The Message's Dice Tower Convention Report
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So, the Dice Tower Convention just ended the other day. You probably want to hear all about it right? Who are you going to go to for the post-event recounting? Vasel? Metzler? Summerer? Literally any other random person that was there? Boy, I bet they have some great stories.

So anyway, here's a list of some games I played and people I was vaguely aware of around me.
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1. Board Game: Guildhall [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:694] [Average Rating:7.01 Unranked]
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Alright, context: LeptFire and I went to the con as part of a school group. I'm getting a minor in Game Studies and Design at Montevallo and so the school effectively paid for the trip, how could we say no to that? However, neither of us have been to a con before so walking into that huge main gaming room in a foreign state was a somewhat bewildering experience. What is one to do in that situation?

Ignore the convention happening around you and go check out the nearest game store, that's what.

Coolstuff had an awesome nook in the back of the room where we met back up with some other members of the group and since there were games sitting there we had to check that out. Believe me, I know how to buy a game, that's something I can relate to. This little gem ("this" being Guildhall, in case my rambling has caused you to forget the item entry) caught my eye pretty quickly since it's been high on the list of things to buy for a while now and the price was great.

So we bought it and our first play of the con began. First we played it two-player and then got a four-player game going right after that. It's a pretty cool card game that feels both new and familiar and although we didn't play it much this past week due to agreeing to try new things that wouldn't be readily available later I can't wait to get back it in the near future.

 
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2. Board Game: Egizia [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:278]
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This was both our first library game and our first game with outsiders. We had both played many games on Yucata but this was the first with a real copy so some rules reading was in order to make sure all the things that the computer normally processed moved quickly and accurately.

Two dudes emerged from the crowd to join us, Jason and Doug. The game was as awesome as always and thankfully the company managed to be at least as awesome. Unfortunately we never did get in another game with them over the week but I run into Jason almost everywhere and it was nice having a familiar face floating around the area.

More on Egizia later.
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3. Board Game: Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:270] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
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Woke up early Thursday morning (early meaning slightly before 10) to make it to a Heroscape demo since that's always been a game that has managed to both sound awesome and be impossible to locate. The game is indeed awesome, in case you didn't know.

We played three sessions, two on a forested ruin map with roads (agents against marro dudes and then red demony axe dudes against marro dudes and a dragon) and then once on a volcanic hill with shadow valleys (knights against a dragon and some lizard dudes). All three went fairly well although I can definitely say I preferred the armies where you had to make decisions as to where to place what order markers, when you took that out (such as with the armies that are all one type of unit or the last match where each side had the ability to freely activate their hero) the game almost became too simple. Almost being the important word, because it still managed to be a blast.

Anyone looking to give their set a good home?
 
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4. Board Game: Kingsburg [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:266]
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Another library game, this one got several plays. The first had a very slight rules error, and when I say "very slight" I mean we didn't realize that the soldiers went home after Winter so had nearly unstoppable armies after the second year. The second play was a bit more interesting and accurate but had the downside of poor scheduling. We ended up doing a speed run of the fifth year in about ten minutes while frantically trying to get done in time for the design panel at 7. We did manage to get done in time, by the way. Unfortunately they also started a couple minutes early. Whoops.

We got a third and final play in on the last night, this time with four players. I got trashed, but more on that later.

This was a really cool game. Dice allocation in general seems to be a hit with us, we love worker placement and we love dice so that isn't much of a surprise. Only having three dice to work with was an interesting twist and the building options lead to more strategic variety than you might expect of something with this much die-rolling. Coolstuff had a copy on their shelf the entire con and it took a lot of willpower not to leave with it.
 
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5. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2240]
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So the real reason the trip was funded was so that I could present a game prototype. I brought two, Sky Colony (which you can read about on my BGG blog) and Hand Management Rondel Game. There were three prototype gaming events scheduled for the con and I took a different game to each one (or none, as was the case for the third event).

The first night Sky Colony was on the menu. In brief it's a deck-building game with an area majority component on a board and with a moderate-high complexity level. It's also pretty long, which will be important. But not now, since I'll be going over this in more detail over at the aforementioned BGG blog The Message's Messages. You should go subscribe to that, it's a very active and thrilling addition to your inbox. For the moment just content yourself with the knowledge that the playtest went very well, there was a lot of great feedback and the reception was generally positive.

The second event was on Saturday morning and didn't go nearly as well, although it wasn't necessarily bad in the manner you might expect. I brought Hand Management Rondel Game, a simple euro with a theme of being a euro game with a transparent and easily altered theme. The problem with this event, I think, was that people didn't seem to know about it. Unlike the first night it didn't seem like they announced it before it happened, some of the designers I came with didn't even realize there was an event. The first event was packed with prototypes and curious foot traffic, but this time half the room was dedicated to a Ticket To Ride demo and there was a random game of Twilight Imperium going on. We tried to attract some players for a while but gave up after about thirty minutes.

I didn't see if the third event ended up being any better than the second since it came at a weird time relative to our check-out and departure plans and time was already at a premium in those final hours.

In summary, I hope to be able to return for one of these events in the future since it was pretty awesome.
 
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6. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:261]
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No, we didn't play this (although there was a copy at the Coolstuff area, another thing I almost bought). This entry is for the flea market on Friday night.

The event started at 7 so I assumed we would get there around 6:50ish for it. We did but we ended up at the back of a very long line because of it. There's a lesson in there somewhere but I have no idea what it might be.

Lots of great deals went down in the room and luckily we got to take part in a few of them:
Egizia - $35 after Leptfire haggled them down on this fantastic and fairly difficult to find (at a reasonable price, at least) game. Told you it was appearing again on the list.
Batt'l Khaos (or however the hell you spell it) - $10. Not bad for game that has been on my wishlist for quite some time and as a minor bonus Zee Garcia was the guy that sold it to me.
Rune Age - $5. Yeah, seriously. And not only is it in great condition the cards are already sleeved. Forget camping the Hot Deals forum hoping to snag it in another Target sale, those days are over now.

Saw Container for $90. It hurt a little to walk away from that but it would have hurt more to bring it home. Also saw Lost Valley but with the upcoming reprint through Kickstarter that seemed like something that could wait. If I don't get a copy out of this next print run I'll feel like a real idiot but until then that leaves this entry on a satisfied note.
 
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7. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:450]
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Broke our rule about not playing things that were readily available near home by jumping into a game of this that was getting started after the flea market but it was worth it. Now, my memory isn't the best these days but I recall reading that you can only have one copy of each special power even if you connect to both locations on the board. How it was played at this particular table was that you could have two copies if you wanted to, which might not be canon but it was very interesting.

This game is really strange. It stills seems like it's far too simple to possible remain entertaining and yet I always want to come back to it. This most recent session was the most enjoyable yet so I really don't know what to make of it anymore. It just seems like there's no fighting it, it will probably end up on our shelf one day whether we like it or not.
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8. Board Game: Saint Malo [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1787]
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If you don't know what this game is do yourself a favor and go look into it.

Here's the deal. This thing is simple. Very simple. There is luck. Quite a bit of luck, actually. Either one of those can drag down a euro for me, and taken together it usually means an immediate death sentence for the game in question.

Saint Malo is so much fun.

I have no idea why it is so much fun either. Maybe it has something to do with drawing everything? Are we really so easily entertained? We played this multiple times during the con. We even played this while playing another game, because it's just that fast and simple.

Remember the four-player game of Kingsburg? Well, one of the players went missing and we had to send another player to go find them and since it was taking a while we decided to check this back out to get a quick game in. Well, they got back while we were only a third of the way through but we decided to just keep playing on the side since Kingsburg turns can take a little more time than you might expect. Well, that was indeed the game in which I came in last by a significant margin but before you point out that I deserve it for not dedicating my full attention I should counter with the information that my opponent in Saint Malo also won Kingsburg by a significant margin so clearly that wasn't he issue.

Although I did smoke her in Saint Malo that time so what do I know.

Really, really want this game. Terrified of the components wearing out. Not sure what to do. Try it if you get a chance.
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9. Board Game: Trajan [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:71]
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Feld's masterpiece. A virtuosic display of game design as an art form. Neat. All of these statements have been made about Trajan. So what do I think about it?

Not a clue, the rules weren't in the box when we checked it out so we traded it back in and got...
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10. Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar [Average Rating:7.93 Overall Rank:37]
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...this instead. This game was absolutely everywhere, at any given moment you could stand up, turn in a circle and eventually a table with Tzolk'in running would enter your field of vision. The library had three or four copies and there was usually only one on the shelf in the middle of the day. People apparently loved this game.

It was... cool.

Here's the thing. The worker placement was really great. The food system was really great. The tracks, resource management and crystal skull scoring were all really great. So what was the problem?

Well, I'm willing to admit that there is a possibility we played something wrong (keep in mind that this is several low-sleep days into the convention) but the last fourth of the game was just wonky as balls. So, the temple tracks just stop being relevant after that third feeding day scoring? Is that right or did I miss something? It felt like a part of the game just stopped working right as we neared the climax and then the whole thing just sort of ended. It didn't help that our moves on the final turn had no impact due to the "place one round, activate on a later round" tempo of the game (obviously due to player decisions but it still felt weird that that would even happen).

I'd love to play this one again to see if my opinion changes. I'd love even more for someone to point out the glaring rules error that possible occurred to make this a reality. As is I'm not really sure what all the hype is about, sure the first 3/4ths of the game is cool but it isn't mindblowingly awesome and that ending is a head scratcher.
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11. Board Game: Ora et Labora [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:89]
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Finally had a chance to try this one. The set up was a bit of a hassle for some reason but once we got into it the rules were extremely simple and game play was very enjoyable. It think the next entry would be better to put my feelings on this into context.
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12. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:36]
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Late Friday night the wonderful Monica took it up herself to teach us Le Havre, a classic that we've somehow managed to avoid. It was a long game that stretched into the early hours of the morning but it was a really cool game as well.

So having played both this and Ora for the first time in the same day how do they compare to each other?

Well, I'm pretty sure Ora came out ahead. Le Havre had some really interesting design aspects and it seemed like there is a lot of room for serious strategic planning, even more so once you learn the buildings and start to pay attention to when things will come out. The replenishment mechanism with the randomized discs getting locked in after the first round is an awesome twist on the "pile up lots of things" aesthetic of Uwe's other games. It definitely isn't a bad game and I'd be happy to try it again in the future.

However, Ora Et Labora just felt better. The spatial aspect of the buildings was superb, I'm always a sucker for spatial aspects. Even the resource gathering and refining aspects seemed to click better than in Le Havre though so it wasn't just in pairing that with other mechanisms. The worker placement aspect lead to a bit more tension as well, it seemed, even though that seemed like it should be the opposite. I guess I just don't really know why it worked better, it just did.

Ora might make it into our collection in the future, can't say the same for Le Havre.
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13. Board Game: Police Precinct [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:1180]
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Been looking forward to this for a while and it did not disappoint at all. Played a full six-player game with the rest of our travel group Saturday night. Dripping with theme, very smooth mechanisms that keep the game running without getting bogged down in exceptions and some moments of tense uncertainty. My one complaint is that there doesn't appear to be a clear way to increase the difficulty, the rulebook basically says "do bad things to yourself and see how it goes." Perhaps it would be a bit more difficult with fewer players, sure the time to catch the murderer goes up but I can't help but think that things would have been a bit more tense if we didn't have a car in every threatened area of the city. It also gives the crime track more time to start moving.

Definitely want to play this again, preferably with 3-4 players to see how it goes. Might have to pick it up at some point, we've been needing a good theme-heavy co-op that doesn't take forever to play.
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14. Board Game: King of Tokyo [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:226]
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Started a six-player game and then two of the players had to leave (for awesome reasons) so it turned into a four-player slugfest. Played pretty much exactly as I had expected, you roll some dice, try to get some good cards and then try to juggle dying in Tokyo and healing outside of Tokyo. One player got an early card lead that turned into a mid-game points lead and managed to claim victory pretty easily. I had a pretty solid engine going for staying in Tokyo (the card that allows you to heal for 2 energy, the card that gives you 1 energy when you have none and the card that gives you one more energy when you get any) but it took far too long to get going.

Fun game. Not amazing, but fun. Would play it again, probably wouldn't own it though since it doesn't seem like it would shine with two.
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15. Board Game: San Juan [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:228]
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The final game of the convention, played just before leaving early Sunday afternoon. We've played Puerto Rico a number of times (Cuba is much better, so that number is unlikely to increase significantly) so this was easy to quickly learn while low on sleep. I have to say I think this works much better than the board game version, normally distilled versions of games don't work as well for me but for some reason this just felt right. Didn't care for the events expansion that was mixed into the deck but obviously that wouldn't be an issue when buying a new copy so we might have to pick it up at some point. Now the only question is whether we should stick with this or try to get into Race For The Galaxy instead. Unless Race is significantly more advanced I'm unlikely to try to decipher that iconography, anyone care to weigh in on how much heavier it gets?

Oh wait, I'm on BGG, I can just go look that up.
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16. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:41]
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We didn't play this and we didn't buy it. What did we do with it? We won it at the raffle!

Saturday night, last raffle of the convention. About four or five tickets in my name gets called. Brief moment of panic and confusion gives way to manic glee. I really wanted either China or Santiago de Cuba and both were on the table, but I knew LeptFire wanted to try 7 Wonders. Also she was loudly telling me to grab 7 Wonders. So, we now own 7 Wonders (and all of the expansions, what an insanely great prize).

Can't wait to try it out, should be fun.
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17. Board Game Designer: Tom Vasel
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As it turns out there were people at this convention. Some of them were important people. Here are the interactions I had with these people.

Tom Vasel: He was everywhere, of course, so it was hard not to notice him walking around. My closest encounter was when I almost slammed into him while walking into a bathroom he was coming out of. Whoops, sorry again for that.

Ryan Metzler: Also saw him at various times in the main gaming room. Passed him in the lobby one day and said "I love your reviews" while continuing to walk past, he replied "thank you" while also continuing to walk past. Probably a bit understated given that he is currently my favorite reviewer (keeping in mind that I watch reviews on a nearly daily basis), but as you can tell from this geeklist I am a man of few words.

Eric Summerer: Saw him only once or twice. Never heard his voice, unfortunately.

Sam Healey: Saw him once walking into a crowd.

Zee Garcia: Saw him several times in the main gaming room, and purchased one game from him at the flea market as previously mentioned.

Richard Launius: Saw him several times int he main gaming room. He briefly looked over my prototype for Sky Colony and asked a few questions. He didn't seem particularly impressed but that's still going to be a good memory. Tried to rope him into that final game of Kingsburg but it didn't work out.

Zev from Z-Man Games with the last name that I would just butcher: Saw him once walking past a gas station on the way back from subway. Slightly more words than the Metzler encounter but similar execution. "Hey, are you Zev?" "Yes." "I love your company." "Thank you."


I am aware that these are people that can be approached as though they were people and do not need to be observed from a distance. Really, I know that.
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18. Board Game: Dice Towers [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
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That concludes this broadcast. It was an excellent first convention (or probably would have been an excellent convention in general even if it had been our thousandth) and if I can't make it back next year I hope to at least make it on the year after. It was all a little surreal to be honest, going back to regular life is going to be difficult. Perhaps I'll take up hallucinogenic drugs to recreate the sensation, or just stare at collages of dadaist artwork and crowds of board gamers. Whatever the solution, there is nothing left to read here.
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