Last weekend I attended GameStorm, a local gaming convention in Vancouver, Washington, and had a blast. I’ve been attending GameStorm for many years now. It’s relatively small–even with increasing attendance over the past few years, there are fewer than 2,000 people–so I tend to see a lot of the same faces over the course of the weekend. It’s also focused on the gaming: there are some vendors set up in a Dealers Hall and you’ll see game designers there to show off game prototypes, but for the most part it’s all about having four days to play a bunch of games.
I always overpack on games, because you never know which games people will want to play, right? Of course, GameStorm has a sizeable game library, so I don’t need to bring everything, but I had a couple of newer releases and Kickstarter prototypes that I wanted to try out, so I packed those along. I have a set of rectangular camping gear bags that I’ve been using to transport games for many years now, but this year I had two more options to try. The first was the QuiverTime card case, which I mentioned in this gaming accessories post last month. The other was the Game Canopy bag from Level3B, which is designed for your large square boxes. It’s really nice–and coming to Kickstarter in April. Besides these two, I also filled a couple of my old bags as well.
The convention started at noon on Thursday, but my daughter had a school play so I went to see that and then headed up to Vancouver afterward–just in time to hit the beginnings of rush hour traffic.
The gaming halls weren’t too crowded yet when I arrived, so I found a table easily and sat down with my pile of games. GameStorm provides plastic orange cones–if you’re looking for more players, you set the cone on the table, and people know that they can walk up and join you. Once the game is full or you’ve started playing, you take the cone down. This afternoon, though, I didn’t need the cone right away because I found a couple of people I knew.
We started off with Firefly Fluxx, an easy intro game. It is, as you would expect, pretty similar to other Fluxx titles. The Creeper cards are the Reavers and Hands of Blue, and the Keepers are most of the other characters from the show, plus Serenity and some various items like guns, plastic dinosaurs, and so on. Some of the Keepers give you special abilities when you have them, which can be chained together. My favorite card, I think, is the Surprise card “You Can’t Take This Guy From Me,” which prevents another player from stealing one of your Keepers.
Next up was Star Wars Carcassonne, which I picked up at my local game store recently. Yeah, I overpaid, because it’s an import from Germany, but I had some store credit saved up and couldn’t resist. It’s a fun take on Carcassonne, one of my all-time favorite games, and I like that it’s more than just a re-theme but actually has some interesting tweaks to the rules. There are some copies that have made their way to the US but it’s not always easy to find. If you don’t have friends in Germany who can pick you up a copy, stay tuned: Z-Man Games has gotten permission to do a limited print run in the US this fall.
Next up I played Oh My Goods!, a game that Jason Hancock (of the Docking Bay 94 podcast) brought. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it has some similarities to San Juan: you have cards that represent buildings and are used to produce goods, which are then sold for money in order to build other buildings. The trick, though, is that you have a limited number of workers (you start with only one) and each worker can only activate one of your buildings. There’s a bit of a gamble when the market cards are flipped over to see if you have enough resources to start production. At the end of the game, you score points based on buildings, workers, and money. I thought it was really good, though it took a little time to figure out how the goods production worked.
After that we tried Mysterium, a game that GeekDad Dave Banks introduced to me last year at Gen Con. It’s like Dixit meets Codenames meets Clue. Dave had the Polish version, and the American edition was released last year. I bought a copy recently and GameStorm was my first chance to play it. The rules are slightly different from the original but the core of it is still the same: one player is a ghost, trying to communicate to the other players in order to identify the murderer. The trick is that the ghost communicates by providing illustrated cards, hoping that a combination of cards will lead the “psychics” in the right direction. We played twice on Thursday, and again on Friday.
After a break for dinner, I played Loot n Run, an upcoming game from Iello about looting the pyramids for treasures. It’s a press-your-luck game, and you have to decide between collecting more cards, getting out with some treasure, or trying to awaken the guardians for your opponents to prevent them from scoring.
Finally, I ended the night with A Study in Emerald, a game based on Neil Gaiman’s short story about Sherlock Holmes in a Lovecraftian world. The game combines deck-building, area control, and hidden identities, and it’s another one that I played several times over the course of the weekend (though I did discover that I got a few rules wrong). It’s a very fun game and I really like the way that the theme fits into the game’s mechanics. The version I played is the second edition, from Grey Fox Games, which has some tweaks from the original.
After we finished A Study in Emerald, I figured I should get home and get some sleep, because I was running games all day Friday and hadn’t slept much the day before. But then I got to talking with a friend about the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, which then led to showing him the app version and playing through an entire scenario. And then I saw Mike Selinker (designer of PACG) walk by, so I got to chat with him about the app and Apocrypha, which he was going to be playtesting during the weekend… and then it was well after midnight. Well, I’ll get some sleep when I’m retired.
GameStorm lets you sign up as a game master (GM) to run games–they’re always happy to have more volunteers and more events, and whether you’re bringing your own game design or you just have a favorite game you want to play, you can sign up to run a game. It’s a good way to guarantee that you’ll have table space, and people can sign up ahead of time to play a game with you. There’s even some swag that you can earn by being a GM–for every hour you run a game, you get credit that can be traded in for various things provided by donors and sponsors.
Although I’ve always brought a pile of games to GameStorm in the past, I’ve never signed up to host anything before. Partly it’s because I was worried about being tied to a particular schedule, but mostly it was because I never knew far enough in advance what would be on my review pile by that weekend. (Sign-ups are about a month in advance.) This year, though, I asked for permission to set up some “Gaming with GeekDad” slots: I had various time slots ranging from half hour to two-and-a-half hours, and the description was that I’d just pick games based on the number of players and experience level. They scheduled me from 8am until about 10pm on Friday (with breaks for meals), and I got two tables to myself for that whole time.
Other than the start time (which was a little earlier than I’d expected), it was a great way to spend the day. I just piled up all my games at my table, and people would come by and play a game or two. Usually you specify how many player slots each session can have, and then late-comers can also join in if there’s room. Since I had two tables, at one point we had enough to split into two groups, so I never had to turn anyone away.
Our first game of the day was Valeria: Card Kingdoms, which I reviewed when it was on Kickstarter last year. This was my first time breaking out the finished version, which has some changes here and there to the final gameplay. I really like how this one turned out, and I played it a couple more times over the course of the weekend with different players. I haven’t gotten a chance to throw in the mini-expansions yet, but they look like fun.
Next up was a big game of Legends of the American Frontier, another Kickstarter-funded title from designer Richard Launius. It’s a big game about, well, the American frontier, and it’s heavy on the theme. As you progress through the game, you attempt various missions and add to your own life story. You may add a successful mission to your story, or you might get a failure card or suffer hardships that also become part of your story. I’ve played this one several times in the past couple of weeks (expect a full review later) and have enjoyed it a lot.
After this I played a game of Spaceteam, a hilarious real-time cooperative game based on the app of the same name. I wrote up the Kickstarter last fall, and the finished game is slick. Literally. The cards are intentionally extra slippery, making them hard to handle, so that when you’re trying to pass tools around the table you’re quite likely to throw cards all over the place. It’s a fun, fast-paced game (and impossible to take a picture of if you’re actually playing the game yourself).
Next up: Web of Spies, a Kickstarter-funded game that I reviewed recently. It’s a great mix of territory control and deck-building, and I love the artwork on it, too. Our game came down to two agents left on the board–I foolishly pursued my opponent to North America, where he was able to use his American CIA to finish me off.
I took a break for lunch and went to the Hospitality Suite. I guess GameStorm has had this in previous years but I actually never used it. They had a room set up with drinks and food–sandwich fixings, veggie trays, chips, and cereal. You could pop in to grab a quick meal without having to leave the hotel, which was very nice. Granted, it wasn’t a fantastic meal (and there are some nice places to eat in downtown Vancouver) but when you need to eat and get back to gaming, it’s a really great option to have, and I was very grateful for it. I had lunch here twice during the weekend, and made sure to put some tips in the donation box.
Quests of Valeria is the third title in Daily Magic Games’ Valeria line (after Villages of Valeria, which just Kickstarted last month). I got a prototype of Quests because there was a possibility it would be added into the Villages Kickstarter campaign, but then they decided to wait a little so backers wouldn’t get too overwhelmed with all the new stuff. Quests is about hiring citizens and using them to complete quests for points–it’s a bit like Lords of Waterdeep, but without the worker placement aspect and instead more focused on the quests. I’ve enjoyed playing this one, and you’ll hear more about it when it’s on Kickstarter or becomes available to purchase.
Although it may not look like much from the photo above, Tem-Purr-A was another favorite from this weekend. It’s a little card game from Iello, about cats at an eating contest. You’re trying to eat as much as possible without getting indigestion, and each turn you have to decide whether to eat what’s been offered or pass it along. As the deck gets smaller and more indigestion cards are shuffled in, it gets more and more tense when you start flipping cards. This one hit the table several times over the course of GameStorm.
I played a full 7-player game of Mysterium, with me as the ghost and six psychics trying to determine who my murderer was. We did learn that I made a mistake about the clairvoyancy track (one of the new features in the English edition) so we made it a little harder than it should have been, but we were close. All of the psychics were able to find their sets of suspect, location, and weapon by the last round, but then were divided about the final decision and the culprit got away.
I played a couple rounds of Emergence, which is currently on Kickstarter. (See my review here.) It’s a hidden-role game about AIs trying to squash the pesky Human resistance, and combines the social deduction game with moving around on a board.
And another game of Star Wars Carcassonne–this time I remembered to take a picture!
At the end of the day, my friends Angie and Julian (the designers of Storm Hollow and Riftwalker) showed me a pirate-themed game that they’re currently working on. It’s a fun adventuring sort of game where you go off and explore various islands, hoping to acquire new crew members, valuable treasures, and useful gear. I can’t tell you much more than that right now, but it’s one I’ll be keeping my eye on so I’ll report back on it when there’s something more to share.
I got back home pretty late again, but I figured on Saturday I would sleep in a bit because I didn’t have anything on my schedule until 1pm. Unfortunately, I was just too wired to sleep, so I ended up getting up pretty early, packing up my games, and got back to GameStorm before the crowds again.
Sadly, as I was carrying my games into the hotel, I heard a tearing sound and realized that one of my old game bags had finally had too much–the seam tore apart. I made a trip back to the car and swapped it out for another bag.
My first game of the day was Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers, a Kickstarter-funded game from Tasty Minstrel Games. (Backer copies are in transit now, but I got an advance copy so I can review it for when it hits retail.) It’s set in the world of Eminent Domain but it’s a standalone game, and it’s pretty tiny. Each player only gets a handful of cards for the whole game, but before you play you can decide which cards everyone will use. It’s an interesting game with simultaneous choice–you want to pick a card that nobody else picked, otherwise there’s a clash and you don’t get the benefit of your card. I played Battlecruisers twice during the weekend.
There was a game set up for demo at the table right next to me, so I decided to give it a try. Dirty Cops is currently on Kickstarter, and it’s not really for kids (unless you’re okay with your kids playing as corrupt cops). Each game, you and your fellow cops will take on criminals at three scenes, shooting them or scaring them off. Each criminal also has a certain amount of ammo, money, and drugs–which of course the dirty cops collect and divvy up. But there’s no honor among thieves (or dirty cops), so you get to play lots of nasty actions on each other as well, trying to get the biggest share of the loot. I had a fun time–though it turns out I was the cleanest cop in the precinct.
I played another game of A Study in Emerald, and this time it was quite a battle between the Restorationists and the Loyalists. Part of the tension comes from wanting the game not to end until you’re in the lead–which can sometimes cost your faction the victory. In this case, I managed to delay my teammates long enough to pull off a sacrifice action, throwing my own agents away for 6 points. Totally worth it.
I participated in one panel this year, a roundtable discussion on Crowdfunding Strategies and Tips. I’ve only run one Kickstarter campaign myself, but I’ve written up a lot and have backed even more. Mostly I was there from the perspective of a reviewer, talking about how we at GeekDad write about Kickstarter games and encouraging project creators to set up media coverage well before the Kickstarter launch.
After the panel, I talked briefly with Dave Howell, the creator of one of my favorite gaming accessories: PennyGems. I have a batch of PennyGems that I use whenever I need a generic game token of some sort. The newest item in the Improbable Objects store is this PennyGems Sudoku board: it snaps apart into four pieces, and you can easily fill in the grid with numbers from your newspaper or puzzle book–and then solve it using PennyGems. Scanning the colors is a lot easier than looking at numbers, and the board is big enough that multiple people could work on the puzzle at once. He hasn’t done an official “launch” yet, but it’s available in his Etsy store now.
In the evening, I got to play a prototype of one of my most anticipated games: Apocrypha. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it was designed by Mike Selinker, and the initial idea for it eventually became the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Last year Selinker launched a Kickstarter campaign to go back and finish this game (originally known as Saints), and the Lone Shark Games team has been hard at work. It’s still an “adventure card game,” so PACG fans will see some similarities, but there are also many striking differences, and it’s pretty fascinating. Having played this one scenario at GameStorm, I’m even more excited for when this is finally available. (Sorry, Chad, for not having a better photo than this one–I got too excited about playing to take any more…)
My last game of the day was another round of Web of Spies, this time with the Secret Missions expansion thrown in. The expansion is a deck of cards with various missions on them, and they provide another goal for the game: you can win by reaching 10 points. Missions vary in difficulty level and points value–you may need to trash a weapon card from your hand, or have agents positioned in specific locations. As soon as you accomplish your mission, you reveal it, score points, and get a new mission. I really enjoyed the expansion and will probably use it whenever I play Web of Spies in the future.
On Sunday, I removed several games from the trunk of my car–some that I’d played already over the course of the weekend, and some that I figured I just wouldn’t be able to play. One that I’d been carting around was Robinson Crusoe, because it’s a longer game and I just didn’t know if I’d find a few more people interested in playing it. But then when I arrived at GameStorm, I saw somebody walking by with Robinson Crusoe sticking out of the top of his bag. It turns out he had some friends who were also interested in trying it, so we ended up playing. We decided to try the second scenario, “The Cursed Island,” in which you have to build 5 crosses on the island to ward off the evil spirits. In the meantime, there’s fog that keeps rolling in and obscuring island tiles, making things more difficult.
We got pretty lucky early on, finding the “Boxes” treasure card that kept food from spoiling, but despite that our Explorer came within one wound of dying. Once we managed to finish some of our inventions, though, we had a good supply of food and things started looking up. We won the game on round 9 (of 10), completing our crosses and even getting our health back up. It was a lot of fun, and reminded me again why I love this game.
After that, I joined in a game of Dead of Winter, a semi-cooperative game about the zombie apocalypse. In any given game, there might be a traitor, but everyone (even the non-traitors) also has a secret objective. I like the game but haven’t gotten to play it often because I don’t own it–and my inexperience almost got me exiled as a traitor because of some poorly planned moves. I had a rough start, though: In my first move of the game, I tried to move a character to the school (my objective was to find some Book objects) and immediately got bitten by a zombie. So much for that guy. The other fun part was that my friend Matt had totally lost his voice by this point, so he had to pantomime everything during the game.
One more game before GameStorm ended: Loop, Inc., a time travel game I wrote about when it was on Kickstarter. I have a finished copy now, but hadn’t gotten a chance to break it out yet. It seemed like an appropriate title for the end of the convention–because if I had a time machine, I’d go back to the beginning of the convention and play games for four more days. Loop, Inc. has a bit of a steep learning curve, and generally you have to play it at least once before you really start to grasp the way your choices continue to have repercussions throughout the game. But I really like it and I hope I get a chance to throw in some of the expansion materials soon.
Then, GameStorm was over. It was time to pack up and head home, but not before I pre-registered for GameStorm 19!
Thanks again to GameStorm for a really fun weekend, the hospitality staff for your hard work keeping us fed, and to all the gamers who stopped by to play games with me over the weekend. Happy Gaming!