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If Only I’d Brought My Bag Of Holding

August 17th, 2008 No comments

Friday, my peeps and I made the annual pilgrimage to the Mecca that is Gen Con Indianapolis, one of the biggest gaming conventions in the U.S. This time out I was flush with eBay cash and loaded for werebear.

Arriving about forty minutes before the dealers’ hall opened, we were dismayed to find that all of the lockers were either long since taken or jammed so full of quarters that they no longer operated. I would eventually come to regret that situation.

When the doors opened, I made an immediate beeline toward the Wizards of the Coast booth with the intention of getting one of the Heroscape promotional figures. I’ve been collecting that particular game since its inception and have all of the previous Gen Con promos, one of which now goes for three figures on eBay.

However, I soon learned that Hasbro/WOTC had decided that they would only issue 250 Heroscape figures per day at their booth. This for a convention which attracts upwards of 25,000 souls. Within five minutes of the hall’s opening, they had completely run out.

I was furious. I despise arbitrary limits that result in “haves” and “have-nots,” especially when such limits are conspicuously short of the likely demand. (Also, when I’m one of the “have-nots.”) As I mentioned, Hasbro’s been giving away similar promos for several years, and as long as one made the effort to arrive in the first hour or two there was no trouble getting one. This year, someone clearly decided that the best way to generate interest in what is admittedly a waning game franchise was to ensure that 99% of attendees went away unhappy. Never mind that this is probably WOTC’s biggest trade event, or that the cheap, plastic figures likely cost pennies apiece to produce.

Seriously, if this cost even a dime, I’d be amazed.

Backed up by a couple of fellow Heroscape fans who clearly believed I was going to get results, I began working through the WOTC employees unlucky enough to get in my way until I reached Toby. He was a genuinely nice guy who pointed out that they also had 250 figures per day at the Heroscape tourney in Exhibit Hall F. If they couldn’t help us, he probably could if I stopped back after lunch. It took a while to find Hall F, and still longer to find someone who knew what we were talking about, but we eventually prevailed. And Toby later delivered on his promise by getting an extra figure for my friend Brian.

In the end, I was still kinda pissed at WOTC, and didn’t come back to their booth until much later in the day. Ironically, one of the main things I’d been looking forward to at this year’s convention was the chance to get fired up about their new 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons releases. But honestly, the WOTC booth seemed rather low-key in comparison to previous years: there were fewer games being demo’ed, and they’d stopped their traditional giveaway in which attendees rolled a giant 20-sided die in hopes of winning one of a huge stack of prizes. Now, I can understand why the booth for Wizkids Games (a competitor which makes Heroclix, etc.) was similarly low-key; they had no new product to show and rumor has it that they just laid off a whole bunch of staff. But WOTC is fat, sassy and just coming off a hugely successful relaunch of D&D, so where was the hype?

My second stop was the Privateer Press booth, which had a sneak preview of their upcoming Monsterpocalypse game. It’s a collectible miniatures game about giant monsters thrashing a city, so it might as well have had “Designed Expressly for David Thiel” on the packaging. I wound up buying a bunch of packs, and I really hope that I can encourage one of the local game stores in Champaign/Urbana to support it when it officially arrives this October. Good fucking luck on that, I know.

Another early release was Fantasy Flight’s Battlestar Galactica boardgame, a semi-cooperative challenge in which the players are in charge of the human fleet fleeing toward the planet Earth. However, one or more of them is secretly a Cylon working against them. In light of the locker situation, I’d resolved not to buy much heavy stuff early in the day, but it was clear this one was going to sell out fast. Into the bag it went!

One that I did wait to buy until near the end of the day was E.T.I.: Estimated Time to Invasion, a surprisingly well-produced small press boardgame in which the players run companies researching high-tech projects in anticipation of staving off an alien attack. Like the aforementioned Galactica game, one of them is secretly an alien prepping for the invasion. It looks like a lot of fun!

Like many geek conventions, Gen Con has expanded well beyond its original mandate, and so I found that while there were a few folks dressed as wizards or the inevitable Imperial Stormtroopers, there were dozens, possibly hundreds, of anime-inspired costumes. At least, I think that’s what they were. I recognized a guy dressed as the main character from Trigun, but I’m not sure who all the women in punky schoolgirl outfits were supposed to be. What I do know is that when you’re tottering around on 10-inch heels while falling out of a tight, red dress, you’ve pretty much passed out of the land of animation and into whoredom.

As the gaming industry has matured, so have the services that have sprung up around it. Case in point: Geek Chic, a company displaying a colossal, wooden gaming table (called, without any hint of irony, the “Sultan”) featuring dozens of built-in storage compartments.

That’s right: $9,650. The booth guy promised me that this is an heirloom-quality piece of furniture that would not live in my basement. (In fact, their slogan is “Emerge ex Hypogaeo,” which allegedly translates to “Come Out of the Basement.”) I assured him that if I did buy one, it would still very much wind up in the basement. (After Vic bashed me in the head with one of its hard rock sugar maple and black walnut drawers, that is.)

I usually don’t buy many games on first sight at Gen Con (or many games at all, to be honest) but I picked up a few on spec this year. One was Yetisburg, a card game which won me over with its theme of the American Civil War being fought with the aid of yetis and mastodons. Love the rulebook, which includes new yeti-centric lyrics for “Dixie,” plus a pitch-perfect parody of the infamous Sullivan Ballou letter featured in Ken Burns’ TV documentary. (“I write with trembling lips that Johnny Reb has ‘skunk apes’ of his own…”)

I also bought Humans!!!, which appears to be a clever inversion of Twilight Creations’ popular Zombies!!! games, and Vineta, in which the players are angry gods out to sink an island civilization. I would’ve felt a whole lot better about that last one if it hadn’t turned out that Brian had also bought it, rendering my copy about as useful as a third nipple on a dude. (Or a second one, come to think of it.) Not his fault; just after I purchased it I’d thought “This seems like the sort of thing Brian would buy.” Ah well, it’s a handsome-looking game anyway.

By the end of the day my bag became ridiculously heavy and awkward to maneuver through the crowded hall, and I was thoroughly fried by the time we trooped back to the car. Still, I had a good time on Friday, and spent most of Saturday reading the rulebooks of my new acquisitions. Can’t wait to play!