Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gencon - event reviews

TDA1235549: Giants' Travail

This year True Dungeon had a new space in one of the giant convention halls in the ICC, rather than the ballroom of the Marriott as in previous years.  They used the new space to add extra features - crafting vendors, a tavern and dining area, even some side quests - to turn True Dungeon into a full MMORPG type experience.  I wasn't interested enough to try any of the side stuff, being only there for the main dungeon runs.  The best thing about the new location for me was being conveniently located near the boardgame area and dealer's halls.  The only complaint I have is that it was very dimly lit, even the dining and meeting areas - I almost couldn't find the friend I'd arranged to do the run with.

I did this run with a friend of my wife's who had purchased some large number of token packs in advance.  She gave me a full set of rare tokens, nowhere near as nice as the ultra-rare set she had but far better than the gear I came with.  She also took over as leader of the party, which helped - one very important factor in a True Dungeon run is having a unified party with a single person giving the orders!  The adventure itself was a nice mix of puzzles and combat.  We failed one room, a puzzle where we had to arrange the party in a line and pass clues from one end of the line to another by whispering from person to person.  Other than that we passed every room, and a good time was had by all.
BGM1233056: RoboRally: Time Twonky

A custom RoboRally game, this one having a setup where the game was run on three boards simultaneously and the robots could choose which board to run on at the start of each turn.  The main effect was to allow a robot in trouble to easily jump to a quieter map to shut down and recover.  A fun game, although a bit light on new mechanics.

RPG1231651: NASCRAG Charity Event

Scheduling this event was a mistake.  It's not that I have anything against the NASCRAG event, which was well-written and funny.  I'm glad I had a chance to try a NASCRAG event.  The mistake was in scheduling this event - a 4 hour long event involving roleplay and improv and other things I find mentally challenging - immediately following the 4 hour RoboRally event - which was also mentally challenging.  At about the third hour of the event I was mentally and physically exhausted and had a headache developing, and had to withdraw from the event.  I wasn't the only one, either - another player had to drop out and leave before I did due to exhaustion.  So, fun event, but I would have enjoyed it more if I'd been well rested going into it.

BGM1231471: Super Robo Rally

This was a large-scale RoboRally event, with board and robots made from Lego mindstorms robotics.  Everything was automated and computerized - the players used cards with RFID tags embedded, that were fed into an automatic card reader, and the robots then ran through the entire turn on their own according to the programmed cards.  It wasn't much of a Roboralley game - the effective board size was small, the event was only an hour long, and the rules were a limited subset of the normal Roboralley rules.  It was interesting more for the novelty of it working at all rather than for the game itself.  I probably won't do this again if they're back next year, but I'm glad to have tried it once.

It did give me some ideas for a different type of automated Roboralley setup that I might build some year.

BGM1233064: Dragon Dimension/Big Bang

Two experimental games being tested.  Big Bang was a very short and simple game, the result of a contest to design a game using only six cards and one die.  A fun ten-minute experience, the kind of thing you could play while waiting for pizza to be delivered.  Dragon Dimension was a significantly more complicated event, involving moving pieces around a map, summoning dragons, destroying helpless villages, and fighting other dragons.  The optimal strategy was a little hard to figure out beforehand.

CGM1233707: XXXenophile

The same game mechanics as Girl Genius, but with R-rated artwork and occasional instructions to remove clothing or perform various physical acts.  The group I was playing with ignored those instructions.  I suspect the game would have been more fun played with the right group of friends and all optional instructions followed.

BGM1233048: Turtle Soup

Another experimental game being tested.  In this one the players attempt to guild groups of baby turtles past various hazards to reach the open ocean.  The main failing of this game was the lack of meaningful strategic interaction between the players - we might as well have been each playing the game solo.  The one thing the players could do to deliberately affect other players was to shuffle terrain tiles around to make or break paths to the ocean, but that permitted little strategic choice as those changes usually helped or hurt all players equally.  I had a chat with the GM afterwards about ways to improve the game design.

TDA1235937: Draco-Lich Undone (puzzle-oriented)

I picked the puzzle-oriented version of this run because I didn't think I had good enough gear to do well on the combat side.  Of course, that was before I knew my wife's friend was going to equip me with her cast-off rares.  There was only one room with required combat on this run, and we aced it easily.  We did fairly well on the puzzles too, only failing one room that required us to use long wooden poles to carry buckets from one side of the room to another.  We knew what we had to do, but were too clumsy and spilled the buckets.  We solved the rest of the rooms, although I don't know how much of that was due to cleverness on our part versus people knowing the answers going in due to word of mouth or having done the puzzles earlier in the weekend.

Overall I thought the quality of the actual adventure runs at TD were better this year.  After the 2011 events I had been considering not returning for 2012, but after 2012 I have no such considerations about 2013.  The one thing that was lacking this year was additional lore and videos.  There was no preview video, no video at the end describing the state of the story, no clues on the TD forums beforehand, and no closure other than the end room GM telling us "Yep, Smoak's defeated for good now.".  I understand that they were a bit busy ramping everything up for the new event space, and TD isn't really a roleplay-focused event, but I did feel the immersion was lacking this year.

BGM1233058: RoboRally: 3D

This was the final event I registered for at this year's convention.  A RoboRally game on an initially empty board, with rules mechanics that permitted players to drop, pick up, or move blocks and ramps to change the playing field each turn.  I had a great time in this one.  This is the type of RoboRally event I like - where new game mechanics are added that give an additional level of strategic choices to the players.  It was reminiscent of the "Planet Robo" event run some years back by the same people, where the players could drop board elements (conveyors, bridges, pits, etc) before or behind their robots as they moved.

A common problem with RoboRally games is the tendency for a robot which manages to get ahead of the pack to stay ahead of the pack.  The biggest impediment to a robot is the other robots, so any robot who gets away has an advantage and tends to stay in front.  The custom rules in this event unfortunately tended to make this effect worse - robots could only drop blocks nearby and couldn't pick up blocks near other robots.  A robot ahead of the pack could drop blocks to make it go faster (conveyors and such) and barriers behind to slow down the others, while the rest of the pack would be unable to stop it and instead would be slowing each other down.  Halfway through the game, at the third flag, I managed to get ahead of the rest of the players, with a few lucky card draws and well-placed blocks, and from there was able to race ahead untouched and maintained a clear lead until the end.  I think the rules for where and when robots could drop and pick up blocks could have used some tweaking, but this remains my favorite event at this year's GenCon.

No comments:

Post a Comment