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Lessons Learned at BGG.CON '09
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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For the past three years, BGG.CON has been one of the highlights of my year, and I expected this year to be even better, because it was going to be my first year attending with the love of my life Rob (nysmoke). We spent the entire weekend together, so he is included in all of these experiences.

Once again I had a great time, although we played more poor games than good ones. We have found many games that we liked from Essen '09, including At the Gates of Loyang, Alice in Wonderland Parade, Tamany Hall, Colonia, The Boardgamegeek Game, Koplopers and Dwarsligers, Hansa Teutonica, and Vasco da Gama, so it is by no means a lost year, but we discovered these prior to BGG.CON.

Wisdom imparted by previous BGG.CONs can be found in the following GeekLists:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/17569
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/26438
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/36984

This year was no less character-building!
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1. Board Game: Insula [Average Rating:6.27 Overall Rank:6750]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: First impressions are sometimes correct

Rob and I picked up Jeff (oboewan) on the way to the airport, and we all had an uneventful trip to Dallas. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the hotel the convention area was still occupied by another group, so we grabbed a quick lunch at the hotel restaurant and went up to our rooms to relax. When we returned downstairs at 4 pm, the geeks were firmly in charge, and we were able to make ourselves useful stuffing badges with our good friends Joe (Joe Casadonte) and Will (spectrum). After that we wandered around exchanging hugs with friends, enjoyed dinner with Richard Breese, and broke out our first game of the con.

We hadn’t been too impressed with Insula from reading the rules, but we decided to give it a chance anyways. Joe and Ben (SabreRedleg) joined us for a painfully decision-free experience. Fortunately, the game didn’t last long, and we were not haunted by nightmares from the trippy artwork (featuring, in Rob's words "carrot-/penis-head characters").
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2. Board Game: Mosaix [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1894]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Dale is not always wrong

We needed to cleanse our palates of the bitter residue of Insula, so Richard Breese generously lent us his copy of Mosaix, which had been highly recommended by Dale Yu. While we were setting it up in the hall, Carlos (Woozy-Monkey) stopped by to say "Hello" and ended up joining us for the game. Although Mosaix is a quick filler, we enjoyed getting to make actual decisions that affected the outcome of the game.
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3. Board Game: Parade [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:638]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: New favorites are meant to be shared

As we were finishing up Mosaix, our Essen buddies Will (Bulwyf) and Melissa (GirlRPh) wandered by, so we talked them and Carlos (Woozy-Monkey) into a game of one of our Essen ’09 favorites. This is a quick little game replete with evil, and everybody seemed to enjoy it.

After that, we decided to hit the hay to facilitate an early morning start.
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4. Board Game: Filipino Fruit Market [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:3018]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Never trust a schedule

We got a good night’s sleep and headed downstairs to join the registration line. Much to our surprise, the line was already halfway to the front door of the hotel more than an hour before registration was scheduled to open. To speed the wait, we broke out Filipino Fruit Market and started playing it with our line neighbors (whose names I did not catch). Suddenly the line started moving -- half an hour early! We all grabbed the components in front of us and scrambled to keep up with the line.
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5. Board Game: Ubongo 3D [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:832]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Wow, are we not bright

After collecting our badges, goodie bags, Robber Knights, Aton, Bezzerwizzer, and an extra Thoughthammer ticket, we headed right to the library, where we snagged Ubongo 3D.

Jason (zalasta) and Tom (snickerdaddy) joined us in a competition to build 3 dimensional puzzles. We decided to do an untimed test puzzle first so we could see how it went. After 20 minutes, Tom had completed two or three puzzles and I had done a couple, while the other guys had yet to manage one. We all looked at each other, laughed, and piled everything back into the box so that more adept people could enjoy the challenge.
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6. Board Game: 7 [Average Rating:5.22 Overall Rank:10244]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Russell's lead should be followed

This quasi-cooperative game from a small Polish publisher had caught our eye in the Essen preview lists, so we grabbed it and started setting it up. Visually it’s impressive, with lots of vibrantly colored pieces and roughly 8 million stacks of cards. By the time we had finished setting everything up, we had enticed Tom, Lance (Ebonwoulfe), and Russell (pintosdad) to join us. By the time we had slogged through the rules, Russell had reached the conclusion that this game was not for him and bowed out gracefully. Wise, wise man!

The game started off promisingly enough as we competed to build an economic engine based on buildings, additional characters, and little colored chits. After about 45 minutes we had made minimal progress towards our ultimate goal of closing some portal thingies, but we felt poised to take control in round two. Then we got our first cataclysm, followed closely by our second cataclysm. By the time the smoke had cleared, all our supporting characters were dead, most of our chits had been returned to stock, and several buildings had been destroyed. At that point we were further behind than we had been at the start (since we had spent all our starting cash and reputation markers), so we all agreed that our time was better invested elsewhere.
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7. Board Game: Seven Hills [Average Rating:6.60 Unranked]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Some publishers have no love for the color-blind

I’m a big fan of ancient Rome, so I really wanted to like this game. Unfortunately, as I was sorting the cards into piles by color, Rob looked over and asked, "How many different colors are there supposed to be?" The publisher had chosen dark, muted colors for the cards, with the result that it was nearly impossible for Rob to distinguish between them. There may be a terrific game here, but we’ll never know, as we packed it up and exchanged it for something less openly hostile to the color-blind.
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8. Board Game: A la carte [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:1106]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: The trick to great cooking is all in the wrist

We had seen A La Carte at Essen but hadn’t tried it out, so we jumped at the chance to play it with Tom (snickerdaddy) and Gretchen. We unpacked everything, set up our little metal pans on our cardboard stoves, and prepared to dazzle the world with our culinary skills. This is not a game with huge depth, but it’s a fun dexterity challenge with a few decisions to make along the way, so we all had fun.
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9. Board Game: Callisto: The Game [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:3297]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: High-school German lessons do have relevance in the real world

Oddly enough, this game had rules in about a dozen languages, including several Eastern European tongues, but nothing in English. Fortunately my high-school German came through, and with the help of the diagrams we were able to work out the rules. Tom (snickerdaddy), Gretchen, Rob, and I battled each other for board space in this game that is reminiscent of Blokus.
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10. Board Game: Alcazar [Average Rating:6.07 Overall Rank:4238]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: A reworked classic is not necessarily a new classic

Chris (ceej), Richard (rri1), and Scott (snicholson) joined us for a game of Alcazar, the new Kosmos release that’s a reimplementation of Big Boss. I’ve never played the original, but this new version left everybody at the table cold despite gorgeous components. There were rules in German labeled "Big Boss" but nobody could figure out it would be possible to play Big Boss without adding additional components since Alcazar contained no stocks.
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11. Board Game: Parade [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:638]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Nothing beats a good palate-cleanser

We introduced this little gem to Chris (ceej), Richard (rri1), and Scott (snicholson) to help us all move past the pain of Alcazar.
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12. Board Game: Assyria [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:824]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: It’s all about the wells, people

We were catching up with Michael (Delta1119) when Cynthia (cynthialandon) walked by, so we decided to play Assyria. I’ve generally liked Ystari games, and this one looked promising. Unfortunately, although there were multiple ways to score points, the points to be earned by building wells (particularly early) seemed to overshadow all other options, resulting in a less than satisfying experience.
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13. Board Game: Dark Tower [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1802]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Cheesy fun is still fun

Last year’s attempt to play Dark Tower had been foiled by dead batteries, but this year the tower started right up and we got to experience the glory of totally random Ameritrash fun... right up until the tower crapped out during the first frontier crossing. Rick (rbynaker), Dave (locusshifter), Rob, and I debated the merits of finding new batteries and/or a tower mechanic but decided that we had all seen what the game had to offer, so we packed everything back up and hauled it back to the library.
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14. Board Game: Dungeon Lords [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:114]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Sometimes it’s better to sleep than to game

Dave, Rob, and I then ran into Larry (Larry Levy), and we all wandered into the Hot Games room, where we discovered an open game of Dungeon Lords. Rob and I were starting to fade, but we succumbed to the lure of cardboard. I had played the game in prototype and really enjoyed it, but after year one Rob was pretty much falling asleep at the table and I was not far behind, so we decided to call the game at the halfway point.
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15. Board Game: Greed Incorporated [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:1092]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Downtime blows

After a glorious night’s sleep, we hit the Hot Games room first thing in the morning and snagged a couple of spots around the Greed board. Jorge (hibikir) and Daniel (dakarp) claimed the other two seats and we dove into the rules. The game seemed straightforward enough, particularly to people experienced with 18xx games, since the main mechanism seemed to involve manipulating funds between companies and then funneling that money as efficiently as possible into personal treasuries. Unfortunately, what that meant was that a miscalculation in mid-game could not only remove a player from contention but also leave them with absolutely nothing to do. I demonstrated this by performing a grand total of about 15 seconds’ worth of actions in the last hour of the game. Rob did absolutely nothing for half an hour in the middle of the game yet ended up winning with almost double the score of the next closest player. All in all, it was one of the least enjoyable game experiences I had had in a very long time.
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16. Board Game: Jaipur [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:90]
 
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: ...and not having any decisions to make blows almost as much

After Greed we were happy to take a break with Jaipur, a cute little 2-player game that had been highly recommended by a couple of people. The rules didn’t make it sound like there were any decisions to make, but we figured there had to be more to the game than we were seeing in the rules. Um... there wasn’t. Each turn you could choose between one of three actions, and the best action was pretty obvious. At least it was quick!
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17. Board Game: Batt'l Kha'os [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:2106]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Cartoony artwork can be deceptive

At this point we decided to check out the vendors, starting with Z-Man. Paul showed us this quick little 2-player game that actually required some thought, even using the basic rules. Rob’s orcs crushed my gallant knights in short order, and mid-Thursday afternoon we added our very first game of the convention to our "must buy" list.
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18. Board Game: Kamisado [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:804]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Color-blind does not equal handicapped

Continuing with our 2-player theme, I showed Rob one of my favorites from last year, Kamisado. I had been concerned that the colors might be too close for him to distinguish between them, but Rob proved me wrong by again squishing my forces into pasty goo -- twice!
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19. Board Game: Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:1080] [Average Rating:7.10 Unranked]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Fancy Carcassonne is still Carcassonne

By this time we were ready to let others back into our world, so we sat down with Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune and invited Rick (rbynaker) and Kevin (DallasD) to join us. The wheel options were interesting but nothing earth-shattering. In fact, the biggest change for us was the small number of tiles! We’re all used to playing Carcassonne with one or more expansions, so the end of the game snuck up on us. All in all, it’s a nice addition to the Carc family but nothing I’d consider essential for our collection.

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20. Board Game: Darwinci [Average Rating:5.83 Overall Rank:7005]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Sometimes quirky is just plain weird

Tom (snickerdaddy), Rob, and I then sat down to try this odd little game from LudoArt. The theme is odd enough -- supposedly you’re excavating creatures (although really you’re planting bone fragments). Then there’s a bizarre bidding element, where you frequently control other players’ bidding stones and can bid on their behalf either to stick them with crappy bones or to hose over third parties. The whole thing failed to resonate with us, and I was winning by a mile, so we decided to call the game early and grab some dinner.
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21. Board Game: Antiquity [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:147]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Traditions can be a beautiful thing

Each year at BGG.CON I’ve made it a point to play Antiquity at least once, and each year it’s been a teaching game for at least one of the other players. This year Tom (Thommy8) helped me instruct Rob and Fraser (Karlsen), then threw down the gauntlet by commenting that he’d never seen anybody win with a pure Nicolo strategy. Rob and Fraser went with Santa Maria (my standard recommendation for newbies so they don’t drown early on), and Tom went for San Christofori (with the intention of converting to Santa Barbara, I think). I put myself to the task of churning out guys, food, and luxuries and managed to eke out a win a turn or two ahead of Tom. Rob and Fraser did very well for their first outing, though they were several turns behind Tom.
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22. Board Game: Strada Romana [Average Rating:6.21 Overall Rank:3515]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Don’t bet on lost causes

We finished out the evening with a game of Strada Romana with Will (spectrum) and John (blurfocus). The game almost got voted off the island because Rob could not distinguish between the brown and red cubes or the green and gold cubes, but we positioned the cubes differently to help him out. The game itself turned out to be a moderately tepid pickup game with a small betting component. I sealed my defeat by taking a betting chip late in the game, when I should have realized that the only chips left were for donkeys that had no chance to finish. Once all our donkeys were safely stowed we headed off to bed.
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23. Board Game: Gonzaga [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:1549]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Make space in the luggage for everything

Saturday morning we started out with a game that we own but don’t yet have. We had bought a copy of Gonzaga at Essen but put it on the slow boat because we were concerned about luggage space. At this point we had played most of our high-priority games, so when we saw this in the library we decided to give it a go with Sean Brown (onekccs). To our delight, it turned out to be a satisfying super-filler. It’s not particularly deep, but there are enough interesting decisions to round out the playing time nicely, and we can't wait to have our copy in our hands.
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24. Board Game: El Paso [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:3594]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: Don’t let Rob roll dice for the group

While heading back to the library to exchange Gonzaga, we ran into Stephanie (Songlian), who had about an hour to spare before she had to head off to puzzle hunt duty. Rob had played El Paso in Essen and knew that it would fit nicely into that time slot, so we started looting towns in this silly push-your-luck game. Unfortunately, Rob had an uncanny knack for summoning the sheriff just as we were making one last run on the town, so we learned to leave town a bit as soon as we had three or more badges showing on the dice. Even when we got nabbed we had fun, so this got added to our list of probable buys.
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25. Board Game: Atlantis [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1300]
Michelle Zentis
United States
Prague
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Lesson: When running for your life, don’t forget the loot

Morgan (sisteray) taught Isaac (Verkisto), Myles (Great_Mazinga), Rob, and me this light tile-laying game that’s vaguely reminiscent of Cartagena. Oddly enough, your goal is not necessarily to evacuate your people as efficiently as possible from the sinking Atlantis but to make off with the most valuable goodies during your escape. We found it chaotic with four, but Rob and I would like to try it again with two.
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