Monday, May 24, 2010

For Gaming, For Guinness, For Good Fellowship

Gaming & Guinness V
May 6-9, 2010

Stephen Fitzpatrick has already blogged about the latest iteration of Gaming and Guinness, but I had such a good time that I'm compelled to add my thoughts on what has become one of my favourite annual traditions.

Stephen created the G&G festival to celebrate his friendships, his love of games of all kinds, and his appreciation for fine alcohol. It's an opportunity to bridge the gaps of time and space that grow between friendships as people grow older, and to forget about the trials of the adult world for a while.

In years past I've been too busy with my work at the Alberta Legislature to offer more than token participation, but this year the House recessed early enough for me to book some time off and camp out at Mike Totman's place for the whole event.

(Mike, by the way, was a soliticious host, offering not only comfortable sleeping arrangements, but arranging some excellent meals - he and Pete cooked up homemade chili in bread bowls and absolutely divine spaghetti with meat sauce. I ate better at Mike's than I do at home!) 

When I arrived on Thursday, Mike Parlow, Stephen and Scott Friel were already knee-deep in a Warhammer 40,000 engagement. I don't pretend to understand the mechanics of this game, but the modelmaking is really something to behold. Armies composed of hundreds of individual units - from tanks to robots to demons to helicopters to a soaring fighter-bomber -  clashed on a battlefield with dozens of shattered buildings, a river, craters and treees. Mike, Steve and Scott must have invested countless man-hours to create this impressive tableau.

Monsters from the Id battle in the ruins of a shattered cathedral.

While G&G has traditionally focussed on board games, the lowered inhibitions brought on by Guinness consumption prompted the guys to break out the Wii for Rock Band. (Being a bit of a ham, I need no alcoholic ingestion to risk making a fool of myself.) I shot video of a few of our performances, but discretion is definitely the better part of valour here, so a few snapshots will have to suffice.

Steve belts out a tune.

Pete and I jam. Pete is a far more accomplished Rock Band guitar hero than I.

Mike Parlow channels Robert Plant. Mike's a talented vocalist!

Jeff Pitts wails away on the drums while I try not to get us booed off the stage.

Totty really sold his performance.

Even the notoriously reclusive Dustin Friel showed up to twang out a few grooves.

As amusing as Rock Band was, boardgames are the true focus of G&G. I surprised myself by winning a round of Robo Rally, a game that doesn't exactly play to my strengths - strategic planning and programming. It's an interesting game; everyone commands a robot, and you use cards to program your robot through an obstacle-filled maze. If you give your robot the wrong command, you could send it into the path of a laser beam, down a pit, or simply send it scurrying in the wrong direction. While Rock Band is all about emotion, Robo Rally demands a focussed mind.

This year I contributed a new game to the festivities: Last Night on Earth. It's beautifully designed, and convincingly recreates the feel of a zombie horror film, with an assortment of colourful heroes and hordes of malevolent zombies. The heroes of the game have only until sunset to complete a series of objectives, while the zombies chow down on their flesh. This game presents quite a challenge for the heroic characters, resulting in two very theatrical but unhappy endings for the human players. (I later played against Sylvia at home, taking command of the zombie side, but she shepherded her heroes to victory.)

Steve brought along his HMS Stadium, a diabolical Japanese game of spinning tops that accurately recreates all the blood, gore and mayhem of Roman gladitorial combat. All right, perhaps I embellish slightly - but only slightly! The object of the game is to ensure that your top is the last one spinning in the plastic arena. However, the heavy metal and plastic tops spin and bounce with such speed and violence that flying shrapnel is a genuine hazard.

Note Steve's reaction here, for example, as a whizzing top misses my camera lens by a few inches. This isn't a game for the lighthearted or risk-averse! We were still picking bits of metal off the carpet days later.

G&G climaxed with a chariot race, certainly the highlight of the entire event thanks to the work invested by Mike, Pete and Steve. The original Circus Maximus was published in 1979, with a small paper track and counters - fun, but not exactly epic in scope. Mike found some lead miniatures online, Steve painted them up, and Pete designed and printed a track to scale. Pictures really can't do justice to their work, but have a look anyway:

Steve designed and constructed this impressive trophy, to be engraved with
the champion's name each year.

Behind the trophy, the riders await.

The race begins! My charioteer, Ben Hurt, is in yellow - and at the back of the pack, where he remained all race long.

An anachronistic aerial view of the opening seconds of the race.

Jeff Pitts watches the riders roar around the first turn.

Calamity! Mike Totman took a turn too quickly, and his chariot overturned, leaving the charioteer dragging behind his team of horses! Mike Parlow quickly overtook the dying rider.

Ben Hurt, too, crashed. Unlike Mike's rider, however, mine was fortunate enough to survive. Scott's chariot overturned as well, but he managed to cut himself free of the reins and leapt to safety over the stadium wall. As you can see, the game does its best to recreate all the drama of the chariot race from the film Ben Hur. Steve even crafted miniatures to represent crashed chariots, dragged riders, and riders running to escape the stadium.

Jeff Pitts claimed victory, and he made it look easy with a calculated, professional strategy. The race did indeed go to the swift, and he did it wearing a Flash t-shirt for extra cool/geek points.

Caesar Fitzpatrickus of Eireium presents Jeff Pitts with the trophy.

Jeff celebrates his victory at the podium, while Pete and Mike settle for
silver and bronze, respectively.

There were other diversions at G&G V - we went out to see superhero parody Kick-Ass, played a round of Trivial Pursuit, played an amusing children's game of gambling and derring-do called Cloud 9 - but I think I've hit all the highlights here, with one exception: many raucous conversations between old friends, covering topics from the personal to the political. When I tried to explain G&G to a pal at work, she summed it up neatly by calling it a "friend summit." An apt description, and I'm looking forward to next May's friend summit on Vancouver Island. I'm very grateful to Steve for arranging these events, to Mike Totman for hosting this year, and to the whole gang for their companionship. It was a much-needed and very welcome break.


Anonymous said...

You lucky, lucky bastard. If you knew how lucky you were, you'd be buying a lottery ticket right now.

David Leach said...

Stumbled upon your site while researching 'DC Thompson Kelly's Choppers', which is an old Warlord comic strip.

Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your gaming tournament, I was particularly struck by how much fun the chariot race looked, reminded me of the Formula One boardgame.