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We finally made it to Portland's local gaming convention after having meant to for, um, about 10 years now. Game Storm is held the last weekend in March, when spring warms the air, the daffodils are blooming, and it's a fine time for a morning person who wants to get going first thing to get out their bicycle, as long as you don't mind having the chance to get just a little damp.
Or that's the idea, anyhow. I'd been on my bike about a minute when I realized it was switching over to snow. I arrived at the Red Lion Inn at the Quay with no feeling in my fingers, but was sent for my volunteer shift over to the game library desk, which was in the one room that would be warm all weekend-- open gaming.
Game Storm, you see, is primarily focused on Euro games. These are mostly board games, mostly made in places like Germany, with rules complicated enough to make them challenging for adults, even dedicated gamers. Also the topics cover a wider range than your typical American games. Here, to give you an idea, is a sampling of games listed in the program book that I didn't find room in my schedule to play:
The Great Space Race: "A short time ago, in a galaxy not too far away, powerful alien races gave the six most inept species a choice-- win or be destroyed."
Zombies!!! plus Zombies!!! 3: The Mallwalkers: "Use a combination of wits and brawn to be the first to reach the heliport and escape the ever-advancing zombie horde."
Burn In Hell: "Each player in Burn In Hell tries to assemble the tastiest combinations of history's sinners. Collect groups of Mass Murderers, Cannibals, or even Clerics..."
Hoity Toity: "Players race to amass the finest art collection in this fast-paced rock/paper/scissors game."
Grave Robbers from Outer Space: "Players are attempting to make a B-Movie by playing Characters, Props, and Locations in their movie and sending Creatures to attack other players' movies. SFX cards can modify attacks and do other wacky stuff. For additional fun, I will be adding Cannibal Pygmies and the Jungle of Doom this year."
1960: The Making of a President: "A fun 3-5 player card game that takes 'opposites attract' to a new level."
It's Alive!: "It's Alive by Yehuda Berlinger is a quick auction game where players are mad scientists attempting to be the first to create life. Each player takes turn auctioning off villager parts that are scavenged by grave diggers. The first player to assemble their creation yells, 'It's Alive!'"
Notre Dame: "Players play as well-off Parisians in the 15th century who wish to improve the importance and appearance of the city quarter around the famous Notre Dame cathedral."
Ostrakon: "An enlightening game for 5-12 philosophers. Vote on universal yes/no questions to find out who will arrive at the Temple of Wisdom, and who will be exiled."
Santiago: "Grow the most lucrative plantations and win. Santiago is a fun and vicious game of bribes and bidding!"
Cash N Guns: "Cash N Guns is a wacky and fun game of gangsters and money."
Shear Panic: "The second game from Fragor Games, featuring a flock of sheep and their attempts to be in the right place at the right time. Much gambolling, some tupping, lots of shearing."
Trailer Park Wars!: "From the creators of Redneck Life! Trailer Park Wars! gives players the opportunity to be a trailer park manager: Placing quality Tenants in their park, adding some sweet Amenities for their Tenants to enjoy, and then... DESTROYING the other trailer parks in town! Surface-to-Trailer Missile, Molotov Beer Can? You bet! The game includes 100 Pink Yard Flamingos which are collected as points."
Ninja Burger: "Guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes or less or we commit seppuku. Applications being accepted, Ninjas only need apply. NO PIRATES!"
Can you blame me for spotting some brochures reading "Little Italy Trattoria" on a table Saturday evening, picking one up, and being surprised to discover that it was actually just a menu for a local restaurant?
First on my menu, though, was Dragon Dice, which I signed up for on a whim Friday afternoon. The description promised lots of dice. It turns out that this is a wargame of sorts where the units are dice, which attack by being rolled. So, for instance, your low-level mage may have a couple faces for casting magic, and one for saving vs. attacks, and one for doing melee damage, and so forth. If some of the right faces comes up on the right kind of roll, your army does whatever it was trying to do.
It was fun, fun, fun despite the enormous learning curve. In fact, I would soon discover that one can do better in total ignorance than when trying to start applying strategy to it, by winning my first game and being the first one eliminated in my second. I would later see this phenomenon duplicaed when I introduced Chris to the game at home. I've also collected one of each type of starter set now, and tried them all out, and am seeing if I can write a better starter guide than the dense rulebook that comes in the box. This will clearly be taking up bits of my income for some time to come.
Friday evening was the 10th anniversary party, featuring sheet cakes garnished with d10s and d20s, all turned to the 10 or 0 face. This was also when I discovered the spoof fliers borrowing the OryCon 30 layout and advertising OreCon XXX, to be held in November in Boston, Oregon (local history in-joke), featuring Writer GoH John Norman of Gor and gaming guests Phil and Dixie (gamer or Phil Foglio fan in-joke). Michael Pinnick aka Czarcasm, OryCon 30 co-chair and Game Storm head of security, expressed two opinions:
I chose cake over signing up for the Cobras in the Cockpit session that happened at the same time, but did wander by that table to confirm my suspicions-- yes, it's Snakes on a Plane, the board game. Each player controls a different species of snake, which all start at the back of the plane. When every section of the board has been sufficiently panicked, the game ends.
Saturday morning was my one crack at an RPG. We'd registered early enough to sign up for games before the con, but late enough that all the Call of Cthulhu sessions were full, which I think makes it 18 years now that I've wanted to play it and it's never quite worked out.
Instead, I went for The Shadow of Yesterday. I brought a character who didn't fit the session scenario very well, as it turned out, but it's an interesting system, with an interesting setting, and my fellow players were good company. I may give it another try next year.
Next up was Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, which despite what you may think is not an obscene title, although the person running the game did say that fluppen is "German hobo slang" for cigarettes. The setup: three tables, 5 players each. On each board are a variety of traders dealing in five commodities. Each also has one trader who sells idols, and you win by collecting one idol from each board. There are also rules governing how the prices of commodities change as trading occurs.
So it's a game which requires a certain amount of strategy and planning, but remember the part about 15 players, divided up between the three tables? Turns are not synchronized, which means each group of players is frantically trying to hurry each other up to keep ahead of the other tables so everyone can get their idols and move on. If you thrive on chaos, this is your game. I came in about mid-pack, but thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Sunday I somehow wandered into a round of the big hit of the year, Race for the Galaxy. This is a card game in which you colonize planets, which in turn feed you resources, which in turn let you colonize more planets. The especially novel twist is that while each turn has several phases, not all occur on every turn. Each player plays a card at the beginning of the turn which gives a phase they want to include, and then the chosen phases are gone through in order.
The game ends when someone has colonized 11 planets, which was a piece of cake for me, but then it turned out the person explaining it had forgotten to mention some of the rules about tallying points at the end, which meant that I did not in fact win.
But I didn't mind much, because coming up next was the thing I'd been waiting for ever since I saw it in the online schedule, Iron Dragon: Full Wham. Are you familiar with British Rails or its American counterpart, Empire Builder, where you build your railroad by drawing it in crayon and finance it by carrying various commodities back and forth? Perhaps you know that Iron Dragon was the fantasy-world equivalent, which threw in some extra rules like modifying the abilities of your train depending on whether you had an elf, dwarf, or orc as your engineer? Well, the story goes that Tom Wham, one of the people who created the Iron Dragon version, also wrote combat rules, which were censored by Mayfair Games on the grounds that that wasn't the sort of thing they wanted in a family game. But, if you go to tomwham.com, you can get yourself a copy of these rules.
So: crayon rails and magic combat, two great tastes that were bound to taste great together! But the game ended before it even started for me due to a tiny flaw in the game-runner's house rules. All the games in this family have the problem that when you draw your three starting cards, it's possible to wind up with no load demands that can be satisfied with the size of railroad you can draw with your starting budget. As these games are usually played, a player who finds herself in this situation can discard them and draw three new cards after the first set are scrutinized by the other players and agreed to be unworkable.
The house rule in force this time, however, was to draw four cards and discard one, leaving open the possibility of still not getting anything you can bootstrap yourself with. I flailed around for a few turns at the urging of the other players, but it was hopeless. After the initial building phase, of course, the normal game rules allow you to discard your cards and get three new ones once per turn, but by then you've been forced to build something and the chances of your starting railroad actually matching up with the loads are next to zero.
The combat rules are worth trying, though. I wish I could have.
I excused myself to watch Chris at a distance as he took part in a massive game of Wings of War (after-action report to follow shortly) and feel depressed for a bit. But then my eye fell on the other big hit of the con, Loopin' Louie.
I never saw the box for this game, but I'd bet it was made by someone like Fisher-Price and is intended for ages 4-8. The centerpiece is an electrically powered rotating boom, at the end of which is a little guy in an airplane. Each of the up to four players has three tokens and a flipper which can be used to deflect the airplane, ideally so that it swoops down and knocks someone else's token out. Lose your tokens, lose the game. At the level of coordination available to most of us after a full weekend of gaming, it was essentially a game of chance.
So I managed to finish the con on a high note. Now, for some real airplane action, over to Chris...
I showed up to Game Storm expecting to get in a couple rounds of Fantasy Flight Games's Wings of War. The 16-player fracas which occurred on Sunday came as a surprise. (The outcome, sadly, didn't.)
The referee was quite accomodating-- he operated on the "I'll put out as many planes as I have players" principle. It helped him greatly that some people, myself included, had also brought materials; in my case, a complete set of the game, plus all 12 of the miniatures extant (each mini comes with a deck of maneuver cards for that airplane type, thereby allowing use of multiple examples of the same aircraft type). Several tables were tied together to create a very wide, very narrow play area (the North-Western Front?).
Each side, Allied (Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Russia) and Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey-- and no, that is not the same as "the Axis", damn it!) had eight players. I found myself on the Allied side, flying a Sopwith Camel (to be exact, the one Jan Olieslagers flew for Belgium), supported by three greenhorns (two in Camels, one in a SPAD XIII); I'm not sure what the other four Allied players were using. Facing my flight were two Fokker Dr.I triplanes (only one in the Obligatory Red Paint Scheme) and two Albatros D.Vs; again, I've no idea what was in use on the other side of the play area.
I suppose I was tempting fate with my selection of nationality-- because, as Douglas Adams might have put it, things Belgiumed up right from the off. I'd set myself up for a flanking maneuver-- let the other three hit the foe head-on, while I came in and blind-sided them. This strategy worked perfectly... right up to the first time I actually fired at someone. TAKTAKTAKCLUNK-- Guns Jammed.
Ramming not being an option, and not liking the idea of not being able to shoot back, I pulled away from the main furball. In the time it took me to clear the jam, the fight somehow managed to wander clear over to the other side of the table we were using. The Sopwith Camel was not especially reknowned for its maximum speed in its day, and the game reflects this; it took me four full turns just to get back into gunnery range.
By the time I got back there, the situation was looking up for my flight; the player using the Richthofen Dr.I had drawn the "explosion" damage card, and was now wafting earthward in several thousand dissociated fragments. Sadly, that would turn out to be the high tide for my flight. The inexperience of my flight began to show, as they seemed unable to either get a sustained series of shots on the enemy, or to inflict any meaningful damage when they did get a shot off (the damage-determination deck in the game has cards which inflict 0 points, indicating misses or non-notable hits). Meanwhile, the Central Powers players were doing telling damage-- it seemed like every time one of them fired, one of my flight would be asking me "what does this special-damage symbol mean?". In short order, they took out the SPAD (the Allied plane with the highest number of damage points), then destroyed the other two Camels. At this point, I noticed the other Allied flight was also in the process of being annihilated. Realizing that my usual luck with picking teams was holding up, I turned about and departed the area; the game ran out of time before I could get off the table.
I suppose the outcome was inevitable-- I've never won a "team" event in my life, and it's never been a result of lack of effort on my part. In this case, the failure lay with the rest of the flight's inexperience, and good old Bad Luck. Victory wasn't, if you'll forgive me a small pun, in the cards.
That said, the game itself is still enjoyable (in comparison with the above event, I played several one-on-one events, and won all of them). We had sixteen players, and the game was all-but-over inside of two hours; the singles events can be wrapped up in about 30 minutes maximum. Knowledge of the "Dicta Boelcke" actually helps one play this game (I probably should have mentioned a few of the finer points to the rest of the Allied players...), as opposed to so many WW1 and WW2 games, which have the Germans so overpowered, one is left wondering exactly how the hell the Allies managed to win-- twice (no, the answer is not "Because of Russia/the Soviet Union"). If you're looking for a nice simple game which doesn't require huge investments of money and time, I'd recommend Wings of War.
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