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PLAAY Games in Charlotte, March 31, 2018

It's in the hole! Dom Pacheco (in beige shirt) smiles after chipping in for birdie on the 14th hole at Avian Wood CC, during the 2018 PLAAY Gamer Open Golf Tournament, March 31, 2018 at Your Local Game Store in Mint Hill, NC. From L to R: Sean Culnan, Keith Nemes, Dom Pacheco, John Weber.

Last year's HISTORY MAKER GOLF tournament in Atlanta, which served as the launch event for HISTORY MAKER GOLF, was so much fun that we all agreed it was worth considering as an annual on-location event. So I scheduled the encore edition for Charlotte, NC unaware of two things: 1) the NASCAR Hall of Fame is located there, and 2) it's possible for Easter Sunday and April Fool's Day to fall on the same day! (Both actually turned out to be plusses, at least for me. I was able to tie-in the NASCAR angle with the upcoming Pioneers card set for RED WHITE & BLUE RACIN' and being away from home on Easter Sunday gave me an opportunity to experience Easter Sunday in a new surrounding, Charlotte's Elevation Church!)

The weekend began with a red-eye flight from Denver, which was an unfortunate necessity in order to be able to have enough time to hang out at the Hall of Fame. I arrived in Charlotte around 6:15 AM, got my rental car and sped off to the Hampton Inn/Matthews to meet Brien Aronov for breakfast. Brien had flown into Charlotte the night before from Connecticut, and is also coming to Denver this summer for PLAAY-Dot-CON. He also happens to be an avid collector of baseball trading cards. So we had blocked out breakfast, to talk about possible ratings and rules ideas for the HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL trading card tournament, where everyone will draw a random closed pack (or two) of baseball cards, have 30 minutes or so of "Hot Stove" time to solidify their team, and then participate in a tournament using whatever cards they've acquired. But, I digress...

After breakfast, we headed to downtown Charlotte to meet Jerry Minks and his wife Dawne at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Jerry's a NASCAR historian, having followed the sport avidly since he was a kid. He's been the creative force behind the RWBR card sets last couple of years, and I've been leaning heavily on him for the upcoming Stock Car Racing Pioneers set that's coming out this summer. When Jerry mentioned that the NASCAR HOF was in Charlotte, it was a no-brainer to extend the Charlotte weekend so we could explore it together!

Celebrating Retro Racin' at the HOF! Jerry Minks poses beside Marshall Teague's "Fabulous Hudson Hornet" on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte, NC, March 31, 2018.

The first thing you see when you enter the building are a sampling of legendary cars encircling the exhibit hall: there's Marshall Teague's "Fabulous Hudson Hornet," Fireball Roberts' #22 '57 Ford, Darrell Waltrip's iconic #88 Mountain Dew car (which was a Victory Lane fixture back in the day), so many others. Pretty hard to not get excited about racin' with those cars lined up in front of you!

I won't belabor the point—because this article is about the PLAAY Games event, not about the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and after all, you can explore the HOF either in person or online, on your own—but if you have any interest in NASCAR, you'll thoroughly enjoy this experience. Your day begins with a well-produced, fast-moving fifteen-minute film presentation of the History of NASCAR, which was awesome. There are three floors of displays after that, featuring a wide array of race memorabilia. One of the highlights of the place is their racing simulator, featuring eight full-size replica cars (I chose Kyle Busch's #18 M&Ms car), each outfitted with high-tech video and audio enhancements that allow you to experience behind-the-wheel NASCAR. Think of an EA Sports NASCAR video game, and then multiple the experience by about twenty—that's what this was like. Jerry was pretty good at this, not surprisingly: he finished 5th in one heat and 3rd in another. Dawne finished ahead of him in the second run-through, though, something we heard about repeatedly the rest of the weekend. Brien was middle-of-the-pack both heats and me? Well, I finished dead-last both times. Obviously, my NASCAR expertise rests with cards and dice rather than an actual steering wheel.

Talkin' Sports Games! Friday night post-race group photo at our host hotel: (L-R) Jerry Minks, Dom Pacheco, Al Wilson, John Weber, Sean Culnan, Brien Aronov. Matthews, NC, March 30, 2018.

WE wrapped up the HOF by around 3:30 because we wanted to beat the downtown rush hour traffic, and my airport all-nighter was starting to catch up with me. We headed back to the hotel and I crashed for a couple hours (hmmm, I had just done the same thing at the HOF, haha!), reconvening at 7 PM in the hotel common area. We were joined there by Dom Pacheco, Al Wilson, John Weber and Sean Culnan for the "official" inauguration of the RWBR Pioneers cards, a 100-mile race at the Richmond dirt track. It was an exciting race, Lee Petty holding off a last-lap DUEL charge by Junior Johnson to take the checkered flag. Jerry brought some of his own personal NASCAR memorabilia to share, which was really cool. He has a lot of photos, autographs and personal memories from the 1970s and '80s including having birthday cake with the Allison family at the Dodge House motel, night before a race! Ah yes—the good ol' days! We talked about how much NASCAR—and, really, the entire professional sports landscape—has changed over the years. And also had some general conversation about sports board games we're currently playing, projects we're in the middle of, and so on. We wound up visiting until after 10 PM.

Saturday morning, Jerry and I re-hashed the previous night's Pioneers race and agreed that the set was ready for release. (We have spent several months tweaking the cards and rules to best re-create the early era of stock car racing with its much higher mechanical failure rate.) I had been thinking of a 4th of July release, but we agreed that Memorial Day would be sooner and better!

Around 11 AM, Jerry, Brien and I headed over to our host venue, "Your Local Game Store" in Mint Hill. The store owner/manager Rebecca had our area all set up for us. YLGS offers a REALLY nice atmosphere, and it's no surprise that the place was humming with game activity when we arrived. I set up the tournament materials, including our official Avian Woods leaderboard. (Our modified leaderboard featured above/below par cards replacing the "strokes back" cards that come with the game.) John, Al and Kyle Cope arrived shortly after we did. Around noon, our final two members arrived, Dom Pacheco and Keith Nemes. We discussed the rules for the event, and voted whether or not to use the strategy cards (we voted not to). We then had everyone "sign their card" for the leaderboard and drew randomly for foursomes. Al, Jerry, Brien and Kyle made up the first foursome. Sean, Dom, John and Keith comprised the second.

I made the golfer cards a little better this year. At the Atlanta tournament, everyone was given a card with "second tier" pro ability, designed to average about one under par on an average course. Of course, playing at Augusta was anything BUT "average," so the scores ballooned. (link) The winning score at Augusta was one under par, but seven of the nine golfers finished over par, some of them, ahem, WAY over par!(I won't name names here, but they're recorded on the Atlanta event page!) Anyway, it's more fun to golf when you golf well, so I improved each of this year's cards by a stroke and a half.

The improved golfer abilities were immediately apparent. Al took the early lead with birdies on 3, 5 and 6. John eventually caught up with Al with a birdie on 9, then took the lead with a birdie on 10, after Al had bogeyed it. John played smart, safe golf over the last (tough) half of the back nine, expending his chips expertly. Al double-bogeyed on 12 to fall back to the pack. Sean fell behind early with a bogey on 2, but scored birdies on 4 and 5 to get back in it, pulling to within a stroke of the lead at one point after a birdie on 14. Sean did a great job with chips, too, except his was expert management of RED chips, rather than blue. Kyle had a couple of late birdies to get back to even par. Brien struggled on the front nine, falling to five over par with a pair of double bogeys, eight strokes off the lead. But he bolted back into contention with an eagle on 11 (one of the highlights of the afternoon, along with Dom's chip-in for birdie on 14) followed by a birdie on 12. Dom was playing like Ballesteros, putting shots into the weeds and trees but making amazing recovery shots to save par. Meanwhile, Jerry was alternating bogeys and birdies, earning enough of the latter to stay in contention.

John cruised to a win in the tournament, shooting a three-under 69. His tournament-winning card is pictured above, at right. Sean shot a one-under 71 and Kyle finished even par at 72 for third place.

We set it up so that the top four finishers would play in a "Skins Game" for PLAAY money (store credit). That's where it got interesting. Dom appeared to have the final spot locked up, but double-bogeyed 18, opening the door for Keith and Al to sneak past him into fourth place with a birdie. Neither could do it—not surprising, the 18th at Avian Wood is a challenge! But Jerry DID earn a birdie, which allowed him to pull into a four-way tie with Keith, Dom and Al, each at two over par 74! Wow! So we got to have some extra drama with playoff golf to determine the fourth and final spot in the skins game.

We randomly drew a starting hole for our playoff—the ninth hole. Jerry was the first to be eliminated, with a bogey on 9, while everyone else scored par. Keith, Al and Dom each birdied 10. On 11, Dom sunk a birdie putt which neither Keith nor Al could match, leaving Dom as the fourth skins game participant!

Money Ball! Kyle Cope (at right, green shirt) mulls over his options during the "Skins Game" portion of the Charlotte golf event. He finished as the top money-winner! (L-R) Sean Culnan, Dom Pacheco, Al Wilson, Kyle Cope, John Weber. March 31, 2018, Your Local Game Store, Mint Hill, NC.

The skins game money was evenly divided—but between three instead of four, as Dom just could not get a break! However, in a gesture befitting our community of good sports, Kyle split his winnings with Dom, so everyone went home with PLAAY money!

After the golf was finished, we still had a couple hours of time blocked out at the game store. It occurred to me that we should have played TWO rounds instead of one—DOH! I'm wondering why what never occurred to me! NEXT year's tourney, we'll start everyone even for the THIRD round, then play the FOURTH round after that, with third round scores serving as the starting point. This format has the potential to be VERY exciting, I think!

While the skins game was going on, Jerry had set up another RWBR race with the Pioneers cards, a classic sand-and-asphalt race along the Daytona Beach roads course, won by Buck Baker. Keith Nemes had asked that someone bring the soccer game for him to check out, which John and Jerry both did. We also talked about a few game projects I'm working on. Tennis and basketball topped the list of sports of interest. We also talked about the convention in July, since five of the gamers at the Charlotte event have also made plans to travel to Denver for the convention. Fun stuff!

Around 5 PM we adjourned to The Hill, a local sports grill just around the corner from the game store. there we continued the conversation while enjoying reubens, burgers, wings, etc. with golf and college hoops on the big screen TVs. It was a wonderful way to wind down after another amazing event.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel where me, Jerry, Sean and John ran a third Pioneers race, this one a longer (30 turn) race at the 1950s Charlotte track. We had a RARE result happen on the last turn that gave us an incredible, memorable finish! As the cars streaked for the finish line, Fonty Flock surged into lead displacing unheralded Jimmy Florian, who had more or less "inherited" the lead the previous turn when Buck Baker suffered a blown radiator on the lead lap. But because the RARE result is on dice result "2," and "doubles" call for an additional PROBLEM at the end, we had to resolve that before we could wave the checkered flag. We rolled doubles again, meaning that the race leader—Flock—had the problem, blowing his engine in that final charge! Jim Pachal had the first shot at the open leader position—and rolled a "5!" That opened the door for Bob Wellborn, who didn't waste the chance (we rolled a "2") and earned the last-second checkered flag in a RWBR "photo finish!" WOW.

So, the cool thing was that despite this being mainly a golf weekend, we wound up getting as many thrills from RWBR as we did from HMG! Can't argue with that—twice the fun, for sure!

It's always tough to say goodbye after these events, but it was a little easier this time since many of the group will be heading to Denver in a couple months where we will "PLAAY On!" Let me wind down this re-cap by expressing some special thanks: First, thanks to Rebecca and staff at YLGS, who were so gracious and accommodating to our group! Thanks also to Nikki and staff at the Hampton Inn in Matthews for allowing us to commandeer the breakfast/common area for several hours both Friday and Saturday evenings! Finally, thanks to all the PLAAY gamers who attended, especially those who had extended travel to be there: I hope everyone had as much fun as I did! I'm already looking forward to the THIRD annual PLAAY Gamer Open Golf Tournament, in 2019, location TBA!

Want to see how this tournament would "plaay" out on YOUR tabletop? Download the Avian Woods commemorative cards used for the 2018 PLAAY Gamer Open!