Summer Game ‘n Grill 2011 Mere Days Away

The 2011 Game 'n Grill, going down at the Upper Valley Grange in Norwich, Vermont.

This Saturday is the second annual Summer Game ‘n Grill hosted by the Green Mountain Gamers — and it’s their first second annual anything. Yes, Green Mountain Gamers is more than a whole year old now. The quarterly game days have proven to be successful on every outing so far.

This time, the gang is headed to Norwich, Vermont, in the Upper Valley, through which runs the Connecticut River. That’s Carnage‘s traditional stomping grounds, so it’ll be a bit odd to see the valley in the glory of summer, rather than the dying days of autumn.

On the other hand, it’s going to be a rocking game day. Board games have been the big thing every time and that’s not likely to change. Role-playing games are slowly growing and that’s where my main interest lies. Friend to all role-players Charlton is bringing Apocalypse World, which I know nothing about, beyond that there’s a world and an apocalypse in it. And I’ve still got InSpectres from PAX East to try out, so I think that is the role-playing set’s day sorted.

June 18th’s gonna be a great day for tabletop games.

Melting Down Middlebury

Ilsley Library is rocking.

Ilsley Library is rocking.

I didn’t get to attend the game day this past weekend. But Chuck of the Green Mountain Gamers did. And he snapped pictures and blogged about it over on the Green Mountain Gamers website. So check that out instead of reading my typical natterings about these days. Let someone else tell you how much fun it was instead!

Let the Spring Meltdown Commence

March 19th in Middlebury, Vermont.

My corner of Vermont has been in thaw for the last week, which is a fine prelude to Spring Meltdown, the fourth of the Green Mountain Gamers’ seasonal game days.

Tomorrow morning, I and some of the Burlington crowd will truck down to Middlebury, where we hope to meet the fine game-playing denizens of Addison, southern Chittenden and northern Rutland counties.

In addition to officiating the Endeavor tournament, I will have a number of role-playing-like things in my bag: the Ghostbusters adventure Pumpkin Jack, Fiasco with my as yet playtested science fiction set and Inspectres, which I picked up at PAX East last weekend. So at least I’ll have some reading material if I find myself with downtime.

If you’re in the area, or even just slightly out of it and have an itch to do some traveling, I hope you’ll come out for a bit.

Spring Meltdown Game Day in Middlebury, Vermont

March 19th in Middlebury, Vermont.

I can’t believe it’s already less than a month until Spring Meltdown, the Green Mountain Gamers’ spring game day. We only started talking about seasonal traveling game days about a year ago at Langdon Street Cafe. Since then, we’ve put on three successful game days, each larger than the last, in Burlington, Lyndonville and Barre, Vermont.

On March 19th, we’re coming to Middlebury to round out a year of tabletop games, good people and a lot of laughs. It’s bound to be a great time with the awesome folks who have been in attendance so far. Most of what happens at these days has been open board game play. We wind up with tables groaning under the weight of games everyone’s brought to share. People divvy themselves up, either because  there’s a game that’s caught their eye or they’d like to learn, or they brought some in particular they’re eager to have the opportunity to teach and play. I know the new Lovecraftian board game Mansions of Madness is going to be one of those; Carlo participated in the preview event this past weekend at his local game store in Quebec and is bringing it down to Spring Meltdown.

On the role-playing side, we’re working on growing that. We’ve got some old school first edition Dungeons & Dragons in both Middle-earth and a classic TSR published module. I’ll have the goods for GURPS Ghostbusters: Pumpkin Jack and something for Fiasco, either my still untested science fiction playset or one that caught my eye, like Toil and Trouble.

It’s gonna be a fun day! I hope to meet some new faces there.

What a Wearying Wonderful Winter Weirdness Whirlwind

Nicole and John (left and right) explore the irradiated splendor of Gamma World while Mariah (center) observes.

All the ramp-up and preparation came to a head on Saturday, as we hosted our first Winter Weirdness game day in a church undercroft in Barre. It was, by any metric, a smash hit. Forty-odd people came in out of the cold and snow to spend their day playing games and making new acquaintances — I love watching the activity stream over at Green Mountain Gamers and on Facebook as people who meet up at these game days connect there.

My day consisted of getting to Barre early enough to set the room up, stashing soda and supplies in the kitchen and greeting the first arrivals until there was critical mass to play something and realizing that the way into the church basement wasn’t as clearly marked as it might have been. In the rush, the big friendly meeples that usually adorn sidewalks and doors to signal the location of a game day didn’t make the trip down the interstate.

As the day got underway and more people rolled in, a couple people came to me wanting to play Gamma World, which was pretty cool. I’d had the opportunity to try out the adventure in the back of the book previously with a different group of people, so I had an idea of how it might go. However, I’d forgotten there’s a critter in the second encounter that can easily lay waste to the entire party. The first time, I fudged it to keep the adventure moving forward. This time, however, I played it straight, mostly because it was a game day and I don’t think anyone wanted to spend the rest of the day playing through even an abbreviated version; that first run through took five hours to get through four encounters with fudging, as I was very aware of how much time would be involved in playing all the way through to the end, even if I skipped portions of the scenario.

By then it was 2:00 in the afternoon, so a group of us trooped over to Ladder 1 Grill, which is maybe fifty feet from the back door of the church, where I had an awesome turkey and bacon melt sandwich. Unlike the last two venues for the Green Mountain Game Days, downtown Barre has ample opportunities for sit-down and take-out food; Montpelier has even more, fancier options if you’re willing to take the drive and lose time at the tables.

After lunch, I wound up in games of Betrayal at House on the Hill and Dominion. My rule of thumb has become play new stuff at game days and conventions or play old games with new people. Plus the copy of Betrayal at House on the Hill belonged to Joe and it needed breaking in. Really, it pined for its dice to be torn out of their packaging and rolled. So we obliged. Dominion I got to play with my friend Kaye, Rick from the Book Garden and two old time gamers who were encountering the game for the first time that day. That was a cool experience to watch them pick up the mechanics.

Later, I tried out Elasund: The First City with Sarah, Andrew and Rod. It’s very Eurogamey. That’s all I want to say on the topic.

Accusations fly hot and heavy in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game.

Elsewhere, Carlo, Munk and Rachel played Battlestar Galactica for what must have been ten or eleven hours. Not all in one game, but two with other players. I am deeply impressed by their commitment to fostering uncertainty, mistrust and paranoia.

In short, it was a huge day of gaming with people playing their brains out. I don’t know if the lousy morning weather worked for us — making people stircrazy and antsy to play games or against us — by penning them in their homes — but overall Winter Weirdness was an absolute success. And I think we found a great venue in the Church of the Good Shepherd’s basement. It’s cozy, has an very well equipped kitchen, a secondary space upstairs that’s idea for quieter role-playing games and is in easy walking distance to plenty of places to eat. Plus Barre is marginally central to three population centers: Burlington, the capitol district and the Upper Valley; sadly, when it comes to the Northeast Kingdom and southwestern Vermont, there’s still no way to get ther from here. Regardless, I think Green Mountain Gamers has found a second home in Barre.

[Green Mountain Game Days] Winter Weirdness 2011

Visit the Green Mountain Gamers site for more information about Winter Weirdness and future game days in Vermont.

Winter Weirdness, the next of the Green Mountain Gamers‘ seasonal game days, is now a month away. January 8th, 2011 will be the third such outing and our first visit to the Granite City, also known as Barre, Vermont. Like Fall-loha and the Game ‘n Grill before it, Winter Weirdness is an open play event for all kinds of tabletop games.

So far, board game play has dominated Green Mountain Game Days — and why not? They take little prep, are easily transported and generally don’t rely on existing social ties to function well. The most recent game day in Lyndonville did include miniatures and role-playing, though, so the genres of games to play are slowly expanding.

A quick peek at Fall-loha in Lyndonville, Vermont, the most recent Green Mountain Game Day.

It’s my hope that the variety of games played at these events will continue to diversify and my personal goal to keep growing the role-playing opportunities in particular. In the fall, Charlton orchestrated games of Fiasco and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach. We’re only going up from there. I’ll bring my recent Ghostbusters adventure for sure, as well as use the intervening month to flesh out an idea I’ve got percolating for a Fiasco playset. Or maybe I’ll splurge on the Gamma World set. I dunno.

In the interest of self-disclosure, I’ll cop to being one of the folks who organize these game days. Our motivations are purely to provide more opportunities for groups of people to get together and play games and the glowing rush of knowing we did something that made those people happy.

If you’re in the Barre-Montpelier area on January 8th and have a few free hours, I hope you’ll stop by. It’s gonna be a fun day of gaming.

Social Networks and Vermont Gaming

I may have accidentally drunk the Kool-Aid.

Back, way back, in the summer of aught-six or aught-seven, some folks I know launched RPGBomb.com. At the time, it was one of many attempts at tying together the social networking phenomenon and the broader gaming community. I remember one of the hosts of Dragon’s Landing Inn had plans for a site called CritOrMiss. RPGLife.com took off in the same time period; that one’s still going, it seems. There’s also been a host of player finders utilizing the same technologies of social networks, like tagging and Google Maps — Nearby Gamers is a key example.

At the time these sites were taking flight, my primary point of contention with all of them was they were duplicating structures that already existed in social powerhouses, namely Facebook. My thought at that moment was: “Instead of spending time building a whole new site, why not hook into an established user base, otherwise known as Facebook, and build a killer app for social gamers?”

There are several good reasons why you wouldn’t want to do so, the least of which are not protecting user’s privacy and maintaining control over the platform which runs your network — the latter being a lesson spectacularly well-taught by Ning when it pulled the plug on free social networks this past summer. Even so, it seemed to me that the thing a network owner would get in return, drastically lowering barriers to entry to a mere click of a “Become a fan” button, as liking something was known back then, was probably worth the trade-off.

My tune has changed since then, but I can’t really pinpoint the changeover or even turning points. Now I look at the Connect with Facebook feature of many websites with distrust. I don’t even want to connect my Facebook account to a random blog’s comments section, let alone turn around and attach that same service to a website I manage. It’d feel too much like setting people up to get into some kind of privacy-related trouble.

Last November in 2009, Brennan, Alex, Sarah and I were sitting around the table at Vermont Pub & Brewery, talking about possibilities for publicizing what at the time we called Burlington Board Gamers, the thought of making it a Facebook page didn’t even come up, that I can recall. If it did, I probably discounted it because at the time Facebook was locked up pretty tight, in terms of search engines. Google’s crawlers couldn’t find much. So, because of that, we wound up going in contravention of my own cherished notion “tap into an existing user base and save the hassle of building it up from scratch.”

So we used Ning for a while and we hit up against the inevitable walls: software as a service sites make their money by commoditizing every little feature and point of customization and eventually the money runs out.

From there we moved on to an independently-hosted site with the kind donation of space and bandwidth from a fellow traveler. We also took the opportunity to transform and rebrand as Green Mountain Gamers, joining the social networking endeavor with a movement that rose earlier to have more frequent public opportunities to gather and play games in Vermont.

Unsurprisingly, it’s not easy. One’s still at the mercy of software developers, whether that’s waiting on an upgrade or dealing with the fact that some element just isn’t going to get better any time soon. That’s in addition to the usual job of community building and management. How do you encourage people to visit your website and participate in activity? We’re still working on that one.

Elsewhere, the Langdon Street Cafe uses Facebook to invite people to their Games Unplugged evenings. Zombie Planet in Albany, New York, uses Facebook statuses to announce the arrival of new product in the store, special events and whatever’s going on at the moment. Carnage and TotalCon are both on Facebook, as well. They’re all taking the tactic of tapping into an established audience with free tools.

Speaking of Carnage, I’m hoping that’s where Green Mountain Gamers makes its big splash. In low density rural areas without a lot of internet connectivity, the number of people online is an even smaller fraction of the whole than in more populated regions. We’ll be handing out cards and flyers for Winter Weirdness in Montpelier, which I hope will get the word around even more effectively than the usual routes. Getting the word out at Carnage did wonders for Northeast Wars the two years it was back. It’ll work just as well for Green Mountain Gamers.

[Green Mountain Game Days] Fall-loha 2010 After Action Report

A grange hall full of gamers in Lyndonville, Vermont.

This past Saturday was Fall-loha 2010, the second of the Green Mountain Gamers‘ game days around the state of Vermont. Fall-loha took place up in the Northeast Kingdom, in the town of Lyndonville. We learned some things from this summer’s Game ‘n Grill, namely don’t over-schedule a game day. Open play allows things to flow organically, including jumping into a new game without worrying about “missing” something on the schedule. It also makes ducking out for lunch and dinner so much less hurried.

Exploring Castle Ravenloft

Richard, Chuck, Andy and Alex (left to right) brave the terrors of Castle Ravenloft.

We arrived at the grange hall to find things in full swing, having been waylaid by the slowest cider-pourer in New England. Alex, Chuck, Richard, Andy and I leapt into Castle Ravenloft, the new dungeon crawl board game based on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. It was surprisingly difficult. I don’t know why I’m consistently surprised that cooperative games are difficult, but I am. Probably just as well I didn’t get to try Defenders of the Realm as I originally planned or I would have been flummoxed all over again.

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[Green Mountain Game Days] Fall-loha 2010 Coming This Saturday

Fall-loha 2010, the Green Mountain Gamers‘ second ever game day, has slipped up on us. After a strong start in July with their first Game ‘n Grill, the next stop on the Green Mountain Gamers’ tour of Vermont is the Grange hall in Lyndonville this Saturday, September 18th, from 10:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night. And if the June game day was any indication, we’ll play games until it’s time to put the lights out.

I’m looking forward to Fall-loha for a lot of reasons: getting out into Vermont for a couple days — we’re making it a weekend trip, rather than deal with early morning and late night schlepping — and not having to do a whole lot but play games. At the Game ‘n Grill, I think we over scheduled things a bit: teaching games, set times for role-playing adventures and all that. This time, there’s a scheduled Small World tournament, a Flames of War setup and I think that’s about it for really scheduled stuff. Everything is people bringing something they’d like to play.

Over on the Green Mountain Gamers website, there’s a thread going of what people want to play. Highlights for me include the story game Fiasco — yes, I’m dipping my toe into scary, commie story games — the new dungeon crawl Castle Ravenloft and a cooperative game in the vein of Pandemic called Defenders of the Realm. From those three alone, I think I can fill my day very nicely, with time for kibbutzing and checking out the dining side of Lyndonville.

I hope to meet some new folks this weekend. And of course I’ll have a game day report with pictures when it’s all said and done.

[Green Mountain Game Days] Summer Game ‘n Grill 2010 Report

This Saturday, June 19th was the first annual Summer Game ‘n Grill, a day of tabletop games hosted by the Green Mountain Gamers, a collective of Vermont-based people with the common goal of encouraging more public gatherings to play games all around Vermont, of whom I am one. We spent the last three or four months planning this out since the idea first germinated in the wake of Northeast Wars‘ deflation, and then the game day just happened, wham.

Happily, the day was an unqualified success. Over almost twelve hours of gaming, we topped out at about forty participants, at one time or another. Going in to this, I planned to count the day successful with twenty people, so blowing the doors off, relatively speaking, with twice as many was a huge boost to both my own confidence and the group’s.

Board games ruled at the Game ‘n Grill. I had brought a couple role-playing adventures to run, but didn’t try at all to push them. At the time, I felt the crowd was pretty obviously there for board games. In retrospect, there were sufficient people there I knew to be role-players that I could have corralled them into a game, but didn’t. Because really, it’s a game day about mixing up and moving around from game to game. Who wants to sit at a single table for three or four hours at a time? Well, okay, the Agricola players did.

The day itself was a hit with everyone who attended. The Green Mountain Gamers group proved that the model works; not only do people want a single day of free play, but they’re happy to donate towards the cost of doing so and they really like being able to grill their lunch. This whole first year of game days is an on-going experiment in my mind, but I think we started off strong.

Next stop, Fall-loha!