November 22, 2007

BGG.con 2007

by Susan Rozmiarek

Well, here we are back and trying to recover from a busy weekend in Dallas in which we tried to cram in BGG.con, a soccer tournament and time with Ed's family. Overall, the weekend went pretty well considering how much we had to do. I won't bore you with the non-gaming details of the weekend, other to say that the weather was gorgeous and very pleasant for spending all day outside Saturday at Kevin's soccer tournament. Unfortunately, that kept us away from the gaming all day and evening Saturday, but we did manage to play a few games over the course of the weekend.

Thoughts on the games I played:

After entering the enormous main gaming room for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the shear number of people and tables. After wandering around a few minutes and finding hardly anyone I know, I fled to find the gaming library. I found Giganten der Lüfte, a new Essen release that had piqued my interest with early positive reports and I retreated to a quiet corner of the lobby to read the rules. I then braved the gaming room again and actually managed to collect a few folks I knew to sit down and learn it with me.

Giganten der Lüfte

I really thought that this game would be a big hit with me. I love dice games and this one is being compared to a favorite of mine, To Court the King. Alas, Giganten did not live up to such high praise although it does get points for the unique theme of building zeppelins.

The game involves rolling dice to be able to claim cards that add more and/or better dice to your pool or adjust your rolls. This hopefully leads to better rolls to get better cards, many of which have victory points. Eventually, you want to be able to contribute to the building of the Hindenburg to get even more VPs. It sounded good on paper, but the reality was it started to get rather boring about mid-game. Instead of trying to tweak dice combinations by cleverly using your characters as well as having to decide which dice to lock and which to re-roll as in To Court the King, here you mostly roll once and add bonuses to reach a total that wins you the card. There just wasn't that much excitement.

I did like how you could only keep one card of each type as it was often painful to discard a good card to make room for a new one. But overall, I thought that the interesting bits of To Court the King were missing from this game and there wasn't anything new or innovative to replace them. Since To Court the King has been criticized by some for being too fiddly and complicated, Giganten's simplicity might be just the fix they need. It wasn't a bad game and I'd play it again, but all the while I'd be wondering why we just didn't pull out To Court the King instead.

Kevin Nunn gives Giganten der Lüfte a big thumbs up while Susan takes her turn. Mark Hamzy looks on in surprise.

Cheeky Monkey

While returning Giganten der Lüfte to the game library, I spied this new game and decided to look it over next. This is a push-your-luck game, another favorite genre of mine. The rules were so short and simple we (or should I say Greg) were able to read them aloud at the table and we were playing within minutes. In this game, you are pulling nice, heavy poker chips depicting animals out of a bag and collecting them in a stack in front of you. You can keep pulling animals out of the bag for as long as you like unless you pull out an animal that you have already drawn that turn. If you do, you go "bust" and have to return all the animals to the bag that you've collected that turn. At any time, you can stop and add the animals you've drawn to your stack to end your turn. In this way, the game is a little similar to another game, Zirkus Flohcati.

A fun part of this game is if you draw an animal that is showing on the top of another player's stack, you can steal theirs and add it to your own. There is also the Cheeky Monkey which can be swapped for the top animal in another player's stack. Once the bag is empty of tiles, players add up the number of chips they've collected. Chips are worth one point each and there are bonus points for having the most of the different types of animals. The game is simple and cute, enough so that I definitely want a copy. Besides, I'm a sucker for any game with cute animals.

Greg Schloesser teaches Cheeky Monkey to Kevin, Susan and Jeff.


We moved on to Greg's copy of Gangster, a new game being published by Mayfair. I had skimmed the rules to this already and was afraid that it was going to be yet another in a long line of boring area majority games. I was happy to find out that this was not the case. This game is actually very thematic and has a couple of neat twists. Also, it's mean. VERY mean. What else would you expect in a game about gangsters?

Players are gangsters, driving around Chicago and dropping off thugs to take control of the various regions while taking out rival thugs, throwing them in the trunk and dumping their bodies in Lake Michigan. Did I mention this game was mean? On your turn, you either move your car or you place or remove a gangster (yours or a rival) at your current location. Movement is from region to region via roads and must be accomplished by exact count without backtracking. Players each have a set of three movement cards numbered from 1 to 3. They must play each one before they get them all back again so careful planning to get to desired locations is necessary. The game is driven along in a rather neat fashion. Each time a player uses his third and last movement card a doubling chip is placed randomly in a region. When all the chips have been placed, the round ends and the regions are scored. Two regions will not get doubling chips so you can't be certain which regions will be the most valuable. Another cool twist is that in some regions, first place does not yield the most points. There are also unknown values in some regions that are determined randomly at the end of the round. While these random factors add some luck, they aren't overwhelming and they add uncertainty and excitement to the game.

Of course, any good theme-heavy game has to have special powers and in Gangster they include a better engine for extra movement, extra trunk space for another body, and Tommy guns to take out rivals in adjacent regions just to name a few. You can only have two of these upgrades at any time so they don't overwhelm the game or make it fiddly at all.

I have to admit, I was surprised at how much fun I had playing this game. It manages to capture the feel of the theme while retaining much of the elegance of a typical eurogame. It also helped that I was playing with a fun group of players. The jokes were flying and there was constant whining. ;-)

Gangster game in progress


On Saturday night I didn't make it down to the game room until 10 pm after a long day of watching soccer games and trooping around Dallas. I planned to play something familiar and fluffy as I felt too tired for anything else. But Greg enticed me with a new dice game, Kingsburg, and I was powerless to resist his charms. This game had been on my watch list for been rather unique-sounding and fortunately the rules are rather straightforward.

Like Yspahan, this is a game that uses dice in a different and clever way. The idea is to influence the king's advisors to get victory points, resources or soldiers from them. To do this you roll dice. Each advisor has a value and you must place one or more of your rolled dice with the exact number of pips on the advisor's space to claim his advantages for that round. Only one player (usually) can claim a particular advisor in a given round. The resources are used to build various building s that give special powers or victory points. At the end of each of the five years of the game, players must fight invading creatures with the army they have hopefully built up. There are severe penalties for losing and rewards for winning. Unless you choose a particular advisor that allows you to peek, you only have an idea of the strength of the upcoming monster.

There are a lot of clever things in this game that I'm not bothering to explain, including some nice mechanisms to help bolster the player currently in last place. There always seemed to be clever things to do, even when you rolled poorly. I really enjoyed this game a lot.

Greg Schloesser, Chris and Susan play Kingsburg.


Between saying goodbyes to various people on Sunday morning, I finally managed to browse the various vendors. This is one area of the convention that I hope grows in the future. I am well over my younger years of being a shopaholic except when the shopping involves games and then I can't get enough.

Even with our tight budget, we managed to do a hefty amount of damage at the Z-Man booth. Zev had nice discounts on many (all?) of his games. Despite the fact that I have the older English copy of Prophecy and haven't even played it, I couldn't resist the even flashier new version. The box felt like it was full of rocks so I'm sure we saved a bunch by not paying for shipping. Of course, we could have saved even more by not getting it at all. Ed wanted Chang Cheng and we also bought some silly looking card game called Escalation just because I liked the art and theme.

A game store called Troll & Toad had several of the new Essen releases for the "gotta have it now" crowd but for quite a pretty penny. Antler Island for $90? Yikes! I guess they probably went to lots of trouble and expense to get these games but they were too rich for my blood.

Another game I purchased was Geominos. Greg was quite enthusiastic about it and it looked like a good bet for the Blokus/Qwirkle/Ingenious crowd which would include me. The plastic pieces are nice, but it has a laminated board with a rather homemade look, poor quality cards and it's packaged in a ghastly pizza box that is not going to fit on my shelves. Still, the designer was very nice and his game does sound pretty good. Hopefully, I'll be posting about it soon.

I stopped by twice to admire some really cool dice bags and dice towers but by this time we had already gone way over budget. I did get the vendor's card, however, with his web address.

Finally, I bought the new fan edition of Bohnanza from the Rio Grande booth after Mike Chapel pointed out some humorous, politically incorrect cards. Our old Bohnanza deck is quite worn so I thought, why not?

Overall thoughts about the convention:

Aldie & Co. are doing a superb job growing this into something really special and different from any other public gaming convention as its focus is open gaming. It definitely fills a void for the many, many people that do not have access to the private gatherings or don't want to start one themselves. If your idea of gaming nirvana is having access to all the latest and greatest Essen releases as well as older games and hundreds of gamers to play them with, then BGG.con is the event for you. The library of games was fabulous! Even though I didn't get around to trying many of them, I enjoyed just pawing through the new Essen releases.

For me personally though, it is just too big. I like the intimacy of smaller gatherings. There were many people that I knew were attending BGG.con that I wanted to meet and friends that I wanted see again but there were so many people there that I never even ran into some of them. The main room was so very big and crowded that I once even had to resort to calling Ed on his cell phone to find him! I also missed the impromptu excursions out to lunch and dinner that naturally occur at smaller events where I know more people. It's hard to get to know folks better in a noisy, crowded game room. There were some smaller, quieter rooms available, but that also made it hard to find the people hiding in them.

I almost hesitant to write this next bit but I've read comments by people reluctant to attend a public gaming convention for fear of running into the Dreaded Gamer Stereotype. I guess I've been lucky and have yet to have to deal with a person fitting the full blown stereotype. My luck held at BGG.con and while spending hours in huge room packed with gamers, I never even once caught a whiff of "gamer funk," thank goodness. Also, I didn't see a single person dressed in a weird costume. Well, unless you count Friedemann Friese's green hair! :-) And yes, there were a decent number of women present.

My kids did fine at the con, but there didn't seem to be many other kids/teenagers there and they would have enjoyed it more if there had been. They spent a lot of time in the dexterity games area. Despite all the uproar about the subject on the 'Geek, I did not observe any "adult" behavior there that might have damaged their fragile innocence. I saw them playing dexterity games a few times with adults (thank you, whoever you were) but as far as I know, they didn't push themselves on anybody who didn't want to play with them. However, I don't think many (any?) people asked them to play, either. I have no problem with BGG.con being an event for adults, but I thought I should point this out for parents considering bringing their kids. It's definitely more geared toward adults.

Hopefully, I'm not sounding too negative. My criticism is of a personal nature and I did enjoy myself during the little time that I was there. It's amazing how much BGG.con has grown in just three years and yet has remained, to all outside appearances, so well-organized. You could just look around and see multitudes of people enjoying themselves. If we can make it, we certainly plan to go again. It's just that the size and crowds were overwhelming and I think I'll always prefer the smaller, more intimate gatherings.

Check out more pictures starting here.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at November 22, 2007 11:33 PM


Great report, Susan. I continue to be puzzled at the mixed reaction Giganten der Lufte is getting. Our first game was very enjoyable and my thought was that this was going to be a huge hit and a certain SdJ nominee. But it might be a more fragile design than I first thought.

Like you, I'm also a fan of To Court the King (and Pickomino). I think there are two things in GdL that replace the freezing decisions and dice tweaking powers in TCtK. The first is that you have to choose your target before rolling. So you have to take into account the card's ability, its color, the dice it lets you roll, and so on. These aren't heavy decisions, but they are fun. The other innovation is the fact that the target cards limit the number of dice you can apply to reach its total. So if I have 3 white dice and 2 red ones, I can roll them all, but the card I'm trying to win may only allow me to use two white dice and one red die. Given this, what do I think the odds are that I can make required total? These aren't trivial probability questions and require the players to get an instinctive feel of what their odds will be. It's something new in dice games and I think a very nice innovation.

Combine this with the +1 chips, the decision of when and if to take an additional turn, and the timing of when to go after blimps and building the Hindenburg and I think you have a very nice game. It's main appeal, in addition to the decision-making, is how fast it plays. With just one roll per turn, it's the fastest dice game I know and that's a very welcome feature.

I'm not sure why this game hasn't proven to be more attractive to many experienced gamers. One thing may be the way it is being played. In my game, I decided to be very aggressive in going after the better dice. This gave me plenty of options and allowed me to keep going after bigger targets, rather than play catch-up. It also kept the game fresh and challenging right up to the end. If players are too timid (which might seem to be the more prudent course at first blush), I can see the game being less dynamic.

Anyway, I rank it right up there with TCtK and Pickomino and ahead of the Settlers Dice Game (which I also like). Hopefully, people will give it a second chance and not let it fall into obscurity.

I'm glad to hear a positive report about Kingsburg. I thought the mechanics sounded interesting (particularly the way dice are used), but I haven't heard too many good things lately. Its high price remains a barrier, though, so it's still a try before I buy.

Glad you enjoyed the con. I guess Kevin's team didn't win the tournament, as you were able to squeeze in some gaming on Saturday night. Hope he had a good time, though.

Posted by: Larry Levy on November 23, 2007 1:39 PM

Thanks for your insightful comments, Larry. I think that everyone at our table was playing more of a timid game. However, I'm not totally convinced that this was the problem. As Ed commented to me, and I agree, in our game you usually had a very limited choice of cards to choose from because either you didn't have the right dice or your chances of getting the roll were low. Maybe we weren't being aggressive enough. At any rate, the game wasn't bad and I'm sure I'll get a chance to play it again. I wasn't all that impressed with To Court the King after my first playing either and now it is one of my favorite dice games.

I like Pickomino as well but I haven't gotten a chance to try the Settlers dice game yet. Nobody around here has a copy. I was hoping Mayfair would do it. I wish that I'd thought to check the BGG.con library for it.

Kevin's soccer team didn't do so well. :-( They lost two games and tied one. Kevin's performance was awesome though, and that's not just a mother talking! He's been benched most of the season with a shoulder injury and this was his first time back on the field so he was very happy.

Posted by: Susan on November 24, 2007 9:33 PM
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