Another gaming retreat come and gone, and this one was a great one for a lot of reasons. Here’s my take on the different elements that made the retreat possible, and that were used to facilitate the retreat.

Site Selection: Chris works his butt off on this part, and he does a good job. With 20 gamers, every venue will have it’s shortcomings, and this place is no exception. My personal take when we were shown the site photos was that it was going to be a challenge to find gaming space for everyone, and we did need to bring three or four tables to do it right, plus folding chairs. That said, although there were few places to get in “quiet” gaming, it felt like we had enough room to do what we needed to do, and enough private space in bedrooms or outside to get a little personal time. We even used the pool table for playing one game, as well as for the prize table, but I have to say if that table wasn’t there it would have made for a more pleasant experience as we could have had a tad less density in the main room.

Compared to two years ago (Hood River) and last year (Lincoln City), it was clearly nice to have a kitchen designed for large groups, with two dishwashers and two refrigerators, also nice to have so many bedrooms and two washer/dryers. Also, the kitchen was well stocked for plates, bowls, silverware, etc. I would have liked more small glasses for tasting and breakfast, will probably bring my own next year.

I can’t speak for others, but this was as good a bed as LC, much better than HR, although the bedrooms were SO COLD at night, and my bed was made up with a sheet and a thin comforter, not even remotely warm enough. I did enjoy having a private en suite, handy when you’re old and peeing two or three times in the middle of the night, I did not enjoy the trek across the Whale last year to pee, five times one night. I still would have liked some sort of dresser in my room to help organize stuff, it felt a little like a pawn shop in there. Hot water was also a bit of a challenge. I suspect tankless heaters have their use, and not having to worry about 50 gallons spilling out of a traditional heater would worry me as a vacation property owner, but on the other hand tankless + 20 people = occasionally hot water.

Every venue is going to be a compromise in some ways, but after three different venues in three years, I’m ready to settle for one and this one seems to be doing what it needed, at least for me.

If there was a nit, it was that the ad stated two sleeper couches in the “piano” room (with the digital piano, actually a nice thing to have for me), but they were just shitty, cheap couches with no mattress and built so that you were only going to sleep if you were less than five feet tall. Mostly an issue as far as the price goes, I believe.

Local Infrastructure: A lot to like here, but some to dislike. The previously mentioned “broadband” internet connection was about a tick up from dial-up speeds and had very low reliability. We mostly all went to cellular, although my iPhone kept going back to wireless for some brain dead reason. I miss Steve Jobs. Aside from that, there was a decent running route (with minimal time on Hwy 101, which fortunately had a decent sidewalk with some space between it and the road), a decent grocery store down the road, and a not obvious or without challenge access to the beach.

The thing that may kill this place for us, though, is the parking situation. The site has two buildings, of which we rented one, and each has five parking spots. There are ten bedrooms in this place. There is no way we are getting four people per car to come out here. We had the police come by and complain, as well as one of the people who maintains the property, and we tried very hard to not be a problem, but if the other house hadn’t been free for us to use their parking, we would have been shuttling cars from Salishan and Chris’ place there (still up for sale). If we can get this figured out, the place will work well.

One of the other nice things was that we didn’t have to rely on Lincoln City for food options, as Newport is about the same distance in the other direction from Lincoln Beach. After getting a pissy comment from the pizza place we went last year, we ended up going to the Rogue Brewpub instead, which was about twice as much money (I was paying) but much better food and a more pleasant staff. Just forget trying to get reservations within a 30 mile radius of Lincoln Beach, though. No one will do it. I get why, but it was a bit of a problem.

Two hours is about as far from Portland as I want to drive. I took the scenic route, a bypass that avoided Lincoln City altogether (think 30 minutes of strip malls, crappy motels, and every driver distracted), which also put me in the middle of a half-marathon in the foothills of the coast range. At one point, I was pretty concerned as to where I was, but that was just because there was so much gravel on the road that I wasn’t sure it was still paved (it was).

Dining: I have learned to bring my own breakfast and lunch, knowing that I can’t possibly hope that anyone can keep up with my dietary restrictions. Even so, only one dinner meal didn’t work, and that was because it had cut up turkey sausage in it. Had it been uncured, I would have considered it, but processed meat is one thing I am pretty strict about not eating, and nitrates BAD. In general, this was a win, and the kitchen helped with this, although because of the configuration you weren’t going to have a lot of people helping in what was a fairly linear space thanks to the dining table/work surface that ran 15 feet.

I brought food for the whole week, which was probably not necessary with a decent store nearby. I would have brought less yogurt, blueberries, sun-dried tomatoes, baby carrots. So not that much less.

I also brought my own Nespresso coffee machine, which almost no one else asked to use. I’d bring pods in a bag and let people ask for help when they wanted some. That said, we had lots of coffee going all the time, even with the two or three caffeine science people measuring out their beans to the gram. Being able to get good coffee anytime and just for me was a great deal, although I’d figure out a better way to transport the machine – the sales box was enormous.

Scheduling: I’m not going to pull any punches here, I hate the scheduling system. It’s opaque, it requires gaming at the individual level to get acceptable results, and if I needed time to study up it wasn’t going to happen.

A little history here: These week long events grew out of Chuck and I sitting on a tarmac in Baltimore after attending the 2002 World Boardgaming Championships, then in Baltimore, and wondering why we just didn’t do the same thing at Sunriver at considerably lower cost and with people we liked being with. Thus was born WBC West, our wargaming week. We’d have up to 12-14 people, enough that some years we’d rent an extra place just for the bedrooms, and we didn’t seem to have a lot of trouble coming up with a schedule just by everyone throwing out what they were interested in and finding pairings.

Fast forward, and now the biggest differences are that we have a few more people and much less focus on wargaming, although I’d argue that Twilight Imperium 4th Edition qualifies in terms of complexity, if not actually falling within a genre that I’m certainly not going to try to define here. Yet we have a sign up system that feels like you’re playing the lottery rather than choosing games you want to play.

The modern method involves listing a bunch of games you want to play. Once everyone has contributed, you pick games and rank them on how much you want to play them. Then, at a random time in the future, you find out what you’re playing and with who. This year we found out less than two weeks before the event. If this was a traditional WBC West event, it would have been a disaster. Let me be clear, this is not that event anymore, although I would play war-games every day if I could, and arguably that was half my schedule.

For me personally, I’d much rather have the chance to choose the game and the person/people I was playing and figure it out on my own. Often, I’m more interested in gaming with people and what I play isn’t as important, but with this system I may never sit at a table with an individual the entire week. I really don’t understand why this can’t just happen organically, as it did five years ago. People seemed to be happy with the games they played, you were on top of the schedule a month in advance, and you didn’t have to analyze a pairing scheme to figure out how best to get the games and pairings you wanted.

And not nearly enough selling others on the game you are interested in. Had I not sold the shit out of Time of Crisis, we’d have never played it, and now we’re talking about playing it on Tuesday nights.

Worst of all, the scheme we have now seems to be set up to avoid problems we don’t have. While I will freely admit there are people in the game group that I would balk at playing particular games with, this group doesn’t have anyone we all wish would just move to another state. Perhaps that’s the thing that rankles me the most, that this is complexity for the sake of, actually, no idea what. I guess everyone gets an equal chance of getting into the games they want, but from my experience last year where very few of my daytime games were winners, this year went much more smoothly but only because I was very aggressive in my choices.

One other thing that we added in very late was the ability to not be booked for a day. That seemed crazy when you could easily have been setting yourself up for missing the game you wanted to play the most.

I vote for a more organic peer-to-peer solution for next year.

Overall I think that if we are better prepared for the given venue (extra blankets, warmer sleepwear in this year’s case), things will go smoothly. As stated at the top, there’s always something that’s a problem. That was one of the nice things about Sunriver and Salishan, you knew the local infrastructure, you knew the venue. You knew what you needed to bring and what you didn’t. Three different places in three years has given us a bit more insight and allowed us to better refine our selection criteria. The biggest trick now will be making sure we can get the place again next year..

Also, bitching about the scheduling aside, and the freezer that I slept in (it was cold, one morning it was snowing, and sticking. At the Oregon coast!), this was an epic, fun, and memorable retreat, one of my favorites overall, and we’ve done something like 40 different retreats over the years, from long Euro-based weekends to these weeklong mega-retreats.

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the people who organized this whole shebang, starting with Chris who does most of the driving. He has a flair for organization and whipping up enthusiasm that serves RCG well. Matt R, with significant help from Greg, did the game scheduling (effort appreciated), Greg did the food organization, Alex C helped with at the very least venue selection. And me, for awesome meta game choices and bringing the Falcon (which you can see the finished version of in an earlier post). To those who brought the tables and chairs we played on, who made the food that kept us all alive, to my running partners, next year I will avoid bringing a sweater that gives me asthma so that I can run with the big pack on Saturday next year.

And, especially, to every member of the group who attended, and those who didn’t. If there is one thing I’ve learned in 55 orbits around our local stellar mass, it’s that all we are is memory, and thus the sum of our experiences. Thank you all for giving me wonderful experiences with wonderful people on a regular basis. You almost give me faith in humanity. Almost.