Monday, June 27, 2011
Origins Game Fair Wrapup - It's Aptly Named When You Consider Darwin's Book
Sometimes you wake up with a hangover from drinking too much, but this week, I'm going to be dealing with something far more sinister. It's like a "life hangover" from being drunk with fun; coming down from the last two weeks may prove to be worse than coming down from an ecstasy-and-crack-fuelled adventure at a nudist nymphomaniacs convention. Well, maybe, anyhow.
It all started with a joke from a buddy of mine who does it for a living: An arctic baby seal walks into a bar. The bartender asks "What'll it be?" The seal responds, "Anything but a Canadian Club!" Cue rimshot and commentary about the veal and tipping waitresses. It ended with red eyes, 4 hours of sleep, and a deep sense of dread for the timeframe between this very moment, as I'm writing this, and the first day of GenCon.
Well, I'd better back up and explain what the deal is. I am coming off of one of the best two-week stints ever, and it just ended with my participation in the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH. After reading the aforementioned joke on my buddy's Facebook page, I got in the car and headed to the airport at high speed as I had to head to Colorado for a class at the School of Mines in Golden. I was already running late, as usual. I realized five miles into my jaunt that I had forgotten my laptop, so I pulled a 30-MPH E-brake U-turn in the middle of the road, speeding back to the crib at 90 to get my forgotten lifeline to the universe. Kiss the wife again, kiss the babies, and out the door I went. Didn't even get a ticket, and I really should've.
There was a choice parking spot when I got there, but unsurprisingly, I was still pretty late to the ticket desk, and I got there just in time to have the kiosk tell me that I was too late to check in. I spoke to "Bob", a very nice Delta counter guy at the Cincinnati Airport. He asked if I had any heart problems, to which I responed with a quite quizzical "no", and he then replied that I should run my ass to the gate, like NOW. So I did. I was there just in time to sweat on a large Latin gentleman who really should've had 2 seats and a grandmotherly older lady who had the aisle. 2 hours later I was wheels-down in Denver, having done all the backlogged work I had to get done on the plane. I get to the shuttle, and they headed for the rentals the moment I got there.
There was no line at the rental place, and no traffic on the way to Golden. I showed up in time for a wonderful catered lunch and small talk with collegues and friends. The following presentations in the class were exceptional, and even the hotel room afterward was nice. Things just couldn't go wrong for me. It was the beginning of a charmed life.
After three days in Denver, I was anxiously awaiting the drive home because a really good friend of mine who some of my readers may know, Rychean from Heroscapers (Mark), the God Emperor of Heroscape Himself, was going to be sitting at my house as he had flown into Cincinnati at 3:30 and caught a cab to the house. I got home wihtout delay, and sure as snow melts in summer, there was my beautiful wife, my wonderful kids, and my dear friend to greet me. Hugs and kisses ensued (family, not Mark) and the adventure began.
The reason he had flown in, I might note, is that the following day we were going to head to Origins in Columbus. For the uninitiated, it's one of the oldest board game industry trade fairs in the United States. We had planned to be there at 10AM to meet up with the Heroscapers from the area and play some tournaments, but I was there for darker purpose, to be sure. I had to cause some trouble to someone, and I had to score some free stuff. Oh, and I had to see some seriously freaky people.
I spent that night drinking with my amazing wife, Mark, and some good friends who happen to be neighbors, introducing him to playing Epic Duels on Halo terrain, which he is now completely and hopelessly addicted to, and talking about the adventure to come. It was a blast, and so much so that I forgot to pack a Heroscape army or two. So, suffice to say, I thought I would be hosed.
Now it wasn't all fun and games because I had some work to do in Columbus in the morning, so I headed to my appointments while Mark did his thing, and later we'd hook back up at the convention. It's the story of my life: work always gets in the way of fun, just as it did at Trashfest. We entered the center and I was told that a 5$ pass would get me into the dealer hall, but to actually play in any games, I'd need the 35$ deal. What a crock of shit. Anyhow, 35$ later, I was back on the road to go buy some metal waste.
After the sales calls and a conference call around noon, I was back in the center and prepped for epic warfare against the masses. I toured the halls and it was surprisingly well laid out, with really not a lot of people there for a Friday. I spotted some folks I knew at the Dealer Hall, and hung for a while catching up with friends. Had I not promised my wife I'd not buy a single game while I was there since I just dropped 150$ on Hirst Arts molds, I would've bought Ascending Empires right then and there at the Z-Man booth, which was dead in the front of the hall where you couldn't miss it.
Cruising around the hall I saw all sorts of costumed folks, but not nearly as many as I'd been expecting. The theme of the fair this year was 'Steampunk' and therefore everyone seemed to be dressed as Menonites or something, sans Everett Koop chinstrap, wearing bowler hats and the apparently mandatory set of goggles sitting above the rim. The ladies were all wearing '50s era Victorian dresses and knee high boots and bustiers, for the most part. For something with "punk" in the name, there were a hell of a lot of conformists there because they all seemed to look exactly the same, as if there is only one way to be a steampunk guy/gal. But what the hell do I know, I'm just some writer guy.
Speaking of the gals, there were thankfully few morbidly obese women pouring out of too-small lingerie model outfits. I'm not going to belabor this as my dear friend Matt Loter would call me a "mysogynist cancer who should just die" were I to do so, but I will say that there were more fit, reasonably attractive folks on scene than I ever would've expected. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.
The one crime against humanity that was there was a menace to eyesight who was apparently trying to rope people to the Mechwarrior Simulator video game booths by wearing what can only be possibly described as Victorian slut gear. We're talking a bustier that hid only areola, holey fishnets (I can only assume they were runs from being 4 sizes too small) and the worst thing, an incredibly short mini skirt that she must've shaved to wear, and I don't mean her legs. Looking like that, the only ring I can envision a man putting on her finger would be at Burger King, and made of onion, battered, and deep fried. I'll never understand it.
What marketing school did these idiots go to? I'd bet she was really nice, and had she dressed like a person, and not a disgusting object, I'd totally have talked to those guys and got the scoop about their products. But now they get nothing but shame and infamy.
The sad fact is that I had to walk past this ode to absurdity every time I went from the dealer hall to the Miniatures room or Board room, and it produced the opposite result I think they had intended. I didn't look anywhere near that area of the building, nor would I unless there was a person on fire, screaming prayers or venom loud enough to catch my attention. I'm not much on sexualizing women for the purposes of selling something as I think people are, or at least should be, smarter than to buy something because some super model chick is standing around asking you to. All in all, it was a very mellow, conservative place to chill out, and I was quite thankful for that.
Moving on to the stuff you really want to know about, there were SO MANY GAMES in the halls. Not a whole lot of new stuff, but a lot of cool stuff. I tried hard to get out of the mainstream and showcase stuff that you've never seen or heard of before, because any douchebag reporter can tell you about what Z-Man or FFG have going on. I'm the guy who tells you about the supercool stuff you'd otherwise not know about, making you marginally as informed as I am, and able to totally brag to your friends about how in-the-know you are. Well, maybe, anyhow.
The first person I went to see was my buddy Steve Avery, the nicest guy on the planet, who was working the Tom Vasel Dice Tower booth. Apparently Tom is really pushing to get his Podcast subscriptions going, and he was handing out Dice Tower Podcast ribbons like they were going out of style. Tom shook my hand, then recoiled in horror when he saw my name badge. He noted "Ah, I know that name, I know it very well." It was at that point I realized he may not like me, and he never looked me in the eye after that.
That being said, he had a pile of games donated from various people for his newly founded Jack Vasel Memorial Fund. It's a charity that helps gamers in times of need, and it's a hell of a great way to honor his son. Tom and I may not see eye to eye on things, but I'll tell you straight-up that you're not going to find someone who is as truly good-natured and caring as he appears to be.
Check out his charity at http://jackvasel.org/ and donate to the cause. Don't talk about it, don't think about it. Just go there and donate what you can, even if it's a dollar, because there's a lot of people out there who need help these days, and if this is the only kind thing you ever do in your life, when you get to the day of judgement this might be the difference between being judged as a lifelong, unrepentant scoundrel or being someone who maybe actually did care about something, even just once.
Moving on, I went to go check out Small Box Games, where my buddy John Clowdus was selling games like it was the last day on earth. I personally saw him sell maybe 15 copies of Omen, which indicates to me that if you didn't buy it, you're a moron. His lovely wife was working the booth with him, and she proved yet again that behind every successful man is a strong woman telling him what to do. We had tons of laughs and loved every minute of our visit. The short version is that if you haven't met John and his wife, you're totally missing out. Truly the salt of the earth.
Right next door to their booth was the newly founded Chivalry Games booth. They have a product called Chaostle, which is one of the prettiest games I've ever seen. The plastics and board are amazing, and for the price of $55 bucks they were selling it for, I was a fool to not pick one up. I was just afraid my wife would murder me if I did, so I didn't. The short version here is that it's a bit of a dungeon crawl but with a racing aspect, sort of, and it's one of the more interesting things I saw during my trip. Coincidentally, this guy used to do pewter work but got out of it, and so I talked to him on a professional note about doing some business! Small world.
Here's another pic of Chaostle:
So, right across the aisle from this gorgeous thing was a booth with another start-up company, and while their game is far less gorgeous, it was interesting nonetheless. Age of Dinosaurs is a game akin to Settlers, but instead of building a colony, you're essentially trying to become a dominant force in the mid-Jurassic period. The mechanics involve trying to keep the parents alive long enough for your eggs to hatch, and thus you have both egg resources and various types of plant to manage in order to be successful. The game sounded incredibly neat, and the guy who was pitching it, the designer, was truly fun to talk to due to his super energy level and enthusiasm about his game. It takes big, brass balls to do something like this, so at least give the guy some love and take a look when more info is available at http://www.theageofdinosaurs.com/.
Here's the game on the table:
Now moving onward, I headed to Plaid Hat games to chat with Colby about Dungeon Run and the new Summoner Wars Master Set. After talking for a few minutes, he exclaimed that he'd sold fully half of the games he brought with him on the FIRST DAY. Very excited that he's going to be around for a while in the boardgame biz. We also chatted about Dungeon Run, where he was doing demos on a prototype board. I sat in and played for 20 minutes and it's exactly my kind of game. Keep your eyes open at http://www.plaidhatgames.com/ for this, because it's got the backstabbery of Cosmic Encounter or Diplomacy, but wrapped up in a co-op dungeon crawl. Great, and I mean GREAT, artwork, models, and everything. It's a fantastic product and I can't wait until Colby sends me one....hint...hint...
Here's the demo game we played of Dungeon Run:
Next stop for me was unplanned, but I simply had to take a look once I saw what Todd Boyce, the owner of Ninja Magic, had sitting before him. These were some of the most stunning little miniature space ships I've ever seen. Had I not promised to spend nothing on product, I would've bought them all for Battleship Galaxies customs. In fact, I asked for his card and I'm sending the info to my buddy at Hasbro so they don't have to reinvent the wheel, potentially, on sculptures. Outstanding stuff! These even have magnetic bases with knurls so they lock in a direction when you shift them in a facing. Check his stuff out at www.ninjamagic.com because it's brilliant. It may be the coolest spaceship stuff I've ever seen, and these photos simply do not do justice:
Now after chatting with him for 20 minutes or so, I saw the Battlestations booth next door and decided to chat up the guys over there and learn more about what they had. Turns out that it's a half RPG, half board game hybrid that sounds absolutely outstanding. The concept is that you take on missions, with a GM-style referee running the game and at least one other person playing through a scenario. There's tons of unique races, all with individual ship styles and racial attributes, and the game is played on both a star map for manoeuvering, but on tile-based spaceships. There's the usual shooting at ships in space as well as damage control, repelling boarders via battles inside the ships on the tiles. It's an amazing-sounding game system, and it's apparently been around a while, although nobody seems to cover it anymore. Check them out at http://www.battlestations.info/
I'd have loved to talk with them all day because they were so incredibly interesting, and so enthusiastic about the game, but I was running late for my first Heroscape event. I tripped over to the Miniatures hall, where they were playing all kinds of games. Wizards didn't have too much of a presence there, with few Star Wars Minis or D&D events going that were immediately apparent, but there were an assload of pirate-themed games, with ship sizes going from the pocket-model little guys all the way up to foot-long galleons sailing felt seas.
One of the most impressive things I saw, being a total Star Wars nut, was some game that a group of guys were playing on what can only be described as the single neatest full-scale Star Wars setup I've ever seen. I have no idea what game it was, and I have no idea how to play, but I was taken aback by the absolute coolness that this game exuded. Suffice to say, by the time I saw this and eyeballed the setup, Endor and its Ewok populace was completely fucked.
I was finally to the Heroscapers table, which had maybe 24 maps all set up. If you have never played Heroscape, first, I pity you, but it takes maybe 20 minutes to set up a map, even with keen instructions. Heroscapers are a selfless lot, by and large, and to go through all this trouble for what amounted to 10 people to play...that's some love right there.
As noted earlier, I forgot my stuff, but as usual, Mark packed way more than he planned to play with as he is perhaps the single most indecisive human that has ever existed. Luckily, one of the organizers, David Lefton, was kind enough to bring an entire crate of stuff and I chose a mish-mash of figures to use. Some Heroscape champions were there as well, so I figured I'd better just hope for the best.
I played four games and, unlike the norm for me, I only lost once. No, I wasn't playing against the infirm or children. It wasn't enough, though, and Mark ended up winning something, but since he has more Heroscape product on the shelf than Hasbro at this point, he gave me his prize, a Castle set. This is why Mark is the man.
After this, we headed back to the dealer hall for a minute, then got out of there. It occurred to us that we'd better get a hotel, so I called around. Apparently the area hotels hold rooms for business people that aren't offered to tourists, because the minute I told the Mariott folks I was there on business, the room I was told didn't exist by the receptionist magically became available when the reservations desk lady came on board, and it was twenty bones cheaper. We ended up smuggling the games that we brought up to the room, and proceeded to play X-Bugs and a whole assload of Epic Duels.
We asked Chelsea, the attendant at the desk, where we should eat, and she not only turned us onto "The Elevator", but gave us a 10% off coupon. It was just up the road, and it was a microbrewery, so it was a total win. Thanks, Chelsea. Anyhow, the Elevator Xtra was absolutely lovely, although the fish I had was far less than satisfying. I had the beer before I ate, so technically, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and they failed. Mark's tenderloin steak was nice, or so he said, and of the two beers he tried, only one was to his liking.
We ran out of smokes (although when I say "we" I mean "me" since he only smokes when I'm around...bad influence that I am) and then walked for blocks trying to find a convenience store. As is typical, we ran into a state employee who spoke little english to give me directions, which he needed to call headquarters to get. It was at this point we turned around and got my car from the valet, drove 2 miles to a Shell station, and fed my nicotene monster.
Back at the hotel, we were back to Epic Duels. What a hell of a game. Hasbro should be slapped upside its head for not reprinting this one, because it may be the second best game they've ever produced, after Heroscape. As noted, I play this game with Halo Interactive Strategy Boardgame terrain, which totally makes Epic Duels the fun-fest that it was born to be. It also finally repurposes the Halo stuff, since playing that game is nearly as fun as being sodomized by a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.
The next morning we awoke at about eight in the morning, after about five hours sleep. We got Triple-Essed (Shit, Shower, Shave) and got out of the room, packing all of our games with us. The first Heroscape event was at ten, and there was no way we were going to miss it. Before heading over, though, I went to harass John Clowdus and realized that I had missed the booth of one of the biggest hucksters in the game business, MayDay Games.
Mark had gone on ahead, so I grabbed a badge from an unspecified individual and went over to check out their Crokinole offerings. Not surprisingly, they had the best ones on the tables, but they had a sign with "slightly used" boards for $70.00. Guess he learned that bait and switching people is not only immoral, it's illegal. Anyhow, the tables were full and it was at this moment I said, rather loudly, "Hey, aren't these the douchebags that were knowingly shipping bad boards to people? Why would you ever buy anything from these pukes?" All eyes turned to me, then to the booth guys. Laughing, I strolled on without looking back. It was almost time to meet Mark at the Miniatures room, so I went onward to play some Heroscape.
As usual, I got my ass kicked. I dropped out early to go hang out at the booths in the dealer hall and to find a game that my buddy was hunting for: The Dealer McDope Dealing Game. Unfortunately, there were no copies around the entire place, so of course I texted him to tell him that I had found it, but for $100.00, and to drop what he was doing and come over to buy it before someone else did. I let him call about three times before answering to tell him I was just yanking his chain. He was not amused.
I went back and checked on Plaid Hat as well as Small Box, and as expected, their piles of product were greatly diminished. I decided to head over to the Board Game Exchange booth to harrass David Muta, the founder, and his trusty sidekick, Jim O'Brien. They said that they had signed up a ton of people, and that they brokered a bunch of deals with publishers. Suffice to say, if you haven't signed up yet, you just don't understand how much money you will save. Their booth had some of the funniest signage I've ever seen; check out the pic below and look at the sign on the upper right side.
Chatting with David was a blast, and he explained that he couldn't hang the previous night because he was absolutely wasted. He looks like a total drunken frat-boy if you just took him at first glance, but he's actually a really smart, funny guy who loves games and just got sick of buying crap, just like I did. Definitely check them out at http://www.boardgameexchange.com/.
Right next door was an older guy sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a pith hat. As I walked by him I had to laugh because I noticed that he was holding an Obama Tax Poker Game, a game called Prison Bitch, another called Gang War, and finally, Mohammed Old Maid which is made up of a deck of 72 virgins, some of which are transvestites. His company's motto is even "We Intend To Offend - Free Speech Should Be Fun!" My kind of dude. So, I chatted with him for twenty minutes or so and he explained that he is an absurdist playwright, and had a stroke which put him in his current seating arrangement. Totally great sense of humor, and after he explained Prison Bitch and Gang War, I wished I hadn't promised to not buy anything. They looked like a riot. Check them out at http://www.pigz.biz/ and don't have a drink in your hand when you do. May cost you a keyboard.
Here's my newfound hero and his booth:
The next contestant on "The Booth Is Right" was not on my radar until I saw someone that closely resembled some of the folks down the road from me. The company is called "Gut Bustin' Games" and they have released three games and one expansion so far, the most notable being "The Redneck Life". They have a new game out called "O Gnome You Don't", which is both beautiful and absolutely loaded with screwage, and when I demoed it I wanted to buy it immediately. It's cute outward appearance belies its pure evil heart.
Anyhow, I chatted with the founder, Lisa Steenson, who explained that they're out of Portland, Oregon, and that they're selling tens of thousands of copies of The Redneck Life out of Targets, Wal-Marts and at conventions. It is a linear game where players run through the life of a redneck, with the goal being ending up with the most money, the least in debt to Uncle Clem's payday loan place, have the least litt'luns, and have the most teeth. All of your stats are tracked on a sheet of paper and you get to name each child you have, with slots for about 20 kids on each sheet.
I had to look twice because while the board looked very, very plain, the real magic was in the houses and cars in the game. Each is a photograph of a total hillbilly vehicle or place of residence, and each is funnier than the last. While I know for sure this will never be a hobby gamer's favorite, it's a great game to play with out-of-town relatives. I got a review copy from Lisa, so I'll be reviewing it. I will tell you that after one play, I can say that I've rarely laughed as hard as I have playing this game. It's a total riot. Check it out at http://www.gutbustinggames.com/, and keep and eye on O Gnome You Don't, because it's really nasty fun.
It was almost time to go, but as I was walking to the front, a guy from Eagle Games started hawking the new Defenders of the Realm miniatures and expansions at me. I hadn't heard squat about this, but after looking at it all, I cannot imagine why you'd not want to get them. At five bones a piece, they're on par with FFG's Arkham Horror Investigators, but at the show I could get both the full game AND all of the painted minis for $60. What an ass I am for making a promise to the wife not to buy anything. This was, hands down, the deal of the show. Check them out at http://www.eaglegames.com/ and they have an online store to get them all!
I decided to stop one last place before I was finished, and it was back near Chivalry Games and Small Box. It was the Fireside Games booth. For those of you who don't know them, they're the folks behind the amazing Castle Panic. They're releasing their first expansion, The Wizard's Tower, and it sounds amazing. I love that game and while I traded it off long ago because I got offered a deal I couldn't refuse I am going to definately buy this one again because it's a household fave, and with the expansion adding spells and other cool mechanics, it's a must have. I even got a bookmark that can be played in-game as a card! Check these fine folks out at http://www.firesidegames.com/, and if you've never played Castle Panic, you're really, really missing out.
The last thing I'm going to note is that at the Board Room, where you can borrow games, there was a bunch of guys playing Battleship Galaxies! They said they loved it, and one of them actually knew who I was. I contemplated offering to sign his boobs, but I decided against. I asked to take a pic, and to the left you can see them battling it out, ISN versus Wretch, right there at Origins.
Now, you're probably looking at the title and wondering what the hell Darwin has to do with Origins. Well, there was a Red Cross blood donation drive there on-site, and there was at one point a substantial line. I can only infer that the reason for this is that gamers have finally figured out that they can't break the stereotype easily, so they've decided to infect the rest of the planet with their blood, therefore making everyone, at least in a small way, a gamer, with gamer's blood raging through their veins. The species of gamer shall live on.
Thanks to all of my readers for totally ignoring me during the show; I was expecting legions of rabid fans tearing my clothes off to sell on Ebay, but instead was met by a bunch of great people, a bunch of great games, and one hell of a long story to tell. See you at GenCon, where I'll be GMing the Heroscape Championship and be doing demos of Battleship Galaxies!