Saturday, March 22, 2014

2014 Prezcon - Part 3

Time to wrap up this year's Prezcon coverage.  Saturday at Prezcon is always interesting tournament-wise...there's a few heats left, but mostly you're getting down to semi-finals and your day may be packed...or you may have lots of time for open gaming.  My day started by bringing my extra games down to register for the auction - or rather, the auction store.  I wasn't sure whether to register for the regular auction or the "store", but I didn't think I had anything that would start a big bidding war, so I just went with the store.  One of the games I put in was Kids of Catan, which is a beautiful game, but the mechanics are little more than roll and move, and my kids outgrew it a few years ago.  I was gratified to later in the ballroom to see that a young mother has purchased it, and was playing it with her young children. 

Picture courtesy of
Game-wise, first up for me was a 9:00 heat of Chicago Express - I was eager to see if I could put to use any of the lessons I had learned the previous day.  For a little while, it looked like it would just be a two player game between myself and another fellow - but Mike Senzig Jr. walked up at the last minute and joined us.  Mike is an excellent player, particularly at these types of economic games.  In the end, Mike beat me by about $10 or so...although I did the same thing to the 3rd player that had
been done to me the day before - diverting the red train just before it reached Chicago.  We finished in about 45 minutes or so, and we started a 2nd game "just for fun", and to try out some different theories, but we didn't get to finish as we had to run to other things.  If I'd only been in a 2-player game, I likely would have won and reached the finals cheaply...but I'm not too upset, as I'm sure I would have been far outclassed there.

Next up was the semi-finals for Carcassone.  My luck didn't quite hold up this year, and finished 3rd out of 4 players, failing to make the finals.  Which wasn't too bad, as that saved me from the dilemma of playing while running Lords of Waterdeep

2 games during the 2nd heat
At 1:00 I had my 2nd heat of Lords of Waterdeep.  I didn't play in this round, but just kind of hung out and waited for questions (there weren't very many), and did some browsing at the vendors.  I had 6 games of 4 players in the 2nd heat, and all the games went fairly quick.  After the heat, I did a quick tally
to get 16 finalists - I had 11 individual winners, and took the closest 5 2nd place finishers for the semis.  This in theory would set me up with 4 4-player semis, from which the winners would advance to the finals. 

I had some time before the semis, so I wandered to open gaming, and Paul joined me for a game of 7 Wonders with a group.  Again, names are escaping me, but there was one young guy there with his father and his future father-in-law, and Mark Crescenzi joined us as well.  I hadn't played 7 Wonders in a while, and I'd forgotten how much I like it.  The expansions are nice, but a simple game of the basic game is still a lot of fun.  We also had time to get in a game of The Resistance, although we aborted halfway through when the traitors became obvious.

At the Waterdeep semis, I ended up short on players, as some folks elected to play in Ra.  That turned into a little bit of an issue on Saturday night, as I was conflicting with both Ra and later Stone Age, which appeal to the same type of players.  For the semis, I ended up with 11 players, so we played 2 4-player games and 1 3-player game.  I was in the 3-player game against John Gaebler (who I had narrowly beat in Heat 1) and Jonathan Bartholomew.  I drew the building lords, Larissa, and I did a decent job building buildings without raising suspicion, and scoring 2 25 point quests in the final turns, but John Gaebler got the lieutenant early on, and then just got his euro-engine running, finishing with 198 points.  In the other games, Mahmooda Sultana and Tim Gleeson won, with John Emery being the highest 2-place finisher.  Again, however, we were conflicting with the final for Stone Age, which Mahmooda was in.  She begged me to move the final later, but I was looking to avoid what happened last year, when the Waterdeep final went until midnight.  So I told her she had to choose - she went with Stone Age, which put Mike Crescenzi in the final.

After a quick bio-break, we got the final started.  I drifted in and out, just making sure there were no questions.  John Gaebler was in the lead heading into the final round, but in a stunning play, Mike Crescenzi managed to used intrigue cards and build a building which allowed him to collect 4
wizards over the course of the turn to complete the 25 point wizard quest, and emerge with the victory.  It was a very dramatic ending to the game.  Overall the Waterdeep tournament went well again this year - although we were down to 41 players from 60-something last year.  At this point though, I'm 99% sure I'm going to turn over the GMing duties to someone else.  I enjoy helping out the con, but GMing Waterdeep caused me to miss some other opportunities I would have liked to take advantage of. 

The final - from L to R, Tim Gleeson, John Gaebler, John Emery, Mike Crescenzi 
Next up was Saturday night gaming.  I found the rest of the gang downstairs playing Cash N Guns, and joined in for the 2nd round.  I'd seen this one played, but had yet to play it myself.  It's a quick fun social game, and I think distills the essence of Bang! down into something more steamlined.  After that, we played The Resistance, and then pulled out our old favorite Citadels.  I love Citadels, but 2:00 AM after 5 days of Prezcon may not have had me at my best....

Meeple City being terrorized
Sunday morning there were still heats of 7 Wonders and Settlers of Catan happening, but I headed to open gaming, hoping to get Santa's Workshop in front of Chris Kirkman and Darrell Louder.  I found Ben Rosset and Josh Tempkin down there, and looking at the game library, we chose to play Rampage.  I'd played a few times with my kids, but I'd been wanting to play with adults.  We had a blast, but Ben and I could not overcome Josh's sticky tongue (I'll leave it at that).  Brian joined us after that, and gave one of Josh's prototypes a try.  Entitled Lesser Evil at Unpub, he had rethemed it with a police motif, where you had to clean up the streets of your district in order to become the new commissioner.  The new name is completely escaping might be Commissioner.  When I figure it out, I'll update the blog.  I very much liked the game, with a sort of dice-as-worker placement mechanic, as you tried to get rid of the "felonies" in front of you - and the use of cards to help you manipulate your dice.  However some actions may require you to increase the number of misdemeanors in your district, which, while not as bad as felonies, are still not good.  The objective is to be the player with the least amount of points in front of you by the end of the game.  I'd heard good things at Unpub about Lesser Evil, but I did hear complaints about lack of theme...Josh now has a theme...but I'm not 100% sure it's carried out that well yet...but he just has basic game pieces, I think some artwork on the various cards could help alleviate that quite a bit.  Mechanically, I very much liked it.

With threats of another snowstorm hitting the mid-Atlantic, that was about it for Prezcon 2014.  Overall, I had yet another great experience, though I think I learned a few lessons this year.  I was trying to stretch myself a bit thin.  I wanted to play in a bunch of tournaments of course, but I also enjoy the open gaming with our group.  The GMing cost me some opportunities to do some other things, and I was also trying to get Santa's Workshop in front of folks.  Unfortunately that only happened once, and I wasn't able to get it in front of Chris, Darrell and TC, but I did great feedback from the one play.  I don't know the attendance numbers, but it felt a bit down this year - I don't think they met their goal of 700.  I was very disappointed in the vendors this year - they seem to be getting fewer and fewer.  The most shocking thing may be that I only went home with 1 new game - Flash Point, which I picked up in the auction store.  In fact I actually made money on games this year, with my lot going for a little over $97 in the auction store.  There was also a bit of a stomach bug going around Prezcon this year - Mike Sr. fell prey to it on Wednesday, and Paul had a rough Sunday morning.  I understand a few people went the ER.  In the course of writing these blog entries, I will remind myself to once again try to remember to write peoples names down and take more pictures.  Next up is likely Historicon in the summer, and then WBC in August, but I look forward to next year's Prezcon.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2014 Prezcon - Part 2

Let's see...where was I...oh, that's right...up way too late playing Game of Thrones.  Thursday morning I had to be up by 9:00 for my demo of Lords of Waterdeep.  I had a few people come by - 3 or 4 - not quite as many as showed up for the demo last year.  Waterdeep has been out for a year and a half now, and is quite popular...most euro enthusiasts have probably played it by now.

Picture courtesy of
After my demo, I headed straight for a heat of Pillars of the Earth, again being GM'd by my buddy Paul Owen.  I was in a 3 player game with Mark Beckman and another gentleman who's name escapes me.  I'm very much a novice at Pillars, and I know that Mark is an excellent euro game player, But I played a very good game...right until the last turn.  Truth be told, I thought the game was coming down to me or Mark, and I had discounted our 3rd player...and so did Mark.  In the penultimate turn, I used a pawn to take the first player for the last turn, setting myself up to hopefully take the glassblower...which would have given me a lot of points.  Unfortunately, the glass blower ended up on the board, vice in the area where he could be bought immediately.  As I drew pawns from the bag, I of course drew Mark's pawn first.  He hemmed and hawed, but ultimately decided to go for the defensive move of paying to get the glassblower (blocking me from getting it).  I drew about half the rest of the pawns before I realized, that as the player drawing the pawns, it had been my right to take one "mulligan" and redraw.  We discussed it at the table, if I could go back, and brought in Paul who ruled (correctly, IMO) that I had forgotten tough luck.  In the end that likely cost me the game...but to my and Mark's surprise our 3rd opponent came out of nowhere to claim the victory.  Which is a lesson in never underestimating anyone.

At noon, I got in a heat of Carcassonne, and managed to win.  For whatever reason, I've been doing well at Carcassonne the last few years at Prezcon - 2nd overall 2 years ago, and 3rd last year.  With my win, I was on my way to the semi-finals again. Directly after that, I played in a heat of Stone Age, where I was promptly trounced by a Stone Age afficianado named Rodney.  I made the mistake of not collecting very many cards - I was in the lead, and then promptly got lapped when the card points were counted.

Picture courtesy of
Next up, at 3:00 was a heat of Chicago Express.  I'm not a huge fan of stock market type games...and despite it's train theme, that's really what Chicago Express is.  However, I find this game growing on me.  In fact, I like it more and more every time I play.  My heat didn't go so well - we had a 3 player game, one lady was brand new to the game...but the other fellow was clearly a veteran player.  I did learn a hard lesson, as I took 2 of the shares for the red railroad, he took the remaining 1 share, and just as I had the red railroad approaching Chicago, he veered it off in a different direction.  The veteran won by a significant amount.  I would also like to give kudos to Lee Sensabaugh, the GM -

who in my opinion is one of the friendliest GMs - or person, in general - at Prezcon. 

We had time late that afternoon to get our gang (Brian, Tom, myself, Paul and the Senzig clan) together in open gaming and get in a game of Viva Java. We had to cut short due to some pressing tournaments coming up, but I was likely on the way to victory, thanks to playing the "going rogue" card, and investing in other players brews.  Halfway through the game, we did have designer T.C. Petty III show up!

The South Island!
Next up was one of the highlights for me - my old favorite Conquest of Paradise, once again GM'd by designer Kevin McPartland.  This year, Kevin decided to mix it up by adding in almost all the optional rules, plus the expansion random event cards.  I was excited about this, as I was ready for things to be changed up a bit.  In my first game, as Raiatea, I discovered New Zealand early on - which, with the optional rules gave me both the north and south island.  However, the player playing Samoa used the random event of Fijian Raid to completely decimate his Tongan neighbor, paving the way for him to move in for the kill.  He was able to ride that to victory. 

Picture courtesy of
After Conquest, our "gang" got together for some late night gaming, bringing out Space Cadets: Dice Duel, and following with a favorite from last year, Bang!  Dice Duel was a blast, although I was surprised we didn't go more attention from others in the room.  It was somewhat awkward with uneven players, but we made it work.  With Bang!, I threw in one of the expansions, and that only served to confuse things - some of the cards were odd, and the new characters didn't seem that balanced - Mike Sr. had a guy that could hold 10 cards, for example.  The one drawback to Bang! is that it can drag a little long, and with player elimination, that can be no the end, we called it quits with Tom's sherriff and Mike Sr.'s outlaw in a virtual standoff.

The mornings always seem to come early at Prezcon, and Friday was no exception - even though the first thing on my docket was the 10:00 heat of Lords of Waterdeep.   I had about 20ish folks show up for the first heat, and I managed to play this year as well.  I was determined to keep it to 4 player games this year, and in my first heat I think I only had to go to 5 with one game.  I only had one group go long, but they were able to find me over at the 2nd heat of Conquest of Paradise

Friday afternoon and evening ended up being a Conquest of Paradise marathon.  In the 2nd heat, I was once again Raiatea.  In an interesting twist, New Zealand was discovered directly between Raiatea and Hiva.  The Hiva player and I decided on a truce - he would take the North Island, I would take the South.  I also made a run for sweet potatoes, though I was unsuccessful.  My memory is failing me here a everything from that day is a bit jumbled together, but I did not win, and then Kevin had to decide on how to run the semis/final game. 

The final was scheduled at 4:00, but Kevin wanted to run 2 semis starting at 3:00, as he had 5 individual heat winners, and would fill in with 3 2nd place finishers - of which I was one.  In one moment that made me ornery, one young player that was a heat winner complained because that would conflict with a heat of Leaping Lemmings.  Kevin was hemming and hawing, especially since
not all the winners showed up.  The young fellow went so far as to get the tournament director, Justin, to come over and arbitrate (at which point Justin said "Kevin is one of our best GM's...whatever he decides goes").  In the end, Kevin ran the two semis, and I made it in. 

Picture courtesy of
In our semi, I was with Brian, and Steve Bondra, and another fellow.  I had a decent game, but again finished 2nd to Steve.  As it turns out, in the other semi, Steve Cameron ran away with the victory in such a dominating fashion that both I and Brian (our 3rd place finisher) made it to the finals.

The final game started out terribly for me.  I found no islands for the first 3 turns.  That was drawing various remarks of pity from the other players...and they were completely discounting me.  I should mention that I was Hiva, and Brian was playing Raiatea.  At one point he essentially offered me a small island as a way to appease me and stop military aggression.  It sort of worked, as I then went on a tear and found a bunch of islands in a row.  I also successfully discovered sweet potatoes.  I was gearing up to land colonists on 4 islands at once, for an 8 point jump, when Steve Bondra declared victory.  As Samoa, he found a bunch of islands and was able to isolate himself.  One more turn, and I think I would have been able to make a run at it - but isn't that always the way of things?  I was still able to squeak out a 3rd place finish.  In general, I liked playing with the advanced rules, though Malaria never came into play, and Sweet Potatoes are had to get to.  New Zealand factored in several of my games, and the random events change the strategy significantly, in my mind.  The rule is that the player in last place gets to draw and implement the random events - this leads to a tactic of intentionally lagging behind.  In the finals, I was drawing the majority of the time, but I never got any of the "super" cards.  Twice Steve Cameron managed to lag behind me, and he got two cards that would have helped me significantly.  Oh well...lesson learned for WBC....

After almost 8 hours of Conquest of Paradise, it was off to open gaming.  Some other familiar faces were showing up, including Ben Rosset, Nick Ferris and Josh Tempkin.  I got in a game of Coup with Ben, Nick and several other fellows, and managed to pull off the win.  Although I still don't think I caught Ben lying.  After that, Ben, Nick, Josh and Brian were gracious enough to give Santa's Workshop a try.  They only ended up getting through about half a game, but I got quite a bit of good feedback.  I loved Unpub, but with 3 game designers playing, I think I got more valuable feedback during that playtest than during Unpub.  This led to significant changes, which I will detail in an upcoming blog post.  After closing that up, Brian, Tom and I sat down with Ben to playtest his Homebrewers - the "prequel" to Brewcrafters.  I think Ben has another solid idea here, although it's certainly in a more "rough" stage than when I playtested either Brewcrafters or Brewcrafters:The Travel Card Game.  Combining dice rolling, negotiation, and card management, I look forward to playing the next iteration the next time I see Ben. 

Well that was enough for that night, and that's enough for this blog entry.  Next up in Part 3, I'll wrap up with Saturday and Sunday, and some overall thoughts about Prezcon 2014.

Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Prezcon - Part 1

Well, another year has come and gone for my annual pilgrimage to Charlottesville, VA - home of Prezcon.  Prezcon is the first game convention I attended, way back in 2009.  Hard to believe this was my 6th year attending.  In 2009 my buddy Brian and I started on the last few years that migrated to Wednesday.  This year, our friend Tom had business meetings in Charlottesville on Monday and Tuesday, giving Brian and I the excuse to join him at the convention on Tuesday evening.  Which quickly turned to Tuesday afternoon.  Incredibly, the wives bought off on this.  We'll pay later, I'm sure.

The first game we settled down to was, like in previous years, Circus Maximus.  This year, GM Jake Jacoby had a surprise for us - instead of the typical oval, we were racing around a "cloverleaf" track, with a free-for-all area in the center.  Unlike the last several years, I decided to try being a "rabbit" - in other words, a light, fast chariot.  That was the idea, anyway - I had poor rolls on my setup, and ended up on the slower end of the lights, with not much in the way of stamina either (used for whipping to go faster).  I was also chosen to start on the inside lane, which meant I was the furthest back at the start.  There was not a whole lot of drama to the race as another light chariot got out in the lead and stayed there, despite the efforts of the heavies to smash him to bits.  The cloverleaf made for an interesting change, but I feel that it was to the advantage of the light chariots, as once they got ahead, it was not as easy for the heavies to get to them as it is on the oval, when they can slow down and wait to be lapped. 

Next up was Power Grid, an old favorite.  I'm always a little wary of the heavier euros as Prezcon, as there are some real sharks in the water, but I consider myself competent enough at Power Grid that I won't embarrass myself, and I could even make a good showing.  In this case, though, I simply played awful.  Actually, I don't think I was doing too terrible, but I was letting the leaders slip away, and I made the move to catch up at the wrong time, buying up to 12 houses, when the rest of them stalled at 11, which ended up killing me in turn order the following turn.  I finished in last place :(

For some reason, Brian, Tom and I decided to end our Tuesday with a game of Dungeon Lords.  This is a great game, but I hadn't played in a while, and it wasn't coming back very quickly.  Tom had never played, but fortunately Brian had played recently and got us squared away.  Again...a great game...but probably not one to start after midnight.  We were up to 2:30...starting off Prezcon with a bang.

Next morning...since we were there for a Wednesday morning for the first time, I finally got to play in the Prezcon Agricola tournament.  See my earlier comments about the euro sharks...and unlike Power Grid, I don't consider myself a very good Agricola player.  I was at a table with Tom, our friend Mike Senzig Jr., who'd arrived that morning, and Aaron Buchanan, the GM of Castles of Burgundy, and a very good euro player.  In the card draft, I tried to set myself by taking a lot of cards that helped with wood gathering and fence building.  I was doing OK at the beginning, I think, but I waited far too long to grow my family.  Mike was able to build a couple of extra rooms early on, and get to 4 family members pretty quickly, and then he was off to the races. 

Avast, me hearties!
Following Agricola, I played in the Merchants and Marauders tournamentThis is a game that got a lot of press when it came out a few years ago, and I snatched up early...but it had been a while since I had played.  In our previous plays, our group thought that the Merchants had a bit of an advantage...but what fun is that?  For the tournament, the GM lowered the speed on galleons, and allowed pirates to go into port after other players.  In my 3-player heat, we all went the pirate route.  One player had the misfortune of running into a Spanish man-o-war, which doomed him in his sloop.  I managed to upgrade to a frigate, and was doing well as a pirate, but won the game by delivering an in-demand cargo to my home port and stashing my riches.  With my win, I qualified for the final, but unfortunately, that conflicted with my first Lords of Waterdeep heat.  I enjoyed the game, but some of the nagging feelings returned - it can run a bit long, and there can be downtime while other players perform their actions - particularly in port.

Following M&M, it was time for my annual game of Formula De.  I like this racing game a lot, but I dread it at Prezcon a little bit, because the GM Doug Gallulo will run up to 10 players on a board.  That's too many, in my opinion.  Sure enough, in our race we had 9 players, although I was lucky enough to be drawn starting in 3rd position.  I grabbed the lead halfway through the first lap, but miscalculated on the back stretch, as I was trying to set myself up to use the 30-sided die coming out of the next turn.  I stayed in 4th when I should have gone to 5th, and was promptly passed.  2 turns later as I desperately tried to make up the difference, I spun out, and that was it.  This game can be unforgiving if you make one mistake, or get one bad roll.

I'm trying to pay my debts...
Wednesday night it was time for Game of Thrones.  By random draw, I ended up with the Lannisters - I should have asked to redraw, as I think in every game except for one, I've played the Lannisters, and that put me off from the get go.  The game progressed fairly normally for the first 2 or 3 turns, but the player to my right, as the Tyrells was clearly coaching the younger Martell player to his advantage.  The were putting a pounding on the Baratheon player, who was very young and pretty inexperienced.  Instead of helping Baratheon, I sensed blood in the water and tried to take my share.  I should mention that we had turned up several muster cards, but nothing had come up to adjust our supply yet.  I had captured a bunch of barrels on the board, but without the supply action, I could not take advantage.  The Tyrell player eventually took the land area between our capitals, and also The Reach, which contains two barrels - and he threatened to take Lannisport from me by using the Ser Loras cards which allowed him to carry his attack token with him.  I had to quietly accept my losses - and THEN the supply card came.  Of course.  By this point, with Baratheon effectively out of the game, the Starks, Greyjoys and Lannisters had essentially an alliance against the Tyrell-Martell block.  There was some baiting of the Martell player, accusing him of being a pawn for the Tyrells, which caused him to make at least one bad move, attempting to "prove" he was playing his own game.  In the end, the Starks made a play to clean up the last of the Baratheon holdings, the Tyrells turned on their Martell lackey, and used that Ser Loras card to attack the Starks.  In an equal battle, it came down to the draw of the "Tides of Battle" card, the Tyrell player got a +1 to Stark's "0", giving him the victory.  The game didn't end until 2:30...which was WAY too late for that to go on...

Next up...part 2 of Prezcon 2014