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Pacificon 2011

David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
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3rd time at Pacificon (2008, 2010, 2011), 2nd time staying overnight. Intimate location with lots of improvements every year.

Here's the chronological order of what I did.

Friday
1405 - Arrived and missed Mansions of Madness and Glory to Rome by 5 minutes. Walked around, sat in the open gaming room and twiddled my thumbs.
1530 - Learned Three-Dragon Ante: Emperor's Gambit with Brandon and his father.
1600 - Learned Arkham Horror, hosted by James.
2000 - Played Twilight Struggle with Gary.
2300 - Flea market on Friday night seems to be the official curfew.
2345 - Done for the day after In-N-Out took 35 frickin' minutes to give me my order.

Saturday
0900 - Played Twilight Struggle with Matt.
1300 - Sold games at the flea market for 45 minutes.
1345 - Quick bite.
1400 - Tried out Gears of War: The Board Game with Craig and Sean.
1630 - Sean taught Pantheon to Craig and me.
1800 - Quick bite.
1830 - Battlestar Galactica with Craig, Sean, Chris and two other guys.
2215 - Another spin at Gears of War: The Board Game with Craig.
2330 - Taught Biblios to Shanthi and somebody else.
0000 - Gears of War: The Board Game, 4 of us.
0245 - Last ones out of the place!

Sunday
0900 - Ran a Runewars event, hosting Loyd, Michael & ???.
1300 - 15-min break in the game, quick bite.
1415 - 2 plays of Gears of War: The Board Game with Michael
1700 - Headed home.

Best New Game

Each convention I've been to has featured a game I greatly anticipate, learn, then obssess over. Last year, it was Battlestar Galactica, at Kublacon it was A Game of Thrones (first edition), and this time, I learned and played Gears of War: The Board Game 5 times over the weekend.

I waited to buy and try this at the convention, and on the first day, one of the dealers offered a generous $20 discount off the MSRP (he quickly sold out a whole table of them by the end of the night. First game I've ever bought at a convention! I paraded it around, hoping somebody would take the bait, and that was the first thing Craig saw when I dropped in at the game of Battlestar Galactica he was running. Craig and I always get together for fun Ameritrash games at every convention I've been to, and I wasn't surprised to find out his copy was already waiting at home.

On Saturday, I saw him, Sean and 2 others finishing up Rune Age, so I lurked nearby and got my wish. But it was an exceptionally rough game, as I had only read the rules once, when they were released. I had hoped to read it the night before, but was too exhausted after answering a midnight fire-drill from work. I did warn them it would be rough, but it was rough. I set the map up wrong, some rules felt weird to us (until we implemented them correctly after long look-ups), and it didn't feel right until an hour in, whereupon we quickly died. Craig seemed to enjoy it, but Sean seemed burned out by the experience (he didn't have video game fandom to keep his patience going).

Later that night, Craig and I tried it again 2-player, and it was fast and furious like the game's meant to be. It was fun and we played a lot better. But just as he prepared to seal the emergence hole, a Wretch unexpectedly dealt me 4 damage and downed me, and he was swiftly overwhelmed afterward. I had 4 health, but wrongly played that I bleed out when I hit 0 (it should be when you hit negative). One of many more wrong rules that snuck past my 5 plays during the weekend.

3rd time was not the charm, and this is the one I'd most like to have back. I found 3 young guys looking for a game Saturday night (I think they were the only ones still looking for a game, since Pacificon attendees are on the older side), and taught it to them. Here, my mistake (all weekend) of not taking out AI Card 7 (the most notorious rule mistake for this game) was intensified with 4 players, making the game downright impossible. Initial high spirits eventually gave way to boredom and disillusionment as the game stretched for 2.5 hours, 1.5 more than it usually is. We finally gave up after it became 2:30 a.m. and half the players were asleep. We had terrible luck all game sealing emergence holes (let alone sealing the 3 extra that popped up), and gave up after we had used our last grenade with the grenade box all the way at the start. "Sorry David, we like you but your game sucks."

Got in 2 more plays with Michael in open gaming before I left on Sunday, since we were both free after my Runewars event. First play went well, until he got complacent and decided to make a run for ammo, out in the open. All the Drones and Boomers immediately activated, and his blood spattered all over the place. I charged in to revive him and the Boomer had fun with his RPG.

Second time, we charged, and only just managed to sidestep the AI Card 7 issue by sealing the emergence hole in the nick of time (and AI Card 7 was the 3rd-last card from the deck). Then I was quickly downed as all the locusts suddenly charged us. I wrongly thought that the remaining locusts don't target him (and kill him) now that I was downed, but frankly after all those misplayed rules favoring the Locusts, we deserved the damn break. Against all odds, he held out against 2 Boomers and 2 Wretches with just 2-3 health, moving out, then throwing a grenade into the spot where everybody (including my corpse) was. "Screw you and your corpse, David!" he shouted gleefully as he tossed the grenade. Then miraculously, the Boomer didn't move against him after 2 consecutive locust activations. "Help me..." I groaned as I dragged my burnt and scarred body into his space. "Screw you, David! I have no time for this!" as he went on a killing spree on the Wretch and Boomer, then Guarded against the last Wretch with his last card/hp, concluding the bloodshed and winning us the game. Woohoo! Ended the con on a high note.

GM Fun

I never get the free time to play Runewars, so I usually host it at conventions, especially since very few people seem to play this game. At Kublacon, it did not go well as a very combative player was rude to all the other players and then up and abandoned the game 2 hours in, so I was prepared for the worst.

I set it at Sunday 9 a.m. as usual, since there'd be lower demand, and more chance that I'd get the 3-4 players I need, nothing more. At Pacificon, I shouldn't have worried, since there never seems to be enough players here. Loyd and Michael were new to the game, and somebody else had played a few times, but was still inexperienced. After
End of Year 4 Spring, when we took a 15-min break. Game was near an unexpected
conclusion. Unmarked-up image here.
20 minutes of rules, we were off and running. We played with the Battle of the Ru Steppes pre-made map.

In coaching them through the first year, I completely messed mine up. I Mobilized an attack before taking a neutral city, causing the neutral unit to retreat into the city, ruining my Rally Support plan for the whole year, and preventing me from getting 8 Food to complete my objective. Then I was the only schmuck who played Harvest in Summer, right before... Bountiful Harvest.

The good news was that I, as the Undead, was shielded from them at two chokepoints by two formidable neutral armies, which gave me time to build up. The first player-on-player conflict happened in Year 2, as the Daqan Lords clashed with Uthuk. Daqan Lords grabbed the early lead in dragon runes and surged. Latari soon got involved, causing a 3-way standoff. It would have been a 4-way, but I cowered behind my neutral bodyguards.

I became the only one with a full roster of heroes (others had 1 each after attrition) after I used Coercion on one of Uthuk's heroes. Daqan and I also completed our objective early, and he sat on 5 dragon runes, me on 4, Latari at 4, and poor Uthuk spun his wheels at 2 despite playing well and having a sizable army.

My first conflict came only in Spring of Year 4, but it was a ridiculously effective one. I used a Magic Portal to tunnel through and whack Daqan Lords hard after they got to 6 dragon runes (we were playing start with 2, play till 7 as a compromise between the normal game and epic variant). I then used Horrific Rumors to make my newly taken region, right outside the Daqan home realm, invulnerable, then had the evil plan to Fortify in Fall to build a stronghold there and move the dragon rune to safety, followed by a Recruit in Winter to start pumping out Undead units deep in Daqan territory, which was rife with dragon runes. I was sitting on 5 at this point, had a Timmoran Shard and was only 1 Reward away from using Captain of the Heroes' League (I had Political Control) to pick up the 7th. I actually had a chance to get a Reward in Summer with one of my 3 heroes, but it was too risky, and I decided to play it slow in favor of my evil plan to rape the Daqan lands.

But a shocker happened. Daqan Lords made an ill-advised move to attack Latari with roughly even forces, since the latter was the Commander of the Warriors' Guild. Latari then counter-attacked in the Fall, and gained 3 dragon runes, since that region had both a dragon rune and a dragon throne, and he completed his objective with it. Loyd, a newbie, scored the upset victory!

It was a fun game (just look at the picture I took!) that took 4 hours, with a 15-min food break in between.

Old Favorite

6 p.m. is "BSG Time", since Battlestar Galactica always seems to be run at that time. Craig, who's probably the most prolific and patient BSG teacher at local conventions, Sean, who was part of my first-ever BSG game, and I roped in Chris, whom Craig and I often play BSG with, and 2 other guys who played games with Sean all weekend. All of us were experienced with the all-expansion game, which doesn't happen often, and this boded well for a great game.

1 – Apollo
2 – Baltar
3 – Cally
4 – Cain
5 – Tory (me)
6 – Starbuck

Pre-sleeper went well. Early suspicion from me was that Apollo (Craig) was the cylon, since I’ve played several times with him and feel confident that I can catch his little “tells”. However, I’ve always had a hard time convincing others that he is a cylon since he’s always teaching the game and guiding newbies, making him seem like an angel to the other players (though I know better!!!). I resolved to throw him out the Airlock the instant I nabbed Political Prowess.

My cylon radar beeped even louder when I said that Chief the ally was safe to visit, then Apollo shared me a knowing wink and said that he would be fine (because of his Alert Viper Pilot ability). Later on, when somebody asked if Chief was safe to visit, I recapped that he wasn’t, but Apollo could visit him no problem, and then he seized on it, asking why I’d try and sabotage him by making him land in Sickbay. What the…?? Another contentious moment came up when I suggested we FTL at -1, which I always do, and Apollo, a veteran of hundreds of BSG games, complained loudly on why we should jump away and risk 1 pop. Thankfully he was overruled, Cain played Strategic Planning on the FTL roll, and he grudgingly followed on with the wishes of the group.

More cylon signals when the Detector Sabotage crisis came up (if failed, players can no longer look at Loyalty Cards, which harms Baltar’s OPG). This is a very frustrating crisis, because I feel like this should always be tanked since no resources are at stake, and who knows whether to trust Baltar anyway (especially when he wastes an action peeking at somebody’s loyalty). Apollo protested loudly, along with Baltar, and I shook my head, saying those two were looking awfully cylonic. Fortunately, Cally and Cain came to my defense, and agreed with me.

That was not the first time I suspected Baltar was in cahoots with Apollo. Baltar always made the most comically screwed-up faces when his turn came up and he pondered his action, and he was hmm-ing and haw-ing too much for my liking whenever it was his go. Even more damning for him, he sucked up 2 XOs by drawing 4 Quorum Cards (with a different aw-shucks face for each Quorum Card he saw), in spite of everybody reminding him repeatedly to play something so I (Tory) could benefit. “You don’t want me to play these Quorum Cards at all!” he said stubbornly.

On the mitigating-circumstances front, Apollo was utterly flawless in his duties as a CAG (I half-hoped he’d reveal whenever we XO’d him), and Baltar was generous with the XOs and drawing green with his Delusional Intuition ability. He also made the right choices on Water and Food Shortages, albeit only after Cally threatened to cap him after he chose to lose food on the first Water Shortage we saw. In fact, Cally repeatedly making death threats to Baltar was the most amusing part of the game pre-sleeper. She even offered to support me for President, but I didn’t want to appear too power-hungry.

I got sent to Sickbay later, and as I wailed for an XO, Apollo kept saying there’d be time enough to XO me out (nooooo what the hell!), and the turns slipped by as I languished in Sickbay. I really wanted to get out, because Sleeper was coming up, and I feared nobody would trust me with an XO at that point. No dice there. Sleeper came and went.

And I was a cylon.

That turned my world upside down. I had been so convinced that Apollo and Baltar were pre-sleeper skinjobs. Then I hid a smile when Baltar was revealed as the Sympathetic Cylon, giving the President title to… me. I cleared Baltar in my head, after seeing he was speaking the truth about the Quorum being cylonic: Arrest Order, Execute Prisoner, Encourage Mutiny, Resignation, Food Rationing… wow. I thought about lying and saying that Baltar was dirty, which meant Cally (whom he gave his other Loyalty Cards to) had to be a Cylon, but sealed my lips when I remembered that Cally had the first post-sleeper turn.

Cally was fully aware of the danger of XOing somebody immediately after sleeper, and had second thoughts about giving me an XO after she had promised me she would on the preceding turn. “Hey, you’re making me visit Cottle in addition to getting frakked in Sickbay!” I complained, after she announced she had placed a bad trauma on the doctor.

On hindsight, I should have taken the XO and moved to President’s Office and played Food Rationing to gain their trust, which would allow me to keep drawing cards with Tory’s ability and do sneaky things. Thing was: I had forgotten I was playing Tory since I never got to use her ability all game. And it didn’t help that when Cally gave me the XO, the player’s eyes were wide and pleading, and he said, “I’m taking a leap of faith here. Please don’t make me regret this.” How can you not pick up naivety like that, crush his soul with it, then throw it back in his face? That plea, more than anything, made me move to the Research Lab and play an Arrest Order on Cally.

Unfortunately, Cain’s turn was up, and I was under the gun. Investigative Committee was played, and Starbuck spiked it heavily, revealing herself to be the 2nd cylon. Still, the result was 10 or more and Cain had the option of leaving me to rot in the Brig (with Cally) or execute me. Executing me was good since I was the President, but bad since I was the next player. Eventual decision was to execute, especially after Baltar spoke up strongly, since he knew I had an Execute Prisoner.

The rest went largely to script. I used Caprica to play a crisis that Starbuck could spike maximally, then she revealed on her turn, which was right after me. Baltar the Sympathetic Cylon helped the humans mostly, and was forced to make an inefficient move to Infiltrate before we reached the Ionian Nebula (he had too much Benevolent trauma) instead of working on his agenda, which he failed (Convert the Infidels). Fuel and Population emerged as the constraining conditions, both reaching 1 after the Crossroads Phase.

Apollo got sentenced to death at the Ionian Nebula for consorting with skinjobs after the Opera House (and many more things, perhaps) was Revealed to him by Starbuck. I got the first turn out of the Crossroads Phase, but with jump prep already at 1, they got a jump prep on Baltar’s turn, and Engine Room on Cally’s turn. The fleet token was at the 2nd blue space, but with population at 1 and 2 consecutive cylon turns coming up, they made the right decision to take their 50-50 shot at winning before it dwindled to nothing. FTL Control was activated, Strategic Planning was played, the result was a 7, and the humans won by the narrowest of margins.

Tournament?

I toyed with the idea of playing in a Twilight Struggle tournament, but couldn't stand the idea of playing the same game over and over for the whole day. The tournaments were poorly attended (6 players or fewer) too, making it less tempting.

Played two games over the weekend, once in the practice event on Friday and once in one of the two tournaments on Saturday. I was U.S. in both. On the first, Gary Couped Italy with his first action, and curiously forewent his stronger starting positions in Asia and Middle-East to chase Europe. All the scoring cards came out in the first turn, and I was up 6, which boded terribly for USSR. My advantage slowly snowballed into a 20-VP win on Turn 7.

In the second game, I held an early 2-4 VP advantage, but the USSR clawed back in the mid-game. I had a nifty turn where I had both Central and South America, and got Domination in Central (failed at Realigning Cuba) and Presence in South (I had Allende, so he couldn't get into South America). I then broke the game wide open with Control for Africa Scoring (10 VPs when the VP marker had fluctuated between -2 and 2), which came out on the last possible turn, by staying out of low-stability countries and ensuring he couldn't Coup my battlegrounds.

Matt, my opponent, was friendly and chatty, and we had a good rapport early. But he spent a lot of time checking on his kids and getting distracted, which resulted in us being unable to finish the game (6 Turns after 3.5 hours), despite the GM's repeated reminders. The kicker was that, 30 minutes from the end, after some curious onlookers asked about the game, he proceeded into a 10-minute rules explanation of how to play the game while the GM and I watched in disbelief. He was a fun and challenging opponent, but I wish he could have respected the time limit more.

The Rest
I sold in the flea market for the first time, and got rid of nearly 20 games at fire-sale prices. The annoying thing with this is that on every single sale, after offering my very fair prices, the buyer would always ask, "Can you knock it down 5?". Then while he pulls out his wallet and brandishes a 20... "No change, could you just round it down?" I won't allow negotiations next time.

Learned Pantheon, almost as appeasement for Sean after dragging him through the mud in newbie Gears. Simple and pedestrian, like a Ticket to Ride with open information. One of those games where you could scratch your butt and still score points. Close win for me (58-56-52), after I focused on getting insta-points with gods, and had a big response to Sean's huge last-turn movement phase.

Arkham Horror, which I learned, was a huge disappointment. A huge sense of "do random things and have random things happen to you" without a way to tie everything together. Didn't help that I learned on James' heavily modded copy + 3 expansions. Never really read the spaces on each board, and never bothered to. I love games with a strong narrative, but not at the sacrifice of strategic options.

It's hard to get into a game at Pacificon, and it was especially so on Friday afternoon. I sat around for an hour and asked people in Open Gaming to no avail, and when I finally got to play, it was Three-Dragon Ante: Emperor's Gambit. Harmless enough filler, some sort of Poker for an alternate universe. We played 30 minutes, then called it to see who was ahead on money (playing till all but 1 were eliminated would take way too long).
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