This article originally appeared in Pyramid #16
an unofficial perspective
by Derek Pearcy
Editor's Note: The 1995 edition of GenCon was the biggest yet - TSR, the sponsor of America's biggest gaming convention, says it issued over 30,000 badges this year. For the first time ever, every last nook and cranny of Milwaukee's Mecca Convention Center was used, including the sub-basements of the buildings across the street from the main hall (dubbed by the TSR staff "The Labyrinth" and "The Deep Labyrinth"). There were famous guests, like James Doohan, Mark Hamill, Adrian Paul and Boris Vallejo, to name a few. There were hot new releases. There were people in costumes. Me? I was in The Deep Labyrinth most of the convention, running INWO tournaments wit Jeff Koke. But Derek Pearcy got out and about, and he filed this report:
TuesdayI had been in Wisconsin for two days already, visiting family in Madison, when I made my way to Milwaukee. My hair was green. It's a long story.
I met my sister, Amy Christine, at her place when she got off work. I hadn't seen her in awhile, and I'd been looking forward to catching up. She opened the door, gave me a big hug and said, "So, how's In Nomine doing?"
I laughed with great pain, and began my involvement in a popular GenCon tradition: asking game designers why their projects hadn't yet seen the light of day. It was the question I got asked most often over the next week. We made special t-shirts - "For God's sake . . . do NOT ask about In Nomine" - described alternately as "cool," or "smarmy," depending on how personally hurt you felt about not being able to get a copy of the book at the con.
For the last time, no, it's not out yet. Yes, it is coming out. If we thought there was some horrible snag that we were all up in arms about, we would just stop talking about it and not continue to hand out posters and run demos.
The first day of the con for the manufacturers, this is when we go into the non-air-conditioned exhibit hall in the heat of Milwaukee's summer and assemble our booths. Some people, like Jill Lucas and her staff at FASA, had started building their area the day before. Dana Blankenship, in her final performance as Boothinatrix, ran our space with amazing grace, especially considering that within a week she would be moving to the east coast and getting married. Yikes.
As we put our booths together, we like to mill around and acquaint ourselves with the lay of the land - who's-set-up-where-wise - and catch up with friends we have at other game companies.
Even though the convention hadn't actually opened yet, I had already gotten to the point where when someone asked me about In Nomine , I wanted to say, "The higher my blood pressure soars from talking to you about it, the longer it will be until it actually comes out," but I thought people might take it too personally. And even though I wore my "For God's Sake . . . " t-shirt, people still asked me about it. On the back, it had the answers to the ten most commonly asked questions about the project. "What do you want to know that's not on the shirt?" I said. And still they asked. It was inevitable. I didn't wear the shirt the rest of the con, but many, many other people did.
TSR's gargoyle surveys the GenCon crowd
WednesdayWednesday night hooked me back up with some of my European travelling friends, like John Nephew and his crew from Atlas, and James Wallis of Hogshead, who had a miserable trip over from London.
"You know," John observed sagely, squinting his eyes over whatever the hell it was he was drinking, "you can't toss a croissant at this con without hitting a Frenchman." I knew what he meant. It seemed like everyone I'd met in Europe had made it to Milwaukee - like the people from French gaming companies Siroz, Halloween Concepts and Jeux Descartes, just to name a few. Anywhere you tossed an anything, you'd peg a Frenchman right in the center of his beret-crested head.
Or a German (like the people from Truant, Welt der Spiele and the Pegasus boys), or a Belgian (like the Carta Mundi folks and people from Wizards of the Coast's Belgium office), or a Brazilian (like Thad and Douglas from Devir Livraria) or an Australian, or a Brit. This was the most international GenCon ever.
And I stumbled through the whole affair feeling like a poor host. I wish I could've shown them a little more of America than the nexus of stress that is GenCon, but you don't cross the Atlantic on a business trip to blow off work and check out museums. At least, people who aren't Americans don't do that, but we had fun anyway.
ThursdayIt's a terrible thing that - what with all the good friends people make at conventions, and how much fun we all have hanging out together - we in the industry only see each other at our very worst. We only get to be with those people with whom we have the most in common at our (and their) most absurdly stressful. Like when distributors are pulling at sleeves and freelancers are trying to show portfolios and you're trying to grab lunch ("No, I don't have time for lunch, I'll grab a snack later."), grab a snack ("No, no time for a snack, dinner's soon."), grab dinner ("Well, maybe if I just drank a lot of water real fast.") and at some point plan for sleep ("If I hang at the Belmont until it closes, then work on the characters for my demo, I can get four hours of sleep. Five if I skip breakfast.") Sometimes, you skip breakfast.
But really, hands down, Thursday is the best day. That's when the splendor of GenCon is new, the booths are well-stocked, and no one's gotten tired of giving their pitch. The only disappointing thing about GenCon was this: unlike past years, no one single product was the star of the show. Everway was there, and it looked really cool. Changeling was there, but it'd come out before the con. Lots of other things came out . . . but there was no One Big Thing. Instead, there were lots and lots more Just Cool Things, like Buttery Wholesomeness, the first supplement for Hol. Get it. Also, you should check out Guardians, a card game that should be in a store near you pretty soon now. In my book, Guardians and Heretic, also shipping soon, were neck and neck for Best Art in a New Card Game.
FridayFriday, the second day of the con, is generally the most stressful. Even more people show up, and you begin to steel your nerves for Science-Fiction Saturday, when all the stars the various companies had convinced to show up for signings would generate crowds and lines the likes of which hadn't been seen since the release of Jyhad last year, or Mage the year before.
But I wasn't impressed. I mean, stars are just these people who get pulled out of their normal lives by the attractive lure of money to spend the weekend with people they don't really care anything about, and are generally pretty rude to. And it's not like you'll ever get to talk to one of these people, have a real conversation with them, one person to another. That much was general knowledge, and my state of mind.
Friday night, on the way to the TSR party, Dana and I ran into James Doohan in the Hyatt's glass elevator. You know who James Doohan is.
Now, I'm not a huge Star Trek fan. For lots and lots of reasons, I have issue with the show. But there I was, looking at Scotty and 'lo and behold, the largest and most powerful grin I have ever felt grew and stretched itself across my face and stayed plastered there until I regained my composure what must have been only a few moments later.
"I'm a big fan of yours!" said Dana.
We all were. Everyone was nodding, eyes wide. He was a very nice man. He was very unassuming, and he seemed to be genuinely enjoying the con. Many people I talked to had similar "Scotty" stories to tell. He's just a nice guy that had a good time at our weird little shindig.
With thousands of people crammed onto the floor of the Mecca, there was a different feeling than in the TSR party, where we knew that random gamers weren't milling about. Somehow, that made it worse. Imagine 150 of the most insecure people you know, many of whom don't like each other, holding their beers and darting their eyes around while they try talk to you.
"Hey," said one drunk, a man I didn't recognize but who was obviously a close, personal confidant of mine, "hey, In Nomine , what happened?" "It's not out yet," I said.
It seems there was a card game demo at every other
table in the Exhibit Hall. This one's Shadowfist
SaturdaySaturday was the busiest day, with the loudest parties. Between running crowded In Nomine demos, the day was one big blur. Scott and Jeff had their hands full with INWO and I understand Dana and Steve spent what little free time they had remembering how to breathe. I did get to see a preview of Mythos, the Lovecraftian card game from Chaosium. Two words: buy it.
By Saturday, the heat was starting to get to people. Being from Texas, this was the only factor that didn't bother us. Many northerners (and Europeans) muttered on about global warming. "Warming, schmorming," I said, cheerfully withstanding what was by Milwaukee standards apocalyptic weather, "it's just the world accommodating itself to my own personal taste." The local breweries and factories pumped more smoke into the atmosphere. The fireworks from the State Fair helped the pollution too, and looked pretty besides.
Saturday night was the Wizards of the Coast party, the SJ Games/Atlas Games shindig, and the White Wolf bash. Another true sign of the industry getting larger: people were big on invitations this year, not just TSR, and this most sharply drew the line between the haves and the have-nots. Many people made it by all three parties, if briefly. After that, some remnants ended up across the street, at the Belmont. Many people skipped breakfast.
SundaySunday was a slow, painful day for me. I missed the second annual Nerf siege on the TSR castle, but I heard it was glorious. All the manufacturers and distributors who thought to bring their Nerf weapons, of all shapes and sizes, attacked the valiant TSR employees who attempted to repel the invading independent forces. Imagine a dynamic, interactive plastic foam sculpture as a recreation of the state of the comics market, with TSR standing in for Marvel.
But the true pain that is The Ending of GenCon doesn't really set in on Sunday until just past mid-day, when the traders start coming by. That is, the people who are helping various companies at their booths - who get compensated in product, not money - and want to trade some of their product for some of your product. I'm not into the trading thing (I'd rather people send me stuff than lug it all back from GenCon), but there is always something cool about, "Hey, this is the copy of X I got at GenCon '95, where it was released." You know, books as modern artifacts and all that. The last day, no one asked me about In Nomine, although people who'd asked me about it before continued their gentle ribbing. Me oh my.
MondayMonday was good. I slept Monday. The overcrowded hotel room I was in started to clear out, and I realized the party was over - in fact, I realized that it had been a party. A pretty fun party which had felt like work at the time, a fairly engaging party that had sprawled across the better part of a week of my life. I packed my crap, got on the shuttle and headed out to the airport. At the airport, waiting in line to check my luggage, the guy in front of me turned around and asked, "Hey, weren't you at GenCon?"
I admitted as how I had been there with Steve Jackson Games. He smiled, started to say something, then stopped himself. "I won't ask," he said, and turned back around. That was nice of him. The con was, after all, over. Maybe he'll have his chance next year.
By Jeff Koke
"a tournament a tournament a tournament of lies"
The first ever set of Global Domination Tournaments was vicious enough to impress even the most devious Secret Masters. The competitors sunk to unheard-of lows and betrayed each other in some of the harshest ways imaginable. Friends turned on friends; fathers destroyed their own sons; merciless tyrants created total world confusion, all for the sake of pure power. All in all, it was a great tournament.
There were four types of tournaments. Two of them were single-round events: the Factory Set Tournament and the Sealed-Deck event. Twenty-one devious players arrived for the Factory Set Tournament, and the backstabbing began early and often. One particularly well-balanced game took nearly the entire 3:45 time slot to complete, but a winner came in just before time was called. Winners at each table got to keep the INWO Factory Set provided by SJ Games to play with.
The Sealed-Deck event was attended by 28 eager players. Most of them brought their requisite sealed Starter Sets, and the few who forgot were able to purchase theirs. We divided them into seven tables of four, and they got going. They had 30 minutes to create one 45-card deck each, with no trading. I was very impressed by the level of play and the quality of the decks that were built in such a short time, with such a limited selection of cards.
The games lasted from 30 minutes to two and a half hours. The last game to end was the most brutal, and ended in a surprise move by the father of one of the other players at the table, his ten-year-old son. Needing only two more groups to win, he mounted a vicious attack on the IRS, who happened to control two additional groups. Despite the best efforts of the boy, and the rest of the players, the IRS was lost, and Dad won, leaving his son stripped of power and dignity.
The other two tournaments formed the core of the Global Domination Tournament: the Head-to-Head tourney, and the Multi-Player tourney. The Head-to-Head event was surprisingly poorly attended, with only ten players showing up for the first round. These ten were, however, some of the best INWO players I have ever seen - quick and ruthless, power-hungry and unforgiving. We set up an impromptu round-robin tournament, and whittled the ten down to four for the finals. Although all the players had good showings, and some of the games lasted well over an hour (long for a two-player), Nick Montague took the head-to-head title with his killer Cthulhu deck in a marathon power game, made longer by Nick's bad rolling - he lost an opportunity to eliminate his opponent early when he rolled a 12 on a crucial attack, and he had key groups destroyed to an attack roll of 11 while using the Necronomicon not once, but twice. The competing decks in the finals were things of beauty, loaded with Murphy's Laws, Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know and other killer cards; it seemed both players had whatever he needed to thwart the plans of his rival.
Montague, from Flint, MI, won a complete set of Limited Edition INWO cards, a set of autographed Limited Edition press sheets and a $100 SJ Games prize certificate. Paul Criner came in second, good for a set of press sheets and a $100 prize certificate, and the quick-talking spastic savant Paul Mehle came in third, winning a $100 prize certificate.
The multi-player event was much better attended, with over 40 gamers showing up for the first round. We ran nine games in the first round, and ended up with 11 players advancing to the semi-finals (due to a combined Shangri-La win, and a percentage of goal tie in a game called due to time). The semi-finals consited of two games, with the top three from each table slated to advance to the final game on Sunday. We made this information available to the players ahead of time, so they could construct their decks accordingly. One player in particular, Bahman Rabii (part of a group of INWO fanatics from MIT who drove to Wisconsin from Massachusetts just for the tournament), used the information to build the deadly Upheaval deck. Playing a Power Grab each turn along with his automatic takeover, and unleashing two Upheavals per round (with the help of a Perpetual Motion Machine), he managed to keep two of the other four players sans groups for the first three turns. Once the third round was over, two players were out of the game and the other three advanced to the finals. It was the most cold and calculated play I have seen from any INWO player. It was indeed beautiful.
At the other table, David LaMacchia (another member of the MIT cabal) rolled to victory with his heavy-duty Bavarian power deck. The percentage of goal system was used to determine the two runners-up who would advance to the final round.
The final game, held Sunday afternoon, was a true battle, lasting over two hours. There were no duplicate Illuminati. Represented in play were David LaMacchia's Bavarians, Robert Plata playing Cthulhu, Bahman Rabii as Discordia, David Fritsch's Bermuda, Daniel Blum playing Shangri-La and Mike Williams as the Network. In another demonstration of MIT brainpower, LaMacchia took it eventually with a slow and steady climb to power, and a convenient Law and Order NWO. LaMacchia's victory was so complete that he survived the playing of two Upheaval cards in the final attempt to knock him down, only to still have the requisite 50 points of Power when the smoke cleared.
LaMacchia, of Boston, MA, walked away with the full complement of prizes, which included the complete Limited Edition card set, Limited Edition autographed press sheets, $100 SJ Games prize certificate and a complete run of German-language INWO cards. The runners-up were Daniel Blum, who got a set of autographed press sheets and a $100 prize certificate, and David Fritsch, who claimed the third place prize, a $100 prize certificate. The other three finishers also received smaller SJ Games prize certificates.
So after congratulating the winners and watching them walk off with their loot, celebrating a game well played, I grew melancholy. I had seen the best players in the world compete for global domination. I had seen friend turn on friend and families divided by hunger for power. I saw the quick look of despair on the faces of those who realized they were about to lose half of their power structure. I saw the world crumble under the upheavals sparked by a self-destructive madman. I can't wait until next year.
- Jeff Koke, Illuminatus of the Forty Slices of Cheese
Article publication date: December 1, 1995
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