Sunday, March 27, 2011

GameStorm 13 - View From The Trenches

In 2010, I served on the GameStorm 12 staff as the programmer for the boardgame section. We ended up with over 250 events, which because of scheduling software delays ended up happening over an extremely short period of time, about a month. GMs typically wanted to play in other games as well, so as the schedule filled up I needed to move games around in what ended up feeling a lot like it's own game, but we got 'er done and only one GM complained that I hadn't gotten them where they needed to go. While that was regretful, I felt that I'd done a hell of a job, especially considering that i personally contacted each and every GM, and tried to meet every one of them at the con itself. 

I was supposed to do this job again in 2011, but after my mother's health crisis of last summer I resigned that position, and given everything that has happened since then (taking over directing a choir for a dying friend, my own health issues) I was very happy to just be attending rather than planning. Given that my band Raindriver had a gig the last night of the con as well, which forced me to leave at 3pm on Saturday, I think things turned out well for me as a result. 

The Con was a little weird for me because my hypertension has been giving me tiny little migraine headaches and light sensitivity issues for the past couple of weeks. I was measuring my BP throughout the con in my hotel room, and it was a little higher than normal (back down to as low as it's been over the last couple of weeks as of this morning, thankfully), which I attribute to just being excited about being at the con. However, I did wonder from time to time if my headaches weren't going to interfere with my enjoyment. I definitely had less trouble in darker rooms. I also ran only two games and participated in only two others, which seems like not many until you realize that I still gamed for about 16 hours. 

The con itself seemed to be run quite well from my perspective, but then I didn't see all of the tiny issues going on behind the scenes like I did last year. Here are some thoughts on the con itself, then I'll discuss the games I played.

  • Registration. There was a time some years ago when I would go to GS with a prepaid registration and they would have no record of me and the people behind the desk just sort of shrugged. I would then attend the con without actually having a badge and was never challenged. This happened two years in a row. This time, I stopped by reg about 1pm and got my badge in less than a minute. I'm very happy to see registration run like a well-oiled machine, as this is the first experience a con-goer will have and thus should be as pleasant as possible. 
  • Information. I didn't access the program book more than once, and that was to see what the Dealer's Room hours were. Even then, I accessed it online. Maps were posted in several locations, as were schedules, and I never felt I needed to spend a lot of time figuring out where things were. The tables were numbered a little oddly, but to be fair I'm also aware that those sorts of things are problematic as best and as long as I can get to where I need to be I'm a happy guy. 
  • Venue. I freely admit that downtown Vancouver, WA (just across the river from Portland, OR) is not the first place I'd choose to host a convention. That said, the facility is very nice. My room was clean and had a great view of the park, the ice machine worked this year (it did not last year), and while I struggled a little getting my shower to work, in general things in the room were as I like them. The hotel itself is very nice, with video screens at the doors of all the rooms, and I went to the restaurant for the first time on Thursday evening and not only had a great steak but also had a really great waiter.
  • Pace. I had decided this year to focus on running a couple of games and scheduling a couple of games that I was unlikely to play anywhere else. Games were spaced out with lots of downtime between them - We went out for dinner on Friday at a local Thai place that was good, and so I had a four hour break between games that day. In the past I've tried to maximize my gaming time, and as I've aged I'm finding that I'd just as soon spend a little non-gaming time with my gaming friends, all of whom are great people. I intended to do some late night gaming on Friday in KC's suite, but that didn't work out. I ended up sleeping for about 10 hours on Saturday morning and was glad I did because I needed all of that energy for the gig Saturday night. I'll do this in the future when I'm not in a familiar bed, as I am at Sunriver.
  • People. Not a huge number of people from Rip City Gamers, but a lot of familiar faces and a few new friends. Special note to Steve, Rog, Lorna, and Andy from down the Willamette Valley who I know from Lorna's EGG events. I even made a few new friends, especially with Eric, who is also a musician and found my boozy humor during the Indy Arkham Horror game to be enjoyable. Maybe not a good thing to encourage, but then I'm a pretty happy and "funny" drunk! Also, two gamers I didn't know stopped by and introduced themselves, one of which is a reader of this blog. Thanks for being there in case we had enough people for two games of Alien Frontiers, Brent, and it was great to meet you! I'm always mildly amazed anyone reads this blog at all, frankly, but I'm glad people find it informative, entertaining, or at worst a distraction from the work day.
  • Alcohol. In 2010, I discovered I had a case of IPA Hop Czar beer in my trunk when I arrived at the hotel, and I made a point to drink a couple of beers (and share) before bed. The only problem was getting to a working ice machine, which was non-trivial that year. This year, I just brought fixings for Old Fashioneds and had a small flask that I filled with good bourbon (Woodhouse Reserve). Twice! After being sick for nearly two months and not being able to drink anything, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed drinking. I never found myself craving a drink during that time, but I do enjoy my bourbon and taking little nips throughout both Manifest Destiny and Arkham was nice. And I was inebriated during Arkham, but apparently not a problem. I don't normally like to be drunk when I game, so I consider that an anomaly. However, I should have been Marian for my character, as she always has whiskey ready.

Now for the games:

  • Manifest Destiny. I always enjoy this game, although I felt I got off to a very slow start and really struggled getting Pioneers. Five players require you to spend a lot of time thinking carefully about where you want to go in the turn order. I also didn't get a leader card until the *last* turn, so while I did get a little payout early, most of the time the cards weren't helping me so much as hurting others. My biggest complaint was the one guy (who left at the start of Era 3 to GM another game, which he did let us know ahead of time) who had to talk his way through his turns - he took about as long as everyone else did in a turn combined. Oh, and I had a period where my dice *sucked*. *Hard*. Nine tokens to put on the board, two made it. The new player, Steve, had Mexico and waited too long to play his initial Destiny card, but managed to win anyway, mostly because the Other Doug was so strong in the mid-game. I ended up taking second when Mexico declined to fight me for the final City and gave me the VPs for most, which combined with my money was enough to break a three-way tie for second and the moral victory. Mexico was a good six points ahead at the end and won handily. Nicely done, Steve! A fun game that doesn't see enough table time, although I can see the flaws in the game design. 
  • Advanced Civilization. Prior to this game, my gaming friends thought I was out of my mind to play an eight hour game with seven people I didn't know. Actually, this turned out OK. I stalled a little early and didn't have enough good city sites (I was Illyria, largely stuck in Italy with a brief civil-war-driven foray into southern Iberia), but I came in fifth only 20 points behind #4 (less than 1% of my points) which I considered to be a moral victory. Lots of those this weekend! The funny part was that about two hours into the game where we started having some issues with people taking a lot of time to manage their progression buying I looked across the room at my friend Greg, caught his eye, and mouthed the words "Help Me". Don't know that I'd play this with eight people in the future, but I would devote a day to a four or five player game at WBC West or EGG. I'm very glad I played, however, as this may be the only full game of Adv Civ I'll ever get in, almost certainly with this many players. 
  • Arkham Horror, Indiana Jones Variant. From a game perspective, this was not great for me personally, mostly because I really didn't get much chance to do anything. I'd mistakenly thought I needed three clues to close a gate early, so the gate I closed wasn't sealed. Then I got shut up in the Historical Society by some sort of for a couple of turns until I used a spell to drive myself crazy and teleport to the Asylum. Even then the damned snakes always seemed to be between me and wherever I needed to go, and I hate snakes. Near the end, the Doom Track was one token away from the Final Battle, and we were not even sort of geared for that particular fight (the Giant Pink Puffball Of Doom, who was immune to physical attacks, which was basically everything we had). Miraculously, we never placed that final token. The variant requires you to burn through an extra deck of special cards associated with various locations on the board by having encounters in those districts or streets, and then once you get to the last one (and have sealed the requisite number of gates as in the normal game) you turn it over and have a final fight to get the artifact and win. Unfortunately, I didn't have the necessary clues or dice to make this possible, and we lost at the last possible instant. All of that said, we had a ball. I got to say "I hate snakes!" about every five minutes, the company was excellent, and everyone had exactly the right attitude. Special thanks to Eric for not only being a great GM but also designing the variant, which I am considering having printed up (as Eric did) professionally. High point of the con for me.
  • Alien Frontiers. I ended up teaching and GMing this game but not playing. We had nine people signed up, but only six showed up and one was there to provide an extra game copy and run the second game if necessary. We prefer this with four, so he bailed and I GMed. This was the second game of this title where one player just ran away with the game at the end, playing four colonies in two turns. I think that perhaps there may be a need for stronger defensive play in this game and that it may be deeper than it looks. Then again, it may just revolve a little too much on luck. Time will tell, but for now it's still a game I enjoy. I went straight from picking up this game to the car and then home to prep for my band's gig, which went very well despite my fatigue. 

Thanks to the organizers, who put on a more or less seamless experience from my perspective. I know more than most how much work is involved in preparing for a con of this size, which apparently broke 1000 attendees this year. About my only complaint was that my neighbors in the hotel liked to slam their doors and speak loudly, usually at 2am or 6am, and that's not the fault of anyone running the con. I may have a model for future GS cons - get a room, enjoy delicious spirits and meals, spend time with friends you don't see often, and play games you don't get to play a lot, or provide games others want to try (like AF, which had a very limited print run and was nearly impossible to get without a preorder). And make people laugh, that's maybe my favorite part. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Dug. I'm the Alien Frontiers standby. Very nice to meet you in person after reading your blog the last couple of years. Wish I lived a bit closer and could game with you. We have a similar taste in many games and would've loved to have someone to play Battle of Normandy with after putting 100 hours into it solo. Regards.