July 06, 2004

Origins Notes, Everything Else

Woke up early while Mike and Chris were still dead to the world. Banged out the Day 1 Notes and then took a shower. Hampton Inn provides free breakfast, and their coffee is pretty decent... for freebie hotel coffee, anyway. That's not really good enough, so I wandered cross the street to the North Market for a little continental breakfast. Of course, on the Continent, said breakfast would be a demitasse of espresso and a small but perfectly flaky croissant. Here in the midwest, I got myself a 16oz latte and a maple roll the size of my face with icing thick enough to pave the freeway. Damn it if it didn't taste pretty damn good, though. Went back to the hotel's breakfast buffet to top off with some fruit salad. Mmm... fruit.

Wanted to finish blacking out my Looney Lab Little Experiment badge. Chrononauts has a fun theme and actually has educational value, but it didn't have much more strategy than Fluxx (i.e. memorize every win-condition card and check the discard pile so you know which win-condition is still available), and it didn't play as smoothly as Fluxx. Cosmic Coasters is simple to play and oh-so-cheap, but then they try to spice it up with various special powers which I'm almost sure are not balanced, although the imbalance may be swamped by the variance in the rock-paper-scissors combat system. Besides, I think it's also one of those games that's solvable by a computer. Are You A Werewolf is a huge hit in the late hours, with three or four games going on simultaneously with twenty people a game, and NanoFictionary is a clever idea, but I was so not in the mood for social games. Didn't really feel like socializing with gamers at all, really. So I'm afraid that I wasn't a very good sport in order to try to get it over with ASAP. Got my Fluxx promo card, so of course I had to go buy a copy of Fluxx to go with it. By then it was time to head over to the conference rooms to check out Peter Adkinson's seminar/story-time about the origins of Magic. It was a little self-indulgent, but it was cool to hear the story from the horse's mouth. Also interesting to see things from the art-buyer's side, as Adkinson's relation with Jesper Myrfors and his art-student friends allowed them to bootstrap Magic by buying 300 pieces of color art for $50 a piece. Of course, you end up with some pieces like Word of Command, but that's what happens when you have no budget and deadly deadlines.

Now it's back to the Exhibit Room. Went to Ed Beard to get Magic cards signed. He usually limits the number of cards he signs, but I chatted him up about his seminar and Camelot Legends, the game he worked on, and he became amenable to signing the entire (relatively small) stack. Picked up a copy of St. Petersburg from Rio Grande because the game is awesome. Finally got a chance to roll the big D20 at the WotC booth with my punched-out demo sheet for a copy of Axis&Allies: Pacific. Just had to roll more than a 2, and thankfully I had at least that much luck. Took the big boxes back to the hotel room, then headed over to Mayfair. Wanted to play La Strada but couldn't get a game started, the guy explained the rules, though and it seemed interesting. It's a road-building game where you try to connect randomly placed towns of various sizes. Each town you connect gets you points. The bigger the town, the more points it's worth, but the more players that connect to a town, the less each player gets from that town. No text to read, no cutesy themes, the only slight downside is that it doesn't play as well with only two players, as it becomes a simple race game since only one player can occupy each town in the two-player game. Got into a game of Settlers of the Stone Age instead. It's interesting in that the resource squares are pre-printed on the board rather than randomly set like Settlers of Catan, and there's more developmental tracks that have effects on the game. But there's almost too many options at times, and it starts kinda slow as it takes quite a few rolls before your explorers have the resources to leave Mother Africa and head out into the world. We really didn't get very far before it got close to closing time. I still wanted to head over to ZMan Games to check out Camelot Legends. Wanted a copy of the game to get the cards signed, but didn't really want to shell out the 25 bucks. Good thing there was a tournament that night. Managed to run through the basic game before the hall closed. Always good to learn the rules before you play for stakes.

Time to get some dinner before the Camelot tournament. Was sick of convention-center rip jobs, so I wandered down High Street hoping to find college-student-type places to eat. Turned out that all the cool kids were hanging out at the Columbus Community Festival. We couldn't just have the Columbus Pride Holiday all by itself now, can we? Wasn't all that comfortable in the hip crowd as I was still in game-geek mode, but the smell of smoky ribs made me get over it in a hurry. Thanks to the Great Migration there was a black man with two huge smokers cranking out tasty pieces of pork for all. Stood in line for a while, but it was well worth it for the half-slab of ribs and a slice of sweet-potato pie. Took it back to the Convention Center and got a root beer from the soda machine. Ate in the Looney Lab just as Mike, et al, were just starting the Icehouse tournament. Mike's dad drove up from Kentucky earlier in the day to have lunch and to drop off Mike's tux. So if nothing else, Mike definitely wins the Best Dressed award at the tournament. Enjoyed my meal of meat and finished just as they finished the preliminary rounds. Mike and Eric (who flew in with Mike) were both in the finals, so Bay Area was representin' in the Lab. Would've offered them some ribs, but BBQ sauce is not good Icehouse etiquette. Meanwhile, I was off to play my game (after washing my hands, of course).

Only three people showed up for the tournament. Understandable since it's a brand new game (got drop-shipped from China just in time to make the show) from a small company at the very edge of the Exhibit Hall. None of us were exactly experts at the game, but they had folks there to follow along and make sure we didn't make any irreparable mistakes. We were going to play two games, one with Standard Rules and one with Advanced Rules. Didn't think I got a great draw in the first game, as I had only one mediocre Knight to go with a handful of Ladies. I stuck them all at Cornwall, where their strong Cunning and Diplomacy stats would come in handy. A bunch of Cornwall Events showed up, and my knight picked up the Love Potion and Guinevere as his mate. I was building up nicely and was about to score a bunch of Events when disaster struck. One guy flipped up a Tournament Event, and my less-than-awesome knight was forced into a contest of Combat against other players' champions. He was defeated and returned to my hand. This put me two turns behind, as I had to replay the knight on one turn before I could score the event next turn. My opponent was able to move into Cornwall and score the event, whose benefit was to kill one opponent character at the location, which wrecked my development. Managed to score a few more events here and there, but I was always a turn behind in terms of the people I needed to put in play, or in terms of the location where I needed my people to be, an unfortunate side effect of limiting the number of actions (play, draw, or move) per turn. It also bothered me that some knights are strictly better than others, when there's no play cost (other than the action limit). I guess instead of land-screw you just have knight-screw, plus it fits better with the backstory. At least I managed to tie the other guy for second place, which matters since it'll be the combined placings from the two games that determines the winner.

Second game went better. Instead of wimpy no-name-guy I had Sir Gayreth followed up by mighty Sir Lancelot. Paired up Gayreth and Queen Morgause to score the Love Potion. The other loser from the first game was building up a huge army at Camelot, and with the Honor of DeGanis in play his company's chivalry was off-the-charts, so he basically scored any Camelot event at will. Another Tournament came up, but no man can defeat Lancelot in single combat. The Isle of Avalon was in play, which awards victory points based on a Knight's Adventure stat. The catch is that the Knight must be accompanied by a Lady and they can never leave the Isle. Gayreth and Morgause can move together for free thanks to the Love Potion, but Lancelot had the higher Adventure stat. Also had the Archbishop of Canterbury in my hand, and the Theft of Excalibur event was in play in the Perilous Forest. The Final Event was about to come into play, so it was time to make my move. On the eve of The Final War, Lancelot went to Camelot, where he met up with the Archbishop who crowned him the High King. Morgause left Gayreth to go to Camelot, where she met Lancelot and they ran off to the Isle of Avalon together. Gayreth went to the Forest to join with various Cunning characters that I've been playing. Wasn't going to score the Theft of Excalibur in time, but the guy who was about to score the Final War and end the game decided to wait one more turn so he could send a pair to the Isle of Avalon. By sending Guinevere to Avalon for four victory points, he allowed me to score the Theft, which gave me Excalibur the sword, totaling nine points, plus Guinevere adds one to all of Lancelot's stats, so he gave me another point on the Isle, too. That locked up the win for me. So the winner of game 1 had 30 points to two of us at 18 points a piece. In the second, I got 30 points and first place, while the first winner had 18 points alone in third. So I won by half a place in the combined result. Yay me. Had our choice of prizes. There was a nice Pendragon banner, but I couldn't really pack anything delicate, so I decided to take a free copy of the game, which was my goal all along.

Went back to Looney Labs just in time for the last game of the Icehouse finals. Turned out that they'd taken a dinner break between the prelims and the finals. Mike was still there in his tux and so was Eric in his utilikilt. The final game ended. The atmosphere was tense as the judges totaled the scores. Looney folks are usually easy-going, but every game player wants to win deep down. Eric was pronounced the winner, and to say that he was excited would be a grossly misleading understatement. It is only a game, but everyone was happy for him, so it's okay, as long as he didn't actually get seizures (just really close). Mike got to his goal of making the finals, and he got a ribbon, too, and it's all about the swag in the end. They all went out to celebrate, and I went back to the room to play my own spatial logic game, namely how to pack all the big game boxes into the suitcase. I could expand my roll-on bag slightly, and dirty clothes made for good padding, but it was going to be tight. Went to bed and woke up with the brilliant realization that since I had to check my now-oversized suitcase anyway, I could carry-on another plastic bagful of games, so I could actually pick up another box and still get everything home. Flight was at 1:40pm, so I still had the morning. Got some breakfast from the hotel buffet, then went over to get in line for the Exhibit Room. It wasn't as if I had time for anything else, and it's time for some Power Shopping. Didn't have long to wait, as I passed the time by chatting with some Magic players from Canada who were looking to do some shopping of their own, although I sure didn't see any Magic deals from the ripoff artists in the booths (great for sellers, though). Went around getting my Camelot Legends cards signed by the artists present. Most of them haven't even seen the actual game yet, so they were interested in seeing how their art showed up on the cards. Mark Poole was real nice about signing his Magic stuff, as I kept asking if it were okay as I kept adding cards to the stack as he said yes. Although his big bold Magic Marker signatures did obscure the rule text for a couple of the CL cards. Wasn't going to quibble over that, though. It's not as if they're pseudo-$100-bills like the Ancestrals and Libraries that people were bringing him.

Really enjoyed chatting with the artists. At least it made me feel as if I wasn't treating them as just autograph machines. Didn't leave me much time to do much else, though. Couldn't resist spending the rest of my Mayfair Demo Bucks on La Strada. Wandered by Crystal Caste, and got sucked into a demo of their Dwarven Metal dice. Solid steel alloy, with a gorgeous copper finish, with a real heft that makes them roll oh-so-true. Wandered away, but couldn't help stopping by on the way out to pick up a set. Yes, it's $25 for a set of dice, but god-willing it's the last set of dice I'll ever need.

Just had enough time to stuff my last few purchases into the suitcase before I caught the cab to the airport. The flight home went smoothly enough, although it did take forever for my suitcase full of games to show up on the carousel. Sure, I'll never find enough time or people to play half of them, but I do enjoy just reading the rules, like an exercise in Applied Math with a dash of artistry. I think everyone had a good time at the con, as long as one doesn't think about the cash outflow, anyway.

Posted by mikewang on 02:36 PM