Saturday, November 26, 2011

BGG.con 2011 recap

I spent last week at BGG.con again, and I had a TERRIFIC time this year! First, let me be clear... I've attended all 7 BGG.con events, and I've enjoyed every single one. However, the last couple of years (since Tasty Minstrel Games got started) my con experienced has been affected by having to man the booth much of each day. I've already got too many things to do and too many people I want to see than there is time in the week, so spending all those hours in the booth have put something of a damper on my vacation. It's not all bad though, as the whole TMG experience has been rewarding in its own right. This year however, Michael decided to sell TMG product through the Funagain store, freeing us up to play games!

I got to play a lot of mew games, with a lot of old friends. Here's a little recap:

Tuesday, 11/15
I arrived at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, made my way back to the convention area, and offered a little help setting up. I moved some boxes of giveaway games into a closet with Mischa and Adam, and then I stuffed envelopes for Yehuda's con-wide meta-game. I met Jess Danhurst, who's tireless work (along with that of Beth, Aldie, Lincoln, and everyone else) made the Essen reporting a joy to watch.

Envelopes stuffed, I bumped into Travis, a friend from a few years ago when I was hanging out in L.A. a lot... he's been touring the globe, and has just returned. Travis is a game designer type, and I had a nice chat with him about Social games.

The first game I played at the con was Kingdom Builder, with Steve and David. I played a second game with Steve, Sean, and Alex Rockwell. I'm not sure how much I really like the game - it's not terribly, but not amazing either. I've found that it can really hurt to draw the same terrain card in the first 2 turns of the game. It also seems like in games with the Boat action (move a house onto water), that ability is key, and the 1st 2 people to get it will be at a huge advantage.

The next game of the con was one that was high on my list of games to try out. Trajan (with Travis, Alex, and Gil) had a lot of neat things to do, many ways to pursue VPs... however the Rond-cala mechanism was a bit opaque. I'd have to play the game again to feel like I was doing anything on purpose. When I heard about the mechanism, my guess was that you would choose an action and it's intensity would be based on the number of bits in that actions bin... then you would Mancala those bits around the Rondel. It turns out I had that backwards - instead you pick a bin and Mancala the bits from it, and you take the action at the end of the line. That's a lot harder to wrap your head around, and I wonder if it wouldn't be worth trying my mistaken guess out as a main mechanism in some game of my own! To make the Rond-cala even more opaque, the bits are colored, and sometimes it matters which color combos are in which bins. Turns out to be a bit of a pain in the butt, but the game seems worth it. I wish I'd gotten a chance to play the game again during the con, but I did not.

The game took a long time, but went MUCH faster when Travis had to bow out to return his rental car, and we continued with 3 players who finally knew the rules than it did when we had 4 players trying to figure it out.

Next was Nefarious, with fellow Tucsonan Brian Poe, Steve, and Andrew. None of us liked the game at all. It seemed like Speculation was very weak - taking something like 5 rounds to pay off vs just playing Work for $4. our game didn't last a whole lot of rounds. We looked through a few of the other Twist cards, and they didn't excite us to play again.

Since Brian and Andrew had not yet played Kingdom Builder, we played that one more time. This time I finished dead last!

Wednesday 11/16
I started out the next day by demoing Eminent Domain. I was happy to see that game being played all over the con... and happier still that I didn't have to spend all con teaching it :)

The first game I actually played on Wednesday was Pantheon, with Snowden and Wystan. As we were starting to unpack the library copy, Travis came by and offered to teach us. I liked Pantheon pretty well, and played it 4 times total during the con.

Next up was another game from my "to-play" list - Singapore. Snowden taught Steve, Wystan and I, though we had a couple significant rules wrong (didn't know we could build roads for $1, thought we couldn't activate the tile we started on, a few other little things). The incorrect rules kinda killed the game for me, so I wanted to play again with the real rules to see if I liked it or not.

At 8pm I had a scheduled demo of Kings of Air and Steam. I had 12 people signed up for this, and I THOUGHT I had 2 copies of the game with me... however it turned out I only had 1 copy, so I was only able to run 1 game of KoA&S instead of 2 :( The game went alright, though some players seemed put off that 1/2 their final score came from Depots... though in reality, they paid money (and money is points) for the depots, and they collected a lot of money from deliveries, but spent it on upgrades and depots. In fact, the same players complained that they "did nothing but build depots" in some turns, so it seemed like they didn't feel like building depots was making progress... weird. I wonder if there's a better way to present that.

The last game for Wednesday was Pantheon again. Since I'd learned it earlier I was able to teach Andy, Herman, and Chris. I This game was a little weird, with Andy and Herman drawing fistfulls of cards, and Chris drawing every foot in sight, and doing the walk action really often. I am not a huge fan of how the Walk action (since everyone gets to "follow" it) can make a round end before everyone even gets a turn (this happened to me in round 4 or 5). One round I spent my last card buying the last God tile and ending the round, and the following round the event was the reset to 7 cards.... Andy and Herman had to discard 6+ cards each, while I drew 7 :) I guess that's the price you pay for hoarding cards. In the end, Chris won by a lot, getting all of his columns on the board. The sentiment at the table seemed to be that the game is primarily about building columns, and the god tiles and other points are secondary... but I don't think that's true. I've definitely seen a Column strategy lose to a God strategy. My concern at this point is that the game may be all about drawing either feet or money cards (especially early). Also, the 4 suits of cards you use to buy God cards seem so inferior to money and feet.

I started Thursday by bumping into Eric Burgess and John stumbling through the rules of Helvetia. They invited me to join, and it looked like the kind of euro game I would enjoy, so I sat in. Interesting mechanisms there, with the marrying of your dudes to your opponents in order to gain access to their buildings. Definitely wanted to play again so I could try to combo my buildings by placing them where 2 complementary buildings could both be woken up by the night watchman ability. I ended up winning by 1 point over Eric, but I didn't think I would. I took several majorities (for action tiles) away from him in the last round. I had built maybe 3 of the 3vp buildings, but didn't do as much trading. Also, due to poor turn management, I failed to score any points for completing my city, when I could have had 4 for doing so first.

At 1pm I had another scheduled demo of Kings of Air and Steam, and this one went much better. Everyone liked the game, and picked up the rules very easily. Afterwards I asked some questions about the depots to see if anyone had the same reaction as the players from the night before, but they didn't. We talked a little bit about the restriction of gentle turns and whether that should be stricken or not - everyone thought it was sufficiently thematic that it wasn't hard to understand or remember.

I got a chance to pay Singapore again, this time with Brian, Alex, and Steve. We played by the right rules this time, and it was better, but I have a new concern. It seemed very good to be in last place, so that you get to choose where to place your buildings - you can store up cubes over the coarse of the game, and score many points in a row near the end. I tend to dislike games where it's a fight to be losing in order to maintain preferential turn order (I dislike that dynamic in Power Grid and in Wildlife). I did not mind the Opium trade penalty system as much as I've read some people dislike it.

I played a game of EmDo with some new players, and did poorly. But I managed to finish 2nd (17-16-11-10). You can't win them all!

I played that tower building/smashing dexterity game in the lobby with Andy, Henry, and Alex... that game is almost cool, butt he destructive power of the destructor tools far outweighs the stability and structural integrity of any tower you can possibly build. The balls need o be less dense and/or smaller, and the tower pieces need to be more dense and/or bigger for the game to really work. As it is, you really never score any points for being the builder, while it seems like that's supposed to be possible.

Next I got Mikey, Gil, and Dave to play Exhibit. The game went well, using the most recent rules addition (for the first time) - when a tile is not won, it's available for the 2nd highest bid in the following round. I need to replace the "change die" (stage 1) tile though, I don't like that effect.

Gil went to bed after that, but we grabbed Brian Poe for a game of Andy's In Ruins, which I wanted Steve to try. I've actually played Andy's game at Brian's house, but he was busy with some other game at the time. I like in Ruins, and this game went well. There were some suggestions afterwards which were good - one which could really make the Danger mechanism feel more dangerous (and at the same time less fiddley). The other suggestion was to make the initially seeded buildings all have some scoring condition on them, something to give players some direction to head in. They may still get other scoring cards over the course of the game, but this would ensure everyone has a way to get Civ tokens, and would also inform their future draft decisions. Both good suggestions.

I learned that there was a disc golf outing, so I got up early on Friday morning to attend. I didn't love missing sleep, and I didn't love missing a couple hours of proto alley, but it was a fun outing, and I won one of the "closest to pin" holes and was rewarded with a new putter! It was fun, i might try to do it again next year.

After returning from Disc Golf, I tried to take a nap for an hour or two, but I don't think I really fell asleep at all :( So I was a couple hours late to Proto Alley. When I got there, I played a cooperative real time game where you build towers with blocks. It was pretty awesome, and I think Chris from Asmadi Games seemed really interested in it.

Since we'd just played a real time game, I brought out Dice Works. That went over OK, but what I really wanted to try was Martian Diceworks... but people had been waiting to play another designer's game, so we played that instead.

This game was by the guy with the werewolf style board game from last year (which I was not a fan of at all). This one was about a presidential election, and was pretty good. First we booster drafted a deck, then we used that deck over the course of the game to place influence in different states, trying to win over the state's electoral votes. The main problem with a game like this is that I thin kit either has to be historic, like 1960 the Making of the President, so people recognize the major players; or it has to be super generic, so as not to be dated. Nobody will know most of the people referenced in the game (except maybe Obama) in a few years. I did like the mechanisms though, and with some polish, I think the game could be very good - IF it could be genericized enough. I think the goal would be to model the Electoral Vote system, not any specific campaign.

My longtime friend Brian arrived near the end of that game, and so I gave up my seat... my next 3 turns were going to be completely non-productive anyway, and someone sat in for me. I told him what I was planning on, and I heard later that I actually won the game! I thought I'd have a shot, but I thought it would be very, very close between me and the designer.

Once Brian arrived, we grabbed a game we'd played last year - Navegador - to play with Snowden and Steve. Then we went to dinner at Red Robin, which I saw on the way out to disc golf that morning. When we got back I taught Brian, Steve, and Eric Carter (who did a lot of illustration for EmDo) Helvetia, which I'd just learned the day before.

Brian went home to have dinner with his family, and I finally got a chance to play The Manhattan Project. Too bad Brian had to leave, I think he would have liked that one. I played with Steve, Brian Poe, Henry, and Jennifer Geske, taught by the publisher James Mathe. James did something I don't like when teaching - he made strategy suggestions such as "you probably won't do mush Espionage, that actions not too good" and "There's no reason not to put all of your workers out at once..." I don't like that because (a) that's what the players are supposed to figure out on their own, and 9b) sometimes when people do that, they're just plain wrong! In this game I frequently DIDN'T place my workers on the buildings as soon as I built them, because frankly there was nothing stopping me from doing it next turn, while if I did put them out, there's no changing my mind later. It's simply better play, like using Fact or Fiction at the end of your opponent's turn rather than during your own Main Phase in a game of M:tG - you just don't do that unless you have some compelling reason.

In any case, I was at first annoyed that all the buildings I wanted were being taken by other players, a few of them by Steve. As a result I decided to use Espionage in order to take advantage of those buildings. Since I was not placing my guys as quickly as other players, I also wasn't pulling them all back as frequently. This seemed to annoy the other players, especially those who's buildings I was squatting on via Espionage! I was trying to time my Vacate turns for when I thought Steve would have to Vacate as well, so I could then Espionage him again and use those buildings I wanted! It worked, but apparently my play did not make my opponents happy. Eventually they decided to bomb the crap out of my board, damaging every single building pretty much beyond repair. Luckily I was able to collect enough Uranium to complete a bomb and load it into a plane for enough points to trigger the game end, winning the game! I liked the game very much, but I thin it would play out very differently the next time, or without the teacher coaching against using Espionage. I was the only person to use it, and I think I used it 4 times - and each time you can use one more building on an opponent's board.

Finally, Andy and I were going to work on the board for Admirals of the Spanish Main. Since Henry was there we thought his input would be good, but we decided to play a game with him first so he'd know how it went. I am dieing to use the new static abilities, but without the new board structure we've got in mind, one of them doesn't really make any sense, so we used the previous rules. In retrospect I think we could have used the static abilities and just said "move 1 space per blue die" for use with that board. Instead of discussing the new board, Henry had many suggestions to remove the board and make the game more "dynamic" - but Andy and I are not sure we ever figured out what he meant by that, or what 'problem' he was trying to fix. I think anyone playing a game like this will want to see a map board to move around on. One comment that does have some merit is that players may prefer to BE pirates, not hunt them.

Saturday morning started out with another game of Pantheon with Steve, Brian, and Snowden. I liked that game pretty well!

Then it was time for the puzzle hunt, one of my favorite events of the con. My team was me, Brian, Steve, Mike, and Jenny joined us part way through. I feel like Mike is interested in puzzles, but if he gets stuck on one he seems to lose interest altogether, so his attention kept drifting off. I really liked the format for this year's puzzle hunt, but we only got through 6 of the 7 rooms worth of puzzles :/ One of the bits of the puzzle hunt game me some info I might be able to use to one day make a board game based on the 12 trials of Hercules - something I've always sort of wanted to do.

All week I kept running into Cynthia Landon, but one of us was always on the way to eat, or play a game, or something. Finally we were able to get in a game together - Lancaster, with her brother,Eric Burgess, and one other guy whose name I didn't get. Eric was not thrilled with the game due to the way you lose your 'bid' if someone outbids you. Cynthia was kicking butt the whole game, and I was able to keep pace except for 2 blunders, and 1 unfortunate incident. There was a Law that would score me 9 points and the Other Guy 6 points, and not score anything for anyone else. However, rather than vote that one in, he actually voted it DOWN - intending to maintain a law that was already in play (a bad choice because (a) the law he wanted to maintain would only stay if ALL THREE new laws were voted down, and (b) the old law did not score points at all, and was not that amazing. So my vote was wasted, and I believe Cynthia was able to push through her "I score 8vp and nobody else scores anything" law that same round. That swing right there would have made it a very close game!

After Lancaster I got a chance to play a few short games with Miguel, who I often see at KublaCon. Toc Toc Woodman was a cute little dexterity game I'd heard people playing left and right. It was silly, you hit a plastic tree with a plastic axe, trying to knock off the bark without actually knocking down the tree. very silly! We also played some Fermat... it wasn't much of a contest, I doubled everybody's score every round, but it was a fun exercise anyway :) Wystan and Andy joined us. After Fermat, I asked Andy to pull out Ribbity Flickit, his frog flicking game where you pick up metal flies with your magnetic frog while you try to land on lily-pads. I like this game, and I'm looking into a possible supplier of magnets.

Late Saturday night Andy, Henry, and Eric somebody played a game of Alba Longa that I got out of the library. It seemed like we all did the same stuff, and maxed out our win conditions in the first half of round 3... we ended up with a 3 way tie, with Andy 1 resource short of a 4-way tie. :/

I generally don't sleep the last night of the con, and this year was no exception. I found Stephanie and friends playing Hanabi, and when one of them went to bed, I jumped in. Hanabi might be the best cooperative game I've ever played, and we played a number of games in a row. In one of them, Adam gave a poor clue right near the beginning, and I had to spend an additional Clue token to 'fix' it later. We managed a score of 24 that game - the best I'd ever done! If only that early clue were better, maybe we would have gotten a perfect score! (I actually doubt it, because that probably would have netted us 2 clues, but we needed 3 to 'win')

After some more Hanabi - I wanted to show Brian and Mike - we played 1 more game of Pantheon. I wanted to show that one to Mike as well, and he beat us all soundly.

Next I finally got a chance to learn Minion Games' other new euro release, Kingdom of Solomon. I liked that one alright, but was a little disappointed in the market mechanism. I made some bonehead plays, such as placing in a building that had no possible way of getting me any resources (I forgot they were piece limited)... and I managed to lose to Mike by only 4 points. I feel like I could have won that one :(

The last game of the con was Grave Business. Andy was about to teach some players, and he asked if I wanted to jump in. I actually like that game a lot more than I feel I ought to, so I sat down to play. I started by making several extra zombies, and using them to pull other zombies away from where they were in contest with my zombies for tiles. In the penultimate round I noticed that the three pieces of the Master were out, and I placed zombies so as to steal them (successful! 1 was for sure, the other was 50-50). So the following round I (going first) placed in my own Lab so as to fend off steal attempts. I also had 4 zombie part tiles to pad my stash. Alas, I ran out of zombies, and in the end someone got a chance to steal from me - and they made the 42% chance and drew one of the pieces of the Master. In fact, the guy who did that managed to win.

After that, Mike and I packed it up and headed to the airport. I felt pretty darn good for no-sleep! Another great BGG.con down, and I already can't wait for next year!

1 comment:

Geikamir said...

It's funny how many of these topics we talked about during the G+ Hangout and how similar my impressions were (to either yours or your companions) without me having ever read this post. Seems like you had a lot of fun.

Also, I agree that Hanabi is an exceptional game.