MACE Report 2008 (Overview and Friday)

Well, I’m getting back to real life today (yes, I started writing this on Monday) after yet another fantastic year at the Mid-Atlantic Convention Expo, also known as MACE.  My focus was even more on boardgaming this year, playing 7 plays of 6 different boardgames and only one RPG session.  The games I ran looked like a Fantasy Flight highlight reel, including Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Fury of Dracula, and War of the Ring.  All of my games were full, and I actually had to turn people away from the Descent and War of the Ring games.  I also played in another session of War of the Ring earlier in the weekend, and then got in a couple of pickup games of Dominion and Saint Petersburg on Sunday afternoon.  

The convention itself was pretty much as good as usual.  The current economic troubles apparently had an impact on attendance this year, however, so there was a bit less energy and activity around in the hallways.  Of course, that made it a little easier to sign up for games and move around, and in the charity auction it was a little easier to participate (in other words, “buy stuff”).  Jeff and Ron did a great job putting everything together, as always, and there was still a lot to do for most every session.

My weekend was a bit stressful and somewhat interrupted, however, because Gwen (my wife, if you haven’t been keeping up) developed a raging case of conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) on Friday.  She woke up with it, and it rapidly progressed through the day until, by the time she got to see a doctor that afternoon, it was almost swollen shut and he was worried that it had progressed into her ocular orbit.  He gave her both an oral and an ophthalmic antibiotic, and instructed her to go to the emergency room in the morning if it wasn’t any better.    Her mom helped her take care of Samantha (our 7-month old) that evening, and I came home after my last session.  Thankfully, it was a little less painful and swollen by morning, and I was able to get back to the con after taking Samantha for a flu shot in the morning.  Her mom came back over in the afternoon, and in all, I only missed the saturday morning block and wasted one night’s rent on the hotel room.

So anyway, enough about the state of my family’s optic health.  I’ll go session-by-session through the games and let you know how they played out and what I think about the games…

Descent: Journeys in the Dark

I like Descent a lot.  Apparently, so do a lot of other people, because I had many players wanting to join our game.  In preparing for the weekend, I looked over the different quests and decided to go with the first one out of the Well of Darkness expansion, called Buried Alive.  The heroes are delving into a mine infested with an Ogre tribe to rescue the Duke, but the twist is that the mine is collapsing behind them.  I figured it would be an interesting scenario, and that the timer of the mine collapse would do well in the time-limited convention environment.  This is kinda how the mine fell apart as they moved through it:

Joining me to play were Jen, Shane, Kevin, and Brett.  They were pretty mixed in terms of previous experience with the game, with Kevin and Brett being newbies while Jen and Shane had played quite a bit.  Anyway, I started out doing really well.  I held them up in the first couple of areas enough that they were getting out on the turn before those rooms collapsed.  I would spawn hordes of kobolds and other monsters just to clog up their movement, and it looked like I was headed for certain victory.  Then, about half-way through, the group figured out that they really didn’t need to clear out all of the monsters in their path.  Instead, they sent the character with the accursed Acrobatic skill to run through all the monsters and obstacles to trigger the next glyph of transport.  All of a sudden, my hordes of monsters worked against me, as my powerful monsters couldn’t get to the adventurers and were killed as room after room caved in.  

Despite having the “tank” of the group pop in behind the Ogre Chieftain and killing him with one attack, I was still very close.  In the last few turns, I managed to kill three characters, but they weren’t worth quite enough conquest points, and the heroes managed to get the Duke to safety with exactly one conquest token remaining! 

It all came down to one of the heroes having the Acrobatic skill.  Without that, I would have won easily.  Such is life, and I had a great time anyway.

War of the Ring

For the next session, I had planned to play Primetime Adventures, a really great indie RPG “story-game”.  I was the only one signed up for the game, and while I probably should have gone ahead and checked out whether there was enough drop-in players for it to happen, I kinda wanted to jump into the game of War of the Ring taking place at the same time.  Especially since I was planning on running the game on Sunday, I thought it would be good to play in at least one game prior to teaching it to others.

This session was being run by Max Strickland, a student at NC State University, and the other players were Rachel and Alok, friends of his.  Since I pretty much knew the rules, Max and I were on different sides, with Rachel joining him controlling the Free Peoples and Alok managing the Sauron nation of the Shadow forces with me.  The game started off very well for Alok and me, with him pouring his forces out of Mordor and getting right to work tackling Gondor (controlled by Max).  We both pushed out political status early on, getting all three shadow nations to war in the first few turns.  As Minas Tirith was being pounded by Nazgul-led orc legions, my Southron hordes boarded a fleet of corsairs and landed and took in an undefended Dol Amroth.  Just as the Gondorians were about to repel the orcs, my dark humans joined the fight and crushed them once and for all.

Meanwhile, both my forces in Isengard and the accursed horsemen of Rohan had been building up in anticipation of a conflict.  I waited for the combined Southron/Mordor force to close in, catching them in a complete flanking maneuver.  Unfortunately, this delay also allowed for members of the fellowship to slip in as well.  So then, just four points short of a military victory, we began sieges of both Helm’s Deep and Lorien.   

All along, the fellowship had been creeping along, slipping through region after region, making their way towards Mordor.  The hunt for the ring had not gone well, and the fellowship carried almost no corruption to complicate their way.  Just as we began to crush the strongholds of the free peoples, those bothersome hobbits entered Minas Morgul and then started up the face of Mt. Doom.  It was a race, and while the Witch King handled the elves at Lorien pretty easily, the walls of Helm’s Deep proved formitable indeed.  

Then came the decisive turn – one unit remained on either side of the stronghold, but the defenders were joined by Gandalf and Boromir.  The only hope for victory for the shadow forces was to roll a six on the attack die… and it happened!  Unfortunately, the attackers were killed as well, leaving the fortress defeated but unclaimed by Saruman’s forces.  Just as a fresh unit of Uruk-Hai was speeding their way to claim victory, the fellowship finally reached the crack of doom and destroyed the One Ring, stealing the win for the Free Peoples. 

Obviously, the game was extremely close, and it played out very well to the strengths of both sides.  The level of abstraction in the game is very nice, allowing the game to remain very thematic but still playable in a reasonable period of time.  There is a lot of randomness, however, both in which actions are available each round and in the way that combat is resolved.  Overall, however, the game works very well, and I hope to play it on a reasonably regular basis.



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