Games University 2001, Fullerton, CA

Reported by Neal Sofge, Fat Messiah Games and Robert Posada, Chimera Magazine

Games University is a medium-sized convention oriented towards demonstration games rather than formal tournaments. To close the loot gap that might otherwise result from the lack of tournament prizes, participants carry "report cards" that moderators (known as "Instructors") mark with their credits (AKA hours played) as the convention goes on. Credits can be turned in for prizes, and since credits go to everyone rather than just the tournament winners, the average player will go home with more stuff than at other shows.

Meet the Industry

FMG BugThe show started for us on Friday night with a Games University tradition, the "Meet The Industry Personalities" party held at the hotel lounge. This is a gathering where pre-registered convention attendees get to hang out with all of the industry people at the show and get blitzed together.

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Trilobite co-developer Chris Carlson and Chimera Magazine reporter Robert Posada enjoy Midori sours as the event gets into full swing.

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Neal (front) starts to feel the Midori kick in with Jim Foster (of Strategicon fame).

This is one of the few places you'll see gamers in something more respectable than Star Wars T-shirts -- we won't look this good until the Origins Awards.

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Chris and Neal pose for the camera with Norm Carlson, convention coordinator and all-around nice guy. Yes, Neal picked that tie out himself.

When everyone's had a chance to get toasty, each of the personalities gives a short speech. Game industry business superman John Zinser of AEG was scheduled to give the first address this year, but due to a death in the family he couldn't make it.

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Norm Harms of Scale Specialties wows the crowd with a tale of how miniatures gaming, the movie industry, and military history fit together.

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Neal discusses the uniqueness of adventure gaming as compared to computer games or other forms of fiction, and urges the audience to evangelize for the hobby.

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Justin Dagna of Technicraft Design talks about his new SF RPG, Pax Draconis.

A great time was had by all, and if you come to this show we highly recommend that you get the package deal so you can join us at the party next year.

Saturday: Games Galore

Pax Draconis

Pax Draconis

FMG Bug After dragging our bleary-eyed selves out of bed and driving from Santa Monica to Fullerton, we were ready for anything. The first game of the day was a demo of Technicraft's Pax Draconis RPG. It's set in a universe where Earth has made first contact with two different alien races, one a warlike bunch of dragonmen and the other an enigmatic group of genetically modified organisms. The game's got something for everyone -- cyberpunk netrunning, realistic space combat, psionic powers, and of course blazing gunfights. If detailed RPG rules are your thing, it's worth checking out.

EhGO Bug This is one of those games that you really have to give a try. There is an incredible amount of detail here. Fans of Science Fiction and Cyberpunk should at least give it a fair chance. Plus, the designer is available to answer any questions you might have. How long did it take to get an answer from your favorite large RPG?

Ogre

FMG BugThis game's always been a favorite of mine, ever since I played the first edition in 1977. So of course we all went to try out the new miniatures version.

This was a six-player game, set in the Factory States era. One side was a bunch of independent freedom-fighters defending a lone factory-base. The other was a strike force sent to incorporate the base into the nearest Factory State. Each side had about 100 points worth of mixed units to deploy, mostly determined by the available miniatures.

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Chris moves his missile tanks up to hide in the rubble as the Factory State forces close in. Julian and Robert look on, huddled in the fortress.

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Factory State units have a red stripe, while the good guys are in blue or green. These Combine GEVs and superheavy are about to make life miserable for the defenders.

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Just as things start to look grim for the defenders, an Ogre Mk V blunders onto the scene. It's obviously gone mad, because it's blasting Spice Girls over the commlinks at maximum volume. (Thankfully, the moderator forgot to bring his CD.) Both sides immediately put aside their differences to deal with the threat. The dime was placed there by a ranging shot of the base howitzer.

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Robert unsuccessfully tries to figure out how to keep the Ogre from rolling over his damaged superheavy next turn.

We managed to kill the Ogre, but it was a pyrrhic victory as it detonated its reactor core on the final turn. There were about three survivors, including the beleaguered base.

Hard Vacuum

HV Setup

FMG BugBuoyed by our success at killing the Ogre (and ignoring our losses), we blasted off for orbit. First came a plain old duel, Siegers vs. Trailblazers, to teach newcomers Julian Crespo and Mark Shocklee (pictured here with Chris and the tip of Robert's head) how to play. Despite our breaking it off after first blood, I managed to get killed anyway, displaying my remarkable lack of ability to play my own game. (This isn't the first time -- I'm pretty bad at Shapeshifters too.)

EhGO BugWe played the June 1944: Recon Scenario, and our team consisted of:

Julian and OrcCon ace Aaron Cappochi flew the German Ernmordens, while Mark, Chris and Robert roared onto the map in their Arrows. To win, the Americans had to photograph the under-construction Von Braun and escape with the film. The Germans had to stop them.

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Aaron carefully plans his thruster fire to put his ship within mine range of the construction site, while Julian punches all the buttons and hopes for the best.

EhGO Bug I (Robert) am the first to die: Aaron's mine exploded right next to me! Mines never hit! That rotten Nazi jerk!

FMG BugIn an amazing show of piloting skill, Robert managed to park in the middle of the photo area on turn 2 and get out his camera. Unfortunately, Aaron's even more amazing piloting skill resulted in a mine launch that same turn which obliterated Robert's ship. However, both Nazis were so eager to kill poor Robert that they flew past the remaining Americans too fast, allowing Mark plenty of time to take lots of snapshots.

EhGO Bug Julian flew off the map two turns later. Mark was able to get the photograph of the Van Braun while Chris covered against Aaron's Ernmorden.

FMG BugJulian continued straight off the map, but Aaron managed to bring his ship around just in time to trade fire with Mark. The Arrow's armor saved Mark from fiery destruction, and a lucky atomic bolt hit stunned Aaron, giving the Americans a chance to escape with their precious film.

EhGO Bug A lucky shot from Mark caused a critical on Aaron, stunning him, as the Americans headed home with the photo. It was just enough for them to get away and win the scenario.

Tribes

FMG BugChris and I have been wanting to try this Steve Jackson/David Brin design again for over a year now. It's an odd degenerate RPG, about a tribe of Neolithic humans. The object is to produce the most offspring by the end of the game (thus leading to the alternate name, "Clan of the Day Care.") As you can see, we just laid the game's minimal components on top of the Hard Vacuum setup and got to it.

Tribes

Turns are six months, and each person controls one character, who has very few actions available:

Hunting and gathering gets the tribe food, while crafting makes spears and baskets to make it easier on the breadwinners. Watching kids keeps them safe from hyena attacks.

After everyone's done their work for the turn, they have to eat, then everyone gets a chance to reproduce. Since some of us were playing female characters, you can imagine how goofy that got.

Players can come up with whatever tribal laws they want; our first (and only) one was that fathers have to help support their children. The interesting part of the game is watching the society develop as people try to balance the good of the tribe with their own personal interests. In our case Chris spent a good part of the game with no kids, because other people got to the women first. Yet he continued to hunt and distribute food and didn't end up in last place (that honor was reserved for me, the single-parent starving cave artist and inept basket-weaver).

Because of the constant interaction, it takes a while. Our game ended after three hours, and we were only halfway through. Jonathan, pictured at far left, was deemed the winner with his six children (which he was constantly struggling to feed).

Sunday: A Late Start

FMG BugOne of the new rules for FMG at conventions is to always sleep in on Sunday. Consequently, we only got in a single event on Sunday, the first demo of the revised Robotanks.

EhGO BugEhGO Games insists on this rule. By the time Sunday rolls around, it's easy to be cranky if sleep is lacking. Therefore, we mandate enough sleep! :)

Robotanks

Robotanks

FMG BugWe acquired the remaining inventory of this 1992 design from the now-defunct Gamesmiths, and have been waiting for the right time to re-release it. With the recent success of the more abstract games from Europe, that time seems to have come, and Robotanks will hit the store shelves again in April. If I manage to finesse things properly, it may even be the first FMG game that comes in a box!

As you can see, this is a more cerebral offering than the usual Fat Messiah "beat the crap out of each other" theme that fans have come to know and love. Each player controls four robot tanks, and creates stacks of command cards which form the tanks' looping programs. Once the programs are in place, no one (not even the owner) gets to look at them, so having a decent memory is helpful.

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Cards are also "hit points" for the tanks. Each player also has a command post, and the hit points for the CPs are the players' card hands. When you've been hit so many times that you're out of cards, you're out of the game.

Jim Foster and I both managed to start the game off right by blowing up one of our own tanks. (Jim's energy ball backfired, and I transwarped a tank in such a way that it slammed into an arena wall.) With that Three Stooges start, is it any wonder that I was the first player to be eliminated? Chris Carlson programmed a tank to drive straight over to my command post and blast it on the way past, and I just couldn't get a defense up in time. However, Chris was the next to go, succumbing to deadly accurate long range laser fire from Jason.

EhGO Bug My quick synopsis: This is Robotanks (new edition), originally from Gamesmiths, and reviewed in Chimera #1. The game is on Sunday 18 March 2001, at high noon.

The Players:

Turn 1: Jim destroys his #3 White tank with an energy ball from his own #2! Neal transwarps, switching his #1 and #3 tanks. #3 promptly sideslips left into the wall, destroying itself.

Turn 2: Jim does not reprogram his energy ball tank. The ball flies out, and returns home, destroying #1. Jim has half of his force left.

Turn 4: Allen has to leave (he's not feeling well), and is replaced by Chris Carlson.

Turn 5: Jason's #3 Green slams into Neal's #4 Red, destroying itself. #4's program is scrambled but otherwise active.

End game (a while later): Neal is the first out of the game, succumbing to Chris's bombardment of his Command Post. Chris goes next from double cannon fire on his last tank, Yellow #2.

FMG Bug Jim didn't stand a chance, because Chris and I had wrecked all but one of his tanks before we got knocked out, and did some substantial damage to his CP as well. He still tried hard to win, trading in cards for a transwarp/energy ball combo and hoping for a lucky hit, but soon he too was obliterated by Jason's blitzkreig.

This is a prototype set; the pieces you see here are actually ingeniously assembled out of machine screws, nuts, finishing nails and angle brackets. Needless to say, the final product will have something a bit easier to fabricate, namely cut & fold cardboard markers.

The Long Road Home

FMG Bug After the surprisingly lengthy Robotanks game (about two and a half hours) we packed up for the long ride back to Santa Monica.

As in years past, this convention was a great time. Games University continues to grow each year, and the demo format means that you get the chance to play a lot of games you've never tried before. The hotel/con packages are fairly cheap, too. We keep coming back each year, and you should too.

Our next show will be the big Long Island SF convention, I-CON, where we'll be playing Insecta, Hard Vacuum, and Shapeshifters. See you there!

EhGO Bug Games University is one of the coziest, most fun shows in our area. If you get a chance to come, do so. If you have friends who want to learn the games, it's the best opportunity they'll have to have someone patiently show the games. We plan to keep on covering this convention in the near future. See you at ICON in StonyBrook, NY, our next annual show!