Posted by Bryan R.
Whenever I am at the beginning of something, whether its a birth or a wedding or, in this case, a bunch of gamers having fun, I get all smiley. Last Saturday I was privileged to be with 90+ other people at the start of something pretty awesome.
I was able to attend Garagecon 2013. If you’re not from Bloomington I don’t expect you to have heard of it. Heck, even if you’re from Bloomington you probably didn’t hear of it! Jordan Acres, responsible for putting it all together, is a friend who I met while working my last job. He’s a self-professed game fanatic and game designer. He recognized me from my days running the Game Preserve and we bonded as gamers do when they find one another in a non-gaming setting. (This included a shot at trying to play Lost Worlds and yelling maneuver pages over a crowded Saturday afternoon.) Running into him a month or so ago, he told me about a project he was working on. The recipe was simple. One garage, a wall of games, several plastic folding tables with chairs to match, a nice summer afternoon, scheduled game demos and then, stir in gamers. Splash with “Free Attendance” and .50 cent soda drinks. Simmer all afternoon.
When the day of the event rolled around I can’t express how happy I was to be able to fit it into my plans. The weather looked to hold most of the day and not be too hot and humid for an outdoor event. A chance of thunderstorms was present but not expected. The extra bonus for me was a chance to take my son who also loves all things gaming.
We arrived shortly after start time and dove right in. Jordan is working on a table game concept we were able to test drive called Relics. It’s a cooperative dungeon crawl style of game with random tiles. Players work together to get through the dungeon and fight off random baddies. It was a blast and reminded me a bit of the old video game Gauntlet. It also didn’t take up a huge chunk of time which is always a plus with my family’s schedule. When the game gets to production consider me already in line for a purchase.
My son and I parted ways at that point. He got a chance to learn a game he’s been bugging me about (The Illuminati card game) and I became engrossed watching a game of The War of The Ring being hosted by Jordan’s dad, Mark. (Twenty points of paleo-gamer if you can connect the gaming history dots.) The game is beautiful and one of those awesome behemoths that takes a ton of set-up time and then hours to play. However, because it’s so fun and so good to look at you just don’t care! While I watched Gandalf was leading a secondary charge into Helm’s Deep against a nasty Sauron controlled force and Merry was leading the Fellowship due to the deaths of anyone else holding a sword or bow. Needless to say, things looked bad for the good guys!
Following this I got a chance to look at but not play a game I’ve been wanting to see for some time; Command and Colors from GMT. It’s based on the same rules and set-up of the popular Memoir 44. (If you check out the link, there is an online version of Memoir for you to check out.) Think of it as Stratego on steroids. Players get a scenario to play, terrain markers and the appropriate small army blocks. They also get movement and strategy cards which they not only have to play to move their troops but also within the right moments in the battle to turn the tide.
With my love of ancients, history and big battles, I think this one is going on the Want list. The other game in the series Battle Lore, is a fantasy set-up and also one I’m going to want to get soon. (I have further plans of trying to build some scenarios from my fantasy world to play through sometime before my death.)
The next game I played was one of those hits that sat with me the rest of the day. A week later I’m surprised I didn’t screw up the family budget and run out and buy it! It’s a card game called SmashUp and it’s made of awesome.
Gameplay takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. The gist of the game is you take two different, cliched-to-death groups and smash them together to create your team. So, you might have Pirates and Ninjas or Dinosaurs and Aliens or Robots and Zombies. These two groups gives you a deck of cards with different abilities and minions which you then use to try and take control of three random bases. Once won, the bases give you a set number of points. Bases rotate out as they are won and then replaced with new random bases. First player to 15 points wins the game.
Oh my, I loved this game. It was one of those games that sticks with you after you play it. The kind that makes you ignore important conversations with family members as you think about different combinations and play styles.
In short, it’s dangerous.
Somewhere in the middle of it all I had one of those pleasing Happy Moments. A group of folks all sitting around having fun, playing games in a garage in almost perfect weather. (A storm did come through a bit later but it hampered nothing except a few boardgames being played under the awning.) I wondered to myself, “Is this how GenCon started in 1968? A bunch of friendly folks sitting around in Lake Geneva playing role-playing and wargames?”
I had a feeling I wasn’t too far from the mark.
I had to leave for several hours in order to take care of important adult-type stuff. After my son begged very politely we left him there for the rest of the day happily dancing between game tables, rolling dice and looking over shoulders. We stopped back in twice more in our running about, the first to throw a Subway sandwich at him and the last being around 11:00 PM. Things were still going along nicely. We picked up our son who was looking like the poster-child for “tired and happy” and went home. After watching the posts come through on Facebook, they wrapped things up somewhere around 3:00 AM.
Could it have really ended any other way?
I’ve been told that it’s a strong possibility there will be a Garagecon 2014. I certainly hope so. It’s events like this that really speak to what the core of gaming is all about. Sure, the bigger conventions get the press, the novelties, the guest stars and the crowds. The money comes to the forefront. I feel that somewhere in the midst of that the core spark of why we are doing it gets lost.
Garagecon wasn’t about money. Even with the local game stores donating door prizes it wasn’t about the all-mighty dollar. It was a mark of something that I had thought was fading away. It was about the love of the fellowship of gaming. It’s why it was dear to me and made it an afternoon to remember. It’s why I bought a shirt and will wear it proudly ten years from now at Garagecon 2023. (No pressure, Jordan…) It was a mark of something that I had thought was fading away, hidden behind Playstation 4 controllers, smart phones, tablets and gone amongst the hype of the next big Edition or the next big release.
And to you, the original 91 of Garagecon 2013, the old 45+ year old gamer, a veteran of GenCons in the early 80’s, I waggle my gnarled walking cane at you and say this; the best things come in small, humble packages. You would do well to remember that fun summer afternoon playing wargames in a garage.
I’m already looking forward to next year!