James Wallis levels with you

International Tabletop Day. Also headphones

This Saturday (30th March) is International Tabletop Day, which proves that Americans still don’t understand how the rest of the world treats the Easter weekend, and haven’t learned the lesson of Peter Adkison’s ill-fated Gen Con UK, held over the Easter weekend in 2003.

Putting that aside, it’s a worthy idea and a great way of publicising the new generation of games and gaming to a wider audience.

I’ll be starting the day at Leisure Games in Finchley, north London, where I’ll be joined by Quintin Smith, noted games journalist and host of the Shut Up and Sit Down podcast, and my fellow Black Library author Richard Williams. After a couple of hours of that I will be hot-footing it westwards, to spend the rest of the day chez Eclectic Games in Reading, where there will be playing of games and chatting of chats. It will be good. Come up and accost me and ask me to play something or explain something—the question of 2013 appears to be why the last two books of the Marks of Chaos series never came out, if you’re looking for inspiration. I’m the tall one wearing the headphones.

Headphones! For anyone who’s been following my quest for the ideal sub-£100 headphone—which I’m pretty sure is none of you—you’ll remember the saga began when someone nicked the pair of Plantronics gamer phones from my desk at work. They weren’t great but the boom mike made them useful for Skype calls and they’d survived having my old study ceiling fall on them, so there was a certain sentimental attachment there. From there I went to a pair of Audio Technica ATH-ES55s (really lovely full sound, comfy and aesthetically pleasing, broke two pairs in eighteen months), and from there to a pair of Phillips Downtowns (amazingly comfortable, good sound but quite bass-light, only available in white, purple or brown, look like they should be really long-lasting but broke in four months), and thence to Sennheiser HD202s which should have been a triumphant homecoming because I’ve liked Sennheisers since the late 80s when I took a pair round the world but they were just… they were what I expected a pair of no-brand £25 headphones to sound like, a bit muted, a bit dull, not special at any particular frequency range and not terribly comfortable, and the heavy 2m cord they come with is simply awkward, particularly on the move. Really, when the cable wrap is larger than the music player, something is wrong with your design.

So I ended up borrowing back the Sennheiser PX100-iis that I’d passed on to my wife when I bought the Audio Technicas, and that was a little revelation. A revision of a classic design, it’s a really small, light headset that folds up nicely to fit in a pocket but delivers an awful lot of sound for that. And I thought this was probably it, and I’d stick with them, even if they didn’t do a great job of keeping my ears warm in the recent inclemency. And then someone on a mailing list mentioned Koss PortaPros.

The PortaPro has been around since the eighties, and if you had to choose one word to sum them up it would have to be ‘ugly’. Ugly, ugly, ugly, even though I’m a fan of what we shall call alternative aesthetics. Plus really, how well can a pair of £25 headphones with a design unchanged since 1984 really stand up to modern music through modern technology?

Oh my lord.

I am aware that at the moment I look like a bit-player from an early cyberpunk movie, but I don’t care. Subtle when it counts but full of big sound when it matters, it’s like these things have a mind of their own—a mind that really loves music. They have a reputation for a lot of bass but I like that, and it’s not a big flat bass either, there’s a deftness in the response here that’s simply a joy to listen to. Twenty-five quid. Extraordinary. I am a man converted.

Just had to tell someone. I trust you understand.

Anyway, Tabletop Day. If you’re going to be in London or Reading then come along; if you’re going to be somewhere else then head to your local games store, or grab a box of something and a couple of mates and head to your local coffee shop or pub. Evangelise a little, maybe meet some new people. You’ll be glad you did.

While I’m writing, how’s this blog theme working out for you? I’m in two minds about it, to be honest. Let me know.


Categorised as: event


  1. Cat Wallis says:

    Side-bar – Am giving husband a pass this year to be out gaming on Easter weekend. It won’t happen again so please take note America – no game thingies on family-orientated holidays even if said holidays are not a big deal in the States.

  2. Rondodu says:

    Surprisingly (to me, at least), I’ve recently discovered that there are no less than three geek-related events near me this week-end (Fantasy, Game and RPGs respectively, the last two in my very town). None of which I will attend because it’s Easter, people! I’ve got relatives with a “grand-” in their name to visit!

    Also, I absolutely loved my KOSS PortaPros. Well, they certainly were NOT 25£ every time I bought them (more like 70€). But given that I used to break the cable every year or so, it was still a bit expensive to my taste. Since then I’ve received a (way!) more expensive B&W P5. The good news is I still break the cable, but it is replaceable. I’ve gone from 70€ a year to investment plus 25€ a year. I’ve still got to see how it goes in the long run (if they don’t last seven-eight years, there were not a wise investment).

    Still, let me know where you get the KOSS for 25£.

    • James Wallis says:

      You identify the exact problem with organising events at Easter in Europe—we treat Easter the way Americans treat Thanksgiving, it’s a time to visit family and friends. I dropped the Tabletop people a line pointing this out and observing that at the time I wrote there were more Tabletop Day events in Nova Scotia than in the capital of the UK, and got a five-line brush-off. Ah well.

      £25 seems to be the retail price for PortaPros these days. Amazon lists them at less than that. Amazing value. I wondered about going for a more expensive headphone with a replaceable cable, but I figured with the amount of wear they’re likely to get (these are my walking-around phones) the cheaper option was the better bet.

      • Rondodu says:

        The store I usually use for electronics (and movies and books…) still lists them at 55€. Not a no-brainer at that price. There is a vendor on Amazon which lists them at 23€. I’ll look into it next time.

        On the topic on events on Easter weekend, this is an issue for me, but obviously not for every one. And it will be less and less of an issue.

        As I said there are three gaming or related events near me this weekend. Trolls et Légendes (fantasy, ~18500 attendants last year and growing), LudoNord (tabletop and family gaming, ~3500 attendant last year and growing) and les Croisades d’Unnord (RPGs/miniature games, small enough that they don’t have a press book — it’s a students thing). Both Trolls et Légendes and les Croisades d’Unnord take place every year (or once every two years for Trolls et Légendes) on Easter weekend. They argue that people are more available. I guess we’ll see if choosing this particular weekend means a setback for LudoNord, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

        Still, the only International Tabletop Day event registered on the website near me is at Trolls et Légendes. Why? I guess language and culture is the main a barrier. Trolls et Légendes is held in (french-speaking) Belgium, which is in my opinion more cosmopolitan than France.

        I also think the gaming boom is well on its way in France : the infrastructures are already well in place, we didn’t wait on the American on this. Hell, in my city, there were two gaming events organised on the very same dates before Tabletop Day was announced.

        A media example: the TricTrac webzine, e.g., has published *daily* videos about games for a few years already. And they show new games, often with authors, editors or french-publishers on set. French-speaking gaming passionates already had their show before TableTop. And I think it’s better, too.

        Actually, now that I look at the International TableTop Day map again, I see there are more events near me ; all of them are held in Flanders. Dutch-speaking Belgium has 12 events; The Netherlands, 11; France, 2; Germany, 3. Yep, I’m not so sure the date is the issue here.

  3. Rondodu says:

    No fewer, I meant no fewer!

    • James Wallis says:

      Much obliged. To get the original image I played the game on an emulator and fired off about fifty screenshots. This is easier.

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