This last weekend I attended the fourth annual “Go Play Northwest.” Despite regular reminders, this still managed to be off my radar. I think I just had so much else going on that this was shoved to the back of my mind for “later.” As such, I didn’t get involved in any of the pre-convention organizing or even get ready to run a game. I’d had some ideas for games to run, but didn’t get my act together to actually prepare for it. The best I managed was a half-assed attempt to re-read Polaris in hopes of finally getting to play it. (I barely got through the setting info, so it didn’t happen.)
But, I did attend and play. Overall had fun. Here are my general comments about the convention and the games I played.
I meant to ask someone in the know how many people attended, but I failed to do so. I heard rumor of something like a hundred people attending. I do know that it sold out for all but Sunday. I did notice that there were more women attending this year than in previous years, but I’m not sure if that was just a proportional increase compared to the overall attendees or what.
As I mentioned, I wasn’t part of the pre-convention organizing. My understanding was that there were games posted to the forums and people could sign up there. As with previous years, they printed out this information and posted it to the schedule wall. From there people could also enter their own games onto the wall and sign up for stuff that hadn’t filled up. The only challenge was that there were some games that had filled up on the forums but had no players listed when it was posted to the wall. For the first slot I had written my name onto a game that had no players, but later someone else wrote in a note saying, “This game actually filled on the forums.” So I bowed out and went for a pickup game instead. It seemed to self correct as people noticed discrepencies from there on out, but it was still a bummer.
For those not interested in the posted options, they had what was called “The Pick-Up Throw Down.” This seemed to work much better than previous years, especially since there were more people looking for pick-up games. One organizer called the system “the power doughnut.” Those willing to facilitate a game formed a circle in the center of the room. Everyone else formed a circle around them. The room was divided into quarters and within that group people would figure out what to play amongst themselves. I can see how it might break down, but from my experience it seemed to work out pretty well. It was a crap shoot, but there were options for those who wanted “known variables.”
This year the convention was held at Hugo House in Capital Hill. This was, by and large, my favorite venue of the four that they’ve been at over the years. It was very reminiscent of the Freehold Theater from last year in terms, but had the added bonus of not being downtown and having reasonable parking options. There was only one “quiet room” for the convention, so most games were at least 2 or 3 to a room. I gather it’s common in most conventions to have multiple games in a room. Being a snooty Ambercon vet, where it’s just one game per room, I haven’t quite gotten used to that level of distraction. But overall it was good.
The pre-convention buffet was excellent. I ate till I was full till bursting. And then there was dessert! I’m not sure if one industrious person made all these desserts or what, but each dessert had an indie game reference. There were Dogs in the Vineyard Truffles, the Burning Wheel of Cupcakes, Pie Time Adventures and more! Much of it looked hand-made, so the person responsible for bringing these is a goddess.
Further, there was a full cash bar. (Which took cards as well, but I didn’t discover that until much later.) A dark and stormy and a glass of wine really kicked the night off well. I think the only complaint I had was that I was that I had my first drink on an empty stomach.
My options were either Mouse Guard or a wild west hack of John Harper’s Lady Blackbird. I was tempted to try Mouse Guard, even with my bad prior experience with Burning Wheel. But the special lady friend wasn’t feeling well and wanted me close at hand. She has not yet read the Mouse Guard comic, but is a fan of westerns. There had been a few games of Lady Blackbird the previous year which I hadn’t had a chance to try. But John Harper’s a pretty awesome guy so this was a fun opportunity give the system a shot.
The scenario was pretty simple: We were assorted outlaws looking to spring Billy the Kid on his way to his execution. We had pre-gen characters with lots of really good plot hooks and conflicting agendas. It was a very roleplay heavy game, but still had some nice story-game flourishes. The basic system was built around a pool of d6’s, which you rolled to hit target number on each d6 in an attempt to reach a certain number of “successes.” For each thing you could draw in off of your character sheet you received an additional die. Plus you could spend points to get more dice on a roll, and there was a mechanic (similar to Aspects) for getting more points.
I only had two things about it that give me pause. The first is that it was much easier to use skills that didn’t apply well to a situation than to try something you weren’t good at. I didn’t have any ability with guns, but I could dump a whole lot of dice into fist fights. So when I had a ravenous coyote crawling through the sage brush while I was alone and wanting to maintain a low profile, I stunned the GM by putting up my dukes and give the coyote a right cross. And I nailed the roll. The GM really thought that would be more a challenge for me, because decking a coyote is just too off the well. It was great fun socking the coyote, but on a certain level I feel like, “Should this have even been possible?”
The other thing that was a bummer was that Lady Blackbird is a system built around a single adventure with pre-gens. Any game you run outside of that is a hack of the original system. John may have some system in there to provide options for running other games, but otherwise it’s a bummer that it’s just the one adventure. Especially since the default setting for the game (steampunk Firefly) sounds like so much fun.
We wrapped up things pretty early and had a rousing game of Apples to Apples. The convention had a ton of games on hand for people that just wanted to play some other game. So this was a nice mellow way to socialize with the other people in the slot and wind down the evening.
Saturday, Slot 1: Transformers, using an Anima Prime hack
I had originally played this game last year, and had so much fun that I could not pass up an opportunity to play it again. Especially when the person offering it said he was going to do a Transformers hack. The game continues to be ridiculous fun, and the Transformers riff touched the inner 12-year-old in me.
Lunch: Boom Noodle
At Ambercons, I know what a nightmare it is to have a large party descend on a restaurant when you don’t have a lot of time for the meal break. My intention for meals was to avoid this situation, and with the volume of restaurants available it shouldn’t have been a problem. But by trying to have lunch with a couple people we knew, the girlfriend and I ended up in a huge group that descended on this place.
The food, which seemed to be mainly pan-Asian cuisine, was fine. It didn’t fill me with joy, but I can’t cite anything wrong with the food itself. Getting out of there was something of a nightmare, with individual checks, paying with credit cards and all. I felt uncomfortable speaking for the table when I saw the hour drawing close and the need to get checks ASAP. So a lot of people had trouble getting to the slot on time. It was a known issue for the pick-up throw down, so we waited for the late-runners to show up.
I feel extra bad because my girlfriend had stuck around to pay the bill so I could get to the game. By doing so she ended up losing her spot in the game she had signed up for and ended up in a game she didn’t particularly enjoy. (To the credit of the people in the game she missed out on, one of the people offered his spot in the game. She chose not to take him up on it. But I still feel pretty awful about it.)
Saturday, Slot 2: Fiasco
After lunch, I signed on for a game that was billed as a Coen brother’s style disaster game, where a bunch of people destroy their lives by being selfish jackasses. I looooove Coen brothers films, so I jumped at the chance to play this. It was a two-and-a-half hour slot, and we started late. But as things stood we didn’t even get through the first act. I think the lack of familiarity and the number of players slowed things down a lot. (The person facilitating the game had never seen it run so slow, and thought it would have whipped along much faster if he’d facilitated as a non-player.) We also had a lot of fun chewing the scenery, so that probably didn’t help the pacing much either.
Most of the play in the game was negotiated. We rolled some dice in order to generate some story elements and connections between characters. But for most of the actual game it was roleplay with breaks to discuss whether or not the scene would end well for the protagonist. There was also a level of game to dishing out fallout from a situation. (This is a vast over-simplification.) Dice were also rolled to seed the second act with some elements and at the end of the game for the “post-script.” But the bulk of play revolved around negotiation of scene results. And… I didn’t enjoy that so much. The feeling I was left in was that there were several ideas in the game that I’d seen approached differently, and I prefered the other ways I had seen it handled.
Saturday, Slot 3: Nine Worlds
For this slot they did a game lottery. You didn’t have to participate, and some people were already signed up for games, but I think there was a general level of, “Let’s see what happens!” Everyone put their names into a basket, four names were drawn at a time and those were the people who would be gaming together. (One person compared it to a key party.)
This was one of those games I had heard about but never had the chance to play. From some descriptions of the game I had gotten the impression that it was something like Amber in terms of setting. But that impression was entirely wrong. I also, mistakenly, thought of this as involving Norse gods. Which was even more wrong.
The game was set against a backdrop of Greek mythology, with each of the classic planets (including the sun) being abodes of the gods and science being generally wrong. Modern Earth exists, but it is considered aberant in terms of how things worked. The war with the Titans was still on-going.
Without reading the book, I felt like it was really hard to get my head around the setting. We were often back-translating anachronistic ideas to the classic Greek setting. (“I search her office for the paperwork. Er, I mean, scrolls.”) I had fun with the game, but overall it felt a bit more “game-y” than I prefer. The game was built around a card-game mechanic, and as we got into play I learned just how deep the levels of strategy and play could get. Since my tastes tend to run more towards more roleplay and less game, it’s probably not going to be on my wish-list soon.
Dinner: Chungee’s Drink & Eat
This was a cute little Chinese restaurant that was just a couple blocks away from Hugo House. The menu was a nice mix of old favorites (I won’t call them “traditional”) and some unusual items for the more adventurous. The food was solid and the service was excellent.
Saturday, Slot 4: Altelier
This was a playtest for an unpublished game. It was billed by the person running it as “Mage: The Ascension meets Touched by an Angel, set in a 1930s where the Dust Bowl and the Great War never ended.” The person facilitating it had never done a full playtest of the system beyond specific mechanics, so it was something of an adventure.
The game was GM-free. We were given pre-gen characters and collaboratively built the cast of characters that we would be interacting with using a tarot deck and a chart. It was evocative of the oracles from In a Wicked Age, but less details were given. They were a simple list of set pieces that we defined six characters from. It was an interesting mechanic. The pre-gens were almost ciphers, providing a backdrop for the development of these six generated characters. By having us collaboratively build these six characters, it also gave us a degree of familiarity and attachment to the characters we might not have otherwise had.
Play seemed reminiscent of what I recall play in Polaris being described as, with each player taking turns with their pre-gen character and other players taking on pre-defined roles based off of seating position compared to the player in question. Beyond that, I can’t say how it compares to Polaris beyond that, though. There was a simple card mechanic (using tarot cards again) for resolving the conflicts. Despite the rotating roles and story game mechanic, it was very immersive, intimate and intense. I got really choked up at one point playing the game. (And got another player worried about whether he crossed a line.)
I’ll be curious to see what the designer does with the game from here. (And now I really want to try Polaris.)
Sunday, Slot 1: Roller Derby: The Board Game!
Since the girlfriend and I are huge fans of roller derby, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try this out when a friend mentioned it. I guess this had originally been born out of a roleplaying game, but became a game unto itself at a certain point. I’m not a huge board game fan, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. The game was still in its early development, and we tried out different rules on the fly. (We went through three iterations over the course of a few hours of play.) It was very interesting to think through how the design choices affected play, and what a difference there was between a game that tried to simulate the blow-by-blow of roller derby versus a game that sought to capture the style and flow of derby play.
Lunch: Elysian Brewery
It had been a long while since I had eaten at this location. The last time I remember eating there, the evening ended with my ride home first getting lost in Magnolia (and denying it) and then taking out the undercarriage of his car on a median. This meal ended much better. The food was pretty solid pub fare with aspirations of being a few notches above pub fare. Our waitress here was also pretty awesome, and her awesome quotient tipped over the top when our bill gave her name as “Lucretia.”
The Rest of Sunday: We had laundry and groceries to deal with, so we ended up leaving a little early from the convention. Overall, we had a most excellent time.