Ron's Info-Closet Annex

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The online extension of Ron's Info-Closet.


The original (walk-in) Info-Closet, circa 1995

Book links are usually to my Powell's affiliate program; game links are usually to Funagain Games, and benefit the Games to the Rescue Project.

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Ron Hale-Evans
rwhe@ludism.org

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  • Sun, 29 Aug 2004

    The Dragonflight experience

    Dragonflight XXV logo

    As I mentioned, I was a guest of honor at the Dragonflight XXV gaming convention at Seattle University, from Friday, 13 August 2004 through Sunday, 15 August.

    I made a lot of friends at Dragonflight. I haven't been to many gaming cons before, and so making so many new friends was a serendipitous benefit, probably the most important one I experienced.

    Lots of people gave me business cards. I have business cards too, but I want my gamer friends to call me at home. What I need is a "pleasure card" of the sort Richard Stallman gives out, to hook people up with my various projects through the Center for Ludic Synergy and elsewhere.

    Here are a couple of other items that may be interesting:

    I've already described the events I would be hosting at the convention, as I envisioned them. How they actually came out is described below.

    Friday, 11:00 AM

    Marty and I wake up, exhausted from packing the night before, and run around on last-minute errands such as photocopying seminar materials and buying microcassettes and dry-erase markers. It's crazy. Our nerves are worn thin at the synapses, but we still manage to make it to Dragonflight an hour before I am supposed to give my first seminar.

    Friday, 3:30 PM

    There is only time to register partially (pick up my "special guest" badge and so on) before the Ludism seminar starts. Marty parks the car and I bring in the necessities for the seminar and the Cosmic Pig session, which starts soon after.

    Friday, 4:30 PM: Ludism: The Philosophy of Gaming

    Marty and I sit and wait in the fifth-floor lounge where the Ludism seminar is supposed to be. No one shows. It turns out there's been a schedule screwup: the scheduling guy allegedly got into a fight with the other Dragonflight staff and quit the week before the convention. The new program has outdated information: the times and places for this seminar and my Game Systems 1 session on Sunday are reversed. According to the schedule, I am now supposed to be in the ballroom, giving Game Systems 1. Marty suggests I go down to the ballroom and place a notice at my table informing people of the "schedule change". I quickly do so.

    More problems become apparent: all of my other seminars and game sessions also have old information in the program, including promotional copy garnered by the organisers from the Glass Bead Game wiki and elsewhere, even having embedded WikiNames in the text, WhichLookLikeNonsense if you're NotOnAWiki. Also also, my bio doesn't appear in the program itself, but on an errata sheet. Also also also, the whiteboard I need for my seminars has been lost....

    Ah, well. I try to be Stoic. I had told myself I would count the seminar as a success even if no one showed up, because (among other reasons) I had to prepare an outline for it, which I can turn into an article. Meanwhile, I use the time available to prepare for my Cosmic Pig session, which starts at 7:00.

    I return to the ballroom, and prepare for CP by cutting out and sleeving the spiffy Cosmic Pig Edicts that Marty drew up, and mixing them with the regular Cosmic Encounter cards. Marty amuses herself by watching a game of Princes of Florence, the convention staff play The Waltons board game (long story), and Thread Impressions make her hat (see below).

    Friday, 7:00 PM: Cosmic Pig

    I have brought four Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition sets of Cosmic Encounter, and enough Cosmic Pig Edicts for all four copies, so I am prepared for up to 16 people to play Cosmic Pig. This is my Cosmic Encounter variant based in the game in the juvenile SF novel Interstellar Pig by William Sleator, which I (and a number of other people) strongly suspect is influenced by Cosmic Encounter. In all, we have 8 players, including myself -- enough for two full H/AH games.

    The players of Cosmic Pig Game 1 are an interesting guy named Eugene, another person I'll refer to as Rude Boy, and two other people. They start off cool toward Cosmic Pig and grow more enthusiastic as they play. Eugene is an experienced CE player, and expresses skepticism that Cosmic Encounter is a strategic game. I protest, and it gets me thinking. (But more on this later.) Rude Boy is an older man with a boyish demeanor who can't restrain his indignance when I don't remember the finer points of the Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition of CE. For example, I can't remember whether you lose your alien power when you're down to two home bases or only one. (When Seattle Cosmic plays with our "monster" set, we usually use two powers each. When you're down to two bases, you lose one power of your choice; when you're down to one base, you lose both powers.) Looking back, Rude Boy was atypical of the gamers I met at Dragonflight, who were almost to a person polite, friendly, and community-minded. But R.B. eventually settles down, and the players in Game 1 have a good time, with lots of laughter.

    Game 2 starts off enthusiastic about Cosmic Pig (and Interstellar Pig) and cools off. It consists of myself, Brett Lentz (a Seattle Cosmic irregular), his SO Sara, and her brother Izzy. Sara and Izzy have visited SC once or twice as well. Izzy is an experienced CE player and helps with rule clarifications, for which I am grateful.

    Eugene wins Game 1 when a Piggy Challenge happens near the end of the game and he manages to hold onto it until the "timer" goes off. In Game 2, we don't have any Piggy Challenges, but we know where The Piggy is. I grab The Piggy from its envelope with Four-Dimensional Waldoes near the end, lose it in a challenge, and get it back as consolation by playing a Negotiate (Compromise) card. Izzy, however, manages to obtain the Piggy-Befriending Device in the same way. The Piggy-Befriending Device alters the win condition to maximum number of bases. Izzy has 10 bases (edging out Brett by one base, I believe), so he wins. (I have something like 3 bases, including home bases.)

    Cosmic Pig is much better playtested, and the new rules draft should be available when you read this. (Dragonflight was the first playtest with the new Edicts and rules.)

    Friday, 9:00 PM

    I finish registering and haul the rest of my stuff in from the car to my dorm room. I go back to the ballroom and hang out with some other Seattle Cosmic members. I select the design and colors for an SC logo hat, which will be done by the next morning.

    Afterwards, a vendor (Bill from Wizards Toy Chest [sic] in Portland), lends me his demo copy of Trillõn (pronounced "Trillion", I assume), a new game system by the company Gamepeace in Utah (I have already been expecting a review copy of Trillõn in the mail). It looks even more interesting than I had hoped, and I plan to describe it soon in one of my upcoming game systems articles. Bill promises he will demo a few Trillõn games at my Game Systems 1 session Sunday, and puts up one of my posters in his booth.

    Friday, 11:00 PM

    I've had a long day, or what seems like one. I kiss Marty goodnight (she is driving home every night to take care of our dogs) and return to my room. I take a cold shower (no air conditioning, so the dorms are hot in mid-August), and listen to BBC World News. I think about Eugene's claim that Cosmic Encounter is not a strategic game. I was the second-best CE player in Seattle Cosmic the last time we bothered to keep track, so I have some strong opinions that Cosmic can be a very strategic game. I decide I'll write an article about it, and start enumerating some CE strategies before I finally go to bed.

    Saturday, 10:00 AM

    I wake up and immediately begin thinking about my Cosmic Encounter strategy article. I call my friend John Braley, the number one Cosmic player at Seattle Cosmic, and ask him to collaborate on the article. He agrees.

    I go downstairs to the ballroom (really more like a cafeteria) for brunch. I pick up my new Seattle Cosmic hat from Thread Impressions. It looks beautiful. I don't normally wear baseball caps, but half the heads seem to be sporting one here, so none will care it's considered déclassé by the mundanes. My cap and I are inseparable for the rest of the weekend. Its design is similar to the logo below, except that the pawn is green and the orbital ring is a solid yellow, with the words set off to the right in green and yellow. Marty bought a similar cap, but in pink and silver.

    Seattle Cosmic logo

    I run across a new game called ChessHeads. It looks as though someone has tried to turn Knightmare Chess into a collectible card game. I shudder and set it down.

    I also meet a fellow named Jeff Wilcox of Curious Games. He designed the game Phantasy Realm, which I have played once and won. I enjoyed it even though it is not really my style of game. Jeff also designed the satirical TRPG: The Role-Playing Game, which we give out as prizes at game night. A nice guy, Jeff. He wants to attend EGGS, our game design group, time permitting. (More info below.)

    After meeting Jeff, I buy a pair of Average Dice from a vendor. An Average Die is a six-sided die bearing the following numbers: 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5 -- no 1 or 6. Apart from my hat, they are the only game-related items I buy all weekend. Sadly, the vendor doesn't have any Extreme Dice (1, 1, 2, 5, 6, 6).

    After my stroll around the vendors area, I sit down to eat brunch and go through my notes for the Glass Bead Game talk. A fellow named Aaron Nabil-Eastlund spots me and chats with me about the upcoming Monster Cosmic game. Aaron is an experienced Cosmic player, and it's his contention that the manifold expansions we'll be using tonight were produced by Eon solely to make money, and actually detract from the purity of the game, making a kind of "strategic soup" (my words, not Aaron's), so he probably won't be playing. I invite Aaron to collaborate on the CE strategy article (because he does think that in a stripped-down game, there is plenty of strategy). Maybe!

    Besides sharing a taste in gaming, Aaron and I have a mutual friend: Dave Howell (who co-designed the Seattle Cosmic logo). We also both have hyphenated surnames. Hyphenees against the world!

    I'm realising as I Google for Aaron's home page that Aaron probably joined the seattle-cosmic mailing list at one point -- Aaron, or someone else equally interested in robotics. Come to a game night, Aaron!

    Saturday, 4:30 PM: The Glass Bead Game

    Fortunately, the convention staff have finally managed to locate the whiteboard, so I give my Glass Bead Game seminar, using the whiteboard for a kind of "chalk talk". I work from loose 3x5" cards with graphic images of the things I want to talk about, as recommended by Mark Twain, since I figure the iconic quality of a chalk talk will add to the glass-bead-gaminess of my presentation (iconicity being one of the pillars of the Glass Bead Game. Naturally, I am not as accomplished an impromptu speaker as Mark Twain, so I make a hash of the talk (according to Marty, later). Nevertheless, I seem to get something across, because, of the five people attending (five times as many as I expected), only one leaves early, and the rest stay late to toss ideas around. Most of the attendees indicate they will enter the Kenning Haiku competition I announce. I now reckon about a half-dozen people are planning to enter this Glass Bead Game competition, which is as many as actually entered the first piecepack competition, so we're off to a good start.

    Of the people who stick around, one is Marty, one is Aaron Nabil-Eastlund, and there are two new people, Patric Rogers and Mac McKinlay.

    Aaron is politely interested in my Glass Bead Game playable variant Kennexions, but is fairly critical of one aspect of it. Later, I realise we were miscommunicating. Fortunately, I have the chance to explain this to him (see below).

    Patric Rogers [sic] comes to the seminar a bit late but catches up fairly fast. He is an interesting guy: politically active and sporting several GEEK buttons (Gamers to Enthusiastically Elect Kerry). He is very interested in Kennexions.

    Mac MacKinlay is also very interested. Helpfully, he seems to have a background in poetry and mythology. For example, he recognised that kenning analogies are a kind of proportion, and suggested some improvements to mine (for example, he thinks that "flower" in the Norse Language Game should really be "seed"). Sharp!

    All three stay and talk. They seem likely to collaborate on Kennexions, and I feel I could be good friends with any of them regardless. I plan to stay in touch.

    Saturday, 7:00 PM: Monster Cosmic Encounter

    Mac follows me down to the Monster Cosmic Encounter game, which is billed as being able to hold 10 or more players. There are seven people ticketed, which is more than a CE game can usually hold, but two of them, a father and a pre-teen son, ditch because the son is a CE newbie. We end up with five players, because I sit out to referee and explain rules in a nonpartisan way. The father and son might as well have stayed, because one of the remaining players is a 10-year-old girl who has only played twice, and I end up setting up the game and explaining the rules for something like an hour and a half. We're using tons of expansions, both commercial and off the Internet: not only Lucre, Moons, double powers, and Reverse Hexes, but also War cards, Internet Edicts, and so on.

    The overall visual effect on onlookers, of whom there are plenty, is much like the photo below, taken of a slightly younger version of the same set from a Seattle Cosmic newsletter of 12 August 2000.

    Monster Cosmic set

    Everyone seems to have fun. One of the better players, Edward, tells me afterwards, "I had a blast". That's great! The only serious contender, however, is Mac McKinlay, who focuses hard, plans, and spreads (as the alien Disease) from toehold to toehold in the girl's reverse hex, which is a ringed planet and offers plenty of spaces to expand in the rings. I call Mac "Mac the Knife" because he's such a shark. I'm guessing he hears that a lot, because he kicks Marty's ass the next day in a game of Age of Renaissance.

    After the game, a gamer named Jeffrey Field and his friend stop by to chat about Cosmic. He says he enjoyed watching our game, and seems impressed by the PostScript graphics for the reverse hexes and so on. I explain they are available as PDF files from the CE download area here on Ludism.org. Jeffrey says he is an old-timey Cosmic Encounter player who used to write CE expansions for The Space Gamer back in the 1980s. (I should have asked which ones!) He is interested in finding out about the growth of Cosmic after Eon stopped publishing it, and asks about the Mayfair counterpart to Eon's newsletter, Encounter. I tell him that Mike Arms, with whom I corresponded briefly, is the man to talk to. Before he goes, Jeffrey mentions something about Cosmic Settlers, which is some weird hybrid of Cosmic Encounter and The Settlers of Catan. Have to track that one down...

    After Jeffrey leaves, I catch up with Aaron Nabil-Eastlund, who made some odd remarks during the Glass Bead Game talk that I suddenly realise were a serious miscommunication. I had been talking about every game object in the Kennexions archive having a UUID (universally-unique identifier number). Aaron thought I just meant spelling out the names of game objects in hexadecimal ASCII, and thought this was a rather pointless "encoding" as opposed to a completely different "representation", which might be more interesting. I explain to Aaron when I run into him that the UUID is algorithmically generated. It's a kind of index into the database and isn't just a "spelling-out" of the object's name. The whole thing is a misunderstanding due to my rather clumsily describing a bracelet Marty made for my birthday that spells out "glasperlenspiel" ("glass bead game" in German) using glass beads in a binary ASCII pattern, which doesn't really have much to do with Kennexions, but is a clever and fun attempt to translate language into object.

    Aaron says somewhat enthusiastically that he has been thinking on and off about ways to improve gismu glyphs. However, he objects to making Lojban strings the "canonical" form of Kennexions games. "What about Hawaiian?" he says. "I know some things you can say in Hawaiian that you can hardly say in other languages. Why make everything Lojban?" I tell him about Lojban's "metalinguistic quoting" features, which enable a speaker to incorporate an arbitrary amount of text or speech in any other language into a Lojban string. It's as if Lojban has built-in HTML tags, thus:

    <hawaiian> ... </hawaiian>
    

    Aaron finds this amusing, and we promise to keep in touch.

    By the way, you don't need to know all this technical stuff to enter the Kenning Haiku Competition. It's meant to be simple and easy to get started with, and you can email me if you have any questions at all.

    Saturday, 10:00 PM

    I find Nat Dupree and Marty playing light games with Victoria Osborne, the former top-ranked female Magic: the Gathering player.

    I beat her at Bucket King, despite her drawing five cards toward the end of the game because she kept forgetting. (Illegal, but she pleaded newbiehood.) I feel pretty good about this, even though Bucket King's only marginally more strategic than Loopin' Louie (and involves more chickens)....

    After Bucket King, we sit and talk with Victoria about her views on the differences between the tournament mentality and social play, and between male and female gamers. I'm not sure I agree with all of her conclusions (Marty doesn't either), but it is an enlightening viewpoint from Someone Who's Been There.

    Sunday, 12:00 AM

    I kiss Marty goodnight, and retire to my room to write up my observations for the day and listen to BBC World Service again.

    Sunday, 9:00 AM

    I get up and prepare for Game Systems 1 and 2. I lug down the Big Box O' Game Systems (I portaged a ludicrous number of them with me to the con). The crowd in the ballroom has shrunk by almost an order of magnitude. Most people came for Saturday and then left. The cafeteria staff are packing up, so I quickly buy half a dozen Balance bars for my daily bread.

    Sunday, 11:30 AM: Game Systems 1: Smorgasbord

    Game Systems 1 is lightly attended, but I do get a few people. One gamer, Danny Goodisman, is attracted by the new Abacus edition of Das Spiel. Danny has the 1980s edition, which he picked up on a trip through Germany. Danny and I play a game of Rasanto with the new set, then realise that the new edition doesn't have enough dice in just two colours to fill the pyramid.

    We fill the rest of the pyramid randomly with the third colour and are joined by a new player. Danny teaches us a quick game to take down the pyramid. He doesn't remember what it's called, but it involves rolling a die, then looking at the pyramid from one direction and taking only the free dice that have that number facing you. I quickly realise it's a game of pure chance, and Danny points out that elements of skill and dexterity could be added with a short timer. I still haven't found out what this game is called or even if it's in the Das Spiel rulebook, so I'm going to call it "One-Player Raffzahn".

    After we destroy the pyramid, I teach my new buddies how to play Domino Rasanto. This is my favourite Das Spiel game. It's a kind of highly-strategic, three-dimensional dominoes -- a true bridge between dominoes and dice. The rules in the available English translation are unclear, so I wrote my own version of the rules, which I plan to post soon.

    The third guy leaves, and Danny I hang out and talk. Danny has designed both abstract and Cheapass-style games. He is currently working on one of the latter. The theme is brilliant. It's historical and rife with dark comedy. I wish I could tell you more about it, but the theme has never been done before to my knowledge, and it's so perfect that I literally don't want to give the game away.

    I invite Danny to join EGGS (Experimental Game Genesis of Seattle), and he says he wants to very much, especially after I explain that at EGGS we don't just give encouragement and back-patting, but gritty criticism and suggestions for improvement. I make a few suggestions about fine-tuning his new game's theme as an example of the kind of feedback we give in the group.

    Danny is one of the people I connect with the most at the con, and I think we can be good friends.

    Sadly, Bill from Wizards Toy Chest, who was going to demo Trillõn, never shows up to Game Systems 1. He goes out for lunch and gets lost. By the time he returns, people are packing up.

    Sunday, 2:00 PM: Game Systems 2: the piecepack

    By this point, most people have left, and Danny is making arrangements for transportation, so the piecepack session never really happens. Knowing Danny's penchant for designing Cheapass-style games, I show him the rules to our game KidSprout Jumboree, which he enjoys.

    Sunday, 3:00 PM

    Danny leaves. Marty is wrapping up her Age of Renaissance game, and I start getting ready to go myself. I pack up to go home much more systematically than I did to come to Dragonflight -- after all, I have a finite number of things to take home, but I had potentially the entire game-related contents of my house to bring.

    I manage to get everything into four pieces of luggage. I also get to hear Ursula Le Guin talking about utopian fiction on Studio 360 while I am packing. What luck! The interviewer literally doesn't know a utopia from a dystopia, but Ursula sets him straight. You go, Ursula!

    Marty is playing a pickup game of Lunch Money that she says will only take 10 or 15 minutes. I get the car ready and check out. It develops that Marty's Lunch Money game is being played with all kinds of expansions and takes more like 90 minutes. I have nothing else to do, so I hang out in the lobby and watch Big Trouble in Little China. Then I use the con's computers to check my wikis for activity. It turns out someone has been repetitively spamming them, but the wiki users have been mostly foiling the spam by reverting the changes minutes after the spammer makes them. I had planned to ask someone to be a wiki babysitter while I was away, but I didn't really need to. Ghod, I love the Internet. (Not the spammers, though.)

    Sunday, 5:00 PM

    Home! Home! Home!

    Monday

    I drink deep of sleep.

    I am surprised by how energising and positive an experience Dragonflight was for me, despite some initial problems, spotty attendance, and my usual dislike of crowds. I actually came home charged enough on Sunday that I felt I could go into work the next day, sleep deficit or no. I'll certainly be attending next year although the chances I'll be a guest of honor again are negligible, and I even surprised myself by contemplating going to GameStorm.

    See you next year, or sooner!

    Entered 22:24 [/games/events] permalink