PenguiCon 6 Report
by Andrew Looney
May 1, 2008

Last weekend I went out to Michigan for PenguiCon 6, a rather odd but totally fun geek convention which mixes sci-fi/gaming with open source programming (the name refers to the symbol of the Linux operating system, which is a penguin).

Two years ago, Looney Labs was the gaming Guest of Honor and Kristin, Alison, and I all attended and had a grand time; you can read more about that trip in my PenguiCon 4 report.

At PenguiCon 6, the Gaming GoH was Keith Baker, who is best known as the creator of the Eberron D&D world and the card game Gloom, but who's also been a dear friend of mine for like 20 years. Keith lives in Colorado so we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like, although we do stay in touch pretty well via modern communications technology. Anyway, the timing of this convention was such that Keith's lovely wife Ellen was unable to attend with Keith, so he invited me to tag along on his GoH perks so that we could enjoy both the con and some quality hanging-out time together.

Having been a GoH once means we get "Nifty Guest" status at any future PenguiCon, which is cool; however, only GoHs get free airline tickets and hotel rooms, and these factors make a big difference in our ability to attend. Also, being a Nifty myself meant I had plenty of my own things to do when Keith was busy doing GoH stuff, such as running special D&D sessions using the not-yet-released 4th Edition rules. (To digress briefly on that point, it sounds like D&D 4.0 will be pretty radically different from 3rd Edition, in ways that are likely to appeal to some but annoy others. But I sat in on one of Keith's sessions (I was a Goblin Rogue named Smudge) and I like what I'm seeing. And what is Keith's professional opinion of the new ruleset? He loves it. Read his extended postings at his LiveJournal for more details.)

Anyway, I ran several events of my own at PenguiCon 6. First, I did a panel with Randall Munroe (author of the webcomix xkcd) on what it was like to work for NASA, which attracted quite a crowd and was a lot of fun. Secondly I did another session of Andy vs. Everybody, which was particularly memorable due to the blackouts (see below). Thirdly, I gave a talk called "What's Next from Andy Looney?" in which I showed off the prototypes for all the new games I'm working on playtested whichever game the group was most interested in trying.

Although the official version of this talk was on Sunday morning, I was basically doing an impromptu version of this talk all weekend long, as I hung around in the gaming rooms looking for people to play games with. Setting aside older works-in-progress (like Just Desserts and my planned revisions to Nanofictionary, neither of which I got to playtest at all, unfortunately), I have 4 major new projects in playtesting at this time, all of which got great reactions:

  • Monty Python Fluxx, which we've just announced as our next major release (and which always got the biggest wows)
  • Martian Fluxx, which has been bumped out of the queue by Monty Python Fluxx but which we're now planning to release in early 2009
  • Fluxx Version 4.0, which isn't on the schedule at all yet but which we're going to want someday
  • Secret Project EMR-35, an entirely new type of game, which also isn't on the schedule yet (and which is also testing really really well)

The Andy vs. Everybody (AvE) session was fairly typical in many ways, with a nice-sized crowed and my win/loss ratio being a fairly standard 29% (5 wins, 12 losses). But several things made this session different, the most intense of which were the blackouts. Twice during the two-hour session we were blacked out by a power shutdown that seemed only to affect our windowless function room and which lasted a good 5 or 10 minutes in both cases. So imagine how hard it was for us to continue! But the game must go on and amazingly enough almost everyone had some sort of light-emitting gizmo they could shine on the table, from tiny pocket flashlights to the light cast from the screen on their cellphones and digital cameras. Finally someone (I think it was Shaun) got for me a huge Maglight and I tucked that under my arm and carried on running in circles playing lots of games at one time.

Another interruption that made this session memorable was the arrival (by an Ox from ACME Delivery) of a box containing 160 assorted Pop-Tarts! (That's 20 boxes!) Having been given this unexpected bounty of free tarts, the only thing to do was to share, so I immediately started giving them away, and by the end of the day all I had left were a couple of packs of Frosted Blueberry (one of my favorites!) to have myself. Thanks, ACME!

The third way this session was different is that one of the games I was playing was Diplomacy. Normally this isn't a game I would play during AvE, however this was a Diplomacy game that was taking place during the course of the whole convention, with moves being due every two hours and negotiations between different nations taking place at any random time and place during the con. Since actions fell due right in the middle of my Andy vs. Everybody session, I had to make time for diplomatic negotiations in amongst the many turns I was taking. This actually worked fine except for once during one of the blackouts, when I was talking a little too openly with Germany about our plans to gang up on Russia only to be told that the guy playing Russia was standing nearby in the darkness. Oops!

To digress yet again, this was a great way to play Diplomacy, although we did unfortunately run out of time (always a problem with that game).Spreading the action out over the course of an entire weekend gave plenty of time for finding everyone you needed to talk to during each round, yet the activities were casual enough to fit into the background of all the other stuff going on at the con. It kind of reminded me of the early days of LARP gaming, especially since one of my fellow diplomats was Eric Raymond, whom I've known since he was one of the Dr. Myriads and I was Warwick the Mailman, in Rekon-1b, held at Balticon in 1983. (Speaking of LARPs, that's how Keith and I met, too -- he was a player in Reklone-3, a game I ran in 1985, at a long-gone DC-area con called Unicon.) Anyway, thanks to the team who ran the Diplomacy game, it was great! (And click on the map to see how I was doing at the end... I'm happy to say that England was declared one of the winners!)

Yet another thing that was cool about PenguiCon 6 was the Tesla Coil light show someone did on Saturday night. The pillars seen in this picture are taller than a person, and the bolts of electricity flying back and forth between them were pulsating in time with the electronic music they were playing. It was way cool.

All in all it was a great weekend -- lots of great games, interesting people to talk to, neat things to see and hear, and also a lot of great food, including ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, yummy snacks of various sorts in the con suite at all hours, a ritualistic celebration of chocolate, an awesome grilled steak cookout, and all the caffeine-laced beverages you could ask for.

The only bad thing I can say about the weekend is that the flight home was dreadful. A flight that should have taken a little over an hour instead took five hours. We spent so much time flying around in circles, waiting for the thunderstorms over Baltimore to clear up, that we had to land in Pittsburgh to get more gas! It sure was nice to finally get home after that.

Anyway, PenguiCon 6 was awesome, so thanks again to both Keith and the con committee for bringing me out for it, and thanks to everyone who helped make it great, including our liaisons Molly and Mike and the gaming coordinator Shaun. I had a great time!

copyright © 2008 By Andrew Looney.

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