Board gamers take city by storm

Annual convention draws enthusiasts, newcomers

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

What: GameStorm, a convention for people interested in board, card, role-playing and other games.

Where: Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St.

When: 8 a.m. Friday through 7 p.m. Sunday. Open through the evenings.

Cost: $45 at the door, $5 for children 5 and younger. One-day passes available for $20 Friday, $30 Saturday and $15 Sunday.

Information: GameStorm.

If you venture to the Hilton Vancouver Washington this weekend, expect to see more than a few LARPers, filkers and RPGers wandering the hallways.

Before you ask, no, the downtown hotel isn’t hosting an acronym convention. The abbreviations refer to subsets of gamers who enjoy live-action role-playing, singing and “Dungeons and Dragons”-type adventures.

GameStorm, in its 14th year, is expected to draw more than 1,000 board, card, miniature and other types of gamers to the city for a 77-hour event that began Thursday. And while some of their terminology might sound strange, they say they’re a welcoming bunch who would love to teach more people about their interest.

“We roll lots of dice, and the people are great,” said Jeffrey Cowley, who prepared this year’s program. “They come here from Seattle, Idaho, even Northern California.”

GameStorm began in Portland but moved across the river five years ago, because Vancouver can better fill the growing convention’s space demands, said Jason Bostick, who does community outreach for the event.

“The Vancouver Hilton is a beautiful location, and it’s very accommodating for what we do,” Bostick said. “We keep growing. Last year, we had 984 people attend, and this year, we’re expecting more.”

It started mostly as an event for board gamers. But the types of board games the group plays aren’t like the ones you might pick up at Target or Fred Meyer.

“If you find a game at Kmart or Walmart, we don’t do those,” said Roy Starkweather, owner of Dice Age Games in Vancouver. “We’re sort of the next step up. What we play isn’t like ‘Life,’ ‘Monopoly,’ ‘Sorry’ or games like that. Most of our games involve worker placement, troop positioning, strategy. A lot of times, there’s no set path to follow.”

Think more of a game such as “Risk,” then soup it up, and you might be close to the strategic experience involved with games such as “Munchkin,” “Catan” or “Dominion,” which convention-goers might be playing, Starkweather said.

“Some people, when they play, they get into what we call analysis paralysis, where they have too many decisions, and they freeze,” said Starkweather, who’s attended GameStorm for the past five years. “So for some games, we make them play with a timer. There can be a lot of things going on at the same time.”

Another subset crowding GameStorm’s tabletops will be war gamers and miniature players. The two groups use figurines of tanks, troops or other creatures in a three-dimensional course with towers, bases and obstacles.

“It’s a physical gaming style with a lot of dice rolls,” Starkweather said.

RPGers, or role-playing gamers, usually follow a fantasy scenario and use dice to determine how they move through an imaginary world.

LARPers are a lot like RPGers, except they dress and act in character during the experience.

As with anything in gaming culture, those focused on a particular subset like to playfully make fun of gamers in other subsets. And one of the groups that everybody likes to give a hard time to are filkers, Starkweather said.

“They make up funny little songs based on a common melody,” he said. “They’re sort of hard to define, but probably Weird Al Yankovich could be considered the world’s best-known filker.”

Filkers might change the words of well-known songs, turning them into ballads about dice or figurines or what have you.

The term filk came from a misspelling of folk music in the 1950s.

The gaming community embraced the term and has used it to describe the oddball roaming musicians at conventions ever since, Starkweather and Cowley explained.

“There’s no organized filking at GameStorm,” Cowley said, then dropped his head with a smirk. “But yeah, there might be filking.”

This year’s convention will also have an area for console and computer games, with some activities for kids. Video gamers are another subset that most GameStorm groups like to give a hard time.

“Oh, sometimes they’ll have competitions on them for the kids, and it’s stress relief for the serious gamers when they want to blow off steam,” Starkweather said.

Newcomers are more than welcome at the event, and gamers are often very willing -- and even thrilled in some cases -- to teach new people about their hobbies, he added.

“Gaming is pretty straight forward,” Starkweather said. “If you come by, and you see a table with an orange cone on it, that means they’re looking for more players. Just come in and sit down. People love to share their games.”