For this kind of prize pool you're going to have to float the money for the prizes, because you're not going to get the money from the tickets until a month or two after the convention ends.
I don't have any problem doing this, as long as I know how much I expect to get so I can make the prize pool the right size. I assume it's just the money from entry fees minus whatever the convention charges for table space and time -- how do I find out what I would expect to pay for table space?
We run twice-yearly local Dominion tournaments as well, at a bit smaller scale of around 24-32 people, and my husband has run them at a small local con.
That's my basic frame of reference for my answers, below.
Some initial thoughts:
1. Time allotment - I don't think 3 hours is enough time for 4 games with 4 people. There is nothing currently built into this schedule for a game that runs long, and for variations in the ability of players to move through the games quickly. At least 4 hours is a better estimate.
2. Organization of tables - How would moving to the next game work? Would you reset at the table with the same set of 4 people or rotate everyone to a new table/set up? If people are moving, that takes time and would need to be built into the overall event time.
3. Costs - Events can be free or typically $2/hour/player. You can bill this is as a win a box, essentially your tournament prizes, and charge actual costs. Obviously, RG ran this is a free event. I'd say that you'd be looking good at a price point of $8-$10. That's $1024-$1280 total, less any costs for Gen Con, and leaves you with a sizable prize pool allotment.
4. 32 tables is a lot. Set up would be at least an hour on the beginning and another hour for clean up. You'll need helpers for sure. My husband calls them his minions.
5. It seems that I remember that RG did their games as 3P rather than 4P to move it along.
6. Prizes - We've had really good luck with picking up reasonably priced Dominion and expansions at C&C Games, who has a presence at Gen Con each year as the main RG seller. For our prizes, the overall winner gets first choice of the boxes we have available. Winners at the top final game tables all get a prize (if you play all of the games, you have a chance to win a prize), ranging from a promo card pack to a used box to a new box to a new "big box."
7. Have you given any thought to how you'd deal with bailers, or those who don't do as well as they'd like and leave before the event is complete?
Thanks for your reply! I'm interested to know about the other Dominion tournaments you host, btw.
As for your points, here's what I have so far:
1/2/5. I plan to have all games be 2-player games, this is because 2P games are pretty much always the most competitively viable format for any game, particularly Dominion. At my tournaments I operate on a schedule which allows for 45 minutes per game. Each game has 40 minutes for playing and then there's a 5 minute period in between each game for getting ready for the next game. I've built in an additional time-based game ending condition so that games don't run long, in 11 tournaments I've only had a couple of games actually use this endgame condition and there have been no complaints, mostly because I was up-front about it before we got started.
4. So with 2P games, there are 16 tables. This is about what I set up for my tournaments and I'm able to pack things such that setup takes about 10 minutes for me to do all by myself. Tear-down takes a bit less but it's close. I understand that setup and tear-down should be included in my event times, so I guess that makes each heat 3 1/2 hours so I can have a few minutes at the start to go over rules, format, and answer questions from people before they start playing. Does this sound about right?
If I have qualifying heats back-to-back at the same tables, I could skip the setup and tear-down in between them, but I don't know if that's realistic.
6. I was hoping that I could give a prize to everyone who makes the finals (top 8) -- some merchandise would be OK but I was hoping I could give most prizes out in cash if possible (that's what most people who show up to my tournaments prefer, but I guess they already own lots of Dominion things if they're doing well enough at tournaments). Are merchandise prizes more popular at conventions?
7. So the format I use should definitely be robust enough to handle any number of players at any point. If someone leaves during a game that counts as a resignation, but past that and some backup plans, I'm willing to assign byes to people if they have no opponent at a given time.
Here's a Google Doc where I'm working on the format: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OvmD5QLA0bQRbwuErnBsDbWdwQ6ucWWSfiCmir3u64I -- I haven't figured out quite what I'm looking to do for the finals but there are probably a couple of good options.
Hopefully this is making some more sense?