Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Whirlwind Adventure: Escapade Games at Gen Con 2013

by Julian

Gen Con this year was an amazing experience.  Due to a mix up in communication it ended up being a last minute decision for us to go to Gen Con.  Only through the generous help of a family member and the power of social media were we able to afford the trip and find a place to stay at the last minute that was only a few blocks for the convention center.  We were rushed, we flustered, and we were very nervous, but we couldn't be happier about how it all turned out.

When our plane first landed in Indy, we were happy, nervous, and a little...crazy?
The People and the Games

We spent most of the convention with Storm Hollow.  When we weren’t running officially ticketed games of it, we were arranging and running pick-up games with anyone that could clear some time in their schedule that lined up with ours. We also spent some time meet with our publisher, Game Salute, about the game and talking with other game designers about our game.  I’ll talk about how our games of Storm Hollow went in a bit, but first I’d like to mention some of the incredible people we met and the cool games we got to play. 

An Encounter with Wil Wheaton

Before Gen Con even started, we got to briefly say hi to Wil Wheaton when we saw him dining at the same restaurant we were at.  It was a polite and quick hello as we didn’t want to bother him while he was trying to get some grub, but as he left Angie was able to give him his very first die of the convention and he paused a moment to tell us about the great book he was reading.  Wil was an incredibly nice guy and it was fun to get even a few moments to say hello.  In what feels to us like a bizarre twist of fate, we got to be on the other end of that exchange when we were stopped randomly while walking through the exhibit hall by someone who recognized us and wanted to take our picture.  It was humbling and funny and weird and awesome all at the same time.

We couldn't get a picture with Wil, but he later tweeted a picture of his hand holding Angie's d20.

Psychonautica, A Beautiful Game of Tarot

During our first game of Storm Hollow where we got to meet a couple of incredible guys from England whose wives sent them each to Gen Con as their 40th birthday presents, Scott from The Board Game Show podcast, and his friends Al and Heidi. Talking to Heidi about her recent project was very inspiring. She had created an awesome tarot card deck called Psychonautica.  It has beautiful, hand-drawn figures on every card.  The figures were drawn off of models of many different body types and broke with traditional roles in subtle yet powerful ways.  The figures are created with simple, graceful lines without any shading or color and set against a vivid color background texture.  The effect is that Heidi manages to make each and every body type seem graceful, beautiful, and relatable.  On top of that, the tarot deck comes with rules for playing it like a trick taking card game.  We didn’t get a chance to play it, but reading through the rules it reminded me of the game Oh Hell (one of my favorite trick taking card games) with some fun flourishes and differences added in.  Psychonautica is available through The Gamecrafter and is absolutely worth checking out.

Heidi, designer of Psychonautica.

Star Captains

We got to meet Cole Medeiros, a fellow game designer who was out playtesting and pitching his space game called Starship Captains.  It reminded me a lot of a game we tried to develop awhile back.  We struggled to find a way to rope in all the ideas we had about running cargo across the galaxy, upgrading your ship with tech, hiring crew members, and going on dangerous missions in a way that held together as one game and wasn’t overly complex.  I got to play half a game of Starship Captains and Cole has done a fantastic job of putting all those elements into a fine mix that plays pretty fast and isn’t overly complicated at all.  We loved what he has going on in that game. When last we heard, it sounded like Cole had a few publishers interested.  We are definitely rooting for his success.

Jonathan Liu and the Emperor’s New Clothes

Playing Emperor's New Clothes.  Its not camera glare.  Those game components really are all blank and white.
We got to see our friend Jonathan Liu, a writer for the Geek Dad blog, several times at the convention and I got my first opportunity to play his game based on the Emperor’s New Clothes.  It’s a game where each turn you roll three absolutely blank dice (you are allowed to reroll twice to get different results), then collect an amount of dignity, gold, or gullibility based on that roll (resources represented by blank white cubes), play blank white cards to help yourself or hurt other players and then reveal role cards to show how well you scored for the round (cards which are also entirely blank and white). You then mark your score for the round by moving your blank white score ship across a number of spaces across the scoreboard equal to the points you scored that round.  The scoreboard is also blank, white, and has no numbers or spaces on it at all.   Yes, all the components for the game are blank.  Angie and Randy had played the game before, but I had only heard of the concept.  I thought the idea was just to play a joke.  You sit down and pretend to play a game with blank cards, pretend to take it seriously, and laugh at the confused onlookers who are trying to deduce what you are up to.  The truth is that the game rules Jonathan has devised provide enough structure to make an intriguing game of imagination and live game design that you can really absorbed into to.  You find yourself trying to decide which role you should reveal based on what role other players have claimed to reveal.  You base your imaginary cards off of what you think will be funny and stick within the parameters of what really feels like a game.  You really can’t see how much of a game really is there until you sit down to play it.  I don’t think the game is being sold outside of its now closed Kickstarter project, but the rules are available on the Kickstarter page…and you can probably find your own blank stuff to play with.  Although the art on the official blank white cards really is fantastic.

Old Friends, New Friends, and More Fun Games

We ran into several friends we were excited to see.  We got to play some games of Commander style Magic the Gathering with Erin Campbell of the Deck Tease podcast.  We met her at Gen Con the previous year and it was fun to hang out, play Magic, and catch up.  We had the incredible honor to interview Matt Wilson, owner of Privateer Press and the man who created the Iron Kingdoms, Warmachine, and Hordes.  It was an amazing experience that will get its own post in the near future.  Angie got to play a fantastic game called Dungeon Roll with our new friends Andy and Andy (the fun English guys who were there on their birthday trip).  This game comes in a little dice game comes with many custom dice and tokens all packaged in a small, cardboard treasure chest.   The game plays quick, lets you feel like you are gaining loot and leveling up, and actually uses the treasure chest to let you gain treasure all for the fantastic price of $15. 

Andy and Andy and Angie (behind the camera) playing Dungeon Roll.
We both got to go out to dinner with Dennis, a guy who has supported our game since we met him last year and even ran one of our sessions at Gen Con (more on that in a bit), and with an excited backer named David who related some incredible stories about games of Storm Hollow he’d ran off the Kickstarter materials.  Dennis was incredibly kind and generous.  David really inspired us with his enthusiasm and joy for Storm Hollow. 

Julian, Angie, Dennis, and David having a nice break from the roar of the convention center.

Running Storm Hollow
While we did find some opportunity to check out other games, most of our convention was spent in the service of Storm Hollow.  The games of Storm Hollow that we played were amazing.  Getting to meet some of our backers was an honor we will never forget.  Your belief in Storm Hollow, your feedback, and your kind words were all incredibly inspiring and energizing for us.  Of course, the players at Gen Con weren’t just backers.  There were also people that had heard about it from friends, seen it online, or just came across it on the Gen Con Schedule and thought it sounded cool.  I had the brilliant idea that I would write careful notes after each session to be able to compare and contrast the different approaches each group took.  I did this once, then lost my notepad, found my notepad on the evening of the last day of the con, made some more notes from memory, and then promptly lost the notepad again by leaving it on the plane home.  Soo… oops.  Fortunately, because I did make notes and because the games were so much fun, I do remember many of the details of what happened.  There were too many awesome moments to recall them all here, but here are a few highlights from the games.

The Big Race

The demo adventure we ran is called The Wondercart Speedway Expo.  It was an adventure we’d run a few times before but we modified it so that it was now a race through five districts of the city of Venture.  The heroes get to build and race a wondercart (steampunk racecar that the entire team of heroes will fit inside) with the help of their new friend and ally Hasty Hastings, a Stumbletoe engineer that works for the Grumbok Engineering Corps (they do employ a few non-Grumboks).  The race is an opportunity for the GEC engineers to show off their best gadgets and Hasty has a soda cannon that fires pink fizzy soda that he wants to show off.  During the building portion of the adventure, the heroes choose a body, an engine, wheel-type, and gadgets for the cart.  Then they choose how they want to paint it and what they want to name it.  After the wondercart is built, the heroes race it through the city and face off mainly against one other racer, a mean Grumbok who has built a tank-like wondercart with a lightning gun turret on top and tubes coming out the side the fire goo.  Each turn of the race ran through a different district starting in the Diamond Arena and going through the Brassworks, Silverwall, The Weave, Crystalcade and finally back through Diamondhold to return to the arena.  Heroes were free to pick their route through each district or even dive into minecart rails beneath the city to see if they could pop out someplace useful.

The Wondercarts

Players had fun creating their carts!
Our various heroes had great variety in the wondercarts they built with fun names like Beesed Lightning (a car with a modified soda cannon that could also shoot bees), the Thunderbooster Mark IV (Thunderbooster being the first cool sounding word to hit the brain of a young boy and Mark IV being the very important addition of his slightly older sister who seemed to feel Thunderboost was too silly and needed something extra), and the Fizzy Wizard (named for the little wizard puppet automaton the group built to stick on top of the car to keep a look out for danger).  Each wondercart had its own unique paint job.  Many had lightning or flames painted on the side, one was pink and soda pop themed, one painted to magically camouflage itself to the surrounding city and one had lightning that could strobe between different colors on command.  During the building scene, many heroes checked out the competition, but one hero even snuck a chug (in this case a tiny brass ball that sprouted little legs and arms) aboard the bad guy’s car to sabotage it during the race.

The Gadgets

The heroes came up with many different gadgets to put into their wondercarts.  There were several variations on a lightning collector that would absorb blasts from the bad guy and send energy to power the engines.  There was a modified soda cannon that also fired bees, a grappling hook gun, various shielding gadgets, and automated hands that dropped boom sticks.  There were various nitros and boosters, hover fans and wind machines to make the wondercart float, smoke bombs, and a modified soda cannon turned into a fizzy engine that used fans to aim the soda down and create a soda-oil slick.  Hasty had a few gadget plans of his own in case they were needed, but the heroes always had such an amazing amount of gadget ideas that these plans were rarely used.

Running the Race

The wondercart fits Hasty and a team of six heroes ready to race.
As you can tell, The Wondercart Speedway Expo when compared to rescuing Twilla from being kidnapped in the Den of Darkness is…well, a bit silly.  Well during the race things got even sillier and more awesome.  The different groups of heroes each tackled the race with their own sense of style and panache.   One group of heroes created a slightly titled ramp with earth magic, attached a sail to the top of the car and used wind magic to jump over a section of the city while doing a barrel roll while the Whizbanger threw the Stormchaser out the window so that the Storm Chaser could grab the bad guys cart with his Thunderlash (lightning whip) and climb aboard to cause more mayhem.  Surprisingly, there were several incidents where heroes felt inspired to leap out of their own car to land on the enemy vehicle.  In another instance, two heroes leapt over together.  One of them used the Thunderlash to whip tools out of the Grumbok teams’ hands and the other set to work sabotaging the lightning gun.  One flashy hero visited the enemy cart only briefly as he leapt out to drop boom sticks on the dark tank and then rode an arc of lightning back to his wondercart.

The previously mentioned bee cannon was fired at time when a giant fluffy pillow was being thrown at dark tank to block some of the goo being fired (the hero was trying to grab something more useful out of his pack but a pillow is what he got).  The effect was that the dark tank became tarred, feathered, and covered with bees as the goo was knocked back by a cloud of pillow feathers and buzzing bees fired out at high velocity.  Most people fired the soda cannon to good effect at least once, but one young hero was in love with firing the soda cannon and spent the entire race shooting soda at the bad guys face, into his lap, and all over his team of Grumbok engineers.  This finished with a final blast where the Sparkcaller stabbed the stream with his Fang of Winter and froze the Grumbok bad guys in solid, icy soda. Other heroes threw a rubber mat over the lightning gun, bent the pipes of the goo gun, created a small storm over the dark tank, used shields to block or reflect lightning back to the enemy cart, and threw out a blinking detour sign to throw it off course.  There were many amusing antics and fun strategies employed to mess with the dark tank.

The Crowd Goes Wild

Once the race was run, the people of Venture cheered for the amazing race run by the Poppin heroes.  All the heroes were treated to a nice meal, good drinks, and often chocolate and sweets back at the Winddown clubhouse in the Brassworks.  Amazingly, at the end of a full day building, racings, and celebrating, when they left the Winddown they all managed to exit back out into a game convention in time to get to their next scheduled event.  The games were amazing and we couldn’t have been happier with creative ideas and the fun interactions we got to watch unfold each time we ran the adventure.  Thank you to everyone who played.  We hope we helped make your Gen Con experience memorable because you made our Gen Con absolutely unforgettable. 

A Little Help From Our Friends

Our friend Dennis runs his first game from a few notes and a quick crash course on how to play.
As a final note, we’d like to give a big thank you to our friend Dennis who was so eager to run a game that he did so with only a short crash course on the rules and the adventure which he ran off of my explanation and a minimal amount of notes (we didn’t have time to get the adventure in a full presentational format so that it could be easily handed off).  He dove right in and had to run a six person game in a noisy convention center.  Anytime you’ve got a full load of six heroes (especially people who don’t know each other) it can take a lot of tap dancing to keep things moving along, make sure everyone feels included, gets to throw out their own ideas, and has a fun time.  He ran a fantastic adventure, with his own take on the story, and everyone seemed to have a great time.  It was a real treat to get to just sit and watch someone else run the adventure for a change.  We’d also like to thank all of our backers who shared stories of games they’d ran during previous playtests or off the Kickstarter materials.  Those stories were wonderful and we truly can’t express how much it means to us to hear detailed accounts of where people had fun, where they got mixed up, and what decisions storytellers made to accommodate the ideas of their heroes.  Thank you again to everyone that helped us out, shared their experiences with us, and made Gen Con 2013 an event we will always hold dear in our hearts.


  1. It was great to meet up with you guys at GenCon and get to play through a Storm Hollow adventure. Keep up the good work. Glad you enjoyed dungeon roll but be careful its a little bit addictive.

    Cheers to you both!


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