TotalCon 26 in 3,273 Words

Picture courtesy of Adrian B...yes, that's me looking fat over at the left and wearing the blue shirt.

TotalCon. Where do I begin? Okay, I’m going to sum up the entire con in a single word. You might think that is difficult to do. But, here goes. AMAZING!

TotalCon 26 was the most fun I’ve had at TotalCon. If you’re unfamiliar with Total Confusion, then you’re missing out. Briefly, it is the longest-running, small, roleplaying game and board game focused con in southeastern Massachusetts. For the past 26 years it has brought gamers together to meet industry guests, have fun, and interact with one another.

At first glance it may not seem that a RPG-focused con has anything to do with wargaming. Normally, RPGs don’t cross into the realm of wargaming. The con includes more than RPGs and board game. There’s a growing miniatures area, trivia events, panels, and this year they featured live performances of Dr. Horrible’s Sing- A-long Blog, REPO! The Genetic Opera, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Buffy.

I attended the con on Friday and Saturday. Dan Eustace ran two War at Sea events. One, The Last Voyage of the Yamato, piqued my interest. It is near the end of the war in the Pacific. The Americans have taken Okinawa and are ready to pounce on the home isles. The Imperial Japanese Navy is tasked with a desperate attempt to reach Okinawa and beach the Yamato to serve as a shore battery. It is the last large ship the Japanese have. Success is uncertain and many consider the mission nothing short of suicide.

I played on the Japanese side and commanded the escort force screening the Yamato’s advance. To make the game more interesting, Dan modified the scenario with some special rules. The standard long-distance rules were put into play. This requires launched aircraft to conduct a spot-check to determine if they find their target. Failing that check results in the aircraft receiving an Aborted token, showing how elusive the enemy ships can be.

Dan also altered the way that vessels are crippled. Normally, a vessel is crippled when it has one hull point remaining. This tends to mean that smaller craft like destroyers are crippled as soon as they receive their first hit. Larger ships last a long time before they get crippled. Dan changed it so that ships are only crippled when they lose at least half of their hull points. BUT, he also said that destroyers do not get crippled. This both hurt and helped the Japanese. With a larger escort force they could more easily be crippled under the traditional rules. Yet, the main strategy is to protect the Yamato at all costs. The new crippled rules made it easier for the Yamato to become less effective.

The board was very long. Dan took blue poster board; spray painted various shades of blue, and then drew on larger grids. This resulted in a beautiful looking seascape with squares large enough for all but the biggest ships to comfortably fit. He also created bases for the smaller ships. As anyone who plays War at Sea knows, those small vessels frequently topple over or suffer the dreaded “banana boat” effect. His bases were made from the blue, clear, plastic lids of the cheap store brand plastic containers. Think Rubbermaid of Tupperware but cheaper.

The game itself was interesting. From the beginning it appeared that the Japanese would have a tough time of doing much of anything. The goal was to make it to Okinawa at the opposite end of the 6ft+ board. Objective markers, which were revealed at turns 5, 7, and 9, would be placed sequentially closer to Okinawa. The objective closest to the island was worth the most points. Points were scored, as normal, for destroyed units. Whichever side obtained 300pts won.

My partner and I had differing opinions on how to play. I’m a defensive player in that I like to turtle. I prefer my opponent to make the first move so that I can react. My partner gave new meaning to the phrase “defensive player.” He was so focused on defense that I became the attack-minded one.

With minimal air cover, and a plethora of kamikazes, we had to rely on taking out the enemy carriers when they were loaded with rearming planes. Doing that would result in their armor decreasing. It was clear that our inability to get on the same page would cause some in game situations where we would get the short end of the stick. We got on well enough and he was a friendly person.

Through a combination of mix-matched playing style, vastly superior American forces, and unbelievable dice rolls by the Americans it wasn’t long before the Japanese lost. I’ve seriously never seen anyone roll as many 6s, roll such great air defense, and such great air attacks as the folks across the table.

It was a long time since I last played War at Sea. My partner, and one of the guys on the other side, clearly spends more time with the game. They both fit more into the wargamer side than beer & pretzel side, which is the aspect of the game I prefer. The game used some of the newest models, which I was unfamiliar with.

The game was very fun to play. Dan is a great guy and he has a great idea with the scenario. Many things worked very well and some things need more play testing. I think that the crippled rule should be changed back to normal except for destroyers. The Japanese force is at such a disadvantage that they need all the help they can get for them to have the remotest of chances.

It was also a blast playing against Bob Yates who is the 2011 Life Time Achievement Award Winner. He is a fun, friendly, and energetic guy.

After getting my butt handed to me in War at Sea I was very hungry. I missed lunch and was eager for dinner. By prior arrangement I scored a dinner date with Ben Gerber and his lovely wife. Ben is the big boss here at Troll in the Corner  and he is also the creator of the sock puppet RPG named Argyle & Crew. The meal at Pike’s Peak, the hotel restaurant, was very nice. Caesar salad with shrimp fit my Weight Watchers Lenten needs.

After dinner Ben’s wife and I had to get over to the Horror Stories From the Con panel. Jay Libby, co-owner of Dilly Green Bean Games, James Carpio “Dregg”, owner of Chapter 13 Press and Director of Gaming with Connecticon, Peter “Blix” Bryant, co-host of TriTac Podcast sat on the panel. At the last minute, Ben was convinced to also join the panel.

The panel began by sharing their best and worst con stories. James Carpio began by talking about his time with I-Con when Mike Pondsmith was an industry guest. The con’s guest coordinator was supposed to pick up Mr. Pondsmith, along with some other guests, from La Guardia and then take them back to Long Island. After they were six hours late, James got a call from Mike Pondsmith saying, in a friendly way, “I’m going to kill you.” It turned out the guest coordinator spent most of that time lost on the various highways. Eventually, Mike had to take over the driving and get them to the con. By the time they arrived, all the food was gone and the industry guests had to order take out Chinese.

Peter Bryant discussed one time at DragonCon. He said that con is where he had the best and worst con experiences. He explained that DragonCon is so large it takes four hotels to house the 50,000+ attendees. That con is one where you are out of place if you don’t wear a costume. For fun he went with friends to take a peek at the con’s ABC party. An ABC party, he explained, is an Anything But Clothes party. You can wear anything, or nothing, as long as it isn’t clothing. He said it turned out to be a bunch of sci-fi gamers wearing only cellophane. As they left they walked past a gamer with the worst case of gamer stink. The aroma was so intense that Peter began retching and almost threw up. His friends tried to get their digital camcorder to work so they could capture the scene for posterity. The camcorder never got powered up but the smell stayed with him.

The highlight of the con was hanging out with other podcast people, drinking, and having a good time. He hung out with Phil Plait who does the Bad Astronomy podcast and had a great time. After the festivities he returned to his hotel with his friends. On the way they encountered other attendees having a great time. He realized that it was 4 o’clock in the morning, he was drunk, and he was talking to Wonder Woman. He loved it!

Jay Libby refused to reveal the name of the con where his worst experience happened. He was invited as a guest of the unnamed con, but the people running the con didn’t know where he was supposed to go. They were clueless and he was just standing there with a footlocker of stuff. After leaving the con at 4am to get home, he was stopped at a red light in his rental car. A car hit him from behind at 50mph. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt. His friends, and he, had to go to the hospital. He was extra angry because the person driving the other car was an illegal alien and her passenger threatened to shoot Jay. In talking with the authorities he found out that nothing would be done about the illegal aliens.

His best experience was starting, and continuing to run, the Dilly Green Bean Games cocktail hour. He hosts the cocktail hour with industry guests and has a lot of fun hanging out with them.

Ben Gerber had, in my opinion, the best good con story. Back in 2008 he helped to raise money for an author of his blog to go to NY Comic Con with her quadriplegic son. Her son suffered numerous operations and the one thing that got him through them all was his love of superheroes. Money was raised for them to fly out from the west coast and go to the con. The people working the con were fantastic and did everything possible to treat them really well. They managed to get the kid, his mother, Ben, and his wife into a $5000 a plate fundraising event, which was televised. During the course of the con, Ben’s wife befriended one of the security guards. This resulted in a private, five minute meeting with Stan Lee. Stan chatted with the woman’s son and the kid had a great time.

This con also was setting for Ben’s worst con story. At one point the woman and her son were lost. Ben et al had to go up into the security area to watch monitors in the hopes of finding the pair. Security personnel were sent out and ultimately found the boy and his mother.

The panel ended with one final question. What are the things you cannot burn out of your mind from a con? One person said that seeing a hair, 360lb man in a Sailor Moon costume (aka Sailor Bubba) is forever ingrained in their brain. Another was at a furry con, for non-furry reasons, and found a furry hookup board. The board advertised sexual acts from the most tame such as a cat oil bath to things more perverse than you can imagine. This person went into the con thinking “they’re just nice people who like animals” and left it thinking “they’re scary deviants.” Another person remarked about the extremely bad body odor from one con.

The discussion devolved into panelists and audience members trying to discern why gamers don’t bathe. The consensus is that gamers would rather spend as much time gaming and then use what little time remains to sleep. As such they don’t take the time to bathe, eat, or take medication.

After the panel it was time for the CUBE OF DEATH. With a name like that you’re bound to think this is a dangerous event. What the CUBE OF DEATH, it is more ominous if you picture it being said by James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman, is a game show that crossed Dungeons & Dragons with a trivia game. Two teams battle each other to a war of wits. Geek trivia questions are asked; the team that answers correctly inflicts damage to their opponents by rolling a d6. When a team’s life falls from 30 to 0, the game ends. Prizes are given and jokes are had.

A variety of questions were asked but quite a few focused on obscure comic lore, science fiction television shows (Doctor Who was a favorite), and 80s cartoons. In other words it was a BLAST! Peter “Blix” Bryant, yeah the panelist with the horror story from DragonCon, was the host. The game was also videotaped for playback hilarity.

In between CUBE OF DEATH rounds I joined Wayne Moulton Jr., of Sages of RPG fame, and Ben Gerber, and Ben’s wife for some board game fun. The highlight was a game called Poo: The Card Game. Each player is a monkey that must throw poo at the other monkeys. When a monkey gets 15 poo on it, it is out of the game. The one exception to this is the first monkey to receive 15 poo. That first monkey retrieves a golden banana, which removes all but 8 poo. The last smelly monkey standing is the winner.

The cards have funny artwork and interesting text. This is a game using the mechanic of draw a card and do what the card says. The game is intended for ages 6 and up.

That closed out my first day at the con and what a day it was. The ride home was interesting to say the least because of a heavy rainstorm. I never expected to be so tired as a result of playing games. But, it was a very long day and Saturday would be another long day.

Saturday was another fantastic day. It began with prep for Daybreak at Hangman’s Creek. I’ve been prattling forever about this game. It is the American Civil War game that Adrian B., Cort N., and myself have been working on since before Thanksgiving. It uses the Black Powder guidelines for gentlemanly wargaming and 15mm figures. The scenario is based on the one, of the same name, from the Black Powder book.

In the scenario, the Union army is encamped in a town and its surrounding area. One brigade is partly encamped nearby, another is advancing into the town, and a third is starting to arrive at the neighboring gun foundry. Unbeknownst to them, the Confederates have sent an army to launch a surprise attack and take the valuable locations.

There was one obstacle to setting up, and playing, this game. Our assigned table was taken. It turned out an exhibitor had misunderstood the con organizers and thought they could use any empty table they wanted to. There was a slight confusion when we tried to inform the exhibitor that we needed the table for our scheduled game. This was pleasantly resolved with thanks to Angelia Heroux, TotalCon’s Promotional Director, and Steven Parenteau, Event Director. Space was found elsewhere for the exhibitor and we were given our assigned table.

Thankfully we’ve had a lot of practice setting up and taking down the game. We managed to get everything in place in the blink of an eye. While we were setting up, gamers kept popping over to see what we were up to. Some stayed longer than others, but many onlookers expressed interest in our game. Ultimately three onlookers joined the game. Cort and myself were prepared to fill in spots if needed. One pre-registrant showed up and the last two spots were filled with onlookers.

Numerous attendees asked if we were the civil war game, if we were running this game again later, if we were running it on Sunday, and if we would be running it at other cons.

The players ranged in levels of experience. Most fit into the “what’s a wargame?” category and a few had experience with wargames but no experience with Black Powder. Adrian served as overall umpire, while Cort and myself were advisors for the respective sides.

After a quick overview of the game and a moderately detailed briefing of the command and orders system and the game commenced. Halfway through the game, players were running things pretty much on their own, with most questions revolving around combat resolution. This is the same thing that happened when I played in the Battle of Olustee, run by Boston Trained Bands [INSERT URL], at Huzzah.

The game ended with a Union victory. Throughout the game victory was far from certain. The Confederacy has a strong initial showing but ended up losing when the Union got their act together in the town and camp. The Union broke two of the Confederate’s three brigades causing their army to be broken. The good news for the Rebels is that they broke the Union brigade at the foundry.

All of the players seemed to have a fun time playing and they expressed their thanks for an exciting game. Cort framed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and gave them to all of the players as a thank you for playing.

The entire con was a blast. However, some parts stand out. Meeting Ben Gerber in person was awesome. He is nicer in person than he is online. Affable, outgoing, and easy-going are just a few traits to describe Ben. Finally getting to meet Angelia Heroux, even though it was for just a moment, was another highlight. She is so nice, determined, and helpful. She’s been supportive of my podcast and blog the past years and has been a motivating reason for my continued con attendance. I’m honored to say that she will be the featured guest on an upcoming episode of my show, Wargaming Recon, to discuss TotalCon.

Seeing Wayne Moulton, Jr., in the flesh was pretty amazing. He and I connected via Foursquare, then Twitter, and finally I participated in one of his Google+ hangouts. Wayne works with children and in his spare time he runs Sages of RPG, which runs gaming and educational gaming events. He’s run many events at the Portsmouth Public Library too.

Running Daybreak at Hangman’s Creek with Adrian B. and Cort N. was the icing on the cake. This was the first time I’ve ever run a game at a con. Working with Adrian and Cort was amazing. Adrian has a solid understanding of the rules with a keen ability to impart his knowledge onto others. Cort has a fantastic collection of terrain and miniatures, which he has built and painted. Everything looks beautiful on the table. Both are friendly and helpful guys that love to game. Most importantly, they put up with this young and inexperienced wargamer. The game itself was a blast to run and nothing is better than seeing others have so much fun with something that I helped to create.

My one regret is not staying at the con instead of driving back and forth. I waffled on the idea and ultimately chose to commute in order to save some money. While at the con I learned of neighboring hotels with cheaper rates. If that holds true for next year I’ll definitely stay or if I can get some friends to go and split a room with me.

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