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MADISON, WI -Dork Storm Press, along with Gamehole Con, are very pleased to announce that Dorkstock, the convention-within-a-convention celebrating the fandom surrounding the games and comics of John Kovalic, will be joining Gamehole Con this fall!


Dorkstock ran between 2002 and 2013, as part of Rock-Con, in Rockford, Illinois, before taking a break. It focused on games like Apples to Apples, Munchkin, Chez Geek, that Kovalic worked on, as well as other card, board and miniatures games. It included the annual (some might say “infamous”) Igor Bar Bake-Off.

The move to Madison, WI’s Gamehole Con promises even more dorky goodness, with three full days of programming. The Steve Jackson Games Men In Black demo team will also have a presence at Dorkstock, running Munchkin tournaments, along with Chez Geek and many other award-winning games the company is known for.

“It’s fantastic to be working with Gamehole Con,” said Kovalic. “It’s grown into a wonderful regional convention, and I’m enormously happy Dorkstock will be returning under Gamehole Con’s auspices.” “Madison’s my home town, so I’m excited to have it as Dorkstock’s new home, as well,” said Kovalic. “And the fit with Steve Jackson Games is an obvious one.”

Dorkstock 2016’s Chairperson is Frances Moritz, a veteran of many Rock-Con Dorkstocks. “Frances is absolutely indispensable,” said Kovalic. “Even if she does keep beating me at Blink.”

In keeping with its resurgence, the theme of Dorkstock 2016 is “the Farce Awakens.”


John Kovalic, has designed another monster plushie for Gamehole Con this year. Last year, the con produced the now-legendary Owlbear. This year, Gamehole Con is very pleased to announce that the terrible Bulette will be the plushie for 2016! And, probably the best part is that a portion of each sale will go to our charitable partner. For this year, Gamehole Con’s partner is Dane County Friends of Ferals. When you register, you will have the option of adding a Bulette or two to your order.

For more information, please contact:

Alex Kammer, Gamehole Con
Frances Moritz, Dorkstock Chair
Alex Aulisi, Dork Storm Press
John Kovalic, Dork Storm Press

Defender of the Realm (or: “Thank God I Wan’t Invited to an Auto Show”)

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I was a guest at Southern Fried Gameroom Expo this last weekend – a wonderful pinball and arcade gaming convention in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve never seen anything like it: hall after hall of classic and contemporary games.

They launched a tabletop gaming track, this year. Hence, my invite. Best of all, they also flew in the Lovely and Talented Judith, and Daughter, Age 7. So it was a delightful family weekend for us. (I can’t stress enough how much more enjoyable convention appearances become, with my little family along, with me.)

There was, however, an encounter on the first day I was totally unprepared for.

Not five minutes in the main gaming halls, and I came face-to-face with my first college love:


Yes. Sorry, Susan…Defender was the fist.

It’s been decades since I played a proper Defender cabinet. My pals and I at Queen Mary College, London, dropped many a 10-pence piece down the gullet of the one sitting in the student bar. We became good at the game – very good. I developed a blister on my left hand (the one needed for the joystick) index finger that remained with me until I transferred to the Defender-less University of Wisconsin, a couple of years later.


My pals Russell Clarke and John Trassler were the best of the group, I seem to remember – but we were none of us bad at it. I’d fall asleep at night, visions of exploding Landers and Mutants informing my dreams (a “particle effect algorithm to generate unique explosions for destroyed enemies” was a Defender selling point).


I mastered the steady stream of shots, able to wipe out Landers before they’d appear on-screen, my right hand twitching ever-faster, switching rapidly between Thrust, Fire, and the occasional Smart Bomb buttons. (Shame – SHAME – to those who lost all their lives with Smart Bombs remaining!)

On leaving London, Defender cabinets were harder and harder to come across. There was never a game like it, as far as I was concerned. The sequel, Stargate (that I found Stateside) had better graphics, but left me cold. The various console emulators were dead to me, as were the multi-game cabinets. None of them felt right. None of them left a blister on my fingers!

Decades passed, muscle memories faded.

But here, in the convention halls of this glorious Atlanta pinball hootenany, were four Defender machines, in great nick!

Free for the playing.

All. Weekend. Long!

Look, I’m not saying I was attached to Defender cabinets 24-7 (if only because the halls closed at midnight). But moves I thought long-dead were slowly coming back.

And at some point, I realized…these are all for sale! And my friends weren’t helping.

The last day of the show, some VERY ENABLING Twitter followers let me know that there was a great Defender cabinet left, going for $600. And they possibly knew someone who could get it to Wisconsin, saving around $300 on shipping.


This weekend, Father’s Day weekend, I drive down to Plateville to pick up my Defender cabinet.

Two final thoughts:

ONE – Thank goodness I have an extraordinarily tolerant, loving, and forgiving wife, and…

TWO – I was a guest at a Pinball and Arcade convention, and ended up buying an arcade game.

Thank god I wasn’t invited to an auto show!

– John

Southern Fried Gameroom Expo – Pinball Wizard!

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Now that I’m blogging a  bit more, I’d like to post about some of the great conventions I get invited to. I’m at an outstanding one right now –  Southern Fried Gameroom Expo.

The convention’s main focus is pinball and arcade games (I KNOW, RIGHT???), but they’ve started a tabletop gaming tack, sponsored, in part, by Geek Dad. Which is why I’m here.


Southern Fried Gameroom Expo was kind enough to fly the Lovely and Talented Judith out, with me. They also gave me enough of a stipend that we could afford a ticket for Daughter, Age 7, to come along, as well. I can’t say this enough: doing conventions is great, but doing conventions with my family along, to share the experience, is a thousand times better.

Day One was tremendous. The Moon Pie, Coke, Apple Cake and peach included in the gift bags let guests know they were in Georgia immediately. I only had one talk today, so the treat for me was hanging out in the massive pinball and arcade halls.


I’ve never been to a show like this, before, and I love it. Five minutes in, and I came face-to-face with my greatest college love: Defender!


There are four original Defender machines in the halls, which gave me plenty of time to recreate my old college moves and re-blister my old college left index-finger. I’ve only made it past second-level a couple of times, so far, but it’s coming back fast.


Another discovery: a classic Doctor Who pinball game, which was a blast. One of the finest pinball games I’ve ever encountered.


Daughter, Age 7, loved it, as well.


Although Super Mario Bros. was more her speed.


I’m not sure what Saturday’s crowds will be like, so we spent as much of Friday Classic Arcading while the Classic Arcading was good. An unexpected surprise – though – was running into Kyle Puttkammer in the tabletop gaming area.

Kyle is the author of the delightful all-ages comic book HERO CATS, which Daughter, Age 7, absolutely adores.


So we bought a Hero Cats hat, and got Kyle to sign a Hero Cats collection. Have I mentioned Hero Cats enough? Check it out. Action Lab Comics has a terrific line of all-ages books (including my pals Steve and Mark’s Ghoul Scouts)that should delight kids and their parents.

There are also some terrific restaurants near the con – nothing Capital “S” Southern that I could find (yet), but we did stumble across a terrific taqueria called Tacos La Villa not five minutes from the con, in a local strip mall.


I’m having a seriously great time at Southern Fried Gameroom Expo. If you make it over, Saturday – AND YOU SHOULD – I’ve got three more events lined up:

SATURDAY 1 pm – 2 pm (Chancellor Room)
“Out of the Box: John Kovalic”
SATURDAY 2 pm – 2:30 pm
Meet and Greet/Signing (Signing Area)
SATURDAY 9:30 pm-10:30pm (Waverly Room)
Drinking Quest Live (21+ only)

But honestly, I feel like popping into some other panels as well.

Look for me there. Or in front of one of the Defender machines.