Live, From San Ramon, California: DunDraCon Report

OUT OF THE BOX
2001-02-18

Bob, Here’s the “live” update column, as promised — happy Washington’s Birthday, and I’ll be back in Chicago and in regular email contact Tuesday late at night if you need anything from me. Thanks, Ken OUT OF THE BOX by Kenneth Hite

Go ahead, DunDraCon. As I type these words, I’m sitting in a hotel room in nondescript San Ramon, California, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the beautiful San Francisco “Bay Area,” as they say hereabouts. DunDraCon is a gamer’s game convention; there’s several rooms of programmed events, two big open gaming rooms, three dealer’s rooms (in one of which I got a somewhat beat-up but still unpunched copy of the old Avalon Hill boardgame Blackbeard!), a full track of gaming seminars well attended, and Official Game Company Presences from Hogshead Games, Hero Games/Cybergames.com (promoting its new edition of Champions: the New Millennium), Cheapass Games, Green Ronin Publishing (which has a flier out announcing its upcoming Spaceship Zero RPG, the first RPG ever based on a surf-punk album), Wicked Press (test-running John Wick’s upcoming bandwagon D20 D&D adventure), Flying Buffalo Inc., Gold Rush Games, and the mighty congeries of companies lurking in the Wizard’s Attic [http://www.wizards-attic.com]. Speaking of which, the upcoming D20 Elric sourcebook from Chaosium, Dragon Lords of Melnibone will possibly be the best-looking Chaosium book in the last four years. In short, if you’re a Northern California gamer, or like me a Midwestern gamer looking for a reason to leave the Midwest in February, you can do considerably worse than to fly out here over President’s Day weekend and join our happy throng, which a quick eyeball count would put in the middle hundreds. As far as industry news I’ve picked up out here, I’ve heard that Wizards of the Coast has a big announcement coming up at GAMA regarding its new miniatures game (maybe the name Crucible is available again); Hero Games has the Witchblade license, for people whose concept of “fantasy roleplaying” is more robust than some; and did I mention the D20 bandwagon? I also stopped in at my unrequited loves at Chaosium to see the new offices, which look less like a Mob family trucking operation and more like a carpet cleaning franchise gone horribly wrong. I also stopped in at Berkeley/Top Line distribution for an up-close look at a Real Distributor ™, but the guy who runs it was not there, so I just wandered around getting fingerprints on all the new product, and hearing exciting horror stories of miscollated Lord of the Rings boardgames. Perhaps from this visit will come a new day of understanding for distributors everywhere and an end to the cheap slams they get in my column. Or maybe not. And, for those wondering if I’m still a Real Writer ™, the bar at the Marriott is overpriced and the bartenders are very, very sadistic to innocent drinkers of the rainbow. Pure Blue Curacao is just a very, very bad idea. Although I’m chalking it up to “research” for my upcoming revision of GURPS Horror. Time to Make the Chrononauts

One game I picked up at the show was Andrew Looney’s Chrononauts (136 nicely laminated color coded cards, tiny stapled b&w rulebook), from Looney Labs [http://www.LooneyLabs.com], the makers of Fluxx. You’d expect me to love a game about traveling through time changing and unchanging history, saving the world from Paradox gone rampant, and stealing dinosaurs from your friends to put on Shakespeare’s lost play about the Mona Lisa. And I do love all that, but the game itself needs more of the first part and less of the “scavenger hunt through time” aspect that unfortunately dominates game play — the various victory conditions are mechanically unbalanced, leading to a de-emphasis of the time changing mechanic that is Looney’s best idea for this game. Otherwise, you’re just playing Dino Hunt, and that game has more dinosaurs. Chrononauts does show a great love for and appreciation of the whole time-screwup genre, from The Man in the High Castle to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Looney Labs promises expansions and new decks set in different time periods; this may do something to keep any individual game interesting, but repeated play will require someone to go back in time and tinker with the game balance first.

Nazis — In — Spaaaaaaace!!

Meanwhile, in another alternate history (sense a pattern?), the Baron von Richthofen’s atomic Radium-Saucers are firing their evil death rays at the bold Buck-Rogers Tesla-powered fighter rocketships of Billy Mitchell’s U.S. Army Space Corps. Darrell Hayhurst and Neal Sofge’s Hard Vacuum (48 pages, staplebound, with cool laminated full-color cardboard counters on a two-page insert) from Fat Messiah Games [http://www.fatmessiahgames.com] tells this stirring story, and a few others to boot — the increasingly strange alternate space war timeline running along the bottom of the book is almost worth the price of admission alone. Game play probably needs a hex map, although the rules earnestly support tabletop and inches gaming. The alleged space combat has no altitude rules, but has a nice system for reconciling relative thrust that reminded at least this journeyman minis gamer of Silent Death. There’s also a set of rules for designing and customizing your own World War Two spacecraft (what a great phrase!) for people who just can’t wait for Robert Goddard and Werner von Braun to do it for them. This is a swell “beer und pretzels und Tang” miniatures game, and the price is right. The art is clearly computer-generated, which leads to some degree of aesthetic discombobulation, and I’m not sure why spacegoing flying saucers are painted in green-and-gray Stuka camouflage, but it’s just too fun zipping those Republic SP-63s against a Nazi radium convoy returning from the dark side of the moon to worry about issues like that.

Two Weeks, Some Waiting
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