There'll be one more year for the World Boardgaming Championships at the Lancaster Host Resort in Pennsylvania. While the WBC will celebrate its 25th anniversary there next year, the 2016 event will shift about three hours west to the Seven Springs Mountain Resort, about an hour-plus southeast of the nearest airport in Pittsburgh. Philadelphia's airport is about an hour and a half away from Lancaster, too, but in Philadelphia, you can hop an Amtrak train that'll put you within a 10 or 15-minute shuttle ride to the resort; 30 minutes in traffic. In 2016, you'll be picked up at the airport and travel the hour-plus in a shuttle vehicle to the Seven Springs Resort.
"What town is that in?" I asked Don Greenwood, convention director and voting member of the board of directors of the Boardgame Players Association (BPA) that made the decision to move.
"There is no town," he said.
Technically, that's true. Seven Springs is actually a borough; 1.1 square miles of real estate, about a half mile up in the air, making it the highest borough in the state of Pennsylvania. In 2000, its population was 127. In 2010, that number had dwindled to 26. It's essentially a year-round recreation/resort area, and while it will lack the development amenities offered in close proximity to the Lancaster Host Resort - chain restaurants, shopping facilities, Dutch Wonderland, and the life and death struggle of crossing the street outside the main entrance, for example - it will boast the availability of numerous close-at-hand recreational activities. The borough of Seven Springs is surrounded by three state parks, with a fourth not too far away. The place is a magnet for skiiers in the winter (roughly, 10,000 per day at the height of the season), and in the summer, you can zipline, bike, hike, get on a horse, fish, and skeet shoot to your heart's content.
And oh yeah, come August, 2016, play board games for a week.
The Seven Springs Resort's sales manager travelled to Lancaster to offer an hour-long video and personal presentation that extolled the virtues of the new site. This presentation was repeated about a dozen times throughout the first few days of this year's convention, to offer the week-long attendees the opportunity to see what the new place is all about. According to Greenwood, the resort's sales manager was happy to make the trip, and good-naturedly answered questions, ranging from the hostile to the wildly enthusiastic.
While many questioned the wisdom of moving the annual event to Seven Springs, there's been almost universal agreement that it was time to get out of Dodge. . . uhh, Lancaster. The hotel, is literally, falling apart. Stained ceilings testify to water leaks everywhere. Two 16-wheel trailers are parked outside the hotel with umbilical cord natural gas and water connections to cool (and presumably, later, to heat) the facility (see photo). There are isolated tales of rats in the rooms.
Jason of Maryland thought the move to Pittsburgh (or thereabouts) was a good idea.
"I don't stay here," he said of the Lancaster Host Resort. "The lights are bad here, the food is bad here."
"I happened to be looking at the license plates in the parking lots," he added, "and it occurred to me that they're going to lose a lot of people from the Metro New York area."
By the same token, the event will likely draw more people from Ohio, which boasts one of this nation's largest board game groups - The Columbus Area Boardgamers, affectionately known as CABs. Columbus is pretty big, as are Cincinatti and Cleveland. Cleveland to Seven Springs is about the same distance as Manhattan to Lancaster; about three hours. Columbus is four hours away and Cincinatti is five.
Ken, from New York City shakes his head when the subject of moving comes up.
"I don't know," he said, expressing doubt that he'd be following the WBC west. "I'm in New York and I can jump on a train and be here in a couple of hours."
You can take an AMTRAK New York-to-Pittsburgh train, too. It's called The Pennsylvanian, and travels through some marvelous countryside. You might even pass by the Seven Springs Resort, though probably not close enough to actually see it, way up there on its mountain. After the nine-hour train ride, you'll be joining the frequent flyers on the hour-plus trip to Seven Springs.
For those of us who might drive to the place, it's a matter of an extra hour or two, depending on where you're starting. I'm in Wilmington, North Carolina, and it'll be nine hours for me, which, because of travel through small towns and their traffic lights, should turn into 10, easy.
There was, according to Greenwood, one dissenting vote by a member of the nine-person board of directors of the Boardgame Players Association, which decided that this was the organization's best option. I don't know the rationale behind the decision that was made. Know even less about the work that was done to accomplish the agreement between the association and the Seven Springs Resort. In my capacity as a representative of Rio Grande Games, I couldn't really switch to a journalist's cap all of a sudden. Greenwood and his staff would probably have let me do that, but I didn't want any pointed questions I might have asked to be associated with Rio Grande Games, as it would be, if I asked them.
I did not attend any of the resort's presentations, and most of what I learned about it, I learned on-line, and in the pages of circulating brochures. All week long, though, the general consensus that flowed through Cafe Jay swung back and forth between outrage and wild enthusiasm; a debate which will no doubt follow people home. If it were a horse race, you'd be lucky to get even odds.
My thing is, I trust the people who made the decision. There was equal outcry when the WBC moved from Hunt Valley, MD to Lancaster, which created easily as many travel inconveniences. Say what you will about the decaying infrastructure of the Lancaster Host, it's got a lot of good gaming space. It has a thing or two to learn about gaming, though, particularly as it relates to the use of 8-foot round 'wedding' tables. Most of the games that are played at the WBC are designed for rectangular playing space. Round space inevitably finds players spending a great deal of time on their feet, as they reach across the curve of the round table to make their move. It is my understanding that the move to Seven Springs will not net a significant growth in playing space, though it will have just shy of twice as many rooms available, along with chalet, and condominium space to be found nearby.
It is has been my experience, as a private attendee at the WBC, and over the past four years, as a representative of Rio Grande Games, that virtually everything this BPA's board of directors has done in the dozen years I've been around, has been done to accommodate the needs of the people who come from all over the world to play in the annual World Boardgaming Championships. For heaven's sake, they have wooden TV tables in the rest rooms with a sign indicating that the tables are for your board games as you go about your business. Given the divergent backgrounds from which these attendees emerge, both personally, professionally, and culturally, it is no surprise when the leadership of the association makes a decision, that the membership will have opinions as diverse as their circumstances.
I hope that the Seven Springs Resort is better, much better than the Lancaster Host Resort. The people who made the decision to move the event believe that it will be, and that once people adjust to the idea of moving on, the actual moving on can begin.
Stay tuned, for a less move-oriented report and slide show from the 2014 WBC, along with a review of Concordia, which I failed to write before I went to the WBC to teach it.