Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Glimpse of FlatCon

So I actually made it over to FlatCon in Bloomington. Due to scheduling snafus I was unable to run my game on Friday, but I did get to stop by for a brief visit on Saturday. My sister and I played some Ticket to Ride with a friend of hers on the staff and the couple running the Noble Hero Press booth. These folks were hawking a d20 superhero game called Beyond Mere Mortals that probably would've made fat loot had it been released back at the height of the d20 boom. Here in the present I don't have much hopes for it to be a breakout success. The other vendors included the game & anime shop from Springfield (the one that comes to Winter War), a card & clicky man, someone selling fan bootlegs of radio and TV shows, Khyber Pass Games (their Alamo wargame, Deguello at Dawn, looked awesome), and one nice fellow hawking a chess variant called Kaissa.

This last case is a weird one. An itching in the back of my skull told me I had encountered Kaissa before (probably at the Chess Variants pages) but I couldn't remember anything about it. The guy at the booth was selling little booklets outlining the game rules for only 2 bucks, so I bought one. Turns out Kaissa is the chess variant described by John Norman in one of his Gor books! In case you are out of the loop, the basic premise of the Gor series is that swords & sorcery fiction needs more objectification of women. Almost all women on the planet Gor are property, pleasures slaves to be whipped and fucked at their master's command. And the women like it. I can be as kinky as the next guy, but Mr. Norman really seems to be attempting to argue that life on Gor is the way things ought to be. If you want to learn more about this stuff, go google it or check out the wikipedia entries or something.

The thing that I find most interesting about this whole situation is the fact that nothing at the booth or in the booklet or that the guy said gave any hint whatsoever about the connection to Gor. To the untrained eye Kaissa looked like any other chess variant doomed to obscurity. Which, as a game, is exactly what it is. I'm just kinda creeped out by the way the presentation of the game was completely divorced of its context. Not to cast unnecessary aspersions at Mr. Norman's character, but imagine this scenario: You find a new game. You love the game. You play it for years. Then someone tells you that the author of your now-favorite game is someone whom you consider despicable. Ivan the Terrible created Monopoly. Poker was invented by Torquemada. It turns out that E. Gary Gygax is a pen-name for Adolf Hitler. Etc. I understand that an artist and their work are not one and the same, but my sister was at that convention. 'Nuff said.

Back to FlatCon. Unsurprisingly I saw some familiar faces from Winter War. Jeff Kopec and Tom Pennell were seen in the boardgame and minis areas. Over at the RPGA section you could find James Holzhauer and Thom Hendricks. I'm sure there were others I knew present, but I was very deeply engaged with whupping Jenn at Ticket to Ride. You gotta understand, we have that sibling rivalry thing going and she's better than me. I have to work extra hard to beat her.

Let's also talk about the venue. Previous FlatCons had been held at Illinois Weslyan University, but the con outgrew the facilities they had been using at Weslyan. So this year the location was the Interstate Center, which is basically a big ass metal shed with concret floors and warehouse style lighting subdivided into large, sterile halls. It sucked. Probably the worst con venue I've ever been in. I can only think of three good things to say about it: there was plenty of room in the shed, the parking lot was right next to the place, and the chairs didn't suck. As to the bad, there was plenty. The average table was lamer than the worst table the Chancellor would give us for Winter War. The bathrooms were hidden in a labyrinth guarded by an irate minotaur. The concession stand was actually a band of brigands armed with kitchen utensils. I bought breakfast for Jenn and I. The sign said "biscuits & gravy". The gravy was fine, but apparently "biscuits" plural meant "a single English muffin, quarted". At the time, I thought the concessions stand was being operated by and for the benefit of the con, so I did not complain. Jenn reported later that the InterState Center was actually to blame. I understand that it is standard procedure to gouge me for three bucks for a pop that would cost 75 cents at a gas station, but this biscuit bait-and-switch is absolutely beyond the pale.

The con staff seemed like friendly people, but the operation seemed less organized than several other cons I have attended. Sign-ups for games used the put-your-name-on-the-wallchart method, which I find to be a pretty loosey-goosey way of doing things. I didn't really notice any staffers checking up on the games or noting which ones were actually running versus which ones were duds. I did overhear two staffers talk about counting the number of people in the room, and apparently attendance on Saturday morning was about 40 people. Jenn reports the hall got significantly busier later in the day after I left.

One final note: They had some LAN games and such set up. Jenn and I tried Dance Dance Revolution, with the screen projected onto the wall of the shed. That was fun, but I wasn't properly dressed for that kind of activity. I ended up bowing out early because the jeans I was wearing were either going to trip me up or split up the middle. Neither sounded like a fun addition to my con experience. Still, I am seriously considering getting DDR and some pads for the X-Box.