Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Comparing NOVA and Adepticon: Part I - Location And Hotel

by SandWyrm

Mike Brandt has the initial results of his NOVA surveys up, and according to him they're showing overwhelmingly positive feedback for the event. Such that he seems to feel that the Hotel was NOVA's only real failing.

Well, that's great. But I don't think the NOVA was so perfectly rosy myself. If you went to NOVA and had a 99% perfect time, then stop reading right here. Because over the next several posts I'm going to level some honest criticisms at NOVA and compare it to this year's Adepticon, which I also attended. With the goal of helping to improve both events.

To quote Mike's post:

"Other than a few more complaining sorts, the response to terrain, game hall, and sportsmanship was overwhelmingly positive!"


"So are the handful of negative blog reviews reflective of the majority?  Not even in the slightest ways imaginable."

I guess I'm one of those more complaining sorts, due to my criticisms of the terrain and Mike's responses to that here on the blog. But I like to think, as opposed to the Bill O'Reilly of 40K, that I offer constructive criticism. Meaning that I not only point out the problems I see, but offer up real solutions to them in an attempt to improve the thing that I'm talking about. Call it building bricks instead of slinging mud.

So let's get on with the comparisons. I don't think that Mike will argue with these first few. :)

Comparison 1: Location

Adepticon was held at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center, which is located in Lombard, IL. A suburb of Chicago.

As you can see, the hotel is located next to a shopping mall, a movie theater, and a Target. It also has a parking lot, which lets you come and go as you please without much hassle. It's a little bit of a drive down 294 from O'Hare Airport. But there was a Hotel shuttle available, so no big deal.

Anyway, there were places to go within easy walking distance for cheap food, a large department store for things you forgot (like camera card readers or pop), and even some bars. I took off on Saturday night to go see Dethtron's band play several miles away and had no issues with parking back at the hotel afterward.

Now let's look at NOVA:

NOVA was located in the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, in Arlington, VA. Literally right across a highway from Ronald Reagan International Airport.

Parking was valet-only and expensive. Though Spag found that they'd drop the price by almost half if you complained about it. Regardless, it took almost an hour for them to retrieve our car when we were ready to leave on Sunday.

From the top floor we could see the nice part of downtown Washington DC, including the Jefferson memorial. But while it was pretty, it wasn't that functional a location.

This will come up again when I start talking about the Hotel and the Schedule, but the big problem with the location was that it was too remote from low-cost places to eat.

Given that the hotel food was bad/expensive, you basically had 2 choices. McDonalds (across the Jeff Davis Hwy and up 2 blocks), or a small Sandwich shop that could fit maybe 10-12 people standing. Lines at both were quite long during breaks. For sit-down food/drinks, you had to walk under the Airport Access Ramp and up 4-5 blocks. At times, there were literally players running in and out of the Hotel for food. I personally know of some players who wouldn't have eaten at all if friends hadn't run out to get them food when their games ended too close to the breaks.

Comparison 2: Hotel

Adepticon's hotel, The Westin Lombard, was quite nice.

Every one of it's ballrooms was large, with high-ceilings.

Even filled with tables, vendors, and the judging stand, the 40K hall felt bright and open. With plenty of entrances and exits from the room. And... Because the ballroom was at ground level, we never had any issues with cell phone reception. Wi-Fi was available, free, decently fast, and reliable. 

At all times, you could buy beer, mixed drinks, or pop from a small hotel concession stand outside the main doors. Beer was about $6, while mixed drinks were about $8.

Here's a room:

And here's Harry Carey's, the hotel bar/restaurant:

I only ever ate breakfast there, but I think I paid about $12, with tip, for a breakfast made to order. Served by a smiling, friendly, and attentive waitress. While that was a bit more expensive than the breakfast cafe in the mall, I felt like it was a good deal for not having to walk outside. I saw plenty of other attendees in there too.

Now here's the Hyatt Regency Crystal City:

Here's the top half of the central atrium:

The bar is on the ground floor, while the hotel restaurant was on the 2nd, overlooking the atrium from that balcony.

The breakfast buffet was $16 before tip. That's only a few dollars less that what I've paid for much better buffets in Hawaii! I saw maybe 5 other gamers eating there all weekend long. The service was piss-poor on Saturday and Sunday. I often had to get up and get my own water from the waitress station. Twice I had to either follow my waitress into the back to ask for the check, or go up to the hostess station/cashier and ask for it. There were plenty of employees milling around, but none of them seemed the least bit interested in serving a customer unless they had to.

The Hyatt's room rate was a little lower than the Westin's. But they more than made up the difference in nickel and dime charges. Internet? That was $10/day. I ended up paying for 3 days on Friday night, only to have their internet service stop working on Saturday night. Even on Sunday night it still wasn't back up. Did they volunteer to drop the charges from the bill? Nope.

Need copies of your list? The minimum charge on the copier in the business center was $8. 

Dash says he paid $35 for a lousy room service steak. I believe it.

I didn't have any problem with the bathroom itself. But it had a frosted glass entry door. WTF? That's privacy?

Oh, and there were aggressive hookers in the hotel lobby on Friday night. Right across from the check-in counters. Gotta love DC eh?

There were no hookers in the atrium. SandWyrm's not seen too many girls dressed up for a night of clubbing. -farmpunk

Oh please... I lived in downtown San Francisco for 4 years. I know what a hooker looks (and sounds) like. -SandWyrm

But back to the atrium...

Real estate is expensive around there, so the Hyatt's convention facilities are all below ground level.

The NOVA was held on the top level, immediately below the lobby. The entrance to the gaming hall was that double door on the far-right. There was some sort of minority expo going on down on the bottom level below us. I heard some people complain about the attendees being rude, but I never saw anything like that. They were always polite to me in the elevator and showed some interest in what we were doing.

This is the widest part of the landing that led to the gaming hall. The Vendors all fit in nicely on the other side of those pillars. Cell phone reception here was pretty bad. Walking behind a pillar would cause your calls to drop. The worst thing though was that you couldn't hear anything that was happening in the gaming area. So if you came out to use the restroom, buy stuff, or make a call, you had to guess how much time you had left before the next round started. At Adepticon, it was easy to hear when announcements were being made because the Vendors and the players were all in the same big hall, or just outside of it within easy earshot.

And here is the gaming hall. Dark, with low-ceilings, and utterly cut off from the world. Sort of like The Mines Of Moria with red carpets and plastic plants. :)

There was zero cell reception down here. Someone had set up a free hotspot in the registration area, but you had to go sit on the floor to use it, and it still had problems. Which was probably due to the hotel's crappy data connection to the net. Because things didn't improve much when I finally caved and paid for the Hotel's Wi-Fi so I could sit anywhere I wanted.

Now to be fair, there were some advantages to these rooms over Adepticon's one big hall. While the spaces between the tables in each row were about the same, there were much larger spaces (by necessity) between the rows. Like highways with feeder streets, or a big river with smaller tributaries. So that when everyone was moving their armies around we had very few traffic jams of the sort that plagued Adepticon. Since most of the tables were laid out along the outside of the hotel's doughnut, there were groups of round tables available to just sit and talk at close by.

That was nice to have (hint hint Adepticon). But you couldn't sit there and pull out a Cell Phone or Laptop because of the connection issues. So... meh.

There were no refreshments available down here. The NOVA staff set up some water pitchers in 2 locations and kept them filled (HUGE thanks for that!). But to get anything else you had to go up the escalators to the main floor where I heard the bar prices for even pop were outrageous. There was a gift shop that sold sodas in bottles (for $2-$3 each), but it was small, cramped, and frequently had long lines.

Did I say no refreshments? There was a cash bar available during the Whiskey Challenge, but nobody was drinking anything from it. Why? Because bottled beer was $9 and mixed drinks were $12. I WANTED to drink that night, but not at those prices. I'm pretty sure this hotel was used to serving Investment Bankers or something.

Oh, there was a lovely (and free) dinner buffet for the Whiskey Challenge. The food was awesome! But I know that Mike paid for that out of pocket, so the hotel gets no points for it. While Mike gets HUGE FREAKING THANKS!!!

In closing, the best thing that I can honestly say about the Hyatt was that I hardly noticed the Hurricane that was raging outside. Except for the one time I went outside (to get food) and got rained on, the weather was never an issue for me. The room was quiet throughout the storm, the power only cut out once, and hey... that's worth some praise. :)

Location/Hotel Winner: Adepticon (by a mile)

NOVA did well on it's closeness to the airport and it's table arrangement. But Adepticon's hotel/location wins on total price, service, amenities, parking, atmosphere, and it's proximity to a Mall with low-cost food choices. Having a Target right behind the hotel is a huge plus too.

In NOVA's defense, Adepticon has been at this longer and it's sheer size/budget gives it a lot of bargaining power with it's hotel. But hey, that's the competition. :) 

I know that Mike is already looking for a new location. I'll suggest that he simply copy Adepticon. Find a hotel in the greater DC metro area near the burbs that's about 20 minutes from the airport by shuttle; and which has a mall (either strip or walk-in) close by with some cheap food choices. Make sure also that the Wi-Fi is free, cellphones work, and that the hotel food is just a little expensive instead of outrageous. A public parking lot or garage is also mandatory IMO.

What This Also Tells Us...

Only 17% percent of the respondents in Mike's survey were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the hotel. While only 42% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the food.

Were a majority of the attendees really satisfied or neutral about those issues? I don't know. I heard plenty of complaints on the game floor and outside on the way to McDonalds. So I'm inclined to think that some folks were being a bit too nice based on either their loyalty to Mike/NOVA, or their unwillingness to criticize an event that went to completion despite there being a Hurricane in the middle of it. Or maybe it really was better than any other GT they'd ever gone to. Regardless, you can calibrate your own opinion of the survey results accordingly, based on what I've presented here.

And again... I'm not trying to beat on Mike or the NOVA. I want this event to continue, fix all it's problems, and be the standard by which all other competitive events are measured. It's just not quite there yet.


  1. I think it's important to note that we take constructive criticism well, and if you wanted to quote my entire article (vs. just the rosy parts, right):

    "Do we have a lot to improve on? Hell yes! The best part of this review was the contribution of constructive suggestions for improvement. Nothing beats a positive suggestion given by a guy who enjoyed himself, but wants to see it be even better next year. My kind of comments."

    We probably won't agree MUCH on terrain - the large LOS blocker in the middle is a big, important deal for a competitive event ... as are some of the other components (like standardization). The AdeptiCon table you linked in your table article ...

    Has no material line of sight blockage at all ... this is the sort of table loved by people who play gunline armies, or who play gunline armies that move a little each turn and think they are mobile armies. It's terrible for foot armies, jumper armies, tyranid, and many others that get inappropriate bad raps among the "competitive" community in large part due to variables beyond their control {i.e. tables that primarily just have cover, which anyone can get on almost any table anyway ... and missions/formats that require "hang on and win" build flexibility to fail as a result of inability to massacre).

    IT's important to note - there's no defensiveness to me ... just an honest appraisal of the facts and feedback we receive. The Hotel needs to dramatically improve, for instance, and there are a variety of logistical and detail-oriented things that can be tweaked and improved ... in fact, NEED to be. There are even some big things, that we've noticed or hit on, and that others will as well.

    So keep it rolling, just make sure to present an even handed account ... especially in regard to my own $.02. IT's not cool to quote me saying "all's well in Disneyland" but not quote me openly acknowledging our need to continue to improve, and our deep commitment to it!

    <3 Keith,
    - Mike

  2. Oh, and FFS please don't do a "vs" series with another Con! We're here to put on the best event we can, not to compete with / "beat" other events. I go to AdeptiCon every year, and it rocks.

  3. No edit button!

    The following quote is also referencing - without you knowing any better - a fellow attendee's gal pal that came with him, and her friend.

    "Oh, a0nd there were aggressive hookers in the hotel lobby on Friday night. Right across from the check-in counters. Gotta love DC eh?"

    So, careful. DC is not hookerville ... nor especially is Crystal City. There were a couple of young girlfriends of attendees dressed to go out on the town, who just got called hookers by an e-blog, you know?

  4. @Mike

    I'm doing the "vs" series because I kept getting asked by folks at Adepticon how it compared to last year's NOVA. I kept having to say that I didn't know. Well, now I can compare them. Like it or not, you ARE competing with them. Witness their change to a pseudo-win/loss format this year. We can all thank you for that. :)

    And face it… Most folks will only make it to one event or the other. So this way they'll be able to see how the other really compares. I went to Adepticon and found out that I'd made a huge mistake by listening to Stelek's rants about it. It really was a great, well-run event. But I had to go alone because the other competitive players in my area had their minds poisoned by him.

    Tasty is pulling that crap now. But if I put up a detailed comparison, with honest criticisms of what really was good or bad, then his baseless rants will find no purchase. Because better information will exist.

    Don't worry, there's plenty of things that the NOVA will get VERY high marks for compared to Adepticon. Location/Hotel is as bad as it gets. But you knew that already.

    <3 Mike,


  5. @Mike

    I'm not talking about the tall girl and her friend that walked around in the slinky dresses at the NOVA. I know those were girlfriends.

    No, I'm talking about four honest-to-goodness "Heeeey Boooys!" hookers. That all jumped up from a bench in the lobby and started swaying from hip to hip when our large group was walking from the front doors to the elevators on Friday night.

    We laughed at them and moved on. I think they smelled Spag's win-money. :)

  6. We need some photos of the girls in the lobby to determine their status, pronto.

  7. @ SandWyrm

    You mean the African-American girls (there for a conference) dressed up to head out clubbing? They weren't hookers. They were young women looking to go out, and maybe 'hook up'.
    I saw a few of them the next day going down to the conference on the level below us.
    You need to get out more.

  8. So four fairly attractive AA girls decide that they wanted to try and go clubbing with a bunch of pasty, overweight geeks as we came IN from outside and were heading up to our rooms?

    Yep. You're absolutely right. ;)

  9. I suppose you're insinuating it was an AA hooker conference then?

  10. It was an AA conference. At which some of the attendees had the means to not be lonely.

    Was it typical for this hotel? Eh... Probably not.

  11. Please note that this hotel is in Crystal City, VA and not DC. Crystal City really isn't a seedy place with hookers all over. Neither is DC, really. I've seen way more hookers in Honolulu, HI than I have in DC.

  12. in all honesty, The women I saw didn't behave differently than girls I saw as an RA in Champaign.

    I saw similar behavior at Florida Avenue Residence Hall. Similar Dress, even.

    I feel SandWyrm's insinuating a bit much here. I understand you're trying to be objective and constructive with the two events, but it seems to me that your bias is showing.

  13. You guys make it sound like hookers are a bad thing .....

    Ok, but seriously, we get it, there were attention seeking females.

    Now back on track to evaluating the Tournament.

  14. Bias? Towards what? You've never heard of escort services?

    I didn't ask those girls for their union cards, but it's not like I've never lived in a major city. Believe what you want to, I guess. But I wasn't the only one remarking on their probable career in the elevator.

  15. @TGM

    Yes, absolutely!

    It was one night out of 4, and I really don't consider the event to be more than a footnote. Certainly it's nothing that even the hotel could do much about unless the individuals in question are causing a disturbance.

  16. I don’t think it is necessarily fair to compare and contrast these events. For starters, they simple occur in different geographic regions, have differing player bases/focuses and honestly have massive differences in scope, ~300 vs ~1500 attendees changes a ton of variables in dealing with contracts, hotels, terrain construction, table rentals and the like. For all intents and purposes, the NOVA Open is still very focused on one or two major 40K events (about 70% of their attendees) and that makes it something different than what we strive to be – a full-blown convention (in contrast about 35% of our attendees are there for 40K). The NOVA Open can get there, but sustained growth is the best advice I can give.

    Additionally, while there might be some truth in the inherent nature of competition between similar events, I am firm believer that the hobby/community would greatly benefit from a number of large, social events throughout the States. Good organizers learn from one another and more good events in circulation directly translates into the bar being raised for all events.

    Simply look at the large number of tried and tested ideas that Mike has borrowed from us. That is almost 10 years of learning, mistakes, corrections and setting expectations. Likewise, myself in particular, looked to the basic foundation of the NOVA format for some new inspiration last year after we had started to discuss what was to change for AdeptiCon 2011.

    Of course there is truth in saying that someone might be forced to choose between large events…but that isn’t the root issue. We shouldn’t be encouraging people to choose. Good events get people excited people. Excited people talk, get friends involved, start new armies…the challenge is to host good events and grow the player base that is willing to travel to event of this nature. I have seen plenty of blog articles and comments that start with something like, “The NOVA Open was my first big GT…” That is a beautiful thing.

    I simply think events should be judged on their own merit, the number of dedicated people/staff, time constraints from real life/employment, readily available resources and vision of execution will all come together to create a unique event in each unique instance. One event won't always be able to do it like another. Don’t get me wrong – I know you are celebrating these events, and giving the NOVA crew feedback is a brilliant start, I’d just like to see a true miniature wargaming community coalesce out of all the effort that goes into these events and in the online arena, instead of furthering the divide with an ‘us vs. them’ attitude. While I honestly don’t see this as your intention…it will serve those ends.

    And really, no one should be paying any attention to internet people who lie about attending events or purposely ‘report’ disingenuous information to prop up their own limited worldviews/egos.

  17. Those were not hookers you saw, Sandwyrm. Around here, in the DC metro area, we call them Lobbyists. They may promise you a happy ending, but not necessarily of the sort people ordinarily want. We have hookers too. Odd that both terms originated at roughly the same time :)

    BTW, loved the Lawrence of Arabia army. Beautiful work. But... the underside of your Valkyries-- what the... mud splash maybe? Do an image search to get an idea of how that should look. And we saw decals on those wonderfully converted vehicles of yours. A painter of your skill level should either freehand or stencil that stuff. Decals, water slide transfers, whatever you call them, are shabby. I saw your work. I know you can do better. So, do so, and come back next year and win our top appearance award. At a more gamer friendly venue, naturally. Man, the lighting in that place :[ The mines of Moria reference is perfect. (I offer these criticisms in a friendly constructive manner. I hope the tone of this post conveys that. You really do excellent work, and the photos of your work do not do it justice.)

  18. @G Red

    Um... thanks, I think. That's an odd place to take the conversation.

  19. @Matthias

    I know and respect that Adepticon is more than just the 40K championships. Which is all that I'm really going to be comparing the NOVA to. But facilities played a large part in the relative strengths of both events. Such that I needed to mention them here.

  20. They were not what you thought they were. It was a convention, and they were not interested in us at all. Maybe me, but then I am attractive that way! LOL!!!!!!

    But to the real point of the article!

    Your article is biased! And I feel because you didn't do as well as you wanted, the tone of your post is more negative than positive.

    Your disclaimer at the beginning of your post:

    "If you went to NOVA and had a 99% perfect time, then stop reading right here..."

    sets the tone for your post exactly the same as this disclamer below in someone else's post:

    "As most people know Blood of Kittens has stirred up things from time to time and at first I wasn’t going to say anything."

    If you plan on giving your personal account of what you liked better from one to the other then great. But there are times when it is better not to comment and compare apples to oranges. These two are apples and oranges. Both fruit, but very different. You have been very critical of Nova in each post thus far. To jump on the coat tails of someone who is a stupid coward to get your point across in my opinion is inappropriate.

    People listen to you when you speak...."with great power comes great responsibility". I think spider man's uncle said that!

    I love you man and respect you for all you have taught me. I would not have been able to deal with leafblower twice without the time we have spent together. Tread lightly in the direction of your posts please.

    With all due respect,


  21. @SW

    I think that is a more apt comparison at face value...and to tackle that alone would place any criticism in a vacuum. The bigger picture, and even stuff like flights, weather and the like, will ultimately influence someone's overall perception of something like AdeptiCon or The NOVA Open...but it also influences the individual/micro aspects.

    I do believe comparing two somewhat similar events under the auspice of your personal preference is a perfectly legitimate route. I am not discouraging that at all. See my above comment for my general, overall concerns.

  22. I've never been to one of these events, though I hope to make it to the next Adepticon. But I've always thought the hotels and convention centers up here would make a great location since they're right next to malls for the most part. That and Johnson County/Kansas City being the center of the US more or less makes for shorter travel for some.

    Great article, sir.

  23. @Spaguatyrine
    I think laying out logical reasoning as to why one location was better than the other (ie: price, staff, location, building layout, etc) is pretty unbiased. Not sure what your comment really means in all honesty.

  24. Lantz,

    We play together regularly and traveled together to Nova.

    Sandwyrm is very well liked and read as he should be, he is the premier writer on this blog. We believe here that we want to better the community of 40k. When any of us writers start to come off the wrong way we police ourselves. If there is an unbiased and fair comparison I have no issue. The two events are not the same, and they shouldn't be compared the same in my opinion.

  25. And MVB who is a big supporter of Sandwyrm asked very nicely to not do a "vs" thing.

    Either way it is Sandwyrms decision

  26. In the future I'll refrain from using "vs." or calling a "winner" on the comparisons. But I'm still going to compare the events because I think it's important.

  27. It is not really a fair comparison for the Nova Open to be compared to Adepticon.

    The Nova Open is in its second year and Adepticon is in its 10th. There were a lot of growing pains along the way for Adepticon like when it was at the Shamburg Marriott and they had the Warhammer Fantasy tournament in a tent!

    Then about 3 years ago they moved to a hotel in Rosemont IL (The Crown Plaza?) and it was everything you are complaining about with the Nova Open. It was right next to O’Hare airport so it was really convenient to the out-of-town crowd, but it had no stores or services anywhere close to the hotel and the prices were sky high. The locals also were upset at having to pay for parking. After that, and 8 years they moved into the Lombard Westin.

    As far as the Hyatt goes, I did not think it was too bad. The prices were a tad high, but in the DC area hotels are use to doing business with the big businesses that are trying to do business with the Government, so most of the people they are dealing with are on expense accounts and on their corporation’s dime so it makes it someone tough for those that are paying their own way.

    Now that we have some practice at this hotel, if they stay with the venue Mike can make it better and mitigate some of the major venue complaints.

    For example there was a parking lot next door that was much cheaper, and there can be some research done to find cheaper parking option nearby.

    I was tired Sunday night (13 games is a killer and we got out late) so what did I do for food? I ordered a $10 pizza from Dominos that was both dinner and breakfast. There are delivery options available that people just do not think about. There is a Chinese restaurant where you circled “Everything Else” that has delivery.

    So what I am trying to say is that if Mike wants to stay in that Hotel, there could be some work done to prep people for a more pleasant experience. Update the Nova Open website with other parking options, add list of all of the local eateries that have delivery with menus and phone numbers, etc. No hotel is going to be perfect, and sometimes you just have to make compromises.

  28. I envy your tournament concept! Places look luxurious. In Czech the tournament is usually held in a school gym. Sleeping in a hotel? Why, take a sleeping bag and sleep on the ground or find a hotel on your own. But I have to admit that ticket to a big tournament is the equivalent of around $ 9 and the biggest tournament has about 60 participants.

  29. @Blackmoor and Jiri

    Great comments guys!

  30. I really think we should go back to talking about the hookers.

  31. Thank you for comparing them. As I am stuck out here in the corn fields of Iowa, I will have to choose between Adepticon and Nova next year. Traveling to both is probably out of the question for my vacation budget. I have to choose between flying to DC or driving 9 hours to Adepticon.

    Hotel conditions are a factor in my choice. There are also other considerations too. I do not think it is a bad thing compairing the 2 events as long as it is done objectively.


  32. Good comparing within nova and adepticon with great example..lombard ohare Lombard Taxi services to and from Midway, O'Hare and the Loop


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