About three hours north of Los Angeles is Hanford, California, home to GMT Games. GMT Games has been making quality strategy games for over 26 years. Twice a year, they hold a convention called“Weekend at the Warehouse,” where gamers literally sit for four days in the company warehouse, among rows and rows and towers of GMT cardboard gloriousness.
The convention brings in about 100 board gamers, mostly from California, to play games, demo prototypes, and pick the brains of board-game designers and consultants alike. The setting is intimate, surprisingly friendly and super laid-back. So laid-back that there isn’t even a sign from the outside that you’ve arrived at the GMT warehouse, and that the snack bar, which sells soda, bottled water and the usual board-gamer nourishment, is all on an honor system at 50 cents an item. “You can make change in the cash box in the corner,” one gamer later told me.
After an initial greeting of “Are you here with somebody?” when I first entered the warehouse (to which I responded “Nope, I’m here to game), and then answering some questions about what types of games I like playing.
I honestly don’t mind when people ask me what types of games I play — we all do it, to basically find out if a new person shares the same interests as you — and once we all figured out we were speaking the same board-game language, I quickly slipped into non-stop gaming for the next 2 1/2 days.
I’m a huge fan of heavy euro games and strategy games, which includes war games as well. I wanted to see what this event was all about. Make no mistake — there aren’t any light gamers here in Hanford, but if you’re interested in exploring heavier games and war games, there will be friendly people who will teach it to you. And you can possibly start with Time of Crisis.
Time of Crisis is a fantastic gateway into war gaming. I got a chance to play this game twice over the weekend. According to BGG, in Time of Crisis, “2-4 players take the reins of Roman dynasties, gathering and wielding influence among the senate, military, and people of Rome to ensure that their legacies are remembered by history.”
The interesting thing about this game is that it’s a deck-builder at heart. But instead of it being a true deck-builder, in which you can only draw cards up to your hand limit, you can actually pick which cards to use from the available pile for your hand that turn. You spend you action points either beefing up military, influencing the Senate or being a man of the people, while possibly defending against barbarian hordes.
During the weekend, I briefly got a chance to chat with Ananda Gupta, the co-designer of Twilight Struggle, the first GMT game I have in my collection. If I knew he was going to be there, I totally would’ve brought my game for him to sign. Twilight Struggle is a fantastic game, and was No. 1 for a long time on the BGG games list. Ananda was at GMT Weekend to demo his new game, Imperial Struggle. He had been working on this game for about 8 years now, although not full time. I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to sit in at the demo. There seriously was always a crowd of dudes around him.
Luckily, I got a chance to chat with Gene Billingsley, game designer and co-founder of GMT Games. We talk about historical eras, advice for game designers and his latest project, Mr. President. (The interview starts at 3:16.)
I also met Dan Bullock, who came from Milwaukee to demo his prototype No Motherland Without. It’s a two-player card-driven game between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that takes place from about 1953-1988.
You use action points from your cards or an event, but if the event if for your opponent, it will trigger. The DPRK is building structures on the map to meet certain thresholds, while the U.S. is placing outage markers to prevent the DPRK from succeeding.
There’s also an interesting element regarding the North Korean citizens. Dissidents are trying to escape the country, and the U.S. is building routes to help them escape, while the DPRK is destroying those routes and trying to make it more difficult for them to leave. Dan is hoping to get his game published.
In between all of this, I met a bunch of new folks, shared stories about board gaming and of course, played all the games. Like I said, I played Time of Crisis twice. I also got to play Pax Renaissance, Nippon, Clash of Cultures, Battlestar Galactica (my fav!), Trickerion and Inis.
On Saturday morning, Gene gives a talk about the inner workings of GMT Games, upcoming projects and answers questions board gamers have about the industry, games or whatever else comes to mind.
And then the gamers are let loose to buy some games! I picked up 1846: The Race for the Midwest and Pericles. I was hoping to learn Pericles at the convention, but my scheduling just didn’t work out.
By Saturday night, I saw a group playing Battlestar Galactica again and — this totally amused me — another group playing Zombicide, game I totally didn’t expect to get on table here of all places. With that, I said goodbyes to gamers I had met, and headed back to my motel to get a good night’s sleep for the 9-hour drive back to Phoenix. I hope to make it back here one day. Everybody was so friendly and it felt great to be part of this GMT community.