For those of you following the reports, you know that we had a blast at WBC-West this year. Of course, there is always room for improvement, no matter how small, and with that in mind here is a report card of sorts for how I feel the event went and what we plan to do to change things.
Games - A-
In general, the games went very well. While one or two of the titles were less than we hoped, we picked games that were playable within the time we had available and finished all of them in the sense that it was always pretty clear who would win. I think that Reds! was the exception. I think we wish we'd played Sword of Rome rather than Wellington, but the last minute arrival changes made Welly a better bet were only three of us there early Tuesday.
Scheduling - B+
Chuck and I have learned that we set ourselves up for success if we plan what games we will play in advance. I had taken the tack that because of some games running longer than we expected them to, it made sense to leave the schedule a bit open the last couple of days (Sat/Sun), and to some extent this was true - Chuck and I finished BtB on one morning, while he and Tex got a bit further in their Reds! game that evening. However, it would have been nice to have a specific 3-player game scheduled for Saturday, and things were pretty up in the air Saturday evening and most of Sunday.
Another factor that I hadn't taken as much into account was scheduling those games that have difficult board situations early in the week. BtB is an extremely tense and heavy game in this sense, as you must always be considering the integrity of your lines on a board that can be hard to parse at times, especially in the areas west of Moscow. The rivers are particularly difficult for me to see on the original map. Playing this on Wednesday, then pulling it back out on Friday morning really demonstrated the mental load games like this put on my brain, and playing them later in the week was a recipe for a migraine, not to mention complete burnout. Next year we will make a stronger effort to schedule games for the full week, and be more aware of the difficulty of the board situation as well as the ruleset.
Stamina - A-
I did much better this year than last. Part of that was avoiding much drinking (I had one glass of port and two of wine the entire week), and part was picking lighter games later in the week. On the day Mike and I played games I was much happier playing things like Combat Commander and C&C: Ancients. I also had a bit more downtime in the last couple of days, resulting in a lower stress cleanup and better sleep the last night we were there. As an excellent measure of how much this has improved, last year I took the day after I returned to recover. This year, I spent three hours doing bookkeeping and attended a three hour choir rehearsal, all without the aid of simulants. OK, I had half a Coke in the afternoon. Next year I plan to incorporate vitamins of some sort into the equation to help with muscle stiffness as I'm likely to have to sleep in a twin bed again, if not on a couch, and so nutrition will be key.
I will also mention that the idea of playing lighter games (and by that I mean games that are as much ride as game) has proven itself to be genius. We'll keep this up in the future, no question.
Con Environment Simulation - A-
If there was one thing I really liked, it was playing both BtB and AVL with multiple copies at once. It was great fun to compare board positions and to ask the other game about specific rules. I was disappointed that the CC:E tournament never really materialized, although I personally got three games in. The problem was that two of us were really interesting in doing the tournament and the others not so much. Next year I will ask people to commit to playing a certain title (probably CC:M or C&C:A because of the short game length) and hold them to it, or simply not hold the tournament at all.
One factor that wasn't present - Con Funk. That's a huge plus.
Preparation - B
Because we had a preset schedule of sorts, it made it much easier for me to read rules and run through games ahead of time to improve my understanding of the games and enjoy them more. Where I fell down in this respect was in preparing for the evening games, which I didn't do at all. The biggest problems were with Britannia, but especially with Manifest Destiny (saddled as it is with rules that are as poorly organized as it gets). I'd like to play MD again next year, but will most definitely do a quick rules rewrite to isolate out the various innovations and breakthroughs from the basic sequence. The existing rules sprinkle these items throughout at the cost of readability. After all, if you want to know what the defensive benefit of cities is you don't really care about ten different special powers that you already have right in front of you. I would also create Breakthrough cards that list what the power does rather than force players to refer to a sheet that is likely out of reading range. In other words, anticipate the shortcomings of a given game package and try to rectify it in advance.
Venue - A
Sunriver continues to amaze me with it's ability to handle groups. This time out, we were able to accomodate Mimi's jigsaw puzzles in the nook while we extended the dining table and had all of the wargaming in the great room area. I personally did not miss having a video game system at all (other than the Dreamcast for a little old-school gaming), and I will probably just leave the Wii at home again next year (although it will come out for the RCG retreat). The kitchen was kept pretty clean, largely because Mimi did so much cooking, although I did not notice that she was spending a huge amount of time (which could be because I was focused on my game). I remember looking around the house around noon on Sunday and thinking that pretty much everything that needed to be done up to that point had been, which is always nice. The only thing I'd change is to put bubble wrap around the dining table legs to avoid Table Leg Collision Syndrome, which "hit" just about everyone. Ouchie!
Two problem that we may have next year if there are another two gamers: we run out of beds, and the nook becomes a wargaming room instead of a puzzle table. If this gets any bigger, we will have to consider getting a second house, which would cost something like $1000 and up for the week. This would increase the costs considerably, although with eight people attending that ends up something like $120 per gamer - really quite cheap considering that it gets spread around. However, I do like having everyone in a single space, and we are nowhere near being in this situation. The biggest issue is that we have to know that people will attend and they must commit the funds regardless of whether or not they attend, and we have to know about a year to 18 months in advance. Also, houses tend to rent Friday to Friday, although we will probably have a subset that isn't there for the second weekend. Again, a problem we aren't faced with immediately.
Length - A
Mike and I discussed the idea of running the week from Sunday night through Sunday afternoon instead of arriving on Monday. I'm very open to this, and think that perhaps a Saturday to Saturday session might be the wisest. I'm not quite sure that I can take many more days than we already have, as a lack of sleep starts to really hit you in your 40s, but if I can swing a couple of afternoons where I take care of house issues rather than play games, or sleep in/nap a few days, I may just host from Friday night through the following Sunday afternoon next year. Of course, people can come and go as they like, and this may work out better for some folks who only want to come for a couple of days. I'll consider this over the winter and see how others feel and if this would improve anyone's chances of attending if even for a few days. On the other hand, this is about as close to as long as I can continually game in one stretch, so I give it an A.
Overall - A-
While there are a few tweaks we can make, I have to say that we have pretty much come up with a format that keeps everyone fresh but having a great time through the entire week. Special thanks to Chuck for driving the schedule, as this is the single biggest factor in the success of the session.
One thing that I personally found to be helpful to me was bringing a few things to do during games where I might have some downtime. Between clipping Chuck's Nine Navies War set (during Britannia), opening and organizing my WoW:CCG boosters (during Runebound), and replacing our back door hanging screen (during AVL), I never felt like I was spending a lot of time waiting for someone else to make their play. Next year I'll probably bring a knitting project, especially if I'm playing the Germans in AVL (those STAVKA activations are murder), definitely more boosters, and definitely a game or four to clip. Other people will have other things that will work for them, but if there is anything that keeps me fresh other than knowing the game, knowing what complexity I can handle and for how long, and quality of rest, it is not sitting there bored for 15 minutes. This is not to say that *I* had this problem, nor that anyone else didn't, just that having something to keep me occupied for those periods where I had little to do will help me enjoy the week that much more.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who attended. This was my first wargaming experience with Tex, and I hope he had as much fun as I did - we have surprisingly similar senses of humor and taste in games. Mike is always a pleasure to play with, almost as much fun as it is to point out that he is whining about the dice again. If I can find a set that only rolls sixes, I will definitely pick it up for you. Chuck is about as close to being on my wavelength as anyone I know, and I enjoy how relaxed and entertained I am in his presence, especially gaming but also on the trip out - we don't even notice that there's music while we're in the car as we yap yap yap yap yap.
But my biggest kudos go out to Mimi, whose sparkling personality, sense of humor, nourishing nature, and intelligence made us all feel loved and taken care of the entire week. Mimi, you are always welcome in my home.
Only 51 more weeks to WBC-West '08...