Mark JohnsonUnited States
CaliforniaThat's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!http://www.WargamesToGo.com
Yesterday I went to a great, little gaming event. It was SoCal Games Day 50, where dozens of gamers spent a whole day playing boardgames together in a rented community hall, with a reasonable $10 entry fee. As always, there were several door prizes for some lucky few (including me!), but mostly it's a day of playing games. Free parking, not scheduled on a 3-day weekend, plenty of "open gaming"...all good. It's just amazing that this has been going strong for over 11 years. My buddy Dave Arnott has been the one organizer who stuck with it all that time, as others (like me) faded away and more (like Stephanie Kelleher) stepped up. Finding a venue to hold our Games Days has always been the toughest challenge, and I think it's rotated through 4-5 cities and 7-9 meeting rooms. But it's survived.
For the first time in a long while, I was able to arrive early and stay late. That meant I got in several good games. First up was the new expansion, Kingdom Builder: Nomads. I'm not quite sure what it is about Kingdom Builder that doesn't interest me, because my preferences run strongly to the simple euros (as you'll read later). But it doesn't. For me, Kingdom Builder just lies there, uninteresting. I thought perhaps the expansion might inject something exciting into the game, but it's a more-of-the-same type of expansion. I'm not against those, in principle. In fact, most of my anti-expansion attitude is directed toward expansions that break the elegance of the original game by adding too much stuff...which is the opposite type of expansion than Nomads is for Kingdom Builder. But I guess more-of-the-same expansions can only appeal when you like the base game already, and I don't. Oh well, it was worth a shot.
Our game had two Nomad boards, I think. One had a "caravan" power to move one of your houses in a straight line on the hexgrid until it encountered an obstacle (mountain, water, or another house). The players that saw how to use that (especially with our scoring card for number of settlement areas, regardless of size), did far better than the dummies like me that didn't. The other Nomad board just had one-shot special powers that moved houses around, not a lasting special effect.
After a good lunch at a nearby Lebanese restaurant, it was back for more games, this time an old favorite, Industrial Waste. Like Nomads, I played this game with Davebo and his son Jacob, as well as another friend. I sold my copy of IW to Davebo some years ago, and he's played it quite often, I think. Good! I always liked the game, but it just wasn't getting played enough at my house. The theme is (understandably) uninspiring to some, and my own pet peeve is the graphic design of the cards, which I find confusing. But under the hood is one of the best, most overlooked economic engine games around. As with most games, the opportunity to play it often in its online implementation at Yucata.de is a big help. I usually try to focus on technology improvements for cleaner factories and more automation, and did so again. What I DON'T usually do is take loans, let alone a couple of them. That happened this time when I made some bidding mistakes, but fortunately the game lasted long enough for me to pay them both off and cruise to victory.
I think that improving (reducing) your waste production is ALWAYS a good idea in the opening turns of the game. That part isn't enough a choice for me--it's an automatic decision. Everything else, though, is a strategic tradeoff, and I've seen players do all different things and be successful.
My last game with Davebo and son (plus another) was Marrakech. This was a game I purchased from another gamer at the event, and it's actually my second copy. I'm either taking a cue Davebo on our recent podcast (where he wondered aloud why gamers don't buy more second copies of games they love, rather than continuing to take flyers on new games they often don't retain), or it's a copy I'll give to my brother and his young family later. In any case, I think this is an overlooked little gem. It's not a game of deep strategy, but rather a pleasant family game with tactics (estimating risk), a smidge of strategy (setting up future scoring possibilities), and great components. All for a very reasonable price, as I recall. The publisher is Gigamic, but this isn't one of those chunky wooden games. It's got a couple large, wooden components (huge pawn and die, coins), a playing board, and a bunch of small Persian rugs! Everyone always asks about this one when they see us playing it.
Now, it IS quite light, so keep that in mind. But it's a good game to play with kids or more casual gamers...or hobby gamers who want to unwind with an attractive game. As an added bonus(?), I think it's best with two players, as you each play two colors of carpets and there's a touch of additional strategy as a result.
I introduced one of my favorites from 2011, Pergamon, to Dave Arnott at the last Games Day. That was a 4-player outing. This time we played it again, but just 2-player. This is another game that excels with just two, in this case because the game includes a smart variant for that number. It's not a "full" dummy player, but rather a "tomb raider" pawn that is played easily & automatically by the system (with helpful icons on the board to remind you how to do this). This raider doesn't actually compete with the players, but he gets in the way constantly, throwing a necessary monkey wrench into a game that would otherwise be "too open" for just two players. It's perfect, because the rest of the game plays the same as it does with 3-4.
It was a close game, but Dave managed to construct an exhibition in the early game that was good enough to survive the drop in popularity/novelty mechanic that triggers at several points during the game. My bonuses for ancient artifacts weren't enough to overcome that cushion of points he earned.
My one heavier game of the day was Tammany Hall. You're right--it's not that heavy of a game. But compared to the superfillers I tend to play, this political game set in the "Gangs of New York" era gives me a lot to think about. It's political in its theme more than it its mechanics, since there isn't much negotiation between players (at least not the way we played it). There are a lot of wooden pieces. A few friends have ordered the new version on Kickstarter. I wonder what it will change about the components. The version we played has a really fantastic, evocative map that I heard will be maintained. Good! There's nothing really wrong with the colored cubes, discs, and "pawn" pieces, but I have to wonder if a different physical design would help players understand what's going on more easily. You see, I really struggle to internalize the strategic connections between cubes (immigrant population), discs (vote-buying?), political offices, and victory points. The latter is what ultimately matters, but the first three all have logical flows into victory points that are nonlinear, and non-intuitive. I suppose that may be the appeal, to have a game where all those connections AREN'T laid out like a map or flowchart.
I'd only played the game a couple time before, and that was online at slothninja. Getting to play with the physical version was a big plus. As it was, we played a VERY competitive game, with some big swings and jockeying for position that ultimately saw our final scores incredibly close. It was a good exercise for the old noggin, and one I look forward to again.
The last game of the night for me was The Speicherstadt. I think this game splits people into two camps. I'd previously just heard from the group that didn't like the game, so it took me a long time to try it. When I finally did, online at Yucata.de, I was surprised to find I really liked it! (Although my friends who played online with me came to the opposite conclusion.) Then I did a little research into the theme, and that also increased my interest. Admittedly, the theme doesn't have much to do with the game--its real attraction is the "pawn auction" mechanism--but I appreciate these things. Along the way, I discovered a subset of gamers who are enthusiastic about the game. Maybe it was designer Stefan Feld, one of the top names these days? Whatever the reason, I thought I'd buy a copy and play the real game for myself.
This was my first attempt with the actual game, even though I've played online a dozen times already. I thought we might just play with two, since Dave Arnott had begrudgingly agreed to play with me, but we quickly filled out a 5-player game. Is it better with one number or another? I'm not sure. Online it's best with fewer, but that's only so its many small turns play faster. In person, that doesn't matter so much, and it's probably better to have more players for the interaction and competition. Unfortunately, I screwed up, removing just one card from the autumn season deck instead of the two the rules called for. It was an "asterisk game" as a result (for those that keep records!). In the end, the players who liked the game still liked it, and those that didn't were unswayed. Even Chris who liked it (I think) thought it could really use an aid card to make sure everyone knows what cards are coming up in each season. He may be right. I'm still glad I've got it, and will probably get the expansion, Kaispeicher, when I can.
In addition to these I played, I managed to sell a bunch of games at the event. Unfortunately I purchased several more! I say unfortunately because I'm trying to reduce my collection back to what can fit on my existing shelves, but there were bargains I just couldn't pass up! Then I was lucky enough to have my name drawn for a prize table pick, and grabbed a new copy of Hawaii.
Thanks to all for another wonderful event!