dkeisen@BGG.CON2013
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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What a difference a year makes.

Last year we had:

Terra Mystica
The Great Zimbabwe
New Amsterdam
Keyflower
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

Not to mention other solid, interesting, and fun games such as Myrmes, CO₂, Copycat, Suburbia, and Ginkgopolis.

This year we have:

Russian Railroads

Russian Railroads is a fine fine game which I highly recommend, but one which would have fallen near the bottom of the "good games" list from 2012.

I did find a couple of other interesting games toward the end of the convention so cannot fully be the curmudgeon I had hoped to be.

The venue has gotten even worse. The food situation is intolerable, taking previous years' problematic food down a notch by the restaurant's no longer offering food off the menu after about Wednesday night. Breakfast buffet for $13 was what other hotels would generally call their complimentary continental breakfast. Not pleased.

And the move of the Hot Games Room from a room to an amorphous corner of a giant ballroom made it harder to find games, reduced the sense of community there, and was generally just not a good thing. Part of the problem seemed to be that they were able to get fewer copies of the hot new games so it was harder to get into a game of the popular ones --- I only managed to play Concordia by getting down there at 8:00 am on Friday morning before anyone else did. Can't really fault the management for that as no one was getting lots and lots of copies of Patchistory. Would have liked to have seen a copy of Wildcatters though.

I shouldn't complain. It's churlish. I know many of you would have loved to come and just couldn't make it for one reason or another. And despite all of this, and despite the fact that my witty and sexy fiancee no longer accompanies me to BGG.CON, this was still the best week of the year for me. I absolutely will be attending next year and expect to sign up within 5 minutes of the tickets going on sale.

I want to take a quick second to say that I had always read these reports and the comments about what an opportunity it is to see old friends and had always quietly snickered at the sentimentality. But ya know: it really is. Tim, who moved away a year ago. Tom, who lives maybe a mile away from me but has a life and doesn't game in my groups as often as I would like. And my BGG.CON friends such as Dave who I see literally once a year. Well, there actually are dozens of people I see here that I pretty much don't see anywhere else and it does make the event a much better experience for me. I even enjoy seeing familiar faces and quietly recognizing them as someone I have gamed with at previous events.

Enough sentimental twaddle. On to the games.

I have stopped trying to predict the future and will list games in order of how much I enjoyed them last week, not in the order of how "good" the game is and whether or not the game is solid enough to be on this same list a year or two from now. I'll make a note of my thoughts here at the bottom of the list, but do not take them too seriously.

Here's what I played.
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1. Board Game: Russian Railroads [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:67]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Difficult, very low randomness, building game themed on building train tracks of various quality on several train lines. Scoring is primarily based on how good the track is on the portions which are in range of your trains. You grow a tremendous amount over the course of the game so scores mushroom toward the end.

About the smoothest worker placement game there is. Really enjoy it.

It is not richly themed in that you are each building your personal track on an individual player board: an interesting game might be a similar game where the track was somehow shared on a map. Player interaction is via the worker placement mechanism: I get to the action first so you cannot have it.

They seem to have removed the most serious of the imbalances from the prototype version I played this spring. Best I can tell, there are several viable strategies, but further plays are required to be certain. I expect to get these plays within a month of when the game is available in the US market.

Wasn't just me. Everyone I know there among the "heavier Eurogame" crowd thought this was best in show. For me: not close. Others too as my friend Eric played this 3 or 4 times during BGG.CON.

Only disappointment is that they changed the track colors from the prototype which had used yellow track, upgrading to green, then to brown, to grey, and to red.

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2. Board Game: Madeira [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:300]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Heavy action and resource management game themed on building up and trading on the island of Madeira. Core tension is that as in most Eurogames you want to be doing actions different from what everyone else does to have reduced contention for the goodies you want but if you do this, the actions cost you more money.

I raise the theme as the theme integration is very good for a Eurogame. It's not just a bunch of nouns. I want those teaching/learning the game to note that you should do so in a framework driven by the theme as presented by the pretty well-written rule book. Teaching the actions and phases available in the abstract just didn't work well for me this weekend as it can be a little overwhelming and disjointed.

I had not had this high on my list pre-convention for two reasons:

1. It looks to be complicated, like Vinhos by the same publishing company or CO₂ by the same designer as Vinhos. I don't mean complex and meaty, I mean complicated with a lot of little detailed rules to keep track of. I prefer my games to be more direct.

2. There is more randomness than one would expect for a game of this weight, including some significant randomness which comes after the players have made the relevant decisions.

I do not think the first strike is fair. It is true that it is non-obvious how to make progress during your first play, but really, it does become clear as the game goes on. Madeira is not complicated like Vinhos or CO2. There are clear and clearly differentiated useful actions and once you figure out the mechanics, you know what your priorities are. There are no elements like the wine experts in Vinhos or the scientists in CO2 which seem tacked on and annoying but in fact are really three quarters of the game. The windmill in Madeira, which I suppose is an analogue of the bank in Vinhos, is a straightforward way to manage your bread/money effectively as opposed to being a convoluted step in bringing in money you earn.

If there are any problems, the rule book is good, the board lays everything out with clear iconography, and there are very effective player aids. Kudos to the publisher on this one.

I should note that at pretty much every game I watched there was one player who never did figure out what was going on and had a pretty miserable time. Choose your tablemates wisely for this one.

As far as the randomness, well, yeah. It did not bother me my first game as I am learning the puzzle of how to manage my actions and I could not much tell how badly I was impacted by poor dice rolls. I do expect it to become more and more of a problem for me as I get better at the game and I expect I will not be playing much of this a year from now.

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3. Board Game: The Capitals [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1547]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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A more complicated, and thankfully, deeper Suburbia. On first blush it is just more complicated as there are many different icons to internalize, but it in fact is a deeper game.

Not really thematic as your gains advance you on various tracks which can be explained using nouns familiar in city building, but whose results are pretty unintuitive from a city building perspective. This looks to be a difficult teach not because the mechanics are tough, but because it is not clear what you're trying to do and where the points come from.

I do want to call out the turn order mechanism which is a clear innovation here. Turn order is selected by players paying money for the position they are moving to. The money they pay is multiplied by a multiplier which is based on their current slot on the turn order track. So going first costs some money and it will increase the price paid for the next turn order selection.

Innovative and I really like the idea.

I know others are less enamored by it because late in the game as some players develop serious economies, the expense here is not that bad so the same player will go first every turn for the last quarter or third of the game.

I have no problem with this at all as:

1. $18 per turn is non-trivial regardless of what your economy looks like.
2. That's really all that money is used for. Putting together an economic engine at the expense of all the other things needed in the game *should* give you a serious benefit and this is the benefit.

Next time I play with the drafting variant on Prosperity buildings.

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4. Board Game: Sail to India [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:1114]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Before I get started here I need to emphasize that this is a 45-minute game which fits in your pants pocket. All of the effusive praise of this game you've heard should be taken in this context.

It *is* a very good game given that it fits in my pocket. An interesting economic and exploration game with multiple paths to victory. A good amount of interaction without it being a silly bashfest. But it's like the folks who live in my part of the world who go on and on about In-N-Out Burger and how good it is for a fast food restaurant. Well, yes. It is. But it's still a fast food restaurant.

And Sail to India is still a filler.

That said, played it twice at BGG.CON and was trying to play it more often than that. A very useful addition to anyone's gaming library. I hope they improve the graphic design before re-release at least to the point where you can tell the blue cubes apart from the green ones.

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5. Board Game: Concordia [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:23]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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A viewer from Mars would have thought this was the hit of the convention. It was impossible to get a seat at the table, all the other hot games were pretty manageable.

Good game, but I don't see why it finished second in the Fairplay. Deck builder with actions being fundamentally economic in nature as your colonists spread out on a shared board to acquire resources to sell. Your score is the VP value of your deck of cards at game end with each type of card rewarding a different facet of your on-board infrastructure.

The natural comparison is Navegador by the same designer. Similar multiplicative scoring mechanism, although done a little more nicely here as the multipliers are items which are both useful for gameplay prior to the final scoring. I like the board play and the various actions available better than Navegador.

But the card management for action selection, while constraining action choice, do not do so as effectively as the rondel mechanism from Navegador does. And without this constraint, it is too difficult to predict other players' upcoming actions and thus the game has a different, and lesser, feel to me.

This is the game most likely to rise in my estimation going forward.

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6. Board Game: Yunnan [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:1246]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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No luck auction and simple network building game. Takes about an hour. Has a bunch of nice things going for it and the level of interaction leads me to think that the lack of randomness will not end up meaning all games play out the same.

My only challenge with the game, and it is a significant one, is that when you move a meeple into a region (I'm sure they call them something other than meeples and something other than regions), you can displace a meeple from a player who has lower influence than you. Many times there were multiple such meeples available from different players and the displacement arbitrarily hit one player or the other. Maybe once you have some experience this is less of a problem because there will generally be strategic drivers pushing your decision on whom to hit, but just making such a decision because I feel like hitting you this time but maybe feel like hitting the other guy next time: not a mechanic I like even if the displacement is more of a cost to the player than crippling.

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7. Board Game: Lewis & Clark [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:138]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Innovative and smooth deck builder racing game themed on the Lewis and Clark expedition. I enjoyed it, although the downtime was irksome for a game of this weight so I would think that 3 is likely the best player count. That also fits well with the mechanic where your production is based on your infrastructure and that of your neighbors a la 7 Wonders.

I came away from my play with a very positive feeling about it. It is a solid, mid-weight Eurogame which doesn't really feel like other games. This was an automatic buy when I had more than 200 but fewer than 300 games.

But I don't play solid mid-weight Eurogames these days. And while I buy games in part because I like to host and have good games available for my guests, most of my friends don't play these games either and for those who do, I already own a lot of them.

So I have to downgrade this to:

PLAY
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8. Board Game: A Study in Emerald [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:593]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Interesting game here. Vampires. Zombies. And yet a real, serious game.

This is going to be a great choice for people who like richly themed games and are experienced enough gamers to want something a little deeper. It seems to work. And was fun.

The most distinctive facet of the game is simply how you determine the winner. The players are assigned in secret to one of two factions and you win if you are the highest scoring member of your faction and your faction does not include the player with the single lowest score at the table. So when the two players of the other faction got very close to winning and my factionbuddy (it's secret, but it had become clear by this point in the game) and I were both way behind, the two leaders were forced to bash each other. Bashing one of us was of no help at all as we were already eliminated.

Final score: my factionbuddy won and I was behind him by 1 VP.

Yet another deckbuilder. Starting to see a pattern here.

PLAY
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9. Board Game: Patchistory [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:783]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Big sloppy mess of a civ game with some very very interesting ideas, both theoretically and in terms of how the game plays out. But the rule exposition is a disaster and some pieces of the game just didn't work. Not a huge fan of all the blind bidding.

Will definitely want to play this if it ever receives some more development. Also quite willing to be proved wrong. But fundamentally I did not much enjoy my play.

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10. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.13 Overall Rank:13]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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I came in expecting a game which improved Agricola but which did not draw me in sufficiently to want to play it much. I'm not going to beat
Kurt R
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All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.
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so I'll just quote him: Some took to it like a new iPhone and I saw it as ... well, a new iPhone.

I was looking forward to Caverna because it seemed to address some of the specific concerns I have with Agricola. But it's just too soft. Feeding is too easy and I had a difficult time maintaining focus to maximize my position.

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11. Board Game: Nations [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:95]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Biggest risk here is sitting down to play with strangers and have one of them call loudly to all passersby asking if they like Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization because if they did they were certain to like Nations.

Well, no.

Through the Ages is an interactive deep civilization game which requires and rewards planning. Nations is a game where you tactically respond to the options thrown at you. It's a card drafting game where you draft one card and add it to you tableau and then it's the next player's turn to do the same. No working out turn by turn how to improve your position until you score big by the fruition of your plan, no teetering on the edge of disaster because you cannot increase the resource you need desperately.

It uses all the nouns of a civ building game and, well, is one so it has that in common with TtA. You do place workers on cards to get the card benefit multiplied by the number of workers allocated, benefits being the expected production, military strength, or civil stability. But otherwise, not so much alike. I'll stick with TtA.

The clear win here, by the way, is in teaching. This is a 15 minute teach. I imagine you know that Through the Ages isn't.

I recommend if you play that you use the asymmetric starting positions. It kind of grew on me on my second play, but I can't see more than a half dozen further plays of this.

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12. Board Game: Machi Koro [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:735]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Light pleasant dice rolling building game where you get benefits when dice which match the cards you have purchased hit. Some of the benefits ding other players and these seem like the good ones. It works well for what it is, but that is not something which much interests me.

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13. Board Game: Baseball Highlights: 2045 [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:370]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Nice quick little sports game with a deckbuilding element: after every game you can buy free agents and relegate players to the minor leagues. As your demotions are secret, the opponent cannot precisely tune his or her lineup to take advantage of your weaknesses. A seemingly innovative mechanic where each card you play (one of your batters) has an effect and also can have a response to the other player's card, for instance striking his or her batter out.

Might have liked this better if able to play as quickly as intended, but the person who taught me insisted on working out the details of every single card play from first principles turning this into an ordeal. I might not be as patient as would be ideal.

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14. Board Game: Bruxelles 1893 [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:251]
Dave Eisen
United States
Menlo Park
CA
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Oh, this is horrible.

Mishmash of standard Euromechanics of building, auctioning, increasing VP multipliers, worker placement. I could live with this (and in fact do live with it in games that I like), but Bruxelles is so completely tactical that there is just no point. The player before you will change game state in ways which really help or hurt you and will do so in ways which are difficult to predict unless you analyze several plies out in a game which just does not allow this as the players are more responding tactically to their immediate positions than driving towards coherent strategies. If you want to study this sufficiently to make good predictions, well, you play mid-weight Euros for a different reason than I do.

DISPARAGE
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