Lead up, and Thursday
I headed to the west side a day early to hang with old friends. A nice dinner at the new Sunnin Lebanese restaurant over in Santa Monica, and then off to visit Howie and Lisa, my traditional pre-con haunt. They recently had a son, who is now at the 5 months old mark, so daddy Howie wasn't coming to this con. But we got to see our friend Albert, visiting in the country, and play a game of Tigris and Euphrates!
After an early bedtime at 1:30am (seriously, pre-baby these guys would keep me up until 3 or 4am), I got to hang out with little Bei, prior to the drive to the con.
This was the most relaxed I've ever been coming to this con. Why? No sign-up to do. Normally they let people pre-register for games up to the half-full mark, then allow in-person sign-ups (first come first serve) for the second half of the players. But this time around I was running a few games and just managing Games on Demand for the rest of con. Check in, said hi to some folks, and then...
Friday 2pm: Fallout Shelter (Lego and PbtA hack)
This was the lego-based game I ran many times in 2016, and a few times this year. I pulled it out for this convention, with a few planned tweaks. I had a great table which included Keith and Emily (who played in my Star Frontiers game back at Orccon this year) and their friend Steven, who I've met but not really gamed with before.
One of the main things I changed about this setup was I tried to abbreviate the wasteland journey a little, to provide for more vault time (although I left enough so we had some narrative elements there, including a rad scorpion attack). The poor little vault dwellers took so little food with them, and the wasteland orphan even decided to bring power instead of water, so I knew that aspect would be - ahem - entertaining. They arrive at the vault on death's door, which added that extra little element of tension.
Another twist in this session was them getting captured at the vault door (instead of it hanging open, as I've done many times in the past), and having them wake up in the vault's depths. I wanted to try this method, as this would force them to explore more in-vault and require them to have an exit strategy. I didn't otherwise have much planned, so we just went with some vault dwellers performing experiments on unwilling subjects to turn them into ghouls, and an assistant in the form of Mister Handy.
One thing I had planned on doing was use a real-time countdown for resource use instead of a clock that I had to trigger myself. Some player feedback included that I was inconsistent about moving it and using it with players, and that's totally fair... I think the real-time clock would eliminate some of that issue.
Friday 8pm: Games on Demand and Feng Shui 2
Friday night I planned to kick-off an initial RPG Games on Demand session. We've been expanding the number of these the last few Strategicons, and this con I was planning on having about 5 or so slots worth.
Ira pitched a few different things including Feng Shui 2 (a new version of a game meant to emulate Hong Kong action cinema). I pitched Atlas Reckoning (a Pacific Rim style story game). There was interest in both, but Feng Shui won out, and I joined in that game.
We did a "tower of death" type scenario, where the story would revolve around us going up a protected tower, getting something important, getting out. As far as the game system itself, it's not for me: Too crunchy mechanics which slow down the play and at times forced some players to sit out of the action due to how the shot clock worked. The parts I enjoyed the most was the collaborative world building around the characters, but most of that had nothing to do with the system, and everything to do with Ira, who has experience with that from PbtA and other games.
Friday midnight: Exit - The Abandoned Cabin
My roommate and fellow GoD muscle, Bob, came over towards the end of that game, after getting out of his scheduled game. We then went wandering and ran into Keith, Emily, and Steve from my Fallout game, and friend Tobie who was visiting all the way from the Philippines (to play, as well as showcase one of his games as a convention "guest of honor"). Keith had a little escape room in a box called Exit - The Abandoned Cabin. He said he heard really good things about this particular version (even though he'd played another one which was somewhat lackluster).
We found an empty room, and dug into it, and it was a bit of a blast. I expected some big ol' box, but it was tiny, which was initially disappointing. I mean, how can you fit an escape room is such a small package. We ripped it open and found a few decks of cards, a pamphlet rulebook / story description, and a few items like a color/clue-wheel.
You have a 2 hour time limit, although score best when you minimize your time. Turned out it was totally worth the time, and the puzzles definitely gave the same feels of an escape room (I've done about 3 of them in the past). It helps to have a crew, as often you just need a different view point to get a specific clue. There are some components that get "destroyed" during the game (cards get ripped, etc.) so this is meant to be a one-shot. This may be difficult for some to imagine, as the box costs $15, and that seems expensive for a one-shot... however, an escape room will easily run $30, $40 or more per person for a 1-hour experience, and here you are paying about $3 / person for a 1-2 hour experience (admittedly without the full escape room 3-D experience, but still). It's smart marketing, if nothing else, and I have no regrets (especially cause Keith paid for it!)
We did it in just under 53 minutes, but most of all, we all played very collaboratively and it just felt like everyone had their contributions to the game. The narrative itself was somewhat weak, but the sequence of clues was great.
Additionally, it was really interesting to see how the card mechanics worked to lead you through a greater meta-puzzle, and how it was built to mostly prevent you from getting lost and from cheating (which would've been VERY difficult due to the safeties they put in place).