I left Israel Tuesday morning, to headlines speculating on the IDF’s response to the intensive rocket fire. On the plane I sat next to a couple from Austin who had just toured Israel for 10 days. I said something about the rockets, and they asked, ‘What rockets?’, and then ‘Where are they coming from?’ As usual, international news coverage didn’t really start until Israel responded. But these people had been in Israel. On the plane I read Ilene Prusher’s brand new novel Baghdad Fixer and watched Brave.
Wednesday morning I spent time in the lobby for wifi access, then lined up for registration. Probably the peak time. I was in line with a woman from Australia who comes annually for three game conferences, and a guy from Boston.
I started off in the Exhibitor Hall to sign up with James of Minion Games for the Designer Publisher meet-up. From my messages and posts he already had me down for Thursday at 7, and had printed out info from our website; I gave him a flyer for his notebook. Then I went over to GameSalute, where I met the head, Dan. When I described our project, he asked if he could hang on to It’s Alive to look at, I said no because I only had one, so he set up that we’d meet at 1 and go over to the big hall to play. I said I could meet earlier, he said he wants to leave some time because the hall only opens at noon. I said no it opens at 10, but I meant the game hall and he meant the Exhibitor Hall. So once he mentioned it I realized that it actually wasn’t open yet, which explained all the setting up I saw. Later during the con the doors were locked when it was closed, but I guess when they were setting up that didn’t work. Not many people rushed in but it worked out for me. And maybe they didn’t mind developers coming in.
I went to have breakfast, a woman at Cash and Carry was nice and gave me cereal even though they were already on lunch, where there was nothing I could eat. I went to the room after picking up my free door prize games now that the line had thinned out; it was easy to select games – the smallest one in each category. I got Martian Dice, Force Ball, Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom, and New York, a re-theming of Alhambra, which was pretty big so I gave it to Bill and Shirley.
It was after 12:30, so I walked around the Exhibitor Hall, and went over to GameSalute before 1. Dan wasn’t there, they said he’s often running late. They checked with him and said he was on his way back from mailing something at the post office. While waiting I played Pixel Lincoln for half an hour at one of their demo tables, they knew I was going to leave in the middle. It’s a cute easy game, based on old video games with jumping and attacking. I don’t know where they got the Lincoln theme. Ties in with the new Lincoln movie and the vampire one, but that wasn’t the reason they picked that theme. When Dan got back he complained about how far the post office was, I said I would think there’s one in the airport, he said there is, but the airport is huge.
We went across to the game hall, and two guys walking by agreed when I asked if they wanted to play a quick game. I had a new copy because I wanted the second edition. I had punched out the money at home in advance, but forgot about pre-shuffling, so all my demos had similar cards showing up together. The game went well, they understood all the card quantities better than I do, except that I won. I wasn’t trying to of course. I realized afterwards that I didn’t draw any Villagers. And they auctioned off Coffins cheaply. We discussed the game and theme a bit, then the two guys left. Dan stayed until 3:30 discussing how GameSalute works, benefits of their support and fulfillment, Kickstarter advice, changes we should make to the game, and answered questions I had. He knows Jon, pretty much everyone I met with did. Very helpful, and made me realize that Kickstarter could work. After that meeting and a few other interactions with publishers I didn’t expect much from the Designer Publisher meetup because it’s mostly small publishers, and large publishers weren’t going to be interested. But I wanted to attend Wednesday’s meet-up to see how it worked.
I was too jetlagged to play anything new or complicated after that, and walked around looking at games. I ran into a group trying to figure out Hanging Gardens, so that was a good game to play. Light, and I could explain it from having played online, where I lost every game. It’s much better in person when you can hold the cards. They were surprised when I let someone change cards after one didn’t work, I said that’s the whole point – you can try out positions because it’s too hard to see what works otherwise. I won due to some luck and mostly having played before.
I passed people starting Dixit, which looked light. I didn’t realize that it’s a party game, similar to Apples to Apples, but it’s better and creative. I lost by a lot, I’m not good at Apples to Apples. The scoring track goes in a circle though so it didn’t look like I was behind. Really nice art, that’s one reason it’s popular. I beat the others for longest distance traveled, but not for the most tired – one guy was from Connecticut and had gotten up at 1:30 that morning to fly in, another player was from Calgary.
I ate and then went to the meet-up. I looked around, all these complicated prototypes. I sat down at a table with a game with pictures. Then I looked at it and realized it was a game about dating women including a picture of woman in a bikini. So I told the designer that I don’t think he wants me to play it because I’ll be critical, but he said that’s fine, and that his wife likes the game. Players are guys trying to attract women by having style, studliness and brains, you need money for dates, and the women on the date cards want different levels of each.
The mechanics are pretty good, though we all tried to replay the first card we got because it was possible to plan for it, more efficient than drawing random ones. It turns out that this was the first time he was trying out the variant where you can re-date cards you have, so during our game he could see the issues with it. I didn’t like the theme, even though it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, there’s a stalker in the game. But the gameplay is fine in general. We filled out rating cards, I hadn’t done that before. There were only one or two publishers there that night, the ones who came by had seen his game before.
I felt awake enough for the hot games room where I played CopyCat, there were four of them setup. It has elements of Agricola and Dominion, there is worker placement, but it’s mainly a deck building game, not my strong point. I made a few mistakes at the beginning, such as not realizing there was a Trash cards option, and how much turn order mattered, so I was behind right away. I decided to not even try to build my deck, and just focus on straight victory points. Which might work if you do it right and don’t decide to buy a card that you end up not using. I got pretty far ahead, but I could tell it wouldn’t last. They were all building good decks, and two of the three guys had really strong ones, with synergy and points and money and extra cards. They didn’t pass me until the second to last round, one by three, one by eight, out of around 80. Last round I had a terrible hand, no points. I asked for a review of the end scoring because the board has wrong numbers on it, like skipping 91, an in-joke reference to a typo on the original Ticket to Ride board. While reading the rules, they noticed that one end game condition is buying a certain card, which the third guy who was way behind had bought last round. So the game was over, I was third, but not behind by that much. I’m not sure that I like the combination of worker placement with deck-building, but I’d play it again. The theme was politics, with jokes such as getting in trouble for skinny dipping on a congressional trip, which happened to American congressmen in Israel.
I had heard about Space Cadets because it was on my Secret Santa target’s wishlist and looked fun, a coop where you take roles on a starship. I joined a game, we were four instead of the possible six. After the explanation a fifth joined up, he had played before. Each person has puzzles to work out in 30 seconds for the different areas. I was at the helm, the mechanic there is picking cards and arranging them like in Robo Rally, which is hard to do quickly. They helped me though, so it worked out, I didn’t drive us off the space card. They mostly did well with each area. After a few turns I was disappointed in the game, it wasn’t so interesting. The new guy said he had to go and left, but I didn’t feel right leaving. Then another player said the game was not so good, and we all agreed and stopped after the next turn. The decisions aren’t very interesting, and little puzzles over and over are not strategic.
I was working in the library from 5 to 6. We were four, more than necessary, there isn’t that much organizing needed, most people shelve games they return. I let the other guys do the scanning, I didn’t mind. I looked at Ra and some other games and game boxes.
Bill and Shirley were arriving between 6 and 7, and I had to go set up for the Designer Publisher event. They arrived a bit after 6:30 so I got to see them briefly. Later they said that the first person they met, in the elevator, knew Jon. I was the last to arrive at the meetup, but It’s Alive doesn’t take long to set up. Publishers and designers came by to play the game, which is better with three or more. But they came one at a time, so I played three two-player games. They’re gamers and were really good at figuring out two-player, where you can keep track of the other person’s money. The last guy beat me even though I had filled my board, he had focused on points and had more than me. I always play the basic game, much easier, but less competitive, which in this case is good. They like the game and the new art and theme. The body parts version is also popular. It was interesting meeting designers and publishers and discussing production and Kickstarter. After two days I was able to make suggestions and recommend vendors to other developers.
I had told Bill and Shirley to come to the hotel bar for the RSP meetup because I was going there afterwards. We discussed religion and some politics with someone I knew from bgg.com and our FB group, and I met some other RSPers in person.