GTS 2006 Report

I made it back from the GAMA Trade Show (GTS) late Wednesday night, while the show still raged on in Las Vegas. For those who are interested, you can read the details of my trip after the break.

I left Beloit on a bus to O’Hare in the middle of the afternoon on March 12. Everything went fine until my plane taxied onto the runway. Then, because of a storm sweeping in from the west, we spent the next three hours stuck on the tarmac, waiting for the weather to clear.

Some might complain about that sort of misfortune. I feel that it beats the alternative, which could well be dying in a fiery crash.

I got to Las Vegas almost three hours late (we picked up some time in mid-air), and my friend (and former game designer) Owen Seyler picked me up at the airport. He had along with him his girlfriend Daniela, plus freelancer extraordinaire Ken Hite, and Hidden City Games sales manager Sean Lashgari. They drove me to THEhotel, a new addition to Mandalay Bay, which sits at the south end of the Strip. The restaurants were all closed, so we took the express elevator to the Mix Lounge on the 43rd floor instead.

The Mix has the best view of Vegas I’ve ever seen, with the whole of the Strip spreading out to the north. Staring out through the floor-to-ceiling windows, it struck me how much Vegas has grown since I first visited it 18 years ago. At least two-thirds of the casinos I could see there—including the one I was in—weren’t there back then.

In the lounge, we met Owen’s business parter (and former game designer) Christian Moore, Hidden City Games CEO Peter Adkison, Gen Con events manager Rennie Araucto, and Gen Con sales and marketing manager Adrian Swartout. Her last name escapes me at the moment, but she used to arrange all the street parties at Gen Con back when Wizards owned it. It’s great to see her back with Gen Con again.

Christian and Peter had arranged for table service, which involved a couple bottles of Grey Goose vodka and all the mixers you could want. The vodka came served in square sheathes of ice set on lit bases that made both the bottle and the ice glow.

We drank and chatted for a long while and all caught up with each other a bit. Then we headed down to a club that had a burlesque show with a live jazz band. After that, we ended up at another club for more drinks and dancing.

At about 5:30 AM (which would have been 7:30 AM back home), I started to nod off. Peter declared me the canary in the coal mine, and we all headed off to our various beds.

Sometime after 6 AM, I crashed on the couch in Owen and Daniela’s apartment. I got up at 8 AM to get showered and dressed before taking a cab to the Riviera, at which GTS was held. I made it there by 9:30 AM, plenty of time before my 10 AM seminar, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Freelancers.

Over 30 people showed up for the seminar, which stunned me. The year before, the freelancing seminars had been three hours long and had featured a panel of five speakers. This year, they only ran an hour long and featured only me. It seems people prefer shorter commitments for such things.

I spoke for about thirty minutes and then took questions for the rest of the time. During that, James Ernest and Mike Selinker came in to give me some good-natured heckling, which broke things up nicely.

After the seminar, I answered a few more questions, then ran off with Paul Tevis to grab some lunch, since I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours at that point. Once I’d had my fill, we sauntered off to the GAMA press skybox so that Paul could interviewed me for his excellent podcast, Have Games, Will Travel.

Directly after that, another newshound interviewed me for her online magazine World Forge Magazine. This is for subscribers only, it seems, but hopefully those who pay for it will find it worth their cash.

I collected my bags and strolled across the street to Circus Circus after that. I waited an astounding 45 minutes in line to check in, and I’m sure some of the folks behind me were there for an hour or more. I can’t recommend the hotel to anyone, but my roommate Ken Hite and I agreed on it for three reasons. 1) It was cheap. 2) It was close to the Riviera, which was sold out on Tuesday night. 3) We weren’t going to spend much time there at all.

Once I dumped my bags, I hoofed it back to the Riviera and handed Ken his key. I nearly met up with Fred Malmberg and Leigh Stone of Conan Properties as scheduled, but they’d arranged for meeting with Matthew Sprange and Alex Fennel of Mongoose on the fly, so we reset the meeting for the next morning.

Tyler Kenny from Mattel called me about dinner, and I met with him and Eric Hardie a bit later. We rounded up a crew to join us, including Ken, author Mike Stackpole, James Mishler and Wayne Youngblood of Comics & Games Retailer, Michelle Nephew of Atlas Games, and Paul Tevis. On Christian Moore’s recommendation, we walked over to Piero’s, an excellent Italian restaurant, for a fine meal and great conversation.

Afterward, we hopped a cab to the Monte Carlo, which was next door to the Gen Con party about to start at the Empire Ballroom. After a quick drink or two, we meandered over to the party, which was packed with industry folk of all kinds. Peter had arranged for a stunning pair of fire dancers to perform later in the evening, which made for the only lull in the shmooze-a-thon.

When the place closed down at 2:30 AM, I somehow lost track of the others going to the after-party and ended up in a cab going back to the Riviera with a crew who all went to bed. I ran into Mike Tinney of White Wolf, though, and strolled over to the Hilton to chat while he played blackjack. (I don’t gamble when I’m tired or have been drinking. It’s hard enough to break even.)

I started nodded off while standing up, so I said good night to Mike and walked back to Circus Circus. On the road, I spotted Owen, Ken, and Daniela in Owen’s SUV, and he pulled over to give me a lift for the last block. Ken and I made it back to the room sometime around 4:00 AM.

My wife called at 5:30 AM, wondering if I knew where a spare set of keys to the car might be, as she’d locked hers in the car while getting the kids ready for school. I had no good news for her, so she ended up calling AAA for help instead.*

I woke up about 7:30 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. I made it over to the Riviera in plenty of time for my 10 AM seminar on Advanced Freelancing. Once more, we had 30 or so people show up, including Tom Jolly, a fantastic board game designer.

After the seminar, I met with Fred and Leigh from Conan Properties and caught up with them. With CPI just having purchased the whole of Robert E. Howard’s writings, we had a lot to talk about. Look for many great things from them soon.

Later, I made my way into the exhibit hall just before it opened. I showed up at the Playmates Toys booth and talked to Ryan Dancey and Luke Peterschmidt there about the new organized play program they’d set up for Marvel Heroes Battle Dice.

Then I ran over to the Sabertooth Games booth to meet with George Mann, a consulting editor for the Black Library and Solaris Books. I’d never met George before, but he was a right good bloke. We chatted about possibilities for both imprints, although the results of that talk will have to remain secret for the moment.

Afterward, I went back to the exhibit hall and walked the floor. In the internet age, there’s aren’t too many surprises, but I found a pleasant few.

Fantasy Flight is coming out with a Mutant Chronicles collectible miniatures game, designed by Eric Lang.

Wizards of the Coast has a new collectible miniatures game, Dreamblade, designed by Jonathan Tweet.

WizKids new HorrorClix game features an incredible premium figure: the 16-inch-tall Cthulhu. They also announced ToonClix, which showcases lots of my favorite cartoon characters from my youth.

Hidden City Games announced a Marvel license for its Clout game.

Black Industries announced the Warhammer 40,000 Roleplaying Game.

I’d hoped to have dinner with Ryan and Luke that night, but they had to head back to their hotel room to work, so I hooked up with Ken Hite instead. Ken had wisely made reservations at my favorite restaurant in Vegas: Samba at the Mirage.

Samba is a Brazilian steakhouse that serves “meat on swords.” The food and drink are fantastic, especially if you’re a fan of meats of all sorts roasted on saber-like spits over open flames. We ate with Jeff Tidball (of Atlas Games again) and Michelle Nephew, James Cambias and Diane Kelly of Zygote Games, Paul Chapman of Steve Jackson Games, Paul Tevis, Jonathan Tweet, and one of Jonathan’s friends from Wizards, who sat so far away we never were introduced.

After dinner, a faction of us retired to AVA, the bar under the Mirage’s lush atrium. Hal Mangold of Green Ronin joined us for a few drinks. He, Ken, and I eventually wandered over to the sports bar in Circus Circus for a beer before heading to bed at a gentlemanly 1:30 AM.

I got up at 7 AM again, got cleaned up and packed, and hauled my gear over to the Riviera. I met Jordan Weisman of WizKids for breakfast at Kady’s Coffee Shop. We don’t have any projects going on at the moment, but it was a great chance to catch up with an old friend. Jim Long, formerly of WizKids and now a freelancer, joined us at the end.

When I left the restaurant, I had a voice mail on my cell phone from Pat Linden of Playmates Toys. He’d just gotten in, and we met for a chat that lasted on into lunch. We wandered back to the exhibit hall as it opened and got to work showing people all about Marvel Heroes Battle Dice.

I only stuck around for a bit, though, as I had to leave at 2 PM to catch a cab back to the airport. I said my good-byes, which is always a bit odd when most everyone else is sticking around for another day or three. Work and family called, though, and I’d stuffed myself with plenty of Las Vegas in the few days I was there, so I had no regrets.

I had a bit of a scare when I discovered that my luggage had been locked away by some of my GAMA friends who’d agreed to watch it but then had been called elsewhere. We got it sorted out straight away, though, and I made it to the airport and on to my plane with time to spare.

The flight got in early, so I caught an earlier bus back to Beloit than the one I’d planned. I got home around midnight, with everyone else long asleep. The smiles and laughs that surrounded me in the morning though made it all worth it.

[Edit: Mixed up Tidball and Stackpole at dinner one night. Straightened out now.]

* So you don’t think my wife odd here, I locked myself out of our minivan on one chilly school morning, two weeks before that—with the engine running. I called her up to ask about a spare key, and she reminded me that I’d hidden one someplace outside the house. I couldn’t find it, though, and spent a good few minutes rolling around in awkward positions in the snow, trying to find it.

After exhausting all other possibilities, and myself, I realized the key had been encased in a block of hardened ice. I took the butt end of the ice scraper to it with a vengeance and skinned my knuckles busting it open. Once it finally cracked, I pried the key’s container out and saw that the ice had both crushed it and was probably the only thing holding it together. I fished the key out of it, like the true treasure found in the center of a shattered idol fashioned to hold and hide it, and was on my way.

Got the kids to school in time too.