Sunday, June 23, 2013

Origins Game Fair 2013 - Thursday, We Play Arkham Horror

I was just getting out of a seminar when I got the call from Big Mike informing me tersely that the Arkham Horror event we wanted to attend was just upgraded and I should meet my two comrades at the official event registration area pronto.  Keep reading for an invaluable tip on event registration.

As I've stated before, I'm less than completely thrilled with the clerical staff at Origins Game Fair, but the problems all go back to The Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the group who runs the show from the top. I suspect they envision themselves atop Mount Olympus, but that's my own opinion.

I have no trouble finding California Dave and Big Mike at the counter under the banner Event Registration.  Big Mike is royally pissed off and I have no trouble discovering the cause of his temporary intemperance.  It seems that if a person, any person, who is already registered for the convention, meaning that they've already spent their hard earned cash for the dubious privilege of standing in line at the Event Registration counter, if that person tries to get multiple tickets for a single event they are denied.  So if you, like Big Mike, stroll up to the brainless automaton at the Event Registration counter and politely request three tickets for Arkham Horror at 6:00 PM tonight, instead of a polite social amenity or two and an exchange of currency for three newly printed tickets, you'll be told you can purchase one ticket for yourself, but not three.  The reason?

"The computer system won't let us do it that way."

How about buying three tickets one at a time?  Just being at the beginning and run the single ticket procedure three times.

"No, we can't do that either.  It's against the rules."

Big Mike skips the obvious question, "What the fuck is wrong with you?  Are you too fucking stupid to think?"  Instead he asks to speak with a supervisor, who turns out to be a slightly overweight, middle aged blonde woman who ultimately proves to be as dense and obstructive as the clerk.  She reiterates the clerk's words in an irritating, condescending manner, adding that she didn't design the system and that we should complain to the organizers (GAMA) - if enough people complain, maybe they'll do something about the problem.

They won't.  GAMA knows this problem exists and doesn't give a flying fuck.  Why should they?  The system isn't causing the elite at GAMA any inconvenience.

I buy my ticket.  It's clear that the entire registration system, and not just the computer portion, is designed by someone not interested in customer service.  This is typically what happens when you assign a major design to a programmer without significant experience who is getting directed by an arrogant, egotistical bureaucrat suffering PMS, constipation and a bad case of hemorrhoids.

Tip: Do as much registration as you possibly can online.
Tip: Don't bother to argue with the staff.  They are obstructive and mentally immobile.  Instead, fall in line like a good little sheeple and try not to think about Soylent Green.

I note that the supervisor is sporting traces of a nice shiner, which she has partially covered with make up and hair style.  The swelling shows as does a nice little mouse, and given that this is Thursday I'm betting that last Saturday night someone somewhere got tired of her mouth and pasted her a good one. She didn't learn anything.

As it turns out, our event has been upgraded.  From the Origins Game Fair - June 2013 site:

In 2009, Origins piloted the upgraded play program.  The idea was based on Origin’s commitment to enhancing the gaming experience for our attendees. The upgraded play program is where attendees  are joined by our Guests of Honor, Special Guests and Industry Professionals in randomly selected games at the convention. The goal of the event is to create a series of these random events so that the attendees and the guests get a chance to interface in the core function of the convention, playing games! The staff at Origins selected events and connects our Guests to games that fit in with their professional experience or personal interests. As this is a completely random experience, any event is subject to being “upgraded” during the convention. The best part is that there is no additional cost passed to the attendee, they just have fun!
Here is how it works: The Origins staff “buys” a ticket in a regular game event that fit with our Guest.  They then contact the specific Game Master (GM) and let him or her know that their event was selected. the event is moved into a private location so the GM can set up the event.  The attendees show up at a normal event and instead of the GM waiting for them at the table, there will be an Origins Staff member present. the Origins staff then guides them to the new area where the event is already set up and the guest has a seat for the game. The GM runs the game as normal and Origins supplies snacks and beverages for the participants. We appreciate the support of the Guests and GMs in making this a great component for our fans!
Our group got escorted to another room where four other games were in progress.  A cute little hottie took our drink orders and that was the last we saw of her.  Snacks were not provided.  So much for the famous Origins hospitality.

Our guest is an artist showing her work at Origins.  Her name escapes me, but she's a reasonably attractive woman in her fifties and her medium of choice is pencil.  I visited her display and she shows a real talent.  She's personable, but as she takes her seat to the right of the game master she looks a bit puzzled by this turn of events.  We soon find out why.

Let me begin by saying that Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight Games is not for the novice.  It's a horridly complex board game that has as much in common with the traditional board game of  Monopoly as a ham sandwich has in common with a 12 gauge shotgun.  The theme of Arkham Horror is the Cthulhu Mythos as created by H. P. Lovecraft.

Our game master started the show by asking how many of us knew what we were doing.  By a show of hands we'd all played before and understood the game.  A few new cards were thrown into the mix to showcase The King in Yellow, an expansion for the regular game, and we were off.  All except for our guest of honor, who hadn't a clue.  The Game Master tried to explain what was going on.

"Okay, have you ever played before at all?"
"Okay, well, this is all about H.P. Lovecraft.  How much Lovecraft have you read?"
"Lovecraft?  H.P. Lovecraft?"
A shake of the head.
"Okay, no Lovecraft.  Well, ah... are you into miniatures?"
"Yeah, no.  Board games?"
"No board games?  None?"
"No, I don't play games.  Why am I here, anyway?"
"I don't know.  I mean, we're glad you're here and we hope you have a good time, but I don't know how to explain this to you."

The game master looked at the rest of the players in some desperation, but I couldn't think of a thing to say.  If you really have never read Lovecraft, there is no easy way to explain the genre to you.  At least none that I could think of at the time, although a few thought occur to me now - when it's too late.

Our Game Master
Our GM did his best to explain what was going on and coordinate the game, which was not an easy thing to do.  I managed to get under his skin once or twice by adhering to the letter of the law, but it was late and we were having a good time.

Arkham Horror at a Dead Loss
We lost, which is to be expected.  That's the thing about playing Arkham Horror - the players will collectively lose about four out of six games.  The total playing time is four to six hours for three experienced players who do not ponder their decisions.  I think it's worth noting that players must cooperate if they are going to have any chance at all of winning.  We came very close to winning this one, which is really saying something.

My gripe about the upgraded gaming experience is that the Origins staff screwed the pooch again.  The guest of honor was an artist with no gaming experience at all, and was thrown into a very complex game that she didn't understand and that cannot be learned in five minutes.  Although she hung right in there until the end, she didn't enjoy the experience.  I don't blame her; I wouldn't have enjoyed it either, and it was time spent away from her display.

One round of soft drinks was served in a four hour period.  No snacks were served.  This is an extremely poor showing and Origins should do a whole lot better than this.  They don't, mainly because they don't care and the event isn't important to them.

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