[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.

Games Unplugged at the Langdon Street Cafe

This past Wednesday, Ben Matchstick hosted Games Unplugged, a board game night, at Langdon Street Cafe in Montpelier, Vermont. These Montpelier game nights have been gradually picking up speed, so we decided to make the trip and see what was up. While Langdon Street’s hosted Geek Week for four years now, the prospect of the cafe encouraging more regular gaming is a cheering one. More game nights all over the state are good. As soon as we entered the cafe, we encountered Kaye, sitting at a table with a game at the ready, almost like she’d been waiting for us.

Uptown turned out to be a quick tile and grid sort of game. Letters and numbers line each side of the grid, not unlike in Battleship. The grid is sub-divided into nine squares, the constituent squares of which each have a different icon. Players have a pool of tiles, one for each letter, number and icon on the board. During the game, players place tiles on the grid according to the type. The 3 tile, for instance, can go anywhere on the 3 column of squares, A can go anywhere on the A row and the street light tile can go anywhere in the sub-square of street light icons.

The point of the game is to build as few groups of tiles — group being defined by a series of tiles formed by adjoining each other horizontally or vertically — as possible using the tiles one draws randomly over the course of the game, a la Scrabble.

Ideally, a player will only ever build one sprawling group, but the luck of the draw may force them to place a tile that doesn’t connect immediately. Then it becomes a matter of finding a way to connect the two groups. If another player has thoughtlessly taken spaces in the grid preventing one from doing so, they can capture those pieces by placing a tile that fits in that space. The drawback to capturing tiles is if victory comes to a tie, two players both only have one group, say, then whoever has the fewest captured tiles wins the game.

Kaye pulled her disparate groups together into one hole, while Sarah and I ended up with two groups each. Having played a game, it reminded me of Blokus in one or two ways, largely in how a long, narrow group stretching diagonally across the board seems to offer more choices to keep all one’s tiles in a single group. Uptown‘s light and easy to play, which is handy, because it’s utterly themeless. Yes, the board and graphic icons are done in an Art Deco, Roaring Twenties style, but they’ve got no connection to the game play I could see. Which is fine for a quick game. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

After that, we played a round of Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers, for which we discovered that Kaye’s son is not quite ready. The joys of neatly placing a tile to expand one’s forest in the making failed to secure his attention. Maybe in a couple years.

Then Dominion came out. The Moneylender hit the table, so I decided to try the tactic of trashing my starting copper treasures to get silver. It worked out okay, though I think I should have diversified earlier into buying Festivals and Markets in order to do more in turn. Bob made heavy use of the Black Market, gaining several attack cards that proved useful in a game with only one Moat, also on sale at the Black Market. I ended up with thirty-two or so points, just behind Bob in first and Sarah in second.

By then it was almost 10:00 at night, so we had to take off back to Burlington. While we played, other tables had been going at Dominion, Dungeon Twister and even a round of Munchkin. Central Vermont has lacked a public focal point for regular gaming up until Ben took it upon himself to organize it first at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library and now at Langdon Street Cafe. With time, consistency and the ever-spreading tendrils of social networking, Montpelier’s going to have itself a very nice time playing games as interest grows and awareness spreads to privately hosted groups in the area.

Langdon Street Geek Week Game Con 2010

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

Yesterday’s Geek Week Game Con at the Langdon Street Cafe in Montpelier was a rousing success. I won’t say we took the place over, but we definitely outnumbered the ungeeky by a significant margin during peak playing hours in the afternoon.

This is the third week I’ve attended Geek Week in one form or another. One of the secondary pleasures of going to Geek Week is watching it grow and build its audience. Two years ago, there were five people playing Illuminati on a Wednesday night. Last year, there were two tables going at once. This year, at the zenith, there must have been at least six, if not seven, tables rocking the board game lifestyle.

This year, I got in a session of Arkham Horror with the Creasers and a pair of outings aboard Red November with Nick and Will, two people I’ve seen around the Vermont gaming scene, but hadn’t had the chance to meet properly. That’s what I liked best about yesterday: we had a converging of distinct game-playing communities: Burlington, the Northeast Kingdom, the Upper Valley and the host locale, Montpelier.

Game days are a great means to stretch beyond the usual boundaries of social circles and geographical regions. People congregate in a location, spend a few hours playing games and then go their own ways. It’s an easy, low commitment way to engage with or otherwise explore the dynamics of interacting with other people in the hobby. The bonds one makes or renews with people are the real virtue of participating in a game day. My first connections with the Vermont tabletop game scene came from taking the plunge on a game day hosted by Bakuretsucon back in, I don’t know, 2003? Seven years later, I’m still meeting new people and learning about the social relations aspect of the hobby.

Without interacting with that social network, I don’t know if I ever would have participated in Geek Week. And that would be a shame, because it’s only gotten better from my perspective. Thanks to Ben Matchstick for putting the whole week together, and the Sunday game con in particular. And here’s to Geek Week 5.0 in 2011!

Geek Week 4.0 Kicks Off in Montpelier’s Langdon Street Cafe

http://www.flickr.com/photos/norsehorse/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Langdon Street Cafe in the afternoon.

Tomorrow marks the launch of the Langdon Street Cafe‘s fourth annual Geek Week, eight days of workshops, musical acts and other activities to stimulate the mind and satisfy any craving for the silly, fantastic and downright obscure.

Of particular interest to gamers may be the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition workshops and the Geek Week Game Con, on Sunday, March 28th. Last year, I didn’t get to do any role-playing — as I recall, they went old school with an original red box or something similar looking, whereas Ben Matchstick’s gone current in 2010 with the fourth edition — but the Sunday game day / con was fun. The game-playing community’s grown in the last year and I think Geek Week’s exposure has increased, as well, so I think this will be an even better year. Personally, I can’t decide between devoting the entire day to an Arkham Horror session or participating in the usual game day butterfly dance.

Also, my colleague in nerdity TK-3220 and one or more of his trooping comrades from the New England garrison of the 501st Legion patrol the cafe premises, keeping the peace of Geek Week for Friday evening.

Langdon Street Cafe is located at 4 Langdon Street in Montpelier, Vermont. Geek Week 4.0 runs from Wednesday, March 24th to Wednesday, March 31st. The cafe’s online calendar includes a schedule of geeky events throughout the week, as does their Facebook page.