Tuesday, October 12, 2010

RinCon 2010 recap

As has been mentioned, last weekend was RinCon 2010 - "Arizona's Gaming Mecca." RinCon started 3 years ago, and about doubled in size last year, but it seemed to me like the main thrust of the con, or the largest demographic of attendee anyway, was the Role Playing crowd. Most of the special guests were RPG authors and things of that nature. There were LARPs and RPGs left and right, people dressed up like gypsies, etc. By contrast, the board gaming seemed pretty weak. Nobody was really in charge of the board games, there were some events that people had signed themselves up to run, but there wasn't really any organization at all. Games were played, but overall it was unspectacular, and many people I talked to thought it would have been a lot more cost effective to stay home and play games with their buddies.

This year I volunteered to be in charge of board games. I ended up taking on a lot more responsibility than I'd expected or wanted to, and while I was supposed to have a runner or someone to help out, I really was on my own the entire weekend. The bad news is that I didn't get to play as many games or participate in all the events I wanted to, but the good news is that as a result the entire board game portion of RinCon was much improved this year! At first I was worried because some of the scheduled games weren't happening because no one showed up, or because there wasn't someone to run them. I may have been overly concerned because 2pm on a Friday is pretty slow at any convention. I set my concerns aside when one of the convention organizers mentioned, in a sort of surprised and impressed way, that a whole lot of board game events were happening.

A lot of events and tournaments went down, and the board game section was fairly full pretty much all the time. There were even some interesting events like a Space Alert tournament (3 teams of 5 playing off of the same audio CD at the same time), and a Duplicate Pandemic event, where 2 teams of 2 players went head to head trying to save the world with a pre-stacked and matching Draw deck and Infection deck.

Some of the things I was really interested in were the Game Design Events I'd dreamed up and planned. I'm happy to report hat all three types of Game Design events were a smashing success! I didn't get to participate in the Gamesmiths sessions like I'd hoped to, because I had to man the Boardgame booth and make sure events were running. However I did manage to get into the Friday session and get Winds of Fate tested. I saw a ton of people participating though, and a large number of games being tested - more than we had signed up. I put David in charge of those sessions and he said they all went really well.

The Pitch your Prototype event was also successful I think, even if only 2 people were there to do it. Myself, Mike Nickoloff (of Sorvent, a sort of game agent), and James Ernest sat on a panel and listened to the pitches for no more than 5 minutes, then gave feedback and advice to help them improve their pitch for when they are actually going to talk to a publisher. One guy had never pitched his game before, but was interested in doing just that - I think we had some good advice for him as to what to say and how much detail to go into. The other guy had a much more succinct pitch, but I think we still had some useful advice for him too.

Finally there was the Game Design Workshop - and I wasn't sure exactly how that would go over. I was a little late to it because Mikey talked me into a game of Eminent Domain, and when I got there, James Ernest and a WHOLE BUNCH of people were sitting around already talking about how you go about designing a game! We talked a little about the process, and afterwards I gave people a "game design kit" with a variety of bits in it - meeples, cubes, discs, roads, index cards, pens, poster board, paper money... the idea was for them to play around with these bits and see what kind of game design they start to come up with. We had a follow-up meeting on Sunday where we talked a little more about game and mechanism design, then 4 people who had come up with a game design shared it with the group and we talked about each one for 15-20 minutes. I was impressed at some of the stuff people came up with - a few really solid starts. One group used every single piece in the bag (and no more), and even playtested their game a few times and made some revisions! The game looked pretty solid as well! Here's a breakdown of the 4 game ideas people came up with:

2 of them were based on the idea of Dinosaur Island - which was sort of the example we came up with as a group in the first session. The intent of the exercise wasn't really to design a Dinosaur Island game, but it worked out anyway. One of the Dino Island games was a roll and move, see what happens sort of affair. the other was a face paced hidden identity thing where you try and move your colored meeples off the island, or move Dinosaurs onto other colored meeples in order to eat them.

The third game was amusingly entitled "The best 4-12 years of your life" and was about the despair and frustration of scheduling college classes. There were 20 classes offered in total, on cards that were shuffled and placed into a schedule for the semester. Each player would choose classes in 4 of the 5 time blocks each round, and it was more difficult to get into classes when someone was already in there. Each higher level class had prerequisites of course, and you would have to take them in order. The player who took all of the appropriate classes first would graduate and win the game. I really liked the sound of this game idea, and could think of lots of different ways to approach it.

Finally, a father-son team made a game about couriers in perhaps Venice - there was a grid of rivers on the board, and players could use Bridges and Ferries to help them move around to pick up items which are in demand and deliver them. It seemed like a really solid game already!

This event went better than I'd hoped it would, and seemed to be very well liked all around! I was very pleased with all of the game design events at the con.

I also got to hang out with James Ernest a bit, which was fun. I did not however get into one of his demos of Lord$ of Vega$ which according to Tom Vasel is the best game of the year. I had been super excited about trying it ever since seeing a demo at Kublacon, and on Saturday night I finally played a game with Thomas and one of the Pulp Gamer guys. Sadly, for the length of the game and value of the decisions in it, I really thought you didn't have enough information to make informed decisions. in short, I can't argue too hard against people who complain of luck in the game. It's not ALL luck, but I do feel like there's too much luck of the draw for the length of the game and the depth it appears to be trying for. Or maybe the depth I was hoping it would be going for.

I think I may have given James the idea that in my mind, games have a specific definition, and that's the narrow scope of games that I like. I do recognize that games like Killer Bunnies and Flux exist, and that people play them to have fun and not to win - I'm just not interested in playing or designing those types of games. In fact, I do kind of think of those as more like a 'fun activity' than a 'game' - in my mind part of the definition of a game is that you can win, and the social contract involved in playing a game is that you're trying to win. I'm not saying that people should try to win rather than try to have fun - I don't think those should be mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I think they should be mutually INclusive - a game SHOULD be fun, or people won't want to play it, and a game should be played to win, by definition.

In any case, James recommended to me a book called Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. I haven't read the book in full, but that preview I just linked gave me a pretty good idea of what it's about - breaking down the common, narrow "definition" of what a "comic book" is and understanding how much more extensive the medium can be. It seems really interesting and neat and I might just pick up a copy and read it in full. Thanks for the referral, James! (I wonder if he ever reads this blog)


tomg said...

Understanding Comics is an awesomely helpful book on storytelling or just getting an idea across to an audience.
McCloud has a followup book too though I don't remember the name right now.

nolan said...

Seconding (thirding?) the Understanding Comics recommendation. I think it's canonical in many designers' eyes. I need to go back and read it again.