I’m stiff and sore from sitting. I’m exhausted because I’ve slept only six of the past forty-eight hours. I have a caffeine headache from too much coffee and a stomach ache from not enough food. Overall I’m a big ball of hurt and I couldn’t be happier about it right now.
In March I attended BreakoutCon 2017 in Toronto and I cannot adequately express the great time I had. BreakoutCon, in its second year, is a convention that is dedicated to both roleplaying games and board games. My favourite things.
I was unable to attend on Friday which was disappointing but there are times when I just can’t get out of work. Viewing tweets from the convention just made things worse. You may have heard of FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out; I had the feeling of FOMMTIAH, the Fear Of Missing More Than I Already Had.
I started in the York Room which was dedicated to board games. The hall was set up with row upon row of tables, and most of them occupied. Gaming was in full swing when I entered. I strolled up and down the rows, snooping at what games were being played. Scythe and Terraforming Mars were popular. There was also an eighteen-player game of Civilization being organized too. I was invited to join as I walked by, but didn’t want to spend the eight to ten hours they expected to play. The setup was impressive though. Many players brought games from their own personal collection but there was a library of nearly 150 titles. There was a great variety in the games that were available, with different playtimes and levels of complexity.
In addition to the con’s library there were also games donated by publishers and stores which were tagged Play to Win. All players who borrowed the Play to Win games on Friday or Saturday were entered into a draw to take home that copy on Sunday. Several of the games’ designers were also in attendance at Breakout so the winners had the opportunity to get autographs.
TABS also hosted their Bring and Buy auction on Saturday. The way the auction works is the seller brings their games Saturday morning and creates three price points: between noon and 2pm, between 2pm and 4pm, and from 4pm to the end of the auction at 6pm. This gives buyers three chances to acquire games for better and better prices, but there is the risk that a great game at the right price will sell long before the final price drop. Unlike last year, I avoided the temptation to even visit the Albany room this year: I don’t have the space to house any new acquisitions.
The first game I played was Disastertown: Hurricane! It was a prototype version headed to Kickstarter soon. The Game Distillery, the game’s publisher, was one of Breakout’s sponsors and had a dedicated table. I met Andy who taught me the rules, and we were joined by another player who had played before, so we started a three-player game. I loved how many of the games design elements fit with the story. Cards are tossed in the air, 52-pickup-style, to simulate the effect of the hurricane from which the players are subsequently trying to recover. And while choosing the first player alphabetically seems to be unfair, Andy explained the reasoning behind it was because each year hurricanes are named alphabetically by the World Meteorological Organization. So Hurricane AJ tore through Disastertown and I got to go first!
One of the great strengths of BreakoutCon is the inclusivity. Stand still for too long and someone holding a sign that reads ‘looking for players’ will approach you and ask, “Want to play?” Players are looking to add players whether they know them or not. The con organizers are there to help fill spots as well. I joined a game of Inis in this way next. I had never heard of Inis before and the other players were happy to teach me. It wasn’t destined to become a favourite of mine, but it did have the most interesting interlocking board pieces I have ever seen.
Our fourth arrived so we put away Love Letter. Being the only one who had played before, Jamie taught us Terraforming Mars when he arrived. Terraforming Mars is played as a competition between player-controlled corporations as they seek to make the Red Planet habitable. There’s a lot of hype around this game right now so I was excited to try it. I watched several How to Play videos online in preparation. There were many moving pieces in the game and a large deck of cards to draw from. It was a good game and I would play it again.
After Terraforming Mars finished Page and I played Magic: The Gathering with two of his decks. I haven’t played in years and thought it would be fun to try it again. I soon remembered why I stopped playing. MTG used to be clear and concise but as the game evolved new stipulations were devised and new mechanics were introduced so FAQs and errata were needed. I spent much of the game reading my borrowed cards and having to ask to see Page’s cards as he played them. I eventually picked up on the strategy of the decks but by that time it was too late. Page had amassed an army of illusions that outnumbered my vampires and I was taken out. By illusions. Sigh.
We followed with Arcane Academy from the Play To Win library. Arcane Academy pits studious wizards in an arcane institution against each other in an attempt to ace a wizarding exam. This was a lot of fun but I underestimated the game’s speed: I was building up my resources while everyone else was completing tasks that triggered the end of the game. I’m definitely looking forward to my next play of this one.
I ended my Saturday with a fantastic new game called Summit. There was a lull in the York Room and I was contemplating calling it a night when I was approached by Conor McGoey, the game’s creator. Summit is a versatile game that can be solo or multiplayer, cooperative or competitive. Summit, successfully funded through a Kickstarter campaign, simulates the climb and return descent of a deadly mountain. Players can cooperate with each other or race against each other from the base camp to the summit and back. Even though we played competitively and had the most punishing dangers included in the draw deck we all survived. Shortly before the game ended the Breakout staff reminded us that while overnight gaming was available, the York Room would close at 1am. It was at that point that I did decide to call it a night. It was also Daylight Savings Night so I’d be back in the morning with one less hour of sleep.
There were also panels held on Saturday. The topics for the panels were: Being a Great Player; Getting Kids into Games; Art in Games; GM Troubleshooting; Sex and Romance in RPGs; Creating Horror in Games; and Breaking Into Boardgame Design. I planned to attend the last one but got caught up in Terraforming Mars so I missed the Design panel entirely. I was looking forward to hearing industry veterans Pam Walls, Tim Brown, Eric Lang, and Sen-Foong Lim had to say.
Sunday I returned to the York Room once again for the Play to Win draw. The Breakout organizers were still setting up so I went over and spoke to the gamers at the Extra Life Campaign table. Extra Life is a charitable organization that organizes twenty-four hour long game-a-thons in support of local children’s hospitals and, of course, Extra Life Toronto supports Sick Kids Hospital. I think this is a fantastic idea and hope to see them succeed. Children deserve to have happy and healthy childhoods. The next game-a-thon is in November and I’m giving serious thought to participating this year. I made an on-the-spot donation and received these sweet Extra Life d6s.
After the Play to Win draw (I didn’t win) I went to the deHavilland Room to play an RPG. There were literally hundreds of RPG sessions offered in the name room using a dozen different rules systems and genres over Breakout’s three days. The D&D Adventurer’s League was well represented with many adventures for beginning or experienced parties and Fai Chen’s Fantastical Faire, a magical item trading post, was there offering the exchange of League-approved in-game goods. There were also adventures being played in the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel. There were many, many more sessions played with superheroes, Cthulhu, martial arts, apocalypses, post-apocalypses, and playtests of brand-new systems not yet available. I can’t say too much to them unfortunately because I didn’t get the opportunity to find out. And finally there was a competition held Sunday Morning called Iron GM.
I was curious about what Iron GM means in the context of roleplaying games so I spoke to Rob, the host and timekeeper. It’s pretty much exactly what I guessed: A competition modelled after Iron Chef where GMs are given three story ingredients and need to create an adventure using those ingredients for a table of players. Each GM is rated by their players in time management, originality, and fun. The ingredients for this year’s contest were ogre mages, the glass ceiling, and Jupiter. My mind started whirring with thoughts of what kind of adventure I would create given those ingredients. In moments I had come up with a mysterious discovery with the players finding a galleon on a hilltop, miles inland from any sizeable body of water. After investigating the crow’s nest the players would learn that the glass ceiling was a literal glass dome built over the crow’s nest, created by ogre mages who used the enchanted glass ceiling to navigate among the heavenly bodies and as a result had identified a previously undiscovered planet which they named Jupiter. The ogre mages had all mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind journals with vague notions of what Jupiter was. Once the word Jupiter was spoken aloud the galleon would spring to life and the spelljamming ship would fly to Jupiter on autopilot where the real adventure would begin. The whole idea of the contest got me excited and as a GM with over twenty years of experience I’m seriously considering entering the contest next year.
I started role playing with AD&D, but it was Third edition that I played most so when I saw there was a 3.5 adventure titled Ad Astra DM’d and by Jacqueline Bryk, one of the convention’s special guests, I had to join in. I was surprised to find I didn’t have to get on a wait list but when we got together to play Jacqueline reminded me that many role-players abandoned D&D in favour of Pathfinder.
We began our adventure, I as a bard and Ian Watson as a paladin, on the road looking to our next adventure. We found that the world around us grew increasingly unpredictable, as the trees in the wood appeared to be affected by different seasons. Some were bare, others in full bloom, and others still in the early stages of budding. We met an elderly druid, played by Emily Griggs, who didn’t care for our preference for cities. We soon found ourselves in a strange land that none of us recognized, encountered gigantic talking animals, formians, modrons, and aasimars. Jacqueline was a fantastic DM, quick on her feet, and great at voicing the characters. We ended our sessions entering Sigil, the City of Doors.
There is a superstition that, when playing an RPG, it is unlucky to roll dice that are not your own. I didn’t believe it, but after rolling three 2s and a 7 on my first four actions with borrowed dice I asked for a short pause and ran to the vendors’ room to buy some polyhedrals. This was my one real purchase at the con but it would have been so easy to leave broke. Board games and RPGs were available for sale, along with art and supplies.
I am truly thankful to the organizers of BreakoutCon for such an enjoyable weekend. I will definitely be back next year and attend all three days, even if I have to quit my job to get the time off!