Geekway to the West 2015


A little con in St. Louis, Missouri turned 11, and it did so in a big way. Perhaps it’s not even accurate to use “little” anymore as Geekway to the West smashed through all of its own numbers from years past. With this gathering Geekway has firmly placed its stamp of existence in the board gaming realm. I can’t think of a past year where I’ve seen more before and after buzz about the con on social media and even in dead tree form. Frankly, the biggest question that has to be on the minds of this con’s crew is whether to continue to grow, or decide on an optimum size.

This was my third year at Geekway, and easily my favorite. Not only because they put on their best con yet but this is the first year I actually got to hit it up every day. Add to that, the fact that I was finally able to bring my wife Sarah to Geekway and a number of good buddies showed up including Dave Ferguson, creator of The Great Debate, Topher, one of the contributors to this site, and my fellow blogger pal Toby Gee from Roll and Groove. I’ve enjoyed previous years a lot, because I enjoy gaming and have never had issues gaming with strangers, but there is something great about having a group of friends present. Also, it’s always good to have Sarah around in order to humble me. I’ve rarely seen someone pick up on the rules of a game faster than she, and thus she tends to beat me…a lot. I did get her good once though, more on that later!




I knew we were in for a good year when I noticed that Geekway sold out months ahead of time. In previous years there was always the option for people to walk up and get a day pass but that wasn’t to be the case this go around. 1300 badges were sold, over 100 badges were handed out to staff, volunteers, and guests, and even a handful of temporary badges were handed out to press and judges. One thing to note too, Geekway hands out a free board game to every paid attendee, well over 1400 games were handed out there alone. For those wondering, these weren’t simply packs of Uno Cards either (apologies to the Uno fans) these were full on Board Games. I received a copy of a game called Skyscrapers that I traded to another attendee for Privateer Press’ High Command. A few other attendee games I saw were Constantinople, King of Tokyo, Locke and Key: The Game, and many more.


One needs to consider the fact that the con’s library of games stands at just over 1500, so the 1400 given away at check in would already be an admirable number to bandy about. They don’t stop there however. Geekway holds daily door prizes, where they gave away 75 games, and then there’s the Play and Win games. I’m not certain how long Geekway has had a Play and Win category but I’ve never seen it handled with more finesse or scale than this year’s iteration of the event. In the past the Play and Win slips were placed inside the game box and if you were privy to what games fit the category you, the other players, and anyone who helps teach the game were able to place these signed slips back in the box to potentially be drawn as a winner of the game. This year the con team set aside an entire room for the Play and Win area, games were placed on tables for ready play and a large bookshelf held copies of the games for people to grab and play within the room or check out if they wished to wander. The slips were placed into already crafted bins labeled clearly on one side of the room. Easily the best set-up I’ve seen thus far and it truly made the Play and Win area the place to be. In fact I don’t think I played a single game that wasn’t designated as a Play and Win, and I played roughly 30+ unique games over those four days!


One stand out game grabbed my attention above all others, not to mention the majority of the Geekway attendees for that matter. The Polish game Tajemnicze Domostwo (Mysterious Mansion), or Mysterium as it will be named once it’s released in the States, was hands down the Bell of the Ball. This Play and Win was played over 200 times over the four days, easily the most played in the Play and Win category. The game is fantastic. One player takes on the role of a murder victim, now a ghost, communicating with the other players through symbolism within their dreams in order to whittle down a list of suspects, potential places, and murder weapons. If you call it “Better Clue” I wouldn’t argue with you. Take the fact that the gameplay is fun, unique, and co-operative and couple that with the intrigue of a game that isn’t even available in English yet and it’s easy to see the allure. I even got a chance to be the ghost once but, wpid-20150514_113930.jpgas Dave F. will tell you openly, I did not make for a good one. If you played the game at the con and were lucky enough to have English rules inside the box you can thank me for bringing it to the attention of the con staff by the way *winking face*.


I had a number of other stand out games at the con.

LanternsLanterns was a game where I initially beat Toby, thus giving me the false impression I was actually good at the game, only to be proven wrong by Sarah multiple times. The mechanics are simple, if explained a bit poorly in the rulebook, match colored lanterns to gain them and be careful because every tile you lay down could help a competitor!

ScovilleScoville was a really cool resource collection game where you plant and harvest different peppers to fuel the ever-expanding pepper market! It was made cooler for me because I just walked in on Friday morning, sat down, and played with two strangers. I won that first game of Scoville, we were all three new to it, but the second time around I wasn’t so lucky as, once again, Sarah crushed me on her first time ever playing the game.

Look at that Camel stack!

Look at that Camel stack!

Camel Up! was a blast, I didn’t even care that I never won. Betting on those camels was a treat! It has a really fun mechanic where you roll and drop your dice from a pyramid. Attempting to get just one die out of that pyramid did take a bit finesse but it was still fun stuff, the stacking mechanism of the camels and how that changes their place in the race really shook thins up often. Never won a game of it but I did have the pleasure of witnessing Toby’s eldest daughter take us to task with her camel betting skills.

My biggest triumph of the Con though came when playing The Worst Game Ever (actual title). The main game-play is simple, roll a die and make a bet that it’ll roll higher than you guessed and then take that many tokens away from whoever you were targeting. As soon as someone loses all their tokens the game ends and the winner is the one with the most (barring the humorous “if there’s a tie” rule). The cards are what shake things up, and it is here that I discovered Sarah’s weakness! You see, every card changes the rules somehow, and many times in humorous ways. Sarah likes consistent rules, she’d tell you this herself. Anyway, I had a card in my hand through most of the game where you play it if someone is caught “mooching’ food or drink from someone else. There was none to be had but I remembered they were selling food in the hall. When I excused myself to use the restroom (honestly fearing there was a card out there that someone could use when i did so) I purchased a cookie on the way back. Long story short, Sarah soon took a bite and I used the mooching card, ending the game. It was fantastic!

The winning card!

The winning card!

There were a ton of activities I didn’t get the chance to join in on.  Tournaments of local popularity like Crokinole and Battling Tops, or more widespread appeal with Settlers of Catan and King of Tokyo/New York. The latter gaining the victors free passes* to Gen Con (*Edit: The victors won an invitation to the Gen Con World Championships, not passes to Gen Con). There was a game design contest, which my good friend Toby was actually a guest judge for (I’m very envious of that fact but can’t say it wasn’t a well deserved nod to his board gaming cred). I’m sure he’ll be able to elaborate more on the contest in his post over at Roll and Groove. There was even a Guest of Honor I, sadly, never had the chance to meet. The one and only Zev Shlasinger, President of Z-Man Games!

You can barely see it but there was a rainbow over Geekway when my wife and I drove in on Saturday.

You can barely see it but there was a rainbow over Geekway when my wife and I drove in on Saturday.

Geekway to the West has some real potential to grow into a mighty con, I’m honestly wondering whether they will choose to do so. Their current venue can’t take much, if any, more, and I’m loathe to see it move because that would likely mean a move away from me, and into the city (St. Louis) to meet expanding space requirements. There is a part of me that wants nothing more than to see it grow to a size of behemoth proportions, just because it damn well deserves to! I only have a few complaints. First, the con takes place right in the prime of graduation ceremonies. I had to miss a good chunk of it last year, and narrowly missed it next year (yes I already checked). Lastly,…I didn’t win a single game from Play and Win or Door Prizes! I mean c’mon!.. Ok, that last one isn’t really fair because I guess I did win a game last year…but still! All joking aside I would suggest you get a jump on your badge next year because there is no telling if they intend to grow the con. It’s a lot of fun as is, and if it continues to garner the growth of popularity I’ve seen thus far and they decide to keep things small, you may start missing your chance to get in earlier and earlier!

It just keeps growin.

It just keeps growing.

Take care folks, and keep gaming! Also, just remember… Istanbul was Constantinople.


Wizards of the Coast Announces New Super Adventure: Rage of Demons

wpid-rod_keyart.jpgThe next addition to 5th Edition D&D’s line of Super Adventures has been announced today. Looks like DMs and Players can look forward to a dive into the Underdark in the Fall of this year. As you can tell by the tone of my previous reviews I’ve become a fan of these Campaigns for the new content they infuse into the community and for the quality of the adventures themselves.

The Underdark has long been a huge draw for players of Dungeons & Dragons, myself included. I’m really interested to see how they handle the inherent dangers of the Underdark, it has historically been a place for mid to high level PC’s. Perhaps we’ll see a campaign that starts characters off leveled up a bit. It would be really interesting if it builds off of one of the previous Super Adventures taking characters all the way to level 20 from where they stood at the end of either Tyranny of Dragons or Princes of the Apocalypse.

The stuff about teaming with Drizzt Do’Urden is will be really cool to some even if I’ve lost my taste for the character. Who knows, maybe this story-line will breathe new life into the guy. Personally, I’d like to see some fresh characters introduced to the Forgotten Realms. Some really interesting folks. It’d be nice to stop going back to the well and see new faces, maybe they’d garner the same kind of staying power. Let’s be honest though, Drizzt and company introduced a lot of us to the Forgotten Realms, I need to give them respect for that.

You can find the full article here:

But here’s the full Press Release:



Fight Alongside Drizzt Do’Urden in the New Dungeons & Dragons Storyline on Computer, Console or Tabletop This Fall

RENTON, Wash. – May 6, 2015 – Today, Wizards of the Coast announced Rage of Demons, the new storyline for Dungeons & Dragons fans coming in Fall 2015. The demon lords have been summoned from the Abyss and players must descend into the Underdark with the iconic hero Drizzt Do’Urden to stop the chaos before it threatens the surface. Rage of Demons is the story all D&D gamers will be excited to play this fall, whether they prefer consoles, PCs or rolling dice with friends.

Following on the critically-acclaimed Tyranny of Dragons and Elemental Evil stories, Rage of Demons will transport characters to the deadly and insane underworld. Rumors of powerful demon lords such as Demogorgon, Orcus and Graz’zt terrorizing the denizens of the Underdark have begun to filter up to the cities of the Sword Coast. The already dangerous caverns below the surface are thrown into ultimate chaos, madness and discord. The renegade drow Drizzt Do’Urden is sent to investigate but it will be up to you to aid in his fight against the demons before he succumbs to his darker temptations.

Dungeons & Dragons fans will have more options than ever to enjoy the Rage of Demons storyline. The themes of treachery and discord in the Underdark are in Sword Coast Legends, the new CRPG (computer role-playing game) coming this fall on PC from n-Space and Digital Extremes. The epic campaign that drives Sword Coast Legends’ story forces players deep into the Underdark and continues well after launch with legendary adventurer Drizzt Do’Urden.

For fans of Neverwinter, the popular Dungeons & Dragons-based MMORPG will bring a new expansion – tentatively titled Neverwinter: Underdark – in 2015. The update will see adventurers travel with Drizzt to the drow city of Menzoberranzan during its demonic assault as well as experience a unique set of quests written by the creator of Drizzt, R.A. Salvatore. The expansion will initially be released on PC and will come out on the Xbox One at a later date.

Players of the tabletop roleplaying game can descend into the Underdark in Out of the Abyss, a new adventure which provides details on the demon lords rampaging through the Underdark. Partners such as WizKids, GaleForce 9 and Smiteworks will all support Rage of Demons with new products to help bring your tabletop game to life. To really get in the mind of Drizzt, fans will have to check out Archmage, the new novel by R.A. Salvatore, scheduled for release in early September.

“Rage of Demons is a huge storyline involving all expressions of Dungeons & Dragons, and we’re excited to bring players this story in concert with all of our partners,” said Nathan Stewart, Brand Director at Wizards of the Coast. “I can’t wait to see everyone interact with one of the world’s most recognizable fantasy characters: Drizzt Do’Urden. Descending into the depths won’t exactly be easy for him, and D&D fans will get their mettle tested just like Drizzt when they come face-to-face with all the demon lords.”

For more information on Dungeons & Dragons, including details on all of the new products supporting the Rage of Demons storyline from Wizards and our partners visit

All of this does make me question whether WotC has something planned for Gen Con though. You’d think they’d take advantage of it. Maybe Gen Con is a bit too early this year? Anyway, I’m excited. A delve into the Underdark might just make me put down Unleashed for a little while.


Kickstart That GEEK! BattleBards


There are countless ways to spice up the gaming experience at the table, 3d models of dungeon tiles, miniatures, or maybe a dice tower or two. One way to really set the tone for an evening is to set the mood with music and sound and if you’re like me your efforts to do that have been minimal at best. Many of the other enhancements to the game experience I mentioned have companies dedicated to producing the products mentioned, not so with audio enhancement of gaming.

Enter the folks behind BattleBards, a new application dedicated to bringing these audio enhancements to your fingertips. I had the pleasure to speak with the folks regarding what they have to offer us, and just why we may want to get in on the ground floor through their current revamped Kickstarter campaign!

NOTE: During this Q&A process the BattleBards team made a major descision, they dropped their original campaign that focused on a subscription model of their work and changed to a purchase and own model based on the reactions of their investors. I mention it below but I feel they were well on their way to funding their original run but decided to restart under a different model simply because the community spoke, and they listened. The gamble seems to have paid off as they have already funded the new Kickstarter day one.

The BattleBards Team

Alex Jarzebinski

Kyn Chaturvedi

Mike Adams

Mridul Pandey

Melvin Smif: First, I want to thank you all for speaking with me today. I’m a big fan of music and sound effects at the table. Well, in theory I am, I’ve never actually done a lot beyond ambiance music in the background. I suppose that could be my first question actually. What makes you such a proponent of Music and Sound at the table? How would you sway someone who’s never really considered adding something like this?

BattleBards: No worries, it’s an incredible opportunity for us to discussion our passion with dedicated gamers!

The best example of the power of audio at the gaming table that I love to use requires the following YouTube video.The reason this video has such impact is because it shows the glaring hole made by removing the wonderfully evocative music by John Williams necessary to drive home the impact of the scene. It’s the same with gaming. Narrating, say, the loss of a major NPC can pull some heartstrings but accompanying the narrative with a touching piece like Dumbledore’s Farewell from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince allows the GM to dial in his/her players’ emotional state through audible context. In truth, many GMs use audio quite a bit at the table but as you pointed out, its use is normally restrained to providing some narrative backdrop or ambiance.

There’s a whole world of audio out there that can help make gaming more immersive beyond its use as a background such as NPC and Player interaction through voiceovers, accenting important moments through timed sound effects, and the use of what’s called “Source Audio” which provides a whole new way of interacting with the actual characters, living and breathing in these worlds composed of collective imagination. All of this just scratches the surface of how audio can plunge players even deeper into the worlds tabletop gaming creates.

MS: Do you feel audio is too frequently left out of tabletop gaming?

BB: Too often, it is left out. We’ve lost count how many times a GM runs players through an otherwise deep, thought provoking, or exciting sequence only to have it fall completely flat since the appropriate moods between player and GM were way out of sync. Given the power of audio, a GM need not score every second of a game, but even a dash of thunder, an NPC greeting, or the sounds of an exotic language being spoken by someone in town can add that immersive element to a game that’s tough to get any other way.

Like using minis, tile sets, illustrations, and props, audio is just another tool in the GM’s arsenal to paint a world that players can lose themselves in. In fact, given the tie between sound and emotion, it’s by far the most powerful tool any GM has at his or her disposal.

MS: Along that same line of thought, I often feel like introducing technology to the Pen and Paper scene can feel threatening to some, just look at what happened to Codename: Morningstar (aka Dungeonscape) for a reference. Have you experienced any backlash at all from people claiming this isn’t something “we” need, or have you been met with largely positive responses?

BB: When our last Kickstarter, Realmsound Project was starting up we did get a few folks who questioned the value of bringing audio into the game, thinking that it will detract from the gaming experience. Since the success of Realmsound, we’ve been working hard to show how audio, like any other tool; can add to the gaming experience, providing a context for the scenes the GM unfolds during the creation of a story. With even a dash of audio used at the right moment can add a very real sense of immersion in the game where ever the GM feels it most appropriate.

MS: The first project I can recall your group funding through Kickstarter was the Realmsound Project, a similar project that helped bring gaming sound effects and music to the table. What are the major differences between that first successful run and Battle Bards?

BB: BattleBards is our attempt to take the little experiment of sourcing a batch of professionally created audio and make it into an engine, providing not just a random, one-time collection of music, sound effects, and voiceovers but a vibrant marketplace where top tier composers, sound designers, and voice talent continuously add to this new universe of tabletop specific audio.

MS: Talk to me about your two key fixtures, the Soundboard and Mixer. How will access to them be structured?  Are they first downloaded as apps and then logged into or will you have to access via the web?

BB: The Soundboard is the lynchpin to the BattleBards service. You can have the great audio ever composed but without the means to seamlessly integrate it into a gaming environment, it’s useless. Using a system of modular customizable playlists, GMs will be able to setup their own “audio command and control” center, bringing at the ready whatever they need for the coming session.

The Mixer is a tool of endless possibilities (sorry for the cliché). Using nothing more than click and drag, users can layer any and all kinds of audio (think iMovie but purely Audio-based for TTRPGs) to create narrative backdrops with synched sound effects to go with the ebb and flow of the script. Provide ambiance to voice overs in order to command the setting. Create complex sound effects able to describe any event in-game from the rise of a towering earth elemental culminating in a sky-shaking roar to a pack of goblins beating down a weakening wooden door. Without needing to be a sound engineer at all, users with a bit of imagination have a new world to explore here.

Everything will be accessible from the web from any device. Every track purchased will be available for download as well as unlocked on the BattleBards service for streaming. Combine this with the ability to upload and store your own audio on our cloud and you can carry around all of your gaming audio with you anywhere you game with an internet connection. With Sync, you can even carry around your library without an internet connection, just sync the audio you want to take with you and BAM, instant customized gaming audio available in the deepest dungeon.. er.. basement.

MS: Can content made using the Mixer be made freely available to other users? To further that question is there a consideration to having an open sharing area for user generated content?

BB: Yes. Some of the best mods in the video game industry are made by the community and we want to bring that same creativity and passion in with a community of our own. Users will be able to assemble mixes using BattleBards audio and share them with their fellows, quickly earning fame for mixes that get a ton of downloads. As far as publicly sharing mixes created using non-BattleBards audio, it’s yet to be hammered out since that often gets into the murky depths of validating and protecting copyrighted material.

MS: If you can upload to the Mixer couldn’t that allow for some wholly original pieces of audio? If someone user the mixer for that kind of project could they then reach out to you and see if they could sell it through BattleBards rather than give it away freely? I suppose on that note, Mixer aside, how would someone approach you with something they think you could sell?

BB: The BattleBards Mixer is a wonderful tool and is very user-friendly. However, it has purposefully been designed for simplicity in mind to aid GMs at the gaming table. It has not been created for the aspiring professional artist. For artists, they would be much better served using a professional audio suite to put together an original composition. Anyone interested to throw their hat into the gaming audio ring should email us directly and we’ll hook them up with the details for the auditioning process.

MS: Ever thought of teaming up with any of the big name publishers out there to produce audio in combination with a release of theirs?

BB: Oh yeah! We would love to work with a number of publishers for sure. Once we have found our footing post-launch we will be reaching out for sure.

MS: Why do think no one has really done much with this type of gaming enhancement in the past? Or have they and I just never noticed it?

BB: There’s a ton of incredible audio out there but we think it hasn’t hit the mainstream for a couple of reasons. First, the tools. Beyond simply using a music track as a backdrop, integrating audio in any kind of an extensive way is a huge pain in the neck. The GM has enough on their plate as it is and needing to queue up 4 different media players and YouTube windows for anything beyond putting up simple loops detracts from the gaming experience. For this reason, we’ve spent a great deal of time researching just what tools would be needed to bring audio close enough to the GM to allow its use at the table to be practical, enter The Soundboard.

Secondly, sourcing movie-quality music, sound effects, voice overs, and the like is EXPENSIVE, and to build a network of great talent is even harder to pull off. See, we don’t have just a single composer or voice talent on staff. We work with dozens of accomplished artists who have serious cred in film, video games, tv shows, animation, etc. That gives us a lot of variety to work with. And, though they are all super talented, no one individual can do justice to every genre of audio. Each artist has a niche where they truly rock and so we play to that strength to get the best we can out of everyone.

MS: Your Kickstarter plug states “BattleBards – Fantasy Audio for Tabletop Gamers Done Right”, is your focus solely on fantasy gaming or have you collected audio for other genres? i.e. Science Fiction, Steampunk, Gothic Horror

BB: For right now, we’re diving deep into fantasy in order to give gamers a solid base from which to provide audible gaming candy to almost any session possible. However, to offer a bit of a tease, we know what genre is coming next and it’s related to a major, MAJOR movie being released this coming Christmas…

MS: Ha! Nice tease. I can see tons of applications beyond the table for this kind of audio. Podcasts, the rising popularity of “radio” dramas, what restrictions will users have on using these sounds for their projects? Can they be used beyond the table?

BB: There’s a ton of ways to use this audio and we want to work with everyone. Let’s get this level of gaming audio to every passionate gamer out there and what better way than to broadcast it on the air/cyber waves? All of the audio that BattleBards purchases from talent (The Audio Vault) we want to make available to podcasters, radio shows, and whoever is willing to share what we offer in a credible way. For all of the other audio that we don’t own, but’s offer on BattleBards, it will be up to our talent, that’s providing the audio, to allow for non-personal use. In short, for those out there who want to use our audio over a public channel or for interesting media projects, shoot us an email!

MS: Very recently you canceled your first Kickstarter for BattleBards before it reached its end to favor a different style of final product. Why did BattleBards decide to switch from a subscription model to a purchase model? How will this affect how the soundboard and mixer will be available to users?

BB: We launched the first BattleBards Kickstarter Campaign with a subscription model hoping to offer gamers a colossal library of audio as a streaming service. However, as the campaign gained steam we collected more and more feedback from gamers. It became clear that they loved the audio, but not the subscription delivery method. They preferred the ability to select the audio they wanted for download specifically.

It came to the point where we had to ask ourselves if we were really offering a service that most gamers wanted. As we reached 74% funded with 18 days remaining, we decided to do something quite unorthodox and cancel mid-campaign in order to start over with a more desirable pay-to-download model.

Like the Realmsound Project that came before, we’re giving concrete products. The Soundboard and Mixer, critical components for integrating audio in a game setting are all browser based now so there’s no need for actual apps and the like, use it anywhere!

MS: Looks like its paid off! Hey, plan on hitting up any Cons during the upcoming Con Season?

BB: Oh yes. Mike Adams is our Cons Colonel who is mapping out what we can hit and where. Since we’re just getting our start, we’ll likely just be wanderers in the sea of Cons like everyone else but it would be a dream come true to actually have a bigger role in them.

MS: What is the future for BattleBards? Where do you see this application going down the line?

BB: Already, future feature additions to the Soundboard and Mixer are being drawn up to give gamers a chance to play around with their creations in an intuitive manner, as well as some innovations in the works to bring audio even closer to the GM than a click. Eventually, we want to be able to offer native mobile applications to further increase the portability aspect of BattleBards. Lastly, as we mentioned already, we’re looking into bringing the same insane level of quality of audio into new genres beyond Fantasy, and we have some plans in the works to make that happen sooner rather than later.

MS: A few final words from me here. First I want to thank you again for speaking with me, and I want to commend you on switching your project from a subscription model to what you’ll be doing now. While I don’t know yet which I personally would have preferred, it seems you are really listening to the majority of your backers. 74% with 18 days remaining is a strong indicator of a project that likely would have funded so kudos for taking this leap of faith based of the desires of the community. I feel it shows a strong commitment to our hobby. Do you have any parting thoughts?

BB: We can’t thank you enough for giving us this time and platform to talk about what we’re working on. With regards to the move from subscription to purchase, thanks for the kudos. It was an agonizing decision that left several of us in the Team with sleepless nights. Ultimately, we’re gamers. Gaming is where we live and we want to introduce top tier audio to the entire community. If that means we need to tear things down in order to rebuild, then so be it.

Finally, for those of you who really like what we’re doing at BattleBards, we are telling you right now, don’t be shy. Reach out to us and tell us what you want. Let’s join forces and create the best sound library the tabletop gaming community has ever seen.

Here you can find the revamped BattleBards Kickstarter

Currently they sit at 124% funded and climbing so I’m excited to see what sort of stretch goals they roll out. I’ll be throwing my hat into the ring and backing these fine folks, can’t wait to try things out!

Other places to see BattleBards info:


P.S. Big thanks to Toby (author for the blog Roll and Groove) for reminding me of these fine folk and their product! We’ll have to got to more concerts together so you can get me more content.