A View from the News Bunker
For a $50 ticket to Origins, you could play nearly
any board game, card game, role-playing game or metal
miniatures game ever invented, straight for almost
fifty hours - if you weren't strapped to large ex-military
gamers hungry for news.
Our Gamers.com General Jim dictated a strict regiment
of news-gathering, so we've established a beachhead
in a conference room on the first floor of the Red
Roof Inn across from the convention center. At any
one time, there's at least one or two bearded men
hunkered down over their laptops struggling with the
database and those few survivors back at the company.
It's been two days since we ate anywhere outside of
here - cheesesteak remnants wrapped in foil sit next
to a drip dry bottle of Reisling.
Jim's military training has fostered a deep team
ethic for him. If there's one producer who hasn't
finished their stories, then Jim stays up with that
person until they get their writing finished. Even
if Jim's finished. Even if it's bleary-eyed three
in the morning. And then he's up by ten to continue
leading the troops. While I admire his dedication
and I'm astonished at his discipline, I pride myself
on leading a more balanced life at Origins. I play
at least an hour or so a day of Faselei
on the Neo Geo Pocket Color,
so I can remember what carefree pleasure feels like.
Then I take a moment to remind the others, and quickly
dodge a large flying elbow.
Occasionally people pull their heads out of the
world of Unplugged news and tell stories: military
history, war stories, memories of gaming past. Bob
recounts the historical path of the vikings, from
marauding fun-loving Scandinavian hordes to elite
guards for the Byzantine empire. Bob recounts his
time dressed up as a British soldier in a reenactment
of Revolutionary War era skirmishes - marching in
wooden shoes, in the snow from Trenton New Jersey
to Princeton New Jersey, wearing thin wool and a bearskin
cap. Bob explaining how good chocolate melts at body
temperature, and suggesting ways to test this theory.
It's an intense time - bonding during fifteen hour
work days, gathering around a long wooden table in
green leather captain's chairs. "While you were at
the conference Justin, we really missed you. But we'll
take better aim next time." Bob says.
Miniatures Wargaming Editor Bob has brought
a gastronomical touch with him on the road -
while we are slaving away in a generic hotel
conference room, Bob is serving us salted cashews,
homemade chocolate chip with cinnamon cookies,
oatmeal with orange chunks, and uncorking bottles
of wine late each afternoon.
articles we slave to write,
so on we work, butressed by food,
and Bob Liebl each calm Columbus night,
proves he's quite a gourmet dude.
We missed out on his cookie "death by oatmeal" but
we haven't missed out on any of his jokes. After almost
each one, Jim pipes up "that was the worst one yet
- below the belt." They're mostly puns, intensely
obvious and unabashedly delivered. He was a high school
teacher for 25 years - I asked him, "What did you
We found cheap rooms at the Red Roof Inn. The walls
are thin - late at night, my head on my pillow, I
fight sleep as I struggle to keep up with the social
affairs of the cavorting wargamers next door. We were
last minute arrivals, but somehow Jim's charms won
favour with the night clerk - she kicked housekeeping
out of their rooms so we could know lodging excellence.
At the Red Roof Inn, besides the numerous gamers,
people from the RPGA four to a room, there's a wedding
party or two. So late at night, between the sweaty
geeks stumbling in from gaming, there's the occasional
bright shimmer of an opulent evening gown as some
lithe young beauty ascends to the elevator with her
freshly shaven cohort. It's a reminder that outside
of this world of gruff, bearded gaming, there is a
world including skinny pritty people. I figure those
are the people that got out of wargaming after Avalon
Hill went downhill.
Jim would hoist two laptops and three digital cameras
across his chest, and wade into Origins itself. While
he was firing penetrating questions at young marketing
assistants at old-school wargame companies now owned
by "HasBorg," around him the Unplugged
community was gaming their days away. Most of them
were bearded military looking men, like the dedicated
gamers I was with, but a few were youngsters. How
does the youth of today slip into the depraved cycle
of miniatures wargaming?
It turns out that Magic is a gateway
Sometimes I wonder if collectible card games aren't
the height of consumerism. In order to stay on top
of the game, players keep buying stacks and stacks
of painted cardboard. Magic: The Gathering, the leading
collectible card game, has sold well over one billion
cards since it was first published a mere four years
ago. Since then there have been dozens of imitators
and excellent games, both printed upon millions upon
millions of cards. It's an orgy of mindless purchasing!
I decided to explore the pheonomenon by buying more
cards for myself. At DragonCon, I bought
a starter deck and a few booster packs for an old
and underplayed game Illuminati:
New World Order. Then, before I had a chance to
play that game more than once, I decided it was time
to buy another game. This time, I bought a box with
six starter decks for NetRunner.
I picked this one because cyberpunk has always tickled
my sense of adventure (I loved Neuromancer,
Circuit's Edge, and I'm loving
Deus Ex still), and because I
had a chance to interview Peter Adkinson the founder
and president of Wizards of the Coast, the pre-eminent
publisher of collectible card games, and he mentioned
that Richard Garfield, card game designer par exellance,
said that NetRunner was his most elegantly designed
game. It's a two player card game and the rulebook
is over fifty pages long!