Board gaming event a 'geek chic' benefit to cure cancer

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Neil Johnson
Saturday, September 28, 2013

JOHNSTOWN CENTER—Friday night, Janesville resident Chuck Vogt was on a mission to take over Tokyo.

He rolled the dice and stomped onto a glossy cardboard cityscape, his robotic bunny ears flailing against skyscrapers, police helicopters and pretty much anything else in his path.

Figuratively, that is.

Vogt was playing the role of “Cyberbunny,” a giant, evil robot-rabbit monster in the Godzilla-inspired fantasy board game “King of Tokyo.” Nothing could stop him—except, maybe, the need for a restroom break.

Vogt and about 100 others were getting an early start Friday night at Southern Lakes Area Gamers Fall Gaming Hoopla, a fantasy board game marathon being held all weekend at the Johnstown Community Center.

The annual event is part fantasy board game convention, part benefit for the American Cancer Society. Organizer Bill Corey said the event, which is in its seventh year, would likely draw 300 gamers from around the country.

They would be picking from a library of 1,200 games—everything from classics like Dungeons and Dragons and its offshoots to newer fantasy games that feature zombies, monsters and even video game characters.

The players, some seasoned veterans and even some board game designers, are playing all weekend, late into the night. Dozens of hosted game sessions were slated Friday night from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. today. 

Corey, an Elkhorn resident, said part of the proceeds from Gaming Hoopla benefit a local American Cancer Society Relay For Life team. He said that event, which runs all day today and Sunday, is a lighthearted way to help fight a serious problem.

“If you're fighting cancer, there are way more boring ways to do it than to fight it by playing games,” Corey said.

The weekend is full of prizes, silent auctions and giveaways with games for sale, too.

Gaming Hoopla, compared to huge national gaming conventions that draw thousands, is intimate and inviting.

“People are down-to-earth, they're casual. This is not an ultra-competitive environment. It's for fun,” Corey said.

Although the event has expert gamers from around the country who are hosting games throughout the weekend, there are learning tables where board-game newbies can cut their teeth on different games.

For those whose game experience is limited to Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders, there's more going on this weekend at Gaming Hoopla than just dragon slaying and complex role-playing games.

Try “Police Precinct.” It's like the board game “Clue,” except more complicated. Players are cops who work together to solve the murder of the city's district attorney, while at the same time trying to keep the city from surrendering to a major crime wave.

Or “Chicken Caesar:” You guessed it; that's the game where everyone is a character in ancient in Roman politics. Yet at the same time, everyone is a chicken. The rest is too, um, nuanced to explain.

Corey said he has watched Gaming Hoopla grow from an upstart benefit that drew only a few dozen participants in its first year to an event that annually brings in more new players who are younger and more likely to be female. 

He suspects that mainstream pop culture's recent arc toward embracing nerdiness—think the science geek characters in CBS' hit TV show “The Big Bang Theory”—has helped spur a sense of geek chic.

That's made gaming more accessible—almost mainstream—in a way he had never imagined.   

“Being a nerd or a geek suddenly has gotten a lot more cache. What we do as gamers now isn't as marginalized now. We're not fringe weirdos,” Corey said. Then he corrected himself.  

“Well, some of us are fringe weirdos, but oh well. It's OK.”

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