I almost didn’t attend Origins this year, despite having attended for many years prior. The date change meant that a number of people I knew would not be attending this time around, cutting down reasons for attending. Likewise, I was already making other plans for that time off.
Then Get Bit! was nominated for an award, and that pretty much settled that. Despite the changes, I still had a good time. Here are some of the highlights for me.
By special request, I ran one of my Marvel Heroic Roleplaying convention adventures (or conventures, as it would be dubbed later), M.O.D.O.K.’s 11. Adapted from the comics mini-series, the players take the role of a C-list supervillain, recruited by M.O.D.O.K. to steal a powerful device from an advanced fortress. The game plays differently each time both by which villains are selected by the players, and by randomizing and secretly distributing a milestone to each character for who they REALLY work for. The end result is about one half of a session for a heist, and the other half being intra-group conflict with plenty of twists and turns.
Look for sessions of this run by me and other folks appearing next at Gen Con, and then possibly available to a wider audience after that.
Summoner Wars iOS from Plaid Hat Games and Playdek
I was able to sit down with representatives from Plaid Hat Games and Playdek to demo a beta copy of Summoner Wars for the iPad. Ascension for the iPad is by far my most played games (and judging by my Game Center friends list, also popular among other gamers and game designers), in large part because of the stellar implementation by Playdek. So I was eager to try out another game by them even if I wasn’t familiar with the base game. I was given a brief tutorial into Summoner Wars before trying out a game against the game’s designer Colby Dauch.
The game is pretty easy to pick up, and plays out in many ways like a tactical skirmish game, with the units that come into play and various events dictated by what cards you draw, leading to a bit more randomization in deployment but less randomization in actual play once units were on the board. Positioning of barriers also lead to a changing battlefield in terms of lines of sight and also deployment access. Being my first game and going up against the guy who has probably played more than anyone else in the world, I got stomped, but I enjoyed it. (Tundra Orcs FTW.)
The Playdek implementation doesn’t disappoint. While definitely more involved than Ascension, the app does a good job conveying everything you need to play. Since it’s still in beta, there were a few UI pieces that were still in development, though I was pleased to see that any complaint I had they were already working on fixing, demonstrating the high standards Playdek uses in their apps.
While Summoner Wars isn’t likely to displace Ascension for me, I did enjoy it enough that I’ll buy it when it is released. If you’re a fan of games like Hero Academy, you’ll want to pick this one up (and frankly, I found it superior to Hero Academy.) The turns don’t go quite as quickly as Ascension turns, however, there’s a bit more depth that many will appreciate.
Here’s some screenshots of the app in progress:
With a gap in our schedule and the availability of Will Hindmarch, we got together a game of Always/Never/Now, his cyberpunk Lady Blackbird-esque RPG. This game was up on Kickstarter last year (and I was eager to play since I was a backer) and is nearing its completion stages.
Last year, Will ran the Apocalypse World session that was the highlight of my con, and so it’s no surprise I enjoyed the heck out of this session. Being a very “self-contained” kind of game, with pre-made characters and a branching yet bounded potential storyline. For that reason, I don’t want to talk about the events much since it’s something I’d recommend experiencing for yourself. I will say this: even though I’m not a huge cyberpunk fan, the characters all had interesting traits that were great character hooks as well as new uses of technology and fun to play. The game is cyberpunk + super-spy, so we had our choice between “Bond, Bourne, or Matrix” modes and went with Matrix, leading to some high flying action- literally in the case of our second mission. I was especially pleased with my doctor character performing surgery on a combat helicopter by throwing a truck at it.
Definitely look for this game when it comes out.
Social Media in Gaming
Speaking of Will, he and I, along with the organizer Tracy of Sand & Steam Productions, were on a panel together talking about how social media is involved with gaming, touching on all kinds of topics from designing a game ideal for twitter, to how choice of social platform dictates game designer, along with a big tangent off into the world of Kickstarter. The recording of the session is available in podcast form, and I had a lot of fun talking about it.
Magic: The Gathering (Planechase, Avacyn Restored, Eventide)
After getting back into Magic hard following the release of the Commander sets and Innistrad, playing Magic has become a regular part of my convention routine, particularly drafts. Chris Tulach is often kind enough to supply the cards (since as a Wizards of the Coast employee he receives a supply of them) and takes care of the logistics, making it very easy to get a game together.
Beforehand, I had picked up two decks of the new Planechase sets, mostly to take apart for more Commander decks. Nate and I played a one-on-one Commander game with Planechase, and the cards definitely do mix it up, though how positive that randomness is I’m not sure yet. I’ll definitely have to try a multiplayer game with it to make my full decision.
Then, the first main event was an Avacyn Restored draft. I played in the prerelease sealed deck of the set, and did pretty well (and was the first one to unlock a piece of the Helvault.) The draft did not go so well: I have the feeling that my drafting standby of “take a lot of flyers” works especially well in this set, particularly U/W, and my G/B big creature deck was rolled over. Lesson learned for the next time I draft this set (which is probably this weekend!)
We followed it up with ANOTHER draft, this time of Eventide, an older set I was very unfamiliar with. The main feature of the set was split mana costs from opposing colors, like spells that took either U/G or W/B. I ended up getting passed lots and lots of White removal cards and other control cards, which let me lock down most threats and then ping my opponents to death, so my W/B deck won the day, edging out Peter Lee in the finals. My prize was a set of promo cards from the original release of Planechase, giving me even more reason to try them out.
Celebrity Guests Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day
Making an appearance to promote Geek & Sundry and Tabletop, Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day were around Friday and Saturday signing autographs and posing for photos. They were also dropped into different games around Origins, so you had a chance of having them play in one of your games. In between all those things and a very limited window with which they were at the convention, I only briefly saw them, and just got to say hi to Wil for a few minutes. He did give me this awesome poster, which I’m now displaying in my office:
(If you haven’t seen the Tabletop episode featuring Get Bit! as well as the excellent Tsuro and Zombie Dice, I recommend it.)
No convention is complete without dropping too much money in the dealer’s hall. Aside from an Avacyn Restored fat pack and the aforementioned Planechase cards, my top acquisitions were:
- King of Tokyo. I honestly wasn’t expecting a lot out of this board game from Richard Garfield, expecting it to be another “attack the leader” type game. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a mix of push your luck and king of the hill game that is easy to learn and has been a blast to play each time.
- Shelter in Place. Not quite a LARP, this game of zombies vs. humans played in 3 acts focuses on various zombie movie tropes while bringing some smart game design to a live action team game. I’m very much looking forward to getting together 15 friends to try it out and eat each others’ brains.
- Flowerfall. This game from the designer of Innovation is an area control game by way of Chaos Orb skills to drop cards onto the playing field, attempting to make flower patches where your color dominates.
- Set Cubed. One part Scrabble and one part Set (with a dash of Qwirkle thrown in), this is a game of placing your dice into patterns from Set onto a board to score points, ideally hitting multiple sets at once and on various bonus scores. We also discussed with the person at the Set booth about the various new mobile versions in the works of the original Set game.
- Dice! I’m not usually the guy who has to buy dice at every convention. However, this time, I decided I wanted a set of green and silver dice specifically to use for the Doom Pool in MHRP. It actually makes running the game easier, and is darn cool to boot- it also serves as a counterpart to friends who bought dice in the colors of their favorite superhero.
So this happened:
Origins was important for me, both personally and professionally. However, it still bothers me on multiple levels how many issues the convention has, that seem like they should be fixable (as other conventions have.) The Origins Awards was well run, but appeared as two different times in the schedules, leading to some people to be late and miss accepting their own award. Not only that, this is the SECOND year in a row that has happened!
There were other weird scheduling issues as well, which certainly happen to every convention, they always seem noticeable at Origins. Likewise, the handling of celebrity guests looked poor in comparison to other shows I regularly attend like PAX and Gen Con- the line management was almost nonexistent, they weren’t there for very much of the convention, and there were signing fees that other conventions didn’t have. I don’t begrudge people like Felicia and Wil the money, it’s just that it makes Origins look cheap by comparison.
There’s also things that have been going on for years that just never seem to be fixed: awkward social media presence, lagging web updates, delayed registration/schedules, non-obvious signage (the cubby with the hand-written sign that says “Day Passes” is also where you go to buy generic tokens and sell them back at the end of the show) and so on. It seems like the possibly-temporary move did some damage to attendance, but by and large, I have to wonder if it’s just an excuse for a lot of people to stop going. There are major game companies that have no booth and haven’t for years, which says something by itself.
I go to conventions for the people, and there were enough cool people there this year to make the convention fun, and plus the convention was responsible for a major milestone in my professional life of which I am very proud. The question is, will Origins continue to be fun for the casual attendee? Will they ever try to address the recurring issues, or is the par for the course good enough? Regardless, I’m once again going to be giving major thought towards skipping the convention next year, despite all the highlights listed above.