Volko Ruhnke playtests Lincoln’s War with John Poniske at PrezCon.
So I was milling around PrezCon looking for a table after my first two games. It seemed like there were scads of people with some sort of new euro-ized gladiator combat game. It had really nice components, but I didn’t bite. There was another new game getting demoed, something about monsters tearing up a city. Finally I come across a Britannia board set up– now that was more my speed. I’m looking it over and I’m thinking, “wouldn’t it be cool if Lewis Pulsipher were actually here.” Then I read the name tag of the guy next to me. It was him!!! I pulled up a chair, settled back, and was treated to a wonderful wide ranging conversion about games, game design, and… how gamer players’ tastes have changed over the years. I probably talked too much, but “Lew” (as he was called by his gaming friends) was asking me questions, too. Hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too badly.
It looked like the Britannia game was about to start, so I made myself scarce. Thinking back on it, I was assuming it was a final or something… but it might have actually been a demo. Ah well. At any rate, I went back to tromping through each section of the convention in search of a game. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t find anything. But GMT had a booth there and I am never at a store that has their stuff on display. I began looking it over in the hopes of finding something that I wanted to play that other people would want to play as well. That’s when I saw it…. Space Empires 4X.
I kept coming back to look the box over and I was surprised that the guy watching the booth didn’t try to lay on a hard sell. I expect that he knew not to bother– he was probably all too familiar with the gleam in my eye. While I was reading the box lid, a random guy walked behind me and said, “oh, we’ve been playing that constantly since Christmas; what a game!” I continued looking and I noticed another middle aged gamer next to me that had noticed I was checking the game out. I was worried that none of my gaming acquaintances would want to touch what might turn out to be a monster game. “Does this work for solitaire play?” I asked. The guy next me answered before the clerk could: “I play-tested that– no it wouldn’t work well solitaire.” Then I read the rating… a maximum score of 9 for solitaire rating! (Evidently GMT had asked for single player scenarios before they would produce it.) It was settled. I could get gaming value out of this regardless of what anyone else wanted to do. “I’ll take it!”
I cruised around looking for a table again. The downstairs area had a big whiteboard where you could write in that you were looking for more players. I decided that maybe I should write myself in for Space Empires 4x and then go play solitaire until someone showed up. There were little number tent thingies you could put on your table, but I hadn’t seen a single one of these set up to indicate that people were looking for a player. Maybe this whole thing doesn’t work in practice? In any case, I was out of luck– there weren’t any empty tables for me to set up on anyway!
At that point I noticed the owner of my childhood game store again. He was perceptice enough to pick up on the fact that I wanted to play a game with him, and nice enough to invite me to a game of RoboRally. The guy running the game was a friend of Lewis Pulsipher’s and was keen on getting some practice in before the finals. RoboRally was his all-time favorite game, too. I know that when I get to teach my favorite games to other hard core hobbyists, I tend to feel vaguely condescended to. For me, though… while I might never have chosen this game on my own, it was good to learn it from somebody that appreciated every nuance of it. The guy had miniatures for all the robots and several unusual boards for it. He seemed to know just the right set up to get the perfect experience out of it. The high point of the game for me was when, after finally getting the hang of how to maneuver my robot, I said that I was going to be happy just to get to the first flag. The hard core RoboRally fan said that was a really good goal for my first game– a lot of people don’t even get that far!
The folks there were going to play again, but I didn’t want to risk a blood sugar crash. I headed back to the main area where thy were selling food. I have to say, the food was not bad and not too expensive– it was perfect for gamers that did not want to miss a second of the convention. I took my pasta alfredo and sorta looked for a spot where I could vicariously absorb some sort of gaming experience while I ate. I ended up at the main entrance where the huge war games were set up on gigantic maps with scads of counters. I never expected to end up there, but the guy at the Lincoln’s War table struck up a conversation with me. He politely listened to my story about my Confederate ancestor that died at Cold Harbor and pretty soon we got to talking about his new game, which is going to be Kickstarted very soon now. I finished my meal, but stuck around for a while because it was just so fascinating. Nearly everything I recalled from reading Shelby Foote’s history was represented in the game. I was intrigued by the emphasis on political will– especially since, had I faced the same situation that the South did in 1863, I would have folded immediately. Alas, my forbears were made of far sterner stuff. That, or else they were just darned stubborn.
While we talked, a guy showed up that was all excited about his upcoming tour of Russian battlefields. It was a war gamer’s dream, but none of his non-gaming friends would understand. When the topic shifted to Kickstarters in general, I mentioned Ogre and this immediately elicited an excited response which I mistook for praise of the game. I said something about having paid five dollars for the pocket game, but was corrected– this guy had paid $2.95 for it in 1977, by golly… and the game (according to him) allowed for absolutely no tactics whatsoever. “It’s just a die rolling contest!”, he exclaimed. At that moment, I decided it was best not to mention that Ogre is in my top ten favorite games list and that I had paid over $200 for the new edition.
Pretty soon, Volko Ruhnke (the designer of Labyrinth) showed up to help John Poniske play-test his Lincoln’s War design. I was surrounded by giants of gaming! In non-gaming social, I sort of end up being the de facto expert on games and game design. But here I was, surrounded some truly talented people. Even better… they were exceedingly gracious. I took a moment to watch them go to work before heading off to find another game to play. I wish I had known to be going to this con a lot sooner.