Concrete Cow 20 - Wolverton, Milton Keynes 14th March 2020
TLDR: Still one of the best Games Days in the country. Still essential. Just don’t take it for granted.
I’ve written about Concrete Cow - in this blog and the printed diaries that predate it - so many, many times that I was tempted to just cut and paste an old report. But, hey, they’ll all here so just scroll down and pick one.
What made THIS year unique, however, was how my taking it for granted came back to bite me in the butt.
The first different thing that happened was that a gaming buddy who I introduced to CC offered me a lift down in his car. I refused because the annual trips down to CC are the times when me and my fellow organiser of Spaghetti ConJunction meet up on the train and chat about it. We never formally organise this, it just happens.
Then I left my train ticket purchasing to near the time and my packing until the morning of the event. This probably a symptom of this being my fifth convention in five weekends. To be sure I packed everything I needed I got up super early. So early in fact that I thought I had time to finish off a small gaming project I’ve got*. I knew I’d left a massive safety margin.
When I’d finished, however, I found time was tight so had to ring a taxi to take to New Street Station. There I bumped into another gaming buddy. He’d booked advance singles. I smugly said I had an open return and went to find my usual train - only to find I’d just missed it. I ended up on my friend’s train going via Milton Keynes. Only to find that my “open return” didn’t cover all train companies and I had to buy another ticket.
As usual the short walk to the event was easy and I even had time for a detour into the supermarket next door to buy some index cards.
I got to the con just in time to throw down my morning sign up sheet and pay for entry - smugly refusing a Golden Ticket for priority sign ups. I was offering games in both the morning and afternoon and knew that if I HAD to play, I’d pick up my game in the horse-trading after the event.
As it turned out neither the friend who’d offered me the lift nor my fellow convention organiser had chosen to attend due the a virus epidemic currently gripping the nation. (I wasn’t worried myself. CC is a small con populated by decent people.)
I’d guess there were 40-50 people present - which seemed very healthy compared to CC19a - but there seemed to be about ten games on offer so I wasn’t sure I’d get players for mine. A Call of Cthulhu game run by a CoC celebrity signed up within 5 seconds. In fact 2 of the first 3 games filled were Cthulhu.
When the sign-ups were over, I wandered up to the table, expecting my signup sheet to be empty only to find I had four players!
This was my Judge Dredd meets Agatha Christie game which I’d run 3 times at conventions over the previous month. The players were all highly experienced and it was great fun. I’d rather one of the cleverer players hadn’t elected to play the Rookie Judge when the player not familiar with the genre chose to play the experienced street Judge. A swap of roles might have helped. And a critical success on a die roll allowed the PCs to catch one of the antagonists in the act which turned the final act into an intellectual rather than a physical confrontation. (However, if I write and referee a set of rules that are so swingy and unpredictable I have to able to live with the consequences.) It was still a very good game and I am blissfully happen with the way this scenario runs.
A swerved a debate about the current Dr Who series (why DO so many people moan about this perfectly decent TV SciFi show?) and nipped to the supermarket to buy a meal deal. (CC is in a perfect Venue for a games con.)
For the afternoon, I put down a Dr Who sign up sheet offering to run a sequel to the newly completed TV series. I am fully aware that many people have turned off the series but the new crop of characters make a perfect role-playing group and I keep offering games featuring them.
At the end of the sign ups, I had no one pick it. No problem, I thought, horse trading.
There was only one sign up sheet left. It was for FTL - “four tiny LARPS”. This was a brilliant concoction of LARP scenarios where you spend a few minutes reading your characters and then play out a highly intense time-limited scene to resolve the story. This only had two sign ups. The designer insisted on having EXACTLY 5 players. With me and the last unsigned player this gave 4 players. The Referee agreed to play the 5th part(s) himself but then asked to a separate room to play in. By the time we’d found one - one of the players had left. I tried to convince the group to switch to my Dr Who game but they chose to play board games instead.
I can’t play board games. I CAN’T.
All of the other games were full. It is highly unusual to have such a close match of games to players. At UK conventions there are usually far more Referees offering games than are needed. But this is a perfectly possible outcome of running a “sort it all out on the day” convention like Concrete Cow.
So I said my goodbyes and left. I didn’t even feel too bad about it. 5 conventions in 5 weekends is a lot and I’d had a great day out meeting friends and getting to Referee my current favourite scenario.
Concrete Cow remains a perfect little event. My misadventures today were the result of me - having done so many conventions and so many Concrete Cows - thinking I could sleep walk through the prep. My fault.
Yes it’s like an olde English Tea-house compared to the Starbucks of the modern convention scene but it’s still quietly magnificent. It should be an ESSENTIAL part of everyone’s annual gaming schedule IMHO. If you can get to Milton Keynes - you should get to Concrete Cow at least once per year.
* Gears and Gentility - a SteamPunk “Hack” of Lasers and Feelings. Coming soon!
And now for the painful bit:
Travel (Including Taxi and two train fares): £44
Food (coffee at the venue was free): £4.12
Cost per game played: £52.12.
Cost per hour: £15.50
What they SHOULD have been (if I’d been on my A game) was:
Cost per game played: £12.06
Cost per hour: £3.45
Note to self: Dick!