Tuesday, March 30, 2010

GameStorm, Day 2

Sorry for the delay in publishing this, I had thought I had free Interweb access from my room, but it turns out that I just managed to get in without paying. The free access was in the public spaces. Anyway, on we go!

Day Two was unusual in that I had actually slept extremely well the night before. Yes, I was up until 2am making sure the library got shut down and the room got closed up, and I was up at 8am to get to my first game on time, but I usually have a lot of trouble sleeping in strange places. Here, I slept like a baby despite only one synthetic pillow and forty seven down pillows. Next time I'll remember to bring my own.

First up was a game of Dungeon Lords at the Z-Man area, with Chris, his son Jake, and Justin. Dungeon Lords is a pretty standard "place a lot of markers, do a lot of things" game in the stripe of Caylus, Pillars of the Earth, Stone Age, Cuba, etc. While I'm a fan of these kinds of games, I generally have been staying away from most of them because there seem to be so many. DL stands above the rest on a couple of points - the components are marvelous and really evoke the theme of swapping roles from most dungeon delve games, and of course the actual fighting the parties that raid your dungeon at the end of each year (one turn). I should also mention that you need to be considering what sort of opponents you'll have in your dungeon, which is slowly but surely revealed as the turn goes on and is then based on just how "evil" you are. I've been itching to give this a shot, and I'm delighted that I was finally able to. This one will be added to my collection. Justin won in a game where we had absolutely no idea how well we'd do, largely on his unconquered tiles.

After lunch, I wanted to spend equal time in the Rio Grande Games tournament, and had picked Sylla as my game of choice, largely on the name, which was of course one of the creatures Ulysses had to sail between in the Odyssey. Except that it wasn't about that creature, but about Sulla, the Dictator of Rome around 72BC. I think most of you know that BC stands for Before Christ (and we are now moving toward the more religion-neutral "Before Common Era", or BCE). That did not prevent this designer from making Christians a major part of his design. While I understand that anyone not interested in ancient history or who has read even the first book or two of Colleen McCullough's Rome series will have the vaguest idea of who Sulla was or when he was the dictator will even notice, I sure did. Add on top a rulebook that had several vague sentences (essentially "this works like you'd expect it to work" in lieu of an actual rule), Vestal Virgins who are Christian (like Buddhist monks who are also Jewish), and rather dull gameplay, and you see pretty quickly that this may have been the low point of the con for me. Avoid at all costs.

Next up was the feature game for me for the day, a rare playing of History of the World. Unfortunately, we played the Hasborg edition, which is the least interesting to me of the three editions I own (also A Brief History as well as the "original" Avalon Hill edition - I don't own the original Ragnar Bros "tea towel map" game). I like this least because you are rewarded for having the most points at the end of each turn, which strikes me as being an example of the rich get richer. Yes, you also still get no choice of empire in the next epoch, but these points are often critical to winning the game and it's a bit of a crap shoot. There is a rule that eliminates these bonuses that I would request to use in the future, but it's optional. I also really like the original AH rule about "strength" - each empire is rated in points in terms of it's VP generating ability, and empire draw/pass order is based on this rather than VP. SP makes the game about doing the most with the least, and I really like that.

In our game, we only had four people, and in general I've learned that the game requires six to work as it's supposed to. In fact, the game did not function as it was supposed to - the guy who got the Romans won, largely because he also got an early empire after a very late empire in Epoch 6/7. Interestingly, the guy who got the most end-of-turn tokens came in third, although this was a wacky game as I was the only person with significant experience playing. However, my usual tactic of playing in out of the way places to generate lots of small VPs was defeated thanks to people going out of their way to kill my units because they had siegecraft played and nothing else really to do with their time. Savvy play for people who clearly didn't understand that strategy. I came in second with some very strong play with the Mongols in Epoch V after getting the Arabs (who sucked mightily in Epoch IV), followed by weaker empires in the last two epochs. I was able to score 150 points in the last three Epochs, and three of us exceeded 200 points in the game. That said, still a lot of fun and I met some very nice people in Matt, Dale, and Perry (who won in his first outing!)

My final game of the day was my second playing (ever, not of the day) of Martin Wallace's classic, Brass, but on a map of northern France and the Low Countries. I really liked the game the first time I played it, and I like it even more after this one, aside from the difficulty of figuring out what the various French language cards meant when representing the various buildings (ironworks was particularly difficult to figure out for some reason). Also, the map was laminated pieces that hadn't been trimmed. Note to DYIers - cut the sheets down to their working sizes before laminating so we can abut the pieces correctly! One town was on one sheet, but connected to two others with no connections on the town's sheet, making it difficult to parse the board effectively. That said, it was a good variant and one I'd buy if it were professionally produced (or the equivalent, as with the most excellent fan-produced version of Pampas Rails I saw the next day).

In our three player game with Cary and Anna, very nice people I'd met at EGG in February, we had a very interesting game. I had a good first round that saw me with a lot of factories left over going into the second round, and I felt I was in it right up until Anna stole my Ship Building spot that I was developing into and Cary overrode one of my Ironworks. Still, I managed to nail over 50 points just for my rail lines, and the scores ended up 148 for Anna, 149 for me, and 153 for Cary. Wow.

Aside from Sylla, the day was sullied only by the failure of the ice machine to work on my floor, and no easy way for me to get from floor to floor other than the very busy elevator to get ice from a different machine.

Friday, March 26, 2010

GameStorm 12, Day 1

Thursday morning dawned bright and rainy, a typical March day in Portland. I was packed and ready to head out the door, but why I thought that I could get to Vancouver, WA from Wilsonville with four stops in 30 minutes is beyond me. I got to the hotel before noon, ready to make sure everything was where it was and get things set up.

Of course, what I did was watch the con shake down over the rest of the day. From table schedules that didn't take multi-table events into account, to sign up sheets that got left on a Kinko's truck somewhere, it seemed that the entire day just sort of broke down from the start. Fortunately, everything seemed to have a solution, although I missed the first game I was scheduled for, Age of Steam: Zombie Apocalypse when things needed doing right as Mike started to explain the game.

As such, my gaming day started five hours later at 7pm with a pretty hilarious game of The Last Night on Earth. This is a title we tried at Sunriver a couple of years ago but it didn't receive a particularly fair reception and I'd decided to get rid of my copy as I just didn't think it would get played. At the con we played a six-person game where Steven and I were the zombies, and things were looking good as we'd been discarding down the Human deck pretty rapidly, and things looked very good for us right up until the action card that was depleting their deck got taken out. After that, it was goodbye zombies. We didn't eat a single human. Still, more fun than I'd had in my first outing, although I'm not going to buy it again.

With a little time to kill before I had to be at the library desk, I sat in on a teaching game of Dominion with Matt and Wes. This was Wes's first play of the game, and we used the basic teaching deck from the original box. I went for the Mine strategy, and was doing pretty well, but hadn't focused enough and Wes had gotten one more Province than I had (the difference in the score). Dominion continues to be one of my favorite recent releases, although I know some have burned out on it. The speed with which you can teach someone to play and having fun is really amazing, and the versatility is approaching infinity in terms of card combos.

Then it was on to manning the library, which was long and a bit tedious. We had one exciting moment when I realized that no one was scheduled to open the room in the morning until after 7:30am, but the Men In Black had events scheduled at 7am, but the security team did a great job of finding a solution quickly. The down side was that there was already a game running at the library counter, and I was uncomfortable starting up the Washington's War game with Chris while it was going. By the time they cleaned up, though Chris had gotten into a game with Tom Lehmann, and that was that. We hope to get a game up on Sunday, but I'm not holding my breath.

Dave had finished up his Great Race scenario from the Settlers Das Buch set, and I had a couple of bottles of beer on ice in the room (I'd forgotten I had a case of Bridgeport IPA in the trunk of the car), so he stopped by and I gave him one. Of course, I did not have a bottle opener with me. I was able to get the caps off with a key and that was the end of Day One. A more exciting start than I had hoped for, but a good start.

I had very good and candid talks with both Phoenix and Aaron about the next steps the con needs to take in the future. Primarily, I'd like to see two things: documentation of the con process available to anyone who might need it, and formalized communication channels instilled into the culture. I think that if those two things happened (and frankly, the latter can be driven by the former and vice versa), I think there is a very good chance that the con can start to learn from it's mistakes more quickly. For now, far too much is held in the heads of a handful of people who all have different ideas about how things should get done. Distill that information into an accessible and usable form, drive use of that information, and the problems caused by individuals who seem to have an overinflated sense of their own skills will be mitigated to the point where it isn't a chore to get people involved.

Day Two should run a lot smoother, and I'm looking forward to it quite a bit!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting Ready For GameStorm

After a long and sometimes painful prep period, GameStorm 12 has arrived. Actually, it arrives in something like 20 hours, but that's close enough for government work. I've got the games I'm taking boxed up (only one crate!), the laptop ready, and I pack my clothes tonight. My intent is to be at the hotel at around 10am on Thursday to help out with a variety of things, make sure the hotel followed our floorplan for tables in the boardgame area, help Chris S. with the library, and anything else I can come up with. I'm also expecting to help the woman running the Z-Man demos get her area set up as well.

GameStorm has, surprisingly, had a negative effect on my gaming for the month - only seven games played, almost all of them at the three Tuesday sessions my game group holds, and I won't make the last two because of proximity to GS.

That said, the schedule is done, the event coordinator is happy, and I'm looking forward to catching up on some Caprica episodes tonight before getting a good night's sleep. I got in an excellent 15 mile bike ride today (not bad for this early in the year, both from a weather and a duration POV), and I'm about to take the dogs for a quick W-A-L-K before going out for dinner. After so much frenetic work, it's nice to be able to relax for a bit before going into what is going to be a four day Death March of gaming.

Here's my schedule for the long weekend:

Thursday - I start with Age of Steam - Zombie Apocalypse, run by my good friend Mike, that will take up most of the afternoon. After dinner, I'm keeping with the theme by playing Last Night On Earth (just to see if there was something I missed in my earlier play), followed by manning the Game Library while playing Washington's War with Chris B.

Friday - You might call this Doug Does Demos Day. First up will be playing a variety of new Z-Man titles in the Z-Man demo area. After lunch, I'm going to try out one of the new RGG games Tex will be demoing, in this case Sylla, then I'll try my hand one more time at the Hasborg edition of History of the World, my least favorite of the three versions I own (including A Brief). I'll round out the evening with games of Automobile and/or Steam. It will be a very busy day.

Saturday - This is my day to GM, in particular the Conflict of Heroes campaign event. I'm keeping the morning open in order to have a little more brain power to help do the 'splainin' and run the campaign. For a reward, I'll play in the Race for the Galaxy tournament in the late afternoon, followed by Dave's Settlers Catan Express game, ending up with a little late night Liar's Dice.

Sunday - I've signed up for *nothing* on Sunday. I guess I must have gotten interrupted somewhere along the line when I was picking games! It's closed now, even for admins. I expect I'll get in on some more demos, maybe something from the Bleeding Edge games set, or maybe I'll sneak into the RuneWars Epic game, which will take a good part of the day. There's also a Power Grid: Brazil tournament at the end, which would take me right up to 7pm. Regardless, I expect that it will be laid-back day of gaming, mostly just recovering from the previous three days and no sleep (I sleep terribly in hotels). I also plan to attend the feedback session.

I expect to do some blogging from the con itself, much will depend upon how well the WiFi works in the rooms.

It's been a few years since I got to GameStorm, even more since I was involved in the planning. I think my involvement was a positive thing, it was certainly nice to work with the Chris's on the boardgame area, and I felt like we all picked up various parts of the slack, mine in a great huge bunch right at the end. That said, I'm very much looking forward to *not* worrying about the con for a few months. Or years.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Phantom Leader

In between extended bouts of scheduling for GameStorm, I managed to play a campaign from the newly released Phantom Leader solitaire wargame from Dan Verssen Games. Having played DVG's Hornet Leader II on VASSAL, I needed very little prep time to play, essentially only clipping counters and sleeving cards.

Way back in the early 90's, a fledgling GMT Games released two solitaire modern air games - Hornet Leader, focusing on carrier air operations in modern conflicts, and Thunderbolt/Apache Leader, which focused more on ground support in a land war. Dan Verssen and Gene Billingsley were the designers/developers. The games were popular, with both fetching high prices in the used market after they went out of print. I bought T/AL when I was lucky enough to find a store in San Francisco that had it in stock when I was on a business trip. I bought Hornet Leader while it was still in print, and it was the game of choice that I took on business trips back in the days before I had a laptop handy to play in the hotel room on nights I had nothing else to do.

I will assume that the reader is familiar with Hornet Leader, but for those who have never played or seen the game the core idea is that of resource management - you have a "stable" of aircraft and pilots on your carrier, who must execute a series of missions of varying size and difficulty. Each aircraft is loaded out with various modern weaponry, from air-to-air missiles to camera-guided missiles to old-fashioned iron bombs. Pilots can become "shaken" and as a result have lower combat effectiveness, and aircraft can be destroyed or damaged with a variable repair time. Missions were carried out over a generic 3x3 battlefield grid with the target in the center and both ground-based and air-based defenses in the center and the inner ring (called the "approach" area).

T/AL was a much different game in feel, although the core resource management mechanisms were left more or less intact.

Hornet Leader in particular was the recipient of a couple of campaigns published separately in GMT's C3i magazine, one concerning Iraq (original Desert Storm version) and Korea. There were also several additional weapons systems added, as well as the ability to add some extra aircraft such as stealth fighters.

When Dan Verssen struck out on his own, he began by publishing VASSAL/DTP games, some of which used the Leader system as their foundation. Of these, Hornet Leader II (HL2) was the one I picked up in the VASSAL version. There were considerable changes to the system, including the idea of Stress being point-based instead of a die roll, the elimination of separate aircraft from the pilots, and a much different combat system that was much simpler to execute. In general, I find the changes to be for the better, as the game moves along very quickly, with missions finishing in 30 minutes or so. HL2 has several add-on campaigns that add different aircraft and run from modern (post-Cold-War) campaigns to mid-80's hypothetical campaigns against the Russians. In all cases, it's assumed that the Hornets are flying against Russian hardware, if not against Russian pilots.

Phantom Leader, which was a GMT project for some time under the name Thud Leader (named after the F-105 Thunderchief, a very good ground support aircraft but a terrible fighter), is for all practical purposes the same system as HL2. All of the changes to the system are still in place, with the single exception of the Political Track which reflects the changing rules under which combat aircraft operated in Viet Nam. Taking place in the late 60's into the early 70's, the weapons systems are surprisingly similar to those in HL2, the primary exceptions being HARMs (high-speed anti-radar missiles intended to take out Surface to Air Missile launchers), which was just becoming a part of the battlefield at the time.

The game comes with six different campaigns, three of which are USAF and three of which are USN (Air Force and Navy, respectively). This is very interesting, because USN units were based in the Gulf of Tonkin and thus had a much shorter range to targets in North Viet Nam, while USAF units must travel from the Philippines or from South Viet Nam airbases. There are three periods - War in the South in 1965, Rolling Thunder in 1967, and Linebacker in 1972. Each has limits on the types of aircraft and weaponry that is available.

Once you've selected a campaign and a length (short, medium, or long, each of which varies based on the campaign), you select aircraft based on the experience levels of the pilots. The F-4 Phantom, clearly the "star" of the game and the most versatile aircraft represented, is not the only aircraft you can select, however - there are Super Sabres, Thunderchiefs, A-4s, A-6's, A-7's and other aircraft of the period. Interestingly, you gain "Special Operations" points for taking non-Phantom aircraft, which can be used for several different benefits during the campaign.

Each mission in the campaign follows the same sequence of play, divided into Pre-Mission, Mission, and Post-Mission phases. Pre-Mission involves selecting a target, chosen based on the Recon level (which initially allows you to choose from one of three targets). You can also use SO points to draw extras if you wish. There is also a Political Track which dictates which targets you are allowed to attack - bigger targets tend to require a higher political level, which becomes harder to maintain if you choose targets of high political value. You also draw the air-to-ground defenses, which consist of AA, SAMs, and small arms fire from infantry at this time. Finally, you choose which pilots you wish to take and load them up with ordnance, each of which has Load Points. Different targets will require more fuel and thus fewer Load Points available, making some targets more difficult to destroy.

The mission itself involves determining if there is a Target-Bound event (which can be good or bad), finding out if there are enemy aircraft over the target, placing your aircraft on the battle grid, seeing how good your intel was (again, sometimes good, sometimes bad), and if you've gained enough Intel points for destroying various targets, you may be able to remove a ground-based Site or an air-based Bandit. Then the combat starts in earnest.

In HL, pilots were rated Aggressive, Normal, or Defensive. In PL, they are either Fast or Slow. This is important, because enemy sites and bandits fire *after* Fast pilots and before Slow ones. Also in HL, any HARMs fired were done before the SAMS did (as they reacted to Lock-Ons immediately), but in PL the tech isn't quite there yet, so they fire as any other weapons package. Combat consists of rolling a d10 and trying to hit various target numbers. For enemy fire, each firing unit has a three number rating. If they hit the highest number, the target aircraft is destroyed. The middle number damages the aircraft (effectively taking it out of the combat, although it can stay over target), and the lowest number simply adds stress to the target pilot. Target aircraft in this case may roll to see if their Electronic Counter Measure pods spoil the attack, may go evasive, and/or may have any aircraft in range try to suppress the attack by firing ordnance at the firing unit.

The Phantoms (and other aircraft) by comparison are simply trying to generate hits. If on the target, the number on the weapon package may have from one to three numbers, and hitting that number or higher generates one or more hits. For example, a Mk 84 Iron Bomb has a rating of 5/7/8, which means a 5 or 6 causes one hit, a 7 causes 2 hits, and an 8 or higher causes 3. These numbers may be modified by the pilot's skill at air-to-air or air-to-ground combat, sometimes in a negative way. If you hit a site or bandit, it's destroyed. If you hit the target, it takes that many hits. If you get enough hits on the target, it's considered destroyed, and if you come back with all of your aircraft the mission is considered a success and generates a number of victory points. Once all of this folderol is done, you can move your aircraft one area, change altitude (which will affect which weapons you can deploy and which sites can attack you), and the enemy bandits move as well.

Your aircraft have up to four turns over target. Once they decide to get the heck out of Dodge, the Mission part is over. Post-Mission consists mostly of checking for Post-Mission events (hold a couple of weapons in case you run into enemy forces on the way back, which are highly abstracted) and then some admin tasks to figure pilot stress for the mission, experience points, and to see if any pilots that ejected over target require search and rescue. Pilots that get enough XP to flip to their reverse sides get improved stats and a higher experience rating.

Once you've completed the requisite number of missions, you compare your VP to the mission goals and see how you did. There are five levels of success, ranging from "Great" to "Really Not Great". Or something. In my 6 mission USAF medium length Rolling Thunder campaign, I scored 15 VP, enough for Good but three points short of Great. Looking back, I would have needed to have been aggressive with my target selection in order to get a Great result, but I almost certainly would have had more difficulty choosing targets as most of these lower your Political points significantly.

So how did I like the game? I've had very mixed results with DVG games, to be honest. I've really enjoyed his Field Commander series, and despite intellectually understanding that Down In Flames (which he has republished - GMT published four games under this moniker as well) is not much of a simulation and often not much of a game, it is still a sentimental favorite. I find the rules often overly simplistic and hard to parse at times. PL did a very good job of organizing the rules (although I would have put the rules for the ECM Pods in the combat section), although I was more or less familiar with the system before even starting so I'm a bad person to judge.

The counters are larger in PL than in HL, and the 22x17" map has been broken out into three separate 8.5x11" heavy cardstock sheets. Cards are much higher quality than in the original HL game, with rounded corners and a heavier stock, although I recommend you sleeve the Event and Target cards. There are no more Campaign cards, the information for which is now on the various play aids.

When I first got HL2, I was very confused by the way that things were done compared to HL, but once I figured out the system I found it to be very straightforward. In HL, bandits and sites operated differently from each other, but now they work exactly the same. Having more control over things like stress reduction and choosing targets makes for a game with more control, which is always a good thing. Many of the weapons (smart bombs, guided ATG missiles) require use of the SO points, so there's an additional resource management element that I find I really like. Do I load up on long-range missiles to avoid having to face heavy AA, or save the points so that I can make sure the pilots all get extra R&R to relieve the stress levels? In HL, you got a mission and did it, and how quickly pilots recovered was not up to you. Now it's something you can do something about.

The other thing I'm very happy about is that you can play as Navy or Air Force, which have different aircraft (other than Phantoms, and even then there are a lot of similarities other than the lack of gun pods on the Navy aircraft through Rolling Thunder). Being able to mix and match aircraft is nice as well, allowing you to have more mission-specific aircraft (A-6's for ground attack but useless for air combat, for example).

All in all, I think that while this is really not a significantly different game in execution than HL2, it does have the benefit of being a professionally published game as opposed to VASSAL or DTP. I really prefer to have a physical game under my fingers, especially since I can put the game into my poster frames and thus in the art trays I use to store games in progress. I find that these games play faster as well since I don't have to fiddle with using the mouse for everything.

Having dipped my toes into the Downtown system a year or so ago, I am very interested in the Viet Nam air war, and I'm happy to have a game that I have an opponent for (me). While it's nowhere near as detailed as Downtown, it does scratch the itch to a certain extent.

If you played HL or T/AL years ago and are looking for a new game that has evolved in some really neat ways, this is an excellent choice for you. If you want a game that you can play for an hour or two then put away, playing a campaign over a few nights, this is also a good game, and very portable if you travel. However, if you're looking for a detailed simulation, this does some things very well and abstracts quite a few others. Viet Nam era bombing raids were very involved, with fighter sweeps, Iron Hand missions to take out ground defenses, and photo recon runs after the fact. PL will not simulate any of these in anything other than the highest level of abstraction, so if you want a game that does those things I recommend Downtown if you can handle the complexity and prep time requirements.

All in all, no surprises here from HL2, which is a Good Thing. So far I have played three of DVG's solitaire systems, and I've enjoyed all three of them.

Even better, this counted as my solitaire wargame for March, so I got it out of the way quickly and easily!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Long Time No Post

It's been a little while since I posted to this forum. The main reason has been my involvement with scheduling a regional gaming convention held in Vancouver, WA (part of the greater Portland, OR area). I have been serving on the Boardgame Committee, and have been specifically responsible for figuring out the room layouts for the boardgame portion, as well as being responsible for scheduling games in that area.

I've learned a few things, mostly about people, in this process.

The first thing is that scheduling 250 games submitted in an online database that is, for very good reasons, coming up to speed a little late in the process is time consuming and difficult work. It requires a lot of concentration, good people skills, good organizational skills, and an ability to work with people who may not have all of the social skills one might wish for. Actually, it's remarkably like doing high-end customer support work for a computer-aided engineering software company, which I did for six years or so.

The second thing I've learned is that if your overseeing organization isn't smart about consistency and learning from past mistakes, your job will be much harder. In this case, there is no best-practice available for the various people scheduling rooms. I've seen complaints from people who aren't getting any information from the people doing the scheduling for their section, in particular role-playing games.

Here's the process that I've used/developed over the past 12 days or so. Note that the online scheduling software/database is in more of a late-alpha state than I might like, but the guys doing this are working hard to get it where it needs to be, so some of what I'll lay out as a proposed best-practice is not what I was actually doing.

The first step in the process is to take a proposed event by a game-master and decide if the game will be scheduled or not, in my parlance "accept" the game. There have been very few games I've turned down, mostly because we already have several sessions of that game scheduled already. This year, Power Grid got a lot of time, mostly because of the new maps that came out and partly because one gamer is bringing a special edition map from Germany. I also asked a couple of people who had proposed a game that was already scheduled three times by the Men In Black from Steve Jackson Games to perhaps find a different game to run.

The only other reason I'd reject or discourage a game would be one that involved physical violence or strong sexual material (nudity, etc). GameStorm is a family-friendly convention, and so we have to be kind of careful about that sort of thing. In fact, the Live Action Role Play folks have a few things that fall under this rubrik, and we're taking steps to make sure that they are set away from the main body of the convention so as not to "freak the mundanes". I love that line.

Second, I contact the Game Master (GM) via email, which they provide when they sign up to run a game. I used a boilerplate for the important stuff that everyone needs to know, and it helped some. If the GM didn't submit a preferred time, I would ask them for one. If they were running multiple instances of the same game but at different times, our website required that they create a proposal for each timeslot, which was not great but all of the GMs I worked with were willing to do this. Next year we should have a "clone" button that makes this much easier.

I should note at this point that for some reason it was decided that Accepted status wouldn't be listed in either the Proposals portion of the scheduling website, nor in the Sessions portion. After about 15 games disappeared from the list one morning, all Accepted, I decided not to use this status anymore, which is a bit dangerous. In fact, one of the early proposals never got back around to creating their duplicate entries, and I'm sure there are more that never replied to me at all but got confirmed anyway. That's why an Accepted status is so important.

Once I get the necessary confirmation from the GM, I then schedule the game. If they had given a preferred time in their proposal, I had already pencilled in the game on a separate spreadsheet that I used to view the entire schedule graphically, as the online software doesn't really do this. Yet. At this point, the game is considered "Confirmed" and is viewable on the Sessions page of the website.

There have been several GMs who wished to reschedule games, especially as the schedule became populated and they became aware of other games they wanted to participate in. This starts to get a little sticky, as it's often the case that someone who signed up for the game that a GM wants to move did so because of the time slot as much as anything else. Fortunately, I have email addresses available for all of the players who have signed up for a game, so I can contact them and alert them to any changes. I also alert the GMs if I make changes (other than moving from one table to an identical one, unless there's a spacial issue involved such as running multiple games at once at adjacent tables).

Finally, I do a double-check to make sure that both my spreadsheet and the online list of events matches up. In most cases, a discrepancy clues me in to the fact that something isn't where it should be, and by keeping my e-mails I can generally figure out which is correct and "fix" the other. This part is particularly time consuming, but critical. I spent four hours last night on this as today is the day that the information goes to the program book people for printing. In fact, I can't even upgrade any proposals because I don't want to get an entry stuck between states.

Key to the process is communication between myself, the hotel liasons, the person in charge of Events, the people coding the scheduling system, the GMs, and anyone signed up for the game. I took it as a point of pride when someone complained that the RPGs they'd signed up to run hadn't produced any communication at all, but the boardgame events they'd proposed had gotten very good communication from me. It's a bit of a juggling act, but one that's necessary and requires patience and a certain amount of faith. Not unlike GMing an RPG, to be honest.

What has amazed me is that there has apparently been no retention of any best-practices for scheduling. This convention is in it's 12th year and while I understand that the scheduling software is new, there is no excuse for not having a base process in place, much less making it easily available. My goal at the end of the year is to encourage a culture of retaining knowledge so that future years won't run into the same problems over and over. This is especially true when an organization churns over it's leadership every year, with people taking new roles. When the woman who is the liason with the hotel started her report at a recent board meeting, attended by a couple of industry guys, by saying she had no clue what she was doing, that summarized the entire problem in just a few words. After 12 years, no one should be clueless. Everyone should have a very clear sense of who has what responsibilities, who is dependent on other bodies in the organization, etc.

Five years ago or so, I attended this convention after paying via Paypal online. When I arrived at the con, there was no record of my payment, and I spent about 90 minutes at the reg desk trying to get this sorted out. The next year, I didn't bother going to reg, but just went and enjoyed the con (I did, of course, pay the fee online ahead of time). No one asked to see my badge, and no one gave me any trouble. When it's easier to just skip the registration desk, that's a bad sign. I'm fairly certain this has been cleaned up considerably, but I really don't know as I haven't attended in a couple of years due to external conflicts.

Will I help out next year? After spending 60 hours on scheduling over the past 12 days, my answer today is no f*cking way. At the same time, I recognize that to simply walk away without at least attempting to cure some of the systemic issues this convention has is no solution at all, no matter what I suggest. As such, I will probably do some work to try to institute better and persistent communications, at least in the area of event scheduling. Otherwise, I'm just not sure.