April 20, 2024 12:55 pm

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Once-a-year WA SOS takes a break from Olympia to geek out at OrcaCon

BELLEVUE, Wash., January 8, 2024—For the last seven years Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs takes a break from his role in Olympia to help put on OrcaCon, a tabletop game convention focused on inclusivity and diversity.

Each year, thousands of tabletop gamers flock to OrcaCon to try out new games, rent games out from its extensive game library, participate in tournaments, run Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinders campaigns, or buy merchandise from specialized local vendors.

OrcaCon 2024 at the Hilton Bellevue on January 6, 2024. Lynnwood Times Kienan Briscoe.

One of this year’s vendors was none other than incoming Lynnwood City Councilman Nick Coelho representing his Lynnwood-based board game pub, Around the Table.

The focus of OrcaCon is to highlight marginalized voices in tabletop games, including people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities. The event planners strive to create a welcome and inclusive environment for new and seasoned players. Although the convention began in Snohomish County, at Holiday Inn in downtown Everett, The Con has since moved to Bellevue’s Hilton Hotel as it grew year-by-year.

Around the Table in Lynnwood co-owners Timothy Murphy and Nick Coelho with Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs at the annual Legislative Game Night in March of 2023. SOURCE: WA Secretary of State Facebook Page.

At this year’s convention, which was held from January 5 through January 7, The Con welcomed approximately 1,200 attendees—not quite as many as pre-pandemic numbers but a welcome boost.

“OrcaCon is great because I get to be around friends who are not politicians, I get to decompress, play games, and be me,” Hobbs told the Lynnwood Times. “When I’m in Olympia, I have to be a statesman, I have to know the laws, follow the legislation going through there, I have to be hyper focused. But you can’t do that all the time. OrcaCon allows me to do the stuff that I like to do. Obviously, I like my work but, like anybody, sometimes you have to take that trip to Hawaii, sometimes you have to take that trip to Vegas. For me it’s going to a gaming convention.”

Dungeons & Dragons at OrcaCon 2024 at the Hilton Bellevue on January 6, 2024. Lynnwood Times Kienan Briscoe.

Hobbs has been involved in OrcaCon since it first debuted in 2016. He is one of seven Board Members who, each year, tirelessly work to ensure OrcaCon is a safe, inclusive, and entertaining experience for all.

Hobbs’ interest in tabletop games spans back to when he was a young boy playing Dungeons & Dragons “before it was cool,” in the 1970’s. From there, he picked up playing Risk, then Axis and Allies, and a ton of different board games in between.

“Everyone knows about Monopoly and Life, but a true tabletop game nerd knows about Wingspan, knows about Century Spice Road, and of course Magic the Gathering,” said Hobbs.

Tim Murphy at OrcaCon 2024 at the Hilton Bellevue on January 6, 2024. Lynnwood Times Kienan Briscoe.

Hobbs shared with the Lynnwood Times he hasn’t played Magic the Gathering since the 90’s, however, after a box of rare cards were stolen from his vehicle. He has influenced the Magic-playing community statewide since, on-the-other-hand, as a lawmaker.

When Hobbs was serving as a Washington State Senator a group of bipartisan legislators passed a law dealing with golf tournaments. What they didn’t realize, however, is the law, as it was written, affected Magic the Gathering tournaments also. Some years later a Department of Revenue regulator walked into a game store and saw a Magic tournament taking place and interpreted the rules as a “taxable event,” fining the store $50,000—which would have put them out of business. Many game stores around Washington began to charge sales tax on their Magic tournaments to avoid penalty.

WA Secretary of State’s Office hosting Legislative Game Night on March 16, 2023, proving an opportunity for legislators to learn about tabletop games. SOURCE: WA Secretary of State’s Office.

Shortly after, ironically, another Department of Revenue regulator, who was a Magic the Gathering player, entered a tournament at a different game store and was charged sales tax. He said: “You can’t charge me sales tax; this isn’t a taxable event.” The game store employee referenced the incident previously mentioned. Sure enough, this regulator pulled up the very same law; two regulators interpreting the same law differently.

Hobbs’ office helped clarify that law to allow Magic tournaments to continue in Washington without being taxable.

This year’s OrcaCon event in Bellevue featured a Settlers of Catan tournament, board game demos by Playtest Northwest, a play-to-win room where players have the opportunity to take home the game they pick up from the shelf, an open play game library, panels, miniature wargaming like Warhammer, tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, and a series of food trucks offering delicious bites to curb that gaming-induced appetite.

OrcaCon 2024 at the Hilton Bellevue on January 6, 2024. Lynnwood Times Kienan Briscoe.

Almost all of the game developers, vendors, and games featured at OrcaCon are local to the Washington area, Hobbs pointed out. Even the popular strategy game Settlers of Catan, which was developed in Germany by Klaus Teuber in 1995, has Washington state marketers, he added.

Special guests this year included tabletop game community legends: Ami Baio, Annamaria Phelps, Joseph Z. Chen, Amanda Panda, Joe Senese, Eric Yurko, Connor Alexander, Emma Larkins, Estafania Rodrigues, Danny Quach, John “Onlyplaywizards” Bultena, and Nicole Jekitch.

OrcaCon 2024 at the Hilton Bellevue on January 6, 2024. Lynnwood Times Kienan Briscoe.

“My favorite part of OrcaCon is that it’s a really approachable convention,” Rick Lavender, Orcacon volunteer since year one, told the Lynnwood Times. “It is here to make sure that everyone is welcome. It has a focus on acceptance and making board games as approachable as they can be for the widest breath of people as possible. To make sure there is a space for everyone.”


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