Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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
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.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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 ...
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.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
I need to learn a few games tonight - there were gaps in our coverage - so I may be back later.
Every year I am 100% certain that we have the best possible group, and so far I have been proven wrong the following year. Because our team this year is amazing.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
And this was easy compared to previous years. The A/C was on (but not all that useful - but it also wasn't disgustingly hot outside, either), professionals were laying our carpet, and there were many hands when hands were needed.
And Asmodee bought us pizza. It was Dominos, which is always edible, if not exceptional. Even at their worst, I've never eaten inedible Dominos pizza. And, when you've been tied up in setup, it is like ambrosia.
Giancarlo - the smallest guy in the booth - had five or six pieces, apparently. I only needed one, but oh how badly I needed it.
Today (so far) I learned World of Tanks: Rush and played Ca$h 'n Guns (Second Edition).
I'm a bit burned out on Deckbuilders, but I saw potential in World of Tanks. More on this one when I've had a chance to play it a bit more. It seems to be a simpler game than Dominion, but with a few twists that are unique to it.
As to Ca$h 'n Guns, I was a huge fan of the original. I think the new one streamlined gameplay an appropriate amount. For example, the BANG BANG BANG card is gone, because it added complexity and slowed the game down. The "everyone gets to pick until it's all gone" style of loot collection also stops people from having to do math. They just grab when it's their turn to grab.
The team for this year seems really good. Everyone jumped into help whenever help was needed. Realistically, that's half the battle.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Other than the 7:15 AM start time. Because I'm still sorta on Seattle Time, and 7:15 AM strikes me as Too Damn Early.
My goal is to do at least one post per day while I'm here - in the evening, before I crash. If I beat the alarm up (like I did this morning), I may also post in the mornings. And if I have signal and a spare moment or two during the day, I may post then, too.
I love it, here. Not enough to deal with the climate much of the time, but for a week out of the year, I can handle it. And the weather this week sounds like it'll be remarkably Seattle-like. So I'm oddly not fearing the weather like I usually do.
The culture here is a bit weird to me, though. We're very squarely midwestern, but parts of town are trying so very hard to be Southern. Trying hard enough that they actually have good sweet tea more often than not.
You can't find good sweet tea in any restaurant in the Seattle area. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
We're staying in the Crowne Plaza Downtown Union Station. It's our fourth year in this hotel and the third in a row. We really like it here. It's attached by skybridge to the convention center (near the vendor entrance to the exhibit hall, which is extra-convenient), and we've never had a problem with the hotel.
We've stayed in a couple of other hotels in past years with mixed results - one of them was close to a mile walk to get to the exhibit hall; one of them couldn't seem to get the air conditioner working in our room; the list goes on and on, really.
I'm not saying this hotel is perfect. For example, most of the rooms face an internal courtyard which is lit all day and night. So if you rely on outside light as a cue to wake up, this is not the place for you. They also have these white plaster statues called "Ghosts" everywhere dressed like it's the Golden Age of Railroads. Some people find them creepy. And it's right on the rail line, so some rooms shake every time a train rolls by (which is often). But none of these bother me. The light thing makes it easier for me to wake up in the mornings, and the others are non-issues.
Last night, we went to Champps. The burgers are good, and the jalapenos on their nachos are bright green, fresh, and still crisp. Something I can't find in Seattle. It used to be an Asmodee tradition, too. In large part because Champps used to do trivia on Tuesday night, and we gamers love to dominate at trivia. But they dropped that, so it's not something we do as a crew anymore.
In about an hour, we'll be meeting with the crew to set up. Apparently they hired professionals to lay carpet this year (thank you, Carol, for making the necessary arrangements). It means setup will go much more quickly than in past years, because the carpet will be in place before we start setup. And we won't have to lay the carpet ourselves (which is a lot of work and is tricky to get right).
After setup, we may be doing a team dinner. I also have friends in from out of town for the show, so if there isn't an Asmodee Team Dinner, we might munch with friends. And I may do my annual Chick-Fil-A dinner (which may not be a big deal by next year, if their plans pan out).
Tonight, I'll be reading rulebooks and prepping for games I haven't seen before. And there will be a few of those. I'll also be refreshing games I saw the rulebooks for but which I haven't seen in person - again, a few of those.
It's going to be a good week. I have that feeling already.
Looking at the names of the folks in the crew, it's going to be a good year.
I can't wait to share it with you.
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Le Fantôme de l’Opéra is the latest in the Mr. Jack line of games. Despite the title, the contents include the English rules - and it's the best-balanced of the line so far. I very much like this game and would play it more if it supported more than two players (but I can't think of any way to force this series to support more than two players).
The Duke continues to fill that "Chess-like game with a bit of randomness" niche for me. The more I play it, the less I see the randomness, though. I'm learning more and more that players have a great deal more control over the game and if you are in a "draw or lose" situation, you've probably misplayed somewhere a turn or two back. Another two-player game.
Twin Tin Bots continues to be a favorite - and now it's available in distribution from Iello. So it'll be more widely available, and you should be able to order it from your local game store. It scratches that Robo Rally itch in a fraction of the time. It's quick to learn, relatively quick to play, and even rookie gamers seem to warm to it quickly.
Mascarade is filling the Werewolves of Miller's Hollow itch for me these days - and, as an added bonus, it plays with smaller groups. A lot of people have compared it to The Resistance, but I don't see many similarities. And I also don't like The Resistance (sorry, guys). It's a hidden role game where sometimes you're not even sure what your own role is, due to the shifting. And - by the way - the best strategy I've found involves a lot of role-shifting.
Tokaido is another of those games that is new-to-me rather than being new. And I've played it a bunch, lately. And I'm always looking forward to my next game. It's one of the easiest games I've ever been able to teach, the art is distinctive and good. The theme is solid. There are multiple paths to victory. And it's just plain fun.
Concept was a Spiel des Jahres nominee this year - and with good reason. It's easy to learn, fun to play, and doesn't suffer as a game if you ignore the scoring. In many ways, it's actually a better game if you just play for the sake of playing. I'm learning that different groups are developing different "dialects" when it comes to what a few of the symbols on the board mean - and I find that endlessly fascinating.
There are other eligible games, but these six are the best new-to-me games this year. I have several games on my shelf that I'd like to play - but I won't be playing them until post-GenCon.
And, speaking of GenCon, next week, you'll get my usual Wednesday Morning Post (which will be my Game of the Year winner). But you'll also be getting scattered posts as I get breaks and an end-of-day wrapup post, provided I don't have some sort of technology issues. And, as I do every year, I'll also be posting pics of my Chick-Fil-A meal. Because we don't have CFA locally, yet (but it is apparently coming).
If you're going to be at GenCon, stop by and say hi. I always look forward to meeting people who read this thing.
I recently also updated things a bit - if you're on Tumblr, IFTTT will post links back to my blog, so you don't need to keep running back. At the moment, it's a link post - but I'm still learning Tumblr and IfTTT. Eventually, it'll post the whole thing. If I can figure out how to make it work.