I got back from my weekend trip late Sunday night totally exhausted. I had a blast but it was one of those go go go sorts of trips. I didn’t help myself by arriving at the airport at 4:30 am when my flight was at 7:40. I think somewhere along the line I thought I’d have to get there by 6:30 and then in my mind that became, “My flight is at 6:30.” This was the info I gave Shuttle Express and they told me to be ready at 4:00 am. I was thus running on about two hours of sleep for all of Friday.
Chris Hanrahan of Endgame picked up me at the Oakland airport and we went to his place. He offered to let me nap but I didn’t fly all the way there to waste my time sleeping. There was only one thing to do: play Battletech. As near as I can tell, 1991 was the last time I played classic Battletech but the game hasn’t changed that much since then. We played with 200 tons of mechs each, which was probably too much for the time we had, but whatever. We spent a few hours blasting away at each other, but had to leave before finishing to make sure we made our dinner reservation.
Around 3 pm Chris, Brian Isikoff, and I left for Napa Valley. We were having dinner at Bouchon, one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants. Chris had allotted extra time in case we hit traffic but the roads were clear and we made it up there with an hour to spare. And what does one do with an empty hour in Napa Valley? Why head to a winery for a tasting, of course! We went to St. Supery and tasted six different wines. My favorite was the Muscato, a tasty dessert wine. It was sweet and fruity without being cloying. Very nice indeed.
Feeling nice and relaxed after a bit of vino, we then headed to Bouchon. Our fourth for dinner, Bruce “the Traitor” Harlick, met us there and we were soon seated. Nicole was not on this trip, so I’m afraid there isn’t a slideshow to run you through the whole meal. I started with the Assiette de Charcuterie, a delicious selection of cured meats served with mustard and gherkins. I chose one of their daily specials, seared scallops served on chestnut puree, for my entrée and it was excellent. I also tried Bruce’s Boudin Noir and Brian’s Steak Frites and both were also great. You wouldn’t think that you could do much to kick up French Fries, but they were outrageously good. Despite all that food, I could not resist Chocolate Mousse for dessert. Nicole would have loved it. Very chocolaty but not too sweet.
Amazingly, I did not fall asleep in a food coma on the ride back to Chris’s place. Once there we went to his home studio in the basement to record an interview for Chris and Brian’s podcast 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction (http://www.2d6feet.com/). We spent over two hours talking about games, the game industry, and related topics and it was really fun. Look for that in a few weeks. I think they may split it into two episodes.
I was up the next morning at 7 am after a fitful night of sleep. We got to Endgame by 8 am so Chris and the staff could do their last minute prep for the party. This was the first time I had seen the new Endgame location and it is an amazing game store. It has a great selection of games, well organized and cleanly presented. Overhead there’s a mezzanine with tables for gaming, including a whole area for minis gaming that features beautiful terrain and battle boards. After a quick tour, I said to Chris, “You bastard, I’m going to spend money here today.” (And I did).
At 9:30 I met my friend Amanda nearby for breakfast. She’s one of my punk rock friends from NYC who now lives in the Bay Area. We played in two bands together in the 90s and she was on that European tour I roadied for ten years ago. She’s also a vegan and breakfast is hard on her kind. We ended up waiting until 10, when a vegetarian Vietnamese place she knew opened for the day. It was like having lunch for breakfast, but the food was good. We caught up and I got the round up on some of my old punk friends she’s been in touch with. She also gave me a CD of songs from her latest band, Crunch Push Ups.
At 11 I returned to Endgame to find the party in full swing. The store was full of people and the game tables on the mezzanine were already beehives of activity. I spent an hour or so meeting and talking to various folks. I got a chance to chat with the other special guest, Guido Teuber, and with Green Ronin’s only ex-employee, Heather Barnhorst. Then at noon I went upstairs for the charity True20 game. Brian Isikoff was running the game and he decided to go with a pulp adventure. Bruce Harlick also joined us. The other three players had won their seats in a raffle but it could hardly have worked out better if we planned it. Everyone in the game was a good roleplayer and we had a blast playing classic pulp archetypes. Brian was a very good GM and the players all got into the spirit of the genre. I think it’s fair to say that a fun time was had by all.
Later in the afternoon one of the other owners of Endgame, Anthony, gave me a demo of the Spanish minis skirmish game Infinity. My friend Rick has been collecting the minis because they have an anime-inspired look but we haven’t had a chance to try the game. I think I’ll need to play a couple of more times before I decide if I really like it, but I will give Infinity huge props for playing differently than most other minis games. There is often a certain sameness to miniatures games and Infinity tries hard to shake things up. It is quite successful in making the game interactive. You never sit bored while your opponent takes his turn. Instead, because of the reaction system, you are constantly analyzing his moves and trying to find line of sight from your models so you can take a shot (I found this also led to a lot of squatting to get the “models-eye view”). Due to the game’s lethality, it seems like you’ve got to play with a lot of terrain. Running your infantry out in the open is a sure way to die. When Infinity’s full English-language rulebook comes out, I will definitely check it out.
Saturday night I had dinner with TS Luikart and his girlfriend at the Fat Lady, a restaurant that used to be a brothel. The décor was kitschy and the food was good. I had a nicely cooked piece of tri-tip with a mushroom pan sauce. TS has been working with me on WH40K Roleplay, but nearly all our interaction has been virtual. It was nice to meet up face to face and talk things over. After dinner I met up with the Endgame staff at another restaurant. Despite the waiter’s best efforts, I did not have a second dinner, however. I did get a chance to talk to Finn, one of Endgame’s other owners (there are four, for those keeping track at home), and his wife Nina. Finn is an old punk rocker so we spent some time chatting about music in addition to the usual game talk.
Sunday could have been a mellower day but with only three days of trip I figured I should make the most of it. Chris dropped me back at Endgame at 10:30, where I met up with another staffer (also named Chris) for a morning game of Flames of War. This Chris was nice enough to loan me his Italian army. It was my Bersaglieri defending against his American Armored Rifle Company in the Hold the Line mission. It was nice to get to try out a different army and fight something other than a British Armor Company. I did well with my reserve rolls and managed to concentrate my firepower in a couple of areas. We didn’t have time to play through the whole game, but in the last turn I destroyed one of his rifle platoons and saw off his Sherman tanks with an ambush by a Lancia 90 so things were looking good for the Bersaglieri.
From there I hopped on the BART and met up with Jeremy Crawford, one of the key figures in the development of Blue Rose, and Phillip Lienau, the cartographer behind those outrageously detailed maps in Freedom City, 2nd Edition. We picked up a couple of deep-dish pizzas and then headed over to Book of the Righteous author Aaron Loeb’s place. There I met Aaron’s 9-month old daughter for the first time and she was quite a cutie. Aaron’s wife Kathy joined us for pizza and then retreated to the basement to work. The rest of us settled in for an afternoon of Runebound, Fantasy Flight’s adventure boardgame. Runebound is basically Talisman: the Next Generation and I mean that in the best way. It takes the basic concepts of Talisman and refines and modernizes them. The death rules do seem a bit harsh so I might recommend using the optional rules for that. In our game at least two of the players were so hosed by dying that for the second half of the game it was clear they could not win. Other than that, the game played well and I enjoyed it.
Aaron and Kathy dropped me back at the airport and my 9 pm flight left on schedule. Once I sat down on the plane, I realized how tired I was. I felt like I had maximized my fun though and got to play games like I was 19 years old again. Big thanks to Chris Hanrahan for inviting me down and congrats to Endgame for making it 5 years in a tough business. May the next 5 years be even better.