Travelogue for Looney Labs' San Francisco Tour 2001
by Andrew Looney

1: Parties at Friends' Houses
2: Gaming Events at Game Stores
3: Game Demos at Med-Pot Clubs
4: The Haight-Ashbury Street Fair
5: The Tonga Room
6: Other Random Acts of Tourism
7: Father's Day is Family Time
8: My Overall Favorite Moment

Part One: Parties at Friends' Houses

The Zuckershack

Our first official stop was in Berkeley, at the home of Eric Zuckerman and his lovely wife Beth. Eric had arranged to hold a session of his gaming group, the Badger Lodge, at the time most convenient for us to attend, which turned out to be right at the beginning of our trip. Here you see them waving from the window of their cool green Berkeley home, along with Boston area rabbit Julia Tenney, who happened to be in town ahead of us and arranged to meet up with us at the Zuckershack. She joined us for Eric's french toast the next morning and went off geocaching, which we seriously considered doing as well, but couldn't work in.

With the 12th International Icehouse Tournament just a few weeks away, getting in some practice games of Icehouse was on several people's minds, including Eric on the left and Mike Sugarbaker on the right. In the middle is Bob Galloway, who just won both the cool award and the tournament at West Coast Icehouse Tourney #3.

Eric made a point of showing me lots of neat local Icehouse artifacts, including this amazing frosted glass object made for this year's winner of the West Coast Icehouse tourney, by last year's winner, Robert Szasz.

Here as at many places along the tour, we did some playtesting, both of new games by us (i.e. Nanofictionary) and new games by others (usually involving Icehouse pieces). Here we see examples of both: that's Nanofictionary we're playing on below, and on the right, Kerin Schiesser introduces us to a game she's working on, called Martian Life, which I found quite intriguing.

Nanofictionary Preview

And since I promised in the Overview to reveal some details of this new game we've been working lately, here they are.

One day, while trying to write a 55 word short story, I invented a game instead. I learned from writing Nanofiction that there are four key elements a story must have for it to be considered a technically complete story: one or more characters, a setting, conflict of some sort, and an ending. It occurred to me that I could turn these four elements into card types, and thus make up a game about making up little stories. And suddenly, I was working on a new game!

In Nanofictionary, there are four kinds of "plot device" cards: Character, Setting, Problem, and Resolution. (There's also a 5th type of card, called Actions, which are just what you'd expect an Action to be after playing any of my other card games.) Characters you could get include the Late Night Talk Show Host, the Incognito Starship Captain, and the Guy in the Apartment Upstairs. Problems can range from a Dead Body to Something is on Fire to a Terrible Accident Involving Food. Resolutions include everything from The Fairy Godmother Fixed Everything to The Earth Was Totally Destroyed, and Settings can be anywhere from the Underground Secret Hideout to the Grounds of the Insane Asylum.

During the game, players seek to collect an interesting sequence of these four types of "plot devices." When everyone has finished building a little story out of cards, the players then take turns telling their stories, embellishing them here and there as they go. After this, the other players (and possibly others who might be in the room) vote on whether the story sucks or rocks (or is just so-so), with points being lost or gained accordingly. The player who tells the best story is thus favored to win, although crafty play can still sometimes allow a player with a lackluster story to emerge as the victor.

So for example, a futuristic version of the story of our trip to San Francisco might look like the sequence of cards shown here. Look for other sample cards sprinkled throughout this report (but be aware that these are cards from the current prototype only and may or may not be included in the final game). The cartoons, by the way, are all by Alison.

Leslie & Jeremy (and their new arrival)

Only a year an a half ago, Leslie was a college student spending her winter break with us, helping us hammer out a business plan. Since then she's graduated, moved to California, gotten married, and had a baby. Whew! And I thought we kept busy. We happened to be their just when Skyler was coming home; he was actually born several months ago, a preemie by about that much. Leslie and Jeremy have been living the painful life of new parents with a new-born they could only visit in the hospital. They've been visiting every day, and now at last Skyler has reached normal baby size and was therefore finally allowed to go home. The new arrival was very much the focus of attention in this household, but we still managed to work in a few games of Chrononauts, which Jeremy says is his favorite game.


We also spent a night with Michelle Lepovic, who invited friends over to game with us for the occasion, including the usual suspects from the Zuckershack. This time we playtested Sugarbaker's Napster-themed card game, which he calls "Napalicous", while Eric went out to fetch our shiny foo on his bicycle. We also had our first exposure the so-called "dancing game", Dance Dance Revolution, which is played using these big vinyl floorpads that replace the controllers on your playstation. When you step on them, it registers your timing, so that your dance movements can be evaluated and reacted to by the game software. It's bizarre and kind of grating, but I have to admit that it's also pretty cool, and seems like it could actually help make it fun to work out. Here you see Beth and Alison giving it a try.


Kirsten is a friend of Alison's from college and they had all but fallen out of touch when Alison suddenly realized she had moved right to the place we were planning to visit. Indeed, she lives in Berkeley just a short distance from the Zuckershack. We met up with her one afternoon for lunch, some shopping, and a few games of Aquarius in her nifty little bungalow.

Ammy & Rick

The final group of friends we gamed and stayed with was down in Santa Clara. Knocking on the door in this case was a little strange, because we hadn't actually met any of these people before... they were just names on a computer screen until now. So it was kind of like a blind date. But in setting up the party and inviting us to attend, Ammy described her friends as being "your average northern California granola eating, tree-hugging, pagan hippie freaks (that also happen to be computer geeks)", so we figured we'd get along, and indeed, we did.

Here too we playtested Nanofictionary, and as usual, the game got great reactions. We also played lots of Fluxx, Aquarius, and IceTowers.





Along the way, we met many family pets, mostly cats. I think my favorites were Paca and Lolo, a charming pair of young sibling cats living with Leslie and Jeremy. The cats at the Zuckerman household kind of frightened us... they keep their owners on a tight leash. Kirsten has a great cat named Sputnik, and it was fun meeting Dennis Peron's dog, Pinky Lee, but the funniest animal of all was here at Ammy's house. Their cat Tigger watches TV like I've never seen a cat watch TV. Tigger gets right up there by the screen and watches the Animal Planet station with rapt attention... until the commercial comes on, at which point he loses interest and wanders around, waiting for the show to resume. (I guess he keeps his owners on a pretty short leash too, since he has TV privileges...)

copyright © 2001 By Andrew Looney.

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