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Comikaze 2015 and Shameless Promotion For Someone Else

posted Nov 3, 2015, 12:18 AM by Douglas Sun   [ updated Nov 4, 2015, 12:33 AM ]

Every year since its debut, I have wondered about the future of Comikaze — oops, pardon me, Stan Lee’s Comikaze. On the one hand, it has staked out a position that lends itself well to marketing, as the fan con that isn’t as overwhelming as Comic Con or Anime Expo, but still large enough to give you a nice last hurrah before the convention season ends and we all go into winter quarters. But on the other hand, being smaller than Comic Con or AX also means that you draw fewer big-league exhibitors and, Stan Lee’s imprimatur notwithstanding, fewer big-league guests.

Comikaze’s decision to move the con to the end of October and overlap with Halloween also set them walking a fine line. It worked well for them last year, when they opened the day after Halloween. A sizable crowd came out for the show and everyone just kept their costumes on and rode a solid wave of energy from Thursday night all the way through the weekend. This year, however, Halloween fell on Saturday, meaning that the con conflicted directly with, rather than complemented, an annual event that has mutated in recent years into a universal night of cosplay.

I arrived at Comikaze on Friday shortly after the Exhibit Hall opened, to drop off some publicity materials for our Veiled Alliances animation app (BTW, download it if you haven't already) at the Wordfire Press booth and chat a bit with Kevin J, Anderson. Despite a press of people crowding around a giveaway at the booth across the aisle, attendance was sparse. When I came back on Saturday, the con was a lot more crowded, but neither the size of the crowd nor their energy level equalled what I remember from last year. Perhaps I came too late in the day and missed everyone who came for Carrie Fisher’s autograph signing at noon and then left. But as the afternoon went on, I got the distinct feeling that a lot of people were getting ready to call it a day at Comikaze and get ready for their Halloween parties. 

I would be surprised if Comkiaze can plausibly claim as many unique visitors this year as last, and I’d bet that there weren’t as many exhibitors as well. Last year, the vendors filled the South Hall of the LA Convention Center and the con as a whole seemed poised to colonize the West Hall as well. This year, all of the exhibitors fit in the smaller West Hall, with room to spare. The large spaces of the South Hall remained entirely untapped, except by a few cosplayers looking for elbow room. The South Hall Exhibit Hall was quiet and still, already set up for an event called Obesity Week that would begin on Monday. The only major media company present was Funimation, which set up a comparatively huge booth eight in the center of the show floor, so that the huge, glowering visages of Goku and Eren from Attack on Titan dominated the room.

Given my documented aversion toward large crowds and sensory overload, it feels odd to complain about a fan conn for being low-key and underpopulated, But I have to think that this year's show will get Comikaze to re-think its commitment to Halloween weekend.

The large rooms off of the Concourse were set aside for gaming, but when I wandered in on Saturday, they were mostly empty. Perhaps I found a gap between Yu-gi-oh events, but the open gaming and demo activity just didn’t fill the space. Even so, I sat in on a demo given by Ravensdale Publishing, and I enjoyed it enough to give them a plug. They’ve got a project in an advanced state of development called Villains & Henchmen — a multiplayer cooperative card game that flips the script on the superhero genre and puts the players in the place of evil henchmen who have to break their supervillain boss out of confinement by the good guys. You play action cards augmented by your character’s special abilities against the heroes and their mooks. Random event cards drawn after each player-turn create an ever-changing combat environment, and the constant turnover of card decks representing power-ups that you can buy for your character set a time limit on the game, so that sitting back and waiting for better card draws (or anything else) is usually not a good idea.

Villains & Henchmen has a bit of a learning curve, as the core of the game requires understanding the various power-ups and special abilities and how to get the most out of them in any given situation, but it’s not steep. The constant procession of event cards keeps you on your toes, and an entire game feels like an extended action scene or a level in a good FPS (I actually flashed back a little bit to playing Castle Wolfenstein back in the day). The designers have created several different scenarios for the game, which suggests high replay value and a path for future expansions. If you can figure out how to vary the game enough to create four scenarios to start, there's no particular reason why you should stop there. As a casual superhero fan at best, I found it a little difficult to embrace being the bad guys, but someone more immersed in the genre us more likely to find the script-flipping premise a nice change of pace — and at any rate the game is enjoyable enough so that the premise fades in importance after a while. 

Ravensdale plans to run a Kickstarter campaign in February to cover their final costs, with publication slated for later in 2016. The game seems far enough along in playtesting that this seems entirely realistic to me. So keep an eye out for Villains & Henchmen, you Kickstarter hounds. This is a fun game that will appeal to anyone looking for a fast-paced cooperative experience, not just superhero genre fans.