BGG.CON 2014 Report

Julie and Jim, Julie's first checkout from the BGG.CON library

I went to BGG.CON again this year, this time Julie joined me and we hung out with friend Jim for the weekend. This was "9 out of 10" for Jim and me, so of course I'll share my previous history writing about the excellent convention.

I'll share a few photos in this post from BGG.CON 2014, but you can visit my Flickr album if you'd like to see everything.

My History of BGG.CON Posts

Thursday

I screwed up my hotel reservation early in 2014 and booked the prior weekend. By the time I figured it out, the main hotel (Hyatt Regency) was full and I had to look elsewhere. I booked us a room at the Grand Hyatt. While I would have preferred to be in the main hotel, the Grand Hyatt was nicer with a better room, better views, better exercise room, and it was nice to get away from the crowd each night. It would usually take us about 10-15 minutes to get the Hyatt shuttle between the two hotels, except for the time we mistakenly boarded the Hyatt Place shuttle and headed off the DFW property. That only cost us about 40 minutes.

Julie playing Cubist

We dove right in and played CUBIST, an abstract game where you roll dice and make choices about model structures to build following certain rules. There are a number of constraints such as how you place the dice and how many models you can be working on at a time. Nice design with nice looking components. The structures look cool after you build them.

Next up was Trains: Rising Sun. I played the original Trains last year and enjoyed it enough to purchase (or have Julie buy it for a Christmas present) but it just isn't seeing the table at home. This felt very similar to the original but I think there is more map variety plus perhaps a different set of cards. Even though I don't think I'll pick it up, it is a quality game but in a crowded category of deck building games.

We finished our game playing on Thursday with the new light card game Red7. This is in the "quick playing game where you might get kicked out of a hand any second" category (like Love Letter) and was quite fun. The different colors define different rules for what sort of tableau is stronger and I'm sure I didn't come close to figuring out any sort of strategy. Jim crushed us.

Jim Ginn, Julie Brooks, Jeff Deboer, and Nick Medinger - hangin' with our Funagain friends

We stopped by the vendor area to say high to our friends from down south in Oregon, Jeff and Nick from Funagain.

Friday

On Friday we started with one of my old backlog games from previous conventions, Village. I was worried that this might feel just like most other Euro worker placement games I've been playing for the past 9 years, and my fears were confirmed. Not that I didn't enjoy it, but it felt very much like Pillars of the Earth combined with Stone Age to me.

Even though last year I said I probably wouldn't pick up Nations, the card civilization game, I did and played it a few times this year. Really enjoy it and it is a keeper -- in fact, I'm giving away my original copy of Through the Ages to Jacob to take back to college. The new light variant Nations: The Dice Game was just released and, as far as I know, isn't likely to be available until late Q1 2015. That's a shame because I really enjoyed this game. It has all of the quickness of its main competitor Roll Through the Ages, but I think it will have more variability and replayability. This is because there will always be a random set of cards available each age, plus random events and wars (just like the parent game).

Playing Spike with Jim, Julie, and Chris Carter

One of the big highlights for me was playing the new train / logistics game Spike. The game itself was fun -- very comparable to Ticket to Ride in that you collect cards for building routes and have bonuses for completing secret connections. Most of the points in the game will be earned however from delivering commodities to high valued destinations. The game has a brutal count-down clock with a variable end that has just the right amount of tension - can I make one more delivery or should I race to get this good off my train? Really looking forward to playing this again. What made the game even more enjoyable was our fourth -- playing companion Chris Carter. Sometimes you manage to meet really interesting people that you can learn from and enjoy chatting with, and this was one of those times.

Knowing that we would move into a heavier game later in the evening, we stuck in a couple of lighter card games. Julie and I first taught Jim how to play Love Letter, probably our favorite card game from the past year. I think we've purchased at least 5 additional copies as gifts. This should be in everyone's collection as you can teach it by playing and can fit into a quick 10 minute session. We also played the classic rummy game Wyatt Earp one of my favorites from the Mystery Rummy genre but one that I always seem to find a way to screw up the rules.

Jeff and Jim joining me for Clash of Cultures

Jim and I like getting into a bigger game with Jeff DeBoer every year, and we decided on Clash of Cultures with the new Clash of Cultures: Civilizations expansion. As I often do in multi-player civ games like this, I stalled out with my engine and was never really in the game. I think I focused too much on maximizing my unique civilization powers, but at least that made the game more engaging. If you like Clash of Cultures you definitely want to pick up the Civilizations expansion as it adds nice differentiation for each player.

Saturday

Saturday was a day to knock three games off my "want to play" list. We started with King of Tokyo, a game I had heard so much about but never played. It didn't disappoint and is great for some light-hearted gang-up-on-the-leader action. The only question now is whether to pick this game up or the newer King of New York.

The big dud of the convention was Escape: Zombie City. This is the real-time, high pressure successor to Escape: Curse of the Temple Players roll a bunch of dice rapidly trying to get combinations to allow movement to different parts of the city to prepare for the zombie invasion. Now this wasn't the best environment to play in (we couldn't use the soundtrack as the main hall was too loud), but even with a timer the game seemed far too difficult. None of us were interested in practicing to improve our chances next time around.

Playing Navegador on the Geek Chic table

I love my rondel games and have had Navegador on the want-to-play list for a while. Julie was a bit surprised (pissed?) that I conned her into playing this longish game but hey, we got to play on one of the awesome Geek Chic tables and I think she was OK with it. I can see why some people think this is a bland Mac Gerdts game but it hit a nice spot for me. Not too much tension or angst and I felt there was plenty of freedom for folks to pursue their own path to victory.

We played the small box Gem Rush game about dwarves running around mines gathering gems. Nothing too exciting here - many other games like it and not worth getting.

Most years at BGG Jim and I play The Pillars of the Earth with the expansion and I wanted Julie to try it with us. I just traded for a copy as I think this game deserves a permanent spot in my collection. It hits a nice spot for me in the worker placement realm, partly because of theme, partly because of the graphical design, and partly because the tight arc in the game with its six turn limit.

Julie ponders her Tichu play

We played Tichu with Hamzy! I think Jim and I partnered against Julie and Mark. Mark is an old pro and plays in the Tichu tournament every year so that automatically made him the expert. We tried to learn from him but probably failed.

Sunday

We just had a short morning on Sunday given time for packing and checkout, and we only managed to get in a play of the new Power Grid Deluxe. This is basically the same game as the original Power Grid with a nicer (maybe) presentation, different names and bits for some of the power commodities, and some differences in how the power plants come out and leave the board. Still felt like the same game to me which is just fine -- Power Grid is an all time favorite for me.


So that's a wrap. If you've hung around this far, you might be wondering what games I might pick up. Well, I'm selling off a ton of games this December and not eager to replace the shelf space. I think I'll get a King of... game, the Clash of Cultures Civilization expansion, and the Nations Dice Game. Maybe Spike but I'd like to try it again.

On a final note, I'm not sure I'll return to BGG.CON again. It is losing some of its luster, and Jim and I were wondering if we should just head to Florida next year and rent a house. With our own spouses and maybe part of our families there, plus maybe one other couple, we could probably have even more fun.

What I Hope to Play at BGG.CON 2014

I will return to BGG.CON this year, and I get to bring a friend this time! Yes, Julie will join me for the first time! This will be my ninth visit. Of course Jim will be joining, but sadly not Jill :-(. I screwed up my hotel reservation early on (booked the prior weekend) so we are staying a short walk away at the Grand Hyatt.

I looked over my backlog of games I've been wanting to play and cherry picked a few to propose to play at the convention this year. I'm usually not eager to play the new hotness from Essen so many of these are from past years.

  • Navegador (2010) -- I like most of the Mac Gerdts games and generally love the rondel mechanic. This was a big hit back at BGG.CON 2010.
  • Letters from Whitechapel (2011) -- Looks like a great deduction / chase game and is very highly regarded even three years after publication.
  • Village (2011) -- Classic Euro worker placement. Jim and I will have to be convinced to learn this vs. playing our classic BGG mainstay Pillars of the Earth.
  • Empire Express (2012) -- I know Jim used to play a lot of crayon rail games and I've played twice. It always seemed a bit long and tiresome, but I love the core mechanisms. I'd like to see if this express version hits the mark.
  • Terra Mystica (2012) -- This game is ranked #2 on BGG and I still haven't tried it... don't think Jim has either. Gotta try it.
  • Bruges (2013) -- I've played many of the Stefan Feld dice games and have enjoyed them all, so looking forward to trying this release from last year.
  • Russian Railroads (2013) -- Several folks in my game group say this was the best release in 2013 and... I haven't played it yet. Worker placement with railroads, so I'm in. Jim and I wanted to play last year but had a hard time finding an open table.
  • Castles of Mad King Ludwig (2014) -- One of the new hot games that I want to try. I think it might be in high demand in the hot games area so I suspect you'll see this on my list again next year.
  • Alchemists (2014) -- Ditto for this game. Might be in high demand.
  • Nations: the Dice Game (2014) -- Love Nations the board game, hoping I'll like the dice game.
  • Red7 (2014) -- This is one of the Essen release card games that I think Julie will like. Hopefully it will be in the library.
  • CUBIST (2014) -- This is an Essen release abstract game that has you building structures with dice that you roll first. Looks like fun and very cool to look at.

Operation Market Garden

I hosted part 2 of my 60th anniversary of 1944 WWII major operations in Europe last weekend. This time it was Operation Market-Garden, the largest failed military offensive involving an airdrop in the history of mankind.

Back in June I hosted a similar event to celebrate Operation Overlord (aka D-Day). It was a great event and a good introduction to war gaming for several folks, but I wanted to change things up a bit this time around. We played a mix of operational and strategic games with tactical games. This included games ranging from Normandy '44 to Combat Commander: Europe scenarios focused on smaller tactical operations.

Market-Garden is most interesting, I believe, because of the scale and audacity of the entire operation. It was so counter to the normal caution exhibited by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery that even the Germans found it hard to believe it was happening while it was happening. The idea was fairly simple: capture a key highway through the heart of Holland to connect the north-eastern edge of the allied forces that had so recently broken out from Normandy with the northern entry to the Ruhr valley in Germany. While doing this, bisect the key depleted German forces in this region and force an obvious surrender and end of the war by Christmas 1944.

Capturing this highway via normal conventional techniques would be a long slog given the terrain of criss-crossing rivers and canals, swamps, causeways, and... bridges. The Germans were sure to blow bridges and bog down the allies once they caught wind of the overall operation. This is where Monty's audacity exhibits: how about if the allies drop several airborne divisions of infantry, light artillery, and supplies to capture the key bridges and intersections, thus securing a pathway for the primary ground armor and infantry forces (XXX Corps)?

So while there were very interesting local tactical operations along the way, the terrain and overall allied plan is what makes this operation noteworthy in the first place. I wanted games that reflected this scope and would give participants a sense of the allied challenge and why they failed.

Did I mention there were a few German SS divisions hanging around that the allies didn't know were there?

Monty's Gamble - Market Garden

The centerpiece game for the day was Monty's Gamble - Market Garden, an area impulse game released in the 90s that I had never played. Doug and I had chatted about this day quite a bit and I knew this was high on his list of games to present and teach. He came up with the brilliant idea of a team based session that could support anywhere from 3 to 6 players. We ended up having 9 players total that day, with 4 wargame newbies, so we split it into 2 groups. Five would play Monty's Gamble and four would play the Memoir '44 historical map and scenario for Market Garden from the expansion Tigers in the Snow.

We used the setup and map for Monty's Gamble to introduce the operation and its strategic challenges (and surprises) for all of the players. That was probably my favorite part of the day - having Doug explain the initial context for the operation to everyone there, with a few of us chiming in from time to time adding additional factoids (see, the "Replacements" episode of Band of Brothers too place primarily here by Eindhoven, etc.). Maybe his just wasn't necessary for Overlord given how familiar even non-military junkies are with Normandy, but it sure was a nice touch for Market Garden.

Still, sigh, we didn't get nearly far enough into this game. I think we made it though day 3 with things looking pretty balanced and maybe even edging towards the allies. Myk and I played the Germans with Doug, Matt, and KC taking the Allies (KC had the British 1st Airbourne, Matt the two American airborne divisions, and Doug the XXX Corps).

Memoir 44 - Market Garden

The others played the Memoir '44 scenario and it lasted a solid 3-4 hours. I think this might be a hidden gem in the inventory of M44 scenarios. It is hard to find and one of the only large historical maps (I.e., you don't need to use the terrain tiles to construct the map - it is printed to match the historical map for the entire operation). I borrowed this from Eric and will be keeping it for a while unless he demands it back sooner as I want a chance to play it myself with Matthew.

While I'm sure I distracted my teammate with my many departures to take care of grilling burgers and answering rules questions for M44, I think it was a good day for all involved.

In December we will conclude allied operations with a day of Bulge operations. There are so many good games to choose from.

Youth Football Starts

I'm coaching 8th grade football again this year, again with my good friends Brian and Jack. This is our 5th year coaching this level together and likely to be our last. For various reasons (two of us will be empty nesters next summer) we are likely to hang up our Sherwood Youth Football coaching hats for good after this season.

Which leads to the questions: What do we want this season to look like? and, What goals should we have?

The 2013 season was no cake walk. We had a decent seasons win/loss-wise, making it to the playoffs and holding our own in a playoff loss. Most of the kids (I think) had a great experience and are playing again this year on the HS freshman team. I see them around the town (I just saw one today at the HS) and they are eager to talk about their ongoing football experiences. But not all was rosy last year: parent relationships were the worst we've had in our experience, and some of this dysfunction transfered over to player relations.

It would be easy to blame the parents and shirk accountability, but we were part of the problem. I think our mistakes fell in two categories:

  1. Allowing ourselves to get pulled into confrontational conversations that eroded relationships. We may not have initiated the conversation, but we allowed it to happen when we could have walked away or smiled and asked to defer the conversation until cooler minds prevailed.
  2. Not enforcing natural consequences and outcomes for player behavior. In a few instances, generally to take the path of least resistance or to mitigate problem (1) above, we didn't carry out proper discipline or adjust our depth chart (player A starting over player B) when we should have. I think this undermined our authority and sent the wrong message to the players and parents who were doing things right. Not that these incidents were very visible outside of a very small number of players.

Given this backdrop, let's talk about how we'd like 2014 to play out.

We've recommitted ourselves to making this a great team and football experience for the players. Personally I'm smiling more, yelling less, and finding more ways to connect personally with each player. I'm getting to know the parents on a more personal level, finding ways to engage them into support activities for the team. Julie has filmed our games for years and I've taken care of film processing and uploading to Hudl. I've delegated that completely to a parent (this was very hard for me). We are working on a new no huddle play calling systems and I've enlisted three different dads to help with some fabrication and production work to support us.

Secondarily, we want to focus on the bottom third of our kids and help them over perform. Sherwood is one of the few programs in all of greater Portland that will field two 8th grade teams this year, and as a result we will face several other teams that draw from larger communities that have a single team. Our talent pool will not measure up, but if we can coach up the weaker kids and properly prepare them perhaps we can steal a game or two that otherwise we should lose.

Over achievement this year probably means a 5-3 season. I'll check back in November and report on how things went.


It is hard to contemplate that this could be my last season coaching. I wonder if there might be some other venue for me (or maybe the three of us?) in the future where impact could be magnified. After watching Undefeated, Brian and I wonder if there might be some high school out there somewhere that could use a volunteer staff to turn around a program and establish a foundation for the kids.