WBC 2011 - More DonCon Than You Can Shake a Stick At!
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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I enjoyed another August week in Amish country, among my own Chosen People - the gamers of DonCon. I didn't get in quite as much gaming this year but had as much fun as ever. My youngest daughter Matilda joined me for the first time, getting a couple days of gaming toward the end of the week. Young Tildy has been around gamers for years so she wasn't intimidated by the crowds - if she can hand a cake to Natus she can handle just about anything.


The face that launched a thousand cakes

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1. Board Game: Manoeuvre [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:424]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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I drove down Monday morning from Manhattan with Dan "Dutch" Raspler, arriving in Lancaster in time to check in at the Country Inn & Suites before popping over to the scenic Host for the Manoeuvre tourney.

I got off to a fast start, winning with the French over Richard Bliss' US (Richard is a much better player but could not roll to save his life) and with the Russians over Jeff Spaner's plucky but card-poor Prussians. However, I then ran into Nathan Hill, the first half of the Hill family juggernaut. He picked first and selected the British; I chose Austria, hoping the occasional Guerrilla/Ambush combo would help me chip away at the mighty Brits. I think I pulled it off once before Nathan calmly dismantled my force. For the last game of the opening round, I desperately reached for the Spanish against Brad Raszewski's Americans; we both had the same idea, selecting poor nationalities since it factored into the advancement tiebreakers. I was able to wear him down for an attrition win with repeated success in the center of the board.


A very brave militia unit


I was rewarded with an advance to the next round, only to be trampled underfoot by Hill Père. My British were roughly evenly matched with Allen's French, but I lost a cavalry encounter early and it was all downhill from there. My King's Dragoons played a powerful card against the Guard Cav, but I was greeted with a Withdraw card and blew my own pursuit roll. That left my Dragoons marooned in the French rear where they were soon dispatched, and Allen retained the upper hand throughout.

Fun event, and as usual I learned several new things about the game.


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2. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.87 Overall Rank:19]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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After nearly eating myself into a coma at the Texas Whorehouse, I sat down with Peter Card, John Vasilakos, Gary Phillips, and Chris "Campoverdi" Greenfield. Gary edged out John 53-51, I finished in the middle, while Peter and Campo brought up the rear. We did not try the Leaders expansion - still waiting to get that on the table.
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3. Board Game: JAB: Realtime Boxing [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:1748]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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I found myself cornered by Dan 'ManMountain' Dolan for a game of Jab, the real-time boxing game. Each player has a deck of punches (jab, cross, hook, uppercut, maybe a couple more) split randomly into a left and right deck. You throw punches at your opponent's left and right body and of course his noggin, rewarded for the points on the cards plus bonuses for combos and counterpunches. As mentioned, it's a real time game with both players throwing shots and keeping an eye out for combo opportunities and blocking potential knockout shots. I swept our three rounds for a win on points but we both came close to knockouts. Nifty idea, and good for a five minute filler game.


Howlin' Dan Dolan
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4. Board Game: Fury in the East [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:5583]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Gary Phillips and I sat down Tuesday morning for a pre-arranged session of Fury in the East from MMP's Operations Special Magazine #3. This is a slight re-working of the Japanese G-Barbarossa, a corps-level game covering the first nine months of the German invasion of the USSR. Gary was the invading ogre while I valiantly defended the Motherland.

The Nazis made good progress south of the Pripyat, driving deep into the Southwest Front, but struggled a bit in the center and north. I really felt like I was getting banged around, pulling hordes of dead Russians off the map, but according to the Hitler Command chits (which generate secret turn-by-turn goals) Gary was a turn or so behind schedule. Matters were not helped when I inadvertently moved the entire Red Army its full movement allowance on turn one, despite 75% of it being out of command. We unwound that little fiasco, fortunately.


Panzergeneral Phillips


We were both new to the game, but I think the burden is on the German to figure out the finer elements and select a couple focal points and concentrate his panzer formations. Gary's panzerkorps soon outran the landsers and were a little dispersed. Also, the weather table has some important subtleties; the 'frozen' turn, for instance, is crucial to the German advance - a freeze essentially turns off the effects of rivers and swamps, but without the debilitating impact of the Russian winter on German supply. This is vital for cracking the Soviet main line of resistance in the mid-game. As it was, the Hero City of Kiev stood tall behind the Dnieper until deep into the game, saving the south and putting paid to Gary's chances as Hitler raged in Berlin.


Hero City Kiev!


Gary finally captured Smolensk and was at the gates of a well-defended Leningrad by the time we called it. There were too many bodies in front of Moscow for him to pull off and auto-win, and the failed Hitler objectives killed any chance of a VP win. I liked it well enough, but I think the first playing is likely to be a stumbling learning exercise, and I was fortunate to have the easier side. I think the German has the tools to win, and might even have an edge, but the keys to successful play don't reveal themselves easily on the first go-around.


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5. Board Game: Successors (third edition) [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:551]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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My good friend, the divine Doctor of Divinity Rob Seulowitz, runs the Successors event, so I wandered to try my hand in Tuesday night's mulligan round. I sat down with Tim Miller, Stan Buck, and Daniel Blumentritt. We randomly distributed the generals, and I ended up with Perdiccas and ol' one-eye, Antigonus.

I looted a treasure city in Mesopotamia on the first turn, which in turn funded my expanding armies. Meanwhile, Antigonus secured the shores of the Bosporus. This allowed me to make my move on turn two to head toward Pella to deliver the funeral speech. Perdiccas tucked Alexander's body under one arm and drove hard for Europe; fearing the theft of his Royal Macedonians at the hands of Lysimachus (controlled by Dan), Perdiccas pitched Alex to a sweeping Antigonus, who danced up the sidelines of Thrace. Lysimachus correctly read the play, sliding right and calling for support from Antipater, the free safety.


He...could...go...all...the...way!


However, it was one of Dan's minor generals who made the play of the day. Dan plunked down the Treachery card, his adjacent minor general lifted the body off of Antigonus, and Dan himself buried Alex before the walls of Pella. That generated enough Legimacy for Dan to walk away with an auto-win. I should've seen it coming, but Dan really sold the "We've got to stop him!" plea and I thought I was dashing home for the win myself. Great game.

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6. Board Game: Nations at War: White Star Rising [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:2068]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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I bumped into Michael Buccheri
Necessary Evil
United States
Glen Arm
Maryland
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and discovered he was running the White Star Rising event. I decided to jump into the mulligan round for this game, too. Mike and I sat down to try a scenario from, I think, Lock 'n Load's Line of Fire magazine. This featured a fight between Michael Wittman's Tigers and a Canadian combined arms group composed of infantry, standard Shermans, and Fireflies.

Mike's Canadians had to push through the bocage and exit six units, while my Tigers had to kill six Canadian tank platoons without losing the Nazi poster-boy. I got in the first licks, ably assisted by a chaos-chit-generated hero, while Mike was able to scoot off a few platoons of infantry aboard their speedy Carriers. I had an initial advantage of an extra command chit, but it went away just about the time we were staring each other down muzzle-to-muzzle in Mexican standoff.


Wittman ruins a perfectly lovely summer day


The game essentially came down to the coinflip of whose command chit would come out first, though I had an advantage in a superior armor save should the Fireflies fire first. As it happened, Wittman got the first crack and soon the Normandy countryside was littered with the hulks of turretless, burning Shermans. Fun, fast, and furious - not a bad choice if you're in the mood to kill some tanks.


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7. Board Game: Combat Commander: Europe [Average Rating:7.94 Overall Rank:52]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Combat Commander would've been my team game if, um, we'd actually remembered to register our team. Anyway, I had fun in the event last year and decided to try again, though I'd only managed to squeak in a single game of CC:E since last August.

Bryan Collars took over as GM this year and developed a cool theme, with brand new scenarios based on various WWII movies. As an added side-game, players who correctly named an actor from each flick represented by a scenario would get an extra tie-breaker point. I started off against Chris Byrd in Objective Claremont, a riff on Kelly's Heroes. My dogfaces had to take the center of town against a ragtag band of Germans backed by a pair of immobile 'Tiger tanks' (each represented by a 75mm infantry gun, a weapons team, and a trench). Looking at the map, I decided to go Student Body Right to generate some Exit VPs. Of course, in doing so, I allowed Chris to do the same thing to me. The only thing that saved me was exiting first right before a Time check, allowing my exited troops to instantly set up in front of the Germans racing off my map edge. From there it was a more traditional battle over the victory locations, focusing on the big five-pointer in the center of the map. My Hero took the space, supported by a squad. A squad of Volksgrenadiers double-ambushed the squad out of existence before advancing on the Hero. We each Ambushed each other, and as time was called by Bryan, I edged Chris on the die roll for the win - great game.


Sure, I'd be smiling too if I was holding two Ambush cards


For my second match, I faced John Gitzen in Where The Iron Crosses Grow, based, not surprisingly, on Cross of Iron. John had a ferocious pack of well-armed Germans, but my own Soviets weren't slouches either. However, I held the bulk of the victory locations so the onus was on John to set the pace. VPs were doubled for eliminated units, encouraging carnage. John came at me hard, covered by some well-placed smoke grenades, but I began grinding my way through the deck, using the method Michael Johnson taught me last year: lots of little fire attacks against crowded hexes. I was burning 10-15 cards between us every fire card I laid down. John carefully assemble a hand for a cross-street assault, only to find himself wired up and exposed to point blank fire. He still managed to flip a Sov SMG squad holding the corner of my building, but before he could capitalize I ground through a couple more Time Checks for the win.

I next sat down with Bryan himself, whom I victimized last year with an entirely undeserved win in a PTO match (thank you, o Great God of Air Support!). Bryan sought vengeance as the American in A Midnight Clear, based on the movie of the same name. To reflect the spirit of the film, neither of us could cross a "No Man's Land" until either a unit broke or a Time Check occurred. Of course, the most valuable VP location was smack in the middle of No Man's Land. I edged out to an early lead thanks to timely sniper, which dropped one of Bryan's two leaders. However, despite steady fire I could not push Bryan much closer to his Surrender level; multiple Rout cards proved fruitless as Bryan made his rolls and finally found the Rally card he desperately sought. It was going to come down to who held the center VP location. A Hero grabbed it for me before he died under a hail of fire. I had a lot of firepower too, though, so Bryan was reluctant to close. Suddenly, he generated a Hero of his own, who crept into the victory location. I broke him with my first shot, and hammered him again with a second - only a Time Check boxcars could save him, and we were approaching Sudden Death. Sure enough, box cars! Bryan failed the Sudden Death check, but flipped me the Initiative for the re-roll; he passed the new roll, so I flipped the grenade back. He passed the roll again, securing the win. What a blast! Perhaps my best game of the week.

I made it into the next round to sit down with ASL buddy Joe Chacon, sporting a moustache/goatee combo to mark his recent retirement from the Army. Joe's Red Devils held Arnhem in A Bridge Too Far (guess the movie) against my German assault. I started out by just pasting any up-front Brits I could draw a bead on, and moved forward for the kill. I had Joe's best leader and a broken squad surrounded when he pulled the Hero event; Private Smythe rallied the squad and led everyone forward into *my* best leader's hex; after an exchange of Ambush cards the dust settled with me down a leader, a weapons team, a squad, and my HMG. Joe never looked back after that, powering forward for a well-played win, bouncing me out of the tournament.

Thank you, Bryan, for a well-themed and organized event - I will be back next year for more!

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8. Board Game: Space Hulk (third edition) [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:124]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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David Fox, Mike Welker, Uli Blennemann and I played the first scenario from the most recent iteration of Space Hulk. Mike and I had the Marines against Uli and David's Genestealers. Our heroes suffered early with two quick casualties to charging Nids - Overwatch is great unless you just can't roll sixes! However, the Sergeant and the Flamer lived on, and thanks to the Sergeant's ability to toss back a Command Point chit for a re-draw, we always had *just* enough extra action points to disaster at bay. Several blips were closing in as we approached the victory room, but before they could take us down we were able to bathe the target in the cleansing fire of the Emperor's wrath.


A rare scene of Marines outnumbering the Nids for a change


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9. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:484]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Can't Stop with Campoverdi, Jason Arvey, and Rodney Bacigalupo. Bottom line: couldn't stop.


My pieces are nowhere to be seen
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10. Board Game: Arena: Roma II [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:689] [Average Rating:7.02 Unranked]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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I taught my good friend Jim Doughan Arena, perhaps my favorite short two-player game. Jim showed his appreciation by spanking me, reversing my effort to drain the VP pile by punching numerous holes in my tableau and steadily bleeding me dry. He went on to play a couple more games with his son Jack; I think they're hooked.


A pair of Doughans
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11. Board Game: Armies of Oblivion: ASL Module 12 [Average Rating:8.42 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.42 Unranked]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Thursday morning I hooked up with Chas Argent, MMP's ASL honcho, for a playtest of an upcoming Journal scenario. Last Minute War features the Slovak/Hungarian tussle of March, 1939, as a Slovakian counterattack attempts to throw back the encroaching Hungarians. I had the Hungarians, a decent infantry force defending a town with the help of some artillery support, a 37mm antitank gun, and a 20mm Oerlikon AA gun, also useful against ground targets. Chas' Slovaks outnumbered me 2:1 but half his troops were conscripts. He had armor, of a sort, in the form of four shitbox armored cars and a pretty awesome Skoda 35 tank. The latter is a masterpiece of Slovakian engineering - fast, well-armed with machine guns and a 37mm main armament, and mechanically reliable. Unfortunately for any dreams of a Slovak blitzkrieg, a soft-ground SSR meant the risk of bog for any AFV leaving a road. Finally, we both received a pair of fighter planes, arriving by random die roll. To win, Chas had to take 85% of the town or wipe me out, essentially the same thing, without losing too many troops.

I looked at the situation and figured I had no chance of holding out, so I focused on inflicting casualties. Therefore I placed my best piece, the ATG, right up front where it could start shooting early. I was going to use it against infantry as much as armor, given its high rate of fire. Most of my troops were forward, in the center and on my right, consistent with the most protected Slovak lines of advance. My left was guarded by dummies, the 20L AA gun, and the OBA.


Chas contemplates the flaky crust of my defense and the delicious fruit filling beyond


As expected, Chas hit my center and right hard, but I quickly drew blood, killing a squad on turn one. He kept his armor back, however, given their paper-thin armor. He had ample MG support but my OBA observer was just able to see them, and dropped a 75mm module on their heads. It was to stay there all day as I drew four black cards from the 6/3 deck. I didn't even scratch the MG crews but I did at least keep them holed up and away from the main action. Meanwhile, Chas' conscripts were held up by a super halfsquad in my center and abused by my sniper on my right. His first pair of armored cars went down to mechanical unreliability and an ATG shot, but he finally made started making progress when my gun crew went down - he threw his remaining armored cars forward, only to see them die to a light machine gun.


The Little LMG That Could


At this point our aircraft showed up. Chas used his to chip away at my lead units, while I focused mine on his remaining armor. Chas was starting to roll up my right flank, using a Beserker to soak up my fire, but was edging closer to his casualty cap. I was down to a couple good order squads and leaders, but my fighters had his immobilized A/C and the Skoda in their sights. I killed the A/C, and then the Skoda, to come within three points of a casualty win. A half turn later, I collected the necessary scalps in close combat for a victory.

I really like early war scenarios like this - it's a real challenge to get anything done with crap troops and equipment, and I like the quirky forces and gear used by the minor powers. The scenario itself looks good. The casualty cap was only recently added thanks to playtesting experience, and I feel it's vital. The Hungarians feel a little strong at this point - my OBA was woefully out of position, yet I still won - but I don't think it needs much to get it squared up. It was also a blast hanging out with Chas, a good egg and good company.



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12. Board Game: Roma [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:580] [Average Rating:6.86 Unranked]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Thursday night I drove back to NYC to fetch Matilda, returning Friday evening. While waiting for the stars to align for a group game, Tildy and I played a quick game of Roma. This was my first try since picking up Arena, and it really helped me appreciate the newer game. A lot of Roma's cards feel clunky by comparison, and I missed the bribery space. Still, we had a very tight game, as she edged me by driving my VP cache to zero thanks to some vicious Velites.
 
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13. Board Game: Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game [Average Rating:6.32 Overall Rank:4736]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Dutch was kind enough to create a custom D&D adventure for Matilda, Dacey, and Gracie, and a teenage boy whose name I don't recall.

The setting was ancient Greece, the Age of Heroes, and the party had to retrieve the Golden Lyre in order to peacefully end a war between Athens and Sparta. Along the way they had to recover Pegasus' bridle, find Pegasus himself, and then ride him to the hiding place of the Lyre. They fought Spartan patrols, Harpies, and finally a manticore before completing their quest. This was old school theater of the mind D&D, cooked up by Dutch in about an hour after quizzing the girls on their likes and dislikes, and they had a lot of fun. I stepped in for the boy when he had to play a tourney event, and I have to admit I enjoyed it myself. The adventure reached its climax just as the Liar's Dice event was getting rolling in the same room. The crash of a hundred dice cups was the perfect sound track for the final battle.


A very austere ancient Greece


Thanks, Dutch, for taking the time to add a special touch to Matilda's first DonCon.



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14. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:7.99 Overall Rank:15]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Saturday morning Dr. Rob introduced Le Havre to Matilda, Michael Johnson, and myself. Actually, this was my third playing, but I was utterly lost, as usual. I tend to fixate on a particular objective and fail to optimize my game play based on available buildings and resources - I'm not bad at engine-building games in general but so far this one escapes me. Tildy did well with an early bakery purchase, while Michael ran a solid cattle franchise; Rob was generally making prudent resource decisions and tying up whatever happened to be my next action. Rob ended up nipping Matilda by a couple points for the win, with Michael in third and me a distant fourth, just happy to be in the black after paying off all my loans.


Dr Rob demonstrates the finer points of cheating for Tildy and Michael


Despite my hideous performance I enjoyed it more than my previous playings, and I think Matilda wants to try it again too.

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15. Board Game: Merchants & Marauders [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:139]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Dan Dolan, Chris Storzillo, Dutch, Matilda and myself tackled M&M Saturday afternoon, with Tildy and I sharing a captain.


Tildy and I select our cargo for the Caracas run


Our game was plagued by several early turns which crippled our efforts, clipping an action off our turns and making it hazardous to even leave port. In addition, we had terrible rolls in pursuit of rumors or when trying to resolve missions. The upshot is that after an hour of play our Glory points sat at 2, 1, 1, and 0. Not the most scintillating game of high seas adventure! Thanks to a Letter of Marque, Dutch was able to grind his way to five on-board Glory points, and had the gold to bank the remaining five for the win. Just to drive Dolan nuts, I intercepted Dutch and shot his galleon to kindling, sending him to the bottom along with his ill-gotten gains. Rather than suffer another hour's play we declared Dutch the winner anyway and moved on.


Dutch seizes yet another hapless Spanish merchantman


I like the game and we've had a lot of fun with it in the past, but that batch of early storms put a damper on things and resulting in probably my low point game-wise of the convention.


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16. Board Game: Letters from Whitechapel [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:127]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Matilda and I have had a lot of fun with two-player Whitechapel, and she was looking forward to trying the game with more players. Meanwhile, Dan Dolan had a perfect record of 8-0 as the Ripper, eluding his mutant offspring in a contentious late-night game on Friday. Dan Dolan IX claimed the game was broken, but Dan Dolan VIII said it was just his raw animal cunning at work. It turns out Dan VIII had a key rule wrong, greatly aiding his East End shenanigans (he thought the police could only search a single adjacent space for clues, when in fact they can search *all* adjacent spaces). Thus Dan IX was looking forward to a rematch, with Matilda, Lew Ritter, and myself along for the ride.


Inspector Matilda heads toward Brick Lane as the Ripper smirks in the corner


As the investigators, we played for the long haul, planning to nail Jack on the fourth night. On the first night he was quickly home, but we picked up enough of a scent to determine his lair was in the center of the map. We had three clues, while in the notoriously tainted Friday night game the investigators had only turned up a single clue in the whole game! On the second night, we narrowed the field to about a dozen possible locations. On night three, we were tempted to go for an arrest but the Ripper wasted no time, coaching through our cordon to safety. The final night was very tense, with several spaces still in play but Dan/The Ripper was visibly nervous as we controlled the intersections he'd have to pass through. After a coach move I thought I had a very good idea where he was - I rushed to a corner, and we debated whether to search or gamble on an arrest. We thought his most likely hideout was still two moves away, so we finally decided to search. In my first search, I turned up a clue, which could only be the Ripper himself, given the distance from the crime scene. Sure enough, he was home on his next move for a very close win.


I glimpse the villain's coattails before he makes good his escape into the pages of history


This was right up there with my CC:E game versus Bryan for my best session of the week. We had a blast, with plenty of trash talk flowing back and forth across the table. The game was redeemed in Dan IX's eyes, and he went on to play the Ripper himself Saturday night - he was caught on the final night, just one space shy of home! By the way, for those of you scoring at home, Dan Dolan X was born last year - *ten* generations of Dan Dolans! The world trembles.

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17. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.87 Overall Rank:19]
J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Late Saturday night, Matilda and I wandered down to the MMP demo area, where Ken Dunn was cracking open his new copy of 7 Wonders. We sat down with Ken, Jeff Evich, Jeff's sons Mark and Nick, and Gary Phillips. Gary and I knew the game, everyone else was learning.


Mark, Nick and Matilda get rolling with their wonders


The first game was good fun with Mark building up a record-high military strength just because he could, while Nick bought all his resources from Matilda because even buying from a girl is better than buying something from your older brother. Gary finished first by a good margin, followed by me and Ken.

Jeff and his crew had to head home at that point so Brian Youse and Perry Cocke stepped in, along with Andres, Ken's suddenly all-grown-up son. This group managed two more games, with Perry winning the first and Andres the second, with Matilda managing a respectable third in the latter, just a point behind Perry. It was a good jovial crowd, augmented by a bin of cookies from Brian and a couple rounds from the bar courtesy of Perry.

Since we were headed out early Sunday, it was the perfect cap for the week. Matilda had a blast, and looks forward to coming down for the full week next year.

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