In my line of work, I very rarely get to attend gaming conventions as a media member. I am usually working, which I love, but it takes away from my ability to cover all the action and try all the games I can. It was a real treat to be able to attend GrandCon with a media pass this past weekend in the lovely Grand Rapids.
This was the seventh annual GranCon, but it was my first time at the show. It takes place in the massive Devos Place right in the middle of the downtown core. Registration on Friday was super smooth, and I was into the main hall in no time. I spent my first hour there checking out the various vendors. There were a few different local shops selling games and some publishers including Blue Orange, Kolossal, Capstone Games, and Academy Games. There were also a handful of the type of vendors you don’t always see at a gaming con. This included a suicide prevention charity, a VR booth, and a local dog rescue. It was really nice to see some different interests represented.
There were plenty (I mean plenty) of tables in the main hall to support open gaming. GrandCon also had a wonderful library of games to choose from. They were all in really great condition and the checkout was very fast.
My first game of the weekend was one I had been wanting to play for a long time. The Artemis Project was one of the hit games of Gen Con. I can say that with confidence, because I was beside the Grand Gamers Guild booth for the best four days in gaming and the reaction was very enthusiastic.
I really enjoyed it! You play investors sending colonists to build life-sustaining infrastructure on Europa, Jupiter’s largest moon. It’s a dice placement and engine building game where you recruit colonists, construct buildings, and gather resources. The mechanics are really tight, and there were some tough decisions to make. Like any good Euro, you can’t do everything you want, so you just have to do a few things well. I lost game one, but considering I was playing with the artist/graphic designer of the game, Josh Cappel, and the publisher, Marc Specter, I didn’t feel so bad. I liked Artemis Project enough to play it again the next day. It’s definitely a game that you need to see through once to get the full scope of. The next game I had a much better grasp at what was going on.
I managed to get into a demo of Watergate from Capstone Games. I had been hearing a lot about it and definitely wanted to give it a try. It’s a tug-of-war abstract type of game, as one player takes on the role of Nixon, trying to subvert the investigation, and the other takes on the role of the Washington Post, trying to follow the money and uncover the truth. By playing cards from hand, players try to gain control of key people in the scandal. If Nixon can survive to the end of his term, he wins the game, but if the Post connects two people back to Nixon, the President leaves office in disgrace. There was something oddly familiar about that game…anyway.
I got to play a round of Calimala, which I had played once before, but wanted to confirm how much I liked it. Consider that confirmed. It’s a straight forward Euro where you deliver goods around Europe and make tribute to the various important buildings of Italy. What really shines about Calimala is the action selection. Different action tiles are randomly placed to to form a 3×3 grid. You place a disc in between two tiles and get to take both actions on either side. If someone placed there before you, your disc sits on top and everyone down the line gets to do the same set of actions. It’s a super satisfying game, and it keeps people involved in every turn of the game.
I also got to play Hadara which is just awesome! If you want more info, we mentioned it as one of our games to look for from the Gathering of Friends. Finally, I rounded off our last night in Grand Rapids with a game of Unmatched. It is quickly becoming my favourite game of the year. In this match, Robin Hood faced off with Bigfoot and although he fought bravely, the son of Lockesly was no equal to the Sasquatch. This is the type of game where even if you’re losing, you have a lot go fun with it.
Aside from the gaming hall, there was a prototype testing room and a room dedicated to RPGs. Back at our hotel, we had another large room set aside for open gaming. I ran into Gil Hova there and got to try out his prototype for Rival Networks (please note, images are of prototype components). It’s a two-player version of his hit game that plays in about 30 minutes. It’s lots of fun and retains the same sense of humour as the original.
Overall I had a great time at this show. People were friendly and open to gaming with strangers. It got pretty crowded on the Saturday, but there was always table space to game at. The town of Grand Rapids was very nice from the little I saw of it. We checked out a cool comics and games shop downtown called Vault of Midnight. Definitely check this place out if you’re in the city. On a final note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Z’s (Zed’s, if you’re Canadian). I ate there each night and they have a great menu and a wide selection of local draughts.
GrandCon 7 is in the books and we’re already looking forward to year 8.