Standing on the Shoulders of Those Who Came Before

Hi, I’m Josh Songer. If you’re on the Zion’s Finest Slack channel, then chances are you’ve seen me voice an opinion or two there. I’m also less frequently on the IACP Discord channel as @Darthnazrael. As you no doubt know from Noa’s article before this one, he is stepping away from the Steering Committee to take care of his family and home life, and I wish him all the best. And the reason you’re reading my ramblings now is because I’m the idiot they got to try to fill his shoes. I’ve been asked to share a bit about myself, so, where to start?

I’ve been pretending to be a vampire since I was 13 years old.

Wait, that’s weird, and not true. At least, not really. What I mean to say is that I was 13 when I pestered my older brother into letting me read his copy of a book called Laws of the Night, the rulebook to a live-action role-playing game that he and his friends were just getting into, called Vampire: the Masquerade. Like most older brothers, he mostly wanted to get as far away from me as possible whenever he got the chance, and that should’ve meant no Vampire for me. However, my only friends to speak of — the only ones I spoke to outside of school hours — were his best friends, and they actually liked hanging out with me, despite his complaints. So they pressured Joe into letting me tag along to one of their Vampire games, and I was hooked.

I had played Dungeons and Dragons before (and still do), but VtM was different. If you’re picturing Twilight or the opening scene from Blade — you know, the one with the Goth nightclub — that’s what everyone expects when they go to their first Vampire game, but it couldn’t be further from the case. The fact that you’re role-playing as vampires is almost an afterthought. The vibe of the game has much more in common with Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards than it does with Twilight. It’s all about political machinations and backstabbing, and sometimes your character gets murdered in a back alley by other player characters, usually when you least expect it, and for reasons you won’t even realize until your fellow players explain it to you over a drink (or ice cream, if you can’t/don’t drink) after the game. That’s all an oversimplification of the game; there’s a lot more nuance, but the competitive nature of it is what really drew me in.

When you play the Game of Vampire, you win or you die.

This was my introduction to competitive gaming. I really dove into learning the mechanics of the game, parsing out which powers were strong and which were subpar, so that I could build my character well enough to compete with other, more experienced players. It wouldn’t be long before this drew me to games like Magic: the Gathering, Pokémon, and HeroClix.

I continued to play Vampire, though, on and off. When I turned 18, I started playing with a multinational nonprofit charity organization (looks great on my resumé) that runs VtM games, now known as the MES. I even met my eventual wife, Apryl, at the second MES game I ever attended.

Since then, Apryl and I have become avid board game collectors. Our collection takes up frankly too much space in our house, but such is the life of a board gamer. It was Apryl that bought me one particular game for Christmas 2017, called Imperial Assault.

I bet you thought I’d never get around to talking about IA, huh?

She had heard how hype folks were about the campaign mode, and picked it up when she found a good deal. Honestly, it sat on my shelf for a while, like a lot of our board games, before I got around to playing it. It was the first game I’ve ever owned where you paint your own miniatures: something I’ve still never gotten around to actually doing, nor even properly learned to do.

Eventually, probably around eight months later, we actually pulled the game out and played the campaign mode with my brother, Joe, who didn’t despise hanging out with me as much as he did when we were kids. It was exactly the kind of game that I love: Simple on its face, yet with incredibly deep competitive play in the form of its Skirmish mode. I love a game I can really sink my teeth into, and learn the ropes from a community of devoted players who are passionate enough about the game to write strategy articles and host podcasts about it. I’ve always approached a game by learning from those who’ve been playing it longer than me. It’s just such an efficient way to soak up information. Why spend ten hours playing the game, learning first-hand what works, when I can listen to a one-hour podcast from an experienced player telling me what they learned in their 20 hours of play with that archetype?

I remember the first podcast episode I ever listened to was the Twin Troopers episode on Drokkatta, and I really appreciated the analytical approach to assessing each card on its merits individually and in the context of the cards around it. In another Twin Troopers episode, Eric and Jake mentioned their more competitive-oriented cousin-cast, Zion’s Finest. One of my fondest IA memories is listening to the ZF episode about Spectre Cell on the drive to my first and only Regional Tournament, where Sam Sweeten explains how a player can use Spectre Cell’s movement shenanigans to reliably attack their opponent’s terminal sitter on round 1 on Tarkin. That trick won me two rounds of that 3-round tournament, and allowed me to lose handily in a Spectre mirror semifinals to our visitor from Kentucky, Chris Emmick. It was really great getting to bounce ideas with him after the game on how to improve the SC Command Card list (because there’s not much else to tinker with in Spectre Cell), and even then, he was telling me about the custom stuff he was working on and playtesting with his son.

The most hated card since Ugnaught Tinkerer.

So it was no surprise to me when Chris and a ragtag band of devoted players took up the mantle for FFG, and started up this Project. What was surprising to me was when the Steering Committee reached out to me a couple weeks ago to let me know that Noa was going to be stepping down from the Committee, and they’d like me to step in to take his place. I was flabbergasted, and accepted on the spot.

I’ve done work like this before, even recently working with the MES National Rules Team to review and edit the new mechanics produced by VtM’s publisher, to get them ready for large org play. So it’s not that I felt unqualified, just that I’d never been approached directly as a first choice for a position like this. It was simultaneously gratifying, exciting, and humbling. And Noa casts a tall, excel-proficient shadow. If I can bring half of what he has brought to this game, then that would be something worth putting on the resumé.

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