After the seminar I hung out in the main corridor of the hotel for a while, trying to lure people into a game of Icehouse. Icehouse is one of those games - when you line the pieces up on a table people inevitably ask you what the hell it is, but once you explain it to them a bit (strategy board game with no board and no turns, move fast to get pieces where you want them before your opponent does) most of them give you a glassy-eyed smile and back away slowly. It's a very peculiar game, a niche within a niche. I'm not even very good at it, but I like it, partly because I was able to find it on the Internet years after its inventors had gone out of business trying to retail it conventionally. But anyway, I was kinda hanging out, and I did a drawing of Brian, a longtime friend of my brother and me, over in a corner playing Titan (another long-dead Avalon Hill game) with some folks. Titan is a fantasy wargame played on a colorful arrangement of hexes with little counters on them. It takes about five hours, on the low end.

Brian used to be a hardcore tournament Magic player; I'm trying to figure out if switching to Titan reflects that he's gotten "healthier," or "sicker." Hmm... he's forsaken the world of Magic in which cutthroat 14-year-olds play out second-hand Bobby Fischer bullshit for piddling prizes that only feed their addiction further; that certainly speaks well of his development. On the other hand, he's abandoned a game that other people actually play, for a game that goes against nearly all conventional aspects of how people want to spend their time. Who knows? When it comes to geek culture, relativism is the only thing we have to go by. Everybody draws their own line. One of the things that fascinates me most about niche cultures like this is their tendency to sub-niche themselves; everybody at this con, all of us looked down upon by the outside world, can find somebody inside the con to look down on. That said, my brother's crew and I all respect this move on Brian's part. Part of me wishes I had the stamina to immerse myself in a fairly abstract game for hours and hours on end. I imagine there are rich rewards there. (My last structured activity for the day was a demo of just this sort of large-scale board game, a tongue-in-cheek one called Cults Across America - named for the famous charity failure Hands Across America. I actually already owned this game, but still have never played my own copy. It was fun, all high priests and plebes and flamethrowers, but the other six players were hardcore and I was the first to be eliminated.)

I had dinner at, of all places, the hotel restaurant. The con program admonished us, "No playing games in the restaurant!!" and, amazingly, people seemed to be complying. (The program also reminded con-goers to tip the wait staff.) Here's what I wrote down in my sketchbook: "The great thing about DunDraCon is it draws a very diverse crowd of geeks, from old school D&Ders to Magic- and Pokemon-playing kids, Rennaissance-dress-wearing women and almost-goth girls, geek guys with paunches and Men In Gray (with paunches). I do notice, however, that the LARPers don't tend to mingle much with the geekier hobby-gamers, or vice versa. Not much cross-fertilization of ideas, despite all the different things going on here in the same place. Is it in the nature of niche cultures to fragment further into smaller and smaller niches, rather than recombining and connecting? That'd be somewhat ironic, considering the lust for genre-bending and alternative mix-n-match history that manifests so often in gaming." Then I went on for a paragraph about the strange, elegant woman sitting at the table across from mine. The food was good.

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text and drawings © copyright 1999 Mike Sugarbaker