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Origins Game Fair 2016: Day 4

Friday night ended up being the best night of sleep I had gotten the entire con up to that point. I'm not sure if it was just the booze or the cumulative exhaustion but I basically slept all the way until morning without waking up every couple of hours that had been the status quo up to that point. I managed to get ready and waddled my way to the exhibit hall with some time to spare for looking around at the other booths. You know how it's very hard to stop yourself from slowing down and taking a gander when you pass a car wreck? Well, as I was heading back to the Smirk and Dagger booth, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye and just couldn't help stopping to take a look.

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Yep. It's an erotic CCG featuring furries. In the manner of not being able to stop poking at a cavity with your tongue once you discover it, I stopped to gawk and prod in equal measure. I'm told that this is a long-running furry pr0n game and that they sold both starter decks and preconstructed ones. There were all sorts of different themes and I was informed that they ran events demoing the card game in the main hall.

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At this point, I knew I shouldn't ask. I absolutely knew I should have just kept walking but I couldn't help myself. I asked the woman manning the booth how the game was played. She took out some sample cards and basically explained it like this....

There are 4 genders in furoticon and your goal is to try to fill the affection meter on your furry characters. Each furry will interact differently with the other 4 genders, giving a differing amount of pleasure points or whatever they're called. When your furry's stamina value finally hits 0, the furry is said to have orgasmed and leaves the scene, retiring to the owner's couch....which I'm sure has an odor not even a gallon of febreeze can neutralize.

At this point, I just had to ask how much a deck cost. I mean, this would make for a perfect gag gift, right? Would you believe they wanted $40 for a freaking 80 card deck? I mean, holy crap. This stuff costs way more than Magic the Gathering, or Pokemon, or any other CCG I could think of. I mean, it's a fabulous train wreck but I just couldn't get myself to pull the trigger and pay $40 for it. With a last wistful glance, I left the booth before hanging around it got me put on some sort of sexual deviant watch list.

I made it back to Smirk and Dagger and sanity in time for the doors to open and for people to start flooding in. It seems that the S&D mascot had decided to make an appearance and I had to get a picture.

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Apparently at some point in the past, Jon had himself a Taunty suit made and he brought it along with him to Origins. Pretty spiffy really and I hear he also pulls it out each year at Gencon for the Run for your Life, Candyman tournament they run there. If it wasn't for the fact that we were short-handed, he probably would have spent more time in it drumming up interest for the booth.

Saturday was pretty rough as you might imagine. We were already 2 full days in and Saturday was a fair chunk busier with a lot more foot traffic and demos to run. Because of the larger crowds, we were kept hopping and I spent more time on my feet and less time catching a rest. Things started to slow down by late afternoon and I waddled my way over to one of the tables in the back to take some of the pressure off my legs. Mel came along and I proceeded to offer up my usual litany of complaints about how my feet hurt. An unexpected comment came from a girl sitting across the table, something to the effect of, 'it's a convention and everyone's feet hurt and you should stop bitching about it'. My initial reaction was pretty much WTF?! The girl was working with a pair of scissors, cutting up foam chunks for some sort of project and proceeded to offer up other similar comments. I exchanged a bewildered sort of expression with Mel and couldn't help but ask her if they were now teaching cynicism as a class in elementary school. I don't recall exactly what the girl said now, but I'm pretty sure that Mel can back me up as to the tone and general content. When Mel asked her what she was making with the scissors and the foam and the girl responded 'Fursuit', it was all I could do to keep from offering up a verbal salvo as payback.

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I snapped a picture of her just in case I later heard rumors of someone smacking some mouthy kid at the convention.

Anyway, it was soon time to go back to work and we all pushed on until the exhibit hall finally shut down. We were all exhausted by this point. Curt had to meet with some people at the booth after the hall closed so we all pretty much fell over where we were to rest and recover from the day.

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We had no set plans for dinner so I suggested the Mongolian BBQ place a few blocks away and after arduously getting to our feet, we made our way there. I had been to the BD's Mongolian Grill in Columbus once before with Chelle and her crew and I liked the place quite a bit. You'd think I'd be sick of Mongolian BBQ with my family having run those restaurants since I was 10 years old but I still enjoy it quite a bit. Besides, I was hungry enough to eat a horse by then and BD's is a good place to pack away the grub.

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I mean, that looks pretty spiffy, no? Heck, just looking at the pictures is making me sorta hungry right now. One thing that BD's had introduced to me about mongolian BBQ is the idea of tortillas. Andrew expressed some skepticism when he saw them, but it's really brilliant. It's like having chinese burritos of a sort and it goes great with the whole BBQ concept. It's like making your own fajitas but with a chinese flavor profile. I ended up devouring the above two plates and was so stuffed I passed on dessert.

After dinner we started the slow trek back toward the convention center. Slower for me than for everyone else since by this time I was pretty gimpy. I made it half way before waving the others on ahead as I found a place to flop on a low wall for a rest.

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The gay pride parade had been earlier that day and the streets were still lined with celebrants waving flags or just sitting around enjoying the day. The place I chose to stop just happened to have a gathering of drag queens and I got to listen to them call each other fish and trade gossip and shade in equal measure until I felt rested enough to finish the journey.

By the time I got back to the convention center the games were already in full swing and I joined Mel who was having a conversation with some guy I hadn't seen before. I assumed that he was a friend of hers but it turned out that they had just met and had gotten to discussing how women are given a bonus rating on the hotness scale at gaming conventions because of scarcity. He was also espousing the idea that a woman should, near the start of a conversation with men, make clear her relationship status so that everyone is on the same page. You know, just an offhanded remark about how she needed to call her boyfriend/fiance/husband later or otherwise providing information that she is attached. I found the conversation sort of amusing, especially since we discovered that during it, the guy was busy the entire time swiping on Tinder. At one point he excused himself, saying that he would be back in a bit and needed to charge up his phone and Mel and I speculated whether he would even come back now that he knew she was married. Hell, I'm pretty sure he wasn't there for my company after all. In the end he did make a reappearance after a long while, but I'm pretty sure that had more to do with the fact that he had made a point that he wouldn't blow someone off just because he knew she was unavailable. He only stayed for a bit and then wandered off again around the time that the other S&D games were wrapping up. We decided to try one of the Iello games that Andrew had merch-swapped for.

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I don't remember the name of the game now. It had something to do with cloud pirates or sky pirates or something of the sort. It was a very pretty game and I kinda liked it. In the end, it played sort of like a simplified version of 7 Wonders. You basically mix up a deck made up of item cards, booze cards, pirate cards, and relic cards. Each person gets to look at a pile of cards and decide if they want to take the whole pile. If they don't, they draw a card facedown from the deck and add it to that pile. When a pile grows to 3 cards it doesn't get any better but a coin is added on each time someone doesn't take it as an incentive. You can also fight battles with your two neighbors using your pirate cards. Winning allows you to take certain beneficial actions as listed on your pirates, but all pirates are discarded after a battle.

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I ended up finishing in second place. I had been counting on my large booze collection to carry me to victory but I guess it just wasn't enough in the end. After the game we all decided to call it a night and headed back to our respective hotels.

Origins Game Fair 2016: Day 3

I mentioned before that the nadir of Origins was probably around 4-5 years ago. The exhibit hall was a ghost town, vendors had fled, and it didn't seem that the convention was long for this world without major changes. Since that rock bottom, Origins has been clawing itself out of the basement and I first really started to notice it last year. It seemed like there were more attendees and the exhibit halls weren't as barren as in year's past. When I arrived on Wednesday this year I was pretty shocked by the crowds of people just hanging around. I pointed this out to Curt who said that he had been thinking that the halls looked a little light and empty. Of course, he had skipped out on the real bust years and didn't realize how much of an improvement we were already witnessing. In the end, he seems to have come to the conclusion that Origins is once again worth the time and effort, with sales at the booth justifying a return next year.

Since I spent all of my time with the Smirk & Dagger crew this year, I don't know how the event catalogue fared but with the loss of space due to the construction this year, they were forced to turn some events away. Oftentimes I think that the real problem with Origins is that they don't have many signature events that really anchor the convention. What they could really use is their own version of True Dungeon or Nascrag or something else similar which drives attendance because Origins is the only place where you can really experience it.

Friday in the booth pretty much went the same as Thursday. I spent some time wandering around the exhibit hall but mostly just to visit specific friends or to snap pictures of interesting things I ran across.

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Even then, it's unlucky I saw even half of the hall, mostly going from point to point and then finding a place to flop when my feet hurt too much to keep toddling around. There were a couple of tables set up around the hall for open gaming and as places to rest and when I needed to, I would limp my way over and form a makeshift bed out of 3-4 chairs and sprawl until I felt better. I also used that time to welcome all the new Miis I had visiting my Plaza on the 3DS. Over the course of the con I probably added a few hundred people to my list.

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I also found time to visit the giant floating pikachu in the main hall. I even thought about buying a big bulbasaur plushy I saw in one of the booths but by the time I pulled the trigger and came back to get it on Sunday, it was already gone. Oh well. It's not like I really needed another piece of dust-collecting junk anyway.

After the exhibit hall closed, we went over to the North Market to grab dinner. At this point, I was pretty gimpy and the thought passed my mind more than a couple times to simply call it a night and that lying down and getting off my feet might be the better part of valor. I ended up limping my way along though and everyone scattered to pick over the many offerings available at the North Market. It might seem weird but in all these years going to Origins, this was only the second time I had ever been to the North Market. I'm not sure exactly why but it was probably pure laziness more than anything else. I've had more meals out of Subway while at Origins than any other location. Sadly, because it is convention time, a lot of the places in the Market already sold out by the time dinner rolled around. The BBQ place was completely cleared out as was a place that I'm told serves the best fried chicken in Columbus. Given how good Double Comfort had been a couple nights ago, that would have surely been a battle for the ages.

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In the end, I went with Indian, as did Mel, and I stuffed my pie hole with gobs and gobs of curry. I even ordered an extra helping of rice to mop it all up with. After dinner was over, there was still a couple hours before that night's events and everyone else was in the mood for ice cream. The North Market had closed at that point and the nearest Jenni's was around a half mile down the road. I like ice cream as much as the next person but my feet were about to fall off and I needed a rest. So while everyone else wandered off in the quest for ice cream I went back to the Hampton and did my beached whale impression until it was time for the night's events.

Which no one showed up to. This was a reoccurring problem at Origins. The attendance for our ticketed events were dismal. When Origins first decided to offer an open gaming ribbon run by the CAB (Columbus Area Boardgamers), there was a lot of speculation that they were robbing Peter to pay Paul. Most of the events at Origins were board gaming based and it's hard to see why people would continue to buy event tickets when they could have unlimited players in the open gaming area for a flat $20. After some speculation about whether we should stick around because people could theoretically show up for the 11pm event, Curt made the executive decision that we all blow it off and go drinking instead.

While at Barleys the day before, we had noticed that there was an arcade bar located on their second floor with free to play game cabinets. So it was off to Brewcadia that we went. Honestly, by this time I was still exhausted and feeling sort of blah. I've also never been a drinker so I tagged along at first out of solidarity. When we got there though, I had an idea. I hadn't been sleeping very well despite the exhaustion and I ached all over, so maybe I should just pound a bunch of drinks and see if that helped out.

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I immediately put that plan into action aided by the fact that they had created a cutesy gamer-related bar menu. I have no real experience with alcohol and only the barest notion of what will taste good....or really in my experience it's more like what will taste bad and what will taste less bad.

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I was mostly drinking for effect though, not taste and I knocked back three of these cocktails within 15 minutes. What I can say is that the Pac Man's Potion was the most palatable of the bunch, which Mel had suggested. Apparently we both have a preference for girly drinks.

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It turns out the bar also had a list of board and card games they would lend out and while discussions continued about what the group should play, Curt and Mel faced off over a game of Joust. At this point I was starting to feel a bit lightheaded and I figured it was a good time to call it a night. I closed out my tab and stumbled my way back to the hotel, unsure whether the alcohol, drugs, or pain was most responsible for the limpy shuffle. I will say that my plan did seem to work out pretty well though. I was dead asleep within 10 minutes or so of getting back to the hotel room and unlike every previous night thus far, I didn't wake up every couple of hours and instead slept through the night.

Origins Game Fair 2016: Day 2

Despite the fact that I've spent a lot of time running demos and helping out various game companies over the years, I've never actually officially worked as an exhibitor before. A lot of this had to do with a form of commitment-phobia. With all of my medical issues I've been hesitant to actually pull the trigger on some sort of formal, full time volunteering. I've been happy to pitch in but usually on more of an ad hoc basis. I could never be certain pain or drug side effects or other problems wouldn't take me down and the idea that someone else could be depending on me added a level of pressure and anxiety I didn't need. Things have been better, at least somewhat, since the torrent of surgeries though and so I took the plunge this time around. I figured if nothing else, it sounded like Curt had a long term, experienced crew and if I needed to flake, I could probably do so without too much damage. In the end, I hadn't counted on the fact that he hadn't been to Origins in 10 years but I also held up much better than I thought I was going to.

I didn't manage to get much, and certainly nowhere near enough, sleep that first night at Origins. For some inexplicable reason I woke up around 6am and couldn't get back to sleep so there was nothing much to do but wander downstairs and get breakfast.

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The breakfast setup at the Hampton was pretty spiffy. There was always something interesting in addition to the traditional eggs and sausage whether it was little individual sized western omlettes or some sort of odd cheese, egg, and bacon bagel whozit.

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John's an early riser so on those days where I couldn't get back to bed, we would sit down in the breakfast area and chat until his RPG events were set to go and I would wander back upstairs to take a shower and get ready to go. BTW, the shower/water pressure at the Hampton was freaking amazing. I have been in a lot of hotels and suffered through a lot of drip drip drip showers over the years but this was by far the best water pressure I've ever had at a convention. I think it helped that I had Gold status through the Hilton Honors program and was able to pre-select my room 24 hours before arriving. I got to pick something right next to the elevator on the third floor and I'm sure that helped a lot.

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The exhibit hall opened at 10am each day but exhibitors were allowed in at 9. I wandered over to find everyone else already there setting up for the day. We ended up with 5 demo tables, 2 of which were assigned to Dead Last, Smirk & Dagger's new release this year, 2 for Nevermore, last year's release, and then 1 for all the various legacy games of years' past.

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Here's me looking somewhat bright and bushy-tailed in front of the booth before the doors were unbarred and hoards of gamers were set loose into the hall. The basic job assignments had Melodee handling purchases and transactions, as well as passing out Smirk & Dagger buttons like a fiend and delivering elevator pitches to all passerbys. Jon, Andrew, and I mostly spent our time running the various demos, with Curt as our fearless leader.

If you haven't run game demos or had a job in sales before, you might not be aware at just how much this sort of thing is like acting. I'm not suggesting that you are being duplicitous or two-faced, but you are very much playing a role. You are there to project a certain attitude and atmosphere, and with experience you start to discover what lines or approaches work best to get the most number of people interested in your product. It also uses up a lot of emotional energy over the course of a day, something that I had never fully appreciated until I had to do it for 10 hours straight. Some of you might might be aware that left to my own devices, I'm not usually a bright, chipper, sunny person. I had learned years ago that if you're going to demo a game and represent someone else's company, you pretty much have to adopt that sort of demeanor and over the years it's become almost second nature. Not to toot my own horn either, but I think I've also gotten pretty darn good at it with experience. Besides, there's always that little thrill of victory that passes through you when you show someone a game and right after they go and purchase a copy. It is pretty exhausting to always be 'On' for an extended period of time though, especially when bright and cheerful is not your default personality. It becomes all the harder when pain issues or drug side-effects or other things weigh on you. Still, it was a really interesting experience and a rewarding one.

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I imagine you all probably want to hear about Dead Last so you can run and pre-order a copy from your FLGS. It's a fun social collusion game which takes all the various group games that have a vote someone off the island mechanic and fixes the inherent problems in them. So if you've ever played and enjoyed games like Mafia, Werewolf, Cash 'n Guns, Resistance, etc....then you're sure to like Dead Last. Like all of those games, players basically have to come to some sort of consensus about who they're going to vote out each round. The twist that fixes the inherent flaw in all those other games is that no one is the person who receives the most votes out of the round, but anyone who didn't vote along with the majority is also eliminated. This gets rid of the default strategy in most games like werewolf, that of going under the radar and being unnoticed as the path to survival. I mean, why would you choose to play a social game where the best strategy is the one which pretty much requires you to not be social? If you don't interact with the other players in Dead Last, at least enough to suss out which way the wind is blowing, you are absolutely certain to be eliminated. Each player also has an ambush card that they can play repeatedly instead of voting for someone else. If you play your ambush and the majority of the table voted for you, you are safe. Instead, you get to pick one of those who voted for you and take them out instead. This makes it so that passing and receiving information from other players about who to eliminate has to be a subtle thing. Simply calling out, lets all vote for Tim is almost sure to guarantee that Tim will play his ambush and survive if people do vote for him. So rather than overt speech, you tend to get a lot of nudges, card flashing, waggling eyebrows, head twitches, the Greg Brady yawn and point behind their back maneuver, etc. In the end, when you get down to 2 people remaining the players get 3 cards representing that old psychology experiment of the Prisoner's Dilemma. You play one card out of Share, Steal, or Grab One And Go and then divvy up the 4 available gold cards based on what's revealed. Sharing gets each person 2 gold, stealing while the other shares nabs you 4, and if you both steal than neither of you get anything but every other player picks up 1 gold apiece. Grabbing One and Going gets you 1 gold regardless of what the other player chooses. The game ends when you acquire either 24 or 25 points of gold depending on the number of players. Each gold has a random value on it, with more 3's than 4's and more 4's than 5's. That's pretty much the game. You should go and immediately order a copy now.

So at one point before the exhibit hall opened, Shawna had stopped by to make dinner plans for that evening. We were all going to head over to Barleys and Shawna had a means to get us all a table in a reasonable amount of time. The place is usually packed during metal times and it can be a hour plus before you actually manage to snag a table. In addition to her crew and ours, Rob also came along and we spent a very enjoyable meal discussing various fantasy novels and their audiobook versions.

Now it's been years since Gencon's coupon book had anything but crap in it. This is one point where Origins kicks the every loving hell out of Gencon. Each year, Barley gets a special pint glass made especially for Origins and the coupon to acquire one is in the Origins coupon book. As you can imagine, the mugs usually go incredibly quickly, and is one of the reasons it's almost impossible to get a table at Barleys the first day or two. Curt had picked up all our exhibitor badges but we hadn't been able to get our coupon books and by all rights we should have been denied them but our waiter was extra generous and after swearing everyone to secrecy, gave everyone a glass.

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I had actually picked one up for the first time last year but ended up giving it to Sherry when I heard she had missed out and wanted one. So in effect, this was my first Barleys Origin glass.

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The chickenfingers were also quite tasty and I was generally a very happy camper. Also a very sleepy camper. The food and the lack of sleep over the past few days took a toll on me and in the end, I bowed out of the night's events in exchange for getting a couple extra hours of sleep. It was a good decision in the end since I'm not sure I wouldn't have just toppled over otherwise with a tummy full of chicken and a head full of cobwebs. Not a bad start to my first full day at Origins.

Origins Game Fair 2016: Day 1

I never manage to sleep well the day or two before a trip and Origins this year was no different. It's probably a symptom of anxiety, much like the fact that my kidneys also tend to seize up whenever I'm on a trip and I start retaining water like a camel preparing for a 10 year drought. By the time it came to leave for Origins this time around, I was around -8 hours of sleep over the past couple nights. Despite that, the drive wasn't as terrible as it has been in the past. The worst part was I couldn't get the bluetooth to synch up between my phone and the car, so I wasn't able to pass the time listening to Brandon Sanderson's The Final Empire like I had planned. The Mistborn series has been on my To Read list for ages and I thought this was the perfect chance to start it. Instead, I was left with a succession of NPR stations and then country and bible thumping when I entered the no-man's land of western Pennsylvannia and West Virginia. The lack of sleep did force me to take a two hour nap at one point but I still managed to roll into Columbus at 4pm.

A while back, I had purchased a collapsible rolly-wagon on ebay with the intention of using it to tow my games around for game days and Envoy Splashes. It seemed pretty sturdy and useful but I hadn't actually gotten around to giving it a try but I decided to drag it to Origins with me. It turned out that Gorilla Games had had a snafu with their event submission and as a result, none of their games were in the system. They had been thinking of simply creating an open gaming pop-up, running their games at an open gaming table and I had volunteered the wagon as a useful means of carting games from one location to another without having to carry it by hand.

When I arrived in Columbus I parked my car in the cheapest lot I could find ($8 a day) and loaded everything into the cart. It made things so much easier to transport I think that it's going to be a fixture on every trip I take in the future by car. I have very little stamina with the left-over anemia problems and then all the muscle loss these past couple years and the cart, with its large wheels, made carrying all my crap bearable.

This was my first year staying at the Hampton Inn and I will never stay at any other hotel again for Origins. The amazing ease of having your hotel be across the street from the middle of the convention center cannot be overestimated. Even moving at my slow, tottering speed I could call it a day and within 5 minutes be in my bed. For that convenience, I'm pretty sure I could have lived with all sorts of downsides, but the Hampton Inn was comfortable in all respects. It even had free coffee available 24 hours a day.

This largess resulted in more consumption of coffee over the course of 4 days than I have ever had in my entire life. I learned early on that caffeine never had much of an effect on me unless I took truly ridiculous doses (6 Vivarin tablets at once is a bad idea) which resulted in non-stop projectile vomiting. Because of that, I never got into the habit of consuming coffee but hell, it was free and I'm a bit fan of free. I think I downed somewhere near 60 ounces on one of the days.

Anyway, I got to my room towing my little red wagon and proceeded to flop on the bed doing my best beached whale impression.

I was sharing the room with John Reid, someone from my local PFS group and he had driven in with other PFS people the day before. He was already getting his game on, playing in various PFS and LSJ RPGs since the morning. Rob, due to the Gorilla Games event snafu, also had a housing shortage problem and along with a friend was supposed to crash in the room starting the next day.

After resting up for a bit, I dropped Curt a line and met up with him and the rest of the crew in the main hall. They had gotten in in Monday and had already set up the booth so there was nothing to do until the events scheduled that evening at 9pm. In addition to Curt, there were only 4 of us working the Smirk & Dagger booth for Origins. I knew that there was a far larger crew for gencon (somewhere around 17) but I'm guessing the 10 year Origins hiatus made it harder to find people. Mel, Jon, and Andrew had been helping out Curt with his booth and events for years so that made me the newbie but they made me feel welcome immediately. For the entire length of Origins, at least half of Curt and Melodee's interactions sounded like this.

Like, more EWW than you could shake a stick at. I never did figure out what had started it but it was an entertaining sort of sideplay over the 5 days.

In case you haven't seen it already. This is Curt's EWW face. Be afraid, be very afraid.

By the time we had all met up and wandered a bit around the main hall, it was well into dinner time and we needed to grab something quick to eat before running the game scheduled for that night. Someone had heard of a restaurant which served amazing friend chicken right across the street next door to the Hampton Inn and so we decided to give it a whirl.

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I'm not sure if this restaurant has been around in years past but I don't recall having ever heard of it before. I ate all of my meals last year at Origins from the free food available at the Drury and I wasn't ready for just how amazing Columbus's restaurant scene had gotten. According to the Double Comfort's website, it offers Southern cuisine and fried-chicken, with a twist... For every meal you buy at our restaurant we donate money for a meal at a food pantry to help feed those in need! All I can say is that if the food pantry is receiving equivalent meals to what we were served than food insecurity has never tasted so good.

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When I first saw this menu, I thought the grease stains were some sort of absolutely brilliant advertising gimmick. I would eat breakfast at the Hampton each day at Origins but skip lunch so I was pretty ravenous by the time dinner rolled around. As far as I was concerned, those grease splotches were like some sort of testimonial that I was in for a treat. I assumed they intentionally splattered each menu in order to whet the appetites of their patrons until I glanced over and saw that my menu was the only one marked in such a fashion. I still think that might be a smart idea, even if in this case it was accidental.

With the sole exception of Jon, we all decided that the fried chicken was the thing to order. I think he went with the pot roast or some other such nonsense but the rest of us went for The Big Clucker. We also placed an order for poutine which most of us, myself included, had never had despite having heard Canadians go on and on about it. Mel and I also decided to give their biscuits a whirl while Curt sampled the Jalapenos Mac and Cheese.

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As we waited for our meal, the sky which had already looked ominous when we crossed the street to the restaurant, turned darker. By the time we left, it had erupted into a full on stormy downpour. We traded stories about that one Origins years ago when tornados hit the city and there were blackouts but it didn't get that bad this time around. On the plus side, it had been muggy and nasty outside during the day but after the storm everything was better for days, only turning mcnasty again on Monday.

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The kitchen staff was taking its sweet time preparing our food so I took to examining the condiments on the table. I had never seen 'Pepper Sauce' before and the fact that it resembled a jar of maggots did not encourage me to give it a try. I also didn't realize at first that you're not actually supposed to eat the peppers themselves, just the liquid it's floating in. Is that weird to anyone else? Anyone, that the point I would have used just about any distraction as we waited and waited and waited. We had events scheduled that night and if the food didn't arrive soon we would have to leave someone behind to snag the order as takeout. I suggested that as one of those hipster, farm to table, humane restaurants the chefs were probably in the back waiting for the chickens to die from natural causes before they could be breaded and fried.

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Eventually the poutine arrived though and it was....okay. It really didn't leave much of an impression with me. I'm not sure if that was more because it was lackluster in and of itself or because it paled in comparison to the glorious chicken. And man, was it glorious.

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I'm not sure if it was partly the work of hunger or the fact that it was pipping out fresh from the fryer but this was some of the best chicken I had ever had. It was amazing. We fell upon it like a hoard of ravening piranhas. The speed and ferocity of our consumption also spurred on by the fact that we had an event to run in 15 minutes or so in the convention center. All I can say is that if we didn't have a commitment, I would have happily sat there, ordered another Big Clucker and devoured it all. I still feel sort of sad I didn't find the chance to go back at some point during the convention for more fried chicken, and perhaps been able to consume it like a normal person rather than a wood chipper.

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I'm pretty sure the food also got Mel's seal of approval.

Enough people for two Hex Hex tables showed up for the 9pm game and things went pretty smoothly. The attendance wasn't spectacular and mostly those people that did show up seemed to be old friends and die-hards rather than people who had never tried the games before. That tended to be a trend through the rest of Origins and I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact the games were running 9pm-1am or if people simply didn't attend ticketed board/card gaming events as often now that the CAB open gaming ribbon was available. I spent most of my time that night chatting and checking how many people were in my Plaza on my 3DS before heading to bed.

Origins Game Fair: The Resurrection

Other than one skip year in the middle of all those surgeries, I've been to Origins every year since 2004. In the early days, it was often my socialization con, where I would chat and meet up with all the people who I couldn't spend time with at Gencon. There were few signature events that I felt I had to attend and I spent a lot of the time just hobo'ing around. Honestly, I sort of got the impression that whoever was running the Origins Game Fair also suffered from some of the same aimlessness and malaise. It was a feed-forward system where disaster fed upon disaster, all of which served to drive down attendance and interest in the convention. It seemed that for a while, not a single year would go by without some form of chaos. Event registration snafu where tickets to RPGs were accidentally sold with no seat limits, failure of the ticket printers, game companies shifting all their new releases to gencon, the pulling out of Wizards of the Coast and other vendors, etc.

It got bad enough that at its nadir (which I would estimate was around 3-4 years ago) the exhibit hall was like a ghost town. I still remember being in the hall on a friday at midmorning and being able to see all the way to the other end of the aisle with only 3-4 people as obstructions. I had a lot of conversations with vendors and long-time attendees about how much longer we thought Origins could even hold out before it was forced to do something drastic to save itself. It was simply too close in proximity to gencon, both temporally and spatially.

Despite everything which signaled its doom, Origins seems to have clawed itself out of eminent destruction. In this case, it seems that a rising geek tide has lifted all convention boats. We've seen how Gencon has benefited hugely from the success of San Diego Comic Con and the renaissance of geek chic. Those who can't get passes to comic con, or had no interest in gaming conventions at all prior to comic con, are now flooding the streets of Indianapolis. This trend seems to now be benefiting Origins as well. The population boom at gencon has made many people rethink whether Gencon is worth the cost and aggravation (I'm looking at you, hotel reg system) and I'm sure other regional conventions, including Origins, have been the beneficiaries.

I planned to attend Origins this year without much real sense of anticipation or any positive expectations. I had no real events I was interested in and at most, I figured I would use the con to socialize. I had such an empty schedule in fact that I sort of scrambled around for something with which to occupy my time. I was sort of afraid that if I didn't have anything planned I would simply end up lying on my hotel bed watching tv and refreshing facebook for most of each day. I had spent part of last Origins helping out (unasked) at the Mayfair booth, learning and then helping to demo their games. I had nothing better to do and it was a small way of storing up pre-emptive karma. I tried to make the association official this year but the Mayfair volunteer system is a shitshow and after receiving no response to multiple emails and forms of contact, I figured I was beating a dead horse. It turned out though that Curt Covert of Smirk & Dagger was returning to Origins after a 10 year hiatus, having been driven out by dwindling attendance numbers and non-existent sales. He needed minions to help run the booth and events, and it game me a chance to repay a debt. If any of you know Curt, you will know that he is an amazing guy. In addition to having a totally cool secret agent name, he's got an incredible sense of humor, his philosophy/motto when it comes to boardgames is 'Games are more fun when you can stab a friend in the back'. It really doesn't get much better than that. He is also incredibly generous with both his time and his games. I first met him years ago at the Double Exposure cons and he was always willing to help with game and prize support for gaming events. I had been the recipient of his largess on numerous occasions and I figured this was a good opportunity to return the favor somewhat. In the end, working with the Smirk & Dagger crew at Origins was an amazing experience. It was probably the best Origins I've had in at least the past 5-6 years. I only wish that I wasn't so decrepit and that I could have pitched in more and perhaps found more time during the convention to meet up with more friends.

So, it's been years since I've posted any convention recaps on this thing. Hell, it's been years and years since I've posted at all on LiveJournal. I'm going to give an Origins recap a whirl though. I even tried to force myself to take more pictures so I would have images to pop on here. Most of you reading this probably already think I take too many pictures, but back in the day I was like a walking asian stereotype when it came to snapping photos. I would spend hours cropping them all and then popping them up into long-rambling LJ entries, documenting every day of the convention experience. I'm not sure I'll be able to force myself to be as thorough this time around, but I will try to give a good recap of Origins.

True Dungen: Golden Ticket

I've never been a lucky person. At least, I've never had any impression that luck favors me more than most and there's a fair amount of evidence to the contrary. The best example of this is probably in true dungeon where the law of large numbers prances and cavorts. To this day, I have:

1) Never pulled a UR from the treasure box (the one exception being the year where they were artificially loaded with relics and purps thanks to Smakdown's artifact usage)

2) Never pulled a UR from a random pack of tokens not part of a token order.

3) Never pulled a Golden Ticket.

I'm pretty sure that at least a couple of these buck the odds pretty severely. The last is probably the oddest of the batch given that I think I'm the last old-school TD person who hasn't picked one up. Nowadays, not even an 8k order will guarantee you a golden ticket, though it's pretty close, but back once upon a time, the odds were far more generous. I spent quite a few years right in the prime making minimum 1k purchases each year and never managed to hit the jackpot. During the same period, Richard has pulled two of the damn things and his purchases have been backloaded to when the odds were severely smaller. Even Rob, who I think only makes a half k purchase hit the GT this year at Whosyercon. He's pretty much decided that he'd rather have cash than the run and so I might be going on my first GT ever if I can scrounge together the money. It's still sort of galling to have to buy my way in, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

The signups for the GT runs are pretty much full at this point too, with only a few left out standing. That meant that I was left with the dregs as far as class selection and both Ranger and Paladin were taken as well as all the combat runs. I ended up snagging a bard slot on the puzzle run and it might be fun to belt out some showtunes. I was thinking that hey, wouldn't it be spiffy to actually do a costume of some sort for the spectacle of it all. Since there's no Killer Breakfast this year, it's not like there's any other pre-gencon planning that's taking up my time and it's become a tradition of sorts to work on some schtick or another. At first I was thinking that I should just go drag but as I was looking at the options, it seemed like it'd be a lot of effort and expensive to boot. It's not like any place is likely to have evening gowns off the rack for someone my size. But hell, it's not like I really want to do drag anyway. It's more for the ridiculous campyness of it all. That's when I flashed on Shirley Temple singing The Good Ship Lollypop.

Wouldn't that be perfect for pure ridiculousness? I wasn't aware of the source at first, but I had a clear image in my head of what the costume should be like too. It would be all red-white-blue, with sequins, a frilly skirt, and a sailor cap. It wasn't until I was describing this to Connie to see if she could help me make something that we figured out why I had this idea in my head. Morgan had worn the exact damn outfit last year for school event where she danced and sang The Good Ship Lollypop.

There's no telling if this will all pan out, but if it does I'm going to have to get Morgan to perform a duet with me.

Happy Dragon Boat Festival or Lóngchuánjié (端午节) for Mandarin-speaking peeps. I actually don't know much about the holiday and just about everything I do know comes straight from the entry on the topic. Whether you believe that its origins are in Dragon worship, a harvest festival, or a celebration in rememberence of some Chinese guy who drowned himself, I imagine most people know it as the holiday for the consumption of zong zi if they know anything about it at all.

Zong zi is a food made out of sticky rice wrapped and then steamed or boiled in bamboo leaves. There are many different varieties of zong zi but my family only churns out two types, one made of plain sticky rice which you eat by dipping it in granulated sugar and a savory one made with chunks of marinated pork. I always much preferred the latter and I think Connie was the only one who really liked the former. To celebrate the holiday my mom and grandmother spent several hours today making them and I snagged a few.

Here you can see one still wrapped up in bamboo leaves, one unwrapped and the last sliced open to show the fillings. I'm going to go snag a bottle of siracha for dipping purposes and go all Nom Nom Nom on these bitches.

Never finish anything you start

That is one of the problems I always have when it comes to media. I don't have much follow through when it comes to tv shows and it's really easy to distract me with something else. I got up to the last episode of the 5th season of Game of Thrones but now I find myself watching Babylon 5 from the beginning and I'm 13 episodes into the first season already. I have no clue why I do this but it's a pretty common thing. Just off the top of my head here are some shows I meant to catch up on and never quite finished...

Farscape (Somewhere in Season 2)
Arrow (Somewhere in Season 2 or 3)
The Walking Dead (Don't even remember now...season 4? 5?)
Sleepy Hollow (Somewhere late last season)
Bones (A Season or two ago)

I'm sure there are plenty more but that's what immediately comes to mind. I think part of the reason is it requires some expenditure of resources, whether attention or thought or something, in order to watch something new. When you watch something you've already seen, often many times before, you can just run through it on autopilot and it doesn't require anything of you. So what always ends up happening is I take a pause and the next thing you know I've wandered off and rewatched all the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (sans the first season) again or something similar.

It also makes it more likely when you happen to like the show in question. I'm always pretty amazed at how good the first season of B5 is, especially compared to other sci-fi shows of that era which often required a good bit of time to find their feet. If anything, the last season was actually the most disappointing of the bunch, and that's really a better and less painful way to send a show off into cancellation than when it's riding high and hitting on all cylinders. I occasionally still run across hints and whispers of a B5 reboot of some sort, and it would be spiffy given how much better CG has gotten in the intervening years, but it's probably just a pipe dream. Legend of the Rangers pretty much disabused me of the notion for any followup B5 shows.

I should at least pop back to Game of Thrones and finish the last episode of Season 5. That'll leave me caught up at least seasonwise and maybe I'll binge all of 6 once the last few episodes come out in the following weeks. They say that there are only 13 episodes of GoT left after season 6, meaning a very truncated season 7 and 8. Frankly, that's not a good sign IMO. I'm not sure how you could wrap up this story in anything like a satisfactory fashion in just 13 episodes. Even if you cut out all the politics and just had 13 episodes full of nothing but combat resolution, it's unlikely you could really finish the story in a way where anyone would feel really satisfied. In this sort of storyline, with dozens if not hundreds of loosing hanging threads, just the denouement post climax could take an entire season. I mean, unless they simply kill everyone and go by king of the hill rules. If you want to avoid the effort of writing all these pretty wrap-up storylines about where all the characters end up, just have everyone die and it saves you the effort. That might not be a terrible end as Danys, all bloody and beat to shit sits astride Drogon in the center of a field miles wide full of bodies. We see nothing but corpses are far as the eyes can see, dead men and white walkers, with only her and the night king remaining. Drogon is covered in so many spears and broken off swords he looks like the iron throne as he lunges toward the Night King who raises his sword and stabs the dragon in the throat with the sword ramming up through the dragon's skull. The dragon collapses upon the Night King as its last gout of fire errupts from its pierced neck, engulfing everything in flames. Dany is flung to the ground without the strength to rise as the fire splashes all around her, clinging to her clothes and beginning to consume them. Just as we expect her to be fine we see that her hair starts to blacken and crisp as the flames eat up her legs and she begins to scream. The camera then pulls back on the writhing figure consumed in flames, the only piece of movement on a field full of still bodies. The camera keeps pulling back and we see that the field of bodies stretches perhaps hundreds of miles, at its center a small blot of fire that gets smaller and smaller...and then finally goes out. The end.

Now there's an ending where you don't have to wrap shit up.

Bigotry against the head endowed

I've been receiving notices from my insurance company for a while now, reminding me that I had vision coverage and that I could take advantage of it. It all started after the pre-diabetes tipped over the line at some point last year and I finally decided to go and get it over with, especially since I would be making the drive to Origins soon. What I discovered is that my vision from the laser eye surgery I had done back in Chicago around a decade and change ago hadn't actually slipped as far as I thought it had. I knew at the time of the original surgery that they couldn't quite get me to 20/20 due to a heavy astigmatism in my eyes and the recent eye exam showed that even now things were only down to 20/40 or so. That's pretty impressive considering that's still within the realm of not needing glasses to legally drive. Even so, I figured that since I had gone through all the bother of getting the exam, I might as well get the prescription filled. Insurance should cover the entire thing so there was no downside.

The optometrist I went to recommended an eye glass store in Menlo Park Mall, Sterling Optical, and I knew things were going to go well the minute they led me to the rack of 'free frames'. These things were _tiny_. There was no way I would be able to get a pair there without it looking absolutely ridiculous, and that's assuming I could get the glasses to actually fit on my head in the first place. Eventually I found a set of frames which would cost an extra $45 that weren't terrible and that's when the saleswoman started dropping all these other fees and charges out of the blue. The total was $115 by the time she was done and I was almost certain she was trying to rip me off. I can understand why the frame upgrade was a necessary cost but everything else should have been covered by insurance. I ended up giving her some excuse and spent a couple days trying to find another place that would take my insurance. It turned out that one of Shelley's pharmacy techs had the same HMO and had gotten glasses for her kids for free at a store near where Connie lives. So today, since mom had to go up there to prep Will for his Chinese school final exams, I tagged along.

It took a bit to find the store and when I gave the woman at the counter my prescription and insurance information, she confirmed there would be no cost to me as long as I chose from the limited number of frames offered by my HMO. She then proceeded to grab a ratty shoebox filled with frames that looked like the reject pile from some sort .99 cent store at a tourist trap. The only way I could have gotten some of those glasses on my giant noggin is if I duct taped it place and even then I'm not sure if I could have looked out both eyes at the same time. She offered to show me some more premium frames and the first one that seemed big enough to fit my melon head had an upcharge of $199. In the end I went through frame after frame after frame and found something for $59 that didn't seem terrible. At least she didn't try to gouge me with any other made up fees and add-ons.

It's not bad, especially considering some of the truly terrible options I was faced with. The only real downside is they're not sure the glasses will be ready within a week and I leave for Origins next Wednesday. It's not a desperate necessity or anything, but it seems a shame not to have them for the trip when that's part of the reason I went through this whole obnoxious process in the first place.

Do your wurst.

I ate liverwurst for the first time earlier tonight in a sandwich with other lunchmeats and cheese. I had decided to buy some on the spur of the moment when I was out shopping the other day. The train of thought went something like this....

You kinda like liver.

Well, yeah, but not in large doses.

Well, of course not in large doses. And certainly not the way Chinese people eat it in chunks.

Yeah, definitely not. It starts to taste all bitter and metallic and just ick the more you have.

Absolutely. But remember when you first had pate at that ridiculously crappy salad bar at the Menlo Park Diner before its renovation back when you were like 10? You had no idea what the brown mush was and God only knows why you tried it but you liked it and didn't even figure out it was liver for ages.

Well, yeah.

And this is like liver and other stuff made into lunchmeat form. I mean, seriously, when has processed meat chunks ever really let you down?

You sorta have a point there. Okay, lets get a half pound then and see how it goes.

So I added it to a sandwich along with bologna, salami, ham, and american cheese and I'm happy to report it was really pretty spiffy. It added a rich, unctuousness taste to the sandwich and the fact that it was mixed with all sorts of other meats helped to keep it from falling into liver overkill. I'm pretty sure my extreme aversion to bitterness would keep me from enjoying plain liverwurst sandwiches but it's really not bad in small doses or as one element in a food palette.


domo costume
In the darkness the trees are full of starlight
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