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Surge in boardgaming popularity sees visitor numbers double for Harrogate Convention Centre festival

Harrogate Convention Centre

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A BOARD game festival which began just three years ago with 25 people in a Leeds living room has welcomed 3000 enthusiasts to its latest event at Harrogate Convention Centre.

memebers of the AireCon 2018 team at Harrogate Convention Centre
Two memebers of the AireCon 2018 team at Harrogate Convention Centre

Mark Cooke, founder and director of AireCon Analogue Gaming Festival, also revealed that visitor and player numbers were up more than 100 per cent on last year’s event, following the move to the Convention Centre in 2017.

“It started three years ago in 2015 when I was in my house and 25 people came to that,” he said. “We expected it to grow a little bit but not by as much as it has.

“We’re definitely on the right track. I think we’re the third biggest event of this kind in the country now. There are bigger ones but they have been established for longer than we have.”

illuminated AireCon 2018 sign at Harrogate Convention Centre
AireCon 2018 at Harrogate Convention Centre

The phenomenal growth of AireCon reflects the national boom in so called analogue or table-top gaming which encompasses board and card games as well as role-playing games.


Reflecting on the success, Mark said: “I would imagine it’s a little bit of a throwback to the days before digitisation.  Gathering to play these games, like those played at AireCon, is a social pastime; it means you can chat to people and you all have something in common – the game in front of you.

“In terms of gamers we were up from 638 in 2017 to 1593 this year, while footfall was up from 1308 to 2944. What people are saying is that they love the venue and the location because they can bring their family and explore Harrogate. But not only have we had increase in people, they are staying longer too.

Gamers at AireCon 2018
Gamers at AireCon 2018

“The hope is to continue growing while keeping the welcoming feeling.”


The success of the AireCon in Harrogate is also having a positive knock-on effect for local traders.

 Lisa Dyson, owner of Games Crusade toy shop in Oxford Street, said: “It’s great because it brings lots of new visitors in to town and these particular visitors are keen on board games so it’s definitely been good for me.”

As well as enthusiasts gathering to play games, AireCon is also a showcase for independent and larger game designers to show and sell their latest products. The event is set to return to Harrogate Convention Centre in March 2019.

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