Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
A convention for BGG 2R1B/Resistance/Werewolf/social deduction people scheduled for a long weekend in the middle of the academic term always sounded "cool, but not worth the hike" when I lived on the opposite side of the country. Now I, too, live in the Maryland suburbs, so the calculus has changed drastically! Sadly not all the local commuter rail lines operate on weekends, but I made it over anyway.
The negative stuff out of the way first: the physical environment was more conducive to sensory overload than other cons I've attended. When you're at a loud cafe with loud music and loud gamers, not just physically noisy but also "TELL ME HOW TO PLAY THIS" "I DON'T GET IT" "I DO GET IT I AM VERY SMART" "LET ME TELL YOU WHY THIS GAME IS BROKEN" and the cafe policy feels like "you can't leave, you are trapped here, if you want to go for a walk to destress we will charge you money" (there may have been some loopholes to this, but I wasn't aware as a newbie), t̵̼̟̘̮͚̪͎̯̯͖̭͖͎͓̙̭̊͗̊͌̐͛̓̈́͒̀̀̄ḩ̸̢̪͈̼̹̯̲̮̘̭̠̙͖͎̪̊͊̾͌̀́͋͊̄͗̐͂̈́͜͝i̵̧̡̬͍̰͕̩̹̙̙̳͛̐̉́̏̂̚n̴̢̧̞͔̭̳̤̭̻̰̭̹̪̬̝̹͕̱̮̐ͅg̵̢̨̢̺͙̫̩̹̖̜͇̼͚̠͎̣̐̃́̒͗͜͠s̶̛̟̳͖̣̱͍̯̤͉̤̊̿͊̋̎̀̒̓͝ ̵̠̯̣͔̝̳̟̬̭̬͎̘̥͈̳̬̺͔͊͂͗̈̎̋̇͂̃̅̾̎̓̓̒͌̃̚͘ͅç̷̨̢͖̖̪͎̹̮͈͑̌͑͑̓̀͊͒̈́͜͝͠ḁ̴̦̪̪̞̩̰̉̑́̒̒̈́̃̇̌͒̿̆̿̄̋̈́́͘͜͜͠͝ņ̴͍̦̲̫̝̟͛͂͗̈́̊̿́̋̍̆̈́͊̋̐̈̈̔͘͝͝ ̷̨͙̮̹̠̥̠͓̿̌̍̆̏̔̆̔̌͆̈̓͘̕͠͝b̵͕̖̻̻́͋̆̿͂͂̒̒̄͜͠ȩ̷̘͖̳̖͉͈̩͈̏͒̍̈͋̈́̿͋̈̐̽̔̾͐̕̚͝͠c̵̛͈̻̦̣̝͕͉̐͋̑̄̓̀͑̓̅̃̎̽̈͆ǫ̶̜̜͕͎̗͎͕̬͓͔̫̘͕̯̺͆̔̃̍͘ͅḿ̸̡̢̢̠̮̤̗͎̼̜̬͕͌̾ͅȩ̸͎͚͔͕̱̮͚̜̟̦̱̝̻̺̩͂̾͗͆̇͛́̎̉̾͑̊̈̑̿̄͘̕͝ ̵̢͇̬͕̗̣̯̘̄b̸̪̰̺͈̠̠̳̳̞̩̻̥͕̱̬͍͛̿͒̌̇̇͛͒͒ŏ̴͓̾̓̌̾́͋́̈̌̃̃̓͐̔͂̒͠ţ̸͍͍̖̩͓̻̯̖͇̩̲͎̪̭̪̳̪̳̥̗̐̽͂̍̿̓̇̾̇̓͑̒̔͐͆̾̆͘̚͜͝h̸̢̢̨̢͈͖̖̥̫͙̤̼̟̯̗̩͍̯̹̔͊̓̓ ̴̛͇̹̻͈͍̮͆̓̉͊̑̓̀́̚̕͜͝p̴̧̧̨̟̣͕͇͕̳͈̏̽̅h̵̹̉͗͂͆̊̿͋͊̍̇͊̈́̂͒̂̾̀̉̎̇̃͒ẏ̷̧̡̮̩̜̗̯̟̯͉̩̮͓̤̣s̵̨̡̨̼̱͙̣̦̲̥͎͇̗͙̤͖̯̳̥̀̔̌̅̋͂̎̑́͜ͅi̴̠̭̰͍͎̞̞͍̰̾̽͜ç̴̢̢̢̤̜̭̬͚̬̗͚̗̿̌́̈́̿̓̔̏̚ả̷͙̱̂̊̈́̂͋̔̋̈̔̈́͊͑̌̒͘͝͠͠͝͝ḽ̷͉̗̤̰͋̃̃͜͠l̶̡̨̨̤̻̫̬̱̣̗͓̙̭̻̩̣̳͆̽̈́̈́͒̀͑̋́̍̍͝ÿ̴̧̡͎̹̘̰̘̪̜̣͕͖̫̫̜͈̻͖̙́́͗̕͜ ̸͔̥̄̄̄̄à̶̧̭̣̟̻͖̰͓̞̓̿̿́̍̚͝ǹ̴̢̧̧̰͔̝̲̦̠̜̰̯̘͎͓̬̿̉̈̂͆̒̄̇͜͜ͅd̵̡̨̛̖̘̟͓̫̻̤̙͓̲͔͖͈̤̱̰̗̪͙̍̂̍͗͛͑͊̂͋͌̊̀̾̽̄͑͋́̓̍͝ͅ ̴̨̟̥̪̲̘͙̻̬̹͓͍̦͇̃̒̆̅̉̏̒̌̏̇͑̐̔͐̔̓̒̈͛͘̕͘͜ḿ̶̧̡̛̳̞̙̳͉̻̦̜͇̟̼̝̳̤̝̋͗̔͆͋̾̅̑̋̓̐̐̍̓̚͝͠e̵̢̥͉͚̘͉͚̭̗̼̹̲̤̎̾͗̑͜͜n̵̩̤̙̰̘̳̲̻͛̅̎̇͐̃̈͊͋̃̀͋̑̎̈́͂̎̓͘̚ͅt̴̮͇̐̔̔̇̑̀͗a̶̞̜̒͆̎̊̉̌̔̅͋̃͋̿̋̋̽̐̆̊͒̚͠͝ľ̶͍̱͠l̵̼̤͚̮̮̔̔̋̓̀̎́͝ȳ̷̡̩͍̬̟̙̜̮̎̂̆̾͗͛̅̎̃͑̒̃̌͋̈́͘ ̷̢̰̞̭̠̘̤̑̅̆h̸̢̡̬̘̖͖̝͕̲̱̠̘͍̰͙͓͇̯̱̃̐̐̉͘e̵̛̤̣̣̬̝̯͈̙͔͎̘͉͓̬̝̘͕̣͑̄̑̈́͊͋̓̌̄̑͊͘͘ͅa̷̢͖̦̺͔̬͈̯̭̠͇̤͍̗͂̀̌̈́͒̈́̽̔͛̎̍̽̕͘͜͝ď̷̢̢̝̯̬͈̣̬͍̯̖͓͔͇͇̭̇̏͋̊̒͑͊͐̀͊̆̇̈́̃̀̕͜͝ȧ̵̛̛͚̩͔̎͑̉̐̃͆̀̒͊͒̈́͂̋̕̚ͅc̸̢͙͔̪̫̩̳̉͐͌̏̎̆̅̎̋͛͌̕ͅh̷̨̝̹̹̭̗̥̼̫̲̘͚̪̦̞̬̣͉̪̗̽̍͋̒͆̈́ę̶̹͓̱̲̤̱̝̻͈͍̲͓̣͉̦̊̉͐͌͛̋̈́̂̽͌̀͗͜͜͝-̶̠̟͇̰͕͐̆̆͋̿͛̋̅̃̈́̉͒͒̎̕į̵̘̙̜̻̮͆͛͂̇̈́̈́͆̐̀̂̎̅͘͜͠ņ̷̙͔̮͇̜͇͓̳̖̩̜̺̪͖̤͂̃̒̀̂̽̾͠͠d̵̮̓͊̽̂̋̍̃̍̀́͂ũ̴̖̰͎̺̺̳̗̭͙̖̦͚̬͈͌̂̀͐̽̿̈́̑̎͊͝ͅͅͅc̸̢̬͉̦̫̩̪̩͉̯̪̙̠͖̭̥̹̫̠̱̦̈́͆̔̊̀̊͜͝i̷̡̧̪͍̹̦̟̳̭̮̻̣͎̲̺̘̤̽͋ͅn̸̨̫̳͉̘͓͊́̈́͌̈̓̓̀̍̓͐̊̍̉̆̑̆͒̅̕ģ̷̛̻̰͓͕̘̘̮͔͇̺̘͓̣̪̀̅͐̃̈̀͐͂̊̄̒̽́̂̑͊̾̕͝.̵̨̧͈̪̘͎̤͕͎̜͆̔̉̎̿̓͊̐̈́̉̍̈́̓̍̑͝͠ͅ ̵̢͓̿̽̊̆̾̀̔͐͒͛͆͑͝ͅ So thank you to all of you who put up with me even when my nerves were frayed.
(Also, this settles the question of "do people like me just get hurt in their...elbows?" I was tilting my chair back to keep myself amused/get away from the stress, leaned too far, bonked into the bookshelf, and my elbow hurt for a little while when I tilted it. So the answer is "yes"!)
Some/much of this might be kind of "damning with faint praise" among new games. I'm not as immersed in the new hotness as many of my friends, so these are sometimes my first impressions of games that are new or new-to-me. If I sound overly critical, it's probably just because I'm reaching a stage where I know what I like and can form snappish judgments based on vague mechanical category.
I played my second game of Spirit Island; mmazala was also relearning it after a first play she hadn't enjoyed, with help from various interlopers such as VikingJ and Seen. Last time around I was defensive rock guy; this time wanted to go for higher complexity, so I was the one who synergizes well with being in tiles where the Dahan are, but I didn't feel like I used that power very well. We managed a win, though.
Then Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. In the all-important "having the coolest name" competition, I went with "Circle Game" for the castle I built with Seen, which featured the "points for each oval symbol" bonus in the throne room. It's a Joni Mitchell allusion. I'm not sure if she's big in the Netherlands...?
I only managed a couple rounds of Mental Blocks, which I have down as "building things poorly," before bailing. This is a prime candidate for the list of games you can "play" without actually playing.
Got to relax with Parade, which seemed basically devoid of long-term strategy. In a classic case of "the person who is least interested in the game is the one who will win," I emerged triumphant.
I'm a big Ticket to Ride fan, but could not muster a sixsome for Team Asia. In lieu of that, Rathstar taught Airlines Europe for some alternative Alan Moon network building. Rath won, but as one of the other players pointed out, the real winner is brown airline for making it to Sydney and Tokyo and cool places like that.
The Menace Among Us purports to be a faster/sillier Battlestar Galactica-esque game. Having never played BSG, I can't compare; what I will say is that "you're not allowed to talk about the card you put in, because that breaks the game" can be a harbinger of trouble. Between games I played at this con alone I could probably do another post about "syntax versus semantics." So I probably will. Later. Got to space them out.
Quaseymoto, ljtrigirl, and myself are all Kingdom Builder aficionados, and they graciously invited me to play when I needed to destress. As it happened, I got a great opening spot and rode that to a dominant victory, so, uh, thanks guys.
contig and I have played a lot of Keyforge online, but this was our first time playing each other in person. I borrowed one of his decks (because of course that would be the day I forgot mine) to take on his intimidating EDIE deck, and although I dealt with the EDIEs and some of their Logos friends, the Brobnar/Star Alliance cards presented more trouble, so he won that.
Finally got to play Emergence with this crowd after hyping it up among fellow DC-ish people. People tended to agree that it's fun, although the color distinction is terrible. BerenCamlost and Viking were the (informed minority) humans, and Beren split his chips among AI and human scoring in such a way that I turned out to be an easy scapegoat, and Viking had an easy excuse to "terminate" me and steal all my new chips. Womp womp, human victory.
Lorenzo il Magnifico is in the "worker placement but also all the places depend on confusing and overwhelming iconography" genre that I sort of already knew wasn't my favorite. I had a leader card that incentivized wood so I built a lot of it early on and then found factory cards that turned it into resources/points. Majai, who taught us, was like "okay so I haven't actually played it but I've read the rules and done research online. What the internet says is be very very careful, don't make the Church angry, or they will punish you, and it will hurt! Unless you're deliberately building your whole strategy around it." And then while we followed his advice, he promptly proceeded to get excommunicated two out of three rounds. (As people pointed out, anybody can get excommunicated from the Renaissance-era Catholic church, but it takes some real skill to get excommunicated twice!)
One Key, for its part, is in the genre of "what if we made some goofy and crazy pictures and then all of the value of the game was in the production, there? And also we could make an app for no reason." It also qualifies for the aforementioned list. ("But do you like Mysterium??" "Not really." "Well at least this is over quickly then?" "Well at least in Mysterium you actually are compelled to place your own pieces, co-op discussion or no co-op discussion!")
I choose to believe the origin story for Carnival of Monsters is something like:
Richard Garfield, 1993: hey guys, I'm making this game, I need art for different types of, uh, "lands," and different creatures that inhabit them
Some guys: here you go!
Garfield: awesome thank you, I will look into it!
*25 years pass*
Guys: Hey, Richard, did you ever make that game you were talking about? I want to see my art get published.
wait a minute
Despite this, it's actually more my style mechanics-wise than some of the other new stuff. contig successfully deployed the "if you are in second place..." card, but was not able to overtake rath for the win.
Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Card Game has some gorgeous art, and I say that as someone who's never seen the movie. But lots of big cards in hand is difficult to manage, and I didn't think that there were a lot of meaningful decisions per time spent; like, you have to follow suit, labyrinth is a suit, and if you play a labyrinth you have to raise if possible. Cuts down on the decision-making. The ability to "bounce" the lead back and forth to your partner with judicious suit choice is slightly interesting, but on the whole: if you want to make a tarot deck, just make a tarot deck. Don't bother trying to come up with the umpteenth version of "some of the cards you take count differently than others," Tichu is fine.
It was late and I was tired and punchy so Beren's very methodical count of the cards he'd taken during the scoring phase was funnier than it should have been, you had to be there.
Arrived just in time for Space Base with Quasey and Urza. I went for points early, but Quasey invested in money from 12s and eventually blazed past us. (Urza kept rolling 8s that benefited Quasey a lot, me somewhat, and Urza himself barely at all.)
Got to try 3 Laws of Robotics again, which was amusing. This is also one for the syntax vs. semantics writeup. We just houseruled "if you catch someone breaking the rules, point and laugh, but it won't count for points." It's a silly enough game (you're holding cards on your head and calling each other names like Brian-bot and Shawna-bot) that that was fine.
I'm not sure when this was but as I look over my notes I realize that I played it and don't remember when. So! At some point, we played Five Tribes, known for its problematic theme. Alas, I lucked into the djinn that gave me bonuses in the set-collection subgame for collecting several of the problematically-themed cards, so I went down that path, while Majai, who got the djinn that gives you bonuses for assassinations, went down a more violent path. This game can be quite AP-inducing because there's no way to plan what the board will look like on your turn; you have to wait till it gets to you, then try to see where the little dudes can go. I also wasn't a big fan of the "bidding for turn order" mechanic--it's easier in a game like Manila where you know what your options will be, and can acquire extra goods as harbormaster, versus "bwuh, I could go...here I guess, or I could wait, and go...well I don't know where I could go." Despite the different strategies pursued, Quasey, DeMo, and me finished within 10 points of each other in a 150-point game (Majai discovered that sometimes assassination does not pay).
Protracted battle in Decrypto with the expansion that rewards thematic clues--neither team was close enough on their guesses for opposing words to make that really worthwhile, though. A case of "if you want to use house rules to reverse the order of tiebreakers, definitely make sure everyone is fully aware of that beforehand."
People had been talking about Abracada...What? as a Hanabi-style "you see everyone's cards but your own" game during Three Laws of Robotics. I really like Koryo, so I was excited to see another triangular deck game from Gary Kim! Unfortunately, the physical implementation of the tiles is not great--you really have to rotate them in turns to be able to see everyone else's, which drags the pace of what should be a fun light game. I wonder if it would be better online? You wouldn't have to specify who you're asking for information, you could just ask the computer and it would play one of your relevant cards at random if need be...
Hadara, like Carnival of Monsters, is a game I could tell from the outset would be much more "my kind of genre" than Lorenzo il Magnifico or One Key. And it was. But, and again I'm sorry to damn with faint praise, but it just didn't feel more than the sum of its parts? Like, "increase resource. Get card. Increase resource. Get card. Count points." The discounts for cards of the same color make the choice of specialization versus diversifying (ie for gold medals) interesting, I went with the former, which didn't really pan out.
Telephone Pictionary/Telestrations/EPYB with this crowd is always a riot. Urza's "Cybersecurity" became "the three laws of robotics" midway through (which isn't that far off, when you think about it). Shawna prompted "LJ playing Die Crew until she dies," and Quasey did a great rendition of LJ's shirt. LJ interpreted angry concertgoers as hobbits, so I had to draw the Lord of the Rings Band Name: Taking the Hobbits to Isengard. Contig drew these adorable robots for a prompt that started as "semi-coop" and shifted into Battlestar Galactica pretty quickly:
First Contact was...intriguing. The "one human, one alien" winner isn't a mechanic I've seen often. Some of it is more fiddly than it needs to be: some of us were like "this isn't a drawing game," Seen was of the belief that "oh yes it is." Sometimes it's basically Codenames--other times grouping together things that you think go together but your opponents might not (mmazala got frustrated with Seen's human "queries") can lead to confusing answers and people being right for the wrong reasons. I know there are some RPGs about conlanging but those also seem to be more "how do languages go extinct and die in the real world" which is a bummer. Maybe I just need to conlang on my own to scratch this particular itch.
My headaches were acting up and would continue to irk me the following day, but I had to try The Message, which was billed as "Shadow Hunters but in terribly-translated Chinese." It lived up to the hype, such as it was. Everyone's character card (not alignment) had bizarre flavor text, and (in some cases public, some private) alternate win conditions that only replace your default win-cons if you draw a neutral alignment. Some abilities involve complete, boiled-down and unrepentant kingmaking. The rules clarify "your gender is considered unknown if your card is facedown," which, not the weirdest postmodern scheme I've come across.
Viking, in deliberating whether to accept a card from Benes, weighed the roles in his head and was like "statistically, you are the least likely character in the game to send around a black [deadly] card." Smugly flips it over. Reveals a black card. Hilarity ensues.
Next game, Viking's role incentivizes passing black cards around. mmazala makes a show of wondering whether or not to accept. "I might have a victory condition that requires getting lots of cards. But! It might be bad! I just don't know." Stalls. Flips it over. Reveals a black card. Hilarity ensues. We cannot deal with the ensuing hilarity. I turn away from the table, and lj shoots me a concerned glance, so I clarify, "My eyes hurt...but also Michelle is being a dunce." (mmazala did in fact have the victory condition that required getting a lot of cards, and did in fact win, so that'll teach me.)
A few rounds of Die Crew while I waited for my headache to recede a little. At five players we didn't do so well even on the "just take any three tricks" round. So of course we had to keep trying again, so exciting.
Then Pandemic: Rising Tide, which was new to me. Felt easier than Fall of Rome, but the theme is a little "too real" so I don't know if I need to revisit it, heh.
I could see some foundations for what became Legacy Season 2. Non-spoilery: in original Pandemic and Legacy Season 1, the basic bad action when you draw a city off the infection deck is "add a disease cube." That's it. In Season 2, the mechanic is, "remove a supply, but, if there are no supply cubes left, then add a plague." Here, it's "remove a dyke, but, if there are no dykes left, add a water cube." (Water cubes are not as bad as plague cubes; in fact, on some level they're useful because they let you connect up a pump network.) There were extra variants (that we didn't play with) that change the objectives by having you add/remove population, which is also a Season 2 mechanic.
But some of the mechanics feel fiddlier than base Pandemic or even legacy. Like, when you have to remove a supply cube, there isn't a lot of deliberation about it; either the cube exists, and you take it, or it doesn't, and you get a plague. But dykes don't stack up within a region; they form borders between regions, so you actually have some choices to make when you decide which one to remove. This could easily become AP-inducing, especially in a group with several potential alpha gamers. Likewise, when you operate the pump on your turn, there's a lot of "remove these" "no these! those will come back anyway" "no not down that one, that will disconnect the pump" "why do we even have pumps if they're not removing water, rrr."
Viking edged out xandryyte in Sagrada, after none-too-subtly gunning for yellow cubes.
Clyde brought Nyet!, which might be an example of "if something has lasted twenty-plus years it probably has staying power." A lot of the "interesting decisions" here come in the pre-round "bidding" phase, which is much more engaging than Die Crew's "select tricks you want" phase. We only played a couple rounds, but I found plotting against people to make tricks count negative to be particularly fun. Maybe I'm confirmation biasing, but the potential for 1's to be "super" but also a danger if your opponents capture them as "loot" feels like a more interesting version of the "different cards you take are worth different amounts" mechanic that fell flat with Labyrinth.
And to close out the con with a bang: The Resistance: Avalon (Merlin, Morgana, Percival, two Lancelots), but with the "madness" cards from Mountains of Madness (which I have never played) that give everyone communication restrictions. mmazala, Viking, and I bounced off each other fantastically. Viking could not say numbers at all (just "less" or "more"); mmazala could only say numbers if they were expressed as a sum (or difference); and any time I heard someone else say a number, I had to interrupt and increase by one. So it would be like:
Viking: We need...more people on this mission.
mmazala: I want to go on mission 1+1.
M1 was LJ and itsbrianyay and failed. M2 was Brian, Viking, and Clyde, which passed with mmazala as the extra upvote. The good/evil Lancelots did not swap allegiances; mmazala was added to M3, it passed, Lancelots remained loyal, the original M2 passed M4. Sure enough, LJ was Morgana but hadn't intended to fail M1, oops. I was evil Lancelot. It seemed like mmazala had voted too Merlin-y to be Merlin, and both of us had a gut sense that it was Clyde (I'd never met him before this weekend but he seemed more subdued than the crazy persona he posts as). So we didn't overthink it, went with our gut, and were successful!
Thanks again to all who made this work, and *hugs* especially to those I met for the first time! See you around. Especially if "around" is by train.
Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings
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