On Gamer's Games

Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games

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Some Thoughts on Mage Knight Strategy or Burning Down Monasteries For Fun And Profit!

Jesse Dean
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Chicago
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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So I was able to celebrate Mage Knight release night with three sessions of Made Knight the Board Game. The first was a three player teaching scenario (two new players), the second was a four player teaching scenario (three new players), and the final was a two player game using the mines scenario. Just a word of suggestion, do not play four player Mage Knight unless you are okay with a longer and more frustrating game. Three or two player is much better as an introduction, even with reasonably fast players.

I would also highly suggest you sleeve your cards. At the beginning of the third game we reached the point where we were noticing that the cards were already showing wear. I promptly bought some sleeves and we took turns applying them when it was not our turn. This is pretty ludicrous considering the price tag of the product, and is a blemish on what I consider to be an overall effective level of components. As it stands, I encourage everyone who acquires this game to sleeve their copy even if you are someone who does not normally do so. I had no intention of doing so originally, but was forced by the degradation I saw even over one evening.

Another revelation last night was how much the standard competitive scenario is essentially about managing a steady income, in this case of fame, in the face of a steadily diminishing supply. Each player has some capability in introducing new sources of fame by exploring into new territories, exploring a dungeon for a second time, or attacking someone else’s fortress but, with the exception of the new territories, each of these options is in many ways worse than the standard sources; the rewards are smaller without any decrease in risks.

You can take advantage of this knowledge in a couple of ways. One of these is by taking part in a strategy of resource denial. If you are more mobile than another player, than you can move in behind them, eliminating sources of fame that they miss, and making it so when they eventually reach the natural limits of their expansion due to insurmountable obstacles or a lack of opportunities that they will no longer have any reasonable targets for backtracking and thus will find their later fame opportunities dry up no matter what the available options are in their hands. This can be avoided by focusing on spells and advanced actions that allow for an increase in overall movement capabilities, and I tend to find myself most excited about abilities of this kind that allow you to move vast distances over the course of a single turn.

You can also take advantage of a typical opponent greater focus on conquest to do the same with exploration and thus control the shape of the board. This is more effective in lower player counts than higher ones, as someone else will inevitably follow you and take advantage of your spent movement points, but in a two or three player game it is possible to put your opponent into a tight position with few scoring opportunities simply by building the map away from them. I have seen situations where someone gets stuck in a position where there is nowhere else for them to explore and the closest site that is reasonable to attack is quite far away. It was not pretty.

This is part of the reason I so frequently end up attacking monasteries. While I like to be a good and upright citizen (look at all the time I’ve spent helping to build holy sites in Caylus, Troyes, and Upon A Salty Ocean) there comes a point every session or two where I do not have very many reasonable options left. I know the end is coming and I’ve exhausted all reasonable locations nearby that are worth attacking. So the options are to either spend entire hands to get enough influence to recruit a unit or buy an advanced action, if there are any even left, which are generally pretty marginal at the point in time where it is usually worthwhile to attack a monastery. In comparison, attacking a monastery has plenty of benefits, and a pretty small downside. Before I explain why it makes sense, let me talk a little bit about scoring in Mage Knight.

As is true of many games, scoring in Mage Knight is split between points accrued during the game and those claimed at the end. Typically, they end up being pretty equivalent, though there are situations where one or the other ends up being a larger percentage of your final score. End of game scoring is centered on gaining majorities in particular categories. So, for example, at the end of the game you get two points for every artifact you have and one point for every two mana crystal you have. Whoever has the most points in the category gets 3, points with ties reducing the value each player gets by 1.

When you attack a monastery you are forced to fight a “wizard” class enemy. These targets are typically very challenging in the early game but a bit less so once you gain a few levels and get some advanced actions and skills. Killing them in of it is typically rewarding, but that isn’t the only fame you will eventually get from attacking a monastery. On top of the points for killing the wizard you also get an artifact, which are almost universally very useful for their abilities but also have the advantage of giving you 2 points in a category where it can be tough to get any points, meaning that you will frequently be able to get 5 points from that category just for this one attack. Additionally, it adds another item to the “Greatest Conqueror” category, giving you 2 points and also giving you an advantage in winning that category. So the conquest of a monastery can end up being a pretty significant amount of points for someone who is a bit started of scoring opportunities in the mid-to-late game. This is not to say that I am always in favor of attacking a monastery. The reputation hit you take can be significant, especially considering how valuable influence is in the game, and making the decision to attack a monastery earlier is frequently not the right choice. However, in the correct situation it can help you win, which is why I’ve started to gain a reputation among my Mage Knight opponents as someone who likes to burn down the monasteries or, as Jerry like to put it, “It’s not a game of Mage Knight unless Jesse burns down a monastery!”
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Thu Dec 8, 2011 9:22 pm
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Mage Knight and the Problem of Too Many Good New Games

Jesse Dean
United States
Chicago
IL
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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Microbadge: I have more previously owned games than owned gamesMicrobadge: Out for blood - I play without mercyMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGG
In case you didn’t already see it, I have posted my review of Mage Knight the Board Game. I am pretty happy with it, which means it is the first adventure game since Arkham Horror and the first deck building game since Puzzle Strike that I actually like. Of course, neither style of game is one that I particularly favor so if you normally like either style of game, which means either this game is not really geared towards fans of those styles of games, or is a truly excellent representation of both styles of games. I believe the latter is the case, but I imagine there will be those who differ.

My aversion to adventure games has emerged largely due to my fatigue with generic fantasy settings. I played role-playing games (RPGs) from 1992 until 2010, with the vast majority of that time being focused on Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). By the time I quit I had been bored with RPGs for years. It simply took me a while to realize that I wanted two very different things out of RPGs and that I would be better served by separating them out into two entirely different activities. Because of my large amount of exposure to fantasy themed games and media during my long RPG career I have reached the point where a fantasy theme actually makes me less likely to purchase a game rather than increasing the odds or at least being a non-factor. Fortunately, my bias has rarely been an issue as most fantasy themed games are pretty awful or are adventure games, and thus usually end up seeming like pale imitations of D&D. Arkham Horror has been the one exception as far as adventure games go both because it is not fantasy themed and it is a pretty solid game. The fact that my girlfriend also enjoyed the game certainly helped too, as it was something we could play together. So the fact that I like Mage Knight is particularly exceptional because of its need to overcome my bias against fantasy board games.

Since I pre-ordered Mage Knight, I will be picking up my copy today at the Coolstuff Inc. game night. I have every intention of getting two plays in tonight, with the goal of teaching it to as many people as possible as enjoyably as possible. I would like to get as many opportunities to play Mage Knight as possible, since this game has the advantage of being one that I think will both reward repeat plays and will be enjoyable regardless of relative experience levels. Of course, in an ideal world I would play this frequently with a dedicated group, with everyone’s skills growing at a relatively even pace, but with a seven game head start, a large number of locals who are interested in learning the game, and a small number of local owners, I am not sure that is a reasonable goal at this time.

Unfortunately, my desire to deeply explore Mage Knight is going to quickly run into what may be an insurmountable obstacle: my desire to deeply explore all the other very good games that have been released in 2011. Ora et Labora is going to arrive before the end of the month (and so far I prefer Ora et Labora to Mage Knight), Eclipse should be here in the next week or two, and I still want to dive more deeply into Colonial, Dungeon Petz, Space Empire 4X, Upon A Salty Ocean, and Vanuatu. Then there are all the other games that I currently own and love that I would like to explore more thoroughly. This means that I am going to have to make some tough choices about what I want to play over the next few months. Some of these choices will be decided by my extended gaming group, other choices will be made by available group size, and the rest will be determined by the whim of the moment, but inevitably one or more of these games will not get the amount of play time I would prefer out of them. The question is what to do about it?

Assuming that I only play a game with the optimal player counts, which is typical for me, and that I focus mostly on playing games from late 2011 and onward, this is the likely breakdown of group size vs. games played:

From gallery of doubtofbuddha

*1 is the highest play priority
**Assumed ideal player number, I strongly suspect that this number will be revised with more thorough exploration.
Eclipse gets a very high play priority simply because its rating is the one that is most in flux. I had certain concerns after my first play, and I want to see whether my concerns are valid or not, if they are then it could pretty easily move up to an 8 or a 9. Dungeon Petz and Upon A Salty Ocean are also ones that I don’t think I have explored enough and who have very tentative ratings at this point, though I do think that they are more likely to stay in their current position then Eclipse is. The most difficult decisions will come when I have three players, as that is where Ora et Labora and Mage Knight are directly competing. I may have to try to arrange more three player sessions in order to ensure that both get frequent plays.

So I have a general plan of what I want to play and when I will play it, but we will have to see how effectively this translates into actual play time. I will probably take a look at how frequently these games really got played in about 6 months. It will be interesting to see how well my intentions translate into reality.
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Wed Dec 7, 2011 7:19 pm
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2011 in Review: Part 1 (My Games Played)

Jesse Dean
United States
Chicago
IL
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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Microbadge: I have more previously owned games than owned gamesMicrobadge: Out for blood - I play without mercyMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGG
While it is a bit early to be looking at the games I’ve played in 2011, I think on the whole it is fairly safe to do so now. I expect that I will play no new games in December, and most of my effort will be expended in further exploration of the new games rolling in: Eclipse, Mage Knight, Ora et Labora, Upon A Salty Ocean, and Singapore (The last two just arrived last night!). Here is the list: 2011 Plays

From gallery of doubtofbuddha

Games Played by Quantity - 2011

From gallery of doubtofbuddha

Games Played by Rating - 2011
*This is A Few Acres of Snow, whose rating I will raise once its issue is resolved.

So on the whole, I am pretty happy with my gaming in 2011. The total number of plays (even when accounting for an expected 40-50 plays in December) is definitely lower than in previous years, which is unfortunate, but can be accounted for by a combination of gaming burn-out in the Spring, an increased focus on 18XX games during the same period, and the frequent non-meeting of my Sunday group. So even when I was gaming I wasn’t gaming nearly as much. This has turned around since summer hit, and I’ve been able to maintain a pretty steady rate since then.

The bulk of the games I have played I have been able to get more than one play out of, which I think is another promising item. While I suppose this has reduced the variety of games I’ve played, particularly in comparison with previous years, I am much happier being able to explore a smaller group of games in greater detail. I suspect a major part of this increased concentration is that I have largely completed my exploration of older games that I am interested in seeing and have a better idea of the sorts of games that are coming out that might interest me. Thus I am much less likely to find a game that I am going to only want to play once, and most of my single plays were either revisitations of older games that I like but only got to play once this year (such as 1830, Age of Steam, Battlestar Galactica, Brass, Clippers Inca Empire, and Kaivai) are ones that are very new and I have not yet had a chance to explore in more detail (such as Dungeon Petz, Eclipse, The Manhattan Project, MIL (1049), Singapore, and Upon A Salty Ocean). Since most of the items in the second category are expected to hit this month (and the second two arrived last night), I imagine that all of them will have second plays by the time the month is over with.
I have also been able to mostly play games that I like quite well, though the fact that the bulk of my plays were rated 8 rather than 9 or 10 is sad, but mostly unavoidable; the bulk of the fast games that I like are rated 8. Race For the Galaxy has seen a new resurgence locally as a few newer players have grown interested in it, so I hope that it will end up taking a larger number of my total game plays next year. I expect Innovation to still be pretty strong, but Yomi, which was my most play game in 2011, will probably decline in the face of the alternative of Summoner Wars as a fast two-player game.

The amount of play of some of my longer favorites will depend a lot on the preferences of my gaming partners. I have some influence over what games get to the table, but both Twilight Struggle and Command & Colors: Ancients will only get as many plays as my two-player gaming opportunities allow, and my declining interest in 18XX may keep 1848: Australia off the table as well. I expect that I will have no problem keeping the total number of plays of Agricola, Colonial, Dominant Species, and Imperial 2030 strong. Hansa Teutonica has fallen a bit out of favor locally though, and the amount of play Ora et Labora and Mage Knight get will depend a lot on how people like them initially so I intend to perform a lot of work ensuring that the initial impression from these is a favorable one.

Of course much of my hope for even more gaming in 2012 could be dashed by my planned move in August. Currently I live in Orlando, FL but at the behest of my lovely girlfriend we are going to be moving an hour away from the city in order to be closer to work. I do not think this will affect my Wednesday Coolstuff gaming, but it might reduce my weekend opportunities unless I can convince someone else to take over hosting duties. It might increase my two-player opportunities however, as said girlfriend has indicated that she will be more willing to play two-player games with me when we have an extra hour and a half a day with no driving. So we will see what happens. Hopefully, this will mean I am getting in even more gaming, with more two-player opportunities, Wednesday night, and a weekend session. However, I might just end up gaming on Wednesday, which will dramatically decrease my gaming options. Alas, woe, etc.
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Fri Dec 2, 2011 5:45 pm
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Ora et Labora Review

Jesse Dean
United States
Chicago
IL
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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Microbadge: I have more previously owned games than owned gamesMicrobadge: Out for blood - I play without mercyMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGG
2007 was a pretty good year for games. My two favorite games, Agricola and Race For the Galaxy, were released that year and while I find a lot of the games released in 2007 to be a little bit less exciting, the presence of this duo is enough to make it up for me. Race For The Galaxy was the first of these I encountered (I hated it for the first seven plays), but my first eight months of gaming after I encountered them were essentially consumed by almost continual plays of these two games. To this day they remain my most-played games, and while I have been interested in later releases, none of them have quite lived up to the bar that these two games have set, though numerous releases have gotten close.

As a result of these initial releases I have paid special attention to later releases by both Tom Lehman and Uwe Rosenberg. Among Uwe Rosenberg’s later release Le Havre stood out to me in particular, and over the years following its release I ended up playing it 40 times; a reasonable number but one that does not quite compare to the number of times I have played Agricola. For many gamers Le Havre was considered to be Rosenberg’s superior design and while I enjoyed it for quite a while, it never quite resonated with me the way Agricola did. Coke and steel’s chokehold over scoring bothered me a bit and typically reminded me of a common complaint about Agricola; where Le Havre in theory had a more open form of scoring, in practice it did not, the reverse was true for Agricola. This made the game rather repetitive after a while, even with the special buildings, which only occassionally had a big impact on the game. In many games these special buildings were merely there and could safely be ignored, as could a large number of the regular buildings, which could be used once or twice, but were mainly built for the points they offered. The way resources accumulated at the end of the game also seemed troublesome, and frequently made me wonder why I was going through the effort of building stacks of them if they would only ever be selected every couple of games. The release of Farmers of the Moor only cemented my opinion of Agricola being the superior of the two designs, as the additional level of complexity and decision making provided by this expansion pushed the game even farther into my good graces. This is not to say I think that Le Havre is a bad game, I still am willing to play it and quite enjoy it, just that I increasingly think that it does compare well with Agricola and my other favorites.

Uwe’s more recent releases, At the Gates of Loyang and Merkator, are even less interesting and I hoped that Rosenberg would return to the design style that initially attracted me to his games, so that I had a reason to look forward to one of his releases again. Ora et Labora’s description as Le Havre on steroids initially attracted it to me, though I was only cautiously optimistic due to Loyang and Merkator. Now that I was able to play it a bit at BGG.Con (5 plays as of this writing) I can say with little reservation that it is a worthy heir to Uwe’s previous titles and may be his best one yet. I've written a review of it if you want to see more extensively why I think this is the case.

Also, it has come to my attention that Kelly, one of the locals has a web site where she, with occasional guest postings from her friend Scott and her husband Chad, writes reviews of board and iOS games. It is one of the better designed board game sites I've seen and I encourage you to check it out: http://www.boardofplaying.com
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Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:43 am
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My BGG.Con 2011

Jesse Dean
United States
Chicago
IL
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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Microbadge: I have more previously owned games than owned gamesMicrobadge: Out for blood - I play without mercyMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGG
BGG.Con 2011 is over and, as usual, it was a great experience with tons of fond memories and lovely games. The 2011 crop was strong and I was largely impressed with what I played though, as usual, there were a few games that I found to be less interesting. My goal for this year was to try out a bunch of games on the first couple of days, identify my favorites, and then play them a lot over the course of the next couple of days. I largely succeeded, and was able to play a reasonably large number of games with my two favorites of the convention, Mage Knight the Board Game and Ora et Labora, getting the bulk of my plays.
 
 
Kingdom Builder – 9 plays
I intended to play in the Kingdom Builder tournament and, in preparation for said tournament,  I purchased a copy of the game and played it a bit on the Sunday before the convention. I learned two things from this: The game, while not great, was better than I expected and that I was actually pretty bad at it. So my initial enthusiasm for winning the Essen trip was deflated and I was not sure I was going to even compete. I ended up doing so, and played the game at the convention nine times, but lost a close match in the second round.
 
The game itself is fairly simple, with a fairly strong spatial element and variable goals and powers to mix things up between games. It is enjoyable, but I would prefer to play Hansa Teutonica or Race For the Galaxy in the same general time frame . I may end up selling my copy to someone else in my group, but there are enough people who like it that mostly just game with me, that I may hold on to it despite my relative indifference.
 
Rating: 6
 
Mage Knight the Board Game – 7 plays
I did not look at this one very much before Essen as it fits a style, adventure games, and property, Mage Knight, which I have little interest in. Luckily, one of my geekbuddies made a pretty convincing argument that this is a game I should be paying attention to, and I am glad I did as it ended up being the game I spent the most time playing at the convention. For a good while, I thought it was going to end up being my game of the convention, but it ended up being edged out by a game that I was not even certain I was going to try when I first arrived. I am now definitely planning on pre-ordering it in the near future, but I admit I am worried that my frequent plays at the convention level will put me at an experience level that makes it a little bit less fun for the other players. Hopefully the enjoyment that comes from defeating monsters, conquering dungeons, and ransacking wizard’s towers and castles will make up for it.
 
 
To be honest, I have not played a whole lot of adventure games. I played D&D for many, many years and most adventure games seemed like they would simply be pale experiences of an rpg experience. Additionally, the few that I did sample seemed rather random in a way that did not produce a good gaming experience or a story. Arkham Horror was a mild exception, but even with the expansions I lost interest after 50 plays. While still retaining some random elements, in the form of card draws, available mana, and what particular monster is at a site, there are enough constraints that you can make reasonable attempts at short term and long term plans. Even the few instances where there are surprises, like when there is a monster face down on a particular location, it is not completely random, and is instead within a narrow range of particular possibilities, with the back of one of the manuals providing pictures and quantities of the various monsters of each category, allowing you a good idea of what can potentially be placed. The implementation of deck building is among the best I have seen, with the single unique element found in the initial deck blossoming into numerous variations once spells, advanced actions, and artifacts are added into the mix, as they tend to do, particularly once the players become more experienced. I particularly appreciated how the cards translated into board actions while representing the limitations of character actions, while more control might by slightly more realistic, but would not create the interesting turn-to-turn puzzles that make each hand so interesting. I could go into more detail, but that would risk consuming this convention report, so I am going to reserve my additional thoughts until I produce my review.
 
 
Rating: 9
 
 
Ora et Labora – 5 plays
Going into the convention I did not plan on playing Ora et Labora. I had it on pre-order and the version at BGG.Con was in German, so I had few reasons to try it out. Additionally, while it looked interesting, and largely a return to form for Mr. Rosenberg, I was concerned about the games long-term replayability due to the lack of a variable set-up. Fortunately, one of my primary gaming companions for the convention, Jerry, wanted to give it a shot so I agreed to teach it. I am glad I did as Ora et Labora has emerged as my favorite game of BGG.Con 2011, and is a strong contender both for my Top Game of 2011 and perhaps a position in my personal Top 5.
 
There have been somewhat frequent comparisons between Le Havre and Ora et Labora, and I can understand their basis. They have somewhat similar action selection mechanisms and are largely focused on producing series of actions to produce increasingly refined goods that can be converted to victory point representations, but these, like the need to cut down trees and peat in order to expand your territory, are merely the sort of mechanical flourishes that you will find in any sort of game that comes from a designer who produces multiple games in the same genre; they are signs of refinement of a designer’s existing ideas rather than a lack of originality. Ora et Labora is definitely one of those refinements, and from beginning to end it is obvious that Mr. Rosenberg has brought what he has learned from his previous designs forward into this one. Whether it truly ends up being the best of his designs remains to be seen. I know think it is better than Le Havre, a game that I am souring on a bit for reasons unrelated to Ora et Labora, the only question is whether I ultimately find it to be better than Agricola. I suspect I will.
 
 
Rating: 9, with a chance to become my third current 10. 
 
Martian Dice – 5 Plays
I played this one at the airport with my travel companion, Will. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but to be fair this is a game that isn’t really meant for me. The only dice game that I have remotely liked was Sushizock, and I even grew bored of that one eventually. We had time to kill at the airport and this was one of the free door prizes that Tasty Minstrel generously included as part of its sponsorship package, so we gave it a shot. As far as dice games go it isn’t awful, the decision about when to keep non-scoring death rays vs. items that reward points is mildly diverting but was not entertaining enough to keep it beyond the 30 or so minutes it took us to play 5 times. I ended up offering it to a few interested people passing by before giving it to Will because he thought it was random enough that his wife might like it.  
 
Rating: 3
 
Vanuatu – 2 plays
Vanuatu was one of the first games I played at the convention and one that I enjoyed enough to suggest we end the actual convention with it as well, however unlike either Mage Knight or Ora et Labora, I found few surprises in the actual gameplay. The game, as it is played, is pretty much as I thought it would be based on the description, with fierce battles during the action drafting phase that turn into slow realizations of doom as you realize that your carefully crafted plan for the round has collapsed in the face of the placements, whether malicious or inadvertent, of your opponents. So I found the game to be quite enjoyable, and am glad I imported a copy. I expect it will get quite a bit of local play, even if it may end up getting overshadowed by some of the other powerhouse releases that came out this year. 
 
Rating: 8
 
 
Dungeon Petz – 1 play
Dungeon Pets is probably the lesser of the two Vlaada Chavatil games released at Essen this year, but is one that, on the whole, I like. The action selection mechanic is fun, with the stakes high enough that how much gold and imps you invest is important enough, but not so punishing enough that you find yourself screwed if you have unused imps at the end. I also liked the theme implementation of the needs cards; they provided you with a good idea of how a particular pet was going to react, without making them completely predictable. The ability to keep a card between rounds was also helpful, as it gave an idea of what sort of challenges were going to be available on future rounds and helped you save cards that would be useful to meet the desires of dungeon lords who were going pet shopping. The difficulty in meeting these needs also put a nice break on expansion, as you have to weigh the advantages of newer pets with the difficulty in meeting their particular needs. So it was a fun and interesting game, not the best game of the convention, or one that I found hugely intriguing, but a solid one none the less. I have no intention of cancelling my pre-order.
 
Rating: 7


Eclipse – 1 play
I greatly enjoyed this year’s other big 4X game, Space Empires 4X, and was fairly confident based on various previews and a look at the rules that I would likely enjoy Eclipse too, though I admit I was concerned that I would ultimately find the combat aspect of Eclipse to be but a pale shadow of the wonderful fleet combats found in Space Empires 4X. While I would like to say that all of my concerns were dashed aside, and that Eclipse is now my favorite game of the year and my favorite 4X ever, I still find myself to be a bit.. hesitant.
 
On the whole the game, is just as enjoyable as I had hoped, but I found the combat to be even duller than I feared, and it seemed that the unevenness of potential exploration tile draws to be somewhat problematic. If you draw a few ancient’s ships early on while your opponent is able to get territory and free discovery tiles it seem that it will take a while to catch up with them, even with the potential for increased actions based on less tokens on the board. I am also unsure about the variance of the ship part draws, as I saw a game situation where someone went from having a fleet that was perfectly adequate in defending themselves from a large fleet on their borders to completely inadequate in doing the same after that opponent got an alien ship part from a neighboring system. Of course all of these items are the result of a single play by inexperienced players, and all of the potential imbalances or problematic items I saw might wash away with further plays. If so then I expect this one will probably be a reasonable counterpart in my collection to Space Empires 4X, with the particular game chosen being based on overall mood and player count.
 
Rating: 7 (very tentative)
 
Helvetia – 1 play
I stumbled into a game of this after I saw a couple reading the rules later in the evening, and ended up in a four player game. The game itself was an slightly entertaining logistics games, that somewhat reminded me of Neuland in that goods only existed for the moment, and you had to translate them into more advanced good by successive worker actions. The marriage mechanics and the bonuses gained for taking the action selection mechanism were also clever, but the game as a whole was light and mild enough that I do not feel the need to ever play it again, though it was enjoyable enough as I was playing it.

Rating: 5
 
MIL (1049) – 1 play
MIL (1049) was one of the games that I was most looking forward to try out before the convention started. It was the only game that I was interested in that I did not pre-order, as I really have no clue where I would pre-order it from, and it ended up being one of the better games I played at the convention, and may end up being in my Top 5 for the year. The way the game forces you to set-up your opponents for more powerful options while performing the more basic actions is interesting, as is the difficulty in deciding when it is worth transitioning from basic actions to the more powerful ones that are available in the spheres of power. The ability to forge mutually beneficial diplomatic relationships with and declare war on other players was also fun and, while we only marginally took advantage of it during our play, it seemed like there was a lot of potential to establish even more these sorts of the interesting vassal-lord relationships for players who are practiced in the game.
 
One of the people I played with complained about the luck of getting a son versus daughters in the reproduction phase, and found it particularly annoying that one player was able to get through the game without ever rolling additional daughters (that player won). This may end up being a legitimate criticism, but I don’t think one play is enough to determine for sure if that particular bit of dice luck is enough to warp the game. I hope that it is not the case because the rest of the game is cool enough that I would like to add it to my collection.
 
Rating: 8
 
 
Pret-a-Porter – 1 play
I did not play a complete game of this at the convention. Instead I sat down with my friendly opponents and we decided to play through one of the fashion shows to get a feel for the game and then potentially restart once we understood the game a bit better. Instead by the time we reached the end of the first fashion show I, and the poor owner of the game, realized that this game was unfortunately not interesting enough to continue. Maybe it was because we were only playing with three, but the game seemed rather low on tension and most of the combo opportunities did not seem to be that interesting. If it was only that then it might have warranted a replay to see what we were missing, but unlike other games where I had a negative first impression, I did not see how it could get more interesting with future plays thus making it unlikely I would play it again. This is unfortunate because, much like 51st State, it had a lot of things that it seemed like I should like, but unfortunately the game did not seem to work on the whole. It is possible I will revisit this one later, but the odds are pretty low. With all of the other games that came out this year that I like, I do not really have time to waste on games that I see as marginal at best. Probably the biggest effect of playing Pret-a-Porter was to make me appreciate Vinhos (last year’s big “Put On A Show” game) a lot more than I currently do.
 
Rating: 4
 
 
Singapore – 1 play
This one was played on a whim late night on Saturday. Many jokes were made about needing to get to the court before “the man” got you, and getting raided by the fuzz (we were all a bit giddy due to sleep deprivation), so I am not sure I am able to separate the fun of the experience from the actual game so I am not going to rate this one yet. I did like the aspects of the game I expected to enjoy, and how lots are allocated and buildings were put together was pretty cool. Unfortunately, I won by a bit despite a deliberate sub-optimal play for comedic effect, and that kind of worries me. I pre-ordered this one, so I expect that I will have plenty of opportunities to explore it further, but I have a certain level of hesitation over this one right now.


Rating: Ask Again Later

Tournay – 1 play
We misplayed this one due to poor teaching on my part, but even with the corrected rules, I think that ultimately this one is not quite what I am looking for in a card game. This particular field is a crowded one for me, and any new game coming out having to compete with Race For the Galaxy, Innovation, Yomi, and Glory to Rome, so it is quite possible that if I was newer to the hobby or played more card games this one would be more interesting to me, but as it is I don’t think it would get played. If you are unhappy with the current available card games, or would like to try out one that is a bit more spatially oriented, it is worth checking out. If you already have a wide array of card games you are happy then you can probably pass on it.
 
Rating: 6
 
Upon A Salty Ocean – 1 play
We played this one after Singapore after we calmed down a bit, though there were jokes about me helping to build the town’s monastery after all of the monasteries I burned down in Mage Knight (don’t look at me like that, I had a good reason!) and how they break your legs if you try to leave a family of salt-mongers. I was pretty pleased with this one and, similar to Ora et Labora, most of my concerns about interplay variability have been resolved by my play of this game.

The interaction in action selection and the variability of how the market tiles effect the game and building mixes impact player decisions is sufficient to make Upon A Salty Ocean a rather different experience between games. In our game we found that an investment strategy was triumphant, with the winner never even sending their ship to sail out to sea, with the player who did that saving enough actions that they were able to manipulate the market pretty effectively for several rounds, while using their other actions for working on the cathedral or other buildings. The fact that other people found fishing to be dominant is promising as it means that slightly different player actions or demand tiles can result in a rather different game experience. As it is, I am looking forward to exploring this one further. It seems to be the sort of game that the locals will like and with my copy arriving next week we should probably be able to investigate it further in the near future.

Rating: 7
 
So all in all a good set of games. 2011 remains a strong year for me and I look forward to the challenge of deciding which of these excellent games to play the most over the next 6 months.
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Tue Nov 22, 2011 6:02 pm
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BGG.Con Bound

Jesse Dean
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I am about to leave for BGG.con 2011. I will be posting updates throughout the convention using my google plus account at http://plus.google.com/115827202168486072124.

Bye!
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Tue Nov 15, 2011 12:29 pm
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Initial Impressions of Colonial: Europe's Empires Overseas

Jesse Dean
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I have been excited about Colonial for quite a while. I first noticed the game when looking through the Essen 2011 Canonical list, and I checked it out mostly because it already had a rulebook available and it was in the right time frame for my “Gamer’s Games of Essen 2011” geeklist. The rules, though a bit unclear in certain areas, immediately won me over with their elegance. They had so many great answers for the tough question of how to make a game of this scope and breadth that I immediately decided I needed to find a way to get a copy.

On Tuesday, my copy of the game arrived. I waited to open the box and punch out the components until after I finished my review of Urban Sprawl as I did not want to get distracted. Opening the box I was pretty impressed. While the printing quality of the components were about average, the board is as beautiful in person as it is in picture form and doesn’t get too much in the way of being able to identify and decipher the game state. Since then I’ve played the game twice, both times with 5 players, and so far I am happy with the purchase. As is usual, I would like to get in some more plays before I write my review, but so far I think this is my favorite game of 2011. There are several games that have a potential to usurp that position, but they are going to have to work hard to do it.

Right now, Colonial is a pretty expensive game. In the US, at least, it seems that the cheapest you can get it for is $100. However, considering the generally positive initial reactions the game is getting and the small size of the initial print run there is a reasonable chance that you can get about that much money back if you end up deciding it is not a good game for you. Still, there are some things that are useful to know before you pick this one up.

Colonial is a very interactive game. Most choices you make are going to have an impact one or more players, and most of the role cards are worded in such a way that you can apply the benefit to yourself or another player. Additionally, this game is explicitly a negotiation game, with the ability to transfer treasuries (the primary currency of the game) between players. Thus you can sell access to your mutually beneficial role choices to offer items that will not explicitly favor you to someone else for some money, or even to threaten to go to war with someone unless they offer you protection money. That being said, there is enough structure to the game that you can’t casually stop someone from winning. Between the secret action selection and what the actions do, it can require deliberate interference from multiple players or negligence on your opposing player’s part to actually bring someone down. This is just about the right level of interaction for me in this type of game, but I can very easily see how this might be outside of someone else’s comfort level.

Colonial is a heavy game. It is not a very heavy game, like an 18XX game or Dominant Species, but it can be subject to analysis paralysis and, if you are playing with a slow group, it can take a while. However, players only take one, of a set of five, action at a time, resulting in the pace being fairly brisk if you don’t have any huge bottlenecks. Both of my games were teaching games with four new players, and while they both lasted between 3 and 4 hours neither of them really dragged. Both had very little downtime, and I felt constantly engaged with what was going on around the board. The exception to this was during the role selection period, when people are forced to plan out four of their five actions for the round. While it did not take me that long because I’ve mostly internalized the game’s flow and strategy, it did take other people a bit longer to figure out when and how they wanted to go about performing their available actions. I expect this time will decreased as people get more familiar with the game, but it is a potential hang-up.

Colonial’s rules are in a small bit of flux right now. There has been several revisions and clarifications to the war rules, and each of my two games were played with slightly different rules for war, neither of which are the current, final rules. This can make certain people understandably nervous, particularly considering the price of the game. It does not bother me, mostly because the underlying structure of the game is so solid that I think some slightly unclear rules for one aspect of the game are a small price to pay for what is overall an excellent design.

The game uses dice. If you are someone who completely dislikes randomness or chance then you probably want to avoid this game. That being said, while the dice rolling is important it seems unlikely that any given die roll, by itself, will be sufficient to win or lose the game for you. I’ve seen people who have failed multiple exploration rolls, or lose a few wars, come back to do very well in the game, and it seems that due to the game’s interactiveness players who have fallen far behind thanks to these situations also have a good chance to get some of the secondary benefits provided by other player’s role sections. This may prove to be less of the case with experienced players, but it seems like players are strongly incentivized to help players who are stuck in weaker positions to pick themselves back up again, meaning that it is unusual that you will be able to consider somebody completely out of the game.

Colonial works best with a larger group size. So far both of my games have been with five and that seems to be a very good number for the game. With fewer players the game will be even less tight and there will be fewer opportunities to butt heads, meaning that there will be fewer situations where going to war makes sense and more victory points that can be gained simply by exploring. I will probably try this one out with four, but I have no intention to ever play the game with 3. I can’t see it being a game I would enjoy with that number.

I expect I will want to play this one at least 3 or 4 more times before I review it, but right now I am satisfied with the purchase and expect it will ultimately get an 8 or 9 for its rating. I have very much enjoyed my plays so far and considering its universally positive response from people I have taught the game to so far, I expect that this one will end up getting a large amount of play in both of my gaming groups. It’s a very good game and, if none of the items I mentioned turns you off, I would definitely recommend checking it out.
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Mon Nov 7, 2011 6:55 pm
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Essen 2011 and the BGG Top 100

Jesse Dean
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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Every year after Essen I feel a bit of excitement as I see what games are making their way up the BGG rankings. It is simply fun rooting for my own personal favorites to make their way up the BGG rankings, potentially landing in the Top 100, while at the same time hoping that other games, which I view less favorably, fail to make it as far. Ultimately, it does not matter, since there are plenty of games both inside and outside of the Top 100 that I view as very good games, but the perceived competition itself is enjoyable.

Generally, for a game to be able to make it into the BGG Top 100 it has to get pretty strong initial ratings. An initial neutral to negative response from early adopters can slow down the game’s momentum, and barring something extraordinary, prevent it from ultimately getting the quantity and quality of ratings it needs to make the Top 100 as people will get scared away from a game that rates poorly. This is particularly true since initial ratings tend to be from early adopters who are more likely to rate a game well. Once it hits a wider audience, average rating almost always goes down, meaning that the earliest ratings frequently indicate the highest average rating this game will ever get. So for the purpose of this blog, I am going to look at those games that I consider being in the running for the Top 100 and am outright rejecting games that have below a 7.80 average rating. This average rating is higher than that of many games that currently are in the BGG Top 100, but as noted above, it is reasonable to expect these ratings to decline over time.

In addition to high average ratings over time, a game needs to be able to get a sufficient quantity of ratings in order to reach the Top 100. A game with a low number of ratings but a really high average rating, like the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition, can get there, but generally you need to have thousands of ratings in order to break past the dummy ratings and have a shot at getting into the Top 100. This means that games with a wide distribution, particularly with the American audiences that are the most common on BGG, have a definite advantage in getting into the Top 100. This wide distribution comes with a cost though, as a game with one is also more likely to encounter people who do not like it, bringing the average rating down.

So of the games released at Essen 2011, I think 10 have some shot at making the Top 100 based on their average rating. Some of these are released by smaller board game companies and might not make it if they never get picked up for a wider distribution, or if people outside of the core audience dislike it, but there is at least a chance they will.

Very Likely
Eclipse – 8.45 (161 ratings)
If any game can be considered the true hit of Essen 2011, this one can. It sold very well and has received fantastic ratings, with some even going so far as to say it is the best board game that has been released in years. It is a relatively fast space epic game, which is something that players have been actively wanting for years. The fact that Asmodee is going to be publishing it in the United States meaning that it is going to get into the hands of a lot of people, virtually assuring that a number of excited gamers will get their hands on it. Eclipse is virtually assured a spot in the Top 100 and may very well make the Top 25 if it can keep its current momentum.

Mage Knight Board Game 8.26 (74 ratings)
The Mage Knight Board Game will likely do well for the same reasons as Eclipse, but it has a couple of items that will potentially slow it down. The first is that it appears to be a bit more complicated than Eclipse, meaning that there is a good shot that people will get turned off by an initial negative reaction to that complexity. The second is that, despite being associated with the Mage Knight brand, and thus more likely to be purchased by fans of the old Mage Knight Collectible Miniatures Game (CMG), it also has violated some elements of the game’s mythos, and thus could get poor ratings from Mage Knight CMG fans who are upset about that. Beyond those two items, it looks like it has a strong shot at the Top 100. With Wizkids as the publisher, it will almost certainly be in every board game shop in America. It appears to be an adventure game that is specifically tailored for the sort of gamers that frequent BGG, with a strong strategic backbone and one of the hottest designers around. I am even going to get it, despite not being a big fan of fantasy adventure games genre.

Ora et Labora – 8.18 (67 ratings)
While his last two games have not done well in the rankings, Ora et Labora has the makings of another strong showing from Uwe Rosenberg. It is the sort of heavy euro resource conversion game that, while not as popular as they once were, are like catnip to the BGG crowd. Uwe’s previous two designs: Agricola and Le Havre are both in the Top 10 on BGG, and the simple fact that he has made another game in their style might be enough to get this game in the Top 100. It also has the strong initial ratings it needs to be able to make it for the long haul. Third, Z-Man Games is distributing it which means it has the reach needed to get sufficient ratings to make the Top 100. The only real downsides are that it looks like it has even more to think about then Le Havre, so its complexity might be outside of the comfort zone of the average BGGer, and the combination of low interaction with no randomness, so it might have a low degree of interplay variability. I don’t think that either of these items will prevent it from making the Top 100 and, for me personally, the question is not whether Ora et Labora will make the Top 100. The question is whether it will be the third Uwe Rosenberg game to make the Top 25. I think the answer is probably not, but it will be interesting to see!

Likely
Dungeon Petz – 7.85 (138 ratings)
Dungeon Petz is the second game on this list from designer Vlaada Chavatil, and another one that I think is likely to make it into the Top 100. Like Ora et Labora it is being distributed by Z-Man Games, meaning that it should be pretty widely available. Additionally, Dungeon Petz is clearly designed with “gamers” in mind, and Vlaada Chavatil has proven very effective in designing games that appeal to BGG raters; since 2006 every single game he has made that has been designed for “gamers” has made the Top 100. The big thing holding this one back is the relatively low initial ratings for the game. While a 7.85 average rating is by no means low, it does not leave a lot of room for rating degradation over time. How well Dungeon Petz does will depend a lot on the overall level of degradation. If it can remain fairly low then this one will easily make the Top 100, and perhaps even the Top 50. I suspect it will keep constant enough to be able to make it.



Depends on Distribution
Trajan – 7.93 (149 ratings)
Trajan is by another game by one of BGG’s established designers: Stefan Feld. While Stefan Feld hasn’t been quite as successful in getting top ranked games as Vlaada Chavatil or Uwe Rosenberg, he is respected, and his name on the box is frequently enough for people to check it out. The initial rating of 7.93 also is strong, and indicates that it might have enough appeal to go far in the rankings. The main thing that could potentially hold it back is the lack of US distribution. Unless it gets this, it might not get the quantity of ratings that it needs to make the Top 100. Assuming it does make it to the US, I have every expectation of it making it, however.

Vanuatu – 7.90 (71 ratings)
Vanuatu is another game whose fate in the rankings I expect will largely hang on the results of getting a distribution deal in the United States. However, Vanuatu’s approachable theme, largely positive initial reactions, and the general style of the game mean that I think this is pretty likely. While it does not have the name recognition that comes with having an established designer like Stefan Feld’s on the box, a copy did make it to BGG.Con, meaning it has a good shot of building the buzz that has been enough to launch games, such as Hansa Teutonica in 2009, into the US in the past.

MIL (1049) - 7.91 (68 ratings)
MIL (1049) is another game that has gotten good initial buzz from Essen attendees that needs US distribution to make the Top 100. The game itself looks like it has the correct combination of the familiar and the innovative to appeal to BGG gamers, and a play time that allows it to be played even in shorter game nights. What could potentially hold it back, in addition to distribution, are the relative complexity of the rules; reports from Essen, while largely possible, did indicate some difficulty with understanding how the game worked. Despite this, I think the game has a pretty good shot of doing well in the rankings if a US publisher picks it up. However, of these three, I think that it has the lowest odds of getting US distribution.

Possible
Hawaii – 7.80 (65 ratings)
Unlike the previous category of games, Hawaii has a distribution deal in the US, however while I think it is possible that Hawaii will make the Top 100, I am a bit less certain about it. The biggest thing holding it back is its initial average rating. While 7.80 is not a bad rating, it might not be sufficient for it to make it to the Top 100 if it decays to any extent as it gains ratings. Beyond that, I don’t have any real basis for judging its fate. Its rules are currently unavailable, so I am uncertain of how appealing Hawaii is on the whole, and most of the references I have seen have mentioned its similarities to Vikings, a solid game but not one that set the BGG rankings on fire.

Quebec – 7.82 (59 ratings)
My expectations for Quebec are similar to those with Hawaii. Its initial rating is decent, but not strong enough that it can take any serious rating decay and still make it to the Top 100. It has a distribution deal with Asmodee, which it means it should be seen by enough gamers to allow it to make the Top 100. It is simply a matter of seeing how much people like it once it gets into their hands.

Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas – 8.15 (52 ratings)
While I enjoy Colonial quite a bit, I think it is the game that is least likely to make it to the Top 100 of those on the list. It has a strong initial rating, but that rating is based on the smallest sample size of any game on this list and is thus pretty volatile. Additionally, based on my play, I am uncertain of how well it will do well in the overall market. It is best with 5 or 6 players and can be fairly long with that number, and games that are both long and require a large number of players to shine have not traditionally done very well in the BGG rankings. These items may be sufficient enough that it will not see the US distribution deal that is needed to allow this one to make it into the Top 100. Still, unlike a lot of Essen games, it is possible so it will be interesting to see how things develop from here.

So that is the field as I currently see it. Is there any Essen 2011 games that I am missing that you think will/could make the Top 100?
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Fri Nov 4, 2011 6:38 pm
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Conventional Experiences

Jesse Dean
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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I have been going to game conventions since 2000, but it did not become a regular, annual, thing until 2004 when I made it to my first D&D Miniatures Championships. At first, since I was focused on CMGs and RPGs, I went to Gen Con every year, but with my entrance into the world of board games I visited the WBC and BGG.Con for the first time in 2009. Since then I’ve been back to BGG.Con every year, Gen Con once, and the WBC not at all. In 2012 I expect to visit three conventions, one of which is a new local convention and the other two of which are not. I do not find any of the possible out of town conventions to be a real financial burden, so deciding which one to go to really comes down to identifying which conventions offer me most of the sort of experience that I desire.

The first step in determining what convention you want to go to (assuming you aren’t overly restrained by financial considerations), is to put together a list of what, exactly, you want in your convention experience. My list follows:

1) The ability to meet up with gaming friends that I do not get to see regularly. Attending the WBC cold in ’09 was fun, as I met some new people that I enjoyed hanging out with, but it is even more fun to meet up with people you have met up with before and spending time hanging out and gaming with them.

2) Ease of travel. Since I am deep into Florida any convention I attend is most likely going to require me to fly. Since travel in general is not something I find to be pretty comfortable, I prefer to keep things as straightforward and easy as possible.

3) Easy access to good food. Burning yourself out at a convention is no good, and one of the easiest ways to do so is to fail to eat right. As a vegetarian, access to non-meat food items is a plus, and I would rather snack on tasty fruit then rely on the junk food that is usually much more easily available (though I do like a good cookie on occasion).

4) Ability to play my preferred style of games. Since I tend to almost exclusively prefer gamer’s games and more complicated card games, if I am going to spend the money to go to a convention those are the sort of games that I want to be playing. If a convention mostly has people playing the light flavor of the moment I am going to be much less interested.

5) The ability to play to new and hot games. I am one of the primary game buyers in my group, and it is unusual for me to be able to try a new game unless I buy it first. Being able to try out games that I am uncertain about at a convention first is a big plus, as it allows me to avoid the annoyance of having to resell them if they prove to be unsuitable after the first play. I also quite like being involved in the initial discussions about a game, so being able to try them early or when they are newly released is another big plus in my mind.

6) The ability to buy imported games. My FLGS is Coolstuff Games, which means that if a game is released domestically that I will have it quickly and cheaply. Unfortunately, they carry very few imports so if I want to acquire a game from farther afield I have to order them. Being able to play these games and then buy them right away, rather than having to wait and pay for shipping is very nice.

So with this in mind how do the three big board gaming conventions I’ve attended in the past, and others I've looked at, stack up?


BGG.Con
I have attended BGG.Con every year since 2009, which should give you a good indication of how well it meets my criterion. While it failed #1 during the first year, since then I’ve made tons of friends on BoardGameGeek who I look forward to seeing each year, as well as new ones it is great to meet for the first time. It also fails on 3) because of how I generally prefer to optimize my gaming time. While the hotel restaurant is pretty good and they do supply a food bus, this just does not quite cut it, particularly when compared to the delightful opportunities available at other conventions. Beyond that it passes all of my other items on the list with flying colors, which makes it the obvious choice if I am only picking one convention per year.

Gen Con
Gen Con is more of a mixed bag. Lots of my old CMG buddies still attend this convention, but since I am no longer involved in that hobby we have much less to talk about. I have made some new board gaming friends, but they are fewer here then my other options. The board gaming at Gen Con also seems to be focused a lot more on types of gaming that I am less interested in these days, which reduces my options. It also doesn’t really have much in the way of imported games, as most of the shops there focus on domestic releases. On the plus side Gen Con easily wins the “Best Food” contest, as it takes place in downtown Indianapolis and there are a gigantic number of easily accessible culinary options. Additionally, there usually are at least a handful of newer games available here each year, so it does hit the “new and hot” button, even if it is not as expansive as the options at BGG.Con. Travelling to Indianapolis is also a breeze as there are plenty of direct flights from Orlando, and those that aren’t direct have only a single stop in Atlanta. So while some of the secondary aspects of Gen Con are good, I am not sure they are enough to make me want to go back any time in the near future. If I hear some of some positive developments, particularly in the ability to more effectively play games I particularly like, I might reconsider.

World Boardgaming Championship
The World Board Gaming Championship’s biggest downside is that it is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While this is probably great for people who are in driving distance, as the location is inexpensive and has something vaguely resembling a theme park nearby. For those of who do not live in driving distance, getting to the convention is much more difficult. Flights have to go into Baltimore and Philadelphia and from their either take a small, single engine plane (my choice in 2009) or a train. This is a bit of a step up over the easy one or two leg flights required to get me to Gen Con or BGG.Con, and is the primary reason I did not bother to go back in 2010 or 2011. Additionally, because of its location there is very little in the way of good eating options in the area, and the one year I attended I found the hotel food less than optimal. Additionally, the shopping options are also subpar, with very little in the way of hot new games or imported delights. It makes up for all of the downsides by having an amazing variety of gaming, ranging from a great open gaming area to more organized board gaming events then you can find at any other convention that I know of. While I think BGG.Con has slightly better open gaming, the opportunity to compete in tournaments more than makes up for that, and makes the convention a distinct enough experience that it is probably worth attending in addition to BGG.Con. I just wish it was in a better location.

Essen
I have not been to Essen but the logistics and advantage/disadvantages of such a trip are things I have considered. On the plus side Essen is pretty much the epicenter of being able to acquire hot new games. I don’t know much about the local eating establishments but from everything I’ve seen from reports they are not bad, and are easily on the level of those found at BGG.Con, and perhaps even rival those of Gen Con. It would also be nice to attend and meet some of the acquaintances I have made on BGG who live over in Europe. On the downside ease (and cost) of travel is pretty high. It is probably less expensive for me to simply buy all of the games that I want and take a risk that I am not going to like them then it would be to travel for the convention. Additionally, while I do like having games available to buy, conventions are even more focused on wall-to-wall gaming for me, and it seems that in Essen they are definitely a secondary focus. Gen Con, which is also very vendor-focused, at least has areas set aside for organized and non-organized gaming. Essen does not even have that. So at this point in time, Essen is not worth it to me.

Local Conventions
Florida has a pretty drab set of conventions if you are into board games. Most of the conventions focused on other things have board games shoehorned on, but for the most part those are only worth attending if you are interested in the primary item, which I am not. Until now the exception to this rule has been Mike’s Mini Meets.

While Mike’s Mini Meets are not conventions in the normal sense, I consider them roughly equivalent. Mike has 30-60 people over to his house once or twice a year for a three day weekend of wall-to-wall board gaming. I typically only drive up for Saturday, but it is still something I look forward to whenever one is coming up.

So it seems that with Tom Vasel’s arrival in Florida he has decided to be involved in the organization of a Florida-based board gaming convention: http://boardgaming.info/convention/index.php. For the most part I am pretty excited about this. While on one hand I am pretty sure there won’t be any new or imported games to check out, the sheer ease of being able to drive to the convention and home at night with ease more than makes up for that. I also can easily get access to food thanks to being able to eat at home before and after I get back and if I get hungry during the day, there is a delightful variety of restaurants in the area that can take care of my lunch needs. The big question is how much I will be able to play my favorite types of games. If it turns out it is essentially as much as I would normally, but I do it in a concentrated dose then I expect I will continue to attend this convention for years to come. If not? This may be my first and last year.

What are your favorite conventions? What are the things that you look for in any convention you attend?
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Thu Nov 3, 2011 9:07 pm
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Reducing Contract Card Chaos In Urban Sprawl

Jesse Dean
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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In my review of Urban Sprawl, I noted that one of the items that I found to be most problematic, the high impact Metropolis deck cards, is one of the items that are most easily corrected for simply by not including the contract cards that are most likely to cause massive swings in victory points. The cards I find most problematic are:

University (4 permits, Education 5, 2 VP payout, Each player gains 4 VP for each RES and CIV they own)
Marina (4 permits, Ignore zoning restrictions, For each 1-lot RES they control, players must pay you $4 or 4 VP)
Port (4 permits, Transportation 7, 4 VP payout, Each player gains 4 VP and $4 for each IND they control)
Temple (2 permits), 1 VP payout, For each RES they control, players must pay you $4 or 4 VP)

The simplest solution to dealing with these cards is to simply not include them in the game. This is easily resolved by simply making it so the Metropolis deck has its normal array of 15 cards on top, a random 7 below that, and then 11 more after that. Doing it this way has the added bonus of making it so you are more likely to see any given card and thus there will be a somewhat lower level of variance in the game. On the downside you are removing three VP payout cards from the game, decreasing the value of the 4 VP, 1 VP, and 2 VP rows even further.

An equally viable alternative, particularly if you have a group that is open to house rules, is to simply halve the effects of these cards. This still makes them valuable, but doesn’t make them as game warping as they are now. $2 per building (for the Marina and Temple) is much easier to deal with and plan around then $4 is and it makes it so it is a much more reasonable choice to not take them and either not build on your turn or discard some permit cards to have an additional financial cushion. The University and Port are still strong, maybe a little bit too strong, but aren’t game winners by themselves. This also has the benefit of not reducing the number of VP payout cards in the deck, as noted above, keeping the original distribution intact.

If your biggest problem is the swinginess of the Metropolis deck cards, then one of these two solutions will probably resolve the problem for you. There are a few other buildings (The Historical Monument and the Nuclear Plant, for example) that can have very big payouts but they require either very specific circumstances or lots of forward planning to carry out, and thus are much less problematic. Of course, removing these cards does not resolve the other problematic bits of chaos from the game, but it does lessen it somewhat, which may be enough for some.
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Wed Nov 2, 2011 3:25 pm
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