Recent gaming: BGGcon 2015 (LOTS of stuff)
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Nov 16-Nov 22, 2015

I was lucky enough to be at BGG.con from Wed-Sun last week. If you heard any of my daily podcasts, or followed me on twitter/FB (and the equivalent for my wargaming tweets), you may have heard about these already. I still like the ritual and record of writing these down using my normal, Recent Gaming geeklist, however. Plus there are a few here that didn't make it in to either of those live streams from the event.

My recent gaming geeklists (2015)
Boardgames To Go Guild
Boardgames To Go Blog & Podcast
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1. Board Game: Treasure Hunter [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:1499]
Board Game: Treasure Hunter
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I had high hopes for the combo of designer Richard Garfield and publisher Queen, and this did not disappoint. Yeah, everyone knows I'm so tired of the fantasy theme (never really liked it in the first place), but here in a quick, light game I don't mind. It's just enough to hook everyone in with a basic theme that makes enough sense to hang a wonderful card-drafting game on. It hits a sweet spot between 7 Wonders and Sushi Go. At first it seemed as light as the latter, but that's not the case--there's definitely more going on here.
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2. Board Game: Triumph & Tragedy: European Balance of Power 1936-1945 [Average Rating:8.17 Overall Rank:522] [Average Rating:8.17 Unranked]
Board Game: Triumph & Tragedy: European Balance of Power 1936-1945
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Most of the time my preferred wargaming scale is operational, or grand tactical, where the focus is on a single famous battle or campaign. The low-level tactical squad combat normally doesn't do it for me, and neither does the strategic level where you see the entire war or theater. So why am I playing this unusual wargame about the diplomatic, economic, and military struggles in Europe from the 1930s through to 1945? Specifically BECAUSE it's so unusual in that it captures all of those larger factors, and wider timescale. See how it has Neville Chamberlain on the cover? Not Eisenhower, Churchill, Stalin, Hitler, Patton, Montgomery, Rommel, Roosevelt, or anyone else that's on most wargame covers. That really tells you something.

I played the Soviets, which we thought was the more straightforward side since I was new to the game. Brian and Phil had each played 2-3 times already, so they took Germany and Britain/France (the West). Wow, I loved the game just reading the rules, since it was so exciting to see how designer Craig Besinque had tackled this complicated subject. The military stuff is streamlined, semi-standard block wargame system, and the diplomacy is handled in almost a euro fashion with cards that I found better than Twilight Struggle's method. The economic system smoothly combines industrial capacity with R&D in a way that makes for tough choices...not to mention the third hand in the pot that wants to spend resources on military buildup.
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3. Board Game: Guns & Steel [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:3755] [Average Rating:6.34 Unranked]
Board Game: Guns & Steel
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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A minimalist civ-building game. Funny--after years of searching for the 90-120 minute civ game (never really found, in my opinion), here's one that tries to boil it all the way down to less than an hour, and all with a modest amount of cards. No board, no bits. I was more impressed with the attempt than the final product, though the other guys enjoyed the game more.
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4. Board Game: M.U.L.E. The Board Game [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:4601]
Board Game: M.U.L.E. The Board Game
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I never played M.U.L.E. in the Atari 800/C64 days, but that's only because I had a different computer (first a TI-99/4A, later an Apple IIe--I was playing Wizardry & Castle Wolfenstein). I've certainly heard about it, though, and was intrigued. Which isn't the same as thinking we needed a boardgame version in 2015. But, why not? The theme is still pretty cool, and the production is pretty fantastic. What we got was a pretty pedestrian commodity market game, however, where the players spend as much time "processing" the game's market system as they do making strategic decisions. Admittedly, we only played the standard game. The tournament option that adds some auctions & player powers may improve the experience.
 
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5. Board Game: Zero! [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:3109] [Average Rating:6.94 Unranked]
Board Game: Zero!
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Another 5-star wargame, for me. The Down in Flames system won't be for everyone--it uses cards to abstract WW2 air combat the way Up Front did it for squad combat. Positions are only relative, there's no map, and so on. But I've loved it since Rise of the Luftwaffe, especially when we get to play a campaign. This time I wanted to try the Japanese invasion of the Philippines that was sync'd with the Pearl Harbor attack. Yes, there are important land battles that are part of this campaign, but the air war is hugely important. Lots of wargames treat the air campaigns as a secondary or tertiary part of their system, but here it's front & center. I played against someone I only met through the pre-BGGcon wargame scheduling geeklist, and was a great experience. I lost horribly, but had fun doing so. This will be discussed more on a future Wargames To Go episode.
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6. Board Game: Shakespeare [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:530]
Board Game: Shakespeare
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I might have gotten swept up in the convention excitement about this one, because it's not really the sort of lighter euro I prefer. Instead, it's got more than it's share of cards, bits, systems, and ways to score victory points. Isn't that point salad, the thing I don't like about modern euros? Yeah, maybe, and I DID feel some comparisons to games like Trajan while playing Shakespeare (that's a GOOD thing for most people). However, I think this is just streamlined enough that my point salad friends still find things they like, while I find it smooth & thematic enough for my interest. That's a sweet spot.
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7. Board Game: Toscana [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:7944]
Board Game: Toscana
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Ok, I'd been warned this wasn't so great. Another attempt at a fun & interesting game about winemaking that missed the mark. (I'm only so-so on Viticulture, by the way.) However, I read some things about it that really made me want to try for myself, and the BGG Library offered the perfect opportunity to do so. As well as a chance to play with a couple podcast listeners. Sure enough, the game was disappointing, but I was glad to experience it.

 
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8. Board Game: LIE [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:6599]
Board Game: LIE
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I talked about the Pack-O-Game (and Famous...) series of microgames in a podcast over a year ago, but haven't played too many of them since then. I love the concept, though. When a group of us left to check out a local brewery, Greg stuffed the Pack-O-Game (including the snazzy zipper case) in his pocket. Over beers and a food truck dinner we played a couple games, including this one. I figured it was just a rehash of Liar's Dice (which is public domain? hard to tell with this one), but it turns out there's something slightly different here. The die faces are printed on cards instead of rolled, but they are different at either end. The long & skinny format of the Pack-O-Game cards makes it easy to show which one you're using, covering the other up with your thumb that you use to hold the hand of cards. So, it's liar's dice with a simple decision before you lock in "roll." Though this didn't have it, I can imagine an easy variant that allows the usual "re-roll" by locking in & showing a single card. Perfect little game for our excursion. (But it's still liar's dice, which is just 3-stars from me.)
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9. Board Game: Pairs [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:2648]
Board Game: Pairs
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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This was the other game we brought to the brewery, a perfect pub game. We even had the barmaid version. The arguing over standard versus continuous versus ad-hoc variant rules took us as long as the actual game, which was both stupid & funny at the same time.
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10. Board Game: Wings of War: Deluxe Set [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:1689]
Board Game: Wings of War: Deluxe Set
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I picked up the original game when it first showed up, back when it was ONLY cards. Now it's exploded into a million miniatures, and must have some creative relationship (at least an inspiration) to the X-Wing game that uses similar mechanisms. As much as I love Star Wars, I also love the drama & stories of WW1 flying. I don't own the minis myself, though. Here at the con was a chance to play in a big game with lots of people and an incredible array of figures. Besides the usual Spads and Fokkers we had swirling around, I got to fly a lumbering Breguet 14 as our Allied team defended an artillery piece from German Empire planes bent on destroying it. There were even eye-catching clouds floating above the landscape playmats. It was pretty awesome, and made more so by Steven & Kevin Duke from the BGG wargamer community who ran the game. It almost reminded me of an RPG, the way Steve would jump in to any unusual situations that developed and resolve with a quick die roll instead of sticking his nose in a rulebook for something official. Excellent.
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11. Board Game: CATAN 3D Collector's Edition [Average Rating:7.91 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.91 Unranked]
Board Game: CATAN 3D Collector's Edition
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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What's more surprising, that I was paying Settlers at a con known for "Hot Games," or that a classic boardgamer like me only gives it 4 stars? Because if you'll look, you'll see that Catan is one of my 10's. Well, Greg had the fantastic idea for three oldtimers (plus one relative newcomer) to play this classic euro (arguably the one that started everything for our hobby). We'd play the fancy & expensive 3D deluxe version, and we'd even look for a table near the Hot Games where games are closer to 20 days old instead of Catan's 20 years.

Couldn't find a table there, however, so we had to use a smaller side room. That was fine. We played our game, and had a good time. One guy was hosed by the die rolls, but that's Settlers! You either can handle that or you can't. We can. All of that was good. I took off one star because we were all surprised that the deluxe edition wasn't awesome. In fact, the components kind of got in the way, with pieces that were harder to distinguish in color, and ports that were tricky to locate to their vertices. Maybe we'll bust out the traditional boardgame next year.
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12. Board Game: Council of 4 [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:1030]
Board Game: Council of 4
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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One of the designers is best known for Tzolk'in, which is definitely NOT my kind of game. Way too heavy, long, and fiddly (for insufficient strategic payoff, IMO). But my buddy Marcin loves Tzolk'in, and those games in general, and thought THIS game could be something we both like. He'd heard of its short gameplay and comparisons to Thurn & Taxis, a game I love for its elegance. Sure enough, Council of Four was something like T&T, but with more stuff going on (more types of scoring, particularly). I ended up thinking it was just ok, and thought the others guys felt the same way. Turns out everyone was just exhausted (we played it pretty late at night), and they actually enjoyed it quite a bit. One said he preferred it to Thurn & Taxis, but that's crazy-talk!
 
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13. Board Game: Sapiens [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:3639]
Board Game: Sapiens
Mark Johnson
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Santa Clarita
California
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One of the rare games on my BGGcon "dance card" list of games I wanted to play...that I actually managed to play! This was my chance to connect with Texas friends Ed & Susan again. They warned me that this cute, family-style appearing game was really pretty think-y, and they were right. The fun theme and fantastic production (iello scores again!) bump this up for me, plus the fact that I think it would get easier with repeat plays. But there's a bit of brain-burn in this one, as the need to juggle spatial gameplay AND 1-2 turn lookahead in your head means this isn't really a family game at all. It's a serious euro, albeit a spatial one rather than our current wave of economic ones. It's like Carcassonne and Flowerpower had a love-child...who went to grad school.
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14. Board Game: The Last Spike [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:3923]
Board Game: The Last Spike
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Is it really 4 stars? You tell me. We played it twice, generating a range of opinions and discussions about a game that finishes in 30 minutes with some real strategy. So I think it gets 4 stars simply for being that intriguing. I'm still not sure what I really think about the game, though. Is it a brilliant, thematic boiling down of Acquire-style gameplay? Or is it that, but crippled by imbalance and instability? I'm not sure!
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15. Board Game: Stockpile [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:344]
Board Game: Stockpile
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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This was on the bubble for my Essen watchlist, and I was so happy to be able to try it at BGGcon. The cartoony cover makes it look like a filler game about the stock market, just packaged in a big box. No, it's actually a pretty serious attempt at a stock market game with good eurogame elegance & strategy. A cousin to Spekulation, in other words. In this one everyone has some info about the way the stock market will change, but far from all of it. You make your selling decision based on that sliver of info, plus what you observe everyone else do. The buying is done with a divide-the-pie meets auction mechanism that blends things we've seen in San Marco and Amun-Re. Pretty clever stuff here, especially when we took a look at the advanced board (didn't play that one, though).
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16. Board Game: Entdecker [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:2830]
Board Game: Entdecker
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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How can I not give my favorite game 5 stars? Well, like I told the guys I played this, I'm no longer literally sure this is my single favorite game. I have a lot of favorites, but you need an answer when someone asks you for your favorite game, and this has always been mine. Another listener had picked up this old game (OOP, and never available in English--I'm not talking about the inferior 2nd edition) at the BGGcon Virtual Flea Market, and we played my hybrid variant. As always, I give everyone the option of playing that, the original as-published game, or the common gamer variant used since day one. Everyone always asks for my way, though. Fine by me! We had a good time, and so fun to play my favorite with fans of the podcast as my last game of the convention for me.
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