I had a fantastic time at the TAGIE/ChiTAG conventions this weekend. I drove down on Thursday morning and made it in time to join the panel on “Design and Development,” moderated by my friend Mike Gray of Hasbro. It’s always a kick to join Mike on one of these panels because I remember sitting in the audience of one of his panels when I was starting out, over 20 years ago.

TAGIE is not cheap, but it makes up for that in two ways. First, the information new inventors can glean from the show can literally save them tens of thousands of dollars if it keeps them from making a few critical errors. Second, they treat the attendees extremely well. We had catered lunches every day, the kind that put most wedding receptions to shame.

Thursday night, the show brought all of the attendees and spearkers down to Bubba Gump’s for an excellent dinner and an open bar. I mostly sat with Mike, Roger Gehrke, and Kim Vandenbroucke, and we had a ball. After dinner, I had to bail on the evening early to run out to O’Hare and pick up Ann, who’d just spent six days at a pair of conferences in Colorado, then drive home.

I got up early on Friday and squeaked through rush-hour traffic just in time to join the “Online and Interactive” panel, hosted by Cliff Annicelli, editor-in-chief of Playthings Magazine. Later in the day, I also got the chance to meet Daryl Hannah again and tell her the story about what happened after our chance encounter 17 years ago. It involves dice, and I recently wrote it up for The Bones, a new book due out early next year from Gameplaywright Press and Atomic Overmind Press.

After the show ended, I drove over with Mike to the Adler Planetarium for the TAGIE Awards. Once again Mary Couzin and her team put on a phenomenal event. It started with a cocktail hour in which I met many of the Hasbro team and wound up playing around on the moon jump slide. From there, we segued into an excellent dinner and then to the awards.

Phil Jackson, the senior vice-president of Hasbro Games, led off the night, and then inventor Tim Walsh took over as MC. Leslie Scott, the inventor of Jenga, helped out with the awards presentations, as did Hilary Shepard, and John Ratzenberger even taped the presentation of the Young Inventor of the Year award. Peggy Brown beat out Reiner Knizia and Arne Lauwers for the Game Inventor of the Year. I’ve known Peggy for years, and she deserves it.

Two bits surprised me the most. First, the In Memoriam award went to Betty James, who named the Slinky and ran the company for decades after her husband left her. I knew nothing about her before this, but she seems to have been a stunning lady. The second bit was the highlight of the night: the Lifetime Achievement award that went to Reuben Klamer, the inventor of The Game of Life and many other toys and games. He was sharp, funny, and touching. I only hope I can manage myself half as well when I reach his 90 years of age.   

When it was all over, I drove over to Ken Hite‘s house to take advantage of his standing offer of crash space. The next morning, Ken joined me at ChiTAG. I had a number of one-on-one sessions with hopeful inventors, broken up by an excellent lunch with Darren Orange (of Reactor 88 Studios) and designer and educator Jeff Dohm. After the sessions, I wandered about the floor for a bit, then took Ken back to his place and headed back home so I could see my son Marty play the emperor in the Kids Fun and Drama presentation of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

I had a great time at the show, and I hope I’m invited back again next year. If you’re interested in becoming a mass-market toy or game inventor, I highly recommend it for you too.