It started as a dare, a proposition, an experiment.
Last summer, several members of our gaming group were wondering aloud what it would be like to be a gamer and a rich millionaire. After the discussion of rich hardwood tables, comfy leather chairs, fully stocked refrigerators, and plenty of servants, our thoughts drifted to when and how often a wealthy person could play games. It was soon agreed upon that, rich or poor, not many people could game beyond the magical 24 hour mark. In fact, rich or poor, only those in top mental and physical condition could even game for 24 hours straight. The challenge was on! We decided it would be a good experiment to test the limits of gaming endurance, an all day games marathon. The date was set, December 29th, 1998. The place: Dave's home.
Arriving at Dave's home, we proceeded to the basement which Dave had prepared for this glorious gaming quest: 3 large gaming tables (4 feet by 8 feet), plenty of refrigerator space, and lots of coffee tables for parking mugs, glasses, and rulebooks. Most of us are familiar with Dave's unheated basement, and we dressed ourselves for the mid-winter epic: two or three shirts, two or more sweaters or sweatshirts, long johns, insulated boots and extra socks. We vowed to chip in and purchase a kerosene heater for the next event. As the event proceeded and the ice cold beers were served, some of us opted for our winter jackets to stave off the cold.
Everyone brought provisions necessary for the journey: cases of beer, sweet snacks such as cookies, doughnuts, and brownies, salty snacks such as chips, pretzels, peanuts, and popcorn, cigars, and all manners of sodas, ales, and whatnot. Catering would be provided by local eating establishments. Each gamer brought a selection of games that they anticipated playing for the day. Dave has a healthy stock of many types of games. Paul brought a few German imports and his favorite miniatures game, Games Workshop's sailing ship combat game (what's the name?). Brian brought a truckload of Necromunda miniatures. Val and Doug brought a few laptop computers, a LAN hub, and other supplies in anticipation of playing Age of Empires and other multiplayer computer games. I brought a smattering of German imports, most never played by our group. I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce a few new games.
As a gaming group, we enjoy all sorts of games. We started off the day with the Milton Bradley classic, Dogfight. Kevin and I played the Germans and quickly decimated the valiant flyers, Dave and Paul, of the American fighter squadrons. From there the four of us tried Reiner Knizia's Samurai. This was a new game for my opponents, so I was rather embarrassed to come in last place by NOT scoring a majority in one of the token sets. All agreed that it was an enjoyable game.
At that time more gamers started trickling in. It was understood that not all would be available for the full 24 hours. No problem. For some of us though, it was a point of honor to carry the thought to it's conclusion. As we used to say in college, "Sleep is overrated!"
Now with five players, we pulled out Wolfgang Kramer's El Grande. Except for me, all players were new gamers, but all quickly grasped the rules and concentrated on strategy. I sprayed the land with caballeros, going for second places in as many provinces as I could. This strategy worked, and I came in first, although tied with another player. All enjoyed this game, some describing it as a fancy game of Risk without the luck or the die-rolling. All seemed to like the turn order bidding mechanism of the game. From here other gamers broke into a 6 player game of Tom Clancy's Politka. The switch to the cheaper components of this game was rather obvious, and most complained of the cheap paper markers and the lack of wood blocks in the game. Most were new at the game, so only one or two turns were played. This game received a moderate lukewarm response.
We now had a grand compliment of gamers. We pulled another old classic, Parker Brothers Masterpiece which Hasbro rereleased in 1996, but had not many buyers, and Dave picked it up for $5 at Toys 'R Us. To add to the atmosphere, many players began puffing on cigars and sporting pretentious English accents. Others took this as a cue to begin drinking and many an ale was cracked. Whatever the reason, the bidding was fast and furious. I thought I did pretty well despite having handled both of the forgeries of the game and netting around $30 million. Nevertheless, Jane took top honors, netting about $39 million in the game, quite an accomplishment for the 6 player game.
Evening had fallen and the gaming party was buzzing. Everyone is happy and enjoying the games. There is nothing quite like the clatter and chatter of many gamers playing games full steam ahead: yelling, laughing, and loud moans from good and bad die rolls. Others have been drinking lots of beer and some have cracked the tequila. I have stuck mainly to coffee and seltzer water. I know the night is long and there is plenty of gaming ahead. Surprisingly, I am not in the least bit tired, and I barely notice the time flying by.
A group of 8 players begins Wizards of the Coast's RoboRally. Because we have two new players, we abolish time limits, and we help out the new players. We play with two boards, including the two Radioactive boards that Paul gave as presents for Christmas. We select a rather simple out and back course along the diagonals of the board. Despite the limited course, this affair turns into a 3 hour game. No problem. One of the group initiates a dinner call, and we form a hauling party to raid that fine American eating establishment White Castle. Several sacks of cheeseburgers, fries, shakes, and rat-comestibles are purchased and devoured by the hungry gaming group. There is much robo-combat and yelling as one lucky gamer wheels his robot into the home port.
At this time a few of the vacationing gamers decided to end the evening. The temperature had been falling throughout the day and the water on the roads had turned to ice. Some had now been gaming for over 12 hours. We wished the departing gamers a safe trip and gave them a good pat on the back for joining in the first half of the 24 hour experiment. It was now 10 p.m. and we knew that the more difficult part of the proposition lay ahead.
What better time to pump up the goofiness? We agreed upon Tom Jolly's Maul of America, a new Christmas gift that had not been played in our group. Despite the great theme of zombies and shoppers run amok in a shopping mall, and the proper campy humor of the game, we were a bit disappointed. First of all the card stock is entirely too thin. The cards are not fully opaque and easy to see through. They also are not die-cut and impossible to shuffle with all the perforations at the edges. Second the board is artistically bereft, including hand drawn and arguably missing exits to the mall. The playing pieces are utterly run of the mill, simple stickers on generic plastic stands. But this was not the worst of the problems. We had difficulty deciphering the rules, especially the blast rules of the flamethrower (one roll for all zombies or one roll for each zombie?) We had a few laughs, but thought that the $35 dollar price was entirely too much. We had seen much better game designs and components in $7 CheapAss Games games. Some of us mused about redoing the rules. I doubt anyone will suggest this game at the next event.
It is now after midnight. A few gamers returned to the computer games. I suggested a four player game of Reiner Knizia's Auf Heller und Pfennig, an offer quickly accepted by 3 opponents. They enjoyed the theme, they enjoyed the game, and we battled to close ending. While we were gaming, many looked on and noted the good quality of the components. I think in general our gaming group is coming to appreciate simpler rules and higher quality components. Who knows, perhaps we will all be playing Go and Chess in a few years. Anyway, I took it easy on my novice opponents. For this courtesy, they hammered me and beat me into a third place finish. I took care not to batter anyone with the evil-eye piece, and this is how they reward me. Oh well, next time I shall have no mercy. The medieval market shall be mine.
Anyway, we trudged onward. It was now past 1 a.m. and some of us were slowing a bit. Ahh, vacation is a wonderful thing, and many of us had taken some time off from Christmas to New Year's, so December 29th was a wonderful time for a game marathon. However, with families and shopping and a few too many social events, the vacation bed beckons and some of us were slowing. To combat the lethargy, we launched into a game of the Games Workshop Orc Brawl, a freebee game given in the pages of one of the White Dwarf magazines of 1998. If you can find or order the back issue (is it issue 221 or 222?), I highly recommend this game. It is done in the style of the Cheap Ass Games games, simple paper stock board, paper counters, and three or four pages of rules. Of course we substituted some geniusly painted orc figures from a decade of Warhammer orc miniatures. The varying artistic styles of the orcs was splendid, some looked undernourished, some looked Disney-esque and big-headed, others looked like brawlers. We had a great time especially those orcs with the "poke in the eye" talent. For some reason the words from the rules "scrabble around in there" describing a poke in the eye stuck in our heads, and we repeated it often. Also the usual Games Workshop grotty humor "put the boot in" stuck in our heads. We did abolish the "weep like a weedy grot" talent. We thought an orc could use it every turn and avoid combat for the entire game. Who knows who won. We punched, we put the boot in, and we had a lot of fun.
Nearing 2 a.m. many gamers headed home. The remaining players continued in a game of Klaus Teuber's Settlers of Catan. I selected what I thought was a good initial placement, gathering wood and bricks on a roll of 5 or 10. Doug also had a good initial placement, gathering wood and bricks on a 6. Despite these good thoughts, Dave clobbered us. The robber and the dice rolls worked against me. We recognized Dave's leadership and attacked relentlessly, but his numbers kept coming and his settlements kept growing. He won easily, 10 point to about 6 and 5.
It was 3 a.m., and I was still entirely engrossed in the games and not the least bit tired. Doug left our group leaving the two remaining questers, Dave and I. We cracked Blizzard Entertainment's Starcraft and began playing. Dave had received this game for Christmas, and I was fairly new. He chose the Terrans, a futuristic Starship Trooper type civilization, and I selected the Zerg, the alien bug-like adversary. I didn't know what I was doing, but we played about 3 hours of Terrans versus Zerg. I especially like the sounds of the game and the organic, Alien-like grossness of the artwork. The Zerg have really cool splatter sounds when they die.
It was now nearing 6 a.m., and I could see we were getting punchy. Any joke netted an exorbitant amount of laughter. Any attack begat a undue stream of chuckles. We concluded Starcraft and started a game of Hasbro's Axis and Allies. These days we leave the board game version on the shelf and reach for the computer version. There is a great time saving in having the computer manage the pieces and the rules. However, the multiplayer mode of this game is extremely buggy, so we play around a laptop and simply pass the computer back and forth. No matter, Dave opts for the Axis and I take on the Allies. A few moves into the game we begin to tire. Unlike a real-time game, the turn based pace affords us time to nod off into slumber. We have heard the computer game theme music ad-infinitum, so I try to wake Dave by taping out the tune using the annoying illegal click beep sound. To no avail, Dave is nodding out soundly. I guess his previous night at the bar is not helping him with his conquest.
It is now nearly 7 a.m. and I witness the rising sun over the building nextdoor. What a glorious site it is to me! The sun is rising, and I am still gaming. I have hardly noticed the time pass. The long winter night is gone, and it is time to start a new day. A new day, and I am gaming. What fun I am having!
We goof around for the next hour-and-a-half, barely gaming, mostly talking and surfing the Internet. I know that technically this is not gaming, but it is all part of the social appeal of gaming that brings us together. For me, gaming is a social event. I enjoy the banter between moves. I enjoy the post game analysis and the comparisons to other games. I enjoy sitting together and the leisurely pace.
At 8:35 a.m. or so we decide to call it a day. Surprisingly, my Circadian rhythms kick in, and I am not tired. I don't sleep until my normal time of 10 p.m. later that night. Dave on the other hand is exhausted. He sleeps from 9 a.m. until 2 in the afternoon. Regardless, I think we have accomplished our goal. We have stretched the boundaries of endurance and witnessed the limits of human gaming endurance. We set aside this day to see what it would be like to game without responsibility or obligation and visit the boundaries of absolute gaming insanity. It was an extreme quest, but we are very happy in our accomplishment of gaming until body and mind could game no more.
If you have a tale of gaming endurance or would like to organize some similar feat, please contact the author, Dan Becker.