The Cardboard Hoard: Attending the Granite Game Summit; or, 'Play Games or Die' in New Hampshire
As I got deeper into this hobby, I quickly noticed there were no large board game conventions within driving distance of metropolitan New York, where I live, which is hard to compute as an entitled "I live in the center of the universe" New Yorker. They were all in Indiana, Ohio, Texas, or Germany -- all flying distance from me. As I got even deeper into the hobby, I discovered I was wrong, there was a convention in Niagara Falls, New York, called the Gathering of Friends. But it was invite only and I, naturally, had no hope of an invite. Niagara Falls is also eight hours away from me, despite being in my home state.
So last year, when I found out there would be a multi-day convention from the up-and-coming Granite Game Summit about a four-hour drive away in Nashua, New Hampshire, I knew I couldn't miss it. And the best part is that G2S, as the convention is called, is half as far as The Gathering of Friends, despite my having to cross a few state lines.
I arrived at the venue, a Courtyard Marriott, a little after noon on Friday, and things were already in full swing, with a very large main room filled with tables, and well-stocked with games, player wanted and teacher wanted flags. The space was not crowded, but it was not empty either. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Corey Jr. and Molly in person before joining my What Did You Play This Week podcast co-host Jessica Wade in a game of Fleet. When that wrapped up, we joined Daniel Newman and Ruth Boyack to test out a prototype of Tony "Bearded Rogue" Miller's Back to Rth, which Dan had picked up at UnPub last month. During the game, Patrick Hillier arrived after a series of flight delays and other airport headaches. After Back to Rth, we took a few minutes to give feedback, which Dan wrote down and forwarded to Tony, and then prepared for Friday night's main event -- six-player Eclipse with all the expansions and promos.
Bill had been excited about running this game for what seems like months now, and was no less excited or daunted to have to teach three new players -- myself, Patrick, and Mike -- along with refreshing Ruth and Molly. While the set-up and teaching itself took almost an hour, and the game lasted six hours after that, Eclipse was an absolute highlight of G2S. That's simply because it was an epic event. While I can play most of the games I played at this convention at home or at my local game night -- not all in the same weekend mind you -- I cannot play a six-hour 4x game with five other people in the course of my "normal" life. Of course, the epic level of the game was enhanced by it being "Fancy Friday" at the convention, and I was battling against people in tuxedos, kilts, and fancy dresses. In the end, Patrick, looking like a casino blackjack dealer in a black dress shirt and tie, defeated us all, and won Eclipse.
With that wrapping up around midnight, and not tired enough to crash, I convinced Patrick to teach me one of his favorite games, Terraforming Mars, and we were joined by Matt Roy and Dan from Board Everyday for a four-player game. I picked up the game fairly quickly, no doubt aided by how light it felt after the Eclipse marathon, and managed to win my first ever play of the game, beating Patrick at one of his favorites. After this, I was exhausted, and headed back to the room for a short respite ahead of a Saturday's main event.
Saturday morning, Patrick and I were out of our room shortly after 8am, despite getting back so late the night before. We started the day with a game of Castles of Caladale over breakfast at the hotel's Starbucks. This game was perfect, as it was both short and easy to learn, and ended right about the time we finished our egg sandwiches.
Bolstered by coffee and sustenance, I sought out Bill, who agreed to teach me Chaos in the Old World. We wrangled Mike and a different Matt into joining us and played at the full four-player count. You can definitely see Eric Lang's inspiration for Blood Rage in this design, as it is a slightly clunkier version of Blood Rage with asymmetrical factions, with each player having different units, powers, and goals. After one play, I can say I am thrilled to own this now-out-of-print game, and would highly recommend any Eric Lang fans seeking it out before it gets too difficult to find on the secondary market.
On Saturday, Granite Game Summit hosted a designer alley with four tables, each rotating through four designers over the course of the day. While I did not get to meet most of these sixteen special guests, I did get to meet two. First, I met Chip Beauvais, designer of Chroma Cubes and Universal Rule, and was taught Chroma Cubes from the designer himself. I'd highly recommend it as an interesting take on a roll-and-write, where you are roll-and-racing to be the most efficient at coloring in a picture. Second, I got to meet Breeze Grigas, who had previously sent me a copy of A.E.G.I.S. that I'll be reviewing later this week, to get his elevator pitch and his thoughts on the development of the game and the upcoming Kickstarter, which should be live later this month.
From this point on, I unintentionally switched from playing longer games with plastic miniatures to lighter Euros. One of my few regrets of the convention was not getting to play just one more of those dudes-on-a-map games in Cyclades, which I had brought with me but didn't make it to the table. But it's hard to complain, as Jessica and I got to learn Thebes from Ruth, I learned to play World's Fair 1893 from Patrick, along with Molly and convention organizer Kimberly Revia, and I learned Yspahan from Jessica along with Patrick. All three were really solid games that I enjoyed playing, but Yspahan was probably my surprise of the convention, as it wasn't even on my radar, and I liked it so much. As an aside, I was told if I like Yspahan at three or more, I should also look into Grand Austria Hotel, which has a similar dice drafting mechanism that works better at two players.
Late Saturday night, I changed into my Cookie Monster pajamas, for the G2S "Pajama Party," and rounded up Bill, Patrick, Jessica -- all contributors for the What Did You Play This Week podcast -- along with Dan from the Board Everyday podcast, and we recorded a live segment recapping our experiences at the convention. (That recording can be found on the latest episode of the WDYPTW podcast, at the 1:25:25 point.) I finished Saturday night with two more games -- Avenue and Great Heartland Hauling Company -- before another late collapse.
On Sunday, I did not have much time for games before my long drive home, but I did get in another breakfast game with Patrick, playing his copy of HUE from the Pack O Game with him and Mike, and then going into the main hall for one last game, choosing to play Ulm from the Play-to-Win display. Not only did I win Ulm, my last game of G2S, but I later found out I won the Play-to-Win -- the perfect end to a perfect regional convention.
I cannot recommend Granite Game Summit highly enough for anyone in the Northeast, or anyone willing to take a flight to a smaller, more intimate convention, focused on playing all sorts of games -- from Coconuts and Chroma Cubes, to Eclipse and Yspahan. One final thing I noticed is that while I played plenty of newer games, such as Terraforming Mars, World's Fair 1893, and Ulm, and even an as-of-yet unpublished prototype, I also got to play a number of older titles, such as Yspahan (2006), Thebes (2007), and Chaos in the Old World (2009). And there was just as much excitement for these older gems as the "new hotness" games, which was something I really appreciated, especially as someone that loves discovering hidden gem games from past years.