Saturday, August 22, 2009

Disappointed: Hob Nob Restaurant, West Monroe

This is a quick restaurant review.

Alana and I have been to the Hob Nob in West Monroe a few times. It was one of our favorite steak places, even if it was too pricey to do very often. It was one of our favorites. I wonder if they've gone through new owners, or if they changed chefs, because tonight's dining experience was incredibly disappointing.

Alana ordered catfish and shrimp. She left more than half of it untouched. The batter on both had a weird taste. I couldn't place it, but it seemed to be acidic, almost a vinegar taste. It made the fish and shrimp unpalatable.

I ordered a rib eye. The steak was cooked properly, but it was covered in way too much pepper. The only taste on my first bite was an intense pepper taste. I could hardly taste the meat at all.

The salad was pretty sad. It was mostly lettuce with some croutons and shredded carrots, covered in dressing. I had two halves of a baby tomato, but I didn't eat them as they had dark (black?) bits on them and didn't look the least bit appetizing.

The Diet Coke was watered down, but it's bar soda, so you have to expect that. The baked potato was good.

The juke box blared a couple of times with country music, and the lighting was really, really dim where we sat. That's the Hob Nob, though, and nothing we didn't expect.

The waitress was efficient, though she didn't ask how our food was, nor did she notice Alana had only eaten half the meal (she didn't ask how it was or if we wanted a to go box).

So, not the least bit impressed. This was a place we really liked to go to, and now with this meal we're wondering if we'll ever be back; it's unlikely. Don't know what they did to it. Maybe this was just a bad night, but the place is too expensive to take that risk lightly. No, we didn't tell the manager, as there didn't seem to be one anywhere around, just a lot of young waitresses in black t-shirts and short jean shorts. Hob Nob was never "classy" but it seems to have gone way down hill since the renovation.

GenCon 2009

We've been back from GenCon for the better part of a week now, so I guess it's time to put up a review of sorts.

Our trip started inauspiciously. We took the car to get the tires rotated a few days earlier. That's when we discovered that there was a problem with the tires and they were wearing funny, coupled with an alignment issue. We need new tires, and an alignment, but couldn't afford them before we left. So, off we went on a 1600 mile trip with dodgy tires and a car that liked to pull to the right. We were fine, as it turned out, but the car was more tiring to drive than I had hoped.

We lost about an hour on the trip due to damage to the car from my trip to Imagicon. On the way back in March, a piece of a truck tire from the other side of the highway hit the car. It knocked out a plastic shield over the holes where fog lamps are mounted on the Corolla. It also, apparently, popped the plastic fasteners that hold the plastic lining in front of the wheel well in place. When I got home from that trip I thought the lining was bent. It wasn't just bent, but loose. Last Tuesday, when we got into Mississippi we started to hear scraping sounds (this was our first long trip in the car since Imagicon). Just north of Jackson we pulled over to eat and I saw that a plastic skirt underneath the car had popped a fastener. I fixed that with a quick trip to Lowes for nuts, bolts, and a wrench, but the scraping still occurred. At the next stop I found out about the lining. Any time we hit a bump, the lining rubbed on the tire. We now had a hole worn away in the lining. I cut away most of the lining and the scraping sound went away. I should point out that the scraping sound also sounded quite a bit like the rasping sound of air, and since it came from one side of the car (the side that took the hit in March) I thought it was air going through the hole where the shield was lost, or it was a seal problem on that door. Turns out, not so.

We stayed for the night at the Quality Inn at Blytheville. It was okay, but nothing to write home about. The positive reviews online were too positive, but the room was clean enough and we were only in it for about 9 hours.

The next day we drove into Indianapolis in time to help set up the Arc Dream booth. We were so early, that the cheaper parking lot I used last year was still full with people working downtown. I'll have to time a later arrival next year. Shane and the Birmingham Arc Dream guys were late, so there would be no booth set up that night. Instead, Logan, Alana and I went out to dinner with Greg Stolze, Ross Payton, and a friend of Ross' at P. F. Chang's, where Logan discovered he liked sesame chicken. They went to the Diana Jones Awards in a local bar, and we crashed for the night.

The next day we got to the booth early (thank you exhibitor badges!). Our games were all running in Union Station, a great venue (an old railroad station, the motif of which has been preserved for the Crowne Plaza's conference areas) but the furthest from the convention center. I got my exercise, anyway, as all our events were there. I was to run a scenario from the Black Devils Brigade book I'm working on. No one showed. The line up for registration was around the side of the convention center, so even if people wanted in my game they would likely have missed the start time. Next year we won't bother running a game that early on day 1.

The rest of the day was spent hanging at the Arc Dream booth and prowling the dealer's room. Logan bought a wrestling mask. I bought the RPG 3:16 - Carnage Among the Stars (and later got to talk to the creator, and fellow Scotsman, John Hutton!), a game I missed last year. That was my sole purchase of the day. I saw a few things of interest, but nothing that really reached out and grabbed me.

That night we got stuck in the elevator at the Westin with 9 other people (total of 12). This is nasty because Logan was worried such a thing would happen. Several times on the way up he asked us if people could get stuck in elevators, and how did we get out, etc. He was really worried about it... so of course it happened. What's more, there were 11 of us in the elevator as the doors were closing, but there was still room and a guy named "Bob" jumped in at the last second. One of the other elevatorites said, "So help me, Bob, if you get us stuck..." You couldn't have scripted it better. We were in the elevator for about 45 minutes, with Logan freaking out the whole time. The people we were stuck with were all gamers, and they were great. One guy lent Logan his hat. Everyone tried to make him feel better. We ended up having to climb out the top of the elevator with the help of local firefighters and a really cool ladder of theirs (it came in looking like a metal bar, and then unfolded lengthwise into a ladder!). We climbed out of the access hatch and onto onto the third floor.

Westin hotel comment #1: The hotel brought water and Perrier for us. They called us the next day to see if we were okay. That was it. They didn't try to offer us anything in spite of the fact we missed eating out with the other Arc Dream guys, Logan was all traumatized (he went down the stairs for the rest of the con, and would have gone up the stairs except you can't get to the stairs from the first two floors), and we got grease on our clothes. They didn't offer us laundry facilities or offer anything but an apology. I complained about this when we got home. The woman who wrote back offered platitudes, like "An overloaded elevator is certainly no fun, and we hope your son has recovered completely." I wrote back, pointing out that there was plenty of room left on the elevator, and there were no signs indicating what the limit was on the elevator. It sounded like she was blaming the group of us for overloading the elevator, when we couldn't know if it was overloaded or not and there was plenty of room. And how does one just get over a trauma "completely"? Come to find out that they had 9 people stuck in an elevator a month earlier. They didn't offer them any laundry service or anything else, either, according to the review I read. In the e-mail I received from them, they did say they'd look into offering laundry in the future. I'm not holding my breath, given that they didn't offer anything this time (or back in July), except for the over-priced water no one took.

Westin hotel comment #2: One of the online web sites mentioned that each room came with a refrigerator. You can't use it, though. All the drinks and snacks in it are on a weight sensor, and if you so much as move them they charge you for them. The front desk people were good to mention this (though they didn't mention it to Shane and his group). This might be from the complaints they were getting, as per the comments I saw on Trip Advisor at least one person was charged quite a bit of money for food they didn't eat simply because they shifted it around. Real dumb.

We didn't do much more on the Thursday, so we went to bed early. Friday I ran two games, a Black Devils Brigade game for Godlike at 10 a.m. and This Favored Land: Horror At Spangler's Spring at 6 p.m. Both games were well attended, and the players had a good time. The Black Devils Brigade game was the first time running it, so the fact that it went so well was pretty cool. There was a great moment when one player — who was kicking butt by bouncing projectiles back at German troops — ended up face-to-face with a German in a fog bank. They got into a horrendous knife fight in a scene that was remarkably close to the bayonet scene in Saving Private Ryan. The players got a really good idea that while super powered, Godlike characters can still die fairly easily! The character didn't die, though he was bleeding a bit (another character did die, which just goes to show you that you shouldn't materialize your head within easy grabbing distance of a super-powered enemy). The rest of the scenario went very well.

So, too, did the This Favored Land scenario, which was set during the battle of Gettysburg. I can't say too much about it, as I'm running it again at DragonCon in a midnight gaming session. The players enjoyed it, which is the important part.

I didn't know when my game would end, so I couldn't commit to playing a Call of Cthulhu game run by Adam Scott Glancy. By the time I called to find out what was up, all the seats at the game were taken. I had to run our inflatable bed over to Ross, so I figured I'd drop it off and then wander into the Embassy Suites to see if I could get into any open gaming. That was the plan. Instead, I ended up hanging around until almost 3 a.m. watching the Cthulhu game. And even then, the game was only half over (so it's just as well I didn't join, as I couldn't have stayed up until 3 Sunday morning and still drive home that day). Ross will have a podcast of the game. I'm looking forward to listening to the second half, the half I missed. I'm sure you'll be able to hear me make the occasional smartass comment on the podcast in the 1st half.

Saturday I ran two games. I ran a Wild Talents game in the morning using a setting I made up for Logan. The game was Target: Planet Earth. The players are aliens invading the Earth, and thwarting the plans of other invading aliens. I can't say too much about this, either, as I'm running it at DragonCon, too, during the midnight gaming sessions. I had two players, one of whom I think I ran a game for last year. They had fun, and thought it was cool that ORE could be adopted this way. They asked if it would be a supplement for Wild Talents at some point.

At 4 p.m. I ran This Favored Land: Crescent City Crescendo. This is a New Orleans Civil War adventure, using the same characters from a scenario last year. I had four players, and they all enjoyed the game thoroughly. One of the players took the character with the ultra-charm ability. She told me later that she wasn't expecting to be all that powerful; she was pleasantly surprised to discover that she could really kick some butt. (This is another game I'm doing at DragonCon.)

That evening I crashed hard from the night before. Need to pace myself better for next year. I did manage to walk around the board game areas, though. Rio Grande, Fantasy Flight, and Mayfair all had games running. You had to pay to get in like any other event, so I couldn't just sit in on a game. I need to do that next year. There were a few that looked really good, and I could try before I buy.

Westin hotel comment #3: The hotel really tries to nickel-and-dime you. Alana ordered a pizza, and the phone call was $1.50. There's the aforementioned fridge. Parking is $25 a day with no in-out privileges, and $28 a day for valet (similar to the Conrad a couple of blocks over, a much more expensive but swankier hotel). They also want $10 a night for internet service, which is ludicrous when you're only checking e-mail. You can get free internet down in the lobby, which adds to the insult. "Yeah, you can use our internet for free, as long as you don't want privacy and do it in the lobby. If you want to check e-mail in your room, it's going to cost you." Seriously, they charged $159 a night for the room (when in off peak times they've sold the room for $73), you'd think they could build in the internet usage into their pay structure. I went downstairs and got it for free. They didn't get a cent more out of me, they just inconvenienced me. If I had to do it again, I'd be tempted to go down there in a bathrobe.

Sunday I was supposed to run a game of This Favored Land. Only one player showed up. Luckily he played in a couple of my other games and saw this as an opportunity to visit the dealer's room for the first time. It allowed me to get lunch, visit the booth again, meet a couple of people who really loved This Favored Land, shop one last time through the dealer's room, and then leave by 2 p.m. That got us home by about 2:30 a.m., saving us money on another hotel room in Blytheville.

Westin hotel comment #4: Shane, Arc Dream prez, booked our rooms. The hotel charged his valet parking to our room. We told the people at the desk about this as we were checking out, and they removed the charge. They put it back on later, and since we paid by debit card it came out of our bank account. It took a flurry of e-mails between Alana, Shane, and the hotel to get it sorted out. The accountant was pretty snooty about it, too, insisting that their documentation proved it all. Except that the charge for valet parking was for four nights, and Shane stayed five. So if it was his parking, and not just some stupid error, they didn't charge him properly. It wasn't so much the fact that they goofed that bothered me. It was the attitude that seemed to say we should be thankful that we stayed with them, and that we're obviously trying to pull something over on them. Sure, our room was in Shane's name (and mine). We told them this at the desk on Sunday morning. They couldn't have sorted this out before we left? Their customer service e-mails leave a lot to be desired. We won't be staying there next year if we can help it.

Overall, hotel not withstanding, I had a good convention. I got to run lots of games, and got some ego stroking from my book. Arc Dream had problems with their printer and so we didn't have a lot of books at the con. We did sell out the copies of This Favored Land that were there, we sold out Ben Baugh's Kerberos Club, and sold most of the copies of Greg Stolze's and Ken Hite's Grim War. Sales were down from last year, but from what I heard they were down for everyone. Blame the economy.

I picked up less loot this year, again a function of the economy with Alana out of work. I bought 3:16, as mentioned. I bought the campaign book for Memoir '44, as it was only slightly more expensive than getting it online before shipping costs. I was looking for a dungeon crawling game for Logan, but the only one I really saw was Fantasy Flight's Descent, which is huge in mass and in price (and $20 cheaper online). Instead, I saw a demo of Dwarven Dig, a cool game of dwarves digging through earth to get to a hidden treasure trove. Logan will like it, because it has a lot of possibilities for beating on Dad. The components are nice, and it was nominated for an Origins award. Other than that, the only other thing I bought was Mythos poker chips from Dagon Industries, one of our boothmates. I picked up two sets, which can be used as poker chips or as sanity tokens for Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green. I have some other ideas for them, too. For helping with the editing, Alana and I received a copy of The Kerberos Club and Grim War. I didn't even buy any dice this year (though both Alana and Logan did).

I didn't get a lot of time to look at other stuff and try demos and such. One of the things on my to get list was the new transhuman sci-fi game Eclipse Phase. Two of the players in my Spangler's Spring scenario had a bad experience in a demo and warned me off it. They thought the game was very crunchy. I liked crunchy games in the past (I've played both Living Steel and Harnmaster), but I'm shying away from that in my current groups. There are times when Chaosium's BRP comes across as a little too time consuming (I'm looking at you, automatic weapons fire rules!). This is probably a non-starter for our group. I might pick it up in the future to mine for ideas.

Another book on my to-get list was Realms of Cthulhu, the Cthulhu Mythos game for Savage Worlds. The book is very pretty and hard cover, but it's a bit short at 150-odd pages for $40. The main reason I didn't get it was that it's yet another 1920s Cthulhu game, when I can already run Cthulhu in a couple of different game systems. I want to try Savage Worlds, but our group has a lot of other games already. Alana isn't crazy about the 1920s setting for Cthulhu. If this had 21st century stats (and I'm not saying it doesn't, only from my perusal it didn't look like it did), I'd get it to give it a try. I could also run a game on Skype using it for a 1920s game. So, this is going on my Christmas list, but I didn't get it at GenCon.

Logan had a lot of fun at his first game convention. He bought a fair bit of stuff, but still came back with $50 of his own money. Next year we'll work on getting him into some games. He also said he wants to play my game, meaning he wants to play in a This Favored Land adventure. I'll have to do something about that! Alana enjoyed herself, but I'll let her comment herself.

Tomorrow, I'm off to northwest Tennessee to train some clients, then I'm back for a three day work week, then it's off to DragonCon by way of Birmingham.

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's almost that time....

Gencon. Everything possible seems to be happening to keep us from Indianapolis, or me, at any rate. Is it a sign? Or maybe it's a sign I should get the hell out of Louisiana....

In June, I went into the hospital a couple of times, and yesterday my doctor sent me to the ER again, this time for a heart scare. (I tried to explain that I don't have one, but they never listen.) When we finally got home, I promptly fell down the steps. More accurately, Sabine yanked me down, but that leads into a whole other story about the dog and I and the steps, so we won't go there.

Anyway, now i have more pills, and a nasty scrape on my shin that's
shaped vaguely like Chile. Allan has threatened to have me a suit made of bubble wrap lined with pain meds, and I'm starting to think that's a dandy idea.

Off to think of more things to pack....