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New Games and Old Friends -- BigBadCon Trip for 2018

So every year, I make the pilgrimage to the Bay Area to visit Carl, do a round of visits with old friends from Caltech, the old usenet, and from Carl's games from the 1990's. We catch up, eat great food, and then we end the week at BigBadCon, which is now in Walnut Creek at the Walnut Creek Marriott.  It's been there a few years, now, and we've started to really get to know the venue and all the things that are offered around the hotel, which is nice.

Part of the reason why this is pretty much the only convention I go to anymore is because we always start with a round of visiting people or catching up with them during a dinner or something. Half the fun is that a lot of the things we do have become something of a Tradition.



I flew out on the 8th of October, and met up for Peking Duck and all the good things at Chef Chu's with the old Mountain View crew, who mostly don't live there anymore, and only make it to this part of the area once a year.  It was a smaller group this year, but fun nonetheless and delicious as always with ginger sea bass, the Seshwan dry-cooked green beans, and other wonderful dishes I don't usually get in Denver.  Then off to Santa Cruz to visit with Gretchen  on the 9th (Brad was under the weather) and we got to breakfast at Zachary's before heading out to the ocean.

Going to the sea to see if Liralen's going to change into a mermaid this time is definitely a tradition.  *laughs*  I always have to dip my toes into the surf and see.

Though Carl and I have talked a bit about what he'd have to do in his call to John if I did turn into a mermaid this time.  Luckily or unluckily, this time I did not grow a tail and head out to the deep sea.  It was, as always, fun to go to the dog park with Gretchen, see all the happy, wet canines, and watch the surf pound the rocks and sand.  The local surfers were out, as always, though fewer with the gray skies.

Carl and I wandered the downtown district for a while, attending to a chocolate shop, the bookstore, and a very extensive art store that was right there on the main street.

Dinner, as per usual, was at Mobo Sushi, and there are many delicious reasons for that tradition.  My favorite is the Sunrise, which is the tuna-wrapped tobiko (flying fish roe) with quail eggs on top.  That's in the upper right, and I sometimes call them my thousand and two egg sushi.  They are utterly delicious at Mobo, and the tuna was beautifully tender and rich, and served quite well in place of the usual seaweed wrapper.

I also indulged in a deep fried soft-shell crab roll with macadamia nuts and other goodies.  Mobo makes no apologies for being a California style sushi place, and the combinations and flavor profiles are creative and fun.

The next day, the 10th, we went to Walnut Creek to check into the Con hotel a couple of days early and then went into Oakland to get my green coffee from Sweet Marias and to meet up with people at Endgame, the gaming store in Oakland.

On the way over, we stopped at BoDo Lucky Ramen, as they'd looked good and they were right in the area where we could get to them for lunch that day.  They mostly served tonkotsu style ramen, and a lot of things on the ramen were named Yokohama, which is the city that Jet is living in right now, so I had to get the Yokohama ramen.  I'm not sure how much it actually represents the city? But it was funny as it was duplicated with another name, and Carl got the duplicate ramen with the other name. We also got a chicken karaage, as I'd heard about it so much in anime and I'd always wanted to try it and they had it on the menu.

The ramen was really good with spinach, thick slabs of pork, plenty of bean sprouts, thick, chewy good ramen noodles and a super rich and tasty broth that was NOT too salty, the way the ones in the San Jose Little Japan were way too salty.  Both of us enjoyed our ramen a lot.

The Karaage was tasty, but it surprised me when they served them with ketchup!  Though I guess it makes sense. I'd expected some kind of special karaage sauce as the cuisine seems to pair every kind of meat with a different kind of sauce; but they served these with ketchup, and it was enough like a chicken nugget (though they were tasty and tender thigh meat instead of breast) that it worked out all right.



Wednesday evening was spent with Eric Lytle and Eric Vogel at EndGame and Le Cheval, which is a Vietnamese restaurant with amazing food. That evening, Eric Lytle and Carl and I played Near and Far.  It was the first time for me, and the mechanics were fascinating.  I tried a lot of stuff, and it was so much fun to just try things and not really worry about how it all turned out as both men were super forgiving about the fact that I was new at the game even while they both did their best, which allowed me to learn a lot from their strategies and tactics.  The game itself is super fun and has both building mechanics that make items that give you more abilities and points to win the final game along with lots of fun resource management.

I had a lot of fun playing, enough so that I'd highly recommend it, and have gone looking for it now that I'm home again.

On Thursday, the 11th, I knew that the plan was to have brunch at the Hickory Pit sometime around 11, so I got up early, had one of my yogurts from Trader Joe's (Carl and I stopped by there after the ramen stop) for my breakfast and went down to the hotel gym and hopped onto the elliptical.  I also got to use the free weights and felt a lot better for it all. Eric Lytle had gotten me started on Pokemon Go at about this time, too, so I went out for a walk to spin pokestops and see gyms and found a lot of pokemon around the hotel.

I earned my breakfast.

And that was a very good thing, as it was a really lovely breakfast.  I love that this was called the Junior Breakfast because it only had one egg and one piece of chicken fried steak instead of two.  The regular breakfast would have doubled the sausage, bacon, or ham that the junior one did, and I was so grateful for the smaller amount of food. But I have to say that the hashed browns were utterly amazing, crisp and crunchy on the outside and tender and wonderful on the inside.  The chicken fried steak itself wasn't that amazing, but the combination of the size and the perfectly cooked over-medium egg and the fluffy biscuit was really really nice.

After breakfast we mostly just sat in the lobby and greeted people as they came in.  I was also so full from my brunch that when Carl and the LA crew wanted to go to Miss Ollie's in Oakland, I opted out.  They have amazing fried chicken, Jamaican Jerk, and huge lovey sides; but I wasn't sure I could even handle their appetizers, never mind the mains. So Trip, Kevan, and Kevan's husband and I went to Pho Huynh Hiep 6 - Kevin's Noodle House, just up the street. We walked in, sat down, and were served very quickly.  I had soup and was very satisfied by just eating what I could eat and not worrying about the rest.

The fun, though was, that Kevan and I then hit the Stitch and Bitch at the Con itself.  There were a lot of small social gathering this night before the Con officially started, and I went to the Stitch and Bitch (and was so happy about being able to knit at this when for so many months my left arm/shoulder had made it really painful to do so) and the Soda Pop Social.  Part of why I was there was to see Kevan's projects, since I'd seen them on Facebook, but it's never the same as actually being able to pat the cloth and handle the yarn. *laughs*  And I wore my Phoenix sweater just for the fun of it.  Maybe I'll wear the Sun and Moon next year.  But they were good fun, and I got to see a lot of the people I'd played with over the years at this convention, so that was all to the good.

The Soda Pop Social was a lot of fun, too, and it was nice to just sit and talk with people that I'd only ever seen at this Convention, including a person who had wanted to create a whole gaming system with me sometime.  We'd done a workshop a year or two ago about creating games using the templates of the Apocalypse World mechanics or the Fate Core mechanics.  They're both independent gaming systems that are really fun and trending well in the independent gaming industry, and they're both happy to sell the rights to using their systems for new games.

We'll see where and how that goes.

We ended up just sitting around and talking until midnight, when I went back, read the Unstoppable Wasp comicbook.  I highly highly recommend it to anyone, and especially smart girls. *laughs*  It's really fun and I loved it a lot.

Friday morning, the 12th, I played Near and Far with Eric L. and Eric V., and I did well enough to win against both of them, and at least one of the Erics designs board games, so I was pretty happy about being able to do that.  Luck is useful!  *laughs*

That afternoon I worked as a volunteer at the Games on Demand table.  It was interesting this year, because when game sign ups went live, I found out that most of the GMs I really wanted to play with again either weren't running anything or they were running far fewer games.  One of the GMs that I had really been looking forward to playing with again was Andy Munich; but as with the others, he wasn't running anything and it turned out that he was managing all the volunteers for the convention!  I had originally signed up only to help with the teen room; but he had assigned me to GoD before he knew that.  So he actually said that he was going to take my shift if I didn't want to do it.

Of course, I said that I was going to do it.  Especially when I found out that with his schedule, if I did take this shift, he'd be able to play the only game he'd get all con.  So I shoo'ed him off to play, learned the whole of the system for how people sign up for Games on Demand, and had fun for the four hours that I was assigned there.  I also was working with another guy who was only there to volunteer, not to play.

And it really made me wonder how many of the best players and GMs, who really loved the convention, were completely unable to run or play because they were supporting the convention now instead of doing what they really loved?  That seemed so sad to me. Because of the volunteering situation, I was only signed up for two games for the whole convention, when, at the beginning, I'd had all seven slots filled for the first several  years.  So I was part of the problem in a way.

Dinner was tasty with Carl, Simon, and Eric V at Sauced, a place that Kevan had recommended. BBQ to the max, with all the Southern trimmings and desserts. And they were nice enough to do completely separate checks for once. I rarely eat as much as the big guys do, and it's just nice to pay for what I actually get.  Most of the evening consisted of sitting in the lobby and just talking and listening to folks; and getting my year's worth of reading and watching recommendations. *laughs*

Saturday, the 13th, was my gaming day. Yay!

It started with Carl running Mountain Witch for a six hour slot.  It turns out that it's supposed to be an eight hour game; but with Carl running it, he managed the storyline really really well, and we got it all in in time.  I loved how meticulous he was with all the counters, the game setup, the explanations of the mechanics, and the lovely lovely lead he had for us all to get into the game.  I won't spoil it, as the backstory is the same for all versions of the game, but it was a really satisfying play through this time. The players all stayed true to their Dark Secrets and their origins, and I really enjoyed the consequences of my choices through the whole game, good and most especially, the bad choices, too.  They worked out the way I had hoped they would, and it was just a very satisfying pattern and story to it; especially when it started and ended with a duel between myself and the same other player.

It says something when I say that I lost both, and was still entirely satisfied with how it turned out. *laughs*  I love complex games, I think.

The second game was a Masks game with Zed Lopez running, and all the players admitted to brain dead fatigue; but we all went in with enthusiasm and good intentions. *laughs*  All playing teenagers with all good intentions, and all our characters brought their own baggage into the situation, which was really fun as it was all generated on the fly with the creation of our characters.  Zed did a great job weaving all our backstories together, and used it all for the main plot of the game. The resolution of which was fascinating and involved what I thought would be the destruction of my character.

What fascinated me later was that another player thought the same thing as I did, that winning the prize would involve my death; and his character mourned mine as mine went in to do what had to be done. The other two were so surprised by that!  As was the GM! *laughs*  And I was utterly amazed that my character ended up alive! And it was really fun to play her complete amazement and gratitude at having survived it all.  That was really fun, and one of those cool moments of gaming that I really love.  When unmet expectations actually are for the win!

We all retired at midnight, utterly exhausted, but really happy with how it turned out.

I was so tired, but I got up in time to Mom the Teen Room for my morning shift on Sunday, the 14th, and then went back to my room and collapsed into a nap. I was soooooo grateful that we have, as usual, planned to not check out until Monday, instead of on Sunday.  When I finally woke up again, everyone and their suitcases were parked in the lobby, and we talked as we were able, and I hugged people good-bye until next year.

The evening, Carl and I went to Havana with Simon and Kevan, who were all leaving on Monday, the way we were.  Havana is an amazing Cuban restaurant in Walnut Creek, and they were having a slow Sunday night.  So while we were waiting to order, they came by with two Old Fashioneds for the table, they were free because they had a new bartender, who wanted to practice his work.  One of them was a mango, tropical version, and I happily took a sip.  So tasty!  It was nice that the hotel provided a shuttle for guests that would go anywhere into town that we named, so we could drink and know that there would be no problems after dinner.

We ordered many small plates, including empanadas, ham and cheese croquettes, Cubano sandwiches, ceviche, and other amazing deliciousness.  We shared all the small plates among us.  Simon also got a steak, and since he wasn't doing carbs, I happily stole some of his creamy mashed potatoes.  All the food was amazing there, and because they were pretty slow, the wait staff had a lot of fun waiting on us. *sighs happily* So it was good all around, especially since as a group we really do seem to love tipping solidly.  *laughs*

Eventually we headed back to the hotel with very full stomachs, and we spent our last evening in the hotel lobby talking to everyone who went by.  Much of the LA Kings of Barcon were there, the last of the convention staff were hanging about doing their after-party, and some of the guests of honor were sticking around and enjoying the down time.  All in all it was a good way to say our good-byes.

In the morning, Monday the 15th, Carl, Simon, and I all packed up and headed for the Hick'ry Pit again, and met up with Eric L. there, where we had phenomenal breakfasts again. And seeing the pies on the way in, I ordered a slice of Pecan Pie to go with me on the plane.  Carl dropped Simon and I off at Oakland Airport, and I went with Simon to his gate before heading all the way around the airport to my gate. I got there just as they called for early boarding.  *laughs*

The pecan pie on the plane was a very sweet aftermath for a very delicious and fun trip.

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