(This is a confused attempt at live-blogging my trip I couldn’t figure out how to post on the road! Welcome to my worser spelling and grammar!)
Somewhere in Middle America.
“This is actually a really nice place to live,” my friend Michelle said as she drove home, “but people talk so much shit.”
“Well, weren’t your friends like “Oh, what’s in Omaha?’ When you told them you were coming here?”
Which they were, but which I had seen that as honest curiosity: why, after all, would one go to Omaha? I do live in one of the biggest tourist draws in the world, to try to justify my prejudice. And I thought I knew a lot about where I’m from and have a lot of pride in it. Mickey thought it was funny that I was wearing an Oakland shirt my first night, and I had to tell him that when I was packing I realized that basically all my shirts are Oakland shirts. And CGE shirts.
CGE being how I know these friends from Omaha, through demoing. Which was my answer; that I I have friends in Omaha. But how do I know people from Omaha? I am coastal, but my life has been incredibly provincial. I would have never visited the Midwest, much less have friends from Omaha, without gaming. I am typing this in the coolest gaming room I’ve even seen, with a ridiculously nice host, while visiting the midwest for the first time, experiencing a different way people live in this country, because I love board games.
And Michelle’s right that I would never have considered coming to Omaha for a vacation before gaming. Some of that is that may be that I don’t really go places I don’t know people. But that is really just making the point that gaming has expanded the world of people who I know, and my world in the process. And all I’ve done so far is eat one of the best burgers and some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Cow things are better here.
Get Right to the Heart of Matters
GAAAAAAAAAAAAMES!!!!!! And food. Have I played games? Yes, I have played 16 games, (although I’ve forgotten the names of the first two), in 2 ½ days. I think that’s more games than I played at KublaCon, which is usually the most games I get played in a weekend in a year. It’s not the weekend. I’ve just gotten to play games most of my waking hours with two people I love playing games with, despite this being just another workweek for them. This weekend is a trip to Minneapolis for a gaming event but back to Omaha in time for Michelle’s regular Game Night.
Little games I’ve never heard of- I actually won Skull King, a trick-taking game. Longer, crunchy games like Concordia I’ve been itching to play for years. And that twice- if you count my attempt with Mickey, my other Omaha friend from demoing with CGE, in which we essentially and unintentionally created an alternative ruleset I swear I’m going to write up. Games played on the homemade, felt-topped, recessed-shelf table I’m typing this on, with heavy Iron and Clay chips, (which I derided when I first saw them on Kickstarter, but which I now know are amazing to handle- if only I didn’t only play games places I have to walk to with a backpack), surrounded by a thousand games on custom shelves begging for reverential pawing.
But none of this gets in the way of eating, because food is love. Especially here, where offering and accepting food is a lot less fraught that it is in the Bay. So in addition to feasting on my friend’s oatmeal and leftover charcuterie for most of my meals, I have gotten to try some of the best individual dishes Omaha has to offer: the brown-gravy burrito. The deep fried taco, in which meat and cheese are wrapped in some kind of dough they call a flour tortilla and the whole thing is deep-fried. A Ruben dripping with fatty chunks of pastrami, served with the best fried pickles I’ve ever had, across the street from the Blackstone Hotel, which birthed the sandwich. Tonight we’re going to grill sweet Omaha steaks with sweet Omaha corn, and at some point there’s a Queso tasting planned. When I travel to cons, I spend all my time in convention halls crowded with strangers that I barely leave to buy food. Friends to show me around their hometown, especially the food, and game is a perfect trip.
This Minneapolis Interlude Brought to you by “Minneapolis” by That Dog
So being in Omaha, I naturally took a trip to Minneapolis, expanding my new city and new state total to three. It was the birthday of our host, another Daniel, so we drove in Friday for the monthly 12 hour game day he runs every third Saturday, and his birthday party Sunday, (before we drove back to catch the end of Michelle’s weekly game night). The drive was corn and soybeans. But also new music and a podcast in which my snoring was, (correction, allegedly not) mentioned. It seems like everyone I meet out here is a designer, developer, does board game media, runs events. Daniel’s game day is run by the United Geeks Of Gaming out of an awesome space shared by the members of the Geek Partnership Society. It’s a bunch of geek groups who realized that their geek would be stronger if they came together. Now they have an awesome event/class/office/communal storage space and can share resources.
Daniel was selling drinks and snacks, despite letting people bring in whatever food they wanted. And that was the only fundraising- not even a tip jar. I felt guilty and asked him if I should throw a few dollars at rent, marveling that he would get to use such a space without a specific, high rental fee, and he, rather than laughing, politely explained that the Society appreciates what they can kick in, rather than demands rent for the space. The Midwest is awesome.
As is Daniel, who invited us into his home at nearly eight on Friday, took us to some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had, (the best tiramisu- it was like a tiramisu parfait), and then taught me Gia project. And kept insisting that crossing a hundred points is a great score for your first game, despite the fact that he nearly lapped me. That was one major mistake: I was in Minneapolis for less than 48 hours and played Gia Project, Sidereal confluence, Pipeline, and Yinze. All brain burners by my normal standards. All lasted at least three hours. All for the first time. All after being told that there way for me to win, or even avoid getting stomped, my first game. After a point I honestly wondered if I should even be gaming; it was easy to feel not on a level there.
Daniel’s collection went from 18xx to medium heavy, no thrash, minimal filler. I’ve never seen anything like it. And he’d played most of them down to the ground. He had and had played every map of Concordia. The guy who taught me Pipeline had helped develop it, played it over 200 times, and only ended up lapping me 13 times. Sorry- one of the reasons I had a hard time is that I hate people who complain about losing, and I feel like I became one.
I like to think I’m playing for the joy of social interaction, the engagement of the game, and only tangentially the triumph of winning. People have told me I shouldn’t game because I don’t care about winning enough and it cheapens the games I’m in. But even for someone like me, it’s hard when you’re crushed the whole game. Your endgame becomes repetitive as everyone else ramps up their engines, and as their choices increase, yours constrict, and in a lot of these games you can only realize too late that you’ve missed the valid scoring paths entirely and just have to play out a useless engine- and now I have to apologize for more bitching. And I’m hoping to write a post on it, anyway- the travails of being the group loser. The meta was just different in there: there every day is a stream of games so heavy I rarely get to play them.
As an experience, the game day was amazing. We were there for about 12 hours, out of which I probably spent 9-10 gaming, during which I played four games. And I should be, and am becoming, happy that I got to learn Sidereal Confluence and Yinze, the first of which I’ve known I needed to play for a long time. There were 26 people through the door, and everyone was nice and welcoming strangers like me into their games. The event had a nice family vibe, with no kids, and it felt like half the game day went to Daniel’s birthday party Sunday. By the time we got ice cream, back to his place, and the garlic peeled for marinade, we were too tired to even play! Truly, an awesome day of gaming, and something I wish I had access to once a month.
Michelle made a cake for the party: almond-raspberry. And this woman has decorated cakes professionally. Well, she baked it in Omaha and drove it in, but it was a work of art. Daniel grilled, and I even got to help set up a little bit, making me feel less useless. It was a great time- I played Roll and Pipeline before we left at four, the latter just in time to grind my spirit into the dirt. Good thing I also tanked Tetuichan when we got back to Michelle’s game night, which had started before she got home. Which was another group of awesome people I got to meet. Not really talk to or hang out with. But the social reach of Michelle is impressive- I found out my original roommate at Origins and another CGE demoer have a sweet podcast, Punchboard Paradise, and both of them friended me on FB when I subscribed to their page and channel. I seriously feel more plugged into the gaming scene here, in just a week, than I ever would have expected. And I got to play the Twin Cities.
It’s the heart that matters more
And truly appreciate my heart the hospitality and fun that Michelle and Mickey in Omaha, Michelle’s parents, Daniel and everyone from his game group in Minneapolis showed me. I went into this trip wondering how provicial I really am and realized, I really am. I’m glad to be home, and had a fun lyft driver since my plane was delayed past when the BART runs. But it’s true that the first thing he asked me was if I was from around here, then where I was coming from, and when I said Omaha, he just said “sorry.”
Omaha is great. It has its own distinctive style of food, (admittedly, whiter mexican food than I could have conceived of existing, but delicious), and the quality is top notch. Farm fresh seems to mean something different in a place with lots of farms, not to mention the gardens, and the result tends to be simple, delicious, and not incidentally much cheaper than what I associate with farm-to-table. Everything is cheaper, and thus bigger, and I can’t explain all the little differences that makes. Man, showering with room to turn around. The gaming is great, although a little heavy cardboard for me, and the country is beautiful.
I never would have seen this place or these people without gaming- I would not know a brown gravy burrito even existed. I would not have finally had a gaming vacation that had more vacation to it than just gaming. And I got to get to know some friends better. I think that’s more the point. And the games. I ended up at 28 in 8 days. Pretty good considering how many of them took at least three hours, and the couple days I didn’t play. I think this is still my best total for a week, but still- yes, there were days I didn’t game. You take advantage of the chance to canoe a clear lake under the big sky, even if it means you don’t game for a day of your gaming vacation. Gaming takes you a lot of places.