BGG.CON 2007 Wrap-up

BGG CON Logo

BGG.CON 2007 was quite a bit different than 2005, the last time I attended. In 2005 and 2006 the convention was held in downtown Dallas at the Westin with game rooms that were a bit more intimate. The hotel was unnecessarily nice for a gamer crowd and expensive – I recall that the rooms were about $200-$230 per night, and I didn’t have a roommate (though Sunriver Games picked up the tab). The location was outstanding though, with many dining opportunities nearby via public transportation and walking. There was a great inexpensive breakfast cafe adjacent to the hotel and we had some great side trips to an Irish pub and BBQ joint. Still, the room rate was very expensive and likely would have constrained growth beyond the 200 or so people that came initially (note: my numbers may be way off, but I think they are close to accurate!). The small crowd did give a very intimate feeling to the convention and I felt like I got to associate with a significant percentage of the attendees – this was a GOOD thing as the gamer crowd at BGG.CON is by and large a very well adjusted, easy to get along with crowd. And none of them smell.

The move to the airport Westin brought a number of tradeoffs – someone should design a game with a theme of running a game convention! The room rate was very affordable – my share after splitting the room with Greg will be about $240 for four nights. You’d be lucky to stay at a Best Western or Marriott Courtyard for that rate, and this hotel was very nice (I travel a small bit and have stayed at some very nice hotels across the world, and this is in the 3-4 star category on a 5 star scale). The gaming space was first rate and handled the crowd size just fine. At peak times (Saturday afternoon) it was a bit challenging finding good space, but I don’t think anybody had to resort to sitting on the ground to play which would be the first sign that space was running low. Jim and I both agreed that the lack of dining options was a major issue that needs to be resolved. There were two restaurant options in walking distance (we know this because we ran 4 miles one morning around the area, and Jim ran again Saturday for 5 miles): the hotel and Denny’s. The Denny’s was as expected but too smoky, and while the hotel food was good it was very expensive and provided a limited menu. We were fortunate to have local friends that drove us to Cajun food one night and BBQ another afternoon, but there’s no way that everyone had the same treatment. In the balance I think this hotel was still a better call and will plan on returning next year – it was the best game convention experience I’ve ever had. Here are a few suggestions for Aldie and crew to address the food issue next year:

  • Continue to search for other hotels in the DFW area that provide free airport transportation, sufficient ballroom space, reasonable room rates, and a small diversity of dining options in walking distance. I think if there was a Red Robin or TGI Fridays or some similar option nearby the problem would be solved.
  • Keep it at the Westin, but hire a shuttle service to a strip mall or shopping center nearby during dinner hours to allow people a chance to get away without hiring a cab. Increase the convention fee to cover the cost, or charge a $5 toll per person to use the service.
  • Don’t cater the food from the hotel. I’ve dealt with this quite a bit over the years running small conferences at Corillian and the costs are high and the quality typically low. Get people away from the hotel and they will be refreshed and get some local flavor.

Aldie and crew (Vicky in particular) should know that my criticisms are on the fringes and I give the convention an A or A- rating as a whole. For reference, I would give GenCon a B (A+ for show floor, C or open gaming), Origins a B (C+ for show floor, B for open gaming), and Essen a B+ (A+ for show floor, D for open gaming, and A- for local flair and dining). Looking at 2008, BGG.CON may be the only convention I attend as I will unfortunately miss GameStorm (shame on them for scheduling over spring break!).

Here’s a quick wrap-up on the games I played at BGG.CON. I played 19 games and won 10 of them, confirming what I’ve told Julie that I’m really good at figuring out new games on the fly but gravitate towards ineptitude as other players figure out what is going on.

Games to Purchase (or Games I’m Thrilled I Already Purchased!)

Brass – this was my one Essen order (thanks for picking this up Carey) and I’m thrilled I got it. I’m a sucker for Warfrog / Wallace releases and this one didn’t disappoint and I put it in my top 3 Wallace games with Conquest of the Empire and Volldampf. Please don’t be put off by the criticisms that the rules are poor – I put the rules for this game in the upper 50 percentile and after one play through this deep game you’ll easily have it all figured out.

Thebes – theme marries mechanics in this great lighter Euro that represents where game designers should move towards. I’m so tired of poorly themed games that are really just abstract games in disguise – designers, spend time on finding a theme that fits the mechanics!

Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage – my best gaming experience of the convention, and I think Jim had the same opinion. There is a reason this game continues to sit at the top of many all-time best game lists, including BGG – this is an incredibly balanced, thematic, asymmetric blend of American war gaming and Euro mechanics that will get played a lot over the next few years, especially if I can convince Jacob to play it

Cuba – I’m on the fence here as I’m worried it won’t get played much, but I love the theme and bits and found the game to be very engaging.

Agricola – The cards are the clincher for this game – Uwe could have left them out and had a decent farming / civ building game that would have been solid but not have made my list of must buy in the company of Through the Ages and Roads and Boats. The cards add a roleplaying element and solidify the theme in a way that will greatly increase replayability. The true test will be playing with Jacob and Matthew and seeing if they both get it and enjoy it.

Race for the Galaxy – This is the most obvious buy for me on the list of games I don’t already have, and I expect it to be played often over the next few years. I can pack this in my portable game bag (what do I take out? Agora? San Juan?).

Games I Hope To Play Again But Will Not Purchase

In the Year of the Dragon – This almost made the buy list, but I think someone else in the group will buy it and I doubt it would get played at home. This is a very good game with very little downtime and a nice theme and a stream of difficult decisions.

Hamburgum – Like Year of the Dragon, this may get purchased if nobody else in my group gets it. This is a game I want to explore more and likely has a great deal of hidden depth given the lack of random elements in the game.

Colosseum – I want to try this again when I’m not fighting a cold and sleep deprivation. Jeff Deboer and Jim loved the game and maybe I can too, but the eye chart of show options threw me off and would likely make it unplayable with Matthew and Julie. This is a surprise coming from Days of Wonder – I think they could have simplified the show production a bit more by reducing options or features and still had a very solid game.

Mission: Red Planet – On the fence here as the short play time may push it to a purchase but the quality of components disappoints.

Fjords – A surprising hit, I would purchase this if I didn’t already have an amazing set of two player light games that rarely get played (Roma, Jambo, and Medici vs Strozzi for example).

Hansa – This is just a 3 on the 1-4 scale – I’ll always play this if someone asks for it but would rarely suggest it myself.

Louis XIV – Ditto with Hansa, but maybe I just need to play with some players that aren’t sharks.

Games I Don’t Expect To Play Again

Before the Wind – Phalanx seems to be uneven in their production and translation quality, and I wish they had spent more time writing quality English rules for this otherwise decent game. The reason I don’t expect to play it again is I doubt anyone in my group will buy it, but I would probably happily play it again if suggested.

Oregon – No reason to play this again. You know a game is flawed when you win my a big margin yet still walk away dissatisfied. I really hope Carey comes up with a good game design for codename “Mosquito Fleet” so that we get another great Northwest USA themed game (my current favorite of course being KC’s unpublished Northwest Trek).

Games I Wish I Had Tried

Starcraft: the Boardgame – we still play Starcraft multi-player at home 7-8 years after its initial release. Easily in my top 5 computer games of all times, this is the perfect theme to be played at home with Jacob and Matthew. Then again, so is Warcraft: the Boardgame and it rarely gets played now. Given the price point and weight of this game, I want to try before I buy and I regret not fitting this in. I’m hard pressed to identify what I shouldn’t have played to fit this in.

Amyitis – the latest Ystari release, I have a habit of ignoring these for some reason then being pleasantly surprised with the quality (namely Ys and Yspahan, though I grabbed Calus right on release). Maybe I have some inherent bias against the French? Still, I heard this game is one of their weaker titles so maybe I didn’t miss anything.

1960: the Making of the President – this was always in action at the convention and it would have been nice for Jim and I to give it a go to work out the mechanics. I re-read the rules here on the airplane and I think I’m ready to teach and play this with Jacob (or Julie?) so this is a minor regret.

Galaxy Trucker – For some reason I lacked any desire to play this game, but my regret comes from amazement with how much it was played at BGG.CON. Is this any good? Leave a comment and let me know if I should play it.

Conclusions

I think the crop of games coming this year is the best in the last 2 years. I’m thrilled that I chose BGG.CON over Essen as I wouldn’t have had the chance to actually play most of these titles if I’d gone to Germany. I think Brass, Agricola, Cuba, and Race for the Galaxy compare very well with and even surpass prior years (Caylus, Pillars of the Earth, Havoc 🙂 and that our gaming hobby is doing just fine. I’m thrilled that we are moving past the idea of “German Gaming” and “Euro Gaming” to a real blend of styles that take the best of all worlds in terms of mechanics, theme, and replayability. If you play these games and didn’t attend BGG.CON, find a way to go next year! I may even need a roommate…

BGG.CON 2007 Day 4

My primary gaming buddy at BGG.CON was nowhere to be found on Sunday as he had an early flight to Indy, so I had to fend for myself to get some final gaming in as the convention wound down. I needed to catch the airport shuttle at about 3:30pm or 4:00pm so had plenty of time to play, though the game library was to close at 1pm.

Race for the Galaxy with Tim and Carrie

I slept in a bit more Sunday morning, waking at about 9:15am and taking time to pack and say goodbye to Greg. I was back in the game room by 10:30am and finally found Race for the Galaxy in the game library. Tim, Carrie, and Mark (Hamzy) joined me in this Tom Lehman game of galactic conquest using mechanics that will be familiar to San Juan players. San Juan is one of my favorite card games ever, so a game that takes the mechanics further and adds the possibility of expansions is sure to hit a sweet spot for me.

Race for the Galaxy

This game is very good and I found the human factors and iconography to be excellent. We were at risk of playing the game incorrectly, but Aaron Fuegi once again came to the rescue and gave us some tips as we started the game and kept us on track. I got some nice combos early that allowed me to accelerate my development of new technologies and got a nice engine going. The game ends when a player gets twelve cards in play and it was easy for me to accelerate the ending and claim the victory with 26 points, Carrie finishing second with 20. I’ll definitely be putting in an order for this game and I hope it does well enough to see some expansions released.

Thebes with Tim and Carrie

Next I pulled Thebes out of the library to try and squeeze in a game in about an hour with Tim and Carrie. Tim had played the game, Carrie had not so we took some time to teach but still managed to finish the game in just under an hour. We did play a shortened version of only 2 years instead of the prescribed 2.5 years with 3 players, but the game was fun nonetheless. I discovered that we played the first game of this incorrectly early in the convention – the debris you pull out of the excavation bags goes back in the bag after your dig, which keeps the odds of finding good stuff decreasing throughout the game. This gives a greater advantage to players that dig earlier, which I think is appropriate. Tim crushed us with 62 points, Carrie had 43, and I had 42. He had an extremely successful final dig that netted him about 18-20 points which made the difference.

Next up was Foppen, one of my favorite trick taking card games designed by Friedeman Frisse, who was at the convention. Nate Sandall joined Tim, Carrie and I and we had fun as always, though Carrie rightfully pointed out that it just isn’t as much fun without Rita playing with us. Tim went from worst to first in the game and beat us with some clever play in the final hand.

Leaping Lemmings with Michelle teaching

My last game of the convention was a prototype by Rick Young (Europe Engulfed, FAB: Bulge) called Leaping Lemmings. As you can surmise, this isn’t a heavy wargame but is a light American style chaotic racing game. Each player has a set of lemmings he is trying to race through a canyon to leap off the cliff at the highest possible speed. Michelle Z ran the game with Jeff (Oboewan) also playing, and Jeff and I tied for the win with 14 points each.

Leaping Lemmings

I don’t have much negative to say about the game other than the action cards in the game may be very unbalanced. Still, this isn’t the kind of game I like to play (it felt a bit like Zombies to me) but if a chaotic racing game with a dose of take-that works for you, this will be worth looking at.

Farewell BGG.CON – a had a fantastic time and I’ll post a summary report on the convention and games I played shortly.

BGG.CON 2007 Day 3

Saturday was full of great gaming and even better Texas BBQ thanks to a trip to the Baby Back Shack courtesy of Tim and Carrie. The day did not start off to well, though, as Jim and I tried out the new Essen release Oregon and were disappointed.

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Given the name I was hoping for something thematic that might even be interesting to use in my school games class, but this is just the next game in a series of dry Euros with no connection between theme and mechanics. I can live with that – I like Knizia’s Genesis quite a bit – when the mechanics are engaging and fun, but unfortunately that’s not the case for Oregon. The mechanics work like this:

  • You start your turn with four cards that are either locations or buildings (you must have at least one of each).
  • The locations designate rows and columns, and you can place your meeple in any of 6 squares in the intersection of the row and column of two location cards that you play. Because the locations repeat across both horizontal and vertical axes, you actually have two 6-square choices for most row/column combinations, the only exception being when you play the same card twice (e.g., bison / bison).
  • If you play a location card with a building, then you can place one of 6 or so different buildings in any square in the row or column matching that location.
  • Whenever you place a meeple, you score it based on proximity to buildings orthogonally and diagonally.
  • Whenever you place a building, you score all meeples adjacent to it according to the same rules as meeple placement.
  • Some of the buildings give you some special abilities.

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Repeat until one player runs out of meeples – that’s the game. This sort of game just isn’t my cup of tea any more, and I’m very happy I had a chance to play it before purchasing as I was getting close to purchasing it based on the title.

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Fortunately our next game was much better. Two years ago at BGG.CON Asmodee was running pre-production demos of Mission: Red Planet but I missed out on trying it then and two years later I still hadn’t played the game. Jim had checked this out of the library the night before so we sat down to teach ourselves and try it. Kris Wolff joined us and we played the game in 40 minutes and had a blast. I suspect it has already been characterized as a streamlined El Grande combined with Citadels, though it did feel a little less cut-throat than Citadels to me. I didn’t do very well (Jim won) but could have won with a different hidden event card played in one region where I had a majority (monopoly) that drastically lowered my score. A game with this much action going on that can be played in 30 minutes is likely to become a purchase for me. I love the theme, but I do wish the components were higher quality.

I snuck into the admin area of the convention to dig through Greg Schloesser’s bag of goodies from Essen and grabbed Cuba, a game clearly influenced by Puerto Rico but with enough differences to make it worth considering. Russell Moll joined Tim, Carrie, Jim, and I in a five player game that lasted about 1 hour 50 minutes.

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The economic system is Cuba will be familiar – a set of base resources and goods that can be turned into final products like Rum and Cigars, used to construct buildings, or sold in local or overseas markets for money and victory points. This aspect of the game is very similar to Puerto Rico, but where it differs is in the role selection process. Each player has five role cards and in a given turn will use four of them to move their economy along, selecting one at a time as you go around the all players four times. The player mat for each player also has some interesting characteristics in how you can manage the production of resources, and as you construct buildings you take away resource production slots.

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Finally, there’s a game-wide context that changes throughout play as players vote on various bills to pass into laws. These effect the game by imposing taxes and tariffs while giving some rewards based on the current state of a player’s economy. The voting mechanism is interesting and these bills will likely add to replayability of the game.

The quality of the components is outstanding – great colors and artwork and lots of high quality wooden bits (my favorites are the rum bottles). You probably have a good idea by now if you’ll like this game. I do, and I will probably purchase this one when I can get my hands on the English version.

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After our BBQ run and a 10 minute nap, Jim held a spot for me in a forming Agricola game with Jeff Deboer and Melissa and Will Demorris. If you listened to some people at BGG.CON, this is the NEXT BIG THING in gaming that will take the world by storm over the next year. So many people were playing it and discussing it that I felt like I had a pretty decent idea of what to expect going into the game. Agricola (I think you aren’t supposed to pronounce that so it rhymes with Diet Cola, don’t ask me how you do pronounce it though) has a feel like Roads and Boats in that you start with close to nothing but a set of initial conditions (a two-room house and a husband/wife) to allow you to bootstrap your engine and build a mini economy – in this case a prosperous farm.

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The game works and is quite good. I had only two complaints, and both were based on the fact that we were playing a pasted up version of the German edition of the game. The iconography was a challenge at times (what’s the symbol for stone?) and the action selection board had parts in German that I had to just remember as the game went on. What may keep this game evergreen is the cards – I think there are over 300 of them that describe occupations and innovations relevant to period farming. The game oozes theme and the mechanics are solid, though play does feel mostly solitaire with a small amount of interaction and competition in the middle board as players choose actions.

I’m tempted to pre-order this with Z-Man games but it would be nice to know what the components are going to be like. The game is crying out for wooden bits that represent the sheep, cows, farmers, etc. as something other than discs and cubes. Zev told us they are trying to make that happen but he’s not sure if he can keep the costs down to meet the price point he has set (I think $60 pre-order and $70 or $75 retail). Our game took about 3 hours and it appears to scale linearly with the number of players. Oh, and this should be an excellent solitaire game and may invite competition as players could play solo starting from the same hand of occupations and innovations and compare scores. Jim and Will managed a tie with Jeff not too far behind. I ended the game with the smallest house (at least it was stone) and fewest number of children but still had a respectable score of 26 (the winners had 34). My occupations and innovations discouraged me from expanding my house early and gave me victory points for taking a very different path than everyone else did, which added flavor to the game.

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Jim has owned Hansa for a while but never played it, so Jeff and I agreed to play this fun but dry trading game of the Hanseatic League. I’ve never wanted to own the game, but it is fun and fairly quick – we played in about an hour. Not much to say here as this game has been out for several years. I won with 39 points, Jeff was close behind with 37.

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After a few beers in the bar we came back to the game room to play Louis XIV. Jeff and Jim are both sharks in this game, having played it quite a bit in their local groups. I’ve never played the game and wanted to try it given how much they play it. I insisted that we just start the game and allow me to make mistakes as I played, and boy did I ever. They both played extremely well and it came down to the final actions with Jim winning narrowly 51-50. There’s a lot of game in that small box and I would gladly play this again, though I’m not sure that I need to own it.

That was it for Saturday – we finished at close to 3am on Sunday and the game room was still thriving with activity. I’ll post a day 4 report shortly, followed by a summary of all of the games I played with recommendations.

BGG.CON 2007 Day 2

This will be another brief post – having a blast and don’t want to miss out on any gaming!

I continued to play new games to me that were very good, including a few older releases. Thebes has been on my play and maybe buy list for a while ever since the new Queen games production was released. Doug and Mimi brought the original version out to Salishan last year but I wasn’t interested – maybe the bits weren’t nice enough? A shame as the game is quite good, and as Greg said to me – the mechanics marry the theme perfectly.

Thebes

Each player is an archaeologists gathering knowledge to conduct excavations in ancient sites (Thebes, Greece, Palestine, etc.). Excavations are random draws from a bag – possibly too random for some people, but it was very fun and a quick play. This is one of the few new games for me so far that will go on my buy list.

Thebes

Jim and I then played a quick 2 player game of Fjords. This is a very fun game that reminded us both of Through the Desert. I’m not sure I’ll ever buy it, but will gladly play the game any time.

Fjords

I ran a demo session of Carey’s new design Bridgetown Races and it went well. Yehuda was very favorable on the game, and all of the comments were positive. I also got some good advice on possible mechanic and graphic design changes that could improve the game.

Bridgetown Races - Carey Grayson Prototype

The big game of the day was Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. Jim and I taught ourselves how to play the game and played a nail-biter all the way down to the last card plays of the last turn. It was a 6.5 hour marathon that we played at an easy, learning pace but it was all good – we had no regrets taking so much time and it was a well contested battle.

The Roman Leader

We each made very rookie mistakes but they must have balanced out perfectly as we went into the last 2 turns essentially even. Jim was able to lock up most of my troops in Africa which gave him the clear edge but it was still a nice chess game at the end. We also had some nice help from Aaron Fuegi (former WBC champ) that clarified some of the rules and showed us how poorly we were using our Generals.

Hannibal Strategy Cards

The evening ended about 2am with a game of Colosseum, the latest Days of Wonder release. This is a surprisingly big, heavy game that was good (better than I heard from reading other reviews), but that I doubt I would play much. There’s a lot to process and plan for as you work to put on your shows – it made my brain hurt, especially given how late we played it. Still, Jeff and Jim really enjoyed it.

Colloseum with Jim, Carl, and Jeff

BGG.CON 2007 Day 1

Note: Check out the photo stream with more photos over at Flickr.

Wow, what a fun-packed and tiresome first day at BGG.CON. Jim and I started the day with a 4 mile run at 7:20am. While it was hard to not just start gaming right away, I think this keeps me in a better frame of mind the rest of day and it was nice to chat during the run to catch up with Jim. Breakfast was a few pop tarts and Diet Coke from the food mart across the street – we knew we had our 1 allotment of Denny’s for the day so we opted for lunch instead. Breakfast of champions!

Check-in to the convention was on time and painless. Even though I got the “lesser” prize table ticket, I stilled scored a copy of Stonehenge so I was very pleased. There were great options and the table – better I think than 2 years ago so kudos to the staff and supporters for setting this up.

Registration at BGG.CON

Derk and Aldie are very visible during the conference and it was nice reconnecting with them.

Derk and Aldie

Greg Schloesser was very interested in trying out Brass – I was eager to comply and it always helps to have someone teach a game of this depth. We had a very observant non-player that pointed out a rule I was playing wrong, so I even learned something. When players supply coal or iron to the demand track they get paid from the bank according to the value slots they supply. Not sure how I missed this rule…

Brass

Even though I played several new Essen releases today, Brass remains my favorite of the show. I played better this time and pulled out a narrow victory and everyone was in the game until the end. Response from everyone was very positive.

Jim and I did lunch at Denny’s and squeezed in a quick game of Cheapass’ Agora. Not bad, but not great either. We played too nice and the game ended pretty quickly.

Jim playing Agora

After lunch, Yehuda, Aaron Fuegi, Jim and I tried out the newish Mayfair / Phalanx game Before the Wind. This is not a sailing game – it is a traditional Euro market game that we played incorrectly. The English rules are poorly written (I assume the original rules weren’t!) and the manner in which players draft and trade cards was not made clear. This lead to some very pathological behavior (but perfectly reasonable based on our interpretation of the rules) that extended the game to the two hour mark which is much too long for a game like this. Maybe I’ll give it another try with the correct rules, but there are so many other options out there.

Before the Wind

Aaron had a great come-from-behind victory with 53 points, and I was pretty close in second place with 46. We all thought Jim would get the win so fought hard to hold him back, allowing Aaron to sneak in.

Before the Wind Cards

I pulled In the Year of the Dragon from the game library – this is supposed to be one of the better Essen releases from this year. It didn’t disappoint, but the game is brutal! We all felt that we were playing poorly and unable to cope with all of the bad events happening, but I guess that’s probably the way the game is supposed to feel.

Year of the Dragon

This is about as Euro / dry as you can get. There’s a theme there I suppose, but the game felt very abstract but well designed. The mechanics are simple and the fact that you can see the events that will happen in the future makes you feel like you should have more control and planning ability than you really have. This is because competition for specific actions is tough when everyone knows what is coming! This game clocked in at about 1 hour 40 minutes and I won by a 1 point margin over Tim.

Year of the Dragon

We ended the gaming night with a 4-player game of new Eggertspiele release Hamburgum. Jim Ginn, Kevin Wilson, and Eric Burgess joined me in the next in the “rondel series” from Mac Gerdts. This differs from Imperial and Antike in that there is no combat – in fact, there’s very little direct player conflict. This is by far the most Euro-styled game in the series and it was a fun play that lasted about 90 minutes (and we taught ourselves). This was my second favorite of the day behind Brass.

It looks like the hit of the show is Agricola, so I’ll try and get in on a game of that tomorrow at some point.