[Geek Week] The Fiasco at Langdon Street

The news Langdon Street Cafe will close its doors at the end of May puts my recounting of the Geek Week Game Con in a less cheery light. Unsurprisingly, the game con has been the highlight of Geek Week for since I first attended three or four years ago. Geek Week was the reason I first visited Langdon Street Cafe at all. Since then, the cafe became a natural place to meet and talk with friends in the Montpelier area — and beyond. Being right in the middle of the state was hugely handy when meeting up with other members of Green Mountain Gamers. We even had our first meeting there.

Fiasco was the name of the game for me that night. Elsewhere in the cafe, it was all board games. I saw people playing Forbidden Island, Last Night on Earth, Travel Blokus and Carcassonne, as well as taking advantage of the stand-up arcade machine-style MAME set-up.

Two friends and a mother-daughter duo that Ben Matchstick brought to us maxed out the group. I had a couple playsets printed out, The Ice from the book and Mark Meredith’s Toil and Trouble. We settled on the second, which places the game at a wizarding school.

Choosing from the relationships, we wound up with Professors Ash (herbology), Dingledorf (divinations) and Trojent (Defense Against the Dark Arts), shining star student Horatio Lemonsnoggle and Munge, sketchy townie. Horatio and Professor Dingledorf were both members of the brotherhood SAP (Secret, Arcane Pancakes, I think they settled on). Trojent and Dingledorf were bitter enemies, Trojent having failed initiation into the secret order. Professor Ash has a knack for getting his colleague Trojent into trouble. Horatio and Munge were estranged cousins, at least partly due to Munge’s involvement in the disappearance of Horatio’s brother Klaus. And Munge received secret lessons in dark, unspeakable magic — controlling the growth of plants with disco music — from Professor Ash.

So it was a wacky, absurd game from the start, you see; one in which maple syrup played a surprisingly large role. Horatio and Dingledorf found themselves tasked with learning what was happening to the local maple trees, which was heavily implied to be Professor Ash’s experiments in making them minions to aid in his world domination scheme. It didn’t go so well for him — nor anyone else for that matter.

While acts one and two were pretty light stuff, things got really dark during the aftermath; probably because the aftermath tables lay out the sort of stuff in store for a character for any given result. There were plenty of deaths, some decline into obscurity and arson. Poor, beleaguered Professor Trojent, whose player took great delight in concocting the most unsavory results for her character — here was the covering in maple sap, the ants, the possessing spirit bound up in a venus fly trap plant; the list goes on — actually came out the best. Funny how that works.

In Fiasco, players collect black or white dice over the course of the game. The more of one color, either one, a player collects, the better their odds of the character having a “happy” aftermath montage. Someone rolling mostly black dice will probably have a higher result than someone rolling matching amounts of white and black dice. It motivates players to engineer situations that allow them to choose the color of the dice they collect.

Then again, sometimes the dice roll funny. I think we all rolled mostly even sets of black and white dice. It was only Laci, Professor Trojent’s player, who had an at all decent epilogue. But that fit with her character type in the sort of story that Fiasco emulates.

Prepare for the Coming of Geek Week Game Night

Brennan barters games for a ride back to Burlington from Langdon Street.

Once again, Langdon Street Cafe in Montpelier throws its doors open to the nerdly set for Geek Week 5.0, a five day celebration of all things geeky. The Geek Week Game Con, an fixture of the event, takes place Wednesday, April 27th.

There will be a board game library, of course. As Ben Matchstick tells us over at Green Mountain Gamers: “There will be a lot of goodies for RPGs and board gamers. Dominion, Catan, Bananagrams, Agricola, and tons of others. You got it, bring it! There’s also an arcade machine emulator that will play over 4000 old school arcade games, just for that throw-back feel.”

As for role-playing games, Ben himself is planning a Gamma World adventure. I’m going down with Fiasco and InSpectres in hand. I don’t know if we can gin up characters and finish a game in three or so hours, but I’d like to give a shot. I know enough role-playing-friendly folks in Montpelier that we should be able to reach critical mass easily enough.

[Games Unplugged] Prosperous Evil Touching

Main Street, Montpelier, Vermont showing the s...

See that corner shop on the left, Rivendell Books? That's on the corner of Langdon Street, at the other end of which is the eponymous cafe. Image via Wikipedia

Last Wednesday, Langdon Street Cafe in Montpelier hosted their monthly Games Unplugged night. It’d been a while, probably since June, that I’d been down for Games Unplugged, so I wanted to check it out. Between traffic, weather and finding something to eat in downtown Montpelier, it was about 7:00 that Alex and I walked in the cafe door, to find a game of Tsuro wrapping up. Game night and bartender Ben revealed the Gen Con prerelease copy of Dominion: Prosperity that a certain area gamer had kindly loaned out for the evening. We fell on that almost immediately.

Prosperity‘s supposed to be all about lots of buying power and high victory point totals. I don’t disagree with that. Workers’ Village is Village with +1 Buy for an extra coin’s cost. Goons is a snazzy little six cost card that not only behaves like Militia, but gives +1 Buy, and then rewards 1 victory point for every buy you make that turn. That victory point is a token that goes on a little mat each player gets, kinda like treasure that a Pirate Ship in Seaside accumulates. My reasoned reaction to Goons is it’s overpriced for something whose main effect is Militia, but I think it’s what let me win the game; by keeping the other players down to three cards several turns in a row, they weren’t buying victory points as often as I was. The game ended when I scooped up the last two Duchies, recognizing it was probably best to end it then before either Alex or Bob had the opportunity to do so themselves.

After that we got into a probably ill-advised game of A Touch of Evil. It was nearly 9:00 by the time we started, which was much too late considering four of the five players had a commute home on their to do list. In this game against the spectral horseman, we jumped straight into the advanced game in cooperative mode, a bit because Alex had read the rules on his own, but mostly because we’re gamers in that way. Thoughtful? Sensible? Not we!

This one went a lot longer than the game at Quarterstaff. Partly because there were five of us at the table, but also because we were using more rules and probably being more conservative than we needed to — or maybe not conservative enough. My character, Inspector Cooke, was knocked down to one wound at least three times, which meant he spent a fair bit of time at the doctor’s office. Otherwise, he was often trapped in the blacksmith’s shop by roving barghest hounds.

Once the cafe cleared out for the evening, Ben kindly put the soundtrack included in the game on the sound system. It was . . . not great. More amusing in its cheesy synthesizer effects than anything. It added a different sort of flavor of horror to the graphic design of A Touch of Evil, which is fairly dark. The illustrating photographs up the cheese factor, admittedly, but the music just put it over the top. So if that was the intended effect, kudos to the composer. During this power, however, the music mostly provoked groans and took us out of the game for a couple minutes.

After an hour of battling hounds and ghost soldiers, we decided to skip to the showdown, when the heroes attempt to vanquish the villain once and for all. We stumbled through assembling the hunting party, figured out the thought-dead reverend was actually helping the horseman all this time and commenced to rolling dice. The victory was not without its toll. At least three of the five heroes fell to the horseman, maybe four. My character certainly died, though he managed to take the horseman with him, which prompted some speculation as to how he ran through the ghostly rider in the midst of being tramped beneath the hellish mount’s hooves.

Langdon Street Cafe’s a funky little place to play board games. It was pretty laid back Wednesday night, which was good for gaming in peace. Their Geek Week last spring was a lot noisier and crowded, although that was certainly better for the cafe, I’m sure. I’d like to visit for Games Unplugged more often, but an hourish drive keeps it as an occasional trip for me. Having a co-pilot along certainly helps with the drive home, so thanks to Alex for performing that duty.

I have a little dream that some day in the future, there will be an open board game event every night of the week all over the state. Right now, there’s Tuesdays in Burlington and Wednesdays in Lebanon, New Hampshire, which is practically Vermont for the people living in the Upper Valley. Gamers Grotto in Bennington doesn’t seem to have a set board game night yet. Hopefully Langdon Street Cafe will build a long-standing weekly board game institution. Montpelier certainly deserves one.