Tuesday, June 01, 2010

KublaCon 2010

I just got back from KublaCon 2010, another great weekend of fun and games in San Francisco! I applied some lessons I learned from last year... After arriving late Thursday night and not finding anyone I knew, I spent way too much on a Burger and Fries at Knuckles. Friday for lunch however, I went with Ceej again to Chipotle (Sean and Andrew - not Schoonmaker, another Andrew from L.A.) and ran into Lucky's for some turkey, french rolls, and cheese. I also picked up some Mountain Dew, cookies, and doughnuts. I ate far too much of the snacks, but the sandwich stuff was a great idea! I ate turkey sandwiches for the rest of the weekend for a pittance compared to the hotel's price gouging!

David Cunkelman pointed out a deal the hotel has which might be worth looking into in the future - for something like $30 per night added onto your room you can get access to a fancy lounge on the 9th floor where they have free internet as well as free food at mealtimes and desserts and drinks... sounds like a pretty good deal if you have enough people in the room!

After my ridiculously overpriced burger (which was at least tasty and filling) I watched some people playing The Adventurers - a game I've not played. I got to learn it by watching, and it looks like a light, fun little game. I probably wouldn't enjoy playing it more than once though. Then I headed up to bed.

Mosh Pit
Friday morning I started out with a game of Mosh Pit with Andrew Schoonmaker, with whom I again split a room. Mosh Pit is a game by a guy here in town, it's an abstract game kinda like Hive. I tend to dislike games like Hive (2 player abstracts), and I'm not sure why. I like this one quite a bit better, and I think it might be because in Mosh Pit you get 1 or 2 actions on your turn, and each player gets a maximum of 5 actions each round. Thus if you budget your actions, only taking one at a time while your opponent takes 2, you can end up finishing the round with 2 actions in a row, then starting the next round with up to 2 more actions in a row! getting 2, 3, up to 4 actions at a time really opens up the potential for a clever or tactical play, which makes it a lot more fun for me. I think the action budgeting in Mosh Pit is brilliant!

Terra Prime
Next I ran into Miguel, Aldie, and some friends of theirs, and chatted for a bit. Everyone was anxious to play a game, and Miguel suggested that I teach them my game, Terra Prime. I generally don't bring published games to conventions, but I did bring Terra Prime because I have the expansion for it. I sat out and taught Terra Prime as a 4 player game because I think it's a better experience 4 player than 5 for new players. It went pretty well, with most of the players figuring out what to do, until Tricia - who was doing very well at the time, decided to run recklessly into a red tile. I suggested she not do that, because if it were 3 Aliens they would hit her at least twice and as many as 5 times - and her shields were down to 2 energy... but she did it anyway (balls to the wall!) and sure enough, a triple alien managed to roll 3 hits for a total of 5 damage - knocking every module off her ship, INCLUDING the shiny new Thruster she'd just bought the turn before! It was an unfortunate turn of events, but hey, at least it turned out EXACTLY the way I predicted. *sigh* maybe some day players will treat Hostile Aliens with the fear and respect they deserve.

Eminent Domain
Those guys had some place to be, so next I found another group of players and introduced them to Eminent Domain. That game seems to be holding up, I think it's "about done."

I saw some of Steph's friends: Jeremiah and a woman who's name I always forget (who I met at BGG.con) and Ted Alspach, and another local woman. They were playing Africa, an old game by Reiner Knizia which I'd never seen. I watched and learned how to play, and when they decided to play again they offered me a seat. The game was pretty simple, there are a bunch of face down tiles all over the (hex grid) board (1 per space), and on your turn you may either teleport across the board (and that's it), or you can Move and do an action, then move again and do another action. The actions are essentially all just "flip up a tile adjacent to you and do the appropriate thing with it." Some tiles you keep for endgame bonus scoring and some you move adjacent to other like tiles elsewhere on the board and score points based on how many it's touching. There's 1 or 2 more small things you can do, but that's essentially it. Of course all your decisions are based on what will score you points. I thought it was an OK, though dry and somewhat boring game. I did manage to win by a fair amount though, so that was nice :)

Eminent Domain
After Africa, I ran another 4 player game of Eminent Domain for that same group of players. I played that (or ran it) a number of times over the weekend and it seemed to be pretty well accepted. In a couple cases it was VERY well received, in others it was only generally well received, but in no case was it disliked that I noticed. This time they mentioned that it was a little overwhelming at first, but about 2/3 of the way through the game they really started to 'get it.' I suspect there might be an expectation issue - if people go into Eminent Domain expecting it to be light and simple like Dominion, then they may be disappointed to find that there's a lot more going on than that. If they go in expecting something along the lines of Glory to Rome, then their expectations should be reasonable. Thus, I think I ought to stop billing it as a "deck building game" and instead call it "Like Glory to Rome, with Deck Building in it" or something. because that's what it is, a role selection game with deck building, not a deck building game.

Next they pulled out Wizard, a game a loath, but since they were nice enough to try Eminent Domain, I couldn't complain too much. Andrew had arrived to see the end of Eminent Domain, and he joined up for Wizard. I REALLY SUCK at Wizard!

Flea Market
I seldom buy board games, and I seldom find good deals at the Flea Market. Last year I bought Railroad Tycoon for $50, which could be a good deal depending on how you look at it. In retrospect (considering I haven't played it since I got it) I probably should have instead waited and gotten Railways of the World and some of the expansions for it. Then I wouldn't have had to carry that heavy freaking box home from San Francisco! This time I did find a bargain though... Gardens of Alhambra for $2. I was taken aback when I asked the price, maybe she'd said $22 and I'd misheard? Nope, she just wanted to get rid of it, so she sold it for $2. I didn't like Alhambra, but I suspect this offshoot might be more enjoyable, and at $2, how good does it really have to be? If nothing else, I have some friends that do like Alhambra, and this could be a gift for them if I hate it. I also saw someone selling the first couple seasons of BSG on DVD for $20 apiece. I thought about getting them, but it wasn't the whole series (just the first 3 seasons), and only the first 2 were really that amazing anyway. However I have recently been thinking of trying to watch that show again, the first season anyway, so in the end I picked that one up.

Sean McCarthy, a friend from Seattle, arrived. It was a surprise that he was coming at all, and it was even cooler that he brought Innovation with him because I've heard him talk about it and I've wanted to give it a try! After the flea market Sean, Aliza and I played a 3-player game of Innovation. When I'd first heard of the game I was really excited by the sound of it. The meld/splay mechanism sounded brilliant (and it is), and the tactical combos sounded fun. I love Glory to Rome by the same designer. The more I heard about the game though, the more I started to suspect that perhaps Innovation is TOO chaotic, and I was bummed to find out upon playing that it's not the amazing, awesome new thing that I hoped it would be. The effects are so sweeping that the entire board can easily change before you get another turn, and every card on the table is likely to effect your board position and the things you'll be able to do on your turn. It's almost as if every card in the game is really in play at all times, and to an extent you have to consider that - because for all you know, by the time you get a turn, any given thing might have happened. Therefore planning ahead is difficult to the point of absurdity, and at some point the game becomes less of a strategic contest and more of a crazy luck-fest not dissimilar to simply rolling dice to see who gets a higher result. It's true that with more familiarity with the cards, you have an easier time deciding what you can do and maybe even what you should do, but even if you know every card in the deck, while it may reduce the AP and down time, it doesn't change the fact that the game is totally chaotic.

I think I'm disappointed in Innovation, which is too bad, because I had high hopes for liking it.

After Innovation it was time for bed. Saturday morning I woke up in time for a playtesting event put on the schedule by Candy Weber. I started out by playing Rick Holzgrafe's Railways of the Western U.S. expansion for Railways of the World (which is a remake of Railroad Tycoon). Rick had made a train game inspired by Railroad Tycoon called Hammer and Spike, which I rather liked. The publisher of Railways of the World ended up trying it and liking it, but though it too similar to Railways to publish separately - instead he commissioned Rick to take certain ideas out of Hammer and Spike and use them to create an expansion to Railways of the World. The result is Railways of the Western U.S., and potentially another expansion combining the eastern U.S. map and the new one for a Coast-to-Coast expansion. The Coast-to-Coast expansion takes something like 6 hours to play, which was deemed too long so we just played the Western U.S. expansion.

I'm happy to report that not only is Tucson, Arizona on the map, but it's even a colored city while Phoenix is gray :) Ont he other hand I'm sorry to report that I performed TERRIBLY at the game! My initial chosen strategy hod hijacked by another player (the player to my right no less), and I never bothered to figure something else out. I finished dead last by a lot.

Terra Prime w/ Expansion
After the train game, Rick and the guy that hijacked my plans played my Terra Prime expansion with me. Rick has played TP a couple of times, in prototype form as well as the published version, and I wanted to know how he thought the expansion compared. I managed a healthy 1st place finish, but that's to be expected since I've got a lot more experience with both the base game and the expansion, but my 2 opponents finished within 8 points of each other. I think they both said that the Expansion improves the game, so that's good. They seemed to like it.

Spacial Delivery
It only seemed fitting to follow Terra Prime with Spacial Delivery, Rick's space themed delivery game that won the KublaCon Game Design Contest 2 years ago. It was under review for publication by a European publisher for 18 months, but was recently turned down. I played the game once, before it was in it's current form, and had given some relatively extensive feedback to Rick afterward. I don't recall in depth what the game was like last time, so I was interested to see how it went this time.

I think some of the same things that bothered me the last time still bothered me this time, and added to that there were a lot of fiddly costs I don't remember being there before. I got the impression that I might have liked the game better last time, and even then there was a list of things I thought needed work. Rick mentioned that while he had thought the game might be done before, more recently he was getting a nagging suspicion that it's really not, and later in the weekend he said he'd been thinking about Spacial Delivery pretty much non-stop since our game of it. I hope Rick gets that game to a point he's happy with, because I think it's got a solid foundation.

Eminent Domain w/ Gareth
Gareth McSorley had contacted me on BGG about trying Eminent Domain, and he found me at the con so I played a 2 player game with him. He took to the rules right away, not really even using the player aid. It was only a couple of turns before he had the mechanics down, and I think by the end of the 1st game he was already thinking about some strategies. He said he liked it very much, so I asked if he wanted to play again now that he knew how to play. We played a second time and there was clearly marked improvement in his play.

I happened upon a group of people playing Bananagrams and I played a few fun rounds of that.

Time's Up!
Every year I like to get in on the Time's Up! tournament, so Andrew and I talked 2 of the Bananagrams players to join us for it. Tricia was my partner and she was hilarious! I had a lot of fun, even though we got smoked by Andrew's team - who went on to win the final round as well :)

After Time's Up I played a little Zendo - or tried to anyway. I am no good at that game whatsoever! I think it's because I never know how specific a rule might be - so when I DO figure it out, I think I haven't because I think of all the other possible things it could be.

Galaxy Trucker
Fortunately, some of the Zendo players wanted to play something else, so even though it was Galaxy Trucker, I was happy to join them. I have never played Galaxy Trucker, but never really cared too much to try it. It was nice to give it a shot, but I really didn't know all the stuff on the cards so I had no idea what I was putting on my ship. I went ahead and looked at the cards you're allowed to look at, but much of the info didn't make sense to me. I got pretty wrecked, but it was kinda fun. I'd play it again, but I wouldn't run out and buy it or request it myself.

Corte de Lorenzo
Sunday morning I met up with David Cunkelman and I talked him and Sean into playing one of the submissions I'd brought with me. We played Corte de Lorenzo, and then we chatted a little about how to evaluate a submission. I'm new to this, so it was interesting to talk about that.

Ground Floor
As an example of a game that really grabbed me right away, despite the flaws it had when I first played it, we next played Ground Floor. Ground Floor is intended to be published in 2011 by Tasty Minstrel Games, designed by David Short, a guy here in Tucson who I met at RinCon last October. I really like Ground Floor, and have been working on developing it with David for about 6 months and at this point I think the game is really solid.

Sean McCarthy, David Cunkelman, and a friend of Davids who's name I didn't catch played a 4p game of Ground Floor. Our game went well with the slight exception of David spilling his soda on Sean's player board - could have been a lot worse! Only lost 1 player's worth of Ground Floor tiles and 1 Specialty tile - easily replaced!

David made some skeptical comments early about game balance, but at the end I think he saw how for example my large money advantage early didn't necessarily equate to a large positional advantage in the end. He did have 1 comment that hadn't come up and which might be an issue - that the last player in the randomly determined turn order may be a little screwed when it comes to popularity and rewards... I don't know if this is a problem though, and I think it could be taken care of via some easy method.

After the game, I went upstairs with Sean to get a sandwich for lunch, and he asked me what specifically I did to develop Ground Floor, so I got a chance to go over it and see what I contributed. That was a fun discussion for me, and hopefully interesting for Sean too.

David wanted to play Fresco, but we couldn't find a copy of either. Doug Garret's copy was sitting there in his tub, but we couldn't find him to ask his permission to use it, so instead we played Innovation while I used my social resources to try and track down Doug. This game didn't make me feel any better about Innovation, though I did win by 1 turn this time instead of losing by 1 turn.

Fortunately, my social networking came through, and we got permission to play Doug's copy of Fresco - which it seems was nominated for the SdJ (German game of the year award). I have played twice before, bot only with all the optional rules on. This time we played with NONE of the optional rules, only the very base game. I think I prefer the optional rules, which aren't much more complicated, but I did note a distinctly different feel to the game without them.

Eminent Domain
After Fresco, I bumped into Scott Caputo and chatted with him about general games-being-published stuff, since his Kachina and my Terra Prime just recently came out. Then Scott, JT Mudge and I played Eminent Domain - I wanted to know what they thought of it. They liked it (JT won pretty handily), and they said that they thought it was my most polished design that they'd played (they played and liked Wizard's Tower a year or two ago, and they might have also played All For One that year).

(BrainFreeze - broken clock :( )
At this point I wandered around a bit and ended up chatting with Brian Powers, who had entered a game in the Design Contest. He was short on time, so I showed him a quick game - BrainFreeze! I haven't played BrainFreeze! in ages, and as it turned out the chess clock was broken! :( Hopefully I can fix it. Meanwhile I showed him the second quickest game I had with me, Jab: Realtime Boxing. We played 1 round but then he had to get into a game of Power Grid.

Eat Poop You Cat
I found the Zendo group playing Eat Poop You Cat, and they invited me in for their last round. That's a fun game for late night gaming!

I went to the Game Design contest award presentation so I could scope out the games and see if anything looked interesting. I walked away with 2 prototypes to bring home and play - one was Heroic Deeds, a card game about being a superhero and solving crimes... the interesting concept in it is that you have to worry about your Alter Ego and what your Heroic Deeds does to your everyday life. I fully suspect it to be a rehash of last year's Tomes of Knowledge, a neat foundation with a "Take That!" card game on top of it... But I'm really curious to see how they've approached this aspect, and who knows, it could be awesome!

The other prototype I walked away with was Triplets, an abstract tile laying game which has a similar feel to Set. The designer is a friend of Ricks, and so he, Rick, Aliza, and I played a game of it after the awards presentation. Triplets was one of 2 winners of the contest (they couldn't choose between the 2 so they crowned both games winners). The other winner was called Destroy Atlantis, another tile laying game, and the designer of that game will be sending me a copy.

Mosh Pit (Aliza and Karlo)
By this time the convention was winding down. Karlo (from the BGDF chat room) was hanging out, along with Aliza and Andrew. I wanted to get Mosh Pit played once more, so I taught it to Karlo and Aliza so they could play a 2 player game of it.

Lord$ of Vega$
While they were playing Mosh Pit, I noticed that James Ernest was playing a game of Lords of Vegas, a game coming out from Mayfair later this year. I saw a GIANT prototype of it at GTS in March, this one was much more reasonably sized. I was happy to be explained the game while watching, and it looks really, really good!

Eminent Domain w/ Aliza and Andrew
Finally, I had about an hour before I had to leave for the airport, and Aliza, Andrew and I played a final game of Eminent Domain (mostly so I could show Aliza because she was interested in seeing it). It went pretty fast because both Andrew and I dug into the Warfare stack, and it got down to 2 cards very quickly. However, Aliza was winning, so neither of us wanted to take that second to last Warfare card! The cleaning staff needed to take down the table, so rather than fight tooth and nail to come back, Andrew went ahead and chose Warfare. I did what I could to get points, but I couldn't quite catch Aliza so she was able to end the game in the lead. She said she thinks her RftG group would get a kick out of it so she may print up a copy to play with them.

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