You’ve got a milestone birthday coming up. The big 3-0, maybe. What do you do to celebrate? You throw a geekathlon, that’s what you do.
That’s what I did, anyway. Not a geekathon, mind you. That sounds exhausting. No, I’m talking about a geekathlon, as in the Greek word for “contest”. A contest of geeky proportions complete with a playable invitation.
Quick history lesson: the ancient pentathlon was all about running, jumping and chucking things. Skills useful in battle at the time. Then someone updated it for the 19th century by incorporating shooting, fencing, and horseback riding and called it “modern”.
These days, there’s so much virtual competition going on all the time that the amount of physical competition pales in comparison. The battles we wage are on our computers, TVs and tabletops. So until the IOC recognizes eSports (fat chance), the humble geekathlon will have to fill the gap.
There are all kinds of varieties of geek, but it was my party so I chose events that I enjoyed:
- Board game – Settlers of Catan
- Console game – Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- PC game – Star Control 2
- Card game – World of Warcraft TCG
- Geek trivia – a quiz concocted by me
I announced the events a week in advance to allow people to “train” if they so desired.
I wanted the events to be fair and relatively quick so people could have multiple attempts even in a single evening. I tried to stay true to decathlon scoring by assigning a score between 0 and ~1,000 for each event:
- Settlers – normal game but each turn is max 1 minute; final score is VP x 100
- Sonic – speed run of the first level; final score is based on number of seconds
- Star Control 2 – your fleet (~100 points) vs larger computer fleet (~200 points) in Super Melee; final score is based on how many ships you destroy
- WoW TCG – using 1 of 3 prebuilt decks (mage, warrior or hunter), how much damage you inflict on a “training dummy” in 8 turns
- Quiz – based directly on your grade
One downside of structuring the events this way is that it involved a lot of prep to figure out the details. For example, I played a ton of Super Melee trying to find the right fleets to use (the Thraddash Torch is OP vs AI; the Pkunk Fury too random) and I had to build and playtest the WoW TCG decks.
In the end, I became so good at the events (check it) that I felt I couldn’t fairly compete. But I still had a lot of fun building the “gauntlet” and watching friends run through.
I was pleased that nobody dominated across the board. The final scores were as follows:
What’s a competition without prizes? Here’s what I came up with:
I hope someone follows up with a Geekathlon 2.0. Here are some ideas for next time:
- Simplify the scoring. Rank is probably a decent proxy. It’s less objective (your result is based on others’ performance) but a lot easier and it works much better for multiplayer.
- If you have a quiz, keep it short and sweet. I may have gone overboard… it took much longer for people to finish, and for me to mark, than I expected. Then again, I also gave it out at the beginning, which was probably a mistake.
- Make the score visible at all times. And keep it updated. I think this would heighten the competition, and make it easier to decide who should compete against whom. (I probably should have had the top contenders play against each other in Settlers.) This is a lot easier if everyone is doing the same event at the same time, and if the scoring is simple.
- Stock up on Fluff. I ran out and there were insufficient fluffernutters. Alas.
If you have ideas for future geekathlon events, I’d love to hear them. If I host another, a larger venue would be nice so I could invite more people.