As everyone knows, the last few years have been kind of rough for the convention scene. The Covid pandemic forced events to go online in 2020, and although the last couple of years saw a return to in-person events, it’s really not until recently that we’ve been seeing a full-blown resurgence in cons.
This year, the stars aligned and I was able to attend KublaCon on Memorial Day weekend in Burlingame, which is just south of the San Francisco International Airport. This was my first post-pandemic convention, and coincidentally, KublaCon was my last pre-pandemic convention.
What Is KublaCon?
You can trace the roots of KublaCon back to ManaFest, a CCG (collectible card game) gaming event that began in 1994. In 2001, ManaFest merged with a Memorial Day weekend gaming convention in Oakland known as GameCon, and the new convention was dubbed KublaCon. Like its progenitor GameCon, it continued to be held every Memorial Day weekend, making it the Bay Area gaming start to the summer.
The focus of KublaCon is tabletop gaming. This includes board games, tabletop roleplaying games, miniature wargames, and collectible card games. In 2020, the con chose to honor a different hero of Sci-Fi for each of the following 5 years. This year, that hero was Doctor Who. You could commemorate both the Doctor’s 60th anniversary and this year’s KublaCon with a special pin that was available to purchase.
Even though I live in the Bay Area, it’s still about a 45-minute trip each way to the Hyatt Regency SFO, where the convention is held. To maximize my gaming time and minimize my exhaustion, I opted to grab a room at the Hyatt, which was also the hotel hosting the con. The convention began on Friday, though some of my out-of-town friends arrived on Thursday night to get an early start on the con. Circumstances had me waiting until Friday afternoon to begin my gaming adventure.
After getting checked in and dropping my things off in my room, I headed down to get my badge. The friendly staff got me checked in quickly, but people showing up on Saturday definitely had to spend a bit longer in line.
In the registration area are tables featuring a rotating selection of games for anyone to enjoy, many of them oversized like this King of Tokyo game:
And games with elaborate custom boards:
After getting registered, I opted to do a little exploring. The nearby Marriott Waterfront hotel was hosting all of the LARPing events (live action roleplaying, for the uninitiated), as well as all of the Games Workshop games like Warhammer 40.000 and Age of Sigmar. I was never able to make it over to the Marriott, as I was kept busy at the Hyatt. However, that doesn’t mean that the Hyatt didn’t have plenty of miniature tabletop gaming of its own:
Right across the way from the miniature wargaming room was the Protospiel. This was an area where you could help game designers playtest their games that were still in development. The Bay Area has an active Protospiel presence, and there were several games being played at any one time in there.
Not that the Protospiel room ever seemed to be much lacking for players, but as an added incentive, attendees could win games for helping designers playtest.
I connected with my friends, who were down in the hotel atrium. Most of the open gaming for the weekend took place in that location. Even with dozens of tables set up there, you often had to grab one fairly early in the morning if you wanted to host your own games.
Tables were set up in the middle of the atrium, next to the restaurant, and all along the outer ring, which also housed the meeting rooms for various events like Pathfinder roleplaying and classes in painting miniatures.
Unfortunately, my wanderlust had me missing the start of a game of Ark Nova. I still haven’t gotten around to playing this multi-award winning game.
As my friends would be playing that game for a bit, I figured it was time for my first visit to the exhibitor’s hall, which had just opened. Not only were there plenty of games and gaming accessories on sale, but several small game companies were demoing their products.
Located in the same ballroom as the exhibitor’s hall was the area for playing scheduled board games. These were events that you generally had to sign up for in advance. In some cases, you could even be taught a game by the designer himself.
A little farther along in the same room was the well-stocked game library, where you could check out a wide array of board games to play with your friends.
I had brought a couple of games with me to play, both of which I’ll be reviewing on GeekDad shortly. The first was Thunder Road: Vendetta, which we played on that first night.
We used just the base game, and everyone had a great time so we decided we’d revisit the game the next day with some of the expansions.
After that game, it was just about time for the Flea Market. Held in a small building outside of the pool area, this was a popular destination for people looking for either a great bargain or an out-of-print grail game. There were even a couple of copies of Starcraft for those willing to pony up $200+ dollars.
The Flea Market repeated on Monday morning, but with that being the last day of the convention, it was a much smaller affair as most of the sellers had cleared out the bulk of their items on Friday night.
Saturday is generally the busiest day for any convention, and that held true for KublaCon. We weren’t able to find enough table space for our large group right away, but thankfully a nice gentleman named Dan was still looking for players for Lost Ruins of Arnak, another game that I’d always wanted to try but had yet to play. Even though the game has a lot of moving pieces, I apparently didn’t have any difficulty understanding the strategy as I won with 66 points, with Dan in second with 62 points.
Later that day I brought out Distilled to play. The Kickstarter recently fulfilled, and I was excited to play it with others.
Like any other con, there were special guests attending, including Isaac Childres, creator of Gloomhaven. But some other designers were there to just play games and run game sessions. Luke Laurie, designer of Dwellings of Eldervale and many other games, had been wanting to check out Distilled, and actually had a break in his schedule to get in the game with us.
I was on a roll for the day, and pulled out a close win on the game. However, I wasn’t so lucky with what turned out to be my final game of the night, Space Base. It was a lot of fun playing that game once again, but I ended up with a pretty pathetic score.
My poor gaming performance was probably due to lack of sleep, but I’ll instead blame that weird stuffed cat on the table behind us.
At one point during Space Base, I turned around, and saw that the cat had rotated and was staring right at us…
Sunday came around, and we were all feeling the long days and nights of gaming just a bit. Open gaming was available into the wee hours, but sadly none of us are getting any younger and actually appreciate some sleep.
After a slow start to the day, one of the gang pulled out a copy of Unfathomable, the Fantasy Flight Games Lovecraftian reskin of their classic Battlestar Galactica board game. We decided to give it a go.
If you’ve ever played Battlestar Galactica, you know that there’s at least one traitor on board the ship. In our case, we ended up with three. I was one of the humans who was having a rough time of it with so many traitors.
I had become the “Keeper of Lore,” who could draw two magic spells and cast one of them as an action. We were down to just one food in our supply, we had a bunch of Deep Ones on the boat, and I drew this card.
Needless to say, I rolled a “7” on the 8-sided die. The cultists had taken over the Atlantica.
We only managed to get in one other game that day, which was another round of Thunder Road: Vendetta. As decided earlier, we added in a couple of the expansions. One of the players grabbed a big rig to race with, and now, cars could jump off of ramps, and catch fire (not necessarily at the same time, but also yes, could happen at the same time).
Random chance had our section of the atrium being the post-apocalyptic car combat area. It turned out that the table next to us set up the Gaslands miniatures game, and were playing at the same time as we were playing Thunder Road: Vendetta.
My group of friends were mostly heading home in the morning to beat the Memorial Day traffic, and I was planning on doing the same. But first, it’s a con tradition for me to grab a nice breakfast on one of the days, and so I did.
After breakfast, I made my final visits to areas like the exhibitor’s hall. I took a quick spin around the Monday Flea Market to see if there were any bargains I’d missed (there weren’t) and chatted with a few folks I had met during the convention.
And then, even though there was still gaming to be had at the con, I bid adieu to KublaCon for 2023 and headed home.
Assorted KublaCon Musings
To me, KublaCon is just about perfect in size. Having attended San Diego Comic-Con for several years, I know from experience that a convention like that can be overwhelming. Additionally, I’ve gone to small local cons where you feel that you’ve seen and done pretty much everything before one day has even passed.
With KublaCon, there’s definitely more than enough to keep you occupied. Do you like board games? There’s the open play, scheduled games you can sign up for, and the large game library to borrow titles from. Like roleplaying games? There were dedicated Pathfinder and Starfinder game rooms, as well as other RPG sessions you could find. There were collectible card games, miniature games, and more. And while it’s certainly not to the level of a comic book or anime convention, you’ll even see cosplayers wandering about and playing games.
One of the things I very much appreciated was the diverse demographics of the attendees, in age, ethnicity, and orientation. KublaCon is a welcoming space, and I was seeing all sorts of different gamers there, having a good time. There were also special spaces there for kid and teen gamers. Those rooms were for those that wanted to play games more in their age range, or just wanted to hang out with others their own age.
On a personal note, this has been a rough year for me, with a lot of upheaval in my life. It was great to get out of town for a few days, even if it was just across the Bay. KublaCon was a lot of fun, and I got to see some friends I haven’t seen in quite awhile, and also make some new ones. I’m hoping to be back next year, with more games and hopefully some family in tow.
Just one more thing before I go: KublaCon was free to attend on Monday, and I’ve heard that they’re going to make that a regular thing. So if you’re local, and not ready to commit to a whole weekend convention, you can come by and check out the con for free next year. But if you enjoy playing board games, you should just attend the whole convention if you can. You won’t regret it.