I love GenCon.
I love everything about it.
I love that I and 69,999 other nerds can gather in one place and unabashedly “geek out”, that I can spend time with friends who live thousands of miles away and, above all else, I love the cavern of wonders known as the “Exhibitor Hall”.
On Thursday morning (and pretty much every morning of GenCon), the pulse quickens, anticipation grows, the doors open and a flood of humanity pours into the massive convention space, everyone making a beeline for the booth that holds the game that is #1 on their list or perhaps that GenCon exclusive fig or card that they must have.
Every GenCon, this has been my daily ritual. Every GenCon, at least, until this one.
On a whim, I decided to enter the North American Nationals tournament for Fantasy Flight Games’ X-WING Miniatures. I expected that I would play a round or two, get summarily thumped, get my participation prize and drop out of the tournament. Fate is a fickle mistress, however, and apparently she decided that while I intended to play only two rounds over a few hours; she was going to prolong my journey over two days and ten rounds of play – ultimately leaving me in eighth place and providing me with one of the greatest gaming stories of my life.
Anyone familiar with X-Wing will instantly recognize the name of the list I borrowed from the internet and flew, Thug Lyfe. Consisting of four Scum faction Y-Wings, each equipped with an Unhinged Astromech and a Twin Laser Turret, this list was, in mid-2015, a great source of consternation and gnashing of teeth.
As the next wave of ships released and Dengar’s ship, the Jumpmaster 5000 – affectionately referred to as the “U-boat” for its crescent shape - became all the rage, Y-Wings fell out of use and were discarded as “old meta”. Now, I could lie and say this was me being sneaky and trying to bring them back, but really it was just a very easy list to bring to the table. It has few upgrade cards, only four ships and doesn’t require much work to be able to have fun.
To make things more interesting, a few weeks prior to GenCon, Fantasy Flight unveiled an Errata that nerfed one of the key components of the Jumpmaster “U-Boat” list and took a little bit of the teeth out of them. This led to people changing their lists which, unbeknownst to me, created an opportunity for Thug Lyfe to once again be a player on the tournament scene.
One round after the next, players would sit down opposite me, glance at the four Y-Wings and cringe as memories of playing against that list resurfaced. I wanted to drop, but I kept winning and in grand fashion. Three rounds became four and I found myself at the top table. Four rounds became five, still undefeated. Five rounds became Six and finally in the sixth and final match of the day, after almost 10 hours, I met the only person to whom I would lose that day. It was a close match, each of us down to one damage remaining but ultimately his ships carried the day and he alone stood undefeated. It was a close match and in the end, we shook hands and I had resolved that maybe tomorrow I’d get to see the inside of the Exhibition Hall.
Day Two of the event was to be three rounds of the top 64 players from the previous days’ standings, with the top 8 playing single elimination till only one player remained. By this morning, word of the crazy guy playing Quad-TLT’s had spread and most competitors hoped that they would not be matched against the list.
Round seven continued where Round five had left off. The dice rolling my way; fortune favoring the foolish. Round eight was down to the wire, each of our ships with but a single damage remaining and each killing the other in a final, glorious round of shooting. Under the old, pre-errata tournament rules, we would have had a draw but now we had to roll off, each player rolling the sum number of his ships attack values, most hits, winner take all. I rolled two more than my opponent and moved on to round nine. Lady Luck had not abandoned me yet.
Round Nine saw me matched up against the eventual winner of the tournament, again down to one wound each, and as before the timing of the game saw us table each other , sending us to a Final Salvo roll off. We rolled one die at a time.
The first of my eight dice, a miss!
He, a hit, back to me, another miss!
He, another hit!
Down by two, my turn, another miss! He, a hit!
Three to Zero, five dice remaining.
Me, a hit! He, a miss!
Three to 1.
Continuing again and again, back and forth, laughing, cheering, groaning, in the end, I had lost the match but gained a new friend.
The Dice Gods, having had enough of carrying me, had decided to deposit me back in the gutter where they found me. I lost in round ten to the same gentleman I had played in round six thus signaling the end of my time in the tournament.
I had also gained something I never thought I would have: a Top 8 Finish in a National, Premier level event.
On Sunday morning, at 10 AM, I found the Exhibition Hall exactly where I had left it in years prior. The people were lined up, ready to surge into the hall to experience the start of the Final day of GenCon.
I stood with them, ready to head in for the first time this year, definitely a little later than I wanted, but satisfied that I had enjoyed one of the best GenCon’s of my life – and it was about to get better.
Erik Szpyra's alter-ego, Dr. Dice, is a Board and Card game reviewer who now resides in Chicago, IL. Follow him on twitter @TheDrDice