Monday, March 4, 2013

PREZCON - Part 5

Well, this should be the last installment of my recap of PREZCON 2013.  And I thought I was going to do this in 2 blog posts.  Ha!

Sunday is always bittersweet at seems to arrive too fast, and well...wait, I'm not sure there's anything "sweet" about it....just bitter.  There's kind of a frantic-ness to it as you try and squeeze in a few more games before you check out and hit the road.  There's several finals on Sunday morning, but there are typically a few heats left for some late starting game.  There's traditionally the last heat of Settlers of Catan before the head right into quarter/semi/finals.  But that's at 0800 - for God's sake, don't they know people have been up playing 2R1B the night before?!?!  There's usually RoboRally that morning, which I always seem to miss.  Brian swore he was playing that this year...didn't happen.  Lastly, there's a few heats of 7 Wonders on Sunday morning.  Two years ago, when 7W was the new hotness, I learned it on one day, and then advanced all the way to the finals (where, sadly I finished 4th.)  My luck hasn't been quite the same since, but I figured that's how I would spend my Sunday morning.  Instead, I talked a little to Ben Rosset during our Pitchcar session the night before, and spent Sunday morning having him demo his new design for me....


I first heard about this prototype game when Paul Owen returned from UnPub and raved about it in this blog post.  To quote Paul from that entry, "I am convinced that "Brewmasters" stands to outshine Agricola in the worker-placement genre".

Now, I work with a lot of military personnel, and if there's one thing you need to know about the's that they love their acronyms.  One that has been popping up recently is BLUF - Bottom Line Up Front, where they will give the "bottom line" of a briefing at the beginning, and then dive into the details.  So, let me give you the BLUF on Brewmasters - I agree with Paul's assessment 100%, I loved this game almost immediately, and I would pick it in a heartbeat over Agricola

Now, I apologized to Ben while we were playing, and I'll apologize again now for all the comparisons to Agricola, as I'm sure every designer wants their game to stand alone.  But I think a compare and contrast is very appropriate in this case.  I like Agricola quite a bit, but there a few bugaboos for me.  The minor improvement and profession cards can create an unfair advantage for a player depending on the random draw, and while blocking players from certain action spaces and having to always feed your family creates a certain tension...sometimes that tension crosses the line to outright annoyance.

But, how about Brewmasters?  In this game, you are the owner/manager of a small independent craft brewery.  Get out of here, Budweiser and Coors with your mass-produced watered down dreck!  Your brewery starts out pretty basic, with limited capacity to store ingredients and a modest production line.  You have two workers or actions (not sure what these disks represented - me, as the owner, and maybe 1 partner?) that you place on an Agricola-style board to take certain actions.  Once each action space is taken, it is blocked for other players in that round.  These actions include gathering certain ingredients, collecting money, etc.  Some of the squares will continue to gather resources if they're not used, ala some of the resource spaces in Agricola (there's that comparison again!)  However, after that, it is time to put your shift(s) to work in the brewery.  You start off with 1 shift, but can gain up to 2 more during the game.  On the brewery actions board, you can use the same actions as other players, or even use the same actions multiple times yourself (assuming you have multiple shifts).  And this is the heart of the action - where you improve your brewery, research new breakthroughs, and actually "process beer" (i.e. brew a new batch, and move anything else down the line to eventually ship).

I made sure to add a brewpub to my operation
Now, I should mention that in our game, Ben replaced one of the brewery actions (which was to grab a specialty recipe for your sole use) with instead leaving all recipes available to everyone for the entire game...with a +2 VP bonus for the first person to brew a certain recipe.  I should also mention that he has the beers split into 3 broad categories...ales, stouts and porters.  (The beer nerd in me wants to point out that beer is really broken down into only two categories - ales and lagers, and that stouts and porters are really types of ale...but Ben has put a lot of effort into this, and that may be unnecessary detail.  Or maybe a clever ploy for future expansions.).  In any case, you have to brew the basic "ale", "stout" or "porter" before you move on to any specialty recipes in those categories. 

Over the course of the game you can improve your brewery by adding more storage, increasing your production capacity, adding a brewpub, etc.  All players can add these things.  You can also hire specialty workers, establish co-ops with local famers, etc...but only one player can get each worker, etc.  These are like the professions/minor improvements in Agricola...except that they are out there on the table, available for blind hands of cards!

In our game, Ben coached me through some initial rookie mistakes (there's a lot to take in here), and in the end I ended up winning by a fair amount (though I'm sure Ben was experimenting with different things on his side).  It's not a perfect game, not quite yet.  The difference in our score was mainly due to me increasing 3 out of 4 research tracks to the end, which got me lots of bonus VPs.  I was able to do a lot of research, because in the last few rounds, I didn't have much for my 3 shifts of brewery workers to do...and I think this was somewhat of a result of that 4th brewery action not being in the game.  Although, looking back at Paul's blog, they seemed to have that issue as well.  So, I think Ben still has some tweaking to do here.

Is that a VivaJava Coffee Porter?
But, I think he's close...real close.  And Ben can't take my money fast enough to reserve a copy of this game.  At the end of our demo, he asked me a very specific question, about which decision areas I liked most in the game.  I hemmed and hawed a little, and don't think I gave him a very satisfactory answer...mainly because I was still taking it all in - I liked it all, dang it!  I've been thinking about it since, and I'm not sure I have a more specific answer.  I like the fact that there isn't hidden cards like in Agricola...and I like the fact that the brewery actions are always available.  There is still the tension of decisions like in Agricola, without the overbearing worry that someone else will take a key spot.  The theme really calls me to more than medieval farming (although Ben may have a hard time competing with little wooden animeeples in terms of visual appeal).  I liked the decision space between trying to brew massive amounts of basic recipes, or going for larger point-value specialties, and how to allocate your brewery improvements.

Not sure the next time I'll run into Ben, but I'll be eager to try Brewmasters again, hopefully with more than 2 players.  This is a good one....cheers!

Tobago, Shadows Over Camelot (The Card Game) & Spartacus

Somehow in all my blogging about Prezcon, I missed a few games that Brian and I played in open gaming.  Early on in the con, we borrowed Shadows Over Camelot - The Card Game from the library and tried it out.  I'm a big fan of the board game version, which really kicked off the current cooperative genre...particularly the "coop with a traitor" variant.  I had heard the card game had come out, and put it on my wishlist.  After one playthrough, I'm a little "meh" about it.  However, we only had 2 players, and with only 2 you do not play with a traitor.  This is basically a memorization game, where each player takes turns flipping cards from the deck, which represent different quests, and have point values.  When you think a certain quest is in the sweet spot of 11-14 points, you stop, and reveal all the cards that have been flipped.  If you're right, you get a "white sword", if you're wrong, you get a "black sword", or maybe several depending on how off you were, and what other quests had accumulated points.  There are some clever twists to try and prevent you from memorizing everything, such as variable point cards, and a "Morgan" card that made us count out loud as we flipped more cards (to presumably mess up any point totals we were trying to remember).  I'd like to try it with more players, but right now, it's off my "must own" list.

Tobago is clever little treasure hunting game.  Brian had learned it from the Selzig's, and sat down to teach me.  The clever mechanic is the gradual narrowing down of treasure locations based on cards drawn during the game.  I would categorize this as a light family style game, and while I wasn't head over heels for it, I would like to try it with more than 2 players.

A game I had picked up a few weeks ago based purely on description and reviews (thanks again, D6Generation) was Spartacus:A Game of Blood and Treachery.  Gale Force 9, the publishers, had a presence at Prezcon and were selling the game, in addition to giving demos.  In fact, there was a Spartacus tournament this year, but I had too many conflicts to try it out.  I did get a demo from the GF9, but I think he focused on the wrong thing.  He really focused on the gladiatorial combat - which from what I understand, is really a sideshow to the meat of the game, which involves political maneuvering, wheeling and dealing, and betrayal of alliances among the players.  Paul seemed to have similar thoughts, which he posted in this blog entry.  I'm still looking forward to getting this one to the table. 

Final Thoughts

Well, another Prezcon has come and gone, and I'm already counting down to the next one.  I'm a wee bit jealous of my friends Glenn and Grant who started on Monday...but I'm not sure I'll manage that until the kids are grown and gone.  I'm a little on the fence about my GMing experience.  I'm glad I did it, and I already volunteered to run Waterdeep again next year, but I did feel I missed out on some gaming time for myself, especially when it got to Saturday night.  Perhaps I can ask not to be scheduled on Saturday night...but I don't want to make Justin's job any harder. 

As for the other changes, I'm kinda neutral on the change they made to have the auction on Thursday night.  I usually had more time on Saturday to make it the auction, but I understand their desire to deconflict with the vendor hours.  And I'm not a big auction buyer anyway.  I think the change to have an open gaming area downstairs was a huge success, which led to less overcrowding in the main ballroom.

I can't have a Prezcon blog without talking about the loot I got.  From the auction store, I picked up Caylus.  On more than one occasion, including at Prezcon, I had heard Lords of Waterdeep compared to Caylus, sometimes being called "Caylus-lite".  So when I saw a copy in the auction store, I snatched it up.  As I mentioned before, I picked up a copy of TC Petty III's VivaJava in the vendor area.  For a while, I thought that may be it.  But then I succumbed to the Mayfair booth.  I picked up a copy of World Without End, the "sequel" to Pillars of the Earth.  This was primarily driven by my enjoyment of Pillars, and the same fantastic artwork.  But Mayfair also had a sale going on some game stock they were trying to get rid of.  Buy 1, get 2 more of lesser or equal value for free.  So, I picked up Amazonas, The Dutch Golden Age, and GangsterAmazonas I had looked at hard once before as a family game, so I pulled the trigger and picked it up, and selected the other two games based purely on theme.  I got $150 worth of games for $50...not bad, and if I really don't like them, maybe they can be yours at next year's auctions!

Well, I think that about it wraps it up for me on Prezcon 2013.  One thing that dumbfounds me is that we managed to miss out on playing Citadels, which has become our go-to late evening game.  Ah well.  I will mention that our car/travel issues continued right until the bitter end.  Somehow - Brian must have been regaling me with stories of his Julius Caesar adventures, I missed the regular turnoff on our way up Rt. 29.  We ended up coming out on I-66 about 15 miles further west than normal.  Ah could have been worse...I could have come home without a plaque!

What's up next?  Well, we have our regular Tuesday game night at the Game Parlor in Chantilly, so I'm sure I'll post about that.  I need to spruce up this blog with a better background, and more links and such.  And then I need to get working on that game idea.

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