The weekend of February 18-21 over 20k gamers and music fans took over the Gaylord at National Harbor for MAGFest.
MAGFest has been around for 14 years now, and has grown from a small show in a fairly normal sized hotel, to one that capped the capacity of a Gaylord convention center. It has grown up from a community/indie based show and still definitely has that feel to it. The show runs 24 hours a day starting on Thursday morning and running through Sunday afternoon. During those 4 days attendees can go to tons of various video game/chiptune/overall geek themed concerts, hang out in a very large LAN, play games in the tabletop are, take part in one of the many tournaments on all sorts of platforms, LARP, shop in the vendor hall or hang out in the arcade.
I didn’t make it to the show Thursday, since I unfortunately had to work, but got to spend 3 days completely immersed in the show. There is so much that happens in such a short time that it is hard to keep track of it all, but here are some of the highlights:
The arcade at MAGFest really is kind of a thing of glory. They bring in TONS of classic and modern arcade cabinets, DDR machines, Pinball machines, and pretty much any other thing you might hope to find in the best stocked arcade you can think of and just fill an expo space. Then they turn all the center lights off, so the room is just the aura of the arcade lights, set all the machines to free play and say “have fun”. There are too many cabinets to list them all, but the fact that I could play DDR, crazy taxi, silent scope, Tron, and PacMan, all without digging for any change automatically made it a good weekend.
They also bring in tons of pinball tables. They set up a full wall of tables that were open all weekend for free play. They also had a set of about 8 tables that were closed for tournament play until Sunday morning. The most interesting table to me was the Joust table. It was a versus pinball table, so you stood across from your opponent and you were trying to out score them. I’d never seen one before but it was VERY fun.
When I got away from the arcade Friday evening I managed to get up to the tabletop area, which was well attended and had everything from demo’s of unreleased games, to CCG tournaments, to people just playing the games that they either borrowed from the show or brought along themselves. I tried out a new game to me called thieves Friday, which as a bit of a bluffing card game. We had a group of 5 and each game lasted between 5-10 minutes. It was pretty nifty.
Also got to try out Burgle Bros on Saturday, which is more of a time commitment than thieves but was well worth it. Basically it is the board game version of Monaco, so you are part of a team trying to pull of a heist. It is a cooperative board game (so all players against the board instead of against each other) which I tend to really like. It also does a great job with the art and actual feel of the game too. We did not win (and learned as we played that we had done a few things wrong) but that just means another round is in the future!
While I didn’t make it to many concerts, there was one on Saturday that I am really glad I made it to. It was a live play through of the game Journey, but with an orchestra on stage playing the soundtrack. The music in Journey is extremely well done, and to have the orchestra and the player so tied together was a very unique and impressive experience. Plus the conductor was wearing the Journey scarf, which was icing on the cake.
Something that hadn’t been at any of the previous MAGFests I have attended was the computer museum. It was a large meeting room full of tons of old PCs and systems including the magnavox odyssey, Vectrix, old IBM PCs, and the Apples that I used in my middle school library. The best part was they were all working, so you could sit down and play things like pong, Quake, Oregon trail and even the old paint pro.
MAGFest has a tradition of a very diverse vendor hall. There are tons of vendors selling handmade pieces of geekery, such as crocheted Yoshi eggs, Tron embroidered bath towels, 8-bit quilts, and fleece scarves. Then you get the artists who have prints of various game and anime characters, mash ups and otherwise just adorable or cool art. You also get some of the classic game vendors and local game shops who come out with their wares. Plus Glitch, Tee turtle, and a few other online T-Shirt vendors were there, which meant I got my wallet into a bit of trouble.
This year there was one vendor who had a full set of gorgeous leather armor modeled after leaves. There was also a vendor that specialized in leather work, who had everything from vests and jackets to greaves and leather bound journals.
There is something I find particularly fun about MAGFest being in a hotel that is as “fancy” as the Gaylord. The mix of upscale surroundings with the retro gaming, cosplay and overall saturation of geek culture is really fun to me.
I saw quite a few really impressive cosplays. First there was a Kerrigan from Starcraft that I WISH I had managed to get a picture of. She was fully converted to Zerg and it was a very impressive outfit. There was also a really good Samus, though the first time I saw her she had switched her boots for Uggs which was a tad jarring. Thankfully when I managed to get a picture of her she was back in full regalia.
My favorite cosplay was probably the one I saw from Sesame Street. There was a group dressed as the Martians (aka the aliens that said “Yip Yip Yip Yip…uh huh”). They were wandering around together and would investigate people as they tried to take pictures etc. I thought it was a great reference, though I think it may have been lost on some of the younger attendess
Overall MAGFest definitely has a indie feel in comparison to a show like PAX but still makes for a great weekend. For me, any excuse to spend time surround by games (new or old) and the gaming community is well worth it!