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My BGG.Con 2011

Jesse Dean
United States
Chicago
IL
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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Microbadge: I have more previously owned games than owned gamesMicrobadge: Out for blood - I play without mercyMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGG
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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