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.
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...