The biggest event each year for the boardgame hobby is Spiel, held in Essen, Germany each October. There are quite a few Essen reports available online, but if you read only one be sure to check out Mark Johnson's report in The Games Journal.

One interesting part of Mark's commentary was his take on the crowd makeup at Essen. To quote:

It's an impressive sight. Essen was generally so packed with people that getting through the aisles was difficult. And this was only Friday! The next day's attendance would be even greater. The crowd, while thick, was a lot more pleasant than those that I've rubbed shoulders with at American conventions. You know what I mean? A very normal crowd. More twenty-something guys than anything else but not overwhelmingly so. There were lots of women, children and older folks too. Everyone was clean and generally sociable.

In a nutshell, there were far fewer of the weirdos and nerds so prevalent at the American cons I've attended. If boardgaming is ever to gain as much of a presence in our society, it will need to see a similar shift in audience. Wider participation in our hobby isn't likely as long as we've got so many games about orcs or gamers wearing costumes. Actually, there was one hall (of about six) that featured various dragon-y things, swords and armor merchants. Craig Berg called it the American convention inside Essen!

Having attended a few American game conventions (GenCon and the local GameStorm), I can see where Mark is coming from. The people-watching is a unlike most other gatherings (think trekkie convention), but there can be negatives. There were signs all over the Indianapolis convention center that read something like this:

Avoid Gamer Funk -- All of the Local Hotels Provide Shampoo and Soap. Use Them!

I don't think this is a serious concern in the areas we attended - the boardgaming set tends to not fit the gamer stereotype as much as the roleplaying gamers.

Apparently there's a big toy contingency as well as a hall dedicated to kids. I must find a way to work a family trip to Germany around Spiel next October!