The Cardboard Hoard: Granite Game Summit Recap; or, There's No Place Like Home
It may sound odd, but after my second trip up to Granite Game Summit, it really felt like my “home” convention -- despite being three states and over four hours away. Despite the presence of multiple closer conventions, including PAX Unplugged. Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed PAX Unplugged, but it was too big to have the intimate, cozy feeling of being home among friends, which is where Granite Game Summit really shines.
I left New York on 9am Friday morning and made it to Nashua, New Hampshire around 1pm. I had no sooner walked into the Courtyard Nashua and grabbed my badge when I was invited to lunch with designers Chip Beauvais, Gil Hova, and Curt Covert. Not having eaten since before I’d left, I was not hard to convince, and hence, my first play of the convention was a game of Chip’s Smoke and Mirrors at a Ruby Tuesday’s booth.
When we got back to the convention hall, I saw Jason Lees. I had previously chatted with him on Twitter about him teaching me Brew Crafters, and he obliged and we were joined by Lou Oliveira for a game. Quick aside -- I think few things are more useful ahead of a con than making some tentative plans with fellow con-goers over social media. Be it meeting up with people you’ve never met in person, or having someone show you a game they love, it’s such an easy way to reduce anxiety when arriving at a convention, especially if you showed up solo. As for Brew Crafters, I won the learning game with a “brew the expensive Espresso Stouts for 7VP each” strategy, while ignoring the more complicated brewery additions and collaboration options. I really enjoyed the worker placement aspect -- especially having two different kinds of workers -- and the beer brewing theme.
After that game ended, I walked around a bit and spied a copy of Coaster Park in the Play-To-Win section. I’d been really excited about this when it was announced last Gen Con, but I’d since heard a lot of negative buzz about the actual game play. So I figured it was perfect opportunity to see for myself how the game actually played and if the Internet mob was justified in rating it a 4.1 on BoardGameGeek.
So I sat across from Ryan LaFlamme, who agreed to play with me, and we started a game, did a few auctions, and then it was time to test our coasters. Nothing worked. We abandoned the game at this point, but continued our attempt at constructing a coaster -- any coaster at all, mind you -- that would work. And by work, I don’t mean “would make it to the end of a lengthy track,” I simply mean “would not immediately fly off the tracks of the first hill it reached.” We failed. We changed out ramps, hills, marbles, varied how hard we pushed the marble, rotated the track’s orientation on the table, and nothing worked. We gave up after a half hour. While I was immensely disappointed in the game, I was glad to have a chance to try it without myself or anyone I know having to buy it.
While Ryan and I had been floundering around, Ruth Boyack and Chris Mitchell had wandered over. After Coaster Park was returned to the box, I asked if they’d like to play one of my “shelf of shame” games with me. I didn’t bring too many games with me, just a few favorites and a few others I’d been trying to get the table for way too long -- also known as ny shelf of shame, which consisted of Grand Austria Hotel, Coldwater Crown, and Belfort. Ruth said she knew how to play Grand Austria Hotel, and volunteered to teach it. Brief aside -- Ruth is my favorite person to play games with. She’s an amazing teacher, and not just when she knows the game -- she once seamlessly taught me Near and Far from the rule book. She’s also a pleasure to play games and hang out with. Everyone should have a con buddy like Ruth. Getting back to our play of Grand Austria Hotel, it definitely lived up to the hype that caused me to trade for it last year. I love dice placement Euros, and this was a very well designed one with a lot of levers and moving parts.
After wrapping up, Chris spied Pickle Letter on the Play-To-Win shelf, and we played a game as a quick palette cleanser. While it looks, from the components, like a pickle-themed Bananagrams, it’s actually even simpler, as it’s just a real-time letter-matching game.
Ruth and Chris -- who flew in from North Carolina and were traveling light -- asked what else I had in my bag, and I mentioned I had a review copy of Clank: The Mummy’s Curse, so we broke that out next. We played the Sphinx side of the board, and enjoyed delving into the cursed site, racing each other while dealing with the roaming mummy. I really like how Renegade is putting out new double-sided boards for this game, so the specific routes to reach the treasures don’t get stale. I came one blue cube away from dying a space from the exit, but got lucky and managed to escape for an additional 20 victory points and the victory.
It was well past dinner time at this point, so we went searching for food at the hotel bar. While we were able to find food -- I got a grilled cheese where they didn’t melt the cheese and slathered it with mayonnaise, which was, to understate it, not the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten -- we also stumbled into Trivia Night, which was just starting. Ruth, Chris and I formed a team, named it ‘Here Be Dragons,’ and proceeded to crush every topic, winning the competition. Questions included plenty of nerd culture details, such as “Who is the fifth Weasley child?” and “Who arrived first at Jabba’s Palace for Han’s rescue mission?” While I’d love to gloat more about our victory, I am fairly certain Ruth and Chris won in spite of me. I blame the copious amounts of mayo in my grilled cheese. Seriously, who does that?
On our way back to the main gaming hall, Chris and I stopped in the kids section, which featured games like Rhino Hero, Klask, and Bonk, so he could show me Cube Quest. He explained it to me and then promptly destroyed me at it. Flicking games have never been my forte. But it was worth checking out, as something I think my kids might enjoy playing, either with me or with each other.
We then sat down for one more longer game before calling it a night, and I pulled out a game I feel is an underrated gem -- Artifacts Inc. from Red Raven Games. We played with four players, as Ryan joined Ruth, Chris and I, and while it did drag a bit with that many players and that late at night, it was still a fun and close game, won in the end by Ruth.
On my way out of the hall, I ran into Button Shy Games founder Jason Tagmire, and picked up a copy of Herotec, a fun wallet game I enjoyed demoing at PAX Unplugged but missed backing on Kickstarter. Then Dan Newman popped by and showed me Feat on the Ground, his follow up to Ahead in the Clouds, both of which were published by Button Shy. While I’m glad I gave it a try, I definitely prefer Ahead in the Clouds, and think Feat on the Ground could have used a bit more time being developed.
And after that -- a day of nine different games with numerous different people -- I took the elevator one floor up to my room and crashed. There’s nothing quite like being in the same hotel where a convention is taking place. Despite not setting an alarm, I woke early due to my desire to play all the games. I popped back downstairs to the cafe for a cold brew and an egg sandwich, and headed back into the gaming hall.
I ran into Curt Covert, who had mentioned he had some upcoming Smirk & Dagger games he wanted to show me, and ate while he showed me what he’ll be publishing this year. First up, and already available, was Paramedics: Clear!, a real-time competitive game of saving lives as a paramedic using some card play mechanisms. Then he showed me a very different real-time game, Nut So Fast, which is coming soon from his Smirk & Laughter line, and played like a next-level Jungle Speed. He switched gears and showed me a storytelling game -- which wasn’t real-time -- called Before There Were Stars, where players use cards to weave their own creation myths over the course of four chapters. Not only do I think this will be appealing to anyone that enjoys storytelling games, I think this will be an excellent teaching tool for English, History, and Anthropology classrooms. Curt then went back to real-time games, demoing Roll For Your Life, Candyman, a real-time dice-rolling thematic offshoot of Run For Your Life, Candyman that played in about five frantic minutes and reminded me how little dice like to cooperate with me. After crushing my spirit with that one -- you’re supposed to let the other person win when you demo, Curt -- he showed me a very beautiful, zen koi pond game where players are competing fish moving about the pond scoring points by eating dragonflies. Five games for the year is an ambitious goal, but Curt didn’t seem the least bit daunted by it. I always love to see the passion of the creators in this hobby.
Of course, Curt wasn’t only interested in showing off his games, he wanted to play some games as well, and, joined by Chris Mitchell, we found a copy of Junk Art in the library to play. After a few rounds, Chris had to run to start his all-day Runesaga game, and Curt and I borrowed a copy of Stuffed Fables from another convention-goer to try out.
When I had originally heard about Stuffed Fables, I thought it might be a game I could use to introduce my kids to more involved games. But after the amount of set up and rule book flipping we had to do to play the introduction scenario, I don’t think it would be a good fit for that. As a campaign game with a fresh, unique theme and gorgeous artwork and components, however, Stuffed Fables is definitely a success, but that just isn’t what I am looking for -- unless it is streamlined and simple enough for an eight and five year old.
When I was at PAX Unplugged, I met a long time Twitter friend, Brandon Rojas, but we weren’t able to get in a game together, so I wanted to make a point to play something with him while I was at G2S. He had mentioned online wanting to try Coldwater Crown, which was in my bag as part of my “get off my shelf of shame” list, so I found him at the back of the hall finishing up a game of Clans of Caledonia. This timing was perfect, as I was able to set up Coldwater Crown and skim the rules while they wrapped up and broke down Caledonia.
I was nervous when Brandon and two of his friends joined me around the game board, as I didn’t know the rules well, and hadn’t had time to watch a gameplay video. This would be a cold learn/teach right out of the rule book. Thankfully, designer Brian Suhre and publisher Bellwether Games did a phenomenal job with the game and the rules, and our play went smoothly, with barely a second glance at the rule book needed after my how-to-play explanation. The game had a great flow, and enough randomness and obscured information to keep anyone from overthinking or falling into analysis paralysis. I’m a big fan of worker placement, especially with shared workers that get placed and displaced, which is also found in Raiders of the North Sea, but here was even more interesting as they switched back and forth from level one actions and level two actions.
Checking the time, I realized I needed to hustle to make it to the Paint and Take event, where an expert miniatures painter was teaching anyone willing to learn how the proper techniques for painting and washing miniatures. It was included with the convention ticket, and I even got to take home the results of my efforts. While nobody will mistake me for a professional, my mini didn’t come out bad, and the experience built my confidence that I could paint my own miniatures -- and with the The Legend of Korra game on its way, I may give that a serious shot.
I then wandered over to the Designer Alley, where Jason Tagmire was teaching roll-and-write Semi-Final Fantasy, and was joined by Dan Newman, who broke out Isle of Trains. We played this twice, the first time getting a major rule incorrect, ending the game way too early. The second time, with Jason joining us, we played it correctly, and all really enjoyed the mix of multi-use card play, engine building, and contract fulfillment. Right as our game was wrapping, the Runesaga trilogy game that Ruth and Chris were involved in ended, with Ruth crowned the victor.
Jason, Dan, Ruth, Chris, and I decided to grab dinner, heading a few miles down the road to Willie Jewell's Old School BBQ. We, by pure happenstance, ran into Emerson Matsuuchi, Gil Hova, and the cast of the recently retired podcast Flip the Table finishing up their dinner, and joined them. The BBQ was outstanding, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone going to G2S in the future. I know I’ll be making it a tradition to eat there.
After dinner, we grabbed a table and played some more games, mostly lighter fair. We learned flip-and-write game Welcome To…, which Ruth had procured from Marguerite Cottrell, who had made the trek to the convention all the way from the west coast. I taught Ruth Longhorn, an underrated two-player game from Bruno Cathala. We tested out Dan Newman’s prototype of Watch, a heavier worker placement along the lines of Kanban. Then we finished up the night playing a five-player game of Star Cartel. I have to hand it to Osprey Games, they are quietly putting out some very good content, and their productions are stellar.
Long after midnight, I dragged myself back to my room, propelled in part by my own yawning, and laid down, only to realize I was about to lose one hour of sleep to daylight saving time. This did nothing to help me crash, as I knew I needed to leave early on Sunday to head back home.
I woke early from my fitful sleep, showered, and packed. Andrew Smith of Board Game Quest joined me for breakfast, and we finally got to play a game together, since he had a review copy of Fire in the Library on hand. I was beating him all game with some really lucky bag drawing, but he managed to come back and win by one point in the last round. We walked into the main gaming hall after breakfast and I said my goodbyes, managed one quick last game -- Star Realms with Mike Nachshen, which I lost by a lot more than one point -- and headed out, another successful Granite Game Summit in the books. All in all, I’d struggle for a reason not to give this convention a try for anyone nearby, and not even that seems to be a limiting factor, considering how many have flown in from further away and enjoyed this intimate regional con and its group of most excellent attendees.