1,000 players celebrate 40 years of Dragonflight

The 40th annual Dragonflight game convention was held at the Bellevue Hilton last weekend.

The Bellevue Hilton played host to superheroes, villains, soldiers, kings, queens and even zombies last weekend.

About 1,000 people attended the 40th annual Dragonflight GameCon at the Bellevue Hilton last weekend.

Dragonflight is a 501(c)7 nonprofit organization run by volunteers, dedicated to promoting the educational and social benefits of gaming in the Pacific Northwest.

Dragonflight is one of the longest running gaming conventions in the Pacific Northwest. The event gathers nearly 1,000 people to play in or run some 600 events spread over three days in August. At Dragonflight, there’s nearly every game a person can play face-to-face. Video games do not qualify.

Games include board games, live action role-playing games, war games, card games, miniatures and more. Dragonflight hosts games at every skill level.

Vendors from around the Seattle area, including game stores, game companies, artists, online magazines and other resources that are related to gaming, are also present at Dragonflight.History

The first Dragonflight convention in 1980 resulted from an interaction between members of The Brass Dragon Society, a Seattle role-playing group, and members of Western Washington Wargamers.

The interaction between the two groups with divergent activities led to the broad spectrum of gaming Dragonflight now has.

Ten years later, in 1990, a group of Dragonflight members proposed joining with a campus gaming group at the University of Washington, called the Simulation Gaming Association. The idea was to create a gaming experience which is now one of the nation’s few self-supporting clubhouses devoted to the gaming hobby — Metro Seattle Gamers.

The club site was in the Ballard area of Seattle until 2007, in the Interbay district until 2017, and is now located at the Nickerson Marina.

Dragonflight GameCon, the annual convention in Bellevue, and Metro Seattle Gamers operate as two self-supporting divisions of the nonprofit incorporated as Dragonflight Inc.

For more than 20 years, Dragonflight GameCon was held at Seattle University. The convention moved to the Bellevue Hilton 12 years ago.


While Dragonflight has its own extensive game library, it also invites people to bring their own games to host. However, some go the extra mile and design their own games.

Bruce Smith of Tacoma is one of those people. Having been fascinated with miniatures and hot wheels since an early age, he has come to create about 50 tabletop games. Each game consists of individual figures and pieces that play on one of Smith’s elaborate scenic game boards.

This year, he brought one of his latest games, Hot Wheels, Heavy Machine Guns and Human Gangs.

“It’s a passion of mine,” Smith said.

The game, as well as all of his other games, has a simple set of rules. Smith said he wants everyone to feel welcome to play his games.

“They’re visually compelling. People walk up and go ‘What in the world is that? I gotta try this,’” he said. “I never want anyone to feel intimidated to play my games. They’re meant for everyone.”

In addition to creating or hosting games, Playtest NW also debuts new games before publication. Playtest NW is a collective of designers with the sole mission of bringing enjoyment through tabletop games to the masses.

Bringing people together

Amy Gembala has served as Dragonflight’s convention director for the past six years.

She and her husband own Gem Games & Hobbies in Renton and were vendors at a Dragonflight convention several years ago.

While she doesn’t “game” herself, she said she enjoys seeing people and families come together and play games with each other face-to-face.

“It’s a family-focused con,” she said. “It’s a great way for families — multigenerational families, too — to have fun and spend time with each other.”

With each year of attending Dragonflight, Gembala said she wanted to become more involved. She began attending convention planning meetings, and in 2013, she became the convention director.

Since then, she said she’s seen the convention grow each year.

“The attendance was around the low 500s when I started,” she said. “This year we’re expecting over 1,000.”

Despite the logistical challenges of organizing a game convention every year, Gembala said she enjoys seeing the smiling faces of families and friends playing games together.

“It’s most rewarding when people tell me they had a good time,” she said. “That’s how I know I’ve done my job well.”

Walter Lutsch has been attending Dragonflight for the past five years. This year, he served as the board game area coordinator for the first time.

As a longtime board game player, Lutsch enjoys playing and hosting games at Dragonflight.

“The sheer number of games people have access to here is amazing,” he said. “Some people bring vintage games or games that are hard to find, and this is one of the few times you can play it.”

Lutsch said he enjoys seeing returning players coming year after year.


“You start developing relationships and create friendships with people you play games with,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience to come here and play different kinds of games with different people.”

There are games for everyone, Lutsch said.

“No one needs to feel intimidated to try a new game. Everyone is here to share their favorite games and have fun,” he said.