B-Movie Inspirations: P-51 Dragon Fighter (2014)

p51dragonfighter

Here is yet another installment of B-Movie inspiration, seeding your RPG ideas by watching very bad movies…so you don’t have to.

Browsing through available movies, I found a gem of a movie that I really connected with.  I have been running Actung! Cthulhu all year at every convention I have been at this year, and I just finished reviewing both the Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide.  When I saw the title, I was immediately drawn to it.  Also, I have focused so strongly on old cheese, I felt that some new cheese was needed.  The problem is that there is so much new cheese to choose from.  Anybody with a 3D rendering program and a few friends who can half-way act is putting together a monster movie of some kind.  And the Syfy Channel is buying them up, no matter how bad they are.  It is like they are throwing cheese at a wall and hoping something sticks to make a market for it.

I immediately thought this is going to be one of those direct-to-SyFy Channel special movies because the movie is seriously low budget with bad special effects, full of bad acting and clichéd scripting.  There are so many shots and scenes that make you slap your forehead that it is sickening.  However, I liked the concept so I suffered through it. I took breaks between the very bad scenes and the horrible acting, so it wasn’t too bad.

There have been several World War II/Nazi occult mash up movies – The Keep comes to mind, or Outpost and its sequel – but this one just stood out to me.  Too many of these types of movies have the same things in common – Nazi zombies or the like.  That is so clichéd that I felt something new might be refreshing.  When I saw “dragons” in the title with a P-51 Mustang, I was hooked.

The movi
e opens with an archaeological dig in some desert setting, which you assume is North Africa somewhere.  The workers uncover what their fearsome leader is seeking – what we learn later is a dragon egg. This evil leader – Dr. Heinrich Gudrun – looks hungrily at the egg as he holds it up to the light and, through a very cheesy effect, shows the dragon embryo.

We then switch to an American armored position somewhere in the desert where a very badly rendered Sherman tank is sitting out in the dessert.  Through some unclear events, we see the tank crew report of something going on near their perimeter and call in air support.  The air support, the forward observer (that pops out of nowhere), and the armor unit itself is then subsequently destroyed by a flying creature breathing fire.

Enter our hero, Lt. John Robbins – a angst-ridden pilot suffering some trauma from a past war experience.  He took himself off the flight roster after this bad experience and became a brawling drunkard.  Of course, up until his bad experience, he was one of the most decorated pilots in the war and now the Allies want him back.  There is a “new threat” and only he can help with it.  He is introduced to a couple of officers at a airfield somewhere in North Africa and shown gun camera footage of the events in the beginning of the move.  Of course, the good guys get a stern look in their face that says, “We have to do something about this!”

They form a team of the best pilots the Allies have to offer – 8 pilots – that include a few of RAF pilots, the French, Czech and a couple of Americans.  They are assigned to hunt and kill these new creatures who are obviously dragons.  Before they can get settled in, however, they are attacked by 3 dragons. They send up all the pilots (less our hero who is still grounded by the American general because, of course, all officers are pig headed and stubborn).  This first real exposure to dragon dog-fighting is not as exciting as I had hoped but it has its moments, despite the poorly done special effects.

Every piece of hardware, from the aircraft to the tanks, are done in CGI.  Never is there a moment where you see an actor and a 3D-rendered item in the same shot, save some shots of the dragons in the background and the humans in the foreground.  I think they blew their blue screen budget on that one scene.  I had to chuckle when I saw the dragons.  The dragons themselves have the iron cross tattooed on their wings.  That was a nice cheesy touch.  I laughed thinking “Who was the poor German tattoo artist that had to do that?”

We are also introduced to more bad guys, led by none other than the Desert Fox himself, General Irwin Rommel.  He and a couple of staff members along with the archaeologist earlier welcome a group of four women they call the Vrill (something like that) to their Benghazi location (a cheesy set they probably borrowed from some generous studio).  These ladies wore black robes that scream occult witches with special powers.  Through these women, it is music that soothes the savage beast and controls the dragons.  They have some kind of psychic connection as well that allows anyone to see from the dragon’s perspective if they touch their temple.

The low budget is nowhere near as apparent as in this one horrible scene where the women’s powers are introduced.  The archaeologist asks for a volunteer and Rommel’s minion is volunteered (he was obviously brought along for this single purpose).  As a demonstration of the witches’ and dragons’ power, the minion is told to run.  Of course, a sense of foreboding and dread is conveyed here as one would expect some kind of horrible demise to befall this running minion.  However, all you are shown are the fearful faces of those watching as the witches chant and sing.  Never do you see what actually happens to the minion.  Rommel touches the temple of one of the witches and quickly orders a stop to it.  You never hear a scream from the minion or see anything that happens to him; it just cuts back and forth between the actors.  They could not even spring for an effect showing the dragon picking up a CG version of the minion.  It was such a frustratingly badly cut scene that I almost stopped the movie there.

Rommel is shown the archaeologist’s plan to hatch a dragon army.  In a bunker deep beneath the ground, they tour an egg facility (all CG) where the archaeologist proposes an army that Rommel can lead. He explains that the dragons are all born female and produce eggs on their own.  He also references the possibility of a male being hatched, and if that were to happen, they would lose control of the dragons.  He assures Rommel that won’t happen.  Of course, that’s a badly veiled attempt at foreshadowing.

The movie could have been straight forward from this point on, but they actually try to get creative and throw a twist in just to make sure you are paying attention.  I had to watch it a second time (yes, I suffered through it twice for you) but there are some vague attempts to imply that Rommel has a secret agenda.  Rommel apparently has a conscience and arranges a plan with the Allies to destroy the dragon hatchery.

The plan is hatched, so to speak, and of course, there are complications – like the arrival of a full grown male dragon with full swastikas tattooed on his wings, which even is a surprise to the archaeologist who is supposed to be the one behind the breading of the dragons.  So, the male just popped out of nowhere and no one knew it existed?  And who put the swastikas on there?  Really?

And of course there are the historical discrepancies that are quite flagrant.  It seems like the writers thought of the title first and rewrote history to fit it.  A couple of examples – P-51 Mustangs never served in North Africa and V-2 rockets, mentioned in the hero’s bad experience, were not used until well after the North African campaign.  There are more but those are the glaring ones. Maybe it was an alternate history.

Are there any RPG plot ideas out of this? Maybe?

Nazi and the Occult:  This is also a good go-to.  My issue with this, though, is that everyone seems to go to Nazi zombies or vampires.  This movie thinks outside the box and brings dragons into the mix.  So if you go the Nazi occult route, think outside the box and do some research.  There are whole RPGs that center on alternate World War II settings – Weird Wars from Pinnacle Entertainment comes to mind.  There is a lot of opportunity there for Nazi Occult weirdness but it’s even more creative in a modern setting that is otherwise true to reality.  The players will never know it’s coming.

Working with the enemy: Rommel coming to the Americans and forming a plan to destroy the dragons is a good twist.  Things can get so bad that the players in an RPG party could wind up with strange bedfellows.  Enemies can become temporary allies.  Arranging this kind of thing can be a very fun situation. Also, I encourage bringing in one-time players to play the other side.  These kind of situations might call for it.

Aerial Combat against Creatures: This was at the core of the movie, probably the primary inspiration for it.  It’s really difficult to have aerial combat at the center of the adventure but with the right set of rules and the right preparation, it can make for a great session.  The GM needs to remember to center on roleplay and story-making and not turn the game into a miniature combat session.

On an interesting gaming note, if you watch carefully in the trailer (and in the movie if you so choose to suffer through it), it really looks like they are using Columbia Games blocks from the block war games on their tactical maps.

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is a new RPG Core Book from Modiphius Games.

Having reviewed the Investigator’s Guide, it is only natural to take on the next book in the series – the Keeper’s Guide.  For me, as a keeper or game master, this is where the meat of the story begins.  This is where the setting really comes out for me.  Included in this book, among other things, are Allied and Nazi forces & intelligence agencies, Occult organizations and Mythos-based missions, new tomes, secret weapons, artifacts & equipment, key characters & vile creatures, and new rules and strategies for World War II combat & survival.  Like the Investigator’s Guide review, I thought it best to go chapter by chapter and comment on each.

From page # ii:
“There’s a whole Shoggoth’s worth of Cthulhu villainy, enough for any Keeper to have his investigators dead, insane or running for their lives in no time!”

Chapter 1: From The Shadows seems like a very familiar chapter.  The Investigator’s Guide started out in the same fashion, with a timeline of key events in World War II.  However, in the Keeper’s Guide, this timeline contains key events in the Secret War, as well.  Some events actually happened and are re-tooled to link back to the Secret War.  I would not recommend just skimming this chapter.  There is an amazing amount of detail and inspiration in this.  This is where you can get your story arches and adventure seeds.

Chapter 2, entitled Inside The Reich, takes you into Nazi Germany – the people who suffered through it and key events in the Third Reich history.  Of course, chances are players in A!C will want to play Allied characters, but there is the off chance the players might want to play German characters instead.  It can be a difficult thing to wrestle with as a Keeper, but this chapter helps in a lot of ways to put Nazi Germany in perspective.  While it tries to give you a balanced view of the average German citizen and/or soldier, it makes no bones about the horrible atrocities the Nazis performed during the war.  There is a very well written portion by Kenneth Hite called Sympathy for the Devil that is a really good read.

“Man is a military animal, glories in gunpowder and loves parade.” – Philip James Bailey

Chapter 3: Might Makes Right? takes the reader into the organization within the various armed forces.  The A!C is set during of time of massive world conflict, where the ways of war rule the day in many parts of the world.  This chapter provides an amazing amount of detail (but it does not overwhelm you) about the common terms used in military structure, ranks, troop organization and military policy.  It also describes various things in the life of a soldier – supply lines and acquiring needed material and items, medical services and other essential aspects of life in the military.  Being captured is also a possibility in a time of war and can easily be a way to start out an adventure.  This chapter provides good insight into that side of the war.  The chapter ends with a series of military NPCs (in both Call of Cthulhu 6th edition and Savage Worlds rules) helpful in the World War II military world.

Chapter 4: The Other Secret War looks at the history of the British, American, French, and German intelligence services.  Every war has its facets and layers.  The top layer of any war is the men and machines in places in the fields and the bravery shown as each side battles for territory.  Under that layer are the men and women that battle in the shadows searching for information on the enemy while seeding misinformation to the enemy, all in an effort to help the top layer do their jobs better.  It’s not always successful but it is an important role in the war.

This chapter deals in the complexities of World War II espionage.  All the major allies in the European theater are covered in fine detail.  The reason for this detail is because players will more than likely be working for or dealing with these organizations in their A!C adventures.  Adventures could easily start out as simple intelligence missions that explode into the world of Lovecraftian occult.

Chapter 5: Secret And Occult Societies, as the title implies, covers a wide variety of cults, cabals, and covens.  Traditionally, they play a pivotal role in many Mythos stories.  Throw the various motivations and twists of war time, and these secret societies explode with adventure possibilities.  In these pages are several secret societies and why they exist.  Motivations behind these groups vary, including protecting ancient artifacts, protecting the nation as a whole by use of their supernatural abilities, furthering a Mythos entity’s goals, and generally causing havoc because they hate a certain group or another.

If a good handful of twisted and dark cults, societies and factions isn’t enough, the book presents Section M, a special British-based multinational organization started by the British Section D.  It was formed after realizing there was more out there than just your standard challenges of wartime espionage.  Section M was formed to handle issues of a more supernatural nature.  The book describes the origins of this very important group and also gives a handful of important NPCs.  Also included is Majestic, the American answer to Section M.  The book includes similar information for Majestic as well.

The Cult of the Black Sun is the feared cult behind the scenes in Nazi, Germany.  A sort of Lovecraftian version of Hydra (Marvel Comics), its origin is deeply connected to the Dreamlands and the sinister beings within.  Its tentacles reach as far back as the late 1800s when its founder explored the Dreamlands and found the Valley of the Black Sun.  From there was born the foundation of what is to become one of the most powerful and feared secret societies within Germany.  Secretly linked to Hitler’s Thule Society, the Black Sun uses the society as a front to accomplish its sinister goals during the rise of the Nazi party.  Once Hilter begins his journey to power, the Thule Society is forced to disband but the Black Sun remained in the shadows. As the Nazis seize power, the Black Sun integrates itself with other facets of the party, including the Ahnenerbe – Himmler’s Ayran think tank.  The Cult of the Black Sun takes up a considerable amount of this chapter with amazing detail, interweaving it with key events and groups of real history.  The Cult of the Black Sun is set up as the big bad guy in the setting, one that the players will more than likely face through a multitude of fronts, related cults and other secret factions.  The section ends with a series of NPCs that make up the Black Sun, including individuals as well as generic soldiers of the Black Suns, like the Canon, the Norn, and die Troten – lower level leaders and drones of the Black Sun.  There is some incredible art here as well.

I could go on because there is so much more in this chapter, but suffice to say this is one of my favorite chapters.  There is plenty of meat for a Keeper to chew on and come up with great horror and supernatural hunting plots.

Chapter 6: Planes, Trains, And Things That Go Bang is the chapter of travel and stuff.  The first half of the chapter covers travel and the various means to accomplish said travel.  It contains a comprehensive list of air and sea ports and describes the various ways people traveled across country.  Several of the more common land and air vehicles are stat’ed out in both Call of Cthullhu and Savage Worlds.  Following this is the common equipment for characters from each country – weapons primarily – as well as some improvised or custom weapons and equipment.

Chapter 7: Into The Fray takes the reader into the war from a Call of Cthulhu rule system perspective.  Previously published rules on various important aspect of war and combat are re-printed here.  Rules for aerial combat as well as tank combat rules are presented here “ … with the emphasis on roleplaying rather than number crunching.” (p159).

Chapter 8: The Rules Of Savage Engagement is similar to Chapter 7 with a little extra rules where needed, like Aerial Bombardment rules and other special battlefield rules.  Also contained within these pages is a very special part of the Lovecraftian world – Sanity.  This is the area that surprised me the most.

From page # ii:
“The Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is the essential Achtung! Cthulhu wartime reference for any Keeper or fan of the Cthulhu Mythos.”

The first Achtung! Cthulhu product to be released was the award winning adventure Zero Point: Three Kings.  From the Savage Worlds point of view, the Three Kings adventure was written using Realms of Cthulhu rules set.  I thought when the Guides came out, they would stick with that rules set.  I didn’t really think was anything wrong with them.  To my surprise, they changed to a slightly different approach, at least where Sanity is concerned.  Both use the same derived Sanity stat but that is where the similarities stop.  There are three levels of Fear in Achtung! Cthulhu that creatures, tomes and spells have – Nausea, Horror and Terror.  Each has the potential of one or more levels of Dementia.  As they are gained, temporary insanities can become a problem for the character.  Gaining too much Dementia can result in permanent insanities and eventually total insanity. Horror and Terror have their own table and are referenced only when a one is rolled on the Trait die.  Dementia comes from these tables.

I am not a big fan of tables but they make it somewhat acceptable because you reference it only when a 1 pops up on the Trait die (no matter what comes up on the Wild Die).  If they make a Keeper screen, these tables would obviously have to be included.

Chapter 9: Artefacts And Tomes contains a wide variety of items for the Keeper to throw into his adventure to help or hinder the characters.  These include, of course, mystical items like Mi-go Bio Cloak or the Pyramids of Leng.  They also include items thought to be mundane but in truth have mystical powers.  The Die Blutfahne is one particular Nazi flag that, through some very dark and mystical events, has some very mystical powers to those loyal to the cause.  In total, there are 9 artifacts list here.

The tomes list several tomes that can be found in the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook and thus only have Savage Worlds stats.  There are also some original tomes that have both rules.  There are an additional 9 tomes here.

Chapter 10: Deadly Illusions And Cursed Knowledge expands on the aspects of magic using, learning spells and its effects on the human psyche.  The rules listed are primarily for Savage Worlds as most of the spells and rules surrounding spells can be found in Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition.  As Savage Worlds does not have Magic Points, so to speak, this system uses Sanity as the “cost” to cast.  Some cost a Sanity point directly while others require a Spirit roll.  There are a good many spells, some from the Call of Cthulhu line and some new.  Of course, the new spells have both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds stats.

Chapter 11: Horrors And Monstrosities is where I thought they would have saved themselves a lot of paper by simply maintaining compatibility with Realms of Cthulhu, but because of the path they chose to take primarily in the Sanity rules, they had to republish many of the standard Cthulhu Mythoscreatures in Savage Worlds rules.  I am sure there is a reason for it.  The question is are they all that much different from the Realms of Cthulhu?  Browsing through both books, I do notice a significant difference between the interpretations of common creatures while at the same time, there are some that are in one book and not the other.  So neither are better or worse than the other.  I just think they are both configured for their own particular setting.

What most readers would find interesting are the new creatures they have added to the Mythos, especially created for the Achtung! Cthulhu setting.  Servitor races like the Bloodborn or the Cold Ones gives you new options to creep your players out.  Twisted created like die draugar or die gefallenen are also very cool new creatures added for the setting.

While the previous chapter covers the dark and twisted, Chapter 12: Allies And Nemeses covers the real life heroes of the time and the mundane everyday NPCs.  A short description of all the major figures of World War II is given and a variety of generic NPC stats are also displayed.

Chapter 13: Adventure Seeds is 4 pages of great adventure ideas for the Secret Wars, with ideas inspired from real events and gives a slight twist to them to fit the setting.  This is a must-read for Keepers.

Chapter 14: Quick Play Guide is a quick reference guide to Achtung! Cthulhu, for both Call of Cthlhu and  Savage Worlds players.  And the book ends with a great chapter of Suggested Resources.

In conclusion, The book is a phenomenal piece of work.  It is attractive, easy to browse, well written, intelligent and well thought out.  It has everything a Keeper needs to inspire and run his Achtung! Cthulhu game.  The hard back version is a gorgeous book that I am proud to have on my shelf.  To run A!C, I highly recommend this book.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type: RPG Keeper’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Bill Bodden, Alex Bund, Russ Charles, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Kenneth Hite, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook & Kickstarter Backers
Number of Pages: 295
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $44.99 hard back; $22.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide is a new RPG Player’s Guide from Modiphius Games.

Two of my passions are H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos and World War II history.  When these two are combined, I will dive into it head first every opportunity I have.

I started my journey into Achtung! Cthulhu with running their first adventure, Three Kings. At the time, the Three Kings adventure, from the Savage Worlds side of things, was written for the Realms of Cthulhu.  It also could be run in classic 6th Edition Call of Cthulhu, but because of the more tactical nature of World War II, I felt that Savage World fit it better.  Imagine my surprise, however, when I found the Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide both using a different system in Savage worlds – one of their making. I suppose that makes sense to some degree.  They would be beholding to two different licenses, I would think.  I am not 100% sure how those licenses work.

The first thing you notice about the book is that it’s absolutely stunning.  Layout, art, and everything is top notch.  It makes you want to dive into the book right away. The book is 154 pages hardback or PDF, with ten chapters.  It had a very successful Kickstarter, one that many took part in and are kindly thanked by Lynn Hardy in the Forward.

From the website:
Achtung! Cthulhu is a terrifying World War Two setting, fully compatible with the Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition and Savage Worlds roleplaying games. This is the Investigator’s Guide, with everything players need to create and run character’s in the late 30’s and 40’s.”

Chapter 1: Welcome to the Secret War is made up primarily of a timeline of real world events during World War 2, primarily focusing on the Western Front.  It is noted in the book that there will be future supplements covering other theaters.  This timeline is by no means complete, of course, but it does cover some interesting aspects of the war.  What I like a lot in this section especially are anecdotal pieces of trivia that are interspersed throughout the timeline’s events.

Chapter 2: Keep the Home Fires Burning handles information on how things were on the British and American home front.  From jobs, the work force, consumer goods, and rationing to fashion, music and movies, this chapter has enough information to get a good feel for things at home.  Chapter 3: Home, Sweet Home is a timeline of events that effected the various home fronts – Britain, France, and the Unites States of America.  Even though there was a war going on, there were still significant things that occurred at home that are worth noting.  From political actions to inventions, things still happened in other parts of the world.

Chapter 4: In the Service of One’s Country details the various ways people serve their country – military services, intelligence service and others.  Achtung! Cthulhu gets your character not only deeply involved with Lovecraftian investigations but also the war, so he or she is more than likely going to be involved in one of these services one way or another.  The military services of Britain, France, the US and Germany are covered here, as well as the various intelligence and national law enforcement agencies.

Chapter 5: Your Country Needs You! takes all the previous information and connects it up with the character generation system of both Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition and Savage Worlds.  What is interesting on the CoC6 side, the character generation system is a little more detailed and structured than your standard CoC6 character generation. In this chapter, the writers dive into a detailed and extensive character generation process for Call of Cthulhu. Perhaps more key to a World War II setting than in normal 1920s Call of Cthulhu, this book spends a considerable time on nationality.  Characters are more than likely going to play a British or American character but this guide provides a means to add more detail.  Characters also choose an occupation like in classic CoC, and Achtung! Cthulhu provides a table listing the more appropriate occupations for the setting.  Additionally, it provides options for Covert Occupations – things a character may be doing secretly in a time of war.  Occupations are slightly different in Achtung! Cthulhu.  Bonuses are added to them as additional differentiators and are a nice touch.  Of course, there are also military occupations available, which are much more detailed then just “Soldier” from the classic rules.  They go into considerable detail on how to build a military character with the various branches, ranks and skills.

What I like a lot is their addition of Mythos Background Seeds, which collectively are a means to hook the character into the Secret War – the Mythos war being fought behind the scenes of World War II.  They provide a nice set of tables of options that you can either roll on or choose from or simply use as inspiration for your own ideas.  This is presented as an option, but I highly recommend using it as part of your character creation process.

From the website:
“Discover the secret history of World War Two: stories of amazing heroism, in which stalwart men and women struggle to overthrow a nightmare alliance of steel and the occult; of frightening inhuman conspiracies from the depths of time; of the unbelievable war machines which are the product of Nazi engineering genius – and how close we all are to a slithering end! The Secret War has begun!”

Chapter 6: Getting Your Hands Dirty extends further into the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition. This chapter expands on many of the relevant skills to fit in the World War II setting.  It also adds a few new skills for the setting.

In Chapter 7: The Savage Practice of War, as the title implies, are the Savage Worlds rules for Achtung! Cthulhu.  Although I have had a lot of experience with Call of Cthulhu, I have spent the past year running Achtung! Cthulhu in Savage Worlds.  In many cases, it references the previous chapters’ tables and other generic, non-game system specific information – a smart use of space and information.  Like in CoC, Achtung! Cthulhu adds a few extra things to the Savage Worlds character generation that a new player should pay close attention to.  Along with the obligatory Sanity stat (which is pretty much the same as Realms of Cthulhu), it adds a little more structure to a character’s skill selection especially if they go into the service.  Like in the CoC section, it provides structured guidelines for many career choices available in the setting.  Additionally, it provides a good number of new Hindrances and Edges for characters to choose from.

Key to the character in any Lovecraftian role playing setting is Sanity and I always thought that Realms of Cthulhu handled it well in the Savage Worlds rules set.  You don’t get a clue of it here in the Investigator’s Guide, but Achtung! Cthulhu takes a slightly different approach to it.  See our review of the Keeper’s Guide for that.

Chapter 8: The Tools of the Trade is what one would expect from a equipment chapter.  Starting with standard equipment, primarily military, items are fully stat’ed out for both CoC and Savage Worlds. Also included are a number of covert items to be used in the Secret War by the players.

Chapter 9: Quick Play Guide is a section that gives you a quick reference to everything presented in the book, from character generation to important combat rules.   Page numbers and/or chapter numbers are given for this book as well as Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition, and Savage Worlds Deluxe or Deluxe Explorer’s Edition.

Chapter 10: Suggested Resources is easily overlooked by the reader, but I highly recommend going through it.  There is a good variety of helpful resources to help a player and a keeper to capture the essence of a World War II Lovecraftian adventure.

In conclusion, Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide is a brilliant book, gorgeously laid out and full of useful player information to play in this setting.  I love the setting and I love this book.  I plan on running this regularly at the convention I attend.  What I like most about it is that it is intelligently put together and written, and that you can see that the writers and creators have a true passion for the setting.  It’s an enjoyable read and very inspiring for players and game masters a like.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type of Game: RPG Player’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Alex Bund, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Cover Artwork by: Pintureiro
Interior Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook
Number of Pages: 154
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $32.00 hard back; $14.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

StormCon 2014 – Charleston, SC

Mid-June found myself and my family in sweltering North Charleston, SC for another StormCon, a young and growing gaming con run by a great group of people.  I had fun last year at this con and I fully intended on supporting it again this year.  I signed up to run a good variety of games – 1 RPG, 1 board game, and 1 miniature game.  I was really looking forward to this as a break from real life and a chance to game with some friendly faces – new and old.

One of the primary reasons I like StormCon is the group of people running it. They are solid people that have a good vision, are willing to make changes to improve, and are making an honest effort to improve the experience for each and every gamer. They care about every aspect of the experience – from preregistration to sitting down and gaming. They are also a very independent group and want to make their own mistakes and learn from them. I admire that a lot about them. They are also willing to listen to advice and use it in ways that work for them. They are hard working individuals that are good, grass roots gamers.

The con is young and going through a lot of learning phases. They are trying to work on a system that works for them and their gamers. Again, I can respect that. I can speak to them all day of my experiences and all the work I have put into gaming registration, but it would fall on deaf ears if it’s not a system they could implement or make work for them. So going in, I know to expect the glitches that come from learning some of the same lessons I did when I started doing this nearly 15 years ago.  Honestly, there were some glitches, but nothing I could not get over.

They are also not arrogant in thinking they have this “down to a science” after just a few short years.  They listen to advice when given and fine tune things not only year by year, but also hour by hour.  They are very quick on their feet when any gamer needs help or a change. They are a very service oriented group of guys and girls, and it is a joy to work with them.

2014 meant a new hotel for StormCon.  It was a little more expensive but included an incredible breakfast every morning.  It was a Hilton Garden Inn near the Airport, with a Wendy’s sharing the parking lot, so food options were not far away.  It was also 30 minutes from the beach and across the street from a major outlet center, so my wife and kids had a lot of other options while I gamed.

The hotel itself was very nice.  The rooms were not too small.  The five of us fit fairly comfortably.  They had refrigerators and microwaves in the rooms which made things easier for us too.  The internet was surprisingly fast for a hotel that was full of gamers and at least one wedding party.  The breakfast was top notch.  I had very little complaints about the hotel.  It was well worth the little extra money I spent to stay there.

On the other side to that, though, was the “inside baseball” stuff I heard from the convention managers.  The con was the victim of a lot of turn-over in the hotel sales staff.  They have seen 3 different sales representatives and many aspects of the contract were apparently unclear.  I have seen this happen a lot, and it has happened to cons I have worked with.  It is very hard to maintain consistency in a hotel deal if the hotel can’t keep their employees (which is usually a bad sign in general).  In many cases, despite all your efforts to make sure everything is in writing, things get left out, details are talked about but never written down, and things can be misinterpreted, assumed or simply forgotten.  It’s important to have a detail-oriented and experienced sales person when setting up a con space, and if you don’t have that, you are setting yourself up for some bumps in the road.

Not to say that StormCon set themselves up or that it was their fault in any way.  They had no control over it.  The hotel just could not keep their employees happy.  They know now to get every detail in writing.  Details like rooms hours, any kind of security charge, and restrictions on food in the con space are all very important and affect the experience of a gamer.  StormCon thought they had all that covered but because of the change in hotel sales staff, details apparently slipped through the cracks.

However, this goes back to my earlier praises.  The con staff worked their butts off to make sure whatever glitches the hotel was throwing at them, it was transparent to the gamers.  The only reason I knew about it was because they came to me to vent and get advice.  That is what a good convention staff does – whatever glitches that might happen with the hotel or anything else must be invisible to the convention attendees.  They accomplished that.

Arrival to the con went fairly well.  I got my badge as soon as I arrived around 4 pm on Friday of the con.  There was a decent crowd there already, but I could tell that the big crowd had not arrived yet.  Parking was already becoming a problem, but the staff quickly had a solution for that by working with the hotel to find alternative parking across the street.  This is a bad problem to have but it’s also a good sign that you are going to have good attendance.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the new gaming registration system they were trying out.  It consisted of a very well-built 2-sided peg board easel with several small clipboards on each side with a game sign-up sheet on each clipboard.  I had considered this kind of system before and, in theory, it should work but I do not think people realize the level of maintenance this kind of thing takes.  It has to make sense to a majority of your attendees and if it doesn’t, then the system falls apart.  Never assume that if it makes sense to you that it will makes sense to them.  Try to make it as stupid proof as you can.

In addition, accuracy is paramount.  It’s not easy keeping things sync’ed between the online tool they were using (Warhorn) and their physical sign up.  This caused issues with my first game (Achtung! Cthulhu) as I had 7 players and 6 characters.  Fortunately, I had a person willing to bow out and allow the two extras, who were a couple, play instead.  I hate that it happened, and this is the kind of thing that does happen if you don’t maintain “the board.”  There was data out of sync somewhere and a gamer got shafted out of a chance to play the game he signed up for. Fortunately, he was gracious about it.

My game went reasonably well, but I still was not able to get to the end.  I was running the Three Kings adventure and trying to fit it into a 4-hour slot and it did not work.  I have some new ideas that will hopefully fix that, however.  By my next con, I hope to have those new changes implemented and ready.

Saturday morning, I found myself playing in a game of Numenera. I have been trying to get a review of this on The Gamer’s Codex with little luck.  I have heard a lot about it and I really wanted to try it out.  The GM was very good with the 3 players he had.  I found the setting to be interesting and the system to be very fluid.  However, I had my own issues with it and am not sure if I would run it myself.  It has nothing to do with the GM as the GM was very good at explaining the setting as well as the system.  It just seemed that the system and the setting both were trying too hard to be gimmicky in their own way.  Overall, though, I would count this as a good con gaming experience.

Another problem that a lot of game registration systems have is a gray area of gaming – table top board or card games.  Some table top gamers just want to sit down and play whatever and not worry about preregistering for games.  Those are usually the light games, family games and card games that are easy to play in 2 to 3 hours.  Meanwhile, you may have other games that need sign ups, need to know when they are going to start and end, and need a little more structure.  Some game masters simply want to know if they have players ahead of time because game set up might take time.  Not an easy thing to deal with because you never know what kind you are dealing with when you are making your schedule.  Communication between the gaming coordinator and the game masters is important here.  My next game is a good example of this potential problem.

My second game was a board game of sorts – classic Aliens board game that I converted to a minis game with some color printing and HorrorClix minis I bought off Ebay.  It’s a game that takes some prep time and not an easy game to just sit down and play.  I need to know if I have players ahead of time and how many.  In whatever game I am playing, to be honest, I prefer to know these things ahead of time. Unfortunately, an assumption was made that I did not need a sign-up and it was left off the sign-up board.  I was on the preregistration on Warhorn but not on site.  It was a little disconcerting to find that out 30 minutes before the game was to start.  Needless to say, I did not get enough players to play and my game did not make.  I am not the type to set up my game and hope to get players.  I really want to have the players signed up and ready before I get started.  I probably did not make that clear and I take the blame for that.

Regardless though, I was fine with my game not making.  I had a late night before and an early morning playing Numenera.  So the break did me good.  My next game was at 7 pm, so I took the time to relax, talk “shop” with folks, browse the dealer room and experience the atmosphere of the con.

That evening, I had the great pleasure of playing in a Savage World setting written by a couple of great guys – Battle for Oz.  This is a phenomenal setting from Kickstarter by a couple of guys out of Raleigh, NC.  They premiered at StormCon last year and continue to run demos all over the region.  They were also at MACE 2013 and will be at MACE 2014. This is an incredible setting, based on the world created by L. Frank Baum.  It is the land of Oz with a dark and more serious twist.  The world has been taken over by a dark lord and the players are resistance, trying to fight back against it.  There are some very familiar fantasy aspects to it but also some very unique ones as well.  I had a lot of fun with this, in part because it is a cool setting but also in part because the players were phenomenal. I played an anthropomorphic wolf (they did not mention those in “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”) and he was a bad-ass!  This made my day and the con.

Stay tuned for a review of Savage Worlds Battle for Oz soon on The Gamer’s Codex.

Sundays are usually slow and I did not expect my game to make on Sunday.  Sunday was to be my miniature game, and I signed up to run Axis & Allies.  Being an older game, I figured that would be another reason I did not get players.  I was wrong.  I was met with three players and I was more than happy to sit down and game with them.  It was awesome to get to play the game again because it is a good game.  Ending on a good note like that really helps with the con experience.

One aspect that I think I am going to totally steal from them is their swap meet.  I have been wanting to do something like this for a while.  People can bring their old games and sell them like a garage sale.  It was a great place to find some unique deals.  I think you might be seeing something like this at MACE.

For their charity auction, they had a similar set up to what they had last year.  They had several donations setup with boxes of tickets for each.  People bought tickets, placing them in the item boxes they wanted a chance to win.  On Sunday, they held a raffle.  All money went to a good charity and everyone that won, went home happy.

Along with these, they had a set of board games available on a play-to-win basis.  Every player of one of these games gets their name written down on a list for a chance to win the game itself.  Of course, they have to play it first.  This is a new phenomena that is hitting the smaller cons and StormCon handles it well.  MACE is doing this as well as many smaller publishers that want to do more than just donate the game to a con library that might occur just once a year.  They want to give the game to the public and get it out there.  It’s a good concept as long as you have people to mange it.

Overall, StormCon was a great experience this year.  Early numbers indicate that it had a little over 20% growth this year, which is a very manageable and encouraging growth.  They are on track to be a great con as long as they learn from the minor mistakes and glitches.  Lessons I would pull away from this are (a) do not treat all games the same.  Work on a system that can accommodate all types of registration and visibility needs; (b) communication with the game masters is very important but that goes both ways; (c) be careful with hotel contracts and any details in said contract.

In truth, they are going through many of the similar things we went through 15 years ago when MACE started.  They are listening to good advice and finding ways to make it work for them.  They have a lot of promise and passion about it and continue to grow and focus on the right areas to make it a good experience.  I really want to try and make it to this con every year, funds allowing, just to see how they evolve and grow.

21 Starport Places

21 Starport Places
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

21 Starport Places is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

One way to get a real good feel for a science fiction setting is getting to know places of business in the setting.  It not only gives you a small window into the world, but it also gives you ideas on what is important to the creators, what kind of people a player would meet, and what kind of routine encounters they may have.  This is the attraction to a supplement like 21 Starport Places.

From page #4:
“This book presents 21 locations found in starports, both orbital ports and downports.”

The 21 locations listed in 21 Starport Places are quite varied.  They range from official locations like the Visa Office or the Captain’s Guildhouse found on various worlds to specialty locations like Big Al’s Biscuits or Clarkson Repair Services.  These could be single locations like The Chrome Shop of Selu Station (Sequoyah), the Lucky Horeshoe Casino on Bastiat Orbital in the Bastiat system (Franklin), or the Plasma Nightclub in the Hottinger system (Hub).  They also can be franchised locations like Loyal Order of the Mystic Platypus System Outreach Office, which you can find in a variety of starports.

I especially liked Big Al’s Biscuits as it really grounds the setting into something we can relate to.  I like that he placed something traditionally Southern in a sci-fi setting.  So many sci-fi settings want to inject foreign and exotic influences into their setting, completely ignoring American subculture influences.

Like many supplements of this nature, this one has locations that players can find almost anywhere as well as locations they have to find to experience.  Sometimes it is frustrating to always resort to the standard bar location for characters to meet up or rendezvous with NPCs.  It’s great to have somewhere else to go.  Also, a GM can use these locations specifically for kicking off points or random encounters as well.

Not only do these locations give somewhere to be but it also gives you a window into the culture, factions and people the players will be dealing with on these various planets or stations.  The GM can combine the information from the various Sector supplements in the Gypsy Knight’s line to create interesting encounters at these locations.

From page # 4:
“Each location is detailed with a description, a layout of the location, sample NPCs which can be found there and possible adventure hooks concerning the location.”

Each entry has several things included with it.  First and foremost is an extensive description of what the location is.  Origins, functions and general ideas on how to use the location in your game are contained in these paragraphs.  Most are no more than a page and a half, giving you just enough to work with but not too much to restrict a GM in any fashion (much in the same manner as any other Gypsy Knight product). After the description is a very detailed map of the location, with descriptions to each room, etc.  I like the quality of the room maps but I think perhaps a PDF should be included with the maps set to 1” scale, making them usable with standard RPG miniatures.

Also included in each entry is at least one NPC fully stat’ed out.  Usually these NPCs are the owner or proprietor of the location but sometimes they are something else.  The NPC is fully fleshed out with an engaging background that gives you a solid grasp of where the NPC comes from and what motivates him or her.

In conclusion, this is a handy and imaginative expansion to the Gypsy Knight line.  Clement sector has a lot of potential and great ideas and this expands on that, but this also can be used in any Traveller or sci-fi setting, if the Clement sector is not your cup of tea.  With a little adjustment, these locations could be very useful elsewhere.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG Supplement“21 Starport Places” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

21 Starport Places
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Authors: John Watts and Tony Hicks
Artists: Steve Attwood, Stephen Johnson, Bradley Warnes, John Watts, Fotolia: Luca Oleastri,  James Steidl
Editor: Curtis Rickman
Playtesters: Wendy Watts, Alan Mullican, Steve Johnson, Vaughn Wright, Dave Bell, Tony Hicks, Randy Sutton, Greg Seaborn, and Mike Nixon
Number of Pages: 79
Game Components Included: One PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller Rules, Clement Sector supplement
Retail Price: $8.99 US for PDF; $19.99 for Softback.
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

RavenCon 2014 – A follow up

This is a follow up to RavenCon 2014 – Virginia sci-fi and gaming

I have received enough feedback from my RavenCon review that I felt that a follow up was needed.  From this feedback, I think there are some beneficial lessons that can help with convention management, gaming coordinating, as well as one’s convention experience.  Getting the full perspective of a con is not always easy.  I sometimes find more insight after the con.  Since RavenCon, I have spoken with a senior convention staff member as well as a game designer/publisher that attended.  Their feedback to my first review is what lead me to this  follow up.  This is not intended to be a retraction or an “apology.” I stand by what I wrote in my initial review. I just truly feel that after the feedback I received that there is more of a tale to tell about RavenCon.

One challenge every con manager faces is space management.  It’s rare that a convention finds the perfect space for its event.  As a con manager, you are balancing the cost of  the space with the ambiguous projections of what you think your con will make that coming year.  Attendance is a big part of space management.  Traffic flows, event space allocation and vendor/fan table placement are all effected by attendance projections.  Past attendance is the number one factor in those projections but other factors can affect it as well – popularity of your guests, economy, hotel room costs, etc.

I called RavenCon a small con, and from a gamer’s perspective, I think it still can be considered that.  However, now that the official numbers have been released, I have to amend that statement.  RavenCon had 1100 people in attendance and that is by no means a small con.  With respect to cons of its nature, this would rank up there in the medium to large sized event.  I was very surprised at these numbers.  The space was well managed from this perspective, so much so that it disguised the numbers well.  The hotel they have has a great convention space.  It has what I would call a little “character” and it has a lot of small, medium and large rooms spread out over 2 main floors.  This kind of con space can easily disguise attendance numbers.

A good con space like this can also be a double edged sword.  Managing and judging traffic flow is a huge part of con management. When you are trying to please various vendors, exhibitors, demo-teams, fan groups and authors, it can be a frustrating thing.  As you will see in my later comments, the way gaming was placed caused some displeasure to one particular game designer.  In all the above examples, everyone wants visibility; everyone wants to be seen in the flow of traffic.  Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t please everyone.  Also, unfortunately, when your con has other priorities and areas of focus, peripheral items like gaming get left in the dark.

As I said in my previous review, there are several types of gaming events that a gaming coordinator has to juggle.  You have games that need preregistration, and games that don’t; games that have limited seating and games that can manage their seating on their own.  One of the types that I deal with are what I would call “demo tables.”  They are open gaming tables set up by a game publisher or designer, and all they want is to be in the middle of the traffic flow to maximize their player potential.  They don’t need a schedule but it would be nice if they have some kind of visibility on the schedule.  They manage their player seats and schedule, unless they want to set aside special time for tournaments.  Tournaments need to be scheduled and usually have a limited amount of seats. With the advent of Kickstarter, these types of gaming events are more and more common.  Kickstarter  has made it easier for small designers to get their ideas to production, so more of more of these designers are showing up at small to medium sized gaming cons.

The mistake that some sci-fi cons make is treating all gaming the same.  They assume, for example, that demo tables will do well if they are stuck in the same room as other gaming.  And depending on the product, sometimes that may be true.  However, in most cases, simple demo tables do better if they are out in the middle of the traffic. For a sci-fi con, a place somewhere between the gamers and non-gamers would be ideal.  In many cases, non-gamers will still sit down for a 30 minute to hour demo.  If you tuck these guys away with the other gamers, you re limiting their exposure and also making a statement that gamers are an area of interest that you want contained in their own little corner.  That’s not very welcoming to some gamers.

Unfortunately, this game designer/publisher that I talked to had that experience at RavenCon.  He felt tucked away in a corner and under-exposed for what he wanted to show off.  As much as gamers like a room to themselves, game designer and publishers like exposure to a wider audience.  There are gamers that just want to be left alone but there are also gamers that like to cross over into mainstream fans.  There are games that primarily appeal to gamers but there are also games that are “gateway” games, that most mainstream fans would get into.  A good coordinator would know how to balance those in the space they have.

However, this does go back to the particular “character” of the RavenCon space.  Traffic flow is harder to predict in a split level convention space.  However, to be honest, there were places that could be used for open demo space that was more visible  than the gaming room itself.  It has taken me a while to discern between the various game and gamer types and a lot of trial and error.  I left a few publishers and designers unhappy because I misplaced them or they simply did not get the traffic they wanted.  It’s not an exact science.  It’s more an instinct thing, and a gaming coordinator has to make an effort to get to know his or her game masters to get a good sense of things.

With numbers like RavenCon is getting, it can only get better.  One of the areas that has a lot of potential is gaming.  RavenCon can easily reach 1500 through gaming alone.  However, without proper management, that potential can not be properly tapped and you run the risk of alienating a lot of potential gaming attendees.  Word spreads fast among gamers if a con is not friendly to gamers.  If that word is negative, gaming at your con can stagnate.  I have seen it happen.

RavenCon 2014 – Virginia sci-fi and gaming

Day 1 – Friday

The journey from my home near Charlotte, NC to Richmond, Va is not a short one but I have been wanting to check out a con for years called RavenCon. It is run by a good group of people, some of which I know from my days of running sci-fi cons. My kids like to dress up and play around with other kids that like sci-fi, so I like to go to these on occasion. I know going in that the gaming is not the focus at these cons, but I have at least a minimum expectation that there is some and it might be reasonably organized.

Once I knew that I could commit to the con, I made my reservations and sent in my game proposals two months before the con.  That’s perhaps a little last minute for some but two months out from the cons I am involved with is still early enough to get on the schedule and have enough visibility to get some players. The game coordinators were very good about communicating things to me and kept me in the loop when things changed. I was reasonably encouraged by that.

However, I never really got any notice that there was some kind of online preregistration, no notice that I had any players signed up or interest in my games. I wasn’t overly disappointed by that, but it set an expectation that they would at least have on-site sign up. I know they had Pathfinder Society on the schedule, which relies 100% on online registration and if I had thought of it at the time, I would have looked for the schedule on Warhorn, but I didn’t until later.

It took a little longer than expected to get there, but we got there. There were more stops along the way than we had planned but we felt we could at least get there before my first game at 8 pm. I had set us up as press for The Gamer’s Codex so I had hoped finding my badges would be easy. It only took going to three different locations but I was able to find them.  Because I cross over from Press to Gaming, it is easy to imagine that they could have been in one of any place they sent me to.  So I don’t fault them on this one. It’s my fault. I made it complicated.

After we settled in, I gathered my gaming stuff and headed down to run my first session –Three Kings adventure in Realms of Cthulhu/Savage Worlds/Achtung! Cthulhu. You can see my second look on this adventure here, where I document my journey in making this adventure a con game. I was really looking forward to running this adventure one more time. (I had run it for my home group as well as at MACE West already.) I had made some significant changes to how I ran the game.  I was really wanting to try out those new changes.  This perhaps is one of the reasons why the sting was so strong when I made it to the gaming table and saw what they had.

I had already met one of the gaming coordinators, Libbie Miller, on my search for my badge. She seemed like a nice person.  She had one or two other people helping her, but I did not catch their names.  I never met the other coordinator, Shadow Harmon, who apparently does both RavenCon and MarsCon. It seemed like they had their stuff together. They had 5 tables of PFS that were always busy and full. That is no surprise as PFS is the new RPGA and they are hitting the industry by storm. You cannot lose with Pathfinder Society right now. They had 5 or 6 tables for other RPGs, some of which were games run by this RPG group called MAGMA – Mid Atlantic Gaming Mavens Alliance.  My table was among those.  There were also 5 or 6 tables for board games and minis.  Apparently there was also a Magic Tournament planned but I never really got a chance to look into it.

As it turns out, they had no on-site sign up of any kind.  I did not have any players waiting for me. This was somewhat disconcerting but I was really going to try to make the best of it.  I met a guy, Tom, that was very interested in my game but I needed a minimum of four to play.  Tom said he had some friends coming that would be interested.  However, it would probably work better for them on Saturday. I had a session of something else Saturday but I was willing to run this instead.  I resolved that if I did not get any players Friday night, I would connect up with Tom and his friends to run it on Saturday.

Thirty minutes into it, it did not look like I was going to get any players. It seemed that all had settled down into their own games – primarily PFS or MAGMA games.  So I packed up.

This is something that may be a pet peeve of mine or it may be that I was disgruntled because everyone else had no problem getting players.  However, this is not the way I would do it. In my 15 years of running gaming for 2 or 3 cons per year, I never want any of my GMs to be forced to sit at their tables and beg for players.  I strive to make sure that all GMs have an equal chance to obtain players.  This includes online and onsite registration.  I finally looked on Warhorn for a RavenCon site, and in fact their was one.  It only listed the PFS and MAGMA games. So they had online registration for some of their games but not all. That bugged me a little.

I would imagine that perhaps RavenCon gaming has survived using this “ad-hoc” model for a while, with little to no problems.  This is probably the first year that they had to worry about something else other than that model.  Perhaps because gaming was not a huge focus in the past, they really did not have a need for more organization. Maybe this was the first time they had a significant PFS presence, so they let them handle it on their own. Additionally, perhaps the PFS folks worked with the MAGMA gamers to create their own schedule.  Unfortunately, this ended up leaving me and a few other games in the dark.  We were denied the visibility and exposure that the other games got. This is what I believe is really at the core of what a gaming coordinator should do.

In my experienced but humble view, a gaming coordinator needs to make sure everyone knows what gaming is available and give every gaming event the same preregistration and onsite registration opportunities.  The fact that a couple of groups got together and did it on their own should show the coordinator that there is a need.  At the very least, the coordinator could have connected me up with the MAGMA people to get on their schedule.

Of course, gaming is my bread and butter and coordinating gaming at cons is what I do, so I may be a little more critical than most. I do not want to take away from what they had there. They had just enough organization to get people to their tables and know when they were running, which is more than I can say for other cons.  The main gaming room they were given was of moderate size.  There apparently was another room for the Magic tournament but I never saw a lot of activity in that room.  For what they had, they definitely made the best of it. They were well supported by local game stores including The Dragon’s Den, and they had a good variety between RPGs, board games and minis. The PFS set up was top notch and the Venture Captain had a good line up of games.  Friday night, the room was about two-thirds full with all varieties of games running.

My understanding is that they will be expanding gaming to other rooms and will have way more gaming next year.  If they do, they need to coordinate more.  First, a comprehensive online schedule is needed.  Some games don’t need preregistration but still need the visibility. I place all games on my schedule whether they need preregistration or not, so people know what is going on.  If Warhorn is the only option for them, I suggest that the coordinator take ownership of that and work with the various groups to make sure there is a comprehensive schedule online.  A good online schedule can drive your preregistration rate up easily.

Secondly, some kind of onsite registration is needed.  To their credit, they had nice schedule posters on the walls for each day and changes were made as time went on directly to those posters.  This can be expanded upon.  With a dedicated gaming coordinator and a few volunteers, an on-site registration can be set up.  It could be as simple as a couple of computers running Warhorn but there still needs to be a coordinator for pick-up games, games that might want to move or change time slots or other issues.

There are a wide variety of games that a coordinator has to deal with.  Some don’t need preregistration and work best with the ad-hoc/pick-up model.  Others have limited seating and need some kind of registration system in place.  Others are handled by sub-coordinators like tournaments and other special events.  A good coordinator can cater to all these various types of games with a comprehensive schedule that a player can understand.

With a little more coordination, this could be a very good con for gamers. It is right on the verge of having a very good gaming track and a little more effort needs to be put in or the growth could become a curse rather than the blessing they were hoping for.  As I have said, it is not the con’s focus but it is slowly becoming a significant part of it.  The gamers were very passionate and dedicated and were also very friendly and welcoming.  This gave me hope that there is a potential for more on Saturday.

That evening, I hung out with my family for a time, dropped into a Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD discussion (which was a blast) and then roamed around with a few people I knew for a little while to socialize.  I got the sour taste out of my mouth from the initial gaming experience fairly early and enjoyed the rest of the night.

Day 2 – Saturday

My game the night before was a wash but I went into Saturday undaunted. I was bound and determined to have a good gaming experience at this con if I had to force it. Always remember that there are two sides to a gaming experience – the one they give you and the one you choose to have. You have to choose to forget the bad and seek out the good.

Being a con that I don’t have to get up early for, I chose not to do so and we took our time coming down. I fully intended on meeting up with Tom and friends to hopefully muster enough players to run this Achtung! Cthulhu adventure. I was scheduled to run Aliens the Board Game but I was more than willing to drop that in favor of this RPG adventure. I had a great time with Aliens at MACE West, but really wanted to playtest all the work I put into Three Kings.

Throughout the morning, I dropped by the gaming room to see how things were progressing.  I was impressed with the building energy.  Between the PFS, MAGMA gamers, and the demos being run by The Dragon’s Den, gaming was finally kicking into full swing.  This reminded me of when I ran gaming for a small to medium sized sci-fi con in High Point.  It was fairly natural to have a slow Friday night, a very busy Saturday and a near dead Sunday at a con like this.  However, despite this, I still had a comprehensive schedule and on-site registration when I ran gaming at a con this size.

My two oldest kids got involved with the kids program, which was unbelievably well done.  It was based on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and my kids had a blast.  The fan side of the con – programming events, kids program, and guests – were all well done.  The guest line up was primarily literary and not something I was overly interested in, which is why I thought running games would be good for me at this con.  The gaming guest of honor, however, was Lee Garvin – famous for Tales from the Floating Vagabond role-playing game, published by Avalon Hill.  I never got to talk to him and probably should have made time.  I do apologize for that journalistic failure.

The good side of my games not having any players registered for my games is that I can change them however I wanted.  I did end up getting a full table for the Achtung! Cthulhu game.  Unfortunately, none of them ever played Savage Worlds before, and I am not the best person to teach it, as I am still getting used to it.  In fact, I had a college student who never played in an RPG before in their lives and a 10 year old boy who was probably overly enthusiastic.

I took on the challenge and I think they got a reasonable understanding of the game.  However, this did take time.  We got very close to the end of the adventure, however, mostly because of some very intelligent and sharp-eyed players.  It is safe to say there is such a thing as too much preparation and additive material.  Because this adventure took place in a real location, I chose to use the internet for what it is good for – research.  I found some great photos of the location – castle in Czechoslovakia – and used them as more intelligence photos.  Unfortunately, these photos very poignantly revealed some features that were not figured into the adventures – including some back doors into the location of the boss bad guy.  The players were very astute and alert when finding these back doors and I could not take that away from them.  It was brilliant; it just changed the adventure a little.

This session made up for a lot of the bad that I experienced the previous night, with respect to gaming.  I went into the rest of the evening very satisfied with my gaming experience for the day.  My two oldest were going to be in the costume contest – my son dressed as Arrow and my daughter dressed as Katniss from Hunger Games.  I packed up quickly and made it to the costume contest just in time.

My kids are another reason why I attend the occasional sci-fi con. I ran a sci-fi con for several years and they grew up on them.  They really liked costuming and wanted to get involved.  So once I got out of running sci-fi cons, I decided to attend a few each year so the kids can still pursue that interest.  The RavenCon costume contest was small but very well organized.  The person in charge – Anita Bruckert – really knew what she was doing and probably could do really well at a larger con.  The costumes were all very good.  I was most impressed with the Warhammer 40k space marine.

After dinner and checking the gaming room for pick-up games, I checked out the parties while my wife put the kids to bed.  There were 3 major ones and the ever-present Baen Barfly room.  The Klingons party seemed to be the hottest.  There was also one being run by the Honor Harrington fan group as well as the DC17 World Con bid group.  The nightlife of RavenCon was more than adequate to keep the attention of the party going crowd, of which I think I have simply outgrown.  There was a time, but that was a long time ago.

Day 3 – Sunday

I was scheduled to run Star Wars X-Wing miniatures Sunday morning. I set up and once again, no players.  This time, I waited an hour.  Sunday, as expected, was dead.  It did not look like any PFS games even made. I did not check the schedule, however, to see if any were scheduled.  By 10 am, I was packing up and while I was doing so, I was being told I was on the wrong table by another person.  Already not in the best mood because I did not get players, I grumbly apologized for the confusion. I was told I had Table 10 on Saturday and Sunday but changes could have been made that I was not aware of.  They were insistent that I was at the wrong table and the coordinator was nowhere to be seen.  They finally figured out that they were actually on table 14 and apologized.  Again, I am sure this kind of thing happens even at cons I am involved with, but at least I am there to straighten it up.

Once more, my games did not make because I was not on any kind of preregistration system.  At the same time, however, it was so dead that early in the morning, I am not sure any players would have shown up.  The games that did make looked really fun, actually – one Savage Worlds game as well as what looked like a Delta Green Call of Cthulhu game by MAGMA people.  I thought about joining one of those but instead, I wanted to help my wife pack up and get the kids ready to leave.

We left fairly early, as we had other things to do in Richmond.  We got home fairly late but felt reasonably satisfied with our con experience.  I was told ahead of time what to expect in terms of size and I was not surprised.  It was a small con but the people were friendly, the fans were passionate and the staff worked hard.  This is the ninth year of this con and growth has obviously been slow.  The fact that it’s a literary con is probably why – they simply do not pull in as many people as media cons.  I respect the decision to stay that way, as it keeps things simple and keeps the con manageable.  The con I was involved with decided to go media after 5 years of slow growth as a literary con and it became unmanageably large.  RavenCon is a good family friendly con with a lot of offer a fan.

Gaming needs a little work but it has a lot of potential.  It will grow and when it does, it’s going to need more management then they are doing now.  I know the players had a good time but unless you are with PFS or MAGMA, you are going to have to scrounge for players.  They have a good location and good people.  They just have to harness the potential they have and manage it well.

Firefly: the Game

Firefly: The Game

From: Gale Force 9

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Over the decades, there have been a plethora of shows which failed to last more than one season. While most are quickly forgotten, a few have managed to maintain a cult following. Of these shows, none have quite inspired the fanatical devotion that Firefly has garnered. Eleven years following its untimely cancellation, an official board game has been released.

From the back of the box:
“After the War, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain’s goal was simple; find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”

My own feeling in regards to Firefly could be considered somewhat mixed. The space Western motif was a huge draw, since I’m a sucker for Westerns with a weird twist (as my fandom of Deadlands will attest). Not only that, but the theme of struggling to get by and keep your ship running injected a free trader element which had been mostly restricted to literary science fiction up to that point. On the negative side, the whole Academy subplot with its conspiracy undertones struck me as being old hat, and I felt it clashed badly with the space Western side. So I guess it was inevitable that I would find the 2005 movie to be a disappointment, as it jettisoned most everything I had enjoyed about the show while emphasizing what I disliked. Having said that, the above quote gave a positive initial impression of the game by indicating that it would concentrate on the aspects which attracted me to the show in the first place.

Much like the characters from the TV show, a player’s goal is to take jobs and earn money to keep his ship running. On a player’s turn, up to two actions may be taken, so long as the same action type isn’t repeated. The four possible action types are Fly, Buy, Deal, and Work. Frequently skill checks will be required during these actions. This involves rolling a die and adding bonuses provided by the relevant Supply cards. Should the die come up a six, a second die is rolled, with the result being added to the total as well.

Of course, a ship isn’t a proper ship without a captain. There are seven different leaders from which to select. As well as providing some skill bonuses, each leader has a special ability which will either reduce the cost of purchasing certain Supply cards or provide an additional benefit from completing certain types of jobs.

Flying moves your ship around the game board and comes in two varieties. When you Mosey, your ship moves one space. While there’s no risk or expenditure of resources involved, it’ll also take forever to cover any significant distance. To make some real progress requires Full Burn. By expending one unit of Fuel, the ship may move a number of spaces up to the Range of the currently equipped drive. However, each space moved during Full Burn requires a draw from the appropriate Nav deck. This potentially provides a variety of encounters for good or for ill. Good ones usually provide an opportunity to scavenge derelicts or otherwise gain resources. Not so good ones can inflict breakdowns or even draw unwanted attention from either the Alliance or the Reavers.

Buying Supply cards is necessary to be able to complete all but the most low paying jobs. At a Supply planet, a player may take up to three cards from the appropriate deck, drawing from the top and/or selecting from the discards. Of these, up to two may be purchased. Gear and Crew cards provide skill bonuses and will often possess an additional ability (though some of the cheaper Crew cards may have a disadvantage). Among the most expensive are the Ship Upgrades, which provide a variety of ways to pimp out your vessel and improve its performance.

Dealing with Contacts at one of the Contact planets allows a player to obtain jobs to earn cash. Drawing Contact cards works the same as drawing Supply cards (draw three, keep up to two). Successfully completing a job results in becoming Solid with that Contact. In most cases this allows a player to sell scavenged cargo and contraband to the Contact at specified prices. Most Contacts will also provide some additional benefit when you have a Solid status with them.

Jobs are key to getting ahead and come in two varieties. Deliveries require that you pick up something at Point A and take it to Point B, which can be legal or illegal. Crime jobs require you to perform a task at the specified location and are always illegal. All but the lowest paying jobs require that you possess a minimum amount of certain skill bonuses and/or specific forms of Gear to complete. If these conditions cannot be met, the job cannot be taken. When a job is successfully completed, the listed amount of cash is received. At this point, each of your crew will expect to be paid an amount equal to their hiring cost. While you don’t have to pay all of them should you have some reason not to, this is a poor long-term strategy.

Though illegal jobs generally pay better, they also involve drawing and resolving one or more cards from the Misbehave deck. These introduce a variety of complications that crop up during the job. Each card provides 2-3 options that will require either a skill check or the possession of a Supply card. Depending on the results of the choice, there are one of three possible outcomes. Proceed allows you to draw the next Misbehave card or continue/complete the job if it’s the last card you need to resolve. Botch results in the job ending, though you can make another attempt on your next turn. If a Warrant is issued, the job ends in total failure. The Contact card goes to the discard pile and you lose any Solid status you may have with the Contact from whom you obtained the job. While the individual Misbehave cards may look easy to resolve, it can be a tricky matter to successfully do two or more in a row. Therefore jobs requiring multiple draws from the Misbehave deck should only be attempted if you have a large, well-rounded crew backing you up.

From the rulebook:
“Sometimes there aren’t any thrilling heroics to be found and you may need to muck out some stables or bus tables at the local joint.”

Keeping your crew happy is important if you don’t want them abandoning you at an inopportune moment. Certain actions taken can result in Crew becoming Disgruntled. The most common way to Disgruntle a Crew is to not pay them at the end of a job. Should a Crew who is already Disgruntled become Disgruntled again, the card goes to the appropriate discard pile. Though there are many ways to regruntle Crew, the most certain method is to go on shore leave at a Supply planet at the cost of $100 per Crew card you possess (regardless of how many actually are Disgruntled).

If this was all that the game had, it could easily get monotonous. This is where Story cards come in. At the beginning of the game, a Story is selected. This provides an overarching caper to accomplish as you try to keep your ship running. A Story will have one or more Goals to complete. Of all the stories which come with the game, I find the ones with multiple Goals preferable. The single Goal cards essentially boil down to, “Be the first to make X amount of cash.” Multiple Goal Stories give you something to accomplish besides raking in money. The rulebook recommends King of All Londinium as a good introductory story. I personally disagree, as I found the first Goal frustratingly difficult. Harken’s Folly struck me as more suitable for first-timers. There’s also a single player option where your goal is to meet one of three possible criteria within twenty turns.

Opportunities for in-game player interaction are somewhat minimal. If two ships are in the same space, they can trade Supply cards as desired. This is also an opportunity to hire away any Disgruntled crew the other player may have. Otherwise, players just go about their business without interfering with one another. This tendency towards multi-player solitaire can be a turn-off for some gamers.

In conclusion, the Story cards are a major saving grace, as the overall solid game mechanics could otherwise devolve into a cycle of tedium without some overarching purpose. While the lack of player interaction can be seen as a minus, the upcoming Pirates & Bounty Hunters expansion promises to provide options in that regard.

Rating: 14

Product Summary

Firefly: The Game

From: Gale Force 9

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Sean Sweigart and Aaron Dill

Design Direction by: John Kovaleski

Cover Art by: Type Name(s)

Graphic Design by: Gale Force Nine Studio

Game Components Included: Game board, Rulebook, 125 Supply cards, 125 Contact cards, 80 Nav cards, 40 Misbehave cards, 7 Leader cards, 4 Starting Drive Core cards, 4 Ship cards, 150 Money bills, 6 Story cards, 1 Alliance/Reaver Contact card, 40 Cargo/Contraband tokens, 28 Passenger/Fugitive tokens, 20 Part tokens, 44 Fuel tokens, 20 Disgruntled tokens, 13 Warrant/Goal tokens, 1 Dinosaur token, 2 dice, 4 Firefly models, 1 Alliance Cruiser model, 1 Reaver Cutter model

Retail Price: $50.00

Number of Players: 1-4

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 1 hour Solitaire, 2 hours Multiplayer

Website: http://www.fireflythegame.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island
From: Gamewright
Reviewed by: Tony McRee

 Forbidden Island is a cooperative game from Gamewright.

Following the success of Pandemic, Matt Leacock set out to design a co-op game that would allow the younger gamer to join in the fun. Forbidden Island  was the result of that goal and is a good entry game for those players, especially younger players, to try out a cooperative game where it is the players against the game. The goal is for players to work together to recover four treasures and return to the helicopter pad before the island sinks or a player does not have a return path to the helicopter pad. The game is either lost by all or won by all. While the game is not one of the most challenging co-op games on the market, it does provide an excellent introduction to the world of gaming.

 “A fearless band of adventurers…”

Forbidden Island is a simple game to learn and teach. You are given a fearless adventurer at random at the start of the game. Each adventurer has a unique trait that will help the team achieve their goal of collecting the four treasures on the island. However, collecting the treasure is only half the task, the adventurers must all then return to the helicopter pad and play the helicopter card so they can leave the island before it sinks. During your turn you perform three steps: Take 3 actions, draw 2 treasure cards, and draw Forbidden Island cards equal to the water level shown on the water gauge.

Take 3 Actions: Your actions can be to move about the island, shore up flooded lands before they sink, give a treasure card to a fellow player, or capture a treasure if you have four cards of that treasure and are on part of the island where the treasure icon resides.

Draw 2 Treasure Cards: You then draw two cards from the treasure deck that will either be treasure cards, special action cards, or the Waters Rise cards.

Draw Island Cards: Once you have resolved any special effects from this draw, you then turn over the Forbidden Island cards and flip over the matching Island tile to show that it is flooded. If the tile is already flooded, it is removed from the game along with the matching Forbidden Island card.

Play continues like this until the adventures gather up the four treasures. All then must make it to a special tile called Fool’s Landing and escape the island by playing a special action card called Helicopter Lift. Players will lose if one of the following happen – the special treasure tiles sink (are removed from the game) and the treasure can’t be claimed, Fool’s Landing sinks, or a player cannot make it back to Fool’s Landing.

“…seeks Sacred Treasure”

As you play Forbidden Island, you discover that even though the game lacks depth, it is still a game to treasure especially when sharing it with younger gamers. The concepts are simple, there is a good theme and some urgency during the game, but generally, your group will find success more than failure. Forbidden Island is a great first timer’s cooperation game and is also the game that is used in our game club’s library when we go to local libraries to teach the younger gamer crowd. If you have young gamers in your family, you can’t beat this game to put in your collection, especially at a price point usually found below $20.

In conclusion, Forbidden Island is a great game to add to your collection. However, if you think that it might be too simple, take a look at Forbidden Desert for it raises the bar on challenge but still keeps a similar theme.

For more details on either game, head over to the “Gamewright website” http://www.gamewright.com/gamewright/index.php?section=games and at your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 15 – Fairly Good

Product Summary

Forbidden Island
Type of Game: Cooperation
Game Design by: Matt Leacock
Game Components Included:  58 playing cards, 24 island tiles, 6 pawns, 4 treasure figurines, 1 water meter, 1 water level marker, rules of play
Retail Price: $ 16.99 (US)
Number of Players: up to 4
Player Ages: 10 and up
Play Time: 45 minutes
Website: http://www.gamewright.com/gamewright/index.php?section=games

Reviewed by: Tony McRee

MACE West 2014 – Asheville, NC Gaming Convention – Gaming Coordinator Report

March 2014 meant not only that I turned 45, but also that MACE West moved to Asheville, NC, home of the Biltmore Estate! It was a new area for us and they seemed very welcoming to us on Facebook, but I wasn’t sure how accepting they would be about how we do things.  We are a little more organized than what they may be used to, which I freely admit is sort of a double-edged sword.  They could love the organization or they could think we are too “nazi” about the way we do things.

MACE West is the first “spin off” convention from our core event, MACE.  Our success at MACE gave us the confidence that we could do this kind of thing other places and for other people.  Hickory, where we started MACE West, dried up for us when the location was sold out from under us.  Several of our regulars mentioned Asheville and it did not take long before word got out and some Asheville folks were all but begging us to come.  Who knew Asheville was a bustling gaming haven waiting to be tapped?

The location was leaps and bounds better than what we had in Hickory, although it has less potential for growth.  So going forward, our growth will have to be managed.  However, we would not know how much management it would take until we knew how well the MACE model would be received there.  Less than a mile from the Biltmore Estates, the Doubletree Asheville is a beautiful location.

Pathfinder Society is hot everywhere and Asheville is no different.  In fact, it has a considerable PFS lodge run but some very fine folks.  Working with them was a delight.  They had their stuff together way before anyone else would have in a similar situation and I was very pleased with their pre-con communication and preparation.  I set out to give them more tables than I have ever given a PFS group, even for MACE.   The amazing thing was I was going from 2 tables of PFS when we were in Hickory to 9 and possibly 12 tables in Asheville.  That’s a lot of gaming.

However, any MACE is more than just organized play, no matter how hot it may be.  MACE prides itself in the variety it can bring, and Asheville opened  up to supply it.  For the first time at a  MACE West, we arranged to host a Warmachine feeder to our own Invitational, as well as a feeder to SCARAB’s championship. On top of that, we discovered fairly early on that there was a strong historical miniature community in Asheville and they were very enthusiastic to support us.  Add to that, a strong board game Meetup group, and early on MACE West was building up to be a great success.

Preregistration numbers were incredibly good, especially in comparison with old MACE West numbers.  Our room night commitment was a big concern going in but as we drew closer, it was less and less of a concern.  The Asheville people really turned out and some of them actually got rooms.  We can not express our appreciation enough to those that helped us in this way.

Arrival was Thursday night before the con, hauling in all my stuff – computers, game registration stuff, my contribution to the board game library, as well as the things I needed for the games I was running.  The hotel was more than amazing.  They were constantly helping out where they could but not in an obnoxious and annoying way.  It’s like they had a sixth sense about when we truly needed help.  I really felt welcome here.  The bonus was that the general manager has had experience with a con like ours when he worked in Charlottesville, Virgina.  That is extremely valuable in our business.  It meant that he understands us.

Friday went incredibly smooth.  Gamers started coming in way earlier than we thought and the rooms were looking busy fairly quickly.  We had 1o tables set up for other RPGs, a room dedicated to board games (scheduled and pick up) and a room dedicated to miniatures.  The PFS room (the largest) started filling up at 7 pm as they chose not to take advantage of the early slot (Friday 3pm), which was perfectly fine by me.  The minis really were not going to get started until Saturday, with only a few things going on in there Friday.  The board games and regular RPGs were the primary focus of attention early Friday.  I was very pleased with the staged start.

Friday night, I set myself up to run the Three Kings adventure of Achtung! Cthulhu.  I decided to run it in Savage Worlds/Realms of Cthulhu instead of Call of Cthulhu and this was the first time I was going to run this at a con.  My table was full with preregistered players, all people I would consider Savage Worlds all-stars – MACE regulars that have a lot of experience themselves in running and playing Savage Worlds.

You can see my second look of this adventure here, but I can safely say that I was not satisfied with the session.  It took too long and we never got to a satisfactory resolution.  I made plans to resolve those issues in my next iteration.

By Friday night, about 75% of our gaming was in full swing.  The Asheville Bored Game Geeks Meetup group (“Bored” intentionally spelled that way) really showed up and helped us out in the game library.  I cannot thank them enough.  The regular RPG room turned out to be somewhat of a noise problem (as it almost always does) so we moved some games out to other smaller rooms and to the lobby.  We gave the board room (typical large tabled room with comfortable chairs) to some special games, which was a nice addition for those guys.

Of course, as expected, the PFS room was busy.  RPGA had one table in there but between 7 and 8 tables of PFS were full.  For some reason, Shadowrun Missions just did not take here in Asheville.

As stated, my game ran way too late and kind of put me in a bad mood.  I stayed up to clean up, put away gaming registration stuff, and finally went to bed after handling a few minor scheduling issues.  There were a lot of people wanting to get on the schedule on site, and I had to accommodate a little more of that than I am used to.  But that’s a good thing.  The Asheville community proved to be a very dynamic one.

Saturday started early because PFS starts a little earlier than most, thanks to their five hour slots.  They filtered in fairly quickly and on average, 8 to 9 tables all day were full and running.  RPGA continued to run their one table and seemed happy despite the massive amount of noise going on.

The big thing that started on Saturday was going to be the Warmachine events and more historical miniatures.   I was curious how that was going to mesh in the same room.  It turned out very well.  We had way more Warmachine players than expected and many other Privateer Press games got demo’ed.  The historical minis all went off without a hitch and I was very pleased with the result.  That room was also very busy throughout Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday, I ran a miniatures version of the classic 1987 game Aliens.  I blew up the maps to 1 inch/25mm scale and used re-purposed Horrorclix and Halo-Clix minis to run the reactor scenario.  I had play-tested it before and it seemed to be very balanced, but this time it seemed a little out of balance, perhaps because I introduced one house rule that favored the players.  Perhaps that goes to show you how delicate balance can be in some games.  The players still seemed to have fun.

Saturday is usually the day that something major happens and I was pleasantly surprised that nothing did.  There were some glitches with the food and the hotel, but they were mostly minor.  Most seemed relatively receptive to the food and the prices, but there was enough learned that there will be some changes next year.

We noticed that walk-in traffic slowed to a near halt way early.  Saturday had hardly any walk-in traffic.  Everyone that was going to game with us all came on Friday or preregistered, which told us a lot of things.  By Saturday afternoon, all the rooms were pretty full.  Attendance had nearly doubled past MACE West numbers.  The gamers in this area knew what they wanted and understood what to expect.  There was a certainty that made this MACE West feel way different from the ones in the past.  That was a good thing.

Savage Saturday Night went reasonably well except for the food issue – the hotel did not like outside food brought in for the SSN players, which is something we do every year.  Hopefully we can get those problems resolved for next year as the hotel food for a group that size is way too expensive.

By Saturday night, I had gotten good reports from all departments, and even gotten a few opportunities to play a few quickie dice and card games.  Despite the linear layout of the hotel, there was a sort of natural flow to it that really added to the atmosphere.  I was concerned that there would be a divided feeling with gaming in two separate locations but there was not.

With two-thirds of the con in the books, it was becoming quite apparent MACE West was going to be a resounding success.  The pessimist in me was still waiting for the other shoe drop, but it never did and MACE West was heading down the home-stretch with a lot of good gaming experiences.

Sunday is what most con-goers call zombie day.  In most cases, it’s because the parties the night before kept everyone up late.  In the case of MACE events, it is because everyone stays up late gaming.  Regardless, a lot of gamers are passionate and still make it to the morning slot to game.  With little walk-in traffic, gaming registration was way less necessary than normal, so I could start packing up early.

As I walked around and thanked each individual for their help – the PFS guys, the Warmachine guys, the historical and board game guys – each one wanted more space.  This was what we were worried about.  It’s going to take some management but we are going to try our best to accommodate everyone’s requests.  There is no doubt that MACE West 2015 is going to be even better.

Nothing about MACE West 2014 was a disappointment for us.  The hotel was great.  The attendance was great.  The games were great.  There were a few very minor issues and a few things we will work with the hotel on to do better (namely food) but in general, MACE West 2014 was the best ever.