Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Grand Old Time

So this past weekend I went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the Grandcon Convention. Also attending were some other old-school designers, like old friends Ed Greenwood, Tracy and Laura Hickman, and Steven Schend, who is currently a native of this fine community located in western Michigan.

Grandcon was a first-year convention, and I had ridden enough badly-planned convention-bombs down to keep my expectations low (I'm looking at YOU, Alabama). I should not have worried, save for a couple minor hiccups, the convention went very, very well, and the con organizers, Brian Lenz and Marc Specter, were brilliant in both their organization and their ability to adjust to the situation. The convention space was intimate (the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College), but did not feel overly crowded, and the house was reported to me as being in the area of twelve-hundred attendees.

It has been years and years since I have attended a small convention out of town, and I as such I noticed the changes in the types of games played. Ten years ago everyone was playing the latest OGL/OSR/D&D version. Fifteen years ago it was everyone's CCG. Now it is board games that are the cutting edge shown at these conventions. Over the course of the weekend Ed, Steven and I were running games of Lords of Waterdeep for charity, which, I can safely say, stands up to repeated games in its versatility. I also got to play games ranging from prototype (Council) to seeking funding (Cardomancer) to published (Fleet).

I also had the chance to play Sojourner's Tales, and very intuitive and rather brilliant game by Tracy and Laura (Kickstarter still on, and it has made its goals, but still worth checking out). Trace has for years worked on various projects linking the versatility of storytelling with the mechanics of a game, and I think he's got it this time. The game has a board and counters that encourage player competition, is coupled with a overarching story that all players co-operate in. The cool thing is, the story can be changed by downloads to your kindle or electronic device. So you can play a fantasy version (our prototype), then switch out to an SF game or a steampunk version or a holiday version just by changing downloads. This is a cool concept and worth checking out.
Grand Old Men - Me, Steven, Ed, Tracy

Ed, Trace, Steven and I gave two, two-hour panels on worldbuilding, which allowed us the luxury of getting nostalgic about old games, systems, worlds, and novels. And of course, since we've known each other for years, there was an easy give and take in the discussion.

Tracy and Laura also ran their famous "Killer Breakfast" on Sunday morning. I've helped out with this at the dawn of time, holding up signs for the crowd at GenCon, but in the years (decades) since, Trace and Laura have refined it to a multimedia experience, complete with pre-game announcements (starring three of the fours Hickman kids) and musical sing-alongs (gamer versions of the songs from Les Mis, and I discovered that I can cover the material about as well as Russel Crowe). A fine time was had by all.

Ed, Karen, Myself - Nothing But Trouble
For me, this was a chance to see old friends. I haven't had a chance to hang out with the gang in a Real-Life format for practically forever, and the small-con atmosphere gave us time to catch up, since we were not all running around doing events. I got go for a walk with Trace and Laura. I got to visit Steven's house and his lovely wife and fine children. I roomed with Ed, so I have attained my minimum yearly requirements for smutty innuendo. And I also got to see Eric Boyd, a great Realms loremaster from the past. And most of all, Karen Conlin came up for a few days. Those deeply engaged in the Realms will remember her as Karen Boomgarden, the master editrix responsible for the first grey-box Forgotten Realms set that Ed and I created (and who is now one of the masterminds over at Grammargeddon). Yes, it was old-home week up there, and we had a delightful time.

The con organizers were also good enough to set up evening meals for the guests, since the seminary college didn't have a lot of restaurant/bar options ("What do you MEAN there's no bar?") As a result, much alcohol was consumed off-campus, and I got to talk to a bunch of OTHER people, including retailers and other young board-game designers, and got to listen to stories from the guest artists, including Bill Stout, which really, really impressed me (I have some of his art books down in my library) .

Of the area itself, I quickly got used to the the Michigan Uey - where you don't make the left turn at the intersection, but rather overshoot the intersection, then turn around and hit it from the other side, making it a right turn. We also got the chance to see some of  ArtPrize, a huge collection of exhibition and installations which dominates downtown Grand Rapids. In general, it felt like Austin with more acceptable weather (OK, and snowplows, but they didn't need them when I was there).

I had a great time, though when I got back Monday (leaving at oh-ghod-early for Gerald R Ford International with a commuter flight to Detroit), I was glad to see the overcast and rain of autumnal Seattle. I drove down to Pike Place Market to get supplies (bread from the Three Sisters, mozzarella from the cheese shop around the corner, and sausage from Uli's, Concord grapes from Frank's) and encountered a bookseller literally singing the praises of Voltaire's Candide. So yeah, it is good to be home as well.

More later,