Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wizards of the Coast Starts the Sorry Tour

How exactly do you say your sorry for releasing a game system that was a huge risk? One that you justified by promising online play and easier access to new players. One that seemed to be making all o the character classes similar and forcing the use of miniatures or tokens. This is reality of the task Wizards of the Coast has with the release of the new Dungeons and Dragons edition (FKA 5th Edition)

WOTC is hoping that 5th Edition is the answer to that question. It is a little over a month away from the release date but this has been the edition where most of the surprises have already been revealed. The public play test of what is now to be called simply "Dungeons & Dragons" lasted well over a year. To get the play test materials all you had to do was ask. The answer to what is it like is simply that it is much closer to 3rd edition than 4th. It looks like they have removed all the MMOG power structure and returned D&D to its roots.

Now that Pathfinder has established itself as the main fantasy RPG how do you get players to even look at your new D&D rules? How about making them free? Yes, that's right the basic rules for D&D will be a free PDF download. Essentially WOTC wants to woo you back to the fold and a free copy of the rules as their gateway.

The other item that 4th edition was lacking in was third party support. The open licensing for 3.x editions and later Pathfinder ensured that many companies contributed material to the library of adventures and settings. The new edition is rumored to be working with third party designers right now to release non-official but authorized content for the new game. 

OK, so, root style play, free rules and third party support but that only gets us back to where we were before 4th edition. How about a spiffy new battle game based on the flight path mechanics of the Attack Wing games from WizKids? That's right Dungeons & Dragons: Attack Wing will be released within the year. It will add ground units to the Attack Wing system and dragons can move between the ground and the sky. It looks great and the dragon miniatures look like they'll be in 25 mm scale as will the other troops available.

Am I going back? I don't know for sure. I have leafed through the play test materials and pre-ordered the initial three books. I saw the Attack Wing game being played at Origins and I must say it looks very cool. But Pathfinder has become the new best friend when you old friend moved away. If he moves back you will always wonder if they'll move away again. The new D&D will have to go a ways to make up for its past misdeeds. As a game 4th edition was not bad, just not D&D. If they would have called Forgotten Realms Tactics or something like that they would have sold some new material while cultivating their existing audience. 

Here is the link where WOTC talks about free Basic D&D

Monday, June 16, 2014

Origins 2014 Reactions

What can I say? I had a good time. I met some cool people including DM Scotty. The official line from GAMA is that attendance was up this year. I think there were more people there Thursday and Friday which were both dead days last year but Saturday did not really feel crowded to me. 

Please fix on-site registration. This had been a mess every year since the convention has been in Columbus. There was a picture, posted on Facebook, of the line to register on Saturday that one person claimed as proof of the success of the convention but I saw it as a failure in customer service. The line at the BMV in Ohio moves faster than the Origins line. Ohio is ranked #1 in customer experience but there is a lot more to issuing license plates or a driver's license than printing a badge to enter Origins. Other conventions have figured out how to take registration payments online after pre-registration so why can't Origins? At a Wizard World Con I was able to buy my tickets with my phone while in line and then move to the pre-registration pick up line.

Restore the vendor hall. The entire vendor hall seemed sparse this year. There were only one or two no-shows but the lack of independent miniature vendors and the large discount retailers made the hall feel empty. Moving some of the board game vendors to the board game hall was not a bad idea but I think many may have missed the memo. The companies I noticed the absence of were Chimera Hobby, Pulp Miniatures, Covert /Slugathon Gamers, Cardhaus and Looney Labs. I spent lots less in the vendor hall this year as compared to years past.

Help the GMs. Give them a count after registration closes for each event they are running. They should not have to ask for it. I waited with one poor GM Friday morning with a generic in hand hoping the at least two more players would show so that we could play his game. He like many of the others had no clue how many people had signed up for his game. Another great addition would be an online scheduling system that runs after pre-registration ends until the convention ends so that you don't have to wait in line to find out if  a game you want to play is sold out or worse show up for a game with a generic to find out it is sold out (or over booked!) These are problems that have been around a while and are relatively easy to fix.

Better Signs and/or Information. Where was Artemis? Geek Chic? Stronghold Games? WizKids?

I know GAMA/Origins has no control over the Greater Columbus Convention Center but it was not great that at least one of the snack areas was cash only. The Java City was able to take credit but not the snack vendor next to BattleTech. What gives? They had signs saying "cash only, sorry for the inconvenience" and thanks to a few cash only vendors <cough> Star Realms <cough> I was short on cash a couple of days and could not get my kettle corn and cotton candy fix.

Overall not a bad show. A little disappointing but I will hope that there are changes for the better next year.

Origins Show FAQ

What was the favorite game you played?
Fantasy Quest - Miniature Skirmish Rules

So, What did you buy?
Mice and Mystics with expansion set
Call of Catthulu RPG
Get Lucky (Kill Dr. Lucky card game)
2 Dystopia Rising Splat books
My son Nick bought Star Realms

What did you almost buy?
Myth by Merc Games
Dragon Head Trophy by David Lee Pancake

What did you want to buy but could not find?
WizKids Godzilla Figures
Formula E by Clever Mojo Games (Elephant Racing!)

What new product looks promising?
WizKids new Dragon Combat game licensed from Wizards of the Coast

What was the strangest vendor in the hall?
Vendor selling oysters each guaranteed to have a pearl 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Origins 2014

So, Origins is this week. Once again I am excited but I hope that GAMA has not painted themselves into a corner leading to the end of the convention or moving it to another city.

One issue that comes up every year is how long it takes to get everything related to the convention up and running. Events registration is always started within 6 weeks of the convention and details for the GMs for the events don't get released until the last minute. Contrast this with GenCon where the events are published months out and registration information (and even badges) are mailed out well in advance of the show. I will show up on Thursday morning wait in line and hope that the badge and events I signed up and paid for just over a week ago are waiting for me.

I stopped going to the convention several years ago. I got tired of the crush of time and never being able to sign up for the events I wanted as well as the shrinking number of vendors that seemed to show up. When a good chunk of the vendor area was taken up by the Mystery Van promoting the new Scooby Doo collectible card game I thought it was time for a break. What brought me back to Origins was something called the Fair Day Pass. A five dollar a day admission that gave you access to the vendor area and open areas of the convention with a family version that was 15 dollars.

The Fair Day Pass was available for several years but last year it was only usable on Saturday. This year GAMA has not eliminated the pass but raised the price to 20 dollars and is offering a Family Day Pass for Sunday at the cost of 15 dollars. Sunday is usually the slowest day of the convention so I am sure this is a move to bolster attendance on that day but I believe that eliminating the single version of the pass is a mistake. Now the absolute cheapest single day admission is 20 dollars. I always thought the five dollar pass was great because it brought people into the vendor hall to spend money who would not have come to the convention otherwise. Columbus is full of poor college students who would love to come spend a day at the convention but won't do if the price is high. And did I mention this year the Sunday of the convention falls on Father's Day? 

The last item to my rant goes out to the game masters who put their time and effort into making Origins great. I will not say anything that questions their commitment to this event. My problem is that the event times seem to be getting longer every year and some events seem only half ready when you get there. If you are a game master with a 4 hour slot for a RPG or miniatures please have characters and forces ready at the appointed start time.As an example, I signed up for a learn Aces and Eights rpg session a few years ago  and what we did was roll up characters for three and a half hours and run part of a bar room fight encounter. I have had other friends show up for RPG events where they are asked to roll up characters as quickly as possible but the GM does not have any character sheets and one copy of the rule book. I don't like to quit events but these are the kinds of things that drive me away from game sessions. Board games can be bad about this as well. The gamers are all seated around an empty table at the appointed time and the organizer shows up a few minutes late with the game under his arm.

Why do you go then Cap'n Grumpy? I go because there are bargains. I go because I like seeing the new innovations coming out in the industry. I go because I have formed friendships over the years with vendors and game designers. I go because there are always some games and accessories that are not available anywhere else. I go because I am never sure that GAMA will be able to pull it all together again next year.

Origins has had a great run in Columbus but there have been rumblings for years that maybe they should explore moving back to Baltimore or Philadelphia. That would make me sad but I would probably just spend my money on going to GenCon. I don't like that convention as well but three hours is not that long of a drive.