This is the second part of my latest trip to “The Best Four Days in Gaming”, Gen Con. Part 1 can be found here.
It all came down to this. In previous years we’d try to only do 2 games a day. We’re not big on trying to get up at some way too early hour of the morning to make a game. We’ve tried that in the past and regretted it. Of course, most nights we’re not actually asleep until close to 3 in the morning, so that might have something to do with it.
However, this Day 3 we had 3 games to look forward to, including a game from Midnight to 2 AM.
Dread is a roleplaying game we’d heard about before and was always on our shortlist of games to play. You see, it doesn’t use dice or cards or tokens or anything like that to determine if you are successful or you fail. Instead, you use a Jenga game to do that.
You need to fight off the zombie in front of you, make a pull from the tower. You need to see if you can shut the door before the grenade you threw goes off. You need to make two pulls.
And so it goes as you make your way through the game. Each time the easy pulls are disappearing leaving only harder and harder ones. Until finally the tower is too unwieldy and someone’s pull topples things. Then, well then you’re dead. And we rebuild the tower and somewhat reset a portion of the game state you were in before (we were on our 17th pull the first time the tower toppled, so when we reset it, we had to make 13 pulls).
The good is that the tension definitely builds throughout the session. You find yourself pulling for your teammates. If you are lucky, one of your companions will be REALLY good at Jenga and can save the team’s ass on more than one occasion. All of that is excellent and adds a level to the horror game that other games attempt but can’t duplicate with dice rolls/
There is some bad though. We had a 5-hour session, and our tower fell at the hour and a half mark, killing that player’s character. So they were out for the rest of the game. I guess they could leave, but since you are with your friends, you kind of want to stick around, but you are just an observer and have no impact on things any longer. It would be nice if there was a way around that. Secondly, you are offered choices in the game and learn something more if you make a pull. Part of the fun is getting in there and trying it out. Heck, I’d never touched a Jenha tower before in my life. However, we had one player who appeared to never want to make a pull. He’d talk a big game when someone else was pulling. He would offer suggestions, but when it came time for him to do something, he bailed.
Now we all have different ways to play roleplaying games. And maybe this player had decided that they wanted to try to get through a game without making more than three pulls the whole time or something, but it came across as… well, I have words for it, but I’ve said enough I think.
Dread is one I can see doing for a party game for sure.
Never Going Home by Wet Ink Games
Never Going Home is a game where you are playing soldiers in a World War 1 where something terrible has been freed/released/brought into the world due to the war. Now, as men on the front line you not only have to deal with the horrors of the war but also the horrors from other worlds. Sadly I’m not sure I got the best version of this particular game. The GM was still learning the system, so there was a little bit of a delay on the front end, and then… well, one of our players was… something else entirely.
When you are playing in a roleplaying game there is a constant push/pull on the camera time a player gets to have in a game. The best games are ones where everyone gets the spotlight on them for about the same amount of time so that they can enjoy themselves. And part of being a good player means that sometimes you have to be good with someone else having that focus on them.
However, for this game we had a player among us who didn’t appear to understand that at all. He was there to be the star of the story and run roughshod over the rest of us. If there was a split second where there was any pause, any bit of silence, you had to jump on it, otherwise he’d jump back in front of the camera. Had his play been more in line with something that is supposed to be grim and gritty, it might not have been so bad, but instead he was the comic relief.
And then, as sometimes happens in war, his character died. I must admit that I inwardly smiled because I thought “while he’s making a new character, someone else will have a chance to shine”. Sadly, it didn’t take him much time to find his replacement character, someone who apparently didn’t have a gun… in WW1… on the front lines… just… didn’t have one. He never volunteered exactly why he might not have a weapon, but I can tell he was hoping one of us would have asked him (we didn’t).
His antics were enough that two of the other players left mid-game. One didn’t come back from a bathroom break (he gave a flimsy excuse) while the second one literally just picked up his stuff and left in the middle of the game. Never seen that before.
So… that was a game we played. I wouldn’t mind trying it again sometime, just with different players.
Mazes at Midnight by 9th Level Games
In a strange twist, Egg Embry was tagged into duty to run a game. So Lee and I, along with another couple got our indoctrination via someone we play with weekly. Last year at Origins the best game we played was with 9th Level’s Polymorph system: you get one die, a d4, d6, d8, d10 and everything you do is via that one die. It is very simple and intuative and really is focused on being able to succeed most of the time. Heck, we were playing ancient heroes awakened to put down a Lich and Dragon we’d previously defeated eons ago.
But the best part was we played in the dark with flashlights and glowing dice to help illuminate our way. Music played in the background. It was a real event, and one that everyone bought into completely. The best games are those where everyone is having a good time, and this had that all across the room.
Again, 9th Level Games knocks it out of the park, and for me, comes away with the best game of the convention.
Even in the games where we might not have had the best time, hanging out with friends, getting to play games, and just see all the talented people with their various games out there is a nice way to recharge some of my own batteries. And it has me jonesing to play some more when I can!
John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.
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