Wednesday, June 28, 2017

DixieCon 31 - a Regional Mini-Convention

Over Memorial Day weekend (2017) I attended a mini-convention in Chapel Hill North Carolina.

I call this a mini-convention because of the relatively small turnout. Fewer people were involved than in a typical meeting of the NC State Tabletop Gamers, but the difference is persistence, both in the con and from year to year (31 years). At one point I heard the number 45 participants, which was higher than in the past. So it’s roughly one third the size of Rapier Con in Jacksonville Florida - but Chapel Hill North Carolina is the small university town (UNC-CH, THE UNC), though Wake County is not far away with its 900 K or so people.

Many of the participants come from pretty far away (Tampa FL for example, and VA), come every year, and apparently have been doing this for many years. It was the first time for me, though I live less than 70 miles away. There were some young people around but many of the participants were of the age you see at wargame conventions - lots of Baby Boomers.

This wasn’t surprising because DixieCon is first and foremost a Diplomacy convention, and has been home for the World Diplomacy Championships about three times. I played Diplomacy (and designed many, many variants) a long time ago but have not played in decades. I arrived early Friday morning, and before the tournament began I was able to get people to playtest some of my games; after the tournament started (and aided and abetted by an eight player Twilight Imperium game) my playtesters evaporated.

There were lots of interesting people to talk with, from a game collector dealer to someone who runs lots of Diplomacy variants online.

Accommodation is available because the convention takes place in a couple of lounges in a high-rise dorm building (Granville Towers). $35 a night, simple and straightforward. I went to bed not long after 10, and had decided I wasn’t going to have a roommate, but he turned up after 2 AM. We just passed in the night more or less.

The convention itself has a $35 fee. Lots of parking is available, as the students aren’t present. There are lots of eateries on Franklin Street a third of a mile away, and on Saturday evening David Hood arranges a big barbecue (for eight dollars).

Saturday afternoon I tried to talk the guys out of playing Twilight Imperium, which is one of those games that last forever while not much happens, very much a corporate management game rather than command game: what I call a fake wargame. But the owner of the game had spent considerably more than $100 on game and expansions and needed to justify his expenditure!

The most popular game at the convention other than Diplomacy was Terraforming Mars. I try to figure out why it’s so popular: part of it may be that it’s typical Eurostyle Corporate Management, but it is tied much more closely to it’s theme than most Euros. And the theme itself is quite different.

I had some car starting problems Saturday morning but AAA sorted those out. I got home Saturday night (the third round of the tournament is on Sunday morning) with no further car difficulties, and as I went to bed after 10:30 I thought, "those guys are still playing Twilight Imperium!" There must be some "Monster Game" incentive there, that I'm immune to . . . I solo tested one of my two-player block games that afternoon, starting while they were still explaining the rules (which itself was a very long procedure), and when I finished they had not yet actually started to play though they had set up the board. [One of them responded electronically later that they probably were only in the second turn at 10:30!]

I'm really impressed that David Hood has been organizing such a fine little gathering for 31 years.  And he doesn't even get to play in the tournament, because of past shenanigans by another Diplomacy tournament director. I doubt he gets near enough praise for the effort.  Thanks, David.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Recent Screencasts (9 June 2017)

I rarely get around to posting individual links to my "Game Design" YouTube channel here, so I decided to list the most recent  screencasts instead.

Departing from the standard (card game) sequence of play 6/8/2017
The standard sequence of play makes a specialty card game easier to learn. But don't "settle" for it, your game may be better with something else.

Nuts & Bolts: How to get an improvisers's game from a planner's game 6/1/2017
I describe how I changed Britannia, an historical Planner's game par excellence, into an Improviser's space wargame, with just a few changes. Very different experience, essentially same underlying mechanics.

Ranking Sources of Information About Game Design Two parts 4/20/2017
The best way to learn is to make games. The second best way is to talk with (and listen to) other game designers, whether informally or in a class. After that there are many sources of learning, and I've ranked those in a two-part screencast.

Eight awful truths about game marketing
I ran across "10 Awful Truths about Book Marketing" online, and seeing the parallels with games, I'm discussing those Truths (including the two that don't apply). Another time I'll discuss some strategies you can follow to do your best in this environment.

There's no "Secret Knowledge" or "secret Sauce" (nor conspiracies) in Game Design
Aspiring designers sometimes believe that there's a secret formula to game design, and all they have to do is follow it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The delusion seems to be common in society these days, that there's a secret knowledge to any discipline. It's the kind of thing that helps fuel conspiracy theories.