As the pandemic has lessened, and we have become vaccinated, Alexander and I have both been chomping at the bit to get out of the bunker and go to conventions again. Last September, we hit up Gen Con in Indianapolis, but only attended 1 day as it was just too crowded and we didn’t feel comfortable. But since then, we have attended Basement Con II in a friend’s basement in St. Louis, Missouri and a few weekends ago attended the Buckeye Game Fest in beautiful Columbus, Ohio. We were invited as special guests to the War Room and asked to host events that attendees could sign up for to play games with us and learn new systems.

In this post, I wanted to simply give you a look inside BGF and share with you how we think it is a hidden gem in the convention circuit and that you should consider attending next year to play games with us in the War Room. Let me cover what BGF is, where it is held, the accommodations and facilities, as well as the local restaurant scene and then cover the games we played and experience we had.

Buckeye Game Fest

Up until a few years ago, we had never heard of Buckeye Game Fest, even though we live just a 2 1/2 hour drive away in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2019, we were contacted by one of the Columbus Area Boardgaming Society Board Members Jeff Kayati who asked if we would be willing to come to the convention to participate in gaming in the War Room and to help spread the word about the convention. Yes you read that right! They have an entire room dedicated to wargames! And the War Room is actually open a few days longer than the rest of the convention. We agreed, attended and absolutely fell in love with the event. So much so that we had planned to attend annually until those plans were changed by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

So what is Buckeye Game Fest? Well, it is described on their website as “…central Ohio’s premiere board gaming convention. Best known for our open board gaming space, and featuring the Columbus Area Boardgaming Society‘s extensive game library, this convention has been a local favorite for over two decades.” Basically, the convention is an opportunity to come together and play games. But it is a very low key and intimate convention that doesn’t have the crowds and hustle and bustle of conventions like Origins, Gen Con or even WBC (World Board Gaming Championships).

In addition to the open gaming, the show offers:

  • A Host of different gaming events, including board games, wargames, RPG’s, an Artemis ship bridge simulator, and more!
  • Annual Raffle: Chance to win great prizes donated by their sponsors with 50% of the proceeds being donated to The Extra Life Campaign.
  • A robust Vendor Hall with about 20 different vendors.
  • Play To Win:  Play newly sealed games for a chance to win them. Each play = One Entry
  • Flea Market: You can sell and purchase games.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Well it really is and we have had a blast both times that we have have attended. You can just leisurely walk into the main gaming room and see dozens of games ongoing and even jump in if there is an open seat. You can also stroll through the War Room and see many monster games in progress and also sit down and learn from some of the best out there. But more on this later!

Location, Location, Location

One of the best aspects of the convention is its location. You know they say that in real estate location is everything and I think that in wargaming location is pretty important! Located at the Hyatt Regency at 350 North High Street connected to the Convention Center in downtown Columbus, the site is easy to get to, located in the middle of a busy downtown that offers lots of dining options and entertainment and has great guest rooms as well as spacious meeting rooms to spread out and play games. They also have a full restaurant in the hotel that serves a “locally and responsibly sourced” breakfast, with a buffet on Saturday and Sunday. In the convention area, there are plenty of shops, including a shop where you can buy snacks, soda, lip balm, an atlas, magazines, band aids and anything else that you might find yourself in need of during your stay. In the center you will also find several restaurants from the stalwart and reliable Subway, to Jet’s Pizza (who gave us a few free pieces of cold pizza at 11:05pm after they had already closed!) and then the exotic Mykonos Gyros, Chicken ‘n Eggs (literally serving breakfast all day long) and kooma (sushi). You will not go hungry in the convention center which is really very convenient.

If you need some fresh air and want to stretch your legs, there are several nearby restaurants within walking distance including BD’s Mongolian BBQ (our personal favorite!), Barley’s Brewing Company, Pies & Pints and Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse among many others. There is also the very famous and amazing North Market just down the street a few blocks. This market is an eclectic mix of more than 30 independently owned small businesses offering a wide variety of fresh produce, meat, poultry, seafood, flowers, specialty food items, international prepared foods & distinctive gifts. Some of my favorites here are Hubert’s Polish Kitchen (perogi!) and Barrel and Boar that offers some of the finest BBQ around.

The hotel and convention center also are easy on and easy off to the interstate and offer valet parking. A great convention needs a great location and BGF has the location nailed down!

The War Room

Now to the meat of our discussion here today. What does the War Room offer? Well, the simple answer is to say that there are wall to wall wargames as far as the eye can see. The old grognards of Columbus, Ohio and from other parts nearby meet up as early as the Monday of the convention for an extra 3 full days of gaming. They lug in their games and their large pieces of plexi and do their thing. Their games can be quite intense and there are regularly loud and excited discussions about this rule or that but it is a thing of beauty to see lifelong friends spending time together doing what they love. There is a palpable energy to it, even if the participants don’t appear to have much in their bodies. But their minds are sharp. Their tactics are refined. And their desire to conquer is as evident as a young Alexander the Great as he looked over his kingdom and wept! That kind of sums up the feeling of the War Room! Now onto the logistics of it all.

The War Room is open from 8:00am until 10:00pm (although we stayed until 11:00pm on at least a few of our nights there!) and has tables that you can simply take and setup whatever large game you wish to play. Most of these tables have games that are setup for multiple days, because they are in progress or being used as a teaching opportunity for newer wargamers.

Speaking of teaching opportunities. One of the highlights of our time was our 3 hour session with Gary Mengle of Ardwulf’s Lair fame who sat down and gave us a crash course in the glorious system that is the Operational Combat Series from Multi-Man Publishing. Gary is an expert at the series and has played many of the volumes but at BGF he had an introductory volume in the series called Smolensk setup and was playing a game with a friend, but also using it as a chance to convert some new OCS disciples. He basically took us through the entire 3rd turn for the Germans as they moved against the Soviet stacks defending their cities during Operation Barbarossa during the summer of 1941.

Gary Mengle AKA Ardwulf of Ardwulf’s Lair fame is schooling us on the merits of the Operational Combat Series from Multi-Man Publishing. He is not removing a splinter with his tweezers but is recounting the basics of the system.

I was very grateful for this crash course and tutorial because his teaching style made it interesting, as he truly knows his history and its connection with the wargames he plays, but also has a great passion for gaming that is evident anytime we talk with him. I actually saw the system for what it is and found it enjoyable and am now interested in looking into it ourselves. Alexander owns Reluctant Enemies and I was on the internet looking for a reasonably priced copy of OCS Smolensk so expect to see some of that on the Channel over the next 6 months or so.

The next great part of BGF and the War Room is that there are events. There were at least 10 different wargame events put on by the likes of us (The Players’ Aid), Ardwulf’s Lair and Armchair Dragoons and featured games such as Liberty or Death, Cuba Libre, Fire in the Lake from GMT Games and Brief Border Wars from Compass Games. These events were free and all you had to do was register.

When we began discussing our plans earlier this year for attending Buckeye Game Fest, both Alexander and I just knew that we were going to teach the COIN Series from GMT Games. Over the 3 1/2 days we hosted 4 different events where we hosted and taught the COIN Series. On Friday, April 8th we did a 4 hour event from 5:00pm to 9:00pm where I taught Liberty or Death and Alexander taught Cuba Libre (with his Cubra Libre game ending early with a 2nd Propaganda card victory so they started with a short game of Fire in the Lake). In this session, we both played as the 4th player but had 3 new or less experienced players at each of our tables. Then on Saturday, April 9th we did another 4 hour event from 1:00pm to 5:00pm where once again I taught Liberty or Death and Alexander taught Cuba Libre. In this session, neither of us played as we each had 4 players. Amongst the players over the 4 events, we had 5 players who had never played a COIN, one who had played Andean Abyss once like 8 years ago and then 8 players who had played a couple different volumes just a few times. This was such a great experience and we really enjoyed the games but also made some really great new friends and hopefully sowed some seeds of interest into gaming systems that most gamers haven’t touched.

This experience inspired me to write an article on my thoughts on teaching the COIN Series and you can read that at the following link:

We also played several other games including Successors 4th Edition from PHALANX, Churchill form GMT Games and Pax Pamir from Wehrlegig Games. The games are always good but not necessarily the best part!

The People You Will Meet

We always enjoy meeting new people. Making new friends. Learning about other wargamers and their interests. It frankly is the best part of any gaming convention and I have made some really great friends! David Thompson, who has designed some really great solitaire wargames like Pavlov’s House, By Stealth and Sea and Castle Itter, was there and we were able to play games with him, just sit and talk about things and also get a lowdown on his upcoming games. Great stuff! Russ Wetli who runs his own wargame blog called Cardboard Conflicts and is an all around good guy (even though he roots for Purdue which I can forgive him for but not if they keep beating us!). We played several games with him and broke bread and it was grand to meet someone that we have corresponded with on the internet. Bill Simoni is an all around good dude who loves wargames and has been a great friend to us over the years. The aforementioned Gary Mengle. Brant Guillory from the Armchair Dragoons. Also some new folks including Ray Musselman who played Cuba Libre with us and has sparked an interest in French & Indian War miniatures in Alexander. Ed Bryan, Jeff Talor, Eric Luthy and others. All good people. All great wargamers and now people that I will add to my list of friends. I hope that I will see them again and get to play games again. But that is what makes these gatherings so fantastic. It is about building a community. Of like minded folks who love history and to game it out on the tabletop. I count myself lucky to have attended Buckeye Game Fest for the 2nd time and hope to see many of these people again next year but also to make many new friends.

Thanks for reading along. Buckeye Game Fest 2023 will be held April 27-30, 2023. The War Room at Buckeye Game Fest will be held April 24-30, 2023. Please look into it and come and play some games with us.