This is the second part of my diary of Tabletop Scotland 2018. You can find the first part here and it’d be a good idea to read that first because we’re going to leap right back into it!
By this point it was around 2:40pm and we had only played Magnate so far. Our next plan was to get a game out of the library to play before the seminar. We’d briefly discussed the seminar and decided we didn’t want to be as formal or academic as the one at UKGE. Not only did we not come armed with handouts for this one, we didn’t even have a presentation. We didn’t have a strategy so much as we had a plan. On close interrogation of Mr Meeple this plan got downgraded to a scheme until it became obvious that, at best, he had only managed to come up with a vague notion. I think if I had kept on quizzing him the entire idea for the seminar would have just become grunts and expressive gesticulations.
It was going to be fine though. If we couldn’t bullshit for an hour with zero preparation neither of us had any business being teachers.
Since only four people had signed up online we thought we’d just get a couple of teams around two tables playing a couple of games. Michael’s original plan was for a ‘live teardown’ of Scrabble and I was never keen on that – it seemed, well, boring. Nobody understands your obsession with Scrabble, Michael. Nobody.
People would play and discuss the accessibility issues they identified through their playing. It was pedagogically solid – it was doing, not listening. It was active and would hopefully make for a fun video. This idea seemed great until Simon (one of the event founders) came over and asked us what we thought was the maximum number of people we could comfortably accommodate at the seminar.
It turned out there had been a dozen sign ups on the day, and several other inquiries about it. Oh dear.
With that our plans for playing games were stymied. We now had to come up with a new plan for the seminar. Mr Meeple said some things that sounded vaguely okay, and seemed to think it would be fine although he did remark at one point ‘I had planned for this to be pretty chilled and now it’s an ordeal’.
He didn’t really want to play a game before the seminar now, and we decided to take an extra set of the games out of the library so that we would have enough games for the additional numbers. We wouldn’t be able to set them up properly but we could put them to the side and let people mill around if they wanted. That didn’t work either, but never mind. Perhaps to walk off a bit of sudden tension we then also promptly decided that the most valuable use of our remaining time before the seminar would be to go and check in to our hotel.
That didn’t take too long, but Mr Meeple had the great idea of plugging in his phone to charge whilst we were unpacking a few things. He then promptly forgot about it until we were halfway back to the Dewars Centre. There wasn’t any real need for his phone: he had a tablet with the CV simulator software. He was going to pass that around to demonstrate how game tokens look to people with different types of colour blindness. It wasn’t like he needed to phone anyone, but perhaps he was planning to pretend he’d received an urgent call so he could leave the seminar in the middle. Anyway, he sent me off to get it.
By the time I got back to the Dewar centre with his precious new phone (the Huawei P20 Pro which has an amazing camera on it: it almost makes me regret spending serious cash on a 1 inch sensor pocket camera at the start of the year) there were fewer than 10 minutes before the start of the seminar. I was ushered into the seminar room with even less of an idea of what we were doing than I had before I arrived. The set up was not what I had expected even though we’d seen the board-room earlier. We’d been planning on making some adjustments. We didn’t have time though, and we were left with the tables along the back and side of the room and one for the presenters. There were no chairs for us (there were audience chairs), and the tables were definitely not in great positions for people to mill around them or play games on them. Michael had set up a couple of games on the side tables anyway, because he is nothing if not a hopeless optimist in the face of obvious calamity.
Mr Meeple opened the seminar with what people thought was a joke regarding how underprepared we were. They laughed good naturedly, perhaps appreciating the comic self-deprecating tone adopted by a man considered to be almost impossibly arrogant by many who have met him.
They probably realised fairly quickly that he hadn’t been joking at all.
Michael can talk for Scotland though he and ran through the accessibility categories we consider during the teardowns trying as much as possible to relate them to the games we had set up. Someone ran to get us marker pens (they returned with sharpies) so we could write things up on the A1 notebook.
Then he threw a pen at me.
I think he was trying demonstrate something related to our visual parsing and intuition about penguin flicking. I asked him not to as I have poor depth perception and expected to fumble the catch and look like even more of a muppet than I already did. I was able to catch the pen, but it wasn’t particularly graceful. I’m not sure that made the point he hoped about the natural talent of the human body to do implicit complex math without the involvement of our conscious minds.
I got to write up the categories on the sheet, whilst he reeled them off faster than I could write. In his blog post he talked about how he sometimes enters a kind of fugue state during lecturing and it’s true – I’m not sure he was at all actively conscious through any of it. When you’ve given as many lectures as we have, you just stop listening to yourself drone on and rely on your subconscious to drive the bus for a while. Michael’s bus driver doesn’t stop for passengers. Michael’s bus driver is taking corners at 80 MPH while everyone on board is screaming to get off.
He did manage to get some willing volunteers initially, but people became increasingly less keen on volunteering as the seminar went on, and the games weren’t in a location that made it easy for people to see what he was trying to demonstrate. He did start moving games over to the front table for ease of viewing but it was still far from ideal and would have needed a close up camera over the action to make it work better.
As a result he reverted to more of a lecture out of sheer necessity. I stood and gazed on, wishing I had a seat, or at least something to do other than stand and gaze at him. My back was seizing up and my left calf was a bit tight, and there wasn’t anything useful I could chip in. Anything I said might wreck his train of thought, and was he going to leave enough time for questions.
I was pretty relieved when the seminar was over. I think we both were.
Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like such a waste of space if we’d had a smaller number of attendees and a different room set up and been able to treat it more like a workshop than a presentation. But I felt really flat after the seminar despite the sugar rush from the bribes Mr Meeple had brought. I felt a bit useless to be honest. We decided to head out for dinner after the seminar since we wanted some fresh air, and needed to head via the car anyway. I felt a bit better after a nice Indian meal, but I was still resolute that I would not be attempting to participate in any further seminars. You’re not going to drag me down with you next time, buddy.
Eating and Sleeping around Perth
We headed back to the convention with the intention of finding people to finally play a second game with. I did quite fancy going to see D100 + 1 (essentially Room 101) but Mr Meeple wasn’t up for it – he’d had an energy crash as often happens when he’s around people for a long time. Most of the people we knew who were still around were going to it though, and we didn’t see anyone else we knew who might want to play with us. After a few minutes sat at a table whilst Mr Meeple sent a few tweets or something, he looked up and said “To be honest, I don’t think I have a game in me just now.” So we headed back to our own Room 101 at the hotel, watched some cheesy 80s music videos, and had an early night. We hadn’t brought a laptop so we’d had to settle for what was on TV. Fifty-seven channels and nothing on, indeed.
The room faced the front of the building and there was a lot of traffic, but we managed to create enough white noise through a combination of a fan on the highest setting and an app on Mr Meeple’s phone. I got to sleep easily enough. I woke up really early though, and couldn’t get back to sleep. This is more of a problem in hotels than at home, as I can’t just sneak off to another room and I can’t switch the light on as it will wake him up. I just end up on social media until he awakes.
We had paid for breakfast, but on heading there after putting money in the car park meter at 8:00am, we had a quick look and decided their definition of “full continental breakfast” didn’t match ours. There were zero croissants, just muesli, melon slices, boiled eggs, sliced processed meats and cheese and slices of bread. Having eaten breakfast actually on the continent, our standards are a bit higher. Have you ever had breakfast in a Swiss hotel? It’s like being on the morning shift at one of Willy Wonka’s factories. Europeans do breakfast properly.
Anyway none of this was chilled, and that didn’t bode well for the meat and cheese. We decided to head to Starbucks instead and enjoyed a nice if unhealthy breakfast. For lunch we skipped over to the other side of the road from the centre and visited Lidl’s bakery. Lidl might be a punchline in some circles but if they had an actual café I’d probably be happy to eat there several times a week. The cheese twists, focaccia bread and chocolate and hazelnut croissants were all very tasty but at this point I was feeling the lack of fresh vegetables.
Sunday at Tabletop Scotland
We had thought Sunday would be quieter than the Saturday, but in the end both days turned out to be “the nice side of busy” as Nigel from One Free Elephant described it. We chatted briefly to Sarah of the same, and she was justifiably very pleased at how the Microbrew kickstarter had been going. We were booked in for a D&D session at 10:00am, but we had 50 minutes to spare and Forbidden Sky was free. That’s one of the nice things about an event that’s on the right side of being large – sometimes you get to try out an actual game that isn’t fully released.
The demonstrator reckoned we had enough time, and since we had played the previous two games in the series we didn’t need quite as much of an explanation of the game. The mechanics are slightly different from the Island and Desert iterations in that it involves map building rather than starting with the tile grid laid out. There is also a Tsuro puzzle style element to linking up the electronic circuits. We wisely decided to play on Novice difficulty, but Mr Meeple still managed to get himself electrocuted twice in one round. You can’t take him anywhere, especially somewhere that is forbidden. All he had to do was hold on one more turn – our demonstrator was a medic and was planning to heal him. As soon as one member of the party dies, the mission fails and the game ends.
It was fun and does look more interesting than Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert. We liked both of those but the tactics required get very samey so they don’t get much repeated play. Forbidden Island was abandoned at the Bring and Buy. With a one in, one out policy still in place though we’re not yet sure whether Forbidden Sky will make its way onto our shelves. It’s hard to imagine from our brief exposure what it might dislodge. As more and more of the weaker games get shunted away, it gets harder and harder for new games to make the cut.
I was a little apprehensive about the D&D adventure Mr Meeple had booked us into. D&D has a certain reputation and I’ve only played it once previously. That was a forum-based game, with four of Mr Meeple’s Discworld MUD friends, and that gave plenty of time to consider your actions. I could also run my back story and actions past Mr Meeple to check they weren’t silly and didn’t seem inconsistent with my character’s personality traits. In a live game, you don’t have any of those options open to you. Luckily we were at a table with three nice blokes who, whilst they clearly knew what they were doing, didn’t make us feel bad for being unsure of the mechanics at times.
Mr Meeple, perhaps aware of my apprehension, also made a point of stating that he didn’t know what he was doing before I’d said anything. That meant the focus wouldn’t solely be on me as the newbie who ruined it for everyone. Maybe it wasn’t just for my benefit though – he said his last main experience with D&D was second edition, back when it was still advanced dungeons & dragons, and everyone briefly went a little bit solemn. What is THAC0 anyway?
The GM was great. He was very enthusiastic, and got really excited whenever kobold inventors made an appearance along with their wacky inventions. We came close to losing half our party in our first encounter with kobolds on the road, but recovered and persevered to beat the king, his bodyguards and escape with untold riches. This was partly because our GM had pulled his punches on the final encounter. The module we did is apparently optimised for a party of five level three characters and we were mostly all level one. Mr Meeple and myself were also rolling with pre-generated characters and had little idea as to what they could do. We should have all died horribly, but instead lived to tell the tale.
I actually really enjoyed my first proper RPG session even though I didn’t always know some things that veterans might take for granted. For example, what to roll for checks. How to use my shield (done automatically), or what the abbreviations were for certain things. I was pretty keen to get my own dice by the end of the game, and probably will, but we just don’t have the time to devote to playing it regularly. Mr Meeple has some Patreon related plans for Discord but I’m not sure what, or even if, will happen there.
After a quick lunch, we headed back to the main gaming hall in an attempt to get some more board games played before the end of the convention. We went to check out a few of the stands and had a shot of the tutorial adventure for Legends Untold from Inspiring Games. Despite a rather reckless playing style where we sacrificed basic adventuring competence for speed we were pretty lucky on the dice rolls. We managed to survive through to the end of the adventure, which apparently wasn’t always the case for visitors to the stand.
It was similar in some ways to the Legend of Drizzt or One Deck Dungeon. It was enjoyable enough and had some really nice and inclusive art. It’s a game that is obviously driven by expansion content though so it looks like you need to be prepared to commit.
Our Last Few Games
Heading out for refreshments, we bumped into Ross from More Games Please as he was just sitting chilling in the chairs opposite the library. This little rest area was great use of space and it got heavy use through the convention. It also makes a good meeting point for people – you catch them coming and going. We arranged to play a game with him, but we discovered that the library closed at 4pm and all games needed returned by then. That limited our options because it was 2:30pm. Eep.
Mr Meeple was keen on Concordia but we weren’t sure we’d be able to finish it on time. Instead we picked Suburbia – Ross said he had never played but was keen to try. Suburbia works partly on a visible score but also on a set of secret and shared goals. Mr Meeple was aiming to have the lowest reputation (just like in real life) and as a result his slum city of factories, lakes and exploitative casinos found it hard to attract residents. He looked like he was still going to scoop up some of the lucrative public goals until the very last round of play.
Ross managed to tank his reputation in a staggeringly effective way as a result of a clever investment. For someone that has never played, he did remarkably well – he amassed a small fortune and continually attracted more income and population to his city than we did. He even lapped the score track. Suffice it to say we got completely schooled. Especially Mr Meeple whose city was a third choice. A distant third choice. A very, very, very distant third choice. If you had booked time on the Hubble telescope array, you’d maybe see Mr Meeple’s city as a vague blur in the distance.
It was great fun.
To be fair, we had to call last turn a few rounds early as we needed to return it to the library. Mr Meeple claimed had some clever plans to claw back some of the lost ground, but I can’t imagine what it would have been other than shouting ‘Look behind you’ and upending the board.
With the library closed, the advantage of the car being just outside the venue became apparent. We didn’t have to huff our games around all day – we could just go pick one up when we wanted it!
During our game of Suburbia, one of the conference yellow shirts had asked how our game of Chinatown had gone. Chinatown is Mr Meeple’s number one favourite game of the moment and some poor souls had won a prize to play a game of it with us on a Geeknson gaming table. However, we’d not checked when that was supposed to happen and we’d missed the slot whilst playtesting Magnate. I don’t think we’d actually picked a winner anyway because of Ms Meeple’s unprofessional lack of planning so let’s say we won the prize and chose to avoid the dubious honour of playing a game with the Meeple Like Us crew.
Mr Meeple popped out to the car whilst leaving us with the (I thought) far more difficult job of rounding up another player or two for maximum enjoyment. Chinatown works at three but it best with four or five players. We’d asked Duncan but he was busy trying to get all the library games rounded up. We couldn’t see anyone else we knew who was unoccupied. Ross, however, just wandered up to a random stranger – another Ross, as it happens – and asked if he wanted to join us for a game!
And he did!
just like that!
Other Ross’ friends were currently engaged in an RPG session so he was happy to have people to game with and had been interested in Chinatown for a while. Whether he was still happy with his decision after we all made terrible deals with him, or talked him out of accepting a fantastic deal from Mr Meeple, I’m not sure. He did say it was the highlight of his day, but he might just have been talking about being permitted to leave the table. Ross won that game too, and probably would have won more convincingly if the Meeple Like Us relationship metagame hadn’t come back into play. Mr Meeple forbade me from making an advantageous deal with Ross by threatening to leave me in Perth without transport home.
‘He’s not serious!’, insisted Ross.
I’m not so sure.
Mr Meeple managed not to buy a single game all weekend, which was impressive for someone with legendarily poor impulse control. He did buy some magnetic dice but that was all. I had meant to have a look around the stalls again before leaving, even if only to support vendors for supporting the convention in its inaugural year. Everyone had started packing up when we were only midway through Chinatown though, so that never happened.
James Naylor, he of Magnate fame, came and joined us towards the end of Chinatown. He and Ross were both staying in Perth until the following morning and they decided to hang out after the convention. I think they’d only known each other on social media before the event, but it was that kind of friendly place where you could make arrangements like that. It was lovely for just letting people be people.
We left the convention having had a fantastic time, and thoroughly impressed with how well it had been organised. It was definitely optimised for fun and social interaction and was never too crowded or stressful. That is, other than the seminar. That though was our (his) fault and nothing to do with the convention organisers. We’ll definitely be back next year – thanks for having us!