JoCo Cruise 2015

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JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  paulyg on Wed 11 Feb 2015, 22:13

So I thought I’d write up my impressions of the JoCo Cruise this year. It’s not exactly a board gaming convention, but board gaming is a big part of it. I’m worried that this will come off as an enormous brag but it’s not intended that way. I know at least a couple of people are potentially interested in going so hopefully it’s of interest. Believe it or not, I actually tried to keep this post reasonably short. If you want to know more then just asked me and I’ll talk at you for hours :-)

In a nutshell
It’s an annual cruise out of Florida, generally around the Caribbean, put together by Jonathan Coulton (nerdy singer/songwriter) and friends with a variety of performers and other special guests on board. The participants (“seamonkeys”) make up about 1/3 of the overall passengers on the ship and there were around 15 performers this year. There’s a programme of official events (concerts, comedy, etc.), “featured” events (smaller things like panel discussions, playing Munchkin with Steve Jackson, etc.) and shadow events which are organised by non-performer seamonkeys (interest groups, unofficial concerts, playing of video games). There is also a 24-hour board game room with a lot of games. Because internet access is very limited on the ship, and there are lots of geeks on board, some of the seamonkeys set up an onboard server running Twit-arr (yes, somewhat like Twitter), forums, etc. so that people can communicate and share photos, arrange to meet up and so on. Sometimes people even resort to noticeboards and posters.

Highlights from this year
There are so many seamonkeys now that it feels like there is always something going on. This year the organisers introduced three tracks of panels and special events (writing, gaming and featured events) in addition to the main official events and this really added a lot. There were days where I had to choose between a couple of exciting events that clashed. The organisation (from both the official organisers and also volunteers / helpers) is also now incredibly slick. A few specific highlights below.

Geek Chic were there with some of their really, really nice gaming tables (they make the one that you may have seen on Tabletop). Shipping to the UK would be ridiculous, so not really an option, but it was very nice to play on a lovely felted surface with clip-on cup holders and little slide out trays. Obviously not as good as the boards at the Red House though…

Talking of Tabletop, Boyan Radakovich (producer of Tabletop and a game designer) was there and demoing his Kickstarter game Pirate Den (which I backed). It’s a fairly simple, but very fun, game of trying to second-guess what your opponents will do so that you can make the best move to steal the most loot. Definitely fun, with some really nice components, and it made me glad that I backed it. He also explained some of the background around why the project is delayed and promised that he would be upping all backers by one level, which I think is a decent thing to do. There was a separate session where he talked all about the production of Tabletop, but that’s far too much for me to write about here.

I also got to play the deluxe edition of Council of Verona with Patrick Nickell from Crash Games (and we were the first people to try the corruption expansion outside of the designer and close friends). This is definitely one that fans of Coup will enjoy, I think. There’s a little bit more to it and it takes a couple of rounds to figure out what you’re doing but there is plenty of scope for bluffing and back-stabbing. The corruption expansion adds in a lot more unpredictability which is good or bad depending on how pure you like your games to be.

There were quite a few other game designers there - Steve Jackson and Andrew Hackard from Steve Jackson Games, Kristin Looney from Looney Labs, Christopher Badell from Greater Than Games, Keith Baker of Gloom fame, Chris Pramas (Dragon Age), Geoff Engelstein (Space Cadets), Mikey Neumann (Borderlands) and probably others who I’ve forgotten or didn’t recognise. Steve Jackson brought one of the designer editions of Ogre, which looked completely insane and was the biggest box in the games room by a big margin.

Keith Baker and partner Jenn Ellis put together the “gaming track” which had a bunch of events (meet and chat to various designers, play against celebrities at Magic / Gloom / Munchkin), help design an expansion, taste test of various 2 player games and a talk about the play testing process. They also brought one of the most exciting things - a new RPG called Phoenix: Dawn Command. It’s a card-based (rather than dice-based) RPG and has a very interesting setting where the levelling mechanic is death (you get stronger each time you die, but can only die a limited amount of times and the way you die influences how your character develops). It’s a long time since I’ve played an RPG but this one could definitely get me back into it. It’s kickstarting next month and I’ll definitely be backing!

Talking of Kickstarters, 2/3 of the team behind Exploding Kittens (the nearly $6m so far Kickstarted card game) were there and doing lots of play-testing. It was very interesting to see both how much they developed the game over the course of the week and also how genuinely shocked they were by the amount of money they were raising on Kickstarter. Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) was super nice and spend lots of time drawing cartoons for people, despite not being very well. Oh, and Exploding Kittens seems like a pretty fun, light card game. Personally I’m looking forward to seeing the NSFW card set…

There were a bunch of non-gaming things too. For fantasy / sci-fi fans they had both John Scalzi and Patrick Rothfuss on board talking about writing, doing readings, hosting panels, etc. (they both seemed super nice). I’m a big fan of Merlin Mann and was excited that he was one of the guests and recorded a live podcast with John Roderick. I also really like Jonathan Coulton and, as you’d expect, there were plenty of opportunities to see him play (both on his own and with various special guests). There were multiple other concerts, a comedy night, parties, the chance to see Wil Wheaton playing Artemis (essentially a video game of commanding the Enterprise) and lots of free beer from Mystery Brewing.

What’s not so good
I love this event, so this section is short. But, in summary, it’s really expensive and the cruise destinations are not that exciting. They’re usually pretty touristy, although this year San Juan was pretty interesting (and, yes, a bunch of people played San Juan in San Juan). The dining room dinners are a bit slow, but there’s also a buffet option which we also found had tastier food. Oh, and it’s a long way from the UK.

What did I play?
Some old stuff, some new stuff but my main board game highlights of new-to-me things other than the above were…

Schrodingers Cats - A card game along the lines of Liar Dice (currently Kickstarting)
Pairs - Quick pub game (which I also bought)
Machi Koro - Finally got to play it and enjoyed it a lot, though Kat wasn’t keen
AquaSphere - A very Feld game and as such I really liked it. Possibly the most thematic of his games?
Jaipur - Not played this before but it’s a great 2-player game!
Cosmic Encounter - Finally got to play this and now need to get lots more games of it in

And many other things but this is already way too long…
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  Aneurin on Wed 11 Feb 2015, 22:55

No photos of you and Wil?
Great write up... Very jealous...
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  Ste on Thu 12 Feb 2015, 07:47

I've played Artemis before with a bunch of people. It was a lot of fun. Great write up, I didn't even know such a thing existed but then again I find myself being surprised more and more by board games the more I look into it.
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  paulyg on Thu 12 Feb 2015, 08:19

Aneurin wrote:No photos of you and Wil?
Not this year... :-)

To make up for it, though, here's Wil in Starfleet uniform posing after playing Celebrity Artemis:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/wizzer/16307547587/in/set-72157650734046372

And this is a shot of the game room, showing one of the nice Geek Chic tables being utilised by me to be awful at 7 Wonders (as usual):
https://www.flickr.com/photos/wizzer/16319729027/in/set-72157650758060182
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  paulyg on Thu 12 Feb 2015, 08:22

Ste - Blinky wrote:I've played Artemis before with a bunch of people. It was a lot of fun. Great write up, I didn't even know such a thing existed but then again I find myself being surprised more and more by board games the more I look into it.
Yeah, I'd like to try it some time! The celebrities made it look quite hard, but then again they were all quite drunk...
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  Ste on Thu 12 Feb 2015, 09:25

It's really not that difficult once you able to co-ordinate between your team mates. There are some roles which are harder than others of course but it's not rocket science.

I quite liked being the Captain and telling people what to do. Cool
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  Lizzy on Thu 12 Feb 2015, 09:48

I'd love to try Artemis. I really enjoy the board game equivalent, Space Cadets: Dice Duel. Though I'm really bad at being captain! Just give me a fistful of dice.
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  Ste on Thu 12 Feb 2015, 10:41

I've got the installer somewhere.

I'll dig it out and put it in a dropbox for distribution to whoever wants it.

Ideally you need 1 pc connected to a big screen to act as the main screen then 4 or 5 people (I can't remember exactly how many) with their own laptops to work the other consoles (Navigation, Weapons, Engineering etc)
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  PaulC on Thu 12 Feb 2015, 10:51

I just need to either:
a) convince my wife that board games aren't lame, or;
b) trick her into going on the cruise and act surprised when we discover the board game room.

I don't fancy my chances. Sad
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  theatrekat on Fri 13 Feb 2015, 19:28

Hmmm what can I add?

Oh - Boyan said that he was going to be at the UK Games Expo, which is exciting 'cos he's awesome, and Keith was asking about if there were any good UK events so hopefully he'll be there too! Everyone was really approachable and friendly and we got to exchange contact details with a few of the designers which was very cool and Paul & I are going to design a game for fun. It's actually a really creative and inspiring environment - after last year's I started my bunny podcast, and this year we thought about a game - not 'cos we want it to be successful just 'cos it's awesome doing something creative. On the cruise this year was a guy who spontaneously decided to do a musical theatre concert which was amazing, and so popular that he had to do a second. He's hoping to continue to do that stuff off-cruise too and see where it leads him, but it was very much the cruise community that spurred him into it.

The cruise ports are all about flogging tanzanite and sunbathing. SanJuan was the only one I've found interesting, although you can do excursions including swimming with dolphins which would be amazing but isn't ethical in my opinion

There's a climbing wall on top of the ship with an amazing view from the top, poolside movies, and iceskating.

As well as the comedy, music, gaming, writing streams, there's also a lot of crafting, book club (I think they met 4 times) improv, zumba, a lot of tiara wearing and nails/hair meetups, and kid friendly stuff too so even though non-boardgames loving OHs may be initially sceptic, there is such lovely community and events that everyone will enjoy. And a toddler pit.
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Re: JoCo Cruise 2015

Post  Aneurin on Fri 13 Feb 2015, 21:18

theatrekat wrote:Hmmm what can I add?

And a toddler pit.

Bet Paul enjoy that Wink
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