PolyCon 2005: Back to the Future

Reported by Neal Sofge, Super Genius, Fat Messiah Games

Road to Nowhere

Some days I never get anything right. Despite having done this particular roadtrip a half-dozen or so times over the past decade, I manage to screw it up pretty badly by heading out of LA on the 5. (That would be "Interstate Number Five" for those of you who don't live in Southern California.)

Sierra Madres

However, this results in a silver lining: Route 166, which cuts laser-straight across a heavy agriculture region and then skirts the northern edge of the Sierra Madre mountains, leading to this spectacular view...

More Sierra Madres

...and this one. As an added bonus, you get to miss the year-round traffic jam that is Santa Barbara. I wouldn't try this at night, because there's a lot of unlit twisty no-guard-rail plunge-to-your-death mileage involved, but if you're on your way up to PolyCon at midday this might be the ticket for you.

Time Traveler

The Pit

The theme this year is time travel, and I'm feeling ironically representative of this, my last trip being "A Con Odyssey" in 2001. Sure enough, it's the same old dorm, with the same sort of crowd in the open gaming "Pit" area. It's like I never left, and reminds me why I love this con -- it's small, cozy, and feels like home.

Hard Vacuum Players

My trepidation about spending the whole show wedged in a corner muttering about the good old days with the rest of the gray grognards is further dispelled when I'm happily surprised by old-time FMG fan John Fanshier running Hard Vacuum. He's got Rocket League author Daniel Strain and veteran PolyCon staffer Kermit at the table, and I join them for a surprisingly bloodless dogfight. (After several high-G passes with absolutely no hits the Germans end up simultaneously out of both fuel and luck. I drift off the map, but Dan's not so lucky, and is eventually blown apart by the infinity-powered American pilots.) Again, it's like I never left.

I Love the Smell of Blasters in the Morning!

Cockroach Crew A

First thing Saturday I'm scheduled for my new favorite pastime, Battlestations. This is cool enough to drag me out of bed at an ungodly hour (9:00) to hang out Jeff's shingle at my home-away-from-home in the Pit. Thanks to Jerry Eatough and John Fanshier (pictured here bracketing a guy from Lick Observatory whose name I forgot)...

Cockroach Crew B

...I get a full crew for the Red Cockroach. (The guy on the left is Aaron, and I forgot the guy on the right too. If you're either of these guys and reading this, please contact me via the Chimera editorial staff and I'll correct this report immediately.)

We merrily spend the next couple of hours on the "Bad Apple Shakedown Cruise" mission and have such a good time that the Cockroach crew convinces me to run another one.

Diplomat Ship

This time I select something a bit tougher -- "Kidnap Dignitary." You can see the target vessel here; those translucent dice are tracking hull damage, which has already threatened the mission once. Not only do our heroes manage to keep from blowing up the enemy ship by accident, they even board it and take it home for an overwhelming victory. Nice going, guys!

Big-Ass Ghost Ship

Around 21:00 there was one more game of Battlestations that deserves mention, and it's too bad I didn't take any photos to show off here. Dave "the God King" Martin joined the now-veteran Jerry in assembling a crew of eight for a massive "Ghost Ship" mission, with me and John team-refereeing. This took a little longer than usual (three hours) but the game system handled it in stride, and things kept moving along crisply. I think Battlestations' "boardgamey" aspects are a major asset here, as most actions do not require referee attention to resolve. So players can do their thing in parallel, making rolls and adjusting ship stats or character positions all at the same time while the referee just deals with stuff that affects his ship and crew.

Everyone at the table was an experienced roleplayer, so they caught on pretty quickly and cooperated well from the minute they warped into the system. The science officers were especially well-played, asking the right questions and using their skills to keep the mission on track despite some heavy opposition. (With this many players the mission difficulty modifiers were fairly high.) Also of note were the marine who hacked into a locked battlestation by punching in random numbers; another marine who spent most of the game pressed into service as an engineer; and the ship's captain, who beamed himself aboard the ghost ship against all odds. A great game, and I'd like to thank all of you who played for trying something new so late in the day.