Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Werewolf Incident

It's been a few days, and I've had a chance to cool down, so let's talk about what happened the other night at GenCon that had me so angry.

For the last three years, now, we've played a pick-up game of Werewolves of Miller's Hollow in the same location. We do this after the dealer's room is closed, so my wife and I are on our own time - we have Asmodee demo copies, but we usually have several other games with us (both Asmodee and non-Asmodee games both). In past years, we've played Werewolves for a few hours and then wandered off to play other games.

Where we play winds up looking something like this:

GenCon 2008

Let me explain Werewolves a bit, for those few of you who aren't familiar. Every player is given a role card to keep secret. The basic three characters are Villagers, Werewolves and Seers. The Werewolves kill one non-Werewolf per night. The Villagers then try to determine who the werewolves are by lynching one person per day. The Seer is on the side of the Villagers, and can clear or convict one person per night. The game requires about eight people to be any fun, but can go up to 30+ without losing any of its fun. Provided, of course, that you have a good moderator. Thomas, who moderates our games for us, is among the best.

There are multiple versions of the game on the market, and some have other characters available. The two best-known versions are the Asmodee Editions version (which we use, not because we demo for them, but because it is in our opinions clearly better than the other editions - see below) and the Looney Labs version. I'm not alone in this opinion, either.

To support my "better" assertion, here are three side-by-side comparisons of cards. These were all scanned at the same resolution. I just pulled the images into Publisher, saved as a .jpg, and then opened another program to crop the images to their current size.



Seer/Fortune Teller
Fortune Teller/Seer

On Friday, we were into our fifth game (I usually bow out after a few of them so I can take pictures and answer questions from passers-by), when Thomas was interrupted by a GenCon Staffer, who informed us that we were blocking traffic and needed to stop immediately and go elsewhere. Those of us who still wanted to play were welcome to go join "the 'official' Looney Labs games going on upstairs."

As stated above: We don't like the Looney Labs version, Are You A Werewolf? And it's not just the images - they won't play with more than fifteen players, for example. And the larger games give more time for the villagers to develop their strategy.

And blocking traffic?

See this?

GenCon 2008

Does that look blocked to you? That photo, BTW, is straight from camera to computer to internet. No photo manipulation. I didn't even adjust color balance. It's also of the interrupted game.

We play where we do because it won't block traffic. Admittedly, it's not a designated open gaming area, but groups larger than ours often claim the area during the day to just sit and chat. Or stand and chat. The next day, it was nearly impassable due to someone's R2D2 model rolling around.

Several players in the group protested - some of them angrily. The GenCon staffer responded quite rudely and belligerently. Disproportionately so.

For the record, the group included several GenCon volunteers. People who are well aware of the rules, and are good about following them. They were shocked at the shutdown - and then at how belligerent the staffer became.

We ended up moving to an area that was designated as an open gaming area, but our game was cut down to about 10 players. And the open area required the use of a table, which made the game ... less. It's worth noting, by the way, that we passed several Werewolf games on the way to the open gaming area. None of them were in a designated open area. Several of them were blocking the hallways to a greater extent than we were. I didn't check what versions of the game were being played - we were moving, and I didn't want to stop and check something that might further frustrate or annoy me.

There were all sorts of theories bandied about by the remaining players - I don't know what triggered the shutdown. It may have been a complaint from someone or it may have been something the staffer thought he'd do on his own.

The next night, we started in the open game area.

We're not sure about next year - even though it was unofficial, it felt targeted to enough players that I felt it necessary to make sure that Christophe knew what had happened.

Let me emphasize this: I don't blame Looney Labs for this. They make a number of games, several of which I think are phenomenal. I particularly like the Icehouse pieces/toolbox. I will admit to disliking (strongly) Fluxx in most of its iterations - but even I can accept that it's a brilliant discussion of what exactly a game is. But that's another discussion for another time.

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