Disclaimer: It's been a long two weeks since the con with work and life and games, and I'm just now semi-recovering enough to do a writeup. Which means, memory is a little flaky. Forgive, please.
Honestly, I don't think I had breakfast at the hotel that day. I brought some cereal-granola mix and bought Almond Milk the day prior, and so had that. But, as far as hotels go, the Walnut Creek Marriott is pretty good as far as food and drink go. And there are a few spots very close by and many spots not quite as close.
Open gaming room and Citadels
The morning was spent catching up with Jerry (who was my roommate for this venture), doing some chit-chat with all the fine folks we were running into around the convention floors, and eventually hitting the open gaming room to fill in the time. We got sorted with registration around noon when they were opening the table, and that was a blessing, because closer to 2pm (when the first official games start) the line was somewhat lengthy.
This is the first year that Big Bad Con is doing a board game track, with board games on the actual schedule, and they also dedicated most tables in this open game room to pick up games. In fact, a whole table exists simply for donated games as Play-To-Win. Play the game, write your name on the card attached, and you qualify for the drawing to win the game at the end of the convention. Amazing.
Jerry and I had met up with our friend Tre who lives in the East bay, and I got a small crew going for Citadels (one of the two card games I brought along). It's a great little game, especially in that it handles 3-8 players pretty smoothly, so you can easily adjust for party game mode. We did a quick round, but were soon joined by many other lovely folks, including Matt from Sacramento (one of the folks I got to meet when I started an Indie RPG meetup there), and we had a good 7 player game going.
We didn't quite get to finish the game as 2pm was quickly arriving, and so we tied it all up, and everyone started to scramble to their games or otherwise. I didn't actually have a 2pm game originally, as the ones I wanted had filled, but this year they decided to keep online registration open all weekend long. They even had a few terminals at the registration desk just for folks to use in signing up for games (in case your phone made it difficult, although mine worked a treat). Earlier in the morning I had found an open slot for Blue Beard's Bride, and I took it. I similarly signed up for another game on Saturday morning, but more on that later.
Bluebeard's Bride (2pm-4pm)
Bluebeard's Bride is a game I helped KickStart, and has been on my play-wishlist for a long time coming. It plays similar to the old tale about Blue Beard, which (to steal from Wikipedia): "tells the story of a wealthy violent man in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of one wife to avoid the fate of her predecessors." Although it is somewhat given that you won't live at the end. Oh, also all the players play facets of the same character: the young bride: the Animus, the Fatale, the Mother, the Virgin, the Witch. If you are interested in the development of the game - which I found fascinating - there are a number of podcasts that interview any one of the three designers: Sarah Richardson, Marissa Kelly, or Whitney “Strix” Beltrán.
Although I hadn't played this before, I got to play Velvet Glove (a game about girl gangs in the '70s) with Sarah at Newmexicon this year, and found the experience fantastic, and times uncomfortable. Sign me up!
This game was run by April Padilla, who had played in my Fallout Shelter game a year prior, and so I was looking forward to gaming with her again. Walking into the room, the atmosphere was perfect. She had toned down the lights, had fake candles on the table, and a creepy doll and picture up on the wall.
It was myself and two other players, June and Ken. I played the Virgin: "You see beauty where there is none. Others seek comfort in your warmth and delight in your obedience."
As many Apocalypse World-based (PbtA) games, a lot of the setting and background, and specifically ways we relate to Bluebeard, are answered in various questions that we are individually asked. As an example, for the Virgin: "What do the Bride’s eyes look like?", "How do others know you want them when they gaze into your eyes?", and "When you first met, what loving gesture did Bluebeard make that won you over?"
There is also the Ring (and in this case, a physical ring that April had us use), which is passed from one player to another, which provides some control over the bride character in the story. I had heard that at first you want the ring, because I mean, who doesn't want to control the character. But during the story you get to a point where you find yourself trying to pawn it off to others more and more. I found this to be roughly the case.
One fascinating part of the game is that it starts just after the wedding, and with Bluebeard apologizing that he must go, leaving you to your own devices, and access to the mansion. The game is played by exploring rooms, and just trying to make sense of it all, and get through as unscathed as possible.
Normally the game is played with more of a 4-hour suggestion time, but we had 2. So in some sense it was an abbreviated session, and I know we skipped one or two mechanics, but damn did April make it fit right in that time frame. It was great becoming uncomfortable and watching the other players have similarly squirmy reactions, and how we were on the one hand capable in different ways, but as whole quite helpless in the larger picture of the game. A game I'd definitely play again, but also one I'd love to bring to the table. It's now available via PDF to backers, and on DriveThruRPG, but I also can't wait to receive the physical components that are part of the higher KickStarter tiers.
And from there I had to quickly ajourn to the next game...
Love Commander (4pm-6pm)
A little earlier I stumbled into Dev Purkayastha and Laura Simpson in the lift. They design games. Laura wrote Companion's Tale, a game I'm very interested in playing. I gushed a little in the elevator, and Laura even offered to try to fit in the game somewhere else during the weekend, but it wasn't to happen this time. But, I did get to play in Dev's game...
Love Commander is a timed, RPG card game. Honestly, I knew nothing about it going in, but the description grabbed me: A card-driven story-game where a human commander and a crew of aliens must unite to reveal secrets, earn trust, save the universe, and start an ill-considered romance – all in an hour.
Sounds cute. But after playing I think the best description was a quote from Tracy O'Brien's game that she tweeted: "Commander, I can't go on this mission, these pirates remind me of my homeworld's history of predatory lending practices!"
The whole game is premised around getting the one human captain to empathize with as many of their alien crew as possible (the more they empathize, the better you can help them on missions). But in the same way as Taboo, there are certain words or phrases you can't use. It's up to you to hint, and the captain to tease it out of you. Oh ya, and hopefully you can get them to fall in love with you, cause then it gets even better.
We first played in the rules-as-written, which allows everyone to talk at once, but then went on to experiment with a gentler and more structured form where only one person (as directed by the captain) could speak at one time. For a game with size (6 players + 1 captain) that worked a lot better. But, there is a time pressure that also must be dealt with.
Needless to say, I won't get into heavy details, but it was quite fun, had RPG elements, but you could play with non-gamers, and I'm definitely backing the shit out of this when it's ready.
From there I recall meeting up with Tre for dinner at the hotel lobby, and their little restaurant behind the bar. They have both buffet and entree options (similarly priced), and I decided to go buffet. They had nice grilled veggie and salad options included. Again, the food here is totally decent (unlike my home convention) so I was very happy. It was nice catching up, and honestly, that's a huge part of the draw of this convention, for me. Every in-between game segment is spent happily buzzing around, seeing friends I haven't met in a while, or even that I have. I get giddy with the happy, and the hugs are non-stop.
"You Don’t Look Like a Geek" Panel (8pm-9pm)
This was the first time I've made time for panels. Normally I prioritize games above all else, but I because I got into some games with strange timeframes, I made it a plan to attend at least one of these (I actually planned to attend about three of them, but got into some additional games last minute).
This panel had to do with not fitting the stereotype white-cishet-male geek look, and what-all that entails. Led by Kristine Hassell (a friend of mine from Seattle), it also included Jahmal “Mad Jay” Brown, Brie Sheldon, and Tanya C. DePass. It was a good panel, with some laughs and some not-laughs, and made me appreciate that panels is something I gotta get doing some more, when they're folks I respect.
I still haven't gotten to play with Jay, although we shared a few meals when I was out in Newmexicon earlier in the year. I also later got to be a fan-boy with Brie, as they're the author behind the Script Change Tool (my favorite, and the most comprehensive, of the system-neutral RPG safety mechanics). It's one of the mechanics I've included in my little social contract / safety mechanic cheat sheet (in standard paper and 3x5 formats). I had a printout so was happy to give them a copy in person! Didn't get to chat too much there, but we got to hang out a bit later in the con.
Big Bad Con has a tiered signup process, where you get to sign up for you highest 2 priority games first, then a week later another 2, and then the third week they open it up for everything else. This really allows people to get into at least a few things they are prioritizing. And speaking of priorities...
Tension was one of my first two signups. I had heard of this game from Alex Roberts' own Backstory Podcast, in the episode where she interviewed Epidiah Ravachol (the creator of the fabulous Dread horror RPG). This Tension actual play writeup by Sean Nittner is currently one of the better sources about the game that I've found.
I have heard the game jokingly called "Love Dread" (thanks, Andy), as it also involves a Jenga tower, but is a 2-player game that involves the rising tension of a relationship that two characters really shouldn't pursue, but do anyways.
Alex ran this as two 2-player sessions that ran simultaneously. She set up and facilitated the game, while the two couples in the room played.
Jerry and Shuo (a fellow player from Love Commander) played in one of those games. Their love story premise was amazing. She was a sentient pathogen virus from space that lost their original symbiotic hosts. He was a human with a terminal illness.
My partner and I went for a slightly less bizarro route. In our case he was the traitor Earthling coming to help liberate the Moonies from our Earth-bound oppressors. I was the domestic wife of the general of the Moon resistance. He was soldier tasked with helping us defeat his own people. A few scenes at a reception, a moon farm, and finally the midst of the battle. He saves my life during a blast and a cave in, and we admit our love for each other inadvertently. And are pulled out of the rubble as the Moon arises victorious... in the midst of celebration... and separated, never to requite our love.
The game consists of each player choosing a playbook: The Lead, and The Follow. The story goes back and forth via "moves". Doing things. However, if you want to speak in character as your move, you must touch the Jenga tower while you do so. (This makes speech very deliberate, and somewhat rare!) If you want to touch the other character or reveal a truth as your move, you pull a block (which you can do once / scene, for the most part). Oh ya, and the Lead generally does these things with intention, whereas the follow does these things accidentally.
The pace of the game and the deliberateness of it is delicious. There were so many sweet, and nerve-racking moments in this game. It captured falling in love as I've never seen in a game, and so quickly and succinctly. There were a few moments when I came near to tears. I'd play this again in a heartbeat, and can't wait for it to be ready.
[EDIT: Looks like it's been announced on the Bully Pulpit Games website, and I'm listed as giving Advance Praise! *blush*]
Walking away from this game, Jerry and I both felt down that the weekend was already so far gone... and then we realized it's not! It was only Friday night. We spent some more time chatting with friends, and then to sleep late in the night.