Some Thoughts on Heavycon 2017 - and Mini-Reviews of the Game I Played There
Trent Hamm
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This past weekend (May 25-28), I had the great opportunity to attend Heavycon 2017 in Aurora, CO. Heavycon 2017 was a small convention of about 100 people geared toward heavy games with a strong cadre of 18XX gamers, organized by the Heavy Cardboard podcast. It mostly centered around sticking 100 people interested in playing heavy games into a fairly large hotel meeting room, sticking a bunch of heavy games in there with them, and letting them go at it for four days.

Heavycon is an invite-only convention, which I think is a very good thing. The hosts, Edward and Amanda Uhler, were thus able to restrict the list to people genuinely interested in playing heavy games and people with a positive online presence, which resulted in a community of kind and welcoming people who were willing to learn complex rules, be patient, and sit through long games and long turns without quitting or being rude. For those of us in game groups where heavy games sometimes aren't even welcome and at other times feature people who will simply quit in the middle of hour four of a six hour game, this was wonderful.

During Heavycon, I had the opportunity to meet tons of wonderful people. The great people in attendance were the real highlights of the 'con, but that's something that's hard to capture in a Geeklist. I could make a list of "especially..." people, but it'd be a long and boring one and I'd probably forget several people I really should mention, so suffice it to say that I met a lot of great people and clicked the "Follow" button on Twitter several times.

So, let's talk about the games. That's why you're here. That's why I'm here. Here's what I played at Heavycon, with some notes on each. I also noted the five games I most enjoyed (intentionally excluding a trio of old favorites because I think it's unfair to compare a game I've played repeatedly and love to a game I've played for the first or second time), as I have a hard time truly "reviewing" the qualities of a game and comparing it to others after just a play or two, but I can certainly say which games pass my key litmus tests of "wanting to play again," which are:

1. Was I thinking about that game and my choices within that game the next day?
2. Did I enjoy my experience while actually playing the game?
3. Did I feel like I was able to make meaningful choices within the game? (With Heavycon, I can basically say "yes" to every game I played there, so this is a non-factor)

Let's go!
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1. Board Game: Indonesia [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:189]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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During the "pre-con" period, I played a 4 player game of Indonesia with Adrian, Mike, and Paul. This quickly turned into a two player race between myself and Mike, as we both managed to control (via merger) all of the shipping on the board along with strong goods production. Mike took it - I had a larger shipping network, but Mike's secondary production was just too strong.

This was my fourth or fifth play of Indonesia. It remains my favorite Splotter title. We used the second edition of the game, which has a few component oddities - the wooden pieces don't bother me, but I do wish the map borders were clearer, even if it sacrificed some of the overall beauty of the map. I do truly love this game, however; it was one of the "old favorites" mentioned above and would probably be in my top five if I wasn't excluding those titles.
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2. Board Game: Rolling Stock [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:3280]
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My first game of Heavycon proper was a four player game of Rolling Stock between myself, Toby, Ambie, and Dion, with Toby doing an absolutely amazing job of teaching, as I had not played Rolling Stock before. We used the 2.0 edition of the game with a "Stars" theming, which gave it more of a future theme rather than a classic railroad theme.

I can't help but liken this game to a very stock-oriented 18xx without the board at all. That's what the game feels like to me. Your path to winning and losing is entirely based around stock ownership and merger shenanigans, not too different from the things that occur in a stock-heavy 18xx title. The difference is, in at least the 2.0 version we played, that a game can come in at around the two hour mark. It also seemed very brutal in an Age of Steam way, where you can push yourself into a near death spiral, which I promptly did given that it was my first game.

This was my #1 game of Heavycon. I found my mind coming back to Rolling Stock throughout the 'con and I'm pretty sure I will be picking up the 2.0/"Stars" edition as soon as it is available. I've already signed up to play games online at rollingstock.net.
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3. Board Game: Pax Renaissance [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:638]
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Later on Thursday morning, I was taught Pax Ren by Ash and also played with Toby and Ambie from my earlier Rolling Stock game. I had to stop playing at 1PM, something I informed the other players about before we started, so we did not quite get to finish.

Toby, Ambie, and myself were all new and Ash did a good job of teaching the game. The game is solely card driven and does an interesting job of simulating the political intrigues of Renaissance-era Europe (something that I'll return to later in the 'con). Being a Phil Eklund game, there is definitely some opacity to the system and it feels very swing-y, and it's definitely one where a lot of replay is rewarded.

I am personally turned off by games with strong unpredictable events, which is a Phil Eklund trademark. That does exist in this game, but I feel like there is much more player control than there is in other Eklund games. I feel like this is one that would reward a lot of replay and study of the deck of cards which would allow players to use probability much more, whereas other Eklund games rely on pure random chance more than I personally enjoy.

This was my #5 game of Heavycon. I have a local player in my group who is a big fan of Eklund's games, and this is one I would definitely play again with him. If there was one Eklund game I'd be willing to play repeatedly, this would be the one.
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4. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2242]
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At 1 PM on Thursday, I participated in the craft coffee exchange, bringing three bags of coffee from Iowa roasters to exchange with others. I took home three bags, one of which I can smell right at this very moment as I type this out. The exchange was done in the form of a simple draft.
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5. Board Game: Northern Pacific [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:6039]
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After the coffee exchange, I had a couple of hours to burn before playing 1822, so I played a trio of Winsome games with two other people who would be participating in 1822, Kyle and Andy. Northern Pacific was the first.

Northern Pacific is a very brief game in which each player takes turns either moving a train token across the map or placing a cube in a city. If a train passes through a city, then the person owning a cube in that city takes back the cube and an additional one from the bank. Most of the routes are single-direction routes, meaning the train does progress from east to west and thus skips a bunch of cities along the way. The winner is the player with the most cubes.

We joked during the game that this was a "social experiment" more than a game. I would be amused to have this game to play with others as a ten minute negotiation filler.
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6. Board Game: Southern Rails [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:10772]
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Southern Rails was the second in our trio of Winsome Games.

In all honesty, this struck me as a simpler and less interesting game of Continental Divide, with Divide being one of my favorite Winsome titles.

At the start, players draft two shares of stock in one or two of six companies. After that, players take turns playing a single cube on a hex map in several colors, with each color representing one of those six companies. When the tenth cube of any company is placed, a scoring round happens where companies are paid dividends from the bank based on various goals (most red cities connected, most blue cities connected, etc.), then all players draft another share from one of the companies. Repeat until the tenth cube of the fourth company is placed.

This is a game I wouldn't turn down again, but I wouldn't play it again. As I said earlier, it strikes me as a less interesting version of Continental Divide. I might choose this when I have a CD itch but a shorter time window.
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7. Board Game: Trans-Siberian Railroad [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:7811]
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This was the third of our Winsome choices and we were joined by a fourth player. This game was hampered by a poorly-written rules sheet, but we figured it out.

This game starts with a stock auction that puts money into company treasuries, which the controlling player of each company then operates over a series of turns. Operation mostly just involves laying a cube in a connected city and increasing the value of the stock by the value of that connection. Players can also choose to buy more stock if they can afford it. Certain moves by companies and players also push along a timing track, which triggers a rather nasty dividend round that forces some railroad nationalization.

I won this one by being the controller of the only company to survive the nationalization, which was done solely by starting the company at a high valuation to see what would happen, as this was my first play (it was the first play for all of us).

I would play this again, but it didn't leave me thinking very much. That may have been that I was immediately drawn into my next game...
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8. Board Game: 1822: The Railways of Great Britain [Average Rating:8.45 Overall Rank:3182]
Trent Hamm
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This game was taught by Tony Fryer (who did a great job teaching) and included myself, Kyle, and Andrew from the previous Winsome games mentioned earlier and one other player whose name I failed to note in my game tracking app.

In my mind, 1822 is the 18XX to play if you like interesting private powers, you like lots of auctions, and you want some freedom to operate your companies unhindered for a while before people start to really clash. It turns out that those are traits that really turn me on as a gamer. I like the player interaction of 18XX games, but I also like how this one starts out with more indirect interaction which grows slowly into more direct interaction late, whereas other titles sometimes feel like a knife fight in a phone booth really quickly. This felt more mellow and less aggressive, but it flowed along very nicely.

This was my #2 game of Heavycon. By the end of the night, I was already trying to organize a local game of this and I found myself reading through private company powers for a long time afterwards. I want to play this again.
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9. Board Game: Arkwright [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:622]
Trent Hamm
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I started off Friday morning playing Arkwright, which is an old favorite of mine (yep, another "old favorite" which I intentionally excluded from my ranking). One of the other players was Bill, who I played with at other times in the con, but I failed to note the names of the other players, as I didn't have my phone with me for most of Friday (long, boring story).

In this game, I wanted to see what I could do without shipping to keep altering the market to make it hard for other players to ship. I was largely successful in this, as I won, but I turned the game into a dirty knife fight in a phone booth with rusty poisoned daggers in doing so. I was blatantly manipulating the worker market and somewhat taking advantage of the timid play of one of the new players to keep lots of workers out there early, and then I triggered a giant worker rush in the midgame once the ships had floundered for a while. The scores were pretty low at the end (I think my score was around 660, which was quite low), but I learned a lot from this play.

Arkwright is an old favorite of mine, one I will never turn down a game of. Part of the joy of Heavycon is playing these old favorites with some new people and teaching these old favorites to others.
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10. Board Game: Millennium Blades [Average Rating:7.88 Overall Rank:273]
Trent Hamm
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Iowa
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After Arkwright, I taught a game of Millennium Blades to Bill (who I played Arkwright with) and two other players, one of which had played it before.

For those unfamiliar, Millennium Blades is essentially a real time economic game with multi-dimensional set collection at its core. It does this by using a CCG as the economic environment, with individual cards as the commodities being sold, bought, and traded and with an ever-evolving "shop" and a changing metagame altering that market extensively.

Millennium Blades is always a fun experience. Having said that, I did learn the value of having a fully-shuffled shop deck, because having long runs of nothing but core set cards can bog the game down dramatically. This is definitely amongst my "old favorites" I got to play at the con.
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11. Board Game: 18CLE [Average Rating:7.80 Unranked]
Trent Hamm
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On Friday evening after dinner, I intended to play Dune with a group. As Dune is a negotiation game, I wandered upstairs just before the game to the hotel bar and had a few drinks, which is what I do when I know I'm about to be negotiating. Having a drink or two loosens my social inhibitions while taking a step away from my critical thinking skills.

Well, Dune fell apart, so I found myself instead playing 18CLE with Andy and Kyle from the previous night's 1822 along with three others.

Needless to say, I didn't play well. I made some bizarre choices early in the game that I ended up regretting throughout. There was also an issue in the mid game where the national railroad wasn't formed properly, causing the game to slow down greatly in the mid-game.

This was my second play of 18CLE. I really like how it simulates the impact of the Depression on railroad operations.
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12. Board Game: Virgin Queen [Average Rating:8.08 Overall Rank:456]
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Saturday was dominated by a nine hour game of the full Virgin Queen scenario. I was England, Al was France, Alex was the Dutch, Jason was teh Ottomans, and Martin was Spain.

Virgin Queen is meant to simulate the religious, political, and military affairs of late 16th century England. In that era, the schism between Catholics and Protestants was in full bloom, the Ottoman Empire was making strong inroads into Europe, Spain was dreaming of empire in the New World, the Dutch wanted to spread the word of Protestant thinking throughout the world, and England was in the Elizabethan age.

Each player plays one of these nations (with the Holy Roman Empire also joining if a 6th player is present), and each nation is very asymmetrical with very different powers, goals, and ambitions. The game is card driven, with a deck of 100+ cards that are handed out to players each round depending on their individual player powers.

England is very driven by the force of character of Queen Elizabeth. She becomes a source of victory points and other benefits if she stays alive and avoids assassination attempts from other players. It also simulates her willingness to signal marriage and then choose to not marry for political ends.

In the game, Spain and the Ottomans fought an endless war throughout virtually the entire game, with countless giant naval conflicts in the Mediterranean. The Ottomans brutally pirated the Mediterranean, earning a steady flow of victory points throughout. The Dutch spent most of the game trying to throw off Spanish rule in their territory and slowly converting France and Spain away from Catholicism and into Protestantism, eventually dissolving into what amounted to a holy war with Spain.

England and France were at war initially as well. As England, I managed to retake Scotland from France very early on (the French start the game with control of Scotland) and then attempted a quick win by invading the Normandy coast, which France nipped in the bud with a forced peace treaty thanks to a timely card. After that, France spent a long time trying to reclaim Scotland and was probably on the road to success in that endeavor until all of the central European powers - the Dutch, France, and Spain - wound up in a three way war in the mid-to-late game.

Spain found itself on the verge of winning on turn four when they went for a giant turn with ten action points... only to find their sailing disrupted by a giant storm, thanks to England waiting until the absolute best moment to play that card.

At the start of round five, England unexpectedly declared war on France and then attempted a new invasion of the Normandy coast, which seemingly failed... or did it? Later in the fifth round, England launched a turn with seven action points and quickly took two French cities, triggering an automatic win. An elderly Queen Elizabeth reigned supreme in this game of Virgin Queen.

This was my #3 game of Heavycon. If this game had the diplomatic and mechanical elements wrapped up in a game that didn't take quite nine hours to play, I would love to get this to the table again and again. It is almost too long for what it is, but the diplomatic interplay and all of the different powers give it something epic that's hard to take away. I found myself dreaming of Elizabethan conquest that night.
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13. Board Game: Continental Divide [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:4639]
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On Friday evening, after that long and grueling game of Virgin Queen, I only played a single game of a familiar Winsome title, Continental Divide, with Andy (who I played earlier Winsomes and 1822 with) and Bill (who I played Arkwright and Millennium Blades with).

I managed to win this one by having the most shares in the one company that managed to make the only successful coast to coast run. The trick with this game seems to be to either start a "briefcase" company that pays you maximum dividends that you can use for later companies or to start a company that you intend to coast-to-coast with right from the start. I haven't really mastered either dynamic yet.

This falls into the "old favorite" category - one I love to play and am glad to have on my shelf for future plays.
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14. Board Game: Tramways [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:1118]
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The final day of the 'con started with a non-con breakfast with an old friend, then a quick game of Tramways with Andy (who I played several games with before) and Adrian (from Indonesia on Wednesday).

Tramways is an interesting mix of deckbuilder and Age of Steam-like route building and delivery. It feels to me like this is a "system" game like Age of Steam, in that it will shine the most when there are lots of maps with various tweaks on the system available for it (which seem to be coming).

In this game, I managed to win an insanely close game (50-49-48) mostly by managing my stress and keeping it very low so that the other two players were extensively penalized in the end game for it. For most of the game, I delivered between a commercial and residential area that had upgraded track connecting the two, eventually adding a leisure area to the mix to deliver to for a lot of fairly expensive victory points because I had a pile of money. The residential areas kept my stress really low and the commercial areas added cards to my hand constantly. I never really bothered to compete for turn order, either, which also helped mitigate stress.

I enjoy Tramways quite a bit. My biggest complaint with the base game is a lack of rules clarity in some corner cases. I want to see where the system goes and if the Denver map is a preview of that, there will be a lot of interesting things. I hope that a map community grows for this game.
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15. Board Game: 1837: Rail Building in the Austro-Hungarian Empire [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:6029]
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Most of Sunday was filled up by a game of 1837, taught (again) by Tony Fryer and including Kyle (again) and Chad.

This 18xx entry involves a series of mining companies around the board that operate with their own special type of trains that actually thrive on "dink" stops for extra revenue. These mining companies eventually fold into shares of particular parent major companies later in the game. There's also a nationalization system with three national railroads that form throughout the game.

In this game, I was completely unsure what to do as I am unfamiliar with Lonny Orgler's 18xx titles and the mining company system in this one is something that was new to me, so I decided to go for a plan that involved buying several mining companies and smaller companies that resulted in a very high revenue payout each operating round.

This was great early on, as it allowed me to start one, then two, then three major railroads. However, what I didn't see is how incredibly valuable the three nationals would become. I only had a healthy piece of one of them and I should have spread out my investments into those companies rather than rushing to start a major. I especially regretted my first one, as it wound up being boxed into a corner by Tony's clever tile placements during most of the mid-game, which really slowed my growth. I wound up in third place, only $11 behind the second place player (in a game where we both had stacks in the $6800 range at the end).

This was my #4 game of Heavycon. I found myself rethinking my strategy in this game extensively on the way home. The only reason it's not higher is that it feels a little long for what it is, though that might have been due to a very relaxed pace of play. (I don't mind length at all, but a game has to deserve that length and not be long for the sake of being long.) The other players told me that 1824 has many of the same ideas in a shorter package, so I am definitely interested in trying 1824 in the future.
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16. Board Game: Mottainai [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:761]
Trent Hamm
United States
Huxley
Iowa
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See this text? It's a gratuitous waste of GeekGold.
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The game itself isn't important. Spending time intellectually jousting with likeminded folks is the real reason to game.
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I finished the con with a quick game of Mottainai taught by Martin (from my Virgin Queen game) and another player. The third player, whose name I did not note, took home the win with an alternate victory condition card.

Mottainai feels like a short Carl Chudyk game (Innovation, Glory to Rome, Impulse). It has all of that multi-use card play, except it feels very rushed and fast. I'm not sure what I think of it. I would play it again, but I don't think it will make my list of reliable fillers.
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