How to have GenCon without going to GenCon
Hello Internet, We haven't spoken in a while. How are things going? I've got a lot of stuff to tell you about.
GenCon was the weekend before last. Lots of my friends wanted me to go. I even got comments on this site, from people I've never met, encouraging me to attend. But heck, dudes, I was all conventioned out. Let's see if I can remember all the conventions and convention-like activites I've been to this year, in chronological order:
- PyCon, Dallas, Februrary
- UchiCon, Chicago, February
- NonCon, Poughkeepsie, NY, March
- Forge Midwest, Chicago, April
- Anime Central, Chicago, May (weeks of rehearsal for this one)
- Outdoor Wars, Kenosha, WI, May
- Bar Camp, Chicago, June
- Euro Python, Vilnius, Lithuania, July
- Aikido summer camp, Glenwood Springs, CO, July (a week-long road trip)
And that's not counting a road trip to Connecticut to visit my sick great-grandmother, a weekend trip to Boston to visit a convalescent friend which almost turned into a gaming con (we called it "Kon Con"), the Python sprint, the OLPC sprint, Art Nights, Nerds-At-Heart meetups, multiple weekend-long business meetings with the Humanized managers, the weekend we spent negotiating with Starman, Saturdays spent interviewing potential Humanized hires, the two or three people I helped to move, the cicada thing with the film crew from NHK, birthday parties, a graduation, and lots of weekends (though never enough) spent playing with Aleksa.
I'm not complaining -- it's a good life, and I'm never bored. But there comes a certain point where I have to say, "You know, no matter how good GenCon is, it would be much more valuable to me to simply have a quiet weekend at home for a change." So I did.
As it turned out, though, several people from the Warhammer 40k forum didn't go to GenCon either, and we ended up meeting at my apartment on that Saturday for some casual battling. Jim came up from the U of C and used his Eldar (which I've been slowly painting for him) to beat up on Brian's Ultramarines, while my Tau were repeatedly murdered by Jason's creepy Necrons. The night before, I got a sudden inspiration; I brought home all the styrofoam from the boxes the Huamnized computer monitors came in, which was a lot of styrofoam, and started using it to make some sweet alien planet terrain for our little men to battle over. Some of it's coming along pretty good, so I might post some pictures later.
And when we were done with 40k we decided to play Puerto Rico.
And then on Sunday, Andrew and Phil both came over and we ended up playing RoboRally, using the optional rules where each player controls two robots, and one of them can't get any flags, it's just there to cause trouble. Let me tell you, playing this way is a hundred times more fun because there's much more reason to bump each other off course and make full use of all those nasty upgrades.
And then on Monday, Alexis and Ben -- who had been at GenCon all weekend, selling Ben's new game Bliss Stage, operating on only about two hours of sleep -- came to Chicago by train from Indianapolis. They were actually in the middle of moving: move out of their apartment in Boston, go to GenCon, visit Jono, then move into their new apartment in Seattle.
Earlier they had actually asked me "Hey Jono, is there anything we can get for you at GenCon?" Whoa!! Uh!! Buh!! Some stuff!! How can I answer a question like that? "Kid in a candy store" doesn't begin to describe it. They had lunch with us Humanoids, and while stopping by the office they reached into their bags and dug out all the Phat Loot they had picked up for me at the con. I reimbursed them $100+ for a copy of Power Grid, a set of Fudge dice, a copy of Primetime Adventures, and of course one of Ben's game Bliss Stage.
Alexis and Ben ended up spending the whole week hanging around my place, which was fine with me. I still had to work, but we did gaming almost every night (and as a result, I didn't get any Aikido practice in. Sacrifices must be made.) On Monday, Andrew and Aza came over too, along with Aza's GF Yoko, and this gamer Amul who I had met through the internet but was meeting for the first time in real life. We all got some middle-eastern food and played a six-player game of Shock which gradually got sillier and sillier as it went on.
Tuesday we tried out Power Grid -- this is the German economic simulation game where you play public utility companies and compete to be the most efficient. Sounds dreadfully boring when I describe it that way, doesn't it? But it's hugely strategic and involving and even Alexis, who normally doesn't like strategy games much, enjoyed it. (And won!) You can play on a map of Germany or the U.S., and build power plants that run on coal, oil, garbage, nuclear power, wind and solar, or fusion. It has an awful lot of bearing on the real world, and I could easily see it being used as a way to teach people about economics, ecology, and geography all at once. Like most eurogames, it's a finely balanced machine with many difficult choices that finishes in just the right amount of time. Plus it's totally awesome if you play in Germany while listening to Kraftwerk and speaking in phony German accents.
Wednesday we went and got Ghanan food at the awesomely sketchy Palace Gate restaurant in my neighborhood. We all tried to order a dish called banku, but the big mama of the place came out to our table and informed us that only I would be allowed to have banku (since I've had it before), while Alexis and Ben must eat beef stew and fried chicken. Something like this happens every time I take friends to the Palace Gate; you order one thing but they say "No, I will make you this instead." It's probably part of some complex Ghanan code of guest/host interaction that we're completely clueless about. Or maybe they're just sick of people getting banku and then complaining that it's too spicy. We didn't do any gaming that night, just stayed up really late talking about weird things while I worked on coloring a comic.
On Thursday, we had one of the worst storms in recent memory. There were trees falling across train tracks and power outages and thousands of people trapped on the Metra. I was downtown at Google headquarters, and I'll tell you about that little adventure in another post. When I got back we played a short test game (a few scenes) of The Shadow of Yesterday using the Planescape setting. This is something I've been musing about for several months, and it turns out Ben and Alexis were into the idea too, so we tried it out to see if it would be as fun as we thought. It was! I've made up my mind that I'm going to try to run a campaign soon usingthis system and this setting.
Friday, Alexis and Ben went to visit her aunt out in the suburbs somewhere, and I just worked late.
Saturday, the Warhammer group and I met up at Mike's house in Oak Park. I felt like I owed Mike an apology, because this one time I arranged a game vs. him at Games Plus in Mt. Prospect, but then I missed the Metra train and there wasn't another one for two hours, and I tried to call him but he didn't answer cuz he was already on the road, so basically I made him drive all the way out there for nothing, and I felt really bad about it. So Saturday morning I baked him a cake and wrote "I'm very sorry" on it in blue frosting. Along with Jason's and Brian's proto-spousal-units Laura and Jen (who were being very good sports in trying out new games and putting up with our nerdiness), we played Power Grid again, followed by a zombie game called "Last Night on Earth" (which I didn't like), and then Citadels (which I know I like, but with seven players it drags on too long). Power Grid was a pretty big hit with the group, though.
Then I got a dinner-invitation call from Alexis to join her and Ben at Ron Edwards' house up in Evanston. Along with Ron and his wife we had some very rare and juicy steaks from the backyard grill, and Alexis made southern-style fried green tomatoes. After dinner we played this crazy card game called Oriente, and had a long involved conversation about game theory, gender relations, martial arts, what Internet forums do to communication, cold war politics, spies, publishing, how to talk about your butt in Chinese, and whether Ben should re-release "The Ecology of Mud Dragons" as a comic book.
Then we all got a couple hours of sleep before getting up at 4 AM so Alexis and Ben could get on the train to their very early flight to Seattle. Then I went back to bed and spent all day Sunday recovering and working on my comic.
So, let's see. I reconnected with old friends, made new ones, got awesome loot, played lots of new games in addition to some old favorites, and got to hang out with some game designers I respect. And I did it without having to go to Indianapolis, wait in line, pay exorbitant registration fees, eat lousy con food, put up with creepy weirdos, or deprive myself of too much sleep. I got all the good parts of GenCon with none of the bad!
I feel like Bender on Futurama: "I'm just going to start my own gaming convention! With blackjack! And hookers! Actually, forget the gaming convention!"