Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Missing The Point

I keep seeing people complaining about the lethality of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG.  "One hit," I hear, "And my character is screwed."

I get these complaints both online and in person (from a good friend of mine).

They're also missing the point.

I recently read a game that included this in its introduction:
This is a game about death. The true motobushi lives his life and performs his tasks as if he is already dead, and thus has nothing to fear from the spilling of his life’s blood. The mechanics of this game allow seven possible ways for your motobushito die, each of which you can easily prevent, but none of which you should actively avoid.
Remember: not every death is one of the blood.
The game, by the way, is Motobushido.  And I heartily recommend it.

But that opening statement should apply to any samurai-flavored game.

It's even authentic to the period that L5R tries to emulate.

From The Hagakure:
I have come to understand the heart of bushido.  The way of hte warrior is fulfilled in death.  When you are in a situation where your death will benefit your cause, you should instantly choose death.  This will not be a difficult choice if you are truly committed beforehand.  The saying "To die without achieving your goal is to die a meaningless death" is the foolish prattling of those who sit around thinking and never do anything.  Life is not so important when forced to choose between life and integrity.  Of course, we all want to live, and this side of our nature will never fade.  It is easy to reason your way into clinging to life, but if you remain alive without achieving your goal, you are a coward. 
That's ... pretty clear.

The game's system is designed to reinforce this philosophy.  Death should always be on the minds of the characters.  Death in pursuit of their household goals is the point of their life. But I don't know that I have ever seen that explicitly called out in the book, other than maybe a reference to The Hagakure in the bibliography of recommended readings.

By the way: As a GM, I have never killed a PC in combat in L5R. Not one.

So - after all of that rambling from me about how wrong-headed my friend is and how he's totally missing the point, let me remind you of this:

A role-playing game is a collaboration between GM and player.  We gather to have fun together.

Which one of us has missed the point?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Home - Safe & Alive

One of the best things about GenCon is coming home afterwards.  I have - with zero exaggeration - more than fifty pounds of games to read and learn.

I'm tired, I'm sore, and I'm exhilarated.  I've already put in my vacation request for next year.

As expected, I'm too tired to get a post up for this Wednesday.  I may get a photo of our haul up, but that's probably going to be about it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Names, Professional Wrestling, and Capitalization

This has actually been cracking me up for quite some time, and I have a spare moment right now, so I'm going to mention it.  Even though most of you won't laugh as much as I have been for quite some time.

One of the people I get to deal with at Asmodee has their e-mail set up with their last name in all caps, so the e-mail I receive is from Firstname LASTNAME.

As you may recall, I am one of those folks who enjoys professional wrestling - and not just American-style wrestling.  I especially like Japanese and Mexican wrestling.  Japanese because the wrestlers are over-the-top CRAZY, and Mexican because their high-flyers are amazing.

In professional wrestling culture, there are really two broad personalities of wrestler - Babyfaces ("Faces") and Heels.  Boiled down to the most basic of descriptions, it's Good Guys and Bad Guys.

In Japan, they often use our alphabet in addition to one (or more) of the three writing systems they normally use.  To help people who either don't watch regularly or who are new viewers, they will often put the last name of their heels in ALL CAPS.

So every time I get an e-mail from this person @ Asmodee, I giggle just a little bit. Because her e-mail advertises to me that she is a Heel.  I laugh just a little bit, and then I go on.

EDIT: 1/7/14
It was called to my attention this morning that I was unclear about why I giggle at this. To clarify: It is because - as near as I can tell - there are no heels working for Asmodee. As I've probably mentioned a thousand times here (and elsewhere) the team (both full-time employees and demo crew) is a large collection of the neatest people it has ever been my pleasure to deal with. So the irony of someone who is not a heel representing themselves as such (even to the tiny tiny subset of gamers who are fans of Japanese wrestling) makes me laugh.


I've been very impressed with the level of sportsmanship I've seen in the tournaments here at GenCon.  Several tournaments had new players, and the experienced players at their table were willing to step up and coach them - sometimes to their own detriment.  I didn't see (or hear about) any new players receiving bad information or poor advice.

I told a few new players that I can help them with rules, but I can't give them any strategic advice.  At one point when I told someone this, someone across the table said, "If you want advice, your play doesn't affect mine directly, and I can help."

During the Formula D finals, all four players were on a map that was new to them, and one player misread the first curve as a one-stop curve instead of as a two-stop (experienced Formula D players are now cringing).  He lived through the curve - barely - but was effectively eliminated from contention at that point.  Rather than complaining, he soldiered on, only to have some of the worst dice luck I have ever seen at that game.  And he grumbled a bit, but he kept going.  Another player managed to wipe out, and he ended up taking third.

I saw similar degrees of sportsmanship at nearby tournaments and tables, as well.

And we were able to demonstrate some sportsmanship ourselves.  One of the 7 Wonders tournament finalists had something come up and he had to leave the show early.  All of the tournament finalists have earned a (really nice) plaque, and he was able to let me know he had to bail.  I dragged him back to the booth and was able to get his prize to him with no hassle.  "Just be sure to get his picture," I was told.

No problem. Done:

Congrats on your win, Brian.  I hope we see you next year.

I wasn't alone in running tournaments for Asmodee this year - Ben (who was new to the team) was assigned to the tournaments as well.  "He's your runner," is what I was told - but he did a hell of a lot more than that.  Ben was a very strong addition to the team, and is an extremely nice guy, to boot.

There are a few new folks on the team this year, and I was introduced to most of them.  I assume they're doing well, but I honestly don't know for sure, as I've been running tournaments.

Most of last year's team is back, too.  Louis and Kimberly continue to be really neat people.  Joel and Marie-Eve are a real riot.  Giancarlo is one of the funniest people it has ever been my pleasure to interact with.  I miss interacting with Matt just a bit - I'm sorry he couldn't make it.  And I miss Andrew, too, but there's apparently some sort of story as to why he isn't back.

Today, I'll actually be in the booth instead of running tournaments (After this morning's 10 am 7 Wonders finale - which is in the booth).  I'm looking forward to an increased degree of interaction with people.

Tonight, after the exhibit hall closes, we'll tear down the booth and then we have a team dinner.

... and then we're done.  Until next year.

I've heard a few of next year's plans, and I'm already excited.

But I probably shouldn't say anything yet.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Today failed to kill me.

I've learned the difference between being in the booth as a Demo Monkey and running tournaments:


When running tournaments, I can actually spend some time sitting down.

There are other differences - in a demo situation, I have to teach from scratch.  In a tournament situation, it's assumed that everyone knows how to play already.  In fact, I was only called in for rules questions a small handful of times the entire weekend.  Because nearly everyone knew what they were doing.

So with the tournaments, I deal with more people, but there is less interaction.

I actually prefer the interaction.

My wife hit on the Best Thing Ever this year - and I have zero idea why we hadn't thought of it sooner:

Cough drops.

We spend hours talking and talking and talking.  Cough drops help soothe the throat.

It's also possible (probable even) that she'd mentioned it earlier and I'd somehow missed it.

Last Night

Last night, I was getting ready to head back to my hotel room and crash, when David Miller of Purple Pawn wandered by.  I've been reading Purple Pawn since they launched (it really is a very good news source for hobby gamers), and I first met David at his first GenCon, when I was demoing Senji.

Since then, he and I meet and spend some time chatting every year, and it has become traditional for him to be in the booth when the show closes.

We had a good chat, played a quick game of Augustus (which is surprisingly good even at 2am when you are too tired to think), and then I headed back to the hotel to crash.

Today is the Formula D tournament finals, and two more 7 Wonders qualifiers.

So far this weekend, I have run one Seasons tournament from start to finish, the prelims and semifinals for Formula D, and four 7 Wonders qualifiers.  In all that time, we have had one rules issue, and it was minor.

Seasons started with 28 players, Formula D with 27, and 7 Wonders has averaged 32 per qualifier.

Saturday, today.  The Big One.

I'm ... I'm as ready as I'm gonna get.


I received e-mail this morning that "select strategy board games" are on sale at Amazon, today only!

There are some great games on this list, including three Asmodee games.

Apparently someone let Amazon know it was GenCon.

My only concern is that much of their audience is either at or is focused on GenCon, so spread the word - the better the sales they make on something like this, the more likely they are to do it again.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Seasons Semifinals

Six players. Down from 28 yesterday.

Two tomorrow.

A Brief, Positive Note

I would like to say that I am very happy with something I'm seeing more of at GenCon - and its even more pronounced this year than it has been in previous years:


My first few years at the show, it really did feel like it was almost whites-only.

It's good because our hobby should appeal to people of every race, creed, gender, orientation, etc.  And GenCon should accurately reflect the hobby.

I don't know if the hobby itself has always been diverse and GenCon was a poor reflection of the hobby (which is very possible) or if the hobby has grown more diverse over the last decade (which is possible, too).

It's weird - I feel like I'm treading on thin ice a little bit writing about this, because I am (mostly) white, myself.  But I guess that's probably another conversation for another time (and probably another place as well, but no promises).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Day One

So.  Day One.

I ran tournaments.  All day.

Tomorrow, the Seasons tournament is the semifinal.  The finals are on Saturday.  Instead of seven tables of four, it'll be two tables of three.

Tomorrow, the Formula D tournament is ... the semifinal.  Instead of three tables of nine, it'll be two tables of six.  The finals are on Saturday.

Tomorrow, both 7 Wonders tournaments will be qualifiers.  The finals are on Sunday.  I'll probably have the full number of people there.

One of the goals of having me run tournaments this year is apparently getting feedback from me.  Because my general feedback last year was apparently good, so they are hoping my tournament-related feedback will be on target as well.

After the tournaments today, I ... went back to the same room and played more games.

TWO of the 7 Wonders games today were tied at the end.  One game had two players with 51 points each and four players at 47 points each.

The most points I saw scored in the science category was 55.  But that player had nothing else and a final score of 59 (which was not enough to advance).

Tomorrow is expected to be more of the same.


This is my second tournament of the day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

VIG Program

Tomorrow is the first official day of GenCon.  At 9:00 am, the VIG's gain their first access to the Exhibit Hall.  They paid a large pile of money for the privilege, so I don't have much of a problem with it.


Last year, the VIG's nearly cleaned Asmodee out of Libertalia.  Because we had a promo - they included metal coins for the game.  We also ran completely out of 7 Wonders: Cities almost before the general public had access.  And Seasons.  Unfortunately, I don't think we had another shipment coming of any of these for the show, but I could be wrong - I am (as I have said many many times) just a Demo Guy when I'm here.  And - as of last year - the store end of things is really a separate booth from the demos.

Some vendors have a limited quantity per day, which I think is an excellent response to programs like the VIG setup.  It balances the field a bit, as the VIG program is Thursday-only.

And Thursday is the slowest day for vendors - which is another reason I don't have huge problems with the program.  It brings in people who might not otherwise be here.

It still sticks in my craw a bit.

BUT it means that the most-excited gamers who can afford the additional price get in early.  It means than an hour which would otherwise be dead is filled with enthusiastic people - and it DOES mean the show starts on the right foot.  And it's money in the convention's pocket (and the pockets of the vendors).  All of these are good things.

We'll see how it goes tomorrow - I'll be in Hall D running tournaments before the VIGs gain access to the room.

Lived Through It

As you can probably tell, I lived through setup.  I got a start on my GenCon blisters, I have some wonderful marks on my shoulders from carrying some carpet which was waaaaay too heavy.

I met up with some people, and started laying plans to meet up with more for dinner (and/or games).

Wandering the halls, I saw a lot of familiar faces.  Even if I didn't have names to put with them.


It's getting to the point where I can't keep track of all the games I have worked on.

I remember thinking this morning that Spyrium sounded fun.

After glancing at the rules, they sounded very familiar.

When I hit the end, I understood why ...

Setup Day

At the time this post goes live, I'll be in the Dealer's Room, pulling things out of boxes.  Or laying carpet.  Or something.

Today is the Physical Labor part of the show.  It's hard work, and the Powers That Be at the convention center usually don't turn the A/C on.  Which means that the dealer's room is pre-seeded with Gamer Funk for the show, because all of us are sweaty and disgusting by the end of Wednesday.

We got back after dinner last night to find our luggage waiting for us.

Dinner tonight will be with Alex and Chantal - a couple of friends that I met through Asmodee.  They are the ones who are responsible for introducing me to Shitenno, which is still one of my personal Top Five Games.

We'll be going to an "Asian" restaurant that they scoped out the other day.  I'm from Seattle - we have more Teriyaki than Burger there, and it's good teriyaki, so I'm prepared to be underimpressed.  But we'll see.


We don't have Steak 'n Shake in Seattle. I am honestly not sure if that is a good thing or not.

I have breakfast here almost every day of the show. It's not great, but it's cheap and convenient. And that goes a long ways.

Gamethyme's Game of the Year 2013

Realistically, this was easy enough to narrow down to a small handful of contenders.

Kemet, Mutant Meeples, Mythic Battles, and Augustus.  These are four great games which I was first exposed to (in play) since the last GenCon.

The first to fall was Mythic Battles.  Not because it's undeserving, but because two-player games just don't hit the table often enough for me.  If I played more 2p, this would have been much tougher to scratch.  Because I do love this game. And its expansion.

That left three games that I really like.  Kemet holds up to five players, scales well to as few as three (I haven't played it with two, yet); Mutant Meeples holds up to seven players, and also scales well to as few as three; and, finally, Augustus (which is being retitled Rise of Augustus for its US release), which holds up to six and scales well to as few as three.  I suspect all three of them are just fine with two.

So let's quickly go over what I like in a game:

Strategy Over Luck
I like a game where a skilled player will defeat a beginner more often than not.  Not because I like beating up on newbies, but because I want to feel like the time I spend playing and/or thinking about a game isn't wasted time.

Multiple Paths to Victory
If there is One Perfect Strategy that your opponents can't screw up, then what's the point of playing the game?  You could just as easily "play" from another state via telephone.  "It's my turn?  Okay.  Here's what to do ... "

High Replayability
I don't like playing the same game over and over and over and over and over.  Really. A game needs to be different enough each time I play it that I have a reason to come back to it.  More than just learning a new strategy, that is.

Player Interaction
I play games to interact with people. Often, that interaction is across the table and not actually on the board - but a game in which my decisions influence the decisions of players around me is (for me) the ideal.  Part of it is also that I really love a bit of "Take that!" in a game.

Reasonable Play Time
Most of my gameplay these days is Wednesday nights, where I only have a few hours in which to play. And I prefer to play two or three games (or one game two or three times) in that span.

So how do the remaining three games stack up?

Kemet has almost no luck.  There is a bit, but not enough to tip the game. There are a number of successful strategies that I've seen used, which keeps the replayability high.  Every decision you make on the board influences every other player, so there is a ton of interaction.  The play time, however, can run a bit long with beginners (or, oddly, with very experienced players).

Mutant Meeples has almost no luck - it's an analytical game, though, not a turn-based game.  And the player interaction is all about trying to get your plan in place before someone else does.  There's also not a ton of opportunity to trash-talk your opponents because of how it works.  But it's relatively fast (especially when playing with Andrew).  There's not a ton of strategy per se, but there is a bit.

Augustus is very luck-driven.  There is strategy, and once you grasp it, the game does improve dramatically - but it's possible for luck to beat strategy.  The player interaction is all around the board rather than in the game itself.  But it's very fast-playing.  I can get five or six plays of this in a good evening. But there's something about this game that keeps bringing me back to it.  It's just fun.

So I think I can safely drop Mutant Meeples from the list, which leaves only Kemet and Augustus.  And here it gets tricky for me.  I had Kemet a month or two before it was released, in part so I could write an article for GTM about it.  I've had Augustus for a month or two, but it has more to do with our ability to demo than for any other reason.  I actually worked on the English translation of Kemet, but Augustus was one I'd never even heard of when I was taught to play.

These are both games I'm nearly always up for playing. By which I mean simply that it doesn't matter how my day went, or if I'm suffering from brain burnout, or am especially crabby, I'm still willing to play either of them. Provided I have the time in which to do so.

So this is not an easy decision.  And it's funny, because Augustus doesn't really fit much of what I'm looking for in a game, if you look at the list above.  It shouldn't be a difficult decision.

But, really, I have to give it to the game that I'm going to play tonight (a week or so before you'll see these words).  Because - even though I love both games, I do have to give the edge to one of them. And it's by the narrowest of margins, here, but my Game of the Year for the span between GenCon 2012 and GenCon 2013 is Augustus. Or, as you'll see it at your Local Game Store, Rise of Augustus.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Is it GenCon? I do believe it is.

Sadly, we have missed the peach shakes for the year.

Landed Safely

We made it safely into Indy.

Sadly, I can't say the same for our luggage. It was "delayed" out of Chicago.

This, by the way, is still better than the time the airline canceled our reservations for the flight home.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

GenCon Schedule Update

Apparently my schedule is different from what I listed earlier, because Asmodee is actually running tournaments.  And by "Asmodee," I mean "Me."

I'll be in Hall D for most of the weekend, running tournaments for Seasons, Formula D, and 7 Wonders.

Sunday, I'll be in the booth.

Next Week

Those of you who have paid any attention at all to my blog (or to me) will know that next week, I will be in Indianapolis.  On Wednesday, my Game of the Year post should go live.

Much like last year, I'll be posting more small posts over the course of the weekend and will probably take the week after the show off from blogging.  Although the Blogger integration with the camera on my phone is apparently better than it has been in past years.  You can also watch my Twitter feed or check my Google Plus Profile for updates.

Meanwhile, here's a quick and easy How To Find Me at GenCon:

1) Is the dealer's room open?  If yes, go to 2.  If no, go to 3.

2) Go to the Asmodee Demo Booth (#1331).  You will find me there, probably teaching someone to play a game.  Seriously.  I don't even really take lunch breaks - my lovely and amazing wife often brings food to me during the day.

3) Do you have my phone number?  If yes, go to 4.  If no, go to 5.

4) Text me!  Did I answer?  If yes, go to 6.  If no, go to 5.

5) I COULD BE ANYWHERE!  If it's late at night, I'll probably either be sleeping or playing Werewolves of Miller's Hollow.

6) Did my answer tell you where I was?  If yes, congrats! YOU HAVE FOUND ME!  If no, go to 4.