Monday, March 21, 2016

Two great cons, too close together

I am a very lucky gamer; I get to go to around half a dozen cons per year (seven in ’15, five in ’16, who knows in ’17?). The fact that I am retired is one enabler; tickets for airplane rides and nice hotel rooms when I get there is the main motivator for me to go play games with strangers all around the Eastern U.S. Some days it is very cool to be Tim.

I just enjoyed two cons only two weeks, and 1063 miles, apart. The 1st was TotalCon (full name-Total Confusion Con) #30, in Mansfield, MA; the 2nd was GaryCon VIII, in Lake Geneva WI. They are both run by dedicated volunteers for the most part, and both are great fun.

In chronological order:

TotalCon (hereinafter referred to as TC) has been going for 30 years now; they know what works for them and their market. Nearly all the volunteers that I have met over the several times I have been asked to come are avid gamers of one sort or another. They have the best kids’ programs and games of any con I have ever attended anywhere.

2016 (Feb 18-21) was no exception; it was a great con despite all the obstacles thrown up by the new ownership of the Holiday Inn. (I was apprised of their worries well before the con; everyone had their fingers crossed.) The new owners fumbled the ball badly, not once but several times. There were a lot of grumbling attendees, but I hope that by now they have realized it was not all, or even very much, the fault of the organizers. Refurbishing was supposed to be done by Feb. 1-it was not. Over five dozen parking spaces were lost to trailers, construction stuff and dumpsters. At least two halls were so full of detritus and scrap that you could not pull a small suitcase through them. Rooms were not ready; I went from supposedly being closer to the action to being shuffled to the farthest wing of the complex. (Have I forgotten to mention that the con virtually takes over an entire, rather larger, Holiday Inn complex, complete with indoor pool and spa?)

Other than the hotel hassles, as far as I could see TC went off without a hitch. It was certainly a pleasant change from last year, when the snow was piled higher than second- story windows.

I had my own tubular meat side-missions. Jenn Gerber took me to Casey’s Diner in Natick for their “All Around”. It is a very nice dog with a pleasing snap when bitten, on a steamed roll that we would call here in the Midwest a New England Split or a Clam Roll, topped with mustard, onions and relish. Very tasty and highly recommended. For such a tiny diner (that you must go to to fully appreciate the funky ambience) it makes a mighty dog, and some of them are gamers.

The next day Angelia Parenteau took me to the New York Diner in Woonsocket, RI. It seems that folks from RI, sometimes known as Swamp Yankees for reasons unknown to me, don’t eat hot dogs. At least, they don’t call them that; they advertise Hot Wieners or Hot Weenies. What Angie got me to try are known as “gagguhs” (a linguistic mutilation of the word gaggers); thankfully, they are better than their name would seem to indicate; mustard, onion and meat sauce comprise the toppings. The dog was good, the meat sauce interesting but the bun was a standard hotdog bun and somewhat uninspiring.

When you go to a given con a few times, you begin to make “con friends” that you only see there and hope to see each time. TC is no exception; I have made many con friends there and look forward to seeing them each year.

Home for 10 days and then off again:

Another Tale from the Red Road

The Mad Mage, my bombardier/navigator, and I got an early start on Wed AM; first stop for us is always Corkys Dogg House in Cedar Lake IN, a tradition I started with The Axeman (Rich Franks) when we went to the last Lake Geneva Game Convention before Gary died. It is my annual truly authentic Chicago Dog experience. This year, tho’, was different; I went for the Polish sausage. First you must understand that the Vienna Beef Co makes one of the best mass-produced Polish in the country. There is  a certain method of cooking it that I think was once called “Maxwell St. style”. You take a frozen sausage and drop it in the fryer; when cooked the skin is crunchy and crackly and the insides just right for eating. Memory did not disappoint.  It was sublime. The Mage (Jim Wampler) treated himself to a pair of them this year; Damn the Chron’s, Full Gulp Ahead!

The weather this year was downright cold. I know, I know, I used to live there, but that was 35 years ago; Cincy weather has been much milder. And my bones are older.

Gary Con VIII (hereinafter referred to as GC) was going to a new venue- The Grand Geneva Resort. It used to be, way back when, The Lake Geneva  Playboy Club. Yes, the same site we tried (in ’77, I think) when it was the Playboy and nearly killed GenCon.

With no half-nekkid Bunnies about for many years now, the Grand Geneva has morphed into quite a posh place. GC would not be able to negotiate room prices anywhere near what they do get now if it took place “In Season”. I had a gas fireplace in my room…

For the first time since GC 1, I had two events with only three players signed up. I am guessing that whatever perverse thrill drove players to seek violent and notable deaths in my previous adventures has worn thin. All those TPK’s were fun for us all, but as the singer sang, “… the thrill is gone.” I am going back to storytelling and puzzle- and mystery-solving. There will be plenty of hazards, fear not, but I now wish to ferret out more subtle minds to duel with and confound. I love pitting myself against the collective mind of the party. (Probably more on this in another blog)

As luck would have it, I had tossed a new favorite game into my pile of stuff when I packed my car. The game is War of Kings, a Kickstarter project I backed because it had neat pieces and has since turned into a favorite for 2-6 players; the 6-player is brutal. I offered to run back to my room to get it and teach it to them. I had played with one or more of the guys in both groups, so I did not have to persuade very hard. I figured that I owed them 4 hours of gaming, so what the hell? All six guys loved it and we had two really fun games of 4 players each time. They were all skilled players and the game is subtly simple, so both contests were spirited. I think I may have sold a few copies…

I ran my infamous “mouse-game” and we had a great time, and everyone lived, to boot. (Sorry, no spoilers)

The Finals of Circus Maximus were great on several levels: all the players were skilled at the rules; all were paying constant attention; we used my custom track that is 44 squares longer and finished in about two hours. Lots of mayhem, three chariots flipped and one driver trampled. All in all, the mob was pleased.

My big moment came at the Charity auction. I had made the offer to allow my scraggly ponytail to be snipped for charity. I am happy to say that I got $200 for it; I turned down an offer of $400 to shave my head. All in all, we raised about $12,000 for the charity. When you consider that GaryCon can raise $12K with an attendance of about 1200, it makes you think what GenCon, with an attendance of well over 50K, could raise at its Charity Auction if it really tried. The gage has been tossed.

The transition into the new venue was not without problems; however, the majority of them were not visible to the general public and so little suffering resulted. As this con has run a tighter ship each year, I am confident that they will grow into this new venue just a like a hermit crab grows into a new whelk shell.

The “GaryCon Vibe” was present, even in new digs. I have decided that this past Con is the last that I will attend and NOT see all the old friends I mean to. Every year there are old friends that I know are at the con but I keep missing; from now on I am leaving Sat. night open to catch up with them and be in better fettle to return on Sunday to Cincy.

Frank’s party was outstanding, I got to spend some time with some old friends, got to spend some quality time with new friends—GaryCon VIII was great. I hear the resort is already taking reservations.

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