I had the privilege of being a guest at Grand Con 2016. I was invited to attend, run demos of Scoville, give a seminar about The Story of Scoville, and attend the VIP dinner where there was a special surprise.
Grand Con is a gaming convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It has been growing each year and had an expected attendance of about 2,000 people this year. They are out-growing their facility because there is so much awesomeness!
Attenders could visit the vendor hall, with a nice selection of vendors and products. For gaming vendors there was Tasty Minstrel Games, Floodgate Games, Kids Table Board Gaming, Green Couch Games, Calliope Games, Action Phase Games, and a few more that I don’t remember. For a full list visit the vendor page.There were also some RPG booths, a couple local game store booths, and a few other things as well. It was a nice vendor hall that I will expect to be even grander next year.
Attenders also had access to the Grand Con game library. This one isn’t as large as the Gen Con game library, but I would say that the quality of games in the Grand Con library was better since they weren’t overloaded with a bunch of out-dated inventory. There was a great selection of about 400 games, many of which were brand new. The gaming library room was almost always full.
Another nice thing was that Grand Con had many events and a nice event catalog for the attenders. They had brought in a bunch of game designers and ran charity “Play with the Designer” events. The gamers really seemed to like these events. Proceeds went to the De Vos Children’s Hopsital.
Craft Beer I Enjoyed
You can’t really go to Grand Rapids and not enjoy craft beer (unless beer isn’t your thing). So we made sure to work in a few different breweries along the way. On the way to Grand Rapids we stopped at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. We enjoyed some flights of beer in their beer garden and soaked up a little sun in the beautiful weather. My favorite beers from Bell’s were the Roundhouse India Red Ale and the Special Double Cream Stout.
After we left Bell’s we headed to Grand Rapids and ate dinner outside at Founders Brewing. They have an amazing indoor/outdoor area to accompany their excellent beer. Since I had tried 8 different kinds at Bell’s I was feeling a little beered out. I opted for a low abv beer called CTRL ALT Delete. When I “Untappd” it I earned a special badge that I had been working towards. I earned “Legendary” status for having 500 unique beer check-ins.
That was a fun milestone to hit and I’m glad that it happened in “Beer City.” During our trip we also visited Brewery Vivant, which was probably awesome but I was struggling from a duel with some bad sushi, so I didn’t partake. It was located in this awesome old church and everyone liked the beers they got.
The other brewery that my friend Jeremy and his wife visited was The Mitten, which is in an old firehouse. He mentioned that the beer was pretty good overall.
It was nice to be able to fit the “Barley” with the “Boards” and make it a complete trip.
Games I Played
One of the best parts of a game convention for me is that I can usually learn and play new games that I don’t own. My wife and I attended with another couple. So we took advantage of free time and the game library and learned and played the following games:
Port Royal: We played this in our hotel room and we love this game.
Potion Explosion: My friends and I had tried to demo this at Gen Con but the demo copy was always occupied. So we grabbed the library copy and played it and really enjoyed it. The decisions were more interesting than I expected and my friend ended up buying a copy at one of the vendors.
Fauna: This game is kind of like an animal specific version of Wits and Wagers. Players have to guess things like where animals live, the weight, the length, or the height of the animal. We liked it and thought our kids would like it. It was easy to learn and play.
Coal Baron: I had wanted to play this one for a long time. Jeremy and I got it out. I had already read the rules so we were able to get started pretty quickly. I really enjoyed this game. The artwork is great, the gameplay is fun and interesting, and it all worked well. The only complaint I had was the paper money. They really missed the mark with the paper money as they could easily have used cardboard coins like most of the game industry. Overall this was my favorite “new to me” game of the convention and I’m glad I finally was able to play it.
North Wind: We sort of enjoyed this Klaus Teuber game since it has some fun decisions. The downside is that you can literally go the entire game without ever being able to complete an objective. This is simply based on the luck of the draw from the tiles you reveal. The other downside for us was the constant shuffling of a tile pile after each player took their turn.
Gold West: I had played the prototype with the designer a couple years ago and I really enjoyed it. I am sad that it has taken me this long to play the final product. I think this game has some fun and interesting choices. The gameplay is pretty simple though the main mechanic can be a bit tricky to figure out how best to use it. I love the theme. The artwork was excellent as well. I recommend checking it out. If I hadn’t played it before the con this may have ousted Coal Baron for my favorite game.
Cacao: This wasn’t in the library. Jeremy bought a copy from a vendor and we cracked it open. It is a tile laying game where played collect and sell cocoa pods. Players also utilize the temples for scoring, take advantage of the lakes, and earn sun tiles for bonus overlaying abilities. We collectively enjoyed the game quite a bit. While I was off on a Scoville demo, the other three played it a second time. So it was well liked.
Vikings on Board: Jeremy and I had considered purchasing this at Gen Con. The rules are pretty simple but the gameplay is total chaos. We stopped playing because we didn’t like that you had seemingly little control over what you could accomplish. It was definitely too much of a “take-that” game for the four of us.
Going, Going, Gone!: I had played this at BGG Con 2013 with Mr. Buonocore and company. At that time of night it was an excellent experience. So we cracked it open here and enjoyed it as well. My wife was great at dumping all her cubes into one single cup, which she would win, and then have very few cubes left. She won one auction 12 to nothing. She won another 7 to nothing. She didn’t win the game. Jeremy managed to get a set of 7 instruments for a big score of 44. We liked it and I’ll definitely play it again.
Train of Thought: We got this older TMG game to the table since we wanted a shorter game. In Train of Thought you try to get the other players to guess your secret word by using a pre-determined word in your clue. When (if) they guess, you get a new secret word and have to use the guessed word in the clue. Your round continues with your train of thought until the timer runs out. Some of the words were really tough to connect, but as we went on we got better at it.
It was a privilege and honor to join the Grand Con team to run a few charity “Play With The Designer” Scoville events. At each of these events I was able to award the winner a copy of Scoville. It is always so much fun to play with people who are new to the game or with people who have played it and are passionate about it. I got a good mix of both during the convention. During one event the guy who took second place went to the TMG booth in the vendor hall, bought a copy of Scoville and Scoville: Labs and brought the back to me to have him sign them. That sort of stuff is really what makes game design worth it to me.
Overall people who played seemed to really enjoy the game. One couple had me sign one of their recipe cards, which I was happy to do.
The other cool event was a seminar called, “The Story of Scoville.” For this seminar I was joined by the Scoville artist, Josh Cappel, and the TMG representative at Grand Con, Daniel Hadlock. We covered the whole story from my end of coming up with the design, to Josh’s artistic picture of the process, to Daniel’s “behind the scenes” manufacturing and distributing stuff. It was a lot of fun to do. One of the people was a younger guy who is interested in game design. It was a great opportunity to share with him some of the things I have learned along the way about game design.
The other really awesome thing was the VIP dinner on Saturday night. Each of the VIPs and the guests had a special banquet dinner with each other. I had an excellent steak and baked potato and some local craft beer. But the highlight of that party for me was the special cakes that Grand Con had made for the event. It speaks for itself:
The whole cake was edible. The hand and trophy were made with rice krispies. The top layer was a bananas foster cake. The bottom layer was a spicy chocolate cake. And the labs flask was a cookies and cream cake. It was a little sad when they started to get cut up and served to people. I couldn’t believe how awesome the cakes were and it was so exciting to be a part of that.
Overall I’d like to thank Marc Specter and Brian Lenz and all the Grand Con team for putting on an excellent show and for inviting me to be a part of it. I also want to thank those people who participated in all the charity events. Your generosity was excellent. It was great to see good friends and make new ones. The board gaming community is always awesome and it’s so fun to be a part of it!