A perfect storm for lovers of board games

Convention in downtown Vancouver expected to draw record crowd




Board gamer Seaton Bryan, right, explains the rules of Spartacus to other players, including Robert Wood on March 15 at the Dice Age store in Vancouver.

Nobody knows for sure what will happen when hordes of zombies, soldiers, mages, orcs, settlers, electricity tycoons and disgruntled post-apocalyptic office workers converge this weekend on the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

But chances are the results will make for some very happy gamers.

Organizers of the 15th GameStorm expect to draw about 1,300 board, card, miniature and other types of gamers from across the region for a nonstop 79-hour festival of playing, shopping and learning.

The convention’s participants, generally called tabletop or board gamers, are a separate lot from computer and console gamers, although some play all of those styles.

And if you join them, don’t mention such games as “Life,” “Monopoly” or “Sorry” — at least not unless you speak of them with a disapproving frown while looking for a match of “Mage Warz,” “Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar” or “The Castles of Burgundy.”

“There’s lots of dice rolling and tile placement and hundreds of new games to try,” said Roy Starkweather, owner of Vancouver’s Dice Age Games. “Every year, (board gaming) seems to get more popular.”

Tabletop and specialized board games are more complex than the sort of thing Milton Bradley puts out. They often involve such aspects as resource management, battle strategies or role playing.

Think more of a game such as “Risk,” then soup it up, and you might be close to the strategic experience involved with such classic card and board games as “Munchkin,” “Settlers of Catan” or “Dominion,” which gamers often use to get newcomers interested in their hobby.

Beginners are welcome, but there’s a whole lot more for advanced gamers to check out. In the past year, the board game community has had so many new offerings to choose from that it’s been hard to keep up with everything, said Starkweather, who’s attended GameStorm for the past five years.

“Traditionally, board games have done well in a poor economy, which may be why we’re seeing so many new ones,” Starkweather said. “There are so many new ones coming out that it’s hard to find time for the older classic games. And a lot of the new games are really great.”

Zombie games have been especially popular, said Jason Bostick, chairman of GameStorm.

A new one called “Relentless” will be released at the convention. But there will also be opportunities to play “The Walking Dead Card Game,” “Zombies!!!,” “Last Night on Earth” and “Zombicide,” where you might find that disgruntled post-apocalyptic office worker character.

“There are lots of zombie games,” Bostick said with a laugh. “They’re hot right now.”

One driving force in new games has been Kickstarter. The community fundraising service has enabled many small gamemakers — including several in the Pacific Northwest — to get their ideas off the ground, Bostick, said.

“The (board) gaming industry is just growing by leaps and bounds,” Bostick said. “There are lots of new games coming out of Germany and also a lot of smaller new ones coming from Kickstarter.”

The convention will have a game lab where people can share their ideas and get critiques from seasoned game developers. James Ernest, founder of Seattle-based Cheapass Games, will also give a talk about his success with Kickstarter.

The event will also have a library of about 1,000 games that participants can check out and play in the main game hall. Those looking for more players put out cones to invite anybody who is interested.

“We’re a friendly group, we welcome all sorts of newcomers,” Bostick said. “In the open area, it’s whatever people want to try, but we’ll also have sign-up sheets for a variety of other games.”

GameStorm began in Portland but moved across the river six years ago, because Vancouver can better fill the growing convention’s space demands, Bostick said.

Last year, the event had about 1,200 attendees, up from about 1,000 in 2011. And this year, turnout looks like it will be even bigger, he said.

“I’m shooting for 1,300,” Bostick said. “Any more and we’ll have to start looking for more hotel space.”

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.

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: Begins noon Thursday and continues through 7 p.m. Sunday. Open nonstop through the evenings.

Cost: $55 for adults and children older than 11, $20 for ages 6-10, $5 for children 5 and younger for the entire weekend. One-day passes available for $25 on Friday, $40 on Saturday and $15 on Sunday.

Information: http://www.gamestorm.org/.