Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer

ConBravo 2014: Vendor Profiles

This is part three of a three part series where Michael reviews his experiences as ConBravo.

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As has been evident in my Nerd Tour Of Toronto series, I am a big fan of gaming stores. They occupy an special place in nerd culture, where members of the community can gather to play games and share ideas. When I’m at conventions, I like to take some time  to talk to the vendors there to learn more about their operations, and their thoughts on the retail games industry.

The Blue Gryphon (Gatineau, Quebec)

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The Blue Gryphon had a large booth containing a bevy of video games and other gaming related goods. Although having a brick and mortar location in Gatineau, Martin (the owner) is a road warrior: travelling to more than 15 conventions a year ranging from Quebec City to Niagara Falls. He’ll be at the Montreal and Quebec City comic-cons later this year, so keep an eye open for him!

Although not on display at ConBravo, The Blue Gryphon boasts over 5000 new and used RPG books within its 1200 foot retail space, including Pathfinder, D&D, and OSR products. Martin has been in business for 5 years, and has accrued quite the collection of goods over that time.

It was interesting to get Martin’s take on the recent surge in the vintage games industry. For those not in the know: there was a big price bump about two years ago, which is only just starting to settle down. Martin explained that a lot of vendors were surprised by this jump, which resulted in a big swell in the retail and reselling industry. He also noted that game demand changes quite a bit from region to region. Apparently folks in Ontario are more captivated by NES games, while much of the rest of Canada is into N64 and GameCube games. I guess we’re just a bit more retro in the golden horseshoe!

You can check out the Blue Gryphon online, or visit their retail location on 380 rue Notre-Dame in Gatineau, Quebec.

1up Games (Hamilton, Ontario)

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Super 1up Games is a Hamilton based retailer with two locations, who figuratively came from around the corner to attend the convention. They had a large array of vintage video games on display, and their general presence evoked strong memories of some Toronto based retailers such as A&C Games.

I spoke with Andrew, one of the retail workers at 1up Games, who let me know a bit about what they do. In addition to their primary stock of video games, the store also carries a collection of movies and DVDs. One exciting element of their main retail location is the dedicated game space on the second floor. The area is used to hold arcade games (they recently acquired a DDR machine), host fighting game tournaments, and hold general meet-ups. Very cool for creating a sense of community in the Hamilton area!

One neat thing they set up for ConBravo was a Mario Kart retrospective. Presented across a dozen televisions, visitors could play every console version of Mario Kart from the SNES era all the way up to Mario Kart 8. It was a neat little presentation, that showed off several generations of gaming in a concise and interactive way.

You can check out Super 1Up Games online, or visit one of their two retail locations in Hamilton.

Solid Board Gamers (Online)

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I met the Solid Board Gamers folks a couple of times during my experiences at Gryphcon, and they are a friendly bunch. Although lacking a retail location, they hit the convention circuit pretty dang hard, and also have a well-stocked online store. Their retail booth at ConBravo had a ton of games, and they were also running some tabletop fun at the Sheraton hotel. I spoke with John (the store’s founder) and Nasir (their website admin) for some insights on the board games industry.

Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest sellers right now are gateway games such as Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, and Ticket to Ride. Nasir explained that a good gateway game can be taught quickly, run in a short period time, and entices participants to play again by revealing new strategies and nuances as they learn. Catan is a perfect example of this type of game, as I’ve seen many players quickly devise new tactics after being schooled in their first match.

However, I was really more interested in games that weren’t already super-popular in the gaming community, so I posed a question to John and Nasir. What game would you say is good, but doesn’t get the exposure it deserve?

Nasir’s choice was Parade, a Japanese hand management game that has been around since 2007. Based on the character’s from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, your goal is to arrange a parade where no two people are wearing the same costume and everyone comes away happy. Nasir explained that although the game was fun and easy to get into, there was a surprisingly amount of depth to its strategy and tactics. He also mentioned that there was an excellent balance of risk and reward in the game, something essentially to nearly any board game.

John’s choice was Neuroshima Hex!, which I must admit, I had never heard of before. Hex is a tournament style game, based in a post-apocalyptic world torn apart by a war between humans and machines. The game runs quickly and the play style is tactical and rewarding, but John mentioned that there is a major clash between the game’s art style and actual mechanics. This dissonance between form and function makes it hard for the game to draw in new players, and as a result it has remained a relatively unknown quantity.

You can check out the Solid Board Gamers website online. They are also fairly easy to spot at conventions: just look for the orange sign!

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By Michael
Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer