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Another major tabletop gaming convention cancels its 2021 in-person event

NOVA Open won’t happen in September, meanwhile Gen Con and PAX Unplugged are still tentative

A massive miniature mech stands staring out of the frame
Reynald, Vengeance of the Lost is a Knight created by Duncan Rhodes for the 2020 Nova Charity raffle.
Image: Nova Charity
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Organizers behind another major tabletop gaming convention announced the cancellation of their 2021 event on Monday. The Nova Open, a staple in the miniatures wargaming circuit, won’t be happening this year. It was set to take place Sept. 1-5 in Arlington, VA. Organizers cited the continued uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After months of careful planning, consideration of available data, and communication with our partners and attendees,” the organization said in a newsletter, “including the hundreds of individuals that contributed to our surveys over the last few months, the Executive Board has made the difficult decision to cancel NOVA Open 2021.”

Organizers noted that its partners — which were to include Games Workshop (Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, Warhammer 40,000), Corvus Belli (Infinity), and Fantasy Flight Games (Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, Star Wars: Legion) — were unable to commit resources given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Furthermore, its venue had no clarity on “what large event restrictions will or will not be in place.”

The cancellation has also put the event’s financial stability in question.

“The Executive Board is faced with a significant challenge as we readjust our resources and imaginations to remain solvent until a March 1, 2022 registration launch,” organizers said in the email. Multiple ideas are on the table, including merchandise sales, to help keep the event going.

The decision to cancel the largest wargaming convention on the United States’ east coast calls into question the viability of the tabletop industry’s other remaining marquee events, some of which still have tentative dates on the calendar.

A drone view of the food carts at Gen Con in Indianapolis.
The food cart pavilion outside the convention center at Gen Con 2019.
Image: Gen Con

Gen Con is the longest-running and the largest tabletop gaming convention in the U.S. with a peak attendance of more than 70,000. Christened in Wisconsin in 1968 as the Lake Geneva Wargames Convention, the event was originally hosted by Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. It’s now privately owned and held each year in Indianapolis, IN. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced it online.

Gen Con announced tentative dates for its 2021 convention in December, pegging the event for Aug. 5-8. It noted, however, that a “variety of factors need to come together for a physical convention to be feasible.” So far, it has declined to sell badges or register guests for hotel rooms. Reached for comment on Tuesday, Gen Con said it would have a statement soon as to the future of this year’s event.

Two additional high-profile tabletop events with tentative dates on the calendar are PAX Unplugged, currently set for Dec. 10-12 in Philadelphia, and BGGCon, currently slated for Nov. 17-21 in Dallas. Neither event has put tickets up for sale. Polygon has reached out to both organizations for an update.

Update (March 17): According to ReedPop, which organizes PAX Unplugged, the convention’s December dates are still on the calendar.

“Given the progress toward addressing COVID-19 in the United States since the start of the new year, we remain cautiously optimistic PAX Unplugged will take place as planned at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Friday, Dec. 10 through Sunday, Dec. 12,” wrote Kyle Marsden-Kish, portfolio event director, in a statement to Polygon. “As we have shown via our actions throughout this pandemic, we will continue to put the health of our community first and will only hold a live PAX once we are supremely confident the show will be safe for everyone involved. When we are ready to make any future announcements regarding plans for PAX Unplugged 2021, Polygon will be one of the first to know.”

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