Skip to main content

Level Up Winter Retreat 2024

There is a popular and well-informed YouTube channel called BoardGameCo that has its finger on the pulse of the crowdfunding market for board games. A number of years ago, my husband Christopher shared the channel and its content with me, and it was an instant like for me. The main host, Alex, manages to come across as charming, intelligent, and principled all at once. He has a firm understanding of the board game industry, a vast library, and good instincts when it comes to predicting the value (both in terms of play and resale) of upcoming and current crowdfunding games, and makes recommendations on when to purchase and when to pass. I never feel like he’s trying to sell me something. He’s just very enthusiastic about board games and somewhere along the way realized people enjoy his work and I think that fuels him (along with YouTube ad revenue of course).

In 2023, Alex and his business partner Motti Eisenbach (of Addax Games) launched Level Up Events and hosted the inaugural Level Up Retreat. The retreat is an annual board game and RPG convention associated with BoardGameCo. It’s a small (<400 attendees) and cozy event tucked away in the Tri-State metropolitan area  (NY/NJ/CT), and very welcoming to all. The library (800+games) is well balanced in terms of complexity of play, player count, publication date, and game mechanisms.

This year the retreat was held in February and branded as the Level Up Winter  Retreat. One of my friends in the industry encouraged me to check it out and I was invited by Alex as a special guest to participate. My husband talked me into bringing him along as well since he’d introduced me to BoardGameCo all those years ago. Castles of Burgandy with Alex and others at Level Up RetreatThere were a handful of other special guests in attendance – board game designers, content creators, etc. - and many of them became part of the draw of the retreat for attendees. It’s fun to play board games with smart, funny, and popular people. I definitely enjoyed getting to play with friends I don’t get to see often and also networking with other content creators.  I haven’t even mentioned the cosplayers yet but they were pretty cool too – shout out to all the Star Wars players especially. 

One thing I really enjoyed about the Level Up Retreat is their choice to host a regional qualifier for the World Series of Board Gaming (WSBG). The WSBG is an annual event in Vegas where competitors choose from 16 different games to begin a tournament that ends in 1 finale winner and a cash prize of $25,000. Serious gaming! To enter the WSBG, one must pay a registration fee, OR, win a regional qualifier to receive a gratis entry. So for anyone living in the Tri-State area and interested in qualifying for the WSBG, the Level Up Retreat is especially a great idea. I competed in the qualifier and made it to the semi-finals and it’s really spurred my interested in the WSBG. After returning home from the retreat, I’ve been organizing practice games and I’m currently running multiple practice games on Board Game Arena at all hours and planning to attend the WSBG. It’s really fantastic that the Level Up Retreat included this event as part of its scheduled activities and I hope that more regional board game conventions follow suit.

Dune Imperium

Another nice touch at the retreat was the VIP snack room. Are you a chocoholic? Or maybe a sugar fiend who skips over the chocolate for straight sugar goodness like Sweet Tarts, Runts, or Sour Patch Kids, or Nerds? Perhaps you go for the salty and you fuel your games on pretzels, chips, and granola bars? You might even be in the select group of healthy noshers who prefer fresh fruit and protein bars? It’s all good because the VIP snack room has it all (except beverages; the hosting hotel did not permit the organizers to provide beverages this year). Personally, I ate a lot of Nerds ropes, punctuated by a few fresh fruits. It’s an upcharge to have access to the VIP room, but if you’re a hard core board gamer who likes to hyperfocus, you’ll want to opt for it. You’ll also get additional swag in a nice swag bag as well.

So, the games were on point, the snacks were fantastic, the guests were great, and the events were numerous and well attended (including many many RPG events outside my scope that I heard were fantastic). Bonus: I never had to wait in a long line in the library for a game I wanted to become available. In fact, there weren’t any lines at the library at all, as it was kind of a constant free-for-all. And that’s the only aspect of this convention that needs some work – the library setup and procedures. While the library volunteers did their best to help people find games they were looking for, there isn’t any inventory list of games for attendees to browse through when selecting games, the games are not arranged on the shelves in alphabetical order, and there is no formal check-out, check-in process. Not only does this create a bit of chaos when trying to find a game, it’s a security issue. Most conventions have either a formal check-out/check-in process so that someone is always accountable for each game removed from the library, or they have the library setup directly within the gaming space and security at the door to prevent attendees from removing games from the gaming area. The Level Up Retreat had neither; it’s all operating on the honor system. I hope for the sake of future attendees and the profitability of the event for the organizing entities that more effort is given toward organizing and securely managing the library at the next retreat.

The Level Up Retreat has found the formula for convention success and I’m confident that once they address the library management issues it will be well on its way to being recognized as one of the best regional board gaming conventions.


Popular posts from this blog

Board Game Review: Hues and Cues

Last week we received Hues and Cues from The Op Games. We recently finished playing through Scooby-Doo Escape from the Haunted Mansion (a fantastic game in The Op Games catalogue designed by Jay Cormier, Sen-Foong Lim, and Kami Mandell that you should absolutely pick up to play with your family) and wanted to give another game from the same publisher a go. I picked Hues and Cues because I’ve been pleasantly surprised by other “test whether our minds think the same way” games such as The Mind   and Wavelength. In Hues and Cues , players gather around a large central board comprised of 480 graduating colors of the rainbow surrounded by an x-y axis and scoring table. White and black (which are technically not colors) are conspicuously absent as are shades (mixtures of color + black; e.g., grey) and tints (mixtures of color + white; e.g., cream).  On each player’s turn, they draw a card with four colors and the x-y axis codes of those colors depicted and they select one. They are in the

Board Game Review: Obsessed with Obsession

I'm completely obsessed with Obsession! I received a review copy of the updated second edition along with all the expansions (Wessex, Useful Man, Upstairs Downstairs) and from the moment I took everything out of the boxes, my excitement was over the top. Actually, that's not even the half of it - I remember I was already quite excited before the game even arrived. I'd wanted to get my hands on a copy as soon as I learned there was a game that brought the lifestyle that we all fell in love with watching Downton Abbey to the gaming table. Back in 2021, I was having a great time at the Dice Tower Summer Retreat and a new friend Bonnie sang the praises of Obsession. She had seen me eyeing the box on the shelf and gave me a summary of the game mechanics as she owned the first edition. She explained that the theme is centered on running an estate in Derbyshire and competing against others to have the best home, reputation, gentry guests, etc. Based on her enthusiasm and descripti

Board Game Review: Anno 1800

Whenever Martin Wallace designs a new game, I am all over it. This is because I absolutely love Brass Birmingham (another MW designed game); in fact Brass Birmingham is my #1 board game of all time. Over the years, his other games I've tried have been pretty good, but not necessarily amazing must-buys. Still, I keep trying each new release of his, searching for that next star performer. That's why I'm excited to report that Anno 1800 is, in fact, a star performer, and an amazing must-buy board game. Anno 1800 was adapted by the publisher (Kosmos) from a Ubisoft video game of the same name. In the board game, players take on the role of industrialists, charged with developing their island economies and exploring other islands. Each player begins the game with a personal industry board with trade & exploration ships, a shipyard, and industrial goods tiles printed on the board. A starting collection of workers (wooden cubes) of various types to produce the goods is a