Wargaming Tradecraft: Maker Expo: Retrospective


Maker Expo: Retrospective

What a day.

I'd certainly say that the first public event I've presented at was a rousing success and all full of positive energy! To recap, Maker Expo was an event full of inventors and artists showcasing their hobbies and businesses to reach out to the community and expose the public to all sorts of new and wonderful things. The event had roughly 7500 visitors, 100 volunteers and 100 exhibitors in an 8 hour span. (OK, so it was a lot longer of a day for the exhibitors, especially if you're fighting mono and a cold like I am. Think I survived on adrenaline alone.)
[See a clip from CTV News.]

TheWife starts things off before her volunteer shift. A retweet by the Mayor to begin? Well thanks!

First group of kids get started.
The big thing to talk about is all the kids that went home happy on Saturday. Seeing eyes light up when I asked if the first kids wanted to paint a miniature and looking at their parents, "Can I?!" Once they got started, it turned into a non-stop 4 hour long madhouse. At one point, I think I had 7 or 8 kids wrapped around the table putting brush to paint. I brought somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 miniatures and they were all gone by the end.

It was obvious that to some of the kids, this was just another activity. But what was more apparent were the ones who had a ton of fun, were super proud of what they accomplished and walked away with huge grins on their faces.

I was a little disappointed that there was a noticeable age gap in the audience at the event. It seemed to jump from children to adults, missing the whole teens and twenties demographic. (Although there were a number in the ranks of the volunteers and exhibitors that made a point of stopping by.)

One downside of being so ridiculously busy (Seriously, the turnout and feedback, wow, thanks!) is that while the kids were painting, I was talking to parents and others and unable to give much direction on the painting side of things. I also wasn't taking as many photos as I'd wanted and wasn't very active on social media. The few pics I did post were each literally written over the span of like half an hour due to the non-stop traffic and questions. (Almost lost my voice by the end of the day.)

These folks took their time and walked away introduced to something new they seemed to enjoy.

Answering questions before wide eyes.
Parents had lots of questions about everything on display and most went away with not only one of my cards, but a sheet with a link to my Parents Guide. One thing was certain, they loved the hobby. There were some questions that came up more than others:

I have a full time job in IT and this is just a hobby for me. The resources on my website are free and I'm not associated with any of these companies.

The paints are acrylic (water based) so there's little mess, they're easy to clean with water (but can still stain cloth) and no chemicals are needed.

Yes, I themed by army on Warcraft, thanks for noticing. No, they're not Skylanders, but it's neat to see that association and yes it's a great way to enjoy these styles away from video games.

For the few already familiar with the hobby, it was great to (briefly) chat it up with fellow gamers, even if they'd "hung up" their dice and tape measures, so to speak.

There were more questions.. some are answered below under resources or WiP, others escape me right now. If you have some, feel free to use the eMail link on the right and ask.

The Aftermath

Resources for Visitors

If we spoke at Maker Expo, here's a short list of some of the things we might've discussed.
  • Parents Guide to Tabletop Miniature Wargaming
    • This is the guide I wrote that answers many questions parents might have.
  • Gaming in Kitchener / Waterloo
    • These are the two local gaming stores I recommend. J and J's has a wider selection of games and hobby materials and I've been shopping there for decades. JBC offers tables to play at and I'm a firm believer in Pay Where You Play.
    • J and J's Cards and Collectibles
      • I think I promoted these guys more, just because of the age gap. Parents were looking for a wider selection of games for their kids.
      • A LOT of people were already familiar with this fine establishment.
    • Just by Chance Games
      • I still got to push the store I play at to some of the young adults wondering where they can go to see some of these games in action.
    • There are others, but these two have my non-solicited seal of approval. 
  • KW Art Supplies
    • The Art Store of Waterloo (Where I get my brushes, mediums and gels.)
    • Curry's (Large local art supplier)
    • Michaels (It works in a pinch, broad selection of supplies, but can be more expensive.)
    • KW Surplus (Sculpting dentist-like tools and more.)
    • Bulk Barn (Walk the spice aisle for realistic grass, dirt and other natural grounds.)
  • Other Art Supplies
  • Games Manufacturers
  • Games for the younger kids

Things I Learned
  • Parents are super-supportive of their kids geeky interests.
    • While there were both kids and parents who had more of a passing interest, I definitely connected with some who thought that these kinds of hobbies would be great.
    • Not a single adult with kids were concerned about the "war" part of "wargames" and potential violence associated. I had one lady who picked up one of my cards, then said to me, "Wargaming, huh? Somebody's always got to win," then threw the card on the table in contempt and walked off. She paused momentarily as I tried to mention the hobby side of things to no avail.
  • Girls were just as interested in the miniatures as the boys.
    • Though they were more interested in painting, while the boys were more curious about the games.
    • TheWife pointed out that peer pressure also dissuades girls - There was a group of 3 teens that came by my table. One was really interested in painting a mini, the second was kinda like, "OK, that could be neat" and the final one really wasn't interested and let it be known. Then the second one changed her mind. The first one was really disappointed, tried to talk her friends into it, they painted a bit, then left. Too bad.
  • I don't know nearly enough about miniature games for kids.
    • Honestly, I was expecting an older range of kids, more teenagers. Boy was I wrong. Most were probably well below the age of 10 and I had to adjust how I was talking about things.
    • If I'm going to talk to parents about these games, I need to know more about them. I've played a bunch of Super Dungeon Explore and think kids could handle it. Parents seemed A-OK with running the dungeon for their adventurer hero/heroine children. Other games like Clix and Star Wars / Trek Armada I need to try or watch while younger crowds learn them.
  • Bigger manufacturers like Privateer Press and Games Workshop need options for kids.
    • If this weekend taught me anything it's that the demographic exists.
  • Games Workshop still has a strong influence over the hobby.
    • 1 or 3 people I spoke to recognized my Warmachine / Hordes miniatures.
    • More people thought they were Skylanders.
    • Everyone I spoke to who were familiar with miniatures, even if it was just because their brother or cousin played, might not have recognized the Rhino, but they knew when they saw "Space Marines." 
  • I need sponsors
    • As a hobbyist, this was an expensive weekend for me. SUPER rewarding though. Luckily, I had a bunch of cheap Reaper Bones minis and old plastic GW fantasy miniatures that, to be honest, I was probably never going to get around to painting. But next year, or if any other events come up, I won't have those.
    • My paints got proper rek'd as kids went wild with them. I should've expected that and I'm glad I brought mostly inexpensive P3 paints, but I'm going to have to go through them all and sort out the ones that need to be replaced. I've always kept most of my old / dry-brush brushes, so at least that aspect was covered.
    • What this taught me and to pass on to anyone else wanting to do something similar, it's that if you end up with younger kids, generic paints are the way to go. It might even be worth testing how well hobby store paints work with miniatures. There was a single spill and a masterful save by a coworker passing by at the time, but these acryllic (water based) paints are really easy to clean off stone floor.
    • I can't afford to buy into other game systems, so if anyone from Privateer Press, Games Workshop, Fantasy Flight, Wizkids or a local shop wants to send me some starter sets so I can talk up and demo their products, that'd be awesome. (I was really nervous about having my Hordebloods and high end GW stuff on display for everyone to touch.)

The downside of being an exhibitor was that I didn't get to see much of what was going on at the event. Had a couple well-made daleks pass by though.

Snuck away before doors opened to get schooled by Nik on his giant Pong game.

Work in Progress

The intent of Work in Progress was to demonstrate the process taken to complete miniatures, terrain and special effects.

What I found really interesting about the displays I put together is they really worked as intended. While simple, they each drew people in for different reasons and started conversations about whatever aspect of the hobby they were showing off.

Also think I reaffirmed that the vibrant aesthetics of my Hordebloods are headed in exactly the right direction.
My battlefield was the big "eye candy" part that drew in a lot of people and wide eyes. It showed a little of the tools we use to play the game as well and gave people the idea of a small skirmish. It also prompted a number of questions if this was related to Skylanders. Totally out of left field for me.

Demonstrating the details of simple painting had 2 benefits. First, educating people about how if they can base coat, a wash will do the detail for them. Second, there was more than one analytical adult / kid leaned over this display and absorbing the details.

Didn't find as many people drawn to the Rhino (tank) for what I was displaying, so much as liking the sci-fi / tankness of it. There was definitely a noticeably stronger pull to the fantasy side of things rather than science fiction. Some people also commented on how I'd painted the progression and thought it was cool how it was that the light seemed to be shining on the tank itself.

I was surprised that there were a bunch of people drawn to the fake water on this display, many wanting to touch it. Didn't expect that, but they thought it was really cool. They also had a good time picking up and looking at the various supplies I was showing off. Things from fake grass, sawdust and tea to shells, cuttlebone and shark teeth. I was really promoting "go natural" this weekend and people noticed it in the rock wall here and were blown away when I pointed out the base in the final step of the 2-3 Step Painting display was covered in spice from Bulk Barn. More than one parent mentioned "Fairy Houses" which are apparently a thing now? They walked away with ideas on how to make them look realistic.

TheWife sat in after her volunteer shift, though this was after the mad-house of painting. She was sitting on this side of the table and ended up answering a lot of questions about using gels to create fake fire and sculpting with green stuff. (Sculpting happens to be a passion of hers, but in traditional mediums.) I had been answering my share of questions about these things too when the painting crowds were lighter, but I think this display was a little hidden from time to time. While I always thought real metallics are really cool, not many people were interested in them.


  1. I think the idea of an even like this is great and the fact you went out there, spent your own time and money just for the sake of education is amazing. There's always going to be some bad apple, that lovely lady you mentioned, but it seems like it was a major success.

    I know you were hoping for a bigger range in ages, can't blame you, but I do think it's cool that so many parents were there with their kids. I don't think my parents would have taken me to something like this at all when I was a kid. The fact these kids have supportive parents will go a long way.

    1. Overall it really was super positive. The question I keep coming back to now is wondering what games could little kids play? SDE, Clix, Star Wars Armada? Others? Privater Press suggested their goblins game, but that looks more like a boardgame than a miniatures game.

  2. All of those would be good games. They are light on the upfront rules, a few pages, and let the models provide the rules you need to use them. The basic mechanics are simple enough while offering an in-depth strategy game.


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