An Overview of my Wisconsin-Minnesota-Iowa Tag Trip
I'm back home from my latest tag travels which took me into Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and even back to Illinois over the course of only two days and there is SO MUCH that I am really excited to share. However, along the way there were three particularly cool experiences and I will need to take a bit more time to properly share the stories and pics of some of the really extraordinary opportunities I had involving iCombat, Intersphere and Storm, so for now this is simply a quick recap sprinkled with pics from some of the more typical arena stops I made along this trip. But hold tight because I have some pretty cool additional things to share within the next couple of days. :)
I'll go into this more thoroughly when I give you the full story of my iCombat experience, but in short I made the trip to Wisconsin because I was invited to tour the iCombat Laser Tag headquarters in Waukesha, WI. I thought this would be a good opportunity to visit a few more states before the end of the year, so I anchored my trip around this unique invitation to see the home office, tour one of their manufacturing plants and then play a few rounds (14 to be exact!) at their company owned field. I got to interview some key players in the business, try out some of their latest products and get an insider's view of the company. All of that experience was too amazing to gloss over, so it will get a much more detailed post of its own very shortly.
When I was done visiting iCombat I drove a short way to a Laser Tag Adventure, a Laserforce site also in Waukesha.
This was a far more typical stop and I enjoyed playing standard teams with a group of mixed ages with some older kids, teens and adults. The arena was themed with the Aztec ruins design that I see at a lot of places.
While waiting in the briefing room a girl asked me if I was the laser tag lady. I paused to decide how best to answer that (as it is sort of an apt description), then figured she meant to ask if I was an employee and said no (even though I suspected I could give this briefing just as well as the employee who conducted the game). I signed in as a level six, evening out the playing field a bit, and just enjoyed a really lighthearted game. I'm curious whether there are multiple travel achievements available...I've found sometimes my Syracuse card works and sometimes it doesn't, so I don't have a true representation on it for the number of Force sites I've actually visited, but I would like to think it registers.
Next stop was Lightspeed Entertainment in Greenfield, WI where a full game was heading in just as I arrived.
I must say I was impressed with this arena. It wasn't huge, but it was a decent size with two full levels and played well.
They operated with Rift packs which I play quite frequently so I know what sounds I expect to hear during the game. However, this was the quietest game I've ever played with almost no audible feedback...although not intentional, this actually made it a little more interesting. One of the employees just noted that the packs have been bashed around so much that some are simply in better shape than others, which I see a lot. It didn't hinder me at all, but the difference was very noticeable.
I'm skimming over these stops because they were all fun, but not exactly out of the ordinary. And although Laser Tag Adventure and Lightspeed were both pretty typical tag experiences from start to finish my next stop was definitely not.
I had been told that Bounce Milwaukee becomes a 21 and over club after 9:00 PM, but that all their activities are still accessible during this time including their laser tag arena. At first this sounded perfect! I arrived a little before 9:00 and took a seat in the bar area upstairs. I'm going to repeat that...I was in the BAR upstairs and I looked out over a view of the whole place that looked like this...
You can see this place has a bit of an identity crisis. Don't get me wrong, the staff was great (bartender Will and I chatted for quite awhile about the distinct audiences that they aim to attract) and in concept this was really interesting, but in practicality I didn't see any adult likely to hang out in the bounce house area. Fortunately there were a few people there at the beginning of the night who were up for tag, so I entered the arena and put on a Helios pack.
Then I entered a fairly small arena to see...those walls! Well, almost...a slight variation, but really close at first glance.
Honestly, I feel like at some point I have to go through this blog from start to finish to see how many arenas I have played that look almost identical because they have installed those same walls. I know the average person won't ever notice, but it's almost amusing now to me how many times I have seen them. However, walls aside, this experience was really the opposite of the last arena. While Lightspeed had an awesome arena with packs that were sort of marginal (simply because they had clearly gone through the typical use and abuse that kids roughly put them through) this place had excellent equipment in fantastic condition, however the arena was a lot smaller and less impressive. Although it too had two levels, the Bounce arena was just a little too tight quarters in my opinion.
Something that surprised me was that the game master told our group that the game could last anywhere from five to fifteen minutes and gave us a choice. While I would have certainly preferred to play the full fifteen, the other members of this group decided that they could get their fill of the game in five, so we played a really short round after which I returned to the bar area to see if anyone else would be playing tag tonight. It started to look unlikely, so I headed back to the front counter to buy a souvenir t-shirt and while a staff member was getting it for me a group of three guys who looked to be in their early twenties walked in. One was in street clothes...the other two were in full head to toe gorilla costumes. Yeah, that should be repeated too...GORILLA COSTUMES!!! I decided that these guys looked like they would be fun to tag with and if they stayed then I would too. However, it turns out one of the dressed up guys was under 21 so they all left. I do respect the Bounce employees for upholding their policy in light of the bar...however my night would been way more interesting if I had been able to tag with them for sure! By this time it was pretty apparent that they had a quiet night on their hands so I decided to head for my hotel after enjoying a great time in Wisconsin.
The next morning I was up early so I could hit the road and drive four and a half hours from Milwaukee, WI up into the southern part of Minnesota.
This road trip allowed me to check off another state while in the area and landed me at Bowlocity in Rochester, MN.
The bowling alley is the main business, but they have a tag arena as well and this was the closest location that I could get to in Minnesota. I got a kick out of their sign that said Cyber Quest...mostly because this place does not run Cyber Blast or Laser Quest, they have Zone Nexus here.
Sometimes it is tough to time these trips so that I can do everything I want to and in this case it meant I was showing up at lunch time (not ideal) and the only other players were kids. I am NOT a birthday basher (ok, no birthdays here, but the kids were young enough that the parents stood alongside the wall) so I did not play this like a real game or a teachable moment. The kids were running around on the top level and I just walked over to the base and asked one of the moms to take a couple pics while the game was going on around us.
Seriously, that's all you can do sometimes because there is no honor in beating little kids at what should be a fun game for everyone. However the parents urged me to give their kids a good run anyhow, so I finished out the round playing lightly enough to be involved, but not to take the win away from the kids. I felt like a good human being for that as I said "Minnesota, check!" and by that time of the day I was ready for lunch. My friend Liz drove down from Minneapolis to visit while I was in town so that was the far more meaningful part of my trip to Minnesota...however I was glad to be able to say I played tag in this state, however briefly, and then spend some time with Liz.
My time in Minnesota was also brief because I had made plans to experience something I never had before. There is a small arena inside of the Westdale Bowling Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that still runs Intersphere laser tag after twenty years! Now this also deserves a whole separate post, so I will expound on the details later. Just know it was an amazing treat to be able to play a system that I have never encountered before and I suspect might not have the chance to play again. Many thanks to BJ and Kim for answering my questions and letting me experience Intersphere. More details on that soon.
I will also post separately about my first time playing in a Laser Storm arena in Davenport, IA. Up until my visit to Michael's Fun Center I have only played Storm at 'geddon events (Armageddon, Snowmageddon and Baltigeddon) using Logan's packs, so to play in a Storm arena was really very cool. Please forgive my glossing over the details for the moment, but iCombat, Intersphere and Laser Storm were all very unique experiences and I do not want to lump them in with the other more typical sites that I played during this trip. So we'll fast forward to my final tag destination, QC Entertainment Center (which is actually in Moline, IL, so I guess I technically played in four states and in eight arenas over the course of two days...no wonder I'm tired today!).
QC was yet another bowling alley with tag as an extra attraction. They had Rift here also. This arena was really kind of average comparatively. It had two levels, but the ramps were predictable and the playing space seemed a little too open. However I was told that they are getting a thorough arena redesign in the near future (they think possibly an Avatar kind of theme) so I wish them all the best and hope that I might be able to venture this way again to see the new aesthetic.
That's the condensed version of a pretty amazing two day adventure. I wish I had longer to explore the area, but I really feel like I jam packed a lot of pretty cool experiences into the short time I had to travel through these states. I have now been to 34 states and 137 arena sites and still have so much more to share, so look for the next couple of posts where I will go into more detail and get ready to see some really interesting laser tag history and also to see some of the cool things that will become part of laser tag's future!
Comments or Questions?
Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com