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This is my PENTACON convention report (shock! horror! I'm actually doing one!). If you're not a gamer, then none of this will interest you. If you don't play RoboRally, Circus Imperium, Rail Baron, Chez Geek, or Star Munchkin, this probably won't interest you. If you do play one or more of the above games, be advised that I will wax long-winded about the triumphs and tragedies I experienced last weekend, so you've been warned.

Still with me? Great.

Friday morning: RoboRally. 3-player 4-flag race. The first flag was placed in a really fiendish square of the starting board (Island). After what I thought would be a first-turn touch (due to excellent card luck) turned into a first-turn pit-fall (due to not seeing the wall between two conveyors), I got the same batch of cards on my first turn back and hit the flag anyway. It took a long time for my opponents to notice that there was exactly one avenue of approach to the flag; they kept trying to approach it from the other direction (indeed, Veronica never did get there the whole game). By the time Kevin figured out the right approach to the first flag, I'd already hit the third and the game was in the bag. I was lucky in that I consistently got the cards I needed; I was sufficiently skillful to manage not to screw it up (at least after the first turn).

For the second race, we added a fourth player and another board. This time, ALL the flags were wickedly placed. Racing Kevin on opposite approaches to the first flag, he unveiled the howitzer, which both damaged me and pushed me back into a board laser (twice!). The second time, I was able to turn on him, and used Fire Control to destroy the howitzer before it pushed me off the board. I shut down just in time; I had four registers locked! Meanwhile, Bob, who was also approaching flag 1, miscalculated a crusher on Cannery Row and got squished. Kevin touched flag 1 and was able to cover it with his turret and pressor beam for the next two turns (he spent a lot of time early getting to double-wrenches and picking up options). He could push anybody who approached the flag onto an express conveyor near the board edge from which there would be virtually no escape. While Bob and I were trying to maneuver around Kevin to get to the flag, Bob came within range of my Remote Control and I ran him off the board. He didn't bother restarting since we were near the end of the session. Meanwhile, Veronica was thrashing around the vicinity of the start square; I never did figure out exactly what her deal was. Kevin eventually abandoned his position and made a dash for flag 2; I got flag 1 and a couple of great hands left me one square away from being able to RC him into a pit, but he was able to touch flag 2 just as the session ended. Results: one first out of three, one second out of four.

Friday night: Circus Imperium. For me, this is the highlight of PENTACON just about every year. CI is a chariot racing game set in a futuristic-quasi-Roman society on another planet (as if the grav-chariots and 'beasts' (that looked more like lions than horses) weren't dead giveaways). The mechanics are fairly straightforward: run your chariot at full speed, bashing other chariots and maneuvering carefully through the corners trying not to bash the wall. For extra movement, whip your beasts, but beware: they can go into frenzy if you do, running crazy fast and smashing everything in their way (including the corner walls) until you get them back under control. For PENTACON, the races were run on a hand-built track about three feet by six feet that looked absolutely superb, with great detail from fake buildings all the way down to (two-dimensional) faces in the bleachers. Jeff, the GM, does an excellent job of keeping the game moving and bringing newbies up to speed quickly (indeed, being a newbie isn't much of an impediment - the one event I won, at PENTACON in 2000, was my second race ever; I've run eight or nine since then and never gotten a sniff of victory). His signature line: "When a driver dies holding the reins, the Chariot Ejection System is activated, because..." [all together now] "...a clean chariot is a happy chariot!"

Anyway, there are two basic strategies: start near the front and whip like hell, praying you don't frenzy, and laying back and keeping the furball in front of you. I drew last choice for starting position, which stuck me square in the middle of the starting grid. I decided to try to run with the leaders. Bad idea. I frenzied on my third whip (pretty long odds, considering), crashed at the first available opportunity, then fell out of the chariot. Long story short: I failed EVERY SINGLE DIE ROLL I made in the entire race, whether it was how hard I hit the wall (always crashed), whether or not I stayed in the chariot when I crashed (never stayed in), whether or not I was able to 'grab a cab' (jump in a passing chariot) (never did), or whether or not I'd get dragged after failing to grab a cab (always did). This despite the fact that I had consciously chosen light armor for my driver to provide better agility, leaving most of my agility-based rolls at 50% or better to succeed. The final indignity was being dragged to death across the finish line (for my second lap) right as the session finished. Because of the carnage going on, however, I still finished fourth (out of 10) simply because I was the last guy to die! Jeff says he traditionally runs about a 60% mortality rate in his PENTACON races.

The high point of the race for me was (in a rare moment where I actually had control) managing to slam a chariot (containing two drivers fighting for control) into the wall, crashing it and dumping one of them out, then later in the same turn repeating the feat with a three-driver chariot, dumping all of them out! That got me some style points.

Saturday Morning: Rail Baron. I like rail games, and in general I'm pretty good at them, especially Empire Builder, EuroRails, and Iron Dragon (although I never did get the hang of Ur). I'd played RB once before at PENTACON (for those of you scoring at home, my first run was LA -> Portland ME, and by the time I got there, the PRR, NYC, NYNH&H, and B&M were all gone so I took so long on others' rails that the trip didn't yield squat, and I never recovered). This time, it was a 3-player game with Valerie and my friend Paul. I rolled extraordinarily well in this game, especially early (hitting triple sixes TWICE in my first ten rolls), and got both the PRR and the NYC among my first five railroads! As you might guess, it was pretty much over at that point. I ended up with 13 railroads total, including the NP, the WP, and the AT&SF.

One final note: a passing player semi-jokingly referred to Rail Baron as "Monopoly with railroads," which practically ruined the game for me since I hate Monopoly. He's got a point, kind of - except in Monopoly, you don't have any choice as to how you move around the board.

Saturday afternoon: Circus Imperium. A second attempt to qualify for Sunday's final race. I drew first choice for starting position and chose to go with a 'frontrunner' strategy, starting on the outside of row 1 (rather than the pole, due to the track being a figure-8). As I mentioned before, the keys to this strategy are whipping like hell to stay in front of the pack, and praying you don't frenzy. Bad Idea, Again (you'd think I'd learn by now). The result of my third whip was 'gain one space, turn ends.' I hadn't gotten far enough out in front of the pack. This is called 'standing on the X' since now you're a big fat target for everyone coming up behind you. The first chariot to pass me slammed me into the wall. Naturally, I crashed hard (20% chance of that happening), then fell out (40% chance, given a hard crash) That's an 8% likely outcome, in case you're counting. So there I was, lying on the track with seven more chariots coming. The next one trampled me half to death (rolling maximum damage to do it); the one after that finished the job (again rolling near-maximum damage). I was dead before five of the ten chariots had made their first move. Clearly, I used up all my good die rolls for the entire weekend in the Rail Baron game.

Y'know what, though? Despite two horrible races, at next year's PENTACON I'm going to sign up for AT LEAST two races again. It's that much fun, even if you do poorly.

Saturday night: Chez Grunt / Star Munchkin: The Army version of Steve Jackson Games' popular Chez Geek series, where the players are soldiers trying to accumulate Slack. Not much noteworthy here in my second-place (of six) finish, except that I tried to crash the same opponent's illicit poker game twice and got sent on a field exercise instead - both times! For the second half of the session, we played Star Munchkin, another fast-moving easy-to-learn card game of killing monsters, stealing their stuff, and backstabbing your friends. I finished fourth (of six) in this one, and still got a free copy of Tile Chess for my troubles (I think it was mainly because the SJ Games MiB running the games didn't want to haul a bunch of schwag back to Indianapolis).

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This page contains a single entry by Chris published on November 14, 2003 4:56 PM.

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