Narrative by Avery Abernethy; Sidebars & Photos by Brant Guillory, 17 December 2018
MACE 2018 was run November 9-11, 2018 at the Hilton close to UNC-Charlotte. MACE is a game convention. A well run game convention that sticks to games. There were only four panels – meet the guests (mostly gamer people) and three workshops on building terrain and painting. No costume contest, art show, or author panels. MACE is games, games and more games.
MACE leans strongly towards role playing games (RPGs) and board games. Two widely established RPG groups which run at many conventions are the D&D Adventurers League and the Pathfinder Society. These groups had their own large room. D&D Adventurers League ran 41 scheduled sessions and Pathfinder Society ran 44.
The myriad Savage Worlds settings ran a large number of events. The Savage Worlds settings included Rifts, Travelers, Sci-Fi; Deadlands Noir; East Texas University; Flash Gordon; Adventure; Savage World of Eberron; Weird War; Mars Attacks and Supers. I counted a total of 15 Savage Worlds Games on the program. Savage Worlds is similar in some ways to Steve Jackson’s GURPS. There are a number of Savage Worlds Settings but all use the same core game mechanics. Clint and Jodi Black are major players in the Savage Worlds universe and are regular MACE attendees.
Other RPG systems with a good number of sessions were Cthulhu (Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu and Cat-thulhu); independent D&D events; Dungeon Crawl Classics & Mutant Crawl Classics; Dresden Files; Shadow Run; Dread; and Index Card RPG. However, you could have spent the entire convention playing other RPGs without touching any of the ones I’ve mentioned.
There were a large and varied number of board game sessions. About half were demos of games for sale and half were game sessions. There was also a large room devoted to “play to win” games and a library of games you could check out and play. Like a lot of Cons, most of the board games were probably not on the schedule and played out of the library, out of games people brought, and from play to win. You could have spent most of MACE just playing demos from those eager to sell their tabletop game.
There was a small contingent of what I would call “miniatures games” with a big table layout including terrain and figures. BattleTech, X-Wing, Olympus at War and a demo of The Drowned Earth. Several North Carolina championships for various games were also played including Catan, Pyramid Poker and Skull King.
MACE does not have wargames. The closest thing they had to wargames was BattleTech, Twilight 2000 and some trading games like Marco Polo.
They had quite a few dealers ranging from games, clothing to general nerd stuff. I usually pick up a game or something else from at least one of the dealers to encourage their future attendance. This year had more dealers than previous years so hopefully they are making money and will return.
MACE also runs their own meal, snack, and beverage service called the Grinning Goblin. Their prices were reasonable, their selection large, and they will take food order deliveries for various sandwich places and text you when the food arrives. You could eat pretty reasonably without having to leave the gaming area. There is also a Chick-fil-a and a McDonalds within an easy walk.
This was my second MACE and my third MACE event (I also attended MACE West last Spring). I have many reasons for really liking MACE. First, you can play a huge variety of games. I started playing Dungeon Crawl Classics and Mutant Crawl Classics at MACE events. There are a couple of very good GMs who run them and they are a blast to play if the person running the spell casters understands the system.
Second, MACE registration works really well. There are a lot of games and you can register in their online system OGRE well before the event. The MACE people run four different MACE events annually and also handle the gaming for ConCarolinas. One warning, you really should register for sessions before showing up. On the day of the convention open slots for games in the program are few and far between.
Third, MACE has a huge variety of games without being overwhelming. I’ve ended up playing a lot of Dungeon Crawl Classics and Mutant Crawl Classics at MACE, but I also play Cthulhu and Savage Worlds. I’ve also played tabletop events. I’ve had a good time at all of them. MACE is a “mid-size game convention.” They have quite a bit of variety without becoming massive like Gencon, Origins or DragonCon.
Since MACE does not try to do all of the other stuff (costumes, movies, literature, etc…) they don’t get bogged down. Unfortunately, short films and literature have become political culture war fights at many Cons. The gamers usually just game in small groups and don’t get political. At MACE there are no awards to fight over, no panels to complain about not being seated at, and no big PC “inclusion fights” over the political, racial, sexual, gender or other stupidity being fought over this month. It seems like a cluster of people just love to fight over the politics of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature and movies and Con after Con gets drug into infighting. At MACE people just game away and socialize without fighting over this sort of thing.
Next, MACE really treats their GMs well. I run a single Call of Cthulhu event at every MACE. Because I run an event, I get to register early. This works out very well. MACE has a huge number of GMs. Many GMs run one or three events. Running one event allows you to register before everyone else. Run three events and you get free admission. This gives a big incentive for GMs to participate! This means a lot more games being run! This leads to a lot more events which means a lot of happy gamers who are not GMs this time!
MACE usually takes up part of a Hilton Hotel and the room rates are pretty reasonable. The hotels have had good internet reception and adequate parking. I’m one of the people driving a long distance to attend MACE (five to seven hour drive depending on the location). I usually come up the night before arriving at midnight or later. I game Friday – Sunday. Then I leave Monday morning to return to Alabama. Even though I’m getting a hotel room for three or four nights, my hotel and food bill will total less than $650. Hilton’s are nice properties and my wife stayed with me on the last two MACE Cons although she did not get a membership. Asheville and Charlotte NC are pretty nice places to visit for the spouse.
Except for one event, every RPG I played in was a lot of fun.
I did have three regrets. First, I should have signed up for a board game. I did not play a board games I know and like or have never played. I cannot believe I did not sign up for “Miskatonic School for Girls.” Second, I should have played one RPG system that I’ve not played before. I’ve read the Dresden Files system and it looks like fun. I did play Savage Worlds Supers for the first time in the long running “Raleigh Police Supernatural Enforcement Unit” world. Last, Trail of Cthulhu is a snake bit system for me. There is nothing wrong with the system, but every time I’ve signed up for a Trail of Cthulhu event, regardless of the Con, it was boring.
If you like RPGs or Board Games, MACE is a great convention.