The fourth Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo in Atlanta, GA, was such a whirlwind experience that we’re only now able to coherently share some of our memories of annual gaming event. Although it started primarily as video game and pinball convention, the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo (or SFGE) is a celebration of all types of gaming which now includes a large tabletop area as well. This all-ages show is a great convention for families and individuals to share in a fun weekend of gaming. Several GeekDad writers were able to attend, and we wanted to share our personal experiences with our readers.
My perspective of the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo is always a bit different than most attendees since I’m one of the three main organizers of the show. That said, I do have several highlights this year—one of which includes actually playing a game! First, I was both excited and terrified to have the local Fox 5 Atlanta crew come out for some live broadcasts and ask me to be on camera to talk about the show. I didn’t embarrass myself, so mission accomplished! Since we fly in special guests, I always get to meet some cool people at SFGE. This year I got to interview “The Man Who Saved Pinball,” Roger Sharpe, about what it’s like to play an important part in history and have his own episode of Comedy Central’s Drunk History (NSFW!) devoted to his story.
Also, inexplicably, since he was opening up a restaurant in the area the same weekend of the show, former Atlanta Braves player Dale Murphy showed up and brought me an order of cheese curds as thanks for bringing customers his way. As a childhood fan of his, it was surreal and awesome to meet one of my heroes so randomly. My one gaming highlight was closing Saturday night out with some of my very close friends on a game of Rock Band. It was a bittersweet gig this year though since this was the last time I would get to see my friend Mark before he moved out of state. To see him off, we rocked out hard to Green Day’s When I Come Around.
Since I don’t get to play many games during the weekend, my biggest joy comes from seeing others having such a great time and coming back year after year. I continue to be amazed at the continued growth of the show. With over 3,000 people attending, it was nice to see folks enjoying the wide variety of programming available in addition to the games. This was our first year incorporating the Southern-Fried Film Fest, which screened feature films and a ton of short films all weekend long, and it had a great turnout. Our console tournaments continue to grow, with over 40 people competing in the Mario Kart 8 tournament. Live wrestling, as expected, was a huge hit, turning out a capacity crowd. As an organizer, seeing more people attend SFGE is great, but realizing more and more families are coming to enjoy the fun together is truly inspiring.
Aside from playing Tempest in the giant Open Gaming room and teaching Jim, Will, and my buddy Miles the fine art of competitive character generation in Roll Player, the high point of SFGE was the Tabletop Teardown panel. I had the honor to sit with a group of game designers and chat about their journeys through the tabletop industry:
- Fernando Aragon, the founder of Hungry For More Games, who just released a standalone expansion for his “theatrical party game” Steal the Show. He was recently at Origins Game Fair, where he got a chance to show off that expansion on the BoardGameGeek Livestream.
- Chad Elkins of 25th Century Games, publisher of Robots Love Ice Cream (read Jonathan Liu’s review) and the very cool ATL Community Piece Project Puzzling Pointy People, a puzzle and art project that supports Atlanta non-profits.
- Howard Brown, the designer of GridLock, an abstract strategy board game with a custom designed board that Brown hand-prototyped in wood.
- Partners Chris Richards and Omaka Schultz (who provides art and colors for comics like Hero Cats and Tuskegee Heirs), who are deep in prototyping and playtesting for their (as-of-yet) untitled board game. More info available on their company website, Deer Isle Games
The tabletop experience at SFGE was incredibly impressive, given that analog games were only introduced last year. I can’t wait to head down to Atlanta for more gaming fun next year.
James Floyd Kelly:
This is my third year attending SFGE, and it just keeps getting better and better. (And larger and larger.) As with most conventions/expos, it takes me a few weeks to get my thoughts together and ponder everything I saw and did. I was only able to attend Saturday and Sunday, but I did manage to squeeze in a lot of action. In no particular order, here are some of my highlights:
- Let’s start with the key elements of SFGE—arcade and pinball games. I set the high score for Bump ‘n Jump on Saturday morning and was quite pleased to see it holding well into the evening hours. Fortunately, when they power down the cabinets at night, BnJ keeps its scores so it was still there on Sunday afternoon. Pinball? I played a LOT but I’m not good at pinball at all. I did have fun playing as many as possible, and The Jetsons game was fun.
I got to see the unveiling of the lost Nintendo cabinet, Sky Skipper. The team that managed to locate the lost cabinet (it had been converted into a Popeye cabinet, if memory serves), and Nintendo made graphics and other details available from their archives to allow the team to get the game back to its original look. The unveiling was fun to watch, including it powering up, and then they moved it out in the main area to let players have a turn. I waited a few hours and then came back to find myself fifth in line. I didn’t score well, but it was pure Nintendo… graphics, sound effects, etc.
- I grabbed a seat at a talk involving Ben Heck and John Jacobsen talk about turning their hobbies into careers. Both men are heavily involved in pinball and arcade cabinet refurbs (respectively), and Ben answered a few of my burning questions about using RetroPi (Raspberry Pi 3) versus a computer to power a homebrew arcade. John told a hilarious Craigslist story about picking up a cabinet from a home… when the original owner called to check on the status of the machine, he informed John that his wife had been sitting on a handgun on the couch and was told “shoot until it’s empty” if things went south.
- I got to play an incredibly fun boardgame called Roll Player with Michael (see his comment above). It’s now a must-buy for me. Thanks, Michael, for setting up and showing us how to play. Funny story—fellow GeekDad writer Will James was playing with us but had to go host a talk right when the game was ending. We added up scores, and he had won. Kind of weird to have a missing player be the winner, but congrats Will!
- Boardgames—For the second year, SFGE hosted a boardgame area. Early in the mornings, things are slow, but after lunch, the tables start getting very crowded. I told Preston that I wouldn’t be surprised if the boardgame portion of SFGE outgrows the arcade and pinball games. I could easily see SFGE becoming THE PLACE for boardgaming in the southeast over the next few years. With the onsite game library (just turn in your driver’s license and they’ll loan you a game from a huge library) and folks bringing their own games from home, I managed to play quite a few new games over the two days. They also hosted a Catan tournament and the new Star Wars Card Game was being demoed. If you’re into boardgames, put June 8-10, 2018 on your calendar for next year’s event.
- Retro games—Once again, SFGE had a room dedicated to home consoles such as the Atari 2600, Super NES, and more. It seemed to always be full, and not just with older fans. Kids seem to still enjoy playing the games their parents did, and I can also see this area growing in size.
If you live in the Southeast, this is one of those yearly events that you really should try to attend. The team (that includes Preston) continues to improve the services and find ways to make it more fun. It’s family friendly, of course, but they also plan a lot of events in the late evening that are for adults only. Out of towners can stay right there at the hotel (and they offer special rates, so book a room early) and get started early and stay late… unlike those of us who have to drive home with big smiles on our faces.
Pinball, arcade, consoles, and boardgames… I was in heaven for two days, and I’ve already blocked out the event for next year on my calendar. Only 342 more days to go…
Want to see more photos of the event? Check out the official SFGE photo set here.