Dad, John, Brian, Steve and I arrived at the Westin at about 13:30 on Thursday and checked in. John/Brian’s room wasn’t ready yet, so we carted all our belongings (two cardboard boxes of games that I was trading, Brian’s box of trade games, luggage, and Steve’s pillows/blanket since he’d be grabbing some floor space in our room) up to our room, dropped them off and went down to sign-in for the con.
The freebie table was mostly picked over by the time we got there. New this year was the option to throw an extra ticket in a prize drawing box rather than take a freebie, so some of us chose freebies (Dad took Attack!, John and Brian took pairs of Corunea dual-starter decks, and Steve and I took extra tickets). We then cruised the vendors in the main hall, where I went ahead and bought Dominion (based on the description and advanced praise from various sources – more below as you will see), Penguin (mainly for Ryan since he can play with the bits even if he can’t necessarily play the actual game yet), Wasabi! (it looks cool and it’s by a BGDF member) and Genji (another cool game from a BGDF member); Brian bought the Battle for Hill 218 (a simple card-based battle game) after getting a quick demo; John bought Ghost Stories (good buzz and it looked like it was about to sell out – which it did later that day); and Dad bought Pacific Typhoon (more on that below).
Loaded down with loot, I made a run up to the room to drop stuff off while the guys hit the dexterity games in the lobby. They taught Brian how to play Crokinole, in which he proceeded to beat John, and Steve and Dad tried out Pirate Billiards. When I returned, the five of us moved into the smaller gaming hall to play Pacific Typhoon. As we were setting up, a guy named August (down from Wichita) came by and offered to join and teach us how to play. Pac Typhoon is a sort of trick-taking game, using naval warfare cards like ships, subs and aircraft, to fight over a battle card depicting a Pacific battle from WW2. The interesting part is that everyone has cards from both sides (Japan and the Allies) and you choose which side to support in each trick. The winning side then divide the losing cards up as the spoils (each has a VP value). Aside from your cards, there is often negotiation for support, offering spoils to other players in return for them pitching in on your side of the battle. It works pretty well and, although it was longer than I expected (a good two hours), I enjoyed it and it got everyone warmed up for serious gaming. I won, too, which is always a plus.
We hadn’t really eaten any lunch, so we decided to run across the street to Denny’s for an early supper before resuming for our annual convention game – Struggle of Empires. Rodney joined us to make it a 6-way scrum of brutal battles and mounting unrest. In the end, the United Provinces emerged victorious under the leadership of John.
Brian taught Rodney how to play Hill 218 and they split a pair of games while waiting for everyone to set up for SoE; after the big game, the guys hit the dex games again where Steve and Rod notched Crokinole wins over Dad and Brian. We gathered in the main hall for the Midnight Madness drawings sponsored by online vendor Thought Hammer, but none of us were lucky and we all retired for the night.
The crew met at the Westin’s breakfast buffet around 08:45 on Friday morning. Or rather, most of the crew. Unsurprisingly, Brian slept in (although he never eats breakfast anyway, apparently). Rod join us, along with Brian ‘Koldfoot‘ from Alaska (who I thought I’d met a couple years ago, but apparently not because he wasn’t in my Geekbuddy group for BGGcon 2006). Some morning Crokinole saw Steve notch more wins against both Dad and me, then we broke up for some more boardgames.
Dad, Steve, Brian and I played Genji, a new game from ZMan and the first published game from BGDF member Dylan Kirk. The game is set in medieval Japan (the Heian period, and inspired by the Tale of Genji) where each player woos various princesses with poetry. Each princess has a favored season and fashion (nature, melancholy or romance) and there is also the current season and current fashion. Players’ cards are either beginnings (3 lines) or endings (2 lines) of poetry and hold symbols for different seasons and fashions. As players make their rounds among the ladies, they offer poetry — the more matches between the poetry cards and the princess’s likes and current cards, the more beautiful the poem is rated. Beauty helps score reputation at the end of each season, plus another player can come along and basically trash your poem by showing a more beautiful poem section. After each season of playing, reputation points are scored based on most beautiful poem, most poems on the table, and (heh) a bonus for cuckoldry (having a poem on another player’s favorite princess).
The game plays pretty well, with elements of hand-management and direct competition against other players via out-playing their poems. There is also an advantage to being the first to complete a circuit of the twelve princesses, so there is an element of racing vs. going slower and trying to get better poems in play. Aesthetically, the game is fabulous. The cards show paper fragments that match up when you place a beginning with an end. The art and iconography are very thematic, and if you look closely, you can see that the Japanese writing on each poem card is different, so we assume the actual words on the poem card are written in Japanese on the parchment shown on that card. In the end, I was the greatest lover in Japan, naturally.
Meanwhile, Rod had checked out a copy of Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas, one of the hot new Essen games (and a giant 2D Latin palindrome). They picked up a couple random players, ‘John’ (who won) and Sheila ‘Samaganda‘. I didn’t get to see much of their game, but reports from Rod and John were that the game is mechanically interesting and fun, but suffers from horrible downtime because players cannot plan ahead much before their turn, and taking each turn requires some amount of thoughtfulness. Accordingly, I’ve downgraded it on my wishlist.
The guys wanted to play Pirate’s Cove on the giant HeroScape board Rod had laid out; since it only plays five, I said I’d sit out and just start reading rules for some of the games we planned on playing. I ended up running into Dan’s Austin crew while getting a sandwich, so I went and joined them for a game of Dorn, another new game that I’d heard about before the con. It is a one-vs-many adventure game with deterministic combat. I thought it played pretty well and actually had little downtime, although the endgame might be a little anticlimactic. I’m willing to play it again to see it in action a bit more. Me, Dan and Daniel ‘D-Bomb’ beat Ian playing the Dornkeeper, while Rod was victorious in Pirate’s Cove.
The informal ProtoAlley was supposed to start at 16:00. This was a gathering of amateur designers, mostly BGDF people I think, who were going to do some playtesting with each other. I had skipped on this event last year because it was Dad’s and Adrian’s first convention, so I had spent all my time playing games with them. Brian and I both intended to participate this year, but I felt like a dumbarse for not having a prototype ready to play, plus we were about to bust out Dominion. Not sure why Brian decided not to jump in. He did have protos of Pilgrimage and Hamlet with him, which he delivered to Dan for later testing with the Flywheel guys in Austin.
Anyhoo, Rod and I both had Dominion, so we sat at a large table and started simultaneous 3p learning games. Erik from Broken Arrow came by so he joined one of the games as well. It was pretty much love at first play for everyone, I think. Players start with identical 10-card decks consisting of just 3 VP cards and 7 copper coin cards. Over the course of the game, players spend money from their 5-card hands to buy new cards, which will come back into their hands as their decks are exhausted and reshuffled and redrawn. At the end of the game, the player with the most VP in his deck wins.
This game has so many nice things going on in the simple act of modifying your deck. VP cards are useless during the game, but the only thing that matters when it ends; adding VP dilutes your deck. Money lets you acquire action cards, VP cards, and more money; Copper cards are free, but as your deck grows and you acquire Silver and Gold cards, the presence of Copper reduces the monetary density of your deck. More action cards let you do more things on your turn, but too many and you can have wasted cards in your hand. The feeling of growing your deck and then seeing your deck strategy pan out over the course of the game is very satisfying. On top of all this, the game has a lot of replayability, not just by trying different things in each game, but because any given game uses 10 different kingdom (action) cards, out of a pool of 25 kingdom cards, so just mixing up the 10 used can produce very different types of games. No +Buy cards slows down card acquisition; no Moat cards requires alternate means of defending against attack cards; fewer +Action cards (especially the +2 Action card ‘Village’) reduces action chains; and so on.
There were two plays in the Brian, Rod, John group, with wins by John and Brian. In our group, I beat Erik, Steve and Dad the first play, then Steve left to take a break because his allergies were killing him, and I won the subsequent 3p game. By this time it was getting on into the evening, so the four of us rolled out to find some Chinese food. We tried to go the same place as last year, but our memories failed to lead us to the right place and, after driving around the Grapevine Mills area fruitlessly, Brian finally pulled up Google and GPS on his phone and led us a place called the Pearl, which was actually pretty good.
We got back around 20:00 and called to verify Steve was going to play in the Hold’em tournament. Brian and John played some Crokinole and then a quick dexterity game for which we couldn’t figure out the name; it’s the one with the elastic bands, wooden disks, and a narrow slot through which you try to shoot the disks as fast as possible, until all the disks are on the opponent’s side of the board. Brian won both of those.
Rod joined us for a game of Pacific Typhoon, then Brian made like Cinderella and went to bed around 22:00, so we got in a couple more 4p games of Dominion, breaking for the Midnight Madness drawings during the second game. Nobody won any prizes again, but Rod and I each came away with a Dominion win.
We stopped by the poker room on the way upstairs and caught up with Steve just as he was knocked out in 11th place before the final table formed. He ended up with 100 geekgold for his effort, from a field of about 140 players.
We were a little later getting to the breakfast buffet on Saturday morning, then we sat down for a game of Victory & Honor playing as partners, me and Dad against Steve and John. V&H is a trick-taking card game with each suit consisting of generals and troops, ranked high to low. Aside from the Civil War theme, the interesting elements are that you play three simultaneous tricks (left flank, center and right flank), each trick must be in a different suit, and the last suit becomes trump for that hand. There are also some special cards such as artillery (bombs an enemy card, adding it to your spoils, aka points) and cavalry (automatically wins a trick, after artillery bombardment but before trumps). The scoring is number of generals in a suit times the number of regular cards in a suit, so there is a high incentive to trying to capture multiple cards in a suit, especially generals.
Steve/John beat us pretty soundly, but I liked the game. I think it can really improve with repeated play as some of the suit-choosing and card-leading strategies become more evident.
It was almost noon at that point, so I headed for the Magnolia room for the Supernova tournament I had signed up for prior to the con. The setup and rules explanation took nearly an hour, which annoyed me a bit, but the game itself is really not that complicated and played really well. I had thought previously that it was a lot of expanding and some combat, but in actuality, it is a very confrontational game that strongly rewards aggression. It has a lot of mechanisms that deal with some of the common conflict game problems (e.g., turtling, player elimination, etc.) and yet had a very Euro feel with virtually luck-less battle resolution. A great clean look, some tech tree action, some auctioning and diplomacy — all added up to a good time. Brian won our game, defeating me, Thomas and Michael, earning him the copy of the game we were playing.
Supernova ate up all my afternoon (in fact, it ran over the Math Trade time and the guys had to handle my trades for me). Rod joined John, Dad and Steve for a demo of Ghost Stories (Brian slept in again, coming downstairs some time around 11:00 (!)), a cooperative game which they lost (but John was glad he grabbed before they sold out on Thursday). Brian swapped out for Rod and they played Chicago Express in the “Hot Essen Games” area. Everyone really liked it, and Brian declared it “the best train game ever.” It’s not available yet, unfortunately, but I suspect we’ll be seeing multiple copies in our group before too long.
The gang split up then, with Rod winning a game of Dominion against Steve and Dad, and Brian and John trying out Tomb but abandoning it as nothing special — a glorified version of Dungeon, according to Brian. By the time I finished Supernova, there was another game of Pirate’s Cove going on with Dad, Steve, Rod, Brian and non-BGG user Tim. Bman and I split a pair of 2p Dominion games, then took a break for the big Golden Geek Awards and Grand Prize drawings. Lo and behold, I won something! A stack of games including Caledea (more on that on Sunday), Aquaretto, Surf’s Up Dude, Lightning War on Terror, Jungle Speed, Hero Immortal King – Den of Dementia, and the Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. Woot for me!
After the pirate game ended (and Brian winning), Dad and Steve went to the bar to watch the OU vs. Texas Tech game. Dominion continued to dominate with more games forming up throughout Saturday night. Rod beat Tim and John; Mark beat me, Brian and Koldfoot; Brian and Erik tied in a win over me and Erik’s non-BGG friend Shannon; and I won an intense game against Rod and Don from Edmond. In between OU kicking TT’s ass 65-21 and chowing down on some delivered Chinese, Steve got another Crokinole win against Dad, and the human team of Erik and John beat down the zombie team of Brian and Shannon during the Last Night on Earth.
It was almost midnight at that point, but Brian was feeling froggy, so we played League of Six with Rod and Tim. I had just gotten this in the Math Trade earlier and had actually had it on my wishlist since last year’s con, so I was happy to give it a try. It has a lot of neat elements to it, using guards as currency while jockeying for position in the most desirable city each round. The storing of goods has a very Captain in the game Puerto Rico feel to it, but beefier since there are variable payouts for each good on each possible row to store them – and it happens every turn, not just periodically. It’s not really a complicated game, either, and our learning game was easily less than two hours. I think everyone liked it and I can see it getting more plays in the coming months.
The last day of the con is always pretty light. We usually sleep in, then wander around the vendors again before checking out. This time was no different. We didn’t get down to the con till around 10:00. Since the Caledea designers/self-publishers were still down there doing demos, I figured we could save the effort of learning the game from the rules. Steve and I played each other, and Dad and Brian played. The game is actually pretty neat. It seems a basic expand-and-fight light wargame, a little above Risk say, but there are a lot of nice design elements that make this a great 30-60 minute wargame. Every square of the board has two different terrain elements on it; each empire has two terrains that comprise “home turf” for it, if you will, so players expand by explictly moving to those squares that match its home. Terrain also provides bonus dice in combat, 1 die per match. There are only three levels of unit, corresponding to how many dice they roll (and how far they move), with combat decided by highest single die roll, using the additional dice as tiebreakers. You only gain a new unit when you found a new outpost (on your double-terrain matches), and units are permanently gone once lost in battle. The combination of finite terrain matches and permadeath puts an automatic limitation on game length as attrition develops, although you can also win by capturing the opponent’s capital or by completely fortifying yours with castle improvements.
Brian and I each won our games and then it was time to check-out and track down a Mongolian barbecue for our annual post-con lunch.
The con was excellent again. The DFW Westin (the same as last year) is still a great location: plenty of gaming space (they added several smaller rooms this year which worked great for open gaming as well as events), terrific breakfast buffet (con attendees got 10% off this year), a Denny’s across the street for 24-hour dining, plenty of restaurants only 5-10 minutes away by car. The freebies are still cool, the game library continues to grow every year, and I guess they were up from about 600 attendees to 755. I’m not sure how much more the con can grow at that venue, although I’m pretty happy with the size as it is now. I’m somewhat unsure of how the tone of the con might change if it keeps growing bigger and bigger; it’s also not too difficult to run into people you know with the current size.
Speaking of the game library – I checked out no games this year. In fact, among the five of us who drove down there together, we had a grand total of one game checked out (John grabbed Cutthroat Caverns) and we ended up not even playing it. I’m not sure how that happened… perhaps Dominion is to blame, as we seemed to break that out any time there was a gap between bigger/longer games. We also played several games that we purchased there. I hear the library games were barcoded this year for even faster service – amazing!
All in all, BGGcon remains an awesome experience and everyone is looking forward to it again already. Hopefully, Steve will be able to plan his schedule around it again in the future, and maybe Adrian can make it next year.