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Sean's 2013 WBC Geeklist
Sean McCulloch
United States
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Back again- the list of games I played, games I lost, a few games I won, all describing the best week of the year.

This year, I was pretty exhausted at the beginning because I'd spend the previous year dealing with a new baby at home (and a 3 year old as well), and the previous week was spent at a beach house with a bunch of graduate school friends and all of our families (a great time, but one house with 14 adults and 21 kids was.. not relaxing). So I wasn't expecting much out of the week.
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1. Board Game: Take the Train [Average Rating:5.13 Overall Rank:10104]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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Because I was coming straight to Lancaster from the beach house, I ended up traveling to Lancaster by taking a train from DC. It was.. interesting. Not too crowded, not too slow, they'll scan tickets you show them on a smartphone (so you don't have to print them out), and I got Bruce Reiff to pick me up and drive me to the hotel. The train network is weird in the US (for example, we don't have an amtrak station in Columbus, OH), but it wasn't a bad way to go if you're not carrying a lot.

The rest of Sunday was spent, hanging out, re-connecting with people I only see at WBC, and making the annual dinner at Tony Wang's. I was peer-pressured into trying something different on the menu, and regretted it. Don't give in to peer pressure, kids!
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2. Board Game: San Juan [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:159]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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Monday started the tournaments. The first one was San Juan, early in the morning. I don't really play this much, outside of WBC, but it's a straightforward game, so I wasn't too worried. My first game, I played Lexi Shea (who I think of as one of the "WBC kids", but in reality is probably 20-something now), who jumped out to an early lead, and then kept playing the same buildings I played soon after I did, so I could never get an advantage. Ugh. In the second round, I played her father (This family is stalking me!) in a really close game, but he dug with a library-assisted councilor on the last turn to draw a card to beat me.
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3. Board Game: Manoeuvre [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:413]
Sean McCulloch
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Since I didn't make the bracket in San Juan, I decided to play something different in the afternoon. This is a quick game I don't get to play much, and it showed- my straightforward plodding approach really suffers against people who know what they're doing, and have, you know, strategies and stuff. You're in a pod of 4 people, and I went 1-2. I was probably lucky to win the 1 game, and really didn't have much hope in the other 2.
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4. Board Game: Football Strategy [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:2909]
Sean McCulloch
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Lots of things are starting to pop up on Monday, and this was a pleasant surprise. It's one of the games I fit in when I can, but in the middle of the week, it's hard to find the time. On Monday, when I had nothing going on, it fit great. I ended up playing one of the "old hands" of the game, who had a really good defense. My defense was pretty good, except for two drives where I couldn't stop him at all, and that was enough to lose 14-10.
 
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5. Board Game: Revolt on Antares [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:4724]
Sean McCulloch
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After that, it was time to help set up the auction and auction store for Tuesday. The store had about 2000 items this year, and I picked up this game, which is a classic from my childhood. I remember playing this _all_ the time, so often that I lost many of the pieces. I'm pretty sure it won't hold up when I open it up at home, but the nostalgia factor overwhelmed me..

The auction itself was good, but tiring- they "promoted" me to being an auctioneer this year, which is a lot of pressure, especially when the wargames come out, and they ask you questions about the game. "Which edition?" "Are the counters thin or thick?" and so on. There's a lot of money on the line for some of these, so you don't want to screw it up. But, no major disasters, so I guess it all worked out fine.
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6. Board Game: High-Bid [Average Rating:5.73 Overall Rank:6589]
Sean McCulloch
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As is traditional, I jump from the live auction, to playing auction. This year, Bruce roped me into doing the demo as well, and we actually had a bunch of people for it, some of whom stayed for the heat, and one of those players won their game!

Just because I can teach the game, though, doesn't mean I know what I'm doing. I lost my first heat without doing much, I lost my second game because I calculated $4800+$2200 = $6000 instead of $7000, so I didn't realize I'd won until it was too late, and then someone else won. Still, that ended up being a close enough game to get me into the semifinals, where I had a shot, but wimped out on buying an item that would have let me use a buyer's card to complete a set. I didn't think anyone else would bother to buy those items, because it was obvious I had the rest of the set, but I was wrong. Oh well.
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7. Board Game: March Madness [Average Rating:6.25 Overall Rank:5289]
Sean McCulloch
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The Tuesday night heat of March Madness is something I always make sure to get in on- I'll often get in more heats during the week, but since I never know how my schedule works out, I want to make sure to do one heat at the beginning.

We all randomly pick a draft order, and then draft teams. I ended up drafting in the middle of the pack, and drafted a mediocre team (not too bad in overall value, but the good positions were not where I wanted them, and I had too many coaching moves). I played a Denny Crum Louisville team, and he must have eaten something bad in the morning, because I was hit with 8 technical fouls over three games! I still managed to roll well enough to win the first two games, but then ran into Terry Coleman's #1 seeded team and he stomped me. Still, this tournament is always lots of fun.
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8. Board Game: Ingenious [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:215]
Sean McCulloch
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After March Madness, I stopped by to play this. I explained to a couple of friends before the game starts- "This is a wargame, not a Euro- you're trying to screw people out of their points" Which I think really is the right way to play this- there are times you want to score a bunch of points, possibly leaving it open for other people, but there are definitely times when you want to give up a high score for yourself so you can shut down a color for other people.

Following this strategy, I won my first game, letting me think I had hopes of making the semifinal. But in my next two attempts, I fell victim to the dreaded "Color that is going to be closed off that you have no tiles in for several turns, but is not your lowest color so you can't dump your tiles" problem, that sent me into last place. I'm sure the good people know how to avoid that situation, but it sure happens to me a lot..
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9. Board Game: Win, Place & Show [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1565]
Sean McCulloch
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After that, I stuck around till 11 PM to play Win, Place, and Show. It's a game I only play at WBC, mainly to bump up their numbers, but I have been slowly learning over the years. This year, I get put up at perennial champion Bruce Reiff's table, and had to adapt to him being far more knowledgable and skilled than the rest of us. I decided that since it was hopeless to outplay him, I'd better get lucky, and bet my horse in the 4th race across the board. I did get lucky, and that gave me a huge boost.

I guessed a little wrong in how Bruce would play this 5th race, but was still pretty close going into the last race. In this race, I had bet the favorite (Mona Lisa), Bruce had bet the underdog (Captain Ahab), but as it turned out, a third horse (Hannibal) that nobody had bet won the race. Sadly, Hannibal was owned by Bruce, and even though he didn't bet on the horse, the $25,000 in purse money for winning the race gave him the game. The last turn was a 50/50 shot, and if my number came up, I would have won the game and a spot at the big board final. Oh, well.
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10. Board Game: Titan [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:528]
Sean McCulloch
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Wednesday morning historically starts the 2-player titan tournament, which is a single-elimination bracket. Though I think next year, they're going to start Tuesday Evening, which means I'll have to re-think my entire schedule. Probably I'll just swap it with March Madness.

In my first game, I managed to jump out to an early recruiting lead, and jump on his titan with a bunch of rangestrikers and kill him. In the second game, I got paired with Dave Finberg, one of the "Titan Elite"- people who are really, _really_ good, and I pretty much have no chance of out-playing them with skill, so I knew I was in trouble. Luckily, I managed to out-recruit him in this game as well, and trap his titan stack (titan, behemoth, a bunch of cyclops and gorgons) in the jungle. I wasn't going to attack him, but he didn't want to come down and attack me either. So I left a crappy stack behind to block him in, moved a decent stack behind it, and figured I could just leave things in stasis for a while until I built something else good enough to challenge him in the jungle.

Being a good player, Dave didn't stand for that, and attacked my crappy stack, daring me to attack him. Which I did, and got a little lucky in the battle to knock him out. While I think that's probably the right move on paper, one thing I've noticed about the "titan elite" is that they sort of assume the rest of us is as good as they are. I'd think that a better move may have been to sit in the jungle and try to play a long game, and assume that I'll be more and more likely to screw something major up as time goes on. It's a tough calculation, though, and I'm not good enough to make it.

Anyway, that win put me in the final 8, which we played at 10:00 Thursday morning. By 10:15 it was over. He rolled 4 straight 6's, for 4 warlocks in his starting stack, and then caught my titan. Frustrating game.

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11. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:259]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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I'd finished my first 2 titan games in time to play Lost Cities, a stupid little card game that I seem to be good at for some reason. (Seriously, I don't know why. Most games, I can tell you what my strategy is and why it works, or doesn't. Lost Cities, I have no idea what I'm doing that's different from everyone else, or why it seems to work). This is a really popular tournament (most heats have people playing on the floor, or in the hallway) that used to only graduate the 32 best records from the heats into the semifinal bracket, which was getting a little ridiculous when you kind of needed 3 wins in 4 heats (spread through the week) to feel safe about advancing. This year, he changed the format to take all 2-game winners to a bracket that he'd figure out on Saturday, which I think is a _fantastic_ change. Knowing what you need to do to advance ahead of time is always a good idea in my book. He decided to make the bracket even by "zombifying" eliminated players with the best records in the heats to be alive again when he had an odd number of people in a round. Which is a little strange, and seems to be to be possibly exploitable (If I know I have the best record in a round, I know I'll be advancing even if I lose- if I'm playing someone crappy, should I throw the game to make the pool of next round players easier?). But I'm so happy about the change to the format that I don't care.

Anyway, I won two games in the heats, to guarantee me entry into the bracket, but since I had nothing going on Saturday Afternoon anyway, I played in the heat there as well, drew no handshake cards, and lost. Luckily, I was in the bracket anyway. My first game, I had 2 blue handshakes, and no blue, and it was obvious my opponent was doing everything he could waiting for a blue handshake. Once he had started every other color, and my hand was so full of high cards that I'd wreck my hand if I played anything else, I decided to dump the blue handshakes and see if he'd ruin himself to take them. He did, and it ended up being a good decision because he got the 8 card bonus in that column, more than making up for the points he lost everywhere else. But because of those negatives, I managed to stay close, and caught him over the next 2 rounds.

My second game in the bracket I played someone who was really good, and seemed to play a similar style to me. I happened to get better cards, and squeaked out ahead, putting me in the "round of 14"

My opponent there was Junior Room Awesome Person Laurie Wojtaszczyk, who played a great game- so great that she didn't even _notice_ she'd made an 8 card run to clobber me and send me home. Guess those kids tired her out I told her that after that round she was fated to win the whole thing, but she ended up losing in the next round. Maybe next year will be her year.
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12. Board Game: Kremlin [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:562]
Sean McCulloch
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Kremlin's a fun game with a unique system that I don't play enough. Most people either love it or hate it. I can see why people hate it (it's very possible to spend hours "playing" with nothing to do), but to me it's so much fun to watch what's happening even if I'm not controlling anyone.

This year, I got 2 heats in, but couldn't do much. In the first heat, someone got to two early waves, and then I had to decide who to elect as the next party chief. I took a guess as to which person was more likely to be owned by the person with two waves, but guessed wrong. After the fact, another player said "If you would have gone the other way, I was sure I would have controlled him!". Boy, I wish you would have told me that sooner!

My second game I was even less of a factor, as my 10 got killed by the flu before I even put a point on him, my 9 didn't see the light of day until the last turn (and was someone else's 10), my 8 was someone else's 9, and my 7 also died before I could do anything. I'm bad at picking people..
 
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13. Board Game: Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:339]
Sean McCulloch
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Another game I make a special effort to play at WBC because I can't play at home- the theme and the size of the board scare away a lot of people. But it's a really fun, crazy, light game. Sadly, luck (or skill) deserted me here too, and for the first time in my WBC career, I didn't make the bracket. In my first game, I didn't draw any "special" cards (take two turns, look at the next 3 cards and pick a useful one, and especially the "dump the crap out of your hand" card), and probably did some stupid stuff sending guards down to take potshots at Darth Maul to try (and fail) to finish him off to lose. In the second game, my opponent made 6 straight Anakin rolls in the first 2 turns, and then after a couple of blocks, shut down the droids before I could do much of anything.

Still a great game, but sadly one I don't think is likely to be reprinted, so I think prices will keep going up.
 
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14. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:477]
Sean McCulloch
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My Star Wars game went a little late, so my normal group for Can't Stop started without me, so I got placed at a random table with random people. They were a little passive (stopping too soon), but it turned out to be a good strategy as I got a 6/7/8 like 3 different turns and busted out each time.

By this point in the week, aside from the 2-player titan (the warlock game was early the next morning) I was assuming I would be doomed in just about everything I tried. Luckily, things looked up a bit from here
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15. Board Game: Titan [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:528]
Sean McCulloch
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After the 4-warlock game knocked me out of the 2-player tournament, I tried my hand at the 4-player tournament. In my first game, I ended up being the person who got a bunch of warlocks early, but by the time I could track anyone down, they had gotten giants and stuff and were too scary to attack. My other stacks were doing ok, though, and managed to take out one person to make it a 2 player game and give me around 400 points. My warlock stack took down the other guys good (non-giant) stack, and then I chased him around the board for a while, whittling him down. Eventually I got a little bored and teleported onto his titan stack for a much riskier attack than I needed to, considering I had so many other good stacks I could attack him with (including a 7-high stack with 5 hydras that he'd basically need a perfect sequence of rolls to avoid), so I gave him more of a chance than I should have. See what I mean about waiting for me to screw up in a long game?

My second game was a weird 3-player game with me, another good player, and someone who hadn't played in like 20 years, and we had to basically walk though the rules with. The other good player caught the new guy, took his points, then pounced on me for the win.

Still, a win and a "second" was enough to make the semifinal, where I was at a stacked table- Me, Dave Finberg ("titan elite"), Steve Kolezar (the 4 warlock guy from the 2-player tournament), and Rich Atwater (who runs the 2-player tournament). I didn't have a great start, and got 3 lions in my titan stack, which I don't like a lot, and then felt compelled to get a griffin in a desert at the bottom of the board- at the time, it got me out of traffic, but I ended up being stuck there for way too long as Rich got tons of rangers in tons of stacks. Eventually, I got my titan to a tower, and then to another desert for a second griffin where I expected to make my last stand against Rich, but instead Dave attacks me with a much weaker stack- something I never even considered. ("Hey, maybe I'll get lucky and kill you instead! Or maybe I'll get unlucky and make you stronger for Rich's attack!" he says, which are good points I hadn't considered. This is why he's better than me). As it turns out, he gets lucky, _and_ I make some mistakes in the battle, and he does kill me. It doesn't help him too much, though, as Rich and his rangers go on to the final.
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16. Board Game: Pro Golf [Average Rating:5.40 Overall Rank:9473]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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There's actually an email tournament of this, which I had a huge lead in gong into the final round, so I was starting to think this was a game of skill. But then I choked away the lead, so clearly this is just a stupid dice game But it's a lot of fun late at night with the right people, and we get together in a huge group and play through. I ended up -4, when you needed a -6 to qualify for the Skins game. But since the final 4 is all people I know- Pro Golf Savant Mark Yoshikawa, Skilled Die Roller Pete Stein, Survivor of my Table Chris Kizer, and Sort-Of Queens Gambit GM Bill Morse, I stayed up and watched the festivities. It was a lot of fun, and I got to caddy Bill to his victory. So maybe the _game_ is luck-based, but _caddying_ is certainly a skill that not just everyone can handle. I'm now accepting bribes for next year's caddying duties.
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17. Board Game: Paydirt [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:2038]
Sean McCulloch
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After getting knocked out in my Titan semifinal, I realized there was time to run up and play Paydirt. This is a really fun game where everyone gets to bid on teams they want, and those bids (plus the actual ratings of the teams) get converted into a point spread for the game, to balance the teams. Since I hadn't looked at the teams too much in advance, I had a couple of teams in mind that I'd take if the bid wasn't too high, but mainly I didn't want to pay too much, or get too bad a team. Sadly, I sort of stopped paying attention as the auction went on, so I let someone get one of the teams I wanted for no bid-oops!- and got the last overall pick, whichj was Tampa Bay. But, not a horrible team, and not paying extra meant, at least in theory, everyone who did bid would be giving me an advantage.

But really, this game is all about matchups- do you have a play on offense that they can't stop? Do they have a hole in their defense you can exploit? In my first game, I had a really good matchup, and won the game outright, even though I was getting a bunch of points as an underdog.

In my second game, I was actually a favorite, and while I found a good offensive play (the short pass), that worked pretty well, there was one outcome that was unlikely, but could result in an interception. That unlikely outcome came up 4 times, which was enough to send the game to overtime. In overtime, I drove down the field, but instead of kicking a field goal (which wasn't a sure thing, given there are spots on my field goal chart that read "automatic miss"), I figured I'd keep driving because I wouldn't have that one number for the interception come up _again_, right?

Wrong.

So, yeah, I'm the idiot coach who threw an interception from the 10 yard line in over time. But it gets better- I eventually get the ball back on my own 5, with less than a minute left. A tie means the underdog wins, so I have to hurry. On the last play of the game, I throw a desperation bomb, roll the dice..

94 yard touchdown pass.

Holy crap!

What a crazy win, and what a heartbreaking loss for my opponent. Sorry, Samantha!

In the next round, I played the guy who designed the charts. We had a fascinating conversation about how he does it, and what his goals are, and about "realism". It was actually pretty similar to what you see in conversations about realism vs playability in wargames. Some people want a game that plays quickly that abstracts away lots of details and possibly leads to things that "couldn't have happened" in real like. (Like, say, Memoir 44). Other people want games that are very, very realistic, with lots of rules constraining things to how they "really" happened. (Like, say, ASL). I tend to fall on the "lighter" side of the spectrum for a lot of reasons, including that I want to have lots of options to make my own strategies up. If you say I can't do something because it's "ahistorical", that's fine, but isn't the point of a game to make my own history?

That's a long tangent to say that I found it fascinating that these issues even come up in sports games- where they add things like limits on the number of times you can call medium passes, for example. In the actual game, I blocked 2 of his field goals, and he "defended" one of my field goals by automatically making it go in, which was enough to give me the win. Basically I was incredibly lucky for all of that to happen.

So, now I'm in the final 6, and they let me delay the game till after Battle Line and Liar's dice, which I'm very grateful for. I'm playing a really good player with one of the teams I wanted to bid on at the beginning. I'm a 14-point underdog, so my goal is to "lose slowly". For the most part, it works, but I can't stop his passing game unless I roll lucky. The luck happens sometimes, but not other times, so it's very swingy. I end up being down about 17 in the 4th quarter. We go down to the last play of the game, I'm on my own 10, I throw a desparation bomb (again), roll the dice...

94 yard touchdown pass.

Holy Crap!

But wait! He gets a roll on his defensive chart to see if he can stop it. It's basically a 1/3 shot to see if he can stop me, but he rolls it. Oh, so close! I can't be too upset, though, because I had no business winning the two previous games, let alone getting that close in that game. But still, what a great game, and great series of games!


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18. Board Game: Battle Line [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:130]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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Somehow, I've managed to win this the last two years, which is strange because Bruce always kills me at it at home. I think my secret is letting someone else do the dirty work of taking Bruce out for me

It works again this year, as Bruce gets knocked out in his pod, while I move on to the bracket. In my first game, I play someone who has good cards, and makes good hands, but let me claim some flags while he still had holes in those columns to fill. This means he ran out of places to play at the end, which cost him the game. My next game (final 4!) I played a really close tight game that ran out both decks and saw us fighting over one final flag, with basically "whoever gets better tactics cards wins". As it turns out, I got the better cards.

In the finals, I played my second paydirt opponent (the 94 yard touchdown pass game), Samantha. She played a really good game, but I managed to find a way to skillfully use redeploy (which never happens) and play traitor at the right time to beat her and take home the wood! Maybe I should start making this my team game!
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19. Board Game: Liar's Dice [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:407]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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More late night fun. I played with the Gutermuth crowd, had a lot of fun, watched Lisa go out first, and then people next to her go out next, and so on, like she was some kind of oozing curse of awfulness that infected the table . Sadly, there were people sitting further from Lisa than me, so I didn't win
 
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20. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:108] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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Saturday is a bit of a wasteland if you're not in a semi. The 4-player titan semi used to be saturday morning, but they moved it to Friday instead, so the final can be on Saturday, and people don't have to play 2 long, competitive games on the same day. Which I agree, makes for a better tournament, but personally, messes with my schedule a bit. So, casting about for something to do, I played this at 11 AM, figuring since I haven't played this in 5 years, I'd lose quick, and then wander outside and find something healthy for lunch.

Somehow, I win. Don't know what that's about.

Now I'm in the semis. It's a 5 player game. In basic carcassone, there are 71 tiles, meaning that whoever goes first gets an extra turn. I win the draw to go first, and use that extra turn to win by 1 point.

Now I'm in the finals in a game I haven't played in 5 years. I'm still not really sure what the farming rules are.

In the finals, my true level asserts itself. I'm going to claim that it's because of the 14 tiles you get in a 5 player game if you're not going first, I got 8 roads (yes, I counted, it was that bad), but really, I was nowhere near good enough to be there in the first place.
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21. Board Game: Facts in Five [Average Rating:6.05 Overall Rank:2984]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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I was a little late to this because of the Lost Cities Bracket, but I still got to see all of the rounds but one. John Corrado took this over a couple of years ago, and does a really good job. It's been expanded to 2 hours, which lets him handle the large number of people he gets now, plus leaves time for jokes, whining, and comments from the audience. If you haven't been to it, it's a lot of fun, and you should try it.
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22. Board Game: Slapshot [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:2027]
Sean McCulloch
United States
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Saturday night is the event I "run" (most people don't even know it's officially me unless they advance), the unofficial end to WBC, and always a great party. This year was no exception, though our numbers were down a little to something like 193 people. The first round was a great party, the second round was quick and massively unfair, as intended, and the final was a good game taken by a kid who was up way past her bedtime.

Sunday, I slept late, had one last buffet breakfast and headed home. What a great week- I'm already starting to plan next year.
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