GenCon – Part 7 (Friday Afternoon, 8/14/2009)

Phew… can you believe seven parts and I’m only on Friday? Exhausted reading these reports? That is how I was feeling Friday. It seemed like I had already been to a full length con and I still had two days to go!

Panels, Panels Everywhere…. Er that was Saturday

End of last post I said the next thing I did was go to panels… this is the problem with writing my recaps two weeks after the event, I get stuff mixed up. Anyway, those were on Saturday. I did however have lunch with Justin and the Brilliant Gameologists (Meg, Josh and Zeke) to talk about the panel they were hosting the next morning and had invited me to co-host with them.

We were in the Westin and looking for food that would be fast, gluten and dairy free. Right next to us was a sports bar “Champions.” If you could only sue for false advertising like this. The server was not a champion, she didn’t get our order right or convey our urgency at all. Our chefs were not champions, the food was okay, but nothing spectacular and took way too long given the number of other patrons in the bar. This was a problem as we all had somewhere to be in an hour and were told that should be a problem by the waitress. The ambiance did not incline me to score a touchdown or even slay a dragon. Overall, I felt duped. The one upside of the bar, fun music to dance in my seat too.

The company however, was great. Meg had asked me to be on the panel “A Critical Analysis of Games” and I was dubious at first. What I really didn’t want to do was sit around talking about how awesome these games were and how much these games sucked. Immediately, however I could tell that the BGs didn’t want that either. What we were looking for was some criteria to use to rate games, examples: rewards, setting, writing, art, etc. We each took notes and I left feeling really good about doing the panel.

More Dealers Room

Next stop… Abort now. The three of us were scheduled for a board game that was supposed to be an awesome huge version of the original. One look however revealed it was nothing of the sort, so we unobtrusively excused ourselves and headed to the dealers room for more demos.

In there I meandered over to the Forge Booth and met Tony Dowler. Now, I’m reasonably familiar with the Forge but I’ve never had a game designer that used the site pitch it too me. Tony was very cool and gave me his take on the benefit the forge offers developers and told me about his personal experience designing a game. This of course led to my next question… “So can you demo this game?”

How to Host a Dungeon

Luckily the answer was sure, come over here and we’ll play game. We made a sweet Dwarven Hall. On the surface it just looked like a bunch of charts and tables, but when you add charts and tables to a system where the location on the page the die lands on, and some silly drawing, plus an iterative process of ages, you get some killer dungeons. Tony did a great job demonstrating the game. He showed me a little bit from several different ages and gave me an idea of what the rest of the path would look like.

What rocked

The game is elegant in its crunchiness. As the point is to create a pseudo random dungeon with a history, all the charts just add to the flavor of the game, rather than detract from it.

The game says it is a single player game, which it can do just fine, but as I pointed out to Tony, we were playing the game together and having a lot of fun. As far as I can tell, so long as people are having fun watching the others draw stuff and trading out who rolls the dice and who references charts, this can totally be a party game as well as a solo experience.

You get a really cool dungeon as a product of the game. I’ve tinkered with it three times now and each time I can see the beginnings of something very cool and very organic blossoming.

Presentation. The game is printed on unbound cardstock, which makes it really easy move the pieces around and only pull out what you need (good). It also make it easy to drop and have everything go out of order (bad), but that is okay because all of the pages are well marked (good).

What could be improved

The game is actually a lot longer than it looks like it would be. Tony did a demo with me in 15 minutes but from my experiences playing it afterwards we spent an hour or so and only got half way through. This really isn’t a complaint per se, I mean we were having fun the whole time, it just wasn’t my expectation. I think Tony should write somewhere on the front approximately how long it takes to make a dungeon (my estimate is two hours).

The game really benefits from tracing paper. You don’t need it but I recommend it.

While the game feels like it should be modular (for instance swapping out civilizations), I think that each component would be a lot of work to create, similar to creating a whole set of new life paths in Burning Wheel. Doable, and worthwhile, but a lot of work. Still, the game doesn’t need that, it’s just my “ooh what about a fairy civilization” brain that kicks in and starts giving the rest of my brain cramps. I’d like to see some rules or suggestions for making your own pieces.

Sorcerer Boot Camp

While I was talking to Tony I saw a sign for a one hour Sorcerer demo called Sorcerer boot camp. Christopher Kubasik was running these camps (or at least the one I was in) and it was clear to me that this is a man who LOVE sorcerer, but understands that most people don’t get it.

From what I could tell, he felt that people didn’t get Sorcerer in the same way that I’ve seen people not get Dogs in the Vineyard. This isn’t a game about seeing if you can overcome obstacles. It’s a game about seeing what you become in order to get what you want.

Chris had this awesome positive energy of “okay, we’re gonna tell as story and it is going to KICK ASS or we’re starting over until we do”. During the entire process (which really was just character creation, we never got to actually playing) he was coaching us to think of ideas that we REALLY liked. For example, at one point I was talking about my demon and how it was a set of keys that only locked doors (my character being a prison guard). I was trying to figure out what the kicker would be for him to start, knowing I wanted to be standing over the broken body of the warden, who I had just taken something from. I had some idea (not sure what it was now) that I had settled on. Chris asked me some questions about it and I said “yeah, that sound fine.” He nearly jumped out of his chair. “I don’t want fine! I want YEAH! How about, the warden has a demon that unlocks the doors?” My HELL YES reaction was exactly what he was looking for, and in fact demanded in character creation.

This same excitement, however, also slowed us down. Chris had some killer stories about a previous Sorcerer game and while I enjoyed listening to them and hour is precious little time to create characters and get started. By the time we had two characters fleshed out, our time was up.

I can’t really do a What Rocked/What could be improved for this game as most of my engagement was with Chris and the other players and not with the game itself. I am still of the opinion that while I may never play Sorcerer, it’s influence on RPGs is much more pervasive than people realize. I had a great time with Chris, he is absolutely the kind if gamer I’d like to have on the other side of the table.

This Justin – er This Sean from GenCon

How many times will I laugh at my own joke? Go listen over here a few dozen times: http://thisjustinfromgencon.com/2009/08/14/friday-5pm-2/ to find out.

Ryan had cooler kids planned as his co-host (This Modern Death) but when they bailed I happened to be at dinner with Ryan celebrating his birthday, so it would have been really awkward for him not to offer me the spot. Actually that is disingenuous of me, the entire time at GenCon Ryan was watching my back, introducing me to people, pointing out stuff I shouldn’t miss and getting me into the WhiteWolf party. I owe him a lot of thanks for all of that AND for having me as a guest host of This Just in From GenCon.

The shows format is simple, we and our guests, answer the question “what are you doing right now?” Wait, that it twitter! We answer the question “What are you doing right now, at GenCon?” as well as what we are looking forward to seeing.

The guests were Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball from GamePlaywright.net, the authors of Things we Think about Games (an awesome book if you have seen it, bug me and you can probably borrow mine, or just go buy one for yourself). It was cool meeting Will and Jeff along with Clyde Rhoer from Theory from the Closet, who hung around to watch the recording and talk to us afterwards.

We recorded for 18 minutes, made some flubs, had some laughs and then broke so Ryan could go edit the show and get it posted.

Good times! Next up, Friday Night: Our Acts of Evil Playtest.