From the number of anime and comic book characters wandering around the Hilton Hotel in East Memphis, it's obvious MidSouthCon 33 is underway. Last weekend's convention was the fifth the hotel has hosted, so the staff is used to the scene.
Throngs of costumed characters move through the hallways, navigating to panels and events. Two rooms in particular — besides the suite featuring free snacks and drinks — remain full: The board and tabletop gaming rooms feature tables, chairs, and a wall of board and card games available to attendees.
Kyle Wayne LaCroix sits with two other players organizing "Everyone is John," a tabletop role-playing game that skews into the ridiculous. He has led the game the past three years at MidSouthCon. Each player acts like a voice in the head of a man named John, attempting to accomplish goals such as beating a world record for most jellybeans eaten or assassinating a mayor.
"It's sort of competitive," LaCroix said. "They bid to possess John and get him to do things. The skills are super esoteric, like 'make string into interesting shapes' or 'quilting.' Just generally useless things that the player makes up."
MidSouthCon has reported an increase in its attendance numbers every year.
"I think there's been a rise in deeper board games, but that feeling could be exaggerated by my ignorance of them until I started going to things like MidSouthCon," LaCroix said. "It was just a place to experience it for the first time and have fun with it. I think cons like this and the internet are helping these sorts of things get more popular."
Matthew Perry, a convention veteran of 15 years, organized a different type of game, one that thrusts players into a whodunit scenario. In "Ultimate Werewolf," each player is a villager, but at night, some may be holding a secret. They could be witches or werewolves trying to kill off other villagers or impede them from figuring out who the killer werewolf is.
"The whole concept of the game is the paranoia aspect, proving if you are good and [capable of] keeping the village alive," Perry said.
Perry's game, which he has organized for eight MidSouthCons, had more than 48 players during his sessions — held just after midnight, perfect for a game like Ultimate Werewolf. Tabletop and board games at MidSouthCon, like Ultimate Werewolf, bring out a lot of players who may not have heard about them, but that's a good thing, Perry said.
"Cons introduce new players into an environment where it's user-friendly," he said. "It brings in a lot of new blood, especially those who have never been to a con before. It really opens up that dialogue, and 95 percent of the time those people come back next year. And they remember the games they played. They start getting into it."