Con Games

I already selfishly took the time to gush about my awesome GenCon and all the cool stuff that happened. Now I want to talk about the really cool games I got to play. I think we played more games at this con than we have for years (if you don’t count marathons of Ascension and Ligretto Dice at Origins, but that’s different). We played one game each day, and they were all quite good and very different, both in system and in how the games in general went.

On Thursday we played our one ticketed game which was The One Ring. The characters and the plot were already well established, as is typical with games like that. Our session was fun but unspectacular—I never got to the point where I cared about either characters or plot, but it wasn’t annoying, either. I assume the point of this session was to introduce us to the rules and mechanics, hopefully encouraging us to buy the game. In this, the session succeeded quite well except for the fact that we’d already bought it! But this was a nice introduction that made us look forward to playing the game on our own terms. I really like the way the game-specific dice work, adding Gandalf and Sauron and some extra luck to the dice rolls.

I’ve been wanting to play Apocalypse World for awhile—it’s one of those games I hear people talk about a lot. I was also intrigued by the idea of moves since I’m susceptible to decision paralysis when I’m gaming. When I asked the Twitterverse if someone would run it for me, Jason Morningstar kindly volunteered. Tiara and Adrian Agresta and Clark Valentine rounded out the group. Because we established all of this before the con, during the week or so before GenCon we all chose characters and Jason set up a Google doc with the questions we all needed to answer to get the game started. This allowed us to very quickly get to the meat of the game—it seems like most con games need to chose between player ownership/investment and having enough time to play through any kind of adventure, but this got us around that. I thought it worked out really well—perhaps Jason hoped we’d be even more antagonistic to each other than we were, but for me it was really stepping outside my norm when my character started secretly conspiring to take over the world with Adrian’s crazy cultist! Playing with a new group can be strange (another one of my not-so-much-a-strengths) but thanks to the preparation beforehand and a nice meshing of personalities, I thought this game turned out really well.

The next day Clark and I wandered over to Games on Demand. It was in the Crowne Plaza which is a converted train station with a truly unique atmosphere (there are even actual train cars converted into hotel rooms!). Games on Demand was totally full, which is awesome, so we wandered back out to the atrium area where people were playing games. We met up with Daniel Perez who offered to run Lady Blackbird for us. This is another game I’ve heard people talk about a lot, although I knew next to nothing about it. I played Lady Blackbird. David Moore played her bodyguard, Naomi. Clark was Kale, the engineer. Mick Bradley was Vance (the captain who secretly harbors feelings for Lady Blackbird) and the brave Chris Perrin took over Snargle (up until then the name of the computer) part way through. Several people had played before, and I was amazed to learn how many different directions that simple start could lead you. Daniel sped us right through breaking out of the brig part so we got thrown into the action quite early. I watch way too many costume dramas (if there is such a thing!) so it felt most natural to me to play Lady Blackbird like a Steampunk Jane Austen heroine—capable of action, but aware of appearances, polite to a fault, and single-minded for perhaps longer than is good for her. The group quickly settled into a dynamic where things left unsaid played a huge role in how the story progressed. It was really a lot of fun. We left the game on the perfect cliffhanger—totally based on emotions rather than action or violence. I hope we get to play out the second chapter next year! The adaptability of the group, the game, and perhaps most importantly the GM really let the story evolve in interesting ways that I think surprised everyone.

The last big game we played was Bulldogs! run by Brennan Taylor. This was Sunday night and Brennan had already run about 13 bazillion games of Bulldogs! during the con. But I edited the book for him and he was kind enough to make sure we got the chance to play it. It was great to watch Brennan with his son who was busy writing up new NPCs so he wouldn’t have to yet again play the same con adventure his dad had been running the past few days. He’d also designed his own alien species (a walking advertisement for his dad’s game!). The game was a good demonstration of the system—a pretty straightforward adventure where we had to deliver something into the midst of a civil war zone and it all totally went to hell in amusing ways. What really made this game stand out was the way people played their characters. I have to admit, I was worn out and never quite got into my ex-pirate character (although she drove like she was one of the Dukes of Hazzard! That was fun.) but it was a blast watching everyone else get into their characters. Will Huggins played the dependable Ryjyllian pilot. Jeremy Tidwell played a dour Tetsuashan with the sluggish voice to match, which was especially amusing as he kept trying to turn in Brennan’s son’s mutinous Equestrian (his own species, and yes, it’s a pony!). But it was JR Blackwell’s faulty medic robot—complete with glazed eyes, crazed smile, and jerky motions—who really cracked me up as she cheerfully kept sedating Clark’s Templar (and British!) captain and eventually the whole crew, causing us to crash land. It was a good introduction to both the mechanics and the crazy space opera feel of the game, and it was a great way to end an incredible but exhausting convention.

Of course I got in a few rounds of Hit-A-Dude with lots of different people (the first question always being “Is ‘dude’ gender specific?” which inevitably led to the gender implied by “guy” vs. “guys” and other conversations best had late at night, preferably a bit tipsy). We also had the Sims LARP with Cam Banks, Christy Everette, and Hugh Hawkins—which was just our excuse for lounging on a sofa in the lobby of the Embassy Suites because we were all too tired to search for fun (Cam tried to get us all to talk in Sims for added verisimilitude).

Anyway, I was really happy to get to play so many great games at GenCon, all good and different in their own ways. I’ve had really mixed luck with con games in the past, so it was interesting to look at how each of these games worked in its own way. I know I got to play some of the best games out there, but the exceptional GMs and creative players went a long way toward making it a memorable experience.

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6 Responses to Con Games

  1. Brian Engard says:

    Sounds like you had a great time at GenCon. It was awesome meeting you guys, and I hope to actually play something with you next time around (though I may be busy running sessions of a game I’m working on right now, depending on how the kickstarter goes).

    I’m really interested in giving Lady Blackbird a try, and I’m also curious about Hit-a-Dude. I’ve heard everyone talking about it on the Twitters, and I have no idea what it is. Other than that you, you know, hit dudes. Which is pretty cool, I guess.

    • ayvalentine says:

      1. Hit a dude. 2. Play passes to the left. And everything else is game designer obsession. :) The primary purpose is to watch people deconstruct it and argue about it.

      It was awesome to meet you, too! And I very much hope to continue actually playing games at gaming conventions! What a crazy idea… ;)

  2. Thanks for the kind words about the LB game. You make me blush.
    Really, that was all you fine people. My job was to push you towards boiling kettles and then seeing you guys deal with the situation. I did get to try out some ideas I’d been mulling over for a while and I was happy to see they worked out great. I loved where the game went (Steampunk Jane Austen was such a perfect way to describe it) and what it turned into, the type of conflict that emerged at the end. You can’t script those things! It really has given me a big reason to return to Gen Con next year. Thank you all for that.

  3. Pingback: Highmoon's Ponderings » Gen Con 2011 Recap

  4. Mick Bradley says:

    It was definitely wonderful to play Lady Blackbird with all of you. And it was great to meet you and Clark, too. Here’s to next year!

  5. Pingback: Game Designer, Photographer and Bon-Vivant | J.R. Blackwell

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