Lords of WaterdeepFirst thing on Thursday morning was my 9:00 demo of Lords of Waterdeep. That's right, in my 5th year at Prezcon, I decided to take a turn at being a GM. Justin Thompson had put out a call earlier in the year (or, last year, rather) for some new games at the 20th Prezcon. My initial instinct was to volunteer to run Merchants and Marauders, the excellent pirate game from Z-Man games. However, I could easily see games of M&M stretching to 3+ hours, and being new to the GM thing, I wasn't sure I wanted to give up that much of my own gaming time. So I turned to another hot game that released last year, Lords of Waterdeep. Even with inexperienced players, games should only last about 1.5 hours or so. For those unfamiliar, the setting is the D&D Forgotten Realms city of Waterdeep. You are one of the mysterious "Lords" of Waterdeep, and your job is to keep the city safe from various monsters, cults, and another shenanigans. However, being too lordly to get your own hands dirty you hire adventurers (the stereotypical warrior, rogue, wizard and priest) to complete these quests for you. Despite it's D&D theme, this is very much a Euro-style worker placement game, where you collect cubes, er, "adventurers" and money to meet a quest's requirements, and in turn score VPs for that. You can also use the "Intrigue" cards to help yourself or hinder opponents, and you score end-game points based on who your lord is, and what type of quests you completed.
I was curious what kind of turnout I'd get for Waterdeep - I knew it was a fairly "hot" game last year, but the Prezcon crowd can tend to stick to old favorites. My first indication was the turnout at the demo. I had 5 players stay the whole time, and I talked them through about 3/4 of a game. I had 3 - 5 other people stop by for various lengths of time and observe the action. All the players at the demo seemed excited by the game, and I thought it was a success. How'd the game do in the actual tournament heats...stay tuned to find out....
Pillars of the Earth
Pillars of the Earth. In fact, Paul was demoing next to me as I demo'd Waterdeep. Paul was running his first heat promptly at 10:00, following the demo hour, and I joined in. Pillars is based on the Ken Follet novel of the same name (which I've downloaded to my tablet, but have yet to read), and revolves around the construction of a cathedral in 13th century England. Another euro worker placement type game, the novel mechanic in this game is that each players "master builders" are drawn randomly from a bag. The first ones drawn have the opportunity to be placed - but at a cost. You can choose to let them sit, and place them later for free. I hadn't played since last year at Prezcon, and was rusty on the rules...and it showed. I was able to get the metalworker early in the game which gave me points for just owning metal, but in the mid and late-game, I wasn't able to efficiently chain my craftsmen together to equal the points of the other players. I don't really know what a good strategy for this game is...but I know I need to get it to the table more. I will add that Pillars has one of the most beautiful boards I own, and you get to build a neat little cathedral during the game.
CarcassonneAt 1300 on Wednesday, I squeezed in another heat of Carcassonne. I've never had a game of Caracassonne before where I didn't score any points during the game - they all came from end game scoring. Note to other players...this isn't a wise "strategy"...I came in dead last....
Chicago ExpressI'd played Chicago Express 2 or 3 WBCs ago, and while I thought it was relatively interesting...I just never got back to it. During the game, 4 different railways are build from the eastern seaboard, extending towards Chicago. The players have the opportunity to buy stock in each of the railroads, which will pay out dividends at certain points. So, you may find yourself working with one opponent to extend the blue train, and a different opponent to extend the yellow train. First train to Chicago gets an extra dividend payout. Paul gave us a quick recap before the heat, and during our practice game, I thought I was doing rather well. Not so in the heat...where I ended up "teamed" almost exclusively with the woman to my left, and the 2 players across the table ended up with stock in the other two railroads. In the end, my "partner" was able to manipulate the auction for the 5th railroad that joins the game, and I lost a lot cash bidding the initial stock high. I ended up in 4th place. I don't know that CE is a smash hit for me, but I'm definitely interested in playing it again.
Walnut GroveMichelle Hymowitz had taught this quick little euro to Tom Snyder and I last year at Prezcon, and here she was running Walnut Grove as a tournament game this year. This game is described as a "mashup" between Carcassonne and Agricola - and I see where that's coming from...but it is it's own unique game as well, I think. A game lasts 8 rounds, where each player had to gather resources, improve their farm, and feed and heat their workers. Each player starts with a basic farm board. The Carcassonne comparison comes from the tile draw at the beginning of each round - you draw so many tiles, and get to keep a certain amount, depending the disk that's turned up to mark the new round. You want to fit these tiles to your existing farm in the most efficient way - like colors to like colors preferable. There are yellow, green, blue, brown and gray "fields" in your farm. Later you send your workers out to produce resources in those fields, and the larger continuous colors will provide more of those color cubes. Later you have to feed (same color cubes as your farmers) and heat (brown cubes) all your workers - they may require more food or heat depending on the severity of the winter. Meanwhile, you have another meeple that you move around in town, purchasing upgrades (more workers, more buildings, selling cubes for money, etc...). You can always take "neighborly help", but there's the chance that, unless you pay that back, you'll end up with negative points at the end of the game.
Before the heat, I watched Michelle giving a once-over of the game to some new players. I got teamed with them during the heat, and a 4th player, Jack, joined us and learned the game as we played. In the end I pulled out a victory with 27 points. I thought I had a good grasp of it, as Michelle was constantly coaching the other players while I did my own thing. I very much like this game - it has the depth of choices of a good euro...but plays quick...with players that all know what they're doing, you can finish in less than an hour.
Conquest of ParadiseFive years ago, at my first Prezcon, I fell in love with the game Conquest of Paradise. I had sat down because I saw the setup of a blank map of the South Pacific, which looked completely different from any other game I had seen...and quickly got my rear-end handed to me. And then immediately went to the vendors and bought a copy of the game. You know it's a good game if you get crushed at it, and immediately know that it's a must-have!
So what is it? CoP is a game about the Polynesian expansion across the South Pacific circa 500 A.D. There's a million games about medieval Europe, or WWII, or the Roman empire, or even, these days...about farming! Name me one other game about Polynesian expansion in the South Pacific! Well...as described above the game board is a (mostly) blank map of the South Pacific. As one of up to 4 starting Polynesian tribes, you're quest is to spread your civilization across the seas. Game play early on, is dominated by sending your exploration boat out "into the blue" to discover new islands. By blind chit pull, you find out if each hex you enter is open ocean or contains an island. If you've found an island, again by blind pull, you pull an island hex to place on the map...which you can keep hidden from the other players. This can be a large island like Hawaii which can support up to 4 villages, or down to an atoll which can support no colony (but is worth 1/2 VP if you control it at games end). As more and more islands are discovered, and the empires crowd in on each other, you may be forced to train war canoes and war bands to deal with those other pesky civilizations. Additionally you can "buy" cards during the game, which can have various effects, including just bonus VPs, extending your canoe ranges, or effects in battle.
At Prezcon (and WBC, for that matter), the game's designer, Kevin McPartland runs the tournament. These days he's focused on his newest game, Amateurs to Arms, but he's still running the CoP tournies. In the first heat, I was pitted against Rob McKinney, stalwart KGB member (Kingstowne Gamers Board (?) ), a new gentleman to the game whose name escapes me, and rounding out our foursome, Kevin McPartland himself. Now, I should mention, that after my inglorious introduction to the game 5 years ago, I've been on a bit of a streak. In fact, I came into this Prezcon as the 3-time defending champion. So, there was a little pressure to defend my title. I randomly drew Samoa as my starting island...which is my favorite starting position. Samoa and Tonga start with larger islands (capable of holding up to 4 villages), but are directly adjacent. Hiva and Raitaea only have 3-village islands to start, but have more space between them and the other players. I like Samoa not only for a larger start island, but Samoa has the easiest access to several pre-printed islands on the map, which for gameplay are considered already settled by other Polynesians...but are available to be conquered. I think of it as an "out" if you are unlucky in your island discovery phase.
In this game I was anything but unlucky, as I discovered 3 islands within the 1st two turns, 2 of which were Hawaii and Tahiti, which hold 4 villages each. The problem with the 4-village islands, though, is that they can be slow to build up, as you can only add one village each turn. That, and as soon as you reveal them, you become a big target for the other players. And that's what happened. As we were building our empires, and I was forced to reveal my islands, I drew the attention of the other players - in particular Kevin. He attacked me, and with some card play threw me off one of my islands, and cut my "canoe chain" to some further islands in my empire. In the subsequent turn, we made a deal that he would leave if I wouldn't attack him, and we had to focus on another threat...the new player whose name I can remember (I'll call him "new guy" from here on out). I was able to reconnect my canoe chain but it was going to take me a while to rebuild the burned out villages from Kevin's attack. So I took the "out" and sent my warriors west to attack the NPC islands. This worked and I was able to establish a presence in 2 new islands quickly. That, and another turn building villages, and I declared victory. Now, when you declare victory, you have to turn over your cards and reveal any hidden VPs. Turns out that it was closer than I thought, with me only winning by 1/2 VP over "New Guy". Whew...it was close, but with a victory I was assured of advancing to the semi-final...
Bang & The ResistanceWith tournament gaming over for the day, our "group" - me, Tom Snyder, Brian Greer, Paul Owen, Glenn Weeks and the Selzigs (Mike Jr. and Mike Sr.) gathered in the lower atrium area for some quick, light social games. First up was Bang, a cowboy themed card game, where the players take on different roles. Only the Sheriff is known. The deputies are there to help the sheriff, the Outlaws want the sheriff dead, and the Renegade wants everyone except himself dead. Players play cards against other players at the table, trying to shoot them (range is based on distance from the other players around the table), and counter cards such as "Missed!" can be played. Also cards like "Indians", "Gatling Gun", "Dynamite" and "Jail" can throw kinks into the game. What really made this game fun is that it's styled after the so-called "Spaghetti Westerns", and the cards are all in Italian, with English subtitles. We had a lot of fun with our terrible Italian accents.
After 2 or 3 games of Bang, we switched to The Resistance, a social game in the mode of Are You A Werewolf, where you try to discover the "traitors" at the table. Unlike Werewolf, which can drag for hours, Resistance is centered around accomplishing 5 missions. A leader picks players to be a members of a team to go on the mission. The entire group votes on the composition of the team (if the nos prevail, the leader card passes, and a new team is proposed). Once a team is selected and approved, those team members put in a "yes" or "no" card for mission success...any "no" will cause the mission to fail. From there the game goes into accusations and finger pointing, and further teams are more difficult to get full approval. 3 successful missions and the Resistance wins the game, 3 failures and the traitor wins.
What made our game(s) especially fun is that we kept screwing things. Owing to the late hour, and perhaps a few too many adult beverages, we had spies that forgot they were spies, spies who incorrectly identified loyalists as other spies, etc. No matter...we had a lot of fun playing (or trying to play), and lots of laughs. The Resistance is definitely a tighter, quicker playing version of Werewolf, that I would recommend in a heartbeat.
Well, who know this blogging thing would take so much time? Until next time....