FAIRLEE — Eric Paperman of Niskayuna, N.Y., was coming up on his 13th birthday when he stumbled across an advertisement for something called Strategy and Tactics magazine. Paperman had played board game standards such as Monopoly and Risk, but this ad hinted at a whole new world of games that offered rich, historical flavor while demanding thoughtful decision-making.
When his parents asked him what he wanted for his birthday, Paperman didn’t hesitate. “Get me this,” he said.
Some 40 years later, Paperman is still playing historically-themed games. “It’s one of those things my parents thought I’d grow out of, but it hasn’t happened so far.”
The first weekend in November, Paperman and his family will join an estimated 650 other gamers at Carnage Noir, the 15th annual Carnage Gaming convention, at the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee. It’s the biggest game gathering in Vermont, with players racing to develop the most profitable railroad line, build the biggest medieval castle, or turn the tide in a battle of toy soldiers.
There is friendly competition, plenty of socializing, this year’s “noir” theme, and a whole lot of dice. “It’s always on our must-do list,” Paperman said.
Inside the resort, a 130-room lakeside hotel about 20 minutes north of Dartmouth College, game boxes labeled Agricola, Belfort, and Caylus get piled high throughout the conference rooms. But board games are just part of the 275-plus events listed in the convention booklet.
War gamers use laboriously-painted miniature soldiers, tanks, and airplanes to refight historical battles. Magic: The Gathering retains a cult following, with players pitting decks of fantasy-themed cards against each other. And role-playing games allow players to slip into character while solving story-driven challenges.
If all this sounds daunting, Carnage organizers promise that new players are welcome. They will recommend games to sign up for during registration, and volunteers who run the games typically start by teaching the rules. These people like sharing the hobby they are passionate about.
“Part of our job is to keep the gaming community going,” said board member Kevin Day.
And that community has grown, enough to fill the Lake Morey Resort months in advance. In 2013, Carnage moves to Killington for more on-site rooms, but this year’s attendees still looking for lodging may have a convention commute.
In another change, Day reports seeing more women and families attending Carnage. Even if not all come to play — some spouses drive to West Lebanon, N.H., for shopping; movies play in the resort’s modest theater; and kids splash in the indoor pool — gamer demographics are shifting from predominantly male.
“Nowadays, I run events and have players anywhere from mid-teens to over 60,” Day said. “It’s definitely a very diverse population at Carnage.”
The growing number of young gamers led to the creation of a supervised “kids only” area Saturday for ages 6-12. Day said the move made sense, as adults may feel that they have to hold back against younger opponents, and children don’t always have the endurance for longer games.
Recent college graduate Emily Rousse used to be one of those kids. Her father helped start Carnage, and she’s been coming ever since she can remember. Rousse helped introduce her boyfriend to gaming, and two Carnages ago he proposed on a custom-printed Munchkin card.
“Usually, he’s not very good at keeping secrets,” Rousse said.
Her fiance, Doug Gray, has visited bigger conventions, and he appreciates how Carnage encourages everyone to mingle instead of fragmenting into cliques.
“At Carnage, you feel much more like a group,” he said.