The month of March was dominated by two major events: South by Southwest (SXSW) and RobbCon. I’ve been planning on going to RobbCon since I had such a great time at last year’s event, but SXSW took me a little by surprise after Price (Cephalofair community manager) told be I should apply for their tabletop game of the year award. I did, and the next thing I knew, not only was Gloomhaven nominated, but I got two free platinum badges to attend the event.
The platinum badge gives you priority access to pretty much everything at the event, and I had been kind of neglecting my wife recently because of all the logistics of delivering the second printing, so we decided, what the hell, let’s fly down to Austin for a week and a half and get the full experience. SXSW is a confluence of pretty much all of modern culture. You have a prestigious film festival, more music concerts than you can count, a gaming convention, and lots and lots of panels on pretty much every topic you can think of. Austin also has a lot of great food.
Presented with the myriad of choices available to us, my wife and I stuck mainly to the movies. There was a nice schedule of when each movie was playing and where, and it gave us a nice framework to plan a day around. We might have gone a little overboard, though. Over a week and a half, we ended up watching almost 30 movies. Most of them were good, and a few were truly great. I expect almost none of them will be coming to a theater near me, though, so it was great to get the opportunity to take in all this extra culture.
I’m not exactly a film critic, but here are some of my favorites, in case you get a chance to see one of them:
Best documentary: The Dawn Wall. I do not really care about sports of any kind, but this story of two mountain climbers would decide to climb the most difficult face of rock in the world is truly inspiring and beautifully shot. As someone who, in a much smaller way, attempted the impossible and found success on the other side, it really spoke to me.
Honorable mention: Generation Wealth. This follow-up to The Queen of Versailles, a darkly comic look at the pitfalls of wealth and capitalism, really doubles down on the “dark,” trying to paint the entire picture of a world obsessed with the accumulation of fame and riches. The scope is almost too broad, but material is expertly handled, and there are many profound points made.
Best narrative feature: Upgrade. I could talk about how great this movie was compared to its tiny budget, but I don’t think that would do it justice. This movie is just great without any sort of qualifier required. It is at once a brutal action movie with lots of unique and compelling choreography, a thought-provoking sci-fi warning about the possible dangers of near-future technology, and a suspenseful thriller with plenty of twists, turns, and well-developed characters. It kind of feels like the best 90s action movie you’ve ever seen, so if you’re into that sort of thing, I’d highly recommend it.
Honorable mention: Jinn. This very specific story of an experience very far removed from my own – that of a bisexual female black Muslim teenager – still felt incredibly universal in the way it was told with such love and passion. It brought me an understanding of issues I hadn’t fully considered before, and it entertained along the way.
Other than movies, the main reason we went to SXSW was to attend the big gaming awards event on the last day. When Gloomhaven actually won the award for best tabletop game, well, that was truly epic, and I’m surprised any words got out of my mouth at all when I had to make an acceptance speech in front of thousands of people.
Overall, SXSW was a pretty great time, and I’m glad I got to experience it with my wife.
When we got back, though, I had only a few days to prepare before I was headed off to a remove cabin in Virginia to play games with 15 other guys for four days straight at RobbCon. The concentration of time spent playing games is higher than it is for the rest of the year for me, and the concentration of awesome people to hang out with also cannot be beat. I played so many games, I’m not sure I can remember them all.
Let’s see if I can think of some highlights. Of the new games I played, I think I liked Pulsar 2849 the best. It felt like a less constrained version of Castles of Burgundy, with a really cool dice-drafting element. High dice were significantly better than low dice, but there was always a cost to taking them, moving yourself down on these tracks that determined player order and bonus end-of-round resources. It was cool because your position on these tracks only mattered relative to other players, so there was some nice interaction there, anticipating where your opponents were going to end up and making sure you were ahead of them.
I also enjoyed playing the CMON version of Council of 4, which may or may not be out yet. The main draw was the hugely positive feedback loop in the game, where each city had a bonus for placing your worker there, and every time you placed a worker, you received the bonuses for that city and every city you already have a worker in that is connected to that city. So by the end of the game, you are getting a giant cascade of resources for each guy that you place down, which is very satisfying. However, I wish the card draw mechanic were a little less random.
Really, though, my experience at the con seemed more about reaffirming my love for some older titles. I had great games of Arkwright, Seasons, and Terra Mystica. I played A Feast for Odin for the third time, and each time has been better than the last, to the point where I think I might have to actually buy the game and include it in my top ten. Also, I got a chance to play the new edition of Through the Ages and it did not disappoint. I’ve been really enjoying the app for a few weeks now, and, given my experience with the tiny bits of the previous version, I became convinced that Through the Ages was a game better experienced electronically. I had a great time playing it on the table, though, and I found that everything was pretty easy to keep track of, even for inexperienced players.
I also got to play a game of Fiasco where I was in a submarine trapped at the bottom of the ocean by German U-boats during WW2, trying to summon an alien race out of a box recovered from a Nazi bunker by stabbing my crew mate with a sacrificial dagger, so that was also fun.
Even after returning from the joy of RobbCon, it seems that the month is not over yet. The community-driven expedition for Gloomhaven starts tomorrow, and I may or may not be prepared for that. Plus the celebration for Gloomhaven hitting the number one spot on BGG is happening on Saturday and I’m definitely not yet prepared for that!
And I haven’t even mentioned the Golden Geek Awards, which also happened while I was at SXSW. I am absolutely humbled by Gloomhaven winning six of those. That is a stupid number of Golden Geeks to win, and I sincerely thank everyone who voted for the game.
Plus now these puzzle pieces are popping up all over the place. What is up with that?