I had the opportunity to attend the second annual Let’s Play Green Bay this past weekend (April 12-14). Last year I only attended one day, but was able to finagle both Friday and Saturday this time around. Conventions can be great fun and the large ones are mini-vacations, in and of themselves. But they can be expensive and intimidating. Smaller, regional, low-key events will provide much of the same flavor, if not all of the same thrills, in a more accessible and casual atmosphere. You can also save on travel expenses by attending closer conventions – or as in my case, staying with family!
Let’s Play Green Bay was founded, and is organized by, the city’s Friendly Local Game Store, Gnome Games. The family-owned retailer has two well-stocked, welcoming locations with a knowledgeable and helpful staff. They’re well-connected with the community and offer a wide selection of products and support in all genres of the hobby. In addition to the usual fare of board games, RPG’s, CCG’s, and miniatures, they have very active and well-supported league play in a number of franchises, scheduled open-gaming sessions in all genres, and a school outreach program. They are missionaries sent forth from the gaming fold.
The convention showcased a variety of publishers (big, small, and independent), as well as other hobby stores and regional gaming societies. All of the hobby’s “Big Four” categories were represented. Besides the open board gaming and many demos, there were scheduled times for specific game presentations ranging in styles from Alhambrato Wrath of Ashardalon. Plus, Let’s Play hosted a qualifier for the Settlers of Catan North American Championships, with the winner receiving an invite to the finals in Indianapolis. Along with Mayfair, some of the larger, popular game companies with booths included Fantasy Flight and Iello. WizKids and Z-Man were scheduled, but unfortunately canceled late due to travel issues. The former at least still had their giant prototype of their new Star Trek Attack Wing miniatures game present.
Open and league CCG play ran throughout the weekend with a focus mostly on Magic, Legend of the 5 Rings, Pokémon, and the newer Cardfight! Vanguard, all of which Gnome Games supports extremely well through their business. Another area of the Hall provided free opportunity for role-playing, as well as specifically scheduled times with demonstration scenarios in titles like Pathfinder, Shadowrun, and the very recent Brass and Steel. Not to be left out, miniature gaming had a strong presence, too. Ranging from the simple to complex – and the latest hotness to the more obscure – there were scheduled sessions and open displays showcasing Star Wars X-Wing, HeroClix, Warhammer, pirates, and Gladiator Battles. One booth even gave lessons in painting miniatures.
While including plenty of vendors and events to interest serious hobby gamers, Let’s Play Green Bay really shines as a family-oriented event. A good deal of promotion aimed to draw families in and spend a day playing together. The presence of many vendors well-known for their family games, such as HABA, Out of the Box, Maranda, and Calliope, helped in that appeal.
So what did we do? Well…
Friday evening was sparsely attended, either because of the smaller venue or the narrower time window, or a combination of both. Either way, it meant that we had ample opportunity to sit down for some demos at several booths. The first demo we played was the kids-oriented RPG, Adventure Maximus, from Eden Studios. This prototype is supposed to hit Kickstarter very soon and it may be the first project I ever back on the crowd-funding site simply because my son won’t stop bugging me about it!
Besides Friday, he returned two more times Saturday to play. I had to apologize to George,Eden’s owner who personally staffed the booth, for my boys monopolizing his time! Adventure Maximus is roughly within the fantasy genre of the same style as D&D or Pathfinder, with dragons and clerics and warriors and such. However, it is decidedly designed with the goal of drawing kids into RPG’s. Characters are created by drawing cards to determine race, class, abilities, and equipment. Similar mechanics allow the GM to develop the story or scenario, as well, meaning that even kids can learn this more sophisticated side to the genre and run it without their parents’ help. The artwork is fantastic and the game is also light and humorous.
We walked the entire Hall that evening and one of my boys squeezed in some free play of Pokémon. I also played a few other games, all new to me. Mysterious Creatures is a basic, family-friendly, roll-and-move design from Education Outdoors. That title was not particularly exciting, but the company’s mandate to engage kids is commendable and there were other colorful offerings throughout their booth. At The Game Crafter’s tables, we played Farns Filoworths Dirigible Disaster, a real-time coop that reminded me in spirit of Bruno Faidutti’s Red November. You play a valiant, steampunk airmen scurrying around to fix all kinds of problems by rolling dice before your airship meets disaster. It was quick and funny, but seems a little low on replay value. We also visited Iello to sit in for a King of Tokyo demo. That game was really nice and fast-paced – plus the power cards look to provide some replayability down the road. The price point looks a bit high to me for what it is, but it definitely goes on my wishlist.
Saturday saw more gaming, but half of it parked out in the open game library. First we spent a good deal of time in HABA’s booth with my boys and my niece and nephews. The favorites here were Dancing Eggs and Animal Upon Animal. I also tried the Island Siege prototype at APE Games. This card-and-dice mishmash successfully funded on Kickstarter. The design is a smooth-playing and tense little, back-and-forth two-player battle. It went a little long for its weight, but it’s hard to tell with just one play. We also had repeat visits to King of Tokyo, the Pokémon tables, and Adventure Maximus.
Then it was game time with actual peers – okay after a bout of Ninja vs. Ninja against my son. Sitting down with my brother-in-law and a friend of his, we played a game of Dominion, with Seasideand Prosperity (my first time with those expansions). The game was very close, but long – we’re all analyzers. After that, I next read the rules to, and subsequently taught both of them, Smash Up. What a blast! Simple to learn but with intricately more to grasp, AEG’s recent hotness is fresh, funny, thematically amazing, and actually quite strategic despite the randomness inherent to card games. At least it was strategic to us – analyzers, remember? We played two games which went about 90 minutes each! Then I promptly purchased a copy from Gnome Games and am now wishing I had went ahead and added on the expansion. Gotta have those Steampunks!
This gathering is not a cosplay affair, which as a father of young boys is perfectly fine by me. I did see one Vulcan Starfleet command officer (TNG). Most of that stuff is fine and innocent, but a lot of costumes either scare me or reveal too much for a child’s eyes, or both! However, the 501st Legion, Vader’s First(Wisconsin Brigade – go figure), mustered again this year. The mix of rebel and Imperial personnel hammed it up with the crowd, posing for fun pictures. I believe I also saw a Sandperson, that weird long-snouted informer at Mos Eisley, and even the Hoth snow creature that tried to eat Luke (sorry I don’t know the names – I’m more of a Trekkie). The best part of their appearance was “Blast a Stormtrooper,” a charity fundraiser for the Make a Wish Foundation. For a small amount of credits, my kids had a blast blasting an Imperial trooper and a TIE pilot!
There were some other odds and ends, as well, like a local high school club that built a robot that could pick up an inflatable pool ring without popping it and slam dunk a basketball. But, yeah, it was primarily a hobbyist’s playground showcasing some new hotness, introducing other lesser-known gems, and providing an opportunity to just simply game with friends and family – and even make new friends in the process!
Let’s Play Green Bay is already booked for a third year, April 11-13, 2014. My preliminary plan is to take in all three days this time and volunteer, as well. I think it would be very cool to run demos at any of the booths or simply teach games in the open library. If you’re interested in the event, drop me a note. Who knows, perhaps we may have one giant, impromptu iSlaytheDragon meet-up? After all, that’s a good part of what conventions are about!