Robots, Deep Space, and Star Trek: Free RPG Day at Games Plus in Mount Prospect

Monday, July 27th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Games Plus Free RPG Day-small

Free RPG Day is not something I can remember ever taking part in…. mostly because the only local gaming store here in St. Charles died ten years ago. But when I saw the Facebook announcement from Floyd at Games Plus on Friday (above), I was intrigued enough to make the 30-mile drive to Mount Prospect Saturday morning.

Games Plus is easily the best gaming store in the the Chicago area — perhaps in the entire country. It’s the home of the Games Plus auctions I’ve written about extensively for the the past 10 years. Like all retail stores, it’s struggled as a result of the pandemic, and I was overdue for a visit to show my support (and spend some money) anyway.

And several of the items in Floyd’s pic grabbed my attention, especially the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure from Goodman Games, the Root the Tabletop Roleplaying Game adventure, and the Warhammer Wrath & Glory module. It’d be a challenge narrowing my selection down to two items, but I figured that’d be part of the fun.

So what is Free RPG Day?

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Adventures in Gaming Discovery: The Games Plus 2020 Spring Auction

Sunday, March 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Spring 2020 Games Plus Auction-small

Yesterday I attended the 2020 Spring Auction at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, Illinois. I exhibited more self control than I usually do, but that’s not saying much. My budget was $700, and after seven hours I reluctantly put away my bidding card, when my purchases finally tipped the scales at $1,000. That’s considerably less than I spent in 2019 or 2018, but it still filled eight boxes, and it took the combined skills of three gaming professionals to Tetris them into my tiny Juke before my satisfied road trip back to St. Charles.

It was good to bring so many great bargains home. But truth to tell, I’d attend the biannual Games Plus auctions even if I couldn’t buy a thing. It’s been said that we live in a Golden Age of board gaming, and it’s almost impossible to keep up with the tsunami of exciting new releases every month. The Games Plus auctions are a fun way to do that — not just to see the panorama of new titles as the auctioneers rattle through hundreds of games every hour, but to experience the sudden surge of interest from the crowd as rare or highly desirable items make their way to the auction block. It’s a crash course in what’s new, what’s hot, and what’s really hot.

The attendees at the Games Plus auctions are a friendly and courteous bunch, quick with gamer humor and rounds of laughter, and in those rare moments when prices shot up past $100, $200, or even $300 for truly hot items, there was always a round of appreciative applause. When I saw two determined collectors engage in a spirited bidding war for a trio of Rogue Trader supplements, and watched the loser drop his card at $155 and then good naturedly join in the applause for the winner, I knew I was in the right crowd.

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The Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction, Part Two

Sunday, May 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Games Plus 2019 auction 94-small Games Plus 2019 auction 95-small Games Plus 2019 auction 96-small

Two months ago I assembled a photographic record of the games I brought home from the Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction. I didn’t do a final count, but it was roughly 100 boxed games, and several boxes of RPG gamebooks, totalling some 15 boxes.

In that first piece I tried to capture the overwhelming experience of sitting in the front row for seven hours as thousands of new and used SF & fantasy games flashed by. It’s a deep immersion in the games aftermarket, an education in just how many titles have been released in the past 12 months, and a chance to learn — by watching the excited frenzy as certain titles come up to the auction block — which ones have truly captured the attention of players. I saw a lot of games go for a lot of money, and even more sell at rock-bottom prices.

In Part Two of my auction report, I want to try and communicate the sheer scale of the event. I estimate there were somewhere between 150-200 attendees for the Saturday Fantasy and Sci-Fi Games auction this year, nearly a record, and I’m fairly sure there were a record number of games sold.

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The Games Plus 2019 Spring Auction: Part One

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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A few of the treasures acquired at the 2019 Games Plus Spring Auction

I’ve been attending the Games Plus Auction in Mount Prospect, Illinois ever since David Kenzer first told me about it, when we worked at Motorola in the late 90s. So, twenty years, give or take. I’ve been writing about it here ever since my first report in 2012 (in the appropriately titled “Spring in Illinois brings… Auction Fever.”)

The four-day auction occurs twice a year, in Spring and Fall.  Each day focuses on one of four popular themes: Thursday is collectable and tradable games like Magic: The Gathering and the Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures Game; Friday is historical wargames and family games; and Sunday is the massive miniatures auction, focused on Warhammer and like-minded pastimes. I’ve checked in on the others over the years, but my jam is the Saturday Science Fiction and RPG auction, which includes board games, minigames, and role playing rules, supplements, adventures, and magazines.  It runs from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, with no break, and this year was on March 2.

When I first started going, I was was on the hunt mostly for 70s and 80s RPG and gaming collectables, especially TSR gaming modules, microgames, Avalon Hill and Chaosium board games like Stellar Crusade and Dragon Pass, and of course ultra-rare Dwarfstar titles like Barbarian Prince. That’s changed dramatically over the decades. We live in a golden age of science fiction and fantasy board gaming, and between the many, many active publishers, countless Kickstarters and other crowdfunding campaigns, and seemingly numerous new role playing games, it’s impossible for me to keep track of all the new releases.

Those games show up in great quantity as the skilled auctioneers move rapid-fire through thousands of titles over seven hours, and often at bargain prices. Nowadays I attend the auction chiefly to discover what’s new and exciting in fantasy and science fiction board gaming, and see if I can’t pick up a few. It’s an expensive outing, to be sure, which is why I save up for months beforehand. I rarely escape will a bill less than a thousand dollars, and this year was no exception. When they totaled up the damage at the end of the Saturday auction, I’d spent $1,573 on games that filled some 15 boxes.

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The Games Plus 2013 Spring Auction

Friday, March 7th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Some of the loot I brought home from the Spring 2013 Games Plus auction

  Some of the loot I brought home from the Spring Games Plus auction last year (click for bigger version)

Tomorrow is one of the highlights of my year — the Spring Auction at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, Illinois, one of the finest game stores in the Midwest, about an hour’s drive from my house.

I’ve written about the Spring and Fall 2012 auctions (in “Spring in Illinois brings… Auction Fever” and The Paris Fashion Week of Fantasy Games, respectively) and I’ve been looking forward to returning this year.

The Games Plus auctions are just about the friendliest I’ve ever attended. The store is run by a group of dedicated and professional gamers who know their stuff and they keep the proceedings running with an experienced hand — and a quick wit. Even if I were unable to bid, I think I’d enjoy sitting in the audience, just for the entertainment value.

Of course, it’s a lot more fun to be able to bid.

As I mentioned in the previous articles, it’s important to have a budget for these things, and to conserve funds for those items you really want.

Ha, ha. A budget! Excuse me while I regain control of my writing limbs.  A budget — that’s a good one.

Let me put it another way: It’s important to keep a running total of your purchases and always to be aware of how much money you’ve spent. Why? All that constant arithmetic will distract you from non-stop bidding. Eventually, you’ll crumble up the sheet and abandon it as futile, but for a while it will help you keep a lid on things.

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When Disney Meets Mad Max: Aftermath: an Adventure Book Game by Plaid Hat Games

Saturday, April 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Aftermath Board Game 6-small

Gen Con 2020 is, as of this writing, still scheduled to take place July 30 – August 2, 2020. But now that other major events, such as the massive San Diego Comic Con have been canceled due to the threat of the coronavirus, I expect it won’t be long before Gen Con is canceled as well. I hope it isn’t, but frankly I think the only thing keeping it on the schedule at this point is blind optimism.

I’m enormously grateful I was able to attend Gen Con last year. It was terrific fun, for one thing, and incredibly eye-opening. I’ve been immersed in gaming culture since I started playing Avalon Hill games in high school, and I spend a lot of time keeping up with new releases and hanging out at the local Games Plus auction. But I had no idea –really,  no freakin’ idea — of the true scale of this industry until I wandered the massive Exhibit Hall at Gen Con. Too large to take in in a single day, the Exhibit Hall (and all its various annexes, sub-rooms, and spillovers halls) is something that every game fan should experience once in their lives. It is jaw-dropping in both scale and diversity.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re standing in a packed stadium with tens of thousands of t-shirt-wearing gamers, and thousands of booths stretching in all directions. But once the wonder of it all starts to wear off, there are always games that stand out. One of those for me was Aftermath, by Plaid Hat Games. Copies were not available at the convention, but a quick internet search assured me it would be in production by October. I waited impatiently, and ordered one as soon as I could.

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The Games of Gen Con 2018

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderPlaytest

As you walk through the convention hall at Gen Con, moving from demo to demo and panel to panel, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the advertisements everywhere, trying to catch your attention for the latest big game. Usually, there are one or two big new games that just seem to overwhelm the convention, often tied into big properties.

This year, the big new game at Gen Con wasn’t new. Not really. Pathfinder has long had a strong, even overwhelming, presence at Gen Con, so the promotion of the release of the Pathfinder Playtest this year felt pretty natural. Next year, we can anticipate the big release to be the Pathfinder Second Edition RPG, but for now the playtesting has begun.

I’ll cover the details of the Pathfinder Playtest in more depth in the upcoming weeks and months. I played two Pathfinder Society sessions of the playtest, at levels 1 and 5, so got a fair idea of how the bones of the new system operates. Fortunately, you don’t have to, because the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook along with all other materials needed for play are available for free download at the Paizo website.

These downloads include the Doomsday Dawn campaign, a series of 7 adventures ranging from levels 1 to 17. These adventures aren’t all played with the same group of characters, although the core group of characters created for the level 1 adventure are re-used every couple of adventures at higher levels, so they’re really the “heroes” of the campaign. There are also three Pathfinder Society scenarios built for the playtest, to teach and test various elements of the game. And, of course, the Rulebook contains everything that a Gamemaster needs to create an original homebrew adventure or campaign for their group, to test out the rules in ways of their own devising.

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The 1001 Treasures of Black Blade Publishing and Goodman Games: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part II

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales from the Magicians's Skull in the Goodman Games booth at Gary Con 2018-small

New releases at the Goodman Games table, including the magnificent Tales From the Magician’s Skull

In Part I of my Gary Con 2018 report, posted here yesterday, I talked about one of the great pleasures of walking the Exhibit Hall: meeting the creative masterminds behind the most dynamic companies in old-school RPGs, like Goodman Games, North Wind Adventures, Troll Lord Games, Black Blade Publishing, Frog God, Kobold Games, and many others. Today I want to talk about the other great pleasure of a truly rich Exhibit Hall. Namely, all those marvelous gaming treasures.

I do a pretty good job staying on top of the newest releases in the adventure gaming industry. More than that, I have a staff of top-notch game writers — like Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Bob Byrne, M. Harold Page, Howard Jones, Fletcher Vredenburgh, and Gabe Dybing, just to name a few — who constantly keep me informed. And yet virtually every step through the Exhibit Hall was filled with surprises. Anyone who’s ever visited the Exhibit Hall of a major gaming con or science fiction convention knows what I’m talking about. That sense of having stepped into a virtual Cave of Wonders, packed with a dozen lifetimes worth of magical discoveries.

You can’t recreate something that overwhelming with a simple blog post. But what the hell. I’m going to give it a shot anyway. To do that, I’m going to focus on the experience of walking around a single booth at Gary Con. In this case, the largest and most well-stocked one at the show, the joint Black Blade/Goodman Games tables at the entrance to the Hall. The sixteen photos below attempt to capture a few of my delightful discoveries — as well as give you a taste of the countless tantalizing items I had to hurry past in my efforts to be a gaming journalist. Prepare yourself.

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Diplomacy and Trade in the Vastness of Space: Among the Stars by Artipia Games

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Among the Stars-small Among the Stars-back-small

I’m still processing all the treasures I brought home from the Games Plus Fall auction on Saturday. Things move fast at the auction, and you frequently have to make a snap decision to make a bid, or lose your chance forever. So more than once I raised my bidding card while thinking “What the heck is that thing?”

That was the case with Among the Stars, a peculiar board game/card game hybrid… that I ended up winning for $16. It wasn’t until I took it home that I was able to puzzle out exactly what it was. (And truth to tell, I’m still not 100% sure. But Amazon has it listed for $69.99, so whatever it turns out to be, my copy was a bargain.)

I expected it to be another 4X game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate), but it’s quite a bit more original than that. Play focuses on construction of a vast station in space, and there doesn’t appear to be any exploration or combat at all. Several sources refer to the game as 7 Wonders in space, but that doesn’t really help me much, as I’m not familiar with 7 Wonders either. Best I can puzzle out, Among the Stars is an essentially conflict-free game of competitive trading and diplomacy in space, as players strive to build a space station in a galaxy crowded with alien life.

It was a 2015 Origins Awards nominee for Best Card Game. Here’s the description.

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Get an Inside Look at the Hottest Boardgames with Meeple Monthly

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Meeple Monthly May 2016-smallIf you hang out in game stores (and who doesn’t?) you’ve doubtless seen copies of GTM, Game Trade Magazine, a monthly industry mag for the Adventure Hobby industry that also doubles as a handy catalog for Alliance Game Distributors. GTM is always a pleasant read, with fun articles and full color pics of upcoming RPGs and card games. While I was browsing the magazine rack at my local game store last month, I came across something called Meeple Monthly, and at first couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like GTM, except for board games… a full color magazine devoted to the very latest releases, with full color throughout, chatty articles, a nice assortment of ads, and enthusiasm for the industry dripping off every page. And that’s exactly what it was.

Ah, what a marvelous world we live in. An inexpensive color magazine devoted to new board games? Yes please! I snatched up that issue and brought it home, and I’ve bought every one I could find since. The May issue, featuring a cover feature on Fireside Games and USAopoly’s Star Trek Panic, covers games shipping in July. It also contains:

  • An inside look at Happy Salmon from North Star Games
  • A sneak peak at 400 new monsters for Dungeons and Dragons Ancient Bestiaries in Tome of Beasts, from Kobold Press
  • Wade Rockett’s preview of the excellent artwork in Tome of Beasts
  • Robin Laws’ inside look at Gumshoe going One-2-One in Cthulhu Confidential, from Pelgrane Press
  • The Battle for Hill 218 comes to the Ogre Universe in Ogre: Objective 218, the newest from Steve Jackson Games

All that plus over a dozen pages cataloging every upcoming board game, from all the major publishers, all in full color. What’s not to love?

Meeple Monthly is edited by Jenna Piller and published by ACD Distribution. It is 48 pages, full color, priced at just $3.95. See more details — including news on the upcoming June issue — at their Facebook page.


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