Tabletop Gaming at Chicago’s Biggest Anime Convention

There aren’t many places where you can see girls dressed as Fili and Kili, two of the dwarves from The Hobbit, facing off against a man dressed as Spike, the baby dragon from My Little Pony. But one such place is Anime Central, the colossal three-day Japanese animation convention held in Chicago each May.

The scale of this event is such that even unrelated nerd hobbies like tabletop gaming and sci-fi/fantasy are extremely well represented. “ACen” this year hosted over forty tabletop gaming sessions from Pathfinder to mahjong, booking out a half-dozen conference rooms for the entire weekend.

The dedicated games area hosted several Hackmaster sessions, along with a whole series of Pathfinder Society adventures. I’ve never thought the four-hour gaming session a good fit for a big anime con where there’s so much else to do in one weekend, but the Pathfinder rooms were always busy so it looks lke there’s plenty of demand.

What surprises me is that none of the Japanese tabletop RPGs appear on the gaming schedule. A gaming section at an anime convention, and nobody’s running Maid RPG? I passed at least a hundred maid cosplayers over the weekend; are none of them gamers?

But then, as most of the attendees were checking out of the hotels on the final morning, we stumbled upon a maid cafe event hosted by the D20 Girls. Convention rules prohibited panels from serving food or drink or charging for services, so the girls instead ran tabletop board/card game sessions. I had enough time before my plane to squeeze in a round of a fun and utterly unbalanced card game called We Didn’t Playtest This At All.

Like a fighter who dips one level in a spellcasting class, Anime Central is certainly a Japanese animation convention first, and gaming is secondary. Still, a gamer and anime fan will find plenty to do here.

Tabletop RPG retailers are well represented too at ACen. Thankfully, I passed my Will save and managed to spend only $10 on dice this year.

Photo credit: brownsaru (Fili) and thespookydoctor (Kili). (More photos)