I'm at the Düsseldorf airport for a couple of hours, sitting next to an indoor tree that keeps dropping leaves every few minutes, so I thought I'd jot off a few notes about SPIEL '18, the four-day game convention that just ended in Essen, Germany, the penultimate show of the game season for me with the far more relaxing BGG.CON in mid-November wrapping things up for the year.
Nearly every person who I spoke with about SPIEL '18 — what they had played and liked, what they saw others buying, what seemed interesting — sort of shrugged and suggested that while they've seen others be excited about things, they weren't sure what to make of the show. Of course most of the people I speak with are designers, publishers, distributors, and other industry representatives who have a skewed perception of the show relative to "normal" people. Few of us play games at SPIEL '18, other than perhaps a few turns of something so that you can write a summary of it or see whether you want to take home a prototype (if a publisher or member of the press) or finished game.
That said, I did play Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra twice as I was able to get a review copy from Next Move Games on the Tuesday when I had arrived in Germany and I wanted to write a preview of the game before the show opened. I suspected many people would be looking forward to this game given Azul's status as the 2018 Spiel des Jahres winner and a big seller at SPIEL '17, and Sintra both topped BGG's GeekBuzz list for SPIEL '18 and placed well in the Fairplay rankings.
Final Fairplay standings based on a minimum of, I believe, thirty ratings per game shown
I played Stefan Feld's Carpe Diem from alea twice as well because Ravensburger could not come up with someone to present their game on camera, and I was determined to record an overview at the show. Following a three-, then two-player game on Saturday night to familiarize myself with the rules and learn how to both play and present the elements of the game, I got to serve as "guest" on camera in the BGG booth on Sunday to explain the game.
Beyond that, I played Verona Twist from József Dorsonczky of Mind Fitness Games, who spoke with me about the game for an intense twenty minutes following a demo game, an interaction that led to me waking at 04:00 the next morning having conversations with myself about the game. Quite intense. That might have been all, but everything's a bit of a blur at this point, possibly due to lack of sleep.
As for coverage of the show, the BGG team did a fine job, I think, with us sticking to our schedule and having only a few minor delays (as far as I know) over the five days that we livestreamed interviews with designers and publishers about their new releases. (For reference, our SPIEL '18 broadcast schedule is here.) Today Jeff Anderson is overseeing the shipment of five or six pallets of games to the U.S. so that we'll have all of these featured titles and more available for play by attendees of BGG.CON 2018, which opens on November 14. So soon!
What was running through my head at SPIEL '18 — I love this film and had watched it again on the flight to Germany
The packaging and shipment went relatively smoothly. We had asked publishers to drop off games on Wednesday during set-up day so that we could pack as quickly as possible, track what was still missing, and have time to research other games we might need to pick up. I know that at the end of Friday we had more than 80% of the games we had anticipated collecting, despite having broadcast only 60% of our programmed schedule. Thanks to all the publishers and designers who presented games on air! If you plan to attend BGG.CON 2018 and will play new SPIEL '18 releases, please take a picture of yourself playing the game and tag the publisher on it to share your appreciation of their efforts.
What did not go smoothly was our scheduling process, for which I'll take the blame. Starting with the 2018 Origins Game Fair, I've been using Google forms to solicit information from publishers while simultaneously requesting preferred demo times from them so that we could co-ordinate our broadcast schedule. Thanks to the forms, I could get the info I needed for the Gen Con 2018 and SPIEL '18 convention previews, while someone else — Steph Hodge for Gen Con and Doug Garrett for SPIEL — could contact publishers to set up demo times.
While Gen Con is somewhat packed, with us having to deny space for only a portion of the games newly released, SPIEL is far more of a challenge. Many publishers release two, three, or four games, and we tell them that we can give them space for one or two on air. We'd like to feature everything, but we literally don't have the time available to do so, even though we start livestreaming on Wednesday before the show actually opens. Sometimes we've covered a game in prototype form at Spielwarenmesse, GAMA, Origins, or elsewhere, so we set aside the request for demo time at SPIEL '18, figuring that we'll book games we haven't seen at all first. Sometimes we decide to feature one game over another because the latter game is derivative of something else or not something we expect our audience will want to see. Sometimes we receive information late in the process, and sometimes we just goof up.
Someone leaves a water bottle at our booth each show. Our pick-up at SPIEL '18...
My main goof-up for SPIEL '18 is twofold. First, I didn't emphasize in my initial note to publishers and on the Google form that they are indicating a preference for a particular day and time, but they are being guaranteed nothing. Someone else could have requested that day and time earlier, of course, but more likely we have run into one of the issues above.
Second and more importantly, I didn't write to everyone we didn't fit on camera to tell them that the schedule was filled and to invite them to submit information to be on a reserve list. (We constantly drew from the reserve list that we did have and managed to wedge many additional presenters onto the livestream.) Many publishers arrived at the BGG booth to say that they had scheduled a demo at this day and time, and I had to tell them that no, they had requested to demo a game at this day and time, but we had filled all of the available slots.
For conventions in 2019 and beyond, I will emphasize to publishers that they are requesting a time, that someone else might have already called dibs, that we might want to feature only one or two of their titles, and that nothing is confirmed until they hear from us — then I need to ensure that every publisher receives a response along these lines. Given the rate at which new games are released, we will have to be even choosier at Gen Con 2019 and SPIEL '19. (I joked with Lincoln about having a second livestream booth at SPIEL '19 along the lines of ESPN2, and he looked like he wanted to strangle me, so don't expect this to be an option anytime soon!)
Flyer left in publisher booths on Sunday morning
The other negative to talk about related to SPIEL '18 is theft. Multiple publishers were robbed over multiple days, typically by a group of people. One person would engage with the booth help in some task that required them to go in the back room or otherwise leave their post, while a second person asked about a demo or just started stealing a game in an obvious manner to distract other booth help, while a third person would grab the lockbox or cashbox, sometimes even if the box was locked away in some manner.
Michael Fox from Hub Games described their theft while on air with me ahead of his Saturday morning presentation of Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr. Hub Games was hit on Thursday for a loss of €3,000 — Fox said he preferred to think that a hundred copies of the game had been accidentally incinerated — but while robbing Artipia Games — which coincidentally debuted A Thief's Fortune at SPIEL '18 — the next day, one of the thieves was grabbed by an Artipia representative. I believe that some people actually sat on the thief to keep him from leaving, and when the police arrived, they discovered a taser on him, which is illegal in Germany. Unfortunately, they did not grab the guy who snatched the money, so Artipia has only the satisfaction of seeing someone punished, not getting back their earnings from that day. (Artipia's Konstantinos Kokkinis detailed this experience on Facebook.)
I talked with Dominique Metzler from SPIEL convention owner Merz Verlag about the thefts, and she stated that no matter how much it might make sense to have security cameras at various places in the Messe halls, privacy rights in Germany (and in Europe more generally) would not allow for that to happen. She also said that two hundred security officials walk the Messe in plainclothes throughout the show, but a police presence would not happen unless there was a clear reason for one to exist — which means that publishers who have been stolen from would need to file reports to demonstrate that the fair was a risky affair for those running a business. Even so, that might not bring about a police presence since they have to allocate their staff for the city as a whole.
For gamers and publishers, SPIEL remains largely an all-cash business, so perhaps the ideal solution would be wifi access throughout the Messe so that vendors could more readily accept payment via bank and credit cards, something that has become fairly common at Origins and Gen Con in the U.S. (A great portion of our BGG Store sales at these conventions requires only a few taps on an iPad, a card swipe or insertion, and a signature, with the sale completed almost instantly.) While we wait for that to happen, publishers need to better ensure that their cashboxes can't be grabbed and emptied within seconds. Maybe we all need to run a few LARPing sessions to simulate and test such things prior to a show opening...
That's it for now as I have a plane to catch, so let's close with a goodbye pic from fellow on-air host Rodney Smith of Watch It Played:
The BGG team recorded two hundred or so game overview videos in our booth at Gen Con 2018, but we also snuck out of the booth a few times to eat, use the restroom, buy a game or two, and yes, record even more game overview videos, such as this quartet of preview videos for titles you'll see debut at SPIEL '18.
• Okay, this item debuted at Gen Con 2018 instead of being previewed there, but we didn't shoot an overview in the BGG booth, so you get to see it now, with designer Ian Brody showing off the Quartermaster General: Prelude expansion that is meant to be played prior to Quartermaster General to push players into a variety of opening positions and therefore broaden that game experience.
• Brody also preview the next title in the Quartermaster General series — Quartermaster General: The Cold War, with this being a three-sided game that can actually be played by 3-6 players since the deck for each side can be broken into two decks. The Western Bloc deck, for example, can be split into separate U.S. and UK decks. PSC Games and Brody's Griggling Games will release this title in October.
• Danilo Sabia's Wendake debuted at SPIEL '17 from the Italian publishing team of Placentia Games and Post Scriptum, and while the game is only now hitting the U.S. market through Renegade Game Studios, the original publishers already have an expansion heading to press for release at SPIEL '18. Here's an early look at what you'll find in Wendake: New Allies:
• We'll close this batch of previews with an overview of Sébastien Dujardin's Solenia, which had been announced with the title "Sun Moon". Artist Vincent Dutrait has mostly put the finishing touches on the look of this Pearl Games release, and now you can see a bit of it in action ahead of its debut in October 2018.
The 2018 BGG@SEA cruise to Alaska was so popular that BGG decided to run two back-to-back one-week cruises during the dates June 22-June 29, 2018, and June 29-July 6, 2018. My husband Snoozefest and I went on the first week's cruise since we had planned to meet up with our Australian friends Peter Hawes and his S.O. Dominika, whom we had visited and traveled with at the end of 2014. We all signed up for the first week together. (Ironically, I have no photos of them since they were on a different meal plan — more on that below — and were too late in signing up for the BGG excursions; we did manage breakfast, lunch, and a couple of games together, though.) Also, my husband and I had planned to go to the Gulf Games convention in New Orleans, leaving for that trip only a few days after returning from the cruise, so the first week was just better for us. This was our first cruise!
There were 262 BGGers for the first week's cruise and 224 for the second week. The cruise left from the Seattle port with the following planned stops: Juneau, Alaska; Skagway, Alaska; Tracy Arm Fjords/Sawyer Glacier (although we were rerouted; details further below); and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo from plane, flying into Seattle
For gamers who were in Seattle on Thursday, June 21, and stayed at (or stopped by) the Hyatt Place Seattle/Downtown, there was gaming off the hotel lobby. Although we did get into Seattle on Thursday, it was rather late (for us anyway), so we just stopped by for a quick chat, then headed up to our room. We disembarked the next day, Friday, June 22. Before leaving, my husband and I walked to the Pike Place Market area and bought some crumpets and scones at The Crumpet Shop. (Highly recommended, but get there early because they can run out...and expect a long line.)
The cruise ship was Explorer of the Seas by Royal Caribbean, with Captain Mal at the helm (that would be Mal Bardsnes, sadly not Mal Reynolds). Price tiers for double occupancy were as follows:
• Interior cabins from $2,700 • Balconies from $4,500 • Suites starting at $6,300
This included taxes, fees, port expenses of $191.61 per person, pre-paid gratuities of $94.50 per person (or $115.50 for suites), and $100 onboard credit per stateroom.
It also included dining with other BGG@SEA group members every night (if desired), a welcome reception, access to overflow gaming space in the Main Dining Room on days 2, 3, and 6 from 7:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., access to BGG@SEA exclusive group shore excursions, a farewell reception, a commemorative BGG@SEA 2018 badge (color-coded to participation level) in a neck wallet, and a draw-string bag.
Gaming access prices per person were as follows:
• Adult (12+) game room badge $150 • Child (4-11) game room badge $75
A game room badge allowed a person to get into the traditional BGG@SEA gaming area in the dedicated convention space (located on deck 2). BGG decided to separate this charge in case family members wanted to go on the cruise but did not want to game; this way they didn't have to pay for a badge they weren't going to use. Game badges also included one game request (via traditional GeekList in advance of the cruise) to be added to the BGG@SEA Library from the full BGG Library, as well as the ability to check out one game at a time from the BGG@SEA Library to play elsewhere on the ship. (There was no need to check out games played in the convention space.)
Explorer of the Seas was built in 2000 and last refurbished in 2015. It is scheduled for more refurbishing in 2018 as follows:
On Sports Deck 13, Royal Caribbean's signature waterslides Cyclone and Typhoon will be installed next to the FlowRider simulator and on Spa Deck 12, a new Slashaway Bay kids aqua park will be added. (This is an interactive water play area with cannons and geysers, replacing the Outdoor Youth Area.) Explorer of the Seas is one of the Voyager-class Royal Caribbean ships, which also includes Adventure, Mariner, Navigator and Voyager. Explorer of the Seas has a total of 1,557 staterooms for 3,114 passengers (max capacity is 3,840 guests), served by 1,180 crew/staff. The ship has 14 passenger accessible decks, 15 lounges and bars, 4 swimming pools, 7 jacuzzis, and 14 elevators. Check out the official deck map for an idea of how the ship was laid out.
Passenger elevators were in two areas of the ship. Although 14 may seem like a lot of elevators, not all are available to passengers, and more importantly during high movement times (boarding the ship, disembarking for excursions, meal times, etc.) the elevators were jam-packed. The first time going to our stateroom we tried three times to get on an elevator before deciding to take the stairs up to our tenth deck suite. (We boarded the ship on the second deck, so this was quite the haul.) Unfortunately, once we got to our room, we had trouble with our room keys (note: they had lost our original sea pass/room keys and had to make new ones before we even boarded the ship) – it took two more trips down to the fifth deck to get in line for customer service and back up those stairs again before someone was sent to take apart the entire door mechanism, replace some parts, and get it working. For our trouble, we did receive a bottle of wine and an upgraded dinner for the two of us (more on this later). The upside was that with all the stair climbing, I didn't gain any weight on the cruise! Yay!
The ship is huge, which might be one reason we ended up at further docks at ports. Also, there were other cruise ships at closer docks; possibly they arrived earlier and received a better position. There were shuttles to town at an extra charge, but we just walked (average about a mile each way at each stop).
Ship in port at Juneau - further from the other docks
This was not one of the fancy all-inclusive cruises. However, the price was lower because of this. One of the reasons BGG chose this cruise was so that families and those on a budget might be able to better afford the trip (another consideration being the size of the convention/meeting space). As such, the food was just average/good. There were premium restaurants available at an extra charge (about $5 to $30 per person). We joined a group of friends at the Italian restaurant with our free upgrades — the food there was very good. Ben and Jerry's ice cream was available at an extra charge (but soft serve was free). There were also extra charges for drink packages and internet access. (If you didn't purchase the internet package, you had to buy access per day – I think it was around $15.)
Regarding dinners, there were a couple of options: My Time Dining and Main Dining. Since this was my first cruise, I hadn't realized there was actually a choice. If you went with the default, Main Dining, you were assigned a table for dinner every night with other BGGers (same table and people for the duration). My Time Dining gave you more time flexibility; you just had to make your own arrangements, e.g., if you wanted to sit with other My Time Dining friends. The cruise had two formal dress dinner nights. The food was a bit better than usual on these evenings (for example, one night they had a soufflé for the recommended desert). On our cruise, there were a lot of staff from India. This worked to our advantage since our waiter, finding out that we love Indian food, brought out several dishes from the staff dinners each night for us. The rest of our table was pretty thrilled as well. (Sometimes we even shared with neighboring tables.) This was some of the best food we had on the cruise.
Once everyone was on board the ship, there was a mandatory guest assembly drill. The purpose was to help passengers to familiarize themselves with the safety protocol, i.e., by gathering in their assigned meeting places in the event of an emergency.
Schedule (first week; second week was similar)
Some of the BGG group just before boarding the Explorer of the Seas (pictured in background)
BGG@SEA attendees were invited to a welcome reception on the first day of the cruise. Hot and cold canapés were served and there was an open bar. Jeff Anderson made some announcements, then told everyone that it was his wife Kristine's birthday. He had arranged for a keyboard and mic – and some fancy blue and gold lights – so that he could sing Billy Joel's "She's Got a Way" to her. It was very sweet.
Jeff Anderson sang to his wife Kristine for her birthday
Stronghold Games, as a sponsor, gave one game to every stateroom: a copy of Rogue Agent, given out at the welcome reception. Also, if you signed up for excursions, you received an additional game per excursion, cleverly themed to match:
We signed up for all three BGG excursions, so we received four games! Yay! It was a bit tricky getting them home on the plane, though, as we brought carry-on bags only. We actually gave one to friends in the Seattle area when we met up with them for lunch after the cruise...
One of the best things BGG@SEA has over other cruises is that during the "sea days", you can play games! Although there are plenty of ship activities, nothing beats friends and board games (in my opinion).
There were over five hundred games and expansions in the BGG@SEA library. Some people brought a few games of their own as well. As far as organized events go, Jeff Anderson arranged a Poker tournament and a Duplicate Tichu tournament. Jeff also ran a series of games called "The 504 Experiment". I played in the Duplicate Tichu tournament, a type of tournament that I had never tried before, and I think it lasted about three hours. It was run like a Duplicate Bridge tournament: Each table played with fixed hands that would be scored against other teams playing those same hands. There was a bit too much accounting for my tastes, but I'm glad I tried it. I much prefer regular Tichu tournaments, even though they tend to be much longer. By the way, Jeff and his sister came in first... hmm. (My partner and I came in second.)
Fun Fact (courtesy of Jeff Anderson): During the second cruise week, one of the couples got engaged! If you know the couple, maybe you could post some details in the comments?
There were quite a lot of ship activities, far too many to list, but here are a few: Bingo, ice skating show, open ice skating, rock climbing wall, FlowRider (boogie boarding), mini-golf, comedy shows, movies, dancing, and seminars (although usually combined with selling).
If you wanted to work out, there was a nice fitness center, plus a running area marked on the deck. (I think it was a one-mile track.) There was also a spa but it was quite expensive. I won a $250 gift certificate for the spa by attending one of the many raffle drawings (this one was part of a spa tour). My husband and I signed up for a 75-minute couples massage. It used up the certificate, our $100 ship credit (included with BGG@SEA), plus $100 more! They tacked on a 20% gratuity, which I would not have given since I was quite unhappy with the massage and my masseuse. Not only that, before we could leave, the two masseuses cornered us for a hard sell of their products — as in they trapped us against the back wall of the room, blocking the only exit, made us sit down (they were standing), told us about their products, then when we declined, asked us why we didn't want to buy products that would make us feel better…and I quote, "Don't you want to feel good?" When I told them we were flying home with only carry-on luggage, they told us, "No problem, we can ship the products to you." So kind of them.
We went to only one show, the ice skating show "Spirits of the Seasons". I don't know if it was a particularly bad night, but the skaters fell at least six times (of those I saw – you couldn't watch everyone since they would spread out on the ice). And no, it wasn't because of ship movement – we had a pretty steady ride. Another couple who went at a different time said they saw only three falls. Well, at least it was entertaining.
On three of the nights, we were treated to a cute towel animal, placed on our bed as part of the turndown service. For some reason, I looked forward to these silly things.
Every evening (also with the turndown service) the Cruise Compass newsletter was delivered. It was a good idea to read this pretty carefully. It contained the schedule, including eating times and dinner dress code, for the next day. Below are copies of the Cruise Compass for the first day of the cruise.
Click to enlarge!
After a full day of cruising (and board gaming!), we arrived at our first stop: Juneau, Alaska. Since we had time before our excursion, we decided to walk around town a little, then check out the Alaska State Museum. One thing about this cruise (and probably many other cruises) is that there is a lot of advertising and up-selling (e.g., for future cruises). Mostly this turned us off, but there is one slightly positive note — many of the jewelry stores gave out free charms and other inexpensive jewelry. If you are so inclined, you can stop by the stores listed on a coupon sheet, included in your Cruise Compass, and receive an inexpensive charm, necklace, ring, or other small trinket at each store you visit. The drawback is that you will likely have to listen to some spiel and up-selling; some even make you try on a piece of expensive jewelry before you receive your "free charm". Most were not too bad, but a couple were hard sells where you would basically have to be rude in order to extract yourself from their virtual grip. I did, however, gain quite a collection of souvenirs.
My collection of souvenirs from various jewelry stores in Juneau and Skagway
One interesting type of jewelry that I was slightly tempted to buy was something made with gold quartz. Gold quartz can be found in the Juneau gold belt.
Fun Fact from Wikipedia: "The Juneau gold belt is located in the southeastern portion of the U.S. state of Alaska. This belt is approximately 100 miles (160 km) in length, north/northwest-trending, and extends from Berners Bay southeastward to Windham Bay, 60 miles (97 km) southeast of Juneau, and includes Douglas Island. The belt contains over 200 gold-quartz-vein deposits with production nearing 7,000,000 ounces (200,000,000 g) of gold. More than three-quarters of Alaska's lode gold was mined from the Juneau gold belt."
One of the better places to spend some time in Juneau is at the Alaska State Museum, otherwise known as SLAM (State Library, Archives, and Museum). Rebuilt in 2016, the new $140 million building contains four times the floor space as the old museum, including a gift shop, museum galleries, cafeteria, auditorium, classroom, reading room, research room, historical library, and state archives. It is a great place to learn about Alaska's history and cultures.
Photo taken at the Alaska State Museum
Fun Fact: Woolly Mammoths – this is what the label in the above photo says, "Mammoths came to North America from Asia, over the Bering Land Bridge, when the oceans were lower because water was locked in glacial ice. Alaska Native traditions recount the hunting of mammoths in Alaska, but thus far, no definitive physical evidence has been discovered. At the Swan Point site in Interior Alaska, one of the oldest sites in Alaska, evidence shows that people and mammoths coexisted there 14,000 years ago. Juvenile mammoth ribs were found there together with stone tools. At several sites in interior and northern Alaska, dating from 14,000 to 300 years ago, tools were found made from mammoth ivory and bone — but these materials were gathered from the surrounding landscape long after mammoths became extinct. Mammoths died out of the Alaska mainland around 14,000 years ago, but survived until around 6,500 years ago on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea. Mammoth tusks Collected by Martin Matuska at Livengood, near Fairbanks, where many specimens of ice-age megafauna were discovered during placer mining"
Next we walked back to the ship dock to meet up with the BGG group for our first excursion: Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon Bake. We took buses to the Mendenhall Glacier. They allowed us about an hour, so we took the half-hour trail to the glacier. (It was going to be tight, so we walked fast.) The glacier is retreating so quickly that in a few years they will have to move the visitor center, which is already about a mile from the glacier. Check out the Huffington Post article and time lapse video over the last eight years showing the retreat: "Since installing a camera at Mendenhall in 2007, Extreme Ice Survey says the glacier has retreated more than 1,830 feet — about one-third of a mile. Its abnormally fast retreat and deflation shows the effects of climate change in action..."
The trail was easy to walk and in good condition. It was also very pretty, with a scenic point along the way.
After returning to the buses, we were brought to Gold Creek (rainforest and creek area) for a Salmon Bake. (I actually don't eat seafood, but they had chicken as well.) The food was really good; people seemed to really enjoy the salmon too, go figure. I loved the cheesy scalloped potatoes (had a huge helping!) and corn bread. The blueberry cake was also quite yummy. Here's the description from the Alaska Channel website:
You'll also, no doubt, smell your feast being prepared: Alaskan-caught wild salmon grilling over an open, alder wood fire. The all-you-can-eat meal — served under translucent domes, in case of soft rain — includes baked "cheechako" chicken ("cheechako" is slang for "newcomers"), Gold Rush potatoes, baked beans, wild rice pilaf, fresh salads and corn bread. Wash it down with lemonade, coffee or tea — or pay a few dollars extra for beer and wine, including some locally made ales.
As though blueberry cake weren't enough for dessert, you can finish off your meal with perhaps the greatest, yet simplest, delicacy of outdoor dining: roasted marshmallows, which you can prepare yourself over the crackling campfire. The lush scenery of Southeast Alaska's rain forest is another wonderful after-meal complement, along with the folk music performed by local musicians. After dessert, browse for gold panning kits and other mementos in the trading post.
Making smores at the Salmon Bake
From Juneau, we headed to our next port in Skagway, Alaska. Our excursion, the White Pass Railway Tour, didn't leave until 12:40 p.m., so we had time to walk around (visiting a few more jewelry stores), then pick up something for lunch to bring on the train. Skagway really is a throwback to the past. It looks similar to how it looked one hundred years ago, and in fact many of the original buildings are still standing. Take a look at the following photos of McCabe College (Skagway Museum) and the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, then check out the 100+ year old photos of the same buildings (just do a search) on the Klondike Gold Rush website.
Skagway Museum, Skagway, Alaska
Fun Fact: The Skagway Museum above is one of the best museums in a town filled with museums (not exaggerating). Constructed in 1899 by the Methodist Church, it was originally McCabe College, Alaska's first higher education institution. It was the first building in Alaska to be built of granite. After only a couple of years, the school was closed in 1901 and sold to the federal government to be used as a U.S. district court and jail. In 1956, the building was purchased by the city of Skagway. In 2000, an addition was put on the building. Today it houses the city hall, jail, and museum, the latter of which takes up the entire first floor. The museum contains much of the local history, including native Alaskan baskets, beadwork, and carvings as well as the Klondike Gold rush. One of the main attractions is the small pistol that the famous Gold Rush era con artist Soapy Smith kept up his sleeve.
Arctic Brotherhood Hall (AB Hall), Skagway, Alaska
Fun Fact: The Arctic Brotherhood Hall, or AB Hall, was constructed in the summer of 1899. The facade was added in 1900 using 8,883 pieces of driftwood from Skagway Bay. These were removed over the 2004-2005 winter for restoration, although about 40% had to be replaced as they had rotted. It used to be a fraternal hall for the local chapter of the Brotherhood; it is currently a visitor center and gift shop.
For lunch, we went to an excellent Thai restaurant, Starfire. (Yeah, I too was surprised to find this little gem here.) They are known for their Drunken Noodles dish, but it is usually served only for dinner. After some begging and my best sad face, the chef said he would cook us our two orders to-go. Woo-hoo! It did live up to its reputation — and the serving sizes were pretty huge.
The 3.5 hour ride on the White Pass Railroad was absolutely breathtaking. The train cars we were in had tables, so we could play games; I think I played only one though as there was just too much spectacular scenery to see. Below are a few of the photos I shot along the way.
White Pass Railway Tour, glacier on top of mountain
White Pass Railway Tour, train going around turn
White Pass Railway Tour, stream and a whole lot of pretty
Not the Tracy Arm Fjord and Sawyer Glacier
After leaving Skagway, the ship headed (overnight) to the Tracy Arm Fjord. The original plan was to stop at the Sawyer Glacier down the Tracy Arm Fjord in the morning and do some turns in the water in front of the glacier for an hour or so. However, we were rerouted to the Endicott Arm and the Dawes Glacier. The Cruise Compass, received the night before, noted "that there has been a lot of ice flow at Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm. With this limiting how close we can get to the Glacier in Tracy Arm and the safety of the ship with the floating pieces of ice, Captain Mal will make the decision upon arrival whether to take the option to go to Dawes Glacier at Endicott Arm which is close by. In previous cruises this has been the better option and Captain Mal has navigated the Explorer of the Seas less than half a Nautical mile [.575 miles] to Dawes Glacier giving you a stunning photo opportunity." Hmm. As I told my husband the night before, I had a feeling that we were going to be seeing the latter glacier. In Seattle, I talked with someone who was on another cruise at the same time, different ship, who saw the Sawyer Glacier. My guess is they usually go down to the Dawes Glacier – possibly because of ice flows but also maybe because there are other ships going to that location. (The second week also went to Dawes.)
Here's a pretty spectacular video of the Sawyer glacier on July 6, 2018 (the last day of the second cruise, well after they left the area):
We didn't get to see any spectacular calving, but it was still stunningly beautiful.
Iceburg, glacier ice flow from Dawes Glacier, Endicott Arm, Alaska
Glacier ice flow and the Dawes Glacier, Endicott Arm, Alaska
Near Dawes Glacier, Endicott Arm, Alaska
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
From the glacier, we started towards our next destination: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. There was another full day of cruising before we reached our destination on the seventh day. Around 9:30 a.m. we headed to the meeting place just off the ship, for our 10:00 a.m. excursion (4+ hours). We took buses through the city of Victoria to the Butchart Gardens (our bus driver gave us a sort of tour, pointing out the sights as he drove). The first thing we did was have lunch — a gourmet picnic! Each of us were given a huge basket full of food, which was way too much to eat. It was quite good. (There was seafood in main dish; I didn't eat it but there was so much food that I didn't care.)
Butchart Gardens picnic Victoria, Canada; L to R: Ravindra Prasad, Ken and Robin Hill, Mary W. and Lorna W., Steven and Linda Pedlow
The famous Sunken Garden was a former limestone quarry in Jennie Butchart's backyard. She and her husband, Robert, moved to Vancouver Island in 1904 in order to build a cement plant on a rich limestone deposit. Once the limestone was exhausted (circa 1912), Jennie made plans to transform the giant hole into a beautiful garden. According to the Butchart Gardens website, the Sunken Garden took nine years to build; it contains five acres of gardens with 151 flower beds with 65,000 bulbs planted for Spring. Today the Butchart Gardens is a National Historic Site of Canada.
Famous Sunken Garden, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC, Canada
Flowers, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC, Canada
Flowers, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC, Canada
Flowers, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC, Canada
After the excursion, the bus returned us to town. We asked to be left off across from the Fairmont Empress (an upscale 1908 hotel), near the British Columbia Parliament Buildings. After a quick peek inside the Fairmont Empress, one couple decided to tour the Parliament, another took a pedicab to a shopping area, while others went to the Royal BC Museum. (My husband and I were in the latter group.) The museum had an awesome special exhibition — Egypt: Time of the Pharaohs — that I was particularly interested in. We also took a stroll through some of the regular collections before walking back to the ship.
Sarcophagus, Egypt: Time of the Pharaohs, Royal BC Museum, Victoria, Canada
Ice Skating and Farewell Reception
When the ice isn't being used for performances, they open up the rink for skating. We went on the last day, just before the farewell reception. Because of safety, they make you wear a helmet and you can't do any tricks (i.e., no jumps). I grew up ice skating, so it was fun to relive my ice skating days (minus jumps). We skated for about 45 minutes or so. With the helmet on and all the skating, my hair was soaked by the time I left (plus I think I was a bit dehydrated). We just stopped in at the farewell reception to say goodbye to some people before heading up to our room to pack; we wanted to get off the ship soon after we docked in the morning, around 7:00 a.m.
The farewell reception was similar to the welcome reception, with hot and cold canapés being served and an open bar. Jeff Anderson announced the next BGG@SEA, planned for August 24-31, 2019. The cruise starts in Miami, FL, and will include St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, and Haiti. It will be on the newest and largest cruise ship in the world: the Symphony of the Seas — a sister ship to the Harmony of the Seas from BGG@SEA 2017. BGG will start taking deposits in late August 2018.
Michelle Alden and Jon Theys
with my Duplicate Tichu tournament partner Peter Hendee in the background
For families, this is a fantastic opportunity. There are lots of activities for kids on the ship. The tiered pricing system helps make it affordable. It's also a great way to see other places — the ship is basically your own floating hotel — and to get to know other board gamers (especially if you do the Main Dining). Of course there's plenty of time to play board games, especially on "at sea" days.
A special thanks to Jeff Anderson for providing statistics on the 2018 cruise as well as information about next year's cruise.
With a dedicated director of media — thanks, Lincoln! — we've started posting the game overview videos that we record at conventions relatively soon after the convention ends. Just one week after the curtain fell on Gen Con 2018, for example, we started posting those videos on the BGG YouTube channel.
I've published 26 of those overview videos so far, with the videos also proliferating into the BGG database, and we have ten more still in the can — all from day one! You can see them all in our Gen Con 2018 playlist, which will likely grow to two hundred-ish videos by the time everything has been posted.
Thanks to the increasing overlap of games being released at both Gen Con and SPIEL — as well as games being previewed at Gen Con ahead of SPIEL — these videos also serve as previews on the SPIEL '18 Preview. If you see a game cover on this preview with the "play" icon on it (as shown at upper right), you can click on the cover to launch the video within the preview. In addition to our Gen Con coverage, these videos come from Spielwarenmesse, Festival International des Jeux, GAMA, Tokyo Game Market, and Origins Game Fair, not to mention the occasional appearance by Rodney Smith of "Watch It Played", BGG's "Game Night!" crew, and one tall-ish news guy.
Many more video overviews to come in the weeks ahead, both from Gen Con 2018 and from sample games that publishers have sent me ahead of SPIEL '18. Only nine weeks remain for preparation for that show. Deep breaths...
Gen Con 2018 was a whirlwind of activity, with the BGG team recording two hundred or so game overview videos over the four days of the show. I imagine those videos will start popping up on YouTube and on the individual game pages before too long, but for now we have only this episode of The BoardGameGeek Show, which Scott Alden, Rodney Smith, Steph Hodge, Lincoln Damerst, and I recorded on Thursday night after we had kicked out our last guest for the day.
The big news of the day was the revelation of Richard Garfield's KeyForge, which Fantasy Flight Games had revealed during its In-Flight Report on Wednesday night before Gen Con opened. I've already written a long piece about this game, mostly focusing on the game's production and not its design, but that's mostly because I had played only twice at that time. (I've still played only twice at this point, alas. Too much Gen Con work and SPIEL '18 prep getting in the way!)
We cover a few other games that we saw at the show as well, while probably being ready to fall asleep in the process — or maybe that was just me?
00:23 Introductions 00:51 KeyForge - Richard Garfield - Fantasy Flight Games 09:04 Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar - Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson, Chuck Kennedy, Bruce Lund - Restoration Games 10:50 Victorian Masterminds - Antoine Bauza, Eric M. Lang - CMON Limited 12:58 Newton - Simone Luciani, Nestore Mangone - CMON Limited 14:00 Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters: Creepy Cellar Expansion - Brian Yu - Mattel 15:15 Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team & Warhammer: Age of Sigmar 2nd Edition - Games Workshop Ltd. 16:10 Blitz Bowl & Space Marines Adventures & Lord of the Rings Adventure Game 16:30 Talisman: Legendary Tales - Michael Palm, Lukas Zach - Pegasus Spiele 17:00 Doomseeker - John Cadice, David Freeman - Ninja Division 17:15 Warhammer 40,000: Heroes of Black Reach - Yann and Clem - Devil Pig Games 19:05 Audience question about Imaginarium release 19:25 Tokyo Highway to be distributed by Asmodee North America 20:45 Stone Age: Anniversary Edition announced 21:40 Blank Expansion: Blankdemic - Matt Leacock - Hub Games 23:30 Audience Questions 26:15 Good-byes from Gen Con 2018 26:40 Discussion with Ani & Sebastian
I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I was stuck in O'Hare Airport for seven hours longer than anticipated on my way home from Gen Con 2018. The good news is that I used that time to add many more titles to the SPIEL '18 Preview than I would have otherwise. The other bad news is that the BGG system takes a while to publish the preview once I click "publish", perhaps due to so many titles being on the list, but in any case, it's now live! (Update, August 7: If the list isn't showing up for you, I think caching is the issue, as I attempt to explain here.)
I still have to tackle a few dozen more info forms from publishers — a delay caused by me focusing solely on Gen Con 2018 until that show was underway — and hundreds more games will be announced between now and mid-October when I finally stop updating the preview, but this batch of 222 listings will get you started for now. If you want to know how to use the preview to prioritize titles and make a personal shopping list/wishlist, head to this long explanation of the GeekPreview format from mid-2017.
If you are a publisher who did not receive an info request form from me, please Geekmail me or email me at the address listed in the BGG News header, and I'll send it your way.
One note for publishers related to activities that happened in the Gen Con 2018 Preview: Please do not use contests or giveaways to encourage people to thumb items on the SPIEL '18 Preview. Doing so violates the terms of service for use of BGG. Encourage people to check out the games you have on the preview, possibly even suggesting that they thumb games they're interested in playing or owning, but don't tie such suggestions to a potential reward for doing so.
Ten more weeks of SPIEL '18 Preview updates commence now, with a video preview of one such SPIEL '18 release coming on Tuesday, August 7. Onward!
My apologies for the radio silence the past few days. I've been traveling for the July 4th holiday here in the U.S., while also working behind the scenes on various other things.
The Gen Con 2018 Preview now boasts 338 listings, and I'll be adding titles to it for another three weeks as (a) publishers suddenly realize that they're not listed and submit information and (b) they start to reveal surprises for that show once they get confirmation that title X will arrive in time for sales or demonstrations.
I've sent out an RFI form to nearly four hundred publishers for inclusion in the SPIEL '18 Preview, which will go live on Monday, August 6, the day after Gen Con 2018 ends. I'll continue to add to that preview until mid-October 2018.
I plan to post a preview video of Uwe Rosenberg's Spring Meadow on Monday, July 9, and I'll preview another title on Thursday, July 13 at 1:00 p.m. EDT, which is when the embargo expires for information on this unusual design. I plan to kick out more previews of Gen Con 2018 releases in the remaining weeks prior to that show, while also posting news here and there as well.
Oh, and I'm running a board game camp at my son's school the week of July 9. Busy times! What game-related activities are keeping you busy or are you looking forward to in July 2018?