Gibran Graham remembers when he first fell in love with games. He was 5 or 6 years old, and his mother had all her friends over. He had to go to bed, but they were all in the living room playing Monopoly.
He wanted to join.
“I would find all sorts of reasons to stay up and go into the living room and join the fun,” Graham said. “There was always this mystery and allure of this game on the table that people were playing.”
His love for tabletop gaming has only grown since then and led to a gaming convention that has been drawing visitors to the area for seven years.
SnowCon Episode VIII — themed after the recent release of the new “Star Wars” film — will take place Saturday and Sunday, Jan 16-17, at the Cross Insurance Center with a kickoff party Friday night at Blank Canvas Brewery in Brewer. SnowCon will offer attendees a wide variety of games; a mix of vendors selling related wares, including artwork and chain mail jewelry; a demonstration alley, offering tables of gamemakers play-testing their games; and myriad other options.
SnowCon was born eight years ago, when a friend of Graham’s came to him with a proposal.
“I was putting on another event and enlisted the help of a friend of mine who was a graphic and Web designer, Monique Bouchard. She said, ‘OK, what we gotta do is, after we’re done with this I need you to help me put on a gaming convention,’” Graham said.
Graham didn’t even have to think about his answer.
“I had a growing love of board games, so it kind of fit,” he said.
Soon they began organizing the first SnowCon. The only problem was that none of the organizers had been to a gaming convention before — that didn’t stop them.
The first SnowCon was held in 2009 and attracted a crowd of nearly 200 people.
“Ours is a little unique in the sense that we pride ourselves on being all non-electronic games,” Graham said. “We are predominantly tabletop gaming, which ends up being a wide variety of different games. It can be board games, role-playing games, card games, miniatures. There could also be other types of non-electronic gaming, like [live-action role playing].”
Their focus is on tabletop games of all types, but the disconnect from electronic games is important to event organizers Monique Bouchard, Drew Bouchard, Todd Caron, Derek Porter and, of course, Graham.
“We’re such an electronic-based society these days. So this is a way for us to take that back and have an event that people are interacting with in a live setting, person-to-person across a table,” Graham said.
For six years SnowCon was held at the Black Bear Inn in Orono, but last year it “graduated,” as Graham said, to the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
What began as a love of gaming has since evolved into an event that attracts hundreds every year from as far away as New York and Connecticut. The event’s purpose has grown as well.
“We wanted to try and create something that was for not just the diehard gamers but also for new people,” Graham said. The team wanted to create a comfortable environment where newcomers could participate and seasoned veterans could have fun.
After the first year, Graham and the other organizers wanted to do some more research for future events.
“It was funny because we had never been to a gaming convention before in our life, so we rewarded ourselves after that first time by going to a gaming convention. We went to TotalCon in Mansfield, Massachusetts,” Graham said. “We went, and we said, ‘Wow, OK. It looks like we did something right.’”
From that moment on, SnowCon has only flourished.
“We have a game library where people can check out games and plop down at an open table,” Graham said. “You can even bring your own games and play them.”
What really makes the event successful is the gamemasters — volunteers who run games they love and help others learn about them. Bill Cassinelli and his 15-year-old daughter, Alana, will be gamemasters at this year’s SnowCon. The Cassinellis, who live in Orono, are “transplants” from Florida, according to Bill’s wife, Teresa Cassinelli.
“We’ve always been very much into gaming. We have a lot of it in our house. It’s a family thing that we do together,” Teresa Cassinelli said.
Bill volunteered as a gamemaster during the gaming convention’s first year. He has been participating ever since. Alana was a gamemaster first at only 12 years old and has continued to participate as well.
“Early on we got the kids involved, and it’s been a family event. I think there’s this preconceived notion that we’re these weird, socially awkward people, but we actually socialize a lot through gaming,” Teresa Cassinelli said. “For us it’s about family time.”
Bill Cassinelli agreed.
“We do enjoy electronic games as well but not as much a getting together as a family at the table with a board in front of us,” he said. “We also use it as a tool. It involves promoting creativity.”
“They become advocates for certain games, and they want to teach it to other people,” Graham said of the gamemasters. “We thank them excessively because it takes a lot of time and dedication from them every year.”
One way the organizers thank the gamemasters is by putting on a SnowCon launch party before the weekend of gaming begins.
“Friday night is our ‘So You Meet In A Tavern’ kickoff party, because every great adventure begins in a tavern,” Graham said. The event traditionally has been a mix of comedy and “nerd-prov,” Graham said, and usually has people from the community taking part as well.
This year it will take place at the Blank Canvas Brewery in Brewer starting at 8 p.m. Friday, and something new has been added to the mix.
“We’re having, not karaoke, but nerdaoke. So the challenge has been put out to some of creative community to not just sing songs that they know, but to rewrite lyrics. We’ll have one if not more renditions of ‘Do you want to build a SnowCon?’” Graham said with a laugh.
Graham hopes the kickoff party will attract an enthusiastic crowd and that regular attendees will return for another year of SnowCon, but he also encourages newcomers to check it out and remember an early love of games, like he had when he was a child.
“Don’t be intimidated by all these other games. Come play what you want and maybe try something new,” he said.
For more information about SnowCon Gaming Convention, a schedule of events and gaming pass prices, visit their website at snowconmaine.com/main.