This weekend, the Northeast Wisconsin Gameapalooza, a convention centered around tabletop games and fun, will be held in the Culver Family Welcome Center.
NEWGameapalooza was created by UWO alumni Jim Stevens, Jennifer and Heath Ruetten and Josh Harris in 2013. The alums organized the new convention after Adam Loper, another UW Oshkosh alumnus and board game enthusiast, was no longer interested in organizing the OshCon board game convention that was first held in 2001.
Eventually Loper approached several friends of his in the Oshkosh area to see if they’d be interested in taking the reins of the convention.
“So Jennifer’s husband Heath and a couple of our other gamer friends and myself sat down and we thought, ‘well, we could do this—how hard could it be?’” Stevens said. “Well, there’s a lot to it if you really want to make it fun and worthwhile and entertaining.”
The first few years were challenging to organize. NEWGameapalooza was held in the Gruenhagen Conference Center for five years while the organizers connected with local game communities and shops, traveled to other conventions to plug NEWGame and did what they could to grow the event.
“We felt like we were getting big enough to move, so last year, we were in Reeve, in the ballroom,” Stevens said. “This year, we decided we’d try the Culver Family Welcome Center because it’s one big, giant room and when you see people all sitting around playing games, table after table after table, there’s something special and magical about that.”
Most of the games featured at the convention are from the organizers’ own sprawling game collections.
“We have probably 850.” Jennifer Ruetten said.
“So we’ve probably got 11, 1,200 between us,” Stevens added.
The convention has grown in attendance each year, with an attendance last year of 345 total attendees.
“We like spreading games,” Stevens said. “I’m hoping that by next year, we’ll be big enough to fill the whole Culver center — all three rooms.”
“Seeing all those tables full of games and people enjoying themselves, because that’s really what it’s about — it’s about getting together and having fun, and if you lose it doesn’t matter,” Ruetten said. “Even though we may be introverts, it’s a social thing at its core,” Jennifer Ruetten said. “There are people that I’ve known for 20 years that I only see at conventions, and it’s just fun to see those people you typically never see.”
The board game industry has exploded over recent years, due to creators’ ability to receive funding from platforms such as Kickstarter. In 2018 alone, over 3,000 new games were released, many of them niche games by smaller brands and game developers. Some games are sent by their creators to board game conventions such as NEWGame so that the audience is exposed to their new game, which is typically given away at the end of the convention.
“I just think that people who come are going to have a good time,” Ruetten said. “If you like playing games, you’re going to enjoy yourself and say, ‘How have I missed this all these years?’””