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A Cottage And Some Games

Cottage Con. A simple idea. A group of friends get together to play games of various sorts in a remote, to varying degrees, cottage. It also involves lots of food. Initially this was the gaming group but has subsequently expanded to involve a wider group of friends. Surprisingly, I’ve lost track of how many Cottage Cons there have been. I went to the first two in May 2007 and the second in early March 2008, we really crammed them together back in the day, then that was it.

It worked out well though. Really enjoyed it.

Battle in the Skies

A week ago the latest one took place. A whole 5 – 6 years since the last one I went to, which is a bit mindboggling.

Cottage Con has changed over the years. Initially it involved less people and was almost completely dominated by role-playing games. Now it’s become more diverse both in terms of who attends and also the games that are played. It now covers board games, mini-gaming, war games and role-playing games. This is a good thing. Have to admit, going into it, I was a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing. I’ve currently got a bit of a gaming twilight thing going on with respect to me and role-playing games and while I don’t mind board and some mini games I wasn’t sure I wanted to dedicate a weekend to them!

The location was fantastic, though it possibly was the remotest location we’ve used. Fantastically positioned, and near good roads, but it was only accessible by the equivalent of a mountain bike course that you were supposed to drive your car up. I went the wrong way and ended up at The Bog, essentially a farm that felt like some remote homestead off of some zombie apocalypse film complete with rabid barking dogs from inside mysterious barns. The road was ridiculous, especially when I had to backtrack along it. Still, I got their quite easily thanks to Google Maps. One car got lost and had to be rescued from a remote road and another had battery issues. It was perfect for a gaming weekend along with lovely views from on the top of a hill.

In terms of the games it was remarkably RPG lite, with only two on offer in the first place, and I opted for only one. The schedule was: Super Dungeon Explore, Star Wars: X-Wing, a narrative Confrontation scenario and 13th Age. Lest I not forget, creating a Shadowrun character, which felt like some sort of surreal game slot in itself.

Friday evening was Super Dungeon Explore. The game was probably tainted somewhat by being a bit tired (I started well, suffered in the middle and then seemed to burn through it) and my selection of a character that seemed to rely on other classes being present to interact with to bring the awesome. It’s still a great game though and would certainly play it again. It’s basically a dungeon-delving type of game that plays like a board game version of a Japanese CRPG. It’s quite clever. A combination of gear seemed to turn my Paladin into a strange fire goo flinging awesome bomb towards the final third.

The first game on Saturday was Star Wars: X-Wing. It’s one of those games that has what I call a high ‘theoretical investment rating’ (a number of others enter this category such as Descent and the D&D board games). It’s something that appeals, but actually buying into it would always remain theoretical due to outlay and probably, for various reasons, not actually getting around to playing it that much. It’s a good game though. The miniatures are great and it helped that I had an understanding of the units from familiarity with the WEG Star Wars RPG. I seemed to get the heavy fighter fleet which included a B-Wing and Y-Wing which can take quite a lot of punishment. It is one of those games that is simply complex. It’s simple to understand but is quite complex in play, specifically how you set the moves of your ships and how that interacts with the order the vessels actually move in. I also like how the pilots have a major influence on the abilities of the ships. It was a fun game which, after round after round of random movement, I actually won by running a Firespray-31 (Boba Fett’s ship) of the map with a battered Y-Wing. Exciting stuff.

We nearly didn’t play the second game on Saturday, a Confrontation narrative scenario, due to time catching up with us. We decided to go for it after and it was well worth it as it was easily the best experience of the whole weekend. The idea was simple: five players, each with a small number of units based around individual heroes and few henchmen all of them having different objectives to achieve. If I was to get into mini-gaming it is this sort of thing I like. I’m not interested in the vast armies, more the skirmish and / or hero-based games. It was exciting stuff. There should be more games intentionally designed like this.

13th Age. I really enjoyed it both in terms of the set-up, the characters and, the surprising bit, the system. The set-up was a variation on the novel Legend with a number of characters finding themselves at an ancient fortress, for various reasons, as the horde approached to overrun it and invade ‘The Empire’. It had the usual convention-game sort of feel, or at least the feel of the ones that tend to manifest at Cottage Con: a lot of people individually bringing the personal awesome. It was great fun though. The characters were really well envisioned and were some of the best pre-gens I’ve seen. You could get really into them very quickly.

The surprise was the system. Have to admit after 2.5 years of playing 4th Dungeons Dragons I wasn’t really in the frame of mind to play a class-based, D&D ‘variant’ in our Sunday sessions (this probably impacted Dungeon World as well, albeit that is a very different game). As it happens this is now Shadowrun, but I’d have been happy to play 13th Age after Cottage Con. It’s quite clever, throwing enough narrative stuff in to make it work. The system also works in ways that ensures it appeals to me. Its small things. Like the escalation die. The backgrounds and how they interact with the system. The way the fighters powers are applied after the roll making it a roll + awesome rather than always having to select from the infinity of them all. It seems to offer a great balance between fun, options and ease of play with some narrative juice. Great stuff.

In fact, the genius of 13th Age is it seems to be a D&D-style variant that I could run with. A sweet spot so to speak. Nice.

A great weekend. Roll on the next one.

About Ian O'Rourke

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