C4 Post Mortem

I spent Saturday and Sunday at the 2009 Central Canada Comic Con, running board and card game demos for the good folks at Imagine Games and Hobbies. It was a good time: the con was well-attended and well-organized, and the folks who came by the game tables were all friendly and interested. Some highlights and observations:

  • My friend Pedro, who owns and runs Imagine Games with his wife Wendy, got to meet Julie Newmar, gave her an iron rose he made for her, and got her autograph and a picture with her. He has now fulfilled his childhood dream and can die happy.
  • Another friend, Sharine (whose name I have probably misspelled), had Adam West sing her the Adam West song from The Family Guy.
  • I got to high-five a bunny rabbit that had high-fived Adam West… yes, parts of the con were quite surreal.
  • I got to meet GMB Chomichuk, one of the creators of Imagination Manifesto, an interesting graphic novel that is also turning into an RPG. I haven’t read more than the first five or so pages of the book, yet, so I can’t tell you too much about it, but it looks good. And it also looks like I’ll get to take part in the blind playtest of the RPG rules.
  • The mornings were slow in the gaming area both days – I figure that attendees were spending the morning walking the floor, buying their stuff, and meeting the guests, then heading over to the gaming area afterward to see what was going on.
  • Afternoons were pretty full – each day I ran two game sessions in the afternoons for people showing up, which is really about all you can fit in between about 1:00 and 6:00.
  • On Saturday, I got to play The Stars are Right this time, instead of just observing. It’s fun, but there’s a tendency to bite off more than you can chew sometimes. At different moments, both I and another one of the players thought we’d be able to put together a combo that would let us summon a Great Old One, only to lose the pattern on the third push or flip, leaving us with a wasted turn. Frustrating, but still a fun moment, when you realize that the pattern in your head has collapsed and you can’t see it in the layout of the stars anymore.
  • Also on Saturday, I played a session of Fury of Dracula. I love the game, and the folks who played loved it, too. As usual in a demo with players who have never played before, I took the Dracula role, as it’s the most complex one to play. Because of weird dice luck, I wound up doing better in combat with him during the day than at night, but they still ran me to ground in Belgrade and killed me.
  • Sunday was a big day for Battlestar Galactica – I had two groups who wanted to play it specifically. Well, three, actually, but more about that below. In both games, I facilitated rather than actually playing, because there were plenty of players – the first session had five players, and the second had six. The first game, the cylons won without ever specifically revealing themselves, as the cylon admiral used some strategic choices to drive the population down to a point they just couldn’t recover from. The second game, the cylons revealed themselves very early, and really pounded on the poor humans, doing substantial damage even before the first jump. That game ended early as players had to leave, but things looked bleak for the humans.
  • As a departure from our chaotic “just come and play” style, we decided to have a sign-up game for Battlestar Galactica on Sunday afternoon. I had four people sign up, but then had a group show up half an hour before the game was scheduled to start who wanted to play. I agreed to run the game, but let them know that I’d have to stop when the signed up group arrived. The people who signed up never showed, so we got the whole game in.
  • Next year, I think I’m going to have a sign-up Arkham Horror game with all the expansions. It’s a big, splashy game, and should attract some interest.
  • Pedro and Wendy’s kids, Leo and Maya, won the children’s costume contest for their costumes of a completely normal human meat-child and his pet dog. Yay!

So, thanks to Pedro and Wendy for paying my way to the show and supplying me with Japanese crackers and candy. Thanks also to Brian, who ran the gaming area at the con and kept things moving smoothly. And most especially, thanks to everyone who came out to try a game or just talk about them. You all made the weekend a real success.

Can’t wait for next year!

No Roles – Board and Card Games

A friend of mine dropped off a new board game with me tonight. He bought it, but he doesn’t have time to work through the rules and figure out how to play so that he can teach the rest of us, so he’s leaving that to me.

I don’t mind. I like board games. And card games. They’re a fun diversion when you want to game, but you can’t get the whole group together for an RPG, or you don’t want to devote the energy to an RPG, or you have non-RPG-players in the group, or you just want something different.

It got me thinking about board and card games that I like, and why I like them. Here are three of my favourites:

Arkham Horror

This is probably the most popular game in my collection. It has a great mix of strategy, random surprises, and truly fiendish challenges. It also gets played less than it’s popularity would seem to indicate; it’s a long game, it takes a long time to set up, and it takes a long time to put away.

Especially the way we play, with all three supplements.

It also looks rather intimidating to newcomers. Having said that, it’s really a pretty simple game, once you get the basics down. The turn sequence is easy to pick up on, and the rest is just reading the cards and rolling the dice. We played a couple of weeks ago, with a player who was completely new to the game, and she picked it up pretty fast.

Co-operation rules in this game – if you don’t work together, you lose. Talking to each other, parceling out tasks, and carrying them out is central to victory.

It also does a nice job of capturing some of the feel of the source material, with horrific monsters, impending doom, rampant insanity, and the advent of an Elder God to worry about.

It’s not perfect, though. The aforementioned set-up and pack-up time (I’ve got it down to about 20 minutes each, which is not bad for over a thousand different pieces) is a barrier: I don’t set up for less than two other players, because it’s just too much work. Play time is also a factor; I’ve finished a game in under an hour, but that was really a fluke. Generally, I figure on about 5-6 hours for a complete game. That’s long. And in the last game, we found a nasty little quirk with one of the characters that makes her pretty much invulnerable as she spirals down in madness and maimings.

One thing we found was very useful for speeding play was to have one person, who is also playing a character, act as a sort of referee and timekeeper, calling the different phases and keeping everyone on task.

Still, every time we play, everyone has a blast. It’s worth the effort and time, but not every day.

Fury of Dracula

This is another fun game from Fantasy Flight. And every game we play, my friend Clint and I are amazed once again at the complex, delicate balance of the thing. It works best with five players: four hunters and one Dracula, and it really comes down to a question of strategy and skill between the two sides.

I’ve run the game as a demo at stores and conventions, and I’ve seen how easy it is to set Dracula up for a loss just by placing him in a sub-optimal starting position. But even the optimal starting positions don’t make his victory a lock. Using his powers, choosing his route, timing his attacks, placing his traps, all these things are vital to his success.

On the other side of the table, the hunters have their own strengths. Each has his or her own special ability which, when used wisely and creatively, can really turn the game around.

Dracula’s hidden movement system is beautiful, and is one of the interesting balance items. So is the order of player turns, the arrangement of event cards, the mix of cities and their locations on the board, and the mix of encounters Dracula can play with. In fact, everything about the game contributes to the game balance in interesting ways. From a design perspective, the game is beautiful.

It also generally plays in under two hours, and sets up and tears down in a total of about twelve minutes, which makes it good for a spur of the moment game.

The one thing that seems a little out of place in the game is that there are a couple of event cards that come up randomly that give a big, big boost to one side or the other. Now, the balance between the two sides with these cards is fairly equal, but it seems like a real blow when Dracula gets to relocate for free, breaking his trail on you, or the hunters get to reveal Dracula’s current location.

The only other downside is the combat system is a little convoluted and arcane. Until you play through it a couple of times, it doesn’t make much sense. Once you’ve got it down, though, it’s slick and interesting.

Still, a fun game.

Deluxe Illuminati

If you don’t know this game, I’ve really gotta ask you what you’re doing reading a blog primarily devoted to gaming.

Illuminati’s been around for decades, and is one of those nasty little games that just grabs you and hooks you. Play is generally quick, schemes abound, and backstabbing is pretty much required. Everyone loves it, everyone gets into it, and everyone gangs up on me.

Every time.

And still, I love it.

When you throw in the expansion sets, the game gets pretty strange, but that’s what you want with this game. Finding out that the Boy Sprouts are a front for the Colombian Cocaine Growers, who are controlled by the UFOs just makes too much sense some times.

What’s great about the game? All the groups, the mechanics to let you mess with other players, the good-natured betrayals, the quick changes of fortune, and the mass of deals struck and rejected.

What’s not so great about the game? Well, some of the cards are kind of dated now. And everyone gangs up on me.

Every time.

But I’m not bitter.

Anyway, it’s a great game. You should be playing it.

And there you have it. I’m going to talk about a few more games I like next time. Check back.