Tuesday, June 01, 2010

KublaCon 2009 con report - better late than never!

I never did get around to posting last year's KublaCon report, and I think that's because I never got around to finishing it up! Here's what I have, which is not complete, but is quite a bit. I'm posting this for my own convenience as much as for your benefit, but maybe you'll find it entertaining.

Friday 5/22
Got up super early to catch a 7am flight - arrived 9am at the Hyatt Regency Burlingame. It always amused me that the game convention was in a place called BurlinGAME (I'm easily amused). I met up with Andrew Schoonmaker with whom I was sharing a room, and we went downstairs to get some breakfast. The prices for everything in that hotel are horrendous. I chose to get the "breakfast special:" ham, egg, and Cheese on an English muffin for $4. First food-related mistake of the day! The thing was so small that it made me MORE hungry - that's the opposite of food! Also, they nuked the hell out of it in the microwave, so it was very, very hot. The cheese, if was ever in solid form, had been reduced to a sort of grease.

They hadn't opened registration yet, and Andrew and I wanted to do something, so we started the convention with a game of Fermat. Glancing at Andrew's tallish stack of tiles and then to my haphazard pile I thought the game was really close. In reality I had quite a few more tiles than he did, but the disarray made the pile look shorter I guess. The game was weird, with all the large numbers next to EXP and multiplication symbols - it was kinda hard to make a lot of numbers (I think we skipped a few)

Wizard's Tower
After that we played a game of Wizard's Tower - something I don't think I've played in the last 6 months (BGG.con) or maybe 12 (Kubla last year)! I was in good shape with respect to endgame bonuses, and I had a Yellow tower in the central region. When I destroyed one of Andrew's towers I thought I'd clinched victory - but I could not complete any further towers in the next few turns to end the game. Andrew ended up with a massive clump of towers in the center region including 3 of his own and 3 neutrals. All told that's 33 points (one of the towers was on Red)! Andrew pulled out the win, but it was pretty close. At least I avoided a blowout!

Alex Eaton-Salners arrived, and we were all hungry for lunch but didn't want to spend a fortune at the hotel. So we decided to take a walk down the street to see what other options were available. There's a Sizzler across the street, and a Benihana a ways down, but those didn't sound too good to us. The office buildings in the area all appeared to have a little hole in the wall restaurant in them, mostly for the people who work there I presume. One was called Mr Teriyaki, and I suggested we try that. It seemed a good enough idea, but when my beef bowl came it looked NOTHING like the picture in the menu. For one thing it was completely buried in onions! I hate onions, so I picked them all off and they completely filled my soup bowl. The remaining dish was less beefy than I'd expected. It wasn't terribly good either, nor was it terribly cheap. Second food-related mistake of the day!

After returning from lunch, the three of us played Rapscallion. Last year Andrew and I had been watching a game of Rapscallion being run by Ted Alspach, and 2 players had to leave midway through the game (coincidentally, I believe they were both in or near last place at the time). Andrew and I subbed in for them and played the rest of the game. It so happens that we finished 1st and 2nd if I remember correctly. Neither of us had played the game since then until Andrew played it Thursday night with someone. After he taught we played a game... I did TERRIBLY! Andrew won by a landslide. We all agreed that the game was kinda cool, but that it was a little too irritating that you HAVE to get rid of one of the playing cards you've collected in order to get another bidding card. I suggested that it would be cool if players started with 1 more playing card so that they'll have another option to discard in case the 2 they pick up are in the same set. In fact, it might be cool if the playing card you started with was a joker that works the same way as the Rapscallion does.

Sorry Sliders w/ Alex/Rick/Helen
Rick and Helen Holzgrafe arrived, and we decided to play Princes of Machu Picchu - but they had to go get it from their car. In the meantime we played Sorry Sliders - on 3 of the boards. It's kinda fun, though not for very long.

Princes of Machu Picchu w/ Alex/Rick/Helen/Candy
I have played Antike, Imperial, and Hamburgum. I LOVED Antike when I first played it, but haven't really played since. I HATED Imperial when I first played it, maybe not as much without the investor card, but it's not really my type of game. I like the Rondel mechanic though, and I liked Hamburgum - apparently more than anyone I play games with did. I had been interested in trying PoMP to see how the next Rondel game played. I liked that it wasn't a war game, but I didn't really know what to expect. I hadn't heard any rave reviews...

In the end the game was "OK" - just "OK." With the size of the board I think they could have done a better job of delineating the areas, but that's neither here nor there. In the game you collect various resources in order to put workers on the board or collect Priest/Priestess tiles, which help you run up the mountain more quickly. You want to run up the mountain because it means you get to draw a card, and the card has scoring conditions on it. At the end you will get some points for having stuff matching what it says on the card. The workers help you get more resources, or allow you to get resources when someone else takes the resource action. This was a nice interaction in the game. The game ended after a certain number of rounds, when the Spanish arrive. If at that time all the priest/priestesses tiles are gone, or all the cards have been drawn, then the Spanish don't take over and you score normally. Otherwise, you score normally, but the player with the most gold icons (on the cards) gets to triple his score, second most gets to double it. This seemed to add a little trick to the endgame, when you are selecting your cards, you have to choose between something that scores well for you, or something with a lot of icons in case the Spanish take over. I liked Princes of Machu Picchu enough to play it again, but I think I liked Hamburgum better.

After that game it was getting close to 7:00, so Andrew and I went to Knuckles to get dinner with Rick and Helen before the BGG meetup. I was going to get a burger, but at the last minute decided on a chicken ranch sandwich thing. It had bacon on it and sounded good... in reality though it wasn't terribly big or filling, and it came with a side salad which I didn't like and therefore didn't eat rather than french fries. Third food-related mistake of the day!

Small World with Derk/Aldie/Doug/Shelly
After the BGG meeup I hung out with Derk and Aldie and we ended up playing Small World with Doug and Shelly Garret. I've played (and liked) Vinci, and I wondered how different Small World would be. It's the same game (by the same designer) but re-themed and maybe cleaned up a bit. Instead of a map of Europe, it's a generic map, and the civilization tiles have been divided into races and special abilities. They still combine in the same way and confer various powers. I think they increased the number of powers... I know they took at least 1 rule (+1 to attack when controlling an adjacent mountain) and made it into a special ability of a race. I didn't mind the rules changes which in some cases seemed to streamline things, and in some cases didn't really make much difference. However I was pretty disappointed in the graphics. The art was nice to look at piece by piece, but all together it looked like a jumbled mess. In particular, the small race tiles all had detailed pictures on them, which were difficult to distinguish on the board, especially when in decline. The brightly colored player discs in Vinci were much better if you ask me.

Fits w/ Sid/Miguel/Lawrence
Aldie had a copy (I think it was Doug's) of Fits, which it turns out made the short list of SdJ nominees. It's a Reiner Knizia game based on Tetris. Each player has a collection of Tetris pieces, and you begin by placing one of them at random on your board. The board is a set of columns with dots showing, sometimes other symbols or numbers as well. Each 'level' has it's own rules but in general you get -1 point for each dot showing on your board. Sometimes you get positive points for covering up symbols or leaving certain symbols showing. The idea is to place your Tetris pieces like you would in Tetris - such that you don't have any open spaces on your board.

... That's about as far as I got in my detailed descriptions, some of the rest is just a quick note about what I played and maybe with whom.

Curse of the Mummy w/Aldie vs me/Miguel/some guy/some lady who's name started with a G (she won, I almost)

Saturday 5/23
Kachina w/ JT Mudge, Scott Caputio's fiance, and that G lady (she won, I almost). It's fun playing prototypes with designers which end up being published!

Knizia seminar
Reiner Knizia was the special guest last year, and I went to one of his seminars. I've been to several of his seminars over the years, and while there is often something new and interesting that comes up, you hear a lot of the same things over and over. Such is the nature of hearing the same person speak multiple times! This time I asked a question about his group of insiders, the players that are more than playtesters, but who really help develop the games more. I don't know how many of those he has, and to what extent they are responsible for some of the games with his name on them, and I was curious. He didn't really answer my question, but he did speak very highly of my friend Sebastian Bleasedale, one of his inner circle, and also published in his own right with On the Underground.

Knizia playtests
Reiner had some games with him for testing, and I was too late to get in on the playtests, but I watched. One of the games turned out to be exactly like Qwirkle. 5 colors/shapes instead of 6, and you can't hook the end of a chain and go the other way (like in scrabble), but otherwise identical mechanics. The scoring was different - you were trying to get rid of your stock of tiles. If you play the 4th tile in a particular set, you get to discard 1 tile from your hand or stack. If you add the 5th (and final possible tile), then you get to discard 2 additional tiles.

The other game had a proposed theme Mayan temple or something. I suggested Ziggaraut as a name, but no one seemed to like it. Reiner didn't want anything TOO thematic (regarding changes to game to match theme) - he wanted it to remain very abstract. He didn't want so much theme that players expect more. I think that's a ridiculous thing to think, personally, but I did see what he was saying.

Qwirkle w/ 2 women who had been playtesters of that Knizia game and also with Michael. After I'd pointed out the similarities to Qwirkle, I ran and got a copy from the library to show Reiner. After that, since I had it out, some of us decided to play. I don't think I've ever done so well at Qwirkle before!

Corner Lot w/ JC, Miguel, and Aliza
Despite my assumption that spending all my cash in the first round was probably a bad plan, I noticed 3 blue cards in the current market and nothing much in blue (maybe a low card) in the future market... so I blew all my money on the 3 (big) blue cards. I kinda forgot that the income is 2 less than the printed value (until the Empty Lot is built), so I was more screwed than I had expected in the following rounds. I did however end up with a pretty big Blue suit, with a couple runs in it, as well as a set of 7's and a rainbow run. I had to buy the blue Empty Lot (wild) and set it to $9 (not $12) because I wasn't able to get the $9 card (being broke all the time). I think I finished dead last.

I liked Corner Lot more than I thought I would, and I don't really have any thoughts on improvements - the game seems to be "done." It bothers me a little bit that the top card is a $12 instead of a $10 (it goes from $9 straight to $12) - especially when counting straights. That's not as bad though as the other thing that bothers me - that 90% of the time when you buy a wild you make it a $12. Maybe 10% of the time you make it a $7, $8, or $9 to fill in the hole in a straight flush. You never want the wild to be anything less than $7. I suppose that's OK, and the wilds could actually be printed as "$7-$12" - JC talked about some chits to indicate the value of a wild after you've bought it and that way there could be 5 each of two double sided chits, one saying 7/8 on the front/back and the other saying 9/12. I did have a suggestion for the rules: reword the priority marker rules such that it reads like this: On your turn you either pass, or you take the Bid/Buy marker and either bid or buy (the marker could say "Bid" on one side and "Buy" on the other). If ever it's your turn and you already HAVE the marker, then if you Pass you trigger the reduction of the cost for the smallest property and you pass the priority marker to the left. If you like, you could add a little something which occurs if you take an action and everyone else passes - it would trigger if you take an action and already have the priority marker. This is of course unnecessary, and I don't know what it would be (except gain a buck or 2). That's not even worth thinking about unless it's deemed bad somehow for everyone to pass except 1 guy.

Glory to Rome w/ Marcus (who I played Ys and TP with 2 years ago), Bey, and Dion
Dion was sort of learning (or maybe re-learning) the game, so when I was watching, I was trying to help him play. Then in the next game I joined in. I smoked the competition... I nearly used the Prison to steal Marc's purple building which allowed the play of multiple matching role cards, but it just didn't seem better than keeping the VPs! Marcus had multiple Merchant clients, but had some trouble getting cards in his Stockpile to sell. I sold a couple things as well, and ended up building out all the sites thinking I barely beat Marcus. I had forgotten that Dion sold something which negated one of Marc's bonuses, so I won by plenty.

Cities w/ Marcus, Bey, and Dion
The same group then played Cities, which is like a cross between Take it Easy and Carcassonne. Marc and I tied, and I believe we tied on the tiebreaker as well!

Municipium w/ Marcus, Bey, and Dion
I signed up for a game called Bartender, a new card game that the designer was pimping - his gimmick was that the winner of the game gets to keep it... they stole our idea! Tasty Minstrel is doing [edit: DID] something similar for BGG.con, called the Tasty Minstrel Winner Cleans Up event. I didn't necessarily want to play (Ceej got in the game), but I was curious about the rules. After listening to them, I went back to the Glory to Rome group, who had been explaining Municipium. I learned that recently, and got there just before they started so I was able to join them. It was a close game between Marc, Bey, and I but if I remember right, Bey pulled out the win - set up (inadvertently) by Marc.

At this point it was dinnertime and Ceej and I were going to drive to Chipotle. We were a little bit worried that Municipium would last too long and we wouldn't get there in time, but we were fine. I offered to pick up food for Marc, Bey, and Dion, and Ceej was picking up food for a friend of his - so we ordered 6 burritos all told. When we got there we found that they were almost out of a lot of stuff... they actually ran out of black beans and carnitas so we had to adjust our orders. On the way back I stopped at the Walgreens right there and stocked up on what turned out to be twice as much cookies and Pringles as I needed. I also bought a box of Cheerios. The plan was to avoid spending a fortune eating at the hotel the rest of the weekend!

I had been wanting to play Werewolf or Time's Up all weekend. No one really was playing WW on Friday night, but fortunately I was signed up for the Time's Up event which Ceej and I got back just in time for. Alex was there waiting, and though Derk was going to play, he wandered off and did something else instead. I paired up with Alex and we DOMINATED the opposition- despite a turn in the 2nd round where I forgot I could say a word and only got 2 cards! Ceej paired with a young girl who was slow to start, but then did really well once she got going. We all decided to play a 2nd game except for one guy who had to leave, so a new pair sat in. They didn't do well at all in the first round, so Alex and I weren't worried... but then they REALLY ramped it up and gave us a run for our money! We pulled out a narrow victory in the end though! Whew...

... That's all I have. The game design contest is covered, briefly, in a KublaCon Recap post I made last year, but I guess anything that happened on Sunday is lost forever, relegated to the recesses of my memory.

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