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GrandCon brings gamers to West Michigan

Gamers enjoyed over 600 exhibits, an open library 1,800 games, and mega-sized games at this year's GrandCon.
Lobby DeVos Place 2016 Artprize

Lobby DeVos Place 2016 Artprize /Steven DePolo

What started as a handful of friends playing board games has turned into an annual gaming convention that attracts fans from across Michigan.

GrandCon returned for its 7th outing at the DeVos Place Convention Center on Labor Day weekend. The three-day event attracted over 3,000 guests.

“GrandCon is about community, raising awareness of the hobby industry, friends, family, and fun,” said GrandCon Founder Brian Lenz. “It’s a weekend experience of good times.”

This year’s GrandCon featured 600 exhibits and an open library of 1,800 games. Highlights included mega-sized games with several foot long pieces and iPads used for augmented reality scavenger hunts. 

Attendees could pay a dollar to re-roll their die during role playing games, with funds supporting the suicide awareness organization Jasper’s Game Day. 

Speakers ranging from Iron GM Games designer Rone Barton to local fantasy author Bryan Donihue delivered seminars on game design, worldbuilding, and publishing.

“With so many things to check out, it’s hard not to overdo it,” said show coordinator Matt Kruse. “Take it at your own pace.”

Kruse first attended GrandCon in 2015. During a gaming session, he reconnected with a former highschool classmate who he had not seen in over a decade. Following the unexpected reunion, Kruse and his friend have put on a weekly game night with their families. 

“Gaming is such a great hobby,” Kruse said. “Sitting across a table with friends and family is super important.”

The growing popularity of gaming can be attributed to games bringing together gamers like Kruse to face challenges, according to Lenz. Modern game design emphasizes interactivity between players and complex decision-making. 

“We’ve come a long way since Sorry and Monopoly,” Lenz said. 

GrandCon originated with Lenz and several tabletop enthusiasts, who play games every Wednesday evening at the Out of the Box store in Zeeland, Michigan. Known as the West Michigan Tabletop Gamers (WMTG), the group has grown to 1,430 members on since 2011.

GrandCon officially launched in 2012. Originally located in the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College, GrandCon moved to the DeVos Place Convention Center in 2017 when the convention grew beyond the former space’s capacity. 

Rising GrandCon attendance is something that Lenz says signals the status of gaming as a mainstream hobby among a new generation.

“The exciting thing is that the gaming industry is constantly growing,” Lenz said. “It’s opening doors to a wider audience.” 


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