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Tabletop Gaming Weekend 2017

November rolls around. Christmas gets closer. Everyone looks for their first Christmas tree or the Cola Christmas advert. Some people even start gearing up for the YouTube vlogmas madness. I always have something different to look forward to as around late November and early December we congregate for CottageCon.

What is CottageCon? Quite simply, it is a bunch of gamers going to a cottage in the countryside to play tabletop games all weekend. We also tend to eat a lot of food.

The Channel Video

This is the video from the channel discussing the same gaming weekend no doubt with some variances!

The Countryside Ignored

One of the strange problems I have with CottageCons is the fact we go to some glorious countryside and then sit inside playing games! This is new. I’ll fully admit it has kicked in since I started the YouTube channel and the Natures Theme Park walks. I now appreciate the great countryside we have and it is suitably epic and it is on the relative doorstep.

There was some beautiful scenery on the way to the location but the road wasn’t conductive to stopping and taking a few photos. The road undulated up and down and at least a handful of times it curved down to look upon a gorgeous vista flooded with low golden sunlight. It was stunning.

I also spotted Harbottle Forest Park a very short drive away from cottage but I didn’t know what opportunities it offered. I should have done a bit of research first as looking at it now I noticed there is walks such as the The Drake Stone and Harbottle walk which leaves from that very car park. I could have done that on Saturday as I didn’t really have any gaming plans Saturday morning and afternoon.

I even have mad ideas like not leaving Daisy Dog behind but that is a bit insane as even if the cottage allowed it wouldn’t make sense in the context of the ‘communal living’.

On Sunday I Could No Longer Eat

A large part of CottageCon is the food. I’m not sure if that was always the case going way back when but it’s certainly been the case for as long as I can remember. It got to the point this CottageCon that on Sunday all I ate was two Pengiun biscuits. Each day I was still full from the one before.

The tradition is burgers on a Friday evening, which transitioned from pizza at some point, and two epic breakfasts and then the main event on Saturday evening which is often designed to kill mortal humankind. This time it was a section of curries for the main event, which were gorgeous, and then home made cheesecake which was epic.

The cheesecake was so epic I didn’t even bother to put the cherry topping on, which was left optional as someone people preferred it off. We were repeatedly told how easy the cheesecake was to make but I still hold what is easy written down doesn’t mean you get the same outcome when everyone tries to do it.

Being someone who has zero practical skills I’m all to familiar with things being different in application than they are written down!

Nefarious Astral Alchemy

Like last year, we again delved into a Mansions of Madness scenario. I’ve written about this game before as I have about three scenarios worth of experience with it.

It’s a strange game as it’s always something I want to play and I enjoy it but there are elements of if that are not fun. Well, that’s not strictly true, they feel very much like a mythos investigation: oppressive, like you’re always running out of time and you are going to lose. It can also play out a bit unexciting. At the same time it’s a great experience. Weird.

We selected Astral Alchemy because it sounded cool. Possibly we should have checked the fact it was a 4 out of 5 difficulty. We didn’t even come lose to finishing it. We had a handful of things to find for the alchemist, who we believe was trying to stop something nefarious, and we didn’t hand any of them over to her. Two of the four of the investigators went mad. It was one of those scenarios were it didn’t feel like we achieved much.

We always come to the conclusion afterwards that we should ‘do things quicker’. While this seems true, as we could always split the investigators a bit more, I also think it sometimes only seems like we could have done things quicker as when playing we are going straight for the clue icons it’s just other things get in the way.

The game also plays around with inherent conflict of whether it is the player’s character who is solving a puzzle or the player themselves. It does this by allowing the stats of the character, along with the results of some dice rolling, to give the player more attempts per turn. This is quite handy as it means it is still better to have the intelligent character tackle the puzzle but the whole ‘player team’ can focus on solving it. Have to admit, the solving of these puzzles is something I switch off from. I don’t do them in my free time normally so having them inserted into the board game does my head in a bit. It’s the same when video games insert mini-games to unlock doors and the like.

Still, it is the best way to play out a mythos investigation. Still better than any of my actual tabletop role-playing game experiences.

Contact and Fire Torpedoes

If any game was a surprise of the weekend it was Captain Sonar. I knew very little about it, but it seems to be a version of Star Trek: Bridge Crew but in a modern day submarine rather than a starship. The other way to imagine it is like this: it’s like battleships, but it only involves two submarines trying to hunt each other down, both are moving and each has a crew of four with individual responsibilities.

I’ll admit, I was a bit sceptical, but having played it, I can only say it’s pure genius.

It’s a game that doesn’t translate well to being described as it’s best actually played. I wish I’d got some video footage of the experience as that would translate better.

The four crew members are Captain, First Mate, Radio (though Sonar seems to work better) and Engineer. Both submarines move around the map within the restrictions of engineering resources. As this is happening the Radio Operator is listening to the heading commands of the opposing Captain and marking where he believes the submarine is on his map. When it is believed a position is known, your sub is in range and a torpedo is ready you fire.

The joy of knowing you have that enemy sub located and you get two direct hit torpedoes in a row is…amazing.

It’s more complex than this as you can surface, run silent, launch various technical toys that reveal the enemies position to some degree…possibly. We played it once and there is a number of complexities we didn’t use and after that game were talking about how we could coordinate better as a crew so the engineer could maximise the resources, etc. We even started thinking of playing, multiple times with the players in the same positions, would get better results.

It’s a really good. It’s a great game. It should also should be on the list for any person or organisation seeking to facilitate team building sessions.

Mythos And Murky Depths

A Russian submarine sent on a secret mission to destroy a rumoured base near Iceland. Rumours of a British Spy being aboard. Intelligence that the base may be some nefarious ‘Star Wars Initiative’ style plan to bring bring down the USSR.

It was a good set-up and very atmospheric. The characters were also interesting so it was fun to play out. It also helped it was a set-up we were all familiar with to some degree. It was even fun being the character who got to ‘hear the things’ no one else could and thus potentially being perceived as mad. There was fun to be had giving dive orders and pretending to use the internal submarine comms system. I suspect the potentially for some blood, guts and b-movie deaths were forestalled by a Ripley-esque flame thrower performance from one of the players that killed the ‘water’ alien on the submarine!

It’s delusions of being a force of nature that starts to kill the crew were cruelly cut short.

I think I’ve learned a few things about one-shots over the course of Cottage Cons and a few other formats we’ve experimented with. I think the main thing I’ve learned is, while it’s not that I don’t enjoy them, I’m not sure they really kick or resonate for me.

There are a few elements to this.

It’s very rare I enjoy the inevitable PvP focus that tends to implicit in the one-shot formula. I’m not convinced it has to be the case, but one shot set-ups and to some extent the systems that support them best, inevitable have the PvP element. It’s not that I don’t like character conflict, I’m all for it, but I like the ‘a conflict is only present to get to how the characters resolve it’ rather than actually pitching them against each other in competition. It doesn’t help that I’m just not very good at it. Give me a game were characters face conflicts due to standing up to be counted or getting getting caught up in their own failings and I’m all in, but I’m crap at the duplicitous PvP stuff (luckily my character was free of it).

I’m also not a big fan of the games that support one-shots very well. Those that that are, dubious in some cases and not in others, given the mantle of a pick-up game. They tend to come with a very implicit, razer-sharp focus on delivering a specific experience. Anyone who knows me might find me not liking that a bit odd, but it does make sense. I guess it comes down to scope. As an example, Primetime Adventures was designed to churn out stories similar latter half of the 90’s TV shows like Buffy and Alias, but I took things from it rather than actually playing it. Dead of Night is similar, it’s constructed to churn out slasher and b-movie horror stories.

I have a feeling this is why I’ve not took the plunge and tried to go to more gaming conventions. They’re primarily one-shot venues and I’m pretty much convinced now that it isn’t ‘the gaming for me’.

The Dresden Files

This is an interesting one because it was a regular session of our Dresden Files Accelerated game. As a result, it was great fun as usual. What was interesting about it is someone else was playing who was at Cottage Con and they played one of the regular non-player characters.

The fact a player was playing this character has transformed her and created a whole host of new story dynamics. In fact, it worked so well there is talk of us having two sets of characters in the campaign moving forward. The primary ones which are growing in power both physically and in terms of the powers they move amongst and another set that would remain investigating the smaller mysteries and / or monster hunting thing.

We find interesting things happen when we play with the format of things. We often get great episodes when we do flashbacks, or when we do sessions where everyone knows the ending in advance. This was another example of that with a NPC becoming a PC for a session and using the agency inherited as a result.

The Other Games

There were other games being played. If we ignore the quick card games that tend to be run here and there we had Star Trek: Ascendency and This War of Mine.

Since I didn’t play in either it’s hard to give a few on them. Star Trek: Ascendency was a long one and it seemed cool to play the various Star Trek races seeking ascendency across the galaxy. While I was popping in and out I got the sense it wasn’t a seat of your paints, nail-biting sort of game. I got the impression it became clear who would win before the actual end and I’m not sure the Ferengi ever got close. While very different games Star Wars: Rebellion and Star Wars: Imperial Assault always felt like they went to the end and all things were possible most of the time.

Not sure that was the case with Ascendency.

As for this War of Mine. I didn’t see much of that so all I know is it’s subject matter is pretty depressing! On the one occasion I did pass by the game they were talking about vegetable supplies. I also heard that people searching for food have a 1 in 10 chance of being shot in the head by a sniper. I understand their play-through did not go too well.

And, Finally…

I enjoyed CottageCon a lot, but I think there might be a few things I’d do differently next time.

I’d probably not look to get any role-playing games in during CottageCon. I think the nature of one-shots and where I am with respect to the hobby means I’m not sure they are needed. In the past it used to be it allowed us to experiment with games we’d not normally play, now that isn’t so much the case so you’re just left with the less than fully appetising one-shot format. I think I’d be best of maximising the board game opportunities.

I probably would look to possible use the location a bit more. That is something that’s potentially more speculation than reality as we don’t go at the most hospitable time of year so the chances the weather would play ball is pretty remote. There is talk of a spring CottageCon though, which may allow for this more.

And finally? Roll on the next CottageCon.


About Ian O'Rourke

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