San Diego Comic Con! Wheeeeeeee!

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I’m sure by now your news feeds are all full of “I’m at #ComicCon!” and “#NerdHQ!” selfies. I know mine are. But there’s this feeling I’ve had for a few years about ComicCon (SDCC) that I haven’t been able to shake… until now.

I love when people have a great time and live a good life. Part of why I do personal training and wellness coaching are seeing people happy, with their families, living the lives they’ve always wanted. But it seems like the past few years of SDCC have been more about telling people you’re at SDCC, and how cool you are for being there, than the con itself. Rarely now do I see pictures or posts of actual happenings at the con. But my god my instagram and Facebook feeds are full of selfies of people that are damn sure to let you know how much fun they’re having, Foursquare checkins galore, and come Sunday just how much fun they had. You see this a bit with Dragon*Con and GenCon, and it’s starting to creep into the smaller ComicCons around the country. But damn if SDCC hasn’t become the most pretentious con I’ve seen yet.

Why is this? What makes people turn from fun loving geeks taking pics of their food and puppies into sudden attention seekers for five days? I believe a large part of this is the SDCC culture itself. See, anyone can come to MegaCon. Anyone can go to GenCon. But SDCC is like the fucking Hunger Games of the geek world. Some people call it the Mecca of geekdom, like if you aren’t there you’re obviously not one of the chosen. And you know, it’s true! This is the first year I’ve seen many of my semi-celeb status friends even struggle to get tickets. That’s right, they had trouble giving a show money to come and spend more money! That just blew my mind. That’d be like planning a trip to Disney to show up at the gate and have them say “I’m sorry, we don’t want your money”. However, that has also led to the endless pics of people’s tickets arriving in the mail, tweets like “Got my #SDCC ticket! Now to find a room. ugh”. And the craziest part is most of the folks going posted on social media last year that they wouldn’t be back! “It’s so expensive and goes so quick”, “the prices are going up, again!”, “It’s way too much stress.” But come next April they’re all ready to knife their neighbor in the back for a chance to go.

But what has this led to on the other side? A group of geeks sitting at home, eagerly waiting for the next instapic from the con floor? I mean, people are posting up to follow their various networks to see what they’re doing. But that’s not really the case. Most people I observe sitting here at my geek bar tune into the official SDCC channels, watch the panels, and go about their day.

So what is it about SDCC that keeps people coming back? It can’t be the actual media guests and entertainment onslaught, as the con has slowly been losing traction in Hollywood for the past couple of years. Could it be some of the indie geek scene that has started to spring up around the Con? The groups of friends that use SDCC to come together and see each other just once a year? I could see that. After all, the main reason I go to cons now are to see the people I only get to see at cons. But in the case of SDCC I feel it’s just the spotlight that going to SDCC brings. And that makes me sad, because that’s the type of stuff most of us tried to avoid back when we were younger.

Otronicon, the Mini-GenCon but with more Nintendo

Otronicon, a geek haven that feels like the pre-season of conventions. It's a four day event held at the Orlando Science Center and brings in all walks of life. One minute you may be playing a retro Super Nintendo System, and the next you could be on the roof playing laser tag. Take a break with some Geek Trivia and strap in for a panel about how to break into the video game industry. If you're a geek or gamer there is definitely something here for you.


Bronies!

For four days the Cloak & Blaster set up shop in the Nerdy Lounge. This was your haven for board gaming, Nintendo Wii'ing, geek trivia, and nerdy guests. As I sat behind my table during the event I saw toddlers jumping up and down to play Super Mario Bros Galaxy and veteran gamers sitting at a table discussing the latest version of Dungeon & Dragons. I even got introduced the the new My Little Ponies… from a large group of high school guys that call themselves “Bronies”.

Friday and Saturday night the Science Center turned the Geek Lounge into an adult gamer haven. From 6pm to 10pm it was 21 and up. There was a cash bar, dim lighting, “adult” trivia, and burlesque. But the really cool thing about this convention, to me, was the various levels.

The ground floor had cosplay vendors and tables, the second floor was all about tech with vendors like Lockheed Martin and the US Army showing off combat simulators. The third floor was a sort of artist alley with popular geek artists like Charles Thorton, as well as the Nerdy Lounge and biomedical tech exhibits. The fourth floor played host to Microsof, EA Sports, and other gaming communities. Amidst the dinosaur skeletons were XBox One's, PS4's, and many other game consoles. This was a great place to test out the One and PS4 side by side in some of the most graphically intensive games on the market. Out on the roof was laser tag (which was dominated most of the weekend by the 501st Legion). I mean who wouldn't want to see Boba Fett shooting “real” lasers?

Perhaps the most appeal comes with the accessibility of the convention. Admission is the same as the admission to the Science Center so you can come to the convention Friday and come back for the science on Saturday






EA Sports showing off their next-gen sports

 

Not Quite a “True” Dungeon: TD 2013 Review

Ah True Dungeon (TD). This is the most epic thing any RPG fan could hope for. An event where you can actually crawl through the dungeon, slay the monster, solve the puzzle, and get the girl. Well, you have to bring your own girl to get the girl. It's held every year at GenCon. And this wasn't my first crawl.

 

I've done TD several times. Looking back at my cool collector buttons (which you get at the end of the dungeon) I've done it in 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2013. So I'm certainly no novice. To give you an idea of how popular the game is they run a group through several times an hour. This year there were also several different options. You could choose from Lycans Afoot, Golembane, and True Grind. All but True Grind were also available as puzzle or combat modes, and each had four levels of difficulty. So that's A LOT. This year they sold 7500 tickets at $44 a pop. My group did Lycans Afoot on Normal.

I know this isn't Lycans Afoot...

So the way TD works is you get a party of 10 people. This can be a pre-determined group of people, or you can see if anyone has a slot open and play pickup. This year there were four of us that joined a group of three and a group of two. Once you have your group you're assigned a time. Once your time comes you all assemble and choose your class. I'm generally the bad-ass Paladin, but this year I went Rogue. Once you have your character picked out the DM comes in and assigns your skills and modifiers. You get a character card and start with the typical starting stats for your character. You get buffs by way of TD Tokens. You get a dozen when you buy your ticket, and you can buy more from the store. They're like TCG card packs. All the packs are random, but you can usually trade or buy from other people. There is a bit of an underground economy that's been created over the years and we met one girl that was particularly addicted. There are some tokens that are worth up to a thousand dollars.

Rogue!

So now your adventuring party assembled and you're all decked out in gear. Practice time! Every class has something specific they need to be good at. Fighters, of course, fight. Fighting is done by putting your weapon token into a slider much like one of those things you'd put under furniture to slide it around. There is a slick table with a monster drawn on the end, showing hit points. You slide your weapon at the monster and where it lands determines your hit. It's essentially fantasy shuffleboard. The non-fighters have to practice their skills. Bards, Wizards, and Druids all memorize various symbols. The Rogue opens chests by moving a conductive rod through a maze without touching the sides. It's like Operation but way harder. But guess how much time you have to perfect your new found skills? Yes, it's the same amount of time as a typical coming of age montage.

 

So now you have the basics. You run through rooms, fight, and solve puzzles. There are usually 6 to 7 rooms and each room has a DM that explains what's going on. There are sound effects, light shows, and often large props. The DM's usually do a great job. You'll get some that dress up and actually act out the role. Then you get the guy in the TD Volunteer shirt, cargo shorts, and combat boots. *sigh*. Most of the DM's this year were great. In fact, all but the last were dressed in character and acted out the story. The last one, well, he seemed like he was over the job and just wanted to get us out. That's sad since the final boss battle is usually really epic. But, as I pointed out in my GenCon blog our Bard decided to start texting half way through the battle. It didn't make us look good.

 

Generally, TD is really well done. Honestly, when you walked in the front of the area looked awesome. It made me almost feel like I was actually in a market square at night. It was really well done. The sets, though, not so up to par. This is the second year they had so many different stories, and they did have way more room this year. In the past the game was run in one of the hotel ballrooms, so it was very tight. This year they had an actual hall in the convention center and it seemed like they just didn't have the time or budget to do it justice. There were several rooms that seemed pretty sparse. In the final room the sound and light effects were actually broken. I think the most disappointing part of this year was the story. I chose Lycans Afoot because one of our party loves wolves. What didn't we see a lot of? WOLVES!!! There was a Werewolf in the first room, but every other room they were “chasing us”. Even the last boss was an Ent. Really? An Ent? I was sad.

 

TD really has a long way to go to step up next year. For $44 I would hope to at least have the quality I had a few years ago. It's popular enough that they could really make it great… like it was. But, like most games it really depends on your party. Like I said, we picked up a group since there were only four of us. Usually, we have a great group that Andrea has been playing with for almost a decade. This group was essentially all newbies. Andrea and I were the most experienced, the group of two had played once before, and the other 5 had never played before. We had a lot of “Too many chiefs” during the puzzles. This was also a promo game as three of the players do a podcast. i.e. they didn't have to pay, so they didn't really care. I believe if you have one of the two components (a great party or a great dungeon) you can really rock TD. This year, we didn't have either.

 

 

 

GenCon Sunday, the funnest Sunday!

The Cards Against Humanity booth on Sunday

Sunday is usually referred to as “fun day”. Not at GenCon. This is the day when all the fun people you've met and all the great games you've played go their separate ways. We usually drive up so it's not so bad, but this year we had to fly. That made Sunday pretty stressful since we had a firm time we had to leave.

 

Since we were up until around 4am we managed to get moving around 11am. Our first order of business was hitting the dealer hall. I finally got to demo the Firefly game I bought on Thursday. It was actually pretty fun. I tried reading the rules on my own over the weekend and it seemed incredibly confusing. Once you get into it, though, there's just the right amount of strategy and complexity to make it enjoyable. I'll also be doing a full review once I play it a little more. The nice thing is that you can play by yourself, so I don't need to wait to get a party together.

Cutthroat Caverns

 

We also played a few other games. Flashpoint, which is a cooperative game based around fighting fires and rescuing people from a collapsing building. And Cutthroat Caverns, which is a dungeon crawling card game where you all work together to fight monsters, but you also stab each other in the back. It was also pretty fun and quick, which is good.

 

As time was running out we ended up heading to the Ram for lunch. We got a seat right in the bar, which was impossible any other time this weekend. You could tell the server was about done with the Con, though. I have a feeling she was run ragged all weekend. But, we told her we had a flight and she was amazing about getting us everything quick. I tried their custom GenCon beer, Steelsoul Red. It honestly was great. It started off well, but as soon as it warmed up I couldn't swallow it. I am really disappointed in the Ram this year. The beer wasn't great. The food was “meh”, and the theme wasn't broad enough to really pull me in. I loved getting a mug every year, but this year I just couldn't do it.

Dinner

 

So that's about it, other than our flight home. I am so happy that I was able to meet some new people this year, see people that I missed last year, and validate my thought that this is clearly my favorite convention of the year.

 

GenCon Saturday. Bring on the Geeks!

Saturday! Yay for the most crowded day of the con! It took us a while to recover from Friday night. I think we finally turned in around 3am, and we were back up at 10am. Crystal really wanted to go paint some mini's in the convention hall, so we trucked over only to find it was over an hour wait. I thought that was odd as there were open tables, open paints and brushes, and plenty of figures… but I didn't question in. Instead we wandered back around the dealer room, meeting up with some friends from BYOV and finding some awesome costumes. Andrea was geared up in her Mara Jade/Cloak and Blaster hybrid, dishing out free swag for anyone that asked.

 

We did finally make it back to find our friends at the Damsels of Dorkington booth, but alas all that was there was the Duke of Dorkington. Sorry Jeff, I lika da ladies. But you're shirt was really nice!

 

I did manage to score a sweet new ring, and if you know me you know I'm NOT into jewelry. But this is a working d20. How awesome is that! It matches my wedding ring and Citizen watch, and I can roll for initiative at any time. So far it hasn't allowed me to skip any meetings, though. 🙁

 

The next few hours saw me separated from our adventuring party. While the crew was out getting buddy buddy with the folks at TableTop (spell it right, Wheaton!), I went to run my very first LARP. I'm a member of BYOV, a gaming group that's been around what seems like decades. They run some amazing LARPs and D&D campaigns every year. This year I was apart of the Rome: Arsenic and Old Rights game written by Mar. I was a bit nervous as he took actual characters from history, and I'm horrible with names. His LARPs are incredibly complex and interwoven, almost like having four stories in one. But, once I got the initial barrage of questions out of the way it was really fun. Luckily, the always amazing Kristina was there to help keep me going. The game went well, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

 

Once this was over I headed back to the hotel and watched Andrea, Chad, Crystal, and Tabz finish off a game of Gloom. This was a great game and I can't wait to review it. Basically, you're each a family. Your goal is to kill off your family by the most horrible means you can imagine while making the other families happy. Each card has a short, two to three word, scenario and you fashion a story around it to tell the group. Tons of fun! Through the night our group grew larger, we had an awesome celebrity join us (not Wheaton, but close!), and I discovered the hotel bar had the Flagon Slayer on tap. I think I had four? That made me happy 🙂