So. Yesterday's been pretty exhausting, but also a lot of fun. I got up at 3:00am, left home around 3:30 and drove to our meeting spot to meet with friends. We continued on to Essen, which took about 4 hours 15 minutes (close to 400km). We arrived way early because I'd insisted on leaving early to avoid bad traffic. Well, we arrived 2 hours before the convention opened. We walked to a bakery for some coffee / hot chocolate and breakfast, then returned to he entrance and waited to be let in.
Once inside (around 10:00am) we were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the thing. One of the first booths was from a game store and we were all just finding a dozen things we wanted to buy. We did not want to carry around our purchases all day though, so we decided to come back later. Opposite was a booth showing off a game called The Vampire, the Elf and the Cthulhu. We sat down for a demo game. In the end we weren't convinced though, in part because despite helpful people at the booths introducing you to the games, it's tough to learn new games in a crowded and noisy environment. In the end I think we'd figured it out, but mechanically we weren't convinced.
We did spend about an hour playing it though, and then realised that with the size of the convention, and us being there for a day only, we don't really have the time to playtest games.
So we continued through Hall 1 of the venue, stopping here and there, looking at games, checking prices at the many many sellers, buying stuff, etc. We left Hall 1 at around 12:30 or maybe it was 1:00pm? Anyway, continuing at this speed we wouldn't be able to even visit all the halls. So we did a sort of quicker run through of the other halls, and certainly missed out on a lot of stuff. Towards the late afternoon we decided to go back to playtest Mansions of Madness (pretty sure it was the new second edition). We had to wait for a bit to get a free table, but once there we sat down with someone at the booth to explain things to us. They had a timer at each table, and play time for this one was limited to an hour. The game can be described as a mix of Betrayal at House on the Hill (mechanically) and Arkham Horror (thematically). In fact, some of the game art looks quite like the latter on, and some of the same people were involved in both. So thematically it's players (as investigators) being confronted with varying Cthulhu related plots, mechanically by visiting an old mansion and discovering new rooms, items, events etc. Now the big difference is, that instead of a huge complex manual, the game has a helper app (apparently available for Android, Apple devices, Mac and Windows). The app conveys huge parts of the story, and, interestingly, varies it every time. There are difficulty settings, but it also personalises the events by using the names of the characters, and mixes up what's happening, and creates the layout of the mansion differently every time. I quite liked the idea, in particular because in Arkham Horror, when playing it for the first few times, you spend a lot of time looking through the manual and re-reading how encounters play out, etc. With this game though, you just let the app do the mathy and ruley things by tapping a few buttons. Attacking a monster in the mansion? Select the active monster in the app, hit attack, select attack type (e.g melee, ranged, magic), and it'll tell you what to do, and not in a neutral, manual-like fashion, but including flavor texts. I quite liked the idea of having an app, and we discussed this among ourselves during and after the game. Things I think are worth noting about the app:
- Despite being about as complex as Arkham Horror, the game is a lot easier to get into, because you just need to know a few basic mechanics (like how rolling dice works) and the app will tell you all you need to know when you need to know.
- It'll also keep score for you (e.g. how much life a monster has left).
- Updates to the app mean potential for new variants of stories, or entirely new stories, to be introduced continuously.
- The app is required to play. If you want to play, you'll need someone with a tablet (phone's too small to be really useful) or a notebook, PC, something. The battery ran low on the tablet while we were playing, if it runs out, game over.
- You really need to hand the tablet around so each player can use it. Alternatively, find a solution where everyone can see and use it simultaneously. In my case, I'm thinking my wall mounted TV (which is hooked up to my PC anyway) + Windows version of the App (free on Steam) + wireless mouse / keyboard to hand around + placing the table in front of the TV in such a way that everyone can easily read stuff off it. Works for me, might not work for everyone.
- Especially with Android, you might run into problems with market fragmentation. Don't have a tablet with recent Android version? App might not be available. Or the developer might at some point in the future stop supporting the app for your version of Android. Who knows?
- More sinister (and I can't tell how likely that is), this app solution might introduce a sort of planned obsolescence. A few years down the line, the app might be pulled from stores (this is totally an option for the Google Play Store, iTunes store, and Steam) because the publisher thinks it's time for you to buy his latest game. They could also make the app stop supporting the base game and require you to buy physical addons. Less sinister, but how about advertising your latest game in the app?
- Minor gripe: We're playing a physical board game. Don't make me do minigames on the tablet.
All in all I want to keep playing it, and I feel you just have to figure out how to best deal with using the app for it. Friend of mine already decided to get this game for Christmas. Looking forward to playing.
Anyway. We finished the game (losing) and decided to leave the convention half an hour before closing (7:00pm, as opposed to 6:00pm like I thought I'd read somewhere) so we could be the rush to the exits. Found the car and headed back home. I'd thought finding the way back to the autobahn from the convention area wouldn't be hard, but as it turns out the road Waze wanted me to go was actually blocked so we wasted a bit of time trying to find a different way. Another good 4 hours of driving. Got home around 11:00pm and went to bed around midnight.
We've already decided we're going again next year, but next time we'll get hotel rooms and stay for a minimum of two days, possibly the entire four days. It might also be a good idea to plan ahead: Plan your walking route through the exhibition halls so you miss less stuff. Walk the entire thing on day 1, then return the next day to the booths you want to playtest at. Buy stuff on the last day you're there, towards the end of the day (so you don't have to carry stuff all day). best deals might be towards the end of the show, when exhibitors realise they'll have to haul back everything they're not selling. Make lists of stuff you want to playtest / buy by taking photos of the games, and of the booth numbers printed on labels at every booth. Those labels have hall number, rows and numbers to make them locate easy.
Random bit of information, I lost 2kg between yesterday and today. Didn't eat much, walked around all day. Also, sore shoulders from backpack filled with White Wizard Gaming booth.