Sunday, November 24, 2013

The First Revision(s)

I mentioned last post that I had my first playtest of Santa's Workshop, and I took a bunch of notes.  Well, I continued to write down thoughts at the they occurred to me during the week, and for the last several days I've been working on implementing some changes.  So, Santa's Workshop 2.0 is underway... or maybe it should be v1.1...nah, I think the first changes count as "major".

My notes since the 1st playtest...need to type them up!

The old board
One of the things I learned is that graphic design is really important.  On my first board, I had the coal mine (and it's cards) right next to the mail room.  When we took a card from the mailroom...almost every time, we flipped a card from the coal deck to fill in, instead of from the mail deck.  So, change #1 for the board, was to move those two decks of cards far apart from each other.  This change actually took up some space, so I went from four 8.5x11" pieces of paper to six.  (Actually, since PowerPoint puts 1/2" borders all the way around, when trimmed, they're 7.5x10".  Which reminds me...I have to figure out a better way to do this than in PowerPoint).  I also made some changes to the Reindeer scoring track, and how the Training Room works, and reflected that on the board.  Lastly, I wanted a better quality board.  My first attempt, I literally just scotch taped my four sheets of paper together.  The scotch tape didn't take to folding too well.  So...I decided to make an honest to goodness board.  I purchased some thick (0.05") chipboard, and some book binding tape, and hinged together six chipboards, and then taped my six sheets of paper on top using double sided tape.  It's not professional quality - not by a longshot - but it's a vast improvement.  (Word to the wise - make sure you plan out your hinges in advance!)

The New board
It even folds properly!

Another thing I tackled was making the language on the Coal Cards (which allow you to "cast spells" to help yourself or hinder your opponents) less ambiguous.  It was not at all clear when some of the cards should be played.  And cards that should be played in similar circumstances were sometimes worded differently "Play when in the Wood Shop" and "Play when producing wood", for example - so I went through and tried to make everything clear.  There will also be a section in the rules where I detail each card, because I think some of them are tricky enough to need more explanation than can fit on the card.

Speaking of the rulebook - my previous rulebook was 2.5 pages of essentially just reminders to myself.  I've now written an honest to goodness first draft of an actual rule book.  I think it's at 7 pages now...but I need to add the Coal Card descriptions.

Hows that for a 1st player marker?
The most recent thing I've been working on is overhauling the scoring mechanic for actually creating gifts.  The idea behind making the gifts is that they would be constructed from 3 main materials - fabric, wood and metal.  Now, I've borrowed an idea from the game Colosseum.  In that game, you are staging shows in Imperial Rome, and various shows have required elements - however you can choose to be skimpy on your show (and earn less VP) by not using all the required elements.  In Santa's Workshop, I have a mechanic that allow the player to use plastic in place of some of the materials.  I want there to be a decision that the player has to make - make the toy our of quality material, and score more, or use plastic, finish faster and start working on more toys.  In our playtest, no one ever opted to use plastic.  And we all went for toys with lots of metal parts.  That's because I was basing the score on worth of material - Fabric=1, Wood=2, Metal=3.

The turn marker...and friends
I felt that I needed a new scoring formula, and Tom and Becky had some suggestions.  I've now reworked the scoring formula - I've bumped up the base 3 materials by 1 pt each, and made plastic worth 1 pts (after all, even plastic toys bring joy to children).  I've also added a scoring element for the number of different materials used (to reflect the amount of effort that goes into gathering the materials), and the amount of time it takes to assemble the gift will affect the score.  So, now I have an honest to goodness formula that I'm using.  I don't know that it's perfect, and I'm sure I'll tweak it, but I feel that I have a good basis for it now.

Working the spreadsheet....

I will also be reworking the gifts in terms of the materials needed to make them.  Like many games, my scoring track wraps around the board edge, and goes from 0-100.  I had been keeping the scores fairly low on my gifts previous, in the 2-12 range mostly.  But that meant I didn't have a lot of flexibility to play with the amount of material that it took to build a toy.  I was trying to keep the scores around a 100 or less, and sure enough in our playtest, Tom won with 101 points.  In order to get more flexibility on the components, I think scores are going to go up, which means scores will be well above 100, maybe above 200.  And you know what - that's fine.  I'll just add in a couple of "+100" markers for each player.

Alright...that's enough for now.  Time to get back to working on formulas and graphic design....

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The First Playtest!

How's it look?  (note...NOT MY GAME!)
I have yet to talk about my board game design on this blog, mainly because I've taken my sweet time in getting around to working on it.  I've had the idea for the theme for well over a year, and in fits and spurts I'd written several pages of notes on game play, but I'd procrastinated on actually getting around and working on it!  As a married father of 2 young children, I'll blame the usual suspects - wife, kids, house work, etc.  What I really needed was a bit of a kick in the pants.  But let me back up a bit...why did I decide to throw my hat into the game design ring?  After all, it seems that at every convention, half the people there are talking about designing their own game.  And from listening to various podcasts, and hearing publishers, it's obvious that they're getting no shortage of submissions.  Add in the Kickstarter phenomenon, and I get the feeling that the market may even be a little glutted (or maybe a LOT glutted). 

So why jump in the fray?  Well, I'll blame my good friend Paul Owen a little bit.  Paul was fortunate enough to get his first game, Trains, Planes & Automobiles published in 2011.  Since I'm often hanging out with Paul at the two main board gaming conventions I attend, Prezcon and WBC, I started seeing some of the "inner circle" as Paul would socialize with other designers, throw ideas back and forth and even playtest some new games.  The enthusiasm and creativity amongst this group was contagious, and I decided that I'd like to give it a shot.  As the dad of two younger children (currently aged 6 & 9), my first inclination was to create a game that they could enjoy - but also that adults would like.  At some point, I hit upon the idea of having the players control teams of elves as they build presents in Santa's Workshop - and I tentatively titled the game just that - Santa's Workshop.  As I mentioned, I would scribble down notes to myself now and then, and eventually had a bunch of papers tacked to the corkboard by my desk.  But I was procrastinating on actually putting something together.

Earlier this year, I had the vague thought of having something ready to go by the next Unpub convention.  Again, I had heard Paul talk about his experiences at Unpub 3, and I thought that would be a great place to get good feedback.  But I hemmed and hawed, and summer turned into fall.  For some reason, I thought Unpub was in the Spring...but a few weeks ago I discovered that it was happening in the middle of January.  Cursing myself for procrastinating, I asked Paul how "finished" a game should be, and he indicated that many of the games there were roughly in the middle of the design process, still needing a few tweaks, but well on their way to completion.  I was a little dejected at this, because I didn't think I would have anything even "halfway" done by January.  I reached out on Twitter to the guys running Unpub, and the response I got from T.C. Petty III was that "notebook paper is's probably good if you've at least played it a time or two".  With that in mind, I decided I wanted to go for it, and not regret that I had to wait another year for the next full Unpub convention...and I promptly found that they had sold out their tables.  Convention director Darrell Louder gave me a ray of hope when he said that they were looking to add a few more tables.

Not the view from our seats
With that in mind, I set to the task of getting some kind of working prototype by the weekend of November 16-17.  My wife and I were traveling to Blacksburg, and my good friend Tom was going to be there, and I thought that would be a great chance for a first playtest.  So, over the course of a week or so, I put together a rough board, printed a bunch of cards, and ordered a bunch of meeples and wooden cubes.  By the time came to leave on Friday, I had a prototype!  Now, while in Blacksburg, I got the word that Darrell was opening 5 more tables, going on sale at 5:00 Saturday night.  I was at the Virginia Tech - Maryland game...and it went into overtime...causing me to stress that I wouldn't be at a computer at the 5:00 starting time.  Fortunately, the game only went one overtime - unfortunately, the Hokies lost :(.  However, we made it back to our lodgings in plenty of time.  When the time came to register, I promptly flailed as I forgot my Paypal password, and had to figure that the time I did, and tried to register, I got a "sold out" response, and my heart sunk.  Contacting Darrell via Twitter, he assured me that I had indeed registered - and apparently somewhere in the flail, I had actually registered twice.  He kindly refunded me the 2nd registration fee, and refrained from mocking me.  So, after all that, I was in for Unpub!  But...did I have anything worth bringing? 

I didn't think to take a picture until we were done!
After a quick dinner, I sat down with Becky and Tom and broke out Santa's Workshop.  A quick explanation of the rules, and we were off.  The game is essentially worker placement, as you use your elves to gather resources to build gifts.  There are a few other things the elves can do, such as feed the reindeer, and dig for coal (after all, there are the naughty kids to "deliver" to).  Although I'm a fan of euro games, sometimes I can find them wanting for player interaction.  I had long had the idea of having cards that would give players benefits, or allow them to hinder other players. However, in the week or so leading up to the playtest, I had the idea to add some "counter" cards to allow players to counter the cards of opponents.  I envisioned something along the lines of "Wiz-War", with players casting spells at other players, who in turn might deflect them back at the originator, or even other players...all while doing your worker placement actions as well.

A little closer view
As expected, the questions about rules came fast and furious...some I was prepared to answer, others not so much.  By the end of the game, I'd taken a page and a half of notes - and jotted down a bunch more on the trip home on Sunday.  I learned the importance of not having vague wording on my cards.  I got a lot of good feedback, and some interesting suggestions for rules changes.  I have a lot of ideas on how to fix some things...and some of those ideas conflict with each other...  I'm planning on getting in more playtesting prior to Unpub...but I'm at least comfortable that I have something that I won't embarrass myself with there.  Will this eventually catch a publishers eye?  I don't know...but I'm excited to finally be doing something with my idea, and I look forward to seeing what will happen!

Friday, November 1, 2013


Well, this past Tuesday night, we had the chance to break out Firefly again.  This was my third Firefly experience, after my first game (detailed here) and a two player affair that my friend Tom and tried out one night.  The first game was the very first for all the players, and the 2-player game was started at 10:00 at night after a long day of college football, while camped in front of the TV, so I'm not so sure that was a fair shake.  I was eager to try it again, after getting some experience, and with another larger group.  In fact 3 of the 4 of us were the same players as from that first play, and everyone had had the chance to get a few plays under their belt.  Our 4th player was Brian, who was a rookie, but had been eager to try the game.

We hemmed an hawed a little about which scenario to play, but finally settled on "The King of All Londinium", which is the suggested starting scenario - but has also been roundly criticized for taking MUCH longer than the estimated 2 hours.  (Note - Gale Force Nine has released a new "beginners story" on their website - "First Time in the Captain's Chair")  The thing about "The King of All Londinium" (and the reason that it takes so long) is that it forces you to try and get the full experience of Firefly, as you have to not only earn money, but get a crew that is proficient at all the skill sets in order to succeed. 

It's actually the first goal in "The King of All Londinium" that seems to take the longest time, as you not only need to build a decent crew (in particular, with the negotiation skill), but in the first goal, you need to have at least $7000 in order to succeed (you can chance it with $5000).  It takes some time to build up that kind of cash, as your crew takes their cut for each successful job.  Note that we all still played a bit conservatively, as no one was risking a disgruntled crew by not paying them.

Without giving a detailed overview of our actual game, I'll just cut to the chase and report that Brian won, beating me by one turn in completing the 3rd goal.  Remember, Brian was the only player with absolutely no experience with the game.  Randy finished 3rd, having completed the 1st goal a few turns prior the end, and Carson never completed that first goal.  It took us about 3 hours.  Which wasn't bad considering, the first time around, we called it at 3.5 hours, and only one person had completed the first goal.

What I really wanted to talk about is my impression of the game after 3 plays now.  I love the Firefly universe as much as the next geek.  I want to love this board game.  But I don't.  I like it - quite a bit.  But I don't love it - I don't think it's worthy of the hype it's been getting - although I feel like there are some more criticisms creeping out there.  So, what are the issues for me?  The biggest one is player interaction - there is very little.  Yes, you can potentially send the Alliance or Reavers after other players, but you need to be a little lucky to do that - that typically only happens when someone is moving through space and flips a card that allows the player next to them to move the Alliance/Reavers.  And then the moving person already has to be only one space away for anything to happen.  For other interaction - you can potentially trade with someone in the same space, or steal their disgruntled crews.  We never had that happen - disgruntled crew was rare, and besides everyone was just trying to complete their jobs rather than spy out what was happening on other players ships.  Brian said it best after the game - "I had little idea what anyone else was doing during the game." I almost wish - and I've had vague notions of trying to home-rule something like this - that multiple ships could be working the same job, and there was some kind of race to see who completed it first.  However, I would also want some way to try and hinder the the other players trying to work the same job as you - perhaps some way to force a misbehaving card on them?  Hmm...

Then there's the luck factor.  This turns up mostly during the travel, as you flip the Alliance and Reaver decks.  Poor Carson in our game got hammered by this - having the Reavers pop into his space on several occasions.  I probably would have won the game if Zoe hadn't been snatched from my crew by the Alliance, forcing me to find a replacement for her.  In fact, we had a run of bad luck where it seemed the Alliance was finding anyone with a warrant.  Randy must have tried for 4 turns to complete that first goal before he was able to, just due to the cards that popped up - the misbehave cards can be easy or difficult, and there's no good way to build your crew to handle them - they could require any of the skills.

One other issue I wanted to mention is that if you get behind in this game - there seems to be little chance to catch up.  Brian and I were fortunate enough to complete the first goal at relatively the same time.  Carson and Randy were not able to do so, and it quickly became apparent that they wouldn't catch us.  Since this game tends to run long, that can be an issue for players if they know they're out of it, and there's still 2 hours of game to go.  Perhaps that's mainly a problem with the Londinium story, though - as I mentioned, I think the first goal is the hardest.  Once you get past that, it's relatively straight forward to try and optimize your crew skills for the 2nd and 3rd goals.

Ok...all that said...I still like the game, and I'd be happy to play it again.  Another quote from Brian - "I was never bored".  It's just that it's almost like 4 players playing solo games on the same board.  Another quote, from my buddy Paul O. - I don't remember if he said this when I was describing Firefly, or we were talking about another game - he talked about it sounding like an "experience game".  I think that's dead on here.  You play the game to have the experience of "living" in the Firefly universe for a little while.  To that end, I think a little role playing may help out - really read the flavor text on the various cards, don't just look for the skill check numbers and roll the dice.

Well, that's it for now...despite my misgivings, I'm sure I'll shell out the money for the expansion cards that are due in a month or so.  Until then, keep flying....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blinded by Science

Well, our latest Tuesday night session was all about science!  We got in another play of The New Science, but before that, we tried out an eagerly anticipated arrival....

Earlier this year, I finally jumped on board the Kickstarter wagon, backing a number of projects.  One of them was the latest iteration of Alien I wasn't exactly going out on a limb with that one.  However, one that I backed sight unseen was Compounded, from Dice Hate Me Games, by designer Darrell Louder.  Now, I decided to back this for a number of reasons.  First, I've gotten to know the folks at Dice Hate Me a little bit, and I've enjoyed the games they've been putting out - and I'm always happy to help a small independent publisher.  In fact, I met Darrell at this year's Prezcon - and marveled at how he restrained from throttling some younger players during a game of Pitch Car.  Second, I loved the theme, I'm a science guy - though I'm more comfortable with orbit mechanics than chemistry - and I loved the idea of a game based on science.  Third, the game got a thumbs up from my buddy Paul Owen, who had played a prototype at one of the UnPub events.

Well, as fortune would have it, Compounded arrived on my doorstep this past Monday.  I punched the pieces, and put on the stickers that night, but falling victim to an oncoming cold, I didn't get a chance to read the rules.  Not wanting to miss game night, I went to work snuffling and sneezing, and I threw Compounded in the game box, "just in case".  After medicating myself, and buying some hand sanitizer in an attempt to not spread my disease to my fellow gamers, I showed up at the Game Parlor, and since Paul was also joining us, and knew the rules, we quickly decided to give Compounded a try.  Setup was fairly quick, as I had each players components sorted into the test tubes (centrifuge tubes, really) that came as part of the Kickstarter campaign.  Paul quickly dealt the various chemical cards that would initially be up for play. 

My initial start with in 1 hydrogen, 1 carbon and 2 oxygens
The game consists of four phases per turn - "Discovery", in which you draw "elements" (i.e. plastic colored "jewels") from a bag - and importantly, make deals with other players; "Study", where you lay claim to chemicals that are in play; "Research", where you play your elements onto chemicals; and "Lab" where you can score for completed chemical compounds, and perform some actions to set you up for the next turn.  As you complete chemical compounds, not only do you score points, but you can increase your prowess in the various phases of the game, and also collect tools that will be useful.  But beware - hidden in the deck are Lab Fire cards, which will cause certain compounds to catch on fire, possibly exploding, scattering their elements to other compounds.  In such cases, it is always handy to have completed your fire extinguisher (needing carbon and oxygen).

Completing my extinguisher early in the game
So how would I rate my first Kickstarter "blind purchase"?  In short - a resounding success!  Everyone at our table enjoyed the game - there were several quotes along the lines of "this is a lot funner than I thought it would be!"  As for my part, I really enjoyed the game.  The game components are, for the most part, top notch.  The artwork and graphic design is fabulous, as one would expect from Dice Hate Me - using the Periodic Table as the score track is brilliant! The wheeling and dealing that happens during the Discovery phase is chaotic fun - more chaotic, than Settlers of Catan for example, since it's a free for all - and I see the chance of the game getting bogged down a bit there...but I think it's critical for player interaction.

If I had a couple of nitpicks, it would be that I found a few things to be on the small side.  The game is nice and compact - I was expecting a Ticket To Ride sized box, instead it measures a hair under 9" square - which is in itself fine, it just necessitates that everything else be a little smaller.  Specifically, the text on the player boards is tiny - although after a few plays, I doubt you'd be relying on that text.  The flame tokens to place on compounds after a Lab Fire are very tiny - make sure you don't lose them.  The centrifuge tubes that came as a Kickstarter bonus are a little overkill - they take up too much room in the box for the amount they store.  However, that's the nittiest of nitpicks, considering they were a bonus, and the folks at Dice Hate Me went through quite an ordeal to find something that they promised during the Kickstarter campaign.  In fact, from fragile materials, to size issues, the test tube issue seemed to cause the most headaches, and they very well could have just canned the idea, but they stuck with it and delivered on their promise - and I can't help but respect that.  In fact, for my first Kickstarter experience, I can't help but feel this is the way it should be done - constant updates, explanations for hiccups (i.e. the test tubes) - I never once worried that my "investment" was in trouble.  Now...bring on Brew Crafters!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The New Science and Time N Space

Well, it's been some time since my last blog post.  I made the decision that I didn't necessarily need to blog about every single game I've played...that was just turning into weekly recaps...instead I'm just going to post whenever I encounter something new and different, or there's something particularly compelling to talk about.

This past Tuesday, at our weekly game night, our group played two new games that I thought I'd spend some time discussion.  Actually, we played three games, the first being one of our favorites - Hansa Teutonica.  I want to mention that briefly, because Mike R. pulled out the victory with a very clever strategy that was semi-new to our group.  Usually in Hansa, the early game tends to be a struggle over people completing routes to the city of Gottingen in order to gain extra actions.  Inevitably someone claims an office in Gottingen in order to score points on all the folks completing the route for extra actions.  In our game, the very first person - Brian - to complete that route claimed the first office of Gottingen - and shortly thereafter Grant took the 2nd office.  So, the fight for Gottingen was more vicious than normal.  But Mike...he stayed out of that mess and quietly claimed the offices all across the north, include the towns of Groningen, Stade, and Lubeck - which open up Liber Sophiae, Privilegium and "Bag" actions respectively.  When the rest of us got around to using those routes, Mike was vacuuming in the points.  We all saw it, but no one did anything to stop him, and he won by a comfortable margin.

Alright...the first "new" game we played was The New Science, from Conquistador Games.  In this game, you take on the role of one of the famous Renaissance era scientists - Newton, Galileo, Kepler, etc.  You have 3 "energy cubes" for each turn, which you place on certain actions on the side of the board - re-arranging turn order, claiming "happening" cards, increasing your influence in several tracks, and most importantly - researching, experimenting and publishing scientific discoveries.  After everyone has placed, the actions are resolved, top to bottom, left to right - very similar to Dominant Species.  The bulk of the board is taken up by the "tech tree" of various scientific discoveries, which are broken up into 5 disciplines - astronomy, physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology. 

Each discovery is represented in a box with 3 levels - one for researching, one for experimenting and one for publishing.  In order to do those three actions successfully, you have to have a certain number of points in those areas - which are dictated by how good your particular scientist is in those areas, points that you can gain (or lose) on the action track, and in the case of experimenting, a die roll.  You can also use "rest points" that you have gained by using the turn order action space.  Lastly, to successfully publish, you must meet the requirements of having influence in different areas - government, religion, enterprise and science.

Now, I called the scientific discoveries a "tech tree" earlier, and that's what it is.  The higher level discoveries depend on the player having information on earlier discoveries.  The player can get that info by successfully experimenting on earlier per-requisite discoveries...or if they have been published by any player.  That's right...when you publish on a subject, you potentially open up higher level discoveries to other players.  So why publish?  Well, that's just about the only way you gain prestige (i.e. victory points).  In fact, that's really the core of the game, in my opinion...that decision on when to publish, and when to keep your discoveries to yourself (although someone else can certainly research and experiment on the same discovery as you).

One other thing I want to mention - starting with the 2nd round, 2 "Happening" cards are available each turn.  These can be "events", which affect everyone for that whole turn, "play" cards which take affect as soon as they are claimed or "laboratory" cards which give the player who claims it a continuing advantage for the rest of the game (or until he replaces it with another card).

I should mention that this is actually the 2nd time I've played this, but our first game a few weeks ago was rushed and cut a little short.  This time we played a full game with 5 players.  I'll say right up front that I really enjoy this game.  The tech tree mechanic is pretty unique, as far as I know.  In my limited experience, it seems to me that diversity is key - I got too wrapped up in the chemistry and biology sciences, and did well there, but then I was really shut out of the other sciences.  The "when to publish" decision is critical...and that also ties in to how you take your actions, and which particular research, experiment or publish action you claim (there are multiple, but they resolve in a very specific can be easy to screw up and select a publish action that happens before your experiment which case you've really screwed yourself.  Everyone at our table was new to the game, and everyone enjoyed it...some of the folks were not impressed with the pastel layout of the game board, but I didn't particularly have a problem with it.  I definitely would like to get this one to the table again soon.

The second new game we played was Time N Space by Stronghold Games.  I'm a big Stronghold Games fan, and last year at WBC owner Stephen Buonocore talked me into buying a ton of his games.  This year I resisted (well...I got Space Cadets:Dice Duel), but Stephen worked his wiley ways on Brian, who picked up TnS.  We finally had a chance to get this to the table on Tuesday.  We were fairly excited about trying this one, as the "innovative mechanic" is the use of sandtimers that each player uses to control their actions, in real time.  Additionally, the game is played to a strict 30 minute time limit (the Stronghold Games timer app for Android was very useful here...).

The theme of the game is interstellar trading.  Each player has 2 spaceships, 2 sand timers, and a player mat that has spaces which dictate how much he can produce, where to put demand tokens, and places to transport them to other players.  The goods/demand tokens are broken up into 4 different colors, and each player has 6 demand tokens of each color (3 1's, 2 2's and 1 3 demand).  The different areas on your player mat can produce goods of those colors, and you have to fly your spaceship to other people's planets, and deliver the amount of goods on their demand tokens to claim those tokens.  The demand tokens that you claim from other players are used for you score at the end of the game...but here's the catch.  You can only score for demand tokens in which you have managed to give away your own tokens of that color.  So you may have claimed a bunch of blue tokens from other players...but if you still have any of your blue tokens left, you don't get to score those.

A prototype pic I found on BGG
The sand timers are used for everything.  You move your ship - move it, but put a timer on it.  Want to create a new good?  Put a timer in that spot on your mat.  Same with placing new demand tokens an delivering goods.  You also have the opportunity to upgrade the various spots on your player mat...they start out only producing one good, or transporting 1 good etc...but you can pick up better tokens to place on your mat, but of course to place them, you have to use a sand timer.  The timers are 1 minute in a 30 minute game, you're going to get at most 60 actions.

As I mentioned, we had high hopes for this game.  At the end...we were honestly, a little disappointed.  We were hoping the sand timers would drive a crazy real-time chaos-fest.  And it was chaotic, but in spurts.  I almost feel they would have been better if each player had two timers that were of different length.  Both of them being a minute long meant that you often take 2 actions right in a row, and then waited a minute for both of your timers to run out.  Our 4 player game also devolved into players A&B trading with each other and C&D trading with each other.  Which was not good, because you score multipliers based on the number of different people who's tokens you collect.  There is a lot of talking and negotiating in this game - "I need brown, put out brown, and fulfill that request for you"..things like that.  So, I dunno...I'm willing to try it fact I WANT to try it again, because this game, more so than most, I think will require multiple plays in order to get a real feel for how you should do things.  That being said...I'm not absolutely clamoring for it again right away.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Two Eagerly Anticipated Games

Well, GenCon has come and went (I really need to get there some day) and with it, a bunch of eagerly awaited new games have arrived.  There are two that have been on my radar for a quite a while, and I've been fortunate enough to try them both in the last week or two.  They are the Lords of Waterdeep expansion, Scoundrels of Skullport, and the newest offering from Gale Force Nine, Firefly:The Game.

Let me start with Scoundrels of Skullport (SoS) Lords of Waterdeep has become a favorite at my house - my wife loves it, and it's just as fun with 2 players as it is with 5.  If I were to bet, it would be that LoW is my most played game in the last year (I've now started tracking my plays on BGG, so next year I'll be able to definitely see what I've played the most).  That being said, you can only Rescue the Magister's Orb or Domesticate Owl Bears so many times before you're ready for something a little new.  I worry a little about how tuned in my FLGS is to the overall gaming scene, and when I pre-ordered SoS from them, months ago, I was nervous that they wouldn't quite follow through.  So, I pre-ordered on Amazon as well.  Imagine how excited I was when my FLGS called me on the Thursday that GenCon had started to tell me they had it on the shelves.  I immediately ran over and picked up a copy...I think I got my copy before GenCon attendees got theirs!  Also, that gave me enough time to cancel my Amazon pre-order, which is fortunate, because apparently Amazon was unable to fulfill quite a bit of those orders.  So...+1 for my FLGS!

But, on to the expansion - SoS provides some new variety, with not one, but two(!) expansions in one box.  The "Undermountain" expansion adds new Lords, new quests and new intrigue cards, but generally does not alter the game that much.  The "Skullport" expansion adds a little more variety - again with new Lords, quests and intrigue...but also a new "resource" - corruption - which is worth negative points at the end of the game.  SoS also comes with agents and tokens for a 6th player, and some extra agents for the original 5 colors, so you can play the "long game" with more actions per turn.

Things aren't fitting quite as nicely
SoS has not been without some controversy, as apparently someone at the Wizards of the Coast quality control department fell asleep when this expansion was being made.  The cards are all a hair bigger than their counterparts from the base game, there's some slight color difference in the card backs, the quest cards are printed "upside down" with respect to their back and the box insert, while mimicking the insert of the base game, is of substantially lower quality (feels flimsier and doesn't hold the pieces as well).  I don't think any of this is a deal breaker, but some of it is mildly annoying, particularly from WotC, who have been publishing identically sized Magic:The Gathering cards for over a decade now. 

The new starting buildings in Undermountain
I've had a chance to play SoS twice now...but both times I've only played the Undermountain expansion.  So I haven't had a chance to play with the corruption yet...but that looks very interesting to me.  I've seen some concern online that the lord that gives you points for your corruption tokens is underpowered.  But how about Undermoutain?  The three new lords give you points in the following ways: 4 pts per Undermountain quest, 3 points for any (non-mandatory) quest and 5 points for any quest that was already valued at 10 or more.  Some big highlights of the other new items include 40 point quests, intrigue and buildings cards that force you to seed other parts of the board with money or adventurers, and intrigue cards that allow you attack (i.e. remove) other players buildings.  I should also mention that a side board brings three new buildings into play from game start (as does a similar board in the Skullport expansion).

Some nasty corruption tokens
In general, I've liked the expansion in both my plays.  The new quests and buildings and intrigue cards are adding some variety to the base game.  I have a slight nagging feeling that some things may be unbalanced, though.  In both games I've played (one 2-player, and one 5-player) the person with the lord who scored 5 points for every quest > 10 points won.  The 40 point quests are a huge advantage if one player gets one, and no more turn up.  The 40 point quest did not seem particularly hard to complete either - about on par with the 25 point quests in the base game.  The player who won in both games also played an intrigue card that immediately allowed them to draw 2 more intrigue cards and play them immediately.  That being said, in our five player game, we knew the eventual winner was more or less running away with it, and we did nothing to hamper him.  So, we have ourselves to blame - at least partially.  I will not be making any rash judgements after only 2 plays, but I will be keeping an eye on how things play out in future games.  I was also thinking of using the expansion in the final of next year's Prezcon LoW tournament, but I've cooled on that a bit.  We'll see...

Eagerly anticipated game #2 was Firefly:The Game (FtG) from Gale Force Nine.  Long known as a purveyor of cool little tokens and trinkets for miniatures and board games, GF9 hit a home run last year with their first in-house game, Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery.  For their 2nd game, they had taken on the universe of Firefly, one of the most beloved (if short lived) franchises in Sci-Fi history.  I must admit, that when I first saw pictures of the game back at Prezcon in February, I was underwhelmed with the board layout.  But's Firefly, right?  Unlike SoS, FtG will not be available to the general public until the end of September or so, mostly due to a production error with the Alliance ship, I understand.  However, they did have limited numbers available at GenCon, and one of our gaming regulars, Carson, snatched one up.

You can't take the sky from me
FtG is, at it's heart a "pick up and deliver" game.  You're the captain of a Firefly class transport ship, and you fly from planet to planet and your goal, to quote Malcolm Reynolds, is to "find a crew, find a job, keep flying."   At the start of the game, you pick from a number of "stories", which is basically your overall objective or scenario for the game.  Each story has 3 goals, and the first player to complete all 3 wins.  Now, you won't have enough skills or money to complete those goals immediately, so you have to take other "jobs", which allow you to earn money, which in turn allow you to hire crew, buy equipment, get ship upgrades,etc. - which in turn allow you to tackle tougher jobs, which get you more money, enabling you to get more crew, more equipment etc. - until you feel you can start tackling the main goals of the game.

My ride!
Our game was a 4 player game - which is the maximum amount of players - unless you picked up Game Trade Magazine Issue #162 which came packaged with "The Artful Dodger", a 5th ship.  Let me say right off the bat, that FtG comes as close to faithfully representing it's source material as any game I've played.  I think Gf9 did an outstanding job of getting the "feel" of the Firefly universe right.  You had to dodge the Alliance and Reavers, hope your ship held together as your go from one end of the 'Verse to the other, maybe take on some less than savory jobs just to stay afloat, make sure your crew stayed happy, watch out for the likes of Saffron - all great stuff!  My main concern after my one play is play time.  We played with the recommended starting scenario - and it was listed as 2 hours.  After 3 hours, we had to pack up because the FLGS was closing - and only one player had completed one of the goals.  I estimate we had at least another hour to go.  And that seems to match up with the comments on BGG, which are estimating an hour per player.

The 'Verse
Along with play time, and maybe related, I have a concern about downtime.  This, of course, is more concerning with higher player counts.  But, there's not a lot to do while the other players are taking their turns.  There's no direct conflict in the game, although players can move the Alliance or Reaver ships towards each other, and trade with each other.  But, by the end of the game we were getting better about speeding things along - for example if a player takes his last action as "going shopping" at one of the markets - fine, while he's deciding what to buy, the next player can start moving his ship.  And I will say that I thought as we started to get the hang of the game, we were playing faster, which is to be expected of any new players.  We were also starting to get the hang of how to earn money, which is key.  After about the first 2.5 hours, most of us still had the same amount of money we started with.  But we were getting there.  If we had started again, I feel we could have probably finished the game in 3 hours...but probably not the 2 hours they estimated in the instructions.

Bottom line - despite concerns of play length - I am eager to get this one to the table again.  I think just being prepared for a longer game, plus with experience in the game, will help a lot.  And there's a lot of fun stuff going on here.  I will say that this game takes up a lot of table space.  This game has the most cards I've seen other than maybe Arkham Horror.  And a lot of tokens for cargo, contraband, fuel, passengers, etc.  Each player needs to have their stuff laid out so they can see it, too, which means a lot of space.  But, I'm anxious to get my copy in a month or so and play it some more (one of the "stories" allows for solo play, I believe).  Until then, I'll be in my bunk.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

WBC 2013 Part 4

Ok, one last post about WBC 2013.  I'm not going to cover in depth everything that we did Saturday night and Sunday morning, because Paul did a great job covering it here and here.  Bottom line - we stayed up way too late on Saturday night, and then clung to every last minute into Sunday afternoon.

I didn't have quite as much fun with Article 27 as we did at Prezcon, but some of that may have been due to the late hour.  I also got a bum deal in which 4 of my 5 secret agenda tokens got pulled all on the same turn...and there was no way I was going to get everyone to agree to passing that many in one round.  All the same...I remain unsure about that game...with 6 players especially, it can be hard to keep track of all your bribes.  Panic on Wall Street I enjoyed, though it took me a few turns to get the hang of it.  I would like to try it with more than 5 players, though.  Code 777 - I've been wanting to try this with more than 2 players since Paul and I played it last year at WBC.  Unfortunately, 2 in the morning is not the best time to dive in...we gave it a shot, but it was just too much for our tired brains at that point.

On Sunday, I enjoyed Battle Line, which I picked up for $5 thanks to my $10 GMT coupon.  Neat little 2-player game - time will tell if I like it better than Lost Cities or not.  Spartacus - speed kills, speed kills.  My gladiator, with his ability to use speed dice as defensive dice, was a juggernaut in the arena.

I want to highlight my purchases.  Usually, I get caught up in convention fever and spend more than I should, and end up getting a stinker or two (see the "buy 1 get 2 free" Mayfair sale at Prezcon this year - there's a reason they were giving away some of the games for free).  I feel pretty good about my haul at WBC, though:

Dominant Species - Didn't play it at WBC, but I really enjoyed it during vacation this summer - I pretty much knew I was going to buy it before I got to the con.

Space Cadets:Dice Duel - possibly my best pickup of the con.  I still haven't had a chance to play the original Space Cadets, and I was suckered in a little by the "buy it first at WBC" schtick - but after a few plays, I can report that this game is a blast.  Especially after a long day hunkering down in front of "serious" games.

Pirate Dice - I had read about this, and previously tried to pick it up online, but it had been sold out.  When I saw it at a vendor table, I snatched it up quick.  I'm glad I did (though I found it online later for half the price) - this is another fun, wacky game - and much easier to get into than Robo Rally.  I've already ordered the expansions.

The New Science - Probably the only game I totally bought on a whim.  I'd heard a few good mutterings about it, but hadn't had time to really research it.  But the science theme called to me, and I went for it.  I've since played one game, and I'm glad I picked it up.  One game isn't enough to really run it through it's paces, and I'm mildly concerned about a mechanic or two...but all in all I really like it so far.

Agricola All Creatures Big and Small More Buildings Big and Small - I really liked this "mini Agricola" for 2 players when I picked it up last year.  It hasn't made it to the table recently...but I couldn't pass up on the expansion at the Z-Man booth.

Pandemic and On the Brink - Yes, I already owned Pandemic and it's expansion.  However, there's a new expansion coming out soon, and it will only be compatible with the new artwork in the Pandemic reprints.  So I rebought the base game and the first expansion.  The good news - the On The Brink box now fits everything...but will it fit the new expansion???

Battle Line - As mentioned, I got a $10 GMT coupon for winning Conquest of Paradise...I thought about getting the Dominant Species Card Game, but they were sold out, and Paul convinced me to pick this up instead, and I'm glad I did.

So...sadly, another WBC has come and gone.  And now I get to sit here and be jealous of all the info coming from Gen Con.  But, Prezcon is only 6 months away...and my copy of the Lords of Waterdeep expansion should arrive in a few days.  Looking forward to the next big event!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

WBC 2013 Part 3

Alright...we come to Part 3 of my WBC recap, in which I talk about Conquest of Paradise, and then talk about Conquest of Paradise, and finally I'll talk a little about Conquest of Paradise.

I may have played a little CoP on Saturday

As I mentioned in Part 2 of this recap, I won my CoP game during the "mulligan" round on Friday.  So, I didn't really need to get up for the 9:00 AM round on Saturday.  But, I typically only get to play CoP at conventions anymore, so I rolled myself out of bed and made it over.  About 14 people showed up for the morning round, which meant 2 games of 4, and 2 games of 3.

Just thought I'd throw this in to break up the wall o' text.
I was in one of the 3 player games, along with Phil (I really have to write down these last names) - who is a CoP regular, and Guy, who I hadn't met before, but was familiar with CoP with a little bit of refreshing.  By random draw I was Samoa, Guy was Tonga and Phil had Hiva.  The game went well enough for Guy and I, but Phil had bad luck discovering islands.  Guy did some unusual exploring, sending his boat all the way out east, when he still had unexplored areas only 2 or 3 hexes to his southwest, but it seemed to work for him.  It quickly became apparent that Phil was falling far behind, and as sometimes happens in 3 player games (any game, not just CoP), he had the unenviable task of becoming somewhat of a kingmaker.  We got to the final turn (or so we thought) - Phil attacked both of us, his attack on me was unsuccessful, but he did break Guy's canoe chain.  Still, Guy - who had levied just about all his military chits at this point - was able to connect around that.  We flipped cards, counted points and Guy was the winner by a point or so.  At that point, we called Jerry over for the official score tally, and as we were counting, he suddenly said "Wait a guys are playing a 3 player're supposed to go to 25 points!"  Oops...we were all so used to the 4-player 22 VP condition, that this slipped right past us.  Now, things got a little uncomfortable, as Guy got a little irritated about having to play on.  I said something to the effect of "Well, we all made the same mistake", and his response was "NO - You two made the told me it was the end of the game!"  Nevermind that the victory conditions are printed right there on the map.  I think Phil may have taken a little offense at this, because in the next round, he went full bore after Guy and left me alone.  This didn't help Guy's mood.  Still, Guy had enough military to reclaim his losses.  That left me last to go.  I'm not going to say I threw the match...because Guy had a lot of points, and I don't know for a fact that I could have caught him.  But I'll say this - having already qualified for the semi-finals, and feeling somewhat guilty that I may have inadvertently led Guy to believe the game was over before it was - I didn't put a lot of thought into my last turn.  I picked up a few more points, but in the end, Guy won officially.  Funny thing is, he didn't even come back for the semi finals.

Pic from BGG - perhaps the reprint will come with wooden huts
At noon, the semi-finals started, with two games.  The two winners, and the two players who finished closest to their winner would qualify for the final (which mean if 3rd place in game A finished closer than 2nd place in Game B, that 3rd place guy was in.  In my game, I had CoP regular Dave, and Andy from GMT games.  I embarrassed to admit that I don't remember our 4th players name.  As a top seed (by virtue of my mulligan win), I got to choose my starting territory, and I chose Samoa.  Dave had Tonga, Andy was Hiva, and the 4th player was Raiatea.  As I recall, I had decent exploration finds, but not great.  At one point, I was exploring to my north, and I decided to check out 2 islands that Andy had discovered, but kept hidden beneath his "discovered" markers.  The first was an atoll, which I revealed.  At that point, Andy said "are you sure you want to waste your movement on the other one?"  I actually paused, considering moving to an adjacent unexplored hex, but then decided to stick with the plan, and checked our what he had found already...which turned out to be Hawaii.  Ah...Andy with the mind games.  To be honest, I don't remember a lot of the rest of the details of this game, with the exception that near the end of the game, Player #4 moved in a war canoe to where Andy had sent a transport and some colonists.  Not having any war chits, Andy had to immediately retreat those pieces.  This turned out to be crucial, as Andy had an "Arioi" card had forgotten about, which could have cancelled that "combat" (even though he didn't have any war pieces, that counted as combat).  If he had done so, he could have colonized, and won the game.  With an extra turn, I was able to rebuild my canoe chain (which had been earlier broken by Andy), and pick up some points by attacking the pre-printed "NPC" islands on the map.  This was enough to secure victory, and Dave came in 2nd at our table. 

That set us up for the final, which consisted of me, Dave, my buddy (and Prezcon champ) Brian, and a fellow named Charles.  Quite simply, this turned out to be one of the best games of CoP that I've ever played.  I took Samoa as my homeland, Prezcon champion Brian took Tonga, a fellow by the name of Charles took Hiva, and Conquest of Paradise regular Dave ended up with Raiatea. The rest of us got a little nervous when Dave found 3 islands with his first 3 moves, but he had some atolls in there. The rest of us slowly revealed island groups, and after a few turns, Samoa, Tonga and Hiva all revealed one of the 4-village islands. Raiatea was not to be left behind however, as he eventually revealed 2 3-village islands. It was becoming apparent that we all had done roughly equally as well in island discovery, and no one was going to run away with a "lucky" victory.

As I am wont to do whenever I play Samoa or Tonga, I grabbed the island of Niue before my neighbor could. When it was becoming obvious that this was going to be a roughly equal game in terms of discoveries, Tonga decided to beat the war drums early and launched an attack on Niue. I struggled with the decision to use my Arioi card to stop the combat, but I decided to wait until a more crucial moment later. My  Samoans attempted to retake Niue a short time later, but to no avail.

To the east, Hiva and Raiatea quietly expanded their empires. The Hivans expanded via the atoll at Flint Island, and eventually launched their own attack on Niue, capturing it. In Samoa, I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and did not want to get into a 3-way tug of war over Niue. So, I used the "safety valve" and attacked the "NPC" island of Kiribati, and colonized it.

By this point, the drums of war were pounding across the entirety of the South Pacific, with War Canoes and Warbands seemingly multiplying overnight...well, all except in the southeast, where not much was heard from the Raiateans. After seeing the Samoans take Kiribati, the Tongans reasoned that many Samoan warriors were away from home, and launched a direct attack on the Samoan homeland. This is what the Arioi card was saved for! The Hivans continued to be a threat on the island of Niue, though it looked like they might turn their eyes to the fertile islands of the Raiateans.
Pic from BGG, but closely resembling our situation.

Sensing he might not have a better opportunity, Dave - as Raiatea, revealed his Arts & Culture cards to show 22 points - enough for victory. That is, until the dastardly Tongans revealed the Severe Deforestation card, causing the rest of the empires to lose a village, and dropping poor Raiatea back to 21 VPs.

There's nothing like revealing a possible victory to make yourself the target, and all eyes turned towards Raiatea. Or did they? The Tongans, still reeling from being thwarted earlier, launched a 2nd attack on Samoa itself. The extra turn had given Samoa enough time to build and reposition various warriors however, and the Tongans (with the "help" of some atrocious dice luck) were beat back. Samoa was looking further to the west, and was choosing between the Marshall Islands and Pohnpei to attack. With Hiva still left to go, Samoa thought they were eyeing Raiatea, but dared not take all his warriors, in case Hiva decided to strike west instead. Judging it safe to take only 3 war units to conquer a western island, Samoa chose to attack the more lightly defended Pohnpei, easily conquering it and adding it to the empire. Hiva did indeed launch an attack on the Raiatean homeland itself, successfully wresting it from it's original owners.

When all cards were revealed, Samoa and Hiva were tied at 24 VPs each. Samoa earned the victory based on the tiebreaker of number of controlled island groups in his empire. Critically, on the last build phase of the game, Hiva chose to build a 3rd village on the captured island of Raiatea, rather than building a transport canoe and chaining it to his empire. If he had done so, the score would have remained the same, but we would have had to go to the 2nd tiebreaker, which was Arts&Culture cards - where Hiva would have won.

I think this means I get WBC "Laurels".  I'm not sure I know what those are...but I think I get some.

 So...WHEW!!!  Before Brian dethroned me this year, I had won the CoP tournament at Prezcon for three years in a row.   But success at WBC had eluded me.  I had only made the final once, and that one time I came in a distant 4th place.  It feels good to have won at WBC...and in addition to a plaque, I got a $10 coupon to spend at the GMT booth, which I immediately used on Battle Line (with some "encouragement" from Paul). 

Thanks go again to Kevin for running another fine tournament...and let me also take this opportunity to mention the Conquest of Paradise reprint that is currently on GMT's P500.  Kevin tells me that the reprint will fix some of the color issues, include wooden tokens of some sort for the villages, include the expansion random event cards, and maybe a few extras (including a card that makes it tempting to attack Fiji...interesting indeed).

Brian, Paul and I did some more open gaming on Saturday night and Sunday morning...but I'll leave that for Part 4 of my WBC recap....

Thursday, August 8, 2013

WBC 2013 Part 2

So, right off the bat, I have to issue a correction.  You have to understand, at these conventions, the nights can get late...and that leads to fuzzy memories.  My buddy Paul recapped his first day at WBC, and when I read that, I realized oh...the late night games I posted about earlier were actually on Friday night, not Thursday night!  So...what was played on Thursday night?  As Paul mentions in his blog, we sat down for a session of Settlers of Catan:Cities & Knights.  Now, I have to admit, I've not actually played a LOT of Settlers - my fair share, but not a lot.  I've played the Seafarers expansion on my tablet, and that adds a little bit, but it's still 95% the same game (my understanding is that the Seafarers rules were originally part of the base game).  Cities & Knights on the other hand, is a whole other animal.  This expansion changes the game significantly - to the point where it bears minimal resemblance to the original.  Paul told me he likes it better than the base game.  I'm not so sure - I did like it quite a bit, but our game took 3+ hours.  That's too long for a Catan game (although there may have been mitigating factors such as the late hour and the beverages being consumed). 

On Friday, I intentionally avoided playing anything in the morning, as I wanted to be there when the doors opened to the vendors area.  Last year I missed on getting a copy of Eclipse because I was late to the vendors.  In particular, I had seen Stronghold Games mention that WBC would be the first place to buy Space Cadets:Dice Duel, and that they had limited copies.  I got my copy of SC:DD, and several other things, but I'll save that for later (I think "limited" was a loose term for Stronghold, as it appeared they brought enough SC:DD to supply the entire convention :))

After the vendors had their way with my wallet, I had to choose between Stone Age and Agricola.  I like both games quite a bit, but in general I think I like Agricola a bit more.  Partially because I'm still not very good at the cards, and I think I have lot left to explore with that game.  That being said...I chose to go with Stone Age, as the late night and early morning left me feeling that I would just be raw meat at an Agricola table.  Turns out I was raw meat for my fellow Stone Age players instead. I went with the strategy of trying to get the hut multipliers, but they didn't come out very fast.  The fellow who won the game had 10 family members, but he didn't have the food problem, because the player to his left kept passing on the agriculture track.  She did get 88 points from the tool bonuses, though, which is the most I've ever seen for that.

That afternoon was the "mulligan" heat for Conquest of Paradise, which is "my game", if you will.  I had won three years straight at Prezcon, until Brian dethroned me this past year.  But for some reason I had come up short the past 3 years at WBC.  I arrived a bit earlier and saw many of the usual crew that plays Conquest, and then as typically happens, designer Kevin McPartland showed up, trailed by a bunch of folks who had just attended the demo.  At my 4 player table, by random draw, I was playing Tonga, veteran Conquest player Brian (a different Brian) was playing as Samoa, and two new players were playing as Hiva and Raitea.  It was a fairly uneventful game, to be honest.  The woman playing Raitea had unfortunate luck in finding little to no islands - and for some reason she made the decision to explore right up next to me, finding an island for me, essentially.  Being a new player, she did not really pick up on the need to go military at that point.  On the last turn of the game, I had enough military to pick off one of Brian's small islands, to ensure enough VP for the victory - that may have been the only battle of the game.  So, I was qualified for the semi-final.

That was it for tournaments on Friday.  The rest of the evening was spent in open gaming, which I detailed in the last post.  We did run into designer Ben Rosset, and his friend Eli at one point.  Later we came back, eager to try the latest iteration of Brewcrafters, but I believe they were smack in the middle of demoing to other folks.   In fact, that turned out to be one of my big disappointments of the con - I never did get a chance to sit down and play Brewcrafters.  I believe Ben mentioned that they were gearing up for an October Kickstarter campaign, so I'm excited for that to start. 

Next post will be about Saturday at WBC - aka - "Conquest of Paradise Day".  I would be remiss if I did not mention the reprint of CoP planned by GMT games.  It's up on their P500 list now, and I encourage folks to order it.  They will be correcting/enhancing a number of things in the base game, and including the random event cards that were originally published in C3i Magazine.

Monday, August 5, 2013

WBC 2013 Part 1

Well, this year the World Boardgaming Championships seemed to sneak up on me.  Held every year in early August, in Lancaster PA, the WBC is essentially a bigger version of Prezcon.  While Prezcon has 600ish attendees, the WBC gets 1500+ - one of their board members recently told me that they are the 3rd largest pure boardgame con, after Origins and BGGCon (clearly, he wasn't counting GenCon with it's 30K attendees as "pure boardgame").  In any case, like Prezcon, the WBC is a tournament style convention first and foremost, although they have a very large open gaming area.  At the beginning of each year, the Boardgame Players Association (BPA) members vote on which games will make the "Century List", i.e. the 100 (give or take) games that will make the cut at WBC.  They actually run a little over 100 as publishers can sponsor games, and my impression is that there is a core group of favorites that it's almost impossible to get dropped.  Now, this is a long convention - it officially runs from Monday - Sunday, however they have "pre-con" events starting the previous weekend as well - so you could spend 9-10 days at this convention if you so desired.

Last year, the WBC was plagued by some infrastructure issues that hit the aging location - The Lancaster Host.  Primarily this was in the form of lack of air conditioning in much of the conference center, including the large "Lampeter Room".  As you might imagine in a building full of gamers - who's hygiene habits can sometimes be questionable - this led to some uncomfortable situations by weeks end.  One of the side effects was that more people escaped to the open gaming area, which was still cool - and that led to a lot of crowding and table scarcity.  I'm happy to report that the A/C was in fine form this year, though. 

Unfortunately, I have a little too much in the way of home responsibilities to go for the whole week, so I typically head up on Thursday and stay through the weekend.  This year my buddies Brian Green and Paul Owen joined me at the con.  I'm not going to give a thorough game-by-game rundown like I did for Prezcon, but I want to hit a few highlights.  And, unfortunately, I was a little lazy on taking pictures - so any that you see here are likely one's I've stolen from the internet somewhere.

Pic from BGG user David Morriss
Thurn & Taxis - It had been about 3 years since I last played this euro about building postal routes across Bavaria (you have to love euros and their themes) - since they removed it from the Prezcon list much to my friend Grant's dismay.  The other players at the table were gracious enough to help me shake off the rules rust.  I'm happy to say I finished in a tie for 2nd - and I conceded the actual 2nd place finisher to another player who was looking to move on in the tournament.

7 Wonders - This was the largest game I played in, with probably 120+ participants.  The GM separated everyone into 4 player games.  Each table was to play two games, you got points for your finish in each game (8,5,3,0 I believe and 8.2, 5.1, 2.5 and 0 for the 2nd - the decimals to help prevent ties).  In my first game I was the Pyramids of Gaza and finished in 2nd place.  In the 2nd game I had the Hanging Gardens, and I misplayed the very last card, causing me to finish in 3rd instead of 2nd.  If I had finished 2nd both times, I would have had the highest total, and moved on.  Bummer.

Amateurs to Arms - This game about the War of 1812 was published last year, from Conquest of Paradise designer Kevin McPartland and co-designer Jerry Shiles.  I had pre-ordered it, but had yet to get it to the table.  So, I went to the demo, and then played in the "Mulligan" round.  This is a card driven game, in the same vein as Twilight Struggle - i.e. each card has text that you use to invoke certain events, or a number value, which you can use as "operation points" to do many different things such as levy troops, build forts, etc.  Each side starts at opposite ends of a "peace track", and where those two counters meet on the track determines the winner.

This is an interesting game, but I'm not sure these type of card driven games are my cup of tea - I'm so-so on the aforementioned Twilight Struggle for example.  The game is beautiful - the map consists of essentially everything east of the Mississippi.  But 90% of the action takes place around the great lakes.  So, there's a lot of empty real estate.  It also runs long - I conceded to my opponent after 4 hours - although he didn't have a huge advantage, and it's conceivable I could have come back.  I definitely want to get some more plays of this under my belt - but considering it's length, and it's only  2 players, I'm not sure when that will happen.  Let me take the opportunity once again to praise the components of this game - in particular the map and cards.  The map is practically a work of art, and the cards contain lots of historical tidbits.  Also, the "designers notes" are a funny read - Jerry's sense of humor certainly comes through.

This is the upper right quadrant of the board...but where most of the action takes place.

Thursday night open gaming consisted of playing World Without End, St. Petersburg and Hex Hex XLSt. Pete is an interesting one - Brian and I had both played this several year ago, as were just getting into the "hobby boardgaming" arena, and both of us came away with negative impressions that kept us from the game for years.  Paul brought it back out, and re-taught us, and we played again.  Brian didn't change his opinion much, but I came away with a better impression.  Some of that might be because I had a good game, and won - but I think years of playing these games now has given me some insight into many of the mechanics, and I think I just "got it" this time around.  I'm not saying it's my favorite - but I won't avoid it either.  Hex Hex XL was one we had high aspirations for - but it fell flat for us.  Brian in particular seemed disappointed, but I think a large part of it was due to having only 3 players.  My intuition says this one would be better with 5+ players. 

More to come in Part 2.....