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Over the past four years, the Coulee Con gaming convention has built a dedicated fan base, attracting a crowd of around 800 hundred at the 2018 event. But this year, rather than focusing on growing attendance, founder Josh Hertel is looking to grow community, making the three-day event, running Aug. 16-18, even more inviting, inclusive and family-friendly.

Originally tagged as “Bringing gamers together,” the convention’s new motto is “Bringing all gamers together,” which includes those new to the camaraderie of cosplay and the delight of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as youngsters, seniors and individuals of all genders and orientations. As in previous years, Coulee Con will also serve to raise funds for the Children’s Miracle Network.

“I think something I’m really passionate about is looking at how are we welcoming families and reaching the people who haven’t come and making it more inclusive?” Hertel said. “How do we get the community engaged and use gaming as a community building opportunity and get people interacting with each other?”

In taking these steps, Hertel is offering name tags with preferred pronouns for gamers (she, he, they, etc.) and offering more games targeted to families. Loyal Coulee Con participants can still expect the classics — Catan, Magic: The Gathering, Munchkin — as well as discover new favorites, like Carcassonne, a tile placement game inspired by the eponymous medieval fortress in France, and Exploding Kittens, a Russian Roulette-style card game in which no real felines are harmed.

Friday night kicks off with an introduction of assorted games for first time players, with one hour sessions of role-playing and board games like Oathbreaker. Other opening day highlights include a four hour round of Pathfinder and, for the tireless, a 10-hour bout of Starfinder Adventure Path #7.

Saturday brings a protospiel event, where regional game designers can introduce their original prototypes and get feedback from players. Games offerings include Axis and Allies, Coulee Caverns, Conflicting Legends and a Warhammer tournament.

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Coulee Con will conclude Sunday with a broad spectrum of offerings, including the third annual Cosplay contest and a giveaway of 50 games from the Play-to-Win library, such as Adorable Pandaring, Chrononauts, Get the MacGuffin and My Little Scythe. The official Family Day, admission prices will be reduced Sunday and all ages will have options, from facepainting and miniatures painting to youth Pokemon tournaments and teen Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing games. Human Hungry Hungry Hippos, Mascot Coulee Tower — like giant Jenga, but with local mascots facing off — a Zombie dice tournament and Ultimate Werewolf are also on the docket.

Gamers are encouraged to have fun while raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network by participating in the Extra Life 24 hour gaming marathon — you don’t have to play all the hours consecutively — and Weirdcards Charitable Clubs’ Magic: The Gathering sessions. Since 2015, Coulee Con has raised over $4,000 for the Gundersen Health System La Crosse Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. Worldbuilders: Geeks Doing Good will also have a booth at the event.

“Gaming is a really powerful tool for building our community and also for supporting a great cause,” Hertel said.

Coulee Con is sponsored by Explore La Crosse, River City Hobbies, Clairemont Comics and Games, Universal Horizons and The Game Crafter.

For an event schedule, visit http://couleecon.com.

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Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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General assignment reporter

Emily Pyrek covers health, human interest stories and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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