This piece was written by a good friend of mine, Squid, who writes the City of the Wind blog.
If you like the idea of GenCon but prefer your gaming conventions to not be so large they could have their own zipcode, you might want to check out ValorCon. ValorCon spent its first year tucked away in an upper floor of downtown Chicago’s Block 37 mini-mall. This year it moved across the street to the seventh and ninth floor of the State Street Macy’s Department Store. In a city with so many competing conventions and high prices on space, managing to even make it to a second year is impressive. Valor Con puts a priority on bringing together gamers from the Chicago community and offers a little slice of everything.
Like last year, ValorCon made the best use of the tiny space allotted to it. The lower floor offered competitive video gaming (not my bag, but my friend reportedly had a good time getting demolished at Hearthstone) and a tiny, but high quality set of vendors with unique items you would have trouble finding at larger conventions. I nearly knocked a set of rare Amiibos off a table upon finding a hand-painted mug by Maggie Kohnen of iCon, featuring Eddie Gluskin from Outlast, one of my favorite horror game antagonists.
Up the (unsettlingly archaic) elevators was the tabletop gaming floor. ValorCon had people teaching and playing games at all hours, ranging from more established games like Pathfinder and Feng Shui to new games like Edrighor that were being run by their own creator. One of my personal favorites was Engine Hearts, a WALL-E inspired game about maintenance robots trying to carry on their work wake of humankind’s extinction. I played as the dim, but enthusiastic scavenger and repair bot with a mild crush on the eccentric art robot and a very large buzzsaw, which didn’t turn out to be as poor a combination as you’d think.
There was also a ‘bank’ of board games available for people to play or teach on their own and a few vendors selling or promoting their own games. I found that the people running the games were very pleasant in general and willing to adapt to players with different levels of experience, from those who had played Dungeons and Dragons since its first edition to those who were unclear on what a ‘d20’ (twenty-sided die) was.
The back hallway, practically a secret passage for how hard it was to find, contained more unusual attractions. The developer team for Life of Lon was play-testing the alpha of their virtual reality game taking place inside a gorgeous (if slightly buggy) underwater paradise. Groups of five to six gamers huddled around a bank of computers to play Artemis Bridge Simulator, the co-op computer game for people who have always wanted to be a crewman on the Starship Enterprise.
I also got to try my first escape room courtesy of a demo by CluedIn — for someone with a Riddler costume in their closet I’m not as great at escaping deathtraps as I thought. There was also a room for people to beat each other senseless with ‘boffer weapons’, PVC piping wrapped in padding to mimic swords, spears, and shields. I abstained, but my colleague had an enjoyable time.
Panels were hosted at the “Macy’s Culinary Studio”, a full-sized kitchen normally used for catering and promotional events. Next year the ValorCon staff may wish to consider a ‘cooking for nerds’ panel, it seems a shame to let the venue go to waste.
In keeping with its mission of being a local convention, ValorCon’s programming emphasizes Chicago’s gaming community. The panels featured intriguing topics such as “How to Play Cooperative Video Games with your Spouse” and “The Economics of World of Warcraft”, and the majority of panelists came from around the Chicago area. I personally got to chat about Chicago’s Pokemon Go! culture on a panel with local ‘nerd celebrities’ such as Youtube gamer personality Abdallah Elayan, Priyanko Paul of “Never Tell me the Pods” and Aaron Amendola of the VStheUNIVERSE Chicago performance group.
Like any new convention running on passion and a shoestring staff, ValorCon is unfortunately still working through some logistical issues. Macy’s is laid out in a very convoluted, near-labyrinthine format, and the convention was forced to fit itself like a Tetris block into its assigned spaces. I was still getting lost on my third day of attendance and was unaware of many of the con’s features until I stumbled across them on my own. Printed maps and programs for attendees, as well as better signage, would be a definite boon for ValorCon next year.
Despite these hiccups, I still found the con quite enjoyable and a way to make new connections within the Chicago nerd community. Those wishing to attend next year might be better off only going on Saturday rather than all three days, since the con’s population is so small, but I would definitely still recommend it as a way to support your local con and bond with your fellow local gamers.