Last weekend, I attended GameStorm 19, a local tabletop gaming convention here in Portland, Oregon. It’s one of my favorite weekends—four days devoted to gaming, all within driving distance from home. There’s a Dealer’s Room with exhibitors who have games and other merchandise for sale, but primarily it’s about sitting down (or standing up!) and playing games.
This year, the convention was held at the Red Lion Hotel on Jantzen Beach—GameStorm has been growing steadily, and I found the Red Lion to have easier parking access to the main gaming room. The downstairs areas were a little confusing: there were actually multiple, totally separate, downstairs areas, so if you were looking for RPGs or the GM room it could get a little confusing. And I’ll just put this up front here: next year’s GameStorm 20 will be held April 5–8, 2018, and registration is already open. Now’s always the cheapest time to register—$35 for the whole weekend—so if you’re interested in attending, I encourage you to register before the pricing goes up.
Fun fact: This year there were 1,532 attendees, and over 3,000 hours of scheduled events! So I contributed about .6% of that.
GameStorm ran from Thursday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. There was one large ballroom area for gaming that included tables for both open gaming and scheduled events, and then a lot of other smaller rooms for LARPs, RPGs, and other events. The large ballroom stayed open until 2am, but if you weren’t ready to call it quits yet, there were also spaces that were open around the clock for 24-hour gaming. Food options included the hotel restaurant, a small kiosk that was open during the day, and a hospitality suite where you could get sandwich fixings, fruit, and chips for a donation.
I was traveling the first half of the week for spring break, so I was scrambling to get ready, but I did manage to make a simple “Game Menu” this year for my Gaming With GeekDad event. This year, rather than try to plan out how many games I’d play and how long each one was, I just signed up for three 6-hour blocks of time, and offered to teach games to all comers. I made a few copies of the menu so that gamers could browse the selection and get an idea of the player count and length of a game. I had several prototypes (for games currently or soon to be on Kickstarter), a few games that have earned the GeekDad Approved seal this year, some silly games for younger players, and then a few other favorites or new games I haven’t reviewed yet. I also had a few more games I kept in my trunk but brought in later as “off the menu” items—there was only so much I could carry at once! Extra games included: Scythe, Gloomhaven, Ice Cool, Vast: The Crystal Caverns, and Emperor’s New Clothes.
My first event started at 3pm on Thursday, so while I was waiting for my table to open up, I played a game of Clank!, one of my favorites from last year. I didn’t win, but I did create a lot of havoc with Mister Whiskers.
Then I headed to my table, where I had a few people who had played games with me last year show up right at 3… and I played and taught games until 10 (when the next event started). Fortunately, there was an hour buffer between my event and the next.
Daily Magic Games, publisher of the Valeria series and Go Nuts for Donuts, had a big presence at GameStorm this year. Valeria: Card Kingdoms was on the badge lanyards, and Daily Magic had a booth in the Dealer’s Room where they ran demos of the Valeria games. In the meantime, they also spent a lot of time playtesting upcoming games and trying out game submissions from hopeful designers. I spotted this on the table near designer Isaias Vallejo, and he admitted that, while they are playtesting a few potential Valeria games, this particular box mock-up was mostly done as a joke, just to make things look more hush-hush than they actually are.
The first request from the menu was Herbaceous, a set-collection game I reviewed when it was on Kickstarter. The finished product turned out nicely, and it got several plays over the course of the weekend. It’s pretty simple to learn, plays quickly, and just looks gorgeous.
While Herbaceous was running, I used the other end of the table to teach Kingdomino, one of my new favorites. I played the first time, and then a couple of players took over and played again. This title also got some repeat customers over the course of the weekend.
The Grimm Forest has been doing incredibly well on Kickstarter (read my review here), so I had several people interested in playing that one. Since it only goes up to four players, I got some people started on that, while I played Go Go Gelato! at the other end of the table. It’s a silly dexterity puzzle game that has you trying to assemble various configurations of gelato cones, all without touching the “scoops.” It’s pretty hilarious, and a lot of fun. As people passed by, we acquired a few more players, and then I stepped out to take photos so one more could play.
After everyone had their fill of gelato, I suggested another dexterity puzzle game: Dr. Microbe. Like Go Go Gelato!, it’s a speed-based puzzle game, but with a little more logic required. Plus, you’re fighting other players over the same petri dish, so things get a little chaotic and crowded.
Somehow I missed getting a picture, but I played Shadowrift with the Eve of the Sickle Moon expansion added to it. We fought against the Lycanthropes, who have an ability to bite villagers, removing them from the town and giving more power to the monsters. We got fairly lucky and never had to suffer the effects of the Full Moon, thanks to some strategically timed Explore actions, and defeated the Lycanthropes.
Next up: Villages of Valeria, another GeekDad-Approved title. I really enjoy this one—it’s a little trickier to explain than Card Kingdoms, but it has some very interesting choices to make and I like the way the building cards have different uses.
I then got to play a prototype of Dungeons Are Dangerous!, an upcoming game by Smash Up designer Paul Peterson and publisher Breaking Games. Peterson was a special guest this year, and he had a couple of prototypes he was demoing at the Game Lab. Dungeons Are Dangerous! has all of you playing as the grunts who help carry equipment for the adventuring heroes—but none of you really wants to go into the dungeon if you can avoid it. So you make excuses until somebody finally caves and goes into the dungeon… and then everyone else gets to stay in the bar and take a drink. It’s a press-your-luck game with some very funny excuses, though I didn’t get a picture because it was a very rough prototype.
After a break to eat, I ended the night with a prototype of Wanted Earth, an upcoming Kickstarter game. It’s an aliens-vs-humans war game, with one player controlling the alien faction and up to three players controlling the humans. There are a bunch of different humans with varying abilities, and the alien player gets to spawn new units on the map every turn. After the sixth round, the alien Overlord appears, and the humans have six rounds to defeat it, otherwise the aliens win.
In our game, the humans got a pretty nice headstart, wiping out a lot of the smaller alien minions before finally losing a hero. When the Overlord spawned, it really escalated the battle, and eventually came down to the last two: Brian, who has a giant monster arm because of an alien virus, and Moba Bo Bataar (or, as we like to call him, Taffy Tongue). It was a close fight, but Brian prevailed in round 5, sending those aliens packing. Wanted Earth will be coming to Kickstarter in May.
With that, I packed up my games and headed home for the night!
On Day 2, I started off the morning with a couple rounds of Ice Cool, the penguin-flicking dexterity game. Still a lot of fun, though I’m a bit out of practice.
Then I found my friends Angie Hickman Newnham (with her husband Randy) and Julian Leiberan-Titus, who were running demos of their card game Riftwalker. I knew they had gotten some proof copies of Storm Hollow, the big story-based RPG board game that I’ve been helping to edit. It was pretty amazing to finally see it for real, and I’m excited for when this finally shows up on backers’ doorsteps. Be careful picking it up, though: this thing weighs nearly 20 pounds!
The one event I signed up for this year (besides running my own) was a demo of Apocrypha Adventure Card Game. I’ve written before about my own personal experience with the game in all its iterations—suffice to say that I can’t wait until this game actually arrives. Although they did have a finished version of the base set, at GameStorm the Lone Shark team was trying out scenarios for a later expansion, featuring the Deathless.
The game does have some overlap with Pathfinder Adventure Card Game in terms of gameplay, but there are also some things that are quite different. For one, you only use six-sided dice, and no matter how many you roll, you only take the results from three of the dice. So more dice gives you more flexibility, but doesn’t increase your potential maximum result. On one particular challenge, I only needed an 8—that’s not too bad with four dice to choose from, right? Wrong. Here’s the result.
I won’t say too much more about Apocrypha for now, but I expect you’ll be hearing a lot more about it later on. (Though first I’ve still got to get through Mummy’s Mask!)
There were a couple times throughout the weekend where I broke out Happy Salmon, which is an absolutely hilarious game that takes about 2 minutes to play… though you’ll probably end up playing several times. The premise is simple: each player has a stack of cards with actions like “High Five!” and “Pound It!” Find somebody who matches your card, give them a fist bump or switch places or whatever the card says, and then discard the card. Get rid of all your cards to win. For added variety, play the version where you can’t talk and you have to use gestures to indicate what you want to do.
Fortunately, there was a large empty space near the entrance that wasn’t too far away from my game table—plenty of room to run around and be silly. After I taught the game, I would step out and watch as different players cycled in and out of the game as they walked by. Bonus points to the mom pictured above, who managed to win at least twice with a baby strapped to her!
After another game of Clank!, I got a request for Vast, which I was more than happy to oblige. Our first game was a 3-player game with the Knight, Dragon, and Cave. What I’ve discovered is that, uh, I’m not very good at the Knight. Since I’d played the game before and the other two players were new, I gave myself a harder difficulty level. Turns out I didn’t need to—I only managed to hit the Dragon a couple of times before he was fully awake and made his escape. I played two more 4-player games of Vast with other players back-to-back after this one.
Then, at the end of the day, I saw Angie, Randy, and Julian again, and wanted to play one more game with them before calling it a night. We considered Gloomhaven—Angie has been wanting to try it—but it was already getting late and they’d all had a long day of teaching games, so we opted for Roll Player instead. It’s a game of building an RPG character by drafting dice, and I still get a kick out of the theme every time I play. This time around, I dumped four of my stats, opting to be Weak, Foolish, and Reckless.
By the end of the second day, I realized that my voice was starting to go… Oops! Forgot to take lots of cough drops right from the start. Starting Saturday, I was still teaching a lot of games, but had to get up and walk over to players more often so they could hear me.
Since Saturday was April 1—the fourth anniversary of the end of my Kickstarter campaign—I was planning to bring my copy of Emperor’s New Clothes with me in case anyone wanted to play it. But I felt it needed something a little more special, so when I got home, I dug through my various prototyping supplies and threw this together:
While I did get to play a few games of Emperor’s New Clothes on April Fools’ Day, most of those were teaching new players, so I decided to leave the Legacy version out of it. Someday…
Anachrony is a Kickstarter-funded game that I’ve been wanting to try, and I knew that Kat and Sam (who had played some games with me last year) had a copy with them. It’s rare that I get to sit back and let somebody else teach me a complicated game, so I took them up on the offer. I got myself up early so we could get set up, and started off the day with this post-apocalyptic game of time travel. You recruit workers, send them out in exosuits to collect resources, build buildings, and do research, building up to the cataclysm when everything falls apart. The trick is that you can borrow resources and even workers from your future self. Need some extra water this turn? Hey, look—there it is! But be sure to send some water back to your past self later on… or you’ll suffer some nasty consequences. Time is a harsh mistress, folks.
I just had to include this photo, too: the game has an incredible number of components, but no dividers except for a tray for the exosuit miniatures. Sam had created his own set of boxes out of foam core, and it was an organizational masterpiece. The boxes, boards, and bits all fit into the trays just so, filling up the game box exactly to the brim (and even accounting for a couple cards and a scorepad placed on top).
After we packed up Anachrony, I had some more folks show up for gaming, so we started off with Hardback, the deck-building word-making game that just launched on Kickstarter earlier this week. I have yet to win this game, but I’m still enjoying it, and so did several other gamers throughout the weekend.
A few more games of Herbaceous were played over the course of the weekend, and I also taught a 5-player game of Vast to mostly new players. It was a close game, but the Goblins pulled out a surprise win with the “Hiding Places” card while the Knight happened to be standing in a bad spot.
DragonFlame, a card game about dragons amassing treasure hoards and burning down villages, was Kickstarted a few years ago (here’s my review) but I only acquired a finished copy recently. I’ve played it a few times since then and have been enjoying it—here I set it up and taught a 5-player game.
I had gotten a few requests for Emperor’s New Clothes from gamers who had played it previous years, but I also had some friends who hadn’t played it at all before, so it was a lot of fun to break it out and introduce it to a new audience. Brandon (above, on the left) got so immersed in the game that at one point he turned away so he wouldn’t see Xander’s cards… and then remembered that there wasn’t anything to see. I still have a blast every time I play.
We followed up Emperor’s New Clothes with the included mini-game, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a bluffing game about playing pranks on the other shepherds and trying not to get your sheep eaten by wolves. I’ve tweaked the rules slightly since last time I played, and I think the game ran a little more smoothly this time.
There were several folks who had never played Spaceteam—either the app or the card game—so, of course, they needed to give it a shot. Since the game does require a lot of shouting across the table at each other, I decided to teach but sit out myself, because nobody could hear me anyway. The team played a few times, increasing the difficulty as they went, and managed to win most of their plays.
Marc Neidlinger is a local game designer who has been working on Epoch: The Awakening. I played a prototype about a year ago, and he has been continuing to tweak and playtest it since then. He was at GameStorm this year, running demos and doing more playtesting, so I asked him to bring his prototype by so I could try it out. The game is looking great and has been refined a lot since last year—it’s planned for a Kickstarter later this year, so keep an eye out for a review.
Finally, I got to try a prototype of a trick-taking game by James Ernest. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to tell you about it, but I will say that James and I defeated Paul Peterson and Tyler Tinsley. You might say we smashed up the competition. It was a little dicey for a while, but we were goblin up the points by the end.
On Sunday, I didn’t have any events scheduled, so I just wandered around to see if I could find a game to play or a table to set something up. I happened upon David MacKenzie setting up for Sailing Toward Osiris, an upcoming Kickstarter game, and since the folks who had signed up weren’t there yet, I decided to give it a shot. It’s about gathering resources and building monuments along the river, but every time you build on a resource space, you reduce the resources available. I’ve got a prototype of this one too, so watch for a review when it launches on May 2.
After finishing Sailing Toward Osiris, I passed by a table and saw some people playing Master Thieves, which looked fascinating. On the table was a gorgeous wooden puzzle box, and the players were rotating segments and flipping the box over, while opening drawers and putting gems into them. It’s an older game, from 2004, and will cost you a pretty penny to buy, but now I’m really curious. I’ll have to watch for a chance to try it myself in the future!
My last game of the con was Rise to Nobility, which just launched on Kickstarter this week. It’s a dice-placement game about bringing settlers into a new city, building them houses and finding them jobs, and maintaining your reputation with the Queen. It’s an eye-catching game and a lot of people stopped by to see what we were playing.
And with that, I bid GameStorm 19 adieu so I could get home—my kids’ spring break was ending, and we had to get everyone ready for school and work the next day. See you next year!