Hello gamers, Abstruse here finally rested up from Space City Con! I’ve been the best kind of exhausted all week thanks to the amazing time I had last weekend. I know I’ve gotten on my soap box before about going to conventions, but I thought this time I would give you a bit of a blow by blow of what happened so you’ll get an idea and hopefully attend a convention near you. But first, I want to talk about a game I got to sit in on called ZOMBICIDE.
ZOMBICIDE is a cooperative scenario-based zombie survival board game for 1-6 players that was funded on Kickstarter and it and its sequel remain two of the highest funded tabletop games in the history of Kickstarter. Designed by Guillotine Games and published by Cool Mini or Not, this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to a LEFT 4 DEAD board game. The gameplay is simple and intuitive but there’s enough here to satisfy your craving for strategy, the components are fantastic, and it’s just a blast. Full disclosure, I didn’t actually get to play the game because the table was full hours before the game started but the players were nice enough to allow me to watch them try to survive the zombie hordes.
Each player takes on the role of one of six survivors, each with a special ability. You have a certain number of actions per turn to move from one board to the next, search an area, attack the zombies, etc. You can hold two items at a time (one in each hand) and can carry three more. You find items by searching, and there are a lot of items to find. Aside from weapons (which are unique without being overwhelming or repetitive), there are several scenario-based items that might be useless in one game but critical in another. As you kill zombies and accomplish mission goals, you gain experience points. There’s four zones (Green, Yellow, Orange, Red) and you get special bonuses as you go up, but the zombies also get stronger. The only randomness comes from what equipment cards you draw when you search an area or when you spawn zombies, and dice rolls when you attack. Everything else, including zombie movements and attacks, is completely predictable allowing a lot of room for strategy.
But enough about the players, you want to know about the zombies. Zombies are spawned at specific points based on card draws. There’s four different types (Walkers, Runners, Fatties, and Abominations), and the number and type that are spawned are based on drawing cards and how much experience you have. The stronger you are, the stronger and more numerous the zombies are, meaning that late in the game, the board can be COVERED in minis. So it’s a good thing there’s a lot of them in the box! Zombie movement is completely predictable (unless you get a card that gives them an extra action or movement), and they always head in the direction of the closest living person they see or toward the loudest noise they heard if they don’t see anyone.
Speaking of the minis, I know you want to know about them. The quality is amazing for a board game, at least on par if not surpassing Flying Frog and Fantasy Flight Games. They’re unpainted plastic and it’s one of the best materials I’ve seen for durability. They’re very strong and sturdy so they won’t get bent out of shape easily, but they’ve got just enough give to them that extended limbs and weapons won’t snap off. As far as other components, the tiles are sturdy and don’t slip around too much unless you’re playing on a slick surface (put down a towel, tablecloth, or some shelf liner and you’re good) as are the cardboard tokens. There’s also vacuum-formed inserts that store the game perfectly making organization a snap.
The only downside to the game? There’s player elimination. Seriously, that’s the only bad thing I have to say about this game. It’s a blast to play and captures the fast and furious feeling of being in a zombie action movie the same way ZOMBIES!!! captures the feeling of surviving a zombie apocalypse and LAST NIGHT ON EARTH captures cheesy cult zombie B-movies. Gameplay’s fast and easy with lots of room for strategy, and the game is just gorgeous. Even if you’re burnt out on zombie games, this is definitely one you should pick up.
I arrived straight from work at the day job on Thursday evening and did what every convention goer should do the night before a convention starts – headed straight for the hotel bar (but remember to pace yourself kiddies, this is a marathon not a sprint and hangovers are your worst enemy at a con). I ran into a few guys who I met at last year’s Space City Con and found out they were hanging out with actor Miltos Yerolemou, who you most likely know as Syrio Farel the swordmaster from GAME OF THRONES. While I got no spoilers out of him, they did start up a game of poker to which I said, “I have better games than that. You guys ever heard of CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY?” The response was about five people more or less shoved me toward the elevators to grab my set from the room. Thus I introduced CAH to the world of Westeros.
Toward the end of the night, it was finally Miltos’s turn to be card czar and, fueled by several beers, I asked him if he could read the cards in character as Syrio Farel. I have gotten permission to share with all of you the video clip of the event, though Miltos asked me to point out that nothing he said is his own opinion. The black card was “My plan for World Domination starts with...”
Friday, I explored. The vendor room was huge this year, probably near the size of a football field. On top of the handful of game designers (including someone designing a roleplaying game based on 80s slasher films I’ll be reviewing soon), there were also dozens of artists, crafts people, and gaming stores all selling their wares. And who can mention a con without bringing up the fan cosplay groups, from the ever-present 501st Legion of Stormtroopers to the slightly less expected Ghostbusters. The fans themselves didn’t disappoint in their costumes either, with some very detailed and imaginative costumes. I did get a few snide comments about my 10th Doctor cosplay, which was odd to me because I was just wearing my normal suit I always wear. This year I was a good boy, and I only bought a few things from the vendors. Just a few...I’m not looking at my credit card statement until next month at least.
Would you like to play a game? The games room this year was massive. At least thirty tables were set up and almost all of them filled with gamers playing board games and roleplaying games of all types, including a few so obscure I hadn’t seen them for over a decade and a couple I hadn’t even heard of before. That’s not counting the massive ballroom set up for miniature wargaming which also spent the entire convention mostly filled with WARHAMMER 40K, WARMACHINE, and MALIFAUX games amongst others. Oh, and there was an entire room just for CCGs that I didn’t even get a chance to look at, though there were at least a dozen tournaments covering every card game imaginable. This is the room I got to watch Zombicide and it was filled with gamers almost 24/7 through the con.
Did I mention the panels yet? Oh, there were panels. Sure, there were the normal Q&As with the actors and other celebrities who showed up, where you could ask Jason Mamoa your burning GAME OF THRONES or CONAN questions. But there were also panels from many of the fan groups present talking about how you could get involved in your local fan scene. The con also had a lot of specialty panels like Breandan O Ciarrai from Dark Nova Games talking about the real science in science fiction. Did you miss out on Brent Weeks completely trolling his fans by reading an excerpt of the new novel where the main protagonists get killed (that wasn’t a real excerpt...unless it was, who knows with him)? Because that was amazing. And there’s also hands-on panels, like a fencing lesson from Miltos Yerolemou, costume design panels by various cosplay groups, panels on how to start your own comic/gaming store, and even panels on how to break into voice acting from some of the biggest name in anime dubs. If there’s something nerdy you want to learn about, it’s covered somewhere at your local convention.
Oh, and that was just Friday...
We did get a little excitement on Saturday as a fire alarm went off and the convention center had to be evacuated for about 30 minutes. The staff did an amazing job keeping the crowd organized, however, and the all-clear was quickly given and everyone went back to gaming. I’ve been trying to find out what caused the alarm, but all I’ve found so far are rumors – the three biggest being a jerk pulled the alarm as a joke, someone burnt something in the kitchen, and a fog machine tripped an alarm.
Saturday night was also the night of the big masquerade ball with live music performances by bands and a DJ spinning between and after the bands, as well as a massive costume contest. I unfortunately didn’t attend because I was back in the hotel bar playing Cards Against Humanity with about 25 people at the table. After-parties broke out everywhere once last call came, starting with the patio outside the hotel bar and moving from hotel room to hotel room. While I didn’t see it, I heard that at least four different fan groups got adjoining rooms so you could hop from Diagon Alley to Westeros to Wateredeep to Hobbiton in one block of hotel rooms. Of course, if you stumbled into the game room even at 1AM, you were still guaranteed to see the remnants of a VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE LARP that had been running since 6PM, at least half a dozen PATHFINDER and MAGIC: THE GATHERING games, on top of various pick-up games of CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY (I counted four total not including mine), SETTLERS OF CATAN, MUNCHKIN, ZOMBIE DICE, ARKHAM HORROR, WE DIDN’T PLAYTEST THIS AT ALL (which is normally about a 20-30 minute game, but one 16 player game ran for over three hours in the room next to us), KING OF TOKYO, and so many more. Oh and of course the miniature gaming guys were still going with their massive battles.
Sunday nights at a convention are always a ton of fun too, though in a slightly different way. If you’re a discount shopper, it’s the best time to hit up the dealer’s room. Unless they’re local, many vendors are ready to cut a deal so they don’t have to ship merch back home (though don’t be a dick when haggling). The panels tends to be more subdued due to so many people fighting hangovers, so if you don’t drink, you have a distinct advantage at getting your questions answered.
If you can get that glorious Monday off work to stay the extra night, I highly recommend it to check out the hotel bar. Everything’s more laid back since everyone’s exhausted, so you get to sit around and chat. Because of the exhaustion and the abandon of “Who cares if I have a hangover tomorrow, there’s no con!”, you get to see some odd things. Like actor Finn Jones (Loras Tyrell, the Knight of the Flowers from GAME OF THRONES) walking through the hotel bar wearing ADVENTURE TIME footy pajamas. I wish I had gotten a picture of that for you, but I was busy confirming with others at the table that I was actually seeing what I thought I saw and not hallucinating due to exhaustion.
So that’s my report of SPACE CITY CON: WINTER. If you want to attend some cons this year – and I hope I’ve encouraged you to do so – this is the time to start researching. Find out what cons are going on near you and make your travel arrangements now before things get booked up. You can follow me on Twitter @Abstruse and on my personal blog and podcast at Gamer’s Tavern. If you have any tabletop gaming news you think has slipped between the cracks or just want to rant at me, you can email me at email@example.com.