Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Geekway Memories

For the first time in 9 years, I am not going to be going to St. Louis for the Geekway to the West gaming convention. Let me be clear - it is not because of anything the Geekway has done or become - sometimes life is just messy or busy and this is one of those times. As the Geekway 2017 approaches and I watch the Geeklists appear on BGG, and the emails float around from my friends, I started thinking back on what I love about this gaming convention and I thought I'd share why I have come to love this event and what I'll miss the most.

In 2007, while living in Omaha Nebraska, I met Chester Ogborn. Sort of. I met Chester online playing Samurai on MaBiWeb. Chester had grown up in Omaha and after playing some intense games with him online in the Samurai tourney, I added him to my Geekbuddy list and we exchanged messages on occassion. At the end of 2007, I participated in one of the early BGG Secret Santa events. My Secret Santa was none other than Mr. Jay Moore of St. Louis. Jay and Chester knew each other and gamed together in St. Louis and Chester helped Jay to taunt with me riddles as I tried to assertain Jay's identity. All of that backstory is important only because in the Spring of 2008, Jay and Chester both encouraged me to come to St. Louis for the Geekway - a local 3-day convention being held at a community center. I had never been to a convention before, but this sounded pretty cool, so I convinced a couple of my local(ish) friends (Justin and Jason Easley, whom I had met in Omaha) to attend with me. And thus started a string of 8 years of attending the Geekway.

The Geekway was started as a weekend event in Jay Little's basement and has grown from the small handful of attendees to one of the premier gaming conventions, drawing thousands for "Four days of peace, love, and gaming". Though I wasn't one of the original attendees, Chester and Jay Moore were and the welcoming attitude I always have felt has made it feel a lot like I've been there the whole time.

Gaming with Jay Little, Jason Easley and Justin Easley at Geekway 2008
2008 - My First Geekway
Lots of interesting (or not) trivia bits. This was the first Geekway to be held at the Maryland Heights Community Center. I found a hotel about half a mile away and found rides from Geekway strangers to and from the airport.

To the best of my knowledge this was the first time a Play-To-Win table existed (conceptually).

There were only a couple hundred people at this particular event. Jay Little (the founder of the Geekway) ran a cart around the room offering people cookies and mini-muffins (IIRC, there was a fridge of soda you could buy drinks from). In many ways, he still felt like he was hosting an event and went out of his way to try and make all the new faces welcome.

Because this was a community center, I think the doors opened at 8AM and shut at 10PM. This was also only a 3-day event (Fri-Sun). On Saturday, there was a tornado warning and I don't think anyone in the building was told - I only happened to see it on the TV in the lobby because I was in the middle of selling my home and needed to receive and send a fax. The library was built out from (mostly) Jay Moore and Chris Darden's personal libraries. At one point we were going to play Age of Steam, but Jay had misplaced the track tiles. I donated a game (in secret) before I left - I did this for a couple years running, leaving some crap game that someone had to toss out or absorb into their collection.

This was the Geekway where I met Jay Moore and Chester Ogborn in person after "knowing" them as Geekbuddies on BGG. I also met and or gamed with Jay Little, Chris Darden, Matt Dimmic, Chad Krizen, Timothy Hunt, Katie Philbrick, Justin Heimberger, and a couple of other folks for the first time. This cast of characters became the foundation of folks that I'd look forward to seeing every year. I believe I won one play-to-win game (Manilla, which I hated and gave to Justin in trade for Medici which I love).

After the Geekway, Jay Little moved to Minnesota to go work for Fantasy Flight Games. He had pretty much already turned over the running of the Geekway to Jay Moore and Christopher Darden this year, but with his departure, it was of course officially in their care.

2009 - Return to the Community Center
In 2009, I returned for round 2. This time I brought my buddy Nathan Winchester from Arizona with me (I had moved back to Arizona shortly after the first one I attended). I also wrangled Justin and Jason back (they lived in Illinois now). Our plan that year was to focus on play-to-win games and also on getting in plays of as many games as we could. To that end, we ended up playing a handful of side games during longer games that had some downtime. I don't think we ended up winning any of the play-to-win games.

This was the first year of the Crokinole Tournament (Chester ran it). I recall a story about two guys almost losing to two kids who didn't even bother taking off their backpacks (Jay Moore's son and his buddy), which became the inspiration for my team's future name: Two One-Armed Blind Kids. You see, the guys that almost lost to the two kids were so happy they won, because they didn't want to ever have to admit they lost two two kids with backpacks. We took that too the next level - we wanted people to say they had lost to Two One-Armed Blind Kids. IIRC, My Little Pony (DJ and Joel) knocked us out and won the tournament.

2010 - First Geekway at the Chalet
This was the first year that the Geekway would be at a hotel. Though still only three days long, there would now be the chance for all night gaming (or at least late night gaming). I believe this is the first year that a crew of folks that I used to work with in Omaha rolled into the Geekway, making this the first time I was seeing large groups of friends from all over, not just St. Louis. This was also the first year that I helped out with getting the library setup. In what would become an annual tradition for me, when the load of library games showed up, I'd help unpack them and sort them for the library. That was the time I'd get to spend saying hi to all my St. Louis friends and playing catch up with some of my other friends that had arrived in town the day before the Geekway started.

It also was the first year that I played my annual "first game" with Michael Silbey and Chester Ogborn the evening before the Geekway started. Some years, we got in an early play-to-win game ahead of the crowds (for the record, it never helped - I never won the game in the drawing). A lot of years, it would be whatever game of interest that Chester had discovered. The key takeaway here was that this was the Geekway where the time with my friends was as important as the gaming itself. This was also the first year that the Geekway really started to grow. Having hotel space, all night gaming, and EASY access to food was a HUGE step up from the previous years. Thursday was still sparse, and table space easy to find. In fact, there were a lot of people wandering about looking for games, because there just weren't that many people early on. You could actually walk into the gaming area and scan the tables.

For those that attended last year - the vendor hall was most of the original space. Yes, that was all the space - the library was just off of that in a SMALL room.

My Little Pony trounced us out of the Crokinole tourney again this year.

2011 - Geekway Grows Some More
More firsts. I believe this was the first four day Geekway. This was the first year I played Battling Tops - it went on to become one of my favorite events over the years and I somehow WON in 2016.

This was the first year I played Princes of the Rennaissance with Chester's group (the core of being Chester, DJ, Joel, and Mike Silbey). It would not be the last.

For the third year in a row, neither Nathan nor I won a prize/drawing. Nathan and I made up 75% of the entries for Battles of Westeros from the play-to-win table and still didn't win it.

The Geekway was really growing and really didn't fit the space this year. It was REALLY hard to get a table space on Saturday, despite having a bit more space than the year before.

Justin Heimberger ran the first Combat Commander tournament this year. He cheated and knocked me out of the tourney. Ok, he probably didn't cheat, but it felt like it.

This was also the year that Jay Little died. After the Geekway ended, Jay drove back to Minnesota and suffered a number of health problems. He did recover and was able to return (as a zombie). His story is crazy - read about it here.

2012 - Geekway Moves Across the Yard
In 2012, the Geekway moved across the plaza from the Chalet to the Tower in an effort to get more space. This was the first year the Robert Bolan attended the Geekway with me. I broke my streak of not getting any play-to-win games by winning Legend of Drizzt. Robert, since this was his first year, of course won like 2 different drawings and door prizes including the first day - Heads or Tails. This was also the year we were VERY gung-ho to play A Game of Thrones. We slotted out 6+ hours and got a crew, then I watched everyone ignore Nathan and he won in the fourth round after about 90 minutes of playing.

This was also the year that Game-ception was born. We started playing a game, had to "pause" it to go to the Pitchcar prelims, play a match in our Crokinole tournament, and play in Battling Tops. The layers were crazy.

Speaking of crazy... in Crokinole, the first "Flick" happened (I say first, because I have been "flicked" multiple times over the years). Nathan and I were winning our match against Scott Reed and Chester when we had to pause the game for Battling Tops. When we resumed, we were ready to drop the mike and walk into the next round when on HIS LAST SHOT, Scott Reed hit THE FLICK that (seriously) knocked out all the disks of our color from the center of the board and won them the match. This was the third year in a row where we were beaten in Crokinole on a crazy last shot, but this year was the craziest thing I've ever seen. It was brutal - a 60 point swing of points on one flick.

In Battling Tops, this was the year that Jay Moore somehow managed to send not only his top, but the whole string and pull ring (ALL AS ONE UNIT) into the ring.

In Pitchcar, this was the first year I made the finals, and the first time I got lapped in the finals. It was seriously bad.

2013 - One of My Favorite Years
I think this might have been one of my favorite years. The size was just about right - I love this convention, but it has gotten so big in the past couple years, that it is almost too much.

Justin Heimberger passed on running the Combat Commander tournament this year, but being a huge fan, volunteered to run it. I went undefeated in Swiss play and got to crown myself champion. There were a lot of good stories about the games that were played and we all had a great time.

I got to learn how to play Viticulture from Jamey Stegmaier himself. I had not yet received my kickstarter game, but there were copies at the Geekway (Jamey is a St. Louis resident).

This was the first year that I spent time playing games with Justin Heimberger and his daughter (which also became something of an annual tradition for me every year since). Kids are funny and I don't mind playing some stuff with his daughter as she is hilarious (one year we were playing a game with dice and she kept rolling ones. It was driving her crazy and she yelled out, "Oh come on! I'm turning into my dad!" - good stuff).

My favorite story from this year had to do with Robert Bolan. This guy had won game after game every year since he started coming and this was no exception (not victories - he rarely was victorious), but prizes. This year, he won the raffle for the really nice handmade Crokinole board. Right after he won that (we were on the plane home already and heard about this after we landed), the Geekway crew had a surprise drawing for another Crokinole board (a Mayday board, so a consolation prize). They drew his name for that board too. Smartly, they redrew and someone else got a board.

The only low point was that I missed a shot at the PitchCar finals (literally, I missed my shot in a flick off with Justin Heimberger and Robert Bolan). I have since made a concerted effort to kick ass during the prelims. Each year I've gotten better in the early rounds, which has become required. The prelims are HARD - the competition has gotten better and better each year.

2014 - Ten Year Anniversary for the Geekway
This was the last year of the Geekway at the Tower. IIRC we had all of the ballroom space at the hotel and it was still stupid crowded. Previously, the space was taken by prom kids, but not this time.

This was the year that Chris Darden redid the tops for Battling Tops, so the first year that PRINCE CHARLES appeared in the BT arenas. It was great having a top named for me and I've used that same top every year since.

This was also the year that Chester had the brilliant scheme to commit a group of us to a game for the next 15 years. And so it came to be that I started playing Risk at the Geekway. That's right, we agreed to play a single game of Risk Legacy at the Geekway every year until we were done (we only made it three years - four of us are unable to attend this year).

I did manage to make the Pitchcar finals again this year and ended up forth after choking away 2nd place. It was Count Dooku's Junk that did me in. This was also the year I met Brandon Kempf in a game of Dominant Species. Nobody needs to care about that, except that I enjoyed his company enough to keep seeking him out the next couple years. Thanks to him, I've returned to writing all this dreck - if you don't like it, blame him. This was also the first year that I hardly even bothered with the play to win games. I'd still play them over the years, but I stopped trying to win them. I was more about doing gaming with my friends, and less about trying to add something I didn't care about to my collection. I pretty much stopped worrying about collecting more games from trades or whatever because it was a pain hauling them back home to Arizona.

2015 - Geekway Returns to the Chalet
The Geekway moved back across the plaza to the Chalet in order to get more space. Nearly all the hotel space was in use the whole time by the Geekway (I think everything except the downstairs area that was the play-to-win room in 2016. This year was memorable (or not) due to my ridiculous plan to make and bring a large amount of Orangecello. You see, I have an orange tree in my backyard and some friends from Phoenix had made some in previous years. I liked the idea and made my own by soaking orange zest in filtered vodka and everclear. It was really really good and very strong. I got a lot of people drunk on Friday night (myself and Robert included) during Battling Tops. After Battling Tops, was Chester's annual Princes game, which (much to his and all the other player's chagrin) I won. Drunk. I'm not proud. The gang took it out on me in our Risk Legacy Game and wiped me off the map in the third round. The next day was bad. Robert and I were very hungover and didn't play Crokinole particularly well. To add insult to injury, we got FLICK'd out. We didn't actually play too much of anything on Saturday now that I think about it.

I had made the Pitchcar finals again, but Joel and the Chads made the finals track a little too hard. The year before they had created a Geeklist right after the Geekway and were bouncing Pitchcar ideas around. There were some really cool features on the track, but it was one hard feature after another. It took nearly an hour for the field to complete the first lap. Seriously. I think I finished 7th out of 8. I still had a great time.

2016 - Last Year's Geekway
In 2016, Chester introduced the mysterious Geekway Platinum Club and printed up shirts for the Princes of the Renaissance Group. As per his plan, there were a lot of questions about how to get into the Platinum Club and other random silliness. The moral of the story is - not everything you see matters or is important. Speaking of Princes, after my drunken win the previous year, we were joined in our Princes game this year by drunken Chad, who almost won. I was 100% sober and didn't win.

What IS important is that I won the Battling Tops tournament. And I wasn't drunk.

I also brought my love Alyson to the Geekway for her first time.

I managed to make the Pitchcar finals again, and this year was doing a great job in the finals - until the very end. Joel came out of nowhere and overtook Andrew Tulleson and I (who kept trading the lead). I managed a weak third place after being first or second the entire race. Losing to Joel and Andrew is nothing to be ashamed of so I didn't feel too badly about that. Did I mention that I won Battling Tops?

So from the small beginings of the Geekway (when I first started attending) in 2008 through last year, what I've found I look forward to the most is seeing my friends and a specific couple of the events. Battling Tops, Princes of the Rennaissance, Risk Legacy, setting up the library, hanging out, and re-connecting with friends is what The Geekway is about for me. The Geekway has grown to about 10x bigger than it was when I first attended. Think about that. From the point where I recognized people at almost every table and game being played, to where I hardly know anyone at any of the tables. It is still an amazing event, but I realized I now go because of the people I've previously met, not the new games or play-to-win table or the other 2000 people I don't know. I'll miss it this year and hope to make it back next year. To all my friends that I won't get to see this year - I'm not sure who you are going to pick on in-game this year. I know you always target me! Probably you'll target Robert - he deserves it.


Brian Q. said...

We'll miss you this year, Charles! But how on earth do you keep all the years straight? Gaming diary? Photographic memory?

Charles Hasegawa said...

Geeklists have become the main way. I think I only missed the second year in Geeklists. I also blogged (if you look back far enough) some of it.

Chronicles of Charney said...

Great list...It was great to read and recall my experiences over the years. I've only been attending since 2013, but Geekway instantly skyrocketted to the Top of my To-Do list each year. I sure hope I don't have to miss it any time soon.

Sorry you can't make it this we try out another New Venue...Saint Charles Convention Center..HERE WE COME!
Hopefully you will be able to get back to StL for Geekway 2018.
-Shawn (BGG: TundraThunder)

Ryan said...

I was also a first timer in 2008! I've been to every one since but they do start to run together. I missed creating geeklist for 2009/10 but all the rest I documented which help me remember.

Itinerant said...

You will be missed.

Justin's daughter is awesome. What a great line.