We were able to attend this years Grand Con in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This year was highly anticipated as last year was the first convention I had ever attended so I had some experience under my belt. This year I would be ready for the madness that is a gaming convention.
In this write up I’ll be diving into our experiences and first impressions of the games that we had played over the course of the weekend. I’ll also be covering some of my thoughts and general feelings about Grand Con. Here we go!
Day 1: Convention Vendors Hall
We started the first day a little late as the drive from Traverse City to Grand Rapids can take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. It was further exacerbated by the fact that I was on vacation up north the previous few days and and drove directly from that location. The total drive time was about 5 hours. This means we rolled into the convention hall around 4 p.m.
The convention hall was in full swing and the vendors were busy demoing some games. The vendors in the hall seemed very similar to last years set up and I was determined to be able to utilize it to it’s full extent. I noticed that a few new vendors that I didn’t notice last year. One of these were Tasty Minstrel Games which I had intended to buy a game from initially but more on that a little later.
We ventured into the side rooms that next to the vendors hall that the convention used for panels, game testing, and tournaments. I didn’t sign up for any tournaments unfortunately but I did participate in some play testing. I was able to check out an interesting prototype game that will be hitting KickStarter shortly called Saturn Rising.
In Saturn Rising players will be trying to attain a certain number of crystals before they are able to launch off of Saturn. The problem with this is that each player pilots an alien ship that they have no idea what the controls do. Players will be taking their space ship around Saturn’s orbit collecting these crystals while avoiding collisions with asteroids, lasers, and other players. This game has a very interesting feel to it with the controls being slightly out of your control.
Each player will have a hand of cards that represent the various controls that the ship can perform. This includes things like things like copy, lasers, and grappling hooks. Each conrol is also associated with a direction of movement that players can also utilize. The trouble with these cards is that they are facing the other players like in the game of Hanabi. This is suppose to represent the controls being foreign.
At the start of each players turn each player will tell another player the color or the action of a single card in the players hand. In turn the opposing player must tell the active player a card that match the action or color that the active player used to describe the card they pointed out. The active player will then use this information to play the one of the cards from their hand which will result in the action and/or movement to occur. If they guess incorrectly then they will have to perform the action and/or movement from a random card off the top of the deck.
This is one of the most crazy games that I have played. Control is very hard to manage as sometimes you get no information and you must fly blind and hope for the best. It definitely gave me the vibe of Robo Rally with combat and movement. It was very fun and look forward to a Kickstarter appearance. Probably not something I would personally pick up but something I would recommend a look into.
After we play tested for a bit we ventured back into the vendor hall for some demos. We came upon the Calliope Games booth. They always seem to do an amazing job with graphic design and illustration but seem to be for a younger and more broad audience. I must say that the workers were very enthusiastic about the games they were pushing. We were able to play test Menu Masters which is a set collecting game about building a menu for a restaurant.
In Menu Masters, players will be gathering food items from a market in an attempt to complete ingredients for a dish. Each item has a value of stars and who ever has the most stars will win. Players will receive workers that will fetch the ingredients by getting into line at certain stalls that sell the ingredients. The game really finds its strategy in the market system. As the market gets more packed with players pawns then the prices of the goods get more expensive to purchase. Players can also place a worker on the stalls as the owner as well which will result in a cash influx as the players in line pay for their goods.
This game didn’t really strike me as anything I would want to play again as it was very light and slightly boring. I could definitely see this as a nice alternative family game with some decision making. I don’t have much need for these type of games so I gave it a pass. I felt even some of the design elements could have been thought through a bit more. All of the menu dishes that your trying to complete had the listed ingredients needed but failed to name the dish. A simple thing like this could have given the players something a bit more tangible to relate to.
Right next door to the Calliope Games booth was the Arcane Wonders booth. They were showing off a couple of games at the both including Royals from the Dice Tower Essentials line. The newest edition to this line that interested me was the two player game Onitama.
Onitama is an abstract game that shares a lot of qualities of Chess. The board is 5×5 grid with each player starts with four pawns and a king of sorts on either side of the board. The main piece or king sits between two pawns on wither side. The object of the game is to eliminate the opponents “king” or to place your “king” on the starting space of the opponents “king”.
Each player will start with two open cards that display a move that any of that players pieces can take. There is also a fifth card that sits off to the side that either player does not have immediate access to. A player on their turn will use one of these cards to move a chosen piece in the directed fashion. They will then swap this card with the fifth card that sits off to the side. This card will now be available to use on their next turn and allow the other player a chance to grab the card that was used. Turns continue in this fashion until one player fulfills the win condition.
This one is one that I can definitely see an allure to but it’s not the kind of game I tend to play. Highly tactical games have never been something that I excel at. I generally find strategy games to be more along my fashion of play. Don’t misunderstand though that this is a great alternative to chess if you need a shorter version or just a slight change of pace. I feel many people will really enjoy this one. The retail price is a bit steep in my opinion at 29.99 for what the game brings to the table. I would never pay this but if it were to be in the $20 dollar range then I might be tempted as we have some chess players in the group.
Continuing down the vendor hall we came upon one booth that I was most excited about checking out which was Tasty Minstrel Games. They had various games on display but had the game on the demo table that I was most interested in which was Scoville.
Scoville is a set collecting game where players will be planting and collecting chili peppers to fill orders of the town of Scoville. Each player will be auctioning for turn order and moving their gardener on the farm grid to harvest peppers and crossbreed to make new hotter peppers.
Each round of Scoville consists of players blind bidding for turn order. This is more difficult than you may think as the way a round flows may be hindered by the needs of the player. Each round will start with the first player in the planting phase. Players will plant one pepper in the public farm field.
The next phase is the harvesting phase but this starts with the player in the last position in turn order. This phase is moving your farmer pawn three spaces and collecting peppers with each move. When a farmer is in between to peppers then they will reference the pepper chart to see what pepper will result from the crossbreeding. If the farmer isn’t between two peppers then they will collect nothing.
The final phase is the fulfillment phase which will start with the players in the first position again. This phase will allow players to utilize the peppers they have been collecting with pepper orders and chili recipes. Each player may complete one of each if they desire or even can.
This was one of my favorites that I played at Grand Con this year. The game was a sight to behold as far as components. The game comes with all the different color peppers with various heights for color blind players. The artwork felt like a good fit considering the overall feel that the game was striving for. All the mechanics flowed together very nicely and were very cohesive. The game also provided interesting decisions with the combination of both the bidding mechanic and the different phases. Some turns became very difficult to decided how much to bid as the turn order was crucial for a particular phase. This created a great game experience that I would love to revisit. So much so that I picked up a copy for myself and immediately purchased the expansion as well.
We walked around the vendor for quite some time and made some purchases but then ventured into the game hall. They have a extensive library of games that anyone with a pass can check out and play. This year they had a much better selection of newer games than they had last year. I was slightly disappointed with last years selection but they completely redeemed themselves with an excellent line up.
We started off on the lighter side as one of the players just got in from a long trip from Traverse City. The game we selected was Potion Explosion from Cool Mini or Not. Opening the box to this one really sold everyone at the table as the game contained a ton of colorful marbles. This may be a gimmick so I kept my wits about me but I’ve also heard many positive feedback so I still remained optimistic as well.
Potion Explosion puts each player into a role of a magician in potions class and it’s final exam time. Players will be removing marbles from the dispenser to place onto one of two potions that they are currently brewing. While removing the selected marble the remaining marbles will fall down the row of the selected marble. If two or more marbles connect that match colors then a explosion occurs and that player may take those marbles as well. This may happen multiple times which results in a bunch of different color marbles that will need to be placed. They then place the attained marbles on the color coded potions to complete them. Any extras can be stored for future turns. Once the potions are completed then they score out. They can also be consumed to provide the player with very unique abilities that change how the game is played.
This was another favorite of the convention. It was light which usually means that it will not hold my interest but this one had a little something extra that changed that. There is something viscerally pleasing about chaining a long series of explosions and getting a ton of marbles in one turn that feeds your excitement. The only thing I could equate this too is like a board game version of Bejeweled. It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to acquire this one to show the rest of the gamers at home but one that I will be adding to the wishlist.
Big Book of Madness
The night was creeping along and fatigue was setting in. I blame a long drive but we forged ahead and decided to play one more game before calling it a night. We picked out Big Book of Madness by IELLO to play. This is a cooperative game that again puts all the players in the roles of young magicians at a magical school. Funny that I didn’t see the theme connection until just now. The players have opened the Big Book of Madness and a bunch of creatures are now attacking you. You must muster knowledge from the library and defeat the creatures before everyone sinks into insanity.
Each player will have a deck of cards that has different color magic associated with them. On their turn they will draw a hand and use these card to acquire new powerful spells or cast a spell that they already know. They can also acquire new elements for their decks or destroy a curse that the various monsters have cast. Every time a player filters out their deck, they will get a madness card which does nothing and will essentially clog up your deck. If the players manage to survive all the creatures onslaught and close the book then victory will be theirs.
We didn’t win. That being said I did have a good time playing this game. The amount of planning needed to defeat each monster that comes up can be overwhelming. This was strange considering that we were on the easiest difficulty but I blame the fact that we didn’t know the game. We also had a couple extra gamers that we didn’t know teach us the game. I don’t want to sound like I was ungrateful but it seemed that they were guiding a lot of actions taken by each player. They also didn’t really stress the importance of the madness cards that inevitably destroyed us. This may have drug down my opinion of the game unjustly. I did feel that the game was over weighed with randomness that the players had little control over. Thematically this made sense but also didn’t provide the kind of gaming experience that I would seek out again.
End of Day 1
I must say that my eagerness was completely justified and I was pumped to get up the next day. The games we played on day one set the tone of all the things yet to come. Stay tuned as we venture into our day two experiences.