Gaming is a subculture. Miniatures gaming is a sub-culture within a subculture. I wasn’t fully aware of this until this past weekend, as I attended my first ever Games Day in Ontario, CA. Nearly 2,000 devotees spent nearly ten hours marveling over the latest miniatures, playing exhaustive tournament rounds of Warhammer, attending seminars on new technologies, learning about forthcoming games, talking to industry members, ogling original artwork and eating junk food. It was a chance to schmooze, make new friends, and celebrate a mutual love of gaming.

When I first walked into the Ontario Convention Center, I was astounded by all of the diorama tables. Tables, tables everywhere. As a novice gamer, and not well versed in miniature tabletop gaming, the details of the tables were astounding to me—everything from a functional replica of Mt. Doom with running lava to a full model of Helm’s Deep, complete with a realistic culvert and Deeping-stream, lovingly crafted in exquisite detail down to the very last shrub. And these were just the Lotr tables! The entire right side of the enormous pavilion was devoted to Warhammer 40,000 gaming tables, and the entire day was punctuated by the brazen (sometimes terrifying) cries of gamers initiating a new game in the Warhammer tournament. For a moment, I felt like I had stumbled upon a secret male-bonding ritual of the 21st Century, until someone told me screaming like that at the start of each game was just how you played the game.

I also quickly learned that Booth placement functions under the same principles as real-estate: Location, location, location. Our booth was very lucky to be sandwiched between the Sideshow Toy booth and the THQ’s Display for FireWarrior, both of which were high-profile booths. Sideshow generously lent us one of the Glamdring combat swords used in Peter Jackson’s production, and I spent the day proudly exclaiming to the crowds gathered around the display case that this sword wasn’t a replica, but actually had Sir Ian McKellan’s sweat embedded in the handle. Another huge draw to our booth was the presence of three short films on Lotr games, including Middle-earth Online, Black Label’s War of the Ring and Electronic Art’s Return of the King, which we kept on repeat. Each film included screenshots and game footage spliced between interviews with Ed Del Castillo, Neil Young and Tish Salvi, and attracted several fans with cries of “wow” and “oh, cool.” There was also a slide-show of Bruce Hopkins (aka “Gamling”) painting his very own Games Workshop Gamling miniature, which also drew a great deal of attention. The miniature itself, hand-painted and signed by Bruce Hopkins, was on display at the booth as well, and will be auctioned off at a later date. (Keep an eye on for details).

For me, one of the highlights included attending a workshop given by Alessio Cavatore of Games Workshop, concerning the upcoming Shadow and Flame release, as well as details on the expansion sets for the Lord of the Rings Table-top Battle Game. Flinch and I were also lucky enough to see the Shadow and Flame rule-book, which will hit stores in July, and includes such features as Balin’s return to Moria, and scenarios involving Tom Bombadil, Goldberry and the Barrow-Wights! Another highlight included Ed Del Castillo doing a brief stint of “booth duty” at TORN’s booth, which involved eating several fake oreos and fruit leather (don’t ask).

The entire day passed very quickly. I watched two rounds of speed painting, marveled over original artwork and production sketches for Warhammer 40,000, was amazed by the skill that went into the GoldenDaemon Competitions, and answered a lot of questions about TORN and TORN digital (the TORN digital crew was on hand, filming footage for the upcoming documentary film Ringers: Lord of the Fans). The day ended with an exciting round of trivia at our booth, hosted by Quickbeam, and prizes included everything from Gamling miniatures to busts of Galadriel and The Easterling, all generously donated by Sideshow Toy. Finally, as the crowds began to disperse and we took down the booth, I realized something very important: you don’t have to be a die-hard gamer to enjoy Games Day. See you next year!