This site has always been a two-headed beast, but the Theatre head has been doing most of the talking. So, this week the Game side speaks up, with GenCon in Indy this weekend. Watch this site and our Facebook feed for on-the-spot reviews, like this one we made at InConJunction, the local fan-run convention in early July:
Quick note that InConJunction is a month from today, June 30-July 2 at the Marriott Indianapolis East. This fan-run sci-fi/fantasy convention promises lots of fun, without all the crowds (attendance is under 1,000) or long lines (this is not just about waiting all day for an autograph) but chances to hang out with people like Guest of Honor Mercedes Lackey (noted for various fantasy books and the YA classic “Jinx High”).
Our thespian friends and fans can also see friend-of-the-con Lou Harry (and his improv “auction” show, “Going… Going… Gone!”) or attend a reading of “Shakespeare’s Star Wars.”
The event also allows John and Wendy to get involved in our other love (besides theatre) — games! There will be non-stop roleplaying, a computerized “bridge simulator” to pretend you’re on a starship, and a full library of card and board-based diversions. We will both be around, as well.
J&W will also be hosting a game event (the Fandom Feud) and an improv event (PowerPoint Improv).
Then, in August, the behemoth that is GenCon takes over downtown. Look for us to go big there — hint: We’ll do more than just write about it.
By John Lyle Belden
It has been a busy month, though you wouldn’t know that here. That should change a bit: GenCon was last week, and Wendy Carson and I will be giving more attention to the “games we play” portion of the blog with some reviews and info on the games we found at the convention.
Tomorrow (Thursday) also starts the IndyFringe festival, which will be a rich time for reviews and reports both here an at my “day job” with The Word (www.thegayword.com).
To all in the Indy area, have a look at the Fringe – we’ll be having a lot of fun and it would be a shame to miss it.
With Christmas gift shopping hitting its peak, we’re providing some reviews of games we’ve discovered.
By Wendy Carson
At the 2015 GenCon, we tried two of the latest games from Asmadi Games, home of absurd and anime-inspired diversions like “We Didn’t Playtest This Game,” “Win, Lose or Banana” and “Whack a Catgirl:”
We all know that pandas are cute, but is any one panda more adorable than another? In this new card game from Asmadi, players try to gain bamboo (points) by playing pandas that reflect the current Panda Law.
The game consists of nine separate varieties of pandas, each with its own different ability. Players take turns playing their pandas either face up or face down in order to win bamboo; the first player to five pieces of bamboo wins. While this seems simple enough, there is a lot of strategy at play.
First of all, there are four different Panda Laws that determine which pandas are “adorable” at any given time. Once four cards reflecting this law have been played, the most adorable panda of them all, the Red Panda, flips over and the scoring phase begins. Then all “adorable” pandas are shuffled back into the deck and play continues with the other pandas, the “unadorable”ones, remaining in play and the current player choosing then new Panda Law.
Since there are cards that can cause players to gain or lose bamboo or their pandas, copy other pandas’ abilities, or even change the Law, even the best thought-out strategy can be blown in a simple flip of a card. However, the game is still enjoyable and offers many hours of exciting and fun game play.
Note that it may take players a turn or two to fully get the hang of the game mechanics – once they do, it becomes a great time for all involved.
This is a cute, quick silly game for young and old alike. The deck consists of two types of cards, MEOW (cats) and NOT MEOW (other animals). Players draw a card, look at it and say, “Meow.” If you get two “Not Meow” cards, you win. However, if another player thinks you have a “Not Meow” card they can challenge you. You must then reveal your cards. If you do indeed have a “Not Meow” card, they win. If you do not have a “Not Meow” card, they are then out of the game. Play continues until someone either draws two “Not Meow” cards or successfully wins a challenge.
The lighthearted feeling of this bluffing game is reminiscent of “Win, Lose or Banana.” It’s just a few minutes of gaiety to distract you or lift your spirits.
With Christmas gift shopping hitting its peak, we’re providing some reviews of games we’ve discovered.
By Wendy Carson
I played “Road to Infamy” in a playtest demo at this year’s GenCon and really loved it. The game seems complex at first, but after you’ve played it once, the mechanics and strategy are easy to follow. Each player is a wealthy gang leader in Chicago who is competing against rival gangs to become the most infamous of all.
Players have color-coded cards with values from 1 to 6 which are used to bid for one of the three available Resources each turn. Each resource contains a benefit that makes it valuable to your empire: Gangsters (red), which have special abilities to give you strategic advantages; Contraband (green), helps you amass infamy points which lead to eventual victory; and the Cop (blue) who accepts bribes to not confiscate your contraband and to target opponent’s types.
Players spend each turn placing three bids on one or all of the resources. After all bids are made, the player with the highest total for a resource wins the benefits therein. Play then continues until all 12 of the Gangster cards have been claimed. Infamy points are totaled and a victor is declared.
What makes this game more of a challenge is that the designers have taken care to add a lot of checks and balances to the mechanics. They have added bid actions to the cards valued 1 or 2 which make them more valuable and extremely powerful in the right combination.
Also, the Gangster’s abilities are far more useful than you might think at first glance. In fact, The Launderer and The Guard have abilities that can potentially dominate game play if they are acquired early or together. The randomness of any one Gangster’s appearance helps, but know that anyone having either of these will quickly be the target of an assassination attempt.
It is clear that the designers went to a lot of effort to make a playable game that holds up to repeat play. Therefore, it is no surprise that they hit their Kickstarter goal within 4 hours of it going live. They are still working to finalize printing and distribution; for more information, follow their Facebook page.
By Wendy C. Carson
Here’s a look back at GenCon:
WEDNESDAY, JULY 29
John went downtown to take part in some of the Trade Day panels and picked up his event tickets. Trade Day events were mainly for educators, librarians and games retailers.
After picking me up from work in the afternoon, we made our way back to the Indiana Convention Center so that I could pick up my event tickets. However, the line stretched the length of the building about three-wide and was moving extremely slowly, so I decided to try and get my tickets on Thursday.
THURSDAY, JULY 30
We got up early to get into the Press line and get our badges before going to a 9 a.m. writing seminar. While John held my place in line, I sauntered up to Will Call and got my tickets in a matter of minutes. We usually go straight to the Exhibit Hall, but since we decided to do things differently this year (and were both interested in the panel), we gave back our early entry tickets so someone else could take our places. Judging by the long line at the Press room, it really looked like they were going to run out or early passes this year.
The seminar was about the business of writing, and how to navigate through the obstacles and pitfalls that can befall a budding writer. We met some great people and were glad that we attended. We also went to a networking panel later that day. As with past networking panels we’d attended, they all really boil down to: “Don’t be a dick to other people.”
After the networking panel, our stomachs were growling so we went out to the food truck area on Georgia Street for some grub. I got an amazing grilled cheese sandwich (barbequed meat, two kinds of cheese and caramelized onions) while John got a combo platter at the Jamaican truck. We shared our meals and then had a doughnut sandwich for dessert. This was one of the most delicious and decadent things I’ve ever eaten. It had a large scoop of Nutella gelato sandwiched between two halves of a chocolate yeast doughnut. Mmmmm…
We decided to tackle the Exhibit Hall by starting at the furthest end (row 3000) at “Entrepreneur’s Avenue,” which we were most interested in checking out. Not only is it nice to support new games and creators, but some of our favorite games have come from there. This year once again did not fail to impress. Watch for our reviews of the new hot games that everyone’s going to want to play.
There was one small drawback overall. Many companies throughout the room were advertising and demonstrating some amazing games, but they were merely prototypes to be Kickstarted or produced later. In fact, we had a major, “Shut Up and Take My Money” moment when we played World Champion Russian Roulette and weren’t able to buy it. We tried to get one of their demo copies, but to no avail. We did talk to them and they should send us a copy as soon as we can have one but we will still do a quickie write-up of it soon.
We then attended a seminar on researching for writers. It was quite helpful. I am slowly working on a story whose main character shares a life story very similar to an existing person, and I got advice on how to approach her, as well as friends and family, for interviews.
Anyway, after that, we hurried off to get ready for the Miskatonic University Graduation Ceremony. (We volunteer to be part of the Chaosium Games official H.P. Lovecraft-inspired event each year.) I was to be the “Dean of Women” but ended up being more of the “Mistress of Discipline.” The event was wonderful. Each year, not only do more and more people attend, but they come up with the most amazing material to add to the storyline that we really don’t have to do much besides give them a topic and let them go. Our Valedictorian won by “sacrificing” himself (almost literally). When he fell down, his head whacked a steel beam in the room with a resounding THUD. Once he assured us he was OK, another person said he “Majored in Necromancy” and brought him back from the dead. I really can’t wait to see next year’s “Cthulhu for President” rally. It’s going to be amazing.
FRIDAY, JULY 31
I had tickets to the 10 a.m. puppetry panel with guest of honor Trace Beaulieu, so we arrived around 9:15 or so because I expected a huge crowd. It turns out that there wasn’t, but being early allowed me to talk to Trace on and off for a bit and that was quite fun. He’s got a lot of great stories and is very easy to talk to. Since the staff seemed short-handed and were busy getting everything set up, I ended up organizing and controlling the line for the event, as well as the one next door which was also very popular.
There was some confusion over when the panel ended, so John ducked out around 11 to make it to the Gaymers (LTBTQ gamers) panel and I joined later after reminding those in charge that this was scheduled to be a 1 hour panel, not a 2 hour one like was occurring. The Gaymer panel was a nice discussion and it was good for us to be reassured that we are not alone in facing similar challenges.
Afterward, we headed off to the dealers room to play some Mayfair games to earn the “Knight of Catan” ribbon & the half-price coupon that goes with it. Frankly, the coupon is the only way we can afford to buy some of their games at all. I managed to get mine partly by running several demo games of Catan Dice, since they were short-handed and we own the game. John had to run off and attend a panel on podcasting during this time.
We then met up again and tried some more games. I had tickets to the 4 p.m. autograph session with Terry Brooks, but when I made it to the line there were about 40 people from the 3 p.m. line in addition to the hundred or so in the 4 p.m. line. Since I really don’t like his writing and was only there for the autograph in principle, I gave my tickets to someone else.
We eventually left at 6 p.m. when the Exhibit Hall closed and grabbed a quick bitr from Der Pretzel Wagon. While food-truck food can be a bit pricey – even though it’s often unique and a real treat — this place is a great bargain. You get a large sandwich, chips, drink and a huge pretzel for $11 (which is a pretty great deal compared to other trucks).
We then headed over to Union Station to check out the Gaymer gathering, which was supposed to be a sort of a mixer. However, even though the event sold out online, only a few people showed up. We did meet a few cool people, and won a copy of Cards against Humanity. We probably should have left early and gone to the Crossplay contest as I had signed up to compete. However, when I signed up, I wasn’t sure what my costume lineup for the weekend would be and was hoping to showcase my Minion outfit. Still, I was dressed as a female version of The Doctor, so I thought that might work but we just didn’t have the energy to schlep all the way over to the hotel where the event was being held.
Feeling totally wiped out, we went home to get some rest. Remember, we’re not as young as we used to be and the schedule is starting to catch up to us. Still, we had a great time that day and even more the rest of the weekend.
SATURDAY, AUG. 1
We took it easy in the morning and had a nice breakfast before heading downtown. We hit the Exhibit Hall as it opened and John and I both played games to get him his Knights of Catan ribbon. Then we used our discounts and bought some fun games that we will review later on (after the official reviews are exhausted). I did notice that this year Mayfair made the “Wood” ribbon games much more time intensive. I’m not sure why.
After this we ran off to the “Cthulhu All-Stars” panel which promised a séance to contact H.P. Lovecraft as part of the event. The discussion of Lovecraft’s works and their endurance prior to the ceremony were quite interesting — and who could have predicted the outcome of the séance? NOTE: I shot video of this and it should be posted here soon.
We then returned to the Exhibit Hall (yes, we do spend most of our time there but it is HUGE and since our main objective is searching out new games to review and promote, it makes sense to be there most of the con).
I spent the day in my Minion outfit and it was a big hit. Sadly, the booth selling official Minion games sold out as soon as the room opened, so I couldn’t get my planned pic with that.
After the hall closed, we had gotten tickets for a few cosplay events but there was a Gaymer’s picnic at Greg’s (one of the local gay bars) that promised food and drink, so we swung by. While there was some food (yummy burgers and hot dogs), the event never really happened. If it hadn’t been for a sweet young “Drag Princess” coming by and talking to us, we might as well have been invisible. Plus, I was the only female (cis or trans) in the place.
We had hoped to make it to the Talbot Street drag show that evening (a special GenCon event) but we were so exhausted we just went home and crashed.
SUNDAY, AUG. 2
So there we were on the last day of the con. Unfortunately, we were not able to sleep in, because when we got home on Saturday night, I looked over our event tickets and realized that I had signed us up for an 8 a.m. game slot playtesting a new game. So, we somehow got out of bed and made it to the event.
Being a Sunday morning slot, many of those signed up to play as well as demo the games did not show. There was a wide variety of games available but only around half of them were actually available. John and I both picked different games to play (neither of us got our first choice and I ended up with my third one). However, I really enjoyed the game I chose. It was a gangster themed game in which each player tries to build up their resources and allies in order to be the top mob in town. You’ll hear more about it in a later post as I was given a preview copy to review. and it will be on Kickstarter soon.
Even though the playtesting slot was two hours and most if not all of the boardgames took an hour or less to play, they officially would not allow anyone to sign up for and play a second game, However, prior to my game ending. another game designer showed up and watched us play. After we were done, he sat and talked to one of the designers of the game I had played and the three of us ended up playing his card game and it was also very fun. I also ended up getting a copy of his game, too, and again, it will be reviewed in conjunction with his Kickstarter as well.
When we were done, we tackled the Exhibit Hall and gathered up all of the review copies of games we could. Adding in the games we bought not strictly for reviewing, we ended up with more than 30 new games to review. Plus, I got a new copy of Telestrations to replace my old dying first-edition set.
There are also about a dozen other games that sold out during the con that we should be getting mailed to us. So even though we do a lot of theater reviews here, expect a lot of game reviews to be in the mix, especially once the Fringe Festival ends.
After the convention ended, we headed out and grabbed some dinner then ran back to Mass Avenue to catch a special GenCon themed edition of Lou Harry’s “Going, Going, Gone”. This edition did not disappoint in the least. The actors were hilarious and the items up for bid were the usual eclectic mix. In fact, we ended up exhausting much of our hoard of leftover play money from the past editions and brought home a rather full box of fun items.
Once again, exhausted but elated, we packed it in and crawled back home to spend some time with our oft-neglected friend that we call bed. I hope you liked my little tale of our adventure and will look forward to all of the many game reviews coming your way soon.
Note: GenCon returns to the Indiana Convention Center Aug. 3-7, 2016.
By Wendy Carson
I am still alive (somehow). I had an amazing amount of fun at GenCon this last weekend in downtown Indy. We brought home a ton of awesome games to review (see John’s post below). Overall, it was wonderful.
This year’s convention was very different for us from the ones in the past. First of all, I didn’t make it to Trade Day on Wednesday because I had to work. I could have taken that day off, but felt that just having Thursday and Friday off was sufficient (plus, I didn’t want to push my luck at the new job).
The biggest difference, though, was that rather than just playing games, we attended several panels throughout the weekend — I don’t think we’ve done that in years (at least not since the convention moved to Indy). Our first panel — a writers’ workshop — was at 9 a.m. Thursday, so we skipped out on getting early entry to the exhibit hall, but we were glad we did.
The whole feeling of this year’s con was more laid-back overall but still very hectic. We took our time working through the vast exhibit hall. We didn’t finish seeing all of the game booths until most of the way through Saturday. Since almost all of the clothing and whatnot dealers together seemed to be grouped in the center of the hall, we just scanned those aisles and skipped portions of them. We also didn’t get to see much of the artists’ area. I was only there for a second to find one we knew and update her on my efforts to promote her work by getting her promotional bookmarks to all of the cons in the area. I never even got to check out the Autograph area or the entertainment booths (except for a quick second at Trace Beaulieu’s booth to get his autograph). I had secured a ticket to get Terry Brooks’ autograph, but the line was entirely too long for me to deal with (two-plus hour wait) so I gave my ticket to someone else. Besides, I don’t actually like his books, so it’s no big loss.
I did get to see Trace (Dr. Forrester and “Crow” of MST3K) several times throughout the con, and he was absolutely charming and funny. If any of you out there get a chance to see him, please do — you won’t be disappointed.
Since John was researching an article on “Gaymers,” [coming soon either in print or online with The Word — John] we attended a few of their gathering and panels. Some were sparsely attended, but on the upside, we did end up winning a “Cards Against Humanity” game (which we didn’t have yet).
The Miskatonic University Graduation Ceremony Thursday night went amazingly well. John and I volunteer to assist with the official Chaosium event each year which has a Lovecraftian theme, most notably the “Cthulhu for President” rally on election years (next year!). We had a solid turnout, with attendees unbelievably into the whole event even more than in the past few years. One even hit his head on a steel beam when he fell to “sacrifice” himself (he was OK, and another person used his “Necromancy Degree” to resurrect him). My Dean of Women (more of a “Mistress” of Students) went over amazingly well.
While we didn’t get to do everything we wanted, we did enjoy everything we could get to.
By John Lyle Belden
It’s the day after GenCon. I’m sitting in my living room surrounded by about 25 new games. We only paid for a few of them, and a couple at wholesale or discount. At least two of these are ones you literally cannot buy yet – they will launch or Kickstart in month or two.
Such is the life of a game reviewer.
Yes, Wendy and I will keep up the theatre side of things, too. Next week is IndyFringe and we plan on going all-out on that. Maybe finally get the podcast online? We’ll definitely shoot some short videos, at least.
But some nice folks with shoestring budgets trusted us with their playthings. So we will play. Watch in the coming weeks between now and Christmas for our impressions of these new diversions. We did some demos at the convention, and this batch looks like a lot of fun. And if you see us around town, we might ask you to play, too.
And to game companies checking out this site, wondering, “Are John and Wendy legit?” Yes, we are. I’m not writing for a paper serving a few thousand souls any more (well, occasionally), but I’ve got a forum here with unlimited viewer potential, where I don’t have an editor limiting me to a small space on a weekly A&E page. So, especially when you see your product here, help spread the word. We’ll keep playing.
Cue music: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
No, it’s not Christmas season already (though watch for decorations at the stores in a month or so), for folks like us who enjoy plays and playing games, August provides a bursting cornucopia of fun.
Yes, theatre friends, IndyFringe is almost upon us, but first…
This week, starting Wednesday (today, if you’re reading this on July 29) is the GenCon Game Fair, the world’s largest convention devoted to games, those who play them and those who make them. More than 60,000 happy nerds will overrun downtown Indianapolis, centering on the Indiana Convention Center, though many activities will be in nearby hotels and Union Station. If you are unfamiliar or don’t have much money to throw at this extravaganza, there is discount admission on Sunday, for Family Day (though the whole event is family-friendly).
Another note: The hallways of the convention center and hotel lobbies are open to the public. So, if you want to see and (respectfully) admire the many costumes attendees will be wearing, that doesn’t have to cost you a thing. However, the eye candy – while it makes good TV footage – is only a small fraction of the scene. If you like board, card, strategy or party games at all, you really need to get into this convention.
As for plays opening this weekend, we highly recommend fun of a different sort: The Buck Creek Players Play-A-Part Fundraiser production of “The Music Man.” The roles were all cast by winning a silent auction, with no requirements of age, gender, experience or even talent. Fortunately, director Scott Robinson levels the playing field by making the show an anything-can-happen live comedy in the tradition of TV’s classic “The Carol Burnett Show.” The result is highly entertaining, and the funds raised help with building improvements at this all-volunteer community theater. There are just four performances, Friday through Sunday, which are likely to sell out. Hit up the website or call 317-862-2270.
Sunday sees the return of the monthly experience that is “Going, Going, Gone” at Theatre on the Square. Co-creator Lou Harry has announced that, in honor of GenCon, the items bid on (which audience members get to win and keep) will be nerd-themed, as will be the cast, led by ubernerd (and Angel Burlesque MC) Jeff Angel. Also, wear a GenCon badge to the show, and get extra play money to bid with. Go, Go, Go, and quick, before the seats are gone!
– See you downtown!