November 15, 2005

Susan's BGG.con Report

by Susan Rozmiarek

Unfortunately, because of our two kids in school, we could not get to Dallas until late Friday evening. After checking into the hotel, we moseyed up to the game rooms and were greeted by our friend from Gulf Games, Vickie Watson. She graciously gave us a tour of mostly deserted rooms, as Peter Sarrettís game show was currently running and had sucked in most of the people. She also guided us through the process of getting our ďdoor prizes.Ē This replaced the familiar prize table from the other gaming get-together that Iíve been to and involved drawing a ticket and then picking out a game from one of three tables depending on the color of the ticket. Kevin drew a blue ticket for the best table and was able to get a shiny new shrink wrapped copy of Mission: PlanŤte Rouge, a new game by the designing Bruno duo of Faidutti and Cathala. Being late arrivals meant the tables were already picked over, so we felt very fortunate to get this nice game, which I suspect had been left only because it was the French edition. Getting a free game upon arrival was a very pleasant surprise, even if late arrivals didnít get as much choice as the early birds.

Soon thereafter, the game show was over and the masses starting spilling into the other rooms. We soon found ourselves in a game, despite our travel fatigue and the late hour.

Tempus

Pal Michael Weston offered to teach Ed and me this long awaited upcoming Martin Wallace game. Joining us were Peter Sarrett and Michael Pennisi. This has been described as a civ-building game, but I really didnít get that feeling, although Iím hardly an expert on that type of game. Sure, as the game progresses you get to do more as civilization advances, but those things seemed very general and abstract (like having a bigger hand limit). What it did feel like was a territory grabbing game in the vein of Evo (as noticed by Peter) and Vinci. Unlike those games, where scoring occurs every turn, the scoring in Tempus comes solely at the very end which made the game feel very different by making for a long, slow, defensive buildup. There is however, some tactical land grabbing during the game, as holding the majority of certain land types at certain times in the game is beneficial. Deciding whether to get caught up in those struggles or concentrate on long term goals makes for some interesting decisions. The game really intrigued me as I donít feel like I set myself up for the end as well as I could have, so Iím really itching to try it again. A must-buy and the best new game I played all weekend.


Our first game, Tempus (prototype copy). Susan, Michael Weston, Peter Sarrett, Michael Pennisi (fizzix) and Ed (taking photo) got to play.
Elasund

I finally got to play a game with Mark Johnson, who I had briefly met a few years ago. I feel like I already knew him from his podcast, Board Games To Go. Also playing was Ed and one of our local friends, Jon Grimm.

Nick Johnson from Catan Ltd. was there teaching this and Candamir. We had a copy as well and both seemed to get plenty of play and lots of positive comments. If you were disappointed in the lack of player interaction in the gentle Candamir then this game is for you. Itís a totally different animal; this oneís got teeth! Players are trying to build buildings on the board, which generate both victory points and/or resources which are needed to build. Building requires building permits which have to be placed on a previous turn and thus give other players a clue what your intentions are. You can use other playersí building permits as well as build over their buildings (with certain restrictions), so the competition and jockeying for position on the board can be brutal! There are several familiar mechanisms. Each turn begins with a resource roll, with a ď7Ē being a pirate. What is neat about the resource roll here is that not only does it determine which buildings produce resources, it also determines where on the board building permits can be placed that turn. Also present is the same clever system of keeping track of victory points as in Candamir, with players placing cubes on the board as they earn them. There are also several paths to pursue, just like in Anno 1503, but not enough VPs in each path for every player to pursue the same strategy. I liked the game quite a bit and was impressed with how the designer is able to keep the tie-in to Catan with both the theme and a few mechanisms, while creating a completely different game with its own clever twists.


Mark Johnson, Jon Grimm, Susan and Ed (taking photo) got to try out the new Catan Adventures game, Elasund: The First City of Catan.

Elasund close up.

Barbarossa

I can almost never get our game group at home to play party games like this, so I toted it along to see if the BGG.con crowd was more willing. And who do I end up playing it with? My son and some members of my local group! Maybe there is hope after all.

Iíve played a sort of copycat game, Cluzzle and wondered how this older classic on which it is based differed. Both games involve molding clay sculptures and having the other players try to guess what they represent. The point system rewards sculptures that are neither too hard nor too easy. Cluzzle basically boils the game down to just forming the clay sculptures and asking questions about them, while Barbarossa adds a bit of chrome with a dice roll that dictates different options for what happens on your turn. One of these is getting a jewel. Jewels can be spent instead of a dice roll to allow you to choose the option that you want. Another is the dragon, which gives everyone else a point. Another allows you to ask yes/no questions and the final one allows you to ask for a letter in the name of a sculpture. All this chrome seemed a little fussy and pointless, but I did like the letter option a lot.

We were all horrible at guessing and thus our game went way too long. It generated a lot of laughs though, and was pretty fun.

Pirate Prototype

Jerry Dziuba (Danger is a lot easier to spell!) had a prototype that he was interested in having a teenage boy try. Since I happen to have an almost-one-of-those, I rounded up my son, another kid (also named Kevin?), and Michael Weston to give it a go. Without the permission to discuss it, Iíll just say that it is an interesting use of a set collecting mechanism from a simple older game, expanded and embellished to include pirates battling for control of islands. It had some neat ideas but could perhaps use a few tweaks to be even better. My son liked it but the other boy got a bit restless and bailed early to go play another game starting up at a nearby table.


Kevin makes his move while Susan, Jerry Dziuba and Micheal Weston look on while testing one of Jerry's prototypes.
Olympia 2000

Next up was some more gaming with my local group, this time revisiting this nice and simple, older blind-bidding card game. I hadnít played it in quite a while and forgot how much I liked it.

Prototype- The Menorah Game

Yehuda Berlinger came over all the way from Jerusalem. I am an avid reader of his blog and so knew in advance that he was bringing his prototype to play. I enjoy trying a few prototypes as long as they donít dominate my gaming, so I was more than happy to give his a whirl. Iím quite happy I did. This is a nice little set collecting game that has auctions and requires some money management. The theme is trying to be the first collect a set of candles to complete your Menorah, hopefully avoiding soldiers who want to blow them out. I enjoyed it, although it took about half a game before I understood the rules in my sleep deprived state. I immediately wanted to play a second time and I did much better. I liked the game enough to buy one of Yahudaís prototypes. It plays very smoothly and falls neatly into the ďshort, light fillerĒ niche that my gaming group enjoys. I think it would also play well with my kids. I do, however, want to come up with a theme that my family and group can relate to more. (Hope you donít mind, Yehuda). It also begs to be upgraded, bits-wise and I love to do that sort of thing. Iíve thought of a few themes that should work. Weíll see if I ever get around to it. Anyhow, I wish Yehuda the best of luck in finding a publisher.

Oh, and as a bonus I got to play it with Chad Krizan, who has one of my favorite avatars on the Geek!

Pick Two

I canít imagine Vickie Watson at a gaming convention without a copy of Pick Two. You can always find her at a table at Gulf Games playing this evil word game that resembles Scrabble on speed. We were trying to hook up for a game of it and I was finally able to round up a table of willing victims to play. Yes, I said victims as Vickie is a master at this game. However, she actually met her match in David Moinar who handily won the first game. He then bowed out for the second game which Vickie easily won. I, of course, was only able to beat the two kids playing and my son Kevin tied me the second game and he is a horrible speller! Nonetheless, this game has me hooked and my mindset is usually one of trying to beat my previous score each round, not the other players. I was thrilled to actually win one round. Thatíll probably never happen again!

Pickomino I played this with Kevin Nunn, Betty Dingus, and a nice person I didnít know, Suzy. Kevin started off with a huge pile of worms that slowly got stolen away until he was left with zilch. This is a cute game but Iím wonder how cute it would be without the cool bits.

Raj

I spied another familiar face from Gulf games, George Michaels and he invited me to a game of Raj with two women from New York (?) with really pretty names Ė Cemile and Zuleika. I had never played this game face-to-face, although I had played it online in the Nigglybits forum. Thereís not much to say about it other than itís a classic.

Shear Panic

After Raj, Cemile taught us this cute sheep game from Essen that everyone has been talking about. Iíll just get the obvious over right away Ė yes, those sheep are just too cute for words! I actually was a little reluctant to play as I was worried that Iíd like it a lot. Since it is completely sold out, any copies to be found are sure to be at a ridiculous price. Sure enough, I liked it. It was a clever little game of shuffling your sheep around to meet the particular demands to score for each part of the game. I liked the fixed set of different actions for the game. You had to be careful to save the most powerful actions for just the right moment and that was tricky. I did like it enough to want my own copy, but I can wait for the inevitable second printing.


Kevin playing Shear Panic. He liked it as well.
Australia

I only managed to play two games on Sunday, the first being a game of Australia with my local group. We own the game but Iíve never played it. Itís a nice tactical game of spotting clever scoring opportunities. I liked the game but most of us (at least Marty and I) played thinking we had to place exactly the number of explorers depicted on our cards. Knowing that we could place any number up to that shown on the card would have given us a lot more flexibility and totally changed some of my plays. Ah, well. It was still interesting the way we played it but Iím eager to try it again with the proper rule.


Betty Dingus, Susan, Marty Hoff, John Gravitt and Ed (taking photo) get in a game of Australia early Sunday afternoon.
Another Prototype

The Sunriver Games folks were still hanging out, so Ed and I finished out the con by playing one of KC Humphreyís prototypes with Chris Brooks. Once again, Iím not sure if Iím allowed to discuss it much, so Iíll just make a few brief comments. This game was a set collecting, tile-laying game. The mechanisms felt familiar, but a unique board provided some interesting tile placements. I didnít think it is as quite a clever of a design as Havoc, but it is actually a type of game I enjoy more than the poker-style play of Havoc.

I have got to say, the Sunriver folks are some of the nicest and friendliest gamers youíll ever meet. I only wish I hadnít waited until the very end to finally get around to spending some time with them. Chris has a blog that I particularly enjoy because he talks about the gaming he does with his boys which are about the same age as ours. It was a pleasure to finally meet him.


With the con ending, Chris Brooks teaches Susan and Ed one of KC Humphrey's prototypes.
General comments about the con:

Wow. For all the people who have longed, without success, to be included in one of the ďinvite onlyĒ gaming get-togethers, look no more. Scott, Derk & Company have managed to pull off an event with the same friendly open-gaming feel of those others while showing all the promise of evolving into something with its own unique personality.

My first impression of the event was the friendly and cheerful welcome from the volunteers at the registration table. There was always someone at this table to help out or just welcome people entering. My second impression was upon entering the game room (mostly empty at the time) and seeing Tim and Vickie Watsonís fabulous gaming decorations. It is little touches like this that make a big difference to the atmosphere.

The facilities were fabulous, with all the different rooms for different things. There were both quiet corners available as well as a separate room for wild, noisy werewolf games. I guess the biggest problem for us was one that has already been noted by many which is the lack of food and drinks available due to the hotelís restrictions. We did bring some sodas from home, but not snacks. In a way, it was good for me, because I wasnít constantly nibbling on junk food while playing, as is my normal habit. However, by the time we turned in at night we were pretty hungry and too stubborn to pay ridiculous hotel prices for the snacks they stocked in our room.

It felt a bit weird scanning peopleís chests looking for avatars I recognized, not names. I only knew a few as Iím not all that active on BGG. I visit there often enough, but itís like a trip to the big city Ė itís so vast and overwhelming with so much to see that I only ever get to explore a few corners at a time. Still, I was able to find a few of my favorites and meet the face behind the avatar Ė Chad Krizan and his alien that likes to play dress-up, as well as Sterling Babcock and his pop-up giraffe. I wish Iíd had the chance to mingle more, but we werenít there long enough.

I really liked having the vendors there and Iíd love to see more of them in the future. The flea market was a good idea as well, although it seemed a little hectic.

Iím undecided about whether or not kids should be included at the con. I enjoy the gaming without the chaos of young children present, but I have seen it work at other events. So, I could be convinced either way. Perhaps if the event does grow (which seems to be a goal) children could be included with a big game room set aside for ďadults only.Ē I am very grateful that the age limit was lowered to 12 and my older son was able to come. There were only a few other kids his age there, but many adults welcomed him and even invited him to games and I would like to especially thank them.

Iím really looking forward to seeing where BGG.con is headed in the future. Hopefully this is the start of something big and Iím thrilled to have been a part of it. Scott, Derk, Vickie, Kristine and the rest of the volunteers who were tirelessly working behind the scenes to pull this off Ė THANK YOU!!

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at November 15, 2005 8:20 PM

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