Gen Con 2002: Thursday

Reported by Neal Sofge

A Star Fleet Battles miniatures duel around a very impressive ringed gas giant. I wish I had stuck around to see more of this one.

Unlike previous years, my non-redeye-arrival yesterday enables me to get up bright and early this morning and actually see what Gen Con looks like on Thursday before noon. First stop after the traditional badge-acquisition dance is the miniatures room to catch the space combat scene.


The ∆V learning scenario. Note wrapped chocolate candies scattered around like space-opera asteroids.

At noon I stop by Ad Astra Games' area to check out ∆V, reputed to be one of the most realistic SF games ever. Designer Ken Burnside got tired of the displacement errors endemic to assuming instantaneous rather than constant thrust application, and the project snowballed from there to include 3-D movement, realistic weaponry, command & control, etc. I probably don't have the patience for this sort of thing anymore, but it's worth finding out for sure, which is why I'm here. The 17-year-old version of me (the same part that went to college to be a rocket scientist and convinced Phil Eklund to publish Rocket Flight) would have killed for a game like this -- flying around in Zubrin's nuclear salt water rockets, shooting electron beams and lasers at each other. I was so busy running Hard Vacuum demos last year that I didn't get a chance to try ∆V; this time I plunk down my generic tickets and settle down for a full game.

A half hour later, I've got the rules basics down and have activated my ridiculously hazardous main drive along with three other pilots. Thanks to Hard Vacuum, I've forgotten all my Mayday/Triplanetary training and currently fly atomic-powered spaceships by the seat of my Golden Age pants. So I spend about a turn utterly confused by the way thrust builds up in this game -- these things fly like huge spacecraft actually would, instead of like nimble rocketship-gothic space fighters I'm used to.

Ken Burnside shows off the conceptual basis for his 3-D firing arcs.

Eventually I manage to adapt and start planning moves several turns in advance. Also, Ken's using hex-point facing, which I haven't had to deal with since the original SPI Delta-Vee, and I end up voluntarily handicapping myself to stay on the hex grain. But the latent space engineer part of my brain finally wakes up and takes over, and soon I'm flying like a pro, handicap or no.

Chocolates are scattered all over the map; if you run one over or blow it up then you get to eat it. (I shudder to think what that implies for when you kill another ship.) Ross shows up halfway through the second turn as I pull off my first successful maneuver, and I hand him a piece of heavily irradiated candy. A good particle beam shot earns Tatyanna another, and then I start hunting for players. I manage to get in a really good volley that nearly cripples one of my opponents, but I think it's mostly his bad luck instead of my fine piloting skill. No one dies before time is called, and a fine time is had by all.

This game was just an intro to the system, so we didn't use the 3-D rules, but they look relatively simple. I'm certainly impressed with how well the firing arc system works, and diving or climbing ships are displayed with clever componentry.

A customized stand lets a box-miniature fly upwards into 3-D space.

Ken has managed to do a remarkable thing, which is to take a design problem previously thought to be impossible (3-D vectors with realistic acceleration and weapons fire) and reduce it to merely a very involved game. As I suspected, it's too much so for me to really get into at this stage of my life, but I heartily recommend that space combat enthusiasts check it out. The ad copy on the Ad Astra site says, in part, "Are you tired of space combat games that are nothing more than World War II Fighter Combat with a coat of paint?" I think that's as good a way of summing up what ∆V is all about as any.

(Of course, if you like World War II fighter combat, then I've got a game for you...)

While trying not to make a fool of myself in nuclear-propelled deep space, I run into Eric Henry and Dean Gundberg from SFCONSIM-L. Eric is the designer of the Dark Skies miniatures game, while Dean runs the excellent Starship Combat News site. Guys, if you're reading this, I'm sorry I didn't get a good chance to talk to either of you, but it was good seeing you in 3-D for a change!

Block Party

It's become something of a tradition for WotC to stage a big party on Thursday night of the con, and this tradition has been picked up with a vengeance by Peter Adkinson's new organization.

Not only was there food & drink for all (including booze for those old enough for it) the 2002 party featured Celebrity Boxing between various industry personalities:

Not being boxing fans, we escaped to the Safe House relatively early in the evening, but it was certainly the weirdest Gen Con block party I've ever been to.