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Gaming Meerkat

Reflection on gaming in general, with a specific focus on RPGs and RPG design.
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BGG.CON Wrap-Up

Rishi A.
United States
Alexandria
Virginia
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I am working my way through a box of clementine oranges on Thanksgiving afternoon while watching football. I'll see my family soon enough, but it's nice to have my first moments of quiet time since returning from BGG.CON to sink back into BGG and RPGG.

Since I have the blog, it feels more natural to write a post than to put up a GeekList.

Those of you who are on Twitter might have noted that I created a new account shortly before the con. It's @GamingMeerkat so check it out if you're on Twitter.

HELLO NEW FRIENDS!

This is my first trip to BGG.CON and the best part was the people of course. I expected to meet a lot of nice people who were passionate about games. But the best part was meeting all the weird, funny and entertaining people who seemed to be around. Practically everyone I met were people I would be happy to play with on a regular basis and it's sad that I may only get to see them once a year.

Having said that, I didn't write down the names of people I played with and can't remember everyone. So, instead of mentioning some of them, I'm not going to name names in this post. I don't want to offend people whose faces I can picture, even though I have no recollection of their names or avatars.

So, if I played a game with you and you're reading this, then you're my favorite of all the people that I met. Really, you were the best person at the con. I worship at the altar of you.

THOSE ZOMBIES JUST WON'T DIE

Since this is an RPG blog primarily, I'll start with those.

I really wanted to establish an RPG presence at the con, so I ran a game of Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) using the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, since I felt it would be a typical and familiar setting for people new to D&D. (Yes, I called Forgotten Realms "typical and familiar." Feel free to disagree.) I used pre-generated characters at 1st Level that I found on Kiel Chenier's website. I really like how the characters were built mechanically, though we didn't emphasize the jokey tone on the character sheets.

(As an aside, I have nothing against humor in role-playing, and I love comic relief characters. I just don't think it should be forced onto a game if it doesn't fit.)

I mostly concentrated on the game mechanics instead of story, which worried me a little. Fortunately, I think I gave exactly the right mix of story and combat for the players. The plot was a fairly straightforward one: Red Wizards of Thay stealing bodies from graveyards in order to raise an undead army. The combats were a little tougher than I intended, but everyone survived. And the players got a taste of a pulse-pounding combat where a couple of die rolls the wrong way would have turned it into a TPK. Though it's maybe not the best first experience, I'm sure it was a memorable one.

The best part is that one of the players was there because he was starting up his own D&D 4th Edition game and wanted to see it run since he had never played or ran a 4E game. I am happy that the session had practical value in addition to being a fun thing.

I also have to compliment the designers who designed the D&D Essentials versions of zombies. Whenever a zombie is dropped to 0 hit points (on a non-critical hit), the DM rolls a d20. On a roll of 15+, the zombie doesn't actually die. It was very flavorful, though frustrating for the players when the zombies needed 4-5 additional hits to go down.

THE ANCIENT PERUVIANS CALLED IT THE END OF DAYS, EXCEPT IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE, WHICH I DO NOT KNOW

I also got in two games of Fiasco at the con - one pre-arranged game and an impromptu game at 5am. They were very different experience. The first game was a game of JL01: Objective Zebra with a group of experienced Fiasco players and the second was a game of The Ice with people who had never played.

The Objective Zebra game was driven by the fact that one of the needs was for one character "to tell him that he is the Chosen One." It was a silly game (though not completely gonzo) which turned really dark at the end. One thing I also liked is that the game could have gone in a completely realistic or supernatural direction until the last pass of scenes, where we finally decided on the supernatural.

The 5am game was completely gonzo game of smuggling illegal bacteria out of Antarctica since, well, it was 5am. I did convince other people to play by telling them it was the only game I had the brain space for at that hour. What I meant was that I wanted something without structure and rules - though I neglected to realize that even though the Fiasco rules were familiar to me, it is a little bit of effort to get new people to wrap their head around it. It was still fun, and both of the other players seemed interested in playing again in the future.

Both the games leaned towards the silly, which is fine. With new players and with strangers, as the Fiasco Companion astutely points out, gonzo is the easiest way to go. My games with experienced players are moving more towards the serious, and I think it's a testament to the system that it can handle so many modes of play.

BOARD GAMES! BOARD GAMES! BOARD GAMES!

If you're looking for an excruciating recap of everything I played, then I'll give you my phone number and I'll tell you more than you want to know. I will log my plays when I get a chance, so you can look at that if you're curious.

I liked most of what I played so I'm not going to talk about the games that I actively disliked (I'm looking at you Panic Station), but let's talk about the highlights.

Newer games - The highlight of the con was Quarriors!, which I never played before. It's a deck-building game where you're building a pool of dice rather than a deck of cards. I played three times at the con and then bought it and have played it three more times since then. I like that it's fast and has interesting decisions in it. And unlike other deck-builders, there's enough randomness to balance out inequities in skill level. I think better players will still win more often, but everyone has a chance. It still may be lacking a little depth, but it's still a blast.

I was surprised by City Tycoon, which came out of nowhere. It's a tile-laying game where you have the draft the tiles. The heart of the game is choosing your tiles and then choosing which ones to build (it's unlikely that you'll get to build everything).

I really think that Alcatraz: The Scapegoat is a cool concept, though I'm still unsure how I feel about the game. It's a great twist on the semi-cooperative game. Instead of having a traitor, you have a scapegoat. It's public information who the scapegoat is. And in the game, even if the players win, the scapegoat loses. So either one player loses or all players lose. Also, the scapegoat gets extra powers and can change every turn. I played twice, with mostly the same group of players. In the first game, we played it like a typical cooperative game, which made the game easy, but the scapegoat on the last turn (me) was pretty bitter about the whole thing. In the second game, the scapegoat performed active acts of sabotage, and the game was nearly impossible. I think in subsequent plays, the right balance between cooperative and cutthroat play will be found but my final verdict on the game is still unclear until that balance is found.

I am really hoping that Kingdom Builder will become a staple gateway game. The rules are simple and intuitive and it's easy to teach and play. This is a game that I am going to buy because it will be really easy to get to the table. It's almost completely abstract, but that doesn't bother me.

I also have to mention 1812: The Invasion of Canada, which I jumped into fairly randomly and enjoyed. It's a hybrid wargame/Euro where three players are playing the British/Indians/Canadians and the other side is playing the American civilians/militia. It has really clean and simple rules with a decent amount of depth. Plus it plays in about an hour. It really only works with exactly two players or exactly five players, but that's the only negative thing I have to say.

Older Games - I can't believe I hadn't played Rattus before. It's a light game with elegant mechanics. Plus, who doesn't like the plague? Besides Medieval Europeans, of course.

I jumped into an annual game of Indonesia. The game was good and the players were even better. It was just a great group of guys joking and laughing through the whole experience. I didn't even feel the considerable length of the game. But what I liked was that typical economic games are fun for me, but I feel like they're over just as I get the hang of them. That wasn't a problem in this game. Also, insert obligatory complaint about the map here.

One of the most memorable games of the con was Clue: The Great Museum Caper. I sat down because I couldn't believe people were playing it. It's completely unlike Clue. One player plays an art thief and the others are trying to find him on the board. It's like a simplified version of the Scotland Yard mechanic.

So maybe I like racing games? I played TurfMaster with a group of drunk obnoxious guys and loved the mix of simplicity and subtlety in the game. Again, I'm not sure if I would have had fun if it wasn't for the company.

Finally, I have to mention Freeze. If an improv acting party game sounds appealing to you, this is a good one.

LESSONS LEARNT

So I did expect to meet new people and play games with random strangers, and I did that. But honestly, before the con, I expected to hang out in the hot games room and start working through older games that I never played. I even had a list of 100 or so games that I had never played but wanted to. By Friday, I had completely abandoned the list and started jumping into any opportunities that I had. And this was the way to go.

I am not going to go so far as to say that the games you're playing don't matter, because I think they do. But I think the con reaffirmed my faith in the fact that people are more important than games. The right group of fun players can't turn a bad game into a good game, but they can turn an okay game into a great game and a bad game into something that wasn't a complete waste of time.

Thank you for everyone who made BGG.CON a success. If you can afford it (in terms of both money and time off) but are on the fence about going since you're wondering how much fun it could actually be, then I have to say that I expected the con to be a lot of fun and it even exceeded those expectations.
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