Now that enough time has past since GenCon, allow me to admit to a little secret: I don’t actually like card/board games that much. Crazy, right?
My issue with these games have nothing to do with their mechanics or pieces, so perhaps it’s a little misleading to say that I don’t like them. What I actually don’t enjoy is learning a new game in a competitive environment. I have no problem with the inherent randomness of rolling dice or drawing cards, but having to make blind decisions based on rules I’ve been introduced to moments ago? It always feels horrible to me.
One of the evenings after GenCon, the group retired to a hotel lobby to play Ladies & Gentlemen. The game itself was utterly fascinating in the way it effectively kept 9 people engaged 100% of the time without any awkward waiting for everyone else to take their turn. You pretty much have to have a minimum of 7 players for it to be fun (three teams + the Mistress), but it’s definitely a game I would recommend.
Unfortunately, I lost by two points. Not even “my partner and I lost”: me specifically. Because during one of the early turns I bought a purse (I was a Lady, of course) that was worth two points… but due to a rules misinterpretation on my part, it could not be counted as part of my “outfit score” at the end. And nearly three weeks later I am still stewing about it. Not because I lost, but because I lost for a really dumb reason.
Same deal back when I was learning to play Dominion with friends. I understood the rules for the most part, but it wasn’t until Game 3 or so that I began to understand the cadence, the rhythm behind the game. Which cards were better than others, the tension between buying more cards and diluting your own deck, the power of trashing certain cards, and so on. I went from the guy blindly spamming the A button in Super Smash Brothers to Sheik, nightmare princess. Until I get halfway down the mastery route though, I have close to zero fun playing these games, friends notwithstanding.
“Just go with it.” NO U. I’d rather flip a coin than make a blind decision, because at least with the coin we can all acknowledge that there was no actual choice involved. I will lose Risk, Texas Hold’em, and a dozen other card/board games graciously all night because I clearly made meaningful choices (or risk assessments) that did not pan out. A blind choice has no meaning to me, and a choice is blind until I fully understand the choice’s place in the full context of the game. Which, as you may imagine, is hard to do when you are playing it for the first time and have no reason to ever own it yourself.
People are here to play, and being playful is good. Your steampunk goggles and bronze rocket pack get admiring looks, not confused stares and laughs. The weirdos are the Colts fans who arrived in their thousands for the game last night; why wear a blue and white jersey when you could have a fez and/or chainmail?
Last day of GenCon… and all I can really think is “thank god.”
RPG: Coldsteel Warriors
I basically signed up to play with a good friend from college who successfully Kickstarted his own pen & paper RPG system. Unfortunately, I was the only one of the five people who signed up to the event to show, so we shot the shit instead. He ended up giving me a copy of the game rules to take a look at, which I shall before plugging the game itself more than I am right now.
I guess I should mention that the setting is in the Iron Age of comics, so everything is basically Watchmen minus the actual Watchmen. And everything is d10s, so it sorta feels like Arkham Horror with the success dice mechanic.
Panel: Evening with RA Salvatore
To be completely honest, I really only know RA Salvatore via the Kingdoms of Amalur debacle. I mean, I’m aware of the fact that he wrote the Sephiroth of D&D (before there was a Sephiroth), but I have read a grand total of zero of those books. Maybe I should have before getting a ticket to his panel, but too late for that.
The panel itself was just pure Q&A with himself and about 30 of us. While he talked about a number of things – including some indulgent questions regarding some characters in his books – there were a few parts that stood out to me.
First, while he was making a love letter to the original EverQuest up on the stage, he sort of reiterated one of my prior points regarding long boat rides. Specifically: “we didn’t care about the waiting times because that time was our Facebook before Facebook.” He went on to acknowledge that people are less tolerant of those sort of waits because if they want to talk to people, they’ll just tab out to Facebook.
Contrary to my sage wisdom though, Salvatore lamented that “all the grief is gone” from MMOs. Back during the 38 Studios days, he was in the conference room every day fighting for EverQuest-style penalties and such. He personally attributes that thought process to devs who have a background in customer service (which is where most designers start out at), and them thusly being afraid of complaints on forums. “Corpse runs make for the best stories.” And so on.
After that gaming interlude, he launched on a deeply compeling rant on Unreliable Narrators. I’m not going to recreate the entire conversation, but the topic stemmed from an earlier point on how the rules of English 101 are not at all similar to what’s taught in English 1001. Specifically, how the readers of today parse information is much different from how the readers of 1970 parse, and the readers of 1930, 1830, and so on. The “rules” state that you should never have to write “‘Great job,’ Bob said sarcastically” because you as the author should have made Bob’s sarcasm obvious from his personality, the scene setup, etc. Hell, you shouldn’t even have to specify that Bob was even the one who said the line; it should be clear from the cadence of the dialog.
The trouble is, according to Salvatore, that people nowadays read things in terms of messages boards, e.g. all “dialog” is attributed by default. Plus, without the in-person element, we have a much harder time interpreting sarcasm in text. He stressed that he is not criticizing the generation, he’s just pointing out that if you want to write something that speaks to the audience of today, you have to speak in a way that they can understand.
The problem is that the present environment is pretty hostile to the Unreliable Narrator element. And after some thought, I agree. I don’t quite agree with Salvatore’s ultimate concern that the lack of Unreliable Narrators means that people are slowing becoming incapable of seeing/questioning the world from another person’s perspective, but yeah, the mechanic itself is pretty tough to pull off “correctly” these days. I think the problem is that it ends up feeling like a cheap trick most of the time, an easy way to introduce a twist without needing to foreshadow anything.
Anyway, that as that.
The second day was considerably less busy than the first.
Panel: Freelancing for Fun and Profit
Hosted by the “teach truck-drivers the art of cussing like a sailor” John Adamus, and cohosted by Brianna Reid. It ended up being a 2-hour panel, which I was not expecting, but the general information was pretty good. Some standard stuff like “don’t do unpaid work, ever” but they did have some specific advice for people who had questions. For example, one guy asked what he should say to people when offering his services considering his talent set is rather diverse. Answer: context of the event matters… but go nuts on your business card.
Just as with the panels the previous day, some grimaces were had by the hosts when someone asked how applicable the advice is to videogames. The resounding answer seems to be that “there is no money in videogames” insofar as freelancers/writers are concerned. I mean, it’s pretty bad when someone who entirely makes a living as a freelancer tells you that the videogame industry is all unpredictable work.
Also: the general payment rule for writing is 1-2 cents/word, creating logos should be $300, and websites should be anywhere from $1000 to $15,000 depending on the scope. Don’t work for “exposure” and don’t work for points. If anyone gives you lip, just repeat “fuck you, pay me.” …and that was basically that entire panel.
Concert: the Doubleclicks
Not much to say here; you either like these girls or you don’t. Personally, I enjoyed the songs and I have to give mad props to the lead singer for her stage presence and audience interaction.
Terrible Idea: Friday Night Live
Holy fucking shit, you guys. This was literally the worst thing I have ever sat through. Bad on us for not really researching the thing ahead of time – we kinda thought it would be similar to Saturday Night Live – but we could not be more horribly wrong. It was basically medieval comedy songs by people with zero sense of humor and/or musical talent. We snuck out after about 45 minutes (of the 2 hour show).
We ended up playing some card games at the end of the night, but I think I’m going to save my impressions of them for a separate post.
As might be expected, the general con experience might almost be too much for me.
The cosplay runs the gamut between legitimately intriguing to hilariously bad, but I can’t bring myself to document much of any of it. Because first of all, I don’t think a normal picture would be all that interesting to look at. But, second, I’m not actually that bad mannered to surreptitiously take the infinitely more interesting photos.
Panel: Game Writing 101
So this panel was actually extremely interesting given the people on it: Thomas Reid (P&P games), Christine Thompson (writer and lore person for Star Trek Online), and Maxwell Drake (writer for EverQuest Next). [edit: Matt Forbeck was also there] There was no particular agenda for the panel; the people up there just took questions from the audience.
Highlight of the panel? Maxwell came out and said EQNext wouldn’t be done for another 2 years. Not sure if that is “official” or just his impression of things, but EQN having a 2016 release kinda pushes the entire thing out beyond even my limited Kickstarter time horizon. Maxwell also mentioned that SOE is pouring more money into EQN than they have for any other game (probably not news), but he also mentioned that the SOE marketing department really doesn’t respect writing in general. Apparently he releases a story a month on the EQN lore and it’s buried deep on the website without any fanfare.
So I suppose if you want to read some more about EQN, then check it out here.
Panel: Running a Successful Kickstarter
Once again, I probably should have been more excited about this panel than I actually was, given the people on it. I didn’t catch their names specifically, but one of the guys did Zombicide and Chaos Ball (edit: David Preti), one did Dwarven Forge (edit: Jeff Martin?), a third was maybe the CEO of Cheap-Ass Games (edit: James Ernest), and I didn’t catch what the fourth guy did.
The number one piece of advice was basically to do US-only shipping, if you have to do any shipping at all. The reason is that shipping costs can be variable, some European countries are taxed pretty heavily, and you might not even know how much you’re shipping if you run “exploding tiers” in your Kickstarter, e.g. the stretch goals that gives all backers above a certain level more goodies once a stretch goal is reached. Since the panel was mostly focused on board games, there would always be some level of shipping product, but you always have to be careful regardless.
There were some additional points, but that’s enough for now.
“I’d love to go to Pax South, but Monster Jam is that same weekend.”
Met the ex-Invictus crew. It’s always kinda comical and cliche, but it’s also comforting when you see these people and they almost exactly look like their WoW characters. Or at least act like them. Which I suppose isn’t all that impressive in the abstract, but whatever.
I can already tell that Gen Con is going to be a little painful though. While I enjoy my anime/Manga seasoned with a healthy dose of drama, angst, and weirdness, the awkwardness I have experienced thus far just from standing in line picking up tickets is physically painful. Like, holy Jesus, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if someone is cosplaying or if they dress like that all the time. And the random snippets of conversations! “My genes allow me to pick out child molesters.” Yeah, okay, buddy.
While I was surprised at the people I have seen thus far – they skew to the upper ranges of age, BMI, and neck hair ranges – I suppose I shouldn’t be. Who else has the money to spend ~$80 for gaming convention tickets, and then turn around and drop +$600 on hotel and other accomodations? A bunch of twentysomethings? …okay, so about half of this ex-Invictus group is around 25, but the point still stands.
Welp, all that’s left is to get some sleep, keep the hand sanitizer handy, and plow through this thing.