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04-23-2019 05:19 PM
Welcome to Pinball News review of the 2019 Midwest Gaming Classic (MGC) held annually in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

The MGC logo seemed to be everywhere in MilwaukeeMilwaukee, WI is a wonderfully interesting and diverse city. It has the vibe of a larger U.S. city such as New York or Philadelphia while maintaining the heritage and customs of the Central Europeans who migrated to Milwaukee in the 1840’s. Milwaukee is bordered on the east by the vast Lake Michigan (one of the largest inland freshwater lakes in the world with a volume of 1,180 cu mi) and on the west by relatively flat terrain and farmland. Milwaukee has three major waterways that flow inland from Lake Michigan; the Menomonee, the Kinnickinnic and the Milwaukee. Smaller rivers, such as the Root River and Lincoln Creek also run through the city.

It’s easy to understand with the many freshwater rivers, why Milwaukee became famous for its adult beverage businesses.

Milwaukee has a excellent range of arts and entertainment, such as the Milwaukee Art Museum on the lakefront, the recently remodeled Harley-Davidson Motor Company Museum, The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (also known as “The Domesâ€), The Captain Frederic Pabst Mansion, and The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear to name but a sampling.

Downtown Milwaukee has a good selection of beautiful boutique hotels such as The Pfister and The Knickerbocker in addition to more famous chains. It seems like everywhere that you turn there is a charming restaurant, tavern or night club to visit; especially in the rapidly gentrifying Walker’s Point and Historic Third Ward neighborhoods.

The MGC has been able to negotiate special ‘show’ rates with three of the hotels surrounding their location in the Wisconsin Center. All three hotels have “skyway†access to the show, so there is no need to expose yourself to the often times uncomfortable mid-April Wisconsin weather (more on that later). The special show rates save quite a bit of money so if you are planning a trip to the MGC in 2020, I’d strongly advise making your hotel reservations as soon as your travel plans have been settled.

The MGC began as Jag2k1 in 2001, largely as a fan and home-brew festival for the Atari Jaguar 64-bit advanced home gaming system. Before the 2001 show had begun, the organizers made the decision to open the show to all classic gaming platforms in an effort to expand attendance.

From an estimated attendance of about 100 in 2002, ‘The Classic’ has steadily grown to over 7,000 paid attendees (2018 estimate) and now claims to be the largest gaming enthusiast and trade show in North America outside of Las Vegas. The space used in the Wisconsin Center by MGC 2019 exceeded 150,000 square feet.

The retro gaming section of the show floorThe Midwest Gaming Classic showcases retro-gaming, but includes modern home gaming systems as well. The devices on display range from the newest VR gaming systems to some of the oldest, such as the original Pong.

The original Pong home game systemThe MGC is known for its pinball games, gaming museum and modern game tournaments. It also has a display of gaming systems that never had success due to a superior competitor or change in technology. Nearly all game systems on display can be played by attendees.

Assorted home gaming systems from the ’80sFriday was MGC preview night and was intended for those people purchasing the Very Important Gamer (VIG) package in spite of Friday general admission wristbands also being available. It was very well attended and the number of gamers present attested to the growing popularity of MGC.

Archie Cunningham of Dynamic Sketch Studio displayed his powerful story-telling through the art of illustration in a special artists exhibition area located between the gaming area and the vendor area.

MGC had a large amount of space reserved for board and role playing games, an interactive classic gaming and personal computer museum with examples of nearly every home electronic gaming console, home computer and game cartridge ever produced, a section dedicated to ‘claw machines’ (and the like), a cosplay (costume) contest hosted by MeTV’s Svengoolie, and a ‘Pro’ air hockey tournament featuring stars such as Dan Meyer, Mark Robbins, Allison DiMichele and Sarah Weissman.

The history of home console cartridgesIt would take at least a small book to describe all that was available to see and do at MGC 2019; since this is a report for Pinball News, I will focus as best as I can, on the coin-op gaming portion of the show.

Some of the many pinballs available to playMore of the pinballsChicago’s Galloping Ghost Pinball Arcade brought their Predator pinball (Skit-B, 2013) prototype. Attendees were delighted to be able to see and play this very rare game among the huge number of classic pinballs representing all eras of production from the 1930s to today.

Predator was one of the games brought by Galloping Ghost Pinball ArcadeJersey Jack Pinball used the MGC to launch their latest game, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to North America on Friday Night.

Jersey Jack Pinball launched their new Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory gameAll three versions of the game were available to playThe launch has been well documented by a podcast by our own Martin Ayub and Jonathan Joosten. I will comment that while waiting in line for our turn to play the new game, Terri and I observed that the scores were quite low – 40,000 points being what we remember as being a high game during the time we were in line.

The rules for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryJJP’s Yellow Brick Road edition of The Wizard of Oz game was also on hand.

The Yellow Brick Road edition of The Wizard of OzChicago Gaming had a surprisingly large presence with their full line available for play including Attack From Mars, and Monster Bash (remake)

Chicago Gaming had a large display of their remake titlesStern, in cooperation with Marco Specialties were showcasing their new Black Knight: Sword of Rage game which had only moderate wait times to play.

Stern’s new Black Knight: Sword of Rage was at the show in forceStern also had at least two of each of their games that had been produced in the last year on hand, including the relatively new The Munsters.

Marco Specialties were showcasing recent and new Stern Pinball titlesI was fortunate to be able to watch MGC guest Butch Patrick (TV’s Eddie Munster) playing Stern’s The Munsters pinball after his meet and greet session.

Spooky Pinball was on hand with examples of Total Nuclear Annihilation, and Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle available to play.

Spooky Pinball’s Alice Cooper’s Nightmare CastleCapcom’s Kingpin is a mythic game to pinball collectors and players, having only 9 of the original games produced. I am told that the team at Circus Maximus are putting their re-make into production, so finally everyone can enjoy playing this Mark Ritchie-designed game. A prototype was available for attendees to enjoy.

The Kingpin remake by Circus MaximusAmerican Pinball seemed to be drawing the most interest among the general pubic – at least in our observation – with their modest display of three Oktoberfest: Pinball On Tap games and a Houdini. These games seemed to be constantly in play literally until the show organizers cut the power mains from their booth at show closing time of 8pm Saturday night.

American Pinball had multiple Oktoberfest games to play, together with their Houdini titleMGC’s pinball tournaments included: Women’s, Midwest Pinball Championship, Midwest Pinball Juniors Championship, and Team Split Flipper. They had two of each game in the tournament which included Bally’s Harlem Globetrotters On Tour (one with LEDs and one without), Williams’ F-14 Tomcat and Stern’s Iron Man.

Two Iron Mans, two F-14 Tomcats and two Harlem Globetrotters in the tournament areaSaturday was mostly consumed with seminars and I felt that the panel discussion by Tim Sexton and Steve Richie on Williams’ 1980 launch of the original Black Knight game in France was quite entertaining, as was their insight into the design process of Stern’s new Black Knight game.

Tim Sexton & Steve RitchieOne of the best attended seminars was given by the always affable Ernie Hudson on his acting career and his personal enthusiasm for both video games and pinball. Ernie said that he has two pinballs in his personal collection, including Stern’s Ghostbusters.

Ernie HudsonAt the other end of the spectrum, only a few people attended Harold Johnson’s very interesting presentation on how TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game was basically developed in the early 1970s at a past GenCon gaming event held in Lake Geneva, WI. It was a shame more people didn’t attend and learn about the history of pre-computer gaming.

Harold JohnsonIn the vendor area there were quite a few pinball parts and accessories companies on hand, including Artovision with their fantastic 3-D Shadowboxes (photo does not do it justice) having both video game and pinball themes.

The Artovision standColorDMD were showing their displays in multiple gamesRob Anthony’s Pinball Classics had his own room at the showLighted Pinball Mods had an eye-catching standI felt that one of the most interesting refreshment vendors was Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Pop Co. At their strategic location right next to Jersey Mike’s sandwiches and across from the Carcade (mobile arcade). Attendees could purchase one of their decorative ‘vintage’ stainless steel mugs and get free soft drink refills at their stand for the rest of that day.

The Carcade mobile gaming system in front of Jersey Mike’s and Wild Bill’sWild Bill’s beverages are sweetened with cane sugar and said to be made with less carbonation than national brands. Their mugs are evocative of something that would be right at home in The Lord Of The Rings universe and I’m certain most if not all of them were taken home and appreciated by the gamers on hand. I learned later that Wild Bill’s mugs are traded as collectables on the eBay auction site, so it is likely that the MGC mugs may become available for those unable to attend MGC 2019.

Jersey Mike’s sandwich company was a presenting sponsor of MGC 2019, and had a sizeable vending stand just outside the gaming room, but there was no lack of other choices to keep your blood-sugar level properly maintained. The back wall of the vendor area had several food and beverage vendors, and there was a comfortable dining space set up nearby.

On Saturday night the MGC organizers put on an ‘After Party’ for those people purchasing the VIG package.

The After PartyParty-goers were given a coupon by WWE Legend The Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase for a complementary adult beverage that could be redeemed at the after party bar.

The After Party drink voucherA large dance floor as well as a DJ with an impressive light show augmented the games on hand for the guests’ amusement.

Plenty more games to play during the After PartySunday at MGC opened to another long line of enthusiastic gamers waiting at the pre-paid ticket redemption desk.

Waiting to collect their ticketsThe ticket deskWe were sad to have to leave MGC somewhat early on Sunday due to an incoming snow storm that unceremoniously dumped 6-10 inches of snow on the northern Illinois and southeast Wisconsin area.

The white-out conditions on Interstate 94 doubled our travel time home – and that was with an AWD vehicle. I have no doubt that if we had chosen to fly rather than drive, we would have been stuck in Milwaukee until at least Monday night. Contrast this to just a few days earlier when the weather was such that it was too warm to wear a light jacket in the outdoors!

I would like to give my sincere thanks to Dan Loosen and the members of the show staff for their invaluable assistance with covering MGC 2019. I would be remiss to not offer a thank you to the staff of the Hyatt Place Milwaukee/Downtown in helping us to secure a room for the MGC at somewhat the last minute. We were quite impressed with this hotel as well as its convenient location to the show, and I would suggest you check it out if you are planning to attend MGC 2020.