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GMT Games: GMT Weekend West 10/2009

posted Nov 2, 2012, 6:05 PM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: November 28, 2009

I’ve already written about how Ken Tee and I brought Arctic Storm out of thaw at GMT Weekend West last month, but for the sake of the historical record, I shouldn’t let it drop there. As satisfying as it was to rack up that particular victory, it wasn’t the only noteworthy thing that happened that weekend, either to me or in general.

My first game of the weekend was actually a partial-completed go at The Kaiser’s Pirates, Jim Day’s WWI-themed card game. The game had gotten enthusiastic reviews, and it sounded like a good introductory-level game that I could recommend to friends. So when Jim Jones found me just arrived and kicking around and uninvolved in a game, that seemed as good an option as any. 

The proof is always in the play, however, and to me, Kaiser’s Pirates felt more than anything else like a set of collectible card game mechanics with an historical skin layered on them. You don’t take a side; each player has identical sets of assets (raiders and target ships) that you must use or protect, depending on the situation. As such, it felt a little too complicated for a good introductory game; not historical enough to be an historical simulation; and for all of that, not quite fast enough to keep one’s blood up. Jim and I rounded up Phil Bradley and Mark Ruggiero to fill out the group, but you

Our The Kaiser’s Pirates game just lost steam for some reason. Mark Ruggiero (r.) is engaged in conversation; Jim Jones (near l.) gazes languidly at a card; Phil Bradley needed to check up on the rules. And I obviously found time to step away from the table and take a picture.

could feel our collective energy level drop fairly quickly as we worked our way through the rules (only Phil could claim to have played before). Perhaps I’m judging the game a little
harshly just because it wasn’t what I expected, but, well... it wasn’t what I expected.

I had a more energizing experience playing Fantasy Flight’s acclaimed Battlestar Galactica boardgame, which did live up to billing. The setting aside — looking at it purely from a mechanical point of view — the consequences and benefits (which are mainly the absence of negative consequences) of the major decisions that the players have to make seem to be finely balanced, so that almost every one is a bit of a poser. Combine

that with the cooperative gameplay, and the game really does give its players the sense of being part of a team struggling to reach a common goal despite being limited by their own self-interest and finite skills. Layer the detailed setting on top of that, and you get a roleplaying component that melds with the gameplay to produce a richly rewarding game experience (“He’s the Cylon!”).

It’s always energizing when Chad and Kai Jensen bring their designs to a convention, but you had to know something was up when they brought Dominant Species and Urban Sprawl (nee Metropolis) back for return engagements. And indeed, both of those titles debuted on the P500 List last week, so I

Destroy all toasters! Battlestar Galactica, as it stood when we broke late Friday night. The Cylon had yet to be discovered, although I (playing Admiral Adama) had been accused. 

will have more to say about them in a subsequent post. I playtested Urban Sprawl and for now, I will say only that I preferred the old title to the new, but prefer the revised game to the previous version.

As always, Gene Billingsley gave a brief talk on Saturday morning — his semi-annual State of GMT Games address to some of the hardest-core of the company’s hardcore fans. I actually missed about the first half of the talk, having gotten a late start out of the Sequoia Inn that morning, but the current recession seemed to hang heavily, more so than in his last talk, in April. The gist of it — at least, the part of it for which I was present — was that GMT remains on sound financial footing, but that insecurity among the regular customer base may be cutting into their willingness to commit to P500 pre-orders, which are crucial to GMT’s business model. GMT has also become more conservative in their decisions about what to print and reprint (understandably so); my reading of this is that those who are waiting for reprints of Arctic Storm or Wilderness War should not hold their breaths.

Finally — and by no means least of all — congratulations are in order for Down in Flames honcho Mike Lam and longtime tournament partner Martin Scott. Mike brought his DiF team tournament stuff out of mothballs for this convention, and for the first time ever, he and Martin won the whole shooting match. The fact that it took the Lam-Scott duo about a decade to win the tournament for the first time is a tribute to the wild and wooly nature of Down in Flames, as they are as experienced and wily DiF players as you will find. But there it

Once again, the warehouse does not close for the night until the last Down in Flames mission is flown.