JOFCon, part 2: Gaming

Mnstf traditionally has a fallcon, usually in October or so. This was, for a long time, called the fall Minicon, which is part of why Minicon 51 is not actually the 51st anniversary of Minicon. Anyway, most years, there’s a Mnstf fallcon, and it’s usually a relaxacon.

Running the fallcon is approximately as stressful for its conrunners as Minicon itself. Though the scale of the fallcon is far smaller than Minicon (frequently fewer than a hundred people), the number of staff members also tends to be smaller, so the stress levels are unfortunately preserved. For that reason, few people in recent history have wanted to run the fallcon more than twice in a row. And partly because of that, when Michael Lee and some other folks wanted to run JOFCon on a weekend that normally would’ve been the Mnstf fallcon, the Mnstf board were quite willing to let that happen.

As a result, quite a few who went to JOFCon were mostly there for the fallcon part of it, more than the conrunning part. And therefore, in addition to the conrunning track, there was a large amount of gaming going on. (As I’ve said elsewhere, Mnstf is, in terms of total time spent doing various activities, largely about gaming these days.) I got to participate in some of it. Here’s what I played:

  • Concept: This is basically charades done on a board. There are a bunch of abstract or not so abstract things illustrated on the game board: a night sky, a sun, many modes of transportation, arrows indicating ‘up’ and ‘down’, etc. etc. You get a single person, place or thing to illustrate, and then place counters on various concepts to illustrate what you’re trying to get across. While you’re doing so, you’re not supposed to talk. There’s apparently some kind of official competitive rules to it, but the folks I play it with have never played it that way; instead, we just try to see how well or interestingly we can get the concepts across. It’s pretty fun. I once got my fellow players to guess my target by just rapidly tapping the counter on the “sun” icon — can you guess what concept I was trying to illustrate?
  • Logo for Spaceteam

  • Spaceteam: Even since I discovered this game, during my research into simultaneous cooperative starship bridge simulators, I’ve been wanting to play it more. I’ve played a couple quick sessions, but I played far more than ever before (probably a couple hours total) at JOFCon. Once we got it installed on our phones and finally got our various devices to connect with each other (which took a little too long, to be honest), we had a raucous time. While it is possible to play this “cooperative shouting game” game without constantly raising the volume, it is very unlikely; the game quickly becomes semi-competitive, with everyone trying to get everyone else to pay attention to their increasingly-desperate cries to “engage fluxstack”, “set Eigenhash to 2″ or “caramelize onions”. Frequently interpolated with quick, embarrassed admissions of “Oh, that’s mine” and demands that everyone shake their device to avoid an asteroid. It’s a very tense game, actually, but it’s also quite fun.

    Playing it this time, I learned a couple things: not only can you repair dangling panels by swiveling them carefully back into place, you can wipe away goo that starts to accumulate as your panels get into increasing disrepair. And the game seems to require that everyone be running the same (i.e., most up-to-date) version to connect successfully.

    In the games at JOFCon, I think the most hilarious command we had was to “eulogize previous crew”. All in all, Spaceteam is a lot of fun, and a great game, and one that I will try to get more of my gaming friends to play in the future.

  • Moneyduck: As usual, this local variant on EPYC was hilarious, enjoyable and very difficult to present in blog terms. I don’t even remember any of the particularly great lines, save again having confirmation that Emily is a great cartoonist.

I saw other folks playing Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, which looked quite good, but I wasn’t in the right mood at the right time to play it. I’ll note, though, that it was another game that uses digital components to interface with friends face-to-face. Along with Spaceteam, it’s another example of games that combine analog/face-to-face interaction with digital interaction, and it’s interesting to see what creators are exploding exploring in this field.

There were probably about as many people involved in gaming at any given time as in programming. The gaming was quite fun, and good when I needed a respite from heavy conrunning conversations.

JOFCon, part 1: Building better cons

JOFCon masthead imageAbout a month ago, there was a tiny little con here in the Twin Cities called JOFCon. “JOF” stands for “journeyfen of fandom”. It’s a knowing take-off of the term “SMOF”, for “Secret Masters of Fandom”. SMOFs are (at least supposedly) those who view themselves as secret cabal in charge of running fandom. JOFs, on the other hand, are folks who are just trying to figure out how to make it all work.

So JOFCon, which has been running for two years now, is designed for conrunners who want to make their cons run even better. There was a single track of programming, entirely about topics related to running cons: “Disability Access”, “The Future of Fan-Run Cons”, “101, 201, 301: Keeping Programming Fresh”, etc. Programming had its share of problems. I wanted to organize a training about harassment prevention, but Real Life got in the way and I wasn’t able to pull it together. Other aspects of the con’s organization left something to be desired, but that’s all I’ll say about that here. However, the actual discussions were for the most part pretty good, with some good wisdom shared among conrunners from different parts of the world.

The best part of JOFCon, for me, was the chance to connect with people heavily involved in other cons, whom I never get the chance to meet. When we go to each other’s cons, we rarely get even a sense of who each other is, much less a chance to actually talk about how to better run our cons. Usually, we’re too busy running around putting out fires or replacing table tents or whatever else to meet people who do the same things at other cons. And though our names may appear in the program book, it’s rare that we get to know each other face-to-face.

It was especially cool to meet a bunch of the cool people who run Convergence, the huge general SF con in the Twin Cities. A bunch of them are committed to some important, valuable improvements at Convergence. It was good to see what they have planned, and to maybe give them a little help in doing so.

Also, JOFCon was a valuable chance to, I hope, bury some hatchets. Twin Cities fandom has a very long, turbid history, with some real nastiness. There are strong historical reasons for some of the local cons to distrust each other. It was great to have a chance to hang out with people I don’t usually get to meet, and maybe mend some fences.

FLGS intro: Witch House

The other FLGS (after going to two branches of Alchemy) I had to visit in Taiwan was 女巫店 Witch House.

It’s not strictly an FLGS, I suppose. They sell games, and they’re plenty friendly. Primarily, though, Witch House is a pub. Lots of people go there with no intention of gaming or buying games. There is sometimes live music; they serve alcohol; they serve snacks and set meals. I’ll note here that they also have one of the funniest, punniest menus I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t make a lot of sense if you don’t know Chinese, and the current menu is actually a bit toned down from the original one. But still, if you’re in Taibei, I’d almost recommend going to Witch House just for the menu.

However, Witch House is also a boardgame cafe. They have a pretty huge selection of games to just use, and they sell a nice, large variety of games as well. (Not as many as, say, Alchemy, but still good.) On the day I was there, there were two groups of people playing games. One large group was playing Bang; another couple were playing Once Upon a Time. I’m not sure if Witch House does specific boardgame nights, but it seems like pretty much any time (except when there is live music, I suppose), you can just go there, get a game, and start playing with some friends.

女巫店 Witch House Pub interior

There aren’t a lot of Taiwanese-produced boardgames yet. There are lots (and lots) of translations, so it’s easily possible to play (for example) Terra Mystica, Settlers of Catan or Citadels in Chinese. But there aren’t yet many games actually produced in Taiwan. When I went to Alchemy, I asked them if they knew of any locally produced games I could get; they mentioned The Wonderful Island. I of course bought it. Similarly, when I went to Witch House, I asked if they knew any locally-produced boardgames I could buy. It took a little looking, but they found a copy of 無良商人 ‘Heartless Merchants’, which I bought. It looks quite good, but I haven’t had time to actually open it up yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to review it here sometime in the future.

It’s also worth noting that Witch House has pretty cool politics. Right next to the boardgames, they have a banner stating very clearly their support for Taiwanese independence; nearby is a poster stating their opposition to nuclear power. (Always a sensitive topic on a densely-populated island with not a lot of natural energy resources.) Also, I should mention, of those two groups of people playing games the day I was there, only a handful were men; it’s a very welcoming environment for women. And Witch House is downstairs from 女書店 Fem Books, the best feminist bookstore in Taibei. The two stores’ names rhyme in Mandarin (“Nǚwūdiàn” and “Nǚshūdiàn”), and I assume there’s some kind of relationship between them, but I’ve never been clear what it is.

女巫店 and 女書店 exterior

Boardgame cafes have become pretty popular in Taiwan; there are a lot of them. But Witch House was one of the first — it was certainly the only one when I lived in Taiwan, back in 2004. (In 2004, when I was looking for a place to introduce some friends to Search for the Emperor’s Treasure, it was the obvious destination.) If you’re looking for a nice, welcoming place to relax, have something to drink and play a good boardgame in Taibei, definitely check it out.

Yes, this post is partly inspired by Halloween.

Metatopia: Assistance available!

Metatopia is a con in New Jersey that’s aimed at indie game creators. I heard a few reports about last year’s con, and it sounded pretty amazing. The folks who run it also seem to have a pretty good sense of the diversity problems that exist in gaming circles. The Indie Game Developer Network and the folks who put on Metatopia have just announced that there is monetary support for people who’d like to go to this year’s con (which is November 5~8). The deadline is October 9 — next Friday! If you’d get something out of it but marginalization has prevented you from going, go apply!

Indie Treasure Trove +3

Bundle of Holding masthead imageI was lucky enough to have Blade & Crown in the Indie Treasure Trove +2. The Bundle of Holding continues to be a great way to get a bunch of cool RPGs for very little money.

The Indie Treasure Trove +3 has just come out, and it also includes a bunch of cool games. Questlandia, by Hannah Shaffer, looks really cool. It seems to have a flavor slightly similar to Microscope, but it uses dice and has more emphasis on playing characters. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing yet, but I really like the narrative voice Hannah has used in writing the rules — breezy, engaging and very clear.

And there are six other books in the Bundle! Go check it out.

Idle thoughts about 三体 The Three Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem series by Liu CixinAnother of my treasures from that Taiwan trip was the three volumes of 三体 The Three-Body Problem, by 刘慈欣 Liu Cixin. In the small amount of time I had to look, I tried a couple of Mainland import bookstores, but neither had copies of the book, so I got a set in Traditional characters. Yes, my luggage was very heavy on the way back.

I’m very slowly working my way through the eponymously-named volume one. It’s pretty interesting, and gives me a lot of things to think about as I’m reading it. Here are some idle thoughts I’ve had so far:

  • Is Liu going to use the word 现在 xiànzài at some point, or is it going to be 现下 xiànxià the whole time? If he does finally use 现在, it will be pretty dramatic.
  • Why does the English version have such a different chapter order from the Chinese version? In the edition I have, it starts with Wang Miao, and doesn’t get to Ye Wenjie until Wang has already gone into the game. Which order is closer to Liu’s preferred arrangement?
  • How much background do you need in Chinese history, philosophy, etc. to get everything that’s going on? The section in the game with Mozi was pretty amusing to me — for someone who studied Neo-Confucianism in grad school, it’s pretty biting satire to see Confucius die in the desert, burned instantly in the hot sun for his vast impracticality. (Also, echoes of PKD’s Timothy Archer, there.)

I’ve actually tried asking Liu Cixin some of these questions, but haven’t gotten a response yet. Things to keep wondering about.

Review: 美麗島風雲 The Wonderful Island

When I went to Taiwan in June, I tried to do what I could to support the local gaming scene. When I visited Alchemy on Zhongxiao, I bought what looked like a great game, produced in Taiwan: 美麗島風雲, translated as The Wonderful Island.

It’s a highly satirical game. If you know Taiwan’s politics, the game is pretty much straight up hilarious. It hits a lot of the major stories and personalities of real life: paparazzi recordings, fake polls, overseas bank accounts, gun attacks, media frenzies, court summons slowly accumulating until candidates finally end up in jail — seems like it’s pretty much all there. The different personalities have their own different powers depending on the person: Shi Mingde can win if he is the first person sentenced to jail; Zheng Hongyi can give someone a national scolding; Lü Xiulian needn’t worry about stratagems from male candidates. Even the name and the cover art hint at political meanings: the title of the game alludes to the Gaoxiong Incident, also called the Meilidao Incident, a formative event in the formation of the DPP; and the cover art showing Ma Yingjiu and Chen Shuibian is a visual pun for “deceit” (馬 + 扁 = 騙). I don’t know if I’d recommend playing The Wonderful Island as an introduction to Taiwanese politics, but it will certainly help you learn. And with the presidential election coming up in January, now’s the time to learn.

The Wonderful Island is a partly-hidden identity game. Very consistent with modern Taiwanese politics, your true loyalties are not publicly known. You may actually be in the Green Camp, or the Blue Camp, or just out for #1. Secret meeting cards allow you to scope out your fellow players’ loyalties, but only with vague certainty. It’s also possible for multiple people to win at the same time, since agendas can be very different. Just as it should be.

The production values are very high. The boards are very thick cardstock, the cards are on nice paper, the printing is all very clear. The illustrations by 簡振傑 Rockat, especially, are amazing — beautiful caricatures that are completely recognizable yet completely hilarious.

美麗島風雲 The Wonderful Island: Game components

There isn’t an English version, so far as I can tell. The rules are also, um, not the clearest. Specific rules are sometimes hard to find. The language used is very formal, meaning that pronoun references are sometimes a bit unclear. And the game tries to do a pretty thorough simulation of the Taiwanese election process, so there are a fair number of exceptions and edge cases. There are, however, plenty of resources available, including a series of official “how to play” videos (1, 2, 3, 4) and a very helpful fan video. With help from those videos, I was able to dash off enough of a translation to play it last night with the weekly group.

I had already put sleeves on the cards; I don’t usually do that, but this game is going to be a little difficult to get replacement components for, so I want to preserve it well. I printed off some of the translations and inserted them in the card sleeves. This proved not just useful but almost invaluable; I’ll have to do the same with the action cards.

We had a pretty good time. It took about an hour to finish one game, which is consistent with the game’s estimates — pretty good for our first time out. We had a bit of frustration with not having enough useful cards to play, but otherwise, it seemed to go pretty smoothly. Even when one player ended up in jail, they were able to continue exerting influence. (Again, as it should be.) We’re going to play it again next week; and I’m planning to run this at Con of the North next year. Come check it out!

Calteir: Working in the pixel mines

The Veil, on a clear day, showing her right eyeI keep making progress on Calteir. The CSS for the main webpage all seems squared away. Some very kind folks have given me very good advice about the campaign in general, and I’m doing a lot of thinking about all of it.

In addition to thinking, there’s one last major obstacle: the video. There was an earlier version that I got a lot of really good advice about, and I’m integrating those changes. It’s all getting closer to reality. Dawn is about to break over a new world!

Calteir: Continued progress

Sample of the infeudation map for the Kreshar regionNot only did I finish a major rework of the main Calteir map (second in priority to the Morensia map re-edit), I’ve finished a bunch of small details for the Kreshar region and re-did the infeudation map to show all the various baronesses’ and barons’ demesnes. So again, apologies if I’m not more active here — trying to apply my energies to Calteir.