ValorCon brings gaming of all kinds to Chicago

 

Last weekend, Chicago played host to a brand new gaming convention called ValorCon, a gathering of geeks and gamers celebrating tabletop gaming, video gaming, and gaming in general. TVGB was given an opportunity to check it out, and as an avid convention-goer and Chicago-event-goer, I was eager to see what ValorCon had to offer. Though the convention is in its second year, I had actually not previously known about it. This year, it took place on the upper floors of the Macy’s department store in downtown Chicago, formerly the flagship store of Marshall Fields. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I awkwardly approached the store elevator on Saturday, but I came out smiling.

 

Since this is That VideoGame Blog, let’s start with the video game component of the convention. This mostly involved a big room on the 7th floor of the building, decked out with screens and systems all the way around. These mostly featured modern  tournament staples like Mortal Kombat X, Overwatch, Street Fighter 5, and most prominently, Super Smash Bros. For Wii U. There were a few less common competition games too, including Mario Party 10. The convention ran tournaments for all of these games all weekend, some simple and some taking place in multiple rounds.

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But you already know about those games; let’s talk about some games you might not know. Off to the side of the room, though, were a number of PCs running not-yet-released indie games of all sorts. The most interesting for me was Battle Chef Brigade, which is part side scrolling beat-em-up and part Columns-like puzzle game about chefs in a fantasy world. They fight wild creatures and cut down fruits and vegetables to use as ingredients, and then mix and cook them up via color matching puzzles. In addition to the game play being a lot of fun, the characters and designs are quite charming.

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Another standout was physics based party game Sausage Sports Club, which was also a standout of Bit Bash 2016. In this title, players control tube-shaped characters and compete in various events while whipping around their upper bodies to hit foes. Modes include soccer, “sumo” (wherein you must knock your opponents out of bounds), and a Splatoon-esque color battle. These were the two that caught my attention, but among the other games present were retro-style old west RPG Boot Hill Bounties, bizarre homoerotic destruction game Tango Paradise, and the strategy-based Telepath Tactics. I wish this part of the convention got more love; a lot of the stations were unattended and it wasn’t always clear how the games were played. Plus, they weren’t really advertised or organized for the most part. This could be a second Bit Bash if it’s nurtured properly.

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There were also a couple large-scale video games up in the tabletop area. The video game that turned the most heads was Life of Lon, a story-based game currently in development for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The developer was demoing an alpha version on the Vive, and while I only got to try the first level, it was impressively immersive. You play as an astronaut named Lon, who begins making his descent onto an Earth-like planet. Something goes wrong, and your pod goes down and ends up in an ocean. You then meet a cat-like creature called Yup, who guides you through the game. The ship and Yup are very cute, but the developers told me that the game embodies a creepy-cute aesthetic overall. I could definitely see what they meant, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Life of Lon compares to other VR narrative games, like Fated.

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The other large scale setup was for Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, a multiplayer title meant to simulate the jobs of crew members on a Star Trek-like ship. Each player has a role and uses their own screen to perform their job. One player is the captain, and their screen represents the main screen of the ship. I jumped into a game with a group of people who had already been playing, and I was given the job of Communications, which I was told was the easiest job. That being the case, I can’t even imagine how difficult the other jobs must be. Even as someone explained the controls to me, I was quickly overwhelmed by all of the notifications, options, and names on my screen. What does SP-16 mean, and why does it need help? It didn’t help that because of the large setup (and the convention noise) the captain and I had to shout to hear each other. I lost track of what was going on very quickly, as the number of messages on my screen tripled all at once. I don’t know how this game would play in a more intimate setting (or whether you can change the difficulty), but it was way too confusing and complicated for me there.

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All of this was fun, but the real lifeblood of ValorCon is tabletop gaming. Board games, party games, role playing games, card games; pretty much every type of tabletop game was represented. A number of game developers were present as well, showing off newly released or unreleased games and running demos. Of these, the developer that most stood out to me was Mythica Games, who created a card game called Legends of Draxia. The game, a Kickstarter success, is still in an early form, but holds a lot of promise. It combines the resource building of games like Settlers of Catan with the card-based mechanics of a deck building game, and features some very impressive artwork. Another developer I spent some time with was Road to Infamy Games, who showed off the gangster-themed board game of the same name, among others.

ValorCon managed to pack quite a lot into a weekend, despite its size. There were always fun activities happening, open games to try, and friendly people to meet. Chicago’s been in dire need of its own gaming convention for a while, so I really hope ValorCon continues to grow next year; I know there are a lot of gamers in the area who would enjoy it. If you’re in the Chicago area this time next year, I recommend giving it a go.

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