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bggcon-2011
Shawn Fox
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I'm not going to list older games which I played during the con, this list only addresses new 2011 games.

I did not get a chance to play Dungeon Petz or Eclipse as they always seemed to have players at the board.

I also wanted to play Urban Sprawl, but based on conversations with several people who had played it, the game has some huge random swings and that type of thing does not appeal to me. I still want to play this one, but I did not make any effort to do so at bgg.con.
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1. Board Game: Trajan [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:73]
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9.0

I've played Trajan a total of 5 times, most of them prior to the bgg convention. I love this game and will certainly buy it when it gets another print run.

The mancala action selection mechanism is fantastic and the scoring on the board is fairly balanced. They key to the game is accomplishing the Trajan tiles and maneuvering your action markers on your mancala trays so that you can perform the actions that you want when you want them. Prior to the bgg.con I spent a lot of time thinking about how to play this one and ended up writing down my thoughts and posting them under the strategy forum for Trajan.

This game has significant player interaction in the senate, military, and construction areas. Choosing which cards to discard after you draw cards for the shipping action can also be important. There is a bit too much luck in the shipping action due to there being 12 different commodities... probably would be better to have 8 instead of 12.

The only real issue I have with the rules is that the game ends immediately at the end of the 4th quarter instead of allowing each player to have the same number of turns. Going first already provides some advantage since you get first pick of buildings, military, or forum tiles and this carries over throughout the game (getting your 5th turn before everyone else is still an advantage, although a smaller one). With the way the game ends it is very likely that the first player will end up with +1 action over at least some of the other players. You do take around 33 actions over the course of the game, but since you should be able to score around 4 points on average with each action, getting +1 action is a big deal.
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2. Board Game: Ora et Labora [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:95]
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8.5

I played this one three times. The first time I played the short version. The short version is ok for learning the game but I wouldn't play it again.

The regular version of the game is very good, much like Le Harve but it feels more real since when you build a building you do it in a specific location on your board instead of just putting a card in front of you. Buildings score bonus points if you build a settlement next to them so board placement is important. Also similar to Le Harve, you acquire resources and then use actions which consume the resources to generate better resources. Unlike Le Harve, instead of having to ship the resources to get points, some of the resources are worth points just for owning them at the end of the game.

There is also not a food upkeep cost as exist in Agricola and Le Harve. Instead there are several settlement phases where you can optionally build settlements (the settlements cost food and energy to build). As mentioned earlier, the settlements boost the scoring potential of buildings that are built adjacent to the settlements.

You have 1 prior and 2 regular workers. If you have not used your prior, when you build a building you can move your prior to the building and take the action immediately. You can use other player's buildings by paying them $1 and they then place one of their workers (or the prior) on the building (if they have any available, otherwise you cannot use their buildings). At the end of the round if all 3 of your people are on buildings you move them off and can use them again this round, otherwise the people currently on buildings stay there.

The resource wheel makes the start of round fast as you just move the resource dial one space... this is a very nice improvement over other resource games.

The buildings have two sides so you can play either the France version or the Irish version. There will almost certainly be an expansion at some point to add more variants. Unlike Le Harve there are no special buildings and the buildings also come out in exactly the same order each game so this one might get repetitive faster than Le Harve, but maybe not. This is a very good game and I will definitely buy it when it becomes available.
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3. Board Game: The Castles of Burgundy [Average Rating:8.13 Overall Rank:11]
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8.0

I've only played this once prior to the bgg convention. I like the game a lot and would definitely play again. My only complaint is the length for a game with a considerable luck factor (the dice sometimes just don't come out the way you need). I'm still trying to decide if I want to buy this one and am leaning toward doing so.

Each turn you roll some dice and you can then either acquire new tiles or play ones you already have out on your board. To play a tile you have to match one of your dice to the value shown on your board. Each tile has a type and can only be played in an area on your board designated for tiles of that type. Each type of tile has a different bonus associated with it, for example the yellow tiles give a bonus ability such as being able to modify your dice +/- 1 point when placing another tile on the board.

There are generally several ways to spend your dice so there are usually interesting decisions to be made. I think this game has a lot of replay value, but as stated before it seems a little long for what it is.
 
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4. Board Game: Village [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:116]
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7.75

I played this three times and very much enjoyed it. The only reason I do not give this a higher rating is that I believe the replay value is somewhat limited. This game adds a brilliant mechanism to worker placement games where your workers die over the course of the game and go into the graveyard. The "village chronicle" scores points for villagers who died earlier in the game in important positions. You also score points in several other ways such as being a member of the church, village council, traveling to many locations, or selling goods on the market.

So this is a great game and I may buy it depending on what the final version of the game looks like (only the prototype was available at BGG Con).
 
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5. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:472]
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7.0

I played this one twice and enjoyed it. It plays very quickly (under an hour for 4 players). There is a lot of randomness due to having to play your settlements only on a specific type of terrain based on the card you draw each turn (there are 9 different terrains). So often you cannot do exactly what you want, but there is still strategy to the game.

Also the game has different scoring conditions each game. There are something like 12 different scoring cards and you draw three of them each game and thus the conditions for scoring are very different each game. Examples are having the most settlements in a sector of the board, 1 bonus point for building next to certain locations, 2 bonus points for each settlement in the longest horizontal line on the board, etc.

The board itself is also random each game. You randomly select 4 of the 8 game boards, each one forming 1/4 of the board that you will play on this game.

Sometimes you may get poor draws and lose the game because of it, but the game is under 60 minutes so what do you want for a such a short game? Given the play time, this is a very solid game and I'll probably buy it. I also think this is a great 'mass market' game that most people will enjoy just so long as they do not take it too seriously as there can be a substantial luck factor as well as run away winners in certain situations.
 
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6. Board Game: Hawaii [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:577]
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6.8

I played this one twice. While I like this game, some of the scoring is unbalanced. I enjoyed playing it and will certainly play it again should anyone pull it out, but do not plan to buy it.

This game is primarily an action point allowance game where you have a certain number of movement and income each round. You move to a location on the board and buy the buildings in the location.

The cost of buildings is randomized each round (from 2 to 6 clams) by pulling the cost markers out of a bag. The first player to buy something on a location picks up the cost marker of their choice (usually the lowest cost one), later players would have to pay more. As there are only a limited number of cost markers on each location you may not be able to buy something on a given turn.

Some of the buildings score points at the end of the game, others score points during the game or produce additional income each round. As the game progresses you get less action points for movement and less income, so acquiring buildings which produce action points and/or income early in the game is important.

So the basic issue I have with the game is that some buildings are far better than others and the costs can vary a great deal. Sometimes there are a lot of good things to buy on the board at cheap prices, other times there are very few. I don't think this game is balanced very well, but it is fun to play it a few times.
 
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7. Board Game: Drum Roll [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:1184]
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6.5

A decent circus game where you hire performers and score points based off how good of a performance you put on. You have to pay your performers money each round and you also need to purchase new equipment for them so they can give a better performance. The performers then give you bonuses (each performer has a different bonus they give based off giving a 1, 2, or 3 star performance).

I'd play this again but do not plan on buying it.
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8. Board Game: Last Will [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:355] [Average Rating:7.22 Unranked]
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6.0

This is a card game where you are trying to spend all of your money like that old movie Brewster's Millions. The game is pretty fast and has a considerable luck factor.

You can buy properties which depreciate each round but eventually you have to sell the properties as they retain some value. You can also use the properties to spend money. Cooks, horses, dogs, or women (mistresses?) allow you to spend even more money at a property or by throwing a party. School chums allow you to get bonuses (extra actions, more cards, etc).

This is an ok game but nothing special. I'd play it a few times if someone had a copy but this isn't something I'll buy. It is fairly quick though at 45-60 minutes so this is a decent filler game.
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9. Board Game: Power Grid: The First Sparks [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:932]
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6.0

A greatly simplified version of power grid. I played this one twice. I was never a big fan of power grid in the first place and thus a simpler version doesn't do much for me either. This is a reasonably fast game though and does have a few interesting decisions, but has similar problems to power grid in that the food production equipment (similar to power plants) has varying strengths, so sometimes only one good one shows up at the right time and whoever gets it wins the game.

Unlike power grid, the purchases are not based off bidding. Instead the first player picks something to be purchased and in reverse player order the players can then buy it for the cost on the card or pass. So the standard power grid tactic of trying to coast along behind the other players and then surge into the lead for the win applies here as well.

There are also technologies in this game as well as the food production equipment. The technologies do things like reduce the cost of spreading into areas that already have other players, switching turn order with the person in front of you, allowing you to have 4 equipment instead of 3, or improving the amount of food produced by certain equipment types.

Anyway, I'd play this on occasion as a filler game, but not very often. This would make a good family game for kids etc, but I prefer something with more to it.
 
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10. Board Game: Upon a Salty Ocean [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:2828]
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6.0

Played this once after BGG.con. Go fishing to make money, buy buildings which give a beneficial ability of some sort, income, or points. Each round the cost of actions is set at 0 and each time a player takes an action the cost goes up by one. Players keep taking actions until everyone passes. I'd play this again but overall the replay value of this one seems very low.
 
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11. Board Game: Walnut Grove [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:988]
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5.0

Poorly made tiles do not make it clear where the fences are. A great deal of luck involved with drawing the tile you need at the right time. Doesn't seem to be many interesting decisions here either. I'd play this again just to validate my rating but I don't think the 5.0 has much room to improve. I can see other people liking this more than I did, but I just don't see how anyone could give this more than a 7.0 rating.
 
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12. Board Game: Vanuatu [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:697]
 
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4.0

I played this once (and won by a wide margin by building a lot of stalls) prior to the convention. While the game has an interesting action selection mechanism it requires a huge amount of analysis to figure out what other players will try to do this turn, so placing your action markers greatly rewards those who spend a lot of time trying to figure out what everyone else is going to do this turn.

The game itself is not very deep once you get past the action selection phase, thus 80% of the game time will be spent doing action selection, meaning all the other players who are waiting to see what someone does can do nothing during that time. This game is not fun to play and there is not much strategy involved.

The action selection is interesting, but has such a huge analysis paralysis problem that I just don't want to play this game again.
 
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13. Board Game: Coney Island [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:2728]
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2.0

Played this once and it is awful. In theory a game about amusement parks should be fun... well, this one isn't. There isn't any strategy either. There are 1000s of games that I rather play such as Vanuatu (which made me want to bang my head on the table waiting on others to choose their actions). I'm not sure why this game was even made and I certainly do not understand how this could be awarded "Family Game of The year" other than based off of Michael Schacht's past games.
 
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