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...introspective southbound rivers...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 806. March 17, 2019. Praia da Vieira & Lagos...

It didn't matter if I had slept 4 hours last night. Touring Cataluña to take part in human tower festivals ended up past 2am. I fell on to the bed and into a deep sleep as fast as if falling from one of those towers myself! But it didn't matter. As precise as a Swiss clock, João and I were, as always, the first to inaugurate the breakfast buffet. And the first to start the last day of the busy ludoteca collection. A quick chat with the staff dispelled our early intentions of building an economic empire in Smartphone Inc. I guess it doesn't shine with two players. Not a problem. There will be another opportunity.

Early birds.

Instead, we began what would end up being a short morning of games with a short and unnoticed latest big box game from Days of Wonder, The River.

Had this game come out 3 years ago, I'm certain that it would go down into the halls of gaming history. Alongside its brethren, Five Tribes, Small World, Shadows Over Camelot or Quadropolis. Fast to learn, fast to play and smooth illustrations and game design. Not as AP as Five Tribes but just as relaxed as Quadropolis. Unfortunately, for Days of Wonder, these days they're up against a whole other level of competition. Deluxe components, brutally aggressive markings campaigns, and Kickstarter projects. They're not even on the same league as the rest. Thus The River flows by unchecked and unremarked by the rest of the gaming community.

I hope that new gamers find this particular gem at the right time of their potential journey into the gaming world. The River will, without doubt, give them all the necessary fuel to travel even further.

A river for someone else.

There wasn't much time left to play, before our unscheduled departure before noon. Still, after three days of nothing put play by the rulebook gaming, breaking out a new to us game felt as simple and unobtrusive as breaking out a well known classic. Thus, we picked Dice Forge as our last game of the convention.

Sérgio and Susana were also looking for something quick before they themselves went back to their real lives. So we tuned in our collective gamer's heads to crack the rules and forge some dice. It wasn't difficult. You just roll your dice. Every turn! Even during other players turns. Sometimes more than once! Roll, roll, roll away! You're always engaged! How can you not be! Roll dice for resources and move your pawn to "convert" them into points in the form of cards or into upgradable and better die faces! Like João said, "Dominion... but with dice."

To match the frantic pace of the game, you are also forced to pace yourself to try and grab the best die faces. Or the juiciest card combos before everyone else. A very enjoyable gaming experience. With four players at least. In retrospect, a two-player match should yield a whole different ball game. Shorter number of rounds and faster back of forth between turns.

Dice of fun!

We hopped inside the car and started our long way down south, with a stopover in the capital for lunch. Amongst the car chit chat to stave off our sleep-deprived heads from exhaustion, we stumbled in the predictable topic of convention highlights. In stark contrast with the last two years (Lisboa and Agra), this year, for me at least, there was not one game that stood above all others.

On Mars, another brilliant design from Lacerda and yet another future gateway into heavy games did not leave a lasting impression. But I'm blaming this on the time of day we played it. Learning a Lacerda design and playing it way past midnight after a full day of travel and games, is not a recipe to repeat next year. And I do wonder what's the next Lacerda game for next year? The Weather Machine? Kanban EGG edition?

My first foray into the 18xx genre went completely off the rails. Azul 2.0 felt more like looking through a dirty and touristic money trap than playing a worthy successor to last year's smash hit, Azul. Coimbra and Underwater Cities, refined and rehash of tried and true designs. Merely dressed in new, albeit unremarkable, clothes. And don't get me started with Wingspan again...

Architects of the West Kingdom was a good surprise. As was Castell and to a lesser extent, Pandoria. The first as an old school Lords of Waterdeep with a twist in worker placement. Not only does it have more meat in the bone than LoW, but it also plays just as fast. If I was to introduce someone to worker placement, I could use Architects of the West Kingdom. Castell was like nothing I've ever played before. It's recipe fulfillment with a high level of pre-planning! But not so taxing on your mistakes and with a very original setting.

What really stood out for me, as we made our way through the highway, was how fearless we were - at least I was! - when it was time to pick a new game and going through the once aberrant process of learning rules during a convention! And for the first time, I was actually looking forward to learning "on the fly".

Of the 18 games played at LeiriaCon, 10 were learned after spending a few minutes - sometimes more than a few - to read and learn! Our last 6 games were of that kind! And we're talking medium to heavy rules dense games like Underwater Cities, Coimbra or Castell! It's an amazing experience to pick up a game of which you know nothing about and learn how it works. And do it continuously for several days!

It's also quite a brain-taxing experience... The eyelids barely stood open once I got home, still in time for dinner. But as soon as the dishes were washed, I finally lost the battle with waking conscious and let the spirit float away to well-earned dream.

Thank you for reading. See you next year, LeiriaCon20

Recording rules.

P.S. - Oh! I forgot. On a dusk bathed sunlight train table, en route to Lagos, I broke my all-time Honshū solo record! 67. Probably side effects of the best gaming convention this world has to offer!

One year ago: ...the egg contracts...

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard
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Sun Mar 24, 2019 9:00 pm
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...a case for expectations...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 805. March 16, 2019. Praia da Vieira...

No big games on the horizon for today. No plans or arranged agendas. Saturday, usually the busiest day in LeiriaCon, was relegated to the winds of whims and moods. Thus we hoped to trick expectations on new games in check and under control. A futile hope.

Busy Saturday.

Everything we would play would be fine. Whatever is available in the library at the time would be good. And good this morning ended up being a a visit to Coimbra. But only after the plentiful breakfast and the ten-minute interlude across the street in the real world. The coffee in the hotel sucked. Bigtime!

João was the one who let me know as we unboxed the game, that these were the people behind Lorenzo. "Hum... No love lost for that one," I thought. But ever since eggertspiele was acquired by Plan B, that I've started to look at their titles from a different perspective. Maybe Coimbra could be some sort of Century game in steroids? Sleek art, easy to learn and to play. Fast-paced. Engaging.

Well... Once we got past the rules and the setup, I sure felt engaged. I didn't even know where to start! So many venues and icons and cards and boards and places that move as soon as those dies get touched! I had high expectations or this one, but I did not expect another point salad game!

Did good gameplay matched the good looks?

João figured the gist of it pretty quickly. His meeple ran all over the board as if possessed by a marathon pilgrimage demon! He went North, West, South and back to North! He picked up all those bonuses, getting a huge point lead early. Everything else he did afterward, I matched. I just neglected the pilgrim for too long, and that cost me the game.

I blame my high expectations for not liking Coimbra when it was finally over. ...but I do want to play it again.

With lunch almost upon us, we used last year's acquired wisdom. Setup the game before lunch. Leave it on the table. When you get back, the best table in the main room will be waiting for you. That was the idea when I showed up with Pandoria under my arm.

"You told me to pick anything. I picked this," I replied to João's frowned face after seeing the title. I had heard of Pandoria before. And I sure recognized that weird box size. And the easy to read rules. When I first got Panthalos on my collection, I feared it to be a weirdo mutant-game difficult to learn. Not so. Pandoria was even easier. So easy in fact - especially after Coimbra - that the game was ready to go, 20 minutes after I'd picked it up from the library! Rules taught and everything.

"Maybe... maybe we can play it before lunch?"

The quick and diferente world of Pandoria.

A tile laying game, where resources are gathered when identical areas are encapsulated. I took a while to get our strategic minds around that twist. The card tableau system, with buildings, and spells, seemed too strong to be true. We feared that some of the cards were overpowered. But after a while, we realized that all sort of crazy overpowered card combos was the norm here!

João had access to an endless supply of resources once his engine was set. I cashed in early points with every spell cast. Many times from different sources! João figured the board first and started to push my workers out of it! I learned fast and by the end, I was giving him a taste of his own tile laying poison!

I liked Pandoria. I wasn't expecting anything from it and knew little. Save the fact that I really liked the art on the box cover! I blame this positive experience due to my low expectations for Pandoria.

Instead of Pandoria, we left Underwater Cities on the table and went for lunch...

This one took longer to learn. While Bruno and I took turns with the rulebook, João's smartphone blasted rules videos on high volume to match the high noise of a crowded room! Somewhere nearby, On Mars was still on. Boydell and Grogan delved in the quantum physics lab that will be Isaac's next game. Orlando ran demo after demo of Porto. Wingspan flew everywhere we looked. I know all this because at some point my mind turned off from the Underwater Game and started to wander. Man, so much stuff! So many icons and, at first glance, so many rules!

Wasn't this supposed to be like Terraforming Mars? Card tableau engine building in an ever-increasing tempo leading to the final round?

Proto Porto and Quantum Tony.

I couldn't find the similarities. Sure, there was a card driven engine. But you also have a player board that's a more integral part of the overall engine than the one on Mars. There's a dozen of action spaces on the main board to do stuff in another dozen ways. Endgame scoring cards are laid out from the get-go! And the increasing tempo near the end?

Never happened! Once we realized how long rounds took, we figured that this was it for today. One long afternoon game stretching way past his welcome and well after dinner! João's head was toasted after the game, and he called it a day. Bruno was up for more, but we all needed to take a break. And I vowed to never again play Underwater Cities with more than 2 players again! If ever!

Underwater chaos.

I blame my high expectations for the longest game that never should have been of Underwater Cities.

Amidst the chaos of people, while trying to pick a game, the family appeared. Sérgio, Susana and their half-asleep baby. We still hadn't had a chance to play a game this weekend. And we figured that now, close to midnight, brains toasted from a full day, was the right time to do it. We picked Castell for the occasion. None knew the rules and none cared. We learned Agra together the hard way last year and had one hell of an experience. How hard can this human tower contest eurogame could be?

It wasn't' hard to learn. But it's a weird game to explain. Up to four actions each turn to choose from a set of four different actions. No repetition, but there were ways to break those hard rules. Scoring festivals start to happen after the two first rounds and increase in number all the way until the tenth round. But you'll only score in any meaningful way if more players compete in the same festival. Be the only contender, and all your effort amounts to a single point medal. But even that can sometimes be a good thing since there's a set collection thing happing in your player board.

But how do you compete, you may ask! By hiring people in all shape and sizes and building human towers with them to match as much as possible what is required by the contest. So half the game is racing for the scarcest types of people-tiles that pop occasionally all over the board. So that you have what it takes for the upcoming human skyscraper show!

A good evening under a human pile!

It's an uncanny game. The planning part in Castell is as high, if not more, as in Lignum! The rat training wheel that turns one slot per round will make your head spin every round, luring you to try and crack it again! In a taxing good way. The way games are supposed to tax players. We were all taxed. A full day of learning rules and playing new games. Way past everyone's bedtime. And yet, Castell delivered what it set out to do. Engage payers with its gameplay.

I blame my negligible expectations on human tower simulation games, for ending the day with such a terrific and unusual game.

One year ago: ...salt island over the sunset...

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard
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Sat Mar 23, 2019 9:00 pm
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...medieval war trains in the mountain range...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 804. March 15, 2019. Praia da Vieira...

We had this pre-convention plan of playing an 18xx game. It wasn't a plan I was particularly looking forward from the get-go, but at the time I thought, "One day I'll fell the need to play something like that. I might as well try it now."

But as the schedule approached for our 1830 game, the feet grew closer. And by the time Bruno had me sorting hex tiles of the various tracks, and replacing the paper money with, poker chips, I realized I had made a mistake. Still, I soldiered on through the rules which were not as difficult I as expected. And when the first stock round dawned, I did my duties and bought a couple of shares. As did everyone else.

Then the money ran out... and "Pass" became my most spoken, if not favorite, word for the next 90 minutes!

Robbed of joy by the hex barons.

Luckily, Bruno thinking himself in the lead, - as would anyone in a game where you're the only one making money from trains! - triggered the endgame, by bankrupting the bank. Another final round dance, a few shares sold and bought and game over. Bliss! The +6 hour forecast of hell with the "Pass" word ended prematurely and in time for regular lunch!

To the genre's credit, it did start to show some interest near the end, as my wallet started to twitch. But not enough for me to spend so many hours feasting on it. One day I'll try another 18xx. As soon as I forget this particular gameplay session.

Oh! I forgot! While 1830 was being set up, João and I broke Knizia's double act game, Blue Lagoon. The first round of exploration looked weird and pointless, and for a game that seemed so simple at first glance, the rules didn't help. But by the second exploration phase, the water between islands became crystal blue and easily crossed. Not easily mastered mind you. Gateway Knizia feeding a bit from Moana's lure was a nice snack while we waited for the train to arrive.

Theme? What theme?

After lunch and fully recuperated from the 18xx fiasco, João, Orlando and I headed for the top floor for a single Era I game of The Colonists. One we could stop in-between Eras during the convention for a hopeful full four Era gameplay. If not, then at least, they would get to know about this once very hyped eurogame.

Intro to monster euro.

For a 3 player game, it was the fastest Era I colony I ever saw. We ended with a final tally to assess who was in the lead and that was that. Orlando had places to be and we had games to play. We parted ways and unbeknownst at the time, The Colonists would be the last game the three of us played together.

Friday afternoon in LeiriaCon19 was in full force. Tables booked in advance. Bigger tables hunted as if rare species. Nearby, Isaac, Grogan, Ella, and Vital played On Mars. Boydell drew prototypes and demos from his sleeves. Uli and Maddox talked about slavery in This Guilty Land.

We weren't into such heavy duty serious thematic games or compromises. With so much trash talk about a game known throughout the convention by the unfortunate name of "The Other Azul", we went inside Sintra's palace. To see if all the rumors held any truth. Unfortunately, Hall's candy beads and paper thin glass tower were the only lasting impressions...

Not stained. Dirty!

Little more than one hour to go for dinner, we meet old Lagos resident, Pedro. He invited us to follow him into the land of the West Kingdom as the sunlight faded outside. We said yes on the spot since he knew the rules and thus, there would be no light wastage in reading them. We marveled at the amount of stuff inside such a shamefully efficient small box. From the big board to the quality cards and wooden resources.

Standard worker placement game for recipe fulfillment. Either on the building cards or in the main board's church. A few resources with which to juggle around the medieval town and a twist. Always a twist if you want a game to stand out these days. A horde of workers at your disposal! And the more they pile up on a place, the more profitable that place becomes! But that's not all! They don't come back to you easily. When an enticing chunk of them gather on a single place, they become a target for easy money. By dumping them on a prison tower. Or at the very least, to cripple other players by denying access to their workforce!

I have to go back to this village!

A few card combos, with buildings and dubious looking characters. A dozen worker spots. A reputation track to keep tabs with and you got yourself another Shem Phillips classic! Easily the best game I played today. It took us three veterans less than an hour to finish. The tension was always high and present during the decisions. I wasn't so enamored by Miko's art. But it didn't bother me as in some of his other illustrated games.

Packing up and heading for dinner, all I could think was, "I need to play the North Saga trilogy. Fast!"

Meal view.

Another planned meeting took place after the food feast that's dinner with the ocean view. A game with the Northern folk, Ruben, Jorge and friends, Bruno and Nuno. Set up through the reliable geekmail communication system, a five-player game of The Grizzled. It was a good game for five players and not too long to interfere with my previously arranged game of Yínzi. Unfortunately half of the players in Yínzi dropped out during the day so that gameplay got canceled.

That meant we could play WWI soldier, riddled with traumas and bullets to our hearts contents. According to them, all WWI veterans, if not experts, they've only made it out alive from the war once or twice. Tonight we almost saw the white dove during our second match. Almost... but no amount of coffee mugs and leadership speeches could save us in the end! We lost both times. Both times as smiling dying soldiers.

Bad coffee, good war.

The last game of that night turned out to be another all-time classic for five expert players, K2. And although they all knew the game and had played it at least once, none had ever chanced the North side... in Winter... with no rescue cards... climbing on the narrowest ledges above the 7000-meter line. I was one happy climber introducing them to the finest rigors of the deadliest Karakoram mountain!

With so many dangers forecasted, they took no chances. They all climbed steadily and safely. And there was little interference and blockage in the higher spots. Only once or twice did I saw a miscalculation in their plays. Which for me at least, acting as an 8000-meter dauntless cowboy, turned out to be a learning experience. I died. Again. Due to one of those mentioned miscalculations. Of course. What would you expect running with your climbers up the mountain as if running a marathon with no oxygen?

Race and missteps in the world's rooftop.

For the first time though, I was able to crack the flaw of the game to my side. With my sole surviving climber, I planned the last few days so that he would make it to the top, and wait for the endgame! In real life, pitching enjoying the views above 8000 meters for too long is as good as digging your own grave. In LeiriaCon19 thought, its joyous act of denying your opponents the same pleasure.

Yet another good convention day for the books.

One year ago: ...a tamed monster...

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard, Sentieiro
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Fri Mar 22, 2019 9:00 pm
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...journey to the red planet...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 803. March 14, 2019. Lagos & Praia da Vieira...

The clunky bakelite sound of domino pieces shuffling drew my attention away from the book. Under the shadow of a tree, three old-timers accompanied their morning coffees with a domino game that had been going for decades. Every single day at a coffee table since their golden ages. The endless and ageless gaming group. The forever convention.

Then my ride and gaming partner arrived. I left the old timers to their millennial domino game, hopped on the car with João and four hours later, we reached our own convention. LeiriaCon19

My favorite beach in March.

Ludoteca and first ludo players.

We go there early. A few minutes before the official opening time at 15h. But nobody seemed to care about that protocol. Several tables were already dressed in the familiar colorful cardboard suits, meeple buttons, and card shoes. A not just by locals. Isaac Childres and Citie Lo fenced with two other women in Lo's upcoming roll and write, Roll for Neko, before diving headfirst into Feld's Carpe Diem. We were sitting right next to them, playing a humble Reykholt. A game that last year was being demoed in secret at this very con!

João speed-read the rule, and both of us trimmed the edges of setup. Player aid card and off we went - once again - to Uwe's farm. After seeding carrots and cabbages for the hundredth time in a dozen different games. After harvesting tomatoes and seeking efficient and comboish worker placement moves, I couldn't help but recall - and agree! - with Vital's comment 2 years ago. At the time, about A Feast for Odin.

"Whenever I play one of his games, I always feel like I'm playing the same game!"

The never ending veggie show.

We moved on. Iceland leaving a good impression. But one I can see myself not craving for a follow-up.

Orlando had arrived by now. Exhausted after a flight from Bruxelles and a car ride from the airport, straight into LeiriaCon. Exhausted, but eager to play.

With so many copies of Wingspan flying in the main hall, what were the chances that we found a copy for ourselves? A copy of the hottest game in present times? Very good as it turns out.

Rules taught in less than 10 minutes, with a few minor details remarked after the first turns. It's an easy game to learn. Dropping bird cards for combo elegant actions cubbing and egg delicious laying. The soft linen paper of the rulebook... the smooth wooden dice more aking to woodpeckers tree trunk's nest than to a board game! The cozy player boards that open like if a leather cover in an old notebook from a diligent birdwatcher.

Plenty of birds and feathery fluff.

Wingspan takes non-Kickstarter, retail game quality to the next level. Once, not so long ago, Days of Wonder ruled with their single big box yearly releases. Five Tribes, Small World, Shadows Over Camelot... Now Stonemaier Games reigns supreme. This convention as hardly began, but this will be the most sought out and played game bar none this year! No questions asked!

The three player bird game was over in a flash and we took a coffee break.

Still quiet.

Boydell had arrived by now. And Matthias Cramer... And the Brands (Inka and Markus)... Maddox flew from designer to designer with his diligent microphone. Catching snippets and impressions that we will ear soon in Five Games for Doomsday.

Coffee break done, and not waiting to exhort our brains even further until tonight, we moved on to Emerson's Reef. A bland abstract with toylike plastic colorful reef pattern matching for points. Orlando, after learning that there were small similarities with a future game of his, Calçada, was curious to see that rumor for himself. João and I were more than happy to oblige. Even if I couldn't get his head around the patterns in the cards and was by no means able to chain them together. Orlando, after months of abstract pattern recognition, left us both in the scoring dust.

Underwater toys.

Upcoming Portuguese cobblestones.

Dinner was plentiful and sorely needed. The first real meal of the day for us all! And if there's one thing that LeiriaCon's got it right after dozens of years is that you can't skimp on the food and drinks in a convention.

João and I filled our 30 minutes before the main event with yet another of Emerson's designs. Century: Spice Road. This one was even faster to learn how to play than his latter, and supposedly more gatewayish Reef. And like my distant impressions of the game, two years ago now, this is a mean sleek and very silent filler. Micro-actions going by so fast with no time for chit-chat between them! It was common for one of us to be picking up spice cubes while the other finished his follow-up action, queuing his hand to the spice bowls!

Good spice.

I like this game. A lot. And now I'm even more eager to try the supposedly inferior, albeit different, Easter Wonders. Sadly, no copy made it to the convention's library...

But Vital's On Mars made it! In prototype form mind you.

Neither of us cared about it. Three years playing his soon to be on Kickstarter games at LeiriaCon. We have all grown used to the prototype pieces, and eagerly expect, to have first dibs on the current years hot heavy game!

"You've all played heavy games before right?" Vital said as he taped parts of the main board and tossed Carcmeeples impersonating as astronauts to each of us. "People say this is my heaviest game yet! I'm not so sure..."

The soon to be kicked red planet.

And neither was why. After 3 hours of shuttling back and forth between the red surface and the orbiting space station serving as a supply link to planet earth. Arguably the highlight mechanism running in the game. There were tracks to worry. Sure. This is a Lacerda game after all! What game of his do we know that doesn't have tracks? On Mars has "terraforming" tracks. Water, oxygen, energy/power, and farm/greenhouses. They give you points and bonus and trigger a whole bunch of events when they all reach a certain level. Being aware of them is crucial!

But then again, so is the status of the shuttle that connects the station with the surface. Or the status of your own player board's research tracks.
Or the building cards displayed on top of the board that, if built, will give players even more action spots/executive actions. Where did I saw this executive action before...

Mind the various game life support systems.

Don't forget the scientists too. Or the contracts! Or your building robot roaming the surface competing in a sort of tile laying-area control race. Or the speedy rover, always in search of the next bonus tiles! Don't forget your own space rockets that will give more Carc-astronauts! Or the ridiculously hard to get crystals! Remember to pay extra if you're using an occupied worker placement spot.

Coordinate your robot, with your rover, with the main shuttle, with your research levels, with your available ore, and maybe - just maybe! - you'll be smart enough to earn a few points and fulfill a few secret goals! Yes, I forgot about the secret goals. Those also double as crystals... Some of us knew what was happening. Other's were too half-fried and way past their bedtime to realize that we were On Mars. But we all made it to the end.

A classic Lacerda. A monstrous game machine that's beautiful to watch and even more wonderful to ear purring once you decipher its mysteries. Mysteries that don't give themselves easily after just one play.

Vital's planet.

I don't think On Mars tops Lisboa for complexity/difficulty for me. But then again, I still haven't' played CO2 or Kanban, and people often mention the latter as his heaviest. But who cares which game takes the weight crown! Vital's games are always a joy to learn and play. Their complexity so tightly woven and knitted with the theme as I've never seen before in a game of this caliber! Yet another gateway into heavy games to go down in cardboard history.

A good start for LeiriaCon19. And we still have 3 more days to go!

One year ago: ...old games and rough seas...

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard
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Thu Mar 21, 2019 9:00 pm
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 Hide dragons...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 428. March 4, 2018. Praia da Vieira & Lagos...

This time, I woke up tired. The accumulation of all the gaming, the brain burning, the socializing, the absurd amount of food and, more important, the lack of sleep, had finally caught up with me. After morning shower and two full coffee mugs, my mind still wanted to rest and reset.

Finally! The sun shines in LeiriaCon.

Meanwhile, on the outside world...

But I also still have this remnant of a teenager/Conan motto. "Plenty of time to rest when I'm dead!" And it's not every day you get to have breakfast, chatting with a game designer! Orlando, João and I went out of the breathtaking breakfast ocean view and back to Gaming Room 1. A few 45-60 minutes titles were on the line and eventually, we picked Clank! as the first game of the day.

Orlando was the only one who hadn't played it before and João quickly put the rules on the table for this game with an ever-growing status of a family classic! The deck, however, was rather large! The cards from Sunken Treasures were mixed in the base lot and no matter where we looked in the expansion rulebook, we couldn't tell them apart! A small icon or word, anyone? Instead of wasting more time, we dived in the earthly dungeon with the odd occurrence of a pearl, a merfolk or a trident on the display!

The dragon listens...

A band of no good adventurers.

I just hope that the ratio of dragon triggering cards stays the same with the extra cards, playing on the old board. Because it sure didn't look like it, For 2/3 of the game! And it was a fast game. It's one of the strengths of Clank! I guess. It can be as fast or as long as the players wanted it to be. Want to play longer? Just dive deep into the dungeon, visit the market, explore the underground... Want a short play? Just take the first trinket you come across and head back up again!

Lots of mercenaries and burgling... but no movement!

It worked for me (I think) the last time we played. I was hoping it would work again. Orlando was already on the monkey idols levels, and João nearing the market central area when I started to return to the surface! Or at least, that was what I wanted them to believe! Even after putting the scares on them, I strolled for a while longer on the near surface, grabbing some chunky VP Tomes before leaving. The problem was, that I had grabbed too many of them and couldn't leave in time! So no extra 20VP for me... and no win too!

Good game. Clank! continues to deliver on the fun factor and I still think it will be a hit during weekly game nights!

Before splitting the morning group, Orlando teased about an upcoming expansion for Adamastor, that should double the number of cards and add a story driven element to the game if I understood correcty! Looking forward to dipping my feet in yet another Portuguese sea monster game.

In the end it was just the two of us again and with our departure time already fixed, what could we play in 60 minutes to say goodbye to gaming in LeiriaCon? Nusfjord, that's what! In 60 minutes, we setup the game, I taught it to João (worker placement spots + fishing phase + scoring elements), we played it without ever rushing and everything was back in the box and safe in a Ludoteca shelf! Can't beat Uwe I guess...

Saying goodbye to Nusfjord.

It is like Vital mentioned a few days before. "You always feel like you're playing the same game when you're playing an Uwe's game." And while that might not be the best thing for gamers looking for innovation, it sure is a near-perfect method of designing medium with games that anyone already knows who to play! You don't need to see the wheel reinvented every time you play. Sometimes, you just want the same good wheel, but with different colors.

After Nusfjord, it was lunch for us, followed by 5 hours of non-stop driving towards the south and an extra train ride for me, until Lagos was on sight. Exhaustion finally crept on me after dinner. Luckily, my bed was near and a happy thought was circling around my head. Can't wait to go through this all over again next year!

We're leaving, but the house is still full!

One year ago: ...of cannibals and cities...

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard
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Sun Mar 11, 2018 7:00 am
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...biology book feuds in India...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 427. March 3, 2018. Praia da Vieira...

...breath innnnnn...

With a decent's night sleep, I'm ready to take on anything that the gaming world has in store during the 3rd day of LeiriaCon. Even a planned Pax Pamir session scheduled for tonight with Jorge and Orlando! So we got out of the room asap, refueled with an endless breakfast over a stunning view of the rough Atlantic ocean in the real world outside, gulped a few more cups of coffee to go, and headed on down to the Ludoteca, to open gaming hostilities!

I'm not really a fan of choosing a game that nobody knows the rules, and tackle with them in order to play, despite the Via Nebula success we had last year! In a Con, I like to teach or be taught and start playing! Rules reading is something to be done in the quietness of one's home... or so I thought! This day, however, would prove how wrong I am!

Good morning Mr. Raja.

Since we were all feeling briskly awaken, and the Inka and Markus Brand are walking around the Con these days, João picked an appropriate Rajas of the Ganges to play... to play, as soon as we read the rules, since the Brands were nowhere in sight this morning. So we sit at the table, I finish the setup and João starts to read. Halfway through our Indian enlightenment, Pedro walks by! "Do you know how to play this?", I ask. "Sure!", he replies! Lucky us I guess. ...for a while at least. He started to go through the general flow of the game, without having a chance to get down with the details, since he was running late for a scheduled game. Back to the rules...

As soon as we were about to timidly roll the dice, a guy named Luís walks by and asks if he can join us. He owned the game and had played it several times! Now we're talking! I don't get it where the Euphoria comparison that I read/listen a few weeks ago comes from! There's no bumping here and the only thing similar is that both games have dice! Although these ones, are prettier. Like, Sagrada prettier!

Let's expand this palace!

Ships, Gods and Tiles.

The board looked a little busy in some places, but Rajas of the Ganges is a fine specimen of a euro game. A river (Ganges!) track... worker placement with workers that are liberated throughout the game. The traditional blocking of spaces and in some cases, there's a way to circumvent that, which is always nice. The starting player token, an elephant, never sits still and there's a little dispute during the game for its ownership. A good game! But what stands out the most for me, was the way it ended and the points you make in the end.

You have two score tracks going around the board. One for influence (or was it prestige?) and one for cash. And when a player crosses both scores tracks the game end triggers and your score is the difference between the two tracks! So it's possible to play one hour of Rajas and end up with zero points, like I and João did, and have a winner with a single point like Luís did! Crazy!

João liked the game so much that he went out to buy himself a copy and get it signed by the authors! If only they had shown up an hour earlier to teach us the game...

...breath ooouuut...

...breath innnnnn...

Susana and Sérgio, are regulars in LeiriaCon. But for professional reasons, Sérgio would be out of the Con for most of the day, so Susana joined gaming forces with us during that time!.

Ex Libris was new to her. João had liked its first play yesterday and I'm always ready for some book worming! I ended up with the mummy this time. And once the rummage pile showed up and stayed up for the rest of the game, I felt like it was game over for them! Broken combo? Scoring 2VP with the garbage books you find every time single time you place the mummy, on top of the normal action, seemed way too good.

Return to the library.

Mummies like to rummage.

João's library.

Susana was actually the winner, after the endgame tally... until we started to tear down the game and I noticed my forgotten books hidden underneath the shelves!

...breath ooouuut...

...breath innnnnn...

After lunch, and staying with the "play a game at least one of us knows" motif, we picked Scythe. And now an interesting thing happened. João, Susana and I, had all played Scythe before. Not many times, sure, but we all knew how to play. The problem was that Bruno, who hadn't played Scythe before, joined us at the table and someone had to teach him. Maybe neither of us was in teaching mode after lunch, since no one really knew how to teach the game properly! It was a bit cumbersome. Luckily for us, Bruno is an experienced player and after a while, it was he who was guiding us through the teaching, with his surgical questions! A life saver... and a destroyer!

Weird Scythe.

Unusual battles.

Bruno was ruthless in what ended up being an abnormal Scythe session! He picked his fights with the weakest military faction (me and Susana), stole resources under our noses and played by the book for a more than deserved victory! Only João was putting up a fight for him, while me and Susana, were, for the lack of a better expression, tucked in fear in our corner of the game! We just didn't seem to evolve our engine at Bruno's speed and we barely expanded outside our homeland! It was a weird game....

...breath ooouuut...

...breath innnnnn...

I took a break to conclude Nuno and my end of the MT trades. "Pick anything someone knows how to play.", I said. "I'll be back in ten minutes.". Ten minutes later, we were all sitting with Cytosis in front of us. This time, it was Bruno's time to sweat. He had played it before (I think), but between playing a game and teaching it, there's a world of difference. While he was fumbling through the rulebook to answer our questions before the game started, lady luck smiled upon us once again. Someone passed by the table and asked if we needed some help. Yes, please!

Cellular biology class.

For the next 45 minutes, we played this Lords of Waterdeep inspired game, where instead of performing quests, you're performing cell functions. Not only you need to gather the right ingredients, but, unlike LoW, you also need to take them through the system, so that they transform into something else before the final stretch, where you recall everything and score points.

I'm sorry if I'm not using the right words here. Biology was never a favored theme with me... João and Bruno were the only ones who had actually studied anything about the subject and could confirm that the science behind the actions and names match flawlessly. So the educational purposes of the game are top notch and I'm now stoked to actually play the rest of their product line.

Downgrading a complex system.

Delivery system.

However, the end game of Cytosis, let a sour taste in our cellular mouths. You can only score points with the... hum, "quests" and you only have three (maybe 4) workers at your disposal during the game. So in the last round, it's already too late to pick up new "quests" and move about to complete them! It was weird. And a downside of the deluxified components is that when they pile up on the players colored "carrier", you can't see said player color! Pretty soon, everybody is lifting the components to check if where their "carrier" is!

...breath ooouuut...

...breath innnnnn...

By the end of Cytosis, Sérgio had arrived from is duties and was home free to game with us. With a weird afternoon under Scythe and Cytosis, I was up for anything at this point! Whatever we tried next, couldn't be any worse, right? I immediately turned to Sérgio and jumped with: "Let's play Agra!" A game high on both our Want to play lists. João frowned at the idea and Bruno asked if any of us knew how to play it this gigantic euro! "No." I said, "But we can learn it, yes?"

With that, Bruno was out of the game, and João reserved his decision for after dinner. Sérgio and Susana are hardcore learners and will not flinch at anything new, as long as they have the will to learn it. You're gonna lose +2 hours to learn a game so that you can then play it for another +2 hours? No problem if it will mean they can try a game before actually buying it! They're here to try new games and if I was going to learn how to play Agra, arguably one of the heaviest euro titles to come last year, it was going to be with them!

We set up the game for four and left it there, before heading out to refuel with dinner.

...breath ooouuut...

...breath innnnnn...

During dinner, I (finally!) met Orlando (designer of Adamastor) and together with Jorge we postponed Pax Pamir for another time. They were all beaten from a heavy gaming day and were planning to end the night with soft-core euro experiences. But we did arrange for some short gaming time early next morning, so not everything was lost.

João called it a day after dinner and the last surviving three players returned to the battlefield of gaming room 1.

...breath ooouuut...

...breath innnnnn...

Sérgio was learning the game the Rahdo way, while I read the rule book. Since Rahdo more or less followed the rulebook structure and flow, we were, more or less in tune with each other. Whenever he picked up some important detail, he would pause and let me know and I did the same. In the meantime, Susana listened to our comments or asked some questions.

North of the Godavari River.

It felt like a super daunting task! Several times I would leave the table and searched the room and hall, looking for Edward (from Heavy Cardboard) or Costa, since I knew that at least those two person's would know how to play the game and perhaps share a few minutes to guide us in the right direction. But alas, they were nowhere to be found...

But little by little, the game's jigsaw started to gain some recognizable form in our heads... There are no rounds here with a fixed structure. Each player will go through his turn until the endgame is triggered. However... each player's turn is a mammoth of a turn! The player's turn have their own inner structure where many many things can happen and interconnect with each other in a multitude of ways!

Take the optional, pre-main action phase, Meditating. If you have workers on the field, you can lie them down to earn meditating points. After tallying all meditating points for that turn, you can spend them however you like between several possible actions! They are all simple actions, but they way they connect with the rest of the game will make your head spin! Next is the main action. A simple act of just placing one worker... in one of an ever-growing number of locations that players need to build! Keeping in mind that when placing them, you can bump other players workers, giving them some sort of benefit in the form of favors!

Plantations, meditating and gifting.

Favors are yet another set of possible "free actions" that players can do anytime during their turn! the combinations between meditating, main action phase and favors are endless! And why do you want to combine all this lot? For that inclined guild track, that's why, where at the end of your turn, yet another phase happens, the Order phase!

Learning the game was as challenging as playing the game afterward! But we did learn how to play it (it just took us 2 hours!), and that of itself was very very rewarding!

...breath ooouuut...

...breath innnnnn...

The main board would not be out of place in a museum! Actually, if you're crazy enough, you can buy two copies of the game and flip the second board to the other non-gaming side, to get the full picture, unencumbered by iconography and gaming features, and frame it as the centerpiece of the living room! It's artwork within artwork! Michael Menzel, I didn't know you before, but you're on my gaming art radar now!

Impressive Agra board.

We started to play around midnight and the game lasted for a solid three hours. Mostly because, no matter how much we tried during the previous learning process, we couldn't figure how the merchant worked, so we played at least 2/3 of the game without using the guy! When the sun finally dawned on us (at 2 am!), the merchant just felt broken! We were working so hard to convert goods from one place to another to fulfill orders, using God knows what routes, and now there's this guy making the whole process 10 times easier and quicker and adding yet another level of player interaction with those flags tokens! Had we know this from the get-go, the game would not have lasted so long!

A hard men to comprehend.

The Portuguese awaits delivery.

Tracks, guilds, orders, money, goods...

Yes. Its another euro in a sea of euros. You've converted goods before and you've worker placed hundreds of times and you've seen tracks upon tracks in million games... but you (or I at least!) never felt like a game was breathing while each player took its turn! Picture this:

I finish my turn and lounge for 5 seconds on the chair, exhaling profoundly.... My spotlight is over and I can now prepare for the next turn. I look at the game board and concentrate on what my goals are and on what I should do to achieve them. I begin to meditate on what is the best possible path. Sérgio is playing next, so I still have time. A lot of time. But I'm not idle. His actions need to be closely followed so that I can accommodate my plans... And then it's Susana's turn. After her, it's my turn to play and I begin to inhale and focus even harder, feeling a little anxious about the process! Was my reasoning and meditating right? Can I do what I'm planning to do?

And then it's my turn, and I hold my breath! I don't want anything to distract me! Not even breathing! I perform all the actions in the right order, in all the different phases. Sometimes a miss calculation makes me freeze, but I quickly adapt and find another route. After a minute or two of going through the phases of my turn, I deliver the order... Coins enter the purse. Success! The plan worked! I can now slouch for 5 seconds on the chair, exhaling profoundly and begin meditating for the next turn...

What a game! What a freaking challenge of a game! This one is jumping straight to the top of my Wishlist! How can a game this heavy, this beautiful and this good, can fit in a box slightly thicker than a regular Carcassonne standard size is beyond me!

The level of exhaustion after three full days of gaming is only matched with the level of happy brain stimulus that Agra provoked after playing it. What a game!

...breath ooouuut...

One year ago: ...a tree loving pirate....

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard, henk.rolleman
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Sat Mar 10, 2018 12:28 pm
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 Hide escape plans and the evolution of sardines...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 426. March 2, 2018. Praia da Vieira...

"It's the fountain of vitality!" I thought, waking up after a meager 3 hours of sleep. "Go to bed after several board gaming sessions, wake up with the promise of even more board gaming session, and your energy will not falter!" Amazing! ...the high energy packed eggs and bacon breakfast, the 500 ml of black coffee and the scheduled playtest of Escape Plan were also strong factors in my happy sunrise!

So much so, that when João and I got to Room 1, there were still 30 minutes to spare! Vital there too, but since the rest of the players weren't, we all had to fill in time. Vital went to a nearby table with his Dungeon Keepers (why didn't we went with him?!?!) and we grabbed Imperial Settlers for a quick card game, before the promised medium-light game!

Barbarian mornings.

We settled our card civ game in no time (requiring tiebreakers to found out who had won!) and moved to the most secluded table in the room. The same table where last year, I had the pleasure to playtest an almost finished Lisboa prototype! If next year I manage to play another early design from Vital, I'm calling this my own personal LeiriaCon tradition!

Looking sharp.

Just a word of caution before proceeding... Vital's printer was out of color (if I understood correctly) thus causing this yellow submarine vibe on his heist game. Any art in here was placed to give the prototype some color and flare. It is nowhere near final! We were playing with the metal coins from Lisboa and the meeple bag from The Gallerist! The iconography is mostly settled, but that's it! Escape Plan was presented to us in all its prototype glory form!

A few years ago, the publisher asked Vital for a GTA themed game. Cops after you in every corner. Bullets shot at you. Locations with hidden cash to plunder! You know... Grand Theft Auto! Vital made the themed less popcornish and more sharp and classy! Robert de Niro, Al Pacino classy! We are all robbers that have in the past performed a successful heist and hidden the cash all over the city while waiting for the Heat to pass, lying undercover. But now the cops are on to us, and we (the players) have sprung our Escape Plan in motion!

Top Secret player board.

A great small aid for the player.

Starting tiles.

The objective of the game? Exit the city with loads of cash after 3 rounds. Didn't make it out after 3 rounds? Game over for you! We all start with three action discs and take turns using them to perform one of only two possible actions, in true Lacerda fashion. Move or Rest. Play a card, draw a card (Lisboa)... Move you gallerist to a new location (The Gallerist). Move your winemaker to a new adjacent location (Vinhos)... Simple turns in theory. Difficult consequences to deal with in practice!

Because you're not just strolling through the city. The cops are all over the place and there are three different types to consider (traffic, swat, and snipers). And while its safe to enter any city tile and perform some of their multitude of possible actions, every time you leave a tile with cops there, you're going to take a bullet from each different cop present! With only 3 lifeblood tokens, some precautions need to be taken lest you lose one of the precious 3 actions discs at your disposal with the fourth shot!

A city to rob.

Friendly motorcycle gang.

Did I mention the multitude of possible actions spread on the tiles?
You can visit your business buildings to get the hidden cash. Visited a set of three? Take an extra action disc!
You recruit motorcycle gangs to your cause and protection.
You can rest in hideouts to shrug off some of the heat on you (aka, a notoriety track) and talk with Pulp Fiction's Harvey Keitel himself (aka, the fixer!) for an extra added gameplay advantage! Visited all hideouts? Good for you! Here's another action disc as a reward!
You can visit stores for the much-needed body armor (tiles) and use keys in lockers to unlock even more hidden cash (more tiles)
You can visit three of the possible exit locations to buy even more action discs, or, if you so desire, escape the city! So in theory, you can leave the game in round one and wait for the next two to finish, before finding out, to no one's surprise, that you came in last! ...chicken

And I'm not even mentioning the hospital, the church, the clinic, the subway, the heliport and the ferry! All of them are different and all of them add to the puzzle you have to solve each turn in order to just walk around town!

Playtesting Escape Plan in LeiriaCon.

Action game in action!

But of course, you're not limited to three actions... of course. Remember those executive orders in The Gallerist? They're back baby! And as long as you have tiles and cards in your player board, acquired during the game and placed there after unlocking free spaces for them, you can use them to your heart's content! Are you thinking about combos? Yes, combo your action discs with cards, tiles and gangs and have yourself a most excellent heavy euro game, disguised in medium weight clothes!

Have no illusions. Escape Plan isn't light or even medium weight. It's a heavy game that requires planning and full commitment and understanding of the rules in order to play with some semblance of strategy. However, when compared with the rest of Vital's portfolio... It is light! The man itself taught us the game in 30 minutes or less and after a round of discs usage, we all had understood the basics and identified the iconography, which is more than I can say in my first run-throughs of Lisboa or The Gallerist! Escape Plan promises to be yet another perfect example that Vital makes the best gateways into the heavy cardboard world! In the end, he was very curious to know if we had had any fun with the game...

Don't worry man. We had fun!

Two men out, two men in.

Last year with Lisboa, he taught us the game in 60 minutes, and we played it in 4 hours... with an interlude for lunch... with him on our side, tutoring all the way.... With Escape Plan, we were done by lunchtime. In the end, almost everything you've done in the game translates into points and can be easily noted down on a score sheet. Can't wait to see the full EGG deluxe treatment on this! Can't wait to see Ian O'Toole's final art on the board and on the city tiles! To conclude, can't wait to play this game again!

But we weren't done with the playtesting today. Just after lunch, we had yet another scheduled game to demo. Again, another title from MEBO, Adamastor: The Sea Monster. The first "solo" design from Antonio Sousa Lara. Co-designer of City of Spies: Estoril 1942 and Viral!

Bruno, João and I sat down with the designer on a table filled with a bunch of paper ships and placeholder art of monsters and whatnot. The MEBO team were hoping for a 2018 GenCon or Essen release, but there's still a lot of work to be done according to them. Nonetheless, the game has already a fully functional engine. Remember the card driven play from Viral?
Everyone chooses one card, their actions are performed.
Everyone chooses another card, their actions are performed.
And then the played cards shift to a position to "rest" for a round. Remember that? It's here. Same deal, except that this time the cards you acquire during the game aren't worth points like in Viral. And you get them at the end of the rounds from a display. In player order, defined by the score track (last gets first dibs).

Monster of the deep.

Playtesting Adamastor in LeiriaCon.

The card play is to determine the move/hit of the monster you control and/or the weather. Monsters score points by knocking down other player's ships and by inflicting wounds on other monsters. When a monster goes down, there's a majority scoring, just like in Adrenaline! Whoever got the most punches, gets the most points. The knocked down monster drops a level of its worth, to prevent that players keep beating on the poor guy. Other players ships are worth 1 point when sunk. And then there are two neutral vessels, that everyone moves at the end of their turn. When one goes down, not only you get points, but also some sort of permanent monster bonus to add to the already different monsters abilities. Every ship is controlled in the same manner (hitting first, moving later) at the end of everyone's turn. The "weather" translates in some tiles that move about creating movement bonus, hitting bonus or the only defense in the game. A fog...

So what you see during the game is a lot of movement! And I mean a lot! Ships move about everywhere and monsters even more! You might have your ship in a position your turn, only to see it on the other side of the board when the second card is resolved! Now... the first time I played Estoril I remember thinking that the whole thing was too chaotic! Too hard to predict and too hard to bring your plans to fruition! Viral brought back that same chaos feeling when I first tried it. However... I now see that there's method in the chaos and that only after repeated plays of those games did I began to see a way to have my way with the plans! The chaos is there. In your face and a strong element of the game. Likely to level to the field and to make the most cunning and ingenious player the winner.

Monsters, vessels and fun.

Chaos in the south seas.

Adamastor felt the same. I just couldn't make my plans come true and stop the leader, Bruno. Undoubtedly the most cunning of us all! Even the designer couldn't stop him and we played a full four-round game! Nonetheless, Adamastor has the same spirit of Estoril and Viral and likely it will be a game that requires repeated plays to master the chaotic seas. And I for one, will choose ships and monsters in southern seas over spies and virus if I ever had to pick between the three.

Next came two games with Timo and his family.
The dungeon crawler genre is not what I am looking to play at a gaming convention. I always think of those past nostalgic family friendly plays of HeroQuest or Warhammer Quest when I think dungeon crawlers. Just four people around a table with the real world around us, dissolved in a fantasy scenario. So a convention might not be Perdition's Mouth best setting, but it served to show that dungeon crawlers still have a lot to offer. No dice, no turns. No dungeon masters. The all thing is controlled by two roundels (one for the players, one for the monsters) and a communal deck of cards. You have one slot in your backpack and one slot in your hand. Conversation is encouraged and information freely shared among players.

Rondel's perdition.

A nice looking dude.

Easy going dungeon.

It took me a while to get the gist of the game. When playing board games I'm used to having several constraints in what I'm allowed to do (aka, the rules!) and used to figure it out how to use them to my advantage. In Perdition's Mouth, the rules are so simple and easy to understand that you almost feel like you have no rules!

And then there were the comic moments. Like João's dwarven lady getting wounded by some bald dude and suffering diarrhea for the rest of the game! Half the time, he would choose an action from the roundel only to flip a card and see her character running to a private corner of a dungeon to loose up her... hum, bowel movements! Or Bruno, who also got wounded late in the game and got himself a permanent foul odor surrounding him. Timo told us that in the intro scenario, it wouldn't be much of a problem, but in a campaign.... Well, let's just say that monster-like insectoids are drawn towards BO!

Changing table and family member, when then played our third prototype of the day, Darwinning, with Timo's wife and son. A trick-taking game (currently on Kickstarter) where each player takes the role of a life form (from amoebas to rats and dinosaurs) trying to out-think the opponents in two, very distinct phases of the game. The trick-taking phase, I understood well. You're dealt 10 cards and until someones run out of them, you're always trying to win the round with your trick. Win the round, and you get to add cards to your player board and thus evolve into a more functional species (aka, tableau building).

Trick-taking evolution?

T-Rex dinosaur board!

The second round whoever, the one where you're supposed to activate your tableau, I didn't quite get how it worked. I was already tired and hungry when the game was taught. But Tina and Wyrm, having played the game hundreds of time by now, kept the game flowing and the general vibe fun.

After dinner and a day full of games with little sleep on me, I wanted to play an easy game and go to bed early to restore the energy levels to maximum for Saturday. So I hooked up with Vasco and his friends and we opened up my 2017 pre-ordered copy of Nusfjord! Vasco had already played the thing and Helena and Eduardo were all experienced players.

Uwe's fishing village.

A gluton of sardines.

Same Uwe, different clothes.

Its an Uwe's game. No doubt about it. Simple worker placement to get resources and transform them into points (boats, buildings, shares, gold). The cards give the necessary variability and the elders and shares, bring something new to Uwe's signature. Can't go wrong with Uwe to close a gaming day.

Still fun after midnight.

One year ago: ...unboxing and duelling around fever...

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard
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Fri Mar 9, 2018 6:05 am
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...PM friends, AM opponents...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 425. March 1, 2018. Lagos & Praia da Vieira...

It wasn't raining yet. Leaving the house and walking briskly towards the train, with little more than 2 minutes as a buffer to catch it. Besides the backpack with clothes, frivolities, and electronic junk, I was carrying two cubic bags of boardgames weighting about 10 kg each under my arms. I'm not kidding when I say that my arms performed a small miracle by not falling off!

Rainy trip.

Somehow, after countless stops during the walk to catch my breath, I made it to the train! As soon as it started to move, the rain started to fall... And it didn't stop all day and in all parts of the country, we crossed to reach LeiriaCon. It was raining hard in Algarve. It was raining harder still in Alentejo, while João and I chit-chatted about boardgames and what not, crossing the country in one non-stop 5-hour ride.

LeiriaCon's premises.

Sales, trades, kitchen sink...

When we arrived at Hotel Cristal, in Praia da Vieira, the wind gusts near the beach resort, threatened to push us back in the car. It was not easy to enter the premises of the best gaming convention in Portugal! Once inside, the real world/life paused and the gaming world began. In ahead of us awaited, four days of nothing but board games, new friends, never-ending good food and hundreds of like-minded people with which to share everything! Like many people say, the best four days of the year, are during LeiriaCon.

Day 1, Room 1.

João had never played Azul. And I was looking forward to playing it again, so we started off with some national thematic abstract hotness! Also, it would be now or never. If InvictaCon proved anything, is that hot games that go easy to the table, never return to the Ludoteca once they leave!

While verifying the rules and setup for two, a couple walks by to look... always a given with Azul. However, João knew these two. Aurora and Victor are active gamers in the Algarve gaming scene and in the YouTube country. Aurora hosts one of the few Portuguese channels, devoted to the hobby! We had just found our gaming partners for the day.

Starting tiles.

Not bad, but no cigar.

The game flowed well. Even despite the soft early nervousness between us all. It was like that first step into the ocean the first day of vacation. You're afraid that the water is cold, but can't wait to swim and splash on it all Summer! Victor, after keeping his score marker in the last position throughout the game, took us all by surprise with a solid, came out of nowhere win, during the endgame scoring! I guess those 5 tiles set collection of his really paid off!

Staying together, we then drifted to the MEBO side of the gaming hall, where the publisher had some of its games on the tables, ready to be taught and played and a table with a demo. Never having played King of Tokyo, a Con and a four-player setting seemed like a perfect match to test it.

Tokyo Blues.

I got some points from ruling Tokyo, but the majority came from the dice themselves. A point here, a point there... Steady income wins the game, no? Of course, it helps that two of the players were eliminated mid-game. It was fun but nothing more. The cards do add a huge replay value to the game. Undoubtedly, they are the reason why the game is so popular, or this wouldn't be a game from Mr. Magic Garfield itself.

We asked what was demoing on the table nearby and as soon as the word "Arraial" came from Gil d'Orey, I was hooked! This was one of the titles I was most looking forward to playing in LeiriaCon. Bizarro and Soledade's next game for the family-friendly MEBO product line!

Playtesting Arraial.

A big party waiting to be colored.

Like Nuno would say if he was here: "It's Tetris on steroids!" That the Tetris vibe is in Arraial, is unmistakable. If you're a fan of the recent re-trend of puzzly euros (Patchwork, Barenpark, Cottage Garden) look no further! Arraial is their younger brother!

New additions for the gazebo.

Three actions during your turn. And you can use them in any combination to rotate the gazebo-like contraption that holds the pieces or to take a piece and add it to your street! The player board is where you'll place, in a falling Tetris fashion, each piece you take, to decorate and enlighten your summer party (aka Arraial, aka player board) and thus hope to bring more people to it! People equal points. Add two pieces of the same color, get a people. Have the most of one color? Get the double meeple (2VP) that are used to keep track of who holds that color majority. Completely fill a line in the street? Push the "gate to the party" up one level, adding more room to maneuver and call out for even more prospective party meeple! Replenish the gazebo with the 3 tiles on display, replenish the display and that's it. Can't replenish the gazebo? The first round is over, the gateway door like contraption in each player board drops a level or two and the prospective party people still on it, become solid VP at the end. Rinse and repeat each round 3 times and that's game over! Time to tally the points!

The gazebo of tetris.

Calling people to the party!

Very good game and perfect for it's intended target audience! The decision tree is not only spatial in your board, but it also requires that you keep tabs on what’s going on with the player on your left. The one you'll have feed the next batch of tiles when it's time to replenish the central lot. The double meeple (aka, majority track) serves to keep everyone involved and the falling doorway brings a nice tick-tack to the game. Excellent!

Summer party with tetris.

If as a bland white prototype the game still manages to entertain, I can't wait to see it with the final art splashed all over it!

Meanwhile, in other parts of the Con...

LeiriaCon's Ludoteca.

Someone is having fun in space.

Noggin in LeiriaCon

A saga in LeiriaCon.

With the huge gluttonous dinner past us, we all wanted to digest the food, rather than munch some more on a bigger game. So we picked light-hearted titles, that at least one or more of us could play and teach, thus reducing the entry level forthe others. Ex Libris and Flamme Rouge served that purpose with high marks.

The book collecting game continues to impress me, despite its falling down from the hype train. So many starting locations, variable player powers, and random locations... it's granted that you'll never play the same game twice and that it will take a long time to exhaust its potential. I mean... variable worker placement games that play in under 45 minutes, filled with color, spatial reasoning, and comic elements is a niche in itself for anyone who likes this.

Cycling to the library.

Despite being their first time in Flamme Rouge, since we were all under the addicting exposure of boardgames for so long, I felt confident in throwing at them, something other than the flat intro scenario. I picked at course at random. I don't remember the name of the course, but we all remember the mountain a the start, that made us huff and puff for the rest of the game with a bazillion of power 2 red cards! After the mountain of pain, however, João split from the main pack and achieve a victory, with his roller cyclist! So much for the Sprinter always wins myth!

For a closure of our first day, I had signed us off, weeks in advance, for a Gaia Project four-player session, starting at... midnight! João was beaten by now (he did drove the car for 5 hours in his defense) and calling it a day, we had to find a substitute. Not a difficult task for the recent Terra Mystica 2.0. Who's going to play the old title after experiencing the wonders of the research track and the infinite modular board?

Firaking into the night...

I'm not one who enjoys starting a game this heavy at such a late hour. But for LeiriaCon, its worth the stretch. It was worth it to play with a half-sleeping Costa, one of the Con's organizers and an upcoming designer for WYG. It was worth it to play with Eduardo, someone who had already played the game several times and despite not being at the front of the score track throughout the game, it was clear that he was leading, just by looking at the central board and the research track.

Amazingly, and in retrospect, it was a fast game of Gaia Project. We only really started around 1:00 AM, after teaching the game to Miguel and Costa, and we had to take a break around 2:30 AM for a night snack. But Room 2 was almost empty. The silence was all around us. The people watching the game helped to keep us awake, by commenting and chatting during the downtime of each player. Final tally put Eduardo with 122, and the rest of us with 102, 101 and 100. Great game no matter what time of the day you play it.

AM in Gaia.

Tectonic space plates.

...we were not, however, the only people playing games in the room at this obscene time of of night. Vital was still there when we left Gaia, playing something that resembled a... war game?!? In a couple of hours, João and I had a game schedule with him. I just hope everyone wakes up in time for the Escape Plan.

One year ago: ...fighting disease with games...

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard
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Thu Mar 8, 2018 6:00 am
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...InvictaCon, day 3...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 316. November 12, 2017. Porto & Lagos...

The streets were even quieter than the day before. It's a Sunday in the North side of Porto, and especially near the university buildings, nothing happens on Sunday mornings. Nothing, save the last day of InvictaCon! The back entry was closed and me and André had to take a long way around the university's fences, before we actually arrived at the scene... 5 seconds too late, to pick up Azul, high on the To Playlist of André!

Some hostel in Porto...

So we browsed the ludoteca, looking for some other new title. Ex Libris? Why not? We asked for it and if somebody knew how to teach the game. You see... Ex Libris was high on my radar when I first became aware of it. Books, light fantasy comic setting, libraries, solo variants. But then reports, reviews, podcasters, and first Con's sessions started to drip in the geekland and my wonder for the game decreased ten fold! So many interesting games coming out every day, why should I maintain a subscription on a seemingly "meh" title? And as if on cue, the only guy who knew how to teach us, said right up front, that this was one of the worst games he had ever played!?!? He was so enthusiastic about this, that I was this close to sending the game back to the shelve. Luckily, curiosity took the upper hand on the final decision. Let's experience a "bad game" for a change, hum?

A friend of André, Miguel, joined us at the table for the gameplay and after the barely sufficient teaching, we dived right in the world of magic books. There were complaints in the geekland about the size of the font in the locations. Yes, they are small. But no smaller than your average Magic or Agricola card. No complaints here.

My little Swamp of Scholarship.

Tiny font? Maybe...

Special workers abilities in a solid worker placement implementation over an ever-changing set of locations each round... each game! André's wizards, for instance, was used to the fullest every single round, moving and displacing the shelves to suit his master's needs. Miguel's fireman had a very cutthroat power. Burning books that other players might need! Unfortunately (or not!) we only became aware of its full potential, later on, so Miguel never got a chance to make a bonfire. I had a witch... Never used it! Maybe I didn't grasp how I could take advantage of it. I don't know.

Library builders.

Spatial reasoning - brain burning is also checked in Ex Libris. Not only you need to think about shelves stability (endgame bonus points), but you need, or should, store books in a alphabetical AND numerical order, or face the ruthless flipping of shelves by the inspector. There's like 6 different types of books and you have to keep in mind that one is bad, another is good for everyone, one is good for you (secretly) and all but the bad one need to be balanced in your library. You'll score for the least of them. Excellent!

Inspector's visit.

The game took us about 60 minutes and despite some normal first play doubts with the rules, we were all engaged and, may I say, immersed in the shelving business! I liked it. A lot! Enough to put it back on the radar and high on the list once again. Lesson learned. Don't always believe in every session/review you read until you actually play the game!

Ex Libris.

André was off to hunt for his Azul session and I joined another group. Vasco and Rafael. Me and Vasco had emailed each other a few days ago to try and set up a game of Tiny Epic Quest or Alchemists. We picked TEQ, I taught them the game, giving them plenty of warnings that the game might drag, so a 60 minute time frame (as stated in the box, Alex!) should be expected from this tiny cardboard specimen.

Quest for epicness.

It was a good game. Both Vasco and Rafael are hardcore gamers and anything within this weight class they will devour it with no rules problems, even in their first play. Vasco focused on the movement quests early on but you need to take into an account the player's turn order and ITEMeeples disposition if you want to have any chances on those adventuring races. Some bad die rolls during the night also made him quit the pursuit of magic lore. Me and Rafael took more or less similar paths, of a well-rounded diet of goblins, magic learning and quest taking. He actually made more of the temple quest so his meeples looked like Rambo in the end!

Meeple adventures.

It was late by the time the Quest was over and lunch break seemed more like an extravagant late afternoon snack! There was a lot of board game talk at the table of course. And the subject ended up in the Top overall ranked games in BGG, if they deserved to be there and whether the all system was partial and/or actually worked! Rafael actually compared it to the IMDB ranking system.

Vasco on the other hand, told something I've never considered. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 will most likely remain on the Top 3 for a very long time, due to a single reason. People who played the game until the end and rated it, will most likely not return to the game once it is finished and adjust their ratings. The first experience will be awesome (I's Pandemic and its Legacy!) and they will rate it very high... and that's it. No more revisiting and re-rating in a few months/years. Interesting... Could it be that in ten years time, all the Top 10 games will have Legacy systems built into them?

I was getting tired by now. After 3 days, and with still long night bus ride still ahead of me, I wanted to pack it in early and walk the city for a while before sitting on a bus for +7 hours. Rafael and I still managed to score a session of Onitama in the overcrowded gaming room! You wouldn't guess that this was the last day of InvictaCon by looking at the crowds of people still playing with only 3 hours left before closure!

I was looking forward to testing this two-player abstract and see if I was already prepared or inflamed by these type of matches. I was not... The game felt like I was walking in circles, I couldn't plan too far ahead and set up a trap to Rafael's master so it didn't take long for his trap to spring! Great components. Loved the board material and the rubber pieces. A good game to carry with you... if you like it!

No chess... not checkers...

Not my master.

Autumn alleys.

After an energizing stroll with twilight colors in the sky and Autumn leaves everywhere, I sat on the bus depot café and punched the two players only version of Carcassonne für 2. Maybe I could make this a good solo, take anywhere game. I started to play the island variant with a 7x7 grid, but only later realized that there weren't enough pieces to complete such a grid! But maybe a 6x6 or even a 5x5... maybe.

Testing solo Carcassonne: fur 2.

Sleep on the night bus awaited me. Or a semblance of sleep at least!

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard, crucius
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Mon Nov 20, 2017 6:05 am
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...InvictaCon17, day 2...

Alexandre Correia
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Day 315. November 11, 2017. Porto...

It was a little chilly during our morning trek to the InvictaCon, with the sun shining brightly for a promise of a warm afternoon. A perfect sunny day of Autumn in Porto. Me and André were among the first to arrive at the gaming scene and headed straight to the Ludoteca to grab the hotness before they were devoured by the crowds. We saw how yesterday was with Photosynthesis. It barely even touched the shelve, if ever!

Autumn forest.

So we set up the game by the table and started to spread out seeds... For all the bells and whistles of the sun gimmicky, Photosynthesis is a pure abstract area control trough and trough. You're not only trying to control the surface, mostly with the seeds at first, but you're also struggling to control the air above ground to make sure your saplings get as much sun as they possibly can! The rest are clothes that dress one of the most beautiful presences I've seen on a board game table! No wonder this game doesn't stay on the shelve! Who doesn't like to see an Autumn colored forest grow in front of their eyes during 30 to 45 minutes? It's beautiful!

Also worthy of note is that the game is won by points... but you only start to get them, long after the game began, which leaves you with a feeling, once you get past the bedazzling of the novelty, of playing for a long time and not achieving anything for your efforts! ...and then again, maybe it's due to our first play ingenuity. I'm sure that expert players can get their first mature tree chopped down before the first rotation of the sun!

Autumn forest.

Once the trees were back in the box, the rest of the gang was already here. Jorge, Francisco and João joined us for one of the most difficult conundrums in the board game world. Good games to appeal 5 players. After a while in front of the Ludoteca, plagued by doubts and about to divide the group, André suggested we cooped for a while in a Magic Maze.

I was unaware of the theme in this game. Four wizards, lost in a shopping mall, trying to buy their stuff and leave the premises before time runs out! We all control the wizards and nobody can talk while moving the piece. All one can do to get somebody's attention is grab a hammer-like / bowling-shaped piece of wood and bang it in the table in front of the unaware player, elevating the stress levels on the rest of the people, in what's probably the most silent real-time cooperative out there! It's fun! And the silence actually makes it, at least for me, less intense than other real timers, where everyone is shouting and chaotically trying to organize a semblance of a plan.

There was a lot of pointing in this game.

Mute wizards.

InvictaCon's second morning.

InvictaCon's Ludoteca.

Once we were over with the shopping, however, we were back to the pentatonic existential crisis. And this time, with the added limitation of being a one hour only game, since lunch hour was fast approaching. It can be a limitation, but it's also a filter among all the offers in the library. I grabbed K2 and set up the 8000-meter high mountain on InvictaCon's table, with the North side facing the climbers and the winter snows fast approaching. And the climbing routes would also be tighter in this one, with only two and one spaces available in each location, above the 7000-meter line. I refreshed the rules to everyone and taught it to Francisco and André in the process.

Crowed mountain.

Drama in K2.

Like expected, and especially for the new players, the game seems like a no-brainer once you start playing. "Where's the challenge? Where's the fun?", were phrases easily read in some of the faces that hovered over the mountain. But then you start to get higher... and the weather starts to get worse... and you're trying to grasp for a few more breathes for fresh air, by going back down the mountain only to see the path blocked by a group of tourist climbers huffing and puffing with overpacked backpacks and completely unaware of the death trap their getting themselves into. People died above the 8000 line... People died below the 6000 line, forgotten by their teammates. Heroes made it past the freezing corpses inside the mausoleum tents and reached the summit in the last sunny day on K2!

Is this a good light-medium euro for 5 players with a 60-minute time frame? No... it's dam near excellent!

Back from lunch, we split the team in half. João and Jorge dueled against each other in Onitama while me, Francisco and Ruben, impersonated tile-laying artists, trying to embellish the walls of the Royal Palace of Évora in Azul! As somebody pointed, there shouldn't be many copies of the game in Portugal right now, but InvictaCon somehow managed to grab one for it”s Ludoteca catalog! Good times!

Azulejo factory.

So, what's it like? It's abstract with no theme whatsoever that's what it is! And although the pasted theme actually strikes a personal cord to the 7 years I spent in the University of Évora, having classes with those azulejos around me (they lose historical and artistic appeal, when it's winter and they are freezing and you're trying to pass a Maths exam!) There are pools of tiles spread out around a center point. You MUST always choose a color from the pool offering (aka, drafting!) putting the chosen tiles in your player board and discarding the rest to the center, that it's also a drafting location! Once the tiles run out, a scoring happens and mostly based on adjacency rules, and if there's no end-game condition (a full straight line in someone's playing board), the game continues.

Maybe I was predisposed to feel this way since when I first became aware of this game in the geekland, it reminded me of another big hit abstract, I had played recently. Sorry, but playing Azul, hit all my Sagrada chords! Drafting to construct patterns on your own player board under a beautiful table presence in an abstract environment! And I wasn't the only one thinking like that! Ruben also pointed out the similarities right after the rules teaching and just before actually playing the game.

Holy drafting.

There's is, however, a minor, but a glaring difference. As soon as we were done playing, the next group in the Azul queue wanted someone to teach it, so I volunteered. I was teaching it to gamers and they were all completely at ease with these type of games. But if this was instead, a group of muggles, it would be a tiny little bit more difficult to teach it that in Sagrada. Sagrada can be played by virtually anyone, with little obstacle from the rules. Azul, with the color placing restrictions on one side, and later on the other side of the player board, and with the in-game scoring phases, takes more effort to grasp in your first play if you're new to modern designed board games. Funny enough, I felt the same thing with Plan B's first title. Century: Spice Road is similar to Splendor, but the latter is a better intro game.

...yet another gateway classic.

Having said that, I loved my only play of Azul in InvictaCon, and If either Sagrada or Azul made their way to our shelves, it would be a more complete gaming shelve!

Returning to our table after teaching Azul, I saw Ruben and Francisco getting ready to face each other with toys in the extremely small footprint Windup War. I had no idea what this was about, but since we were waiting for Jorge to come back from his Photosynthesis hunt, I joined them and promptly got dealt a chewing gum sized deck of cards with toy bears as soldiers.

"It's player elimination", Ruben quickly said. "Last man standing takes the prize..." ...that intro made me glance sideways at the game... "Or until one of the player's scores 4 VPs..." That's better! Every round you'll draw six... hum, cards for the lack of a better word. They all represent actions that you can program with your active platoon. And even if all your cards don't match the abilities of your active unit, there are still actions you can perform with them. So, not only it's a multi-use sort of card game, but you also have to manage your discard pile, since some of the actions only work with some cards on that specific location. The actions vary from setting up the bombs to triggering them later, to hitting your left/right opponent, or flamethrowering two opponents clock/counterclockwise! Sometimes you'll have to defend and/or ricochet the hits. Others you'll charge for the VP's in your discard pile!

Toy Story.

My Good Knights were eliminated without mercy in less than 10 minutes by the Dino-Soldiers and the Tin Fantry factions... It was fast, brutal and way too much fun for such a tiny game. There were like 6 different toy armies from which to choose from, so it scales up to six. Seems pretty simple, but programming your actions, taking into account the active unit, the discard pile, your hand, and your opponent's reactions actually give a substantial gaming meal in a short time. On the radar, it goes!

Somebody was having fun in space!

Choosing games.

Back to the Autumn woods, this time with the full player count. I had this idea taken from the end of the first-morning match of Photosynthesis... Maybe if I planted and nurtured trees along the edges of the board, I would block the sun from my opponent's flora and rule over the game! was a good idea but didn't actually work like that. The opposite actually happened! Francisco, who earlier stood silently watching the morning play on the side, seemed to have learned from our first sessions mistakes. He made a dash seed run to the center of the board, surround the center with as many seeds as possible and pretty much ruled over the entire game! I mean... he was getting +10 light points to spend, in turns where I struggled for a puny 3 light...

Return to the forest.

At four, the board quickly becomes filled even before the end of the first rotation, making the rest of the rounds much more devious and cutthroat to fill an empty space left from a cut-down tree! Good game... and the presence on the board cannot be overstated. Especially with all four three types in the display! Amazing! Does it deserve all the hype? Well... no. The amount of bells and whistles around it recently it's way too much. It's not like a Terraforming Mars or a Scythe, that get huge positive (and negative!) feedback early on but remain on the top of the rankings after years. It's a (one more!) perfect game to draw the crowds and the muggles to the hobby, also giving experienced gamers more meat than your average Carcassonne or Catan. And that's it. Pick it up in a year or two, when the copies abound on all markets and prices drop to below the 30ish line.

Seed control.

Ruben was out for dinner... André was struck down earlier from something in the air... That left me, Jorge an Francisco to play the main dish of the day. One can only have so much gateway/fillers in one day. Jorge introduced me to Carl Chudyk's design a few months ago, over at gamenight with the most excellent Impulse! I was so impressed by the gameplay that the next day, managed to grab the last of the pre-order for the second edition in the nick of time! Since then, we kinda hinted to a follow up in InvictaCon. Innovation, Chudyk's take on the civ-builder genre, came down as the winner. Jorge gave a player board/player aid to each, outlined the main rules for the game (which are pretty simple) and off we went to the First Ages.

The rules are straightforward, yes. But were Carl truly shines, is on the exponential increase, bordering on the indigestible and on lunacy, of available combos/actions and paths to pursue, every single time somebody does... anything! Francisco got the game quicker than me, and started adding cards to his influence super fast! Something like two per turn if I'm not mistaken (hard to keep track after a while). He had factories while the rest of us were still developing agriculture!

Innovating civ builder for sure!

Planning for a chemical mystic beer.

Jorge was playing tighter and didn't seem to find the right combo to give him an edge over the others. I was struggling to evaluate what cards I should add to the table and which ones I should pass. But Francisco kept getting influence and mid-game dominations... Then an Anatomy card came my way. That single card put a stop in Francisco engine. It only took a few rounds until is civilization was back at the middle ages. After witnessing the power of splaying your tableau in Francisco's side, I began doing the same and slowly my side of the table became almost untouchable. I scored a Military domination and gathered enough influence to grab the final remaining two.


Not a bad history for my civilization.

What a game! I have to say, I'm in check here... I think I'm in love with this CC (aka card master!)'s designs! And I haven't even played Glory to Rome yet! But on the other hand, the only players I can see myself playing this games live on the other side of the country!

And as a closer after an excellent gaming day, me and Jorge chose Tiny Epic Galaxies from the shelves. A game he's been meaning to try for a while and that I was looking forward to revisiting. I still think it's the best Tiny Epic title out there and the only one that keeps true to its name. You don't expect to have a 60-minute session out of a small box named tiny. But Galaxies gives you a civ race feel in under 30 minutes, keeping everyone engaged with that follow option. Great game!

Let's civ again in space!

Planet supremacy.

It was still early (for a gaming day event) when we finished playing. Not even 23:00... But the bellies were full and the next day was still a Con day, and a travel back home night! So a good nights rest was in order. What other new hotness would I be playing tomorrow?

Photo & Image credits: ZombieBoard, crucius
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Sat Nov 18, 2017 6:05 am
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