Fun & games at Gamestorm

Growing convention in downtown Vancouver proves to be a winner

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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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: Continues through 7 p.m. today.

• Cost: One-day passes are $15 for today.

• Information:http://gamestorm.org.

photoGamers huddle over an intense match at the Gamestorm board- and card-game convention at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. The event continues through Sunday.

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photoGame-players of all ages attended Gamestorm, a board- and card-game convention at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

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photoSandy Stumpf of Seattle takes her turn at Terra Mystica with friends she just met at Gamestorm.

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An occasional loud wooden crash somewhat randomly overwhelmed the more prominent noises of rolling dice, shuffling cards and shouts of "A-ha!" at this weekend's Gamestorm convention at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

From the meeting rooms full of hundreds of board and card games, it was hard to tell where the sound came from -- unless you stepped into the hallway to see the giant Jenga set made of forearm-sized wooden blocks.

Brandon Suter, 25, from Eugene, Ore., said he'd been eyeing the game since the convention started on Thursday. He finally got his wish when Keri Turner, 36, of Portland, strolled by on Saturday afternoon.

"That's one of the cool things about this convention," Turner said. "You can just join in pretty much any game you want."

As the two squared off, donning requisite hard hats for safety, a small crowd gathered to wait for the inevitable massive collapse.

"I never lose at Jenga," Suter said ominously after creating a precarious lower structure of blocks.

Throughout Gamestorm, which has run continuously since Thursday, Suter said he's barely slept.

"I went to bed at 10 a.m. this morning and I just got up," he said at about 3 p.m. "I feel great!"

It's his first time attending the convention, which is in its 15th year. And as of Saturday afternoon, he said, he'd played probably a dozen games.

"I've played Betrayal, Ascension, I've been LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) all over the place," Suter said, adding that his voice sounded very deep because he was hoarse from shouting.

Turnout had hit about 1,100 by midday Saturday, a new record for the continuously growing event -- which moved from Portland to Vancouver six years ago for the larger convention space, said Jason Bostick, chairman.

"It's been a pretty steady stream of people, and we'll probably have several more by the time we finish on Sunday," Bostick said.

The Jenga set is new to this year's event, said Bostick, who stopped to watch the match between Suter and Turner.

"A friend of the founder of Gamestorm made it for us," Bostick said.

Carefully tapping on a center block, Turner raised an eyebrow at the growing number of onlookers.

"People stand around and can't wait for the fall," she said.

Turner has come to the convention with her husband for the past four years. She likes to use it as a try-before-you-buy shopping trip to find new games the couple can play over the coming year, she said.

"I really enjoy LARP and table-top (role-playing games)," she said. "I like to role-play. I like pretty much anything that lets me be really social."

Looking down at the bottom of the pile after another turn, Suter smiled at his handiwork.

"Who did that?" a passer-by asked, eyeing the increasingly wobbly crisscross of base blocks.

"I did," Suter said proudly.

Jenga is far from the only new game to draw the attention of convention-goers.

Many game developers come to the event each year to get input on their games and to let people try them out. Chris Weedin, a game-maker from Selah, which is outside of Yakima, debuted his company's new zombie game Relentless at Gamestorm.

The card game pits one player with a stack of zombie cards against another with a stack of human cards for a battle of escape versus be eaten.

"You have to be a little crazy to make games," Weedin said. "Even more important than creativity, though, is determination."

Weedin has been designing games for 12 years, initially with a tongue-in-cheek role-playing game called Horror Rules, which puts players in the positions of B-movie horror characters.

Relentless is relatively easy to learn, and he hopes it will be popular with newcomers who have been rapidly picking up the hobby, Weedin said.

"Gaming is really becoming very mainstream now," Weedin said. "You used to have to go to a specialty store. One of those dark backstreet places with three guys huddled around a table in the back? Now you can find these types of games at Target -- games like Munchkin and Settlers of Catan, which have been around for a little while."

At the Jenga match, Turner winced as she slowly tapped out one more piece, precariously placing it on top of the pile with a sigh of relief before looking over at Suter.

"This thing's about to go," Bostick said with a grin.

Suter looked confident and tapped at a side piece, which started the head-tall tower wobbling uncontrollably.

A familiar loud wooden crashing sound followed.

"A-ha!" cried Turner, in triumph.


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