Disclaimer: There is a time for brevity and a time for fireside chats. This last rambling message from the outgoing CD is one of the latter. While not a frequent poster on social media, I do take the pulse of those comments and this is my "one response fits all” parting reply. So put aside your smart phone and your Twitter vocabulary and sit back for my last, long winded account of how and why WBC reached this point and my hopes for its future. Most could probably care less, but for the curious here are my last official thoughts on the subject. Read on or not. You’ve been warned …
|Don Greenwood addresses his last WBC Armistice meeting as CD.|
Seven Springs (7S) Debut: With the numbers in and the reviews posted it seems appropriate to pen one last response from the outgoing administration before WBC ventures off on its own under new leadership as I ride off into the proverbial sunset—my years as a long-lived, if controversial, Convention Director now receding behind me. WBC in 2016 made the biggest changes yet in its evolution. A major upgrade in creature comforts was offset by a westward move away from the large urban centers from which it had mainly drawn. How one felt about that tradeoff shaded the majority of grades shared on social media. If you didn’t like the move when it was announced, you tended to be less than enthusiastic about it afterwards or simply didn’t attend. Conversely, those who applauded the announced change or assumed a wait and see attitude tended to enjoy the 7S experience. My take, from the vantage point of someone dealing with issues from both attendees and venue, was that it was an impressive debut. I’ve been doing this a long time in a lot of places. Its been over 40 years since I mangled the first Origins registration and I’ve never dealt with a more responsive venue. Not even close.
The overwhelming reality that has dawned on me over the years is the widespread diversity of opinion that exists on nearly all subjects relating to WBC. Its always amazed me how two people could look at the same subject and come to two diametrically opposed conclusions—even when they both mean well. Presidential politics comes to mind as the most obvious example. While trying to please everyone has always been the goal, I can assure you that it is not possible given human nature. You simply can’t please everyone, and the more you try, the more likely you are to annoy someone.
In the case of our venue change, proximity (and its related cost savings) are strong motivators among the disillusioned. It is hard to embrace a move that suddenly presents you with a hotel bill for a gathering you have been attending on the cheap for a decade because you were a day tripper commuting from home. It is only natural for people to favor a local convention. Begrudging its loss outside the range of their normal commute is to be expected. Not much we can do about that. A convention that purports to be national in scope—let alone international—cannot be local for everyone no matter where it is.
Such disappointment must be measured against the realization that WBC was never called the Lancaster County Championships nor the Hunt Valley Championships before that. It is the World Championships because it draws players from across the United States, Canada and the world. Yes, it draws more people from local environs as a simple matter of convenience, but such commuters—while welcome and important—do not make it possible. There is no WBC without the travelers that pay the freight to stay in the convention hotel. And it doesn’t take many bean counters to realize that such committed pilgrims staying a week or more pay far more than their fair share of the total expenses of the conference. Without them, there simply is no WBC—anywhere. So, spare me the tears of those who have lost “their” local con … It was less theirs than those dedicated competitors taking flight from elsewhere every year. Especially if their annual attendance could be summed up as a day’s shopping trip while the globetrotters stayed long enough to squeeze some equity out of their travel buck.
Doubtless there will be those who point to the 2016 attendance downturn and proclaim “I told ya so”. Paid attendance indeed dropped 22% from our 2015 high water mark. Our first head count decline was not unexpected but the extent to which average daily attendance actually rose was. The elimination of the pre-cons was accompanied by a major gain in opening day arrivals. For whatever reason, people came earlier and stayed longer. With overall attendance dropping by more than a fifth you would expect that tournament participation would suffer—and it did—by a whopping .7 players per event from 59.6 to 58.9. Overall, tournament attendance did decline with nadirs outnumbering highs by a 3:1 ratio, but despite that, 14 events managed to post their largest fields of the decade in a year where overall membership declined significantly. This reflects a continuing trend toward shorter games more accessible to family members. Speaking of which, the ladies were much more in evidence this year … much to the delight of 7S whose Trillium Spa sold out of appointments for the week. Perhaps coincidentally, women also posted their best year ever on the gameboards—winning 15 events—posting a 300% increase in titles won over 2015—despite ten less events. One of the Board’s goals with this move was to make WBC more of a family vacation destination. Consider that box checked in triplicate.
I will not pretend that all was perfect. Someone somewhere is going to miss a shuttle, have a balky air conditioner, encounter a surly employee or miss their favorite dining choice. And more than a few expressed their preference by their absence, but I will say that I soon lost count of the number of those present stopping me to remark how pleased they were with the new location. One such, Ray Pfeifer, back after a five-year absence, made it a point to seek me out to proclaim how thrilled he was with the new venue—proclaiming that it was easily the best gaming site he’d ever seen—and I should quote him. So I have. He should know—he’s been to most of them. High praise indeed, but no more heartfelt than that of the Saccenti family whose six-person verdict was summed up in one word: “awesome”. When it came to meeting space, table inventory, amusements, amenities and customer service we were hip deep in plenty. Hats off to 7S for a great welcome!
Coke or Pepsi: Once one comes to grips with the reality of actually having to travel to a convention, the next concern is usually cost. WBC had always set a deceptively low bar on that score—offering easily the lowest prices for lodging and admission in the industry—at least in this corner of the galaxy—while suffering the annual slings and arrows of those less than enthused about the quality of what those bargain prices purchased. Aside from its closer proximity to major urban centers, our previous location had the benefit of being in a tourist area brimming with inexpensive lodging and dining alternatives. Those on a budget could walk to the convention hotel while spending their lodging/meal dollars elsewhere—all the while bashing the host hotel for its deficiencies. It was a combination hard to beat for the bargain hunter.
No such nearby choices exist at 7S, at least for the pedestrian, and consequently the costs rose despite BPA housing subsidies that presented room rates below the norm for the region. Further afield, however, in nearby Somerset and Donegal—turnpike signs advertised $69 room rates and the usual franchise and local eateries missing from 7S itself. Timewise, the absence of Route 30 traffic congestion made these side trips only slightly less convenient and a lot safer than a stroll down busy Lincoln Highway. One of the earliest summations of the new venue to reach me came from a regular who sought me out to praise the new digs only to add a damning qualifier: “what a great place but they are ripping us off on the food”. Really? You expect to get that “great” upgrade and pay nothing for it? You’re staying off property, enjoying their free AC, infrastructure and support staff, but you begrudge them an extra buck for a hamburger? We have indeed been spoiled. We want better than we had, but we don’t want to pay for it. Tough crowd.
Anyone familiar with hotels (and resorts in particular) realizes that McDonald's pricing is not to be expected therein. That said, I believe most of the menu commentary on social media bordered on hysteria. I know not where others dine when they enjoy a meal out, but I saw no 7S prices I would consider beyond what I expect to pay for a restaurant meal and I’m not one to splurge on high fashion. Indeed, when touring other venues including our fallback position, 7S prices compared favorably to what I’ve encountered elsewhere. I’d also say that comments regarding quality were all over the map. Both in Lancaster and at 7S, assessments of the food ran the gamut from poor to great with no detectable rhyme or reason as to which reviewers were more credible. Questions of quality are always subjective. What one likes, another disdains. Or to quote my favorite dueling food complaints this past year: “The breakfast buffet is too expensive” and after changing said buffet in midweek, “Don't lower the cost and the corresponding options of the breakfast buffet”.
I had no problem finding enjoyable meals at reasonable prices. Quite the contrary. Although I will admit to venturing to Somerset on my tenth day to finally get a Coke rather than another Pepsi. However, there is always room for improvement and armed with our 2016 history, 7S is planning some changes. AC and weather issues got the First Tracks Food Court in the Ski Lodge as well as Emo’s Pit off to a slow start last year. Both locations will fare better in 2017 with a break in the weather now that people know where they are and what they offer. A brand new air conditioning system is being installed in the First Tracks floor of the Ski Lodge making the Food Court there a much more viable option—whether you’re playing nearby or venturing over from the Convention Center. An outside grill station for sandwiches will also be added near Stag Pass which should result in lesser wait times at the restaurants and quicker grab and go options in the Convention Center. And yet another restaurant is opening opposite the enlarged bowling alley on the second level of the Convention Center. Hours for Mountain Perks and the popular ice cream station at Gingerbread Dreams will be extended early and late respectively.
Rooms: Among the peanut gallery complaints of years past that I always found amusing was being on the receiving end of a lecture about not reserving enough rooms every time we again sold out the convention hotel. As if it were a simple matter of booking more rooms for our use at a lower price. Oh sure, I’ll have them build an extra wing on the hotel for us! Why didn’t I think of that? In reality, we either were already reserving every room in the place or they simply would not agree to block rooms for us at a lower rate than they could sell normally to their regular clientele. We didn’t block more rooms because there were none to block, but thanks for the suggestion. I’m sure your local Motel 6 is very nice!
The average punter has no clue how difficult it is to find an adequate facility with appropriate dates, location, meeting space and guest room facilities for a group this size within the comfort zone of a price sensitive hobby group without incurring costs that would give far greater pause. Thus, it was with great rejoicing that we secured a room block at 7S that was 60% larger than past sites. Moreover, overflow capability in the form of nearby condominiums offered even more options—including savings for those concerned about meal costs. What a find!
Alas, this too soon sold out and the internet soapbox critics again assailed us for not having the foresight to book a venue with enough rooms! We were a victim of our own success as attendees accustomed to early sellouts again made reservations and worried about keeping them later. Sure enough, as the calendar ticked down to summer, rooming plans again consolidated, and cancellations increased, but by then news of yet another sellout had discouraged those needing more certainty for their summer vacation plans. They were off to the beach and WBC had missed yet another opportunity to strut its stuff for an appreciative new audience.
All of which brings us to the new Deposit and Cancellation policies requested by BPA as our latest attempt to solve this annual problem of a toothless reservation system wherein prospective attendees have no skin in the game while tying up guest room resources on a speculative basis. After considering it for years, we finally bit the bullet in 2017 and required forfeiture of deposits for cancellations as the only solution to this perennial problem. Such guaranteed reservation systems are not new and are common where lodging demand outpaces supply. Proponents of the "book early and cancel later" technique object that their speculative reservations cause no harm since the rooms are quickly resold when cancelled. That myopic reasoning totally ignores that in the meantime countless people who choose not to put off their vacation plans until the last minute in hopes a vacancy might occur have crossed WBC off their list yet again due to an inability to book a room in the Resort when making their summer plans. This is especially true for those contemplating a long stay at our nine-day convention. We’ve all seen the social media posts from those canceling their surplus room(s) as the event draws near and suggesting others can now get their leavings after their own plans are secure. I personally know several such individuals who freely admit they book up to eight rooms each to allow their group to have the option of waiting till the deadline to decide whether they will attend or not. If the answer is no, they cancel the reservations at no cost to themselves, but having altered the options of many others in the interim. That is what this policy is designed to curtail—giving more people an opportunity to book a room at a time when they are sure they will use it—rather than denying it to others strictly for their own convenience. By the way, we don’t receive a dime of any forfeited deposit. Like most well intentioned policies this one has consequences that some will find irksome. Only time will tell whether the original disease or its cure is the more objectionable.
A year in, there has been much interest and positive reports on the 7S Condos—with budget enhancing breaks in week long rates and meal opportunities. The fact that the condos with their unique layouts can be booked immediately on a first come, first served basis without waiting for the January 15th release of hotel rooms in combination with the stricter cancellation policy should increase the supply of available lodging. The hope is that this new reservation policy in combination with greater use of the condos will provide a more stable reservation system enabling preferred lodging to be booked at a time when its use is likely—rather than a mere possibility.
Shuttles: 2016 was also our first experience with shuttle service to a major airport. In my opinion, 7S offered an outstanding value for a 70 mile ride. $20 roundtrip was simply unbelievable value. I’ve paid more than that one way for a fraction of the distance. In light of that, I was surprised to see less than flattering comments pertaining to the schedule as if expectations for service as one stepped off the plane were not out of bounds. In an age when flight delays are commonplace, I was amazed to see people balking at two-hour waits for the next shuttle. I would want that much lead time to the next shuttle to help ensure that I didn’t miss the next ride due to a delayed flight. In any case, 7S has used our 2016 history to post preliminary shuttle times earlier so that attendees can better gauge which flights to book to match shuttles in 2017. The price for that service has increased from the 2016 bargain rates but is still a good value relative to other airport shuttles given the distance involved. There will be those who disdain the shuttles and opt for more convenience by going the car rental route. To each according to their own budget, but every such rental makes it that much more difficult to offer an inexpensive shuttle option for others since such service requires sufficient usage to be viable.
The Century: My "less is more” philosophy when it comes to number of tournaments as defined by the Century concept has been debated since the outset and remains as controversial today as it did then in some quarters. Every time another event is cast adrift, the whining starts again. In my opinion, the Century is more responsible for the appeal of this unique convention than any other single factor and I could not disagree more with those who wish to abandon it for their incessant cries of “more”.
Those who argue that increased attendance should be met with increased events ignore three factors.
- The Century 100 has already increased to 110 events due to Legacy votes which provide a measured means of expansion by the electorate.
- The number of GMs servicing these events has not increased correspondingly; rather it has declined.
- The amount of support lavished on each event dwarves that applied elsewhere and strains our ability to sustain them at the same level in the time honored traditions of our conference.
And if increased attendance is sufficient reason to argue for more events, what of the converse? Should the 22% attendance decline of 2016 require a similar cut in number of events offered? An inconvenient question, that …
It has always been my position that it is better to under promise and over deliver when it comes to promoting the events that are the lifeblood of WBC. Nothing soured me faster on gaming conventions than tournaments that failed to draw a minimum field. It is simple math. More events yield less players at each. An event which fails to draw players providing the experience you crave is not a reason to returncquite the opposite. Too many tournaments is an embarrassment of riches. Who among us has not been present at a gaming session when more time was spent arguing about what to play next than actually playing a game? Even when that decision is made, invariably, someone needs to be taught how to play with a resulting lengthy lop-sided contest that is less than satisfying. WBC tournaments are not all created equal. They come in all shapes and sizes and with varying degrees of GM commitment and player skills. But being in one of the failed events that fails to draw a minimum field is a downer that resembles tournaments held elsewhere and sours one quickly on the attractions of tournament play. It is better not to hold such an event, than hold one that fails to deliver what it promised. Our minimum field to give an event tournament status is eight players—which is not much of a barrier but you’d be surprised at the number of proclaimed tournaments elsewhere which fail to meet even that low threshold. Historically, the number of our events which fail to meet that minimum is under 1%. Adding more marginal events to endanger that percentage does nothing to enhance the WBC brand.
Every year there are those who argue that the magic formula needs to be tweaked; that one genre or another is being shortchanged. The number of complaints coming from both sides that each is at a disadvantage serve only to reinforce my belief that we’ve got it right as is. The beleaguered two-player (long) games lobby will continue to decry their falling numbers while the more numerous multi-player (short) games will protest the unfairness of dropping events with five times the headcount of the longer genre while ignoring the natural advantages of short playing times and multiple starts that accrue only to denizens of their own genre. To a certain extent, the formula is self-correcting. When one genre gains events, the increased schedule conflicts arising therefrom make it harder for them to survive future cuts, and vice versa. Chasing such natural ebb and flow with overreacting tweaks every year, no matter how well intentioned, is not the answer.
Games come and go…it is the natural order of things. Those who mess with the formula to further their own ends will only hasten the end of this noble endeavor. For nothing will make WBC lose its unique appeal faster than the mediocrity of too many events. Been there…done that…got the t-shirts. Not going back. Not convinced? I drone on even more on this subject at the Trial Ballot Results page.
Scheduling: Another annual grousing target is the schedule which is lampooned for the inevitable conflicts that arise when Favorite X runs afoul of Favorite Y and someone laments having to choose which itch to scratch. Unfortunately, the conflicting goal of adding ever more events makes avoiding such conflicts increasingly difficult—despite a conference which has now grown to an unheard of length to help avoid those conflicts. By extending WBC to nine full days and allowing multiple heats, we’ve done just about everything possible to "have our cake and eat it too”. Short of making WBC a year ‘round retirement home or limiting the number of events (horrors!), there’s not a whole lot more that can be done to avoid schedule conflicts given the current system.
The problem is made worse by a perennial shortage of GMs whose main inducement to serve is the ability to choose their own starting times and formats so as to ensure that their personal schedules do not run afoul of conflicts with their own druthers. That is bad enough, but when a third factor—efficient room usage—is virtually ignored in favor of the event/time comparison which monopolizes the GM attention span…it gets a tad difficult. It is easy to wonder who was asleep at the planning switch when one room is packed while another is empty. Of course, if you move event X into that empty room, then all of a sudden it is no longer big enough to handle the crowd that accompanies the mega event requested to start there an hour later. Keeping the appropriate sized room/tables available for the next event isn’t as easy as those who mistakenly proclaim one size fits all status for every event. Adding a third dimension complicates the process —as do schedule changes and events which vary from one year to the next in size and format. Prior turnouts only go so far when predicting field sizes and room needs. And don’t even get me started on requests for changes months after deadlines…is it any wonder they call me grumpy?
A perfect schedule is as elusive as a unicorn, but a more efficient one is certainly doable—if only the CD had the freedom to schedule events. Alas, such is not the case. Not when the vast majority of events come with requested starting time baggage that must be honored if they are to be run at all. So, what comes first…the chicken or the egg? As long as most events come with these strings attached, we must make do with less efficient scheduling. Co-op schedule efforts only go so far in improving matters and ultimately remain highly subjective—notsomuch avoiding conflicts as choosing them. Until such time as the membership increases its participation in the volunteer GM cadre and submits to carte blanche scheduling this will remain an ongoing problem.
I am always amused when some internet critic grouses about event X being moved to a time and place that the commentator regards as unwise by his preferred parameters. Please keep in mind that some nameless bureaucrat doesn’t decide the schedule. You do—by your involvement or lack of same. While the CD may well try to counsel a GM on “better” choices as to times and formats (believe me I’ve tried), ultimately the choice is usually made by that volunteer according to his own priorities. The CD’s freedom to vary from those choices in any major way is basically limited to choosing which of multiple GM event proposals for the same game to accept. When those proposals are limited to one potential GM as they usually are, there isn’t much leeway to force a better decision. So, unless you’re willing to get involved and provide a better alternative, you really haven’t got much right to gripe about those who do.
Obviously, more members stepping forward to share GM and AGM chores would lessen this problem, but alas the trend has not been towards altruism. Even an earlier commitment by existing GMs would help, but every year it is the same game of chicken that is played with “I’ll do event X if no one else does” offers making the rounds in hopes that someone else will fall on that grenade first.
Nitpicking Social Media: The Information Age certainly has brought us many benefits but the wonders of the internet also user in a new crop of torments. We now have identity theft, cyber war, phishing, computer viruses, flame wars, fake news and a whole litany of other less than desirable consequences with which to cope on a daily basis courtesy of the new technology God. As I am a crotchety cynic of long standing, it will surprise few that I am not a fan of social media. Aside from the questionable wisdom of putting your life on display for all the world to see, social media is a never ending rumor mill that encourages the uninformed and opinionated to spout off in a never ending torrent of misinformation that generates more heat than light. I mention this pet peeve in the hopes of making my successor’s life a tad easier. We’re all human and mistakes will be made—especially on a website as ambitious as ours. We certainly want our information to be correct and welcome suggestions, questions and corrections when we err. However, all too often even ardent WBC fans think nothing of pointing out perceived errors and typos to all the world on social media as if its a contest to see who can publicly point out the most errors rather than extending us the common courtesy of verifying a problem offline first. Not only is it annoying (would you want someone pointing out all your mistakes on the internet?) and damaging to the credibility of the site and the organization, it is often just plain wrong. When a perceived error turns out not to be such, all that has been accomplished is the spread of misinformation and confusion. We want your feedback, but give our webmasters a break and inquire directly first. If we don’t fix it, then you can go ahead and take us to task on the internet if you must. We get enough public lectures on the “right” way to do things without having to apologize for errors we did not make.
The Role of Congress: If the Convention Director is the equivalent of the WBC executive branch of government, the BPA Board of Directors assumes the role of Congress. While policies are debated and major decisions such as venue changes are made at the Board level, such committees are rarely decisive. Disagreements are commonplace (that diversity problem again—the Board after all is a representative sample of the membership) and an ever advancing calendar demands that work proceed on time. That lot—actually getting stuff done on time—falls to the CD. The Board, for its part, gets reports and oversees the CD’s progress and—if dissatisfied—ultimately replaces the CD with someone who can get the trains to run on time. But that hypothetical is largely an after action decision that will come too late to affect meaningful change in the current year.
I mention this because too many think that the Board sits in judgement of every issue. It doesn’t—and it shouldn’t. There isn’t enough time in the day—for either the Board or the CD—for every issue to be a debate and a vote—even if we didn’t hopelessly deadlock on most of them. Looking back on it, I’d critique my own performance as one that leant far too much on the Board, taking too many issues to them—simply to give each petitioner their day in court and relieving myself of the burden of perpetually wearing the black hat. Being a CD requires a thick skin and the discipline to ignore cheap shots from those who just inherently know better without access to the facts. While my tenure has been made difficult by a current Board member who takes his involvement too far down the micro-management path for my taste, BPA has for the most part been fortunate to elect individuals who place the group’s best interests above their personal preferences. They tend to be content to get out of the way and let the CD run things in the most efficient manner without a lot of interference. Stories of similar Non-Profits not so blessed with this sort of relative harmony are commonplace and their arguments are often beyond ridiculous.
Not that we don’t disagree. We’ve had some “blue discussions” guaranteed to curl the ears of the faint of heart. And looking back on it, some of them seem less important in hindsight than Brobdingnag’s war over which end of the egg to open. But for the most part, we’ve managed to keep our dirty linen out of the funny papers which is a good thing since our members manage enough flame war controversies of their own in social media as it is. Usually such fireworks led to the same impasse one finds in the average internet discussion and I was left by default with the go ahead to do what I thought best—having sampled the diverse opinions of the Board.
That said, I’ve frequently had occasion to regret my initial instructions to Scott Pfeifer to incorporate BPA as a Non-Profit corporation rather than a privately owned venture. Over the years I’ve had to defend and enforce policies not of my own making which many mistakenly attribute to me. Such is the price of compromise and it can be a bitter pill. One such example is the printed Yearbook which reached the end of its run this past year. Since it fell to me to enforce the mandatory reports that made it possible, I was doubtless mistakenly perceived as its champion by many. Most would be surprised to learn that I was among its biggest critics in recent years and on the losing end of vote after vote to end it. Ironically, I only succeeded in doing so in time to save my successor the hundreds of hours annually required to assemble, edit, print and mail the thing.
The Limits of Power: One only has to view our election history to understand what a feeble role the membership plays in the process. If the effort made by the American electorate to educate itself and participate in the election of its government is pathetic—and it is—what does that say about participation in BPA elections which is so much lower and barely surpasses legal membership percentages each year? Such apathy is especially annoying when one considers the relative power of the vote in elections of this scope. Given the size of our electorate, a single vote can (and often does) make the difference in an outcome. Every year the eligibility of events is decided by the weight of a vote or two. To some it’s more enjoyable to complain about the results afterwards than to take a moment to actually participate in the process.
The vast majority of our “members” have no interest whatever in the organization and only wish to attend WBC. They could care less who runs it or how as long as somebody does. Cynical? You bet. The numbers don’t lie. Barely 20% take part in the organization beyond their attendance. That doesn’t make WBC a less worthy endeavor, but it does show that the underpinnings on which it exists are very limited. Like most such organizations, very few people do most of the work that make it possible.
One of the first philosophical debates about what BPA should be concerned whether we existed solely to run WBC, or should aspire to wider ambitions and longer coattails—bringing “the hobby” along for the ride. There were those who wanted to franchise WBC and see it sprout elsewhere so that more people could enjoy tournament conventions. Ultimately, those of us who had our hands full as it was just keeping WBC afloat, let alone worrying about other far-flung venues, won out and greater ambitions took a backseat to doing what we could to maintain WBC as a continuing entity rather than competing with ourselves for far too few resources. While the US Chess Federation and American Bridge Association are fine examples of raising a game to the level of sport, they have the advantage of focusing on just one game and a mainstream one at that…with one set of rules. Their Conventions have one GM and one set of rules. Not 150+.
WBC, on the other hand, is a loose confederation of enthusiasts who manage to, however grudgingly, suppress their innate opinions long enough to submit to a central authority with varying levels of sincerity and commitment. To be sure, we do have a preferred way of doing things and strongly encourage GMs to follow those guidelines but where the rubber meets the road, the GM is the boss of his event. We can’t be everywhere at once and should a GM err or simply choose to ignore BPA rules, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it at the time. Our recourse is pretty much limited to declining any future offer to run the event again should that GM decline to mend his ways. That is why, for all our efforts to run events the same way, different GMs apply different resolutions to the same problems. All we can do is make note of it after the fact, attribute the result to GM error (the equivalent of a blown call in baseball) and attempt to educate or replace the GM next time. The occasion when an appeal to the CD or the Board will overturn a GM ruling is a Pandora’s Box best left unopened.
Sadly, it was a rare year when one or more such problems was not brought to my attention…and in all likelihood…such reports are just the tip of the iceberg with more such shortcomings beneath the surface going unreported. Even when a rule has clearly been broken, correction is not easy after the fact. There have been instances when such actions have been debated by the Board without resolution in a standoff of partisan politics that would put Republicans and Democrats to shame. On more than one occasion, I’ve felt strongly about an issue only to find other Board members equally opposed or nonplussed.
I always tell the Board—yes, you can pass rules…but do you have the will to enforce them? Usually the collective answer is No—at least not without more trouble than its worth. A case in point would be the annual Yearbook Event reports. Whether printed or posted on the internet, these event reports are a requirement for each and every WBC GM—one of the few standards where we have actually stuck to our guns and require compliance. Not every GM is happy about that— believing that no one really cares about such things because they themselves don’t. Just running the event in a manner that is suitable for their own druthers should be sufficient in their opinion. Yet, they were informed of the requirement and agreed to it before being entrusted with the event. Who are they to ignore the requirement passed by a duly elected Board who believes that such a system of archived reports helps promote the traditions and attractions of the convention? And if the GM fails to follow this rule, what other duties will he ignore next time?
The requirement has to be enforced—or it will encourage others not to keep their commitments as well. The only solution is to penalize the event itself for GM failure to comply with convention rules. That, in turn, draws complaints from players who resent the event being penalized through no fault of their own. To which I respond hogwash! Every player of an event has a responsibility to that event’s continued existence. If you didn’t volunteer to run the event, then you took no action to save it and have no grounds for complaint when the event is cancelled due to the failure of a satisfactory GM performance. No one gets paid to run events at WBC. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Just because you refuse to join the volunteers that make it all possible doesn’t give you grounds for complaint when another volunteer is found wanting. The Board, to its credit, has thus far been steadfast in its belief that doing the bare minimum is insufficient for a WBC GM. If you want quality, you must enforce minimum standards.
WBC has 150+ tournaments every year, and if left to their own devices those GMs would eventually offer 150+ different formats in their attempts to “game the system” and gain a scheduling advantage over their competition. Hopefully, they all mean well and want the best for their event, and in some cases, their variations may actually offer better results for their event, but at what cost? Every such exception from the norm makes it more difficult for the convention as a whole to function. If event X handles a situation one way and event Y handles the same situation another way, the result is confusion, the need for more ignored verbiage to explain the differences, and complaints about the overall structure which allow such variations to exist. Simpler is always better.
We don’t have many rules but we do require compliance with the standards we do have or we would be guilty of the same “any warm body” requirement in effect elsewhere. Only by subscribing and adhering to a minimum code of conduct, can WBC tournaments hope to retain their reputation as the best competitive boardgame venue. Subconsciously most of us yearn for conformity in how events are run even if we can’t bring ourselves to take the extra steps to implement it ourselves. Somebody needs to wear the black hat and bring law to Dodge if we’re to bring more townsfolk under the big tent.
Abortion: No, I’m not going to wax rhetorical on the relative merits of Roe vs Wade. But even a game convention can be affected by issues as hotly contested as those battles fought between the respective advocates of Pro Life and a Woman’s Right to Choose. One such was a Weapons policy for WBC. We could have argued this one back and forth endlessly without making any more progress than that of the aforementioned legal morass or the NRA vs the Liberal Left. The less said the better.
Undoubtedly the worst case of WBC partisan politics to date has been the controversy arising from the use of heats and the resulting dissenting opinions over tiebreakers to decide how to advance the increased number of winners they generated. Had I known what a kerfuffle it would cause, I would never have suggested the use of heats in the first place. The flame wars on this subject still flare up from time to time and I’ve long since despaired of ever solving the issue. Basically, one side in this never ending war believes that a single win is a better record than a win and a loss, whereas the opposing view holds that playing in two heats is more meritorious than playing in one. Without going into all the extreme examples that each side brandishes as proof of their claim, suffice to say that each has a point and neither is willing to concede that to the other. After a year of debating the issue, the Board could agree only to disagree so it was pretty obvious that no solution would be coming from the masses and we finally punted with the current compromise that generally pleases no one. Such are the nature of compromises.
Said “solution” is basically to allow GMs to choose their own tiebreakers and let players vote with their feet. On the plus side, it gives GMs the perk of having their own way, while providing dissenters with an incentive to get involved as a GM if they want to change how their favorite event is run. As they say, those with some skin in the game get to decide. On the negative side, it creates a near endless array of format variations which complicates matters no end—if not for the event itself, but for the convention as a whole. It violates the prime directive—“Keep it Simple” and requires endless verbiage attempting to explain the differences between Event X and Y which a public increasingly impatient with the written word eschews.
Speaking for myself, I initially favored the First Win concept and gradually was won over to the Multiple Win theory simply because I saw the negative effects of making it easier for a few players to dominate multiple events by lessening their time commitments to each. Not that I begrudge anyone the opportunity to win multiple events, but I do abhor the increased incidence of No Shows it causes when said winners are obliged to choose between their increased advancement opportunities. Perhaps dedication to a single event deserves more respect after all. If I had it to do over again I would have never proposed heats as a viable format, but I would then be shorting the druthers of those who wish to specialize in a few games rather than sample many (a camp to which I personally belong). Alas, the wisdom of Solomon was denied me.
A less heated but more relevant subject for WBC would be anything related to costs. There are endless hidden costs associated with running WBC to which the average attendee never gives a second thought. Such mundane matters as insurance, advertising, software, bank fees, etc just don’t come to mind. Tightwad that I am, I was always conscious of reducing costs. I took pride in WBC offering more for less relative to its competition, so for years I fought against adding Paypal and credit cards to our litany of costs. I had used Paypal for a decade as a way to ease the problems of currency exchange for our foreign members, but I resisted its domestic use until it was forced on me by the Board. I really dislike the notion of adding to the banking industry’s bottom line at the expense of higher membership costs. I certainly understand the convenience factor. I can wield a credit card with the best of them (well, not in my wife’s class, of course), but those fees are going to ultimately be passed on to the consumer. The complaints about joining the 21st century make good slogans, but so do the concerns of those for whom membership costs were an increasing barrier to attendance. The average Paypal fee which varies between 3 and 7% costs BPA at least six times the cost of a stamp to mail a check—and far more than that in the case of larger purchases. Now, for many, that is a trivial amount not worth a second thought—but it collectively adds up to thousands of dollars annually in unnecessary expense which must eventually be borne by the membership in the form of higher admission costs. The one thing that all gamers agree is a prerequisite for a game convention is other gamers—the more the merrier. And this convenience for some is raising the costs for all that will price some out of attendance. Paypal is regrettably here to stay as a cost of doing business … but what works to the advantage of some, works to the detriment of others—and to my way of thinking—to everyone but bankers in the long run. My thanks to those who took an extra moment to mail a check or prepay their Paypal fees to help defray these costs.
Another Board issue debated with a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” outcome was childcare. For the first time in our 26 years, a young man recently attended WBC with an infant and no other childcare resources. His presence in a number of tournaments with a less than enthused onlooker in tow caused considerable comment and more than a few complaints wondering why this was allowed. While the Board is averse to taking an anti-family stance it is equally concerned about protecting the rights of the majority of its membership who commit considerable time and expense to experience an ideal gaming environment free of such distractions. I pointed out that the answer to this dilemma was contained in the GM Guidelines and that every GM has not only the right, but the obligation, to disqualify any player or onlooker (regardless of age) causing a disturbance. The problem with this solution is that most GMs are averse to wearing the black hat and bringing down the hammer on such miscreants—even though abstaining such responsibility is actually doing a disservice to the majority. The problem was further clarified when one such GM not only declined to disqualify the young man but actually nominated him for sportsmanship due to his "family dedication" … a nomination I chose not to accept. People, as you see, have very differing opinions about child care and acceptable social behavior among other things. I, for one, won’t miss being the arbitrator of such opinions.
|Incoming CD Ken Gutermuth presents retiring CD Don Greenwood|
with a set of autographed NY Yankee baseballs.
Cynicism: I freely admit that life’s lessons have made me a card carrying member of the Cynic’s Union so I am well versed in the internet’s tendency to always think (and voice) the worst thing to come to mind. Fortunately, I’ve also encountered some of the nicest people on the planet at WBC or I’d be an even bigger curmudgeon than I am. In recognition of that I’d like to acknowledge some of the folks who have been so helpful to me over the years in steering this ship. That list would include all our Hobby Service Award winners who have played a meaningful role without the slightest hint of remuneration. In a feeble concession to brevity I will refrain from individually naming them and their contributions but if you are ever feeling grateful for WBC and have a moment to spare I urge you to revisit that page to reacquaint yourself with their efforts.
If you do, you may notice a lack of current Board members and employees in this list and that is deliberate. Not that those folks aren’t worthy of such recognition, because many are. However, from the outset of this endeavor I insisted that the Board refrain from awarding prizes or honors of any sort to itself. Nothing smacks of nepotism like patting yourself on the back or voting yourself a raise. Too bad Congress hasn’t learned that lesson. I thought I had that covered with our system wherein the CD nominates candidates for various honors while the remainder of the Board does the actual voting. As long as I avoided nominating a sitting Board member, no such transgression could occur. Sadly, the Board circumvented my defenses by holding a secret cabal to award their new version of the BPA’s Hobby Service award to me in 2016. I should have known something was afoot when they turned in a No Winner result for the first time.
Aw heck! I appreciate the gesture but couldn’t they at least have waited till I left before they jettisoned my rules? Fortunately, for them, I love my signed Jeter and Mantle baseballs retirement gift or I’d tell you to vote them all out of office. Well, maybe later. Anyway, as a paid employee—indeed the only full-time BPA employee—I feel obliged to decline the honor. I certainly was well intentioned enough, but I have not been in a position to decline a paycheck for my efforts, so I feel unqualified to join the august ranks of this volunteer group.
I will however take this opportunity to praise those whose unpaid service has gone above and beyond mere voting their opinions. When considering who should get your support for the Board, I urge you to remember those who actually do the work. Bruce Monnin has performed admirably as the Board’s Secretary in perpetuity—double damned by his skills and willingness to perform them. That is another way of saying that he does all the work in the meetings while the rest of us pontificate. As if that was not punishment enough, I have repeatedly relied on him to perform the thankless task of proof reading our programs and yearbooks. You may think reading a program is no big deal—and it isn’t, but proofing one is—especially when you have to cross index every event listing looking for conflicts. It is tedious, mind numbing work and Bruce did it well and promptly.
Stuart Tucker likewise deserves praise for his statistical analyses of the Team Tournament. Bruno Sinigaglio labors tirelessly for the grognards—my biggest fear with him aside from his tall tales of our good ol’ days is that I’ll have to ship him back to Alaska after he drops from exhaustion. Andy Lewis, a VP with GMT, is the lone publisher’s representative to take an active role in the organization. Potentially, this could have been a problem but its been anything but as Andy dispenses sugar daddy sponsorships for worthy trial games regardless of publisher. A true lover of good games, Andy isn’t chasing a buck at WBC. He comes to game, not to make a living. Last but not least, in an organization as starved for tech talent as ours, the services of Ken Whitesell have been a godsend in solving software emergencies.
As for Ken Gutermuth, the fact that he has been chosen to succeed me should tell you all you need to know of the high esteem in which he is held by his fellow Board members. I’ve opposed all of them in some vote at one time or another, but I don’t hold that against them. They voted their conscience and are fine examples of the best WBC has to offer.
Then there are the truly unseen heroes. People like Ben Knight who every July shows up in the sweltering heat to help us geriatrics load a truck full of the goodies I dispense at every WBC. Sometimes he’s helped by Dave Wong when our favorite Lt Colonel isn’t on tour in some remote country fighting terrorists. He just drives a few hours out of his way to help us old codgers load a truck—and then helps us reload to come back when its over. No task goes undone when Dave is around. Dave is a perpetual smile machine who restores my faith in the human race, or at least part of it. That he was behind the giant retirement card filled with member signatures comes as no great surprise.
|Dave Wong presents Don with signed retirement card from hundreds of attendees.|
Housecleaning: I’ll bring this to a close (finally!) by explaining some recent changes my successor and I agreed would make his lot easier. I’ve never claimed to be the brightest bulb on the tree. I’ve made my share of mistakes and gained my experience at the school of hard knocks as any survivor of my Origins I registration fiasco will tell you. Just ask Bruno—he loves to torment me by reminding me of my shortcomings. In short, I probably won’t be fondly recalled as the best CD ever, and certainly not the most efficient, but I like to think that my dedication to the task will never be surpassed. For years I’ve worked this as a 52/7 job which is kind of ironic since the most frequent question I’ve always gotten is "what else do you do?”—as if it is beyond belief that this could be a full-time job. Obviously, I should learn to delegate more. All I can say is try annually updating 400 webpages and a 7,000 member data base while herding 150 cats between sweeping the floors before you chalk this up as a walk in the park.
One of my more foolish chores had been annually mailing dozens of forgotten prizes or no show souvenirs to their respective owners. In the absence of any response to these care packages, it gradually dawned on me that the effort was neither expected nor appreciated. So, one year I decided not to do it—just to see if anyone noticed. Lo and behold, no one complained. Scratch that job. Being a cheapskate of long standing, however, I couldn’t bring myself to just throw the stuff away and instead carted it back and forth to WBC every year in an effort to reunite it with its rightful owners. What’s another four bins when you’re already moving a truck full? Well, as the years passed and my stevedore skills eroded, it became more and more of a chore. So, this year we pulled the plug on the lost wood piles. In short, if you didn’t pick up your former plaques last year, it is too late because they are now in a landfill. Going forward, we will again notify such owners of their left behind loot and give them the option of having it mailed at cost or picked up at the following WBC, but thereafter it is gone forever.
Your response to that is probably somewhere between outrage and “who cares?" since that mirrors the general attitude about plaques in general. Some love ‘em and get real annoyed at the prospect of dropping the “Loser” wood (which as the guy responsible for hauling the stuff around I always thought was a capital idea) while others don’t want them period. That probably explains why so many get left behind in the first place. Ya gotta love the full spectrum of opinions.
Along the same line, some time back we opted to provide Century event winners with a free Centurion shirt available only to winners of those events to strut their stuff. The problem from the outset with this plan was how do you know how many to order of each size to ensure everyone gets one they can actually wear? Since we didn’t want to sell them but only to give them exclusively to winners, ordering enough of each to satisfy every possibility would engender much waste. Especially, if one guy won four of the XXX size, leaving none for the next big winner?
Rule 1. Maximum of one per Year and charge a $5 token fee just to make sure they actually want them.
Sadly, that still required that we ordered the shirts after the fact and mailed them to the winners which sort of killed the buzz—not to mention increasing our cost and time expenditure. And then there were the ones that got “lost” in the mail—which presented even more of a hassle since one can't order just one custom t-shirt. Especially, when the recipient doesn’t claim that it was lost until a full year later. International delivery being a particular concern.
So, our current solution is to order enough generic shirts in quantity to award them to the winners on the spot without delay—saving the overages for use the next year. The problem with this solution of course—there is always a problem you see—is that the shirts no longer sport the specific year they were won. This solution was greeted with groans and a willingness to pay an extra dollar to have the year printed on the shirt—not realizing that a $ per shirt doesn’t even begin to solve the problem—our costs for the shirts—with or without the date—far exceeding the profferred extra dollar. The price is actually irrelevant—since it is charged as a token payment simply to ensure that the person actually wants the item as something other than a rag to wax his car. We understand the appeal of a custom made shirt. One year we had each shirt custom made with the boxart of the specific event won, plus the year—but the result was disappointing. The supplier discovered that they could not fulfill the orders on site as initially promised. It took months to fulfill, the quality was lacking, and again we had to deal with losses in the mail. Long story short, these nice touches require far more time expended than they are worth.
I’ll leave you with a last story about one of my favorite pet peeves if only to illustrate how Board discussions aren’t always what they are cracked up to be. One of WBC’s unique policies that has always drawn comment, some of it more good natured than others, has been its requirement to charge for a badge holder device. I know. I’m cheap with an overactive concern about American balance of payment problems and the downfall of American manufacturing. I still can’t fathom how everyone is supposed to have a job when we don’t make anything here anymore. Yet, this conservative also worries about the environment. But I digress again.
Anyway, I came upon a source for the printed pouch style badge holders with extra compartments that has been de rigueur at WBC for the past 18 years. Selling at other cons for $10 each as a premium item at the time, I figured we could sell them under cost at $2 a pop and require folks to bring them back every year in their favorite game to avoid having to buy another. Saving the environment, our balance of payments and giving everyone a class appliance. What could be better? Well, it seems not everyone is a tree hugger.
Little did I know I was opening myself up for a decade of whining. My old friend diversity was about to raise its ugly head again. Not everyone was as enamored with this device as I was. Some didn’t like anything hanging around their necks. Others complained that the initial version's velcro fastener was scratchy. Year after year this went on with pointed criticism from certain Board members. OK. OK. What do you want to replace them with? It seems there was no consensus. Lanyards still hung around the neck. Clip-ons could tear shirts. Magnetic badges were easiest on clothes and virtually the only thing one highly opinionated Board member would deign to wear, but had a whole range of issues from pacemaker concerns, credit card and hotel key damage, as well as poor interaction with backpacks and safety belts. Pins? I guess they were too simple. Try as they might, the Board could not agree on a substitute. Each had a favorite, but there was no consensus on any of them. Having torn out what little hair I had left, I opted to purchase all four varieties and offer people their choice of a free Pin variety, $1 clip on or $2 pouch or magnetic—or virtually any badge holder of their own that they brought with them. I then was rewarded with rare vindication of my original choice when 90% of those needing a badge holder the next two years opted for the pouch variety. Of course, now I have enough magnetic badges to last to the next century at our current rate of use. Argh!
Why Now? Other than the slightly insulting queries about what else I do for a living, the most common question of late is "Why quit now?” Why indeed? In many ways, the job has never been easier, nor the compensation greater. Those first years were pretty lean. I certainly get more help of late than I did at the outset when it was strictly a one-man operation since we now have the wherewithal to hire some help. And ending the printed yearbook saves beaucoup time. I started this venture with no more backing than an unemployment check and leave the BPA treasury with over $500,000 while offering what has been widely recognized as the lowest admission rates of any boardgame convention of comparable size. That remains true today if you look at the daily rate for a Sustaining membership. You may or may not have liked what WBC had to offer, but few would successfully argue that it was overpriced relative to its competition. That I leave it with a bank balance that enables it to reserve a facility like 7S for nine days at a bargain price without putting anyone's home at risk is a source of considerable pride.
There are many reasons why I am stepping down. I will not bore you further with an extensive list. Chief among them is the inevitability of time. Peter Pan lifestyle aside, I am not getting any younger and health issues pose an increasing consideration. I owe it to you all not to be in this position much longer. Maybe helping out around the fringes if needed…but no longer in charge.
Secondly, technology has long since passed me by and this old dog has proven to be beyond new tricks when it comes to keeping pace with the instant gratification coveted by an ever faster world. I like to think that I have brought other skills to the job and been successful in providing steady, conservative growth in a low cost environment to WBC, but when it comes to tech I am more of a hindrance than a help. One could reasonably argue—as some have—that a less conservative approach would have resulted in greater gains faster. For the most part, I’ve replaced efficiency with elbow grease when it comes to keeping up with everything that has to be done to keep this train on the tracks, but lately there just aren’t enough hours in the day. It is time for better leadership more in touch with today’s skills. I think we are fortunate to have such a willing individual available who is also so well versed in WBC’s unique traditions.
If I were to sum up my life’s work in one word it would be “loyalty”. My employment resume lists only two jobs of any real duration. 26 years at Avalon Hill ended when I went down with the ship—loyal to the end to a management that was hard to love. That job morphed into 18 years with BPA—an organization I founded by necessity and led by default until now. I would be less than loyal to it were I to continue, knowing its future is better entrusted to another. It is appropriate then that I pass that leadership role to someone who has been extremely loyal to the organization from the outset—a lifetime sponsor—who has always been front and center when help was needed. It is just a bonus that our CPA brings a wealth of business and real world experience to a job that needs to get more efficient to keep up with an ever faster world. And it doesn’t hurt that his family is on board and among WBC’s most valued citizens.
Besides, any year in which Bruce Reiff goes home without another title is a great year to call it quits. It might be a long time before that opportunity presents itself again. How could I do better than end it all on that happy note and in the double glow of our 7S debut? It is time. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to thank all those who shared the ride all these years. Whether you ran an event, or just made us an annual part of your summer, thanks for helping make it all possible. And for having the patience to read this far.
Your Former CD