Sunday, 15 July 2012

Icon 2012: A Pretty Good One

There are three High Holy Festivals in my year:
  1. Shamsmas (14 September), my birthday.
  2. Kweznuz (24-26 December), a linked string of the small nuclear family xmas eve at home, the big wider family xmas day at some relative or another's house, and my friend Nali's Day of Goodwill/Boxing Day lunch, known as Secularsmas.
  3. Icon (a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, normally around mid-July), the big annual gaming and geekery convention in Joburg.
This weekend was Icon weekend, and I am most enhappified by it.

Of those three festivals, Icon is perhaps the most exciting for me. Like Shamsmas, it holds some actual meaning for me, albeit an entirely subjective, personal one. Kweznuz, on the other hand, isn't about anything for me, it's just a standard tradition, a thing that is done because it is done.

And like Kweznuz, Icon is a big social wossname. Shamsmas used to fall partially within the annual ARS parties that I shared with my friends Arran and Richard, and that was pretty social, but it hasn't always been there (the last was probably in 2008) and it didn't always feel properly Shamsmassy, however fun it was. More commonly, Shamsmas has been a time when people (including me) are busy with exams or work or whatever, so it's tended to be more private, a celebration largely inside my own head, which other people occasionally pass through (literally, by means of a shrink ray). My 21st "party", for example, was watching Galaxy Quest with pizza and beer and 3 or 4 close friends. It was a great night.

And I get neat loot on all three occasions, but there's something slightly different about Icon loot, as it's bought with my own money and is purely a personal indulgence. Gifts from friends and family are obviously thoroughly appreciated, especially since most have figured out how much I like books (only missing Mostly Harmless from my Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy, for example...) and geeky tshirts in black or red (L or XL). But reciprocity is complicated and it's nice to just do something purely selfish as a special treat. And keeping it attached to this annual rite keeps the treat special and rare. Taking what you want, whenever you want it, has its own appeal, but kind of ruins the excitement of gifts, both from yourself and from others.

So Icon isn't the best of the three, but it is the most exciting to me. It also manages to be far more full of tradition and ritual. Shamsmas has the Ritual of Mom Recounting What Was On TV When She Went into Labour With Me (it was Dallas). Kweznuz has paper crowns and bad jokes from crackers and, more recently, the annual Secularsmas Interesting and Unusual Reproductive Biology Lesson (a.k.a. the "cock talk") from a certain Wits philosophy lecturer.

But Icon is full of rituals. There's the Ritual of the Early Morning Queue of Shouting, the Ritual of the Friday Ticket Buying, the Ritual of the Saturday Smugly Passing People Who Haven't Got Tickets Yet, the triple Rituals of Buying, Carrying Around and Drinking Free Crappy Coffee From the Blessed New Icon Mug of that year, the Ritual of Being Slightly Underwhelmed by the Selection of Things to Play and Buy, the Ritual of Signing Up for a Game, the Ritual of Getting Annoyed with Loud Players at the Next Table Who Confuse Fun and Skill with Volume and Loudness, the Ritual of Not Being Sure When to Go Home Until You See Half the Building Already Sealed Up, the Ritual of Orbiting through the Recreation Center Over and Over More to Kill Time Between Sessions than to Actually Find Anything, and the Ritual of Being Dismissive Unto Magic Players (who clearly deserve it).

Adding to the feeling that this is a special event are some unusual occurences, things that don't normally happen, but which always crop up at Icon. There are the cosplayers, whose general costumey presence I can remember at Icon from before cosplay was a word anyone used in polite company or at all. There are the people who hit each other with sticks (padded). There are the stalls full of games and comics and shit, only unusual sights anymore because of their cramped closeness. And there are the regular faces, people I hardly ever see in the real world, if at all, but who I'm guaranteed to see every single year at Icon. I barely know most of them and can't name many of them, but their faces are as familiar to me as paper crowns at xmas lunch. This weekend, for example, I played a boardgame with a guy I sat next to at my very first convention game back at Wits Con 2000, and played a Dark Heresy module with a couple of guys who I'd once gotten chatting with at Gencon 2000 (as our Icon was called back then), while we were waiting for the start of a module. I don't know these people at all really, and I see them as seldom as I see my dentist, but I can still place them instantly, even if we've all grown beards and they've started going bald. (For comparison, trying to picture my dentist, all that comes to mind is the face of a guy who plays Magic; I'm reasonably sure my dentist doesn't play Magic.)

So how was this year? Pretty good, as the title may have given away. The roleplaying I did (the Dark Heresy module, with Ork PCs) wasn't great and I missed the games I was expecting to be better (let us try to remember well the lesson of the Ritual of People Fucking Around Trying to Decide What Game to Play), but I got to try a bunch of new boardgames and got free raffle tickets for doing so, so I might actually get to own one or more of those games (Update: My sources say we didn't win anything). We started with Infiltration, a pretty clever game of breaking in and stealing shit. It could be easily re-purposed for any sort of thiefy game, but they chose to give it a slightly cyberpunk hackery type of paint-job. It's quick and fun and you can play it a lot before it gets boring; we did about 4 whole games and only stopped because we thought we had other things needed doing (we didn't). Then there was the Big Bang Theory Party Game. I've seen 1.5 episodes of that, but you don't really need to know the series to follow the game, and it's a nice bit of silly fun. Limited re-play value though, after you've seen most of the "quirky and amusing" card titles more than once each. Possibly good as a drinking game? And then finally we played through most of a game of Rex, a spin-off of Twilight Imperium. I'd played it once before, a month or so back, and I'm also quite familiar with Twilight Imperium proper, but nobody else had, so it was a slow learning process and a pretty slow game (though lightning-fast compared with TI) when everyone was already starting to mentally wind down for the evening. I don't think we got to see the best of that game, under those conditions, and we ended it prematurely. Meh.

A lot of good friends also made it there, including people I haven't seen at Icon in years and years, some travelling from as far away as Nigeria (granted, Arran's travelled from as far away as Nigeria for the last couple years already, and has been going every year for at least as long as I have, if not longer, so that was less surprising). It was good to have the old high school crowd more or less gathered together again. One noteworthy exception was Damon, who can be properly excused for missing this unplanned reunion, because he was at TAM, buying me skeptical loot.

Oh, yes, loot: I went a bit crazy and spent way more than I'd planned to, grabbing the Dark Heresy core rules, the Rogue Trader core rules and a RT campaign book, Lure of the Expanse. Having had nothing to eat or drink all of Friday but a single lone banana, and with a break in the middle of the unsatisfying Orks module, I must have cracked and blindly forked out heaps of cash. I'm glad to have these books, so no real buyer's remorse; I just hope I don't need that money for something else soon. It would also be nice if the stores started stocking more than just 3 or 4 big roleplaying brands and let us try some new and varied stuff. There's also this year's Icon mug, which arrived at the con a day late again and printed badly again, so I hope they don't stick with that manufacturer in future. My own mug is entirely satisfactory, at least.

And finally, we discovered an interesting new thing: Nemesis. Someone's taken an idea we've been discussing in our regular group(s) for years now, of digitizing the fiddling admin side of face-to-face, table-top roleplaying, without taking away the real interaction, and attempted to make it a real, working system. It looks like it has potential, and the guys behind it seem really smart and passionate, with some clever, novel ideas, so we've signed up as play-testers, and I'm sure they're still looking for more volunteers for the next month or two. Also, they gave us nice tablet satchels and lighters, which count as additional loot.

As usual, I don't think I'll go to Icon Sunday, but I'm thoroughly glad I did Friday and Saturday.