonderful games easier than ever by matching us with skilled opponents and providing affordable access to ever more ingenious designs.

In 1991, after years of trying, I convinced Avalon Hill that their interests would be better served by hosting a new kind of gaming convention where the emphasis was not on selling product—but rather on playing the games. Seminars, auctions, flea markets and large vendor areas—the major attractions of other game conventions—would be omitted in favor of an emphasis on tournaments. And those tournaments would be covered and recorded in such a way as to build the traditions of a hobby in which one could strive to better one’s personal bests and provide a measuring stick of one’s success. Competition would be the furnace in which we would forge a new gaming camaraderie. Excellence would be measured not only by plaques on the wall but records of vicarious feats in which on a given bygone day we could do no wrong. The contrast with existing conventions was pronounced and the reaction was love at first sight for many. So much so, that when Avalon Hill succumbed in 1998, Avaloncon’s adherents implored me to continue the conference independently. Consequently, WBC was born anew the following year as the annual gaming convention of the newly incorporated non-profit Boardgame Players Association.

WBC differed from its predecessor mainly in that tournament offerings were open to any boardgame (non-collectible card games being included in that definition) regardless of publisher. Focus was maintained by limiting the offerings to 100 tournaments, increasing the likelihood of a viable field of competent opponents for each one. A formula was used to fairly gauge the worthiness of each event regardless of type or length and a mechanism implemented to infuse this Century Group annually with fresh blood.

And when it comes to boardgame tournaments, no one has ever done it better. Long an afterthought elsewhere, tournaments are king at WBC. Almost all WBC attendees acknowledge that its tournaments are far superior to those offered elsewhere. Whether applauding the victors or previewing the upcoming events or scheduling your week in advance, no one does it better. Although volunteers, our Game Masters tend to be among the most dedicated in the hobby. Years of experience and feedback from our players have helped them improve, and they all vie for the honor of GM of the Year. In short, these people as a group care about their events and making your gaming experience an enjoyable one.

The other difference is that this gaming convention is not owned by any one individual or publisher. Every attendee is a member, and as such, a part owner with voting rights in how it is run. Three members are elected annually to rotating three-year terms on an unpaid Board of Directors that governs the corporation. Any excess funds are plowed back into the conference or set aside for emergencies or hobby philanthropy, at the Board’s discretion. WBC is truly a gamer’s convention—run for boardgamers by boardgamers—with no middle men involvement.

Adherents to this new type of gaming conference have proven immensely loyal. Many return year after year regardless of distance. As such, WBC is truly national—even international—in scope with “left coasters” in abundance and more than a smattering of foreign visitors every year. Most of the union’s 50 states are represented by one or more attendees. And the attraction is spreading to families as a result of our family-friendly location in Lancaster, Pa., and our successful “Junior” program that offers a full schedule for the next generation of gamers—those who are 12 and under. A host of Beginner-rated and Coached events also provide plenty of entry points for those family members and significant others with with less experience as gamers. Indeed, the system of organized teaching demonstrations at WBC makes it among the most user friendly of conferences. And for those intimidated by competition or organized events, Open Gaming opportunities abound, although I cannot resist mentioning that I find such fear of competition unwarranted. While “win at all costs” types can be encountered anywhere, in my experience they are less prevalent in WBC tournaments than one would expect to encounter in the average Open Gaming session. A good GM and a system that honors sportsmanship above all else tend to make incidents of this nature rarer than one encounters in many gaming groups.

That said, WBC is not for everyone. While we strongly disagree with those who find “competition” and “fun” mutually exclusive, we acknowledge that those who favor auctions, seminars, flea markets, and large vendor areas may well enjoy other conferences more, although the list of vendors, publishers and designers of note at WBC seems to grow every year.

There are other things you won’t find at WBC—like, long lines. Having been personally responsible for one of the hobbies worst registration fiascos at the first convention I ran back in the ’70s, I’ve made it a point of emphasis to make WBC as efficient as possible. There are no event tickets to buy—one admission covers all.

Want to stop in just long enough to visit the vendor’s area or get a quick peak at the events? Be our guest. There is no charge for such visits and your non-playing spouse or children are welcome spectators as well. They can pass the time using the Lancaster Host Resort’s indoor and outdoor swimming pools, 18-hole championship golf course, game room, ping pong and pool tables, shuffleboard, driving range, lighted putting green, fitness center, 1.9 walking/jogging trail, volleyball, miniature golf, bike rentals or any number of local attractions, including Dutch Wonderland Family Amusement Park, Strasburg Railroad, Tanger Outlet Center, Rockvale Square Outlets, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Kitchen Kettle Village, Sight & Sound Theatres, American Music Theatre, Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, Amish Farm and House, Hershey Park, Gettysburg Battlefield Park, and Wheatland (the estate of President James Buchanan).

Can’t see yourself ever traveling to Pennsylvania for a gaming convention? Don’t write us off yet. BPA sponsors many email tournaments free to current members. For many, they are a way to practice between conventions, but for others they are a way to compete free of expense. Memberships cost as little as $10.

While boardgames no longer enjoy the retail prominence they once did, in many ways boardgaming’s real golden age is alive and well today. Never have the games been better or skilled opponents more accessible. Whether you crave the new generation of card-driven wargames or the latest quick playing Euro from Germany, playing opportunities and the chance to excel in a meaningful tournament have never been greater. Even in its heyday during the 80’s, a nine-day boardgaming convention was unthinkable. Yet, it exists today for those hearty souls caring to take the plunge in WBC’s various Pre-Con mini-cons which begin four days prior to WBC. Indeed, many of our attendees do more gaming at one WBC than they do the rest of the year!

The only thing we need is you! We rejoice in the presence of fellow gaming hobbyists who share our passion for boardgames. Another kindred soul speaking the gaming jargon of our favorite games, comparing strategies, and swapping “what might have been” stories is our most precious resource. We hope you decide to join us for a spectacular week of gaming—if not this year, then next, or the year after that.

All of the above and much more is explained in detail throughout our website. I hope you’ll be able to join us for the next WBC.

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Send request to BPA, 1541 Redfield Road, Bel Air, MD 21015.

Don Greenwood
WBC Convention Director

Boardgame Players Association Last updated 6/14/06 by kae.
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