Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gencon After Action Report (edited, now with pictures)



One of my oldest friends, Joe,  suggested this year that we try to mount an expedition to GenCon. He was a member of my original D&D group in 1976. My brother, also a 1976 D&Der and a resident of Indiana, somewhat to my surprise, agreed that this sounded like a good idea, so we started to make it happen. That made this spring and summer quite a season for gaming conventions, between Huzzah, Historicon, and Gencon. Both of my sons were able to arrange their schedules to be part of this, so we descended on Indianapolis with a crew of five.

I last made it to GenCon (with my brother) in 1980. That was in a different world. The product releases that year included d10s and the 1st printing of the AD&D Deities and Demigods book, and the AD&D tournament modules were the Slavelords series. There were, perhaps, 5000 attendees. This year there were 50,000, so it was a dozen or more times bigger than Historicon, my recent benchmark for what I consider to be a "large" convention.

I really didn't know what to expect, so my pre-convention planning attempted to cover a range of reasonable contingencies. I had worked on the Portable Fantasy Game which I carried along, and I brought some roleplaying stuff for pickup gaming, travel edition Carcassonne, and travel edition Settlers of Catan. I did some research on people's experiences from previous years, so I was fairly confident that this was going to be more than was necessary.

We arrived in Indianapolis on Wednesday night, to find that the airport had put out the welcome mat for us, literally:



My brother hosted us on Wednesday night, and we headed to the convention center on Thursday morning intending to arrive around 10:00. This turned out to be a little optimistic, as the convention on top of daily commuter traffic made parking difficult. We turned out to be a long walk from the convention center, so anything wanted needed to be carried; there was no going back to the car for additional supplies. I paid the extra fee to have my badge delivered in advance, which turned out to be an excellent decision, as my brother was in line at Will Call for a long time to collect his.

I had a game scheduled for 2:00, so that gave me some time to duck into the exhibition hall. I had prepared for that in advance, and had the map with the locations of some exhibitors I particularly wished to see. This was mostly companies whose Kickstarters I had supported, so that kept me busy until it was time for my first game.

My first game was a Fate game. For those who don't follow rpgs, Fate is published by Evil Hat Productions, who had a wildly successful Kickstarter for the publication of the 4th edition (aka Fate Core) back in late 2012. I have been playing in an online game for much of the year, and I wanted to see what a game looked at live at the table. The game was very interesting; Fate is an adaptable tool kit, and the GM was using it to run a game involving both characters and units in an urban uprising game. I am going to steal some of the ideas soon, so that was a success.

We got the whole crew together for dinner, which was nice, and my younger son had us all playing Fluxx until the food was delivered.

My first event on Friday was in the afternoon, when I had the opportunity to sit in on a live recording session for "Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff", one of my favorite weekly gaming podcasts. After that I scurried across the convention space to meet one of the other players in my online game for some pickup roleplaying offered by Games on Demand. We were in the last group assigned, so we ended up in an unusual little narrative game about being a labor clone in some dystopic(?) future. That was different, and definitely outside my usual comfort zone. I have been reading about indie rpgs for quite a while, so it was interesting to see something as far removed from original Dungeons & Dragons as can be.

My sons were signed up for some Diplomacy.  Here's Norman:




Four of the five of us were signed up for a modern-era National Security Decision Making game on Friday night. Norman and William have both done this before. The NSDM used to be a regular offering at Cold Wars. The topics vary, but the whole thing is based on freeform rpgs used by the US government for insight into high-level political/military matters. We had about 80 players for this one, which was divided into cells representing India, Pakistan, China, and Indonesia. I was representing the Indian steel industry, for example, with a goal of influencing my Indian politics to support my objective to open factories outside India and increase government spending on the steel industry. I used to do political LARPs for fun, so this was something I was comfortable with, except for the part where it was running until almost midnight and I was fading...

My one scheduled event on Saturday was a tank battle game, for which the whole crew had enlisted.



Once we were through with that, we had one more group dinner, and then grabbed an empty table for a pickup fantasy miniatures game, using the Portable Fantasy Game set (and the Song of Blades and Heroes rules) I'd brought along. One of my brother's clearest recollections of the 1980 Gencon was of passing a group of guys doing a pickup fantasy miniatures game on a table in a random hallway, who looked like they were having more fun than anyone else we'd seen that weekend. Therefore, I wanted to provide him with a similar opportunity this time.

Youth and skill vs. old age and treachery... Joe and my brother go up against my sons.

The human cavalry made their first PFG appearance in this game, here riding down some of William's hapless goblins.

On Sunday, the kids and I made a final sweep of the exhibition hall and then headed back over to Games on Demand for another roleplaying experience. I ended up taking the fifth (and final) seat in a session of Lady Blackbird, a game often mentioned on rpg.net as an example of a tight minimalist design. This was a lot of fun, and I was left with an urge to spend some additional time with roleplaying games in the near future.

In addition to the scheduled events, we spent a fair amount of time in the exhibition hall over the weekend. In addition to visiting with my open Kickstarters, I spent some time digging through various used (old) game dealers, and came home with a few miscellaneous things that I used to own...We also used the auction/consignment area as a convenient rest point. I had a bidder number, but didn't actually use it. I did buy a couple of classic Traveller items for later use.  In general, I was keeping the buying down because I didn't leave a lot of surplus space in my baggage for new purchases.

My main lessons learned from the convention were:

Don't schedule events closer than two hours apart. You could need almost that much time to buy food and walk from one end of the space to the other, especially if the first game should run a little over.

Comfortable shoes are an absolute must. I wore my hiking boots with appropriate socks, so I made it through the weekend without crippling ankle pain. I've been wearing a pedometer as part of a work fitness challenge. The first three days at Gencon all topped my previous record, and were about double whet I'd usually consider a good exercise day.

There's plenty to do, so not having scheduled events won't be a problem in having fun. However, additional preplanning would have enhanced the experience.

I'll leave it at that for now, in the interest of actually getting this report posted.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Civil War in Arden, revisited

Ross Macfarlane and I have been discussing tweaking the Rough Wooing home rules we use for 40mm Renaissance gaming. Today we took the opportunity to set up a remote game (Google Hangouts for video conferencing rather than Skype) at my house. My Renaissance collection is smaller than Ross's, so that puts an upper bound on a scenario.

I chose to recycle the civil war in Arden scenario I used for a solo game back in 2010. I hope to post a full report later this week, but, in shirt, the scenario involved two similar forces are racing for a bridge on the road to the capital, one led by the ruler, and one by the usurper, so both sides had a functional requirement to not lose the leader...

We spent about three hours actually playing the game, following a discussion period in which we decided what the rules tweaks for purposes of this test would be. Ross played the rebels, and I played the loyalists. At the end of the game, neither army had broken, and neither leader had been killed, although they had both been in the same cavalry melee at one point. The loyalists had the bridge (and therefore could withdraw the surviving troops toward the capital), but the rebels had arguably come out ahead in the casualties, having traded mercenary foot for the Duke's loyalist nobility in the form of their gendarmes.

All in all, it was an interesting game, with some rules writing and review to follow.

I should note that this game demonstrates one of my current little wargaming issues: too many things are interesting. The last three games played were all different scales, different periods, and different rules, and that doesn't begin to exhaust the possibilities.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Weekend progress

I've had some time to sit and paint, so I decided I'd go with the flow and add some figures to the Portable Fantasy Game. Shown are two Caesar Orc savages, a Caesar Elf, two Red Box galloglasses, a Dark Alliance warg rider, and a Strelets horseman.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Portable Fantasy Game, Part 2

Historicon last weekend left me inspired to do some work, but tired and a week behind on life's necessary chores. Today I finished a few figures for the portable fantasy game (PFG). These were a Dark Alliance light warg rider, and five Caesar goblins. My immediate goal is to add some additional tactical options to the box before I head off to Gencon in a few weeks.






As I posted a few weeks ago, William and I had a trial game. I was having photo upload difficulties, so I only posted a single picture at the time. Here is the table as we set it up, using most (but not all) of the scenery in the box. For reference, the cloth is about 36" square.





Here a group of orcs crosses a Dave Graffam Model bridge.




When everything is packed away into the 12 liter box, it looks like this. The top layer is the ground cloth, the rules, and a hill.




The next layer down includes two more hills and the roll of roads.




The buildings, trees, figures boxes, walls, lichen and miscellaneous scenics are in the bottom layer. One figure box includes tall figures; the other is short but has more space.




With today's figures, I've got 32 foot figures on half-inch bases in the short box, plus a couple of Reaper Bones spider swarms.




The deep box includes the two cavalry figures, the dragon, the troll, and a few overly dramatic tall foot figures.




Here's an overview.




With a couple of weeks to go, I'm feeling pretty good about this project...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Historicon 2014 Report

The convention report is a time-honored HAWKs tradition, so here is my 2014 Historicon report. I'm pleased to report, by the way, that the blog entry software I use has recently been updated to correct a problem it had been having with uploading pictures, so I hope to be back to posting on a more regular basis.

This is the third year Historicon has been in Fredericksburg, and the convention center is apparently trying to work with us on improving some things. The most important innovation this year was temporary carpeting in the main gaming area. This reduced the noise level to something that wasn't immediately giving me a headache, so that's an improvement. On the other hand, they reduced the number of water stations and didn't seem to be keeping them filled, which was a slip from last year. Bathrooms continue to be a problem...

Getting to Fredericksburg is an adventure, and I don't mean that as a positivie comment. The convention center is just off I-95, which is the only practical divided highway route from the north. Construction between DC and Fredericksburg continues for the 3rd year, and the last 30 miles took me an hour an a half, from noon to 1:30 on a Thursday. If you can't get through during work hours on a week day, when can you?

Arriving as I did around 1:30, I planned to do my shopping first, check out the flea market, and then see if there was something interesting to play in the evening. My shopping list was pretty short, some bases, some boxes of 1/72 scale plastic figures, and an advance copy of Osprey's new medieval rules, Lion Rampant by Dan Mersey. I had hoped that these would be at the con; the Amazon release date is in late September. I'll have a read-through review later, and hope to try them out within a few weeks.

I had hoped to get into a game on Thursday night, but it turned out that the two games in the HAWKs room I wished to play both filled with non-HAWKs, so no fill-ins were necessary. Norman had arrived by then, so we took a walk around and then went and checked into our hotel.




While there were a lot of interesting looking games, my eye was caught by this particular SF game on our evening walkaround, since I hadn't seen a table with a monorail previously.

With an afternoon game on Friday, I was constrained to play something early and short in the morning.





I ended up in an Aerodrome game. Despite my kids having played regularly, and despite it having been a convention staple for years, I'd never played. I picked up the mechanics quickly. It's based on the old Ace of Aces book game, with which I have been familiar since it was new back when I was in college (and saber toothed tigers stalked us on the way to class...). Norman joined me for this game. Since we were assigned planes on opposite sides, he also shot me down once. I was shot down twice in rapid succession, so it seems that my predictive skills are going to require some work before my next try at this.

We picked up a cache of Zvezda Hundred Years War 1/72 figures in the morning flea market.

The first of the three games I ran was on Friday afternoon. I signed up to do three different Hundred Years War skirmish games using 54mm plastic figures and our Medieval Mayhem home rules.





This first game had only 4 of 6 possible players, and two of those were HAWKs fill-ins, so I was concerned. The scenario involved an English raiding party attempting to collect livestock from a village to provision a castle about to be attacked.





The raiders collected some of the necessary livestock, but were eventually fought off by the French, who were arriving on the field throughout the scenario.

Norman and I had both signed up for an evening game with a hypothetical Zulu War scenario. The rules to be used were Black Powder, which neither of us had tried. I think he was considering them as a possibility for a 19th century imagi-nations project he's doing.





He ended up commanding the main body of the British, and in the photo above had taken a defensive position.




Unfortunately, my troops, extending his line, crumpled under a fierce Zulu assault and we were rolled up. Sometimes you win, sometimes Zulus...

There wasn't enough time on Saturday to play anything before I needed to set up my second game.



This involved a follow-on to the first scenario, in which a group of raiders had to cross the board (or at least most of it) with a convoy of cattle and sheep. Again, the French were converging on the board, so that the longer the English took, the more opposition they faced.


Here a reluctant Britains cow slows down the proceedings...

This turned out to be a tense and well-balanced scenario, insofar as any skirmish game (with an inherently wide range of possible outcomes) can be balanced. The English wiped out one of the three French retinues, which game them an opening to get their farm animals off the board for a solid victory.

I had all six positions filled for this one, though it still included two HAWKs to fill in.

Since the game only ran a little over two hours, there was time to check the flea market one more time before resetting for the evneing game. I found someone getting rid of a large stockpile of Caesar 1/72 Bronze Age sets of various sorts, so I swept them up on speculation (and as requested by Norman).

Norman was running two Bronze Age games, and is seen here with the first one:





My third game had six of six players. The scenario involved a raiding party from the castle attempting to burn a siege tower and a stock of timbers and parts for a second siege engine.





The English raiders eventually managed to burn the tower, but didn't burn the extra supplies. With excessive losses on their part, this was declared a marginal French victory. I was happy to see these figures on the table; my records show they were last out for Cold Wars two years ago.

We stayed around on Sunday for one final game (and lunch with some other HAWKs) before heading home. I got into a WWII skirmish game with card-driven mechanics. It's under development by my friend Buck Surdu.





Unfortunately, my luck with cards appears to be no better than my luck with dice, and my German sentries (shown above) were shot down before their first activation. I had better luck with a pair of officers inside the building, but it was still a pretty firm British victory.

The drive home was slow, due to traffic, so I may reconsider Sunday gaming next year. Overall, though, it was still a good convention. One other bit of gaming news came out of it: The HAWKs are now planning a road trip to Huzzah in Maine next May, so I've volunteered to coordinate our events with the convention.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Portable Fantasy Game

I'm quite a bit behind on blogging, and part of it has to do with the fact that I'm experiencing software difficulties with my tablet-based blogging application. So, in the itnerest of showing that I'm still alive and working on things, here's a picture from last week's first trial run of the portable fantasy game (PFG). The PFG is being assembled as a "game in a box", with the box being a 12-litre Really Useful Box. According the information I can find online, this is the largest single box in their line that fits under the Southwest Airlines seat. It's intended as something to take to a convention, as with the recent trip to Huzzah, or the trip to Gencon coming up later this summer. I'll do a set of packing shots sometime soon.

In the scene here, three Caesar 1/72 scale plastic adventurers on 1/2-inch square bases advance down the street of a small hamlet, depicted by a collection of Dave Graffam card models. The road is cut from a piece of print quilting fabric, and the ground cloth is the 3x3 seen in previous games, seamed up double-sided with the green on one side and a desert yellow brown on the other.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Back to Painting





I posted a shot of my relatively clean painting desk last weekend. This weekend I actually had time to sit down and do some painting. 


I am going to try to keep just a few things out at once, to see if that helps maintain focus. This weekend I decide I would have a go at finishing up some Bones, starting with this red dragon. He got a rather basic monochrome treatment, recognizing that it's headed to the gaming table, rather than for display.