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!

The Stars Are Pretty Good

So, last night I got together with some friends and we* tried out The Stars Are Right, from Steve Jackson Games. The game was originally released by Pegasus Spiele in German*, and SJG has translated it into English.

I picked the game up at GenCon this year, read the rules, and got thoroughly confused. The rules are not badly written, but there are a couple of layers of complexity involved that lead to some obfuscation of exactly how simple the basics of the game really are. I wanted to sit in on a demo, but timing never worked out. I did manage to watch a demo for about five minutes, which did a whole lot to clarify how things work.

The idea is that you are a cultist trying to summon the Great Old Ones, their servitors, and minions. Most of these are worth a certain number of victory points*, and you need to accumulate 10 victory points to win. To summon a creature, the stars need to be right, hence the name of the game.

The stars in question are double-sided tiles set in a 5×5 grid representing the night sky. You need to be able to find the constellations (i.e., the combinations of tiles in the correct relationships with each other) printed on the bottom of each card. If you can’t find the right arrangements of stars to summon anything in your hand, you need to rearrange the sky*, by discarding one of the cards in your hand and using the rearrangement icons it represents perform one (or more) of three possible actions:

  1. Push a row or column one space, sliding the end tile around to the beginning of that row or column.
  2. Flip a tile over so that it shows the stars on the opposite side.
  3. Swap the places of two tiles that are side by side.

If the stars are then right, you summon your creature, have the option to discard one card from your hand, and draw up to your maximum hand size. Next player’s turn.

As I mentioned above, there are a couple of layers of complexity to the game that, when spelled out in the rules can conceal these simple basics. For instance, most of the minions have a special power that is active either as long as you have a summoned minion in play, or kick in when you discard said minion from play. And all the other cards have a special feature that lets you trade one type of star-shifting action for either a different kind of action or multiples of the same action. You need to have the card summoned and in play to take advantage of this, but it can lead to long chains of swapping types of action to give you the shifts you need.

Oh, and there’s four “suits” of cards, each based around one of the Great Old Ones you can summon. Having greater and lesser servitors of those Old Ones summoned and in play can give you bonus constellations when summoning their specific Old One.

See? It gets a little complex and difficult to explain until you actually play it.

Add to that the very visual nature of the game and the demands it makes on your spacial awareness and imagination, and the game winds up feeling very different from most other games you play. There is a learning curve, here, and it’s a pretty steep one, based on my observations last night, but we all agreed that, given time and repeat plays, it could wind up being very fast. It’s mainly a matter of training your brain to work with the kinds of visual patterns the game uses.

The nature of the game produces one interesting artifact that came out during play last night: most of the players felt that it wasn’t worth their time to try and plan ahead based on the arrangement of stars, because it would change three more times before it got back to them. I’m not sure how much that thinking prevails with repeat play – maybe players learn to anticipate the possible conjunctions more – but it struck us as very difficult to make any predictions.

The game also provides very little interaction between players. There are one or two minion cards that let you steal from someone else and things like that, but mostly it’s just a race of individual achievement. That said, especially during this sort of learning period, there was a lot of table talk and anguished cries as someone messed up a star arrangement that someone else was really hoping would last until his turn.

All in all, the game was fun, and everyone agreed that they’d like to play again. Next time, I want in on it.



*And by “we,” I mean “they.” The game is listed as being for 2-4 players, and we had five, so I sat out and acted as coach and rules-looker-upper*. Back

*It’s a word if I say it’s a word. Back

*Also, in Germany. See how that works? Back

*Minions are worth 0 points, lesser servitors are worth 1 point each, greater servitors are worth 2 points each, and Great Old Ones are worth 4 points each. Back

*Technically, you rearrange the sky before summoning, but in play, you’re generally making a decision about whether you invoke or not based on whether or not you can summon something good with the current arrangement of stars. Back