Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tales from The Red Road--Gamehole 2015

I did not go to this con last year with the rest of my partners from Eldritch Enterprises; I was not going to spend 8 hours in a vehicle going to Wisconsin in Nov.; it just seemed counter-intuitive, ya’ know? Wisconsin, November, Winter—not necessarily ingredients for a happy recipe. And I have had to face the fact that I am just too damned old to do these trips alone anymore; too much danger of nodding off on the way home and such.

This year, I had my favorite accomplice in mischief and mayhem for my boon travelling companion, The Mad Mage, a.k.a. Jim Wampler. Jim and I have now made several con treks together but have not yet strangled one another, run out of BS stories or otherwise grown to loathe and despise each other. In other words, good travelling companions not married to each other; a rare distinction, in my mind.

In terms of route, this trip was a no-brainer; I-74 W through Indy and on to Bloomington, IL; from there I-39 N to Madison. None of the crap associated with having to go anywhere near Chicago. (Alas, no Chicago dog at Corky’s, either.) With the construction on the bridges on I-65 being the incredibly horrid situation that it is (poor Lafayette is damned near embargoed) we were not going through that again.

Eight lo-o-o-o-ng hours after departure, we arrived in Madison. (I spent the trip in an elastic, wrap-around  back-brace. I’m not too sure but what it would have been less painful without it.) Good old Dennis got us to the Clarion with no trouble (I have the voice of Dennis Hopper downloaded to my GPS). Jim went off to his solo room upon check-in a couple of floors above where I was rooming with Frank Mentzer in a nice little suite with kitchen amenities. So far, so good.

Now comes the only gripe of this tale. It is true that there was a covered passageway from the hotel to the Exhibit Hall. It is also true that it was one damned long walk. When I go back, which I most certainly will probably do if asked, I am going to look into one of the little motorized scooters like Tom Wham and Jim Ward had; we can have races and pari-mutuel betting.

On Thursday night, the Con had organized a bus for a bunch of us Special Guests (their distinction, not mine) to go out to see the warehouses of ACD, one of the larger game distributors. It was a bit overwhelming as the place is huge; wall-to-wall, nearly floor-to-ceiling games and game stuff. And, we got anything we wanted wholesale. I picked up a promising six-player (Provincia Romana) and an odd little card game about who’s the better person based on the gifts you give at Christmas. (There are six of us in my twice-monthly boardgame group; I am always on the scout for good games for 6.)
When we had sated our gaming appetites, it was back on the bus to satisfy another appetite. We were whisked off to a reception at the Free House Pub where we were treated. Thanks, Alex. There was a time when I could have punished you for that, but those days are long past; I no longer drink like a fish, nor eat like once I did. Alas and alack…

The con had a very respectable Dealer Area, and I saw independent designers with a table all over the place, showcasing their games. The hall seemed to do a good business; every time I could get by it held a respectable crowd. I found another 5-player eeuro-game based on trading in the Med that was marked down 75%. At that markdown, if it is a stinker I am not out so much.

My first game was Friday at high noon. Somewhat out of character I had entered this simple minis game into the schedule rather late in the process, so it did not get much face time and had a scanty sign-up. Too bad, because the few that did sign up seemed to have a good time.

A few years back, WizKids came out with their sailing CSG Pirates (of every body of water we can think of)…. The hook to this CSG (Collectible Strategy Game) was/still is the pretty ships, hundreds of them. The rules were awfully simple (some might argue to reverse those two words), about what you would expect from something this entry-level. In Gygax Magazine #3 I published my upgraded rule set called Master Mariner. [1] The rules could be favorably compared to Chainmail in complexity. The game went well; the two sides swanned about a bit trying to get position, closed and ended it in about a four turn bloodbath. Most satisfying. I have plans to run this game at any con I drive to, and already have plans on how to make it bigger and bloodier.

RPG’ers continue to surprise me in the ingenious ways they can come up with that get them wiped out. I ran three RPG’s: two TPK’s and one survived through my magnanimity. In one of them which I had run at least eight or nine times they found a whole new, never-before-tried way to get slaughtered. Seeing this, all new waus to die, is part of what keeps me coming back to the table, as well as writing.

The con seemed to me to very well run; the organizers seemed to have a really good handle on things. They had a special little refuge for us Guests that was quite nice and very welcome. I saw lots of minis games of various stripes, lots of boardgames, a plethora of RPG’s (some a bit too many too tightly crammed into too small an area), Chris Clark had his Starship Bridge thingy that seemed to be quite popular, there was a special painting area and Dan “the Bard” Marcotte had a Bard Camp set up. (For those that don’t know any better, he’s not some dude wandering around trying to look like a Ren Faire luterist. He writes hilarious songs about RPG’ing that only a player could pen. Check him out online.) The Fight in the Skies Society was very visible (they have a killer banner) and many, many biplanes were riddled with bullets. There was a huge DCC tournament that featured much bloodshed and was enjoyed by all the combatants; one-on=one mayhem reigned.
There were a bunch of seminars and panels going on that had quite a few interesting topics and many, many game authors were present answering questions about their games and talking about new stuff coming.

The consortium that puts together Gamehole Con should all spend a small amount of time patting themselves and each other on the back for a job well done. OK, that’s enough. It was hard to credit that this was only their third convention, so smooth was the operation I saw. I had a hell of a good time, saw old friends and made new ones; can anyone reasonably ask for more from a con?

[1] Several years ago I had submitted them to Wizards, where they supposedly sat un-looked-at in two different persons’ file cabinets. When I finally tracked them down, through three different employees (two had left), I was told WotC was not interested. Oddly enough, their last releases and expansions were about 80% of what I had submitted. As far as I am concerned they were lifted from my submission and the Hasborg can try and sue me over them. 

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