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September 29, 2004

ACN After Action Summary

Well, it wasn't easy, but I think it was worth it.

The hotel issues summarized in the daily entries made for a lot higher stress on the con chair and treasurer (I'm the later... Craig Sparling is the former), and despite the good results in the games may well have burned bridges with the location that has been ACN's home for more than half its life. Even now, alternatives are being identified for evaluation over the next few months.

AmberCon North will most definitely continue. I'd considered stepping down prior to this year's con, but now I'm in "I refuse to let THAT make me quit" mode, so I'm around for at least one more year. And, in fact, relocating (or at least reviewing relocation options) will likely make us get organized sooner, which may help us reverse our slowly declining numbers. I think it's time to see ACN back into the 50+ attendance range (though I remember how tricky making game schedules can be when the con is larger... maybe I should re-think that wish!).

The GM Guest of Honor program was well received, with Chris Kindred's games very well attended and enjoyed. As such, I expect that idea to be carried forward.

Thanks to everyone who attended, especially those who put up with their own hotel hell. Many were even nice enough to come commiserate with the staff in our darker hotel moments. Believe me, it helped! We'll be back in touch soon to gather opinions on how to best improve the con.

Posted by ghoul at 06:58 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 26, 2004

ACN Day Four

So far, so much less than bad...

I got plenty of rest (around 10 hours sleep-of-the-dead) and now I'm awake and, so far, seeming to deal with Hotel Hell fairly well. The Con is checked out of the Hotel of Which We Do Not Speak and has claimed one room in the Hotel Whose Name Is Cursed Forever (yes, those are the names we're using at the con). Final-slot games are going on as I type this. I'm not gaming this slot, per schedule, as one of the staff was reserved to deal with anticipated hotel issues. Little did we know.

And tonight... spicy fried baby octopus! (It's a traditional post-ACN dinner, the perpetual special at a nearby Chinese restaurant).

Posted by ghoul at 12:54 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 25, 2004

ACN Day Three

The distractions of the hotel issues fade as good gaming takes the fore.

ShadowWorld WWII featured another trip into the depths of Nazi supernatural insanity. Edwin raided history (again) for another hard-to-imagine fact (SS sponsored breeding programs requiring sex in selected cemeteries). But even the ickiest of behavior can be made less offensive by dropping a 1000 lbs rock onto it.

And now, to make up for last night's lack of sleep, I head back to my distant hotel (OK, hotel issues not 100% faded) for one real night's sleep.

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ACN Day Two Point Five

When I left at 3:20 AM, I was pretty sure I'd just put my character through her worst possible period.

Edwin had a mission briefing that hinted that the worst was coming. We were being sent back to England, with only two of us actually connected to past actions involving the Druids. Whatever was about to happen, Starchild knew it wouldn't be good. Nothing good happens in England; it's becoming her "Chinatown". This time, the one part of England she did actually still like was what they were being sent for, and afterwards she's not sure that was a good thing.

By the end of the session, my character with complete control over dreams is afraid to go to sleep. That complete control may not be enough. Or, worse, may be far too much.

Bad days are coming with the autumn.

For those who haven't read in the past, Stella Child or "Starchild" is my character in Edwin Voskamp's ShadowWorld , a psychic agent of the Circle, an underground conspiracy of psychics and other strange people and near-people. She can walk through dreams and see the future in a static-filled television screen. She's also one of the Circle's more successful mission team leaders (much of that because I play ShadowWorld every chance I get and seniority is a factor in rank) and is slowly learning that being nice to everyone doesn't guarantee they'll be nice to you. Her personal battles with her growingly-uncertain moral code are among my favorite ongoing RP experiences.

Day Three starts with a 9 AM ShadowWorld WWII game (same system, a different place and time, and so a much less troubled character; it's much harder to have moral issues with fighting Nazis). With a 6-block walk on both sides of my con experience, the one thing I know I'll be lacking is sleep. But I have tomorrow's evening slot and Sunday's slot open, so I can nap through both. Or is it that, like Starchild, I know now is not the time to sleep?

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September 24, 2004

ACN Day Two

Morning was a mixed bag. I was up too early to catch coffee and breakfast at my favorite corner place, and then got brief online access (dunno from who... just found an unsecured wireless connection and hooked up). Then I set up my TFOS/Amber game ("Nine Princes in High School") in the "Lounge" basement space (as opposed to the "Library" space).

Characters were completed, the first round thru the characters was done to establish where people were... and the seminar that had moved us from the space last night came back and wanted the space again. So we moved up to the 19th floor while Craig dealt with the hotel staff (hopefully, the Lounge space is now ours!). The game went well, much unpredictable messiness ensued, players' plans crossed each other nicely, and I think fun was had (I certainly enjoyed it!).

I took the afternoon slot off, slipping down to the Hairy Tarantula for some boardgame shopping. Tonight, it's ShadowWorld mainline and a chance for Starchild to find out if she's made a BIG mess, a little mess, or if it's all just coincidence.

More tomorrow!

Posted by ghoul at 04:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2004

ACN Day One

I no longer fear death, for I have been part of Day One of ACN 2004.

I arrived at 11:30 after a wonderful drive (again, no traffic except at construction sites, and even that minimal and quickly-passed, and this time I'd predicted to drive length and set up the iPod to within minutes of the actual drive time) and when I asked if I could park even though my room wasn't ready yet, I was told I was staying at a different hotel.

"How is it that the Con HQ, which is where I'm staying, can be in a different hotel from the Con?" I wanted to ask, but I knew better than to ask that of the man at the desk. I would check my email and see what my co-organizers had to say.

But the settings I had worked out laboriously last year to get my Mac to connect out of this hotel's Windows-instructions-only business center didn't work, so 45 minutes later I'd managed to read URLs off my laptop and type them into a spare windows box, finding only unclear and uncertain email that didn't really suggest anything like I had been told.

Then Craig arrived and told me. Yes, it was actually true... At least 6 of the con's rooms (the 3 rooms the con itself had and 3 attendee's rooms) had been moved to another hotel, 5 blocks away. Oh, and those aren't suites there, but rather closets with beds in them. And the hotel compensated us for this inconvenience by 1) making these arrangements for closet-sized replacement rooms 5 blocks away at the new hotel's standard rate (no discount) and 2) giving us the hotel basement as gaming space.

Which could actually be pretty nice, except that at 6 PM, just before the 6:30 game slot began, we found out that half of that basement space had been promised to another group at the hotel as well. We moved out as they set up the overhead projector and screen (which we had taken down earlier, as we didn't need them). Con members were arriving with confused looks on their faces. No one seemed to know what was going on.

It's now 8 PM. No one knows now. No one know what tomorrow will bring. In fact, we have less information that we usually would.

Tonight, after the events end around midnight, I will walk 5 blocks to get to my bed. Then tomorrow around 7 I will come back to GM my Teenagers from Outer Space/Amber cross-over (which starts around 9). I may well just have the poor PCs try to negotiate space for a school dance rather than my original plot. I'm feeling inspired with things to make that task fiendishly difficult.

Posted by ghoul at 08:11 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Milage Note

During the drive to Toronto for AmberCon North, I passed 45.0 MPG on the display. This happened right around 32,800 miles. I'd gotten to 49.9 MPG on the way back from New York City back on Labor Day weekend, so that's a 2/10ths improvement during September! I hope to be able to keep the average up, but with cold weather coming, I fear it is likely to slip a couple of tenths.

(Yes, this is a new category in which I add notes about my nifty hybrid car. I love it lots, so those who don't care will just have to skip this category.)

Posted by ghoul at 11:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 22, 2004

ACN Day Zero

It's AmberCon North ("ACN") weekend! 4 days of Amber and other diceless gaming, all in downtown Toronto. One of my favorite events every year, even with the work it is since I've been part of managing the con (5 years now).

I almost got hung up at work. As can be expected whenever vacations loom, two or three things will suddenly demand attention. This time, add in the joy of a co-worker (part of the boss-and-two-person-staff team I'm in) calling in sick and no one really wanted me to leave. But, thanks to a bit of luck and some quick approximations, I was able to get things reasonably into shape (though one major issue was still resolved only in the "here's three ideas, one of them might work" sort of incomplete fashion) and myself away.

Then, just to keep the chaos flowing, I got home to emails telling me we aren't going to have the two-bedroom suites we'd reserved for ACN, and some (or *cringe* maybe all) member rooms may be of the smaller one-bedroom size rather than the larger. AmberCons run their games in member's rooms or, for larger games, the convention's rooms. So suddenly finding ourselves without our large convention rooms and perhaps with smaller member rooms leaves us wondering just where the games will be held. But I had to head out-of-contact for 24 hours as I drove to the con, so I have to hope that issue is being handled somehow. I'll find out when I get there.

I got away from home, on the road... and realized I'd forgotten my laptop. You know, the one with all the "who's paid, who still owes what, resources the con still has, etc." info on it (plus the DVD player so I can watch the Angel season 4 eps I'd packed during quiet spots in my "man the con suite" slots). Fortunately, I was only 10 minutes out, so I doubled back, retrieved the laptop, and got back on the road only 30 minutes or so late.

Concord, NH to Cornwall, ON went as well as I've ever managed, with only minimal traffic and all of that just road construction backup. Even the border crossing was completely hitchless. I didn't even finish the iPod playlist I'd made for stage one of the drive! I actually considered driving on another 45 minutes or so, but I wasn't sure just what sort of hotels I'd find and I really wanted to be in a room in time to watch eps 1 of Lost (which I did and it was well worth it, even if they did cut the intended two-hour pilot in half, leaving us with a good but not perfect cliffhanger, originally intended to be no more than a sharp pre-commercial sting), so I stopped for the night where I'd originally planned. Tomorrow, it's on the road to Toronto early, hopefully managing time to hit a game store or two before ACN.

And, hopefully, a few less outstanding problems than there were when I left home. But I'm not really counting on it.

Posted by ghoul at 09:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

Just A Bit Too Pricey

Okay, it's a bit sick and twisted, but what fan of Great Movies wouldn't want one of these?

Okay, maybe one who takes their movies seriously, but that's certainly not me.

from Neil Gaiman

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September 14, 2004

Frank Miller's Sin City pre-Trailer

Well, after a big mess yesterday trying to locate it again after watching it in the AM, here's the Frank Miller's Sin City Comic-Con Promo.

There've been many movies based on comics before, but few could inter-cut panels from the source to show off how perfectly they were replicated.

How long do I have to wait for this? April 2005 is too far away!

Posted by ghoul at 04:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 07, 2004

This Could Be Fun

We know he knows the characters (he's currently writing the comic), we know he can direct character-focused action (because we've seen Buffy, Angel, and Firefly)...

So why not this match?

If there's a straightforward way to improve on the already-excellent X-Men films, this is quite possibly it.

Posted by ghoul at 01:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Hero and Related Observations

While in NYC this past weekend, I went to see Hero with Jeanne.

First, let me state the obvious. This is a great film. It's particularly a great film for fans of Feng Shui, as it has some of the best named character versus massive numbers of mooks fights I've ever seen. Add to that a great director and quite possibly the finest cinematographer working today and there's a film that's just a joy to look at. The story is both deceptively simple and, in the end, deceptively complex, which is a nice trick by the writers. The acting is top-notch, but it was that aspect of the film that triggered an unusual reaction.

At the most intensely dramatic moments of the film, the audience laughed. Not just a few of them (there's always a few odd reactions with NY crowds, particularly in well sold showings like this one was), but a fairly significant number. Jeanne and I talked about this after the film, and I came up with a theory.

I think this one can be blamed, if that's the right word, on The Method.

This "naturalistic" style has dominated most of English-language stage, TV, and movie acting for decades. But in much of the rest of the world, theater is still full of ritual and artifice, explicit techniques and repeated affectations. And so, at the height of the film's melodramatic scenes, much of the audience, familiar with naturalistic, often minimalist, acting, found the performances comical for their extremes of emotional display. But I have to think they lost something there. I'm not coming out against natural-style "method acting", I'm just saying there are some situations that are better served by the "classical" approach, in particular romantic melodrama like much of Hero revels in. And too much exposure to natural-style acting (or perhaps its just a lack of exposure to "classical" acting) can damage audience's ability to recognize and respond to the more stylized form with anything but laughter.

And that's too bad.

Posted by ghoul at 09:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 06, 2004

Board Gaming in NYC

Traveled to NYC for the Labor Day Weekend (to take advantage of the city's lull as the RNC left and the natives weren't all back yet), and spent much of it playing board games at Neutral Ground. The main event was a video game tourney, so really the place was fairly quiet and uncrowded (for Neutral Ground).

Jeanne and I played Blue Moon and Balloon Cup while waiting for our 3rd (Bob) to arrive. Then we switched to Master and Commander (just 'cause it looks so good), played Ticket to Ride, then added a 4th (Nick) from the people at the store (M&C and Ticket to Ride both look sharp enough to attract attention) and played Bang! and Alhambra.

A great trip.

Individual comments follow...

Blue Moon went well the first game, but once we switched to the more strategically interesting Flit and Mimix decks, it was quite captivating. Knizia has a real winner here. The base game is simple, just play to match or exceed your opponent or admit defeat. But there are sufficient "exception" cards to make for a very enjoyable set of options at most points in the game. I'll have to keep my eyes open for the recently-released Khind and Terrah decks.

Balloon Cup had been a hit at Turkey-Con last Thanksgiving, with Lou and I playing several rounds. It's straightforward mechanic yet wide range of options at most points (due to the eight-card hands each player has) still proves a satisfying quick game. And, as usual, it was quite close... I won 3 trophies to none, but Jeanne was just one VP behind on most of those, so it really came down to who got the lucky draw near the end to break the big 3 and 4 point races.

Master and Commander is a game I almost couldn't bring myself to buy, it's so high priced. But I'm glad I did. The components are spectacular -- wooden "sea chest" game box; heavy, solid-feeling metal ship pieces; cloth board (with a bit of art game-effect-indeterminate artistic issues); glossy laminated playing cards; carved wooden dice, 6 standard and a custom Wind die; and a nice heavy "egg timer"/hourglass to control the pace. The basic game is nice, particularly the wind rules. Every time the "hourglass" runs out, you roll the wind die to see how the wind shifts. A sudden shift to catch you face to the wind can trap you under someone's guns VERY quickly, as movement ranges from 5 squares in the best facing to only 1 square in the worst. We played a second game using the advanced rules, though we got Mist slightly wrong (allowed someone to repair while in Mist rather than forcing him back out... I was lurking just outside with two undamaged ships, so it wouldn't have gone well had he come out) and were disappointed in the sometimes-clumsy wording of the random event cards (too many refer to "all ships" or "next turn" in somewhat unclear ways). Still, it was a fun and VERY close game (I ended up winning only because I boarded and captured one of Jeanne's ships, limped it back to my home port for repairs, then sailed it out just in time to engage Bob's ships three-to-two, though too near his home port to be comfortable even at those odds.

What can I say about Ticket to Ride that hasn't been said? A train game that isn't all the things that makes most train games tedious, a game with such limited and quick player turns that down-time is negligible, and a very, very pretty game. Lack of downtime is a very strong feature, exactly the opposite of many gather-and-expand games, which stagnate due to the numerous decisions available. I managed to create the worst route from DC to Miami imaginable (it went to Chicago, then Denver, then LA, then back through El Paso, Houston, and New Orleans), but it was really worth the points (and nerve-wracking when I had the cards for the longer legs but lacked the easily-blocked short connections that, if I played the long legs, someone else would grab and break my route). Very fun!

So far, I was doing something quite unusual... I was teaching people to play games and WINNING! In fact, I'd won all but two of the games played (Jeanne won the 2nd of our 3 Blue Moon games and I'd lost the first M&C duel).

Bang! broke my streak badly. We snagged a 4th player (you can't play Bang! with less than 4), and worked through the rules. The game is actually simple, but the icons and terminology are less than perfect (mostly due to translation issues and poorly worded rules). The central idea, though, is sound. Players have different roles with different victory conditions, and only the Sherif is public about his role. I was an Outlaw, out to kill the Sherif, and we got him down to within one point quickly, but then he hung on there. We misread the Jail card, costing one player (it turned out to be the other Outlaw, my would-be partner) an extra lost turn, and I played my Role card rather than a Missed card at one point, accidentally letting on that I was an Outlaw. Jeanne ended up with a win by offing the other Outlaw and using the reward to tag the Sherif for a perfect Renegade win.

Alhambra was a game I'd almost brought in my big tub o' games (filling half my Prius's trunk), but it had just failed to make the cut. Nick, our 4th for Bang! had his copy along, though, and wanted to try it out (having only seen it demoed at GenCon). Never pass on an offer to try out a SdJ winner, I say! Turns out we didn't have time to teach and play all the way through (NG closed just as we reached the 2nd scoring round of 3), but the taste we got of the game was solid. Like Ticket to Ride (this years' SdJ winner), Alhambra offers limited options each turn, some of which increase resources and some of which use them up. The four-currency mechanic is interesting; money comes in 4 currencies, and there's always one building available to buy with each currency. You have to trust a bit to luck, as the nice purchase you draw money for this turn might be bought by someone else before your next turn and replaced with a building you don't want, but the game is sound. I ended up tied for first at our mid-game stopping point, with a lock on one of the big points for the final scoring (I'd build more than half of that building type in the game, ensuring myself of big points), so I think I had another win within reach when we had to pack up.

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