A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

Archive for Conventions

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Virtually lighting a candle

Lowell Kempf
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Over Labor Day weekend, a group of us got together virtually because we couldn’t do it any other way.

As I have mentioned before, a couple of my friends like to rent out a meeting room at a hotel that is in the crossroads of enough of their friends and game all weekend. Obviously, that is not possible right now or at least not a good idea. So they combined Discord with Yucata and got as many folks as possible to game for five or six hours.

(As many have discussed, one element of a virtual convention or game night is that you simply can’t put the rest of your life on hold because it’s right there all around you. A few hours worked for this. Trying to virtually game for days wouldn’t have worked for anyone)

I only got in a couple hours myself (enough for one game of Hacienda which I lost horribly at) and the total number of participants may have been around ten, which is far smaller than any of the in-person gatherings.

But we made it happen. It is over-the-top and dramatic to say but it did feel like lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. And we might make it happen again.

Originally jotted down at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Sep 7, 2020 3:01 pm
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Memories of convention first impressions

Lowell Kempf
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Time for more con memories...

I have found that, with board games, first impressions can be completely wrong. It often takes multiple plays to figure out the hidden depths and flaws of a game. I think you can generally get a sense of those aspects but it takes some actual play time to make sure.

And conventions? Oh, they can make for the worst first impressions

To be fair, that’s kind of the idea. You are in a strange place that is designed for sensory overload. It’s an overwhelming experience. If someone handed you a brick and told you that throwing bricks through windows was the awesome new game of the year, you’d believe it for a moment. Hopefully a moment that doesn’t involve property damage.

Demos in the exhibit hall are probably the most extreme example. There’s a time limit since more potential customers need to see the game and the salesfolks just want to show you the highlights. Lots of pressure and as many awkward bits filed off as possible. I don’t blame the folks selling you stuff. That’s their job.

But two games that I now actively dislike were really amazing experiences for me the first time I played them. Grave Robbers from Outer Space (which I now dislike more Munchkin which is saying something) and Zombies!!! were games I played at some of my first conventions and they thrilled and chilled me.

In someone’s living, though, they fell apart.

Fortunately, somehow, despite being a game binger who had a tendency to buy everything in sight, I never actually got a copy of either of those games. I did end up with a lot of bologna that wasn’t that great during my first few cons, though.

I do wonder how game sales are doing this year with no live conventions. I have a feeling that Kickstarter is helping make upheaval difference.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Aug 14, 2020 5:50 pm
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I didn’t do anything at virtual GenCon and why that’s okay

Lowell Kempf
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I registered for both GenCan’t and GenCon since, well, they were both free. And all I ended up doing with them was watch a couple of feeds and a little Mega Karuba through GenCan’t.

Now, this is not me whining. This is the last weekend before school starts remotely for our son and I will be darned if that isn’t a lot more important for me. For crying out loud, I play games remotely almost constantly. I look at game news all the time. Neither Gen Con 2020 or Gen Can’t 2020 were going to be major, once-in-a-lifetime experiences for me.

No, instead, I got to participate for nothing. I got to have some fun and be a part of the greater community and feel connected. And if you don’t think those things are meaningful, social media would be nothing more than an alternative to a phonebook if folks didn’t find some value in them. (I leave it up to you to decide what that value is)

But, this does drive home that one of the most powerful aspects of a convention in person is that it is an escape from the rest of the world. I close my eyes and I think about the carpet in the convention center in Indianapolis and I have a strong memory of being removed from so many responsibilities and distractions. (Which is not necessarily a healthy thing. It’s a good thing conventions don’t happen all the time!)

A friend of mine used to ask what the difference was between going to a convention and spending a weekend at a friends house playing games? The difference is that separation.

Which is not to say that the virtual cons are worthless. With school starting the first week of August, actually trying to go to a convention in person would be a nightmare at best.

More than that, with so many of us in some level of lockdown and isolation, the value of a virtual convention is enormous. Honestly, this year, the power and importance of a virtual Gen Con May be greater than an in-person one on another year.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 3, 2020 4:48 pm
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My first virtual convention of the year was for Pokémon Go :D

Lowell Kempf
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The one virtual convention that I have actually attended so far in 2020 wasn’t for either board games or role playing games but for a casual video game, Pokémon Go. Mind you, part of the reason it worked for me was because it was a casual game that I didn’t need to set aside a designated time to participate. I could also do it with my wife, which was a big plus.

Lockdown parenthood doesn’t allow for extended downtime, which is why I have yet to play a game of Scythe online despite meaning to for months. (Plus trying time remember how to play and use the interface ) But a casual video game that is designed to be played in tiny bursts, that’s a lot easier to do.

That said, it was really the fact that I could participate in Pokémon GoFest 2020 with my wife and it was a family activity was what really made it work for us.

While we had fun finding shiny Pokémon and fighting Team Rocket as they flew around in balloons (Niantic has worked hard on making a game based on geo caching still work when you can’t go anywhere), the real highlight was using the invite function of remote raid passes so we could play with folks we haven’t seen in months.

The last message of the event was about playing under the same sky. Virtual conventions are a shadow of in-person conventions but they are all about community.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jul 31, 2020 8:54 pm
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Another gathering that won’t happen this year :’(

Lowell Kempf
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Eight years ago, a friend of ours started having their own private convention. They’d rent a large meeting room at a hotel and set up a block of rooms so everyone would have a place to sleep when they weren’t playing games. And between the thirty-odd friends that would show up, the game library was always huge. There was even a weekend long tournament of different games for bragging rights.

I haven’t gone in years, seeing as how we moved to the other side of the country. However, I have stayed on the mailing list and I’ve even visited through the power or video conferencing/

And, yes, it has been postponed and finally canceled in 2020.

In the grand scheme of everything that COVID-19 has done to the world, I admit that this is pretty small potatoes. I mean, this isn’t even the end of the event. Unlike events that folks have to pay for and turn a profit that are probably facing bankruptcy right now, all this needs is one person’s persistence and determination and, trust me, it has that.

Still, it’s kind of sad.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 20, 2020 3:58 pm
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My first two reactions to online conventions

Lowell Kempf
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From what I can tell, in-person conventions across the board have been canceled for the year. Some, like GenCon and Pax are going to be free, online experiences instead.

While I fully support this, I don’t know how interested I am in attending a virtual convention. I already play games online, shop for games online and watch videos and vlogs about gaming online. I’m not sure how an online convention would be really different than what I already do on a regular basis.

That said, I still remember when I first found out about BSW (a site where you could play mostly European board games. It’s still around but I’m pretty sure it’s not nearly as big as it was back when dinosaurs roamed the earth when I first discovered it. Virtual gaming has come a long, long way.) I felt like I was at a convention while sitting in front of my computer and that was _amazing_

And in 2017, I discovered GenCan’t, the virtual convention for those who couldn’t make it to GenCon. It was a scrappy little event that felt like more like a movement than an event. The 2017 design contest alone forever changed how I look at Roll and Write games and dragged me even deeper into the world Print and Play.

Both BSW and GenCan’t changed gaming for me. Both were fantastic experiences for me.

There is definitely a real effect of being part of something that isn’t just me and three other people playing Carcassonne online but something that involves a community that stretches around the world. My first, gut reaction forgot that.

I don’t know how much or if at all I’ll participate in online conventions this year but I have realized that I shouldn’t rule them out.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 13, 2020 6:16 pm
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My RinCon 2019 report

Lowell Kempf
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The first weekend in October was also RinCon, Tucson’s own gaming convention. I went for Saturday and it was a pretty amazing time. When I wasn’t gaming, I was kibitzing with a lot of fun folks.

I signed up for Bang the Dice Game at the start of the day since I’ve never played it and I’d heard it was better than the original card game. And my initial impression after two games is that is quite true. More streamlined and, despite the dice, seemingly less random. I think five dice levels out the luck more than a deck of so many different cards. It seems to cut through many of the issues the original game has for me.

After that, I ended up in a pickup game of Titan Dice after that. We may have gotten the rules wrong but I was far from impressed by it. Unclear rules and drawn out rounds.

I stumbled over a tournament for an abstract called ShoBu. Then I got to sub in because someone had to leave. I have to say that it was the highlight of the con for me. ShoBu, on first blush, seems like a really solid abstract. A few years ago, I learned and was very impressed by Tak at RinCon and this was a similar experience.

I got to try Ice Cool 2, a game about flicking bottom heavy penguins through a maze. It was delightful and I was happy to catch all the other penguins when it was my turn to be hall monitor. Dexterity games aren’t my cup of tea but it was fun.

I ended the con with a five-player game of Tzolk’In so I did get in a heavier game while I was there.

So, a very good convention.
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Mon Oct 7, 2019 5:11 pm
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My September RinCon time

Lowell Kempf
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Saturday was the last RinCon fundraiser. I’d missed the ones in July and August so I wanted to make sure that I got this one in. I was there for four, five hours and every game I played was new to me.

I started off with Wingspan, which I’ve been wanting to try because I quite like Tussie Mussie. And the promise of Elizabeth Hargrave’s earlier design did not disappoint. Wingspan is the better game of her so-far two and there’s a lot more game. You build up a tableau of birds but you get fewer actions every round,

While Wingspan wasn’t billed to me as an engine builder, that’s what it really made me think of. There are enough random elements, particularly the bird food dice tower, that made me wonder if the random elements could be too swingy but I really enjoyed the game. I definitely want to play it again.

The heaviest game I played was Heaven & Ale, which is a game about Medieval beer brewing. It was almost insistently counter-intuitive. You don’t build up points but various supplies that get crunched into a simple formula to create points at the end of the game. It was a very interesting process but I’m not sure if the game was fun or if trying to parse the system was fun. Heaven & Ale is a game where I know it’s clever but clever can fool you into thinking clever is good.

The last and simplest game I learned was Reef, which has absolutely nothing to do Reef Encounter. It is really an abstract themed around building a coral reef with chunky, stackable pieces. You either draw a card or play a cards. Cards let you place two of those chunky pieces and score points if you match a pattern on the card. It was jolly good fun and I can see it as a game my family would enjoy.

Sometimes, I end up playing lots of little games. This was more playing a few middle-sized games and it worked out well.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Sep 9, 2019 9:35 pm
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A quiet convention experience

Lowell Kempf
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This last weekend was the first fundraiser for RinCon, Tucson’s own gaming convention. Since the fundraiser consists of two rooms, one for board games and one for RPGs, and twelve hours of non-stop gaming, every fundraiser counts as a micro convention in my book.

Some folks go to conventions for the spectacle and experience. Some folks go to find great deals. And some folks just want to game non-stop. One dear friend of ours loved GenCon for being the one time of the year he could get in full games of Advanced Civilization. The RinCon events are great for just sitting down and gaming

I have gotten into the habit of picking out one older game that I have a hankering to play and taking it to an event. At this point, my collection has a lot of older games since time keeps on going by This time, I took Winner’s Circle.

I got in two different plays with two different groups. The second group really got into the game with plenty of spite. And Winner’s Circle is a game that really improves with spite

(So far, I’ve tried this with For Sale, Money, TransAmerica/TransEuropa and now Winner’s Circle. Family style European games work well for this since they tend to be easy to teach. Now I’m wondering what to try next. Modern Art? Hoity Toity?)

I also got in a five-player game of King of Tokyo and a game of Bang with someone’s homebrew deck. I’d only played King with two players and five-players was a lot better. And it was fun to see someone else’s PnP work.

Oh, and I won a copy of the RPG World of Dew in a raffle. It’s story telling game about the Tokugawa Shogunate with a noir feel. Never heard of it but it sounds right up my alley.

All in all, I may not have learned any new games but it was a good event.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 3, 2019 11:49 pm
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My RinCon 2018

Lowell Kempf
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In September, I went to what I realized was my fifth RinCon. (I don’t actually know when the convention started) And that’s not counting all the fundraising events I’ve been to, which are basically mini-conventions.

And RinCon keeps on delivering for me. The people who run it are all very friendly and seem to know what they’re doing. There’s plenty of free play area and I’m always able to put together a good schedule of events.

I had thought about trying to actually trying to write my entire experience in detail but, honestly, that’d be boring for everyone but me so I’ll just try and hit the highlights.

The best experience I had was learning Captain Sonar and then playing it four times in a row. I went in knowing it was a real-time game with dry erase markers. I found out it was a game of two submarines trying to blow each up with four players manning each submarine. It was an intense, really fun experience. With the requirement of eight players to really make it work, I’d never buy it but I’d definitely play it again. I might actually never pass up a game

I got a chance to play Echidna Shuffle, which I don’t think has actually been formally released. It’s a very simple Pick-Up-and-Deliver game for kids with incredibly cute components while there are a lot of neat design choices. I’m pretty sure adults who focus on blocking plays rather than deliver would stall the game out big time, although I’m not sure that’s a winning strategy unless your opponents rage quit. But I’m seriously thinking about getting the game for our son.

And the last game I played at RinCon was a three-player game of For Sale, a game I take to every event I go to anymore, and it came down to a three-way tie. The winner broke the tie by having one two-bit coin left from the first half. That was a great way to end my RinCon.

I got in eighteen separate plays over the day and a half I was at RinCon and I learned seven different games. I picked up a used copy of Turbo Taxi, which I think our son might have fun with, and won a copy of Dungeon Rush. I had a good time

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Oct 5, 2018 4:45 pm
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