Friday, January 05, 2007

Winter War Preview: Saturday Afternoon

Last week I started a session-by-session rundown of the events on the schedule for Winter War, my local con. You can check out the earlier installments here, here, and here. Today I'll be talking about the stuff happening the afternoon of Saturday, the first full day of the con.

Saturday, February 10th, 1:30pm

It's not on the preregistration form because you don't have to register for it, but the Live Auction is one of the biggest events at the con. All kinds of crazy crap appears at this auction, selling for pittances you would not believe. I've seen serious collectibles like the Blitzkrieg Module System or Delta Green go for easily half the eBay pricing. I sold my copy of the Wraeththu rpg at last year's auction. To my friend Bruce, who I'll talk more about later in the post. That poor bastard had no idea what he was getting into. The head auctioneer, Rusty Rutherford, is a true grognard and will not hesitate to tell you if the item up for sale is a piece of crap. Rusty's patter makes for a fun auction experience and the room is often rolling with laughter. Another great feature of the auction is watching con staffer bid against each other, exchanging dirty glances across the room. They're all friends and this sort of competition really brings out the tiger claws.

NB: I said you didn't have to register to go to the auction, which is true. But to bid you have to be a registered con attendee.

Saturday, February 10th, 3pm

The convention-long Advanced Squad Leader and Living Greyhawk events continue through this slot. Heck, some of those guys may not even break for lunch. In the board game division James Richards will be hosting a game of Rocketville, a new product from the new Avalon Hill. I didn't even know this game existed until I saw it on the schedule. I love the retro robot art! Meanwhile in the RPG area Michael Collin has a Dark Conspiracies game planned, featuring the walking dead. Cool.

Much of the action so far scheduled for Saturday afternoon takes place in the miniatures area. On the historical angle, the French and Indian War seems awfully popular this year, as both Time Mikesell and Dean Spitz will be running games set during that conflict. Mr. Mikesell will be using The Sword and the Flame as his ruleset, while Mr. Spitz offers Black Powder Battles. Kevin Brown will continue to play out World War II in 15mm, using Flames of War 2nd edition and whatever armies he or anyone else brings to the table. And Stanley Arbogast will be replaying part of Saving Private Ryan using Battleground WW2.

If you like your tin soldier wars to be more fantastic and less bogged down by actual events, then Mike Bohlmann is your huckleberry. He'll be overseeing a session Warmachine, the 30mm game set in the steampunk world of Iron Kingdoms. I don't know much about the Iron Kingdoms setting or Privateer Press, the company behind the games. But looking through their website I can tell you one thing: I want one of these so badly my balls hurt. Imagine all the good times to be had sending that thing against my D&D group!

On the sci-fi tip you have lots of good minis options on Saturday afternoon. Ken Vreeman will be running some sort of adjunct to his "55 Hours on Uranus" game (mentioned in the previous preview post). This one is called "Escape from Uranus" and is listed as being powered by house rules. Not knowing a thing about the system I'd bet dollars to dimes that will be a good time. Dave Bullis and Bill Reuter will run another session of post-apocalyptic scum fighting over a Spam caravan. Fans of the BattleTech universe have two options. Steve Massey and Travis McLin will be running BattleForce 2 and Ronald Walston promises some BatteTech Total Warfare.

But the best event of the afternoon, and possibly the whole dang con, will be the 28th Annual Blind Sniper tournament. Holy crap, this game rocks on toast. First, let me tell you a bit about the guy running is. Bruce Gletty is without a doubt the grogniest grognard I have ever met. He's the kind of guy that's played everything from Tactics to OD&D to fantasy baseball to D&D 3E to the latest CRPG. One room of his basement is dedicated to one of those monster wargames where the entire European theater of WWII is recreated at the squad level or whatever. Unlike a lot of hex-and-chit men nowadays Bruce doesn't just own games like that, he actually plays them. Bruce is hardcore. He's also one of the most intelligent people I've met in my entire life. On the odd occasions when I am able to beat Bruce at a boardgame I do a touchdown celebration in my head.

Now let's talk about the game. Up to twenty players individually fight on a single Sniper! mapboard. The game is called 'Blind' Sniper because movement is totally hidden. No player sees the counters. The official gameboard is concealed from general view. Each player has one dude on the board. Orders are communicated in writing. Example:

Turn 1: I move 6 hexes west, turn to hexside C, enter building.
Response from Bruce: You see a man with a machine pistol inside the building in hex 0305, he's exiting the stairs.
Turn 2: I shoot the bastard!
Response: He shot you as well. The other guy is dead. You're hit in the leg and only get half movement points from now on.
Turn 3: I cross the room and collect the machine pistol.
Response: Okay, you've got it. The clip has 10 rounds in it. You hear gunfire from beyond the north exit.

When Bruce appears from his hideyhole and hands out his responses you can cut the tension with a knife. Sometimes he gives certain reports to the whole room. "You all hear an explosion from near the tall building in sector C of the map." or "Jeff, you're dead." The goal of the game is to either visit 5 target hexes and exit the board OR to be the last man standing. Most years it's the latter. The game continues until there is a winner and sometimes that means the last two or three participants are at the con until 4 in the morning.

One reason the game goes so long is that it takes some serious time for Bruce to read and respond to all the written orders. Pickup games are played while everyone is waiting for teacher to pass out the quiz results. I've literally played three or four other whole games during a long go at Blind Sniper. Some of them quite lengthy games, too. So here's the big secret of Winter War: the best boardgaming at the con isn't on the schedule. It happens at the Blind Sniper event. In my experience every single person in the Blind Sniper room is a serious gamer but also a decent human being. You could play tiddlywinks with these people and have a rockin' time. Some years I don't have the time for Blind Sniper because I'm scheduled to run some sort of RPG in the Saturday night slot. When that happens I spend the afternoon in the Sniper room just to play the pickup games.