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Con-tact Has Been Made

August 18th, 2013 No comments

If there’s one thing that I look forward to more than any other each year, it’s Gen Con, the massive board/war/card/role-playing gaming convention. I’ve attended every year since it moved to Indianapolis in 2003.

I used to go for a single day of the four-and-a-half day game-a-palooza, but the past couple of times I’ve stayed overnight so that I have time to get outside of the dealers’ room and actually see some games being played. I have a feeling that two days is about right for me; three would be too much. As it was, by the afternoon of the second day I became exhausted and cranky on the overcrowded convention floor. Even the Daleks were feeling beat…

If there was a theme this year, it was people not being ready to accommodate the rush. The first sign of this came with my arrival on Friday morning, when I learned that the convention had temporarily run out of lanyards for the all-important badges that permit access into the ticketed areas. The lanyards arrived later in the day, and con staff were passing them out to attendees on the floor of the dealers’ room.

There were big lines to purchase the new releases. Gale Force Nine’s Firefly board game was predictably hot. I never got a chance to play in a demo game, but I figure that this is one I’ll have ample opportunity to see in the future. The latest issue of Game Trade Magazine, which was being handed out for free, includes a miniature Firefly ship, and by the end of my visit I’d amassed a squadron of them.

The Fantasy Flight Games booth was frustrating. One literally could not enter the store without standing in a line that wrapped around the corner. It took until Saturday afternoon before it had died down enough for me to bother with it.

That said, Fantasy Flight also had the most impressive display of new and forthcoming releases, including a Warhammer Fantasy-themed relaunch of their old Diskwars rules system, and a streamlined 2nd edition of Battlelore which I suspect I’ll buy into when it hits stores.

They also had this:

Sweet Zombie Jesus, it’s a model of my favorite Star Wars starship, the Rebel Blockade Runner, scaled to fit in with the X-Wing miniatures game. It. Is. Gorgeous. There’s also a Rebel Transport, which is swell too.

Another retailer unable to cope was Stoneblade Entertainment, which offered a half-price coupon for their brand-new introductory version of the popular Ascension deckbuilding game, only to sell out on the first day. And the makers of Cards Against Humanity, a game which is not without reason nicknamed “Assholes to Assholes,” abandoned their booth after selling through their stock, leaving nothing behind but a trio of scrawled cards telling their would-be customers to fuck off. Classy.

As with many geek conventions, Gen Con is sort of a nerdery catch-all. Lots of “cosplayers” dressed as superheroes, warriors, steampunkers, anime characters and those inexplicable quasi-Victorian maids that inevitably show up. And, as is all too often the case these day, a fair number of people dressed as who-the-fuck-knows-what, including one that resembled an ambulatory wrap-around shower. One guy getting a lot of attention for the sheer weirdness of his choice was dressed as one of the technicians from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, complete with ball-shaped helmet.

And then there was Bob Ross, from The Joy of Painting

Several celebrities were on deck, including Peter Davison, the fifth actor to play Doctor Who, and former Star Trek: The Next Generation star Wil Wheaton. Wheaton has thoroughly rehabilitated his image since his days as despised kid genius Wesley Crusher, and now serves as de facto king of the gamer nerds. I never saw him, but I understand that he was involved in various charity fundraising games at the con.

I did get to say “hi” to Walter Koenig, best-known as Star Trek‘s Chekov, who was there to sign copies of Mayfair Games’ new Star Trek: Catan map pack. Oddly, he seemed to have missed a memo, as he was wearing a cap from competing space TV franchise Babylon 5.

Last year Mayfair had Nichelle Nichols signing copies of the Star Trek: Catan base game, so my hope is that they’ll eventually release enough of these that I’ll have the whole crew. Though Scotty will be a tough one.

I was able to participate in demos of several games. Daemon Dice is from the current makers of the former Wizards of the Coast game Dragon Dice. Each player rolls a set of 13 dice which represent the various body parts of their demonic warrior. I thought that it was too fiddly for what it was trying to accomplish, but I did pick up some of the giveaway dice; the “tentacle” die, featuring two “pluses,” two “minuses,” and two tentacles, will serve nicely for the specialty dice used in the role-playing games FUDGE and FATE.

Hegemonic is an upcoming space conquest game that was being promoted as less random than similar titles such as Eclipse and Twilight Imperium. I like Minion Games’ Manhattan Project a lot, but the half hour I spent learning the rules to Hegemonic suggested that, like Daemon Dice, it was unnecessarily fiddly for me.

Legacy: Gears of Time apparently has been out for a while, but I was unfamiliar with it. It involves manipulating history by introducing technologies, and it was something that I was left wanting to give a second look.

I was eager to see the aforementioned FATE RPG in action as run by someone familiar with its quirky system of rules. I attended a session of Games on Demand, which offered multiple small-press and off-the-wall role-playing games every two hours. It too was overwhelmed, and the system devised for dealing with the crush made it difficult to play a desired title. Which kinda flew in the face of “games on demand.”

However, I did manage to bull my way into a Saturday night session of FATE‘s pared-down Accelerated Edition. Unfortunately, I still don’t feel that I have a good idea of how the system works, as the scenario never allowed for a demonstration of combat, and there was little of the back-and-forth shuttling of “Fate Points” which is a core rules mechanic.

I left town after that, getting back to Champaign about midnight. Although I tend to comment on the negative things about the convention, I truly did have a good time and already am looking forward to next year!

Here are a few random sights from Gen Con 2013. First up is a balloon sculpture of the evil god Cthulhu; the winner of a charity auction was allowed to “slay” it.

This is a forthcoming set of Heroclix miniatures based upon the 1966 Batman TV show. It includes sculptures of such celebrity guest villains as Vincent Price as Egghead, Cliff Robertson as Shame, Roddy McDowell as the Bookworm, Victor Buono as King Tut, and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. I want these almost as much as I want that Blockade Runner.

Local businesses near the Indiana Convention Center got into the act. Here, Noodles goes full-out geek with decorations from Borderlands, Pathfinder and Doctor Who.

 

And now, a gallery of goodies I acquired at the show. This is Dungeon Roll, a spiffy little dice game in which you press-your-luck against an ever-increasing number of monsters. The treasure chest-shaped box is very appealing, but I’m afraid that the paper “hinge” isn’t going to last long. The game itself is a fun “filler” to play between more serious fare.

Here’s a better look at the Star Trek: Catan expansion, which includes scoring tracks and victory point chits. And, of course, mine has been pre-explored by Mr. Chekov!

 

This is TAU, which I bought because it was innovative and inexpensive. It’s a storytelling game occupying a realm similar to that of Once Upon a Time, except that each player’s “character” is defined by a series of cards which depict its attributes and abilities. These cards, which feature standard numbers and suits, are drafted in a trick-taking game prior to the main event. Then the referee describes a scenario which the players are meant to overcome, with the winner being the last one to die. I haven’t seen it played, but it’s a clever enough concept.

That said, I want to slap the person responsible for the naming and marketing of it. The nondescript name is supposed to reflect the game’s theme of everyone dying happily ever after, except that (according to Wikipedia, at least) the Greek letter Tau is used to represent life/resurrection; it’s Theta that represents death. That, plus the nearly featureless box art, help to disguise what seems like a pretty good idea.

This is Gravwell, from Cryptozoic. I’d read about this one on BoardGameGeek, and enjoyed the demo. It’s an abstract space game in which the players are trying to pilot their spaceships out of a singularity. They play a series of fuel cards to either pull towards or push away from the nearest opposing ship. The cards are selected secretly and played in order of the first letter of the name of the element that they represent. (There are 26 cards, naturally.) It’s the sort of game in which the order of play changes frequently and it’s easy to send one’s ship spiraling helplessly in the wrong direction. Fortunately, you have a one-time-per-round “emergency stop” card.

Next is Colossal Cave, a board game implementation of the original text-based adventure. You know, the sort of early computer game in which you’d type commands like “grab lantern” or “eat bear.” I haven’t tried it yet, so it’s possible that it will wind up an exercise in frustration in which players are endlessly opening up bottomless pits under each other. Still, I like the concept, and I love the graphics.

Here’s an assortment of random dice, coins, tokens and miniatures. That row of red dice includes allows me to generate ranges of numbers from 1/10 to 10/10; 1-2; 1-3; 1-5; 1-7; 1-14; 1-16; 1-18; and 1-22. Because you never know.

And finally, I leave you with a little fellow named Cubie…a plush Gelatinous Cube.

Apparently it was the winner of a contest called “Design a Game-Related Tchotchke that David Thiel Cannot Possibly Resist.”

 

Categories: Games Tags: , ,

A Fetish For Gaming

August 20th, 2012 No comments

One of the events I look forward to most each year is Gen Con Indy, when tens of thousands of board-, war-, card- and role-playing gaming enthusiasts descend on Indianapolis for four days of cardboard and plastic nirvana.

The original Gen Con (literally short for “Geneva Convention”) was held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I first attended in the late ’70s, soon after my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons and the cottage industries that game spawned. I went back sporadically over the years, but it wasn’t until the gathering moved to Indianapolis in 2003 that I made it an annual thing.

This year was the first time that I stayed for a second day. Previously, I’d been a Friday-only guest, taking advantage of the (relatively) smaller weekday crowd. The problem with that was that it meant that I rarely stepped outside the cavernous dealers’ hall, and had little opportunity to actually try out some of the new games on display.

I think two days was just about right. I was able to thoroughly cover the dealers’ hall and still have time for some demo games. Three days would’ve been too much; I was fried by Saturday evening.

Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that publishes the Magic: The Gathering card game as well as Dungeons & Dragons, made a good showing with its Drow*-themed booth, the centerpiece of which was a massive, life-sized statue of Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders. They also gave out some adorable papercraft models of Lolth.

There were Doctor Who fans galore this year. Nicholas Briggs, the uberfan-turned-radio drama producer who managed to get himself installed as the official voice of both the Daleks and the Cybermen, was on hand and using a modulating microphone to threaten passersby with extermination.

Cubicle 7 was demonstrating its new Doctor Who card game. It was, as friend Dave Lartigue and I feared, pretty much a numbers contest with a veneer of Who theming. The gal in the TARDIS dress was cute, though.**

When Gen Con Indy began, costumed geeks were thin on the ground. That’s changed. Nowadays, you can’t throw a 20-sided die without hitting an anime character. The parade of short-skirted, be-ribboned maids was challenged only by the ranks of the Steampunks. (“Steampunk” is an aesthetic based on a quasi-Victorian reality of steam-powered technology. Basically, it involves a lot of gears and corsets.***)

It occurred to me that Gen Con is now providing cover for fetishists. For the women, it seemed as if there’d been an open call for the sluttiest slut who ever slutted. Lots of flesh on display is what I’m saying. For the men, it was largely some combination of leather, top hats and creepy mustaches. (With the occasional cross-dressing superheroine.) When I left for dinner in downtown Indy, I passed a Steampunk couple with the man holding the woman on a leash.****

A couple of blocks away, there was a massive gathering of motorcyclists pointlessly roaring up and down Meridian Avenue. I think that they have more in common with the Gen Con crowd than might be assumed. Certainly, both parties demonstrate a love of leather and a need for exhibitionism.

Amongst the grown men dressed as Finn from Adventure Time, there were some impressive, creative costumes. The woman (or was it?) attired as one of Doctor Who‘s Clockwork Robots had its eerie, gliding movements down pat. And, of course, I was absolutely in love with this gal who came as Mothra.

Oh, I hear you saying, wasn’t this supposed to be about games? Sure, and I got to try out several of them. Dungeon Fighter was a highly-enjoyable dice fest in which the players cooperate to take down the usual assortment of subterranean monsters, except that they do it by attempting to bounce their dice into a large target. Some monsters and/or special attacks require one to toss a die underneath a leg or off the tip of one’s nose. Hilarity really did ensue.

X-Wing was basically the aerial combat miniatures game Wings of War with a Lucasfilm overlay, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I could certainly see myself getting it, especially if I found it for cheap. The problem is that the core set comes with only two TIE Fighters and a single X-Wing. Remember that movie scene where one X-Wing got in a dogfight with a couple of TIE Fighters? Me neither. If you want a second X-Wing, or perhaps even a Y-Wing, be prepared to throw down 15 bucks per ship. That said, the miniatures are high quality, and the forthcoming Millennium Falcon is a thing of beauty.

Relic really is nothing more than a Warhammer 40,000 reskinning of Talisman, which is itself more-or-less D&D Monopoly. I enjoyed it well enough, and may consider it when it hits shelves later this year. I am concerned, however, that it will go the same route as Talisman and its million, billion add-ons. (Though, given that while at Gen Con I bought expansion sets for both Ascension and Quarriors, I can’t really complain too much.)

I got to play a full session of Dungeon World, a rules-lite role-playing game that straddles a line between old-school D&D and freewheeling storytelling games. I participated in DW’s recent Kickstarter, and was eager to play it with an experienced game master. It was a lot of fun, kinda like improvisational theater with just enough rules crunch to keep me satisfied. The GM used a nifty set of geomorphic dice to design the dungeon on the fly, and I wound up buying a set for myself.

In addition to a crapton of dice, I walked away with two painted squads of Sisters of Battle for my Warhammer 40K army. I recently got back into that game, and realized that I didn’t have a hope of being competitive without at least a couple more units of armor-plated nuns. As I was dreaded the possibility of painting up another twenty metal miniatures covered in fiddly details, I was grateful to find these. They need a bit of touch-up work, but in general they’re painted about as well as I would do on my own. I also picked up a bunch of bits and bobs for some Warhammer modeling projects I’ll be working on.

My other big purchase was a copy of Star Trek Catan, a lightly-reskinned version of the ever-popular Settlers of Catan. On one hand, it’s about as pointless as the multitude of themed Monopoly sets. Aside from some character cards which grant players limited special abilities, it really is just Catan with starships instead of roads. On the other hand–and this was the hand that reached for my wallet–it’s Catan with starships instead of roads! And Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols was there to autograph the box! Ka-ching!

All in all, I had a great time at Gen Con Indy, spent more money than I should’ve, and came away feeling satiated. It’s less than a year until Gen Con 2013. Can’t wait!

*The Drow are a race of dark-skinned elves who live underground and are uniformly evil, with the notable exception of a few tortured outsiders who have entirely too many books written about them. Unfortunately, the combination of dark-skinned goth fantasy characters and costumed conventioneers tends to result in public displays of blackface.

**There was also a second girl in a TARDIS dress, accessorized with a blue lamp perched atop her head. And on my way out of the hall on Saturday evening, I briefly spotted one in a bump-covered Dalek dress, complete with tiny dome hat.

***Slap a couple of cogs on your corset. Boom! You’re steampunk!

****Because, I guess, the importation of steam-powered computers into Victorian society loosened England’s long history of cultural repression and turned London into a haven for BDSM enthusiasts? I’m just spitballin’ here. 

Geektasm

August 15th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday marked the high water mark of my geek year: my annual road trip to Gen Con Indianapolis. This gamer gathering has come a long way since I attended my first one at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside back in 1978. These days it’s one-quarter trade show, one-quarter bazaar, one-quarter costume show and one-quarter your mother’s basement.

While costumes aren’t as much of a focus there as they are at such geek gathering as the San Diego Comic Con, there were certainly enough on display. Though in some cases I wasn’t entirely sure they were costumes; a lot of folks came as “Woman Wearing Plaid Skirt Over Leggings with Skanky Top and Tattoos Covering the Rest.” I think that’s an anime character. To be sure, there were also a bunch of recognizable anime characters, as well as a smattering of superheroes, video game personalities, generic fantasy get-ups (think cloaks and/or pointy ears) and, for some reason, a guy wearing a business suit and ski mask.

I only took one costume photo, of a woman dressed as DC Comics’ mistress of magic, Zatanna. I’ll let you guess why.

Stenhsif raeppa!

I also saw far too many corsets. One example of extreme corsetting had her breasts pushed out so far that they resembled fleshy platters. Seriously, I think she had a spread of cheese and crackers up there. It looked neither comfortable nor in any way sexy.

The costumes were not my reason for being there, though. Neither were the game sessions. I can play games at home. No, I go to Gen Con for the shopping!

My first stop was the Fantasy Flight Games booth, with the express purpose of purchasing a pre-release copy of the “Pegasus” expansion for the Battlestar Galactica boardgame. They must’ve been able to see it in my eyes, as they handed me a copy without my even asking. I also snagged their Bag of Cthulhus, because, hey, bag of Cthulhus!

Really, Fantasy Flight seems to be the centerpiece of the Gen Con dealers’ room these days. Their space was huge, packed high with stacks of colorful, expensive boardgames, and buzzing with demonstration tables. Meanwhile, Wizards of the Coast, makers of Dungeons & Dragons, might as well have put up a sign saying “We don’t really care anymore.” While they weren’t stuck in a corner as they were last year, they had only a few, sparsely-attended demo tables. Furthermore, even though there are several new D&D products coming to stores any moment now, they only brought a small supply that sold out right away. It’s strange to think that D&D used to be the wheel around which all of Gen Con revolved.

In the background you can see monsters from the new Empire of the Apes and Ubercorp factions.With my one “gotta” purchase out of the way, I started making the rounds. Privateer Press didn’t have any new Monsterpocalypse promotional figures this year, but I bought the strategy guide and map pack for the latest expansion of their giant monsters wargame. They did have a nifty diorama of MonPoc figures, including some of the new factions that will debut this fall. I’m especially looking forward to the Tritons (subs and sea monsters) and the Empire of the Apes (gorillas with jet packs!).

I always buy at least one game without a prior demonstration, and this year it was The Isle of Doctor Necreaux from Alderac. I’m not really a fan of “cooperative” games (ones in which the players team up to defeat the game’s mechanics), but I am a fan of pulp sci-fi.

Alderac also had a really slick-looking Raiders of the Lost Ark pastiche called The Adventurers, with a group of pulp heroes invading a trap-infested labyrinth. I didn’t watch the demo long enough to get a sense of the gameplay, but it’s definitely on my radar when it hits retail.

Another game that piqued my interest, if not my wallet, was Shootin’ Ladders: Frag Fest, which is a videogame-inspired battle royale played out on a Chutes and Ladders board. The same company, Smirk and Dagger, previously released a similarly-ultraviolent version of Candy Land called Run For Your Life, Candyman! It was the end of the day and I was down to just the last of my food money, so I left it for another day.

The only other complete game I purchased was Vapor’s Gambit, a “hoverboard racing” challenge. I gather that it’s not very good, as Troll & Toad was clearing out a huge stack of them for a buck apiece. But, as my wife has pointed out, I would take a piece of shit* if they were giving it away for free. For a buck, it was worth it for the pieces.

Mostly I go to Gen Con for the individual miniatures, random bargains and odd gamer paraphenalia. I didn’t buy as many dice as usual, but I did get a “carved,” Cthulhu-themed 20-sided die, as well as a giant, inflatable 20-sider. Then there was the plush baby Adipose from Doctor Who. (The Adipose are aliens composed entirely of fat collected from unsuspecting human donors, but they sure are cute!)

I ran into several gamers I know, including my good friend (and former Urbana-ite) Chris Dinkins. We met over a bin of D&D miniatures, and he helped me dig through the heap to find several _______ figures (name withheld because my gamer group will have to fight them one day soon). Chris and I had a nice, long chat.

All in all, it was a good trip. People didn’t seem too cranky, and I found the aisles easy enough to navigate once I ditched the ridiculously-large Fantasy Flight Games sack. (Still, people, leave your babies at home!) I only got into one potential scuffle, with an overzealous convention volunteer who kept insisting that I go all the way around the auction area to the official exit when I was standing five feet from my checked backpack. It was the only game I actually played yesterday, but I am pleased to say that I won that round.

*Correction: Vic tells me that what she actually says is that I would take a hot turd if it was free.