We were somewhere around Bucharest when the Romanian liquor began to take hold. I remember an aftertaste of gasoline and saying something like "He's either in Varna or Dublin . . ." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around me and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?" My brother was pouring beer down his throat. "What the hell are you yelling about?" he muttered. "Never mind," I said. "It's Dracula's turn."
It was Wednesday, almost midnight, and we were about 40 miles south of Lancaster, at the home of my brother, KingPut, the second best Caylus player in the world. Registration for the fabulous World Boardgaming Championship was already underway, and we had to be there by 4 tomorrow to claim our hotel room. We were on our way to Lancaster to find the Ameritrash dream. I was, after all, a contributer to Fortress: Ameritrash; so I had an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill. But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum up our own. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism. It was a very ominous assignment - with overtones of extreme personal danger. 24 hours earlier I had received an urgent e-mail from KingPut's wife containing an excerpt from his blog.
Getting ready for WBC. To me July 31, 2007 felt like December 25, 1977. I was eagerly awaiting the start of WBC. I would get to play all the “hot” new Euros at Jays Café. But my biggest excitement was to play in the Caylus tournament. In 2006 I had come in 2nd place in Caylus at WBC but I was denied wood even though I played 9 hours of Caylus and had beat out 71 other players because Caylus was a trail event. Leading up to July 31st I felt like Michael Jackson riding the Dumbo ride in Disneyland. A had given up gaming for 9 whole days (to win brownie points with my wife) leading up to WBC. I thought I had lucked out on Friday July 27th when I walked into a Good Will shop and found Wizard Quest for $0.97. Let’s look that up on BGG. From 1979, did they make good designer games in 1979? Settlers didn’t even come out until 1995. Oh, a rating of 5.94 that’s not good. Even Apples to Apples Jr. beats that. But T&T is selling it for $40 and I can always give it to Ubarose.
WBC Day 1. I left work at 3:30 on Tuesday, July 31st and made it up to Lancaster by 5:00 PM. The first heat of Caylus didn’t start until 9:00 so I had a few hours to kill. As I was sitting there alone at Jay’s Café looking at the WBC booklet thinking what I’d do from 5:00 to 9:00. Jay called over and asked me if I wanted to learn how to play Arkadia.
The beverage I drank was definitely, Bottled Sam’s Club (BSCW) water. I think this is a very appropriate beverage for playing my first game at WBC and for playing Arkadia. First of all, water is the most natural, refreshing, thirst quenching drink on the planet. There was one other reason I drank bottled Bottled Sam’s Club Water (BSCW) while playing Arkadia. That was the fact that one of the other guys I was playing the game with was wearing a collar. No, not a Polo Ralph Lauren collar but a priest collar. The thing is this priest guy was the slowest player I had ever played any game with in my life. By the end of the game I wanted to stand up and yell God damn it, for Christ sakes will you put your fucking workers on the board and get your stupid victory points. But being brought up a good Catholic I pulled out my BSCW and said “Okay, I think its still your turn” I realized that he was playing the game with his daughter which means he wasn’t a Catholic priest so maybe I actually could stand up and say for Christ sakes build your building Europriest, guy but since his daughter was there that would be in bad taste.
I took one of my turns around 6:00 then got up and went over bought an Italian sausage sub. I took a couple of bites of the sub but then I had a heart attack. I reached down to drink some of my beer to help prevent the heart attack but all I had was BSCW. So I was rushed over to some Amish hospital where I was brought back to life by some hot looking Amish nurse. I came back to Jay’s Café to apologizes and to explain to other players for taking so long to buy and eat my sub and to have a heart attack and stuff when I realized it was still the Europriest guy’s turn. My rating of Arkadia is a very bland 5.5.
O Christ, I thought, he's gone around the bend. Look what Caylus has done to that poor bastard. I showed the e-mail to my husband. "Hell!" he exclaimed. "This one sounds like real trouble!" "You're going to need plenty of psychological advice before this thing is over," he said. "And my first advice is to load up the CRV with Ameritrash and beer and drive like hell to PA." We spent the rest of the night rounding up materials and packing the car. Somewhere around noon we had lunch at a Terrytown deli, then drove carefully across the bridge and plunged into the heat of the NJ turnpike, heading west.
We finally got to KingPut's house around dusk. We pulled out FURY OF DRACULA. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in Ameritrash.
"Your Van Helsing," I said shoving the mini into KingPut's hand. "Can you grasp that?"
He nodded but his eyes were nervous.
"Hell, I forgot all about the Romanian liquor."
My husband handed KingPut the bottle. "As your psychologist, I advise you to drink this."
KingPut swallowed. His eyes cleared. And we were into it. Tearing across Europe on Dracula's trail. No point mentioning the bats I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
Now, two hours later, Dracula had triumphed, and there was still time for another game, but those terrible Cthulhu creatures in the blue cage kept screaming like my college roommate having sex. "What are those goddamn animals?" "They're just the 3rd grade's guinea pigs," said KingPut, "How about DOWNFALL OF POMPEII?" It was a Euro. Right. We had to go slowly. Challenge them on their own turf. And then everyone was running. There was lava. People screamed like little girls as they were thrown into the volcano.
Thursday, almost noon, and we still had more than three miles to go. They would be tough miles. Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted. But there was no going back, and no time to rest. We would have to ride it out.
We pulled into the hotel parking lot around noon. The back of our car looked like a mobil FLGS. We had two baggies of baggies, seventy-five glass pellets, five sheets of errata, a bottle half full of Basil Hayden, a case of Magic Hat, two quarts of peaches, two cases of Red Bull, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored plastic bits . . . and also three boxes of Fantasy Flight, four boxes of Avalon Hill, two boxes of Z-man, two Knizia's, one Hasbo and a Euro. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious game collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the Euro. There is nothing more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of cube confusion. And I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.
We ran the gauntlet - check-in, badges, WBC mug shots. "Your room's not ready yet," the desk clerk had told us, so we went downstairs to find Dan and KingPut. Dan was playing a war game. A good looking guy walked up to say hello and Dan introduced us to him. I didn't catch his name because I was sitting and was distracted by the universe of colorful buttons, baubles and badges that were decorating his eye level crotch like a Christmas tree. I tried to make out the name on his badge, but the Romanian gasoline was leaving my system. I felt lightheaded and my eyesight blurred. "I think I need something to eat," I said. "Time spent eating is time not spent gaming," said Dan. My husband pressed a cold can into my right hand, and a cold bottle into my left. "As your psychologist, I advise you to drink Red Bull with a beer chaser."
Upstairs, my head began to clear as the Red Bull kicked in. KingPut took a seat and I pulled out COSMIC ENCOUNTER. My husband saw the young man wandering around the open gaming area long before I did and motioned him over. His name was Daniel and was familiar with the Eon version of COSMIC ENCOUNTER and would be happy to be our fourth. We passed around the bits and the beers. I glanced at Daniel. The nice young man's face was changing: swelling. pulsing . . . horrible green jowls, the face of a Zombie. I lunged backwards into my husband. There was nothing there but a Virus. I suddenly felt empathetic and peaceful. I didn't want to fight anyone. We could negotiate and work this all out. But that loathsome Virus just kept spreading, and that fool Zombie whore was willing to ally with anyone. The fear set in. We were all doomed.
The Virus claimed his fifth colony about the same time I noticed the man with the crotch jewelry wandering around the open gaming room. Holy shit. Now that I could see clearly I recognized him. It was Malloc. Weirdness, Malloc and Dan, my daughter's godfather, know each other. Malloc was off to play GANGSTERS or something.
An adorable woman named Ruth stopped at our table and said, "That's my most favorite game ever," pointing at BETRAYAL AT HOUSE ON THE HILL. What the hell! We had nothing but time and games and half a case of cold Magic Hats. We pulled it out and were joined by another man who made me laugh, but whose name I have forgotten. Was it Dave? I quickly reviewed the rules for KingPut, who had never played before. "You move. You flip tiles. You pick cards. Shit happens."
I was in the basement. I could see my unconscious body lying below me as I floated above it. My stinking traitor brother was kicking it over and over again. The bright light appeared and I moved towards it, into the light. It was over for me. It was peaceful. But then I had to reincarnate as a rules lawyer since I was the only one who was dead and therefore could read KingPut's traitor sheet.
I found myself alone at that the table. I don't remember where everyone went. Tournaments? The bar? the bathroom? Then Dan was sitting beside me and we were talking to Zev about Z-man's plans to publish TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS. Dan and Zev were talking about the artist contacted to do the box art, and I was thinking about the last time I played TALES, and the smell of the incense, and how shiny and black Zev's curls looked right now. Did he have new glasses? They looked really nice on him. Jesus! Did I say that? Or just think it? Was I talking? Did they hear me? Zev smiled at me and said, "Thank you." Then disappeared.
It was 2 a.m. Friday morning. I had explained the Arkham Horror rules to KingPut hours ago. "You move. You pick cards. Shit happens." Somehow, all the shit that had happened had gone horribly wrong. We were four, exhausted investigators on the edge of madness with nothing more than a shotgun, a rifle, two pistols and a knife between us, facing a loathsome, twisted Ancient One. A small group of the morbidly curious had gathered to watch the final battle. "Run you fools! There is no way I can hold off this beast with nothing but a pistol and a knife." But somehow we did. The strange vibrations ceased, and the gates closed with a deafening sucking sound.
A loud crash. I came awake fast - thinking, what does that mean. I glanced at the clock. 7:30 a.m. Maniacal laughter, then shouting. KingPut was outside his room, the door ajar, a baggy of cubes in one hand, dice gripped in the other.
" The gates have begun to open," he screamed, waving the handful of dice above his head. "Ancient Ones lurk in the emptiness beyond space and time, writhing at the gates between other worlds and my bathroom. The portal must be closed." He hurled the dice into his room.
Shit. Four Ameritrash games in 36 hours had been too much for his anemic Euro system. He was totally twisted. I looked into his room. There was a gaping 2'x 2' hole above his sink where the mirror had been. A gurgling noise issued from its darkness.
KingPut screamed like a little girl. "A Gug!"
"The bailiff!" he laughed uncontrollably, ripping the lid off the Caylus box and plunging his hand inside. "The bailiff will deactivate this glug." He pointed the bailiff menacingly towards the hole.
"Goddamit!" I said. "You've done too much. The first rush is the worst. Just ride the bastard out."
He turned toward me, bleary eyed, waving the bailiff around in quick circles in front of his teeth.
"Look," I said, "you'd better put that goddamn bailiff away and get your head straight. Get back in bed, I'll be back in twenty minutes."
I went to my room and called the front desk about the mirror and the gaping hole in the wall.
My brother was in bed when I returned. Submerged in green sheets.
"Caylus," he snarled.
"You're doomed," I said.
"Don't make me use this." His arm lashed out of the sheets, the baggy of cubes gripped in his fist.
"Jesus," I muttered. At this point I figured he was beyond help - lying in the bed with the biggest baggy of cubes I had ever seen, totally incapable of reason, demanding Caylus.
"Help! You bastard! I need help!" He was reaching across the night stand toward the Caylus box. "I want that fucking game," he snarled.
I grabbed it away from his hand. "You fool!" I said. "Get away from that goddamn game!"
"I want you to throw that fuckin game in the bed with me."
"Not me," I said.
"Bullshit!" he screamed crazily, thrashing around in the bed. He ripped off the sheets and lunged at me, waving the baggy of cubes out in front of him like a man who meant to optimize something.
"MUNCHKIN!" I shouted. "You want this?" I waved a MUNCHKIN box in front of his eyes."
"You bastard!" he hissed. "You'd do that, wouldn't you."
I laughed, still waving the box in front of him. "You'll like it. Shit, there's nothing in the world like MUNCHKIN - forty-five minutes on your knees rolling dice. It'll calm you right down."
I menaced him again with the MUNCHKIN box. "Get back in that bed," I said. "Try to calm down. Fondle some cubes - shit, do what ever you have to do, but let me get some rest."
He shrugged and smiled distractedly. "Hell yes," he said very earnestly, and shuffled back to bed. He had shifted gears; the next phase would probably be one of those hellishly intense introspection nightmares; but nothing physical. I watched the door close behind him, and quietly slipped back to my own room for a couple more hours sleep.
Friday afternoon . . . the game library . . . LEONARDO DA VINCI . . . methadone for my poor bastard CAYLUS junkie brother. Malloc stopped by to abuse me for playing the horrible, piece of crap. I flashed the back of a card at him. "The full monty," I explained. Malloc flashed a picture of Opie on his cell phone at me. "Barnes," he said.
Malloc invited us to play STRUGGLE OF EMPIRES. I was Queen Victoria, and we were not amused. How did I get mixed up with this gang of psychotics? Those scumbags were trying to kill us. Then there were accusations. The game had been set up wrong. While people argued and sulked, we escaped with Malloc leading us through the maze of hotel corridors, through his room to the pool bar.
"I advise you to drink many margaritas in the sun," said my husband.
"Twilight Imperium tonight," said Malloc.
"Shit. I have a date tonight to play WARRIOR KNIGHTS with KingPut's friend Cody." I said.
Malloc, laughed, "Cody is one of the eight guys sleeping in my hotel room. I'll work it out." And he did. And we agreed to meet in an hour.
The tequila buzz was wearing off as we attempted to pull out of the hotel parking lot. I had a strong need for Basil Hayden, and the bottle was empty. Twenty minutes of cruising and no liquor store. Finally pulled into a WaWa to ask for directions.
"The clerk said there are no liquor stores," my husband announced, as he got back into the car and slammed the door.
Shit. How can that be possible. I rolled down my window and shouted to a large man in black with tattoos covering his arms, "Where's the liquor store?"
"Jesus Christ!" said Dan, ducking.
"A liquor store." I yelled again, hanging out the window. "I need bourbon. Point me to bourbon."
The man pointed and shouted back.
"What are you doing?" said Dan, pulling me back into the car, his eyes nervous.
I laughed. "He said the liquor store was eight miles that way, in the next town."
"Fuck that." My husband said taking the corner at full speed and heading back to the hotel. "I advise you to drink over priced Makers Mark at the bar."
Twilight Imperium; the black tar heroin of Ameritrash. Holy shit! What can I say. Eight hours of screaming, table pounding, in your face depravity. I tell you, this is the Ameritrash dream in action! We'd be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end.
Sunday morning 11 a.m. . . . Memories of Saturday are extremely hazy. All I have, for guide pegs, is an ear full of balaclava lint and handful of crumpled cocktail napkins, all covered with scribbled notes.
Here is one: "WARRIOR KNIGHTS. . . two player possibilities . . . cool knights . . . almost great . . . needs dice"
Another says: "COWBOYS . . . corridor battle . . . best new game . . . $50. No fucking way."
My husband packed up our car. KingPut packed up his. As we pulled out of the parking lot, KingPut rolled down his window and shouted, "MONSTERS MENACE AMERICA. Tomorrow. Your place."
"See you in eight hours." I shouted back. My heart was full of joy. This trip had been different. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of gaming in this country - but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.
Wednesday, 8 August 2007