Wings of Glory World War 1 at Origins: A Newbie Wrecks Havok

2019 was my third Origins so I decided play something utterly different – miniatures. I’ve read after-action reports from Wings of Glory games and thought the WW1 aircraft would be a good place to start miniature combat because there are few units and the planes move slowly and are not very maneuverable. Ares sponsored multiple Wings of Glory and Wings of War scenarios, so I checked to see which ones welcomed beginners and signed up for two. My first 2019 Origins game was Wings of Glory on Wednesday Noon.

The first scenario was a fourteen-plane fight early war fight in the English Channel over a British Destroyer with engine problems stranded close to the French Coast. Seven German planes were attempting to sink the destroyer with seven allied planes flying in defense. Unfortunately for the Germans, the destroyer had multiple machine guns and honestly did more damage than the aerial defenders. The game was simplified with all planes flying the same altitude with no climbing or diving.Destroyer Engines Damaged

Twelve of the fourteen pilots (players) were experienced to very experienced.

There were two noobies at the table. The coordinator ran the guns of the destroyer. I flew a Sopwith Camel – the first single seater bi-plane fighter flown by the British – aka the “Snoopy plane.” The Camel is very sturdy, but has difficulty turning left due to engine design.My Camel

The coordinator gave a very brief overview of the rules. The rules were you pick three flight cards before the start of a turn; you cannot play two diamond cards in a row; no altitude changes; stay on the map; and if you are shot down you stay out one turn before reentering battle. The experienced players were eager to help the newbies.
A huge fight ensued. Furball 2Straifing run11 of 14 planesDefending Damaged Ship

I decided a couple of things before deciding on my first three cards. First, I would not embarrass myself by flying off the map. Second, I would intentionally move slowly the first turn so I would not crash into my fellow British pilots. Third, after the first move or two I would pick targets and try to shoot them down. This was not the most daring strategy, but it avoids irritating others and allows me to see how the game mechanics worked before the battle became intense.

The Germans homed in on the Destroyer – except for the newbie who kept flying erratically in the middle of the formation. My fellow Brits went full power to intercept. When the Germans got in range the ship’s machine guns opened fire to devastating effect as they targeted every German plane in their firing arc.

After the first two moves I was about a half a turn (say 2 cards worth) flight time behind the British leaders. At this point I started to plot what I thought the closer opposing Germans would do and attempted to counter-move so their planes would enter my firing arc – hopefully while staying out of their firing arc. There is a lot of chaos (and guesswork) in a fourteen plane battle.

I’m a pretty good low stakes poker player. I was more flying in opposition to my chosen opponents than attempting to create action on my own. Perhaps it was blind newbie luck, perhaps it was my poker skill, perhaps everyone else discounted me as a newbie – but I landed more shots than almost everyone on the British side (excepting the destroyer) and downed two German aircraft without getting shot down. A good part of this was luck because my total of 7 landed shots included a “boom card” and a “pilot shot” card both becoming kills. Kills were signified by awarding a green poker chip while being shot down acquired the dread red poker chip. Nailing a GermanKill 1

The coordinator declared three winners and I landed in the top three. I was given a $5 coupon for Ares merchandise – which I gave to a fellow wargamer back at the Armchair Dragoons booth.

Sunday Afternoon – Late in the War my 2nd Battle
The second scenario was placed in 1918. Two British Bombers are being intercepted by five German planes. The Bombers are escorted by five British planes. The Bombers were flown by the coordinator. In this battle everyone started at level 3 and there was a hard ceiling at level 4. Planes could climb and dive. Every single pilot in the air, except me, was experienced.British Bombers

This time I was flying with the Germans in a Schuckert D III which is both faster and far more maneuverable than early war planes. As a newbie, I decided I would stay at the same level as the bombers (level 3) and not climb or dive. Once again, I initially flew slowly to see how the battle developed. Schuckert DIII

What happened next was every German plane excepting mine flew into close proximity of the bombers and concentrating their fire. The British defenders also swarmed around the bombers, except for two planes attempting a longer range intercept. I realized that the furball around those bombers was very tight, that I did not really know how to fly this plane, and that if I quickly closed on the bombers I was likely to collide with something.

So, I went after enemy planes instead of the primary target of the Bombers. My fellow German pilots poured massive fire into the bombers and eventually shot one down. I was the only pilot who never even fired a shot at the bombers.

I went after the Brits using my previous strategy of thinking through what I thought they would do and playing my cards appropriately. I got on the tail of one Brit and poured a total of 5 hits on them eventually shooting them down. My second target took six hits (three close range shots) and fell. By this time, I was so far away from the rest of the action that I never closed within range again. My first killMy second kill

Dumb luck again? Natural talent? I have no idea. I did get one “boom” card, but that was on the fifth hit. The other plane went down after a swarm of hits from myself and a fellow pilot. I once again got two kills with no losses and was awarded another $5 off – which I gave to another German pilot. Two Kills!

Back at the Aerodrome
This was a lot of fun! Having a bunch of planes in the air is manageable with this very quick flight and combat resolution system – at least if a supra-majority of the pilots are experienced. Both scenarios were scheduled for two hours and ended a hair early. The other players could not be more welcoming to a newbie pilot. The battlefields were very memorable with the miniature planes and the ship. Both scenarios were stacked against the Germans because the destroyer or the bombers gave additional fire against the Germans – but everyone seemed to have a good time and thanked the organizer. Ares provided enough prize support that winners felt a sense of accomplishment (although I gave my two coupons away).

Wings of Glory is an excellent Convention game. Large scale, memorable battles can be fought in a short time.

However, there are two improvements that could be made for newbie players. First, the organizers should have a short rules synopsis printed out on 3×5 index cards for newbies. Wings of Glory and Wings of War put their full rules set online in pdf form – so having a short rules summary for newbies would not run into copyright problems.

Second, card design contains a simple, correctable flaw. An Immelmann turn is a vital maneuver in aerial combat generally and in the Wings of Glory game specifically. An Immelmann reverses the direction of flight over a single card. The card signifying a straight ahead move and an Immelmann card are almost indistinguishable – if a newbie player gets their cards shuffled together incorrectly in the heat of battle.

The cards should print something legible – the flight in a different color; having a “reverse direction” printed on the card; or something else to prevent the wrong card from being played. The diamond on the bottom of the card indicating a special maneuver which cannot be played twice in a row is clear – the Immelmann was not to an utter newbie who got their cards turned around.

To my embarrassment, my next to last move in the second game (3rd card in sequence in my next to last turn) was an accidental Immelmann instead of the full power straight ahead move. This happened because I shuffled the card in upside down into my flight deck. It made no difference in the outcome. At that point I was very far away from the other planes. I also misjudged the turning rate of the bombers and never got close for a shot on them – a mistake due to my inexperience and lack of knowledge. I am a noob and I totally misjudged the speed of a bomber turn.

If nothing else, the suggested 3×5 card should give newbies a warning to be sure that their cards are all sorted so the bottom of the card has the correct flight indication. Don’t get your cards turned around in the heat of battle!

This was first published at http://www.armchairdragoons.com https://www.armchairdragoons.com/feature/origins-2019-wings-of-glory-world-war-1-at-origins/

 

Silent Night – Martian Night

“December 25th, 1914. In the sleepy town of Grovers Mill the 6th Infantry is celebrating Christmas when suddenly the peaceful night is shattered; Martian Tripods have broken through the front lines!” described this Origins session. That sounds different. This Origins I decided to play miniatures for the first time. Silent Night, Martian Night was pick #2 when I built my Origins schedule.6 - scout walker

I knew nothing about the game, the game world, or miniatures play. But it sounded weird and potentially fun.

Jim Beegan and Adrian John built a huge, destructible battle-map diorama based on the All Quiet on the Martian Front miniature system. As you can see, the layout was gorgeous. Premade “lit smoke plumes” marked destroyed buildings or destroyed Martian walkers.7 - Buring Buildings End of Turn 1

We played a three versus three matchup. Each Martian players ran a big walker, a scout walker, and three drones. I played one group of Martians. The other three divided up the troops of the 6th Infantry with heavy tank reinforcements.

All Quiet on the Martian Front is an alternative WW1 with Earth invaded by Martians. Ground troops wear breathing protection and rudimentary body armor. Tanks are far advanced from historical 1914.3 - Walkers in the Hills

As you can see, the playfield was massive. Jim and Adrian went to a huge amount of work to build the play field plus considerable trouble to transport it to Origins.

The rules were simple. Martians got points for blowing up buildings and killing civilians. If the Martian players failed to obtain 55 points they lost. The human players attempted to evacuate civilians while delaying the Martian advance. To complicate matters, a river crosses the playfield. A single bridge can be blown, greatly slowing Martian movement.

Players had reference with movement rates, types of fire, range of fire, armor and attack die. The Martians had area effect fire beams and even more powerful direct fire shots. But Martians could fire a very small number of shots per turn. Humans had swarms of units, an amazing total fire rate, but each shot was relatively weak.10 - Martian Walker goes Boom!

I knew nothing about this game specifically or miniature combat generally, but Jim and Adrian made it easy to play. Two players had played using these rules, everyone else were newbies.14 - Jim and Adrian

Jim and Adrian put in an amazing amount of work build and transport the playfield. Rules were communicated clearly, and they helped with the logistics of moving the horde of civilians fleeing the Martian onslaught. Everyone had a good time and I took more pictures of this event than any other I played at Origins.

However, the Martians lost and probably never had a chance at victory. Martians cannot come within an inch of any revealed human unit and lack overrun. With the fire rate and armor class, competent human players can block the relatively narrow roads by sacrificing troops for time in this six-turn game. The Martians had to cross the river to kill enough civilians (or blow up enough buildings) to score the 55 points needed for victory – and terrain choke points made that almost impossible.12 - Civilians Herded to the Train

But play balance is the easiest thing to fix in any game. A boring game system, incoherent rules, or a bad game design are much harder to overcome. An adjustment of the score needed to win, providing some level of points for torching (literally!) human military units, allowing overrun attacks by the Martian Walkers (even if this was just a pass-through movement with a free shot by immediate defenders) could all lead to better play balance. Hot dice rolls by the humans (they won initiative the first four turns and blew the bridge on the first attempt) helped, but with minimal tactical skill a human player should block enough choke points to evacuate most of the civilians and achieve victory.

This was fun! I’m glad I played. And my description and photos undersells the visual wonder Jim and Adrian brought to Origins.

This originally appeared at Armchair Dragoons: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/feature/origins-2019-silent-night-martian-night-a-unique-play-experience/

Origins Game Fair 2019 – My Experience with 10 Organizations

Origins Game Fair 2019 was a lot of fun. I arrived at 8:00am on Wednesday and helped set up Rogue Cthulhu. My gaming started at Wednesday, Noon and continued through Sunday afternoon. My gaming experience touched heavily to lightly on ten organizations. This reviews my experience with the ten organizations, not the games themselves. I ran one session and played in thirteen sessions. Most of my Origins experience is as a player.

Organizations run a substantial, if not a supra-majority of the 7,000+ Origins events. Organizations propose sessions to Origins with Origins determining the overall schedule and assigning session numbers to the submitted events. Origins also handles individual registration, handing out free passes and even hotel rooms to some event organizers, plus selling dealer space and individual memberships. I’m sure much more goes on behind the scenes but I’m only writing about my direct experience.

Origins – GAMA is the trade organization running Origins. Origins was so ill-managed over the last two years that I wrote GAMA Board Members requesting firing everyone associated with high level Origins decisions and those responsible for online event registration. In the past two years event registration was a literal nightmare which never functioned properly until days after registration opened. Event locations ran out of water, trash bins often overflowed, and the Con was poorly run. In 2018 Origins had an inexcusable debacle with author Larry Correia. GAMA did not renew executive director John Ward’s contract, fired others, and hired replacements.

From a participant’s standpoint Origins was much better run this year. Website information was better. Origins staff responded to questions on web forums. Online registration worked smoothly. On-site registration was moved so registration lines stopped blocking doors to event halls. Convention bathrooms were much cleaner, trash was picked up, water dispensers were refilled, and table covers were provided so players did not pick splinters. Random discussions about Origins experiences during events supplied additional evidence that for many, Origins ran much better run this year. Overall Grade: B+/A Origins-2017-Goodman-Games

Columbus Convention Center/Hyatt Hotel – I’m unsure if the responsibility for convention amenities is on the Columbus Convention Center or Origins. As mentioned above, the Convention Center itself was a much better environment this year.
The convention center melds with the Hyatt Regency and some of the facilities are seemingly the responsibility of the Hyatt. Unfortunately, the Hyatt restroom facilities became increasingly toxic as the week progressed. Please clean up your act next year. Grade: B+/A for Convention Center, D- for Hyatt. Columbus Convention Center

Rogue Cthulhu/Chaosium – Rogue Cthulhu ran a massive schedule of Call of Cthulhu events and provided the space to run Runequest. Some events were modules provided by Chaosium, others were homebrew events written by individual game masters, yet others were previously published scenarios ran at the convention. Chaosium provided substantial prize support to Rogue Cthulhu. At every event the individual voted best player at the table chose an item off the prize table. Every session participant was entered into a raffle for large prizes. Individual prizes were published Chaosium adventures or collections of Call of Cthulhu short stories with retail prices running up to $35 an item.

Rogue Cthulhu was very well organized. They had a central information table, a display showing which tables were running which event, had an organized system for integrating individuals with generic tokens into games with empty slots (usually no-shows), with a seated waiting area for generics and those waiting for a game. Rogue Cthulhu has large physical props to set the mood. If a game session was canceled, those holding tickets for that event were seated first in alternate events.

The judges were on time with pregenerated characters for my two sessions. Every judge had a printed (or electronic) copy of the scenario. Every gaming table had a power strip for keepers using laptops or tablets which allowed players to recharge their devices. Everything including prize tables and information booth were set up and ready to go before the first gaming session on Wednesday.

From a game master’s perspective Rogue Cthulhu was very easy to work with. Judges running homebrew scenarios submitted the scenario in advance for quality control screening. Those running a Chaosium supplied scenario got pdfs including pregen characters more than two months before Origins. A backup copy of each Chaosium scenario was held by the organizers. Rogue ran ticket collection, raffle tickets, and participant seating smoothly from a Judges perspective. Last, Rogue provided a checklist for judges on core Call of Cthulhu rules, materials provided by Rogue, and keeper guidelines. Overall Grade: A+Rogue Cthulhu

Rogue Judges – Rogue Judges ran a massive and eclectic schedule of tabletop board games. Games ranged from simple to moderately complex. The variety of games Rogue Judges ran was staggering and they had a large gaming hall space. I played Scythe and the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game with Rogue. Each of my games had six participants.

Rogue Judges had an information table which also held games not being run currently. My Rogue Judges were on time with game boards fully set up before players arrived. One Judge ran two game sessions for each of my Rogue Judge events. Each judge knew the game, could interpret and explain the rules, and made fast decisions instead of dithering or being indecisive.

The Dresden Files game is a simple tabletop game. None of the six players had played the game before. Our coordinator provided a good game overview, a good rules discussion, and was readily available to answer questions. My session was professionally run and he oversaw two concurrent game sessions without problems.

Scythe is far more complex than The Dresden Files. Two of the six players had Scythe experience and those players helped the inexperienced interpret the rules. The game board was set up and resource pieces were in hand and organized. The judge quickly answered questions, including a couple of moderately difficult questions during game play. The Scythe games ran much slower than The Dresden Files, but this is to be expected given the differences in game complexity.

Overall, Rogue Judges provided a highly enjoyable game experience. The only obvious improvement would be having a prize table for participants, but that would require securing manufacturer support by Rogue Judges and as an outsider I’m unable to judge the feasibility of this. Given Rogue Judges professionalism, providing products for player prizes seems an inexpensive way to generate player enthusiasm for your game. Overall Grade: A.

Steve Jackson Games – I played the 2018 Illumanti game. Steve Jackson Games had an information table and quickly directed me to my game table. The game was set up and ready to play. Our judge arrived on time and gave a quick and accurate game synopsis. The judge oversaw only our session. All players had played earlier editions of Illumanti, but nobody had played the game in the last decade. No player was familiar with the rules.

Our judge started the session by giving each player a card which could be integrated into the game if owned or purchased. Our judge knew the rules, assisted in game play, and made quick decisions on game questions. The game session was too short to complete the game, but long enough to familiarize everyone with the rules and game play. Overall Grade: A.

Goodman Games – I played three sessions of Dungeon Crawl Classics. Two rounds in the tournament plus a homebrew game. Tournament judges were very familiar with the scenario, pregens were provided, and the scoring system was clear to the judges with key elements (but not details) given to players.

I played two of the three tournament rounds with my group knocking itself out in the semi-finals due to a dumb player decision. The judges kept everything moving and were careful not to provide suggested courses of action. Both tournament judges had run the tourney previously and it ran like clockwork. This was essential because the number of completed rooms was a key part of a groups score.

The homebrew game also started on time with pregens. The game keeper was knowledgeable but was a little slower in making decisions – but this was not a problem because it was not a tournament. Only three of six players showed up, but the judge quickly adapted, and play progressed smoothly. Every player got a Dungeon Crawl Classics bookmark for participating.

My three Goodman Game sessions were very enjoyable, but the organization was somewhat poorer than Rogue Cthulhu, Rogue Judges or Steve Jackson Games. There was no information table or designated individual to greet players and get them to the right table. The tournament judges could not clearly explain the prize structure. Nothing was given to players participating in the tournament – which is inexcusable given Goodman Games normal loot package for convention game players (I’ve played at many Goodman Games events at Cons and the lack of player loot was an oversight by someone given company support to judges). Don’t get me wrong, by now I have almost all common player loot and turned down another bookmark. But the other players would have appreciated the gesture. Overall: Grade: B. Would absolutely play in their events but small details were poorly executed. 

Goodman Games

Ares – I played two large Wings of Glory WW1 games. The first game had 14 planes in the air in a seven on seven dogfight. That game had twelve experienced players and two newbies. The second game had ten players and I was the only newbie. In addition to being utterly unfamiliar with Wings of Glory, I had also never played a miniature wargame.

The game was set up and ready to run before the players arrived. The judge was familiar with the rules and made quick decisions on rules questions or firing arcs (very important in an aircraft miniature game). Most players were very familiar with the game and eagerly assisted newbies.

Players shot down during combat restarted after a one turn delay. Both games ran long enough that a meaningful, but simple score could be assessed. The first game ran under simplified rules with everyone flying the same altitude and the second game allowed altitude changes. Prizes ($5 off coupons on Ares merchandise) were given to the winners with three players designated winners in each game. In a weird stroke of beginners’ luck, I was a winner in both games, but I gave my coupons to others who play Ares games.
Wings of Glory is a deceptively simple game. Both players and game masters were eager to help newbies and were forgiving of rookie mistakes (I played an Immelmann card when I meant to go straight ahead in game 2 which was highly embarrassing). The games ran efficiently, and players had a good time.

However, Ares could make a simple improvement to help newbies. If a rules reference card with core rules plus a warning to keep your cards organized so you can discern between an Immelmann (which reverses direction) and a straight move would be helpful. I got the “no two diamond cards in a row” rule without problems, but another rookie kept messing that one up. Every other game I played at Origins had a copy of the rules and/or a rules reference card. I’m guessing that Ares convention games are predominantly played by experienced players so simple ways to help newbies was overlooked. Ares has pdf downloads of the full rules on their website – so providing a rules reference for newbies would not cost them money. Overall Grade: A for experienced players and B for Newbies.

wings-of-glory

Jasco Games – I played Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game at the Jasco area. Jasco had a large presence at Origins selling the Buffyverse games (Buffy; Buffy Expansion; Angel) and coordinated appearances by second tier stars of the TV series. Sales, game demos, and star appearances (costing $40 for a signed photo or selfie with few takers) were all in the same large area.

Buffy was set up and ready to go when I arrived. Enough players arrived that three games ran concurrently. Jasco had a big area, but the staff was much greater than the number of games, retail sales, and visitors to see the B-actors. In sum, lots going on at Jasco but somewhat overstaffed at the time given the number of customers.
Buffy is fun, but not complicated. One staffer quickly rattled through the rules – think the rapid delivery of a bored museum tour guide. My table had three experienced board game players none of whom had played Buffy. The adjacent table had five players, one of whom had played a game in this series (Angel). Unfortunately, the staffer who rattled through the rules quickly departed. The other staffers chatted with each other, checked their phones, worked other areas and were largely useless to us.

My group had many rules questions, mostly because nobody ran through the first complete turn with our group plus the rules were explained unprofessionally. The guy on the table beside us (trying to play his game) was a more consistent rules interpreter than the paid staff. My table eventually gave up trying to flag down staff to answer gameplay questions that could have been handled by supervising a full turn of gameplay and we turned to the printed rules.

Jasco was incompetent. They had enough staffing, but staffers were uninterested in helping our group. Rules coverage and introduction to game play were handled incompetently – far worse than all other groups I gamed with during Origins. I own an unopened copy of Buffy and read the short rule book in forty-five minutes after returning to Alabama. While this game is more complicated than The Dresden Files, it is far less complicated than any other game I played at Origins. Weirdly, this is a fun game with relatively simple rules. But if I had not already owned the game, I would have never purchased it given my unnecessarily unpleasant Con experience. Overall Grade: F. Heads should roll. Jasco games

Everything Epic Booth – Everything Epic had a demo booth/game sales in the dealer hall. I purchased Big Trouble in Little China several weeks before the Con but had only briefly scanned the rules. Big Trouble in Little China has inventive game mechanics I’m unfamiliar with. It combines a board game with a “choose your own adventure” game mechanic. I’ve never played anything like it.

Everything Epic had three table set up for either Big Trouble or the Lo Pan expansion. I came by the booth the first time and talked with the staff. I mentioned that I owned the game but had only scanned the rules and that a playthrough would be very helpful getting up the learning curve. He asked me how much time I had (fifteen minutes) and suggested that it would be best if I could come by with thirty minutes or more to spend. He also referred me to the game designer who answered a lot of questions and was quite happy to talk with someone who had purchased his $100 game.

I returned on a subsequent day with forty-five minutes to play. They were not demoing very much so two staffers sat me down, quickly ran through the game mechanics, and walked me through three turns of play. One staffer ran Lo Pan’s minions, the other played Jack Burton, and I played Wang. I rattled off dozens of questions during play and all were answered quickly and competently. They sometimes suggested moves after I made my move (letting me change if desired) but let me charge ahead if I wished. After forty-five minutes of play I think I’m at least 50% up the learning curve on a somewhat complicated game with some innovative rules mechanics.

Unlike my other experiences discussed above, I did not buy an event ticket for Everything Epic. They were friendly, adapted to my time schedule, and did not push me to buy something after I explained I wanted to learn the core game mechanics and play through a couple of times at home before considering any additional purchases. Grade: A+ – they adapted to the customer, were fast, and very knowledgeable. everything epic games

Armchair Dragoons – I know these guys and write for the website. I hung around the booth when I had gaps in my schedule and was uninterested in further exploration of the dealers’ room. Had good conversations, a lot of laughs, and shared a pizza on Wednesday. But I did not play any of the Armchair Dragoons sessions and cannot comment on a game experience with them. Armchair dragoons

This article first appeared at Armchair Dragoons: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/feature/origins-2019-my-experiences-with-10-organizations/

Mace West

1- Mace Sign

Mace West was held on a cold, rainy March 1-3 in Asheville, NC at a Hilton hotel very close to the entrance of Biltmore House. Mace West is a small tabletop and RPG convention. Other than a small number of dealers scattered in hallways and in one small room, it was all gaming.

A room was devoted to Pathfinder Society, another room dedicated to Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers Society, and the rest of the space to other tabletop board games, miniatures, and RPGs. Like most MACE events, there were a large number of Savage Worlds games across a dozen different settings.

Unlike previous MACE events, this one had a few wargames. One large group played Diplomacy. Another group played General Quarters, a rules light surface naval combat game being sold by one of the dealers. Like most game conventions, there was an assortment of play to win games and a large game library of tabletop games available for checkout.

Mace to me is a quiet gaming con. People play a host of games, most in 4 hour blocks so you can get in three game sessions on Saturday and two on Friday and Sunday if you max your schedule and all of the games make. I played all RPGs: Savage Worlds Supers, Dungeon Crawl Classics (both ran a session and played in a session), Mutant Crawl Classics and Paranoia.

Mace is also quiet in terms of chaos and controversy. The registration system is well run. The tables were very well labeled. There was plenty of water, tables, bathrooms, etc…. to make the game rooms work effectively. No drunken louts, loud parties, or other distractions were encountered. Everyone seemed very happy, unless their dice were running really badly. Nice, fun, quiet weekend devoted to gaming.

Mace West had excellent attendance on Saturday but weak attendance on Friday and Sunday. Many games did not make on Friday and Sunday. Attendance was so weak for the last Sunday session that I could not find a game to play. There were more GMs with scheduled games on Friday and Sunday than there were players. I took advantage of this by not running my Call of Cthulhu scenario I had run three times the previous weekend and joining a short-handed Savage Worlds Supers game that was a lot of fun.

I ran Dungeon Crawl Classics for the first time using a home brew scenario. The players had a blast. They killed a Giant Snake I thought they would avoid after the snake killed a pack mule and was dragging it into the deep woods. The Snake almost ate a party member. They combined parlay, lies about the party’s strength, and some excellent creative bribes (beyond just money) to roughly double their combat power.

An advance scout spotted “four huge (8 -9 feet tall) black furred bipeds with large bat ears carrying huge maces or spiked clubs plus a shield. One of the creatures was wounded. All four of the bipeds were arguing with each other as they moved down a wilderness trail in an unknown language.” The scouts moved fast, reunited with the party, and then engaged in some very creative negotiation. [Dungeon Crawl Classics stresses the need for mystery – hence my description of the Bugbears instead of just calling them Bugbears].

First, the spokesperson bragged about their fighting prowess demonstrated by their destruction of the giant snake. The 4 huge creatures were very impressed when they wee shown the head of Mighty Sssssss-Ha! – as the party discovered what the snake was called by the locals. The parlay discovered the creatures were Bugbears, that they had been overthrown by a group of Hobgoblins led by some sort of Hobgoblin spell caster, and they were both scared of the Hobgoblin spell caster and mad their comfortable life lording it over the Goblins had ended.

The spokesperson offered a very creative bribe, we will help you overthrow the Hobgoblins, save as many Goblins as possible to repopulate your minions, plus a favorable treasure split. After some dickering over treasure, the Bugbears joined the group. Then the party used excellent tactics on a scouted Hobgoblin led ambush and did not attempt to have the Bugbears bear the brunt of the fighting. Plus, most of the Goblins were spared to be “protected by friend Bugbears.” Then a second, far better prepared ambush was slapped down. Now the Bugbears thought the party was not going to screw them and became quite enthusiastic.

The party plus the bug-bears crushed the Hobgoblins, their Goblin minions, and a very dangerous Hobgoblin Cleric with ease. The party recaptured the critical hard coal and iron ingots needed for the metal working industry of their town and returned in triumph. The group even laid the seeds of a negotiation for the Bugbears to provide “protection services” for the annual metals and coal shipment down the river from the Dwarf stronghold.

If you want a relaxed, small game convention Mace West is a good one. Plus, if your spouse is not interested in gaming Asheville has Biltmore House, a lot of hippy-dippy craft and art places, a pretty good Pinball hall, and multiple excellent brew pubs. My wife speaks highly of the artsy-fartsy shops, we both endorse the brew pubs, and the “pinball museum” is a fun place for pinball aficionados.

[Appeared earlier at Armchair Dragoons: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/feature/mace-west-2019-a-convention-report/

MACE 2018

MACE 2018 was run November 9-11, 2018 at the Hilton close to UNC-Charlotte.  MACE is a game convention.  A well run game convention that sticks to games.  There were only four panels – meet the guests (mostly gamer people) and three workshops on building terrain and painting.  No costume contest, art show, or author panels.  MACE is games, games and more games.

MACE leans strongly towards role playing games (RPGs) and board games.  Two widely established RPG groups which run at many conventions are the D&D Adventurers League and the Pathfinder Society.  These groups had their own large room.  D&D Adventurers League ran 41 scheduled sessions and Pathfinder Society ran 44.

The myriad Savage Worlds settings ran a large number of events.  The Savage Worlds settings included Rifts, Travelers, Sci-Fi; Deadlands Noir; East Texas University; Flash Gordon; Adventure; Savage World of Eberron; Weird War; Mars Attacks and Supers.  I counted a total of 15 Savage Worlds Games on the program.  Savage Worlds is similar in some ways to Steve Jackson’s GURPS.  There are a number of Savage Worlds Settings but all use the same core game mechanics.  Clint and Jodi Black are major players in the Savage Worlds universe and are regular MACE attendees.

Other RPG systems with a good number of sessions were Cthulhu (Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu and Cat-thulhu); independent D&D events; Dungeon Crawl Classics & Mutant Crawl Classics; Dresden Files; Shadow Run; Dread; and Index Card RPG.  However, you could have spent the entire convention playing other RPGs without touching any of the ones I’ve mentioned.

There were a large and varied number of board game sessions.  About half were demos of games for sale and half were game sessions.  There was also a large room devoted to “play to win” games and a library of games you could check out and play.  Like a lot of Cons, most of the board games were probably not on the schedule and played out of the library, out of games people brought, and from play to win.  You could have spent most of MACE just playing demos from those eager to sell their tabletop game.

There was a small contingent of what I would call “miniatures games” with a big table layout including terrain and figures.  BattleTech, X-Wing, Olympus at War and a demo of The Drowned Earth.  Several North Carolina championships for various games were also played including Catan, Pyramid Poker and Skull King.

MACE does not have wargames.  The closest thing they had to wargames was BattleTech, Twilight 2000 and some trading games like Marco Polo.

They had quite a few dealers ranging from games, clothing to general nerd stuff.  I usually pick up a game or something else from at least one of the dealers to encourage their future attendance.  This year had more dealers than previous years so hopefully they are making money and will return.

MACE also runs their own meal, snack, and beverage service called the Grinning Goblin.  Their prices were reasonable, their selection large, and they will take food order deliveries for various sandwich places and text you when the food arrives.  You could eat pretty reasonably without having to leave the gaming area.  There is also a Chick-fil-a and a McDonalds within an easy walk.

This was my second MACE and my third MACE event (I also attended MACE West last Spring).  I have many reasons for really liking MACE.  First, you can play a huge variety of games.  I started playing Dungeon Crawl Classics and Mutant Crawl Classics at MACE events.  There are a couple of very good GMs who run them and they are a blast to play if the person running the spell casters understands the system.

Second, MACE registration works really well.  There are a lot of games and you can register in their online system OGRE well before the event.  The MACE people run four different MACE events annually and also handle the gaming for ConCarolinas.    One warning, you really should register for sessions before showing up.  On the day of the convention open slots for games in the program are few and far between.

Third, MACE has a huge variety of games without being overwhelming.  I’ve ended up playing a lot of Dungeon Crawl Classics and Mutant Crawl Classics at MACE, but I also play Cthulhu and Savage Worlds.  I’ve also played tabletop events.  I’ve had a good time at all of them.  MACE is a “mid-size game convention.”  They have quite a bit of variety without becoming massive like Gencon, Origins or DragonCon.

Since MACE does not try to do all of the other stuff (costumes, movies, literature, etc…) they don’t get bogged down.  Unfortunately, short films and literature have become political culture war fights at many Cons.  The gamers usually just game in small groups and don’t get political.  At MACE there are no awards to fight over, no panels to complain about not being seated at, and no big PC “inclusion fights” over the political, racial, sexual, gender or other stupidity being fought over this month.  It seems like a cluster of people just love to fight over the politics of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature and movies and Con after Con gets drug into infighting.  At MACE people just game away and socialize without fighting over this sort of thing.

Next, MACE really treats their GMs well.  I run a single Call of Cthulhu event at every MACE.  Because I run an event, I get to register early.  This works out very well.  MACE has a huge number of GMs.  Many GMs run one or three events.  Running one event allows you to register before everyone else.  Run three events and you get free admission.   This gives a big incentive for GMs to participate!  This means a lot more games being run!  This leads to a lot more events which means a lot of happy gamers who are not GMs this time!

MACE usually takes up part of a Hilton Hotel and the room rates are pretty reasonable.  The hotels have had good internet reception and adequate parking.  I’m one of the people driving a long distance to attend MACE (five to seven hour drive depending on the location).  I usually come up the night before arriving at midnight or later.  I game Friday – Sunday.  Then I leave Monday morning to return to Alabama.  Even though I’m getting a hotel room for three or four nights, my hotel and food bill will total less than $650.  Hilton’s are nice properties and my wife stayed with me on the last two MACE Cons although she did not get a membership.  Asheville and Charlotte NC are pretty nice places to visit for the spouse.

Except for one event, every RPG I played in was a lot of fun.

I did have three regrets.  First, I should have signed up for a board game.  I did not play a board games I know and like or have never played.  I cannot believe I did not sign up for “Miskatonic School for Girls.”  Second, I should have played one RPG system that I’ve not played before.  I’ve read the Dresden Files system and it looks like fun.  I did play Savage Worlds Supers for the first time in the long running “Raleigh Police Supernatural Enforcement Unit” world.  Last, Trail of Cthulhu is a snake bit system for me.  There is nothing wrong with the system, but every time I’ve signed up for a Trail of Cthulhu event, regardless of the Con, it was boring.

If you like RPGs or Board Games, MACE is a great convention.