Aug 272014
 

stop_harassment_v_Variation_1[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Sorry dudes, we need anti-harassment policies at conventions. And I’m afraid that’s not the only thing we need.

I’ve been battling with this for a while now and gathering my thoughts after listening/hearing both sides of the argument. After a lot of thinking, I have reached the conclusion that yes, we do need them.

And I think we need something else that is often overlooked and is probably as important, if not more, than the anti-harassment policy: The code of conduct policy.

You see, in any hobby there are bound to be assholes. The gaming hobby is not without its assholes and said assholes make a mess of things when they decide to assault a woman during Notch, or someone decides to harass a games industry veteran, or many of the incidents referenced in the Geek Feminism Wiki.

It is true that most of the people who are into gaming are not assholes. More often than not gamers are a friendly bunch and very easy to get along with. Contrary to popular belief we tend to be socially adept and know how to establish and maintain relationships and friendships with all sorts of people.

But there are assholes. And the problem with assholes is that when they show their face, the whole place stinks. Because what comes out of an asshole is shit.

One of the “reasons” people give to be against these policies go in the lines of “an asshole will behave like one with or without the policy”, and that is true. Other people say “harassment is covered by the law, why do we need to remind people? If they behave in a manner that’s not appropriate then we’ll kick them out.” And others say “but nothing has ever happened here. Why should we implement it now?”

Of course we have the “freedom of speech” evangelists. They want to be able to say what they want and if we are offended, then is on us because we don’t have the right not to be offended. You know, that is true. No one is immune from offense. And no one is immune from freedom of speech, so let me tell you and you’re not free from my freedom of speech to call you on you being an asshole. Freedom of speech goes both ways and I can’t imagine *for a second* why you should have the right to be offensive and I shouldn’t have the right to tell you you’re behaving like an asshole.

Also there is the point that if someone says “hey dude, that’s offensive, tone the language down a bit” it’s only a matter of manners to tone the language down. There might be children around, or maybe – just maybe – your sexist, racist, homophobic shit is simply not welcome. And just because you can’t see it’s racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever doesn’t meant it isn’t, or that you can’t be called out on that one. So giving a code of conduct guideline that says “be mindful of not offending people” is not infringing on your freedom of speech. It’s touching on your right to behave like an asshole.

Then there are those who say that people who complain about harassment are just exaggerating or seeking attention. I consider those being in the “asshole” category and thus won’t even address them.

One thing that we don’t often consider is that people don’t need to harass someone to make another person feel threatened or uncomfortable. Telling someone “your costume is shit because this hero had a different scarf” is not really harassing. It’s just rude and idiotic, though. And proper of assholes.

Sitting close to someone on the same bench without asking permission is not harassment, but it is rude. And yet some people just see a seat and take it without asking “Is this place taken? Do you mind if I sit here?” You know… common courtesy.

Harassment takes things one step further. Harassment also carries some form of intent: the intent to disturb or upset. Also is usually repetitive. Not all inappropriate behaviour carries that intent and it doesn’t have to be repetitive, though it can indeed be. If someone insults someone’s costume, or game, or whatever, what makes us think they’ll think twice before insulting someone else’s costume? Or game? Or whatever.

No. Exactly. They remain none-the-wiser and thus all-the-asshole.

And I think this is where conventions don’t go far enough to make sure the space is a safe as it can be. There should be a very clear code of conduct AND an anti-harassment policy. Yes, both.

Firstly it protects the organisation and it ensures the event is run consistently by all employees and volunteers. Alas, is not just attendees who can behave like assholes, volunteers and staff can too. It set clear rules and guidelines about what is acceptable and not acceptable. And if anyone were to take the organisation to court, the event could prove they’ve done all they can to make sure people knew how to behave.

It is also necessary because not all conventions need the same guidelines and code of conduct. A convention heavy on cosplay will probably have more emphasis on photography rules and conduct. One that’s purely about writing might need something different.

Secondly is necessary because, unfortunately and as it can be seen by many incidents, not all people know how to behave and having a reminder is not a bad idea. Ever.

Thirdly they are necessary because code of contact and anti-harassment policies don’t have to be just about the law, but about safety at the convention. It is about creating an environment in which people can feel protected and safe from actions and behaviour that is not necessarily illegal. Behaviour doesn’t have to be illegal to be unwelcome.

And it’s necessary because sometimes one has to remind people that they are not meant to be an asshole.

But most importantly they are necessary because providing people with a behavioural frame they can refer to so they can identify when behaviour is not acceptable is paramount for a lot of people. To give that code of conduct enables and empowers people to stand up and ask people to stop. They are told, in no uncertain terms that they do NOT have to accept certain type of behaviour and that the organisation is behind them to help and protect.

And whether you like or not, my dear asshole, they matter more than you. The people who feel threatened, bullied, upset, disturbed, harassed and put-off our hobby because you can’t be bothered to behave like a human being, matter more than you.

For every assault, every report, every incident, our hobby is made to look like a pool of shit, even if it’s just one asshole spewing that shit.

It only takes one.

So we need code of conduct. We need anti-harassment policy. And we don’t need assholes.

So if you are against them, please stop. Stop and wonder why you are against them. Are you going to behave like an asshole? No? then you don’t have to worry about it.

You don’t like to be told how you can behave or not? Then stay at home because you’re likely to not know how to behave.

You don’t know if you’re going to be called out for harassing anyone? Then follow the guidelines and people saying you’re harassing them won’t have any ground.

There is no logical reason to want to stop code of conducts and anti-harassment policies in conventions.

These policies have been in place at the workplace, clubs and organisations for decades. They are not new and they are not exclusive to the gaming hobby. So any reason you might have to want to see them gone is probably just your own insecurity.

Well… man-up. Or woman-up. Whichever, just up yourself.

Or stop being an asshole. That would work too!

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Aug 202014
 

whoreBy Paco Garcia Jaen

Today, on the second decade of the 21st century and despite many protests from people who claim it is not the case, we still live in an awful sexist society and our hobby, the gaming hobby that claims to be ever so open-minded and clever is just as bad as any other hobby out there.

There, I said it.

I am not going to go into all the details, just one detail. “Whore”

Why do we have to use that word when we want to insult a woman? That is just a stupid and pathetic insult as calling a man “gay” when we want to insult him. It’s puerile, a cheap shot and it’s wrong.

I have always felt uncomfortable about that word as an insult. Recently in Guardians of the Galaxy I was twitching in the cinema when Gamora was called a whore by a character that never uses a word metaphorically even though it was pretty obvious that Gamora was not, and never had been, a prostitute.

Today I published my most recent video with a review of a roleplaying game called La Mirada del Centinela in which I criticize some of the depictions of female characters for being overly sexualised. In the comments someone, probably with the best intention in the world said: “I agree with you on the female images. We really don’t need that kinky whore image of women. Not in a game, and not in real life either… “

Seriously? Is every woman who dresses in a sexualised way, for whatever the reason, a whore? Is that all we can call a woman when we want to insult and denigrate her?

People obviously don’t seem to understand that calling someone a “whore” is not just a cheap shot at the person, but it also helps perpetuate the bad image and stigma that comes associated with prostitution. And with kink.

But it goes deeper than that. People also fail to understand the difference between a woman who wants to look sexual and one who’s been sexualised for an audience’s gratification. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with a woman who wants to look sexual. She’s perfectly entitled to do so, just as are men.

The problem with the sexualisation of women for the audience’s gratification – or one of many – is that it plays to our pre-conceptions of women. We see an image of a sexualised woman and what does our little male – and plenty of females too, let’s not kid ourselves here – brain think? Whore or slave. It either turns them into an object that is denigrated and very badly regarded in our society or a weak object that must be rescued and has already been subjugated (for men and by men, of course.)

So can we just stop the “whore” trend, please? Can we just stop it?

If you want to insult a woman for whatever reason in your story, or your game, or even in real life, use another insult. Call her stupid, or idiot, or asshole. Or any other proper insults that do not pander to the male-centric stereotypes that are as rancid as the misconceptions surrounding them.

Thank you.

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Aug 202014
 

pic2088837_t[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Alf Seegert’s games came to my attention when The Road to Canterbury made to Kickstarter and, within 20 seconds, I had backed it. For three copies. Yeah… I liked it that much.

And then came Fantastiqa. And I also liked that game. A lot. A huge, massive lot of lots. And to top it up, Alf is one of the nicest guys in the industry. No. Nicer.

Now he’s again in Kickstarter with his most recent design, Musée. Another game with a unique theme, tremendous mechanics and tons of fun!

So I sent Alf a few questions in the hope that he’ll get the chance to answer them and, presto! here they are!

How long has Musée been in the making? I think you mentioned something when you were in the UK in 2013, but I’m not sure if you were already working on it.

Yes, I probably mentioned it when I visited last year. Our trip to the UK was actually formative in Musée’s development! The game has been in the works for about three years, under various guises, themes, and names.

You are known for original themes that are well reflected in the game play. How did this one start?

Not as a museum! Unlike most of my games, the muse of Musée appeared as mechanics first, theme later. For a long time I’ve admired card games with simple rules but complex and satisfying outcomes, classics like Reiner Knizia’s Lost Cities and Battle Line, and Mike Fitzgerald’s Mystery Rummy. I wanted a similarly engaging game, with equally novel mechanics and a theme that created something beautiful as each of the 60+ cards was played.

Originally I tried making it into a city-building game where each card was a different color of building and players competed to build the most compelling and colorful cityscape. Bonuses, earned by placing matching buildings adjacent to one another, or by completing a full street, were represented by bustling pedestrians, parks, and other urban improvements. It worked OK, but I felt like both the theme and the mechanics could be made better.

It was after touring the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last year that my wife and I realized that these game mechanics would work perfectly with a theme of displaying art in a museum. We first considered having different categories of museum objects like we saw at the V&A: teacups, dishes, furniture, etc. Later we decided to take advantage of the possibilities of library art and make all the game’s objects into paintings with various subcategories: landscapes, persons, architecture, animals, and water. Some of the artists in Musée (for example J.M.W. Turner and William Blake) were on special exhibition on our museum tours in London, so I’m especially happy to see them appear every time I play.

What are the mechanics of the game? How does it play?

In Musée , you compete to fill your three-story art museum with the most valuable arrangement of famous paintings. Players receive bonuses for displaying paintings of matching theme (suit) next to each other in the same Gallery, or by using connecting Staircases (tokens), whose pattern changes each game.

In a two-player game 50 cards are used: 10 cards of each suit, with each number between 1 and 50 showing a unique painting. You start with a hand of five cards (Paintings). On your turn, you remove one Painting from your hand and display it face-up in one of the three Galleries (6 spaces each) in your Musée and then redraw. It’s that simple. The beauty is, of course, in the details. Namely, you may place this card anywhere, so long as the Exhibit Numbers of all Paintings in the same Gallery increase in numerical order from left to right. Just as important, you can also score valuable point bonuses based on how you position Paintings in relation to one another:

  • Adjacent paintings of the same theme in the same Gallery score 2 bonus points.
  • Matching Paintings connected by a Staircase score 3 pts.
  • The first player to fill a Gallery with Paintings scores 4 points.
  • If you cannot display a Painting, you may not play any more cards for the rest of the game. The other players may keep playing until they can no longer display any Paintings!

When no players can play any more cards, the game is over: perform final scoring. The first player to win two games is the final victor. That’s it!

Have you borrowed from any of your other games to create this one?

I don’t think I borrowed any specific mechanics, but Musée feels a lot like Fantastiqa and The Road to Canterbury in that most cards have identical inherent value. Let me try to explain what I mean. In many games (say) a “7” card is always better than a card with a number lower than that. In Fantastiqa it didn’t work that way. Instead (say) the Spatula (Sword card) and the Cat (Tooth card) each have greater or lesser value depending entirely on what else is happening in the game. If you need to subdue a Dragon, then the Sword is very valuable; if you need to nibble through spiderwebs, Teeth are great for that. But if you need to subdue a Witch, these cards are no help at all! (You’d need a bucket of water instead…) The card values are thus all situational, but that doesn’t make their use random: you can work to collect the cards that you need to fulfill specific quests you’ve acquired.

Likewise in The Road to Canterbury, all seven deadly sins begin as equally valuable to a Pardoner who wants to pardon them for ready cash. But as the game progresses, Envy might become especially precious because a certain Pilgrim enjoys committing sins of Envy so much. Players can capitalize on Envy’s value by tempting this Pilgrim to sin ever further, taking the risk that the Pilgrim might die, or that other players will beat them to the pardon. A pleasurable tension ensues as you work to make certain cards valuable through the playing of other cards.

Musée follows this same model. The five different suits of art all begin equal but become more (or less) valuable depending on where you play them. I tried to sidestep one of the big problems of suit-matching games by not flat-out requiring a match or meld to play a card: a player may play a card anywhere in their Musée so long as all cards in that gallery increase numerically from left to right. But once (say) a green (animal) card is in play, it becomes important to find ways to place other green cards next to it. And doing so entails risks: each suit’s numbers increase in 5’s (green is 5, 10, 15…; gray is 1, 6, 11…), so acquiring good bonuses means taking the risk of not being able to place other cards in the proper sequence.

What is the bit of the game you’re the proudest of?

For a long time I’ve wanted to design a game whose rules could fit literally on a single page, and here it is. What some people call “elegance” in a game I call simplexity, which is the greatest amount of interesting complexity emerging from the simplest rules possible. Musée couldn’t be simpler: each turn you play one card and draw one card. But there’s a great deal of pleasurable anxiety involved in the commitments you make with every single card you play. Decisions are hard because there’s more than one way to score; each card you play functions like a “bet” on what the future holds for you based on the risks you take. Because you can see your opponent’s Musée and there is only one unique card for each number, the ratio of known to unknown information is well-balanced, resulting in neither chaos nor analysis paralysis.

Your work often goes around pieces of art publicly available, and yet I don’t think it’s just a money-saving manoeuvre. Why do you do it?

“Publically available” is a tricky term. Yes, several of my games have artwork for which versions exist in the public domain. But to access high-quality images and avoid liability concerns requires that an official curator be involved, so Gryphon Games pays to license all its images from Bridgeman Art Library. Designer Sean MacDonald and Gryphon Games together did much to spur this movement towards fine art in games via Pastiche, and I’m happy they did.

Although yes, using library art is not simply a money-saving tactic, it is especially useful when many images are required. I just don’t think it would have been affordable to hire an artist to create 60+ unique card images like Musée requires. It’s a small game and relatively inexpensive. And of course, when you have full access to a vast art library, you can pick from the very best: DaVinci, Raphael, Caspar David Friedrich, Monet, Van Gogh, Franz Marc, and Klimt for starters!

More important to me as a designer are the benefits that library art brings to my actual game designing. One thing I especially like about working with Bridgeman Art Library is that often the artwork inspires mechanics. For example, in Fantastiqa I wanted to transform deck-building mechanics into something more embodied and spatial, with players not just purchasing cards from a supply but subduing strange creatures and fulfilling quests that required that they actually go places. In so doing, I tried to follow the lead of fantasy writer Lord Dunsany from a century ago. For his classic collection The Book of Wonder he worked with artist Sidney Sime. Instead of asking Sime merely to illustrate his tales, he flipped the arrangement around and agreed to write stories based on a series of artworks that Sime would create himself. The result was a series of especially enchanting tales with such evocative titles as “The Injudicious Prayers of Pombo the Idolator,” “The Loot of Bombasharna,” and “The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller, and of the Doom that Befell Him.” By letting Sime’s material images stir his imagination, Dunsany was kept from falling into a rut where stagnant mental patterns repeat themselves and each new creation looks just like the previous one.

On these lines, while working on Fantastiqa I stumbled upon a painting in the Bridgeman Library called “The Gentle Dragon,” which showed a friendly green dragon wearing an apron and serving tea. The moment I saw it, I thought: hey, that might be funny, a creature in your deck who doesn’t curse you or mean you harm, but who is simply (in game terms) useless because he’s too busy making tea to subdue other creatures or go on daring quests!

Existing artwork helped inspire mechanics in Musée as well. In early incarnations of the game, the three rows of cards were separated by city streets. Each row was a world unto itself. But once the theme was changed to fine art and I saw how different works of art looked together, I realized that each row could be treated as a separate floor of a museum, and that cards could connect with each other not just within the same gallery, but also between galleries via staircases. So I got rid of the boards I’d been using and substituted tokens that show staircases (connections) on one side and chandeliers (no connection) on the other. Their patterns change every game, adding a lot of variety. This simple change added enormous depth and challenge to gameplay, and helped make what was already a fun game into (in my opinion) something genuinely special.

How do you work with your publisher to make sure the game is as close as possible to your vision?

I’m fortunate to have such a good developer and publisher. Rick Soued and the others at Gryphon Games are fantastic to work with, and I feel like they genuinely honor my creative vision. Even if we don’t always agree on every point at first, the final product is something we all feel good about. Musée is my fourth game with Gryphon Games, counting the recently released game CUBIST, my recent co-design with Steve Poelzing. I’m happy to say that I have several more games in the queue with this same publisher!

What is the most frustrating part of the process of bringing a game to the public for you?

I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. I’m not a fan of showing people “works in progress.” I’d rather wait till everything is exactly right first: completed rules, completed art, etc. But the nature of Kickstarter is of course to raise funds to make all these things possible in the first place, so I have to learn to go with the flow!

And the most rewarding?

Having an idea become a playable prototype is nice. But witnessing a prototype become an actual published game with beautiful artwork and nifty components – a game world actually played, inhabited, and kept alive by thousands of people all around the world – that’s enormously satisfying.

For Musée I was especially pleased to see the final card design by Andrew Long. He made grand improvements to my own original layout. Between his fine graphic design on the cards and Pixel Production’s final version of the box and rules, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Finally, seeing such enthusiastic support on Kickstarter is certainly heartwarming! I owe an enormous debt of thanks to all the backers willing to support my games!

Once the game goes Kickstarter, what is your involvement in the process?

I check the Kickstarter page regularly, read over the latest comments, and reply as needed (focusing on questions about rules and design). The rest I leave to the good folks at Gryphon Games like Topher Speth, Ralph Anderson, Rick Schrand, and Rick Soued.

The Kickstarter is over… the game is going to be published… now what?

Yes! I was pleased to see Musée make its funding goal exactly 24 hours after it launched! And as of this writing it’s over double that. Gryphon Games has added some very nice stretch goals, including three thick cardboard Gallery Bonus Cards (showing three different versions of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers) and wooden Victory Markers to count each game won. They’re offering a free tuck-box version of Reiner Knizia’s High Society now as another stretch goal incentive if we make it to 25K. There are still a few days left in the Kickstarter, and after that it’s all printing and shipping – Musée should come out late this year or, at latest, early 2015.

As for “now what,” my co-design with Steve Poelzing, CUBIST, is just about to hit store shelves, along with the new Rucksack Edition of Fantastiqa and a whole bunch of new Fantastiqa gameplay expansions (there are now 10 expansions in total!). I’m excited to see how everything goes.

I’ve got several more board games in the works that I’m fine-tuning and polishing and I’m excited to share them. Thanks, Paco, for your very good questions and your continued interest in my games at G*M*S Magazine!

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Jul 292014
 

CognitionBy Paco Garcia Jaen

I think Wizards of the Coast had a  pinch of genius moment when they included the diversity paragraph in the new edition of D&D. Pure genius!

I don’t know if it was accidental or if it was a calculated risk, but my goodness it’s paying off!

Why do I say this? Because everyone is talking about it. People who were looking forward to D&D are talking about it. People who don’t care about D&D are talking about it. People who didn’t want to care about D&D talk about it. People who like the diversity clause are talking about it. People who dislike it are talking about it.

People are talking about D&D. The diversity clause is not the only thing they’re talking about, but it certainly is making a lot of noise.

And that’s good!

I personally believe the inclusion of that paragraph is a good idea. People argue it’s not necessary and I could agree with that. It doesn’t really make or break the game. It’s not pivotal and thus is not necessary.

I think it’s a good idea to have a reminder, though. Although plenty of people have said “this paragraph is telling us we can play the game as we have played all along”, most players, without some sort of prompting or reminder, just fall back into the binary heteronormative paradigm and leave it like that. Most people have no hidden agenda or try to avoid diversity; it’s simply that falling back into “normality” is a very easy thing to do.

Regardless, though, this is an absolutely brilliant marketing technique that’s paying dividends because there’s so little to be upset about, it’s controversial enough to be interesting and long lasting, and it’s therefore raising awareness of the game.

Whether this paragraph is necessary or not, not many people are saying it’s a bad idea. Or that it is a bad thing. I don’t think many people are complaining about the notion of having diversity in their games; people are questioning the need for the reminder more than anything else and a few are resenting they feel they’re being told how to play the game.

Either way, to come up  – even if it’s been accidentally – with a means to make your audience talk about your product for a reason that’s controversial but not pernicious or a mistake… well done WOTC!

I think this is something a lot of designers out there should take note of and learn something!

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Jul 272014
 

img[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

The release of D&D Starter Set sparked many reactions from a lot of people. Mostly, people have been excited and mostly they have been welcoming. Some people, though, have complained about how two individuals who were consulted. The extent of their influence on the game is unknown.

I can understand that. I don’t know any of the two people in question, but what I have read that they’ve written make them come across as thoroughly obnoxious and up-their-own-arse individuals with no empathy or room for what anyone else think.

Quite frankly I would have consulted them too. If anything because whatever they said would have been put in the “this is probably the wrong thing, so let’s avoid” list.

The thing is, these two individuals (I won’t mention them because I don’t want to give them any more publicity) have got more attention than the good people who’ve contributed to the game. Their presence alone is like having a cockroach in a restaurant. No matter how clean everything is; no matter how well cooked the meals are; no matter how it’s pretty much unavoidable that there will be vermin, their mere presence taints everything else even though they are insignificant.

And we are letting that happen. We are contributing to driving people off the restaurant because someone saw a cockroach.

This is a metaphor, of course. I am not saying they’re like cockroaches, just that the reaction the spark is similar.

So how about we do something else this time? How about, this time, we don’t engage? How about we simply let WOTC that having people like that is not what we expect and simply, leave it there?

Yes, people will goad you into “conversations” because how dare you have an opinion that clashes with theirs? How dare you dislike what they so like? Don’t bother with them. Make your voice heard, don’t give them another route to get out and point at more cockroaches in the catering community.

Why aren’t we talking about the good people in the industry? Why aren’t we talking about Cam Banks, Shannah Germain, Christina Styles, Rob Donohue, Bruce Cordell…

Why are we wasting our time with the obnoxious when we have so many *amazing* people instead?

By the way, I have no grudge nor axe to grind with them two individuals. I don’t like how they come across and I feel the conversation would be more constructive if it was directed at the excellent people instead. Neither of them have done anything to me and disliking their Internet personas is not the same as having axes to grind or grudges.

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Jun 272014
 

tig-conBy Samuel Wilcocks

Sometimes when you think you have planned just one or two moves ahead, the random factor can really whack you out of nowhere. So when I volunteered a while ago to write a report on the Transylvania International Gaming (TIG) con, held from 22nd-25th May 2014 in Cluj, Romania, I had no idea that I myself would miss the con because of family illness. While I could write plenty about emergency surgery, the Intensive Care Unit and the excitement of X-rays, I am not so well-informed about what the gaming group in Transylvania was doing while I was in England waiting for the news from hospital. And then when I got back to Cluj (once the patient was finally well and out of danger) and asked everybody how the con had been, I got the further nasty surprise that our friendly local gaming store, the Red Goblin, was closing down at the end of June.

Board-gaming is a strong hobby in Romania and classic games are extremely popular – it’s the kind of country where there are chess tables in the public parks and you often see people playing backgammon in the cafés in the middle of the morning. Modern board-games are also well-known, with plenty of local clubs and at least two distributors (Lex Games and Ideal Board Games) specialised in localised Romanian-language versions of games. The Settlers of Catan sells well in supermarkets, and many of the country’s bookshops also have at least a shelf of boardgames – and sometimes a big display table, crowded with titles. As well as importing foreign games, Romanian companies also design and produce their own games, with an eye on the export market as well. Some of these titles were featured at the TIG con, either in playtest versions or in Kickstarter-ready pre-publication prototypes. So with such a lively gaming culture in the country, what happened at the Cluj con?

The con was held over four days at the city’s 2,200 square-meter exhibition and trade fair showground, Expo Transilvania. There were already a couple of problems here; four days is ambitous for a first con, and the Expo’s location away from the city center meant that there was very little walk-in trade from casual visitors or family groups. Despite low ticket prices, the venue is simply not in a part of town where anybody would decide to step in on the spur of the moment, meaning that visitors were restricted to those who had heard about the event in advance. Thursday and Friday attendance was very low, although the numbers began to pick up over the weekend. That leaves the dedicated gamer crowd, who came as much as they could but who were not enough to fill the large venue.

Visitors and guests came from across Romania and many nearby countries. There were games companies exhibiting from Russia and Hungary, and a group of gamers came from Bulgaria for the event. Potential Ukrainian visitors had other worries right at the moment, alas, and Serbian guests who might have come to the con were badly affected by the floods and had to cancel their travel plans. There’s that wicked random factor again – when I think about the trouble some people have had with civil war in their country or their homes washed away by three months’ rainfall in one night, it makes my own brush with family illness seem like nothing at all. And it also makes me think that any game designer who stacked the events deck with all these horrible possibilities would be denounced as unfair in play-testing.

So yes, the random factor can really screw things up. But then again, there are certain things that you really have to do when planning a con. The website for the event was not well designed – I really can’t stand gray-on-gray for text, and it’s more than just a personal taste on my part because it makes the words very difficult to read. It gives some of that dark and spooky atmosphere you associate with Transylvania but it also sends readers away. The website was also rather lacking in tourist information for potential international visitors – airline connections, hotels and guest houses near the venue, other attractions in the city, that sort of thing.

This is a shame, because Cluj has a lot to offer tourists and especially it has a lot for gamers to see. Old-school gamers who have played Games Workshop edition of Stephen Hand’s Fury of Dracula (1988) or anyone who knows the more recent Fantasy Flight reissue (2005) will know Klausenburg as a final staging post before the asault on Castle Dracula itself… and that’s the same town. Like many cities in Central and Eastern Europe, Cluj has changed hands many times over the years and has many names. Cluj in Romanian, Klausenburg in German and Kolozsvár in Hungarian. Oh yes, and some people also use the ancient Roman name, Napoca, although as far as I know there are no ancient Romans actually living in the city right now.

However, visitors to the con did get the chance to play the Roman-themed Praetor from local company NSKN games, a worker placement game which has players as city governors competing for the favor of the Emperor Hadrian as they build a new city on his famous Wall. This was one of the games that NSKN also took to Britain the week after TIG-con for the UK Games Expo, a long-established event in the gaming calendar. Their own edition of Praetor is in English, like many games published by Romanian design houses, and there are German, French and Japanese editions from partner publishers due out soon. Another exciting title from NSKN is the civ-builder Progress: Evolution of Techonology, which is doing very well on Kickstarter right now with over a thousand backers.

Another Kickstarter title featured at the con was Transylvania: Curses and Traitors, all the way from Kansas, USA. WIBAI Games are a husband-and-wife company, and far too small to send a demonstration team halfway around the world to play the game on the spot in Transylvania, but they did generously share a print-and-play prototype of their first title. The game has an interesting twist on the hidden-role mechanic since although all players start out as brave monster-hunters aiming at a (more-or-less) collective victory, during the course of play we might pick up enough Curses to become a vampire, a werewolf or a zombie and have our own individual victory goals from that point on. Kickstarter has now closed on Transylvania: Curses and Traitors, with the backer rewards all assigned, but WIBAI are also taking pre-order for March 2015 on their website.

Sometimes we’re working together for a common cause. Sometimes we’re just out for what we can get for ourselves. It’s almost as though there were a lesson in here on how to organise a gaming con and make it a success. When I got back from tending the sick and asked the organising committee how the con had been, one of them sent me a link to a report by some gamers who attended. Unfortunately it’s in Bulgarian. Was her really trying to help me write this article? But what he doesn’t know is that I have the Secret Ability: Read Bulgarian. Our southern neighbours liked the event and the games they played but they felt that the con was poorly organised, badly advertsised and under-attended.

So what happens next year? Raul Recolta, who managed the local branch of the Bucharest-based Red Goblin, is determined that even though his store will be closing down under the Red Goblin name in June, he will find a way to re-open in September so that Cluj still has its own games store. As for the TIG con, this years’s edition was hit from all sides by bad luck and bad draws from the random events deck, and right now it looks as though there will be no second edition next year. However, in 2015 Cluj-Klausenburg-Kolozsvár-Napoca will be European Youth Capital, with all kinds of cultural and fun events throughout the year. Come and visit, even if you don’t play backgammon in your local café at home!

Samuel Willcocks

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