AMBER LOVE 04-JULY-2015 I’ve been writing about DexCon since 2009, I think. As someone who doesn’t game in any facet, it probably seems strange that I would make the effort to visit this show so often. Every year I’m there, the reasons for stopping by solidify. Double Exposure runs several gaming cons in Morristown, New Jersey and DexCon is one of them. My quickie highlight reel video is up at YouTube now.
They are a company that cares about every level of experience in game play and in convention experience. It’s a family friendly and LGBTQ friendly event that gets better and better. There’s so much to do, that like my experiences at Steampunk World’s Fair, it seems each year I end up focused on something else. This was my year to talk to game designers of tabletop games and I did spend a lot of time with one of the costumed LARP troupes. The show estimates 1,800 total tickets sold; around 1,200 of those were advanced sales. The rules and anti-harassment policy are spelled out on page 2 of the program book.
DexCon and all the Double Exposure events at this Hyatt, have the very best I’ve ever seen in terms of comforts. All attendees have access to the gaming rooms and the con suite which is filled with sodas and snacks (and hand sanitizers next to each bowl!). There are also water coolers all around in different random locations. There’s also some vendor food from the Hyatt itself in a fast food style buffet line and my personal choice is the Hyatt bar which serves good food and cocktails, but it is kind of pricey if you’re on a tight budget ($9 for a rum and coke). Plus, don’t forget the Quigley’s Cakes booth in the registration area next to the con suite. They make nerdy cupcakes for $3-4 and they are DELICIOUS!
Because it’s a modern Hyatt with amenities, I didn’t see anyone having accessibility issues and I spotted attendees in motorized scooters, using walkers, and my friend was in her manual wheelchair. The only possible places where there might be issues would be in the smaller conference rooms which are where the RPGs were held. Some of those rooms had two tables of gamers. And the biggest room, the board game room, might require a lot of pardons to get people to pull their chairs in so someone can get through.
HUGE PHOTO GALLERY HERE
Each floor had ample restrooms and seating arrangements. Anyone without a room in the hotel could still find a comfortable chair to sit and enjoy some peace. I’ve relaxed at all these shows and no one has ever been disruptive. Sitting on either side of the waterfall is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a high foot traffic area, but you don’t get that ambiance anywhere else.
TOURISM – MORRISTOWN IS PERFECT FOR THIS SIZE CON
Morristown is a historic town in north New Jersey about halfway across the state. It’s a reasonable trip from New York City, New York State, and eastern Pennsylvania. There’s a train station on the line that runs from NYC which drops you off walking distance from the Hyatt (unless you have a lot of luggage, of course, then maybe arrange for a ride). There are tons of conveniences like a Staples nearby if you forgot anything. Also, the AMC cinema is attached to the Hyatt itself, so if you’re looking to catch a movie while on vacation, you don’t even need to leave the building in inclement weather like we had today.
There are a lot of Christian churches in walking distance from the Hyatt. You might need your car to go further to places like the Jewish Center, Bethel AME, or the Spanish Seventh Day Adventist churches. If that’s something you look for during long conventions like DexCon, there’s quite a bit nearby. I think the Unitarian Church is a bit of a drive away from the downtown area.
The town is packed with eateries from local independent taverns to the usual franchised fare. If you are in a hurry and prefer to keep to a routine, there’s Panera, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks. There’s a diner too which is something New Jersey is known for. Otherwise, I suggest finding something with some character like The Famished Frog, George + Martha’s, or Grasshopper on the Green. There are even more places right around the park called the Morristown Green or Square. You’ll find Iron Bar, Roots Steakhouse, and Qdoba. There are some ethnic eateries in the area (last year I stopped at a Middle Eastern place and got myself full on hummus and falafel). There’s a great indie coffee shop a few blocks from the square called Smartworld. This year, I opted to go to the brand new Whole Foods which has hot and cold bars and a lunch counter if you want to eat somewhere relatively quiet by yourself. All these places are within a mile, most easy walking distance on safe sidewalks if you’re up for it.
Because of the Revolutionary War history of Morristown, they also have activities in the square or around it when DexCon takes place since July 4th fell on a Saturday. I didn’t see fireworks on the schedule though which was pretty surprising.
Parking around the square is metered and can be difficult at certain times of day. However – the best part about that as a DexCon attendee, is that you can use the Hyatt’s parking garage which will validate your parking ticket so it’s FREE!
PHOTOS OF SCENIC MORRISTOWN SQUARE
MY CHOICES FOR GAMES TO CHECK OUT
Schrödinger’s Cats was one of my favorite science based games that I saw. It also was created using a lot of nerd humor. The cats in the game are “cat physicists” and have pun names playing off of real scientists. I spoke with one of the designers, Heather O’Neill, who said gender balance was one of the foremost considerations in deciding which characters would make it onto their cards. The project was Kickstarted and originally slated to have three male and three female scientists to parody. As the Kickstarter funds surpassed goal, they unlocked more characters and allowed the backers to vote. The final tally came to four female and six male cat scientists: Albert Felinestein, Madame Purrie, Sally Prride, Neil deGrasse Tabby, Stephen Pawking, and Maria Geoppert-Meower; the added on cat scientists are Mittens Faraday, Cecilia Pounce, Whiskers Feynman, and Sir Isaac Mewton.
That Kickstarter reached over $45,000! If you missed the opportunity to back the campaign, you can now pre-order directly through their site so you don’t miss out on the game and other merch. A lot of the information that Heather explained to me about the game play, is still readily available on their Kickstarter page videos. There are four types of cards: alive cats, dead cats, empty boxes, and the wild card named in nerdy glory as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. You don’t choose your cat physicist to play; you’re supposed to be dealt a scientist card at random. To be honest, the game play of Schrödinger’s Cats sounds confusing to me. That’s most likely because I never got a good grip on probability math and because I have no idea how to play common games like poker. But, I love that these designers used science and math with adorable art to make something for people who love card games.
Seattle based artist James Stowe is the one responsible for the adorable art I mentioned. Heather O’Neill was one of three designers which also included Heather Wilson and Chris O’Neill. They say that the game could be for players as young as 8, but because of American toy guidelines, the Schrödiner’s Cats will be labeled for 13+. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram @CatPhysicist.
This is definitely a card game designed for the New Jersey population since the Garden State is far less garden more like the homeland of Big Pharma. Created by Gil Hova, Bad Medicine takes some theatrical skills. Depending on the number of players, you can be in teams of two or solo. If you’re in a team, one person acts the decision maker while the other is responsible for the improv. You put those skills together with the Bad Medicine cards and have to pitch a new drug for the market.
The medicine cards have parts of a drug name, a description, and a side effect. You pick three cards and put them together to form the name. The malady card in the center is what you’re trying to cure. All the players pitch and then vote on their favorite, but you can’t vote for your own. If you enjoy thinking on your feet like a sketch comedian, then Bad Medicine will be for you.
The “demo weasel” Erin Krieg and game designer Hova spent time telling me all about Bad Medicine. It was also a Kickstarter campaign which surpassed the $8,000 goal and reached over $30,000. Hova’s girlfriend’s father was the inspiration for the game because of his stories as a copywriter with an ad agency that works with a lot of the Big Pharma which New Jersey is known for. One of the other things it’s known for is Jon Bon Jovi, so I delight in the coincidence that his lyrics happen to inspire the name of the game.
You can pre-order the game through their website if you missed the Kickstarter. The backers and pre-orders will be fulfilled first with delivery aimed at late August or early September. Then further orders and distribution will take place after.
Here’s a game that doesn’t even need my buzz. Letter Tycoon won a 2015 Mensa Select Winner Award for mind games. Imagine combining Scrabble, Words with Friends, and cards. In Letter Tycoon, you are dealt some cards with letters and there’s a commodity card pool. All players take the position of being capitalists who form words and are rewarded with money or stocks, plus there’s an aspect about creating patents.
THE MENSA SELECT® SEAL INDICATES THAT A GAME IS ORIGINAL, CHALLENGING AND WELL DESIGNED. INDIRECTLY, IT INDICATES THAT A GAME IS ORIGINAL AND CREATIVE IN CONCEPT, CHALLENGING, A GOOD VALUE FOR THE PRICE, EASY TO COMPREHEND AND PLAY, AND, ABOVE ALL, FUN! ~ Mensa Mind Games website
There’s a lot of reputation behind this game. It’s being made by the new publishing branch of AdMagic, the company that brought Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens to market. This new division, Breaking Games, is responsible for Letter Tycoon which was designed by Brad Brooks with art from Mackenzie Schubert and Peter Vaughan. The game is recommended for 2-5 players and labeled as ages 8+.
Letter Tycoon has only been out for two months. It was the Mensa Award that skyrocketed them to quick success. Mensa holds a specific convention where judges test play every game submitted. I spoke with Aaron DeMark of Breaking Games prototype department and he said that besides winning the ultimate award, they were also sent all the judges’ cards with constructive criticism and feedback. For DexCon, they were holding rounds of Letter Tycoon each day leading up to the Sunday Championship where the winner would be given an award and a pass into GenCon.
AFROFUTURE: SOCIAL JUSTICE WARFARE
The AfroFuture SJW title jumped out at me when I looked at the complex schedule of events for the con. I have trying to pay better attention to racial issues and learn more about them. I’ve noticed a surge in AfroFuturism art among the comic feeds I follow. Only days ago, the brave real world SJW, Bree Newsome, climbed up a flagpole and removed the symbol of Southern racial hate for which, she and her partner were promptly arrested. I’m here to confess my ignorance that I don’t even know what AfroFuturism is which is why the name of this RPG intrigued me. From what I gather, AfroFuturism is black science fiction and fantasy sometimes with historical elements.
The GM and designer of AFSJW introduced himself to me as Mendez Hodes. I was terrified that I would somehow asked really stupid racist questions – but I was there to learn and he was there to teach – so I gambled and opened my mouth. We talked for probably 20 minutes while players started to enter the room and he prepared by printing off character sheets. Well, if I’m going to sound really stupid, so be it, I thought to myself. I have questions. Lots of questions.
I threw myself in the fire right away. Hodes didn’t look black. Now I know “blackness” is a spectrum! I’m not a complete dolt. But I was curious and he was there to educate, so I asked about his heritage, identity and education because as he began talking, I found his background more and more fascinating. Hodes was easy to talk to and gave robust answers that I wish I had recorded. Both of his parents were lawyers and he said he feels like his whole life, they expected him to follow their path. His mother is Spanish-Filipino and his father was a European Jew from New York. Hodes identifies as Hispanic, but he said his sibling does not even though they share the same parental DNA. His undergraduate degree was acquired at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and his graduate work was done at St. John’s College in New Mexico. His areas of study covered world religions with particular emphasis on West African religion. Among his many skills, he’s also a capoeira player and professional Game Master for kids.
Since I was continuously curious about this GM and his world studies, I asked if he took cultural appropriation into consideration when designing AFSJW. As a person of color (POC), perhaps appropriation across the racial lines isn’t the same issue. Hodes said his love of West African religion was sparked during adolescence. We spent some time talking about the recent cases of Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith. The former was outted as faking her black heritage; the latter came under scrutiny for faking Cherokee heritage, something the Nation does not take lightly. White people probably don’t even realize what they’re doing when they dress up on Halloween as “indians” or don a ceremonial headdress to party at Coachella. Hodes even told me that American icon Johnny Cash once believed he was Native American until he learned that he was actually of Scottish descent. So, I’m not about to delve into the deep world of “transracial” versus self-identifying culturally. That’s for scholars better than me.
Getting back to AFSJW, the game sounds like it was designed to role play fighting back against colonialism. The most interesting part to me was the selection of which characters would be played. The rule for choosing a character is pretty liberal, but it has a cool catch: you have to choose anyone considered a cultural icon who has had a song written about them. I assumed based on the name of the game, that Hodes intends for that to mean characters who aren’t white. He even had lots of pre-generated selections like John Henry. I was stuck coming up names for anyone. John Henry was the one that immediately popped into my mind. But Hodes then said the rule is quite flexible so even theme songs count and he said Miles Morales, the new Spider-Man now counts as a possible selection idea. Although, other companies’ intellectual properties will not make it into the formal distribution of the game, for casual play and to learn, anything goes. Characters have race and class traits used in the game play even so far as a move called “playing the race card”. There’s lower, middle, and upper classes with social status adjustments.
Once the players are selected, they are allowed to enter the mental/social construct, The Mothership. Trying to explain constructs which don’t have actual physical space was something Hodes said the younger players needed help adapting. They wanted to save all the other icons presented to them in the possible player sheets, but needed to learn that you can’t take other people with you because The Mothership is a social construct, not a ship. Players then have to face off against The Man.
Although I didn’t stick around to witness the game play for that session, I felt like the conversation with Hodes was alone a meaningful DexCon experience. AFSJW was originally funded through a Patreon team and will be available as a free download at some point.
One last indie game to bring to your attention is Petri Wars, as in petri dishes. This was the first game I spotted in the Hyatt lobby’s indie game area which grew compared to last time I was there. I don’t know too much about this game, but the science of bacteria vying for space in one petri dish sounded like a hoot. This game is currently on Kickstarter with only a day left in the campaign and sorry to say, it doesn’t look like they’re going to reach their $16,000 goal. I hope the designers aren’t discouraged if that goal isn’t reached. I’d like to see it out there on the market, but perhaps, they just need to reassess the budget and plans and maybe roll out something less elaborate to start then grow with milestone rewards.
LIVE ACTION ROLE PLAY (LARP)
I spent a ton of time talking to several players of the Sacred Ground LARP. In a way, I felt like they were being pushy about getting me to sign up when all I said at the beginning of the conversation was that I’m not interested, but I cosplay. They seemed like nice people and definitely a talented group. Lisa, appearing at the booth as her woodland fae Astrid character, showed me several photo galleries about their players and the campground in Pennsylvania where they primarily meet. The players are from all over from Boston to Long Island. They have about seven primary gaming weekends plus additional opportunities, like DexCon, to play mods and gain points.
They have a robust system of races and skillsets to master in order to build unique characters. What’s really nice is that if you have no idea whether you could commit to something like this (which does cost money), you can sign up for one of their events and NPC (non-playable character) for free to see what it’s like. I think their booth pitching could use some work to be toned down. I felt overwhelmed by a bunch of stories about these interesting characters, but they were talking over my head as if I could understand what they were saying about their fictional world. Not all of it was that intense. Lisa showed me some props and their different coins and paper currency and she was helpful in pointing me to another member to learn about his role running the tavern on the grounds.
My years of experience in cosplay have taught me that a lot of things are expensive because every little thing adds up (shoes, wigs, makeup, the outfit, the props, travel). Committing to something like a LARP of this magnitude, you need to know what you’re getting into as far as expense is concerned. I’ve watched the documentary DARKON and it was quite honest about how LARP can quickly consume all your time and money. Even though this kind of full-time LARP isn’t for me, I have enjoyed several “parlor LARPs” where people gathered in conference rooms for an hour or two and played through an RPG without worries like points and costumes. You have to be really comfortable with improv acting – and I’m not. I love the costumes so much though that I always love opportunities to talk to LARPers. My old interviews on YouTube from several years ago still get comments today and that’s a pretty wonderful feeling. I like to help stand up for these groups which are still the butt of jokes in sitcoms and movies.
The play area for miniatures is on the lowest level of the Hyatt directly accessible from the parking garage. This room and the video game room were the only places where I saw either all-male or male-dominated game play. I didn’t interview anyone from this area because almost all looked like they were involved in active play at that moment. I buzzed through and took some pictures and bolted out pretty quickly. Half of the room is carpeted in green surface area for more epic game battles with miniatures that don’t look so mini.
Finally, after a mere six hours of wandering around to learn about the hottest new games, I drove my tired butt home for some much needed kitty snuggles.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of AmberUnmasked.com and Vodka O'Clock Podcast. Author of The Farrah Wethers Mysteries, comic book short stories, prose, and non-fiction. Cosplayer and figure model.