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The Brosius family attends the 2009 World Boardgaming Championships
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The World Boardgaming Championships are now a regular and eagerly awaited event on the Brosius family calendar. My wife, my son and I attended in 2009 for the fourth time, though I myself have been attending since 2003.

Here are links to the reports for the previous years:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/15890

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/23759

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/33864

and a link to the GeekLists for the following years:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/57698

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/70767

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/145611

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/161260


How did things go in 2009?
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1. Board Game: Royal Palace [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:695]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The World Boardgaming Championships take place in Lancaster PA, just east of town on US Route 30 at the Lancaster Host resort. My wife's parents live near Chambersburg PA (it is believed that Confederate troops camped nearby before the battle of Gettysburg.) We hadn't been able to make it down to visit them for a little while, so we left home early to spend some time with them before heading to WBC.

As we organized our stuff before leaving Massachusetts, my wife and I were singing a line of a song taken from John Denver and modified by an internet poster:

"...all my games are packed, I'm ready to go..."

My wife was a huge John Denver fan when we were dating, so it fit right in. Of course, the original song is a wistful song of separation, while ours was an eager song of anticipation.

We pulled out onto Route 30 and headed east across the Cashtown Gap and down the Chambersburg Pike to Gettysburg. Progress was good until we ran into a road project just west of New Oxford PA. I felt like a Civil War wagon driver as we sat in one place for nearly an hour, fuming. The authorities had made the decision to cut Route 30, a busy highway, down to one lane in the heart of tourist season. Finally we found a place to leave Route 30 and strike out across country with the help of Nuvi.

It took 3 hours to drive from Chambersburg to Lancaster, but we pulled into the parking lot around dinner time, checked into our room, and drove across the street to the Texas Roadhouse for dinner. You take the car not because it's too far to walk, but to avoid playing "Frogger" as you cross Route 30 near the Host.

After dinner I looked for Lynda and Michael Shea, fellow Massachusetts residents who were also arriving on Friday night. Claire and Sam were deep into online gaming (stocking up for a week of face-to-face play) so I hooked up with the Sheas to play two games: Yspahan, which Lynda won comfortably after scooping up 5 camels on the opening turn, followed by Royal Palace. I was the only one who had played Royal Palace, so I taught it to Lynda, Michael and a new acquaintance named Kyle Greenwood, who was also in town for WBC, visiting from Las Vegas.

Royal Palace is a pleasant Euro that introduces a clever variation on the "action point" theme. Players place servants on a 3 x 3 grid of action tiles to determine what they will be allowed to do during a turn. They then use the allowed actions to recruit various aristocrats that provide VPs as well as additional powers useful later in the game.

Michael and I tied for the victory and we called it an evening.
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2. Board Game: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:65]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The convention proper started on Saturday with the Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage tournament at 1pm. I had played a single game of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage in the 2008 WBC tournament, but I intended to play several games in 2009. I'm by no means an expert (I had played 10 times previous to this year's tournament,) but I have a fairly good grasp of the rules and basic strategies and tactics.

GM Stuart Tucker paired the players up for the opening round based on AREA ratings (the AREA website can be found at http://wolff.to/area/G_HRC.html if you want to understand more about the system.) I was paired with Pete Reese for the first game. As you can see from the AREA ratings, Pete is a top-ranked player, and in fact he won the tournament in 2002 (go to http://www.boardgamers.org/yearbook02/ and click on the "Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage" link to see a report of his victory.) Some people worry about playing strong opponents, but it's actually an opportunity to learn more about good play. If you wanted to play a round of golf against Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson you'd have to make a big bid at a charity auction, but if you want to play a boardgame against a top player, just show up at WBC!

Pete bid 2 PC ("Political Control") markers to play Carthage, and I accepted his bid. He raced Hannibal at top speed across the Alps and into Italy. I moved Publius Scipio with an army of 8 CU ("Combat Units") to meet him, but Hannibal laughed at the threat, bashing my army twice and opening a path into Italy. This is where I made my mistake. On Turn 2 I tried attacking Hannibal, when I should have spent my effort elsewhere, making Pete spend his turns to attack me. I don't think I won more than a single battle, and by Turn 5 I was out of CUs and almost out of PCs. I resigned because it was clear that I'd lose due to lack of PCs in the next turn. It wasn't a matter of bad luck: There were no "Messenger Intercepted" plays in the game, and the battle dice weren't particularly one-sided (in fact, I was fairly lucky on my retreat die rolls.) Pete helpfully provided advice on how to play better as we packed the game back into its box.

Because we had ended early, I had time to have dinner with the family before returning at 7pm for the second round. Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage uses a Swiss system, so as a player with a record of 0-1, I'd be matched against another 0-1 player. This time my opponent was Michael Ussery, who had several dozen games of experience in BPA tournaments. Michael also bid 2 PC to play Carthage, and I again accepted the bid, playing Rome for the second time in the tournament. The 2 PC bid allowed me to place two Roman PC markers at the start of the game, and I put them in Spain, just as I had done against Pete. Pete had completely ignored them, but Michael spent Turn 1 wiping out my initial position in Spain, giving me the chance to take out one of the Carthaginian-allied tribes up north in Gallia Cisalpina. He then crossed the Alps on Turn 2 as I missed my intercept roll and the chance to wipe Hannibal out as he descended from the mountain passes. He rolled poorly on the attrition table, however, and this gave me the chance to whack him, leading to a withdrawal back across the Alps by a reduced-strength Carthaginian force a turn or two later. Instead, Michael played the "Syracuse Allies with Carthage" card and moved first Hasdrubal and then Hannibal to Sicily in an attempt to seize the island. I moved two Roman armies to Sicily myself, leading to the odd spectacle of (on Turn 6) proconsuls Scipio Africanus and Marcellus sitting in Panormus with an army of 20 CUs facing Hannibal and Hasdrubal in Enna with an army of 16 CUs, protecting Syracuse. Neither side could attack without giving the opponent a significant edge. Finally I decided to sail off for Spain with the help of a few favorable cards, and he proceeded to follow. The game-ending battles were fought in Spain. I held him off in one massive battle (15 cards played on each side) with the help of a "Spanish Allies Desert" battle card, and although he kept at it, he couldn't finish me off. I received two "Messenger Intercepted" cards, which more than outweighed the timely "Syracuse Allies with Carthage" and "Philip of Macedon Allies with Carthage" cards he received. I never got Syracuse back, but I won a close game.

Now sitting at 1-1, I was matched up for Round 3 against Randy Pippus, an experienced card-driven wargamer, but one who, as far as I can tell, was a first-timer in the Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage tournament. This was a close game all the way. I got the chance to bid first, and I was tired of playing the Romans, so I bid 2 PC to play Carthage, a bid Randy accepted. On Turn 2 I got an ideal hand for Alps crossing, but Randy had an army under Marcellus parked on top of one of my tribes in position to intercept. I decided to take the chance of destruction and cross. In order to kill me, he needed to roll a 1 or 2 on a 6-sided die and then win a battle against what were likely to be odds in my favor. Of course, if he had the "Elephant Fright" card, it would help him in any battle, but that's only one card in a large deck. Of course, he rolled a 2, played the Elephant Fright card, and proceeded to kill Hannibal early in Turn 2. Some people think that's a sure loss for Carthage (and it was an automatic defeat under version 1 of the rules,) but there are plenty of twists and turns in this game. I kept playing, had some things go in my favor, and found myself up 9-8 at the end of Turn 8. Carthage wins ties, so I had a chance, but I had to admit the Romans had some strong advantages. It all depended on the cards I drew in Turn 9. I picked up my hand and *ugh*! I had no useful cards at all. I resigned with two or three card plays left in the game (and Randy had a "Messenger Intercepted" card stashed away that he didn't even need to use to finish me off.)

After three games and with a 1-2 record, I dropped out of the tournament to play in the Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization tournament. Although you can't win Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage with 2 losses, you can keep playing, and I would have done so if I hadn't had another tournament in a game I enjoy. However, I'm please to report that another newcomer to the Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage tournament, Kyle Greenwood (the same person I played Royal Palace with on Friday night,) made it to the finals, where he lost to Keith Wixson to take 2nd place.

Sam had learned Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage a few weeks before WBC, and he decided to play in the tournament as well. He lost a fairly close first round game, but came down with a headache in the evening and decided not to play any additional rounds.
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3. Board Game: Snow Tails [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:446]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I had a bit of free time before the Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization tournament would start, so I walked around to see what others were doing. There was a lot of open gaming this year, more than in previous years. It wasn't long before I saw the Shea family preparing to play Snow Tails. This is a new racing game by Gordon and Lamont Fraser of the Fragor Brothers, and it's one of my favorite new games of 2008. Again, I had more experience with the game than the others, so I taught it and we sat down to play. Lynda took a curve too wide early in the race and lagged behind, but Michael and I were dueling for the lead with Jordan Shea and one other player not far behind.

One component of the game is the "Big Paws" token, which you may place in front of an opponent who takes too long to move ("big pause".) You can see an image of the "Big Paws" in one of my BGG microbadges. We had a lot of fun with this token, as Jordan in particular seemed to consider it an affront to find the token in front of his seat.

I made my move with two curves to go before the end of the race. We were approaching a red line that imposed a speed limit of 4. I surprised my opponents by streaking over that line at a speed of 7, taking 3 new dents and bringing me to a total of 4 dents. I wasn't worried, as the winner is not the person with the prettiest sled, but the person who finishes first. I knew I had enough cards in my hand to get me over safely. This dramatic move kept me ahead of Michael and gave me the victory. Lynda took a picture of my final hand of cards: four dents and a '2'!
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4. Board Game: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization [Average Rating:8.21 Overall Rank:3]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The Czech school of design, led by Vlaada Chvatl, has had an immense impact on the boardgaming world, but in my opinion the greatest of his achievements is Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, a civilization-building game of epic sweep, but with no board. Last year I was pleasantly surprised to make it into the final, where I bombed out in epic fashion by failing to prepare for the end of Age 1. This year I wanted to play again. This is the type of the game that can fall into ruts if you play with the same people all the time. At WBC you can face opponents who play with completely different styles.

This was a frustrating game for me. Tom Cannon, on my left, played a solid game. I was a bit behind in military early on, despite my lead in science production. This was aggravated by the fact that I didn't get a mine upgrade in Age I. I pushed hard to catch up, and by the start of Age II I had a clear military lead. Tom played Shakespeare and built two theaters to start piling up harps. Normally he would have faced aggressions from his opponents, but although I was drawing 3 cards a turn from the military deck, I went all through Age II and most of the way through Age III without getting a single aggression or war card. Even worse, I drew only a single Age III end of game scoring card, and that was "Impact of Wonders," a card that would have helped my opponents more than me. This left me with a second straight 3rd place finish in a WBC Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization game. I opted to skip the second heat to play San Juan, but at least I chipped in one player count for the tournament (one measure of a game's success at WBC is how many people play.)
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5. Board Game: San Juan [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:156]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I've been an enthusiastic player in the San Juan tournament for many years, and I was delighted when they moved it to the pre-con time slot (thus eliminating any conflicts with games I might want to play later in the week.) The past two years I went 3-0 in the heats and then bombed out in the first single elimination round (both times losing to a hyperactive Gold Mine.)

This year was a different story. I played Rob Kircher, an excellent player from my local area, in the first heat game, and he beat me 36-34. I won my second game, but lost the third game to Christopher Ellis to make me 1-2. Although I defeated Haim Hochboim in a very close fourth game to even my record at 2-2, this left me short of the playoffs (you need 3 wins to make it in.) Tom Browne went on to win the tournament for a second straight year. It's funny how many multiple winners there are in these "simple card games". There must be more skill in them than people recognize!

Claire also played in San Juan. She and I played a number of 2-player games in recent months to practice for the tournament. Unfortunately, she went only 1-3 in the heats and did not make it into the playoffs either.

I certainly plan to be back for this tournament next year. I'd like to see more similar tournaments in the pre-con---two games I'd like to play in (maybe even GM) are Napoleon at Waterloo and Wyatt Earp.
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6. Board Game: Brass [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:15]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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On Monday evening I played a pickup game of Brass with Andy Latto, Brian Hanechak and Kevin Walsh. We checked a copy of the game out from the BPA library and sat down to play. It was a close game all the way. I decided to try a different strategy, developing to allow the placement of Shipyards and concentrating in addition on Iron and Coal while leaving Cotton Mills to my opponents.

This worked reasonably well. Late in the Coal Era I had the opportunity to place an Iron Works, and with no Iron left in Lancashire I over-built one of Andy's Iron Works at a lower technology level. I chose Andy rather than Kevin because after scanning the board I thought Andy was slightly ahead. At the end of the game, I finished in an exact tie with Kevin, but he won the tie-breaker based on his higher income.

Later we realized that my over-building of Andy's Iron Works was illegal because Iron was still available off-board on the Iron track. Perhaps Andy would have won the game if we had not made this rules error.

Brass is a pleasant game with plenty of interesting decisions, but for me it doesn't have that "spark" that makes a great game. I'm happy to play when someone else suggests it, but I'll rarely suggest it.
 
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7. Board Game: Power Grid: France/Italy [Average Rating:7.98 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.98 Unranked]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The main convention starts at 6pm on Tuesday, and it's always tough for me to decide what to play. Three favorite games were scheduled for this time slot: El Grande, Power Grid and Empire Builder. The scheduled time slots were 2, 3 and 4 hours long, respectively. I decided to start with Power Grid, partly because the master schedule I had created suggested I'd get to play the others later in the week and partly because Power Grid would finish by 9pm, giving me time to play Ra.

GM Jim Castonguay randomly determined table seating, and for the second straight year, he and I were at the same Heat 1 table. This was a tough table, because I had won the entire tournament in 2004 and 2008 while Jim had won it in 2005 and 2006. You might be especially unhappy if you were one of the other players at a table with not one, but two former two-time champions! It didn't seem to bother Don Tatum, though, who won the game ahead of Jim in 2nd and me in 3rd. Don started down south on the France board we were using and played a nice balanced game, ending by building to 15 cities even though he could only power 12. As it turned out, 12 cities was enough to win.

In my second heat game, on the US board, I finished in 3rd place again, with Matt Calkins winning this time. This gave me two 3rd place finishes in two tries, and inasmuch as I would not have time for a third heat, the Power Grid tournament was over for me for 2009.
 
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8. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:94]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I moved on from Power Grid to Ra. While Ra is a favorite of mine, I don't seem to be any better than average. This year was no exception, as Eric Freeman won the game. I do have a little bit of a feeling that the ability of players to draw a dozen tiles after I finished in Epoch 2 without a single Ra tile showing up may have been a bit of bad luck, but that's the kind of thing you need to plan for in this game.

I'll keep trying to play at least one game of Ra every year, but I don't have high expectations for my results in this event.
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9. Board Game: Yspahan [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:285]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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WBC features a wide array of events. Some are long, heavy games dominated by skill, while others are lighter, more family-oriented fare. The main part of each day's schedule runs from 9am to 11pm, but on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, WBC offers a "late night" special starting at 11pm. It was only Tuesday night, though, so the only game left on offer was Yspahan.

I knew I wouldn't be able to play in the Wednesday morning semis even if I won, but I enjoy this game and wanted to play a game, casual-like. I showed up and was seated at a table that included Arthur Field, one of the stars of WBC together with James Pei, Bruce Reiff and others (see the list here: http://www.boardgamers.org/medals.htm ).

Yspahan is a die-rolling game, but there are card draws involved as well. I wasn't especially good with the dice, but I was terrific at drawing the right cards. Some cards are good early and others are good late. One of the best early cards is "3 Camels". I drew that one with my first draw. Another is "Build a building without using Camels". I drew that second. I populated the caravan and drew the "Place a camel on the caravan" card right at the end of the first week to increase my score from 3 to 9 and gain additional points for later.

I was so far ahead that everyone was laughing. On the last turn Arthur had a card draw. Before he drew it, he said "there's only one card that will help me" (the "Build a building without using Camels" card) and then proceded to draw it. He played it, but still finished in 4th, with me ahead of 2nd by about 10 VP.

Although I didn't return for the semis, my friend Cally Perry entered a heat in the morning and went on to win the tournament. Congratulations!
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10. Board Game: Medici [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:346]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite game is Medici. It's short, brutal, and fits nicely into a 1-hour WBC time slot. Several years ago it fell out of favor when the GM forgot to submit a report, but it has clawed its way back to be a 3-plaque event. Regular WBC events award from 2 to 6 plaques, depending on attendance, and trials award 1. The larger the event, the more plaques.

This game included Fred Minard, who also considers Medici to be his favorite game (he showed me Reiner Knizia's autograph on the inside of the box top.) This was a close game, but Fred won by a small margin as I took 3rd. I'm sad to say I was not able to play any other games of Medici this year (the schedule conflicted badly with the other things I had to do.) I'd love to play in all 4 heats some year, even if I don't make it to the semis!
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11. Board Game: Empire Builder [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:657]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Empire Builder is another game I rate a '10'. I've been playing it for more than 20 years, and my wife and I will often sit down to a 2-player game after dinner. We have collected all the games in the series, but our favorites are Empire Builder (with or without Mexico,) Eurorails and India Rails. When I first attended WBC in 2003, I thought I was pretty good at the game, but I learned otherwise. Since then, I've played with Rich Meyer, who attends MVGA, my local boardgaming club, and I've upgraded my skills. I won the tournament in 2007 and finished second to Harald Henning, a very good player in 2008. I was back to try to regain the crown.

In the first heat, I sat down to a table playing India Rails. I had a great first set of cards: #40 Rice to Bhopal, #86 Mica to Lahore and #91 Machinery to Multan. I built Delhi to Hyderabad Pakistan on my first build turn, upgraded to Fast Freight on my second, started with Rice and Sugar in Hyderabad, moved east, built into Bhopal, delivered Rice, picked up Machinery, built into Jodhpur, picked up Mica, built to Lahore and Multan and delivered Mica and Machinery.

This led to a network that differed from what one usually sees in India Rails. My hub was Bhopal, with spurs north, east, west and south. I built over the Ganges only to reach English Bazar. Pam Gutermuth, another member of the game-playing Gutermuths, was also in this game, and she played very well, but I had better cards and won by about $30 million.
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12. Board Game: Martian Rails [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:1894]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I'm a big fan of the "crayon rails" games, but my wife is an even bigger fan. One thing she's been doing for the past few years at WBC is helping Bob Stribula test Martian Rails, the latest entry in the series. This year Bob's efforts came to fruition as he arrived at WBC with a carton of brand-new, production version copies of the game. He generously gave one of these copies to Claire as recognition of her assistance, and she was thrilled. In her first Empire Builder heat she played Martian Rails on the brand-new set, with Bob, Nicola Bradford and Barbara Flaxington (Barb also helped Bob play-test the game.)

Here's a picture of the game box and game board for the new Mayfair edition:





Claire was a bit hesitant to play an official tournament game on the Martian Rails set, since she knew the others had also played quite a few games with it, but she likes to play with Bob and enjoys the map. She was careful not to over-build, renting track from others to save on capital costs, and it wasn't long before she realized her next deliveries would put her over $250 million for the win. She held her breath and made the deliveries, winning the heat and earning a slot in the semis.

Before WBC, Claire had asked me whether she had a chance to make it to the semis in this tournament. I told her that it always depends on the cards, but I thought she had a reasonable chance if she built carefully, and it worked out for her.
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13. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:25]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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A second member of my "Top 3 Games" list is El Grande (interestingly, both Medici and El Grande came out in 1995. It was a great year for games.) The third in the set is Taj Mahal, which is no longer played at WBC. No one had earned two wins in El Grande since it entered WBC in 1999. It's a great combination of game mechanics and player psychology---if you make yourself too much of a target, people can often drag you down.

Barbara Flaxington was assigned to my table, and she was coming from another game that had featured a lot of histrionics as players whined, pleaded, and told others what they should do. Barb said "I don't care how I finish in this game; all I want is a quiet game." I'm happy to say that we did have a peaceful game as everyone was given the opportunity to make his or her own decisions.

I started in New Castile, the most valuable province on the board, but one that always attracts attention. I'd much rather be tucked away in some less valuable province off in a corner of the board, and sure enough, I got plenty of early competition. It was close all the way, but Barb ended up as the winner.

I did not have the chance to play any more games in this tournament, but I did hear that GM Rob Flowers "got wood" (won 1st place,) making him the first ever 2-time winner in El Grande at WBC. Congratulations, Rob!
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14. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:478]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The first of the "late night" tournaments at WBC is Can't Stop, a die-rolling, press your luck tournament that is held on Wednesday night, using a single elimination format (4 people come to each table, and only 1 of them advances.) Claire, Sam and I all showed up and were placed in games. I had good rolls in my first game, finishing the 4, 7 and 11 columns to advance to the second round.

In my second game, we used a different edition of the game (pictured in the picture that accompanies this report.) I also started off strong. I began with a double '6' and kept rolling '6's, and before long I realized I might as well just try to finish off the '6' column. It's a risk, but so what? It's a die-rolling game. Closing the '6' column on the first turn gave me a nice edge and added stress for my three opponents. I had some failures on later turns, but I finished a second column and was well advanced in the '8' and '10' columns, only one of which I needed to win.

Jay Fox also had two columns completed, but he was in worse shape, nowhere near the top of any column. He looked at the board and said "I'm going to need five '5's. Count them off with me." He rolled his dice and---yes! It was a '5'. The crowd shouted "ONE!" I shouted along with them---if you can't have fun in this game you're taking yourself way too seriously! He rolled again. Another '5'. "TWO!" Two more rolls: "THREE!" and "FOUR!" And one more roll...we looked into the box and saw a fifth '5'. "FIVE!" we all roared!

I shook Jay's hand, wished him well in the third round, and headed off to bed. Sam and Claire each lost the first game (though Claire was close,) and we spent a little time before bed discussing the day's action.
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15. Board Game: Empire Builder [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:657]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The Empire Builder semis started on Thursday morning at 9am, and Claire and I were both there. They conflicted with the last Power Grid heat, putting me out of the running there, but the rule I usually follow (despite my decision with Yspahan) is "skip a heat to play a semi; skip a semi to play a final." If you've been fortunate enough to advance, maybe you're playing better than you thought in the game. Why not take advantage of it?

The semis were played on the "with Mexico" map. Bob Stribula was in my game, and although he is known as a slow player, Claire had told me he played much more quickly in the heat she played with him. It was clear that he was making an effort not to delay the game (all WBC games must finish within their time slots) and I was happy to find that there was no issue in this game. I drew two Textile cards in my opening set: #8 Textiles to Atlanta for $20 million and #122 Textiles to Portland ME for $37 million. Now, I couldn't finance the delivery of both with the capital I had on hand, but I could do it with a track rental. I built from Atlanta to Monterrey. Bob told me that building from Atlanta to Mexico isn't a winning plan. I asked him why and he said he had tried it and it didn't work. I actually like this track on the "with Mexico" map, so I told him "we'll see." I delivered to Atlanta, paid $4 million to rent track to New York, and finished the trip to Portland on my own line.

This was the second game in which I drew excellent cards. Once again I won by a comfortable margin. The cards clearly matter in Empire Builder; the key is to play in such a way that you can win when your cards are equal to those of your opponents. I was in the finals of the tournament for the third straight year! Of course, there would be other good players in the finals as well, but I love playing this game and would enjoy the experience, win or lose.

Claire had an unusual experience in her semi. Empire Builder, like every "crayon rails" game, features a set of Event Cards, most of which cause random problems for the players. She was on her way to Duluth to pick up Oats for Calgary and had built across the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to make the pick-up. She already had a Steel load for delivery to Seattle and was reluctant to drop the "spec load" of Silver she had on board. She decided to spend $20 million to upgrade to Superfreight, making room for three loads on the train. She crossed the river and waited for the next turn. All of a sudden, an opponent delivered a load and drew the "Mississippi Floods" Event Card, washing out Claire's bridge and leaving her stranded on a tiny stretch of track leading from Duluth to the bank of the Mississippi. When she looked at her cash, she saw only $1 million---not enough to re-build the bridge! She was totally stranded unless someone were to rent her track (unlikely) or she was able to keep dumping cards until she got the one "Steel to Duluth" card that would solve her problem.

At this point, rather than distort the game by many, many card dumps, Claire resigned, leaving her track in place and allowing the others to go on with a normal game.

This was a great disappointment for Claire. Purchasing a Superfreight was not necessarily a bad decision. It led to a 1% chance of horrible bad luck, but 99% of the time she would have come out fine. You need to take some chances in almost any WBC game if you want to win. It's just that the 1% chance struck this time.

The final took place immediately after the semis. It was a 5-player game on the original Empire Builder map (without Mexico.) This map has smaller contracts than most of the other games and is thus less influenced by luck in the opinion of many (I agree.) The other players were Mark Kenner, Mike Zorrer, Egal Mozes and ... Kyle Greenwood.

I got my initial set of cards, and they were horrible. At WBC you are dealt four cards, not three, for your initial hand. You discard one of your choice. This gets players off to a better start. It didn't matter. I didn't really have a choice. Instead of building during the first building round, I dumped cards. I drew a Rail Strike (drawing player may not build this turn.) No matter. My second set of cards was equally bad. I dumped again. And then a third time. Finally I got a semi-acceptable run and started off, three turns behind the others. I then got hit with a Mississippi Flood (unlike Claire, I had money to fix the bridge,) an Atlantic Hurricane, and a Teamsters' Strike, and a Longshoreman's Strike, and it went on and on. Many events hit others, but the first six or seven all hit me.

You can overcome bad events---the real key to luck in Empire Builder is drawing good cards, and I just couldn't do that. The only thing saving me was that Egal hated his cards more than I hated mine. He must have dumped cards 20 times or more during the game. All that dumping caused a surfeit of events, dragging all the players backward. The Rail Tax is designed to help the trailers catch up, and it came up twice (once near the end of the deck and then again early in the re-shuffled deck.) The events also delayed the game, threatening an adjudication if we could not finish within the 4 hours alloted for the game. I told the GM I simply could not go over the alloted time, as I had a tournament to GM.

Fortunately, Mark picked up some steam and was able to make it over $250 with about 10 minutes to go. I thanked my opponents and they told me to run; they'd clean the game up without me. I later found that Mike came in 2nd, Kyle in 3rd, and I in 4th. Actually, when I went to pick up my plaque, they gave me a 3rd place plaque. I was shocked---I was sure Kyle had more money than me---but the people at Registration said the Event Form clearly listed me in 3rd. I found Tom Dunning, the GM, and asked how I could possible have beaten Kyle. He checked his records and found that he had calculated my cash as $220 million rather than the $165 million or so I actually had. #220 is my WBC badge number, and he had read my badge number as my cash. The error was straightened out and I got the 4th place plaque, with Kyle getting 3rd.

Next year I'm going to ask Don Greenwood for a badge number of #250!
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16. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:80]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Both Claire and I GM WBC tournaments, but Claire's is more than three times the size of mine. Claire's demo was scheduled for 9am and the first heat for 11am, so when she made it into the Empire Builder semis, she was relieved when Brian Hanechak offered to do the demo and get the heat started. Upon leaving the Empire Builder semis and heading off to Ballroom B for Ticket to Ride, she found that Brian had done a great job, with 26 tables full of gamers quietly at play.

Claire has made a number of improvements to the "check in" process for her tournament, with a system that involves a pre-printed card for everyone who has played in a previous year, together with a paper sheet to add first-timers. In total, Claire had 220 entrants in this year's tournament, a number that would have set an all-time WBC record if not for the fact that a new game surpassed it.
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17. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:58]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The smaller tournament I GM is The Princes of Florence. I had done the demo on Wednesday evening, with 6 players showing up and playing about half of a sample game to get the feel of things. The real action started on Thursday at 5pm. I had 46 people sign up for the first heat, not counting me. If I had only 45 I would sit out to make an even multiple of 5, since I believe the game is best with 5. With 46, however, we needed 10 tables, and I would play in one game to make 47---three tables of 4 plus seven tables of 5. When I play in my own tournament, I have two Assistant GMs (Katherine McCorry and Cally Perry helped out this year) to make rulings regarding any game in which I am a player. The Assistant GMs are also a big help with getting people signed up for the heats, and I want to thank Rob Flowers too, since he came early and volunteered to pitch in with the work.

I randomly assigned people to tables, but when everyone was seated I found one table with only 3 people. I checked the records and realized that one person had shown up, signed in, and then disappeared before accepting a table assignment. Thus, I had to randomly move one player from an existing 5-player table to the 3-player table, leaving four tables of 4 and six tables of 5. We could have gone with nine 5-player tables after all (with me sitting out) if the phantom player hadn't made his appearance. (People wonder why GMs often seem to be losing their hair!)

In a story, I might have gone on to win my heat and then the tournament, and we could have assumed that the missing player was actually an angel sent for that purpose, but it didn't work out that way. First, I was seated with last year's The Princes of Florence tournament winner, Alex Bove, in my heat (echoes of what happened in Power Grid.) But second, neither Alex nor I won the game. Instead, the game was won by Alan Elkner by 1 PP over Alex, with me well behind in 3rd. Alan must be a pretty strong player, because he then later won his second heat (no one else won both heats.)

My son Sam also entered Heat 1. It was the first time he had played The Princes of Florence at WBC. He finished 2nd to David Platnick in a 4-player game---not too bad a finish for his first time.

The second heat drew only 25 contestants, and I accordingly sat out, ending my chances to advance in The Princes of Florence. We got 58 players this year, a good number but fewer than in recent years. If you're reading this GeekList, I'd like to encourage you to play The Princes of Florence next year. You can attend the demo to sharpen your skills. Quite a few newer players have had success in this tournament recently.
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18. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.15 Overall Rank:5]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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People who haven't been to WBC (and some that have) express concern about the "competitiveness" of the games. In one sense, this seems like an odd concern---imagine people being competitive in a tournament!---but on the other hand, no one wants to see rude or inappropriate behavior. One game with a reputation for encouraging criticism of newer players is Puerto Rico, since an erroneous play by one person can swing the game in favor of another to the detriment of third parties.

I'm not a top tier Puerto Rico player, and it isn't one of my very favorite games, but I do rate it an '8' and I enjoy playing in one or two competitive games every year. I must say that I've never played in a WBC Puerto Rico heat with rude players, though I don't deny that it can happen.

In this game I was seated with 3 other pleasant players. One of them was Rob Kilroy, a big, friendly guy who at one point said something like "I'm not an actuary; I'm in construction!" I admitted quietly that I am an actuary and we all had a laugh. Fortunately, it doesn't seem that being an actuary is of too much value in this game (at least not for me.) Rob went on to win a nice victory, selling Coffee and shipping Corn. At one point I considered Crafting and then decided not to do it, thinking that it would help one opponent (not Rob) too much. Soon thereafter, Rob Crafted. I blurted out "are you sure?" before thinking, and Rob looked at me like "are you going to be one of those jerks who tell people what to do?" I apologized profusely and encouraged him to do just what he had originally planned. Sure enough, Rob had thought further ahead than I had, and it worked out (he did win, after all.)

I played a second heat on Friday afternoon. One of my opponents in this heat was Jason Ley, an expert Titan player who beat me in the Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization final last year. This time everything broke perfectly for me. Each role I wanted seemed to be left for me to take, often with a doubloon on it. I scored more than 50, comfortably ahead of Jason in 2nd. I didn't go on to play in the quarterfinals, as they conflicted with Lost Cities, but I was happy to add to John Weber's player count (he didn't quite match Ticket to Ride, but he was close.)
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19. Board Game: Pro Golf [Average Rating:5.40 Overall Rank:9383]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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It was now 11pm on Thursday night, and time for another late night game. For the past few years I've played this game at a table with Rich Meyer and Rich Irving and several others. We recruited Dave Metzger and Gary Libby to join the three of us and Ian Miller from MVGA to make 6.

Now, there are games with varying levels of skill at WBC, but I think I'm safe to say that Pro Golf has more luck and less skill than any other tournament. The first luck element is in the player draw. Each entrant randomly draws a golfer card from a big box held by GM Bruce Monnin. I drew Phil Mickelson, whom, though I know little about golf, I recognize is a strong player. No one gets Tiger, as Bruce has removed all the Tiger cards from the game to even out the luck a bit (hah!)

You might think a player like Phil would burn the course up with birdies and eagles, but that's not what happened. We were playing at Augusta National (home of the Masters,) and Phil played a steady game, getting some birdies on easier holes and saving par on others. On one hole I had the chance to lay up short or go for the green, and I shouted "Go for the Green!" (this is the only skill element of the game, but if you're trying to finish at the top of a 58-player field, you'd better take chances.) I wound up putting my second shot into the water, had to take a drop for 3, but then got up and down in 2 using Phil's excellent short game to save par.

At the end of 18, I had 13 pars and 5 birdies for a score of -5 (or 5 under par.) Dave Metzger had an eventful round, not scoring a par until the back nine, but he ended at -3, while Rich Meyer finished at -4 as the others were near par. We walked back to the Hopewell room (groups of players spread out in all directions to play) and recorded our scores. I saw that one player was at -8, one at -7, and a number of players were at -4. My -5 was the third best score so far. I waited for the rest of the scores to come in (the second skill element in Pro Golf is not going to bed if you're not out of it) and my -5 held up. A sudden death playoff was held among all the players at -4 and one player was selected. Ken Gutermuth and Rich Meyer rolled off for 5th place and Rich won.

This left four remaining golfers to play a "skins game" for the wood. In this pressure-packed environment, the golfers no longer hold their own player cards. Each one is assigned a "caddy" to read the card. All the players do is roll the dice. And what dice they are! Bruce brings big green foam dice nearly 12 inches on a side. I recruited Ted Drozd as my caddy (Ted beat me in Can't Stop a few years ago, so I thought he'd be an excellent man to have around in a die-rolling game) and we started off. We moved from Augusta National to the Lancaster Host course (seems like a bit of a let down), where we'd play 12 holes.

I rolled my dice left-handed (or as left-handed as I could manage given the size of the dice,) since Phil is a lefty, but it didn't do me any good early. The first hole was won by the sole player to score a birdie, making it 1-0-0-0. The next two holes were halved, but #4 went to another birdie, making the score 3-1-0-0. I still didn't have a point. #5 and #6 were halved and we came to #7. The player with 1 point could take 3 more skins if he sank a loooong putt. He rolled the dice: '66'! Everyone was jumping up and down at this feat, but I knew with the score 4-3-0-0 the odds were getting thinner and thinner. Phil was churning out pars, but I needed birdies (or an eagle.)

We moved to the 8th tee, but we halved the hole, and the same happened on 9. I needed to win next or it would be curtains. I got a mediocre drive (Phil sure didn't drive well, or to be accurate, I didn't roll well for drives.) The second shot was a fairway wood. I had noticed that, while Phil had an excellent short game and decent drives, his fairway wood play was clearly subpar. I said "I'm not very good with the fairway wood." Then I rolled the dice once more left-handed and came up with a '56'! The other players told me I was better with the fairway wood than I thought. Bruce told me I had a 7-foot putt for a birdie and I sank it for a birdie on a tough par 4, giving me 3 skins and making the score 4-3-3-0. With just two holes to go, the player with no skins was eliminated, taking 4th place and leaving 3 of us.

Phil was starting to catch fire just at the right time. He birdied #11 to take another skin and knot it up at 4-4-3-0. There was a lot of tension in the air, but we halved #12, leaving 3 of us to face sudden death.

We teed off for 13 and Phil was now in his element. I birdied this hole too and when neither opponent could match me, I was declared the winner of the 2009 WBC Pro Golf tournament.

You know, up until midnight on Thursday I thought of Pro Golf as a game of pure luck, but by the time I woke up on Friday morning, I realized how much subtle skill it requires... 8-)
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20. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:30] [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The big hit of the current gaming scene is Dominion. It won the SdJ and it drew the highest attendance at WBC, with 230 entrants under the direction of GM Tom Browne. I like the game (I rate it '7',) but I'm not nearly as crazy about it as most people. Claire has been heard to say "I want to play Dominion until my eyes bleed," so when someone asks me to play I often answer "no thanks, I get as much as I need at home." But part of WBC is the spectacle, and I couldn't pass up the chance to play in a heat with several dozen tables going at once. Besides, it would take less than an hour.

I was randomly assigned to a table and joined a group of 4 that included "Legend Dan" Hoffman, whom I've played with many times in the past. Tom had pre-selected card layouts for each heat, and this heat's cards (the same for all 30+ tables) included the Feast and the Garden. I decided to more or less ignore Provinces and try to grab as many Feasts and Duchies as I could get. I set out single-mindedly to achieve this goal, and before long everyone was trying to do the same thing. Legend Dan was shocked, as the game was not going at all as he had been expecting. Once the Duchies ran out I bought Gardens, and the game ended with Feasts, Duchies and Gardens exhausted. Only one Province was bought all game! I won by an easy margin.

Later in the week I played a second heat and lost, and on Sunday morning I played a game of Dominion: Intrigue with Ed Beach and his family while we waited for Claire's finals to end. Claire also entered the Dominion tournament, but didn't win either of her heats.
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21. Board Game: Ticket to Ride: Europe [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:60]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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It was time for the second heat of Ticket to Ride, and this time with the the Power Grid finals out of reach, I was able to help Claire get people seated. I enjoy Power Grid, so I signed up, but when we had everyone else seated the table assignment card left for me was for Ticket to Ride: Europe, a game I enjoy less than the original (the predictability of the long tickets is a particular irritant.)

It was a race all the way, as I placed trains as fast as I could with a route from Brest to Petrograd that also included a spur to Italy. I could see it would be close, and in fact I tied with my opponent for 130 VP. The tie-breaker was most completed tickets. I had completed 3 of 3 and he had completed only 2 of 2. I was the winner! Later, on Saturday afternoon, I played in the 3rd heat and lost to Cliff Ackman, but my good finish got me into the quarterfinals.
 
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22. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:23]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Another favorite game is Race for the Galaxy. I'm reasonably successful at this game in my home group, but I know I'm not as good as the best players. I played two heats, winning one and losing to Ian Miller in the other. I didn't have time to enter any more heats, and a single win was not enough to allow me to advance, even if the semis had not conflicted with my team game.
 
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23. Board Game: Notre Dame [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:141]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Some games are worth entering if you have an open space in your schedule, but not if you have to make room for them by skipping something else. For me, Notre Dame fits into this category. I like the game, but I'm not especially good at it, and I'm not sure it's an ideal WBC tournament game.

Nevertheless, my second game of Race for the Galaxy finished by 10pm on Friday, and I skipped right over to the Paradise Room to enter Notre Dame. We were playing 5-player games, and I could see that my most experienced opponent was to my right in the person of Pierre-Luc Thiffault. I did very well in this heat, gaining early supplies of money and cubes, but my main problem was an inability to get Park cards. Pierre-Luc was scarfing them all up, not only his own, but the ones his right-hand opponent was passing him. Before long he had 4 Park cubes and was scoring bushels of points.

In turn 7 I used a personality to move 3 cubes to the Park, giving me 7, and I could tell I'd finish with a big score, but I didn't think it would be enough. Sure enough, I ended the game with 80 VP, the largest total I've ever scored, and Pierre-Luc topped me with 90 VP! It wasn't a win, but it was a game to tell stories about, and here I am telling the story. Congratulations, Pierre-Luc!
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24. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:58]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Saturday morning featured the semis and finals for The Princes of Florence, the game I GM. I'll take a light touch here, leaving the full story for the WBC GM Report, but we had a number of new players in the semis, including not only Bruce DuBoff but also his son Drew DuBoff.

There were several close semis and a very tense final. The victor by a margin of 2 PP was Tom Browne, who also won the San Juan tournament. I've written a write-up of the final game which you can read here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/432675

 
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25. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:260]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Although I rate Lost Cities a '10', it's not among my top 3 games. Despite this fact, I don't think there's any WBC tournament I look forward to more than the Lost Cities tournament. Just read my GeekLists for recent years' WBCs to see how much drama this tournament has created over time. A short game like this with a mixture of luck and skill is perfect for a tournament (and GM Ivan Lawson gets more than 150 players each year.) I went out of my way to enter all four heats this year after entering only 2 last year and failing to make it into the round of 32. I played my first heat on Wednesday afternoon after losing my second Power Grid game and my second heat in an open spot on Friday. The third heat was scheduled directly opposite the The Princes of Florence semis, so I asked Ivan whether I could play the heat in Ballroom B, where I could play and keep an eye on The Princes of Florence at the same time. He graciously agreed, and I'd like to thank my opponent for coming over to where I was (I play Lost Cities quickly, so there was no problem finishing in time.) The fourth heat was held after the The Princes of Florence final had finished, so it was easy to make, though I did have to give up Race for the Galaxy to play.

My results in the heats were excellent. I won all 4 games, drawing good cards and not feeling in danger in any of them. My 4-0 record, with one score in excess of 200 points, made me the #1 seed in the round of 32. From here on it would be single elimination: just win five straight games and you earn the wood.

The 2008 winner, Andy Latto, was in the round of 32, as were Claire and Sam. 2007 winner Jarett Weintraub did not show up, though he could have made it in; he had another commitment. I won the first round, playing Ivan Lawson, to make it to the round of 16. Sam and Andy also won, but Claire was knocked out by Erica Kirchner, a friendly young woman with a good playing style.

In the round of 16 I won again, but Sam ran into bad cards and was knocked out. Andy advanced again, putting both of us into the round of 8. This time Andy was matched against Rebecca Hebner, who squeaked into the round of 32. Rebecca won the tournament back in 2004, so it was clear she'd be no pushover, and indeed, she took Andy out. I beat Erica and was assigned to face Rebecca in one semi as Rich Fetzer played Sam Atabaki in the other.

At this point, my cards, which had been excellent, dried up. I started suits with handshakes and failed to draw more cards in the same color to back them up. I had no negative games, but Rebecca beat me 40-6 in the first game, and I made up no ground in the second. I took some risks in the third and had a shot if I could draw to an 8-card run, but I was halted at 7 and she won by a score of about 69-50. It was close and well-played, and I wished her the best in the final.

Sam Atabaki won his game, so I played Rich for the 3rd place trophy and came out on top. We stuck around to watch Rebecca and Sam play. Sam went for some long suits, but he was not able to put it together and Rebecca walked away with her second victory in Lost Cities at WBC. If you think this is a game of luck, check out who the laurelists are in recent years---you'll see quite a few repeat names. I have a 5th and two 3rds and I'm going to keep taking shots at the wood in this event.
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