My first HuskyCon was in 2007, and I had a blast. The same experience repeated itself in 2008, so there was no way that I was going to miss the 2009 version. At some point in the intervening time, the idea coalesced in my head that it would be a good idea to make the trip down via bicycle. So thumbing my nose at the fickle and horrible New England weather and generally hoping for the best, this is where the story starts.
Prologue: Cambridge to Providence. (6km + train)
An easy day on the train to crash at Brendan Hickey's place in Providence so that I can get off to an early start the following day. We duelled over a couple of games of Escalation Diplomacy, which I'd never tried before. My impression of the two player variant is that it is all over very quickly, with the placement of the pieces determining the outcome given any sensible set of moves.
Stage 1: Providence to New London (95km)
The morning started easily with the flat Washington Secondary Bike Path, fuelled by an enormous breakfast when I stopped to grab a bite to eat. Now I know that America is known for huge servings, but still I did not expect to receive two large plates of food, one containing two large pancakes and the other with a large breakfast in itself.
Nevertheless, this food fuelled me as the rolling hills started as I traversed Rhode Island along the most direct route, largely following the I95. The rain starts as I cross the state border into Connecticut, but this is not a problem as the rain is very light. I find the entrance to the (too narrow, not happy) pedestrian/bicycle path on the Gold Star Bridge and cruise into New London mid-afternoon.
At this point, with the rain settling in, I make what I consider a strategic error and find a motel in New London to spend the night. Better would've been to take the ferry to Orient Point on Long Island immediately and stay the night there, saving two hours on the following day. But this was not to be.
Stage 2: New London to the Woodring residence (100km + ferry)
The rain finally stops, and I am treated to a sunny day with only a slight headwind for the ride down Long Island. I am able to follow the well-signposted New York Bicycle Route 25 from Orient Point to Port Jefferson which largely follows the main roads with a few detours thrown in for good measure. It is a mostly flat stage with some undulating terrain at the end beginning to hurt after two days in the saddle. Still, I arrive at the Woodring residence in one piece, and a few hours later Alex Amman arrives with my change of clothes so that I may be presentable for the weekend.
The Woodring hospitality is amazing. For those who have been living on a rock and don't yet know, the venue is in a spectacular house overlooking the water, with food drink and sleeping space all complimentary for the entire weekend. If you haven't yet made it to a HuskyCon, then you owe it to yourself to do all that you can to make it to the next one.
Round 1: Friday night
I draw Russia, and for the first time get to play a regular Diplomacy game on the big board. This big board is a hand painted board on a table tennis table and comes complete with large wooden pieces. Despite the big board, I am off my game and struggle. In the south I ignore the diplomatic signals that I would be better working with Manny's Turkey and make a poor stab. Meanwhile in the north, Don Woodring in England is lying to me every turn.
In 1905 Carl in Austria decides to stab for something he is never going to hold while at the same time letting the EF through the stalemate line. I vote down the draw and we take two off Carl the following year, after which the draw passes. This draw should not have passed, bringing an unnaturally early end to a game that had barely started.
Round 1.5: Brendan Hickey's secret mansion
Now this HuskyCon is the largest ever, and so there is encouragement to sleep off-site for those who are able, in order to ease overcrowding concerns. Brendan regales Alex, Jon and myself with stories of a large mansion on Long Island that he can find a key to. For some reason, we believe him and set off in the middle of the night to find this place.
Apparently this place is 30 miles away. I have no idea what that means since I grew up in a civilised country with the metric system. But after about an hour in the car, we're clearly lost, and have to backtrack our way to the main road. Fortunately Alex has a good sense of navigation. So we find the house, Brendan then can't find the key, but eventually does and we're inside. Turns out this place is also massive and could hold its own HuskyCon if only we could convert the occupants (who were out of town) to Diplomacy. So we get a good night's sleep, and after a couple of nervous moments an alliance with Brendan is still on the cards for the following day.
Round 2: Saturday morning
I draw England. I used to be able to play England, until Goffy started drawing Germany at the same time and eliminating me. This time I have Cyrille along as Germany. Cyrille has twice as many world championships as Goffy so I'm starting to feel twice as worried — this doesn't look good, especially when Manny, who I killed in the first game, reappears as my neighbour in France.
However, in 1901 Manny supports an Austrian army into Munich so suddenly things are looking up. Russia builds a fleet in StP(nc), volunteering himself as my first target. So I am able to clean out Swe and StP in the midst of an uneasy EFG truce.
I don't really like the idea of being ruthless to the same player twice in two games, but the EFG situation was crying out to be resolved as an EG v F battle. Unlike the previous night, this time I was successful as Cyrille and I became the dominant alliance on the board. There were a couple of hiccups, one where Cyrille tried to stab in the fall but aborted in the Winter after things didn't go to his liking, then in the last turn before the draw I grabbed Paris to be on top in a 10-9 supply centre split.
I shouldn't have taken Paris, and yet again this game was unfinished, but we called a draw and went swimming. The water was a little chilly for my liking but it was pleasant to be outside in the water, certainly a positive of the early draw.
The other games on the Saturday were also eventful. There was a costume themed board, where seven players who had dressed up were all seeded on the one board. They must've been really getting into the swing of things as I'm pretty sure this was the last board to finish. Then there was the non-solo and the solo.
Firstly, rising star Randy (already a good player, and rapidly improving, so watch out!) got himself up to 17 centres. The rest of the board managed to convince him that he was stopped, though this was not the case. As soon as Randy voted for the draw it was pointed out that the 18th centre was actually forced. Not to worry, I'm sure Randy's breakthrough first solo is not far away.
Meanwhile, on another board, Jon and Gary had set up the classic stalemate line to ensure that Graham's Austria could never get past 17. But some jerk threw Graham the solo, catapulting him into the tournament lead, from which he was never headed.
Round 2.5 Saturday night
HuskyCon deliberately doesn't have a Saturday night round, opting instead for a night of socialising. With all players onsite, the mix of food, drink, socialising with a great crowd of people and open gaming available truly makes for a great time and is really part of what makes HuskyCon so great.
As is the tradition, we ended up on the big board playing a game of double gunboat. That is there are 14 players with two sets of pieces playing independent games that just happen to be sharing the same board. Only problem is, we had 15 players. So one lucky guy got to be a joker who put in orders for his choice of country each turn.
In this variant, you score one point per supply centre, and then have to guess the identities of the other players, getting one point per correct response. On the board, I was in the easiest Juggernaut alliance I'd ever seen, romping to 10 centres before the time draw, and since nobody was able to replicate the feats of Melissa's guessing of 12 correct out of 14 from two years past, I was somehow able to hold on for the victory.
Round 3 Sunday
I don't think I had ever caught up with the extra sleep from cycling down, so I volunteered to sit out this round. That, and it was the timedraw round, which makes it less attractive to play in. As mentioned before, Graham Woodring (in what I believe is his first HuskyCon as a player only) held on for the tournament win, beating out runner up Cliff, who failed to provide us with a repeat of last years performance of falling down the cliff.
Sunday is quite a relaxed day as the tournament winds down, and people start to leave. For the first time, I was staying the night as I had my bicycle with me. Graham tried to poison us by placing far too many spices in his pasta, leaving me pining for the earlier cooking of Lori Wheeler, whose donation of time and energy, as well as the work put in by all the Woodrings, cannot be thanked enough.
Stage 3 Setauket to Boston (19km + train + bus)
After breakfast, I realised through a combination of tiredness, lack of fitness, and the weather report, that I wasn't really feeling like riding all the way home. So I made an executive decision to get back to Boston in what is both the cheapest and the most bike friendly manner that I knew of. Cycle to Port Jefferson train station, followed by LIRR to Manhattan. Then cycle through dirty smelly New York to reach Chinatown, which puts me on a bus taking me all the way back to South Station in Boston, ready for a quick four and a half kilometre ride home, completing my longest Diplomacy experience to date.
Now at one point recently, Mel was telling me how after a tournament, people always want to compile a detailed list of what went wrong to complain, and never write such a detailed analysis of what went right over the course of the weekend. HuskyCon certainly deserves the latter. So here we go.
Itemised list of good things at HuskyCon
... maybe I could go on forever here.
Itemised list of bad things at HuskyCon
See as many of you as possible there next year!
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