Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Good Year For Gifts

I know I said last week I was going to be pretty quiet the next few weeks. It's because I didn't expect to have time to post, due to family holiday celebrations.

My wife's mother and my family all live close enough to us that we spend time with both families over the holidays.  We alternate, though.  One year, we spend Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with her mother; the next year, we spend Thanksgiving with Steph's mother and Christmas with my family.

When we don't have Christmas with the family, we celebrate with the family on a different day in December.  For us, it was last weekend.  So I already have most of my presents for the year.

I suspect that my parents struggle to find good gifts for me, which is why I have an Amazon Wish List. And the usually buy off of that list.

The first, you probably have stashed somewhere.  Well, a version of it, at any rate.  But, until last weekend, I've never owned a copy of Monopoly.  We had one in the house when I was a kid, but I never felt the need to own it. Until this edition was released.

And I got a copy of Subbuteo. I'm a sucker for sports-themed games. And I'm a sucker for dexterity games (even though I'm terrible at them). But this one has been on my list for a good long while. Hopefully it'll hit the table before too long so I know if I want to order a few more things for it. Like a better pitch, for example ...

I hope that each of you gets everything you need and a reasonable selection of what you want. Not just for Christmas, either.

Next weekend, I'll be celebrating Christmas with my Mother-In-Law, and so I will almost certainly not have time to sit in front of a computer, so I will remind you now: New Year's Eve. Phoenix Games. Be There!

5:00 PM.  $5 or $5 in value of food for the potluck.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New Year's Eve

This year, if you don't already have New Year's Eve plans and you're going to be in the greater Seattle area, you may want to consider joining us at Phoenix Games for our annual New Year's Eve celebration.

I'm not sure what time it all kicks off, but I'll be there after my annual anniversary dinner with my wife (generally around 8:00). I also (as of this writing) don't know how much it'll cost.

Once I have that information, I'll update this post with that information.

If you have questions, contact the store directly either via their Facebook page or by using a telephone.  Or by stopping by to spend some money and chat with Brian.

But it's going to be a ton of fun. People. Food. Games.

It's a kid-safe and alcohol-free environment. And the games will continue until the week hours of the morning.

In a related note, I'll be taking the next few weeks mostly away from the blog. I'll probably throw some holiday greetings up next week and some New Year's greetings up the following week - but I'm preparing to play some games.

UPDATE: Gaming starts around 5pm. Instead of just charging $5 per head, you should either bring about $5 worth of food for the potluck per member of your party or $5 per head or some combination thereof.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In The Car

I own a lot of games. Probably too many, but you didn't hear that from me. But I rarely game in my home. Most of my gaming is done on Wednesday evenings at Phoenix Games in Mukilteo.

Now, Brian has a good library of demo games and store copies on-site. And the Wednesday crew is allowed to (and does) make use of that library. But Brian rarely has (for example) expansions as part of his library. So players who want to play (for example) 7 Wonders with the Leaders expansion need to bring their own copy.

No-one has an infinite trunk in their car. So I'll never have room for every game I want to play at all times in the car.  It just doesn't work like that. I can fit about thirty games the size of Ticket To Ride in the car. And a mixed bag of other-sized games.

So I have to prioritize and arrange the car.

My number one most important priority for games in the car is "Do I know or suspect that folks in the group will enjoy the game?"  Because if I bring a game that no-one likes, I've wasted space in the car and some of our limited gaming time. There are games in the car that I'm not a fan of, but other folks I game really like.

New games have priority. Playing games at Game Night helps Brian sell more copies of those games. But I have to be careful not to pass the point of, "I don't need to buy it. Eric has a copy," with some of these games.

Games that can hold more players tend to get higher priority, too. I don't play many two-player games on Wednesdays, and those that I do play tend to be fairly fast-playing.

Beyond that, it's "What else can I fit?"

I have games from GenCon that haven't hit the table on Wednesdays yet. Like Madame Ching. It's not a bad game. There are just games we want to play more often.

Lately, the group has wanted to play Fist of Dragonstones.  I got it to the table the week after Alex went back to France (sorry, my friend). And I remembered after the first game why it stopped hitting the table.

It's not because it's a bad game (because it really isn't). It's not because it's un-fun (because it isn't). It's because I'm so very bad at it. So. Bad. In the last three weeks, I've played it four times and scored zero points.

In general, I'm okay with losing at games. I have no problem not winning. But when I can't even get on the board, I get frustrated and look for other games to play.

The group likes it, though, so it'll stay in the car for now.

Friday, December 05, 2014


This post is more about people and friends than it is about gaming, because that's where my head is right now. 

One of the things I love about gaming is the people. Which is odd, because (in general) I really hate people. Through gaming, I've met some really amazing people.

But sometimes, you just need to go to war.

One of the really awesome people I've met in the last few years is Jason Paul McCartan, who is the man behind Infinibadger Press (buy his stuff! It's awesome!).  For about a year, now, the Badger and I have been engaged in a ruthless #PonyWar. I don't remember how the war began, but we've been sending My Little Pony-related things as gifts to one another.

Because neither of us is Bronies.

It started small - Stephanie and I sent him Dr. Whooves. Because he's a massive Whovian, so he wouldn't be able to outright destroy it. It was a success! A hit was scored!

From there, it's escalated. Slowly but surely. Bit by bit.  He sent us a plush MLP figure. We sent him a comic book. And a Dr. Whooves T-Shirt.

But this year, I decided I wanted to win this war.

So remember that link to Infinibadger Press up there? Scroll down a bit and look to the left. You can see their logo. It's a pretty simple logo.

So I don't know if I've mentioned Greyed Out dice bags before here or not. If I haven't, then it's a massive oversight. It's run by another of the awesome people I've met through gaming. And he makes really good dice bags. And does custom work, including silk-screening.

So I commissioned a custom dice bag. And it turned out looking pretty damn sharp, too:

Photo by Michael Althauser for Greyed Out Productions
But I had to ... twist it a bit:
Photo by Michael Althauser for Greyed Out Productions

That's right: It's lined with My Little Pony fabric.  And it's reversible (not that I can see the Badger reversing it any time soon ... ).  And it turned out more spectacular than I had anticipated thanks largely to Greyed Out's good eye for color (I just told him I wanted the Infinibadger Logo on it and MLP fabric as a lining).

And it went exactly according to plan. I even asked the Badger to record video of the gift opening. And he did. You can tell the point at which he spotted the lining, too.

He is already plotting his revenge. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


Through a perfect storm, I somehow managed not to have a post up this morning.

I'm not walking away, I just haven't been in front of a computer (other than at work) for more than a few minutes at a stretch for a few weeks.

I'll have this week's post up no later than Saturday afternoon.  Promise. :-)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When The Fun Stops

Something I'm learning more and more:  When you work on a thing - even a fun thing - it runs the risk of Not Being Fun Anymore. And, when that happens, you need to just walk away. Not necessarily forever - just until the thing is fun again.

That L5R Generational rules set I'd been working on?  I got stuck. I couldn't get a good set of random event tables together.  It felt like I was beating my head into a brick wall trying to produce it.

No-one is relying on me to finish this. I haven't been paid to produce it. So - at this point - it's safe for me to walk away for a while.  And I did.

Two nights ago, I woke my wife up to bounce an idea off of her that I think will work.

Walking away for a few months was all I needed to do.

But it's not always appropriate to walk away. For example, when Asmodee asks me for help with a project, they're on a deadline. I don't have the option to walk away. People are relying on me.

There was one project I remember from a few years ago that had four or five of us on Skype or Hangout until two or three in the morning Pacific time (so five or six in the morning where the rest of the team was). Because people were relying on us.

Writing this blog is fun. It's been fun for as long as I've been writing it.  There have been a few stretches where I'd wake up and dread having to say something - but those have been few and far between.

A few weeks back, the DCI revoked the Rookie of the Year award. The week after that, Days of Wonder had to change the winner of the Ticket to Ride World Championship before it was declared.  Because of alleged cheating.

Did these guys cheat? I don't know.  But in both cases, I can almost guarantee you they weren't having fun anymore.

I think that's probably the fundamental rule for me about games and gaming: When you stop having fun, walk away from that game. Find another one.

I guess that's one reason I'm so much more of a boardgamer than a roleplayer these days. Board games require a commitment of a few hours.  Roleplaying games require so much more time - and they're socially awkward to bow out of mid-game.

I can't remember the last time I bowed out of playing a game due to not having fun, though. So it may be a moot point.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Player Buy-In

I own a lot of games. A crazy amount, really. And far too many of these games will not see play from my shelf anytime in the forseeable future because of my players.

That makes it sound like I dislike my group - and I don't. I have been blessed with a really good group of players. But only for some games.

I'm not currently running any games. I'm playing 13th Age and Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition). These are both games where player buy-in is minor. The responsibility of the player for these games boils down to Show up. Roll some dice. There's not a ton of record-keeping or other work involved.

The first session involves a bunch of work for character generation, but that's about it paperwork-wise.

At the other end of the spectrum is Pendragon, where every session or two, every player needs to spend some time rolling dice for their character's lands and family. It's a lot of paperwork, and to make it work, you need to have players who are willing to put in the extra effort. It runs better if they are both interested and willing, but you can make it work with just willing players.

Pendragon is one of the best games that I don't often have the opportunity to play.  Ars Magica is another. And, if anything, ArM has a tougher buy-in requirement. At the first session, players first make their characters. Then they make companion characters. Then they build their Covenant (up to and including determining specific books for the Covenant library).

And then, every few sessions, you need to track your character's aging/advancement and what you've done for the Covenant. In fact, roughly 1/4 of the time, you'll play a Companion rather than your Magus.

It's one reason I'm still plugging away at that Generational L5R thing I mentioned a few months back - I have a player who is an L5R nut. He loves the setting, and will sit through crazy amounts of bookkeeping to be able to play there. So if I can get that working, it might make Ars Magica an easier sell down the road.

Somewhere in the middle is Burning Wheel, which is ... odd. Because players need to keep track of their successful rolls and their failed rolls, because advancement requires a certain degree of both. And it takes time to learn BW - players who aren't willing to spend the time will find it unrewarding. But players who grab the various system nuances find it hugely rewarding.

But it got me thinking a bit about player buy-in.  What does it take to draw a player into a game?

For me, +Wade Rockett running a game is enough. I'd even play an RPG that uses Fluxx for its resolution system if he were to run it.

The D&D game we're in is another one where the buy-in for me is "the chance to occasionally see my friends in person." Which reminds me - I need to write a post about Gaming As An Introvert sometime.

In other news this week, Fantasy Flight Games is merging into Asmodee. Wow. There's a ton of idle speculation out there about what exactly this will mean for all involved. Me? I'm excited. And - like I said in September when Asmodee bought Days of Wonder - I trust Asmodee. They've spent ten years building that trust. So I'm looking forward to seeing what this merger does for us.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Return To Old Friends

Following a convention, there are often months straight where I play nothing that isn't new. And then things settle back into their usual routine and the old favorites start to creep back out. It's not that the Hot New Games are bad or anything like that - far from it - it's a regular rotation.

Last time I was at Game Night, I played Seasons for the first time in far too long. Even though it was new to the rest of the table, for me it was settling back in with an old friend. The fact that it'd been set aside for so long made it new, fresh, and exciting to me.  And sometimes you need to do that.

Then, a few days ago, I went to Board Game Arena and played Sobek. Again, it was a return to an old favorite that I don't play often enough.

Tonight, assuming I remember, I'll have The Great Khan Game in my car. It's a game I haven't played in twenty years - but it's a Tom Wham game, which means it's fun. Probably.

I recently replaced my copy - I'd owned it when it was still new, and played it a bunch. I remember it being fun, but I've found that my tastes have changed over the years.  Either way, it went out of print and skyrocketed in price.  A few weeks back, I found a copy on BoardGameGeek for half of what even the "missing pieces" folks on Amazon are selling it for.  I confirmed with the seller that it was complete, and placed the order.  And - sure enough - it's complete. And not completely punched, either.

Tonight, I'll also get to see Alex again.  Alex is someone I've known for nearly a decade - we met at my second (and last-so-far) Origins, where he helped Christophe Boelinger and I run the Asmodee booth.  After the show ended, he taught me a game that he really liked that he was 100% sure I'd never seen before. And he was right.

It was a little game that had been produced in a limited edition, and it was called Shadows Over Whitechapel.  And I loved it.  I thought it was amazing.  So when, a few years later, it was re-released with a new title in a new edition, I was completely ecstatic.  And Alex bought a copy for Steph and I as a gift, too. At a convention where he had the designer and artist autograph it for us.

In fact, it, its expansions and spin-offs are among my favorite two-player games.  The new title that I mentioned, by the way, is Mr. Jack. And Asmodee now distributes it in North America.

So it's going to be a good week at Game Night.  Not that there is ever a bad week at Game Night.

And one final note for this week:  I only have one Kickstarter project currently active. It's (as of this writing) almost at goal. The project creator fulfilled his previous project on time and it was good.

So, if you're a roleplayer who's got a couple of bucks to spend, check out Riders. If it interests you, please back. Because it's soooo cloooose to hitting goal.

Friday, November 07, 2014


I realized this morning that I hadn't scheduled a post to go live on Wednesday.  My wife had surgery on Wednesday morning, so my life has been pretty well focused on that.  I'll have a post for next week, unless things take an unexpected turn between now and then.

Before you ask: She pulled through okay and will be back to normal within a few weeks at the outside. Her doctor (and the nursing staff at the hospital) is surprised at how well she is doing. Realistically, I really didn't need to take time off of work to take care of her. That's how quickly she's recovering.

Either way: No post two days ago. Normal post expected for Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reading, Prepping, Playing

It's been a good long while since I did a post about the media I've been consuming lately.

See, I'm working on putting together a Legend of the Five Rings game. I know I mentioned this a while ago, but it's still in the works.  But I've been consuming a ton of related media lately.

I was introduced to Lone Wolf & Cub by the film series. At the time, I'd never read the manga. I'd never seen the TV series. It was all fresh and new to me.  The VHS packaging at the time included a small slip of paper with every installment that informed Western viewers of one of the cultural elements from the film that had been especially difficult to translate or that would not make sense without a bit of backstory. Well, Dark Horse has been putting out omnibus editions of the manga.  In fact, I linked to the first one above. And they don't need the little slips of paper (because they have glossaries at the end).  I'm reacquainting myself with the setting all over again - and loving it.

But Amazon saw what I was reading and had another recommendation for me: Samurai Executioner. I actually like it more than I like Lone Wolf & Cub. This, by the way, was a jarring realization. In many ways, Samurai Executioner is more approachable than the other series - and every story is another lesson on the nature of bushido. And it's not a lesson that's pounded at your repeatedly, either. It's from the same team that did Lone Wolf & Cub, so you know it's good stuff even before you crack the book open.

I'm also reading the Path of the Assassin series. I don't like it as well as I like the other two. It's less-approachable and the main character is someone that I (personally) haven't found especially likeable.

I have also pre-ordered The Usagi Yojimbo Saga. In fact, Volume 1 should be in my hands before this post goes live. Stan Sakai is another author who can lecture about bushido without making it feel like a lecture.  And it helps that Usagi is such a likeable character, even on his bad days.

In non-Japanese-flavored media, I was introduced recently to a book entitled Watson Is Not An Idiot. I'm reading the Holmes stories at the same time. I'm first reading the Holmes story and then I'm reading the essay about that story in the Watson book.  It passes the time.

In a similar vein, I've been reading These Are The Voyages - which is about the story behind the scenes of the original Star Trek.  I'll read a chapter of backstory and then watch that episode. It's probably how the writer intended for it to be read.

I've also caught up on the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. If you like urban fantasy, I cannot say enough good things about this series. Book one is Rosemary and Rue - and it does an excellent job of setting up the world (and the reader's expectations). I've probably recommended it before, but I'm going to continue to suggest it to people who are looking for something good to read.

I should also post sometime soon about the TV I've been watching - this new season has launched a number of shows that I'm watching. And probably shouldn't be, because I do sometimes watch too much TV. But that's another post for another week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Character Generation Project: Firefly

Those of you who are new to the blog can find out what this "Character Generation Project" is all about here. Stephanie's usual approach to character generation can be found here. In addition, there is a link to all of the project posts in the sidebar to the right.

Maragaret Weis Productions recently released a new Firefly RPG. And we're suckers for the setting.  It uses the Cortex Plus system, and so is radically different from the Serenity RPG that Steph made a character for waaaaaay back when.

So, without further ado, here is her character (click on it for larger) and questionnaire:

Which game is this for?  

How long did it take you to generate the character?  
About half an hour
Seriously. It was that fast. This game has some of the fastest character generation I've seen.

FireflyWhat was your character concept going into generation?  

A con artist masquerading as a Shepherd

Did you feel like character generation captured the flavor of the setting?   

How much control did you feel like you had during character generation?   
A good amount of control

Did the game help you make the character you wanted, or did it feel like you were fighting the game?
I wasn't fighting the game, and the process gave me some ideas to make my character better.
This is interesting, because a large part of character generation is choosing templates. The game calls them "Distinctions," and they are a factor in play - they give you more dice to roll.

Do you like the character you ended up with?  

Do you think your character fits your concept?  

Do you feel like your character would be effective and/or useful in a game?  
He’d be the one doing all the talking, but not one to actually fight or fly a ship
And I have to partially disagree with this - with a d6 Fight and a specialization in Fists, I think "Shepherd" Polk would do better in a fistfight than Steph suspects. And his d6 in Shoot won't hurt, either.

Was there anything in particular that you struggled with mechanically?  
I was a little confused about how to purchase skill specialties, but otherwise things went well

Did anything run more smoothly than you had expected?  
Everything was pretty easy.
Short of something in the vein of Feng Shui or Talislanta, I don't think she's likely to find much easier character generation out there.

What changes would you have made to the character generation process?  
It’d be nice to know up-front how many points I have to spend in the different areas.
The Signature Assets and Skill Specializations aren't explained up-front - they tell you what they are in loving detail and then tell you how much you can spend on them.

Did anything leap out at you as obviously broken or unbalanced?  

What led you to choose this game as the next one to make a character for?  
I love Firefly, and have been hearing good things about this game.
And not just from me, either. This game has been getting pretty rave reviews just about everywhere.

How would you compare your experience with this game to your experience with other games?  
Much easier across the board.
Is this a character you would be willing to play in a campaign?  
In fact, she wants me to run at least a one-shot. Personally, I'd like her to run a one-shot sometime ...

Does this character make you want to play this game?  

Do you have any other questions, comments, etc.?  
I really liked having the archetypes to refer to, as they gave me a good sense of what a character should look like.
Before telling players how to make their own characters, they have a dozen or so excellent examples of characters in addition to the cast of the TV series.

Have you given any thought to what game you'd like to do next?  
Possibly Burning Wheel.
Yep. From one of the easiest games to make a character that we own to one of the more difficult. I'm actually very curious what sort of BW character she'd come up with.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Best Games I Brought Back from GenCon: Hyperborea

Unlike Abyss and Cyclades: Titans, I'd never even heard of Hyperborea before GenCon.  I saw these large $100 boxes being unpacked and I asked one of the teammates for a quick overview.

"It's a fantasy-flavored 4x game with a deckbuilding element."

And that's ... that's actually a pretty good description.

Let me break that down a bit for you:

The game has its own setting.  I'd argue that it's "sufficiently advanced" rather than Fantasy - it's certainly post-Apocalyptic.  Players take the role of one of six different factions who are exploring territory that used to belong to an ancient civilization that "used magical crystals as their main source of energy," before it collapsed, locking its land away from the rest of the world. Only now that barrier has collapsed, and you are trying to seize power for your faction.

I'm not a player for whom the theme is usually a make-or-break, but it's nice to have a 4x game that isn't set in deep space.

For those of you who don't know, 4x stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate.  It's a game where you are exploring a map, expanding your territory, using the resources found in the territories you control, and exterminating your foes.  Most 4x games on the board game end of things are crazy-detailed and crunchy.  It's not a category of game I tend to enjoy because there is often a great deal of record-keeping.

4x games tend to be very hit-or-miss for me.  I really enjoyed Twilight Imperium at first, but as time has gone by, I've grown less fond of it. Space Empires 4x was too crunchy and detailed for me. Eclipse was amazing.  This is much more on the Eclipse scale - I get the full 4x experience in a fraction of the time.

This has become a big thing of late. It's been around since Magic: the Gathering, but in recent years it's become part of gameplay rather than something you do between games. Dominion is the first (and still the best) example of how to do a deckbuilding game.  In short, you start with a limited pool of resources of which a number are drawn every turn. You use those resources to alter the mix of available resources.

In Hyperborea, the deckbuilding element has to do with cubes in an opaque bag.  Each turn, you have three cubes with which to program your actions.  You can see part of the player board in the foreground, here:

So how does it work?

At the start of the game, each player gets a faction.  Either chosen or assigned - it doesn't matter.  Each faction has two available special abilities. Players should choose one of these special abilities (which are unique to this faction).  I've played most of the factions, and they feel balanced - but we're not hugely experienced at the game, yet. I've only played seven games so far.

Each turn, you will start with one or more cubes to assign to slots on your player board.  Those slots make actions available to you - movement, combat, technology, and victory points are all things you can get.  You then use those actions to move around the board.  When you reveal an empty hex (by moving to an adjacent hex), it'll have cities and/or ruins on it.  The ruins will have tokens which grant additional rewards while the cities can give you actions. Ruins and cities are haunted by the remnants of the Hyperborean civilization which fell, so you need to slay the ghosts before using the space.

When you move a unit into a ruin or a city, they are stuck there until you perform a "reset" - which happens when you go to draw cubes from your bag and find it empty. During a reset, all of your cubes are returned to your bag and your units on the board are moved back outside of cities and ruins.

Your player board has two actions in each category, with spaces for cubes that are color-specific - you can only have cubes on one action at a time. In general, the top action is less-powerful, but has a multicolored space that will accept any non-grey cube. Advanced technologies give you more actions on which to spend your cubes - some of them are better versions of the board actions, some of the modify the effects of the board actions, and some of them are practically identical to the board actions (but they allow you to take that action again without needing to reset first). Of course, advanced technologies also add grey cubes to your mix, and they're not exactly useful.

There are three ways to trigger the end of the game:
- Get all of your available pieces in play
- Gain a twelfth victory point marker
- Gain a fifth advanced technology

Once this happens, everyone else gets a last turn, and you move on to scoring. Points are scored for victory point markers, combat victories, cubes in your bag, bonus tiles, advanced techs, and territory control.

It - for me - scratches a similar itch to Eclipse, but it's different enough that I don't think I'm wasting space by owning both. And this plays much more quickly - I've gotten through two games in an evening. And it always leaves me wanting more.

The game was available at GenCon and will be at Essen, and then it has its broader release next week.  I heartily suggest you take a peek.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Best Games I Brought Back From GenCon: Abyss

Last week, I talked about Cyclades: Titans. This week, I'm going to talk about Abyss.  And then, next week, I'm going to discuss Hyperborea.

As you may recall, I've always been a big defender of so-called "Gateway Games" - that is, games that can be easily used to hook new players into hobby gaming. Either because they look non-threatening, because the rules are fairly simple, or, ideally, both.  At the same time, a good gateway game has enough meat to keep the rest of us entertained and engaged.

I think Abyss has potential to be the next great gateway.

Unlike the last few posts, I don't have gorgeous photos of Abyss to share. Not because they don't exist - they very much do - but because I've been focusing on using my Lytro more, and card games don't tend to photograph well via that particular device.

This game, by the way, is very well illustrated.  It's beautiful. One could even say it's "lavishly illustrated." So it's worth photographing.

Abyss is surprisingly simple. On your turn, you'll take one of three different actions.  You can go fishing for an ally, you can grab a bunch of face-down allies from the board, or you can spend your allies to hire a lord.

The rulebook, of course, has different terms for all three actions.

The first available action involves flipping small cards face-up one at a time until you see one you want.  But there are two small wrinkles: Your opponents always have the first shot at luring an ally away from you by spending pearls. The good news is that pearls spent in this manner go to you. The bad news is that it can be frustrating to turn up that Rank 5 Starfish card only to have one of your opponents snatch it away from you.

The allies are broken into five different factions, and are valued from one to five.  There's only one five-ranked ally per faction. So the active player will almost never get the first five to turn up. After that, it depends on opponents' finances - the first opponent to snag an ally on your turn pays one pearl. The second pays two, and the third pays three. Since you only start with one pearl, you're more likely to be able to keep that powerful ally early in the game than you are later in the game.

Also in this same deck are a bunch of "monster" cards.  When you pull a monster, you can either fight it and claim your reward (victory over monsters is automatic), or you can let the threat grow a bit so that the next time a monster is turned up, it's worth a larger reward. The low-level rewards are pearls and victory points.  As the menace grows, however, you can also get keys to unlock locations (more on these later).

And, lastly, there are a limited number of slots for these cards across the top.  Whenever you fill the last slot, you must either claim it (if it's an ally) or fight it (if it's a monster). As a consolation prize, you then get a bonus pearl from the supply.

Any allies you didn't claim are then sorted by faction, turned face-down, and placed with the rest of their faction.

This is how players can grab that second option I mentioned above - you choose a faction and grab all of the face-down allies from that faction.  In theory, you can get a ton of cards like this.  In practice ... well, you can get a ton of cards, but they aren't especially powerful.

The final action you can take is hiring the Lords. But you can't just spend any ally to hire a Lord. Each Lord can only be hired by a specific faction (or factions in some cases). You can also spend pearls to make up the difference if you're a bit short. When you recruit a Lord, choose the lowest-valued ally that you are spending for the recruitment and place them face-up on the board.  Discard the other allies you are spending.

Lords are how you'll score the bulk of your victory points in this game. Most of them have additional special abilities, to boot.  And some of them have keys pre-printed on them.

Once you have three keys (it's possible but rare to have more), you get to add a location to your play area.  Locations are essentially bonus points that help focus your Lord and Ally purchases. One location might give you bonus points based on the number of Starfish Allies you have recruited to your cause. Another might give you bonuses based on one of the factions of Lords.

Play continues until someone has recruited their seventh Lord. When that happens, everyone else gets one last turn. Then everyone can add the lowest-valued ally of each faction from their hand to their play area.

And then you count your score. Lords + Locations + the highest-value Ally from each faction + monster tokens.  Highest total wins.

It's really that simple. One of the least complicated games I've played in a very long time. But do not confuse "least complicated" with "worst" or even "least interesting."  Early in the game, fishing for allies is hugely important. But later in the game, you will find the decision-making process a bit less easy. Because what's more important - pulling enough allies to buy that Lord you want, or taking a crack at getting a more powerful Ally that you can use for that same Lord (but which will let you keep a more powerful Ally face-up)? Or maybe you need to grab a Lord right away to keep him out of your opponents' hands?

As I said: One of the best games I brought back from GenCon.  This one will hit the table regularly on Wednesdays almost without a doubt.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Best Games I Brought Home From GenCon: Cyclades: Titans

For more than a month, now I've been posting about games and noting that they may not be the best games I brought home from GenCon.

This is, by the way, not to cast any sort of aspersion on those games.  I did not bring a single bad game home. It's just that the games we had in the booth this year featured an unusually strong selection.

But three games from this year will, I think, hit the table more than the others. If it's left up to me. And, now that Essen is upon us, it's about damn time I actually just told you about my favorite games from this year's crop.

Well, three games and one expansion.

It's important to note that these are in no particular order. I think all three are equally good for completely different reasons.

Those three are Abyss, Hyperborea, and Cyclades: Titans.

This week, I'm going to talk about Cyclades: Titans. I'll talk about the other two in coming weeks.

Those of you who saw me at GenCon probably saw me running demos of just one game.  Cyclades: Titans. I did brief demos of some of our other games (Black Fleet and Madame Ching being the two I did the most demos for).

Those of you who know me from home know that I'm a big fan of Cyclades.  It's not a perfect game, but I do think it's an often-overlooked gem. The first expansion - Cyclades: Hades fixed many of the issues with the game and made it a deeper and richer experience.  But I have one friend at home who won't play it.  "I shouldn't have to win an auction in order to move my troops," he argues.

Cyclades: Titans changes this. It also completely replaces the board with a new double-sided board. Instead of focusing on a host of smaller islands, the game is now based on one or two larger islands (depending on the number of players). And Kronos, the father of most of the Gods, also makes an appearance as an additional God on whom players may bestow their offerings. There are five powerful artifacts which are shuffled into the creature deck, pieces for a sixth player, and a handful of "specialized" Metropolises.

The new board focuses the game more on army movement. It doesn't devalue Poseidon at all, however, because travel by boat is still the fastest way to get from one space to another. And there are several islands with significant income which are not available without the aid of Poseidon. Kronos doesn't have is own type of building available - he just adds (for free) a building of one of the Gods which was resolved before him. And you can buy a Titan with the favor of Kronos.

The biggest change to the game comes from the titans themselves. The Titans function like generals - they allow you to move your armies without the favor of Ares. At first glance, this seems to devalue Ares, but you still need the favor of Ares to build armies in the first place.  Yes, you can move a Titan without an army, but he functions just like a normal troop (other than when you are allowed to move him).

The artifacts serve to slow the Pegasus-seeking strategy that the base game often turns into. At the same time, they provide a new win condition: If you can collect all five, you win!

As to the sixth player: The game rules mandate that a six-player game is a team game (players divide into teams of two). In theory, you can play a six-player free-for-all. But I very much do not recommend it, because there aren't enough spaces on the board to reasonably capture (or build) enough structures to get even one metropolis with that many people fighting for space.

The game is compatible with the Hades expansion, but the rules warn that using both expansions together will lead to a very long game.

I spent four days straight teaching (and occasionally playing) this game. And I'm not sick of it.  There aren't many games I can play so continuously.

In short: I recommend this expansion. If you were a fan of the original, this brings more to the table.  If you were not a fan of the original, then it might change your mind (depending on why you aren't a fan).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

More Game Night Weddings

A few years ago, I was able to attend a wedding between two close friends who were both Game Night regulars.  It was awesome and a ton of fun and appropriately geeky.

Now, it's been my pleasure to attend two more Game Night wedding events - both couples actually met at Game Night.

Barb & Andrew had a small family-only ceremony, but for their reception, they rented out the local game store and invited much of the game night crew. They didn't have a first dance - they had a first game.  They didn't have a Dollar Dance - they had a dollar game.  For their bouquet and garter, they had mini-tournaments.  There were open games on every table, and guests were encouraged to play.  There were signups so you could play games with the bride and groom.

All in all, it was well-done and a ton of fun. And I am very glad I was able to attend.

Barb & Andrew are the couple Steph and I occasionally get to play Mah Jong with, so we gave them a set (and a copy of the book I used to learn the game).

Derek & Selena's ceremony was a ton of fun.  The ceremony itself was in rhyme with a meter that was deliberately reminiscent of Dr. Seuss.

Selena used to attend Game Night since it was held in my apartment, more than a decade ago. Derek didn't start attending until after we'd moved to the game store. When Jim moved to California, Derek was my closest rival at Game Night. Even though he beat me at everything, it was usually a close match.

Neither of them are regulars at Game Night these days, and I miss them both, so I'm glad I was able to attend their wedding. It was good to see them again and spend some time chatting.

It was also good to see friends who I don't get to see very often.  I think one of the highlights for me was when one friend asked me, "You still doing that game thing for that publisher?"

"Dude," said another of his friends, "They're not that little. They just bought Days of Wonder!"

Either way, it's been two weekends surrounded by people I wish I could see more often.

Thanks to both couples for the invitations. I'm glad to have been a part of your celebrations.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lords of Xidit

Last week, I finally had the chance to play Lords of Xidit.

I liked it.

Lords of Xidit is apparently a new version of a game previously called Himalaya. As with many new versions, there are a few changes.  Unfortunately, I don't know Himalaya, But there is a file that Libellud put together that lists the changes.

In Lords of Xidit, you will program your turn six moves (one year) in advance.  Each move, you can either move, take action, or pass.

Moves involve moving your piece along a colored road to the next city. Taking action is either recruiting the lowest-value troop in a given city or spending troops you have recruited to deal with a threat.  And passing is ... well ... doing nothing.

Lords of Xidit

The pieces are good. The board is bright. The rules are pretty straightforward. The only complaint I have with the game is one of player interaction: There isn't much.

Because you're programming six turns in advance, any player interaction is limited to timing things.  In fact, that's why "Pass" is an available action. Since you can only recruit once per city per year, and you always recruit the lowest-valued unit in a city, you will sometimes want to pass so that your opponent can draft first and grab that peasant.

Recruiting is easy. Just show up and take action.  Dealing with the threats, however, is a bit trickier, because each threat is a monster who is menacing that city. And each monster requires a specific set of troops to be defeated. Some of them are easier than others. And each threat gives you a reward for defeating it - more on that in a few minutes.

But if you defeat a threat two actions before I was programmed to go to that city and defeat that threat, I'll get nothing. My "Action" turns into a "Pass."  Which, as I'm sure you can guess, is a bit frustrating.

So the extent of the player interaction is trying to figure out who will be where and at what point so that you can either get there ahead of them to deal with the threat or just after them so that you can recruit the better troop.

Three times during the game, a census is held, and the players who have the most of each type of troop will gain a benefit of some sort. These benefits are identical to the benefits you'll get from slaying monsters, only toned down (usually).

Each threat tile has three specific benefits printed on it.  You can choose two of the three.  You will either win money, fame (in the form of bard tokens) or the support of the Wizards' Guild (in the form of a Wizard's Tower marker).  Early in the game, players will scramble for the Guild markers, because each city's branch of the Guild will only support one player. Later in the game, money and fame become more important.

After twelve years, a winner is determined through a knockout. One of the three victory conditions (which are tied to the three possible rewards) is calculated, and the player is last place is eliminated. Then the second condition is calculated and, again, the player is last place is eliminated.  Finally, the third condition is checked, and there will be only one player left standing.

If you have five players, then the first condition eliminates two players instead of one.

The order the conditions are checked is random, and changes every game. However they are set up before play starts, so players know which conditions are most important to avoid elimination. But you can't ignore any of the conditions.

Your first play of this game will - like many games - be a lot of random flailing and looking for the strategy.  After multiple plays, you'll start to look at the "upcoming" part of the board, where you can see where the next few threats will appear so you can be there and ready before they are even on the board.

Long-term, I think the game has legs.  It's not the best game I brought back from GenCon, but it's a long ways from the bottom of the pile. I don't expect this to hit the table every week, but I do think it's going to be a regular fixture in my car so that we can play it if we want to.

And it looks like I'm not alone in that train of thought, either.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Black Fleet

One of the games we brought home from GenCon was Black Fleet.  It's a simple pickup and deliver game with a couple of "Take That!" elements. And some of the cutest/best bits I've seen in a while.


The goal of the game is simple: Rescue the Governor's Daughter by raising enough money to pay for her ransom.

Black Fleet

Each turn, you'll play a card.  This card allows you to move three ships - your merchant ship, your pirate ship, and one of the navy's ships. The card may also allow you to draw some other cards that do a variety of things.  The goal of the merchant is to haul cubes from one location to the next.  The goal of the pirate is to steal cubes from merchants and then bury them.  The goal of the navy is to sink the pirates.

Merchants start with and can carry three cubes, pirates can carry one cube, and the navy doesn't bother with these goods cubes.

Hauling cubes to a port gives you money.  Attacking merchants gives you money. Burying treasure gives you money.  Sinking pirates ... gives you money. Surprising, no?

What is surprising is that the money is metal coins.  Small metal coins, but still metal coins.

Each player has a bunch of upgrade cards in front of them, too.   Every player has a different set of upgrades, too.  One upgrade that I had allowed my ships to move across island spaces. Another gave me extra money when my merchant sank a pirate.  One of my opponents had a merchant who was capable of sinking pirates. You need to purchase all of your upgrades before you can pay the ransom for the Governor's daughter.

As I said: It's not a difficult game.  In fact, it's quite simple. You could play this with a ten-year-old.

It's not a game that will hit the table every week for me, but it's also not a game that will be banished to the garage.  I look forward to playing this one some more.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

In Days To Come

We have a long weekend coming up here in the US, and I'm going to try to take full advantage by digging out my cameras to grab some photos of some of the games we brought back from GenCon.

Games I especially want to photograph due to awesome bits:

Cyclades: Titans
Lords of Xidit
Black Fleet

And then I'm going to spend a few weeks here talking about these games. And the others we brought home.

I've also been asked by several people already for my thoughts on Asmodee buying Days of Wonder.

It's big news. Two titans merging.

I'm in favor, and it can only help both parties. As you read this, please keep in mind: I have not seen the contracts. I'm speculating, here. I don't have any actual inside information about this merger (and didn't beforehand, either).
  1. Both publishers have presence in some of the big box retailers - Target, Wal*Mart, Toys "R" Us - with only some overlap. The buyout strengthens both publishers' positions with regard to the mainstream toy-buying public.
  2. Both publishers have dabbled in electronic/video games.  Days of Wonder has dabbled more and has been very successful.  Now their video game publishing partners may get access to a much larger library of very good games. Depending on the specifics of the contract.
  3. If you look closely, there's a note in the post (and in every similar post I could find) that indicates that Days of Wonder will continue doing its thing as-is. Initially, the only difference DoW employees will notice is the signature on their paycheck will change.  In fact, it sounds like the latest game - Five Tribes - was pretty much already a collaborative effort with Asmodee.
  4. I trust Asmodee. After ten years, they haven't let me down. Seriously. They're one of those companies who are putting out good games instead of just flooding the market to see what sticks.
In unrelated news, I should be at Origins next year. And GenCon. And maybe BGG.con, if Asmodee isn't tired of me by then.  It's going to be a good year to be me.  It's been a decade since I went to Origins, and Stephanie has never been. And we have friends in the area that it'll be good to see again.  I've never been to BGG.con.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting Your Stuff Home From The Convention

Most years, I post a pic of our GenCon Loot. I didn't this year, because it was all Asmodee games which I've been talking about (and a few that I need to talk about) with one RPG exception and a couple of T-Shirts. And one piece of #PonyWar ammunition.

But my friends at home will sometimes ask me how I got all that stuff back home "in one suitcase." Because when we leave home, we only have one bag and a couple of carry-ons.

So let me de-mystify this for you.

I have a couple of advantages when it comes to getting things home. I travel as a couple and my GenCon employer provides me with a uniform.

When packing, I grab the bare minimum necessary to survive without smelling. I don't pack soap or shampoo (the hotel provides those). I don't pack razors (I can buy disposables in Indy and then leave them there). Having a Kindle means I don't have to pack books to keep me entertained on the trip (even though I make sure to have one or two).

Clothing-wise, I grab half as many shirts as I should plus one or two, just to be safe. Because I'm wearing an Asmodee shirt all day, it's not like I'm sweating into my shirts and I can get away with wearing them for two evenings. I actually make sure I have extra pairs of socks to reduce the number of blisters that I get (which is still excessive, but much better than it could be).

Stephanie does more-or-less the same with her packing.

We then take all of those clothes and put them into our big dufflebag.  We then take another dufflebag, fold it up, and stick it inside the first dufflebag.

We also don't completely fill our carry-on bags. And, in fact, we're allowed one carry-one and one personal item by most airports. On the way out, Steph and I don't usually have one personal item. We just have our carry-on.

This means that - out of a possible four small bags and two larger ones, we ship out with two small and one large. But we return home with two large and three or four small (as needed).

Do our games get banged up in the boxes?  Sometimes. But if a game is in regular play, the box will get banged up anyhow. I'd much rather the box were banged up than its contents. And books are tough. Crazy-tough. Realistically, we've only had one box banged up to the point of needing tape - and that was Abyss. This year.

But that's how we get home with a ton more stuff than we left with.  We occasionally hit the weight limit with the big bag on the way home, but the airline's overweight fees are usually less than what it'd cost to ship the same stuff via UPS or FedEx.

Speaking of: UPS has a presence at the convention. Some of the hotels downtown have "business centers" which often ALSO include a presence for UPS or FedEx or even the USPS.  Get a quote at the convention center. Then get a quote from your hotel. Sometimes a bit of extra walking can save you some money. Especially if you can get a written quote from them - UPS and FedEx are competitors, and sometimes they'll work to beat each others' quotes.  Your employer may have a UPS or FedEx account you can use for shipping, too. Check with them and see if you can get permission to use it, because (depending on who your employer is), you may have access to a premium rate for shipping that is less than you'd be quoted as a member of the general public.

But that's how we manage to get all that stuff home while shipping out with "just one suitcase."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I'm glad to be home.

Really, really crazy-glad to be home.

And I'm back at work already.

But I wanted to take a minute to show you all what the best team in the history of GenCon looks like.

Thanks to Christophe A. for sharing the pic on FB.

These are the folks I've spent the last four days with.  And, as usual, one or two folks are missing from the photo. But this mob ran demos, tournaments, and sales this year.

As usual, thanks to Asmodee for the opportunity.

I'll see you guys next year.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


It's all over, now, but for the flight home.

I really don't like endings.  Our Dresden Files RPG game ended a few weeks ago, and I kept trying to write about it - but I couldn't find words that did it justice. Because I really loved that game - even though we'd hit the point that we'd intended to hit, I wanted to go on.

And now GenCon has ended for the year.  We had the best crew ever in the history of ever. With tons of new people whose names I still don't know (but I'm sure I'll get some names when the photo appears on Facebook and people start the tagging process).

I saw friends from home (Bruce and Barbara and Andrew and Katie). I saw friends from Indianapolis (Nate and Todd and Chris). We saw some regulars (Eric and Sabrina and the Kids and a few others).  I chatted with game designers and artists and illustrators (Bruno Faidutti, Bruno Cathala, Antoine Bauza and several others).

And then there are the team members who are there every year. Christophe, Stefan, Carol, Jules, Choukri, Giancarlo, and Aidan just to list the full time Asmodee people. And I know I'm forgetting people, too, which makes me feel bad later ...

GenCon for me is the biggest social event of the year. It's like weddings and Christmas and the good parts of my birthday all rolled up into one four-day package of awesome.

Every year, I go home not wanting to go home.

There were some real highlights this year:

Remember a few years ago when Asmodee turned me into a contest? It was because they were apparently having trouble getting photos of me smiling while demoing games.  Barbara inadvertantly made me laugh really hard this weekend with one simple question: "Why don't you smile this much at home?"

Watching Bruno Cathala playing Win, Lose, or Banana at the post-convention team dinner was an absolute joy. He's one of those people who loves to have fun and will let the fun show through every fiber of his being. It made a funny game even more entertaining.

Giancarlo is one of my favorite people to just hang out with. Stephanie likes hanging with him too, because he makes her feel tall. Or, at least, closer to average. He and I love exchanging insults as a sign of respect. Any time spent with Giancarlo is generally a good time.

We were setting up when I heard my name being called by someone with a British accent.  It was Aidan.  "I just want to thank you for turning me on to Brandon Sanderson," he told me, before raving about the books he'd been reading.  I really love it when my recommendations are on-target for someone.

There was the shocking realization that "the kids" are - some of them - now old enough to vote. They've been coming to our booth for demos for the last seven years.  Since we were demoing Senji.

I love it when I can learn someone's kryptonite, too.  Apparently Elizabeth's kryptonite is Peanut M&M's.  Now we can add that to the list. Washington Wine for Christophe, Seattle-area chocolates for Gil, and now Peanut M&M's for Elizabeth.

Seeing Nate and his wife and daughter was a real joy on Sunday, too. The little one is a crazy-hardcore Whovian, and has been dressed like one of the Doctor's companions every time she's been to GenCon. And that's not all Nate's influence, either.

I had someone bow out of a Cyclades: Titans demo because he had an event to get to, "And I'm not going to win with this setup."  I stepped in and won on the next turn. Apparently I know Cyclades a bit too well. I need to be careful to only use this power for good.

I was able to teach Concept to a ton of folks. The best thing about teaching that game is watching for the light bulb. Because you can see when it clicks for people, based on how they fumble for the markers.

Ben, who worked on tournaments with me last year, is now the North American Champion for Netrunner. 

At one point, I had started a Cyclades demo. There were people stacked three and four deep waiting for an Abyss demo, and I talked them into a Splendor demo while they waited. "You won't lose your spot in line for Abyss," I reassured them.  They ended up buying Splendor and Abyss.

I realized after the dinner this evening just how much some of the team appreciates me. And Steph. Just based on how they reacted as we said our good-byes.

Christophe: Thank you for inviting me on this ride so many years ago. We started small, but the sky's not limit, and you have taught me every single year that there is more and better yet to come.

I may not have a post up this Wednesday, but I now have a ton of new games to play and write about, so I doubt I'll take more than one week off. I'll see you when I'm back.  And thank you for continuing to read.

All Good Things ...

The show is done. All that's left, now, is the annual team dinner. But first, I desperately need a shower and a change of clothes.

Normally, I post a photo of our haul, but it's basically all Asmodee all the time this year. If I demoed it, it's coming home with me.

I especially look forward to Abyss and Hyperborea with the home crowd.

Day Three

Day Three had a couple of hiccups, but - again - ran pretty smoothly overall.

I did botch a Hyperborea demo, but Louis saved me on that one.

I don't have a ton to say about it right now - we're about to head out for Day Four. And then teardown. And then the team dinner.

And then we all hug and prepare for next year. Which will be awesome.

It's also worth noting: I didn't mention all of the people I look forward seeing to or have enjoyed dealing with this year in my earlier post about people.

For example, I expect David Miller of Purple Pawn will be by shortly before closing (if he's done with his interview), because he's been by at the end of the show every year for the last ... five? Six?

It's great to see a friendly face at the end of the show.

I'll post more after dinner tonight, assuming I am conscious and can move. Both of which are in doubt.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

After Hours Gaming

We're playing Abyss tonight in the tournament hall.
It's Aidan and Justin and Stephanie and myself. And I'm going to lose.

GenCon: The People

I think a large part of why I love GenCon so much is because of all the people I get to meet. Or see again. Or meet in person for the first time.

For example, one of the people I often work with is Arnaud. He's an employee of Matagot.  He's a very pleasant person to deal with, and I look forward to working on Matagot's games because it means I get to work with Hicham and Arnaud and (previously) Doria.

I finally had the opportunity to meet Arnaud in person yesterday.  Our conversation was short, because I was setting up and then running demos - but he made a point of checking in with me today, which I appreciated.

Since I was running Cyclades: Titans most of the day, I was actually running one of their games, too. And one I really like. Cyclades has been a favorite of mine for many years.

There is a gentleman who I demoed a few games with last year, and spent late evenings gaming with in the tournament area. I can't for the life of me remember his name, but I am known for being terrible with names.  He stopped by today and I got him into a couple of games, as well.

There is a group of four kids we know, too.  Well, we call them kids, but they're ... um ... seventeen through nineteen, now.  We first met them when the oldest was twelve and we were demoing Senji. At the time, they were obnoxious brats, but they weren't squeezing anyone else out, so we demoed the games for them. And they had enough fun that they came back the next year. And the next. And the next ... and they've grown into some pretty cool people.

And then there's the demo team.  By now, I know and recognize and can remember the names for most of the demo crew who've done this a few times. Justin and Giancarlo and Louis and Kim and Joel and Marie-Eve and Ben and ...

Alexandre was a part of the demo team ... seven or eight years ago. I'm so glad he's back this year. He's one of my favorite people to spend time around.

But I feel bad because I don't remember all of their names. And I only know a few of the names for the newer crew. I'm trying, but I'm still along ways off. Elizabeth and Dave and ... um ... Raphael and Josh.  Or is Josh a returning member of the crew? There were times today when I couldn't remember my own name, much less anyone else's.

And then there are the designers. I recognize most of them by now. And I can even name which games are theirs more often than not.  Antoine Bauza was in the booth today. Bruno Cathala is in the booth a lot, too. They're not the only designers in the booth, either, most of the time. And - without fail - the designers are some of the nicest people around.

Bruno Cathala seems to magically appear two steps behind me and to the right every time I'm demoing one of his games.  It's unnerving. I'll hit a small question and will half-turn to grab the rulebook, and there he is. He's smiling and friendly and very very funny. And, after the last few years, he recognizes me. I don't know if he knows my name or not, but he definitely recognizes me.

GenCon and Soda and You

There is an apocryphal tale that holds that the year GenCon moved to Indianapolis, the city ran out of Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew. And I don't doubt it.

I drink a lot of Coca-Cola. Love the stuff.  I drink a ton less than I used to, but when I need to be awake, Coke is it! My backup sodas are Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew. In that order. I never drink Pepsi on purpose.

Here's the thing: If you're coming to GenCon, bring your own soda or stock up on Thursday.  Because those soda machines that you see scattered about? They're going to be empty by the end of Friday.  Even the $2/can machines will be out of soda. And they just can't restock them fast enough.

One other option - leaving the convention center for a restaurant of some sort - exists, but takes you away from the show. And there is so much to see here that you don't want to leave the show.

This year, Asmodee did something they hadn't done previously.  You know those pedestals that 7-Eleven fills with ice and then sticks 20-oz bottles of soda into?  They brought one of those and it's well-stocked with Gatorade and water and sometimes soda of some sort. I'm going to blame Carol for the pedestal, because it's probably her idea. And it's the best thing in the history of Western Civilization. Because my throat doesn't have a chance to get dry. I just pour another water (or Gatorade) down it, and life is good.

Well, as good as it can be when you're drinking Gatorade and water and eating Granola bars and really bad convention center bratwurst ...


Time to head out.  Day Three looms.

GenCon Overview

Since I am apparently incapable of sleeping in ...

GenCon as a demo person is - in large part - about the flow.

On Wednesday (Setup), we get to learn what the rest of the crew looks like and what they sound like and part of how they interact.

On Thursday (Day one), we learn their demo style and how they deal with the general public. We iron out kinks and make sure everyone is more-or-less on the same page.  As it's the slowest day, this is the day you want problems, because you learn how the crew handles the problems.

On Friday, we get to see how they deal with pressure. Not as much as Saturday, but it's good to see all of this in advance. Friday is usually my favorite day at the show, because there are always people in the booth for demos, but there aren't six million people waiting for more.

Saturday is Diamond Day. There are so many people on Saturday that the crew will be under constant pressure to perform. Really, it's like Friday turned up a couple of notches. A crew that does well on Friday will usually do well on Saturday.

By Sunday, the tide has turned again. People are already flying home, so the numbers are down.  And Sunday afternoon is teardown (which usually goes faster than setup because there are fewer boxes of games involved).

Sunday evening is the Team Dinner. Every year, Asmodee has treated us to a nice dinner as a "thank you" after the show.

This year, there have been some changes from previous years. For the better. For example, we have a room with a door where we can store our stuff. And we have a small cooler with water and Gatorade right in the demo area so that we can help stave off the inevitable loss of voice and keep our energy up.

So I don't have any in-depth thoughts about Friday and how it went. The team handled the pressure very well. We worked as a team to make sure everyone was covered and we watched for opportunities to help one another (and customers).

This is the first year in a very long time where I have only played games in the booth when one of the customers had to drop out to get to an event or something similar.

Also of note: Many many customers have told me, "I loved [GAME] from a few years ago, which is why we keep coming back. And you guys always have something fun for us to try." I hear variations on that all the time. It makes me happy.

Steph and I also have people who seek us out in the exhibit hall every year. Because they remember us from previous years and they trust our advice.

This year, by the was, the general advice is Abyss, but there are no duds in the booth. And we have a ton of new releases. I can't wait to drag them home and show off for the Wednesday crowd.

Speaking of: There are three members of my regular Wednesday group who are here. It's awesome, even if I haven't been able to demo with them, yet. I've had the chance to interact with them and point out the awesome in the booth.

Maybe tonight, we can drag them to Seekrit Dinner Hideout.

Friday, August 15, 2014

GenCon Day 2: Quick Summary

We're going to dinner with a friend, so this is a very quick note about how today went:

Better than yesterday.

We were busier and things in the booth ran more smoothly.  I think everyone that wanted a lunch break managed to take one. But I'm not 100% sure.

It was a good feeling, seeing how well things flowed.  The team was tagging out to one another so that every group that needed help got it. The only game that we have only one demo person for is Cyclades: Titans - and that person is me. But the great thing about Cyclades is that I can start the game and then wander off to help other people and then wander back to the table.  People know to grab my attention if they have a question (and they rarely do, which is odd).

The only problem I had today was when one of my contact lenses was acting up. When I went to rinse it off, I discovered that it had torn. And I don't have glasses to use as a backup.  So I'm less able to see tonight (and will be until at least Monday evening). So it goes, I guess.

If I get a chance later (or early tomorrow) and can think of more that needs saying, I'll say it.

I will say that the external battery pack we bought for our phones has been well worth it. Even though we don't really get signal in the exhibit hall, at least my phone isn't dying.

Apparently MANY T-Mobile users (like ourselves) are reporting that they have signal but no bandwidth. Maybe it'll be fixed for next year. Last year, I didn't have signal OR bandwidth ...

Day One: Recap

Wow.  What a day it was!

We were there bright and early to open and punch games so that we were ready for the hordes.

At nine, the VIGs entered the exhibit hall.  The VIGs are "Very Important Gamers."  They paid a fair amount of money for an extra hour in the exhibit hall on Thursday morning. They're not there for demos. The VIGs are there for promos. Or to purchase games for which stock may be a bit low at the show.  So we didn't do any full demos until almost ten o'clock.

Which was fine, because we were working as a team to figure out who should cover what area of the demo room.

We didn't do what we've done in previous years, which was tie folks more-or-less to individual tables. I think we had more tables than people, but I'm honestly not sure. There sure are a lot of us this year.

We did discover a few holes in coverage - only two people in the booth, for example, know Hyperborea. And I'm apparently The Cyclades Guy. And - oddly - none of us seem to know Lewis and Clark.  But every single other game in the booth has at least three people who can teach it (and often more).

These holes, by the way, are part of why I was up at 5:00 AM local time (2:00 AM at home).  I'm reading rulebooks to cover these gaps.  I assume the crew went over Hyperborea in their hotel last night, but I'm not 100% sure.

I know there is gaming and such that goes on with the rest of the team that Steph and I miss out on by staying in a separate hotel, but we're also a lot more flexible for other things that may be going on in the convention center. And it means we can stay up late reading or be up early reading and studying.  In fact, I have just over three hours to study right now.

If we were staying with the rest of the crew, I'd have to be figuring out how I was getting to the convention center (which eats up time) and then travelling to the convention center (which eats up more time).

In past years (up until about two or three years ago), the rest of the crew was often either late or arriving just as the doors opened.  Staying separately means that at least someone was in the booth ready to stall paying customers and/or run demos until the rest of the crew arrived, too.  And there's still the possibility of bad traffic or no available parking for the rest of the team.

Once it got rolling, yesterday was busy.  Today is going to be busier. Tomorrow is Saturday, which is crazy-busy. Sunday starts to slack off a bit and then ends abruptly.

Sales of Abyss were good yesterday.  Good enough that I suspect we may sell out.  Desperadoes of Dice Town, by contrast, appears to have barely been noticed. Black Fleet and  Lady Ching are similarly-themed but are VERY different gameplay-wise.

It's amazing to me the breadth of games we have this year.  We have a bunch of lighter games (Desperadoes of Dice Town, Black Fleet, Romans Go Home, Concept, Ca$h 'n Guns), and we have some medium-weight games (Lady Ching, World of Tanks: Rush, Abyss, Cyclades). We really only have one heavy game in the booth (Hyperborea), but it's apparently on par with Eclipse or Nations in terms of complexity.  And those aren't the only games we have, either. There are a ton of really good games in the booth

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to dig back into Hyperborea.