BGG.con 2011 Wrap-Up

Eclipse

During a game of Eclipse, the evil dancing Dreadnoughts stand defiantly at the Galactic Center

Once again BGG.con has come and gone, and I sadly sit back in my humble abode thinking of all the good times I had for five glorious days in Dallas, TX. BGG.con is the only con I currently fly to, and just like last year (this was only my second time attending) it was an amazing experience.  I got to see some people I had met and gamed with last year, and it is a great feeling when even if you do not remember each other’s names, you still instantly know you have gamed together in the past.

Some things were done much better this year than last. Registration was blazing quick for once, probably because they got rid of some of the more random door prizes; you went in, picked up your badge, and got your tote bag and two free games. Done.  Go gaming!  The tournaments were also organized better. For example, the Tichu tournament (in which my partner and I placed second!) was now split over two afternoons instead of one massive 8-9 hour session.  The Geek Chic guys were now situated in the main room rather than in a small side room, so people could see and ogle at their majestic tables.  And last but not least, the library was open from 8am to 1am every day for some late night gaming!

A few things were missed, like the geek crazy photo booth, but at the end of the day it was definitely an improved experience over last year.  And of course, there were games aplenty.  Here are all the new games I played at the con:

Trajan – As soon as the doors opened on Wednesday, I bolted straight to the Essen games section of the library looking for any game that I already knew how to play.  My usual preparation for BGG.con involves downloading as many rules as possible in the days leading up to it and reading them during any downtime I have, like the plane ride or the registration line.   Trajan was on my list of games to try, and I saw one copy laying there and snagged it.  I was a little wary of the game from reading the rules; I was honestly afraid the Mancala-like mechanic of moving the colored action markers around your board would be too gimmicky.

During your turn, you move all the action markers on a tray on your board clockwise, leaving one marker in every other tray you move over.  So if you move a tray with three markers, the next three trays would receive one of those markers.  The last marker placed (in this example, the third spot over) determines the action you can take that turn, as well as being allowed to claim the Trajan tile sitting in that tray if the colors of the action markers there now match that tile.  Each action lets you interact with a different part of the board, where you compete over land, the forum, the senate, and similar items for points.  Even though my first play of it did remind me of my first play of Macao, where all I was doing is figuring out how to get the right colors into the right spaces, I greatly enjoyed this one.  4/5

Pantheon – Not exactly new, but definitely new to me.  Pantheon is a medium euro game, half area control and half set collection.  Through the game, you can spend your actions to do different things such as collect god tiles, draw cards, move around the map and buy upgrades.  Each of these actions can aid your civilization to collect endgame points.  I thought this was an excellent game, although in the lighter euro category.  We played it with three people and it went fairly quick.  I would love to give this one another go.  4/5

Belfort

Belfort in progress. Early in the game and excitement was not exactly rampant.

Belfort – This was probably my biggest disappointment of the con, and I was definitely not alone in that sentiment.  This one seemed to be one of those “love it or hate it” games.  On the surface, there seems to be nothing wrong with this one.  Worker placement, area control and engine-building.  All mechanics I love, but it just felt flat for me.  Each district has the same types of buildings, which you can purchase and build with resources to claim spaces on the board.  There is also a communal board where you can send your workers to collect resources or buy more workers.

The problem for me is that the whole engine-building and worker placement part of the game is just a means to an end, which is the area control part of the game.  Building cards are worth nothing, and only your final placement on the board is what determines the points at the end.  The game also has some of actions that let you move other people’s cubes around, so it adds a “take that” facet to the game that I didn’t care for.  At the end of the day, it’s not a BAD game, it’s just not great.  But I would give this another go.  3/5

The Ares Project – My roommate brought this game to the con and we decided to play it one night before going to bed.  I had heard about this game a long time ago thanks to listening to the Dice Tower and the Engelstein’s segments, so I was looking forward to trying it out.  After perusing the rules, we decided to give the basic game a go.  I was very pleasantly surprised by what I saw, and although it was a fast game and I could tell a lot of the more advanced mechanics were missing, it was good enough to make me buy a copy for myself.  All I could think of when I drew a card that would not work to its fullest due to the basic game rules, all I could think of is how cool it would be in the full game.

I am happy to report that I have now played the full game since, and it is indeed excellent.  For two people, it is probably my favorite game of its genre.  The four factions feel (and are) absolutely different.  I mean, one of the factions builds a giant robot instead of units!  Giant robot!  So if you like tactical two-player games, definitely give this one a shot.  4/5

Tournay – I got to try this one a few times while at the con, as I kept seeing it in the library up for grabs.  During last year’s BGG.con Troyes was definitely one of the hottest games to play.  This was not the case for Tournay this year, but it did see its fair share of play for a card game.  Although some people will try to convince you otherwise, this game really is Troyes: the card game.  It takes a lot of the mechanics (buying workers from other people, white-yellow-red cards and workers, fighting black cards together) and re-implements them as a card game.

On your turn, you can use your colored meeples to draw cards from the decks of their color.  Cards come in levels, with level 1 cards only costing one meeple of that color to draw and having the “weakest” effects.  Level 2 cards are much stronger, and level 3 cards are prestige buildings that affect endgame scoring.  Just like Troyes, prestige buildings make all players score points as depicted on it, not just yourself.  You play these cards in a tableau in front of you, but unlike games like Race for the Galaxy, where you place these cards is important.  You can only build cards in a 3×3 grid and some cards do affect other cards next to it.  I enjoyed this game every time I played it, and would still play it some more.  4/5

Dungeon Petz – Only two copies of Dungeon Petz were available, and they were both in the hot games room with a line to play at all times.  We decided to come down early one of the days and get in on a game as quickly as we could.  I am a big fan of Dungeon Lords, and this seemed like a great follow-up game.  Well, both the good news and the bad news is that other than the theme, this game is nothing like Dungeon Lords.  Players basically are trying to collect and raise these pets that grow up over time for profit.  You get points by showing off your pets while you are raising them, and selling them once they are grown and worth some decent coin.  You have to do some upkeep on all your pets, so one of the things going on in this game is balancing growing too quickly or too slowly.

Another neat mechanic is the worker-placement aspect, where players basically bid on how many actions they want to take in order to place their workers first.  The simple version is each player has six imps, and you can either set them up behind your screen alone or in groups.  Each group of imps is one action, but bigger groups of imps get to place first.  So I could set all my imps in groups of two each, netting me three actions, or all six in one single group that will probably be placed first.  The hard decisions, fun theme, and many interesting mechanics in here will definitely make me pick this one up as soon as it is available.  Oh, and we played in a little over an hour so it will see much more play over Dungeon Lords with my group just because of that fact.  5/5

City Tycoon – Every con  has THAT game…  The game you wished you didn’t play.  City Tycoon was that game for me.  We played it with five players, and there was just nothing exciting here.  From what I had read about it, it seemed neat as a light “SimCity-like” game where we are all building up a town and vying for resources to power it and run our factories.  But in execution it falls flatter than the state of Florida.  All the tiles you build create a network, and transporting resources on your own network is free.  Therefore, everyone just played their tiles in their own little corner of the world and there was barely any player interaction at all.  The mechanic just seemed counter-intuitive with the theme of the game.  I think the only exciting mechanic for me was having to decide whether you wanted to build the one-time power plant for cheap or the renewable one for more cash.  This one is definitely a pass for me. 2/5

Kingdom Builder – Probably no other game had more buzz coming into the con than this game.  The new game from now quasi-celebrity Dominion designer Donald X. Vaccarino.  Queen Games was sponsoring a tournament where the grand prize was a trip to Essen next year (from which I got knocked out in about 15 minutes).  There was only one copy of it in the hot games room, and none to check out. Thankfully, FunAgainGames received a shipment the second day of the con and people had it readily available for play.  The most important thing you need to do to enjoy this game is tell yourself a thousand times over is that it is NOT Dominion: the board game.  Nothing remotely similar to it except that each game you have a different setup.

The whole game hinges on a very simple mechanic.  On your turn, you play the landscape card you were dealt and play three houses on hexes of that landscape.  If you can place those houses adjacent to one of your existing houses, you must; otherwise you may place anywhere.  So a big part of the game is knowing when you want to have houses next to as few terrain types as possible, and when it is okay to not worry about it.  The whole game changes with the three scoring cards that are drawn each game.  For example, one game we were getting points for houses next to water, houses touching settlements, and houses in our largest group of houses.  Because of this last card, playing next to a lot of different terrain types was not a huge deal since it was okay to have one large group of houses instead of many smaller ones.  If the card had been to have houses in all four quadrants of the board, it might have been a different story.  In the course of the game you can also get some tiles that let you place extra houses, or move some around.  These tiles are also random each game.  Kingdom Builder is extremely light; a session with experienced players could take 15 minutes, and I would expect beginners to take no more than 45 on their first play.  3/5

Walnut Grove – Probably my “hidden gem” of the con.  From the box, it seems like another Agricola spin-off, and it doesn’t help that Lookout Games produced it.  But after I read the rules and we sat down to play, I was very pleasantly surprised on how this game plays.  Each game, you play the 4 seasons of eight years.  During every Spring, you draw landscape tiles and add some land to your board, and there are some strategies regarding placement.  this part reminds me of Carcassonne or Gheos a bit.  Then during Summers, you take your farmers and assign them to those landscapes, in order to produce goods.  During the Fall, your worker in town goes around the shops and executes one action (worker-placement mechanic) to sell those goods, use them to purchase improvements to your farm, recruit more farmers, or collect scoring tiles.  Then in the Winter you pay an upkeep based on the amount and type of farmers you have.  It’s very simple, but there is quite a nice game in here.  4/5

Eclipse – Most cons have  THAT game: the game you wish you could play more of RIGHT NOW! Eclipse took me by surprise, to the point that I have been hounding the online game retailers seeing when it comes in-stock so I can snag a copy as fast as possible.  All I could think of after my first play of this was how I could do better my next play, and when I could jump into the next session.  This is actually quite hilarious, since we had a major rules blunder our first game and we still loved it.  The next day we got into another game and it was magnificent.

Other games have attempted to claim the title of “Twilight Imperium Lite” in the past.  I have been there, done that. Fallen for the previous claimers to that throne (*cough*Galactic Emperor*cough*). I am here to tell you, this is truly it.  Not in the sense you might think though.  It’s not trying to be TI3 lite, it just happens to be.  I would much rather play Eclipse three times straight in the time it takes to play one game of TI3.  It combines some things from Through the Ages, with some great tech tree mechanics, cool combat rules, and even a slightly Galaxy Trucker-esque tile-laying for your ships schemata.  I just can’t wait to get my own copy of the game and get more games in.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to try out some of the alien races starting your second game.  They are awesome!  5/5

Ora et Labora

Look at all those shiny buildings I can buy!

Ora et Labora – Ah, Uwe Roserberg’s new game for this year.  I am a huge fan of Le Havre and Agricola, and have enjoyed all his other designs as well. However, I did not get a play of this in until very late in the con and I truly regret that now.  Ora is an excellent game with some brilliant mechanics.  It does feel a little bit like he might have been trying to go for an updated version of Le Havre, but I think there are enough differences that they both deserve a spot in your collection.

In Ora, you play as monks trying to brew beer and make whiskey or wine depending on the version of the game you are playing.  That is right, there are two unique versions of every card, which essentially means you are getting the equivalent of a whole expansion right out of the box.  Both versions feel different, and buildings can be so unlike each other that you will miss some of your favorites from one version when playing the other.  The resource wheel in the middle is a brilliant introduction to the game, simplifying the part of Le Havre and Agricola where you restock every space on the board with just moving the dial on the wheel one click over.  Genius! The game is also much less punitive about falling behind a bit when the game’s upkeep rounds hit.  Instead of awarding negative points, being short on food/energy means you might have to build a sub-optimal building instead.  That little change makes it feel like you are always moving forward and not back.  All in all, Ora is an excellent game, and another one that I cannot wait to buy myself.  I do recommend to wait for the English release though, as the small cards would be difficult to paste-up.  5/5

Fortuna – This was the “Mines of Zavandor” (underrated sleeper hit) for me this con.  There was almost no buzz  surrounding this game, and all the copies were always available for checkout at the library.  The FunAgainGames store had these fully stocked, and when I bought my copy four days into the con they mentioned they probably hadn’t even sold a dozen of them.  I think Fortuna is an absolutely excellent light euro game, akin to some other favorites of mine like Asara, The Golden City, and Valdora.  It is that type of game that would not surprise me if it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres next year: geared for families and simple yet elegant mechanics.  The core new mechanic is that each player has three action cards in front of them out of the 12 included in the game.  You pick one of those three, do the action, then give that card to another player and take one of theirs.  This new card gets flipped so no one else can steal it before it’s your turn again, at which point you flip it back up.  I approve of this one.  4/5

Pax – This was my last game of the con, and I am glad I had the chance to play.  At its core it’s a very simple card game, with a pretty ingenious semi-cooperative aspect of it.  All players have to work together to beat Rome, but only one of us can win at the end.  If we focus too strongly on playing cards for victory points, Rome might win. If we focus only on Rome, someone else will have more points and beat us.  It’s light, fun, and fast; I will probably add this one to my list of games to get when I need to pad up an order of games to get to that magical free shipping amount.  3/5

Power Grid: The First Sparks –  I got to pick this up at the con although I did not get to get a play in.  I did get to finally play once before finishing up this article, so here are my first impressions.  This is Power Grid.  In under an hour.  Some mechanics have absolutely been simplified, but I would not call them “watered down.”  I can definitely see myself playing this a lot more with newer gamers, and it is of course the perfect stepping stone to the full-blown Power Grid for them in the future.  I am not regretting one bit that I own both this and Power Grid, unlike a certain other game3/5

Bonus food review: Hard Eight BBQ – Go here.  If you are in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area ever, get a taxi and experience this once.  Rating: DELICIOUSNESS/5

Hard 8

The meats... they will not stop...

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