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BGG.Con: The Return

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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BGG.Con 2012 has come and gone, and was a great time as usual, with an even larger group of people that I gamed with “regularly” while I was there and a bunch of new games that I got to enjoy exploring. The hotel was pretty nice, and everything seemed much more organized then last year though as a vegetarian I found the food options on-site to be strictly worse than years past. Luckily my cousin, who is a local, was gracious enough to bring me to the grocery store where I was able to pick up a large amount of fruit to snack on throughout the week and made the whole situation bearable. I have every intention of repeating that trip next year, and my cousin has already offered to take me. Of course, you do not care about that. You care about the games!

Unlike in years past I do not really have a game of the convention. There ended up being three games I really liked, and I think it will take a bit more play of each of them for me to figure out which one works best for me. Also, unlike 2011 which had some really excellent, breakout games (Mage Knight and Ora et Labora), 2011 seems to have a larger number of generally high-quality tiles but nothing that I found truly amazing. However, by the same token there was very little that was borderline or outright sucked, and there was only one game where I felt the negatives truly outweighed the positives.

The Best

Three games are vying in my eyes for the best game of the convention (and with Dungeon Command for my best game of the year). I was able to play all of them a significant amount of times, but I only achieved enough plays in Terra Mystica to feel comfortable reviewing it (expect a review later this week). The other two will require some additional amount of plays for me to feel comfortable that I understand them enough to properly review them.

Archipelago (Initial Rating: 8; 5 plays)

Archipelago was one that I had some level of trepidation about prior to the convention. While my initial interest was high, due to my appreciation for Earth Reborn, comments about lots of player negotiation and opportunities for screwage, as well as the concealed end and victory conditions, left me concerned that this one would not quite work for me. Luckily, playing the game, and reviewing all the variants afterwards, proved that these are not extremely relevant issues, particularly since it is very easy to calibrate the situation based on your preferences.

Essentially Archipelago is a civilization game that replaces opportunities for war and direct conflict with a shared loss condition, based on the rebellion of the archipelago and the players, as colonial powers, being forced away. This is a very real threat, and three of the five games I played ended with a collective loss based on this condition. What makes the game particularly interesting from this perspective is the fact that it is up to the players to prevent this from happening, either through market management, which requires some level of experience, or luck in regards to what source of resources are demanded by the populace. Some of the actions that players are most likely to advance their own position are also the most likely to cause the island to go into revolt and if one player gets too far ahead the incentives are there for them to tank the game, if they can, bringing it to a halt if they are in an unrecoverable position.

What the ultimate effects are of shared loss are for experienced players is something that I need to explore before I determine what I think about the game, and why I think I will need a significant number of plays of Archipelago before I feel ready to give it a proper review. Even beyond the shared loss condition, the game has a lot of interesting subsystems that tie the game together on both a thematic and a mechanical level. Each of my plays has revealed something new that I appreciated on this level, and I suspect that I have not even seen a fraction of what the game has to offer.

CO2 (Initial Rating: 8; 3 plays)
CO2 was another one that I felt a slight bit of trepidation towards, even though I was much more certain that I would like it then Archipelago. I was expecting that initial reactions to CO2 would be strong enough to make up for the politically motivated low ratings. This did not quite end up being true, so I was mildly concerned that there was, in fact, a problem with the game that I had not foreseen from reading the rules. Luckily this ended up not being the case. I found the gameplay to be quite engaging with only one major area of concern.

Essentially the game is about determining when creating an opportunity for you is worth the costs that come from also creating opportunities for other players. This requires players to remain very aware of game state and thus makes the game very interactive. Each move you make has interesting little butterfly effects across the board. Competition both for control of regions and on the expertise tracks is fierce, and while you can’t control the ability of players to get them, you can influence them and in doing so significantly affect how each player’s position relates to the others. I love this sort of thing, and I really like how the designer implemented it in CO2.

My one concern, which was seen in our third game, is the impact of a single player being in a position where they are unable to effectively build plants. This happened in my third game (second for two others, and first for the fourth), where I was able to effectively prevent one player from building plants for a good part of the game. He came in last place. Of course this was based on our analysis of the game state and our particular calculations on the value of installation of proposals rather than construction of plants. It is possible that I am wrong about how much more valuable plants are then previous steps in the process, particularly considering that we tended to look at the point values of buildings while ignoring their cost (in VP for the supplied money).

Terra Mystica (Initial Rating: 8; 8 plays)
Terra Mystica was the game I was most excited about before the convention. As you can probably surmise, both by my number of plays and my rating, it met my expectations. Did it exceed them? Not really, and this is probably why I am currently undecided about which of these is probably my favorite.

The game is effective and fun, with each of the different factions having a different strategic focus, frequently in ways that result in game play feeling significantly different. Since Terra Mystica is primarily a resource management game, this frequently comes down to varying the efficiencies and victory point games of particular actions, but this is enough that the particular composition of races in the game can have a pretty big impact on how the game plays out.

If I have any concerns about Terra Mystica, it is about the game being a little bit too tight and constrained. I kind of wish that the game’s powers pushed the limits of the engine a little bit more then they currently do, but even then I suspect if that happened the game would end up being less balanced and probably a little less worthwhile as a result.

Good

Al-Rashid (Initial Rating: 7; 1 play)
Al-Rashid’s big hook, to me at least, is how activation works. At its core level it is a worker placement game, but after the placement phase, players take turns activating a location, meaning that it is possible for a particular player to lose out on an opportunity if they are too risky in picking locations for placement. Victory points are largely acquired through the purchase of personages that provide special abilities in addition to their victory point values and through acquisition of more workers, creating a small bit of an economic snowball effect.

It was pretty satisfying, but I am not quite sure yet whether it was good enough to stand above all the other great worker placement resource conversion games out there. (I had a similar problem with Tzolk’in, which I will discuss below). It does have the advantage of having a pretty interesting resource conversion system, and I like the breadth of the special powers, though with a single play I can’t realistically claim to know how balanced they are. The only real problem area I saw was with the relative tightness of the resources. Even with four players it seemed a little bit too loose, and going into the end game, there was no real competition left, making activation order somewhat irrelevant. I suspect it would be better with five players and with more opportunities for players to maliciously activate locations, but these are both things that will require further play to identify. Luckily, a review copy is on its way, so I will be able to effectively explore it and determine how good of a game it really is.


Coup (Initial Rating: 7; 9 plays)
Coup is a relatively simple bluffing game, where players are given two role cards. On their turn they are allowed to take one action from among those that are available to players of any role card. However, there is no rule that says you need to tell the truth about your role, and so there is plenty of opportunity for bluffing and lying while you attempt to accomplish your actions. You can only lose if someone successfully assassinates you, which requires a role card, someone coups you, which requires a certain amount of money, or if you say someone is lying about the role they claim, and you call them on it and are wrong. If any combination of these things happens twice then you are out of the game.

Much of the brilliance of this game is in its simplicity. I am not a huge fan of bluffing games, but with something as fast as this, and as encouraging of outrageous lies, it is hard not to be won over. I regret not picking up my own copy at the convention and if it ends up at Coolstuff I have every intention of picking up my own copy.

The Great Zimbabwe (Initial Rating: 7; 6 plays)
My opinion of The Great Zimbabwe started out strong but decline over the course of the convention. I did not end up playing it after Thursday and I am still trying to decide if I want to keep my copy.

The problem with the Great Zimbabwe was not its quality, it is clearly that there are a lot of interesting things going on in the game, but the sheer amount of enjoyment I derive from it. The first few games of it were dynamic and interesting. But it seemed that with more experience, and the jump-started strategy explanation I gave to players in future rules introductions, that the game eventually lead to players building increasingly destructively located craftsmen that drove the game down to a crawl and resulted in an excruciating grind to the finish.

Now it is possible that the deficiency is not with the game but with me, and I am going to give the game a few more opportunities to prove to me that it is something that is worthwhile for me to explore further.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (Initial Rating: 7; 1 play)
Tzolk’in is well-design polished, and an overall efficient design. The temporal investment aspect that is represented by the gears is quite interesting, as players give up resources in the short term in order to get larger pay-offs in the long term. It also forces a timing element as players are required to retrieve their workers at just the right time, as players are forced to either place or collect their workers each turn. Without correct timing it is very easy to discover that you zigged when you should have zagged and vice versa.

Unfortunately, much of the game beyond that is rather mundane, and I am not quite sure if that system alone is enough to push Tzolk’in from a “good” worker placement game into the realms of “excellent.” Of course it is quite likely, considering how much I enjoy and appreciate worker placement games, that I am being a tad too harsh on Tzolk’in simply because of how many different games I am comparing it to. Regardless, I look forward to delving into it a bit further to see whether it can really run with the big worker placement dogs or not.

Adequate

Ginkgopolis (Initial Rating: 6; 1 play)
Ginkgopolis is, for a medium weight euro, pretty good. Essentially it is an area majority game, where players can attempt to gain majorities by extending upwards or outwards, resulting in an interesting visual effect as well as game play dynamic. Placement is constrained in some respects by card plays, with cards that are used for tiles that are overwritten being added to a player’s collection and opening up a new special power or scoring opportunity. Cards are drafted, with a single new card being given to a player each round, and new cards, based on placed tiles, being added after the deck runs out.

I found it to be a fairly fresh take on the basic tile placement/area majority concept but not so fresh that I think it is a game that I need to own or explore thoroughly, particularly since I can already see that I would only end up playing it five or six times at most before I got bored. As far as light card drafting games go, I do appreciate it a bit more than 7 Wonders due to the spatial element, but that really is not saying much as I only tend to play 7 Wonders under specific situations.


For the Win (Initial Rating: 5; 2 plays)
A fun little two player special power abstract. Kind of reminds me of Hive, though slightly less entertaining. Unfortunately, I am not hugely into abstracts, so the likelihood of me keeping it, rather than passing it on to someone else in my game group is low.

Pax Porfiriana (Initial Rating: 6; 2 plays)
A special power card game from Sierra Madre Games, I tried this one largely on the recommendation of a certain Martin from the UK. I absolutely can see why he would recommend it to me, and I was pretty positive about it after the first play. How the four different types of victory points are tied into actually winning the game, and how a player attempting to screw another player is forced to give another player a victory point are both particularly brilliant and I had pretty high hopes after the first game. The second game effectively dashed those hopes due to how particularly tedious it was.

Now it is quite possible that this tediousness came from either poor play on our parts. In fact I think that is reasonably likely the case, so of the games I rated “adequate” this is the one I am most likely to still acquire. I still consider the potential of tediousness to be a strong warning sign, and I may pass on it for that potential alone.

Not Good

Dominare (Initial Rating: 4; 1 play)
I had pretty high hopes for Dominare. I usually like special player powers, and how they evolved seemed to be both thematic and interesting. Unfortunately, two things kept this game from quite living up to its full potential. The first is the fact that the later powers are so strong that it effectively makes much of the early game irrelevant. The second is how the game encourages a tit-for-tat exchange of cubes used to control particular blocks making the game feel a bit repetitive even before players use special powers to blow up each other’s positions. I still think that a potentially good game could be made with some of the ideas included in Dominare, I just which that they had been included in it, so I would not have to wait.
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Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:17 pm
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BGG.Con: The Arrival

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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I have arrived at BGG.Con! Population is pretty sparse this early, but the hotel is pretty nice. I regret leaving swim trunks at home as it looks like swimming would provide some pretty good exercise.

For those who are interested in keeping track of what I am playing and initial thoughts I will be blogging on my google plus account: https://plus.google.com/115827202168486072124
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Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:57 pm
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The Obligatory BGG.Con 2012 Planning Post

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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BGG.Con is pretty much my favorite gaming convention ever. I have been to Gen Con and the WBC, and various smaller conventions, but BGG.Con easily exceeds all of them for me. BGG.Con’s effective combination of hot new games, the ability to easily focus on gaming rather than secondary distractions, and the fact that I get to meet up with so many friends I have made from BoardGameGeek combine to just bring it to a level that other conventions cannot match.

My enthusiasm for the convention has spread to the locals a bit, so there are usually at least a few who end up coming to the convention. This year we have six people beyond me who are visiting from Orlando including my BGG.Con roommate, and a couple who are among my most regular gaming partners (I am even attending their Halloween party tonight!) So between the desire to play the hot new games with some of my friends from Orlando, the desire to play games with my regular BGG.Con crew (namely Aliza and Jerry), and the desire to play with other people I know I have found that it is worthwhile to do a little bit of scheduling.

Part of my scheduling is, of course, in my planned games. I have been transitioning over the last few years from trying a random smattering of games to trying a focused set of games and deciding at the show which of these are worth delving into further. I had a lot of fun last year with Aliza, Jerry, and some other people exploring Ora et Labora Mage Knight the Board Game in depth and I am hoping that this year I will be able to repeat that experience with whatever game we find to be worth that sort of exploration from Essen 2012. The other part of that scheduling is making sure to plan games with people whom I will not get to game with regularly. Even if this scheduling is no more than a “Let’s try to play this game at the convention,” it is helpful to have these sorts of rendezvous in mind, so that free time can be calibrated towards achieving those goals. Two weeks out seems to be about as good a time as any to do this, so since BGG.Con officially starts two weeks from today, that is what is going to happen.

Games To Play: BGG.Con 2012
This is essentially a mirror of my general Essen 2012 list. It has gone through a number of changes, as initial comments and critiques have emerged and a number of games I was unaware of have come to my attention. This is partially informed by the games I am getting review copies of too. I only requested games I was very interested in, and am using whether or not I am getting a review copy as a prioritization system, I still intend to review games that I am not getting review copies of, I just plan to focus on the review copy games first.

As of right now, the following games are Essen releases that I have confirmation I will be getting review copies of:

Al Rashid (may receive before BGG.Con)
CO2 (will not receive until after BGG.Con)
Terra Mystica (may receive before BGG.Con)
Tzolk’in (will not receive until after BGG.Con)

Even if I do not get copies of them before BGG.Con, I will still try to play each of these games at least a few times at the convention itself, and if any of them capture my compatriots fancy then we will probably end up being played much more extensively.

The next tier of games is ones that I am highly interested in in order to make a personal purchasing decision or because I probably will be writing a review of them. These are:

Archipelago
Dominare
Grand Zimbabwe (purchasing for pick up at BGG.Con)
Keyflower (purchased and waiting for arrival)
Pax Porfiriana


The final tier is games that I am at least marginally interested, but do not expect that much from. I will give these ones a chance if I have an opportunity to play them, but if I do not I am not going to be particularly upset if it does not happen:

Asgard
Clash of Cultures
Ginkgopolis
Kemet
Polis: Fight For The Hegemony
Massilia
Myrmes
Snowdonia
Yedo


General BGG.Con 2012 Schedule
On Tuesday I arrive by noon and tend to focus mostly on opportunistic gaming, either roping people into the games I have brought or inserting my people into other people’s games. If none of my incoming Essen games arrive in time, I will have the Glory to Rome Black Box Edition and some other heavier game that I will probably decide on the night before. Maybe Mage Knight. I am really hoping some of them arrive in time.

Wednesday is focused on playing as many different games from the above lists as possible in order to identify which ones are strong candidates for more extensive play later in the week.

Thursday usually ends up being a hybrid day, where I finish off any games on my lists that are high priority, and start replaying the ones that I particularly liked from day 1.

Friday and Saturday end up being pretty similar. I focus a lot on the games that I decided are the ones I want to explore deeply, with a few random games of other stuff thrown in for good measure. I also try to hit the remaining low priority items on the list to make sure I have not actually missed anything. Saturday night inevitably results in very late night gaming and really bad, yet hilarious, jokes as sleep deprivation really starts to hit. I have had both my best and worst experiences at the convention late on Saturday night.
Sunday is another day of scrambling, as people are pushing to leave town, and I try to get as much gaming in as I can. I tend to leave a bit later in the day which removes some of the pressure for me, but the pressure on everyone else is still relevant.

Current Planned Gaming
As I noted above, I usually end up playing the large majority of my games with Aliza and Jerry at the convention. This is always fun and I would not have it any other way. Beyond that, I have these specific games planned:

Tzolk’in with Ben, Aliza, and Jerry. I need to confirm with Aliza and Jerry they are actually in for this though, as I sort of volunteered them.

Ginkgopolis with Rich (and others, I assume).

Some sort of game with David Short.

Anyone else interested in planning any gaming with me at the convention? Any games that should be on my list but are not? Any games on my list that should not be there?
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Wed Oct 31, 2012 7:51 pm
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WBC: The Return

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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So I am back from the WBC. It was a pretty satisfying convention though, just like after my visit three years ago I find myself questioning whether I am ever going to come back. It was not because my overall experience at the convention was bad, I had a great deal of fun gaming while I was there, it was simply that I seemed to have fun at the convention despite the convention itself rather than because of it.

The first problem was the location, which was the largest factor in my decision to wait for three years before coming back. Last time I took a small plane from Baltimore to the Lancaster airport, and while the travel time was a bit less then taking the train ended up being, it was a bit nauseating and I decided that I did not really want to do that again. This time around it took just as long to get from Philadelphia to Lancaster as it did for me to fly from Orlando to Philadelphia. Now this would not be a real problem if the `convention itself were fantastic and a great reason to go to Lancaster, but for me, fundamentally, it is not. I am not interested in the tournaments because of my own particular biases about how the games should be played and disinterest in the various alterations they make to the games. Additionally the Lancaster Host seems to be unable to deal with the quantity of people present at the show. By the time the weekend rode around, the place was starting to gain a bit of a funk, and while it was obvious that they did some cleaning every evening, it was also clear that whatever they were doing was not enough, as the environment kept deteriorating throughout the week, with increasingly questionable tables, and disgusting bathrooms. On top of that there was clearly not enough space to accommodate all the desired open gaming and no indication as to where people should go if the official open gaming area was filled. I ended up playing a lot less games on Saturday then I wanted, mostly because I had to spend way too much time wandering around looking for a place to game. We eventually found a room where the A/C had not failed and there appeared to be space for us to play, but even then we were eventually driven to stop because of the noise from a particular late-night party game.

None of this is really the fault of the convention staff, though I think having an open gaming plan for the weekends would help ease some of the strain, but it does point to the fact that perhaps the WBC has outgrown its current location. According to convention staff they have two years left in their contract with the Lancaster Host, and I am hoping that by the time the contract comes up for renewal they will have found a location for the convention that is at least in a city that has a real airport and has the capability to actually deal with a convention of the size that the WBC has achieved. If I get any indication that these things are going to happen I will visit the WBC again. However, until then I will probably investigate other options. I am currently planning on visiting Essen next year, and will probably return to Gen Con the year after that, partly because I have heard that the open gaming there has improved and partly to visit with friends who attend Gen Con but not the WBC. If the WBC continues to be held in remote locations and I find Gen Con to be unsatisfactory again then I will probably continue to attend just BGG.Con every year. It has proven itself to me so far, and them moving to a larger facility this year that is in the airport itself is an added bonus, as it will make it extra easy for those who are traveling by plane to visit.

My complete playlist for the convention was pretty broad: (games in italics are new to me)
Mage Knight: Board Game 8
Glory to Rome 3
Ground Floor 2
Ora et Labora 2
Agricola 1
Airlines Europe 1
Andean Abyss 1
Assyria 1
Cave Evil 1
D-Day Dice 1
Divided Republic 1
Duck Dealer 1
Hegemonic 1
Kaivai 1
Race for the Galaxy 1
Seasons 1
Tammany Hall 1
Trajan 1
Unpublished Prototype 1

I came to the convention without any real game goals, but decided pretty early on that I wanted to try to hit my 50th play of Mage Knight while I was at the convention. I did that thanks to consistently getting in a play every single day. Otherwise my gaming was a mixture of playing old favorites, demoing newer games for the interested and playing new to me games that my friends were encouraging me to try out. Since I imagine most people are more interested in my reactions to the games that I tried that were new to me rather than those where my opinion is well-established, I will focus on those.

Airlines Europe
I did not have high hopes for Airlines Europe going in. I am not a big fan of Alan Moon games (though Clipper is okay), but Joel is a big fan and it made a lot of best of 2011 lists, so I decided that it was at least worth playing. While I can’t quite say that impressed me I liked it enough that I could see playing it again, though it is not one that I would ever own. Essentially it is a very light stock management game, where you are able to take a single option on your turn, either expanding a company, gaining shares in a company, getting money, or trading in shares for those in a general company that has pre-defined value rather than one defined by placement of airplanes on the board. I mostly enjoyed the tension regarding whether to push the value of a company when you are uncertain about whether you have an actual majority in that company. I am pretty sure however, that that particular item is not sufficient to push my interest in it long term though, which is why am I never going to buy it. I am willing to play it again though.

Rating: 6

Andean Abyss
The star of the show for me, Andean Abyss is a GMT game which was offered to those who P500ed it for convention pick-up at the show. I had not P500ed it, in fact I had almost completely forgotten it existed until I saw some boards set up at the show. The board is quite eye-catching and between that and the description of the game play I received I jumped at the opportunity to play the game.

Essentially, Andean Abyss is a multi-player (I would not play it without four) asymmetric conflict game with a rather interesting action selection mechanism. Essentially the game is driven by a series of event cards, of which the players have a one round look ahead. Each card has a sorted list of the faction symbols on the top of the card as well as two events, which essentially point to two different ways the particular event could happen. The player of each faction, in the order listed on the faction card, is permitted to choose to take an action from the menu or pass. If they take one of three options then the next player has an option to take an associated, more limited option, or pass as do all the other players down the line. Any player who takes one of the options is out of the selection process for the following card. This leads to some very interesting maneuvering as players attempt to get out of phase with each other and try to take advantage of opportunities that arise.

On top of the interesting aspects of the action selection mechanism, the game successfully implements asymmetrical player positions. Each player has a variety of goals and capabilities that intertwine in interesting ways and ensure that the experience of playing each faction is rather different. I played the AUC and it seemed that my personal goals were resulting in me playing a very different game from each of the other players, at the table, though by its nature my victory conditions required me to interact with each of the other factions in very specific ways.

The game does have some elements of ganging up on the leader in order to stop them from winning, but actions are constrained enough, and the game is fluid enough, that even though I found myself almost completely wiped off the board at one point, I still felt that I at least had the potential to win at the end. I was able to drag myself back into contention. Both of these things are important to me as I am not generally a fan of games where you have to try to look like you are in second place before you move in for the win.

I am definitely going to pick up, and will almost certainly review, Andean Abyss. I am sure there were some rules intricacies we missed in our first play, and I look forward to finding out if this game is as deep and exciting as it appeared at first glance. Also, despite its publisher, this game is definitely not a war game. Most euro gamers who can appreciate more strategically complex games should feel quite comfortable picking it up, as when it is boiled down to its base parts it is an area control and resource management game with a fun action selection mechanism.

Rating: 8

Assyria
Assyria was a pleasant surprise. It has the generic middleweight euro vibe that would normally put me off, however, the strong opinion that Ben has for it was enough to convince me that it would be worth trying as I was looking through the library for something to play. My compatriots were willing to give it a shot so while Kurt tried to remember the rules Bronwen and I, whom I had not spoken to since I was last at WBC in 2009, talked about what had happened since we last saw each other and I showed her videos of my adorable cat (I have a problem, I know. Do not enable me unless you want to be subjected to a plethora of cat pictures, videos, and stories. )

The game is essentially about managing the rise and fall of your civilization in the face of varied grain harvests. Each spot on the board has an associated grain symbol and after the relatively constrained round to round placement, you are forced to remove huts that do not contain those symbols. The ability to manage the risk that comes with these placements and trying to facilitate a reasonable amount of round-to-round board presence in the face of variable grain harvests seems to be the most interesting part of the game. There is a second layer of resource management decisions beyond this, mostly in the form of decisions between VPs and cash, but these seem to be much less interesting then the spatial parts of the game, and the ability to maintain a tenuous hold on your civilization in the face of crop shortages.

I am pretty sure I will not buy Assyria, as I am not sure it has quite the interplay variability I desire, but I found the core mechanism entertaining and intriguing enough that I would gladly play it again.

Rating: 7

D-Day Dice
I am not a fan of cooperative games, except Sentinels of the Multiverse, and I am not a fan of Yahtzee variants, except for King of Tokyo, so D-Day Dice had little shot of working for me in the first place. Geof wanted to try it out though, so I played it with him and ultimately found it was not that bad and I actually enjoyed it more than I typically do games of either type. D-Day Dice makes no great innovations in cooperative game play, but I found the way that the dice were used, the special power purchases, and the rather varied challenges that the different boards presented to be varied enough that it was worth playing, even if it was not worth me buying. Essentially I put this game in the same bucket as Airlines Europe: one I would be willing to play again but have no need to ever own, and one I am unlikely to ever request.

Rating: 6

Divided Republic
Divided Republic is a card-driven election game where players are each representing one of the parties competing in the presidential election of 1860. Players have special powers based on their political party, but most of the differentiation comes from the cards that you draw. Events are strong and can give you a pretty decisive advantage in a particular location (or set of locations) or knock another player down. While on one that is good, as it keeps a game that has no sudden death victory conditions dynamic, it also makes the game a bit chaotic and prone to frustrating take that game play as everything you work for is constantly knocked down while some other player successfully moves towards their goal.

Game play itself is remarkably similar to 1960: Making of a President, though I found Divided Republic to generally be a lot more tense then 1960. This is partially due to the power of the cards but also was in part because you simply had to deal with potential attacks from three different players rather than just one, making the entire game state more interesting. Unfortunately the same things that caused this tension also push the chaos level a bit outside of my comfort zone. I suspect that in general I am much more willing to deal with powerful card effects and the implications of them in a two player game, particularly if you have the sort of tiered decks that exist in Twilight Struggle or 1989, and thus can know when to expect them or at least start to plan for them. Other card games with particularly strong effects that I enjoy require some level of building towards them, so you have times to make tactical decisions regarding them rather than simply being randomly blown out of the water. With Divided Republic you can be subject to strong, targeted effects that wreck your ability to be successful, with limited ability to plan around or prepare for them, and for me that is frankly too much. The underlying structure of Divided Republic is not bad, but these effects are sufficient that I am unwilling to play it again. I think there is clearly a market for this game based on this structure, I am just not part of it.

Rating: 4

Duck Dealer
Duck Dealer is a logistics game with lots of superficial similarities to Merchant of Venus. However, where Merchant of Venus is largely based on taking advantage of luck-driven opportunities and steadily increasing scarcity in order to race to a financial finish line, Duck Dealer is a logistical game where you slowly accumulate action tokens before releasing them in a bit of frenzied activity, collecting goods and establishing markets and factories across the board. I found the experience of playing Duck Dealer to be both enjoyable and frustrating at the same time. I found figuring out the particular chains of actions required to accomplish your goals before other players were able to swoop in and lock down a particular location to be enjoyable but I absolutely hated how much analysis paralysis it induced in me. I generally pride myself on making quick, effective moves even in longer games but that was simply not happening in Duck Dealer and it drove me a little crazy as a result. So I found myself a bit torn, I enjoyed my play of the game, but I hate what it did to me. Maybe future plays will be better as I have my mind wrapped around the system a bit better now, but I fear that they will not and that alone is enough to keep my disinterested in acquiring the game. Maybe if I can get my playtime down to a reasonable level I will get it at some time in the future, but right now I do not think it is a wise idea.

Rating: 7

Seasons
They had an Asmodee representative demoing Seasons at the WBC, and as it had been specifically recommended to me, I brought a group (of four) over to try it. Unfortunately, this game almost completely failed for me and probably stands up as the most unpleasant experience I had during the entire convention. Even with the basic card set there are tons of lock down and denial effects that essentially make you pay another player victory points in order to accomplish something. Even accumulation was difficult as multiple player were able to get powers that let them discard an energy in order to cause other players to lose victory points, resulting in a situation where you had to spend victory points in order to do something, and even if you accumulated some victory points, you were likely to lose them before your next turn, which was rather unpleasant.

I have since heard some indications that Seasons is perhaps at its worst as a four player game, and that I would probably have had a much better experience with two players, and this might be quite right, but I doubt I am going to go back to investigate. The presence of strong denial/lock-down strategies is unpleasant enough that I consider it a pretty major black mark against the game. While a player should not be able to do everything they want, having game states that exist where a player cannot do anything is not conducive to getting people to want to playing the game again, and the two and three player card game market is competitive enough that I do not feel any strong need to explore it further.

Rating: 4

Tammany Hall
Tammany Hall was another game that I played mostly based on the recommendation of friends, and while I can understand its appeal, it is another one that ultimately failed to work for me. The game’s mechanical structure is solid. There are interesting contests two or more-way blind bidding contests for control of districts, multiple, interwoven, levels of area control, and a neat mechanic where the current leader hands out special abilities to the other players. Unfortunately, layered across the top of this is an unfettered negotiation game where players have limited constraints in how they are able to effectively attack each other. I am not really against negotiation games per se, though it is hardly my favorite mechanic, but I do dislike games where most of the game is taking turns beating on the leader until someone sneaks through for the win, and unfortunately that is what Tammany Hall ultimately is. I suspect for those that like negotiation-based beat on the leader games, this one will work quite well (as its average rating of 7.25) indicates, but if you dislike that you probably should stay away.

Rating: 5

Trajan
I ended up liking Trajan way more than I expected to, as I typically dislike Feld’s games, but unfortunately the color issues were pretty severe and I found it very difficult to effectively use the mancala as I frequently had to ask what color particular pieces were and how they matched up to the colors on the Trajan tiles. This pretty much killed my interest in exploring the game further as the mancala really is a driving force behind the game, and if I cannot effectively strategize around it there is little use in me playing it.

Rating: 5 (probably a 7 without the color issues)

So that is it! I ended up playing a lot more new to me games then I was expecting, and while most of them did not work for me for one reason or another I am pretty excited about getting a copy of Andean Abyss and exploring it deeply. I am also looking forward to BGG.Con. It remains the best of the board game conventions that I have attended, and I am looking forward to seeing the new hotel and how well the staff handles the increased sized of the convention.
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Tue Aug 7, 2012 10:28 pm
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Dice Tower Con 2012 , Mage Wars, and Sky Traders

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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I spent the 4th of July weekend in what looks to be the first of what will almost be a series of board game conventions in Orlando sponsored by Tom Vasel’s The Dice Tower called, appropriately, Dice Tower Con. I am mostly an irregular listener to the Dice Tower, and only rarely watch the video reviews, as I vastly prefer written works, but I could not resist the urge to go to a gaming convention that was just 30 minutes from my house, and I did my best to let as many people in my extended play group as possible about it in order to ensure that we would have a good Orlando contingent at the convention. We did.

It is tough for me to really compare Dice Tower Con to the other gaming conventions I have attended because of the general lack of board gaming conventions in Florida. I am thus unfamiliar with the smaller conventions, and typically only attend much larger events like BGG.Con, Gen Con, or the World Board Gaming Championship (WBC). Still, I had fun and will certainly attend again next year, and it will be interesting to get into the convention from the very beginning and see how it grows. Talking to Tom indicates that he has pretty big plans for the convention’s future, and it would be nice to have a pretty big regional or even national convention locally.

I mostly spent time on longer games that I had played before, I played Mage Knight four times at the convention and got in plays of Through the Ages and Cave Evil, but I was also able to play a couple of games at the Convention that were new to me: Mage Wars and Sky Traders.

Mage Wars
 


I am actually surprise that we even had game demos at the convention, considering its size, but it end up working out as I was able to play three games of it over the course of the convention. The first ended up being fairly late in the evening against Tom Vasel. After a day playing a pair of Mage Knight games and Through the Ages, I ended up walking by the demo area and Tom Vasel suggested I come play it with him.

I found the rules to be fairly intuitive, and while I needed some clarifications on how the timing and limitations of certain powers, on the whole it was very easy for me to pick up and run with the game. The match was also tense and exciting. Tom was playing a particular mage, called the Beastmaster, which was focused on quickly summoning animals to rush at the opponent while I was playing the Priestess, who was focused a bit more on board control and healing. Tom tried early on to focus on attacking the Priestess, and while he was able to make some headway a combination of effective defenses and healing allowed me to prevent death while my units were able to destroy his, allowing me to eventually turn the tide and achieve victory. The other two characters included in the game, three of which I played, and two of which I played against twice, also played in a fairly distinct fashion which is something I appreciate. Differentiation is important in games like these, and while there was quite a bit of crossover in particular characters abilities, that did not prevent the characters from feeling strategically and tactically distinct.

Looking at Mage Wars, and even hearing the name really, I was most reminded of Summoner Wars, and they do have some levels of similarity. Both of them are card-based systems that involve players controlling spellcasters of some sort who using a magic point system to summon monsters and casting spells in an effort to kill their opponent. That is where the similarities end, however, as Mage Wars has a significantly more mechanical complexity and has a completely different way of managing the cards that represent the game’s units and spells.

This card management is perhaps Mage War’s most distinctive feature and the one that I think will stand out as the game’s primary innovation. Each player has a binder filled with cards that are used to manage a player’s available spells. They are able to draw out two of these cards on a given turn and these represent the spells that they will have available, forcing players to make some hard choices about not only how they want to go about advancing their position but also how much they need to account for potential actions of their opponent. Similarly, spells can only be cast once, and if they are used, or destroyed in the case of more permanent effects, so when you are going to cast a spell is as important as if.

Players are able to customize their spell book too, with a level both indicating how expensive a card costs to place in the spell book as well as how the card relates with certain other cards. In order to encourage a player to specialize in cards that are thematically appropriate (animal cards for the beastmaster, healing cards for the priestess, etc.) each character has a few schools of magic they specialize in. Cards outside of these specialties cost more while schools that are opposite of the character’s theme can cost triple. I like how permissive this is, as it adds a certain level of potential for players to create a wide variety of decks, but is not a complete free-for-all so we are unlikely to see identical decks across the characters. This also means that if certain cards, particularly ones focused on removal of opponent’s effects, are considered “must haves” we will see them in every deck which I find to be troublesome, but the severity of this will only become clear once I get more experience with building spell books rather than just playing the game. The prebuilt decks did display some of this, as there were certain cards that appeared in most, if not all of the decks, but these decks were also designed to convey a particular experience so I question how optimally designed they were.

The game play itself is fun though nothing about it really struck me as that new. It was well-designed and seemed fairly deep, with this depth created in part by how many different ways you could manipulate the games myriad interlocking parts to smash in your opponent’s face. The core mechanics are pretty straight forward: each unit can be used once per turn, either moving and taking a fast action or not moving and taking a full action. Creatures and conjurations (essentially locations) have armor, hit points, and creatures have a mixture of melee and ranged attacks. The complication comes from the plethora of keyword-defined special abilities and how they interact with each other. For example, some of the human knight style creatures are wearing heavy metal armor which gives some bonus dice to lightning attacks used against them, while some equipment rings give discounts to casting certain types of spells. These are all the sort of things that I expect from a reasonably advanced tactical skirmish game, but I suspect that this interlocking complexity and the fact that you are provided with the entirety of the game’s options at once will make first games seem overwhelming to new players. I could definitely tell that the two people I taught were at least a little overwhelmed by the game, and they both stated that now that they understood the game they would have done things a bit differently, but I think this complexity is worth it. I eventually grew a bit bored with Summoner Wars because of its simplicity; I doubt this will happen with Mage Wars.

The artwork used was a bit inconsistent, but they had the final proofs on hand and showed them to me. I found them to be very well done for the most part, but it was very generic and seemed to lack some of the distinctiveness that I generally prefer. This is a problem that extends to the game in general, in fact. While the special abilities and characters all make sense from a thematic perspective, the theme itself is pretty much “generic fantasy.” I think I would have preferred slightly more world building in order to give the game a distinctive character. It feels slightly less exciting to be playing a generic “Warlock” or “Wizard” then someone who has even the faintest bit of back-story, no matter how cheesy. It would also help to explain why the priestess is wearing the outfit below rather than something more sensible.



Arcane Wonders, the publisher, is going to be sending me a pre-release review copy of the game and I plan to give it a full workout once I get it, with a particular emphasis on spell book building to see what sort of permutations can be constructed, and how similar some of the better decks are. I already know that I find the game play enjoyable, but how differentiation is important enough to me in games like this that I want to ensure that the cost structure incentivizes people enough to create differentiated spell books rather than having a large amount of overlap, with only a few items that are different. I will also see if we can break the game, though based on what I have seen so far of both cost structures and the pricing of creatures, that seems unlikely, and if continues to be fun over the next 10 or 15 plays. Based on my initial plays though, I am quite enthusiastic about the game. It is definitely my favorite of the games I have played that have had a 2012 release date (only 1989: Dawn of Freedom and The Manhattan Project are even close), and I strongly suspect that if it holds up over a larger number of plays that it will end up in my Top 10, or maybe even my Top 5, of 2012.

Sky Traders


Sky Traders was my other new to me game that I played at Dice Tower Con. This one was something I purchased myself the day before the convention though after reading the rules I was not particularly optimistic about it particularly when I compared the listed play time (2 to 4 hours) to the rules. There really did not seem to be a lot to it, and I was concerned that the game would drag or get overly repetitive over the course of time.

I ended up having a lot of fun playing it, but I strongly suspect that this was due to group dynamics rather than the game itself. The game is focused mostly on pick up and deliver, buying goods at certain locations on the board and selling them at other locations, with the ships, as represented by giant busts of their captains, flying between steampunk inspired locations to accomplish this task.

Prices are determined by a combination of negotiation and die rolls. You are able to place these dice either in the positive or negative column for the good type rolled (naturally, there are six different types of goods) and the difference in quantity on each side determines how the price moves. On the plus side this emulates a reasonably volatile market where the players, as mercantile magnates, have some influence, on the down side it does make it difficult to plan for whether the cargo of goods you just purchased are going to end up being extremely valuable, marginally profitable, or merely take up space in your cargo hold. With how we were playing, they would frequently end up being money losers as players decided that there would be little interest in pushing prices upwards for their opponent, and instead cratered the market. One of my opponents and I ended up getting in a synergistic position, where we bought and sold similar goods, increasing the odds that we were going to increase our profits, but this also made our opponents more motivated to try to push the market down and ensure that we did not make any money off of our purchases.

A random event deck inflicts negative status conditions, or pirate attacks, on the players though many of these did not seem to be extremely significant, largely costing a turn at most. The most dangerous attacks only came about if the player dabbled in illegal goods, or choose to attack he pirate king, so they were largely avoidable. Players are also able to attack each other, but when attacking players who do not have a bounty are required to demand some combination of goods, crew, and money that allowed them to avoid combat. One of the players in our game turned pirate but kept on demanding a quantity of goods that encouraged their opponents to fight against him rather than accede to his demands. Eventually his ship got damaged enough, and he lacked the money for repairs, and his bounty so high that one of the less able combatants was able to destroy him and collect the reward. This reward was so significant that the player was able to pay for a lot of points (influence) on the track and at that point the game was called as there was little chance for the players to continue.

I think I would probably like the game a little bit better if the market mechanism seemed to actually work. As it stands it seemed much better to focus on low risk items, like minerals or sludge, both of which you can acquire without actually spending money, rather than goods that you actually risk losing money on if you purchase. This drags a game out which should really last more than two hours into what could potentially be three or four hours. This can potentially not be a problem with players who are in the right mood for the randomness of the game, but I suspect that for me at least this situation will come about rarely. I prefer games that are much more consistently good then ones that will occasionally be quite enjoyable and occasionally will utterly bomb. I still intend to play the game a couple of more times, to see if I am wrong and also to build up a deep enough of understanding of the game to comfortably write a review, but I do not see this one having any sort of longevity in my collection.
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Tue Jul 10, 2012 4:10 pm
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BGG.Con 2012, Dice Tower Con 2012, and Essen 2013

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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It is way, way too early to start planning for it, but are any readers of the blog planning on attending BGG.Con 2012? If it is anything like the last two years, I will spend most of my time gaming with
Burster of Bubbles, Destroyer of Dreams.
United States
Sunnyvale
California
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Jerry Hagen
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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, but that does not mean that I will not have room to game with other people.

It is not way too early to start planning for the Dice Tower Convention 2012, which will be happening here in sunny Orlando. Anyone attending (beyond locals I already know about)?

Also, I am happy to announce that I finally have official plans to attend Essen (2013). As it stands now I will be visiting London, Essen, and Amsterdam in that order and have every intention of visiting London on Board while I am in town. I am very, very excited and Minerva and I have already started to identify things we want to do in London.

I wrote a review of Merchant of Venus. I think it is one of my better reviews, and according to the esteemed Nate Straight it is a good example of the sort of depth and analysis we are looking for in the Voice of Experience contest. Check it out!
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Sun Apr 29, 2012 3:24 am
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My BGG.Con 2011

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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BGG.Con 2011 is over and, as usual, it was a great experience with tons of fond memories and lovely games. The 2011 crop was strong and I was largely impressed with what I played though, as usual, there were a few games that I found to be less interesting. My goal for this year was to try out a bunch of games on the first couple of days, identify my favorites, and then play them a lot over the course of the next couple of days. I largely succeeded, and was able to play a reasonably large number of games with my two favorites of the convention, Mage Knight the Board Game and Ora et Labora, getting the bulk of my plays.
 
 
Kingdom Builder – 9 plays
I intended to play in the Kingdom Builder tournament and, in preparation for said tournament,  I purchased a copy of the game and played it a bit on the Sunday before the convention. I learned two things from this: The game, while not great, was better than I expected and that I was actually pretty bad at it. So my initial enthusiasm for winning the Essen trip was deflated and I was not sure I was going to even compete. I ended up doing so, and played the game at the convention nine times, but lost a close match in the second round.
 
The game itself is fairly simple, with a fairly strong spatial element and variable goals and powers to mix things up between games. It is enjoyable, but I would prefer to play Hansa Teutonica or Race For the Galaxy in the same general time frame . I may end up selling my copy to someone else in my group, but there are enough people who like it that mostly just game with me, that I may hold on to it despite my relative indifference.
 
Rating: 6
 
Mage Knight the Board Game – 7 plays
I did not look at this one very much before Essen as it fits a style, adventure games, and property, Mage Knight, which I have little interest in. Luckily, one of my geekbuddies made a pretty convincing argument that this is a game I should be paying attention to, and I am glad I did as it ended up being the game I spent the most time playing at the convention. For a good while, I thought it was going to end up being my game of the convention, but it ended up being edged out by a game that I was not even certain I was going to try when I first arrived. I am now definitely planning on pre-ordering it in the near future, but I admit I am worried that my frequent plays at the convention level will put me at an experience level that makes it a little bit less fun for the other players. Hopefully the enjoyment that comes from defeating monsters, conquering dungeons, and ransacking wizard’s towers and castles will make up for it.
 
 
To be honest, I have not played a whole lot of adventure games. I played D&D for many, many years and most adventure games seemed like they would simply be pale experiences of an rpg experience. Additionally, the few that I did sample seemed rather random in a way that did not produce a good gaming experience or a story. Arkham Horror was a mild exception, but even with the expansions I lost interest after 50 plays. While still retaining some random elements, in the form of card draws, available mana, and what particular monster is at a site, there are enough constraints that you can make reasonable attempts at short term and long term plans. Even the few instances where there are surprises, like when there is a monster face down on a particular location, it is not completely random, and is instead within a narrow range of particular possibilities, with the back of one of the manuals providing pictures and quantities of the various monsters of each category, allowing you a good idea of what can potentially be placed. The implementation of deck building is among the best I have seen, with the single unique element found in the initial deck blossoming into numerous variations once spells, advanced actions, and artifacts are added into the mix, as they tend to do, particularly once the players become more experienced. I particularly appreciated how the cards translated into board actions while representing the limitations of character actions, while more control might by slightly more realistic, but would not create the interesting turn-to-turn puzzles that make each hand so interesting. I could go into more detail, but that would risk consuming this convention report, so I am going to reserve my additional thoughts until I produce my review.
 
 
Rating: 9
 
 
Ora et Labora – 5 plays
Going into the convention I did not plan on playing Ora et Labora. I had it on pre-order and the version at BGG.Con was in German, so I had few reasons to try it out. Additionally, while it looked interesting, and largely a return to form for Mr. Rosenberg, I was concerned about the games long-term replayability due to the lack of a variable set-up. Fortunately, one of my primary gaming companions for the convention, Jerry, wanted to give it a shot so I agreed to teach it. I am glad I did as Ora et Labora has emerged as my favorite game of BGG.Con 2011, and is a strong contender both for my Top Game of 2011 and perhaps a position in my personal Top 5.
 
There have been somewhat frequent comparisons between Le Havre and Ora et Labora, and I can understand their basis. They have somewhat similar action selection mechanisms and are largely focused on producing series of actions to produce increasingly refined goods that can be converted to victory point representations, but these, like the need to cut down trees and peat in order to expand your territory, are merely the sort of mechanical flourishes that you will find in any sort of game that comes from a designer who produces multiple games in the same genre; they are signs of refinement of a designer’s existing ideas rather than a lack of originality. Ora et Labora is definitely one of those refinements, and from beginning to end it is obvious that Mr. Rosenberg has brought what he has learned from his previous designs forward into this one. Whether it truly ends up being the best of his designs remains to be seen. I know think it is better than Le Havre, a game that I am souring on a bit for reasons unrelated to Ora et Labora, the only question is whether I ultimately find it to be better than Agricola. I suspect I will.
 
 
Rating: 9, with a chance to become my third current 10. 
 
Martian Dice – 5 Plays
I played this one at the airport with my travel companion, Will. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but to be fair this is a game that isn’t really meant for me. The only dice game that I have remotely liked was Sushizock, and I even grew bored of that one eventually. We had time to kill at the airport and this was one of the free door prizes that Tasty Minstrel generously included as part of its sponsorship package, so we gave it a shot. As far as dice games go it isn’t awful, the decision about when to keep non-scoring death rays vs. items that reward points is mildly diverting but was not entertaining enough to keep it beyond the 30 or so minutes it took us to play 5 times. I ended up offering it to a few interested people passing by before giving it to Will because he thought it was random enough that his wife might like it.  
 
Rating: 3
 
Vanuatu – 2 plays
Vanuatu was one of the first games I played at the convention and one that I enjoyed enough to suggest we end the actual convention with it as well, however unlike either Mage Knight or Ora et Labora, I found few surprises in the actual gameplay. The game, as it is played, is pretty much as I thought it would be based on the description, with fierce battles during the action drafting phase that turn into slow realizations of doom as you realize that your carefully crafted plan for the round has collapsed in the face of the placements, whether malicious or inadvertent, of your opponents. So I found the game to be quite enjoyable, and am glad I imported a copy. I expect it will get quite a bit of local play, even if it may end up getting overshadowed by some of the other powerhouse releases that came out this year. 
 
Rating: 8
 
 
Dungeon Petz – 1 play
Dungeon Pets is probably the lesser of the two Vlaada Chavatil games released at Essen this year, but is one that, on the whole, I like. The action selection mechanic is fun, with the stakes high enough that how much gold and imps you invest is important enough, but not so punishing enough that you find yourself screwed if you have unused imps at the end. I also liked the theme implementation of the needs cards; they provided you with a good idea of how a particular pet was going to react, without making them completely predictable. The ability to keep a card between rounds was also helpful, as it gave an idea of what sort of challenges were going to be available on future rounds and helped you save cards that would be useful to meet the desires of dungeon lords who were going pet shopping. The difficulty in meeting these needs also put a nice break on expansion, as you have to weigh the advantages of newer pets with the difficulty in meeting their particular needs. So it was a fun and interesting game, not the best game of the convention, or one that I found hugely intriguing, but a solid one none the less. I have no intention of cancelling my pre-order.
 
Rating: 7


Eclipse – 1 play
I greatly enjoyed this year’s other big 4X game, Space Empires 4X, and was fairly confident based on various previews and a look at the rules that I would likely enjoy Eclipse too, though I admit I was concerned that I would ultimately find the combat aspect of Eclipse to be but a pale shadow of the wonderful fleet combats found in Space Empires 4X. While I would like to say that all of my concerns were dashed aside, and that Eclipse is now my favorite game of the year and my favorite 4X ever, I still find myself to be a bit.. hesitant.
 
On the whole the game, is just as enjoyable as I had hoped, but I found the combat to be even duller than I feared, and it seemed that the unevenness of potential exploration tile draws to be somewhat problematic. If you draw a few ancient’s ships early on while your opponent is able to get territory and free discovery tiles it seem that it will take a while to catch up with them, even with the potential for increased actions based on less tokens on the board. I am also unsure about the variance of the ship part draws, as I saw a game situation where someone went from having a fleet that was perfectly adequate in defending themselves from a large fleet on their borders to completely inadequate in doing the same after that opponent got an alien ship part from a neighboring system. Of course all of these items are the result of a single play by inexperienced players, and all of the potential imbalances or problematic items I saw might wash away with further plays. If so then I expect this one will probably be a reasonable counterpart in my collection to Space Empires 4X, with the particular game chosen being based on overall mood and player count.
 
Rating: 7 (very tentative)
 
Helvetia – 1 play
I stumbled into a game of this after I saw a couple reading the rules later in the evening, and ended up in a four player game. The game itself was an slightly entertaining logistics games, that somewhat reminded me of Neuland in that goods only existed for the moment, and you had to translate them into more advanced good by successive worker actions. The marriage mechanics and the bonuses gained for taking the action selection mechanism were also clever, but the game as a whole was light and mild enough that I do not feel the need to ever play it again, though it was enjoyable enough as I was playing it.

Rating: 5
 
MIL (1049) – 1 play
MIL (1049) was one of the games that I was most looking forward to try out before the convention started. It was the only game that I was interested in that I did not pre-order, as I really have no clue where I would pre-order it from, and it ended up being one of the better games I played at the convention, and may end up being in my Top 5 for the year. The way the game forces you to set-up your opponents for more powerful options while performing the more basic actions is interesting, as is the difficulty in deciding when it is worth transitioning from basic actions to the more powerful ones that are available in the spheres of power. The ability to forge mutually beneficial diplomatic relationships with and declare war on other players was also fun and, while we only marginally took advantage of it during our play, it seemed like there was a lot of potential to establish even more these sorts of the interesting vassal-lord relationships for players who are practiced in the game.
 
One of the people I played with complained about the luck of getting a son versus daughters in the reproduction phase, and found it particularly annoying that one player was able to get through the game without ever rolling additional daughters (that player won). This may end up being a legitimate criticism, but I don’t think one play is enough to determine for sure if that particular bit of dice luck is enough to warp the game. I hope that it is not the case because the rest of the game is cool enough that I would like to add it to my collection.
 
Rating: 8
 
 
Pret-a-Porter – 1 play
I did not play a complete game of this at the convention. Instead I sat down with my friendly opponents and we decided to play through one of the fashion shows to get a feel for the game and then potentially restart once we understood the game a bit better. Instead by the time we reached the end of the first fashion show I, and the poor owner of the game, realized that this game was unfortunately not interesting enough to continue. Maybe it was because we were only playing with three, but the game seemed rather low on tension and most of the combo opportunities did not seem to be that interesting. If it was only that then it might have warranted a replay to see what we were missing, but unlike other games where I had a negative first impression, I did not see how it could get more interesting with future plays thus making it unlikely I would play it again. This is unfortunate because, much like 51st State, it had a lot of things that it seemed like I should like, but unfortunately the game did not seem to work on the whole. It is possible I will revisit this one later, but the odds are pretty low. With all of the other games that came out this year that I like, I do not really have time to waste on games that I see as marginal at best. Probably the biggest effect of playing Pret-a-Porter was to make me appreciate Vinhos (last year’s big “Put On A Show” game) a lot more than I currently do.
 
Rating: 4
 
 
Singapore – 1 play
This one was played on a whim late night on Saturday. Many jokes were made about needing to get to the court before “the man” got you, and getting raided by the fuzz (we were all a bit giddy due to sleep deprivation), so I am not sure I am able to separate the fun of the experience from the actual game so I am not going to rate this one yet. I did like the aspects of the game I expected to enjoy, and how lots are allocated and buildings were put together was pretty cool. Unfortunately, I won by a bit despite a deliberate sub-optimal play for comedic effect, and that kind of worries me. I pre-ordered this one, so I expect that I will have plenty of opportunities to explore it further, but I have a certain level of hesitation over this one right now.


Rating: Ask Again Later

Tournay – 1 play
We misplayed this one due to poor teaching on my part, but even with the corrected rules, I think that ultimately this one is not quite what I am looking for in a card game. This particular field is a crowded one for me, and any new game coming out having to compete with Race For the Galaxy, Innovation, Yomi, and Glory to Rome, so it is quite possible that if I was newer to the hobby or played more card games this one would be more interesting to me, but as it is I don’t think it would get played. If you are unhappy with the current available card games, or would like to try out one that is a bit more spatially oriented, it is worth checking out. If you already have a wide array of card games you are happy then you can probably pass on it.
 
Rating: 6
 
Upon A Salty Ocean – 1 play
We played this one after Singapore after we calmed down a bit, though there were jokes about me helping to build the town’s monastery after all of the monasteries I burned down in Mage Knight (don’t look at me like that, I had a good reason!) and how they break your legs if you try to leave a family of salt-mongers. I was pretty pleased with this one and, similar to Ora et Labora, most of my concerns about interplay variability have been resolved by my play of this game.

The interaction in action selection and the variability of how the market tiles effect the game and building mixes impact player decisions is sufficient to make Upon A Salty Ocean a rather different experience between games. In our game we found that an investment strategy was triumphant, with the winner never even sending their ship to sail out to sea, with the player who did that saving enough actions that they were able to manipulate the market pretty effectively for several rounds, while using their other actions for working on the cathedral or other buildings. The fact that other people found fishing to be dominant is promising as it means that slightly different player actions or demand tiles can result in a rather different game experience. As it is, I am looking forward to exploring this one further. It seems to be the sort of game that the locals will like and with my copy arriving next week we should probably be able to investigate it further in the near future.

Rating: 7
 
So all in all a good set of games. 2011 remains a strong year for me and I look forward to the challenge of deciding which of these excellent games to play the most over the next 6 months.
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Tue Nov 22, 2011 6:02 pm
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BGG.Con Bound

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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I am about to leave for BGG.con 2011. I will be posting updates throughout the convention using my google plus account at http://plus.google.com/115827202168486072124.

Bye!
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Tue Nov 15, 2011 12:29 pm
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Conventional Experiences

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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I have been going to game conventions since 2000, but it did not become a regular, annual, thing until 2004 when I made it to my first D&D Miniatures Championships. At first, since I was focused on CMGs and RPGs, I went to Gen Con every year, but with my entrance into the world of board games I visited the WBC and BGG.Con for the first time in 2009. Since then I’ve been back to BGG.Con every year, Gen Con once, and the WBC not at all. In 2012 I expect to visit three conventions, one of which is a new local convention and the other two of which are not. I do not find any of the possible out of town conventions to be a real financial burden, so deciding which one to go to really comes down to identifying which conventions offer me most of the sort of experience that I desire.

The first step in determining what convention you want to go to (assuming you aren’t overly restrained by financial considerations), is to put together a list of what, exactly, you want in your convention experience. My list follows:

1) The ability to meet up with gaming friends that I do not get to see regularly. Attending the WBC cold in ’09 was fun, as I met some new people that I enjoyed hanging out with, but it is even more fun to meet up with people you have met up with before and spending time hanging out and gaming with them.

2) Ease of travel. Since I am deep into Florida any convention I attend is most likely going to require me to fly. Since travel in general is not something I find to be pretty comfortable, I prefer to keep things as straightforward and easy as possible.

3) Easy access to good food. Burning yourself out at a convention is no good, and one of the easiest ways to do so is to fail to eat right. As a vegetarian, access to non-meat food items is a plus, and I would rather snack on tasty fruit then rely on the junk food that is usually much more easily available (though I do like a good cookie on occasion).

4) Ability to play my preferred style of games. Since I tend to almost exclusively prefer gamer’s games and more complicated card games, if I am going to spend the money to go to a convention those are the sort of games that I want to be playing. If a convention mostly has people playing the light flavor of the moment I am going to be much less interested.

5) The ability to play to new and hot games. I am one of the primary game buyers in my group, and it is unusual for me to be able to try a new game unless I buy it first. Being able to try out games that I am uncertain about at a convention first is a big plus, as it allows me to avoid the annoyance of having to resell them if they prove to be unsuitable after the first play. I also quite like being involved in the initial discussions about a game, so being able to try them early or when they are newly released is another big plus in my mind.

6) The ability to buy imported games. My FLGS is Coolstuff Games, which means that if a game is released domestically that I will have it quickly and cheaply. Unfortunately, they carry very few imports so if I want to acquire a game from farther afield I have to order them. Being able to play these games and then buy them right away, rather than having to wait and pay for shipping is very nice.

So with this in mind how do the three big board gaming conventions I’ve attended in the past, and others I've looked at, stack up?


BGG.Con
I have attended BGG.Con every year since 2009, which should give you a good indication of how well it meets my criterion. While it failed #1 during the first year, since then I’ve made tons of friends on BoardGameGeek who I look forward to seeing each year, as well as new ones it is great to meet for the first time. It also fails on 3) because of how I generally prefer to optimize my gaming time. While the hotel restaurant is pretty good and they do supply a food bus, this just does not quite cut it, particularly when compared to the delightful opportunities available at other conventions. Beyond that it passes all of my other items on the list with flying colors, which makes it the obvious choice if I am only picking one convention per year.

Gen Con
Gen Con is more of a mixed bag. Lots of my old CMG buddies still attend this convention, but since I am no longer involved in that hobby we have much less to talk about. I have made some new board gaming friends, but they are fewer here then my other options. The board gaming at Gen Con also seems to be focused a lot more on types of gaming that I am less interested in these days, which reduces my options. It also doesn’t really have much in the way of imported games, as most of the shops there focus on domestic releases. On the plus side Gen Con easily wins the “Best Food” contest, as it takes place in downtown Indianapolis and there are a gigantic number of easily accessible culinary options. Additionally, there usually are at least a handful of newer games available here each year, so it does hit the “new and hot” button, even if it is not as expansive as the options at BGG.Con. Travelling to Indianapolis is also a breeze as there are plenty of direct flights from Orlando, and those that aren’t direct have only a single stop in Atlanta. So while some of the secondary aspects of Gen Con are good, I am not sure they are enough to make me want to go back any time in the near future. If I hear some of some positive developments, particularly in the ability to more effectively play games I particularly like, I might reconsider.

World Boardgaming Championship
The World Board Gaming Championship’s biggest downside is that it is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While this is probably great for people who are in driving distance, as the location is inexpensive and has something vaguely resembling a theme park nearby. For those of who do not live in driving distance, getting to the convention is much more difficult. Flights have to go into Baltimore and Philadelphia and from their either take a small, single engine plane (my choice in 2009) or a train. This is a bit of a step up over the easy one or two leg flights required to get me to Gen Con or BGG.Con, and is the primary reason I did not bother to go back in 2010 or 2011. Additionally, because of its location there is very little in the way of good eating options in the area, and the one year I attended I found the hotel food less than optimal. Additionally, the shopping options are also subpar, with very little in the way of hot new games or imported delights. It makes up for all of the downsides by having an amazing variety of gaming, ranging from a great open gaming area to more organized board gaming events then you can find at any other convention that I know of. While I think BGG.Con has slightly better open gaming, the opportunity to compete in tournaments more than makes up for that, and makes the convention a distinct enough experience that it is probably worth attending in addition to BGG.Con. I just wish it was in a better location.

Essen
I have not been to Essen but the logistics and advantage/disadvantages of such a trip are things I have considered. On the plus side Essen is pretty much the epicenter of being able to acquire hot new games. I don’t know much about the local eating establishments but from everything I’ve seen from reports they are not bad, and are easily on the level of those found at BGG.Con, and perhaps even rival those of Gen Con. It would also be nice to attend and meet some of the acquaintances I have made on BGG who live over in Europe. On the downside ease (and cost) of travel is pretty high. It is probably less expensive for me to simply buy all of the games that I want and take a risk that I am not going to like them then it would be to travel for the convention. Additionally, while I do like having games available to buy, conventions are even more focused on wall-to-wall gaming for me, and it seems that in Essen they are definitely a secondary focus. Gen Con, which is also very vendor-focused, at least has areas set aside for organized and non-organized gaming. Essen does not even have that. So at this point in time, Essen is not worth it to me.

Local Conventions
Florida has a pretty drab set of conventions if you are into board games. Most of the conventions focused on other things have board games shoehorned on, but for the most part those are only worth attending if you are interested in the primary item, which I am not. Until now the exception to this rule has been Mike’s Mini Meets.

While Mike’s Mini Meets are not conventions in the normal sense, I consider them roughly equivalent. Mike has 30-60 people over to his house once or twice a year for a three day weekend of wall-to-wall board gaming. I typically only drive up for Saturday, but it is still something I look forward to whenever one is coming up.

So it seems that with Tom Vasel’s arrival in Florida he has decided to be involved in the organization of a Florida-based board gaming convention: http://boardgaming.info/convention/index.php. For the most part I am pretty excited about this. While on one hand I am pretty sure there won’t be any new or imported games to check out, the sheer ease of being able to drive to the convention and home at night with ease more than makes up for that. I also can easily get access to food thanks to being able to eat at home before and after I get back and if I get hungry during the day, there is a delightful variety of restaurants in the area that can take care of my lunch needs. The big question is how much I will be able to play my favorite types of games. If it turns out it is essentially as much as I would normally, but I do it in a concentrated dose then I expect I will continue to attend this convention for years to come. If not? This may be my first and last year.

What are your favorite conventions? What are the things that you look for in any convention you attend?
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Thu Nov 3, 2011 9:07 pm
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