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  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Adrianna Hull plays an ocarina in her Hometown Comics and Games booth during PopCon at Grand Wayne Center on Saturday. It is the first PopCon to be held in the city.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette PopCon visitors stop by some of the vendors Saturday at Grand Wayne Center. PopCon, according to its website, “celebrates the culture of the creators and the fans who love them.” See story on Page 1C.

  • Steve Florio and his son Joe, 6, play the game The Legend of the Cherry Tree That Blossoms Every Ten Years at the Iello Games booth run by Game Annex staff.

  • Joey Avila sketches a character at his booth selling Zebra-Girl books.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Brad Kelly sorts and restocks metal prints at the Colorworld booth during PopCon at the Grand Wayne Center on Saturday December 29, 2018. GALLERY / VIDEO

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Kayla Perkins, 16, moves her piece during a game of King Me! Checkers during PopCon at Grand Wayne Center on Saturday.

Sunday, December 30, 2018 1:00 am

Local PopCon debuts in city

At some game tables, mobsters rule; at others, rebels battle with the Empire

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Despite folks wandering about dressed as robots or in futuristic get-ups from galaxies far, far away, one of the hot attractions during Saturday's PopCon at Grand Wayne Center was a throwback to simpler times.

Apparently, family board games are giving the likes of video game Fortnite a run for their money.

These aren't the Monopoly and Sorry games of the past, said Carl Doninger of Indianapolis, organizer of the nerd-friendly pop-culture event marking its debut in Fort Wayne.

But with names like “Imperial Assault: Heart of the Empire” and themes that allow players to, for example, imagine themselves as mob bosses and henchmen, the games follow the formula from years past.

Cardboard game boards, playing cards and tokens are staples.

“It's different than video games because you get together with your friends or family around an actual table,” said David Hunter, of Fort Wayne, representing Arcane Wonders, which markets “Good Critters,” the gangster game.

He points out that the biggest Kickstarter online fundraiser for this year – $6.2 million – was a board game, “Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon.”

Why the popularity?

“Board gaming is on a new renaissance,” said Doninger. “I think it's because we're so disconnected with technology. Our faces are in phones all the time.”

The Parrish family, who traveled from their home in Nashville in Brown County, and picked a copy of “Imperial Assault,” based on “Star Wars,” to try playing with volunteer game-master Rich Dionne of Lafayette.

“I never heard of it. I picked it because it looked complicated,” said Savannah Parrish, 11, as Dionne explained the game's multiple dice and the meanings of their various tallies.

“You're Gideon, so you can command other people to do things – that's really helpful, right? I'm playing on the Imperial side, so I'm trying to keep you from doing things,” Dionne told Parrish's brother, Chance Parrish, 21.

The opportunity to have someone with experience in the game teach it one-on-one is part of the attraction of conventions such as PopCon, Doninger said.

PopCon also offers board and video gaming tournaments, vendors, a dance on Saturday night and guest celebrities, he said.

This weekend's included Barry Bostwick from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Spin City” and Bruce Patrick, Eddie Munster from “The Munsters,” a 1960s TV comedy featuring a family straight out of horror movies.

“We're not a just a flea market convention,” Doninger said. “We're known for always having something going on.”

Doninger, 45, said after five years of hosting conventions in Indianapolis, he and co-owner Kris Keys were looking to expand to mid-major markets. Fort Wayne came to the fore, he said, because Keys is a former resident.

Even though the show was a late booking, the Grand Wayne was able to accept the event for what would have been a slow weekend and staff members have provided excellent service, he said. 

Because the event is a first, he said, it's difficult to tell what attendance will be. He expects up to 2,000 people.

About half stay the weekend to attend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. Admission for a single day is $30 for adults and $10 for children ages 3 to 12.

“Fort Wayne is looking for unique convention opportunities to bring a positive economic impact,” Doninger said, “and that's what we're into.”

rsalter@jg.net