Last weekend I went to Beer and Pretzels, a games convention in Burton on Trent in central England. The convention is held in the Town Hall, a grand old building, and fills the main hall and a couple of other function rooms. There's a cafeteria serving hot and cold food and a bar serving drinks (including beer) and the organiser, Phil who owns the Spirit Games FLGS in Burton puts some pretzels on each table.
I had attended B&P twice before in, I think, 2008 and 2009. Those times I treated it as business as I was running Reiver Games at the time, so I arranged in advance to co-opt a table (and bless him Phil gave me a good one at the entrance to the bar/cafe) where I sat during the day trying to find people to demo my games to and then hopefully close a sale. I spent the evenings just hanging out playing games though, and then spent the night at a pub nearly which had single rooms over the bar for £20 a night!
This time things were very different, I had nothing to sell or demo so I was just there to play games and catch up with people from my Reiver Games past. Instead of two carrier bags full of stock I was hoping to sell, I took only one game: Codename: Vacuum for playtesting and showing to anyone who was interested, but I wasn't on a hard-sell mission, it was available if people were up for it.
I decided to push the boat out and stay in the Holiday Inn up the road (if I'm away from The Daughter, the last think I want is a night's sleep broken by the sounds of drunken revelry from the bar below!) and at the penultimate minute I heard the my friend Terry from Bedford would be attending too - a great opportunity to catch up - I'd not seen him since last July.
Saturday morning I was woken by The Daughter at 5:30 (bless her cottons), and was just about to drag my sorry carcass out of bed when The Wife asked: 'Are you taking the car?'. 'Yes...?', I replied lsightly quizzically. 'Can you not?'. 'Yes', I confirmed slightly pained. Cue 45 minutes of frantically running round trying to get ready, organise a taxi to the station, find out train times and pack a bag.
Aside: After taking a couple of short holidays with an eight-month old baby, there is something really liberating about going away with a washkit, a change of clothes, a laptop, a game prototype and nothing else. You really appreciate travelling light once you have kids.
I spent the three hour train journey working on a new version of Codename: Vacuum inspired by feedback from my friend Tim the weekend before. On arrival I did a quick lap and said hello to a few people (including Phil who I'm pretty sure didn't remember me) and was just settling down to a game of Race for Adventure with Paul when Terry arrived. Terry joined us, and so every game I played all weekend was with Terry (and others).
Saturday ended up being a marathon 12 hours of gaming, featuring 9 games, five of which were new to me: Race for Adventure, Police Precinct, Terra Mystica, Tzolk'in and Snowdonia. I enjoyed them all, but Snowdonia was my favourite new game - a fairly quick worker placement game with an unusual theme and some nice ideas and mechanisms. In addition, Patrick, who worked for a company that my previous employer (Travis Perkins) bought out while I was there, came and found me and wanted to try Codename: Vacuum, so we gave that a 5-player run through. Patrick and his friend Rob seemed to enjoy it (Patrick's wife Jo less so) and even 5-player, with three new players it only lasted about 1 hour 45 mins which wasn't too bad.
Sunday was a shorter day as I needed to get a 4pm train back, but I still managed to squeeze in another five games including another Snowdonia, the new-to-me Love Letter and another game of Vacuum with Steve and Neil (and Terry). This Vacuum play was over amazingly quickly. I'd explained something badly, so Steve raced to finish the game expecting to score something that he couldn't. I was just getting going and it suddenly came to an end. I still managed to win, but it was Steve and Neil's first play and only Terry's fourth so that's not that surprising. It lasted 35 minutes. One of my goals for Vacuum is a short play time, so I've got to see what I can get from that game to help me speed it up - a recent game with three experienced players lasted over an hour by comparison.
As ever I enjoyed B&P, it was great to catch up with people who I'd not seen for 4 years or so and Terry who I'd not seen for several months. It's rare for me to play games that aren't in my collection (which usually only contains games I know and like before purchasing), so it was also great to try a few games that I'd not played before.
The return journey was split between more graphic design on the next Vacuum and writing last week's blog post. All in all a great weekend :).