“One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.” – Sir Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species
(Today’s installment on Pretty Sneaky, Sis comes to us from new team member William “Stu” Thomas. I’ve known this upstanding gentleman for years and I’ve always called him Bill. Which is okay as a short for William, but this makes me think he goes more by Stu? Well, whatever. Welcome to the team, Bill! Enjoy reading! ~joe)
We stand nearly at the midpoint of summer, which means the year is half over. Yes, already. A sad acknowledgment that time moves quicker than we would like. But, on the good news front, it means GenCon is almost upon us. While I do not get the opportunity to go every year, I have been a regular for the last several, just getting over to Indy for a couple days to see the sights. If you have never gotten a pass to the “Best Four Days of Gaming,” as Ferris Bueller suggests, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” Any former attendee will tell you it is unlike any other gaming experience.
One of my favorite things to do roaming the dealer room at the Con is lingering by the vendor I affectionately refer to as the “CCG Cryptkeeper.” (CCG is an acronym for “Collectible Card Game.”) It is truly a deep emotional experience. They haul out of the deepest recesses of their vaults, and sometimes dust off, their stock of old, out-of-print, discarded misfit CCGs cast off and shut down by their makers. It is a rogues gallery of seemingly irrelevant pop culture references at times, and at others a testament to the power of some pitch man somewhere who once convinced the powers-that-be that a card game based on Pez would move units. Yeah, Pez.
The crowds roaming the narrow aisles at the Con flow like the Mississippi River during flood stage, so get out of the way and pick your spot. If you are lucky, the Dead CCG Memorial has been erected in an off-the-strip location, thus allowing you to slow down and do the mental math on how much money you lost in the market. (“Lets see, I bought 10 boxes of Mythos at retail,” [clicka-cliaka-ching], “now, they are selling for $6.00 each,” [clicka-cliaka-cha-ching], “I just lost $10,000.00!!!”) I might need to reassess that whole “If you are lucky” statement.
For me, the hardest thing to do is to resist…the…urge…to keep my wallet in my pocket. I usually have to go by the table with a sponsor or someone more responsible, to check my feelings against. (“Look at that! They have boxes of Highlander for $6.00!! I need that! It would be totally awesome to get a bunch and play…” “Uh, no. No it wouldn’t.” [SMACK!] “Thanks, I needed that.”) But it also rejuvenates my interest in games that I actually did play, some not so long ago, allowing me to replenish my supply of booster packs and starter decks and feel the rush of serotonin and dopamine as I open pack after pack ogling the shiny new rares I amass; followed quickly by the crushing reality that no one else wants to play with me.
In nearly 20 years of the “CCG era,” the mainstream gaming industry spawned over 340 different, distinct and, in most cases, dead games. One thing is clear, natural selection eventually corrected an industry awash with product. There were games that should never have been printed, and others that were far too short lived. Only the strong survived, and in their current form are much more evolved and sophisticated. The king of the mountain and 800 lb. gorilla from day one, Magic: the Gathering, (M:tG) remains atop the leader board, as the number one selling, grossing and likely, played CCG ever. It may never be surpassed. Yu-gi-oh! and Pokémon persist in most top 10 sellers lists, along with other long-standing properties like Legend of the Five Rings. For some reason, (perhaps to be addressed in future missives), these games lasted the test of time as a “collectible” property.
Others did not fare so well.
Take for example a personal letdown; Spycraft, a gem of a game which simply ceased to be. It had all the cool elements of a huge hit, spies, guns, ninjas, art, guns, a great bluffing mechanic. Yet, it did not have enough traction or players to maintain itself. Eventually it was cast aside and forgotten. Another personal favorite: Magi-nation Duel. Fun game, good art and terrific mechanic with a strict adherence to purpose and theme. But there were others out there, games attached to great properties that just did not have what it took: Dune, Vampire, ICE’s Middle Earth, Star Wars, Star Trek, the list goes on and on.
Then there were the games that fell into the “you have got to be kidding me” category. Absolute atrocities for one reason or another: Kult and Heresy: Kingdom Come (come on, gamers have a hard enough time as it is, but Satanists?)(…I bought some, BTW), Hecatomb (pentagonal cards that had you wondering, “What the heck is a Hecatomb?”), Spellfire (absolute mess, card art, mechanics, all of it miserable), and my all time favorite game to hold up as the ultimate pinnacle of questionable: Ophidian 2350. Space gladiators of the future, (the events took place in the year 2350, as noted in the catchy serpentine moniker), who keep “the Flow” fighting for “Cheer” to win. Sorry, I have a strict rule: Do not buy anything that takes place in the same century Duck Dodgers is keeping interstellar peace.
Some games, however, are either too interesting, or special, or heck, too convenient to die. Many game mechanics were “borrowed” and re-used in subsequent releases, or outright lifted (compare the rule set for Spycraft against Full Metal Alchemist, or most games to M:tG).
Some properties with loyal, persistent fan bases continue to give life to their favorite games maintaining on-line resources, councils and fan created releases. Star Wars and Star Trek are prime examples of this level of commitment. Because of the power of the interwebs, players can keep in touch and get together at annual events like GenCon to play “World Championship” tournaments for no-longer active games.
7th Sea players still get together at GenCon to compete in the “Battle for Richebeau” event. Doomtown players will be hosting a 2012 “Doomtown “Harrowed” World Championship event with some pretty cool prize support for the winner. (Thursday night in the game hall – bring some generic tickets and your cards). Warlord will still see some action in the CCG hall. Who knows, maybe there will be some Legend of the Burning Sands or Star Wars games as well. Just walk through the card hall, and you will no doubt see all manner of old and new games alike getting played all day and night long. Bring some of your old favorite decks from your old favorite games, and I’ll bet you just might be able to jump into a tournament.
If I make it to GenCon this year, I will of course explore all the brand spanking new shiny games, bells and whistles the vendors will have to display. Better yet, I may just have Eager Young Space Cadet pick me up some of the “new” stuff at the CCG Memorial table in the twenty fourth and a half century!!!!!!! It’ll be cheaper then.