Lizard and Lunk

The continuing GURPS adventures of eight men who really should find better uses for their time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Origins, Day 4: Sunday

On this last day of the convention, I took Henry down for his traditional Sunday visit. He definitely got more out of it this year than last -- instead of 90 minutes, we were together there for over four hours, including a lunch at (yet again) North Market.

Thanks to a tip from Kristin, I steered him to the table of a small company called GameBrotherz, which makes games for small children and operates out of Quebec. (The accents of the people at the booth were all that you could have hoped for, as were their side comments to each other en francais.) We tried two of their games, "Boo" and "Spuzzle"; Henry liked both of them, but neither one really got me fired up, since both are as completely luck-based as Candyland. (They are also not listed on Henry is agitating for me to order "Boo" for him (the company brought no stock to the convention, and fulfills orders only online, which I believe is a fatally flawed model since it eliminates buys in the heat of the moment), but I'm going to drag my feet until he forgets. Here he is playing the game with la femme quebecois:


After lunch, we attended the final raffle drawing from the Dice Tower podcast. I'm thrilled to have won the Civilization board game, but I'm not sure what I will do with it, since four-hour games really aren't my thing. Then we closed out the day by meeting up with Kristin for a game of Forbidden Island, which is one of Henry's favorites to play with grownups. Appropriately for our last activity at the convention, we won a narrow, last-minute victory.

Thanks to the schedule change, there are just eleven months until next year's Origins . . . but if we could avoid losing Looney Labs, Tom Vasel and Comfest, I would gladly wait the extra month. I hope this year's Origins is not looked back on as The Last Good One.


Origins, Day 3: Saturday

Today, for the first time in many years, I was able to enjoy Origins surrounded by friends -- Bill and Bruce both decided to take in the show via the reasonably priced day pass, and Bruce brought his daughter Catherine as well. We couldn't resist the offer of a demo of WizKids' new game Star Trek: Expeditions, a co-op game in which the players act as characters from J.J. Abrams' recent film (I was Bones) and work together to fulfill missions on a planet that may or may not join the Federation. (Yes, Kirk is called upon to seduce people.) Repeated shameless name-dropping: Tom Vasel stopped briefly at our table to ask what we thought about it.

The trade room and North Market took up the middle of our day. Bruce and Catherine had to leave for the afternoon, so Bill and I learned to play Agricola from my friend Kristin, then tried a couple of Looney Labs demos.

Side note: I'm not the hugest fan of Looney Labs games who ever lived, but I will sorely miss the spirit they brought to Origins when they stop participating next year due to the schedule change.

Games played: Star Trek: Expeditions, Agricola, Pirate Fluxx, Seven Dragons
Games won: Star Trek: Expeditions


Origins, Day 2: Friday

Today was a shortened day, with a quick game of Pandemic in the morning, barbecue chicken for lunch at North Market, and the beginning of a demo of Mayfair's upcoming Discworld game Ankh-Morpork. I'm a huge fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and with poor Sir Terry's deteriorating health, I will take new Discworld material where I can get it. The game seems promising, but I had to leave during the first round, so I have no informed opinion yet.

Games Played: Pandemic, Ankh-Morpork (kind of)
Games Won: Pandemic, thanks to near-optimal roles for all players -- chosen at random, yet! Dispatcher plus Medic plus Scientist equals a fighting chance.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Origins, Day 1: Thursday

Today I was back on much more familiar ground. I knew where the Board Room was, so I headed there first, just in time to get in on a game of Battlestar Galactica. This game defies the rule that Licensed Games Must Suck. The goal for most of the players to to work together to get the fleet safely to Earth, but much of the game consists of trying to determine which of the players is secretly a Cylon trying to undermine their efforts. I was at a real disadvantage -- I had never played before, the explanation was cursory (sorry, Chuck Whatever-Your-Name-Was, but it's true), and the board was even upside down from my perspective. It was actually a relief when we realized that the dealer had dealt out too many Cylon cards and we had to abandon the game. Now that I know how the mechanics work, though, I would gladly try it again.

Then came the Great Trade Room Unveiling. I sought out Tom Vasel, who hosts the Dice Tower podcast, and who was manning a booth along with what seemed to be a dozen of the podcast's contributors. I had never seen any of these people's faces before, except for a still photo of Tom, and not one of them looked the way I expected. I later happened to be looking at the selection in a booth that sold games by Reiner Knizia, and Tom was there also, with fellow podcaster Joe Steadman:


Apparently the lady who worked at the booth sneezed as she took this photo. Must have been Tom's shirt. Anyway, it was surreal to have the actual voice of the actual Tom Vasel in my right ear as we looked through the games, instead of just coming through the speaker of my car as he talked about games.

Another chunk of my time was spent in pounding out demos of Mayfair games to earn resource ribbons in their annual Catan-themed ribbon quest. I did much the same thing with a few new games from Looney Labs.

Games played: Battlestar Galactica, Elk Fest, Station Master, Megastar, Catan Dice Game, Alhambra, Pirate Fluxx, Back to the Future: The Card Game
Games won: Catan Dice Game, Pirate Fluxx


Origins, Day 0: Wednesday

Welcome to Origins 2011!

Origins officially starts on a Wednesday, but the legendary trade room at Origins does not open until Thursday. So in the past few years when I have taken days off from work to attend during the week, I have let non-trade-room Wednesday take care of itself without me. This year, since I'm lucky enough to have the vacation days for it, I decided to go on Wednesday as well, trusting that the selection of games in the Board Room would be enough to keep me busy in the morning, and signing up for a GURPS event in the afternoon.

The morning plan probably would have worked better if I had checked to see where the Board Room is actually located this year. Instead, I went to the old place, saw no activity, and assumed that it wasn't running yet. So I consoled myself with just a game of Star Munchkin in the Steve Jackson section of the Open Gaming area. Note to self for next year: If I go on Wednesday again next year, I will make sure I know where I'm going and what I'm doing.

The GURPS event was enjoyable, but a bit unsettling. The story featured almost-normal (and in some cases entirely normal) humans working in a funeral home on Halloween Night, fending off a zombie attack. We played the game on a blueprint of the funeral home:


There are blueprints of the funeral home because it is an actual, real-world funeral home. And the PCs were based on people who actually work there, photo portraits and all. And the woman who ran the game also works at the funeral home as her real-life day job. Seriously, if you work around dead people all the time, and you pour this much work and imagination into pretending that they stand up and attack you, couldn't that start to seriously mess with your head?

Games played: Star Munchkin, GURPS
Games won: None, unless you count having your character barely survive the end of the adventure as "winning."


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Businessmen and Supervillains and Politicians, Oh My!

As the battle commenced in the corporate office 53 floors off the ground, things first looked pretty grim - our heroes were surrounded by bad guys with swords, and it looked like their powers might be turned off. An attempt by Jeff's mage to Deathtouch the CEO/head honcho had gone terribly wrong - it winded him a bit, but nearly blew Jeff up in the process. Jeff, sensibly, teleported out of the low-mana zone that was draining his power fast.

Things started to get better as Brian discovered that his powers were unaffected, and Craig and Kevin got their powers back with a big of effort. Craig turned on his Cuisinart routine, while Kevin started blasting henchmen. Ghostwolf and Iceman came through a wall to join the fun, and what had looked like a sticky situation turned rather quickly into a rout. A few seconds later one henchman lay dead, a couple of others were wounded, and the rest of the bad guys - the CEO fellow included - vanished, apparently teleported out. By whom, we didn't know.

We quickly riffled the office, with Craig helping himself to the hard drive of the computer for later examination. Finding little of informational value, we turned to questioning the one wounded henchman left behind. He proved to know very little of value, having apparently been brainwashed into thinking that the organization he was working for were the good guys (of course, we know they can't be - they tried to kidnap us!) Ghostwolf took him off through the walls to drop him off elsewhere - somewhere that he could not be a credible witness to what had just happened.

Around this time, we got a call from our FBI contact, warning us that the cops were coming for us. Sure enough, looking out the window to the ground 53 stories below, we saw a whole ton of cops and a few SWAT vans pulling up - welcome committee #2. We later learned that the company "hosting" us had called the cops before we even showed up - more suspicious behavior.

We then realized that we had two problems: how to get out without being seen, and what to do with a dead body and a blood-soaked office. Some of us HAD been videoed by cameras entering the building, so this wouldn't look good. After various suggestions, a truly disturbing idea rose to the surface: Jeff's mage raised the dead body as a zombie, healed it, then ordered it to smash the window and jump to its death. (He IS a necromancer, after all...) This led to the whole incident being dubbed a suicide in the papers, which suited us just fine. Tracks covered, we slipped out in various directions, eluding the police.

We waited a couple of anxious days, but it seemed that the company that had hosted the meeting - and the black-clad minions who had invited us - weren't going to come after us seeking revenge. We sent in a couple of invisible folks to case the office again - and discovered that there might well be TWO copies of the CEO figure (a suspicious later corroborated). Other than that, it seemed mostly business as usual in the business world.

Schmitty and Bill also discovered, through various street contacts, a new "club" for supers and Wonders forming. Using a combination of streetwise and Facebooking, we tracked this budding social club to a bar/dance club (which also serves plenty of normal, unsuspecting folks) in a decent suburb in Chicago. Naturally curious, we found the Password and went to check it out. It turned out to be a private gathering (password required) in a back room, with maybe half a dozen likely real Wonders and a whole lot of wannabes and cosplay types, all mingling and generally having a nice time socializing. Craig, Schmitty and Bill wandered through this crowd for a while, long enough to figure out who were the Real Powers. It seemed very much simply a social networking gathering for people who found themselves being a little ... different ... after the Shimmer, and those who wish they were.

After a while, one of the black-clad Henchmen came in - not one we recognized (and he didn't recognize us), but same uniform. He made ALL of the Real Wonders in the room VERY nervous. He mingled for a couple of hours - obviously trying to unobtrusively recruit - and then left. We learned that he, or others like him, had sometimes come to the club, met people and arranged to meet them again later, and those people were never seen again. Enough to make anyone nervous.

We also learned that the Doorman of this particular club is a Psi (oops - sorry! next time, Schmitty will knock), and that he and the social club don't seem to be in league with the CEO fellow and the black-clad henchmen - a good thing. We may yet have friends in the world.

The henchman was tailed back to his place (it's fun having an insubstantial werewolf who can be made invisible), where we learned a few more things - especially his employer, Walker Security.

We also noted - without being entirely clear what it meant yet - that the CEO we had tangled with (the one with the apparent Reflection power) had been seen in public again, apparently supporting a local candidate for a Senate seat who was once himself CEO of the same company. Apparently, the CEO's claims of having Friends In High Places was serious - these people do have a plan of some kind to seize power (for what end, we don't know).

Mulling over our options, we decided to see if we could set a trap for these "recruiters". The next Friday (the social club meets Fridays) we sent Jeff in, looking like someone no one had ever seen before. He was approached by another black-clad henchman, and after a brief conversation, agreed to a meeting the following Wednesday evening - this one (somewhat incongruously) to be held at a Moose Lodge on the South Side.

Naturally, we cased the joint extensively - and learned that there really ARE two CEO look-alikes (and we don't know yet what the other one can do, if anything). As it turns out, the Senate Candidate is giving a public speech/town hall kind of thing - right in front of the Moose Lodge - right before Jeff's planned "meeting". So we set ourselves up good and early around the place, some mingling with the crowd, some invisible under the stands, Bill blending in as only homeless people can, and Bruce invisible and insubstantial right inside the podium to get a good whiff of the candidate - see if he recognizes the smell.

With everyone in place, the candidate's people came out to take their seats - including the CEO we had encountered in the office (we will call him Reflection Boy). Then the Candidate himself came out - and Jeff immediately felt a drop in the ambient mana. This, apparently, is our power drainer. He walked out, looked right at Bruce (invisible though he was), and then took the mike away from the podium to begin his speech.

Next time (in a few weeks - the next couple of weeks are vacation for various folks) we'll try to find out more of what these people are up to. And we'll try to avoid getting into a very public fight, right in front of live TV cameras...