A funny thing happened at Gen Con a year and a half ago. I was at the Secret Cabal meetup and gave away a Kickstarter copy of Forge War for their raffle. It went to this guy Brendon Hall, who I ended up talking to and hanging out with the rest of the night.
It was funny because Brendon working on a browser-based platform for playing board games online and I was looking for a way to make my next game available to play online that didn’t involve me coding for hundreds and hundreds of hours. We communicated often, and a year later. he graciously gave me use of his site for the Gloomhaven Kickstarter.
What I remember most about talking to him that night at GenCon, though, was him and his friend Byron constantly insisting that I needed to go to BGG Con. Apparently it was the best convention ever.
Unfortunately, tickets were all sold out at that point, but I filed their glowing endorsement away and when tickets became available for this year’s BGG Con, I quickly jumped on one.
The con was over this last weekend, and I had an absolute blast. I relate to you now my experiences, in standard superfluous award form.
MVP of the Con: I just want to throw this one out right off the bat to my wife. I thought I was going to the convention by myself, but Brendon contacted me a month out and said he had an extra ticket. I mentioned it to my wife in passing, not expecting her have any interest. After all, she hates board games and the last time we went to a convention together, it was a complete disaster. It was in the middle of my first Kickstarter and I was completely crazed, trying to show Forge War to as many people as possible and not paying attention to her at all. Not my finest moment.
But anyway, she inexplicably decided to come, and she actually ended up having a pretty good time, hanging out with my friends and playing every game that was set down in front of her. She certainly made the whole thing a more enjoyable experience.
Loveliest Game: My wife’s willingness to play all the games may be in some small part attributed to the initial games we played at the con. I believe the first was Kodama from Action Phase Games. I went by their booth to say hello and ended up showing her the fast and fun game. The visuals are top-notch and the game play is engaging, as well, considering how light it is.
Fluffiest Game: I believe the next game we played was Sheep and Thief, which my wife picked up from the library because it had sheep on it. The game play wasn’t bad – I certainly had a good time with it, but the game came with a bag of little white fluff balls to represent the sheep on you board, which I thought was hilarious.
Most Fun Rolling Dice: My wife’s favorite game of the con, however, turned out to be FUSE, a fast-paced real-time game of rolling dice and cooperatively allocating them to cards, hoping to fulfill specific conditions to defuse all the bombs before time runs out. This game really gets your blood pumping and severely tests your communication skills. Every round dice are rolled, and each player has to grab one of them to add to his cards, but you’ve gotta communicate because sometimes people need the same dice, and if someone isn’t able to take one, everyone starts losing dice from their cards. And because everything happens in real-time, you can’t always make perfect decisions because you are trying to make fast decisions. Richard Ham introduced us to the game, and we played it three times with him and failed each time. I eventually found another group to play it with and eventually found success, then played it with my wife and some others again and got her a few wins as well.
My Worst Performance in a Game Genre: I met Brandon Nall from the Brawlin’ Brothers podcast back at Origins this year and quickly demonstrated to him that I am a shark when it comes to Euro games. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but every time I hung out with him at BGG Con, he would break out dexterity games, possibly in an attempt to knock me down a peg. His plan worked perfectly, because I failed miserably every time. I want to like dexterity games, but, man, am I ever terrible at them.
Most Surprisingly Fun Party game: In addition to dexterity games, party games were also a common fare late at night. Sure, main-stays like Codenames and Spyfall are always fun, but the enjoyability of Strike a Pose was surprising. In Strike a Pose, everyone is assigned some random thing to pose as (anything from a bug to the Virgin Mary to a pirate ship), and one person has to guess what they are from a possible list. That’s pretty much it. Maybe it was because I was drunk, but I had a good time posing as silly things.
Most horrific party game: At another table however, much darker things were happening. I wandered over to see some friends playing Unusual Suspects, where, out of an array of 12 faces, one person is given which of the faces is the culprit. Then the others take turns drawing cards which ask question about the nature of the culprit. Does he/she spend a lot of time in the bathroom? Does he/she go camping? Is he/she a racist? Nope, it turns out you’re the racist, as you are forced to make sweeping generalizations based entirely on what people look like. It was entertaining, but…uncomfortable. I slowly backed away.
Most Inexplicable Event: It must have been Friday night. My wife and I were wandering around, trying to decide what to play, when a bunch of guys in luchador masks started making a ruckus outside the main hall. This took me by surprise, but apparently it is a yearly tradition connected to the Battling Tops tournament. It was a whole big dramatic affair involving different teams in various states of rivalry. It was fairly interesting until they actually started playing the tournament.
Most Interesting Subculture: Strangely enough, however, luchadors playing Battling Tops was not the most interesting sub-culture at the con. That I found the previous night on the 11th floor. I texted Brendon to see what he was up to, and he mentioned that he’d be at the scotch tasting event. I texted the Brawling Brothers and got the same response. Then I was walking down to the main hall and ran into my friend Craig who told me the same thing – it was almost time for the scotch tasting to start and he was headed up there. Not really knowing what to expect, I decided to go with the flow and head up there with him.
What I found was a bunch of people who were really into scotch, including Stephen Buonocore, who was carrying a bottle filled with the most beautiful alcoholic elixir I’ve ever tasted. This was actually my first time tasting scotch, but it was great. I had a wonderful time, and I had no idea so many board gamers were so into drinking scotch.
Game My Wife Liked Better than Gloomhaven: Despite working diligently on Gloomhaven for over a year, I never subjected my wife to it. I remember getting her to play test Forge War back in the day, and that never ended well. Sunday morning, though, I was running a Gloomhaven demo and there was an open spot, so she willingly joined in. We had played Arcadia Quest the previous night, though, and unfortunately it seemed she liked that better, even though she wasn’t even treating Arcadia Quest like a competitive game. Apparently she really liked the chibi figures and rolling dice.
Best/Worst Game for 2AM: I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow I, Brendon and his friends all decided that 2AM Friday night was the perfect time to start a game of Blood Rage. It was mostly fun, but by the time it was over at around 5 am, feelings had been hurt in our quest for glory and I realized I had probably had my fill of the game. Man, some of those Loki cards are incredibly silly.
Best Roll-and-Move Game: Speaking of late-night adventures, though, I found distinct pleasure in a simple roll-and-move game we broke out late Saturday night called Deep Sea Adventure. The central conceit is that players are deep sea divers using a shared oxygen tank to move down this path filled with treasure. At the start of any player any player’s turn, they use up an about of oxygen equal to the number of treasures they are carrying, then they roll 2 dice to see how far they move, either deeper into the ocean, or they can make a 1-time decision to turn around and start heading back towards the submarine. The game is played over three rounds which each end after either everyone gets back to the ship (this never happens) or the tank runs out of oxygen, in which case everyone not on the ship drowns and loses all the treasure they were carrying. The decision tree is very basic, making judgements only about what treasure to grab and when to turn around, but there was a surprising amount of depth there, given that the oxygen tank is shared and people inevitably become greedy.
Worst 5th Player Implementation: In fact, there was more depth in that basic micro game that took 2 minutes to explain than in the massively over-produced Inkognito, which no one knew how to play even after 30 minutes of trying to figure out the rules. The worst part, however, was that Ares games really wanted to put a 5 player count on the box, so they threw in the most inconsequential 5th player variant I’ve ever seen. Inkognito is a basic hidden role game where players are trying to discover each other’s identities by bumping into their pawns on a board. Once identities have been sussed out, players work with their team mate to fulfill a hidden objective. So there are 2 teams of 2 players and then…a 5th player who was just trying to discover everyone’s identities. So he has all the fun of solving a basic logic puzzle over a prolonged hour without the hassle of making any real decisions. The best part was that I could have stood up and walk away from the table and it wouldn’t have affected game play in the slightest. (I didn’t, but it was nice to have the option.)
Worst Free Game: I have certainly become wary of free games at cons, and BGG Con certainly laid it on thick, especially given that both my wife and I could each grab up to 4 free games upon registration. I tried to resist, but it is unfortunately hard to say no to free. I only actually busted out one of the games I picked up during the con, but it’s hard to imagine any game being worse than Yardmaster Express, which barely even qualified as a game. This was some serious Dungeon Roll-level non-decision inanity that eventually led to some random person having the most points at the end. It was sad because I had heard good things about Yardmaster, but whatever was good about that was clearly not translated to the Express variety.
Best Game Played: But enough of that nonsense. We want to know what the best game there was! Honestly, I wasn’t really there to play all the hot, new games, so my experience was far from comprehensive, but I can tell you that I had a very good experience playing T.I.M.E. Stories, despite skipping the mission that came in the box and going directly to The Marcy Case, which my wife wanted to play because it had a cassette tape on the cover. This game was great. I really enjoyed how the mechanics were used to tell a legitimate mystery where players had to move around and find the right clues in a free-form, unique way. It had its down-sides, though, like the excessive amounts of zombies we had to fight (which involved rolling a lot of dice…), and I got particularly frustrated with one clue at the very end which made us lose at the last second. I’ve heard that the asylum scenario given in the box is significantly better for those more inclined towards puzzles and less inclined towards rolling dice at zombies, so I am looking forward to trying that out at some point.
Most Frustratingly Fun Game: I do have an honorable mention for another game I found incredibly fun and incredibly frustrating at the same time – Broom Service. I caught a quick demo of this in the vendor hall and was itching to get in a full game because the mechanics reminded me a lot of Glass Road – selecting a number of roles from a larger pool and then trying to guess what roles all the other players have selected. This turned out to be a much more brutal implementation than Glass Road, where if you were wrong you could get your entire action canceled, which was never good. That sense of guessing what other people were going to do in relation to a shared board map was also reminiscent of Lords of Xidit. I did incredibly poorly in Broom Service, based on a slew of miscalculations, but I had way more fun playing it than I ever did playing Lords of Xidit. Glass Road is more my thing, but Broom Service was very good, and I’m itching to play it some more.
I had a most excellent time at the con playing a variety of games with a variety of friends. Surprisingly, my wife did too, so we are both looking forward to next year when we get to head down to the Dallas Airport and do it again.