This past weekend, the wife and my sidekick joined me on our first family vacation. I've always been a homebody when it comes to the typical beach/resort/clubbing vacation. I enjoy doing different things with my time off. Such as writing, painting, and fleshing out the fantasy medieval economy of my current RPG campaign. Nerdy things. So we treated ourselves to something special--our kind of special. A nerd smorgasbord, with sprinklings of several new experiences cemented by some of our favorite hobby game types. This was found at the Fire and Ice Convention in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It was awesome, friendly, and full of all sorts of activities and games that we utterly devoured like a pair of ravenous wolves tearing into a defenseless Cheese-head granny.
I'll be enumerating many things that I enjoyed about this trip, but one of them that really struck me was just how much enjoyment the three of us were getting out of our weekend for such a good deal. So here's a quick-but-total itemization of our expenses for the weekend, so you can appreciate similar opportunities in your own area. Heck, if you're anywhere near northern Wisconsin this time next year, you should definitely consider joining us.
2 Weekend passes: $50
A weekend pass gives you six raffle tickets for the daily door prizes and access to all of the weekend's game events. There's about two dozen tables devoted to board games of various types and lengths, a dozen for miniature games and card tables, and a handful of booths for role-playing games all interspersed with some vendor tables for several local hobby shops. I'll detail things more later, but for now here's a list of the games I played over the weekend: GURPS: Thundercats; Eclipse the board game; Mechwarrior the miniature game; a Dawn of the Dead miniature skirmish game; the SPANC card game; a session of the Deadlands RPG; a session of GURPS: Justice League; an epic game of Memoir '44 Overlord; and a soon-to-be-published RPG called Mistrunner. And that was with sleeping in and a big lunch on Saturday and leaving at four on Sunday.
2 Night stay, Super 8: $107.35
The Manitowoc Super 8 is ridiculously close to the venue site, clean, and well-maintained. The front-desk staff were nice and friendly, and tolerated the wife and I playing a late night game of SPANC in the lobby so our
This is included for completion's sake, but we really only used about two-fifths of a tank of gas, as the trip was only about a hundred and ten miles for us. A word of warning for anyone traveling through Milwaukee to the Con, though: that vaguely urban center is actually a driving proficiency anomaly for the entire state of Wisconsin. While you can trust Cheesers to drive a good 10 miles over the speed limit on most rustic roads and cruise in the fast lane at 75-85 miles-per-hour, those who congest Milwaukee's arteries clot at no more than 60 mph--65 if you're lucky--in the fast lane. Practice your G-rated curse-words before leaving.
Pizza Ranch: $17.83
This place was great. It's a small chain of Midwest pizza buffets with great food, wonderful service, and a wonderful atmosphere that's rustic but still bright and clean. In addition to buffet staples and your typical basic topping pizzas (fresh and piping hot), they make specialty pizzas that have haunted the last ten meals I have had since trying them. Chicken and broccoli alfredo pizza, complete with creamy sauce that completely transforms the pizza slice. A tomato-basil pizza with actual whole slices of spiced tomato nuzzled beneath the cheese layer. And those were just the ones I could pack in three slices at a time before my gorram stomach and gaming schedule demanded we head to the Con and register. If you're ever within a twenty-mile radius of a Pizza Ranch, you owe it to yourself to swing by and give it a try.
|My son, perfectly imitating my cheese-induced mania at Pizza Ranch|
Taco Bell: $9.42
This requires almost no explanation. Gamers love the Bell of Taco. I love the Bell of Taco. In fact, I noticed that of the major fast food chains near the convention venue, Taco Bell's was the most busy throughout the weekend. Hmmm...nachos.
Mostly, this was to snag some last minute Imodium and Gas-X. Apparently, my beloved thought that my fellow gamers might appreciate these OTC stop-gaps after I spent two hours in the car, followed by a pizza buffet. To my credit, I hardly needed the latter, and the former was completely unnecessary. Really. And don't think it's gross--I'm really a companionably hygienic gamer. I just have trouble over-sharing.
Food bought at the Con: $9.75
This was for two or three quick meals between games over the weekend. The small-but-essential concessions menu consists of things like nachos, grilled cheese, burgers, hot dogs, and a bunch of sweets. They're all good and priced reasonably--which is to say, a bit more than what you'd pay in a grocery store, but less than what you'd get saddled with at a high-school or college sporting event.
Auction board games and books: $40
Gamers can bring their own games to Fire and Ice and put them up for auction, with each day serving as a separate round of bidding. It's a great way to quickly get exposed a broad range of new and old gaming gems, with a chance to peak at the components, too. For forty papyrus notes, we went home with games normally worth a total of $90 that we'd never have noticed otherwise. I'll let you know what I think of two of them--SPANC and Red Dragon Inn--in the coming weeks.
One-page sketch by Kurt Wilcken: $25
Kurt led the GURPS games I'd played in, and as a cartoonist he'd sketched out some character illustrations on 3x5 cards for us to use. After our GURPS Thundercats game he gave Abi and I the cards for our characters--Panthro and Liono, respectively--and I just had to see more. They'll doubtless all get posted up here on the blog when I get the full-page illustration, too.
Culver's chains are a staple of Wisconsin--they're frakkin' everywhere here. So it was only a matter of time before our weekend saw us at a Culver's location. Plus, I'd forgotten to get some fried cheese curds, so I guess we'll be hitting up a local Culver's this week or next.
Buffalo Wild Wings: $20.55
At the end of a long, full weekend, we decided to splurge one last time and get some "tatonka" as I like to mumble whenever we pass by. It seems like every time we want to get some beedubs to-go, however, it falls on a Sunday evening and we have to deal with crowding and a longer wait than usual. Oh well, epic weekend anyways.
After this inaugural weekend, we've decided to make Fire and Ice (and Pizza Ranch!) an annual family outing. It's fun, special, and quite cost effective for a family to do. Kids five to twelve get into the convention for just ten or fifteen dollars a head, as I recall, and the food at the convention is a convenient way to save hassle and money. We probably could quarter our food expenditure by eating at the Con more, and certainly will in the future.
In any case, I hope you've appreciated this purely mercenary break down of the experience. Later in the week I'll post more about the games and my experiences and impressions of them. But for now: I'm pooped.