Sunday, August 29, 2010

Drakon 3rd Edition - Three Times The Tile Laying And Throat Cutting!

Nearly ten years ago, a man named Tom Jolly came up with a neat little game involving laying tiles and getting on top of them with your standie. Now while some of my more gutter-minded readers may believe this to be perverse, it's not. It's a board game where you place tiles that represent rooms while hunting for treasure and attempting to wholeheartedly screw your opponents silly. The game has been printed no less than three times, and the most recent is by Fantasy Flight Games with their 3rd Edition Drakon. As usual, they've updated the look, added more plastic to the box than Joan Rivers has in her face, and put it out there in a very inexpensive package. All in all, there's simply no reason not to own this game unless you just really can't stand games that don't include dice or don't enjoy games where a character may bust out a Robert Howard quote such as "the lamentation of the women". It's fast-playing, sometimes a bit random, but all in all is a strategic fantasy game of Screw Your Neighbor that is very replayable due to its intrinsic design.

The idea is that a group of adventurers enter a dragon's lair searching for its horde of gold and jewels. As each player takes a turn, they may take one of their tiles and place it adjacent to a previously placed tile to expand the dungeon. Almost all of the tiles have a symbol on them that performs a specific function when a character moves onto that tile, such as giving the player that steps onto it treasure, changing its orientation, moving it to another location and a host of other groovy things. Alternatively, they may move their character instead of placing a tile, which is the only way a player can activate the tile's power. Each character has a special ability that may be used only once per game, generally, and this is usually something that is hoarded jealously until the absolute necessity of using it calls it into play by the owner. It sounds simple, but there are so many different tiles with so many different functions, and so many characters with different abilities that the game never really seems to get old. At the end, the player who finds 10 gold pieces first is the winner.

Cracking open the beautifully illustrated box will find you staring down at a great many sprues of two inch tiles, each with a room's illustration on them. These rooms are all pretty well illustrated, although I'd argue that some are spicier than others. You'll also be faced with a sprue of gold coins with values between one and three indicated upon one side. These are, well, the coin of the realm and the sole reason that the characters are messing with the fire-breathing monster's little dungeon. Finally, there's some "power" markers that can be used in the advanced rules that are used to remind you that you still have your special ability left to use. Beyond the sprues are a bunch of little plastic figures that are really very nicely sculpted, and although they're not painted, they're still different enough to discern which figure is whose. The last things in the box are a very understandable rulebook and six quick reference guides that help you decipher just what it is the symbols within the rooms actually represent. The quality is superb, and the components are all well designed and very durable, so I really have nothing to pick on here. Just based on the components, this is one hell of a great value.

Setup takes such a small amount of time that it's hardly worth talking about, but since I'm here anyway, here goes. You need to shuffle all of the tiles, deal 4 to each player for later placement, and then set the rest down as a draw pile. Next, place the "dragon head" tile in the middle of the table, which is the start space. Each player should select a character and place that character onto the start space tile. Finally, all of the gold coins should be placed face-down in a pile, forming Drakon's hoard. Once these steps have been completed, you are ready to play the game. Additionally, you should probably have one of the included quick-reference guides available to tell players what each symbol does.

On each players turn, they may perform only a limited set of actions per turn: place a tile, or move. Each tile has arrows on it indicating which direction the players may move out of the current room, and you may not place any tile so that arrows point toward one another. Once you've placed a tile, there may be further action to take, such as placing Drakon into the game or moving your figure onto a played Teleport tile. After you've completed your placement, draw a replacement tile and put it into your hand. Movement is very simple as well, simply move your character onto any adjacent tile that is allowed by the arrows on the tile your figure is currently on. Some characters have special powers that allow you to bend some movement rules, but in short, this is all the gameplay Drakon allows.

As you can see, Drakon sounds really simple, and it mostly is, but when the tile powers start coming into play, you start to see some serious strategy forming. Certain tiles allow a player who steps on them to steal a coin from an enemy player, some tiles are that allow you to move against arrows, some tiles cause other tiles to rotate, some tiles allow you to instantly teleport onto them when placed, some allow you to move two spaces instead of one, some tiles allow you to control a player that's not your own, and many more powers. All of these are simple to understand and execute, so it's not a big deal, but the strategy becomes increasingly complex in correlation to the amount of tiles that have been played. Placing tiles like the Magic Harp, which draws characters onto it from adjacent spaces, is just one of the ways this game allows you to completely hose over your opponents. Another way is to place a Destroy Chamber tile in front of your character and then step on it the following turn in order to destroy a connecting tile and trap an enemy or two somewhere that they will either be stuck or will need to spend his tiles to try to rebuild a path. As you can see, there's a lot of different tiles, and they all do something that changes the game.

One thing to note is that if you move onto a space with the Drakon miniature or Drakon is caused to move onto your tile, you lose one random coin and must remove your character from the board and replace it on the start space. The punishment for being attacked by a fire breathing dragon is certainly not as bad as I would expect, but it's effective to stop opponents from getting a win.

In the end, this game simply has you traipse along the brimstone path, placing tiles or moving your character until one player proclaims that they have ten coins' worth of gold. Some games last five minutes where others can last for forty five minutes, depending on the amount of screwage and the distribution of the tiles. There are almost limitless ways to play this, but all force you to really try hard to screw over your opponents.  It's just a fast, fun little game that can't be beat for the $25.00 US that I paid for it.

Things That Make Drakon Breathe Fire:
-Fast gameplay means that everyone at the table is engaged and interested
-Oh-So-Much screwage makes this a backstabbity romp through dragon-infested caverns
-The art is, while not great, not bad and is certainly thematic enough to draw you in
-The price and replayability make this an exceptional value
-The simplicity of the game allows for a shallow learning curve and low minimum player age

Things That Make Dragon Breathe Poo Breath:
-I sure wish the rooms looked a hair better
-It can get tedious to play this game four or five times in a row, especially if the tiles coming up are uninteresting

I just can't tell you how much of an autobuy this game is, in my humble opinion. For the money you pay for Drakon, it really fits a lot of niches in a game group, such as the "short but fun" filler game, the "what do we play when we have 6 people" game, and the "I want to be evil to my friends" game. It's a great buy, and while not for everyone and certainly not the best game ever, I think it's a game that almost anyone will enjoy.

3.75/5 Stars

Learn more at Fantasy Flight's Drakon site, although this one is not nearly as cool as Through The Desert's site:

Additionally, the amazing and talented Universal Head has come up with a quick rules guide on The Headless Hollow:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Through The Desert - Who'd Have Thought Herding Cute Little Pastel Camels Would Be So Cutthroat?

Some things are made for adults but look as if they're meant for kids, just as some things are meant for kids but look like they should be played with by adults. No, I'm not talking about handguns or breasts. I'm talking about a Knizia game most recently reprinted by Fantasy Flight Games, the wonderful little area control game called Through The Desert. It contains all the things that you'd expect to see in any toy section at your local Wally World: pastel colors, cute little plastic trees, and even little circus animals. You might even dismiss the game as a kid's game based upon the rear of the box that displays the cute little pink and purple camels, but you'd be mistaken to do so. This game is about slashing gaping, bloody wounds in your opponent's throat, all the while singing the theme song to Aladdin and marvelling at the fact that camels apparently come in lime green varietals. This is a nasty, backstabbity game in pastel clothing that has a focus not only on expanding your area of control, but more importantly, marginalizing your opponents' moves and denying them opportunities. I mean, what other game can have you screaming, "Lalalalalalalalala" after totally hosing over a friend? Epic.

The concept of the game is simple and earnest: there are five colors of camels, and once you've placed your caravan leader, on every turn you place two camels adjacent to one of your existing camels or caravan leaders. The freshly placed camels must match the color of the camel you're placing it next to, and you cannot "cross the streams" by placing a camel of one color adjacent to a camel of that same color that is owned by another player. Points are scored for having the highest number of each color at the end of the game, and during the game you can score points by placing camels on spaces with points markers on them, completely enclosing an area, and finally, moving a camel train to one of the aforementioned plastic trees that represent an oasis. All in all, it seems to be a cute, simple, fun kid's game on the outside, and it may be, but there's a much darker side to pink camels; of that I'm sure. The game comes to its conclusion when one color of camels has been spent completely, with a final tallying putting the exclamation point at the end.

The components are the usual FFG quality and the box art is a hair on the bland side for my tastes, but it's a game about caravans of camels jockeying for position in a desert, so really, there's no need for art. This may actually be the only Knizia game that doesn't feel painted on, though. I know it is, and this could've easily been rethemed using little Coyotes creating underground tunnels for illegal immigrants to get from safehouse to safehouse, but in Through The Desert the theme really feels to be an integral part of the game. Inside the box you will find a bunch of Caravan Leader clips which you attach to camels, what feels like two hunred camels in five carribean colors, a couple of handfuls of scoring tokens, five two-part plastic trees, a medium sized and incredibly bland board, and finally, a rulebook that is large, but written in six or so languages, with only a few pages being required reading. The overall quality of everything is superb, albeit a bit bland on the artwork, and the price I paid for it, $25.00 USD, was a fair price for the amount of plastic within the box.

Setup is a little bit of a pain in the ass, to be honest, because you need to segregate the camel piles, which is no easy task in itself, but the green and blue camels are so closely pigmented that in a darker room you will have absolutely no possible way to distinguish them. To embellish this point, I've painted all the blue camels' tails in black so that we can actually tell them apart. You must then place your little leader clips on top of a camel of each color as well as upon a grey "extra" camel which reminds you what color you're playing. Beyond that, you have to place a great deal of the scoring chits face down on little blue dots printed onto the game board. These chits have a number printed on the front with a value of one through three, and as mentioned, are taken by players who place a camel upon them. Finally, you must then place five little plastic trees upon five of the seven printed tree locations to complete the setup.

Once the game's set up, the game is actually very fast-playing. The first set of rounds finds each player placing one of their caravan leaders on the board. No player may place the same color leader-riding camel as the player before them, and no player may place these caravan leaders upon either a chit or adjacent to a tree. Once all five of everyone's caravan leaders are placed, the real meat of the game begins. Each player, in turn, places two camels of any color they wish adjacent to one of their existing camels. Placing a camel onto a scoring chit allows you to pick it up and score it, but you may leave this face-down in front of you to obscure your score from wandering eyes. Another scoring move is to place a camel adjacent to a tree, which scores you a fast five points. That being said, you may only score that five points per tree per color, meaning you can't simply surround a tree and score a total of 30 points, but may instead score that first five and extend your caravan to another tree for an additional five points. The last way to score points during normal play is to completely block off an area. If you can do so, you not only score one point per open space that you blocked off at the end of the game, you may immediately take any remaining chits within that area. This is a tricky thing to do as you may never place one of your camels of a given color adjacent to an opposing player's camel of that same color, so it's really a matter of careful planning. Keep in mind that no camel, once placed, may ever be moved, so each camel you place is important to your overall strategy.

At the end of the game, once the last camel of any one color is placed, you tally up your scoring chits. That is, essentially, your base score. On top of that, using the five special colored chits that are included, you hand out ten points to the player who has the most camels on the board of any given color. This is generally a very big deal, so making sure to keep a close eye on the piles of camels will help you determine easily which are the easiest colors to get the advantage in during the final rounds of the game. Finally, you count the spaces that you've blocked off and score yourself 1 point per space. Once you've calculated all of these scores, the player with the highest score wins.

All in all, this is a ridiculously fun little game for what it is. It's simple, can be played with anyone, and plays so fast that it can be over in 30 minutes or so, even with 4 players. The most agonizing parts of the game are the setup and the score calculation at the end. Other than that, it's a definite win, and that's really saying something for a Euro, at least at my house. The wife loves it, the kids love it, and my group that normally screams for blood, revels in fistfuls of dice, and is overjoyed by the sight of bodies stacked like firewood likes the game. In fact, just last night I was playing this with my wife and buddy Mickey, both of which totally dig Through the Desert. Mickey even commented that, "I can't believe I like this game...I used to launch missiles at people, through the desert!" I can't believe I'm saying this, but Reiner Knizia, for the win!

How This Game Deserves To Match "Sonny" Crockett's Wardrobe:
-Simple rules and easy learning curve make this a total shoo-in for game night
-While it has some depth, even a child can grasp the concepts and play reasonably well
-This may be one of the best $25.00 USD games ever when it comes to replayability
-I have to admit it, the little camels are indeed cute
-The lack of downtime keeps everyone at the table engaged and enjoying the game

What Makes This Game Less Than "Rico" Tubbs-Level Cool:
-It is about camels, and the only camels-related items I find interesting are those that come in tight jeans
-Aside from the cool plastic parts, the board and chits are as boring as David Caruso's acting in CSI Miami (or anything, for that matter)
-The little caravan leader clips really need to be glued on as they fall off quite often after repeated plays

This is a total no-brainer. Unless you are opposed to pastel colors, camels, or simple Euro games, this is a complete win. Yes, I know it's simple at its core, but it's so fast-playing and has such an emphasis on smart unit placement that it is just a caravan-sized box loaded with fun.

4/5 Stars

To get this game, go to a local FLGS or get it online at the big distributors like, and if you want to check it out before making any investments in camel-driven fun, go ahead and head to the FFG site for more info: The Desert

Just make sure that you have the sound on when you go there...their flash ad has some really bizarre Middle-Eastern music that is a riot. It makes me want to go knuckle up some infidels, rafiki!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tikal - Proving That An Interesting Theme And Important Decisions Do Not Equate To Fun

If I didn't know better, a tile-placing, treasure hunting, site excavating game with good art would sound like a really good time. I mean, when you put those words together in the same sentence, you have visions of Alan Quartermain and Indiana Jones, so how awesome should it be? Here's the rub, though: when you put all those descriptive words into the same sentence, then add the phrases, "worker placement" and "area control", it has the exact same effect as pounding a rock-hard erection with a five pound sledge hammer. It totally, completely ruins it. To add insult to injury, there's not a single, solitary die in the box. In short, Rio Grande Games, who I love for “El Grande” and “Race for the Galaxy”, has made a game with really neat art and an incredibly interesting theme and has caused me to feel as though I completely wasted seven hours of my life. To say the least, I am more than a bit disappointed. Maybe it's that I played a few scenarios of "Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel" just before playing Tikal last night, but after a two-hour stint of hunting treasures and placing workers I was left with a bitter memory of the experience of Tikal.

The concept of Tikal is that there are up to four competing teams of treasure hunters exploring the land of Tikal, which happens to be a treasure hunter's dream. Temples and treasure sites abound, and both can be exploited for your own personal gain. The trick to profiting from your treasure hunting is to make sure that you have the largest expedition force on a temple tile when a volcano erupts, which signifies the beginning of a scoring round. Tikal is simply a typical German-style game, which I like to refer to as EuroTripe, and unlike El Grande which has some similar mechanics, this game is simply less fun than getting a scrotum shave with a belt sander. Yes, it's an interesting game that might have academics drooling, but in my opinion, a game is supposed to be fun and Tikal simply misses the mark.

Let's open up this really pretty-looking box and see what you get for your forty bones! The first thing you're met with are three sets of large chit-sheets which contain a tremendous number of double-sided “Settlers Of Catan” style hexagons, temple chits, treasure chits, and four of the most hideous and unintelligible player reference cards I have ever seen. All of the art is quite nice, especially for a Euro. Moving on, there is a large, quite nicely illustrated game board, four sets of wooden bits that represent the workers, camps, and leaders of each player’s expedition, and finally, a rulebook. The rulebook, while very long, is written in a bunch of different languages, so the rules are actually quite short and incredibly well written. It will only take one read of the rules to "get" how to explore Tikal, which was a blessing because the game, at first glance, is a hair on the intimidating side.

Setting the game is a snap, really, which is always a good thing. Simply stack the Temple chits by number, sort the hexagons by the letter on the reverse side and make a stack, make a face-down stack of the treasure chits, place your score markers on the first space on the scoring track that resides on the periphery of the board, and you’re ready to play. As per most EuroTripe, an arbitrary person goes first; this time it’s the oldest player. You really have to give it to the Germans; they seem to truly respect their elders.

Gameplay is quite simple, really, which also helps keep the game interesting. The idea is that every player has ten action points to spend during their turn, and these points can be spent in a number of ways to further your expedition. The options boil down to placing a new worker, moving a worker from one tile to another, making a temple more valuable by excavation, collecting a treasure token, exchanging a treasure token with another player, establishing a camp, or finally, placing a guard at a temple which locks out all other players from scoring at that temple. It’s really not rocket science, but since much of the game is about hosing over your opponents, it makes for a lot of difficult and important decisions. Unfortunately, none of the decisions are particularly fun, and the game suffers greatly from the problem of Analysis Paralysis and tremendous amounts of downtime. Each player’s turn can last as much as three or four minutes or as short as one minute, but in a four player game it literally can be a fifteen minute wait between turns if all the players take their sweet time. This is an inexcusable crime, in my opinion, and the main reason I was not more into this game.

Let’s explore what the players actually do in Tikal. To start a turn, simply take the top hexagon from the stack and place it. Each tile has a number of small, rectangular stones on the edges which indicate how many action points are required to move into the square, and a new tile must be placed so that at least one existing tile leads to the newly placed tile. There are several types of tiles with varying uses for each, so there is a bit of variability in the decisions of where to place them. First, there’s the standard jungle tile which serves no purpose other than being a potential site to build a camp. Next, there’s a treasure tile that has a variable number of little golden idols on each. When placed, the player must stack the treasure chits on the tile according to the number of idols indicated. Third, there are the temple tiles which are the main scoring mechanism in the game. Each temple has a starting value illustrated on it which equates to the amount of points one can score during a scoring round, and these can be upgraded to higher values during gameplay. Finally, there are the volcano tiles which act as the catalyst to begin a scoring round and also act as terrain blockers as they are impassable to all workers. Additionally, the volcano tiles are not placed at the beginning of the round as other tiles are, but instead are played at the end of the round to signify the end of the scoring round. Scoring rounds are exactly like every other round, but the players score their own position at the end of using their ten action points without placing a terrain tile. Once all players have taken their actions and scored their positions, gameplay resumes as normal with the next player in line playing a terrain tile and continuing the game.

Once a player has placed a tile, they may take the ten actions I described above. By using one action point, you may place a new worker from your reserve to the board, and these can only be placed on the base camp that is illustrated on the board or onto a camp that you’ve erected during gameplay. Once you have workers on the board, you may then move an existing worker from one place to another. The action point cost for this is determined by the amount of stones that exist in between where you are currently and the adjacent tile you’d like to move to. Alternatively, if you have a camp, you can move from camp to camp or for a single action point. I should also mention that there each player has one larger worker bit that represents the leader of their expedition. It sounds like a cool job, but the leader is exactly like the workers aside from the fact that it counts as three workers when determining a majority position on a tile. It’s not much, but it’s something!

Now that you understand movement, let me get into some other actions. First, if you have more workers on a temple tile than any other player, you may excavate it for two action points which raises the scoring level of the temple by one. Next for three action points, you can take a treasure chit from a treasure tile. I should explain that these treasures come in eight sets of three, and you score more for having two or three of a kind. To aid you in getting multiple like treasures, for three action points you can exchange treasures with any other player. The idea is to give a player one that doesn’t help them make a match while getting matches of your own. The one caveat is that you cannot break up a pair or triplet, so if an opponent has two of a kind of chit, you cannot ever steal either of those chits. Next, for five action points you may establish a new camp, which is essentially a subway station and spawn point for your workers. These may only be placed on an empty jungle tile or a treasure tile that has all of its riches pilfered, and there may only be one camp per tile, so it can also be used to deny an opponent a camp site. Each player may only establish two camps per game, and these may never be moved. Finally, for five action points you may place a guard on a temple, provided you have a majority position on that tile. This locks you into this tile, meaning that no player aside from you will ever score that temple. You may only guard two temples, ever, and these guards are permanent.

Finally, there is an auction-based tile buying variant included that allows players to see which tiles are available and sell their scoring points to buy them and determine their turn order, but it’s not that exciting. The short version is that each player starts with a score of 20 points and can bid the points in order to take a certain tile of their choosing from the available face up tiles, and in the process, determine the order of play.

That, in a nutshell, is Tikal. Place workers, move workers, and try to get a majority position in all of the really juicy spots. There are a limited number of workers, so it’s imperative that you effectively place them and move them to gain the most points during a scoring round, of which there are three in addition to the end of game scoring round. All in all, it really sounded neat and I dropped the forty bones to buy it, but I can’t see myself playing this game very often. My wife gave this game a score of negative 25 on a scale of one to five, and the other players there gave it between a two and three out of five. It’s interesting, and the theme sounds really slick, but the player downtime between rounds is so abhorrent that Tikal really amounts to three minutes of fun spaced out by twelve minutes of waiting and yawning. If you’re a fan of tile-laying worker placement games that lean heavily toward area control, this may be a good game for you, but the way I see it, this game is just not that much fun.

On our third game we decided to create a house rule that involves some murder in the jungles, and that really added some fun to the game. Our variant is that for three action points you may choose an opponent that has workers on a tile that you have workers on, and you may then roll as many dice as you have workers there. Your opponent does the same. Compare the dice, and for every die that scores a five or six you may remove, meaning assassinate, that opponent’s worker, who goes back into the player’s reserve. The exceptions are that you may not attack a leader, although they still get a die to roll, and you may not attack anyone when a base camp is present as it may attract the unwanted attentions of the Tikal Police Department, resulting in trial and subsequent incarceration. This new mechanic adds some more “screw you” factor as well as a bit of Ameritrash to the game and makes for an infinitely more enjoyable experience.

Things That Make Tikal A CCR-Level Run Through The Jungle:
- Nice art really makes Tikal a thematic winner, with all the bits being of great quality.
- This is a thinking person’s game, and with little in the way of luck it’s more Chess than Summoner Wars
- The box insert is spectacularly well designed, making cleanup and setup a breeze

Things That Did Not Tikal My Fancy, Not A Bit:
- The downtime between turns kills any hope you had of having fun, even in a three player game
- The rote repetition of the mechanics lack any semblance of excitement
- Tikal has the worst player reference card in the history of boardgaming
- Did I mention that the game is incredibly dull?

I cannot envision a game that is less exciting. It’s interesting and has a cool theme, but the lack of direct player interaction, the incredibly long downtime between turns, and the predisposition for Analysis Paralysis this game engenders simply kills the fun factor with a Jack Kevorkian degree of skill and precision. If you read this and buy this game, it’s because you really like Euros, and I’m glad I helped you out. If you read this and don’t buy it because you don’t like this style of game, I’m glad I saved you forty bucks; spend it on El Grande instead as it is a far superior, yet similar, game.

2.25/5 Stars

If you really, really, really feel the need to get this, have at it. You can read more about it here:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Defenders of the Realm - Cure The Pandemic That's Causing A Castle Panic In The Magic Realm!

While at Gencon 2010 last Saturday I had a moment to run over to the Eagle Games booth to try to chat with Keith Blume, the BMOC at Eagle, but the booth was so busy that I didn't have the opportunity to chat with him. One of the major reasons the booth was busy was that people were there in swarms to pick up Defenders Of The Realm (DotR), their latest venture. It was at this point that I realized that I was not the only one who thinks that it's a neat concept, and that I was sure glad to have played it. The art is superb and incredibly sharp, the gameplay is brisk and engaging, and the fun factor is absolutely there. The long and short is that if you like Pandemic, like the theme and "four generals trying to siege the castle" of Castle Panic, and the questing/reward system in Return of the Heroes, this game is absolutely the one for you. Quite frankly, after reading some of the reviews of my more *academic* colleagues, I wasn't sure that this would be anything new. The game's been compared to Pandemic almost as much as George Bush has been compared to the Devil. After my first read of the rules, I almost agreed, but after my first actual play of the game, I could not disagree more.

This is a blend, in my opinion, of the mechanics of three very different games: Pandemic, Castle Panic, and Magic Realm.This game, while appearing to have many concepts that were borrowed from Pandemic, is a far more interesting, far more engaging, and most importantly, is a much more fun design You get the tense, expanding threat mechanic of Pandemic, the card-actuated battles and "paths to the castle" from Castle Panic, and the questing and truly exceptional variable character powers from Magic Realm, and in its entirety you have a ridiculously interesting and fun composite that is far different and more engaging than each of the individual components. It's a nail biting, teeth gnashing, hand wringing battle royale against the forces of evil and even though we now have 2 wins and 2 losses against the game, we still want to play it again and it's not even close to getting old yet. The long and short is that this is a great, great game, and you need to get a copy of it or you'll be missing out on one of the hands-down best games of 2010.

The overall concept is that there's this groovy little world where four General Officers of the United Forces Of Evil are roaming the land attempting to overtake Monarch City, the capitol of this world. Each General has his own special abilites as do his troops, and your job as the conquering heroes of the land is to execute each and every last one of them, with extreme prejudice. Unfortunately, as their troops take over the land they leave a wake of uninhabitable destruction that must be cleansed before time runs out, and cleansing these lands is on par with removing a rusty tooth from a rabid pitbull on testosterone supplements. There's quests you can complete to buff your characters, inns and cities where you can equip yourself and heal your wounds, but if you take too long trying to heal and equip, you'll be overrun and lose the game.

Let's take a quick look at the components now. First, let's talk about that art: All the art is done by the phenomenally famous Larry Elmore, who became famous for his Dungeons and Dragons work over the past 20 years. The man is one of the best fantasy artists of all time and it truly shows in his work on DotR, it is all superb. The box itself is huge, almost the size of a Space Hulk box, and the cover art is spectacular. When you open the box, you're met with several cardstock boards representing the player characters, the Generals, and a War Track. Under these is another chit sheet loaded with quarter-sized chits of various purpose, such as life/action markers and Magic Gate markers. Once you've gotten past those, there's the board, which is lovely and about the same size as a Talisman board, so make sure you have a big table to play on. Finally, there's the plastics and dice: there's four sets of Minion figures with 25 of each color, there's four Generals, one of which is a large dragon, there's the player models which are made of grey plastic and are ripe for painting, and then there's the Tainted Land Crystals which mark areas on the board that have been laid to waste. There are 12 dice with 3 each in each of the four colors, and for whatever reason I have gotten 3 of the worst red dice in the history of man; they literally only land on ones and twos no matter what you try to do. Finally, there's three decks of cards marked with the titles of Darkness Spreads, Hero Cards, and Quests, which all serve different purposes. I should also mention that there's a reasonably well-written rulebook that allows you to jump right into the game, and on the back cover there's a listing of all of the actions a player may take on their turn. The one thing that was a total error was that they neglected to put the "hit bogeys" for each type of minion on the back which would've been nice, but after the first game you pretty much know what it takes to hit each type of minion so it's not that big a deal. The box insert is really great as well as it allows everything to be segregated in a logical way and makes it for a very easy setup and cleanup.

All in all, the quality of the components are top shelf, the art on the cards is exceptional, and the chits come out of the sprues without so much as one hanging chad. The only complaint I had at all with any of it, besides the truly evil red dice, is that the game uses red, green, black, and blue as the General colors and the blue and black look so alike on the cards that sometimes it's a bit hairy unless you're in a well lit room. For me, that's a big deal because while I am not color blind, light really bothers my eyes so we generally have the house a little on the dark side. The truth is that each location on the map has a colored ring around it so there's no way to screw up the placement of figures, so it's just a Pete issue, not really a game issue at all. The only other beef I had with anything is that some of the text on the character cards is in a light red color and it's really quite hard to see, although the font choice they made actually helps the readability of the cards over some "fantasy" font that other games have used. Like I said, everything is top shelf, and I am quite pleased with the overall look and feel of everything in the game.

Setting up the game takes all of five minutes, even with the bits not really well organized. First, the players select a character card and matching figure, take one quest card and two hero cards each, then place their figures in the center of the map in Monarch city. Next, place the War Track marker on the Early War space on the War Track and place the hit markers on the highest number on each General's card. Once you're done with that, you take the Generals and place them on their start positions as shown on the map along with three minions. The Demon General is an exception as you also place a Tainted Land Crystal on his position. Once the Generals are on the march, you take three Darkness Spreads cards and place two minions on each of the two listed locations, followed by a redux of this same mechanic, but the second time you only place one minion on the listed locations. Once that's done, you're ready to face the forces of evil and free the land of their blight. The bad news is that while the only way to win is to kill all of the Generals, there are a sea of ways to lose. You can lose if five or more minions are placed within the walls of Monarch City, you can lose if any General makes his way to Monarch City, you can lose if all of the Tainted Land Crystals are placed on the board, and you can lose if you run out of minions to place when a minion is called into play. It's hard, but not so hard that it becomes impossible to play, and the rulebook has some variants to make the game slightly easier or harder if you desire to play the game in "Epic Wussy Mode" or "Legendary Mode", so to speak.

Gameplay is very simple and quite brisk, provided you don't get locked into an Analysis Paralysis session. Each character starts with a set amount of actions they can take per turn, and each player expends all of their action points performing actions. The available actions essentially boil down to moving one space to an adjacent location, playing a Location Card that allows you to move via horse, eagle or Magic Gate, depending on the icon on the card, using an action point to attack minions at your current location, initiating combat with a General, using a point to heal yourself, using a point to collect cards at an Inn, using a point to play a card to construct a Magic Gate, or finally, using an action point to perform a special ability like teleportation if your character has the ability. It's really a simple game to play, with hardly any referring back to the rulebook at all. You may need to refer back to it initially to get your arms around the fact that different minions require a different "bogey" to roll above in order to kill them, but after four or five combats it becomes second nature. There are some complexities when it comes to fighting the Generals, but really that's about the hardest thing to grasp and it's really quite simple at that. One thing to note is that if you end a turn in a space with minions present you lose a life point for every minion present, and in the case of the Undead you lose one additional life point due to stark, raving horror. To add insult to injury, life points are the same as action points, so not only do you grow closer to doom when you lose a life point, you also lose actions on subsequent turns which can be an absolutely hobbling loss.

After a player has expended all of their action points, they must draw two Hero Cards and a number of Darkness Spreads cards as defined by the War Track. The default is to draw two Darkness Spreads cards, and these cards have one or two locations listed. You must place new minions on each of the locations which not only brings you closer to doom, but can cause overruns of minions which Taints the Land and spreads the evil even faster. On top of that, the bottom of the Darkness Spreads card has an icon of a General and a location listed which in many cases causes a General to move closer toward Monarch City and defeat. The Generals always move in a predisposed path along their General track, which is listed clearly on the board, and when they move to a new location they also spawn new minions to their location, which again can cause overruns, Tainted Land, and a whole ration of bad shit to happen.

Travelling through the world is a simple thing, but unfortunately the spaces are not all directly interconnected so you will need to plan ahead in order to get where you wish to go at any given point. One action point allows you to move to any space linked with a dotted line, but you can also play cards to move faster. Playing a card with a horse icon allows you to move two spaces for one action point and playing a card with an eagle icon allows you to move four spaces for one action point. On top of that, there's the Magic Gate icons that allow you to instantly travel to several locations of your choice. At the start of the game there is one Magic Gate in existence and any Magic Gate card will allow you to travel there. Each card also has a location listed on it that you can travel to if you play the card and it has a Magic Gate icon on it. You can construct a Magic Gate if you are currently present on the location listed on a card, irrespective of its icon, which can then be used by you and others to travel to. If you have multiple Magic Gates on the board, you need only expend one action point to move from one Gate to another, and you don't need to expend a card to do it, so it really amounts to the DotR subway system if you strategically position your Gates well. In my opinion, it's incredibly important to travel to key locations, such as Inns, and build these gates so that you can head to them more easily to heal and stock up on cards which can be useful while fighting Generals or to get closer to places that are loaded with minions for the purposes of mass executions before they taint the land.

Speaking of Tainted Land, this comes into play when something causes more than three minions to appear at any given location. The game comes with twelve Tainted Land Crystals, and as I mentioned before, if they all get placed, the heroes are SOL and the players collectively lose the game. The good news is that some quests provide an easy way to remove a Crystal, provided you complete the quest, and you can always attempt to remove a crystal if you have the card depicting the location of the Crystal and are on the location at the time of the attempt. In order to remove a Crystal you simply play the card and roll two dice; if either die roll has a value of five or higher, a Crystal is removed from that location. There is no limit to how many crystals can be on one location, but in the end it really doesn't matter much as there's no significance to having multiple Crystals on a single location. There is bad news beyond just having Tainted Land, though; when an overrun occurs and a Crystal is placed, all adjacent spaces have a minion placed on them of the color that caused the overrun. This can be painful as the minions have different values to roll in order to kill them, and some characters have bonuses against specific races, so having two or three types of minions on a location can cause you to have a harder time defeating them all.

Quests are rather a simple affair in DotR, with most boiling down to requiring a player to move to a location and perform a die roll or killing a set amount of a given race of minions. The rewards seem to pretty much revolve around giving you a bonus against a General or allowing you to remove a Tainted Land Crystal from any location of your choosing at any time. Completing quests also earns you a personal victory point to determine who the overall Billy Badass is at the end of the game, assuming the heroes win. As I noted in the setup, you start with a Quest Card, and regardless of the outcome of the quest you undertake, you always get a replacement Quest Card, so you always have a quest to undertake. Some of the most important buffs we've gotten revolve around killing minions, and since that's not too hard a task, the quests actually are an important part of the game even though they seem to be a sideline aspect at first glance.

Combat with the minions is a simple dice roll; you spend an action point to fight all minions in a given location and roll the color of the dice that are associated with the minions. For example, if you have two green Orc minions and a black Undead minion and initiate combat with them, you simply roll two green dice and one black one. Each minion has a different value required to kill them, with the Orcs being easiest to kill, needing a three or better, and the Dragonkin being the hardest, needing a five or better. Many of the characters have bonuses that can be applied to the rolls, so in many cases it's not too hard to clear a location of all the baddies. Fighting Generals, though, is an entirely different deal. Each Hero Card has an associated color, with a variable number of dice icons at the bottom of the card. To fight a General, you must play the cards that match the color of the General, although there are some wild cards that can be used against any General, and you roll the sum of the dice icons that are listed on the cards you play against them. Each General also have a value that you must roll to hit them and they all have multiple hit points, so attacking Generals is a hairy proposition at best if you go it alone. They also heal themselves if you don't kill them, so it's imperative to greivously wound them so that the next guy in line can deliver the fatal blow. If two or more heroes are in the same location the active player may initiate combat for one action point and all of the present heroes can then fight it out with the General, with each player rolling their dice sequentially. If a General is killed, the player who delivered the mortal wound becomes the Slayer of that race and is afforded the right to commit wholesale genocide against that race from that point forth. Essentially, if you kill a General of any color and subsequently spend an action point to fight that General's minions, no roll is required to kill them as they die at the sheer sight of your magnificence. Again, there is bad news, though: once you kill a General, the War Track moves up a level and this causes you to have to draw more Darkness Spreads cards at the end of your turn, spreadng the evil minions even faster and potentially moving the Generals closer to Monarch City.

The game ends when all four Generals have been defeated or if the players allow a defeat condition to occur. Although DotR is a cooperative game, the guy who killed more Generals and completed more Quests than anyone else is deemed the King's Champion and is the winner. Ties can occur, but in my limited experience I just can't see this happening too often. So far, we've beaten back the Legions of Doom twice and have had Monarch City overrun by their foulness twice, but in all cases we had a hell of a good time. It's a reasonably fast paced game with an incredible amount of tough decisions, a fair bit of Ameritrash-style fistfuls of dice being tossed, and it is absolutely one of the best games I've played. If you liked Pandemic, you'll like this unless you're a total Euro-litest that cannot bear the thought of rolling a die, and if you're a fan of fantasy, this will also work for you as it's very thematic and the art truly inspires feelings of wizards and warriors battling demons and dragons to the death.

The only true downside to the game is that it's a bit on the expensive side, with a common price being about $60.00 US Dollars, but the way I see it, this game is better than a great many $30.00 games I've bought and I'd trade almost any two of those cheaper games for this one, so I find it to be a real bargain. I can forseee my groups and my family playing this game for a great long time, so in the end I think that any game that gets to the table a lot of times trumps a bunch of cheaper games that will see initial table time but get relegated to the shelf after a month. Go out and get this game, it's absolutely brilliant and is as close to a perfect crossover between EuroTrash and AmeriGame as I've ever seen.

What Makes Defenders of the Realm Truly Heroic:
- While some call the design "derivative", all games have taken something from somewhere else and I find this to be a fresh, original design that's absolutely brilliant
- Fast turns lead to little in the way of downtime, and the conversations that spawn during turns make this a great thinking person's game
- The balance of difficulty versus playability is absolutely perfect
- It's a real value because it has such replayability and such an incredibly cool theme
- With a game time of about 90 minutes, it's just as Goldilocks said, "Just Right"

What Makes Me Want to Feed Eagle Games To Sapphire:
- That red text on the character cards was an epic failure of graphic design
- The use of such similar colors on the cards and with the figures makes it hard to see things in poor lighting
- The fact that all the minions are exactly the same except for the color was a little disappointing

This is one of the best games that has come out this year, and it would be an unforgivable lack of judgement to pass on this. Go to some online retailer and get it, you won't be disappointed! The art and theme are incredible, the gameplay is simple, and it is such a fun little game that it has a tremendous amount of replayability.

4.75/5 Stars

You can check out the game at Eagle Games' site:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gencon 2010, Where Dreams Come True, Provided You Dream Of The Circus

Gencon is, without a doubt, the "best four days of gaming" as it is advertised. The thing that they never seem to advertise, though, is that is also the best four days of people watching. It truly is the ultimate place to see shit that you simply cannot explain; shit that simply defies reason or sanity. In fact, I am truly convinced that the concept of the Wandering Monster was developed by someone sitting in a chair at Gencon, watching the freaks walk by in various states of decrepitude or cosplay madness.

The terrible cosplaying is only the beginning, too, as there is also the smell of the gamer funk to contend with. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Gencon smells like a torrent of unwiped asshole and dirty feet. The smell isn't unbearable, but this year I was unlucky enough to sit directly next to a guy who, to quote Slick Rick, "Don't know the meanin' of water nor soap." This guy was foul, and I don't mean slightly uncouth, but rather totally and irrevocably vile to a degree I have only once experienced, and that was when I had to help a friend drag a three day old dead Labrador out of a basement where he died. Holy Christ above, this guy was absolutely repugnant in every conceivable way.

 In short, Gencon is to many people a venue for drawing attention to themselves where to others it is simply a gamer's heaven. I'll never understand the former, but for the latter, I proudly claim that Gencon is as close to a gamer's paradise as one can envision.

I left on Saturday morning at 7:00A and got to Indianapolis at about 8:30A, having determined that my Eclipse GT Turbo really can do 130 on the ground, and I parked at the Circle Center Mall parking garage for the enviable rate of 15$ a day. After a short, yet brisk, jaunt to the Convention center while sucking down several Camel Turkish Royals, I saw an old buddy waiting outside puffing on a Cowboy Killer and chatted him up until about 9:00A, at which point I went to the Will Call line to get my badge and event ticket.

Luckily there was no line and I walked right up to a gentleman who had more metal all up in his grill than my wife's Cadillac to get my stuff. Ironically, he radioed to a buddy that "This guy in the white shirt here is causing trouble", to which I retorted, "Dude, do you know me or something?" It was all gravy from that point on; within one minute I was awash in a sea of gamer funk and obese cosplay chicks wearing crop-topped shirts that not only provided a shot of their muffin top, you could see the whole fucking pan.

Then there's the girls wearing short Daisy Dukes and Sailor Moon skirts; these chicks really need to rethink their wardrobes. I mean, if you're a hottie, that's all good, but if you're two hundred fifty pounds and five feet tall, please, don't do it. Nobody thinks it's hot; we're thinking that the craters in the back of your legs may actually be both where Waldo is and what Willis was talking about.

I've decided that I am having a T-shirt made for Gencon next year that will include a photo of an overweight Cosplay chick superimposed over the Nike Swoosh with the phrase "Don't Do It". Please don't read this to mean that I have anything against overweight people, this isn't the case. Many of my best friends, male and female, are big folks. All I'm saying is that if you are a big person, it's not a good idea to wear what amounts to a technicolor bikini while walking around at a venue with more than 25,000 people. Just not a good idea.

Anyhow, aside from the incredibly poor wardrobe decisions and basic lack of hygiene, the con was a great time again this year. I played very poorly in a couple of Heroscape tournaments and dropped out of both early, allowing me the opportunity to walk the show, meet friends, demo games, and talk shop. For the record, I want to point out that if you ever wanted to get involved in an event, Heroscape is the one to get involved in.

Unlike the other Wizards of the Coast games that are run ridiculously poorly by Pastimes, Heroscape is a fan-based, fan-run event series. A guy named Mark Pruitt, one of the most selfless and genuinely good people I have ever met, was the main guy who was organizing this year's event, and not surprisingly, it was run better and more efficiently than Pastimes' sorry bitch asses could've ever hoped or dreamed of doing. That being said, right next door was another event run by yet another incredibly good dude, Jerry Hawthorne.

The event was for Summoner Wars, which I didn't even know had a tournament scene, but apparently does indeed as there were a great many players there, decks ready to, as another friend put it, "Summon Stabbity Death". There were all kinds of events going on in Hall F, where I was at this point, such as Star Wars Miniatures, Classic Battletech, Axis and Allies: War at Sea, and a million other games. Thankfully, Heroscapers are, by and large, very clean and well groomed folks so there really was no funk going on while I was there.  Unfortunately, we Heroscapers were not alone.

Half of the entire hall was made up of M:TG folks which, as usual, were hands-down the smelliest section in the hall. I walked the aisles and saw that while there were only a few people there clearly wearing 3-day old clothes, cosplay, or Goth gear, the vast majority of rows smelled of body mold and well-used flip flops.

It never ceases to amaze me how gamers truly stand firm by their stereotypes more than any other stereotyped group. That being said, there were a shitload of normal looking, well adjusted, clean folks but as in all things, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the casual observer would only be able to ask one question: "What the fuck were they thinking???"

Moving on, I should tell you about some of the cool new stuff out there in the Gaming world. First, FFG/AEG has started selling their new City of Thieves, and it looks incredibly good. The minis are superb, and if you were lucky enough to buy it at Gencon, you would've gotten the full monty package including expertly painted miniatures.

The word is that they are going to sell the game en masse with unpainted minis with a separate package available with the painted minis. C'mon, Alderac, don't make the same mistake as last year with The Adventurers; charge 20$ more and sell the game with the painted stuff. Anyhow, their booth was loaded with folks demoing a variety of games and I got to sit and play some Rush N' Crush, which is still one of my favorites. Anyone foolish enough to take a pass on AEG as a company is making a foolish, foolish mistake. They fucking rock, and even with the faux pas of selling games with unpainted miniatures and then selling them separately, the company makes exceptionally fun and engaging games and it would be a pinnacle error to discount them as a good company, because they truly kick ass.

Next, I went over to Eagle games to thank Keith Blume for the review copy of Defenders of the Realm (review to be written this week), but he was so busy talking to people and selling games I didn't want to interrupt. He was wearing a suit and tie, being arguably the best dressed man at the Con. Just so you know, Defenders of the Realm is fucking awesome. It is a mix of Pandemic, Castle Panic, and Runebound in equal bits, in my opinion. If you read this before heading to the Con, or even while waiting for an event, get over there and buy it. It's one of the best games of 2010, without a doubt.

I then cruised over to the Plaid Hat games booth to hook up with my buddy Chad who was working the booth for Colby as well as to pay my respects to the man himself, Mr. Plaid Hat. The booth was small and when I went there, there was a line waiting to demo it.

In fact, Colby sold 4 full-monty sets of Summoner Wars right there while I was standing and watching. The man's a phenom; he went from a simple freelance designer working for Hasbro to a veritable Goliath of the gaming industry overnight. What an American Dream story. As I'm tired of my kid beating my ass at Summoner Wars, I picked up the Elf/Goblin starter set as well as the new battle board and the two new Expansions, Vanguards and the Fallen Kingdom. The art is outstanding on the expansions, but the hard on was really caused by the battle board. What a masterpiece! This thing easily surpasses most of the huge game companies in both layout and quality, and it is well worth the fifteen bones he's asking for it. If you're a fan of Summoner Wars, I suggest you pick one up as it's far superior to the paper mat and is actually quite portable, surprisingly. It folds down to an area that's just larger than the starter box sizes, meaning that in its totality the board and a starter are roughly the size of a child's shoebox. Epic Win, Colby and Company.

I then got a text from a buddy from Louisville, Adam, who was at the Fantasy Flight Games booth playing the Game Of Thrones with some random douchebag. As I walked up, the guy shot me a shitty look and said something nasty like, "Excuse me, we're playing here" at which point my first thought was to smash the jizzguzzler hard in the face, but seeing as Adam is such a nice guy and I really didn't want to pay a bail, I figured I'd just ignore the cockswiller. Knowing that the guy hasn't seen a vagina since he looked up and saw his mother's at birth was consolation enough; if I spent every night in my parent's basement fucking my fist while watching "furries" I'd be cranky too, I suppose. Anyhow, A Game of Thrones looked to be a very interesting game, but as I didn't want Adam to have to bear the brunt of this fuktard if I kept talking to him, I said my goodbyes and trotted off.

It was at this point that I had found my prey: Flamboyant Hat Guy. I should explain: at very event I attend, I try to seek out the most obnoxious, ridiculous hat that I can find to make the guy famous. Unfortunately, this year had so many choices it was tough to decide, but this one stood out as the most outlandish shit I have ever seen at an event. The man was dressed in a nice-ish suit, with his face painted Heinz ketchup red, and was wearing a two foot tall french fry hat. Epic is the only word that came to mind. I tried to get a frontal photo but I was laughing so hard I couldn't keep the camera still so I only managed to get a photo from 45 degrees behind him. To the man with the French Fry Hat, I commend you. Well played, sir. Well played.

I cruised over to the Wizkids booth to check out their Star Trek Clix game, which I found wasn't even there, but I did find one of the most bad-ass playmaps in the history of mankind. This map was set up with a multitude of heroes and villains struggling for supremacy, and it was awesome. I'm not a Wiz Kids fan, and although I do very much like their miniatures, I just don't like the games they produce. I was, at one point, a fan of Star Wars Pocketmodels, but that wore thin very quickly and luckily I only dumped forty or fifty smackerels on it, so it wasn't a terrible loss. As you can see from the image, they are quite a creative lot, so I'll be watching to see how the Star Trek game plays out.

After patrolling the gaming areas, I decided to ring a friend from the Eye of the Vortex website, a site I syndicate articles on and was dubbed a "Staff Writer and Editor". The man is Shea Reinke, VP of Marketing for the website, and he responded that he was out front of the convention center by the Hot Dog stand. I snuck up on him as he was smoking a roll-your-own Bugler and took a photo of him standing there looking as if he was lost. We met up, talked some shop, and then walked around looking for some trouble to get into. I decided that it was now time to find the Epic Fail Costume of the con, and again, there were so many choices that it was nigh impossible to decide.

I eventually settled upon Epic Fail Wonder Woman because while the costume was actually pretty good, the person wearing it was not. She looked more like "Wonder Why The Hell I Wore This Woman" or maybe even "Lynda Carter After 20 Years Of Binge Drinking". Certain characters are to be held to a higher standard, and Wonder Woman is one of them. In fact, my wife was Wonder Woman for Hallow'een some years ago and she is amazingly hot, so with that image of her burned eternally into my subconscious masturbational fantasies, I simply could not allow this to stand unrequited. Here, my friends, is Epic Fail Costume of Gencon 2010, Wonder Woman.

Shea and I then went into a random gaming room as the dealer hall had been closed, and we found ourselves at the Mayday Games room. There were about fifty Crokinole boards sitting around and when Shea asked me what the hell it was about, a random guy turned around and invited us to join he and his buddy for a game. I'd never played before, so after a short explanation we got right into it. It's a cross between Carrom and Billiards with a touch of Pitchcar, and I have to say that when I ever get a hundred dollars again, I'm buying one of these. They are expertly crafted pieces of wooden gaming goodness and I would highly, highly recommend it to anyone who likes dexterity games. It's phenomenal.

(Editor's Note: Please see THIS before purchasing a Mayday Crokinole board:
Mayday Crokinole Board Review (TLDR: Piece of shit)
How I found out they shipped me a defective board from another buyer )

As we walked past the overpriced food court, we saw a city built of old CCG cards as well as a variety of other cards such as baseball cards and whatnot. It was really neat, to be honest, and at 10:30P on Saturday people can throw change at the city to Godzilla it to oblivion. Not surprisingly, all the chicks were sitting on the floor doing the building and architecture. I've always thought that women were better suited to creation than men, and not only because of the fact that women bear a uterus, but because they're far less prone to a destructive nature than men. Well, most of them, anyhow.

After running through one more time, we strolled to Stake and Shake for some grub. I have often joked that Steak and Shake was named such because after you eat the steak, you're on the shitter shaking your head and wondering what possessed you to defile your body with such horrible food. I had not eaten anything all day, so at this point anything would do. Shanae Gaye was our server, and for the second year in a row I was impressed with her ability to keep your glass full and stomach happy.

There were cops all over the place, eating dinner presumably, and I noticed that they all carried Glock forty caliber pistols. While I am not a huge Glock fan, I am a huge fan of the forty caliber round, so I was happy to know that if Indianapolis' finest actually manage to hit an absconder of the law, they will absolutely bust the target's shit loose in no uncertain terms. Indianapolis Police 1, Lawbreakers 0.

Finally, Shea and I went to a hotel to the most well-guarded secret of Gencon, the xxxxxx room. This room is a Babylon of game designers, gameheads, and hardcore game enthusiasts, and more than a few game ideas have spawned from this, with some even becoming exceptional products. A great many of my dearest friends all get a very lush, very expensive couple of adjacent rooms and completely take it over, with up to 20 people sharing the rooms and sleeping wherever floor space exists.

The result is that they have their own gaming hall and it reduces the price of the entire week's lodging cost to under two hundred dollars. I met up with a couple of very good friends, and it was at this point that the chaos ensued. I'm not entirely sure that Shea was prepared, but when you're with me, what the hell could you expect?

I should go ahead and tell you the backstory to this so that it has the full effect. Last year I stayed in this fabled room for the first time, and in a rush to leave due to drama at home I had forgotten my single most favorite article of clothing, my "Keep Austin Wierd" shirt. One of my dearest friends was kind enough to find and keep it safe for me. Over this last year since Gencon '09 he has jokingly used it to ransom and blackmail me, and even though I'd been in his town several times and met with him, he kept "forgetting" to return it to me.

He had indicated that he used it as a "masturbational soup catcher", to wipe his soiled ass with it, and as all manner of rag to wipe up vomit and other vile substances. About two months ago he sent my group of friends a series of photos of him wearing it, and I should point out that I wear a men's large and he wears a men's 5XL. It may be the single funniest thing I have ever seen, and only this guy could possibly pull off the gag with such precision. We all laughed about it for the past few months and he even managed to start a faux auction to get people to bid on it since the shirt has such a history.

He was the first person I saw when I got to the room, and after giving him a great big hug he went back to his own room and brought the shirt up to me, but not in his hand. He was fucking WEARING IT. Colossal win, buddy. In the process of posing with me for a photo he managed to knock over and potentially destroy a lamp as well as pour a just opened beer on another guy in the room. What an amazing end to the story of the fabled Gencon Ransom Shirt. After the laughter in the room died down we managed to talk for a while and I got caught up with many of my friends. It was an amazing night, and to top it off his son managed to impress me enough to start an entire new category for my future Gencon reports: Most Disturbing Item Purchased At Gencon. As you can see below, it's a baby weilding a bloody knife and a mutilated teddy bear. It really just doesn't get any better than that!

In the end, Gencon is not the best four days of gaming because of the games alone, it's because of the friends, the freakshow, and the awesome memories that are made there. If you ever have a hankering to get out of town and spend an ungodly amount of money doing something that you will absolutely remember until the last moment of your life, get the fuck to Gencon. Don't wait, don't hesitate, don't hem and haw. Just do it. Please, though, if you're that person that walks out of the house in a costume that's clearly 10 sizes too small so that your enormous stomach sags over the front of the skirt so that you look like you're wearing a Sailor Moon halter top and a flesh-colored skirt, don't fucking do it. If you do, you may end up here, on my blog, for 10,000 people to laugh at you forever.

What Makes Gencon The Ultimate Gaming Mecca:
- Get to see friends you rarely get to
- Meet new people that may end up as lifelong friendships
- See and play the best new games on the market
- Laugh at people who really should've known better

Why Gencon Pisses Me Off, Year After Year:
- $52.00 for a one-day ticket is some fucking bullshit
- The ventilation is such that you can actually smell both shit and BO from 600 feet away
- While sneaking a flask of bourbon is totally simple to do, they do not sell beer or spirits

Just go. If you don't, you're missing out.

5/5 Stars

More of the Photos Of Gencon 2010...

Look in the center of the image; there's the runner up for Flamboyant Hat Guy. He was apparently cosplaying as Pope Tosser Notlaidus I.

Herein lies the City of Theives, at the Fantasy Flight game room.

This dude definately fits the bill for Darth Maul.  This was easily the best costume I saw.

This guy was BLOWING OUT an electric fiddle.  Great Irishy folk music.

Looks like Mario was heading for the Astroglide booth to stock up; with a threesome with Peach and Daisy slated for later, he's probably going to need some. Show them bitches some Mushroom power, bro!

Catalyst is rocking Gencon with a seven foot tall Mech! WIN!

Zev at Z-Man games was too busy at the booth so I didn't stop to talk like I otherwise would've liked to, but I have to say...watching him for five minutes while he was peddling his wares was a spectacle to behold.  The man is a true hustler and he busted his ass all show long.  Long Live Z-Man!

I'm considering suing these guys for infringement on my life....

This is a replica, complete with minis, of the Millenium Falcon's board game. Definately let the Wookiee win.

Tell me this isn't a CLASSIC photo.  This guy was clearly, and quite obviously, staring at this chick's tits.  That's not the funny part. The funny part is that he has his hands in the perfect configuration to creep her out and indicate to all that he may well be a stalker! By the way, this is one hell of a gaming table!

Here's the Game of Thrones match that had Adam laughing.  I'm sure those flip flops smell like a bed of roses, eh....

The Summoner Wars tournament was awesome.  It was great to see Plaid Hat getting some love.

No bullshit, no photoshop; this vending machine in the lobby of the Circle Center Mall, just outside of the elevators, was having a moment.  It literally had the Blue Screen of Death.  Yeah, Windows RAWKS!

At first I though this might be the best cosplay pick-up line at the con, but then I realized that this guy is actually likely a serial killer looking to lure young elves into the basement of....

...the Elf Park!

Thanks for reading!