Kapow! Las Vegas Comic Expo Set to Kick Ass (Too)

What: Las Vegas Comic Expo
Where: Riviera Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
When: September 28-29, 2014
How Much: $20-45 a Person
Website: http://lasvegascomicexpo.com

The Las Vegas Comic Expo returns this weekend to Las Vegas, hosted at the Riviera Hotel and Casino and runs from September 28 to September 29. The weekend show will pack in some big names and talent including comic book legend Neal Adams (Batman, X-Men, Green Lantern-Green Arrow), Joe Benitez (the exceptionally illustrated steampunk-themed Lady Mechanika), and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets), and Image Comics co-founder Whilce Portacio among dozens of other comic book writers and artists. Among the celebrity guests, male gamers who grew up in the 1990s will recognize Donna D’errico (Baywatch), while everyone should know the hulking form of Lou Ferrigno. The Excorcist’s Linda Blair has high billing along with True Blood’s Kristin Bauer, but for sci-fi/fantasy fans and gamers alike, who could beat Sylvester McCoy? Sure, he played the seventh Dr. Who, which by itself is platinum in geek culture, but he’s also Radagast the Brown in The Hobbit! It’s not too often that you get a chance to meet someone who has a miniature sculpted in his likeness (though that may change thanks to Mimic Miniatures Personalized Gaming Miniatures Kickstarter).

Tickets are $25 per day per person or $45 for the whole weekend at the door, but if you pre-register tonight (September 25), you can get in for $35 for the weekend or $20 a day. Doors open at 10 AM and close on Saturday at 7PM and 5PM on Sunday, though on Saturday night there will be a Cosplay Contest running from 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM, much like San Diego Comic-Con’s Masquerade. But compared to SDCC, the Las Vegas Comic Expo (LVCE) is a much more intimate affair, with an attendance last year of just over 7,000. This year attendance is expected to remain consistent, if not exceed the inaugural year, which featured comic creators like Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy. Panels will run throughout Saturday and Sunday this weekend on topics ranging from “Zombies and Pop Culture”, “Women in Comics” to “Fantasy Writers” to “Promote Your Comic Book or Die”. While larger comic conventions have multiple competing panels, at the LVCE attendees will only have to choose from either the Main or Annex panels, so seating may be limited, especially at focused panels spotlighting a celebrity such as Sunday’s “Sylvester McCoy: The Hobbit” and “Kristen Bauer” on Saturday.

Gaming at the Las Vegas Comic Expo

The LVCE isn’t only about comic books, fantasy, science fiction, and popular culture, of course. It will also offer a lot of gaming, including many demos of games to the general public featuring King of Tokyo, Heroclix, X-Wing Miniatures, and Netrunner, which should be easy enough for casual gamers to pick up. On Sunday AEG’s Legend of the 5 Rings card game will be demoed from 11:00 AM-4:00 PM, which sounds like just enough time for a beginner to learn the mechanics of the incredibly complex card game. Roleplaying games will be supported with a strong Pathfinder contingent providing Beginner Box Bashes throughout the day in addition to Pathfinder Society Scenarios Mists of Mwangi, Black Waters, both parts of The City of Strangers, and one of the newest scenarios, PSS 05-04 The Stolen Heir, wherein heroes attempt to rescue a nobleman’s daughter, as well as the high-level PSS 05-05 The Elven Entanglement. For a full list of Pathfinder organized play at the Comic Expo, check out the Warhorn listings.

Gaming Tournaments at the LVCE

Tentacled eye stalk monster Shuma Gorath heroclix figure

Shuma Gorath in All His/Her/Its Glory!

Besides the demos of board, card, and roleplaying games, the LVCE will also incorporate a number of tournaments. On Saturday afternoon Patrick Booth will be running an entry-level Ascension tournament, followed by a DC Deckbuilder Tournament on Sunday. The winner of Ascension will take home a voucher for the newly-released Darkness Unleashed expansion, with the DC Deckbuilder winner receiving a voucher for the as-of-yet-unreleased DC2, which will release in December. Both come courtesy of Avatar Comics and Games. New players to Ascension can try out the game before the tournament, during the earlier demo sessions, and simply need to pony up the $5 to participate in the tournament, with all cards and counters supplied by Avatar. Las Vegas’s largest dedicated gaming store, Little Shop of Magic, will be running Magic: The Gathering tournaments on Saturday and Sunday based on Friday’s release of the much-anticipated Theros expansion with prize support coming from the store. Meanwhile Maximum Comics will provide prize support and run HeroClix tournaments on each day, as well as Marvel Legendary and Star Wars LCG tournaments. Prizes for Heroclix include such convention exclusive figures as Shuma Gorath (from Dr. Strange) and the Trinity of Sin (from DC Comics’ recent Trinity War), which have attracted the notice of some of the top contenders at the recent Heroclix World Championships, which were held in August at Gen Con, according to Dustin Hall. Hall, the LVCE Games Director, has already received notice of players traveling from Utah and California to compete. For an overview of prize support and tournament entry fees, please refer to the LVCE’s gaming page. As for miniature games such as Warhammer 40K or Warmachine/Hordes convention games organizer Dustin Hall says that there are plans to address that portion of the gaming community next year.

And Plenty of Cosplay

Besides Saturday evening’s Cosplay Contest, there will be many cosplay-themed panels and cosplayers in evidence at the LVCE. Cosplay queen Jacqueline Goehner is just one of many female cosplayers who will be sitting in on panels like “Cosplay 101”, “Kids Cosplay”, and “Business of Cosplay”. Goehner will be debuting her Starfire costume which will – based on her Witchblade costume worn at previous conventions – leave little to the imagination. While Starfire is an orange-skinned super heroine famous from DC’s Teen Titans, Goehner will also be cosplaying as Midna the Twilight Princess from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which should see her a bit more clothed. Goehner’s panel participation will include one on wig making and styling, another on making a body cast, and another on the process of making a Witchblade costume. Besides her Starfire and Midna costumes, Goehner also plans on cosplaying Wonder Woman and has plans for a fourth costume, but admits that she probably will not finish it in time for the convention.

Scantily clad cosplayer in Witchblade costume named Jackie Goehner

Goehner as Witchblade and Herself: At LVCE She Will Unveil Her Starfire and Midna Costumes

Blonde hair and a trident mark a cosplayer playing as Aquawoman at Phoenix Comic Con

Brieanna Brock as Aqua Woman at Phoenix Comic-Con

Also going as her favorite character of Wonder Woman will be Brieanna Brock, but she will be playing as the Red Son version of the character. In the Red Son universe created by Mark Millar, Superman is raised by Soviets instead of the Kents in Kansas. The Wonder Woman of that universe is much grimmer in appearance. Not to worry, the second character Brock will be playing is Leila from Code Geass, who will add a bit of color in with her costume. Brock’s Red Son Wonder Woman will be bolstered by a Red Son Power Girl and several other Red Son-inspired DC characters. Brock will be busy at the LVCE leading the Cosplaying 101 panel and helping the other panelists as the cosplay director. Brock has recently branched out past the superhero genre into the twin worlds of anime and manga which is what led her from only having read Death Note to exploring the world of Code Geass. As she says of her choice of Leila, “I love powerful characters that are portrayed as leaders and also value a team.” Both of the costumes are brand new for Brieanna Brock, who loves the challenge that a new costume provides. Speaking of her Red Son Wonder Woman Brock says “it was definitely a challenge and after being finished I feel proud to bring that inspiration to life. Showing it off is fun too, it’s a perfect opportunity to educate others about the character, the series, and cosplaying in general.”

In the female-dominated world that is cosplay, there are pockets of masculinity, which will be represented at the Las Vegas Comic Expo by the 501st Neon Garrison of Stormtroopers who will be featured in their own panel on Saturday.

The First Las Vegas Comic Expo

Three T-Shirt Designs from Zombie vs. Human I Run With Zombies Zombie Eating Power Up Mushroom and Zombie Unicorn or Zombiecorn

Zombie vs. Human Shirts

In 2012, Ralph Mathieu, owner of Las Vegas’ own Alternate Reality Comics attended and exhibited at the first Las Vegas Comic Expo and spoke highly of the experience as well as his vendor sales. Mathieu is particularly looking forward to seeing writer Gerry Conway at this year’s expo. Conway co-created The Punisher, helped kill off Gwen Stacy, and created the DC character Firestorm, but it’s his Spiderman-Superman crossover which Mathieu holds in particularly high esteem. Alternate Reality Comics is joined by many other Las Vegas local comic book stores in the exhibitors’ hall including Maximum Comics, Avatar Comics and Games, and Comic Oasis. Avatar chief Kristian Norberg said that the previous year was a “success” for his store and ran “fairly well”, paying for the booth rental and then some. Besides selling comics and merchandise to attendees, Norberg was able to take in and enjoy the Artists’ Alley at the 2012 LVCE. Any fears he had of a comic convention fiasco, such as the one Las Vegas witnessed in 2003 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, were allayed by his experience the first year.

And Other Exhibitors

L.A.-based Zombie vs. Human will be exhibiting at the Las Vegas Comic Expo, selling a variety of men’s and women’s T-shirts with zombie themes, all in an effort for customers to be prepared “for the zombie apocalypse”. For proprietor Aaron Berg, the Comic Expo is a chance to be among like-minded company for whom their clothing line requires little to no explanation.

Getting Schooled in Kaijudo at Comic-Con

Product box for Kaijudo BattleDeck revealing foil-embossed cards for Tatsurion and RazorkinderGame industry leader Wizards of the Coast’s main focus at the 2012 Comic-Con was its release of the trading card game Kaijudo. The card game goes hand in hand with the Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters animated children’s show viewable on The Hub TV network. At the booth, visitors could get their picture taken with one of the cartoon’s characters, try out the online versions of Kaijudo, and play a demo of the game using one of the already-released BattleDecks. As a reward for trying the demo, WotC gave out 9-card Dojo Edition booster packs of the cards, which will go on sale to the general public at gaming outlets on July 24. Wizards will be following up the July Dojo Edition release with a broader release at mass market retailers like Target in September.

Kaijudo is based on the Duel Masters TCG released by Wizards of the Coast in 2004, but discontinued domestically in 2006. Meanwhile Duel Masters has remained popular in Asia, particularly Japan. Comic-Con had a Kaijudo panel, “The Making of Kaijudo“, focusing on the animated series with voice actors Scott Wolf, David Sobolov, and Ryan Miller attending among others. While I skipped it, I did play through two demos of the game and interviewed the Senior Brand Manager of Kaijudo, Kierin Chase, about the game’s development and immediate future.

I also recorded my second Comic-Con demo of Kaijudo, playing against a friendly (and ruthless) Wizards of the Coast employee:

Initial Thoughts on Kaijudo

Cute adorable Koala-looking Squeaky from Hasbro Studios' Kaijudo, a purple mammal

Cute Kaijudo: Squeaky

Despite its Duel Masters roots, Kaijudo is a separate brand and is being treated as a new product line by Wizards of the Coast, one that has been in development for over two years. Hasbro, which owns WotC, has put a lot of resources behind Kaijudo, most importantly the well-received children’s show. Will Kaijudo be the next big thing for Wizards? I don’t know, but they’re certainly positioning themselves for a hit. For players who missed the starting eras of Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, I think it can be daunting to get involved as a gamer, especially if you want to play competitively. There are so many cards to learn and/or acquire to be able to play effectively. At present there are only two sets of Kaijudo with the full set of 43 available in the $20 BattleDeck and 55 more cards with the release of the Dojo Edition. Also by having the electronic version of the game available from the start (or even before the main launch), Wizards of the Coast has another way of involving players and educating them on gameplay. No one wants the embarrassment of struggling with a game’s rules or coming off as too much of a newb and playing the computer version online can alleviate that. At the same time, is Kaijudo a truly fresh gaming experience? How many more collectible card games do we need where we summon monsters to battle? Magic: TG, Pokemon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh all have the same basic game premise. To me there is little novelty in Kaijudo. I am also indifferent to the game’s setting and artwork, but that might change after I watch the Kaijudo television show. No, for me, what sells the game is its low cost of entry and the actual gameplay.

Kaijudo’s Gameplay

For me, with limited experience playing TCGs/CCGs, Kaijudo is a cross between Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. I have only played Pokémon a few times and the game seemed fairly simplistic; I have much more experience playing Magic in the early ’90s. While there are five colors in Kaijudo, there isn’t Life to keep track of; instead the game uses five Shields represented by regular game cards. Likewise while you do tap mana to summon its creatures, Kaijudo’s power-generation comes from regular cards and not special lands. Instead of attack and defense stats on creatures, there’s only one stat for power and it almost always comes in multiples of 1,000 (one card does have a power of 5500). Wizards of the Coast have boiled down a lot of M:TG concepts and made them very accessible to beginners. I wouldn’t call it Magic Lite, but Magic players will almost instantly grasp Kaijudo’s mechanics. Those unfamiliar with Magic: TG should still have an easy time picking up Kaijudo’s basic concepts. Gameplay is fast, but that could change with blocker-heavy decks. By not allowing creatures to block unless they have the special ability to do so, Kaijudo has a more aggressive tone than Magic. One thing that I absolutely love about Kaijudo is that even when you are losing by having your shields taken out, you still get something in return because the broken shield cards go to your hand.

The Kaijudo Dojo Edition and Battle Decks

At Comic-Con I asked my wife and brother-in-law to also try the game. Asked is putting it nicely. I begged and then harangued them until they had both completed their own demo and then was surprised to find that they had not enjoyed the game as much as I had. Most of this was due to their shared opponent who was not a WotC employee, but a CCG fan who told my brother-in-law, “I could have beaten you sooner, but I enjoy toying with my prey.” The know-it-all also confided to my brother-in-law that he did not want to embarrass him in front of my wife, as though this was any consolation or made him any less annoying than he was. For their troubles, I was able to get two more Dojo Edition booster packs. The 55-card set is divided into 11 cards for each Nation or color.

Inspired by my own enjoyable experiences with Kaijudo, I also picked up a Battle Deck from a local comic book store. Wizards of the Coast was not selling any product at Comic-Con, but had opened a pop-up Magic store in the Gaslamp District, which adjoins the San Diego Convention Center. At only $20, the Battle Deck boxes are quite appealing, giving two players each a deck of 40 cards, a playing mat, and a special code for the online versions of the game. The rules are teeny tiny and by that I don’t mean tons of small print, but instead clear and concise rules that govern most of the game’s interactions.

Here I open my 4th Dojo Edition booster pack, briefly thumb through my 36 cards, and open the Tatsurion-Razorkinder Battle Deck and take a look inside. I love the magnetic cases with their full artwork inside and out (and so did my wife):

Kaijudo Online

From the Battle Deck I received two online promotional codes and got one in each of my boosters. The next step was obviously to try out the online experience of Kaijudo at kajudo.com. Several hours of play later while videos compressed and uploaded, I am still not tired of Kaijudo, though I will leave my thoughts on the online experience for another day. In the meantime please feel free to add me so that I can duel a human opponent: VictoryEvader0330.

WotC Magic: the Gathering – Make the Best of Your Magic Events

“Magic has never been such a strong brand.”

Helene Bergeot from Wizards of the Coast addressed retailers at the 2012 GAMA Trade Show. Her background is in trademarketing and she is Director of Organized Play for Magic: The Gathering and her talk was titled “Moving from Good to Great”. According to Bergeot there were more than 130,000 players for the pre-release for Dark Ascension and “Magic has never been such a strong brand”. The reason, according to Wizards of the Coast, is that Activity drives Activity. WotC has found that the best stores are the ones running the most events. “The size of the event doesn’t matter,” instead, according to Bergeot, the frequency and number of events is what counts. In stores where Magic is highly successful, on average no more than 24-36 players are playing in tournaments or release events.

The response from most retailers was glowing. One retailer crowed that his February sales were big, like his “second-best Christmas”.

Wizards of the Coast to Retailers: “We are here to support you.”

Getting new players to events and engaged in them, Bergeot emphasized, is necessary in order “to grow the community.” Wizards has found that players new to OP balk at participating in their first organized play event. Even their second exposure to OP is no guarantee that they will continue, but after their second time doing organized play, Wizards has seen its “level of retention” among players remain very steady. Twice a year, WotC conducts surveys and spends hours and hours going over them to improve customers’ experiences and their retailers’ sales. Helene affirmed to the attending retailers “We are here to support you.”

A Canadian retailier pointed out that “a lot of gamers have no life” and takes advantage of that by giving them one in his store. He does sealed $25 events and “it just packs the house,” getting 82 players with his last sealed event. For Valentine’s Day he had a special event with girls playing free and wound up getting 22 female players, 15 of them in the store for their first time. Trevor McGregor from the Gaming Pit shared his store’s Full Moon events on the full moon of each month. The special event provides a bonus for including a Werewolf card in the decks, which could be an extra booster pack of cards or whatever the door prize is for that particular night.

I was intrigued when I learned that one of the background images during Bergeot’s presentation was a chandelier made out of Magic: the Gathering cards. Most, if not all, of her background images were taken at Card Kingdom in Seattle. This Magic chandelier was designed by Stacy Lewars from Studio Metro Design. Card Kingdom seems to have a very cozy environment to play in.

Magic: the Gathering lands are strung together to form a chandelier of cards

Magic Chandelier in Card Kingdom in Seattle, image courtesy Card Kingdom.

Magic Supply Easily Tapped and Problem Players

The seminar flowed into supply issues that retailers expressed with obtaining enough Magic cards to meet their customers’ demands. The Canadian retailers present either were particularly vocal or have increased difficulties in obtaining enough product. Wizards will be eventually placing a cap on the total that a retailer can order, but it will be a year before they implement this cap, which prompted some retailer complaints about the cap’s existence at all. A very popular product seems to be the Magic “fat packs” which Wizards only intends to be on shelves for a maximum of 30 days; instead some retailers pointed out that they go through them in “2 days!”

The next sub-topic was another problem faced by retailers, over-enfranchised players who scare off new players and create bad play environments in stores. One attendee pointed out Wizkids’s Fellowship award as a positive step WotC could take to curb problem players. Trevor McGregor again spoke up, saying that store owners or managers “have to be honest and upfront with” the players creating the bad environment. Another attendee uses a token system in his or her store to correct player behavior, which sounded more like elementary school behavior management, but it works according to that retailer. More and more retailers chimed in. A Canadian store owner has called the police on one of his Magic players before which sent a strong message to the rest of his players about how seriously he takes player conduct. This elicited laughs from the room. Another retailer explained that when he confronted a bad sport in his shop, the player said “This is all I’m good at” as to why he enjoyed crushing his opponents so much.

The seminar returned to Helene Bergeot’s presentation where she reviewed FNM, Friday Night Magic, and there were suggestions for events store owners could hold, such as deck building workshops or conduct trading forums. Wizards will be having an improved store locator on their website available in the next few months allowing players to do advanced searches for specific event formats. Wizards will be looking into rotating stores for the Pro Tour Qualifiers. As the seminar wrapped up, a retailer complained that he doesn’t have enough DCI cards for new players with several others agreeing. There is particularly a difficulty in the turnaround on cards for players younger than 13.

How Not to Win Her Over This Valentine’s: Throwing Games

My Disenchanting Magic: The Gathering Losses

Once upon a time, in 2001, I was seeing a girl. While we shared some of the same musical and movie interests, her love of anime far exceeded my own. We watched show after show together, OAV after OAV. At some point though, yearning to game, I taught her how to play Magic: The Gathering.

We spent many pleasant hours playing the game. Since I taught her and we were restricted to my selection of cards, the games were relatively even in deck building, with the advantage going to me of experience. I don’t build powerful competitive decks; I tend towards weenie decks without the cards to even level the field (like Wrath of God or Armageddon). I love building empires of Thrall tokens or Saprolings. While she never quite adopted my fondness for creating armies of tokens, she also would delay the kill in favor of drawing more cards.

All of our Magic playing though came crashing to a halt one day when I revealed that I had thrown a few games. I don’t recall why I felt it neccesary to reveal that fact,. Most likely, my ego was wounded. The effect was immediate and chilling: no more MTG games for us. Most of her victories were legitimate. The relationship eventually ended, though I really don’t think my Magic blunder was the source. I didn’t turn her off of Magic: The Gathering entirely. She emailed me months later revealing that she’d bought her own cards and now kept a Serra Angel of some sort in her wallet.

Why did I throw the games? My overall aim in losing the few games I deliberately lost was to make Magic more enjoyable for her. She would be more likely to play if she won more often. This seemed to be verified by her increased interest in playing after she had won. In my experience, very few people have the mental stamina to constantly lose games and quickly want to move onto something they’re better at. There is a large philosophical debate as far as game demoing goes as to whether you let the person trying your game out win or not. Most demo teams side towards letting the newbie enjoy the thrill of winning because they’re more likely to get into the game that way. When I’m playing a demo game, I want the opposite: the full experience and intellect of my opponent against me. Yes, victory is nice, but I need to see how challenging the game will be.

History Repeats Itself: Heroclix

Fast forward a year or two and I was playing Heroclix with my eventual wife. We played fairly often, even bringing some pieces and a map on a trip with us. After one loss to her when she began to gloat, I let it slip that I had let her win. It was the truth. I had wanted her to remain interested in the game. She would only beat me 2 out of 10 times and was showing signs of disinterest. Overall, my decision to throw the game (and reveal this to her) was a horrible strategy. She and I have not played Heroclix since.

Old habits die hard. Whether with a love interest or just a friend, you may want to think twice before deliberately losing in order to win him or her over. Or just keep your mouth shut.