Forge Midwest 2021 Organizer Report

Having Forge Midwest online this year was something of an experiment. How would the pitch sessions translate to the online environment? What does the play space need to look like? Does a basic Discord server have enough bandwidth to support this? What really goes into making an online con, anyway?

The most important question, which I didn’t really figure out the answer to, was “are people even going to attend?”

It certainly seemed to me that there was support for it, between both anecdotal conversations I had previously had, and that seemed to be backed up by the rising server memberships in the weeks leading up to the convention. There seemed to be a lot of interest, which I took as a good sign… and made me worry that the preparations I had made were enough.

Also on the back of my mind, was whether or not this might serve as a model for a second Forge Midwest going forward, probably in the fall. Numerous people have expressed a desire for more Forge… but also exhaustion at the prospect of everything that goes into attending a con. A second online con seemed like the perfect solution. If this one worked out, maybe we’d keep the model around.

Friday morning rolled around, and we had enough turn out for a single game, which is not uncommon for Friday morning, historically one of the lowest attendance days, because many people are still working or traveling. But as Friday went on and Saturday came around, one thing became crystal clear: I had vastly overestimated the interest in an online Forge convention. Or perhaps had mistook what the actual conversion rate of interest to attendance would be. In any case, attendance was lower than my lowest prediction, which was disheartening as a convention organizer.

Fortunately, I was able to have a good time, playing many enjoyable games. Many thanks to those who attended.

And if you thought about attending and then decided not to, I want to hear from you. What can I do to make Forge Midwest online more attractive to you in the future?

We have some thoughts about ways to utilize this space for online events. Might this be a good way to have smaller “game day” style events? Will there be another Forge Midwest online in the future? Or is this space best used for coordinating in-person events when we are finally on the other side of all of this?

Let us know your thoughts.

Forge Midwest 2021 Play Report

This is the first time Forge Midwest has gone digital. While I have been doing online gaming since the beginning of the pandemic, this is only my second online convention. Despite some technical setbacks I was able to get in a solid weekend of gaming.

Fri AM: ACTION CASTLE/PUMPKIN TOWN

Finally, ACTION CASTLE as it was always meant to be played: over text. The “Parsley” series of games model 1980s text adventures, meant to be played as a group with a single GM figure. As a GM, the fun is in coming up with smart-ass responses to the prompts you’re given, and narrating death scenes, which I didn’t get to do often, but when I did, I did it with glee. As a player, you’re solving the puzzle, and also setting up smart-ass prompts to give the GM to work with. I’ve mostly ran this as a ‘filler’ game before, but it actually works much better in text. ACTION CASTLE is the first and easiest of the various Parsley games, and our players made it through in just over an hour. They did get to enjoy a brief jaunt into the PUMPKIN TOWN adventure, with a score of 4/13. The simplicity of this game was also nice because I was able to invite my friend Shari, who would not be able to attend the other events do to tech issues, but could come up with bad ideas over the phone with the best of them.

Fri Aft: Ganakagok

Ganakagok is the other other indie game to come out of the 2004 Game Chef competition (the more well known ones being Polaris and The Mountain Witch), and its about building a mythic story for the fictional Nitu people, who live on the island of Ganakagok, which is inspired by the history of the Inuit. Ganakagok involves a tarot card mechanism, of drawing a card and interpreting what it means for the situation, and this is included throughout the game, touching pretty much every aspect of the design. It’s very classic Forge style design, by which I mean narration rights being part of conflict resolution, abstract elements being given mechanical weight, a dice mechanic that has never really been done before, endgame mechanics. Playing it sort of feels like returning to that state of mind.

This was my first time running Ganakagok, and the thing I learned most is that it does not work online over roll20… like at all. I used a couple of clumsy workarounds to get everything to show up in roll20, but it was very clumsy, and Tim couldn’t get somethings to show up at all. Roll20’s poker chip implementation is a cludge, and using those for tokens in this is a cludge of a cludge.

We played through one full “round” of scenes, of each character getting a spotlight scene and a single conflict. Nanurjuk the defiant navigator piloted through a storm to scout out a new island for the Nitu to live on. Ssaborak the generous boat-maker did a long trek through a different storm, out pacing a pack of cannibal ghouls, to arrive back at the village to attend to his pregnant wife. Janaq the unlikable mystic helped deliver Ssaborak’s child into the world as dawn came, heralding a new age. By the guidelines in the book we should have gotten three or four full rounds through in this time, but the interface issues made everything take longer. This is a game I would really like to get a chance to play in person with fist fulls of tokens and moving the individual dice around… and also a game that could use a new edition with some streamlined game mechanics.

Fri Eve: 47 Hags

47 Hags is a playtest by Dave R, presented as a “lineage building game” about detailing and discovery the history of the 47 Hags. Each Hag is more powerful than the one before it, so the 47th Hag will be the one that destroys the world! 47 Hags inverts a lot of trope of Vampire: The Masquerade, which was delightful to explore (the most obvious one being the aforementioned power dynamic.)

For being the first version of the game, it was completely playable. Some of the mechanics were clunky, some of them felt off, and some were missing, but it mostly worked, which is amazing for such an early design; Dave has clearly put a lot of though into this. The tale of our lineage started with the “Boss-Hag,” (everyone has a Hag archetype, or Hagotype; since all the important people in the story are Hags, this makes it really easy to remember who is who), your typical “Karen” personality who had been turned into a Hag by the Tiger-Hag, a tiger mom who needed a supernatural minion to go after her supernatural minions that had gone rogue. Our cast also included the Law-Hag and the Order-Hag, the Luck-Hag, who was the most powerful being in existence for all of seven minutes before another Hag was created, and the super-weird magical polycule Threefold Hag. This was a lot of fun, though it had the struggle that many world-building games do, which is that the fun tends to be spaced out between the procedural bits. (This is true for all games, but in world building games in particular, the “play” portion is shrunk and the “procedure” bits are stretched.)

Sat AM: Swords Without Master

Andy H ran Swords Without Master, a swords and sorcery game. I had played this game before and struggled with it; Swords is about coming up with cool pulp narration. I was going to say ‘mostly’, but that’s really all there is to it, narrating these bits of prose. Sometimes the dice give you a setback, but mostly they just determine whether you narrate your details in a Jovial or Glum tone. When you’re in the mood to narrate a bunch of stuff, this can be a really fun game (as it was this morning.) We had a trio of badasses who probably just stepped out of a Frank Frazetta painting, who infiltrated a cult temple, killed an evil wizard during a magical avalanche, and did some other cool stuff. That’s Swords Without Master, essentially.

Sat Aft: Terraforming Mars, on Tabletop Simulator

Terraforming Mars is one of my favorite games, so satisfying to see your different income ratings push up higher and higher and accumulate more and more cubes, until late in the game you are slinging around fifty or sixty space dollars at a time. It is a super solid engine builder and I absolutely love it. I also didn’t sleep well at all the night before, so it was nice to play a shorter game and then get a nap in.

Sat PM: Forgotten Waters

Forgotten Waters is a board game with an online client, brought by Jim S. Its surprisingly not ideal for playing online, since the board state is not visible to everyone, but we managed a workaround on that. Everyone is a pirate; at each location there is a selection of actions to do and each person gets one to do, and there is a strict time limit in choosing actions. Usually its not an issue, but on a few spots hard choices were made and we lost some points. The game is cooperative but there are some strangely competitive elements, such as the turn order track and being able to steal items from your fellow pirates, which is very on theme for pirates but maybe a bad in a co-op game? The online client had the character sheets which we used, and set of different box-text passages.

Each player has a different pirate archetype, which comes with a madlibs style character backstory, and narrative boxes that are read out as the game progresses. I picked the Safety Pirate… safety is important on the high seas! After my first story milestone, I unlocked my signature item, the Reflective Vest!

This was a pretty fun game casual game about pirates. The weirdest part of the game is who exactly it is for; the colorful images seem themed for a family, but the story contents were a bit more violent that I would be comfortable with playing with kids. It’s not anything they won’t see in Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s a little different when its narrated that you’re the one running someone through with your sword. But its also so goofy that teens would probably find it lame. It also requires at least four players, which is not always easy, and has a long playtime.

Sun AM: JUNGLE ADVENTURE

Sunday morning I ran the second game in the Parsley saga, JUNGLE ADVENTURE, in which you crash land in the JUNGLE and have an ADVENTURE. This is a big step up in difficulty from ACTION CASTLE, but our players prevailed, with only one death and a solid score of 85/100. Whereas ACTION CASTLE is a typical entry into the text-adventure genre, with only a couple of points of bullshit logic, JUNGLE ADVENTURE seems to delight in the hoops it puts you through. Favorite part was at the beginning, when I told the players they couldn’t put on the backpack or exit the plane (you have to unbuckle your seat belt before doing either), and the excitement of the mad dash at the end to outrun the baddie that was chasing them, made all the more perilous by an added real time constraint.

Sun Aft: Lancer

Sabe ran Lancer, a 4E inspired game of giant robots fighting other giant robots. This was mostly a ‘demo’ with pregenerated mecha and a bunch of bad guys to fight. It was nice to get to flex one’s tactical muscles, and Lancer has enough choices to keep each turn interesting. On the downside sometimes I felt overwhelmed with options, and it did feel like it could drag a lot between turns. We used Roll20- apparently the game’s dedicated app, Comp/Con is much better- and there were some things that were a bit hard to use, like the bonus/penalty dice which didn’t quite seem to work. But blowing stuff up with giant robots is always fun.

2018: New Timeslots

This year, we’re extending the dinner break from 5-7.  Hopefully this means more people will be able to participate in the evening slot without having to rush their dinners.

Morning: 10-noon

Afternoon: 1-5

Evening: 7-11

Late Night: 11-???

Official Forge Midwest 2016 Post-Mortem

Official #forgemidwest Post-Mortem Post

This year was the biggest, longest, and dare I say, bestest Forge Midwest yet.  I want to thank everyone who showed up, ran games, and played games.  I just get the room and put everyone together- you are the people who make Forge Midwest awesome.

I was surprised at the number of people coming up Thursday night- I wanted to set up a dinner and maybe some casual gaming, but we kind of dropped the ball on this.  Tim and I picked one of our favorite Madison restaurants, but we didn’t count on the fact that it was downtown and people who had just driven many many hours to reach Madison might not want to brave the twisting streets of the Willy Street neighborhood.  Megan had the much more sensible idea of just going to TGI Friday’s.  Next year I hope to organize this better, so a pre-Forge dinner might become a tradition.

In years past, people have filtered in one or two at a time on Friday, and there’s usually not a real crowd until the afternoon or even evening session.  Not so this year- we had enough for two games at the 10 am session.  Turnout was huge- Tim counted 54 raffle tickets for one of the giveaways, so I’d estimate total turnout at around 65-70.

Success is also a curse: we were really bursting at the seams for space.  Shari opened up her room across the hall, and some people ended up taking games up to their private rooms.  And that was on Saturday, when we had the third room.

I’m really thrilled at the variety of games we had this year.  Experimental playtests, small and large LARP events like Conclave and Sparkle Baby, (I passed by the solitary confinement LARP and watched for a few moments and it was absolutely heartbreaking), games you’ve probably heard of like Urban Shadows and the Warren and Apocalypse World, games you probably haven’t heard of like whatever it was from the ’80s that Ron brought, boardgames new and old, a Magic: the Gathering cube draft of (badly) AI-generated cards, weird video games about bomb disposal, and a 20+ hour longcon event of D&D’s The Curse of Strahd ran by the wonderful Renee.  There were many timeslots where I lamented the fact that I could only play in one game at a time.

I had fun coming up with the Hangman puzzle and I hope you all had fun trying to solve it.  Congrats to Megan and Jeremiah for figuring out the last two answers, XXXXtreme Streetluge and Juggernaut.  I still don’t know who the clever people who got Holmesworld and Left Coast were.  I’m already pondering a bigger, harder puzzle for next year.

With the size of the turnout, I am starting to have concerns about the pitch session system.  I know how hard it can be to go up there in front of everyone and talk- I do it every session!  I think we had enough games every session, although sometimes I had to call for another volunteer.  Pitches still seem like the best system we’ve had so far, and I think the character of the con would be vastly compromised by going to something like an event calendar & sign up system.  I am especially looking for feedback on this- what was your experience pitching and/or mustering into games.

The timeslots seemed pretty good this session, but I think they might use just a little more tinkering.  Maybe 10/1:30/7/11 next year?  The dinner break seemed long enough for me, but I mostly felt pressed for time around lunch.  Meals are as an important part of the social experience as the games are.  Again, this is an area I am particularly open to feedback: if you felt particularly pressed for time, or if you felt there was a chunk of the day that was wasted time where you were waiting around to play something, let me know your thoughts.

The prize giveaway is another event that we seem to be outgrowing- handing out raffle tickets every timeslot became pretty time consuming.  Doing the raffles this year seemed very fatiguing, and not a very good return in terms of energy spent on my part to enthusiasm generated.  I think next year we’ll do one ticket per person and have you keep them- it will be easier to track total attendance and we won’t have to hand out tickets over and over.  I felt that people were less impressed with the prize quality this year- +I’m Board! Games & Family Fun was incredibly generous to donate some prizes, but in retrospect I don’t think they were a good match for the event.  Next year I’ll ask for fewer, higher-quality prizes, and we can probably crowdsource this some more and ask people to donate prizes- the first prizes to go were the ones that Shari and I had donated out out of our closets.
But maybe I’m wrong.  If you thought the raffles were totally awesome, let me know.

(I’m Board still a really really great game store and you should totally go there.  Kelley knows what I’m talking about.)

Anti-harrassment has been a growing concern for me as Forge grows and we have new people.  So far we have gotten by without an “official” harassment policy, and a simple culture of being an adult about things.  I wasn’t called upon to deal with anything, so as far as I can tell, the system is working.  But it’s a concern that’s on my mind, and I know that just because I’m not aware of a problem, doesn’t mean there’s not a problem.  If you have concerns about anything, please don’t hesitate to send me a private message.

Everyone cleaned up after themselves really well, which was great, because last year Tim and I got stuck with cleaning up a lot.

I didn’t get food poisoning like last year, so that was cool.

Sorry to anyone who was awaiting the crowdfund dungeon this year and missed getting to play.  My enthusiasm for it had really flagged this year, although once I saw the stuff you guys put on the board, I did regret not being able to run it.  We’re going to have a contingency next year for someone else to run it if I become otherwise engaged.  People asked me all Sunday when I’d run the crowdfund dungeon, and the answer was the always same: once Strahd was dead, which always seemed to be juuuuust around the corner.  We wouldn’t kill Strahd until 9:30 PM.  But we got him.

I had multiple people ask me if there’s any chance I’d run another Forge event of some kind.  I’ll need to research this more to see if it’s feasible (fall is a little tougher on hotel space than spring in Madison, go Badgers), but now that I know someone other than me thinks its a good idea I’ll look into it more seriously.

If you had a great experience, I want to hear about it, because I love hearing about people’s great gaming experiences, especially when I’m responsible for them!

If you had a bad experience, or even an experience that could be made better, or a suggestion for how something might be improved, I want to hear about it too, because I want to make my convention be the best possible convention there is.

Thanks again to everyone who showed up and played games.  YOU are the reason Forge Midwest is the best!