2024 celebrates the 6th time I have been to Midwest Gaming Classics in the last 8 years. I missed the 2017 show as I was sick that weekend, and the 2020 show obviously fell prey to COVID-19. Every year I have attended though, I have watched the show grow by leaps and bounds and have been happy to be a part of it. 

My more unique memories are of the 2016 show at the highly crowded Brookfield Sheraton, which was its second to last year being there. I also loved the 2021 fall show, which was one of my favorites, and the 2022 mega show in which the vendor hall took up the large ballroom on the 1st floor of the Wisconsin (Baird) Center.

Although always fun to go to, the last two years have been somewhat unremarkable. The convention has gone back to its same two rooms on the third floor, and roughly run by the same formula since. This means, although the show is still very entertaining, and worth the admission, those of us who have attended long enough are beginning to see some cracks in the façade. 

As I mentioned previously, my first MGC was in 2016 at the Brookfield Sheridan. Brookfield was about 10 miles west of Milwaukee. For those of us who chose to stay in Milwaukee, the drive back-and-forth was a little bit nerve-racking, especially if you chose not to take the interstates. Brookfield itself didn’t exactly have many places to stay outside of Sheridan, so if you chose to buy yourself a weekend ticket back then you’d find yourself commuting to and from Milwaukee or having to phone into the Brookfield Sheridan a few months before the show to get yourself a room. 

Moving to the Wisconsin Center (now known as the Baird Center) for the 2018 show was probably one of the best moves they had ever made. To say the least the Brookfield Sheridan was splitting at the seams as the convention itself was nearly impossible to navigate due to so many attendees. Also, despite the sometimes inhospitable weather we see in the Chicago/Milwaukee area in early April the vendor hall was actually in a large tented area outside of the hotel itself. The move to Wisconsin Center changed all of this, and for those of us who attended that first show at the Wisconsin Center in 2018 the massive amount of space available there made it seem like a completely different convention altogether. As a matter of fact some of us asked if it was too much space for the show. 

Over the past two years, especially with this 2024 show in particular, my mind couldn’t help but go back to the 2016 show I had attended at the Brookfield Sheridan. This year’s convention was extremely crowded, and hard to navigate even on Sunday, which tends to be the least crowded of the two days. Both the main rooms (the vendor hall, and gaming hall) were definitely both elbow to elbow, at times it was hard even to get a chance to look at items vendors had on display, and even harder to try to get a chance to get in and play some of the games in the gaming hall. 

I thought this was perhaps just me, but in listening to some recent podcast about those who have attended MGC this year as well as last, my sentiments seem to be shared. As other longtime attendees have felt the same way over the past two years that the convention, at least in its original two rooms, has become a bit too crowded. 

To be honest, as much of a negative as it currently seems to be about the show, we also have to give mad props to the show runners, for making the show so successful that it has reached this point. The show has continually attracted new vendors wishing to show their wares, and new exhibitors wishing to share their love for the hobby. Additionally, showrunners are continually trying to add additional forms of entertainment to increase the overall value one receives from the price of a ticket. Again, my admiration for that one.

Of course, the benefit of holding the convention at someplace like the Baird Center, is that it gives MGC the ability to move into larger spaces without changing venues. My general hope is with how crowded the show was this year, that perhaps they could do a repeat of the 2022 show, in which the vendor hall was in the first floor ballroom. Perhaps the gaming hall can take up the space it currently has, plus the area the vendor hall has been in. Again, repeating what we saw in 2022. 

With all that said here are some highlights of this years show:

  • The LARPing community is continuing to grow and made an excellent showing this year, and seemed to attract more people then they did last year
  • The addition of the competitive chess area was an interesting new addition. If I was up to playing competitively, I might have just jumped into a game myself. I hope they continue to make an appearance in future shows
  • Beer City Wrestling continues to attract huge crowds at the back of the vendor hall for two Saturday matches, and one Sunday match. The 3 o’clock show on Saturday seemed to attract the biggest crowds, and as always it’s great fun to cheer and jeer with the crowds
  • The Rise of Table Gaming? This year’s show seemed a lot more focused on table gaming, then video gaming. I would say roughly half the vendors this year were selling board games, D&D items, and RPG accessories. 
  • Dankey Kang! Yes, the Jeopardy meme has finally developed into a character and is now the mascot for MGC, greeting visitors in his massive inflatable form at the front entrance
  • Paleontology anyone? The Skeleton Crew attended the show this year showing off fossils and dinosaur bones, and discussing Paleontology. It was an interesting add to the show, and seemed to be a favorite with a lot of kids

I’d also like to say R.I.P. Push for Polka wall. The wall above the escalators leading to the Hilton skybridge used to have big buttons at the top and bottom saying “Push for Polka”, and if you pushed it Polka music would serenade you on your ride up or down the escalator. The wall itself had staggered pictures of various Polka artists and events, and was no doubt an homage to the German, and other eastern European cultures that settled Wisconsin, and were drawn to the familiar beats of Polka music. For most of us attending MGC, we liked the wall in an ironic sense, but in a way it also seemed to lend credence to the quirky nature of MGC anyway. Usually, staying in the Hilton, “Push for Polka” always had a special place in my heart as it meant I was going to MGC, or heading back to my room with my treasures or for a little rest. The removal of the “Push for Polka” exhibit has nothing to do with MGC of course. Rather it has to do with the rebranding of the Wisconsin Center to the Baird Center, and various changes the rebranding has made to the overall aesthetics of the convention center. The Push for Polka wall has had the iconic buttons removed, and the wall above the escalator now features images of rural life in Wisconsin. 

So what are your thoughts on MGC 24’? What were your favorite parts? Did you score any good deals? Play any great games? Do you miss Push for Polka as well? Be sure to comment.