The Kraken – A Gaming Vacation

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Only vaguely prepared – as frankly I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, and packing hippy left-field Indie games after all – I headed out on the strange and wonderful adventure that is The Kraken. Tuesday I headed off with a stop at Lemur’s house that evening to play games and break the journey to Stansted airport. We played a few hands of Dominion, which has always been highly rated by anyone I’ve talked to and it was indeed a great little game. This would prove important later in the week when I’d got to Germany.

The hardest part of the rest of the journey was getting to Stansted and checked in, but once through the gates I met my Wingman and it was time for “What’s The Biggest Breakfast You’ve Got?”at Frankie & Benny’s. By the time we’d devoured that it was time for the plane (wave to familiar faces) and no sooner were we up in the air and getting chatting, then we were landing. We’d already been sent a photo of the airport contact and the lovely Claudia was ready and waiting. There was a moment of mutual indecision about if we’d got the respective correct people, but Simon and I reckoned we could just play dumb tourists is we’d got it wrong. Happily we’d guessed right and the Nixonator soon joined us. Conversation ensued as we waited for the Davison clan to gather their logistics and also find out where the Icelandic contingent had got to, but before long we were on the air conditioned coach to Prussia.

Trapped in the middle of the Englanders all discussing riveting topics such as Cthulhu and game mechanics, Claudia was soon asleep. The journey was fairly uneventful, with rustic scenery for a couple of hours. I joked about the signs Elefantenhaus sounding like a house for elephants and much jesting ensued about the big doors the house must have etc. Then it turns out that it really was a house for Elephants and we got to gander at them on the way past a random village. The fact that we saw more elephants than people in the hour’s drive before the Schloss is either very telling about the state of rural (former East) Germany, or just plain weird. But fun also.

Arrival at the estate was as exciting as you normally get when arriving at your hotel on holiday. Fabian was on hand to wave us in and direct the troops. In no time at all we’d met the very friendly and civil Yardena and Peter (the owners) and been shown to our rooms. The room was labelled for our convenience and a program of events already lined up and presented in a stylish folder. The room itself was basic, but perfectly fit for purpose and not a bunk bed as per Tentacles, so tick. We had a view overlooking the moat, which was nice – and had opted for en suite too – good shower and no waiting about for other delegates.

We were soon fed and watered after that. All meals and soft drinks were included in the price of the event. Meals were often hearty and filling – breakfast a rather late-ish 9-11, lunch was a full meal at 1-2, coffee and cake at 4, evening meal for 7pm – you could barely go 2-3 hours without someone trying to make you eat something. Cool. Soft drinks covered coffee & tea as well as a robust variety of fizzy pop (diet and otherwise), water (dead or bubbly) and so on – so logistics wise, we were well catered for.

Wednesday evening we got to drinking (beers being about £1.25), playing pool on a table with more slopes than the alps and getting to know some people a bit better. One of the key elements of the vacation (not a convention) was getting to know people given the relaxed time frame. This did mean that I now know more people better (given that I’ve seen some of them at conventions for years and barely said a word out of character to them), which I’ll let individual readers determine if its a good or bad thing.

Thursday morning after feasting we headed for the gaming / event boards to see what was what. The boards were set up by day in a grid formation, with an hour / room axis. GMs would pin on their game and then several other blank cards beneath (one for each hour the game ran). It kind of worked okay (until the weekend), but I think overall there were probably too many organised “events” which meant it was hard to find times to put games in for, especially with an already limited number of people there (about 50 or so). I sort of liked the idea, but at the same time had issues with it. I’ll need to think about it some more.

All the days have blended into one, so I’ll write stuff up as I think it happened and generous readers will forgive me if I’ve misplaced which event happened when…

So Thursday I think we attended Sandy Petersen’s Horror game seminar. The old boy had clock issues and so turned up an hour late, but was suitably apologetic. He had some interesting things to say, none of it particularly new for me, and mostly based on films rather than gaming experience it seemed, but passed an hour – even if attempts by some people to make it more interactive seemed doomed to failure in the face of Sandy’s ability to talk at length on any subject. There was the option to go back after lunch and create a scenario collaboratively, but the Smart Party demurred and instead hung about looking for people to bug and games to play.

We were offered a game if we could speak German, which funnily enough we had to decline. As it turned out though, after a little investigation the guy (Nils) was going to teach some people Dominion and so we watched a couple of games of that (in German) and having played a couple of nights before at Pete’s house, I has sufficient knowledge to determine what the different cards were and what was going on. Soon we were offered the chance to jump in and so we did and fun was had as the afternoon cake was delivered. Nice.

That evening was my Pirates game and the gang (two English, one Brazilian, one Icelander and a German I think) set about trying to earn Tight Purse Harvey his retirement. Everyone got into character and stuck into the scenario and we had a good laugh. It helped that the bar was next door of course… After which we stopped up until 2am and drinking, playing pool and bantering.

Friday morning I ran my Duty & Honour game Kliener Krieg, based on Hessen Jäger fighting in revolutionary America. Again, all the players seemed to whole heartedly embrace getting into character and we had a good session. Highlights included one man insisting on being whipped after flogging some drunken soldiers, as he should have known better, the foppish Lieutenant’s ability to get into trouble and the quartermaster’s romance of the enemy spy. The trouble largely was a couple of folk getting up late due to the leisurely breakfast and need to pop off for lunch etc. Although I can appreciate the flexibility and relaxed attitude, I’m at heart longing to be organised and know what’s going on, so I had to struggle throughout the weekend to not plan too much and take things as they came. For me, this is not relaxing though… 😉

In the afternoon we played some more Dominion, with a friendly local (well, more local than us anyway) doing the honours and showing us some variations of the card types. We also played Kubb, a Viking game of skill and strategy which involves drinking beer in the sun and throwing wooden sticks at your opponents’ bits. Much good fun and of course, the boys beat the girls.

That evening we played Mythic Iceland in the Chapel. It would be strange to play pagan worshippers and praise the Nordic gods loudly in a place of Christian worship, had not Sandy been showing horror movies about were-sheep there for the last few days already. Pedro did a good job of describing Iceland and the mythic bits to it and I’d be tempted to get the game for the setting info and Savage it up. Unfortunately, the BRP bits weren’t to my taste. For some reason every time we got into a scrap someone would lose their left leg within a round or two and that would be that. Decent session though, some players were a little quiet (maybe I was talking too much), but a solid convention game. Again with the stopping up until 2am drinking…

Saturday everything went a bit weird. The big freeform, which was to last most of the day ended up in strife because several people were ill. The solution turned out to be switching Saturday’s program with Sunday’s. Oh no. I can see why they did this, but not being part of the freeform (or interested in it particularly) it was quite a shift to work out what was now going on and buggered up plans and particular choices. I think it was especially irritating as we’d made decisions based on what we’d do for the last day etc., and this was now in tatters. Ultimately though, the organisers did what was best for most people (probably), and critically, made a decision and made it happen. Making a decision and getting it implemented swiftly is by far preferable to dithering and no one knowing what’s going on. Also, mass illness can’t really be prepared for in advance and can’t be helped on the day.

So, with things rapidly switched on the fly, I found myself running Beat to Quarters out of the trap in the morning and was therefore a little bit woolly about some of the rules and what was going on – I’d hoped to gen up again before the session, but what ya gonna do? Regardless of my poor GM prep performance, the session went well. Players again seemed to get engaged and were happy with the freedom of the system once they got their head round it. Much success was had and a good game all round I feel – I just need to make sure I’ve got my shizzle together in advance of the next one.

In th’afternoon I ran my Deadlands Reloaded game of Injun’s fighting White Man’s folly. Only three players – I might have managed to rustle up some more, but it was that time of the day were we needed to get playing. It was a bit weird with just three players and didn’t zing as much. I probably needed to thrust more on the players and get them the leads to follow, but it seemed unfair to thrust a lot on only three people. We had a character death early on, but overall it went okay I think – needed an extra player I guess, just to get the banter going round the table and take the pressure off the other players. The final battle got trapped in Shaken Hell a few times, but a set of different tactics from the players or more cooperation would have sorted that. I always worry too much about suggesting options too much as I don’t want to tell people what to do, but might have to look at that in the future.

That evening we played in Cthulhu game with German character sheets. It was kind of based on Evil Dead I guess and very typical of many Cthulhu convention games – i.e. I didn’t enjoy it very much. The set up was fine and the scenario possibly had potential, but the manner the game was run coupled with BRP really wasn’t my thing at all. Too many (often pointless) rolls, too much description of minute details, and not good, atmospheric details, bags of failure, countless times that sanity was chipped away for no visible reason except to ensure that someone eventually goes mad as a plot device. The GM was a thoroughly nice bloke, but that manner of running a game and the game itself are really not my bag. The game was also run late in the day (22:00 onwards) which I found unnecessary – we tried to move it, but one player (out of the 7 people involved) refused to reschedule which was annoying. As he bought everyone beers though, it seemed churlish to raise the point further.

Sunday was our relaxing day. There was the option of another Icelandic game last thing, but we were here for a gaming vacation after all and with all the scheduling mix-up and everything it was preferable to take it easy. We’d peppered the previous few days with chatting, board and card games, pool, etc. so there was more of that. We played more Kubb and Dominion and taught some new players the game, which was slightly erratic as we only had the German version. The good bit of gaming in the day though was playing Incursion. Its a bit like Space Hulk, but with a bit more to it and Nazi zombies and power-armoured Americans. Really good fun, especially on the ever-productive Mr Privat’s terrain. I won two out of three, score, and the very accommodating Gregory was excellent company and tutor. Add in playing in the sun with beers and you’ve got Win. We played some more Kubb later on and Simon got his revenge – I thought I’d balance the teams by getting Nadine on my side, but expert cricketer Simon and the surprisingly accurate beginner Claudia defeated us after an epic struggle.

There was a buffet style meal with fine red beef in the evening and everyone sat in the same room for a change. In the evening we went for the booze and socialising option, grabbing our outdoor table again and having a good laugh with the Germans. It was great to get to know some of the organisers better, especially as I’ve seen some of them several times, but never really had the time in a game-packed weekend to just sit down, chill out and chew the fat. Cool beans.

The coach organised back and other logistics were all of course sorted out and ready with expert precision. As we waited I chatted to Greg Stafford and he still can’t remember who I am (for which, one of the organisers berated him), so from now on I’m going to call him by girls names until he picks up on it and takes the hint. That said though, he was a good value guest, in that he was often sitting with different people at meal times, often had good stories to tell and was receptive to people’s questions or anecdotes. Sandy Petersen seemed to have been worked like a dog again and was forever doing “stuff” of one sort or another, so again probably was of good value the con.

On the whole the organisers did a fantastic job – it truly was a gaming vacation rather than a frenetic con (which took some adjustment from me). There was plenty on – although I felt it could do with maybe twenty more people – unfortunately the capacity of the Schloss is already reached. Maybe tents could be set up? Freeform Bison Riders maybe?

Many thanks and congratulations to Fabian, Sven (x2), Daniel, Pummel, all the other supporters, WAGs (Nadine, Claudia et al) and all the other people who went into organising a really enjoyable event. That includes all the other delegates too. Big hand, round of applause.

The Good
Good people. From the ever smiling Claudia who met us as we got off the plane, to Fabian waiting for the coach, to the owners of the Schloss as we walked through the door… everyone we met or talked to, staff or vacationer, was friendly and welcoming and it felt like being part of a community, which may well feel familial as time goes on. Good mix of nationalities, genders, ages and other groups.

Food and drink. Your (four) meals and drinks all day every day are included in the price. Awesome sauce. The food was never looking in fear of running out, of good quality and the two barbecues that were organised were generous in scope. Continuous coffee if you need it, water for the hungover, fizzy pop for the kids, fruit juices for the vitamin deficient… Of course you needed to buy booze, but at about £1.27 for a bottle of magic German beer or £2.50 for a cocktail or G&T you can’t complain.

Venue. There were several spacious rooms to pick from to run games and at least two good outdoor spots, both of which I used. The rooms were perfectly fine, showers good, and all other facilities well maintained. There was WiFi for those that needed it too. Its a really nice play to be wandering about in during summer and has that other-wordly feeling I used to get at GenCon Loughborough when you disappeared into a geeky world for several days and the irritating real world ceases to exit.

Games. Ran four, played two (roleplaying), played more pool than I can count, Kubb was great for outdoor fun and trash talking, miniatures (Incursion) and cards (Dominion). Oh, and a game of chess too. There was plenty more on that I didn’t get near too.

Events. Gregory Privat was a Duracell Bunny, forever creating things and encouraging people to join in. His Shoggoth making was inspired and he even had the bar staff making one at one point. There were various seminars and informal discussions, all kinds of bits and pieces, a poker night, movie night every night too. Not bothered about Freeform, but if you wanted one it was there. Fill your boots.

The Bad
Scheduling – there was probably too much in the way of organised fun and I reckon more slots could be freed up for gaming proper. There are a limited number of folk there, so its important not to over clutter the schedule. Arguably having breakfast 8.30 – 10.00 would be better. I’d also like to see a more robust set of slots for games, roleplaying in particular, but appreciate that everyone likes to organise things as and when they please. It just makes sorting out what you’re doing that bit harder. It might also be worth having some way of announcing free spaces in games or rounding up extra players as there’s no muster to speak off.

A bigger games library – the one there was impressive, but largely in German – next time I’d take more [i]as hoc[/i] games myself, but as its a struggle to bring the big stuff on the plane, some supplies would be great. As the schedule can be a bit erratic, having a fall back set of stuff people can do or organise themselves with ease would work well.

It was sometimes hard work to get a beer as there seemed to be only one key for the cabinet and the staff could often be washing glasses, collecting them, going for a cigarette etc. Not the biggest thing in the world, but if you want to nip out for a beer mid game, it was often inconvenient.

There was no closing ceremony to speak of – I think it would have been nice during the final evening meal when we were all together to say a few words and swap some thanks etc. I wouldn’t want it turned into half an hour of an event with the usual cheddars trying to chip in and sound funny, but a few words would be appropriate I reckon.

The Ugly
Fecking mosquitoes and flies. As nice as the rural surrounding and moat were, they meant the local insect population was booming. If I return, I’ll be taking various sprays and devices for killing things with more than four legs.

The pool table was well wonky and at least three light bulbs were out above it. I’m writing to my MP.

Sometimes when going for meals there was a queue of 2 or 3 people! Frankly, I was outraged.

There was no Guinness on draught. Enough said.

The organiser getting ill. Bad form.

Summary
Good venue, food, games, variety, people, events and everything else. Very welcoming and German.

Not cheap, but not expensive unless you’re gambling that you might like it, even if my review sounds not your bag.

If you want wall-to-wall gaming (like Furnace for example) its not for you. Similarly if you absolutely have to know what you’re doing from hour to hour, you’ll struggle.

If you’re shy on holidays or time off from the missus / fella, might be a big ask. If you’re footloose and fancy free, its a great option.

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One thought on “The Kraken – A Gaming Vacation

  1. Pete

    Funking quality review there Gaz. It’s told me pretty much everything I need to know about The Kraken.

    This colonial did like the muscular English writing style, all that “being churlish” and “cheddars tossing in quips” is cool.

    Fill your boots, laters
    Pete

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