And here’s Part 2 of my MACE review. If you missed it, start with Part 1…
Charity Auction (Saturday Evening)
The centerpiece of the convention festivities on Saturday is always the charity auction. This year, the available items looked a little scant to start with, but then a ton more stuff was donated by the dealers at the last minute. There was a huge line to register credit card numbers and set up an account, and then the auction went pretty late with all the stuff.
Personally, I ended up getting into a bit of a bidding war with Jeff Smith (the convention’s organizer) over an intro-level Carrom board that Billy Stevens had donated. The board wasn’t nearly as nice as the tournament-level ones we were playing with out in the hall, but it was a third of the price and I took it home right after the weekend. If I had held out for a more expensive one, there’s probably a good chance that I would never have ended up getting it. As it is, I hope to really give Carrom a lot of play with several different groups, and maybe one day I can still upgrade if I find that I continue to love it as much as I think I do right now.
Unfortunately, I had to step out of the auction to set up for my next game well before it wrapped up. I even delayed my Dread game for 10 or 15 minutes just to make sure that we didn’t start until after the auction finally wrapped up.
Saturday 8p-Midnight Session: Dread
Dread is a game that I’ve been intrigued about since I heard some actual play from the Game Master Show a year or two ago. While it’s still way different than most traditional RPG’s that I’ve played before, it still has a strong GM role and required a good bit of preparation before the convention. In addition to the actual story/plot and some notes about possible scenes, the core of preparation is in writing questionaires specific to each of the characters. In fact, filling out the questionaires is all that players do to make their character, since there are no stats or skills or anything else apart from what they write as their answers.
Once you get to actual gameplay, the most notable thing about Dread is that the only action-resolution mechanic used is to make pulls from a Jenga tower. If you make the pull, you are successful, but if you refuse, you fail. Why would you refuse? Well, if you happen to cause the tower to fall, you are removed from the game (through in-story death, going nuts, running away, or some other appropriate means). If the knocking over the tower was unintentional, then you also fail at the task, but one interesting mechanic is that you can intentionally knock down the tower to make some dramatic sacrifice and basically die while achieving something really important to the story.
So anyway, I actually had a full table of 5 players join me for my scenario that I titled “Unauthorized Human Trials“. In addition to Nicholas Marshall (from my Penny game), I also hosted Rachel, Charles, Alok, and James. Only James had ever played before, but rules are obviously easy to explain. It took about 15 or 20 minutes for them to read and complete their questionaires, and I only had a few minor issues that I needed to clarify or correct with them afterwards.
The beginning of the story saw their 5 characters all being gathered together at a biotechnology firm named PrimaGen to participate in an unspecified research trial. Then things pretty much went to hell in a handbasket, but I’m not going to give away too much here about the specific details. I’m actually going to write a separate report about this game later on, but I will say that the whole shebang went off better than I could have imagined.
All the players certainly seemed to have a great time, and the story unfolded perfectly. Four of the five met untimely ends, but three of them did so as sacrifices, including the one at the very end to secure the survival of the last remaining participant. It was very dramatic, and to me at least, very satisfying. The Jenga tower worked brilliantly to being a real sense of anxiety and escalation to the action, and even the process of rebuilding it after it fell helped to pace the tension of the story.
I think that the “questionaire as character sheet” is brilliant as well. I know I had a really terrific group of players, but what impressed me most was how they all (as in, every single player at the table) so completely knew who they were and brought out important details from their character into play. The focus on history and personality over statistics in character creation had to have something to do with that, and I was blown away at the results.
Overall, I have to say that this session of Dread was certainly the best “one-shot” RPG session that I’ve ever had, and it’s one of the top few role-playing experiences of my whole life. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I will find more opportunities to play it in the future. In fact, I hope to replay this scenario again soon at home or my FLGS.
Rachel, James, and Nicholas stress over the tower!
Saturday Late Night
After the Dread session was over, Nicholas and I talked for a while about our gaming backgrounds, how we found independent/”story” RPG’s and how freaking cool they are. I then dumped my stuff off in my room (including my Jenga tower and my new Carrom board) and came back down to see what else was going on. I ended up listening to and talking with a bunch of the story game dudes for a while, including Jason Morningstar, Remi Treuer, Tom Gurganus, Andy Kitkowski, Nicholas, and others. I think that I headed up to my room a little after 1am and tried to find out if UNC beat Duke earlier in the day at Homecoming (thankfully, they did… unlike poor NC State).
Sunday 9a-1p Session: Le Havre
Again, I was a little up in the air about what to do on Sunday morning. I considered playing in another Savage Worlds game, but Sunday is usually all about boardgames for me. So in the end, I signed up for a session of Le Havre. Three of us showed to play, including Troy and Allen (who owned the copy we played). I’ve only played a couple of times before (one of which was solo), so I was very rusty. In fact, I felt like I just couldn’t put much of anything together until well into the second half of the game. But I thought that things were starting to come together as we went into the last round, and then it all fell apart when Troy took the shipping action just before my turn. I was going to ship first, then use the money to get some steel, and build the Luxury liner as my last action. Without the shipping action, I didn’t have the cash to get the steel, and everything about my plan fell apart. Not that it would have made a huge difference in how I finished as far as winning or losing, but at least my score would have been a bit more respectable. Allen smashed us with 207 points, Troy still beat me soundly with 161, and I stunk up the place with just 128 points.
I then hooked up with Jim Clark (an occasional Hypermind BoardGamer) and Mike Wyant (a regular MACE friend) to play more pickup boardgames for the rest of the day.
Neither of them had ever played Race for the Galaxy before, so I and another dude (named Shea) gave them the lowdown on it and played a game. I needed one more turn for another big consume phase, but Shea edged me out first with a military-heavy strategy.
Mike, JIm, and I then gave Castle Panic its first “real” try for all of us. Things got ugly from the very start, however, and I don’t think we ever really had a shot. Mike had a commanding lead in points, but it was all for naught when the Orc Warlord destroyed out last tower and ate our livers with a nice chianti.
We then pulled out Small World, which we were all familiar with, and gave it a play. It was pretty obvious that I had the most experience with the game, and I was able to keep them focused on each other long enough to get a significant lead. I racked up the required 10 point or so a turn to score 102 and win by 19 over Jim. There’s just so many good things about Small World, and I really hope that the new mini-expansions will help it get to the table a few more times in the near future.
And finally, I was able to introduce them, again for the first time, to Pandemic. We played a standard (5-epidemic) game, but I did include the expansion roles and the expansion rules for handling special event cards (2 per player). I was the Troubleshooter, Jim was the Dispatcher, and Mike was the Epidemiologist. And the cool thing is that we actually won!
It was a great way to end the convention, so I took the hint and started to wrap things up.
Let me start this wrap-up with a few observations:
- It was very strange to me that there were almost no non-RPGA games of D&D 4e. Just a few years ago, Tony and I commented that if you absolutely wanted an RPG to make (especially on Sunday), you’d better be running D&D. But it had almost no presence in the general gaming rooms for the whole weekend. Instead, there were a lot of indie RPG’s/story games, a smattering of several other systems (including Pathfinder/D&D 3.X), and one clear new “big dog” on the block, Savage Worlds. Of course, Clint Black has been a huge MACE presence forever, but having Ron Blessing come this year and organizing the whole “Savage Saturday Night” event really gave it an extra-heavy push this time around. While my personal experience with it wasn’t the most exciting thing I did, I have to admit that all the buzz alone was enough to prompt me to read both the Explorer’s Edition rulebook and my Necessary Evil setting book over the last two weeks. And it will definitely be on my radar for future MACE‘s.
- There was absolutely no gamer funk polluting the air this year. Mainly, it’s because the A/C had it colder than a witch’s tit in the gaming rooms all weekend. Personally, I was quite comfortable, but many others were not.
- I really need to get hooked up more with the Independent Story Game group. I feel like such a grown-up gamer when I hang out with them.
- Jeff and Ron probably need to allow more time for the auction or find some way for people to register for an account beforehand. For the last two or three years, it has definitely run over and interfered with the next gaming session.
- Having the Carrom boards out in the hallway was a really cool thing. I hope that Billy is back in the future, but it might also be a great idea to have some other dexterity/quick pick-up games out there in the future as well. It was nice to be able to sit down and play a board with people when you had a spare 10 or 15 minutes, and I think that it added a lot to the convention experience.
But as I said in Part 1, this year’s MACE was probably the best one I’ve ever been to. And that’s really saying something, because I generally consider it to be the highlight of my gaming year already. Clearly, I played some really great games, a few of which I’ve been wanting to try out for a very long time. But the thing that was the biggest difference to me this time was how I really connected with people and made some new friends. Specifically, I felt really blessed to meet or reconnect with Nicholas Marshall, Tom Gurganus, Ron Blessing, the whole ISG gang, Jeff Smith, Ron McClung, Mike Wyant, Jim Clark, and all of the other great people that I played games with.
I can’t wait until next year, and I’ll definitely be trying to find time to attend any and all mini-mace’s in the meantime!