Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gamehole Con III

After re-reading yesterday’s post, I think I might have come across as kind of whiney, which I was.  But worse than that, I might have given the impression that GHC3 was a “bad” con, which it most certainly wasn’t.  Any negative experiences I had were purely the result of my own personal choices.  In no way does that reflect on the quality of the con as an event.  So, here’s a review of Gamehole Con itself.

The Venue
This was the first year that the con was not being held at the Sheraton.  The hotel did a wonderful job over the last two years, but Gamehole is just getting too big for it.  So this year it was at the Alliant Energy Center (ironically, just across the street from the Sheraton).  With the extra space, and a more crowd-friendly layout, stepping into Gamehole Con III felt more like stepping into a convention than the last two.  Now, that could be seen as good or bad, depending on your point of view, but personally, I liked it.  There was lots of room to move, and the atmosphere was more what you would expect from a convention.  The hotel had guests that were not associated with the Con, so you would occasionally get odd looks and such (especially during the first year).  None of that at the Alliant.

Gaming was situated in four rooms, an atrium for open gaming, and an upper floor (which was mostly board, card, and minis games).  The rooms were divided mainly into D&D 5E, Pathfinder, Special Events, and General (as far as I could tell).  There was also a lot of leeway there, so there was never a shortage of tables for gaming, even at the peak on Saturday.  All of the rooms felt comfortably climate-controlled to me, and I never got hot or cold, regardless of what time I was gaming.  Large tables seemed to fit the required capacities, and even the chairs were pretty comfortable.

The vendor room was much larger than at the Sheraton, with a wide variety of game-related stuff available, including a few excellent artists.  As always, I could have spent an entire paycheck without blinking (though that still would not have netted me the prize I most covet every year, the replica of Conan’s Father’s Sword, from the 1982 movie).  As it was I didn’t actually buy anything this year.  Mainly because I’m poor.

Oh, and the Gamehole Con paid for parking for everyone (which basically saved each person $21).  That was huge!

The Schedule
This year was a first for me, as I was unable to pre-register for games early, and ended up actually signing up for games late.  At this point, I have to say that the web-based registration was much more user-friendly than in the past (in large part thanks to a very talented webmaster, who also happens to be a good friend of mine).  This allowed me to easily find games that were available at specific times, and quickly take care of registration in one, fell swoop.  Granted, next year I will try to register earlier, but that’s on me, not the Con.

There was a good selection of games, and you could easily fill your schedule based on your individual availability.  Generally speaking, there were games of every type starting every two hours, from 8 am to Midnight on Friday and Saturday, and to 6 pm on Sunday.  Sessions lasted from 2 to 6 hours each.  And there were several panels of interest, most for free.  These make great time-fillers between games.

One concern that came up was that some games got cancelled for various reasons.  However, for every game that got cancelled there was one nearby that had an opening.  So, I don’t think many people, if any at all, were wanting for a game at any given time.  A friend had his Sunday game cancelled.  He probably could have gotten into something else easily enough.  But he decided to go to a movie instead.

If there was a downside to the Con at all, it was probably the food.  In the past they had kiosks outside, as well as the hotel restaurants.  This year they forewent the kiosks in favor of a sub sandwich chain and a pizza chain having “booths” inside, along with the regular refreshment bar that’s part of the whole venue.  I had heard the food wasn’t all that good.  And the pricing, although just about what you would expect inside a convention, was still a little high.  Hopefully they can find a better solution there.  But honestly, despite the fact that the food was the most common complaint from what I overheard, it didn’t seem to slow anyone down, as they did a brisk business anyways.  Personally, we had to go cheap, so I stuffed my backpack with snack food from home, and we only ate out twice (dinner on Friday and Saturday).  And at this location, it’s not a far drive to find something good to eat.

Gamehole Con continued its record of being an awesome convention.  I never heard one complaint about the Con itself, and even the special guests are eager to come back again.  One little thing I thought was cool was that they track how many GHCs you go to, and note that on your badge as a level.  It was pretty cool to look down and see “Level 3” on my badge.  Looking forward to being Level 4 next year!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Post Con Day

As I always try to do, I have taken the Monday after a gaming con (in this case Gamehole III) off to recover.  I don't actually need to recover physically.  I'm not afflicted with Con Crud, and I managed to catch up on the sleep I missed from gaming until midnight two nights in a row.  I take this day off mainly to come down from my "gamer's high."

Usually when I leave a Con I am still high on the feeling of elation at having played games all weekend, with new people, sometimes with new systems, and always at least some new experiences.  But this time it's a little different.

I did manage to play some cool games, and even experienced a few new things that I hadn't before.  But it was all tainted a bit by some less-than-ideal situations.  First of all, I had to have my 12-year old daughter with me all day Saturday and Sunday, and it was her first con.  Now, I love her dearly, and she's a good kid.  But, anyone with a 12-year old daughter can guess at the trials entailed that aren't usually a part of gaming.  I'm not going to go into details, but it's safe to say that I got a bit overwhelmed at times, and it affected my fun.

But more than that was the disappointing gaming experiences I had.  First off, you have to understand that, IMHO, a Con Game has to fit certain parameters.  And those are that it has a quick setup, which leads to an exciting session, and it has a satisfying end.  A couple of my games didn't have all of that. One in particular had a meandering setup that took half the session, and ended up with no satisfying climax.  It was a game of Empire of the Petal Throne, on the world of Tekumel.

By all descriptions Tekumel is a fascinating setting; somewhat Burroughs-esque, with a healthy dose of classic D&D.  So, I was excited.  But, the adventure, while interesting in scope and theme, was like a Sword & Planet novel with all of the action taken out.  My character was a big warrior (random chance, surprisingly enough), but I never drew my weapon or engaged in any kind of combat.  Just a lot of RP, and much of it seemed unfocused with no real purpose.

I think that was the big one.  I also played in a Pathfinder 3d game, which is basically a miniatures wargame style setup.  It was a string of combat encounters with a thin veneer of context and setup.  In the end, our party of 7 was overwhelmed by increasingly difficult challenges, until the end was an impossible situation that ended in a...you guessed it, TPK.  My cleric was the first to die.

Yesterday we had a 5E game through the Adventurer's League that turned out to be RP-heavy, involving an investigation.  My group included a CN sorcerer who was, at times, more of a hindrance to our progress than the enemies or the scenarios.  We ended with a single combat.  And guess what...my cleric was the first to die again (maybe I should just avoid clerics).  And if you know how 5E handles character "death" that's no small thing.

On an up note, I did discover a neat little system called d6xd6.  Very simple mechanics, very narrative-driven, and a lot of fun.  My daughter and I played supers in the WWII Marvel Universe, and teamed up with Union Jack and Spitfire.  Very cool.

Despite the afore-mentioned downers, I still had a lot of fun,.  And my wife and I spent a lot of time today talking about games we would like to see, play, and/or run at future cons.  So, that was cool.  I may be running a game of Mutants & Marvels next year, and possibly something else.  We also came to the conclusion that there needs to be more games aimed at teens and tweens.  Stuff that is more suitable to their gaming styles.  She's working on that, and I may tailor an M&M game towards that demographic as well.

All-in-all, I still managed to have a good weekend of gaming.  And I absolutely don't regret it at all.  Already looking forward to Gary Con in the spring.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Gamehole Con III

It's that time of year again.  Gamehole Con is once more upon us.  This year is something new, as it has moved from a hotel to the Alliant Energy Center (for perspective, I saw Motley Crue there earlier this year).  The convention that started with a gaming group who wanted a local Con to go to, is growing every year, and is fast becoming a heavy-hitter in the gaming convention circuit.  And I plan to attend every one that I can until I eventually retire and move away from Madison.

So, this is a snapshot of my schedule for the weekend:

Unlike previous years, I was actually able to get a small variety of game genres in, with a supers and a sci-fi on Saturday.  The rest is various fantasy games, which is pretty normal.  Fantasy games make up a large majority of games.

One interesting note is that my 12-year old step-daughter will be with me all day on Saturday.  Mom is running a few Dragon Age games, so Syd will be stuck with me.  Not so bad, though.  I think she'll like the variety, and it will no doubt be fun.  Mom will be with us for the Saturday night Pathfinder game, as well as the Sunday 5E game.  It's a family weekend.

I'm still leery of running games myself.  But, I think in the future I might offer to run a Mutants & Marvels game, just to see if there is any interest.  I'm not the best GM, in my opinion.  But I think I could do ok.