Monday, February 26, 2007

OwlCon 2007: Games and fun

OwlCon is the annual Rice University gaming convention, held every year in February for one weekend, Friday night to Sunday afternoon. I went there again in February 2007 for the entire Saturday. I've been putting off this post because there's a lot on my mind.

In previous years, I went to OwlCon as a random guy, one of the organizers, as a demo Rabbit for Looney Labs (slot didn't make, had fun anyway), but I keep returning as a Cheapass Games Demo Monkey. Interested people submit game ideas to the organizers, who put together a schedule that fits the time of day and the space available.

Each time slot is 4 hours, so there's plenty of time to run a roleplaying session, play lots of card games, play two or three medium-size games, play one long game, or play half a huge game. There's a one-hour break between each one.

I originally submitted a request to run two Cheapass Games demonstration sessions, and a Power Grid slot. Since there was already a person teaching Power Grid, one of the organizers, Andy B., let me know about the conflict and encouraged me to submit something else. I asked Kevin Nunn what he needed - in addition to being a great guy and a talented game designer, Kevin has been the board and card game coordinator the last two years of OwlCon. Kevin suggested I do some Uberplay Games.

My bag was loaded with the Cheapass Games prize pack, my regular set of Cheapass Games for playing, my stacks of counters, dice, play money, snacks, and the Uberplay games, it was a mite heavy, especially considering I parked in the freebie lot and walked all the way across the Rice Campus. I was also carrying a coffee cake, because, hey, breakfast is awesome.

The 10-minute walk did me some good, and I still made it to my table about 20 minutes early.

From my notes:

Session 1: Cheapass Games - 10 AM to 2 PM:
Several old friends at my table: Marty Hoff, game designer Kevin Nunn, Ed "One of the Rice Alumni guys in my circle," and Amy Pike, along with three walk-ons, joined me for some inexpensive, smaller games from James Ernest's little company in Seattle:
  • Enemy Chocolatier (three times) - this envelope game has been revealed to have a ton of strategy in it. After the first play, everyone wanted to play again right away, so they did. This may be the deepest game Cheapass has released.
  • Captain Treasure Boots - Ugh. Just not cool enough. Don't bother. I had this sitting around a while and never played it until now, which was dumb. Teaching games on the fly is not my strongest suit.
  • Light Speed - I do so love Light Speed. Plays out in about 20 seconds, scores in three, then you do it again and again.
Steve Jackson himself was running games at the table next to mine. I heard he was playtesting at least one new prototype, something about "Age of Dirt," a low-low-low-low-tech humorous homage to Civilization.

As I was shutting down, I noticed that Kevin Brusky, fellow Houston Gamer and designer of the hot new Order of the Stick Adventure Game was setting up. We had a few minutes to chat before the next round, and I left him the remains of the coffee cake. He said they're working on both an expansion AND a stand-alone game that also joins into the original. Pretty impressive, since I think he's got another licensed property in the works.

I chugged a V-8 and had some snacks as I was heading to my next slot...

Session 2: Uberplay Games - 3 PM to 7 PM:
You know, I don't know much about the history of Uberplay Games. I do know that sometime in the last few years, they started making gorgeous reprints.
  • Ra - Reiner Knizia's masterpiece auction game about ancient Egypt. I like Ra so much, I'm not even going to make fun of all the other Reiner Knizia auction games or Reiner Knizia ancient Egypt games, or even the
  • Hoity Toity - Klaus Teuber designed this. He's the Settlers of Catan guy, so that should mean something. I completely bobbled my explanation, and I was glad that Marty Hoff dropped in on the slot to bail me out. I've played Hoity Toity, a.k.a. By Hook Or By Crook, also a.k.a Adel Verflichtet, before twice... several years ago. The nuances had long flown, but Marty managed to get the game back on track. I also ended in last place.
  • Jericho - a cute little card game. Players build walls in various colors, and/or play trumpet cards to knock the walls down. Doesn't take too long, and has some tough choices.
  • Starbase Jeff - This is a Cheapass Games title, but I got it out when we were done with all the Uberplay games I brought. It's out of print, but it's one of my favorites. I took the trouble to hunt down a second copy to replace my worn-out first one.
The guy running a miniatures game at the next table was named Marvin. I don't remember his last name (I could look, except the OwlCon web page has cleared for next year, grrr, they'll get it up on an archive page at some point.) Marvin was the guy who taught my college roomie Jacob and I the original Settlers of Catan back in, oh, 1995 or so, back at NanCon.

Session 3: Cheapass Games - 8 PM to midnight:
Old friends here included Scott Berger, Steve Jackson Men-In-Black Demo Guy Al Griego, and Carey's friend Jennifer, who I first met at ApolloCon a couple years ago.
Games played:
  • Enemy Chocolatier - Whew, they liked it too. Jennifer won this.
  • Jacob Marley, Esquire - A cute game about money-lending. I was flagging at this point, as were Jennifer and a couple other folks. Fortunately, this game is easy to run once you get going. I offered Jennifer this game as a prize OR she could win a copy of Unexploded Cow*. Jennifer picked Unexploded Cow, so I opened up her copy and taught it to the group right then:
  • Unexploded Cow - This went over fairly well. Jennifer was much happier.
As the last French city was impressed by a well-timed cow detonation, the OwlCon folks were herding us out of the room, to lock it down overnight. I headed over to the dealers' room, and caught up to Joy from Tri-Games. Her two girls were fast asleep under the merchandise at her booth, shielded by sheeting from the public view.

Joy was nice enough to give me a ride back to my car, and that was OwlCon for me.

No fuss, no muss, no Friday night, no most-of-the-day Sunday, no live-action-role-playing all night, no paying to park, no going to Valhalla, the graduate-student-run bar, no nothing. I gave them about three bucks for soft drinks, didn't pay admission because I ran games, brought in lots of prizes for two sessions, and filled three slots, gaming for basically 13 hours straight. I bought no games, and in fact, wasn't ever in the dealers' room for more than 5 minutes during the day. Most of the time, I was teaching games without being in them, just to make it go faster and be more fun for all the participants.**

For next year:
  1. Submit my games earlier.
  2. Decide if I want to do demos for another company.
  3. Practice, practice, practice.
*Lots more prizes got handed out. They didn't have funny stories, so I didn't go into details.
** I did play Ra, and won it.***
*** I finished in last place in Hoity Toity.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

State of the Todd: Nightmares

Last night I unplugged the computer monitor to get back on track. I woke up with nightmares twice in the night after plowing through Stephen King's novel Cell. "...zzzz...phones...aren't...scary..." I dunno, it needed something or I was plowing through it too fast, or both.

It's been a while since I posted something worthwhile here. I'm sick and have canker sores from drinking too much grapefruit juice last week, so go me. Work is too busy for me to take one of the two or three sick days I've earned since getting the new job, unless I'm super-sick.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Catch-up: Pre-Owlcon practice session

February 8th, Chris and Tim and I played Tim's cyberpunk prototype, which has shaped up into an interesting set of rules. We also played Ra and I wanna say we ended the evening with Blue Moon City.

Notice here that out of all the games I was going to display, I only did a refresher on Ra. Sure, I could have put Hoity Toity on the table again for a run-through, but I didn't.

That's 21 total games played for the year.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Stuff and things

So, I owe you folks a post about OwlCon. I have all kinds of notes, I swear.

My headache hasn't stopped since I got home late Saturday night, and my jaw keeps popping at random intervals.

On the bright side, I'm further behind at work now than I was on Monday morning, so at least I have job security.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

OwlCon, here I come

I'm about to drive over to Rice University to run 3 game slots at OwlCon: 2 Cheapass, 1 Uberplay.

After that, it's 1000-1400 hrs. teaching Cheapass Games, 1500-1900 hrs. teaching Uberplay Games, and 2000-2359 teaching more Cheapass Games.

It's a blast - I love doing these game sessions, and I got prizes from Liz and James over at Cheapass Game to hand out to my attendees. Kevin Nunn, noted badass game designer and all-around nice guy, has signed up for one of my slots, and I have a couple of recurring folks from last year who just can't get enough of my high-energy gum-flappin'.

"What do we want?" BRAINS!

"When do we want them?" BRAINS!