It has been an interesting spring and summer and has come in steamy hot here in New England. I haven’t sent out a newsletter in a very long time, and the blog has suffered from a lack of updates; lots of things happening offline.
Enough of that – here’s a report of my recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, for Origins 2010. When I was at the Gathering of Friends in April, I asked Jay Tummelson, the president of Rio Grande Games, if there was an opening for a ‘booth monkey’, one of those folks who demo games at the summer conventions. I was delighted when he said that he could use both myself and the co-developer of New England Rails (forthcoming from Rio) at Origins in late June.
On the Job at Rio Grande
Conventions are no mean undertaking. An exhibitor must arrange everything from hotels and travel to tables and chairs, making sure everything is laid out properly on the show floor – it’s an opportunity to meet current (or potential) customers and to give them an impression of your products. By extension, you are giving them an impression of your company. The responsibility for conveying this impression devolves, in part, upon the booth monkeys as well. Wear the logo shirt, become an ambassador.
Never a Fashion faux pas
Greg P. and I, pictured above in our fine Rio Grande logo shirts, had never done a convention together. He’s been a fellow traveler a few times, but we’d never been both on the spot. It’s been more than 20 years since I was in an exhibitor booth at a game convention; it was Greg’s first time. Neither of us had ever worked for Rio Grande before.
Rio Grande produces a lot of games. Many of its offerings are English-language versions of games produced by overseas companies such as Hans im Glück, Amigo or Alea; I joke that Jay has caused gamers to no longer need to speak German anymore. (Indeed, there’s a t-shirt that reads: All the German I need to know I learned on BrettSpielWelt.) Others are original with Rio Grande, such as our game and one of the current rock stars of the hobby game industry, Dominion.
What characterizes a Rio Grande game is nice presentation, good components and elegant game play. The gatekeeper of the Rio Grande logo, Jay Tummelson, is careful and judicious. He chooses games that he feels best represent these style. He also chooses games that he likes. He has quite a few years in the industry, so his opinions have weight. The success and popularity of games with that logo certainly validates them.
So. Back to Origins. We drove from eastern Massachusetts to central Ohio by way of friends in Harrisburg, so we left Tuesday morning and after an intermediate stop arrived in Columbus mid-afternoon on Wednesday, the day before the exhibit hall opened. Outside was beastly hot (and occasionally stormy); inside was cooler – and much louder, even though things weren’t going to get underway until the following day.
Calm. For now.
We were deployed near the entrance to the hall with a dozen tables. Other than Dominion, the games were Rio Grande’s new releases. Here’s a list:
- Alea Iacta Est
- Piece o’Cake
- Priests of Ra
Regrettably, Tobago wasn’t available. (That might be my favorite new Rio Grande release.)
Here’s the idea: a dozen games laid out on tables, ready to play. Gamers walk over and say, “I’d really like to learn to play Macao” (or Albion, or Havana, or even Dominion – yes, there were a number of people who hadn’t played it or even heard of it). The staffer’s responsibility is to sit down and teach the game, usually in ones of minutes, and get these folks playing the game. Not play the game; since there were twelve tables and only four or five staffers, it was important to be ready to jump to another table at any time. (I confess to making that mistake once or twice.)
Ones of Minutes
There are a number of pitfalls. First, staffers have to know the games. (We had the rules in advance, and had played a few of them; a few of us knew them all.) Over the course of a few days we became familiar with just about all, but there were times that it was necessary to find someone else to teach a particular game. Second, staffers have only a few minutes to get the players started: no half-hour rules explanations. Third, it’s necessary to quickly set up a game that might have been left partially played. In short: it’s necessary to get going quickly, engage the gamer competently, and know how to get back to the start position. Between 10 and 6, usually with an hour or two gap during the day, lather rinse and repeat.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
We each had our specialities. I wound up doing Assyria, Albion, Havana and Cardcassonne quite a bit, and never quite learned Krysis. We all did Dominion, and I think we all learned at least one game “on the fly”. We arrived early and usually left the exhibit hall footsore and worn out. These are indications that we worked hard and accomplished the task. The booth was busy all day, each day.
Evenings In New England
Each evening we were able to introduce New England Rails to new players. Our game is due for release in the fall; information about it right now is preliminary and general, and I am obliged to keep it that way until it’s actually in production. (Sorry.) I am pleased to say that the reception by new players was enthusiastic and (I trust) enjoyable.
Two outcomes are important to note. First, this is a game that will be of interest to train gamers. Thus, we might be considered for Puffing Billy competitions sponsored by the Train Gamers’ Association. Keeping my fingers crossed on that one, because it will introduce the game to a wider audience – our best audience. Second, in the three games played at Origins, there were three very different game play outcomes, encouraging us that there was a lot of variation in the experience, making it interesting to replay.
Overall, we were pleased with the results. One of the games had our friends from The Spiel, Stephen Conway and David Coleson. I am still trying to determine what’s going through Stephen’s head in the picture below. By the way, you can subscribe to their Podcast on iTunes or through their web site; I learned Assyria by listening to an episode. And their philanthropy is much to be praised: The Spiel Foundation is a non-profit organization that donates games to children’s hospitals and senior centers.
“You Just Have to Play.”
Stylin’ As the Guest Speaker
On Thursday night I was the guest speaker at Arts & Sciences Lodge, a lodge under dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Ohio. My host was the lodge’s Secretary, Brother Chad Simpson, who is a part of the Grand Lodge staff (I met him in April when I dropped in to Grand Lodge, hoping to meet the Grand Master). As it happened, some time shortly before the Lodge of Table Instruction took place, the lodge’s Master decided to change the dress code from the customary suit (or tuxedo) to business casual.
No one told the guest speaker, as it happens. It was brutally hot outside, and it took me extra time to fight clear of downtown Columbus; when I reached the Old Hickory in Powell and was welcomed by the brethren, I was invited to take off my jacket and tie. Nothing doing. When you represent the M.W. Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, you might as well do it in style.
Do It In Style.
I talked about history and our fraternity, and also talked about A Song In Stone, which continues to be well-received in its new trade paperback edition. (Make the author happy and order one using the convenient link.) I sold a number of books, and turned some of the money received back to the lodge for one of their charitable endeavors.
I also appear in this picture at the head table. The Master of the Lodge is two chairs down.
By the way, this was a Lodge of Table Instruction. For my Masonic brothers: they did very little of the sort of thing we do in Massachusetts. When the toast to visiting brethren was proposed, I was called upon to give the response. We did it the way we do it. You would be proud.
This is an interesting lodge. It is comprised primarily of active Masons who want to enjoy the benefits of the Craft and learn from its teachings together. Asking men who belong to other lodges, have Masonic and other commitments, to join together to build a new lodge is a big thing – and if the rewards were insufficient it would be an imposition. In a time where membership is declining (though, notably, not in Massachusetts), it’s even more extraordinary. A&S has not yet received a charter; they’re “under dispensation”, which only means something to my Masonic friends – it means they have to meet certain criteria to achieve permanence. I’m certain they will.
What Else I Brought Home
In addition to Rio Grande’s fine offerings, I had a chance to walk around the exhibit hall a little and play a few games on my own. I brought home four games as well as some dice and a t-shirt for my daughter (”Fools! I’ll Destroy You All! Ask me how!“)
From Jolly Roger Games, Founding Fathers is a new game from Christian Leonard and Jason Michaels, who brought us Twilight Struggle and 1960: The Making of the President. (Christian has a cell phone with a custom shell featuring the 1960 art. I thought it was cool.) I haven’t played this one yet but look forward to it; my daughter’s taking American History in eighth grade this year, so maybe it’ll make an appearance as a teaching tool. It was very popular – the first copies were gone minutes after the exhibit hall opened on Thursday.
Tales Of the Arabian Nights
It was on sale at Origins, and I brought it back for L. We have the original game from West End, but this one is over-the-top better in production quality. It weighs about 40 pounds. Tales is a story-telling game that is part way between a roleplaying and a boardgaming experience.
It’s already got one play. L. and A. both love it.
Settlers of America
“Only Mayfair could marry a rail game and Catan,” Larry Roznai of Mayfair told me a couple of times. Settlers of America is a “Catan Histories” game like the Rome game that came out a few years ago. It should be an interesting marriage.
Duck! Duck! Go!
My good pal Kevin Nunn made sure I went home with a copy of this wacky rubber duck racing game. The most endearing part of the Duck! Duck! Go! experience is the way in which APE Games lets gamers customize their copy by selecting from a large collection of ducks to play with.
A. and I have already played it a couple of times. It’s not what you’d call deep strategy, but it’s thematically excellent and really well-designed.
I happened to see a game of Agricola being played in the large gaming area one night. Agricola is a big game, subject to pimping – after all, I gave the nickname to David Fair’s amazing Agricola Reliquary a few years ago. But this one was really amazing. Each player had a full size table for his farm, and the main game itself – Major Improvements, Round cards, and supplies of resources – was held on a set of tables in the center.
Big Time Farming
A few years ago I made the acquaintance of Uwe Eickert at the Gathering. Uwe’s a fan of my writing, not least because I had a character with the same first name. He’s made a big splash with his World War II tactical game series Conflict of Heroes from Academy Games. These fine games were on display in the front of the Mayfair display area, and were drawing a regular crowd. Congratulations to Uwe and Academy for all their successes.
It’s All About Action Points.
Much of what you see at a convention of this sort speaks to emotion: hope, desperation, nostalgia, and in some cases derision. There are all kinds of people trying to sell their game idea, or sell their game, or sell something else to gamers (dice, equipment, even attire and furniture). In a few cases there’s something new and exciting. In many cases, it’s obvious that there is been a severe, even catastrophic, misestimation of what might be of interest. (There were some computer gamers showing off something that looked almost exactly like Rogue. I’m not making this up. On the other hand, there was a very interesting real-time computer game based on Philip of Macedon. I was initially put off, but a patient and very well-versed staffer showed me how much you could do with the game paused, making it far less of a twitch game. I don’t play those things at all – haven’t got the reflexes.)
As for nostalgia – one wall, just about floor to ceiling, was taken up by vendors of used and collectible games. It was the wall of nostalgia. There were things I hadn’t seen for decades, and lots of things that I’d seen altogether too often. The prices seemed surprisingly high, but I think it’s a matter of what the traffic would allow. There were also several vendors with huge tables spread with every collectible card game you can imagine, most of which are long since dead and gone – if Hieronymus Bosch were to paint the CCG purgatory, he could have used this scene as the model.
I had a great, and exhausting, time at Origins and in Columbus, and would gladly go again. But please – not for a little while at least. I’m very glad to be home.