CanGames Ottawa 2018: Show Highlights
The Victoria Day long weekend in May brings not only the first glorious long weekend of early summer but also a really good excuse to stay inside and avoid gardening – for a couple of days anyway. Come along as we do a tour of the CanGames Convention, 2018 edition. There were some fantastic miniatures games on offer along with the usual assortment of board and RPG games. I went Friday night and Saturday and throughly enjoyed myself.
Friday night I played my first ever game of Napoleonics and my first game by the prolific rules writer Sam Mustafa. The Ottawa Miniature Gamers (OMG) put on a Quatre Bras scenario using the Blucher rule set with Duncan Martelock and Martin Rowland presiding as GMs.
On June 16, 1815, two days before the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon’s French and Wellington’s Anglo-allied army clashed at the strategically important crossroads at Quatre Bras (literally, four arms). My two teammates and I took the role of the dastardly French who were tasked with taking and holding the crossroads. We had the advantage of arriving first and in force while the Brits, equally keen to take the crossroads, lumbered onto the field piecemeal but with the benefit of terrain to conceal their movement and dispositions.
“I shall not spend my time dreaming away in inactivity while other brave men fight for the liberation of our German fatherland!” – Gebhard von Blücher
Large games with a couple of GMs and eight players that demand coordination of effort, decisiveness during turns, and good humour to bridge the inevitable rules quibbles can all too often turn into a slog that wears thin after the first hour of a three-hour game. This was decidedly not the case here! The GMs knew their stuff, the scenario was interesting and balanced and, most importantly, all the players were good sports and knew how to have fun. There was much good-natured taunting and boasting as the battle unfolded. The game looked great too both from a distance and down to the individual units that looked the business.
I was really impressed by the Blucher rule set. It easily handled eight players but would be equally at home with just two. Through clever use of blind action points, unit cards, minimal dice rolling, and sound historical research Blucher felt like a big pitched battle without over-imposing a particular tactic or historical outcome. Like all good rule sets Blucher rewarded historically accurate and effective tactics but didn’t punish players too much if they wanted to rewrite history and try maneuvers that neither Napoleon nor Wellington would have thought wise. There was never a point during the French or Anglo-alliance turn when both sides weren’t fully engaged. Without resorting to tropes like saving throws or constant opposed dice rolls Blucher was always fun on both sides of the table. An agreeable game well prepared, taught, and executed. Full marks to the GMs from OMG and my fellow players around the table. Most enjoyable!
Saturday morning I played Escape From the Apocalypse: Return to Trump Towers. I’ve had my eye on this game for a couple of years now and finally got my act together in time to sign up in advance as it is often over subscribed on the day. I was not disappointed! It was fantastic on three levels.
First, the whole game employed satire and clever parody of current US politics. Like many I’m about fed up with both the antics and hearing about the antics of key political figures. Rex Brynen, a poli-sci prof at McGill University in Montreal and well established policy advisor, injected so much wit, sarcasm, and cutting punditry into the rules for each of the groups and characters that it was a real giggle all the way through. My personal favourite was when Rod Rosenstein, after being turned into a zombie, shuffled up behind Robert Mueller and applied the fatal bite. A close second was when I served a summons to Sarah Huckabee Sanders that forced her to leave the safety of her barricaded liquor store and face the masses of zombies in the clear light of day. She didn’t last long.
Second, I’ve never seen a ‘sandbox’ style game on such a varied and enormous table play so well. With deceptively simple rules, characters were free to explore the board and fulfill asymmetrical goals in any way that suited them best. Mueller used his FBI issue hollow point rounds and subpoenas to good effect on the quick and the dead alike. Bernie Sanders hotwired an ambulance and used its PA system to amplify his speeches to the masses. “Health care for all! Living and not living!” Making noise to draw off zombies, searching buildings for supplies, investigating strange phenomenon, all the while working toward bonus point conditions and hampering the other teams melded together seamlessly. After several hours of play the point tallies were remarkably close despite every player pursuing a fundamentally different path to victory.
Last, the 5 by 12 foot board was full of terrain and looked great! The roads were littered with crashed and abandoned vehicles, each of the buildings had a function – for example Tim Horton’s doughnuts gave most teams some kind of bonus while the Gun Shop paid the obvious dividends. For those in the know you’ll find humour in the centrepiece Trump Tower constructed out of a 40K Imperium building.
Once again a lot of hard work by the GM Rex Brynen and some fun players resulted in a great experience.
There were many other games worthy of note. David Redpath’s Grey Wolves at Dusk got a solid review by John (member in good standing of our Thursday Night Games Group). The hidden movement and ‘ghost’ subs put a new spin on the Attack the WWII Convoy genre.
Helm’s Deep and Games Workshop’s take on the Tolkien Mythos looked great, as did the Jacobite star fort scenario, more Napoleonics, and Seth Wilson’s (another Thursday Game Group luminary) excellent WWI trench warfare game which went over really well.
Ottawa based Red Shirt Games always brings excellent eye candy to CanGames. Their Monster Smash game is a perennial hit, as is a number of other games they run each year.
As usual, nearby Chinatown’s dim sum for lunch didn’t disappoint either when Seth and I took a well deserved lunch break.
However, CanGames wasn’t all good all the time. While I experienced fewer than in previous years there were still an identifiable number of overly intense middle-aged men who lacked in social skills and, it must be said, at times personal hygiene. But these grumpy folk were relatively few and far between and, let’s face it, are an unavoidable part of any hobby centred convention.
There was the usual talk of falling attendance and I can’t help but wonder if there’ll be a change of venue in CanGames’ future if numbers are actually dwindling year over year. Regardless, I know I’ll attend next year and will try my hand at running a game again. Warts and all, CanGames remains a fantastic three days of gaming.