Thursday, November 8, 2012

"CONNNNN!!!" II: The Awesome-ing

Hey, all youze Convention Crawlers!

Simply by providing an abundance of open-gaming tables last year the organizers of Hal-Con ensured that everyone in my circle of friends would be going back.  In fact some of us were so impressed that we made a point of getting passes for two days instead of one.  

But as I was perusing their website two Fridays ago, I began to worry that they'd scaled back this consideration.  As such, we decided to forego our traditional pre-Con breakfast on Saturday morning in lieu of registering early, getting a jump on the long line-ups and finding a place to pitch.  This allowed one member of our esteemed Fellowship, Sabina, to scout ahead and reserve a spot for us.

I have to say, the organizers did a fantastic job this year improving line-up efficiencies.  They had a metric shit-ton of folks helping with registrations, which really helped to expedite the admissions process.  In fact, it didn't take very long for the rest of us to re-united with our dauntless scout.  This gave us plenty of time get our bearings and ponder what board games we should roll out first.

This year the gaming area of Hal-Con was on the third floor of the World Trade and Convention Centre.   The dedicated floor space was impressive and the library of check-outable games was pretty comprehensive.  On the down side, our paranoia regarding the availability of open gaming tables turned out to be somewhat justified.  At face value, it looked as if there were only six free play tables and the rest was set aside for organized tournaments and game demos.

"Only six 'freeplay' tables?  WTF!?"

The first table we snagged could only seat five or six people so we quickly Borg'ed a larger playing surface that could accommodate double that number.  After all, at any give time we could have Andrew, Sabina, Mike and myself as well as Chad and his entire family playing games all at once.  We really needed all the space we could possibly eke out.

While Mike and Andrew took a quick inventory of the vendor room, Sabina and I reviewed our schedules and pondered what our first game should be.  Given that the signature session with John Rhys-Davies was happening within the hour, we really didn't want to get into a lengthy game that we couldn't finish in time.  In fact, we silently hoped that Mike and Andrew would be back in time for us to get away.

During this time a well-intentioned but slightly militant Hal-Con volunteer came up to our table and started to cross-examine us:

HER:  "Hi, are you going to be playing board games here?
ME:  "Um...yeah."
HER:  "Are they board games that you bought here?"
ME:  "Well, yes. (Lying!) We've got a couple of friends down in the vendor section right now."
HER:  "Okay, but did you check with anyone to make sure that it was alright for you to play games here?"
SABINA:  "Well, I'm pretty sure that the map in the convention guide said that these are the 'free play' tables."
ME: (Lying, again) "Plus I did check with a couple of people and they said that it was okay for us to be here."
HER:  "Oh, okay!  Sorry, I'm new to this and I'm just getting the hang of things myself!"

Now before I go on my rant, I want to declare that the Hal-Con volunteer staff was nothing short of amazing.  But just like every other Con that includes board-gaming in its curriculum, I should be permitted to bring in my own previously purchased board games, play the crap out of them and meet with some of my fellow local gamers.  Especially if I paid thirty bucks a day for the privilege of being there.   

Look, unless I'm standing on top of a table with my pants down around my ankles inviting people to check out my "Warhammer" then you really need to make like Luke in his landspeeder and "move along".  

Mercifully Andrew made our occupation completely legit by coming back from the vendor room with a board game called Lords of Waterdeep.  After that, I decided to tempt fate somewhat by setting up a little guerilla-style promotional display for my book.  Self-whoring is fun!

"Um...sure I paid a booth fee."
After that I had a chance to poke around for a little bit.  After video-bombing some of the exotic-looking board games being set up, I checked out the awesome array of Dungeons & Dragons paraphernalia assembled by local RPG group "The Gelatinous Dudes".  After that, I rummaged through the vendor section, snagging a copy of the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game from Mike at Monsters Comic Lounge.  Hooray for tax-in game dealz!

When I got back, Sabina and I made a bee-line for the autograph session.  Although I was super-excited at the prospects of meeting John Rhys-Friggin'-Davies, Sabina was positively beside herself.  Her natural abundance of nervous energy was clearly heightened by her T.V. co-workers, who were milling around with cameras and threatening to videotape her meeting with the highly-revered actor!

Just a quick word about John Rhys-Davies.  He's easily one of the most recognizable character actors of our time.  In addition to portraying weighty historical figures like King Richard in Robin of Sherwood, Vasco da Gama in the mini-series Shōgun and Macro in I, Claudius, John has also served as "Fellowship of the Ring" charter member / spokes-dwarf Gimli in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, General Leonid Pushkin in Bond flick The Living Daylights, Professor Maximillian Arturo in the classic sci-fi T.V. show Sliders and (my own personal favorite) master excavator and archaeological sidekick Sallah from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

While both of us inched ahead incrementally in the lineup we encountered yet another irksome phenomenon: entitled arseholes armed with "Warp Passes".  I can only assume that these things were premium-priced tickets that let self-important jerkstores blast through autograph line-ups and snatch up front-row seats at events.  Well, I gotta tell ya, this might sound like a good idea in theory but in practice it's a f#@king pain in the nacelles.

There was one particularly oblivious social reject* who decided (on a whim, apparently) to blow through the line-up and cut in front of Sabina.  The moron didn't even have anything ready for John to sign, he just felt like exercising his authoritah to put the rest of the world on hold.  The really funny thing was that John noticed that this clown was holding up the lineup.  Eventually he 'shooed' the guy away with a wave of his hand, flashed a look of bemusement and then encouraged Sabina to ignore him and come on over.

The item that Sabina tabled was a Lord of the Rings poster featuring John as Gimli in full dwarven regalia standing slightly behind Orlando Bloom as Legolas.  After John realized that it was futile to sign such a huge poster with a standard Sharpie he pulled out a marker the size of a lightsaber hilt and went to work.

After noticing that Legolas was the more dominant figure on the poster, John suddenly thundered: "Oh, that Orlando Bloom!  Here, I'll sign for him!"  He then proceeded to scrawl a big "O.B." on a Post-It note and plaster it right over Legolas's pretty-boy mug.  YES!!!

I couldn't help but watch Sabina as she drifted away from the encounter, looking slightly dazed.  But when I heard that famous baritone voice declare "Hello, young man!" I quickly snapped back to attention.  I looked up to see John flash a genial and approachable smile while he bade me to come over.  After a quick reality check, I confidently strode up and shook his hand.

Without a doubt, John was one of the nicest celebrities that I've ever encountered.  Our meeting was a genuine moment of quid pro quo; for every question I asked of him, he asked one of me.  As he signed by 8" x 12" picture of Sallah he asked about what I did for a living and I told him that I was trying start up a career as a writer.  He then asked what I wrote about so I told him about my book and this blog, as well as my entertainment and tabletop gaming sites.  The opportunity to talk about this gave me the perfect in-road to ask him about his first trip to Nova Scotia as well as Gimli's accent and what it was like working with the delightful Denholm Elliot in Raiders and Crusade.  

If I ever have to go on an archaeological dig, I'm totally bringing my old buddy Sallah.  

Boundlessly impressed by John's approachability and his warm and friendly demeanor, Sabina and I wandered back to base camp, just in time to witness Andrew and Mike polishing off a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse.  All of us then indulged in a few games of Saboteur, which turned out to be a simple yet highly-strategic card game.  Taking advantage of the time between turns, I roamed around the main floor with my video camera, trying to document all of the board games, RPG's, video games, writers, artists, vendors, displays and amazing costumes!  Surely no easy task.

By the time we finished up our overtime match of Zombie Dice, Sabina and I had to hustle downstairs to take in John's Q&A.  By the time we found the right place there was already a pretty sizable line up.  As we slowly filtered into the massive Main Stage room we noticed that there were several rows of empty seats right up front and that most of the floor seats were already occupado.  As such, both of us moved to stand just behind the last row of chairs, content to remain at attention for the next hour in exchange for the clear view.

But then we heard an open call for Warp Pass holders to help themselves to any of the empty seats in the first two rows!  After a small handful of people took up this offer, the volunteer staff did what they could to shift the already-seated folks closer and accommodate as many of the standees as possible.  As you can imagine, this was comparable to herding a bunch of catnip-intoxicated felines.

As seats suddenly became available towards the back I made the single most idiotic decision of the entire weekend: I decided to sit down.  Man, I wish I could hop into a Tardis and go back to prevent myself from making such a stupid call.  At the time I thought that I could just lean out into the aisle or hold my camera aloft to get a clear view of the stage.  Unfortunately, by plunking my ass in that fateful seat I ended up fumbling a video capture opportunity of a lifetime.   ARRRGGGHHHH!!!

We sat down with a reasonably clear view of the right hand side of the stage.  Unfortunately, John sat to the left and when fans began queueing up to the microphone to ask questions, my line of sight became totally blocked!  For awhile I tried holding the camera over my head, but my sad, frail, Gollum-like limbs gave out on me within a few minutes.  Then I tried shooting between all of the craning heads and costumed headgear but invariably someone's melon ended up in the way.

Then I tried standing up but it was already too late.  Every decent vantage point had been snapped up and I certainly wasn't going to block anybody else's view.  Begrudgingly I took my seat again only to have someone's kid start wailing on cue right behind me.  Awesome.

I'm still haven't forgiven myself.  The previous year I was in the perfect spot to capture Nicholas Brendon's Q&A.  That year there were no accursed Warp Passes and Sabina and I managed to nab front row seats just as the Kag Kanada Klingon assembly began to break up.

I've since written this debacle off as a highly egregious learning experience.  Unless I can somehow score front row seats, next year I'll just find the best possible vantage point and shoot from eye-level while standing up.  Particularly galling to me is the fact that John's Q&A had some really amazing highlights, including a wonderful moment where he lapsed into full Gimli rage mode!

Here's everything that I managed to cobble together from my paltry footage.  Excuse me while I don the Cone of Shame.      

Hey, if anyone out there captured the entire Q&A, drop me a link and I'll "EPIC" it below with a credit!

After everything wrapped up 'round 3:30, Sabina and I slowly inched our way through the throng of people to our table.  We played another game of Saboteur, this time with Matt and Chad, and then finished the day with the "Escape in the Truck" scenario from Last Night on Eath: The Zombie Game.

Another thing that kinda sucked was the fact that Hal-Con fell on the last weekend before Halloween and I was committed to go to a costume party.  This meant that I had to leave Hal-Con early Saturday night and miss the Nerd Army / Paul & Storm concert which was slated to begin at 6:45 that same evening.  Oh well, I guess that's the way the dilithium crystal crumbles!  

But going downtown turned out to be a really fun time.  We went to the Lower Deck's annual Halloween party and spent most of the night trying to guess what people were dressed up as.  Needless to say, more than one Hal-Con refugee drifted into the bar that night:

Little know fact: when not looking for droids or shooting at rebels with appalling poor accuracy rates, Imperial Stormtroopers can often be found at local cantinas playing air guitar with their blaster rifles and bobbing their helmets to crappy Bruno Mars songs.

Knowing that I had an early rise the following morning, I played the role of designated idiot and abstained from drinking copious amounts of Guinness.  Nevertheless, I still got home around 2 pm and subsequently experienced a genuine system shock when my alarm clock went off at 7 am the next morning.  Motivated by the promise of yet another blissful day of geeky revelry, I dragged my sleep-deprived carcass out of bed, got cleaned up, had a snack, grabbed my fun bag (?) of games, jumped in the ole' Ninjamobile and hauled ass down to the Dork Tower.

I arrived at our muster station (the Starbucks on Barrington Street) way ahead of everyone else.  As I waited for my peeps to arrive I hit upon a stellar idea: since I didn't have my entry bracelet for Sunday yet, why not take a dart up to the convention center, get registered and run back in time to meet up with everyone else?  Brilliant!

Ah, no.  When I got up there I learned to my disbelief that the registration desk wouldn't be open until  9 am along with everything else.  I thought about sprinting back to Starbucks but then I remembered  what Sabina had gone through on Saturday in order to secure a table.  Since she wasn't there to help us again, I decided to stick it out.  Unfortunately I had no way to get ahold of my party and inform them of the brilliant scheme that my caffiene-deprived brain had cooked up.

When 9 am finally rolled around, I rushed the registration desk, got my bracelet, ran to the back of the entry lineup, rushed up two floors and parked my ass at the very same table that we'd used the day before.  Even still, I had to fend off threatened incursions from other gamers.  Eventually my posse gave up on waiting for me and walked up to the convention center.  Imagine their surprise when they came off the elevator, rounded the corner and saw me siting there as if I hadn't moved from the previous day!

Honestly, Day Two at Hal-Con was a complete and total blur.  I know that I picked up a copy of the Dungeon! board game from Mike at Monsters Comic Lounge.  I know that we played a slew of board game (like Lords of Waterdeep, Magic: The Gathering, and Small World Underground) and that they were all so friggin' engrossing that I completely lost track of time.  I know that the schedule that I'd so lovingly assembled and printed off for myself completely fell by the wayside.  The next thing we knew it was 5:30 pm and time to get the f#@k out!      

Notwithstanding my complete and utter failure to document the Q&A's, I still had an absolute blast.  In fact, we all enjoyed our time at Hal-Con 2012 so much that most of us have already commiteed to being there for all three days next year!

I just need to strike a better balance between my board gaming and all of the cool organized activities that are constantly going on.  Next year I'll pay more attention to the major events and sneak in the odd board game during my "down time".

But then there's another philosophy: Hal-Con is an awe-inspiring tsunami of pure, unadulterated geekery which you really should allow yourself to be swept up in.

In fact, to go into something like this with an agenda or a work ethic is almost anathema to the whole giddy, disorienting experience.

NOT-NEARLY-AS-EPIC-AS-ACTUALLY-BEING-THERE  Here's my humble l'il video ode to Hal-Con 2012:

FAIL  Trust me, I saw nothing at Hal-Con that even came remotely close to these cosplay disasters.

*P.S. FAIL  The same mouth-breather that tried to cut into the autograph line-up in front of Sabina kept surfacing.  At one point in time, he actually attempted to weasel his way into one of our in-progress games.  When we told him to go pound sand, he spent the next few awkward moments rummaging around in Andrew's game collection and mauling the stuff we'd purchased in the vendor room.  Dude would make an awesome TSA agent.  


Anonymous said...

1) Volunteers are there to enforce rules. All the games in the library are 100% donated by the staff from their own personal libraries, so I think you can understand the desire to ensure there is no overlap. Lying to the volunteers does not present yourself in a positive light.
2) Publically posting both your picture, your name and the fact you set up a public display of your book to sell without paying the vendor license is likewise also not an entirely intelligent thing to do.
3) Awesome you had fun, hope you will return next year, but this time being more honest and abiding by rules.

David Pretty said...

Hi, Anonymous!

(if that is indeed your real name, heh, heh)

Just a quick rebuttal...

(1) "Volunteers are there to enforce rules." I agree, and the lion's share of them do an absolutely amazing job. But my friend and I were sitting at what we honestly thought was one of the very few precious free play gaming tables when we were suddenly interrogated as if we'd just stolen the Hal-Con cash box.

"All the games in the library are 100% donated by the staff from their own personal libraries, so I think you can understand the desire to ensure there is no overlap." Um, okay. Overlap of what? I wanted play some of the games that I brought from home (and perhaps the two new ones that I'd picked up in the vendor room) with some of the six other people that I'd come to the convention with.

"Lying to the volunteers does not present yourself in a positive light." Well, fearing a repeat of our disastrous experience at Hal-Con 2010 (in which we paid thirty bucks for the privilege of standing up for THE ENTIRE FRIGGIN' DAY) I told her that we had permission to be there based on the information provided in the Convention Guide.

(2) I might have been convinced to pay a vendor fee if I'd gotten a response back from one of the two emails of inquiry that I sent the previous year. Besides, I wasn't selling my book, I was letting people know how they could get a copy if they were interested in it.

(3) As I said in my post, overall the event was fantastic despite a few disturbing and / or annoying trends. And yes, I'll be just as up-front and honest about my experience once again next year.

Y'know, the real funny thing is, I've already received an awesome email back from a Hal-Con rep who said:

"Hal-Con Gaming has gotten word of your blog and we will be doing our best to address the Gaming problems that you mentioned for next year.

"Every year, we seem to underestimate how many gamers we get, even when we plan for more. With the emergence of Hal-Con, more on more of the gamers seem to be coming out to see what we have to offer. We hope to have a much better layout for next year, though unfortunately, we do only have a finite space to work with.

"In terms of the issues with the Warp-Speed pass holder, the best we can say is that, yes, it is a service we offer, but the Warp Speed pass holders should remember Wheaton's Law. And we hope that you and your friends will be returning for 2013."

Exactly. I couldn't have said it better myself.