In sharp contrast to other similar journeys, everything was pretty much organized with ample time to spare, and despite a rather steep travel cost (plane to Heathrow, tube to st Pancras, train to Sheffield, back the same way, overnight in London and back to Heathrow) it was actually pretty well executed. No last minute weirdness at work, no servers crashing, no people missing planes, luggage, travel documents, wallets, smooth sailing. Well, to be fair, there was a bout of human tetris in the tube and some weirdness with a semi-deaf Indian codger that wouldn’t understand why his cell phone wouldn’t work in an effing tunnel, but all in all good vibes and good times.
Me and Manolis arrived in sunny (huh?) Sheffield on Thursday afternoon, hopped to the hotel to hook up with some other guys and headed for a small tour of the city visiting all the important sites (namely Patriot games and the venue – this being my 11th time in Sheffield anyway). Helped a bit with setting up and promptly strolled back to the hotel for the first bout of Lobby Con. Lobby Con you say? Oh yeah, read on avid reader.
If you are remotely involved with L5R still, you will have probably realized that a large part of the people playing it (or that used to play it) are not happy with the way things have been going the last few years, and there has been a steady decline/erosion or our outright disappearance of interest about the game. Since the same cannot be said about the people we’ve met all these years, the pull to congregate, chug pints and play whatever was still strong (especially as far as the less sane members of team House are concerned). So more or less, we had sort of (not) organized an impromptu game convention at the Jury’s Inn lobby. Warhammer Conquest, Netrunner, Weiss Swarz , Game of Thrones, Doomtown, Boardgames and of course our signature game of choice for that weekend Hate Letter.
So yeah, Lobby con started of brilliantly, with more people that I can mention here without becoming dreadfully boring. Rivers of Guiness, quite a few games of Netrunner where I enjoyed playing with my janky decks vs Az’s twisted designs (Quezatl + E3) , I had the chance to observe Mike the 4th (a.k.a. Justin “Captain America” Walsh) cruelly torment people with my Big Ice toybox design, talk about Warzone: Resurrection with Andreas, touch Jorge in strange places and overall find a serious reason to almost burst my bladder and get much less sleep than I should have. When the curtains finally closed for me (with mr. Adamopoulos carrying the honor of hard drinking hard playing Greeks far beyond my breaking point all nights), I went back to the room, fiddled with my deck a bit, woke up Petros, chatted some about the event on the morrow (that’s probably the first time L5R came up) and slept like a baby. Actually like a baby, ‘cause Guiness wanted out every two hours or so. As the Irish say, you can only borrow beer (or so I hope, since I’ve been making some effort to reduce the roundness of my circumference).
Next day, it’s time for Magical samurai. None of the usual pre-large event issues are there, there’s no nervousness, no stress, no last minute itch to change cards, nada. Just a twinge of sorrowful nihilism, since I’ve been entertaining the idea that this will probably be my last L5R event long before I got on the plane to get there. Another issue is probably the fact that I had not played competitively since Warsaw 2013, I had absolutely NO IDEA of what the current environment was and I had built my two decks in a complete vacuum, simply thinking that “hey this might work with that”. I had two Dragon decks with me and what I suppose passes for the competitive Scorpion dishonor archetype (which is less exciting to play than watching paint dry, so I promptly left it at the hotel). I opted to go with the Tamori Honor one for day one, since honor is simpler to play and it would allow me to get some idea of what people are actually playing, so that I could tune the Kensai deck for a decent performance at the Second chance on Saturday. Things didn’t go exactly as planned.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t go well, for once. The honor deck simply blazed through the grinder, going 5-2 versus Crab, Unicorn, Crane, Lion military and Dragon honor and going to time twice against dishonor. Yup true believers, after 17 years of competitive L5R and never going to time, I finally popped my cherry (despite playing at the speed of light and my opponents playing at a very professional and adequate speed level). I will never roll dice on the subject, and had to sadly concede both games (well, one was pretty much lost, the other was pretty much won, but meh, I am almost forty, CBA about this sort of thing). Apart from the enjoyment of actually qualifying with an out of the box design (and the cringy faces some people made versus the Ring of Fire which was my de facto starting choice) the most important thing to keep from this exchange is that I had a roaring time. Yup, it is still possible to have a lot of fun and intellectual stimulation in Ivory. Actually more than EE. A lot more. Even the honor/dishonor matches that are always a boring drab affair had difficult choices and interaction and apart from the timed ending issue they were thoroughly enjoyable. Yah, I’m damaged that way.
One advantage of going through the first grinder was having more time for LobbyCon, so I put my L5R stuff in the bag and went on playing some very enjoyable games of Conquest and Doomtown, which were cut sort for an unofficial dinner with the AEG folks where we discussed lots of fun stuff and sowed the seeds Manolis planted in Gencon for Athens 2015. I suppose we also served as a discreet test group with regards to the big AEG announcements on Saturday. I blame it partially on Z’s natural charisma and Nico’s pragmatism, but damn, I must admit I was kinda sold. They genuinely seemed willing to make changes and keep pushing the game/brand forward. Definitely a much more organized and well-thought approach than last year’s apologyfest. I returned to the hotel with some trepidation, mainly because I was genuinely curious about how the whole presentation would be received by the crowd. More lobby con, more beer, more games. As an interesting side note, there was actually more L5R presence there this time.
On to next day and the main event. I knew I wouldn’t get far, since I expected to meet far more dishonor decks this time around and I was not in the mood of trying to tweak the deck to deal with that or hunt down a couple of Political Warfares. Good games and good time all around, including my best Ivory game to date against Christian Wolf’s Lion deck that went so many times back and forth that it was dizzying and lost to a masterfully executed triple harpoon of the poor sap that makes you lose 10 honor when he gets curb stomped by angry lions. Well played sir. Went 2-3 in the end, losing to gold screw vs Heraclio’s Geisha Blitz and against Unicorn Death Priests which I cannot probably beat with the honor deck (25 gold production difference on turn 5 is enough, cards are optional). Still, all good games and surprisingly all my main event opponents perfect sportsmen. That being over done, I moved on and played some more Doomtown, where I couldn’t draw anything better than a twopair to save my ass. Lots of fun, especially since I had the chance to play with the ever amicable Mr. Bowless (from ye olde warlord days) and have the charming mr. Wooton resolve some questions. Even played a massive 4 person multiplayer, that ended up with my Indian reading the instructions of the flamethrower wrong and going nuclear on my posse. Giddiyup pardner, it’s buggering time!
The main event winded down and then the AEG crew did their best to charm our hearts and minds with their 20 festivals presentation. Can’t say they did a bad job, since I got the impression that a lot of people sorta found their missing spark after that. Whether they were pleased about the storyline changes, or what’s coming for the card game, or plain simply adding the effect of a well delivered presentation on top of two days of solid L5R fun and realizing that the game isn’t as bad as some negative minds on the internet will have you believe (or if it was, once you cross the line in the sand, it simply ain’t anymore). The night closed with a spectacular Team House dinner (big kudos to mr. Dickinson for organizing that – I’ve often had to deal with large group arrangements and I know what a royal pain in the ass they can be), which delivered an excellent meal and the unique chance to sing happy birthday to mr. Walsh who despite drinking the marrow of babies to stay young, has crossed the magic 40. Damn, that was touching. Or maybe it was the barbeque sauce creeping into my brain making me mushy.
More Lobby Con, including the event I was really gunning for, the Hate Letter competition. Despite my best efforts, I was foiled by the diabolical Mark Armitage who dodged 17 guards and moved on to the final. I play Love Letter a lot, and always have a roaring time. But this was probably the most fun round ever. I’ll get you at Gencon you evil spider!
Last day was a bit more relaxing, since I didn’t have much to do. Long shower, long wrestling match with the bed covers, couple of hours of teleworking , a 4-shot iced espresso (finally god) and back to the venue for more games and general socializing. Highlights include: dodging the evil that is Weiss Swartz (despite the seductive forays of mr. Erlandsson), lots of Netrunner, more Doomtown fails and a wonderful deathmatch with Dragon Kensai vs. Jorge Ribeiro’s Koishi sensei inferno deck. As an added plus, watching a brilliantly anorthodox spider deck play the final made me strangely excited.
The event closed with a very heartwarming (if rather long) prize ceremony and it was very touching to see Jorge, Mark and especially Az grab the sportsmanship awards. There have been many ceremonies over the years, but for some reason this felt really close to home. Dunno, I’m probably getting soft in my old age. After that, the curtains were slowly closing and we moved on to drinks, dinner and a never ending series of goodbyes and promises to meet again soon. Gotta love this community. Hats off to Patriot and co for a very well run event, and for not cutting corners when the pre-reg looked bleak.
I forgot to mention a ton of other fantastic people that I always enjoy meeting and spending time with, like Brian “You Shower of Bastards” Wakely, Pablo “The Cock” Rojo, Dimas Muira, The Almgren Brothers, Alex Jones, Alex Cullum, Peter Smyth, Lene Jacobsen, Drew Baker, Benoit, Ruth Lister, Jorge Ribeiro, Andy Lowther, Andy “I’m getting my second wind” Gordon, Dave Ruddock, Matt Green, Gordon O’Keefe, Roger GS, Brian Reese, Sebastian Michaux, James Donnithorne-Tait, Greg “I’m so bringing you Ouzo this summer” Wong, and a few dozen others that will turn this into a movie closing credit sequence. Special mention (as always) to the rest of the Greek team, my sexy roommate Petros (welcome to team House baby), Teo and Angelos. And last but not least, Antonio mi amor, you were deeply missed :)
To sum it all up, Worlds 2014 was brilliant. It really felt like a pilgrimage to some distant holy land to re-affirm one’s faith. I dunno about the rest of you guys, but I am much more optimistic about the future of the game and the amount of fun you can draw from it, than I was a week ago. Not because they said so, but because I experienced so. I had great fun building my decks and even greater fun playing them against the best the world had (currently) to offer. I had great fun drafting and watching over 60 people enjoying draft, war of honor and even “The Playerbase vs Brian Reese” aka Siege of Darkness. I think no fan can realistically ask for more from any game. Your mileage can vary as always.
Until next time (hopefully before Athens 2015),
p.s. Empire Engine – brilliant little game.