The similarities between Choose Your Own Adventure novels and the longstanding tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons are uncanny. Both assume the reader or player as a pivotal character in a fantastical landscape where a person’s decisions and brainpower ultimately affect the story and determine their fate. So it’s no wonder why those books were Chuck Themm’s gateway into the world of gaming.

“That led me to Dungeons & Dragons,” said Themm. “And then that led me going to a store in town. I started playing more games from there.”

Thanks to that shop, he was introduced to even more role-playing games and met fellow gaming enthusiasts like Mark Wilson, who in turn exposed Themm to board games. But not just any board games; these tabletop titles were more complex and advanced than Candy Land, Sorry! or Mouse Trap.

“He started getting all these different cool board games and I was like, ‘Whoa! What’s this? What’s this? What’s this?’” Themm recalled. “I only knew about the main stream ones like Monopoly. He had other ones. I started playing those. And now – I don’t know how many he’s got, but I’ve got over 400 board games. Unique titles.”

Geez! Then how many does Wilson have? Themm guessed his current collection is possibly less than Wilson’s. “I can’t even count them anymore,” said Wilson. “It’s just too much.”

Themm’s and Wilson’s interests in gaming have not wavered since they first discovered the hobby as kids. Well into adulthood, Wilson and Themm see that gaming is more than just child’s play. It not only continues to be fun, but also instills a sense of community and challenges them to use their brains when playing.

But Wilson and Themm aren’t hogging all the fun. As president and vice president of Tri-State Gamers -- a non-profit group with a mission to expand gaming and show off “the educational and social value in all types of games” in the tri-state area -- they've provided Siouxlanders a weekends’ worth of games at Tri-Con.

The bi-annual gaming convention begins Friday (Sept. 1) at the Marina Inn Hotel & Conference Center and allows the public to take part in board games, card games, roleplaying, video games and more for four days straight.

Founded four years ago by members of the Sioux City chapter of Midwest Area Game Enthusiasts (MAGE), Tri-State Gamers continues to see a gradual increase in attendance at Tri-Con. Numbers have gone up every year, they said.

“We got 400 people last fall and we expect we’ll be over that this year based on numbers we’ve seen so far,” said Wilson.

Both Wilson and Themm are pleased to see a growing interest in gaming and in Tri-Con. With the amount of scheduled events at this year’s Tri-Con -- more than 200 or so -- visitors will certainly have their hands full. Between the new addition of stand-up comedy acts, a Kids Corner and a bevy of gaming tables awaiting use, Tri-Con has entertainment to fit everyone’s tastes.

Dungeons & Dragons is a mainstay at Tri-Con and is expected to draw well over 100 players.

“We get exclusive adventures written just for our convention and we have premieres a lot of the times,” said Wilson. “And then we always have an ‘Epic’ event. An Epic event is with all the players at their different tables playing together in one big adventure.”

Themm added, “All the tables are playing the same thing at the same time. What one table does affects what is going on at another table. They all have goals they have to meet. It’ll be intense.”

Apart from the Epic adventure, every Dungeons & Dragons table at Tri-Con will feature a different adventures and stories to explore. Some extended storylines run throughout the entire convention, but most can be played through in a day. Other role-playing games like Starfinder will be available for play.

For those guests who prefer to experience their gaming with a controller can look through the video game library and play titles from old and newer systems. The multiplayer co-operative game Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator (in which a team of players work together to pilot and navigate a Star Trek-esque spaceship) will also be an attraction at this year’s Tri-Con.

And what about board games? Well, you can bet there will be quite a few to choose from. Guests are even allowed to check out titles at the board game library to try first hand. Nowadays, board games have become a billion-dollar industry, and there are so many to choose from.

“It used to not be that way,” said Themm. “There is so much out there now. There is so much coming out. We follow reviews online and watch playthrough videos.”

With Wilson’s vast collection, there are some games he’ll play only three times while others he might play 10 times. Some he’ll play once and ponder why he even bought the game in the first place. With so much to choose from, it’s a good to be picky.

Most titles are multiplayer games and encourage group interaction. At Tri-Con guests have a chance to meet up with a lot of old friends and people met at previous conventions. It’s a place to socialize and have fun.

“That’s the really cool thing about gamers is you could have gamed or been somewhere else your whole life, and you come to the convention and everybody is friendly,” said Themm. “You’re all there for the same reason.”

The spirit of Tri-Con is reflective of the Tri-State Gamers’ values of expanding gaming and the positive qualities that come with it.

“The community is one of the most important things that’s here,” said Wilson.


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