By Gordon Dritschilo
Two men grabbed a passerby in a hotel lounge, seeking an outside perspective on whether the Norwegian navy should attack St. Petersburg.
No, it wasn’t the beginning of a very strange spy novel. It was the second day of Carnage Con, Vermont’s largest gaming convention, held last weekend at the Killington Grand Hotel and Snowshed Base Lodge.
Carnage has been held annually at Killington since the event outgrew its venue at Lake Morey in Fairlee several years ago. Exact attendance figures for this year’s con were not available Saturday.
“I know we had a higher than usual pre-reg,” organizer Ray Hickey said. “We’re in the 600 to 700 range again.”
This year’s theme was “Carnage Royale,” with organizers calling for games with either an espionage or casino theme — though neither was particularly evident from a walk around the game rooms.
The games come in five basic categories. The most familiar are board games. A large number of players also gathered around tables for games using specialized cards. Miniature wargames involve small figures representing military units simulating battle on terrain reminiscent of model train sets.
Tabletop role-playing games — Dungeons & Dragons and its cousins — filled up two rooms, and a handful of players engaged in LARPs (live-action role-playing games) in which people moved about interacting with each other, working in character to achieve some in-game goal.
One of the live-action games was a fundraising event for Extra Life, a charity that benefits the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. Roughly $350 was raised in the LARP, during which donations could be used to trigger in-game events.
“Extra Life does a lot with the gaming community, but this is the first year we’ve had a really big presence for it here,” Hickey said.
Amongst the wargamers, conflicts were played out ranging from battles with Roman chariots to World War II tanks to large spaceships from the “Star Wars” movies. Not all the games involved combat — a replica of Fenway Park held miniatures for simulating baseball games.
The Star Wars game — called Armada — is massively popular and fairly new to the scene.
“Think age-of-sail frigates broadsiding each other, except this is lasers in space,” Jonathan Williams, of Marshfield, said as he picked up models and game tokens after running a demonstration game.
Williams said Armada was built on the success of X-Wing, an earlier game by the same company that simulated combat between the small starfighters from the “Star Wars” universe.
“X-Wing is reactive,” he said. “It’s like jazz. This game is like classical music. You’re planning out turns in advance.”
A table over, a more primitive conflict was getting a more sophisticated simulation. While the spaceships of Armada were confined to two dimensions as they moved around a tabletop, the biplanes in Peter Landry’s Wings of Glory game attacked each other from multiple altitudes.
“Air games or games with submarines need the third dimension,” said Landry, who came to Carnage from Falmouth, Massachusetts. “You can play without it and it’s still fun … but this adds a whole new dimension.”
A World War I air combat simulator, Wings of Glory uses small risers to account for altitude differences. Unsatisfied with that, Landry attached the miniature from his set to small telescoping rods reminiscent of car radio antennas, creating much more visually dramatic changes.
“The best thing about this game is you can pick it up in five minutes,” he said. “You play one turn and you know it.”
Hickey’s personal area of responsibility at Carnage is card games. The most common game in that field is Magic: the Gathering, in which players must collect cards by buying randomly stuffed packs and hoping they get something useful. That business model is still common, he said, but it is starting to give way to “living card games,” where players purchase uniform sets from which they can mix and match.
Hickey said he was particularly excited for the new Arkham Horror card game, which draws on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
“It’s designed as a cooperative card game,” he said. “Instead of people playing against each other, they’re trying to beat the game. I haven’t played it yet, but I’ve talked to people who have. I’m going to pick it up next week.”