The Kraken is a fantastic Gaming Vacation in the east German countryside and is truly made of awesome sauce.  I was back for my (and the event’s) second year and it was another thing of beauty.  The idea is essentially that gamers from all over can get together, experience great games and events, and also have enough time to relax, socialise and otherwise take the intensity out of a gaming convention.  No need to run from slot to slot and have a packed timetable – you’ve got five days and plenty of time.  You’ve guests such as Sandy Petersen running Cthulhu games, and a good range of ancillary events like horror seminars, workshops and other things too.  With an all inclusive price tag, there’s no need to worry about paying for anything and you’re well fed and watered in the grounds of a historical German Schloss.  What’s not to like?

Simon and I headed out to Berlin for a couple of days first and then got back to the airport to meet the shuttle bus the con organisers arrange to pick up new arrivals, and we were whisked to Schloss Neuhausen in air-conditioned comfort – chatted to a couple of the new attendees and got to clue them in on what to expect. After arrival, the first day was all about catching up with people and meeting new gamers.  A good selection of beers and wines married well with the welcome barbecue that was prepared for our arrival.  There was some games going on for people that wanted them, and the pool table saw some use, although its sense of physics is somewhat non-Euclidean.  In all the first day for us was about forgetting the real world and easing into The Kraken again, which seems to be its own little self-contained world.

Next morning we were ready for Hot Gaming Action and consulted our welcome packs.  One of the things that shows the attention to detail and planning that’s gone into making everything run smoothly at the event is the program guide.  Stay with me.  For starters its very nicely produced, designed by a professional graphic designer.  There are medieval maps of Europe in the covers, the layout is clean and magazine-like, there are some images to break up text and all events are included.  There’s a floorplan of the Schloss in roleplaying style, well labelled and with a touch of humour.  Also, you get a pull out planner so you can keep track of where you’re supposed to be and when, including scheduled meal times and even the departure time of the shuttle bus to the airport.  Its just all right there for you, it looks good and frankly with that sort of example, it shows you how they’ve nailed the convention.

I could go day by day through everything I did, but it’s a five day event, so let’s just whip through what I got to do, although there was more on offer too.   Played a couple of games of Lords of the Waterdeep, a D&D flavoured worker placement type game which was good fun, definitely worth a look if you like your “European” boardgames.  Joined in a play test of Needles and Pins, a Neuropunk game, although the current iteration of the rules had only been written a week ago and I think that showed.  The author got some good feedback I feel though, so that’s probably a tick in the box.  I also got into a game of Mythic Iceland with the author Pedro Ziviani.  I’m not a fan of BRP for many reasons, but from what I could tell the addition Pedro has made, such as the runic magic system, worked well.  A good game – Pedro is a very nice chap and knows his stuff (he may be Brazil’s foremost authority on Iceland for all I know), so it was obvious that I should make a purchase.

Of the less geeky variety I got to try out a couple of card games. Iliad was one, as you’d imagine it Siege of Troy themed and good fun.  Takes a play through one game to work out why you’d make what decisions, but as soon as we “got” it, it was engaging.  Raiding Parties was a very flavourful pirate-themed game, which seemed to suffer a bit from “well, what do we do in this situation?”, but I guess there may be some errata we can unearth on that one, otherwise a couple of rules don’t make sense.  The art is all done by Don Maitz, who designed the Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum logo though, so it still gets a worth-a-look vote from me.  Finally there was Skull & Roses, a simple and easy game of bluff that’s great for general consumption among none-gamers and goes well with a couple of drinks.

I also ran four games (one didn’t get enough sign ups or it would have been five), and all seemed to go well.  There is more of a traditional lean to the gaming rather than the more “indie” side of things, but nevertheless, alongside Cthulhu and Pendragon, I had success with Dead of Night and Duty & Honour.  There were the more staid BRP games, but also Fiasco and several Freeforms saw enthusiastic play.  Additionally there was some miniatures games, including an awesome demonstration table provided by Gregory Privat, which I used to thoroughly trounce Simon.  It’s his own fault for playing the French.  I think I need to see how Commands & Colours works with someone guiding us though, as we were fumbling through the rules on our own after a quick briefing (to be fair, if you wanted a proper demonstration, Gregory was on hand for most of the convention).

Other entertainment included a boardgames library, Texas hold’em poker, miniature painting, movie nights, seminars and so on.  There was also the Mythic Iceland launch party, replete with Icelandic beers, rotten shark, sheep’s face, seaweed, Black Death and other treats.  At a similar time French Corner appeared and cheese and wine were liberally distributed.  I’m not sure what we can take to represent England next time, but I’m sure we’ll think of something that’ll fit in the suitcases.  Of course, everyone was eagerly awaiting the Kubb (a Viking throwing game) session and a chance for the German Girls to get revenge on the British Boys.  Unfortunately for them, Simon and I proved our superiority once again and Team GB took home the medals.

Alongside all this of course, there was socialising and general convivial discourse.  Although over a dozen nationalities were represented, the majority of folk spoke excellent English, and even if not, they had at least two or three other languages each.  Communication wasn’t difficult and it was a very friendly convention.  The accommodation is of a decent guest house standard, and the food was also very good and plentiful.  The all inclusive price makes life very easy, with all manner of soft drinks, beers, wines etc. available all day.  It really is like a mini-holiday.

The event is reasonably family friendly as the gaming community is getting broader, and some people now have young families – there aren’t necessarily many specific facilities for kids, but the fact there are some other gamers bringing the whole tribe means you’ve got some support around and it enables Mums and Dads to attend too.  Although as one person put it, they then seem to count as half a gamer each, as the other one has to tend to the kids.

It’s a really, really great gaming event.  Certain lifestyles of potential delegates can restrict their chance of going due to location, price and length, but for those that can it’s the place to be.  So, you need to know gentle reader, is The Kraken for you?

If you want a relaxed, friendly and sociable convention, with time to break away from gaming, but a decent array of events and games on so that there’s something to do, then The Kraken wins.  No worries, everything is organised and you can take things at your own pace.

If you’re looking for wall-to-wall gaming three sessions a day, for five days, it’s not really your thing.  Similarly, if you’re expecting lots of bustle and hundreds of gamers, it’s not that either.  Although there are some things for sale it isn’t a great shopper’s paradise either.  Unless of course, you like Pegasus games, as the German publisher had a good stock and generous discount.

Two years seems like too long to wait…  but I’ll be there at the next one.

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