Rollin’ 20’s and Killin’ Orcs

Road trip! Yay! Wait, what’s that OMFG THAT’S A GIANT BUG! GASOLINE ALL OVER THE SHORTS! AHHHHHHH HAVE TO GO TO WALMART BECAUSE EVERYTHING ELSE IS CLOSED!

This was the start to Gen Con 2014, our annual fellowship for gaming, drinking, and more gaming. This year I want to relive my experience a little differently. Every year I get the question “Why do you pick Gen Con over Dragon*Con?” I hope by the end of this you’ll understand why this little gaming con has become the number one con of the year.

Scotty's Dice through the years

After we remedied the pants fiasco we made the trek to our first stop, Nashville, TN. From here it’s only about a 5 hour trip to Indy, but more importantly it’s home to the great house of Bass Monroe. Fellow gamers and home brewers we spent Tuesday night touring some of the Nashville craft brew scene and discussing our game plan for the week. It was tough getting to bed, even though we were running on less than four hours of sleep. The anticipation of four solid days of gaming made Tuesday night feel like Christmas Eve.

Scotty's Dice through the years
We managed to get into Indy just after 6 on Wednesday. A little later than we’d hoped but construction and traffic between Nashville aGenCon 2014nd Indianapolis was insane. We dropped off our stuff at the hotel and booked it over to Scotty’s Brewhouse, one tradition for the past 4 years. Scotty’s is unique amongst the bars around the convention center. It’s run by Dave (@IndyDav), former GM for the Ram and a fellow gamer. This means Scottys is always above and beyond the theming most bars put on for the con. While most places will make a themed menu and show geek movies, you can tell Scotty’s is the real deal. And just as a bonus you get a custom die each day you visit. Just these little touches make it a must go hangout for some after hours gaming and imbibing on the Dogslicer Ale.


Stardate 68083.7. We’ve awoken at Gen Con for day 1. Our primary mission, to aquire our press badges. But first, cardio. Andrea and I downed our pre-workout Energy and Endurance formula, strapped on our Five Fingers, and set off for the GC2014Blog 12amazing running spaces of downtown Indy. I won’t lie, this con is built on the stereotypical gamer and it’s amazing to fight that image with a kick to the face. Indy is so amazing this time of year and the convention center is near an amazing park where you’ll find numbers of people running, walking, or doing boot camp workouts. And it’s nice being outside. That done we made our way to the press room. Badge acquired and achievement unlocked! One would think a major con of over 60,000 people would elicit huge wait lines. GenCon wisely opens up it’s Will Call window Wednesday evening and leaves it open 24 hours all week. Even with a long line you’re in and out in about 10 minutes.

GenCon 2014

Thursday was “friend day”. This is possibly my favorite aspect of Gen Con, meeting all the friends you only get to see once a year. Kilted up and equipped with my Bag of Holding we made our way to the Geek & Sundry booth. There we met up with our friends Sarah, Tabitha, and Caylie. The conversation naturally fell into our gaming plans for the evening. It was pretty much understood we’d be destroying something that night, whether that be orcs, livers, or each other. And without further ado we were in the lobby of the hotel trading beers and joined by Lisa and Brian from d20Monkey playing a brand new game, Unspeakable Words. It’s like a card based Cthulhu scrabble.

Friday was costume day for me. We awoke early and did our P90X3 Yoga. This was AMAZING after a full day on our feet. Then I donned my only costume, Star Lord. Now, here’s where the primary difference between Gen Con and Dragon*Con come to light. GC is not a huge costuming con. There are some, and they are usually GREAT. But it’s not a constant barrage of photogs and people in worbla and spandex. That said I got a great response. Could have been the little Rocket I was carrying or the bluetooth speaker blasting Awesome Mix vol 1. But even though I got a lot of nods and thumbs up there were very few pictures. THIS IS GOOD! I was able to walk around the dealer hall and actually enjoy myself. Andrea and I were able to go to some of the booths and do some shopping, picking up an amazing game called Veliciraptor! Cannibalism!

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GenCon 2014

This next part is tough to put into words but it highlights another awesome part of Gen Con. We decided to go back to Geek & Sundry to see the ladies. A few minutes later Wil came up, slipped Andrea a W00Tstout 2.0 and invited us to join him for lunch and games. We headed off with Sarah, Jaques, and his wife Dawn. Needless to say I was a bit nervous but it turned into a great afternoon playing Drunk Quest, Velociraptor! Cannibalism!, talking home brew, and all manner of things. Before we knew it we’d been there for about 6 hours and the place was starting to pack up. So after a few more drinks we headed back to the hotel and dropped everyone off. I couldn’t wait to get out of that costume!

Saturday came really, really early. But you know what, I was about to do something I’d never done before and that’s what GenCon is all about. I headed to the convention center at about 745 with Crystal and Chad to play my very first game of Pathfinder. Let me just say I have always been DnD. Drizzt’s my boy and I love the the Companions of the Hall. It had never crossed my mind to play another system (other than Star Wars or Firefly). But I really enjoyed Pathfinder. It seemed to have a community that I haven’t seen from Wizards in a long time. I got my Pathfinder Society number, signed up, and made my character (a badass ninja). That’s when I was told I could register my character and they would go with me from game to game, leveling up. So cool! Anyway, we mustered our little group together and sat down to go on an epic journey to unravel the mystery of the Gill people. The story was pretty fun and I loved the system, but our DM killed it. He opened up saying he’d already run the game 34 times so he really had no passion. In fact, often when we’d get stuck he’d just tell us what to do next. We also rolled 20’s like a boss, which he ended up really hating and he took it out on us. Honestly, if it weren’t for my friends I would have walked away from that game and never looked at Pathfinder again.

This brings me to one of the very few aspects of GenCon I’ve noticed getting worse as the years go on. They DM/GM’s are just over worked. See, the system for paying these folks is by having them work X hours for a % of their badge and room fees. If they work 4 hours they get a percentage of their badge paid for. Eight hours and they get more until they are able to get a free ride. This means many people sign up to work every available slot, literally from 8am to midnight every day of the con. The gaming starts Wednesday so by Saturday most of these folks are exhausted.

GC2014Blog 9After a few more hours running around the convention floor all kilted up and snapping pictures of the various costumes and booths, we grabbed our cooler of craft beer, some board games, and set off for the convention hall to do some free gaming. Enter the only other aspect of GenCon that seems to be going down hill, the open gaming space. A couple of years ago you could squat just about anywhere with a group of friends, crack open a game, and go nuts. This year it seemed like the hotels and con were really trying to capitalize to the max. There was the open gaming hall like always, but more and more tables were reserved for ticketed games. We tried the upstairs area of the hotel where their were private rooms and tables, but they were already booked by gaming groups (most of which weren’t using the actual rooms but they would reserve them for 24 hours anyway). We finally ended up in the convention center food court. This actually worked out quite well as we had quick access to bathrooms and water, but were in a nice secluded corner. And this is how we welcomed Sunday, the final day.

Sunday is generally much more laid back. It’s the last day to get some really good deals on games. It’s the last day to do anything you haven’t done yet over the course of the week. It’s also the last day not to sleep in. So up again bright and early on about four hours of sleep I set of to do something I’d never done, paint mini’s. While Andrea and I were in Scotland we found a Games Workshop and painted our actual first mini, but they only let us paint one color. This was a full on mini, and it was free! You got a mini and brush to keep and use of all their paints. I decided to paint a mini for my wife, a bad ass red headed warrior. Then it was off to the dealer hall to get those last minute deals. Alas, there weren’t really any 🙁 It was a much different experience this year. I’ve seen a lot of the smaller indie game companies show up at this con with a table and a guy with a demo game, happy just to get his name out there. Now these indie groups have all grown up into million dollar groups, and as such are starting to lose their connection to the fans. It’s a shame, but also just a part of life. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a damn blast!

GC2014Blog

 

 

All in all GenCon was a hell of a good time, as always. I met up with old friends, met some amazing new ones, found new games and loves, and got to do many things I can’t do the rest of the year. When you live in a town lacking a real gaming scene it’s a nice break to just spend a solid week playing every game you can get your hands on.

For all of the photos from this epic weekend please visit http://bit.ly/GenCon2014

Guardian’s of the Galaxy Review (with SPOILERS!!!)

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It’s got a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It scores a 77 on Meta-Critic. It’s a 5 out of 5 in my book. Thanks to @GeekFitGirl and the Disney Parks Blog I was able to catch a pre-screening of this summer’s hottest action hero movie.

Guardian’s of the Galaxy is a movie that was introduced to a crowd of “huh?” and “Really, a talking Raccoon movie?” when it was announced two years ago. And for good reason GotG is one of those comic universes that most fans don’t know about. But I mean, come on, most fans only know about the big guys like the X-Men and Avengers. I could go into the history of the comic series, but you can also do the same thanks to any number of websites. What I want to do is let you know what I thought of the movie adaptation and the newest sibling to Iron Man, X-Men, Spiderman, and the Avengers.

This review will have some spoilers, but I’ll try not to reveal any major plot points or cool scenes. 

I’ll try and keep this short and sweet. Go see the movie. There, done! But really, go see it. If you know nothing about GotG you’ll have a great time. If you’re a fan of the series you’ll have a great time, with a few caveats.

The movie itself was a fantastic blend of action, comedy, and the feels. It really felt like the Avengers but with more heart. The movie is set as an origin story. You see where Peter (Star Lord) started. You get some explanation to the back stories of the other characters. You see how they came together to form a team. But this also leaves about the first half of the movie pretty staggered. The teams don’t really start to mesh until about the mid point, but each individual character does a top notch job pulling off their respective roles. And they do have their moments of teamwork. But, this isn’t really a negative to the film as I believe it was written this way. It’s a story of outlaws and assassins, most that want to kill or capture each other, learning to work together and finding a common goal.

While it was a fun ride, I didn’t feel it was terribly accurate to the comics. There seemed to be a bit of creative license taken, especially with the history and background of Star Lord. SPOILER: in this movie his mother dies of cancer, not by an assault of aliens. And he never meets his father, rather his father remains a mystery the entire time. Now, that sort of thing is annoying but I think they were betting on not many people knowing the back story and using this as a plot device. Well, for this “story” it works. It allows a pivotal moment to happen later in the film. I must say my main disappointment came from the fact that Marvel released a series of comics specifically to fill in the character backstories and then the film directly contradicted that.

Putting that aside the characters seemed pretty true to their core. Peter is a snarky, laid back guy. Gamora was the tough assassin chick. Drax was ready for a fight. Rocket was, well, Rocket (i.e. sarcastic and generally pointing a gun at someone’s face). And Groot was ever the stalwart savior and companion.

Overall the film was genuinely enjoyable. At just over two hours long there were only a few moments I felt myself waiting for the next big thing to happen. That could also be because I was seeing the film on about three and a half hours of sleep. But overall the flow was really good.

 

 

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

 

Firefly: The Big Damn Game… review

Find a Crew. Find a job. Keep flying. That's the premise behind Gale Force Nine's board game adaptation of the cult series Firefly (and it's movie Serenity). I was lucky enough to play test this at GenCon 2013, where I also picked up one of 1000 GenCon exclusive copies. This game flew off the shelf so fast there was literally a guy standing there with a wad of cash just accepting money as people pulled it off the pile they had set up. So far I've played two games. One with a group, and one solo. Yes, you can play this game alone which is part of its appeal for me. Here's what I think (and just what I think, so don't nerd rage on me!


An overview of the game, and a dinosaur
My first impression was that this game is absolutely beautiful. It's easily on the level of anything from Fantasy of Flight. In fact, when I spotted it Thursday morning I set my Canon to rapid-fire and went crazy taking pictures of the miniatures, cards, and beautiful board. The set comes with four ship cards and their matching miniatures in solid colored plastic, a Reaver ship, and an Alliance ship. The ship cards are heavy weight cardboard and feel really great. There's really nothing flimsy or cheap about this game. Even the paper money feels and looks amazing.
 
 

So what's the premise of the game? Well, like the box says you find a crew, find a job, and keep flying. Each player rolls to see who goes first. That person gets first dibs at ships but last choice on Leader (aka Captain). One thing I love is Serenity is no more powerful or special than the other ships. In fact, all of the ships are exactly the same. This prevents someone being really upset that they didn't get Serenity. One of the Leaders is Mal, but the other Leader options are just as good. They all have different abilities. When I play tested I got a random Leader, but when I played the other day I chose Mal. Honestly, I preferred the other guy. Once you all have a ship and Leader you get to decide the goal of the game. This is done by randomly choosing a Goal card, which outlines what you have to do to win. Another nice thing because you can't have one person that stacks their deck to win quickly. You don't know what you'll have to do until after you have a ship and Leader.

Each turn is made up of four actions, of which you get to pick any two you want. Fly. Buy. Deal. Work. These sound exactly like they should. You can fly to a location (either one space at a turn, or spend a fuel to move extra), buy supplies if you're at an outpost, deal with people for work, or work your active jobs. Usually you'll always start by flying. This is done one of two ways. You can mozy, which means you move one space and you're done. Or, you can do a full burn. This requires you to spend a fuel and lets you move the full range of your ship. This is usually 5 spaces, but you can modify depending on your crew, upgrading your engine, or if you're playing the GenCon exclusive ship. The benefit to a full burn is you can get where you need to go faster. The downside is you have to stop at each space and draw a card. The card will usually say “Keep flying”, but you can also breakdown, encounter a derelict ship, or the worse attract the Alliance or Reaver ship.

Buying is pretty basic. If you're at an outpost you can look through the discard pile or draw cards. You get to look at 3 and choose 2 to buy. You can also buy cargo, fuel, and parts, and this is where you'll buy crew. That's right, every crew has a hiring cost. You also have to pay this cost whenever you complete a mission, and if you don't they become disgruntled. So what? Well, that means they can jump ship, or another player can hire them right from under you! Having to hire crew also makes it really rare to have the Serenity and her entire crew on board. There are no bonuses if you did, though. That'd be cool.

If you're at a location with one of the 5 business folk (like Badger or Niska) you can look for a job. This works the same as buying. Pull 3, keep 2. The only restriction is you can have 3 active jobs, and before you can make a job active you have to have the requirements listed on the card. There are two types of jobs, Legal and Illegal. Most illegal cards require you to Misbehave, which is a separate deck of cards you have to draw and fulfill before the job is complete. But, this is also how you get paid. The riskier the job, the greater the reward. Duh.

 

So in a nutshell those are the game dynamics. As you can see, it can be fairly complex. I found it less “complex” and more “busy”. It really pulls in every aspect of the show, even getting into the moral issues between Mal and the Crew. This naturally causes the game to have many moving parts and pieces, but once you get into it it's actually really fun and fast paced. There's nothing like being one system away from completing a job only to pull a Reaver Attack card…

This is definitely a game for fans of the show. Like hardcore fans. If you aren't a fan, or just watched it casually, find a friend to play with that already owns it. Much of the game pulls from the obscure parts of the series, and it has to since the series only ran about half a season. A perfect example is a scenario I saw watching a play test at GenCon. There was a group that was up in arms that every time you encounter the Reavers, someone dies (unless you have a Pilot and burn a fuel for a Crazy Ivan). I thought this was a perfect way to portray the Reavers. You need to be afraid of them. They are savage and ruthless. But, the group playing admitted they'd never really watched it so that's where the disconnect was

 

The play time is pretty hefty, and goes up as you add players. For a solo game count on about an hour. For 3-4 players you'd better set aside 2-3 (4 if you're not familiar with the rules). In addition, if you have the exclusive GenCon ship the Artful Dodger from Game Trade Magazine, you can have 5 players. This leads me to believe you could add a number of players as long as you have ship cards and tokens. Though the Artful Dodger is the only ship that is different (1 extra crew and movement space, 1 less cargo).

The other thing to keep in mind is play area. This game requires a LOT of space to play. At least a 4 foot by 4 foot area. This is due to not only having a large game board, but also by the sheer amount of decks and discard piles. This is probably best played on a floor.

There is one last, really cool aspect that I rarely saw used. The ability to Co-Op. This isn't really Co-Op like both winning the game. But if you're in the same sector you can trade supplies and cargo. This is a neat aspect that could really turn the game if used correctly.

As a Firefly fan I'd rate this game an 8/10, mainly due to the hefty learning curve. If I hadn't demoed it at GenCon I would never know how to play. For non-Firefly fans, I can really only give this a 5/10. It really does rely on your knowledge of the 'verse and love of the series. Without that, I doubt it would hold your attention for more than a few rounds.