This past weekend the entire Tabletop Bellhop team was at the tabletop gaming convention, Breakout Con, in Downtown Toronto Ontario.
Over the past two years, Breakout has become my favourite gaming convention. It’s a fantastic, small but growing, con that features all forms of gaming — board games, roleplaying, LARP, wargames, miniature games and more.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. As an associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. We were invited to attend Breakout as Media and each of us was provided with a complimentary three day pass to the Con. We attend many cons as media and I do not think this influences our feelings on said convention but I want people to know what we did get our badges comped.
My Background With Breakout Con
Deanna and I first attended Breakout in 2018. That was only the third year for this small but growing con. In 2018 it was set at a new venue, The Sheraton Center in Downtown Toronto. This being the first year we were there, I couldn’t tell you anything about the old venue but I did hear many people commenting that this was a much better place.
I attended the con for all three days and Deanna was there for one (she was also in Toronto to hang with a long time friend and attend Toronto Comicon). I played a mix of roleplaying games and board games last year including getting to try World Wide Wrestling with the designer Nathan D Paoletta and Hydro Hackers with the designer Phil Vecchione. For board games, the most memorable was a game of Sagrada that convinced me that it’s worth owning even though I already had Azul. The other thing I did at Breakout 2018 was spend all of Sunday attending panels. I went for one early in the day and then just never left the panel room.
Overall, I had a truly awesome time. It was the best con experience I’d had to date. While the games were great, it was the people that really made the con for me. This was where I first met the GEM (Gnome Stew, Encoded Designs, Misdirected Mark) crew in person, a group I now consider to be good friends. The other thing that really struck me at Breakout was how welcoming and inclusive it was. The team goes over the top to create a safe gaming space for everyone.
Everything I said about Breakout 2018 is still completely true for Breakout 2019. All of the awesome things were still awesome and some of them were even better. There was more gaming space this year. A lot more. The convention took up an entire floor of the Sheraton Centre. There was way better signage, making it way easier to find things and know what was going on in each room. There were panels every hour of every day of the con. There were even more vendors with a wider variety of product. It was an even safer space with cards left on every table telling everyone what to do if they had a problem and how to find a safety ambassador.
Then there were the people. So many great people. Every single person I met was warm, welcoming, and willing to chat. Everyone was there to have a great time and it seemed like a great time was being had by all — the people I gamed with, people I chatted with, people I met over lunch, people running the vendor booths, people I had only met online and people I met for the first time. A great bunch of gamers all.
Overall everything was just a bit bigger and just a bit better. It was awesome.
Breakout Con officially runs Friday to Sunday but we wanted to make sure we were already in Toronto and didn’t have worry about any potential delays before the con started. We had also hoped to meet up with some friends.
We left Windsor at 9:05. Like last year we took the train. Also like last year I strongly recommend Via Business Class for anyone travelling from Windsor to Toronto. Yes, Business Class costs more but it’s worth it. Once you consider the cost of gas to drive, a meal along the way and the cost to park once in Toronto and the train becomes much more financially reasonable.
We had a great trip up with some great chicken schnitzel for lunch. My only complaint was that the beer selection was terrible. On the train, I finished off my #RPGaMonth book for March, Demon Lords Companion for Shadow of the Demon Lord. Which meant I wasn’t going to have anything to read for the trip back. I made a note to myself to buy at least one RPG book to read on the trip home.
We got into Toronto around 1:30pm. We were staying at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel which is literally across the street from the train station. They were kind enough to let us check in early and we dropped off our bags. Unfortunately, our meetup plans fell through so it was just Deanna and I, with time to kill in Toronto. Deanna decided to show me The Rec Room and we took the Skywalk over there.
The Rec Room is a big arcade filled with interactive and redemption games that also boasts local craft beer and, from what I hear pretty good food. I say from what I hear because we did not stay around to find out. Both of us did not take into consideration that it was March Break. It seems The Rec Room is very popular for March Break with many parents sitting in the dining area with food and drink and four times as many kids running around screaming and playing games. Not somewhere we wanted to be.
From there we wandered downtown a bit, checking out the Railroad Museum and taking some pictures. Eventually, I suggested we head to the Sheraton Centre and stalk the lobby hoping to run into some gamers we know. On the way there we stopped for a bite to eat at a great bagel place called Kiva’s. They had all kinds of bagels with a variety of toppings and offered all day breakfast sandwiches.
When we first got to the Sheraton Center we didn’t see anyone but did manage to snag a table by the atrium. There Deanna and I played our first game of the con, a game of KeyForge. I did terribly and lost to her, 3 keys to 0. I don’t know if it was the decks we were using or just being rusty having not played the game in some time. I still dig this game quite a bit, though I still find it very annoying that the rules are only online as both of us had multiple things we had to look up during this play.
Just as we were finishing up our game, we ran into a group of people we knew. Danielle, her husband Owen and Jen, people we had first met at Queen City Conquest in Buffalo last year. They all found seats and we hung out. As the night went on the group grew. More Buffalo gamers joined us and we all ended up going for dinner at Quinn’s, which was expensive but rather good. After dinner, we headed to “Base Camp”
So what is Base Camp? Last year at Breakout the GEM team basically squatted out an area of hallway that was part of the convention area. A set of couches and chairs they claimed as their own. At all points during the con, there was at least one person from the group who would hold down the fort. Most of the time there was a large group there. This was great as it was a central meeting place and somewhere we could all drop our coats and bags without having to worry about them going missing.
This is where we spent the rest of the night. The group continued to grow as people would find and join us. By the end of the night, I think there were over thirty of us in that area, all hanging out, catching up and chatting. At this point, the con hadn’t even started and I was already having a great time with friends and meeting some great new people.
Friday morning Deanna and I split up. I headed to Breakout and she headed to Comicon with her friend Aeryn. On my way to the convention centre, I stopped in at Kiva’s again to try one of their breakfast sandwiches. I got the beef salami omelette one on a sesame seed bagel and it was great, though next time I would order it with cheese. I also grabbed a coffee and while drinking that Sean (my podcast co-host) met up with me. We chatted for a bit before heading over to the convention centre for about 9:45.
The con officially opened at 10 and I was glad to see a line up but not too big of one. As we were there as media we got to skip the line and getting out badges was as painless as could be.
After getting our badges Sean and I went around to do some of that media thing. Taking pictures of the rooms, getting the lay of the land, scoping out the game libraries, etc. The one thing that was odd to me is that at 10:00 most of the con wasn’t quite set up yet. I think only one or two vendors actually had their booths set up. Not all of the signage was up.
None of this really impacted being able to play games but you could tell they could have used some more set up time. I did hear from one of the vendors there was an issue (out of the con’s control) at the loading docks that had things a bit behind.
Wandering around, the biggest thing you couldn’t help notice is just how much gaming space there was. The RPG room was the same as last year and filled with amazing indie games alongside a smattering of traditional games. The board game hall was just as big with its massive game library. New this year was an entire hall dedicated to D&D Adventures League, a nice touch. Another new addition was a great family game room stocked with family and kids games. These were actually good games. You didn’t find Candy Land and Sorry here, instead, you had Rhino Hero, Karuba, My First Castle Panic and more. There was a huge hall just for overflow board gaming and an attached hall set up just for wargaming. There were side rooms for LARPs as well as a room set aside for the huge forty player all day Watch The Skies event. I would say there was more than double the gaming space as last year, which was great to see.
Around lunchtime, Sean and I split up. He went to attend some panels and I grabbed some lunch down in the PATH (the huge shopping dungeon that sprawls under much of downtown Toronto). I ended up meeting up with some more GEM people including Phil and Senda from Panda’s Talking Games and had some great butter chicken, potatoes and peas, and rice from a place called Biryani.
The first game I actually played on Friday was again KeyForge. At some point in the afternoon, Sean and I met up. We tried to do a couple of demo games but all of them were filled up, so we sat down and played a couple of rounds of KeyForge. Both of these games went much better than the game with Deanna the day before. For one, I was getting better at the rules, plus the decks we played seemed more balanced. Sean and I each tried out new decks each game and overall we split the win, each winning one game.
After Keyforge, Sean had more panels he planned on hitting so we split up again. That’s when I got to try Planet. This is a new game coming out from Blue Orange Games that will be released on Earth Day this year. It’s an extremely well done game where players have a plastic planet in the shape of a large D12. Each round players draft magnetic tiles that they place on their planet. These tiles each have six regions on them that are made up of up to six different terrain types. At the end of the third through twelfth round players are awarded animal cards based on how well they have built their planets, with each animal only being found on a planet that has a specific requirement. Most of these are the most of a terrain either touching or not touching another terrain. For example, Lions want the most Desert not touching Tundra. It’s a fascinating game that requires way more thinking and planning than the simple rules let on. I definitely plan on buying Planet once it comes out.
After playing Planet I decided to check out one of the panels myself. It was on Playtesting and Game Development and was solid. I didn’t get a lot of new information out of it but also didn’t feel that I wasted my time. One thing to know about most of the panels at Breakout is that you have to know where to find them. They are actually on a different floor and hosted in a rather small room. This gives a very personal feel to the panels, where you are really close to the presenters. I was a bit worried that the rooms were too small but we never saw a problem with a room becoming full.
My last game of the night was my first RPG of the con. That was Sentinel Comics run by Eric Pauquette. I’ve been curious about Sentinel Comics since seeing the starter set at Origins and I was excited to try it out.
I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed. This is an excellent Super Hero system that has some very obvious roots in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, a game I greatly enjoy. Sentinel Comics is much more streamlined than Marvel Heroic, only requiring dice pools of three dice. It is still highly narrative and works exceptionally well for telling comic book style stories. Eric ran a great game and you could really tell he was passionate about the system. This was another game I would have picked up at the con had I been able to. Sadly no one was selling copies.
The night ended at Base Camp, chilling and hanging out with other gamers until far too late at night.
Saturday morning both Deanna and I tried to start the day at Kiva’s for more of their great bagels. Unfortunately, we found out that they are closed on Saturday and Sunday. This was a real bummer. Especially because we kept telling everyone else we met at the con how great the place was. So we ended up at Tim Horton’s for breakfast.
Once we got to the Con, Deanna met up with Sean, and I went to play in a game of High Plains Samurai Legends hosted by the designer himself, Todd Crapper of Broken Ruler Games. High Plains Samurai is hard to describe. It’s a melting pot of Fallout, First of the North Star, Mad Max, Kurosawa, Steampunk, John Woo and probably about twenty other things. Post apocalyptic, steampunk, wuxia, gangster western or something like that. Whatever it is exactly, I do know it’s over the top and epic.
While the setting is kind of all over the place, the rules for High Plains Samurai are very tight. This is a highly scripted narrative story game that took me some time to get used to. You choose an approach (which is kind of like an aspect in Fate) which determines how many details you can use on your turn. You just describe what you are doing, adding in those details, then roll a die based on the main detail. The die determines the outcome as well as who will get to narrate the complication that arises from that outcome. While it did take me some time to grok it, I found it worked very well. It is in one way limiting but overall narratively very open ended and freeing. While there is a GM (the director) players have a huge amount of narrative control. Kind of a mix of pass the stick storytelling and traditional GM/Player conflict resolution. I enjoyed it, a lot. Enough so that by the end of the weekend I picked up both the rules light Legends version and the full High Plains Samurai rulebooks (and got Todd to sign both).
Immediately after finishing High Plains Samurai I had a game of Tales from the Loop with the amazing Angela Murray. Ange is one of the head gnomes at the Gnome Stew Gaming Blog and runs a great game. This was my second time playing Tales from the Loop (the first time being at QCC). This is a kids on bikes RPG based on the artwork of Simon Stålenhag. It’s set in the 80s that never was.
This time I played The Rocker and the plot was a mystery that kept giving me flashbacks to Batteries Not Included. It was a pretty solid session with some great player interactions. I still really enjoy both the mechanics and the setting of Tales from the Loop. I actually bought a copy of the rather expensive hardcover rulebook after playing at QCC, though I have to admit I haven’t read it yet.
After Tales from the Loop, a few of us headed out for dinner. After some misadventure, we ended up at a pub called The Duke of Westminster. This ended up fortuitous as it was some of the best food we had on the trip. The place was surprisingly empty for St. Patrick’s Day weekend and treated our rather large group well.
I finished off the night playing in a game of Dungeon World run by Chris Sniezak. This was my first time playing Dungeon World. I think it was the first time for the other three players as well. We ended up making a pretty non-traditional party that didn’t really get along all that well.
I personally played a narcissistic Immolator with a rather terrible background. The other members were two Dwarves that reminded me of a Laurel and Hardy skit and an Elven Ranger and his dog Symphony. The game played really well. Fast and furious. It went rather gonzo which I don’t think Chris was quite expecting. Despite being somewhat comedic and not quite what I expected, I had a good time. I do have to say it didn’t really feel like an old school dungeon crawl as much as I thought it would. I’m pretty sure that was the players though and not Dungeon World itself.
Sunday morning Deanna and I split up again. She went back to ComiCon and I stopped off at Shopsy’s for breakfast. This was a mistake. They had a very limited and rather expensive menu and the food tasted completely pre-prepared. Like they just had to heat up my omelette and fold it over some cheese before serving it. That is something I now have on my list for next year, find a good place for breakfast near the Sheraton Centre. If only Kiva’s were open on weekends I probably would have stopped there every morning.
My first and only game of Sunday was Desperation of Atlantis. This is a Protocol RPG. Protocol is an RPG system created by Jim Pinto of Post World Games. It’s a very narrative based system that is mostly pass the stick improvisational storytelling with card draws giving you some framework to start with.
This game was facilitated by the awesome Wen Reischl who did a fantastic job. The setting was a war between Atlantis and Athens, where Atlantis had just stolen “The Relic” from Athens. Together we all made characters who were members of the high court of Atlantis. We also created the relic together and the current state of the war.
This ended up being a rather emotional, high tension RPG, with a ton of player interactions. It felt like playing out a play or drama more than an RPG. I have to say this game was quite a bit out of my RPG comfort zone and I was worried going in. That was unfounded. I had a fantastic time and a lot of that had to do with how well Wen managed the table and drove us forward. I would have never expected to enjoy such an improv filled game this much.
Most of the rest of Sunday was spent saying goodbye. It seemed like every half hour there was another group of awesome people leaving the con for home. I basically sat at Base Came and met up with and commiserated with each group as they headed out. Everyone I met that day had positive things to say about their con experience. While everyone was sad to go, I didn’t meet anyone who had any bad experiences while at the con.
The final thing we did at the con was attend the Podcast 101 panel. This was a fantastic panel filled with both friends and podcasters I respect a lot. There was some great info here and some bombs dropped that really shocked me. It was a good way to end the con. I wish this panel had gone on longer. Actually, this was a running theme for all the panels, they all seemed too short, especially with only 10 minutes cross over at the end. Really no time to interact with people after the panel.
Eventually, it was time for Deanna and I to go as well. We said our own goodbyes and headed back to the Royal York to pick up our luggage. We had a bit of time to kill so stopped at the UPStairs Lounge for a couple of pints and a charcuterie board. This place is a hidden gem. It’s a small bar/cafe owned by CIBC and Mill Street Brewery, right over the train line that hooks up Union Station to Pearson Airport along the Skyway. They had Mill Street Beer on tap and light foods to snack on. What we had was excellent and this was a much better place to chill and kill forty-five minutes than waiting in the train station.
The train ride home was uneventful. I had some great spiced okra and butter chicken for dinner. Downed a few pints of beer (they actually had some good beers on hand for the trip home) and I read some High Plains Samurai Legends during the trip.
We got into Windsor late after midnight and I headed right to bed.
Everyone I know should go to Breakout. It’s that good.
Last year I raved about this con to everyone I could. I fully expected a bunch of locals to make it up and it seemed like none of them did. This really needs to change by next year. This con is fantastic. It’s not that big, it’s no Origins and definitely no Gen Con and to me that’s part of what makes it great. It’s big enough that there is plenty to do but not so big that you get lost in the crowd. It’s all very personal and intimate and that’s what I love. As I’ve said multiple times, the best part of Breakout is the people and this is a con where you actually get spend time and interact with those people.