At the last Board Game Geek Con, I had the opportunity to interview Brian Lenz about Grand Con and how it all got started. If you haven't already decided to attend Grand Con, then now’ is the time to sign up!
What makes Grand Con different from other conventions?
The intimacy. It was a pleasure to have the guests that we had our first year along with the support we got from the industry itself was amazing! The fact that it's the first of its kind in Grand Rapids and the demographics. We came together to add tabletop gaming, board games, comics, and artists all to this convention to make it a hybrid. That made us unique, as very few conventions pull that off and we pulled it off swimmingly. It was first year convention and we had nearly 1500 people attending. We're anticipating 3000 people attending next year and we already had to move it to a different facility. Our passion for gaming and comics really drives Grand Con.
What was your gateway game?
It's hard to say! I started playing games when I was 3. I remember sitting in my aunts and uncles and parents laps rolling their dice in monopoly for them. What really got me back in to the games of today I would say it had to be Elder Sign. It's really unique and pulled me in and it could play up to 8 players. I also really loved Mansions of Madness. Those horror research games really got me. Lots of Fantasy Flight games.
A buddy of mine asked if I wanted to go to Gen Con and I got the blessing from the wife she told me, "Yeah, go have fun!" I went down there with the anticipation of just finding out what it was and when I got there the doors were open and my eyes were glazed with wonderful board games. For me, was there a gateway game? No. It was more like a gateway time. There was a moment in time when I just fell head over heels right in to it.
What's something about convention management that the public might not know about?
It's dedication. Lots of time. Right now it's just myself and my business partner, but thankfully we had a lot of friends and community members pitch in to help. They really helped us out in that regard.
Run your convention like a business if it's for-profit or non-profit. If you run it as a hobby or a big game day it's going to be more work than you desire. Inevitably it would probably fall apart. I have an advantage as I've been doing business management for 25+ years and my business partner has been for 20+ years. You can't do a convention alone so expect to have a business partner to help.
How did your table top group influence the creation of Grand Con?
I started West Michigan Table Top Gamers in October of 2011 and I was just seeking out other gamers for gamers. I thought, "Wow this could turn into something more, maybe a convention." Mark Spector who is my business partner had been to conventions in the past and had some poor experiences being taught how to play games. He started a teaching group called "Grand Gaming Academy." There was a lot of crossover between the two communities. These two groups helped create Grand Con.
Have a goal. Know where you're going and run it like a business, and you'll be fine.
If you were stuck on a desert island, what three games would you bring with you to pass the time?
That's a tough one. I would have to bring Castaways to remind me of where I'm at. I would have to bring Dominant Species to play out what is about to happen. I'd bring a light one too, like Little Devils. If I could bring all the games I would!