Category Archives: Events

Shaken and Slightly Stirred – A James Bond themed LARP

So this weekend I went and got myself trapped in an exclusive location on the Isle of Manhattan alongside a dozen or so undercover International Agents.

Also in attendance were an untold number of Criminal Operatives looking to blow us all to kingdom come.

Luckily, the Agents prevailed.

That was the premise of ‘Aces & Operatives’- A James Bond stylized Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP) event that happened this past Saturday in midtown Manhattan, location : TOP SECRET. Inside the cramped room, drinks flowed just as freely as the poker chips did and by my estimates some three dozen or so City dwellers came out for a night of fantasy, intrigue and cos-play. At the conclusion of the event, the world kept spinning, another Saturday night came to a close and we all went home, safe and sound.

It was an interesting experience, not my first Live-Action event, but certainly my first modern-day one. For those not in the know, a LARP is a chance for folks to dress up and act out specific characters in a setting where everyone else present takes on similar roles. Its a form of immersive theater, a collaborative and participatory event as opposed to your typical spectators’ sport that stresses interaction with your fellow ‘characters’, much like table-top role-playing, where its roots come from.

This particular event, organized by ‘Julien Viceroy‘ (Real Name: Evan Michaels) was the first in the line that incorporated actual game-play rules.  Formed over this past Summer, Michaels describes his budding venture as :

“One-third James Bond ‘Live Action Role Play’ adventure, one-third casino gaming, and one-third cocktails with a dash of pageantry… all shaken not stirred. We are the only 007 themed live action role play (LARP) group operating in the world.”

There was certainly a good mix of all these elements going on at the affair. The venue itself was a small upstairs one-room dimly lit bar that gave the entire five-hour event an incredibly intimate feel. A rickety poker table took up a good quarter of the space, while the other three quarters were occupied by sofas and a mini-bar.  Moving throughout the tightly packed room were a host of dashingly dressed gentlemen and glitterized ladies who exchanged small-talk with one another using their assumed persona’s as either Aces and Operatives.

Based, or apparently and therefore not derivatively liable, ‘heavily influenced’, on the world of Ian Flemming’s Bond franchise the organizer gave participatory players at the event the option to not only assume roles as typically inhabit the films such as business-men, government bureaucrats and movie-stars, Michaels also gave folks the choice of coming to the event as either an Ace and hence a Bond-esque hero, or showing up, unknown to anyone else, as an Operative and criminal villain. The goal of the night, like any good Bond film: information.

Switching between their characters and their ‘real-world’ speech, players moved about the bar, dealing in small-talk and brokering deals for secret information provided to them at the start of the event. The clues given had the ultimate goal of uncovering who amongst the group were Operatives. Also in attendance besides the Aces and Ops were casual Non-Player Characters (NPCs), folks such as myself and my companion for the night who, for the price of a rather hefty admission (supposedly but not unsurprisingly not including drinks or food) got to interact and play their persona’s minus the benefits of clues and any effect on the overall story for the night.

It was a night punctuated by more than idle chit-chat and nefarious going-ons, as there were performances in addition to the mingling, drinking and poker playing. A magician, displaying skills with ropes and a banana performed halfway through the event and was followed by an exotic dancer who disrobed to quite near her birthday suit before revealing herself as an Operative, giving the entire room a foreboding announcement; the bar was booby-trapped, and no one was allowed to leave!

Following this news the attendees descended into accusations as to the identity of who the Operatives could be and teams of potential Aces were formed to go on missions and attempt to breach the devices that trapped us all within…

Needless to say, the Aces prevailed…for now.

Now, from a Gamer standpoint, I would have to say that the overall mechanics of this part of the night were a little puzzling and how they worked seemed almost invented on the spot. Granted, this was much more of a social gathering, the event was billed as a LARP and hence, I was expecting a bit more structure, incorporation and guidance. Aided by his companion ‘Shamus McClue’ (Real name: Chris Batarlis), Michaels employed a system of pass-fail for each of the eight ‘missions’ the Aces were sent on throughout the course of the night.

Teams of Aces were chosen for these missions by player Captains. The Captains were appointed before each mission by Michaels and Batarlis, and they in turn chose their individual teams. The remaining players then got to decide if these teams were acceptable or not. If accepted, the members on the missions got to secretly decide if their part of the mission succeeded and, once totaled, the overall result was then revealed. Once a certain number of missions succeeded, the story was advanced.

So it was that through socializing a game of essentially bluffing, deduction and negotiation played itself out over the course of the night, with the information players received and uncovered determining how the particular teams were chosen. Batarlis, a recent gaming company organizer himself (Everything Epic Games) who appears to be working to develop the Aces & Ops rule-book gave the attendees the run-down of the rules, giving slightly better descriptions as the missions and the night wore on.

Overall it was interesting experience. I attended the event with my companion, as General Admission spots. As welcoming as the atmosphere felt there was a certain fish-out-of water vibe I felt throughout the night, at one point being asked if we had simply walked in off the street. To be fair, there were several other General attendees and we exchanged some exasperated uncertainties with them as to our roles as NPCs, and it was a bit confusing the level of involvement we were expected to take part comparable to full-fledged characters.

There were also more than a few individuals, clearly not of the cos-play mentality who took to heart the spectator-side of LARPing, and seemed content to gauge the entire event from the sofas. The affair itself was engaging, if rudderless, something that as a Gamer who is used to often-times an overabundance of rules contributed to the feeling of grasping at straws the entire night, in a room where everyone else seemed to be wielding steak-knives. I did however get to run into a role-playing buddy of mine which greatly added to the enjoyment.

It was definitely a memorable Saturday night, spent with some great company. So when you get a chance, and if you’re not too cool for school, why not head out and try a LARP for yourself, maybe even a James Bond ‘inspired’ one, and

Game Forth!

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UNPUB Game Testing: South Jersey Style

Image Copyright: Cartrunk Entertainment

This past weekend Cartrunk Entertainment, a visually suggestive if tongue twister of a company name, held one of their UNPUB Gaming events in South Jersey. Billing themselves as a growing community of game designers, publishers, players, retailers and artists bringing unpublished table-top games to the public for play-test I set out on the long and arduous journey from the City to South Jersey to attend the event. Despite the two-and-a-half hour drive and the unusual and unassuming setting for the affair (a quiet place, the Woodbury Community Center located on a suburban street far from any three story buildings) the event was an excellent experience in seeing some of the potential creators and designers behind upcoming table-top games, one of which was even slated to be picked up for production by a company towards the end of the year.

Woodbury Heights
Community Center

The unassuming site of
Game Play-testing…
Image Source:
northeastprecast.com

UNPUB, short for Unpublished games and Cartrunk Entertainment is the brain-child of John Moller who recounts his story of looking for others to play-test games he encountered a few years ago. Finding that there was indeed a pool of folks looking for these types of affairs led him to UNPUB where designers and players could meet in a cooperative and collaborative atmosphere and give and receive feedback. The first UNPUB was held in January 2012 and since then events and mini-events have been held along the Eastern Seaboard. On Saturday’s showcase I had the privilege to play three games currently in development and if the drive there and back wasn’t such a hurdle I would have loved to have sampled a few more.

Set up on fold-out tables in the expanse of a gymnasium the first game I tested was Kevin Kulp’s Animal Run. Slated as one of the games there part of the KidsZone which focuses on activities for youngsters Kevin described Animal Run as being inspired by Temple Run, a video game where explorers race through temples gathering coins and avoiding obstacles to end up with the most loot from the ravaged sites of antiquity.

The mechanics behind Animal Run closely mirrored Mayday’s Get Bit a game where players put tokens on a surface and place cards from their hands representing positioning in a ‘race’ against a shark, with each player trying to guess which position each other player is going to play for the round. The losers of that game are the ones whose tokens get devoured by the plastic shark that comes with the game, and the winner is the player left with any remaining body parts.

Animal Run by contrast consists of guessing which card will come up from a deck of cards that consist of Jump, Run, Slide, Turn and a few mixed combinations of these. Players are given one of each of these cards that count as their hand and each round determine, based on which cards have already been turned over from the deck and grouped accordingly, which card, or ‘move’ they wish to make for the round. The players who guess correctly get to move up in the order of tokens. Some cards have ‘coin’ values with pictures that represent goods that the tokens, a fish, elephant, giraffe and cow in the version I played, desire to have. The winner is the player who at the end of the game has the most ‘goods’ on their coin cards, which are drawn from a second treasure deck.

All in all the game is a mixed bag of largely guesses and luck made during most of the beginning of play and slight strategy based on what has been draw as the game progresses. As a kids game, the strategy, or basically guessing looks appealing for children and the treasures and animal tokens are sure to appeal to them as well. The large point spread in treasure cards though and the random guessing aspect of the game definitely places it outside the realm of strategy that I was looking for, but a fun kid oriented game nonetheless.

The next game I played was by a husband a wife duo called Tessen. The word is a reference to the war-fans used by Samurai during the feudal period of Japan and the game itself is a Japanese-themed card game where two players with opposing but virtually identical decks consisting of sets of animals and Japanese samurai cards play in real-time against one another by trying to match and put aside sets of their animal cards. To do so, players have five ‘slots’ in front of them, spaces where they can put animal cards from their hand down, and once a set of three or more identical animals are grouped a player can take these sets and put them out of play.

Tessen creator Chris Zinsli, shows fellow game designer Ruth Greenwood, creator of Phrase-It! the setup to his competitive solitaire-esque card game.
Image Copyright: Blackcoyotl

At the end of the round, players total up their assembled animal decks and the winner of the round is declared as the person who has the most animals cards. The game ends once a player has won three rounds, and to keep track a samurai card is placed outside of play from the winner’s deck, thus cycling out these samurai cards. Where these samurai cards come into play is that players can place them on their opponents slots, or stacks of in-play animals, and then if that player chooses, they place one of their own samurai cards from their hand to block this ‘attack’ If unable to do so, the player looses those animals immediately to the attacker.

Interestingly enough a few weeks ago I tried to teach my girlfriend, a budding Gamer how to play the card game Spit. For those unfamiliar, Spit is basically a two-player solitaire game where players match cards and place them in a central location under certain conditions trying to get rid of their cards as fast as possible. Growing up, Spit was one of my favorite games, and Tessen closely models its design on the Spit feel and mechanic of dual ‘solitaire’ players, a fact its designers Chris and Suzanne Zinsli readily point out as one of the games goals.

Tessen is an excellent update to a game that combines speed and strategy with an interesting flavor. The design of the cards, taken from public domain images of Japanese woodcuts for the prototype beautifully illustrates a feel that gives the dueling samurai motif an evocative and pleasing appeal. Combined with more advanced options to the game, like super-Samurai and a Dragon card, Tessen is a straight-forward enough game that is easy to see why it was picked up by VanRyderGames and I look forward to a commercial version of the game, which may opt for original artwork with the Kickstarter version possibly including the original set I played, in the future.

The appealing artwork to CardBoardEdison’s upcoming Tessen, a Japanese-themed two-person solitaire-esque design picked up by VanRyderGames.
Image Copyright: Blackcoyotl

I rounded out my day at the event with another designer couples table, Todd and Ruth,  who were play-testing their game Phrase-It! With a feel similar to the party game Apples To Apples, Phrase-It! has players rolling letters on three dice and drawing cards from three random decks coming up with the most outrageous or subtly comical phrases they can. Its a quick and quirky party game meant to be played with friends or as an ice-breaker that differentiates itself from other games by the interaction of random cards and random letter rolls.

Phrase-It! is a light-hearted game that has some interesting twists on the ones already out there. For me it will definitely be a memorable laugh due to one of the phrases that one of the women players at the play-test came up with during the game;

Category: What You Did Last Night

Letters Needed to create: H-G-S

Phrase came up with:  Had Great Sex.

Priceless.

The cards and dice used to create funny phrases in the alpha-testing of the party game Phrase-It!
Image Copyright: Blackcoyotl

Overall my experience at the UnPub event was great. Enthusiastic designers interacting and getting feedback from enthusiastic (if mostly other designer) players. The venue was off the road and off beat and despite the drive, had a real grass-roots feel to it. So when you get a chance, and feel like playing the next big table-top game yet to be released, or have an idea for one yourself, check out one of the upcoming UNPUB events and

Game Forth!

  • Look for upcoming opportunities in the play-testing world through John Moller’s UnPub.net.
  • Follow CardBoard Edison, the Creative Team behind the Tesson Game on Twitter here.

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