Strategicon Gateway 2017 Recap

OK, so normally I go into probably way too much depth in my con recaps. But I've been lazy about this stuff, and so I'm letting y'all off the hook...

Thursday evening

Headed over to the west-side for my traditional pre-con sleepover. Because friends Howie and Lisa now have little Bei-Hai, they were a little busy with the night routines, so I went to meetup some friends of the Happy Jacks persuasion over in El Segundo.

Gateway2017_01_HJDrinks.jpg

Played a little Monopoly Deal with Howie and Lisa late in the night (they've learned to optimize the game, but I still kicked some ass), and got to teach little Bei Hai a little gaming as well prior to the next day's con-going.

Gateway2017_01_BeiHai.JPG

Friday 2pm: The Sprawl with Hamish Cameron

This was probably my first time starting the con by not running a game in over 3 years. I was pretty stoked to get into Hamish's The Sprawl. He used to be a con regular when he lived in the LA area, but now is on the other coast. He also authored The Sprawl, a PbtA game about mission-based cyberpunk, and specifically this was a hack that it made it a little more Shadowrun-ish (i.e. cyberpunk + magic).

We started by defining some corporations, and had an interesting spread of characters. One aspect I was looking forward to was seeing the gathering of abstract resources (like "intel" and "gear") in preparation, and then watching it play out during the mission itself. All-in-all I had a great time by the end the game seemed within my grasps for running in the future. 

Friday 8pm: Mad Max Fury Road Dread

I had 5 players, including Morgan (who originally suggested that I run the thing). I was surprised by how many players had not seen Mad Max Fury Road, and in some cases, had not seen any Mad Max movies.

Each player had 2 characters, and they ended up being a band of bandits, looking to capture a trade convoy from the Algae farms. Mostly the game did what it was supposed to, audio blazing, and Jenga tower falling about 4 times.

I failed in the following ways (for future improvements):

  • I should've let the audio play as is, and allowed for more downtime. Instead I often replayed heavy-action tracks because I felt the action of a situation wasn't yet resolved, however that also meant the action dragged out a little too long and it became exhausting for both myself and some players.
  • Tone conversation: We should've had one. At least one player was making suggestions that weren't really in the tone of the game, partly due to unfamiliarity with the franchise. That's not always an issue, but at least some players were there to play Mad Max Fury Road in tone. We did get on track so it wasn't too dramatic.

Saturday 9am: GoD - Tales from the Loop

First off, it was great that I did a little sweep upstairs, as I found Hamish about to start a shceduled Dungeon World game, but only had 1 player show. I invited him down to Games on Demand, and we were able to get their table joined by a family of 3 (including a young girl), and so he had a good Dungeon World session run.

 Hamish's Dungeon World table

Hamish's Dungeon World table

This is the first Strategicon Games on Demand session I've managed where I didn't have to run a game: Achievement unlocked! Enough GMs were there and the right amount of players... so I go to enjoy a game of Tales from the Loop, run by Bill Carter.

Bill had just run it at Gen Con a few weeks prior, and it was a cool little game. The setting is an alternate Earth roughly in the '80s, but with weird sci-fi transportation, robot mechs, and so forth. We are a scrappy group of kids dealing with strangeness (a la ET or Stranger Things), and in our case, were dealing with rogue robots, and someone trying to murder our little gang to prevent happenings in The Future.

Bill's had a great familiarity with the actual real-life city we were set in (I forgot which one, but you know... one of those New Mexico / Arizona cities with large gov't contractors). I wasn't super impressed with the system. I mean, it works and does what its supposed to do, but I'd almost prefer a PbtA system that's been tweaked to fit this narrative style. That said, the premise of the game is great (both familiar with common '80s touchstones, and strange with unusual otherworldly tweaks), and the art itself is absolutely gorgeous.

 Tales from the Loop

Tales from the Loop

Separate from Games on Demand, there were some other hijinx going on... CA Dave and Hosier Rob were running a game (in a series of old shitty RPG systems) of: Dallas. As always, looked like a romp. They talk about it in the Happy Jacks podcast further down, if you are interested in that mayhem.

 Dallas RPG; in the board room, of course.

Dallas RPG; in the board room, of course.

Saturday 2pm: GoD - Dungeon World

In the next GoD session we had games such as Dirty Secrets.

My table included some returning friends from last con's GoD, and some newbies (2 who play D&D regularly and one who doesn't even do that). Everyone was interested in Dungeon World, and I love me some DW. I ran my little one-shot scenario I've come to call The Scrimshaw Pass, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. As always, I'm impressed with how easy it is to spotlight 5 players so consistently and regularly in the game. It really felt like everyone contributed immensely to the story. I could see in their reactions how they appreciated how the Dungeon World bonds mechanic really tied them all up in positive and negative ways prior to session start.

One of my favorite things about this session was that one of the players got to play a Bard - a character class she is not allowed to play in her home game - and how she made such great use of her. By the end we had a really cohesive party, and the round of epilogues tied it all up in a neat package. This was one of my favorite sessions of the game convention.

 Me peaking for the selfie with the group, and some drawrings from the crowd.

Me peaking for the selfie with the group, and some drawrings from the crowd.

Simulaneously some other GoD games were running, and overall it just felt like another success... happy GMs and happy players. The below set of portraits was from one of the players of Hillfolk, run by Wade Rocket!

 Groovy portraits from one of the Games on Demand

Groovy portraits from one of the Games on Demand

Saturday 8pm: Happy Jacks RPG Podcast

With my new powers in managing and scheduling Games on Demand, I was now able to push my Saturday night gaming later (the new "late night" GoD session started at 10pm), which means I could enjoy the live recording of the podcast! And so I did, hanging out with many friends, and digging the show. You'll find me in there somewhere around the 0:43 minute mark.

Saturday 10pm: GoD Late Night Edition - Psi*Run

For the late night session we had a decent turnout. I kicked off one crew of 5 running Forget-Me-Not (which is a GMless game), and they were pretty independent for the entire session (and were laughing out loud quite regularly as well!) Morgan ran some Inspecters, and we had a 3rd table which I can't remember...

I got to play again, and this time in Psi*Run, a game designed by Meguey Baker. The game is summarized pretty handily: "They took your life. You got away. They want you back. Run!" You wake up without memories, but with special powers, and someone or somethings are after you. A favorite part of the system is that you get to define four questions that can be answered about your character, however it may be your play-mates who get to answer them.

The four of us players had a wide array of characters, from 8 years old child to an old grandpa, and powers that included having the ability to connect to wifi, or having the entirety of wikipedia in their head. The game itself had many sweet interpersonal moments, but also exuded the feel of a the chase, as if you were replicants in Blade Runner, or a bit of Logan's Run. Like many fairly loose story games with simple structures, it started out somewhat vague and wandering, but by the end the story took on a cohesive quality that was great to observe. Great GM and fun group of players, and it was really cool to see the system in action.

Chris, one of the players, even mentioned that he's surprised that this system hasn't spawned a bunch of hacks in the same way that Apocalypse World has, and I can see how this system could do so. The mechanics definitely help lead the narrative in a manner that's not dissimilar to how PbtA games lead a narrative with player moves, playbooks, and GM agendas and principles.

I love the way the mechanics worked, where you decided things like whether or not you were using your Psi powers, or whether you were risking harm, and these would provide extra dice. How you spent those dice was up to you, but they had to go into the various categories on the sheet... which meant you would decide which things you succeeded or failed at depending on how good your rolls were. This gave you some limited control over the narrative by getting to answer certain questions, but gave the GM or other players the ability to control some aspects of the narrative. Very interesting mechanics.

 The Psi*Run risk sheet

The Psi*Run risk sheet

Sunday morning

Slept in, had a breakfast, wandered for a bit, and then went to get the daughter. Coming back to the con, we hit the dealer room, and did the paint-and-take, a popular option for kids and adults.

 The Paint-and-Take involves getting a free miniature, and access to paints and brushes. Gretchen in the background with the assists!

The Paint-and-Take involves getting a free miniature, and access to paints and brushes. Gretchen in the background with the assists!

Sunday 2pm: GoD - Kids' Edition

I have run games as "Kids only" and "Family Friendly" (two categories available at Strategicon) many times in the past, and have started to do so on the Sunday afternoons, so as my daughter can play in the game with other kids. Examples in the past being my Lego-based Fallout Shelter game, as well as Golden Sky Stories.

Being "in charge" of Games on Demand, I decided this time around to schedule a Kids' Edition. I was contacted by various GMs ahead of time, some with their own kids, who were interested in running, so I knew I'd have at least a bit of support as well, and had no idea how many kids would actually show up. As it turned out, we got a good dozen takers.

There were 3 teens who showed up, Charlie and Kurt (who I know from prior gaming and previous Strategicons) as well as Jason, a con newbie. I'm especially proud of the results here, because these 3 decided to play The Quiet Year (one had played once before), and because I was called to duty to GM another table, they ended up running it pretty much on their own. I kickstarted them, but hearing their laughter and enjoyment from a distant, and having them see that they could run a gaming table without adults, was golden for me.

The rest of the kids got split into three separate tables: A game of Hero Kids run by Bill, a game of Goobles and Goblins (main website might be down?) by Ryan, and a game of The Warren (specifically Apocalypse Warren) run by my own self. In at least one case two adults joined the kids. In all cases I asked, at each table at game end, if the kids think we should do this again, and got a resounding "YEAH!" each time.

 Games on Demand: Kids Edition!

Games on Demand: Kids Edition!

Many of the kids appeared to get along well, and so some friendships were forged. After Games on Demand for kids, we hung out with a few of these little rapscallions, including playing a bit of Lotus and some other games from the Game Library.

Sunday evening: Werewolf with Kids (x2)

The daughter was hardcore looking forward to Werewolf at night. Last convention she passed out in the late evening and I couldn't wake her up for this traditional convention night game. She woke up in the morning furious at herself (and me) for missing it. She wasn't going to let that happen again.

Werewolf is a game about covert enemies in our midst, and trying to route them out (similar to games such as Mafia). The game convention has upwards of 30 people in one room playing such games, and generally late at night.

Turns out some of our previous friends from Games on Demand: Kids Edition were ready to play. Now, we're talking about 28 people in a room playing Werewolf. This game took 3 hours, and ended past midnight.

 Voting for some death

Voting for some death

 The kids (foreground) realizing Ann Marie was suspicious, and voting to take her out! (Yes, she was a werewolf.)

The kids (foreground) realizing Ann Marie was suspicious, and voting to take her out! (Yes, she was a werewolf.)

You'd think these little 8 or 9 year olds would be ready to sleep at that point. But no. Most of us got convinced by the kids, and dived into another game. Now, I was able to get out of the first one, but the daughter convinced me to play in the second. And yes, that one ended around 3:30am. I was impressed for two reasons: 1. the daughter made it through without passing out, and even payed attention until the very end. 2. I got to say an amazing power play where one of the werewolves pretended to be a Seer and everyone (myself included) bought it long enough to get rid of a whole heap of villagers. It was beautiful to behold, and I can see the attraction of the late-night Werewolf game.

Monday

The rest of Monday involved waking up relatively late, getting some breakfast from the upstairs lounge, and playing our LARP: Search for the Missing Crap. The daughter found a few dice, and otherwise did a circuit of the convention, and chatted up a few folks.

I ran into friend Andrew (aka lowkeyoh from the Happy Jacks forum) and he and the daughter played a few rounds at the computer game room, including some rounds of Mario Kart (something I'm not really acquainted with).

 Mario Kart action in the little video game room.

Mario Kart action in the little video game room.

The final thing we did is watched a bit of the game auction, an entertaining little event that occurs on the Mondays. From there, we headed out and home.

 Until next time!

Until next time!