And the Cephalofair Awards are finally back from a hiatus! After going to a number of conventions to work and not really play games, I was finally able to attend a great and glorious convention where most of my time was spent enjoying people’s company and beating them at Euro games. I did end up running six Gloomhaven demos, each lasting about two or two and a half hours, but the rest of it, from Wednesday morning to Sunday afternoon, was me time.
I say “me time,” because unfortunately my wife wasn’t able to come this year. We had it all worked out, but then she had to cancel at the last minute because of a job thing. I was very distraught, since, as you may be aware, I had a great time with her last year at BGG Con and was very much looking forward to sharing another convention experience with her. Alas, sometimes these things cannot be helped, so I soldiered on and had a great time even in her absence.
So I dedicate these superfluous, random awards to my wife, Kristyn. I know, recipients are usually the ones to dedicate, but they probably won’t ever know they’ve received them. So it falls to me to dedicate them, and she gets every last one of them.
Game that Most Lived Up to Expectations: I have been wanting to play Terraforming Mars for ages now. I saw a friend of mine playing at a game day over a month ago and it looked like something I would thoroughly enjoy. Another friend at my regular game night owns the game, but his friend was borrowing it, so we had to wait for him to get it back. But even once he got it back, he didn’t show up to the next two game nights. I seriously contemplated buying the game, and me buying a game for myself is an incredibly rare occurrence. Needless to say, I was determined to get a game of Terraforming Mars in at BGG Con. Luckily, this game was being played everywhere. If you threw a stone in the main hall, you’d mess up at least three separate games of Terraforming Mars. It didn’t take me too long to get a game in, and it did not disappoint. The economy of using all your different cards was great. I was very happy when I got a second game of it in later on, and I’m still considering buying a copy for myself.
Game that Best Highlighted How Crappy the Tables Were: I’d say the only bad experience I had at BGG Con was dealing with the sub-par tables in the main hall. They all had nice covers on them, but under the cover, they were mostly garbage. The worst part was that each table was actually two long, thin tables combined so that they were wide enough to play games on. The tables were so dilapidated, though, that the two together were hardly ever at the same level, causing a massive change of elevation in the middle. No game highlighted this as well as Ave Roma, a pretty cool worker placement game whose circular main board consisted of four quarter-circle pieces connected puzzle-piece style to a main board. The change in height turned the whole board into a disaster, like Rome had been hit by an earthquake. Oh well, the game was still fun.
Best Game Using a Mechanic I Don’t Like: There are certain mechanics that I am always wary of approaching: anything with dice, social deduction, direct conflict. Sometimes, though, there are games that make the mechanics work despite my misgivings. Maybe it’s just the company I’m in while playing (it probably is), but sometimes I can still have a good time. This category, then, resulted in a tie between Zooscape and Spoils of War. Zooscape leaned heavily into the “I pick, you choose” mechanic, which never really excited me. Zooscape‘s added twist of one person splitting and then everyone secretly deciding which side they’re grabbing, which inevitably led to splitting the pile further, was fairly engaging. Add in the concept of busting if you accumulated too many animals of any one type, and you had an enjoyable game.
The concept of Liar’s Dice – where everyone rolls a bunch of dice and then you go around the table upping a bid on how many of a specific number was rolled collectively between the group of you – is pretty high on my list of things to avoid. It has major elements of both dice and social deduction. Spoils of War, however, somehow made the concept palatable. I think it worked because of the addition of special powers that you could accumulate to turn the odds in your favor, and also adding a money bidding mechanic that got everyone involved in every dispute. If you like Liar’s Dice, or maybe even if you don’t, you should check it out.
Easiest Game to Make Fun of: After a night of party games and alcohol, I was heading back up to by room when I caught a bunch of friends sitting around playing Escape from Colditz, an outdated roll-and-move game that recently got reprinted for some unknown reason. It’s features a bunch of players trying to escape from a POW camp in Nazi Germany while one player controls the guards and tries to stop them. There are a bunch of pawns on the board, and you roll some dice on your turn to determine how many spaces your pawn can move. Moving across certain spaces requires that you have certain equipment, which you can acquire my moving into certain rooms. It seemed very, very boring and judging by the enthusiasm of the people around the table, they thought so too. My impression was that the game was forced upon them by Josh from the Brawling Brothers, who was playing the guards. So, in my drunken state, I tried to liven the game up by taking a crack at the game every five minutes, comparing it to Monopoly, Sorry, and Mouse Trap. In my defense, I was very drunk, but the jokes did seem to liven the game up.
Most Accurate Representation of 1980s Communist Poland: Speaking of oppression in Europe, I also sat down to play another game whose stated purpose was to conjure up real emotions of frustration and powerlessness in players. It was Kolejka, a game commissioned by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance to accurately simulate the experience of waiting in bread lines in 1980s Communist Poland. The game certainly achieved its goal, but somehow, weirdly, by the end of the game, I was enjoying myself. I think Stockholm Syndrome may have set in. In a three-player game, we all had five workers we could send off to five different lines in front of different stores selling different goods. We all had a shopping list with some combination of the goods on them, and someone won when they completed the shopping list. It seemed pretty simple and easy, except when we revealed the goods cards and discovered that only three things were delivered to the stores that day. Fifteen workers on the board, and only three of them were going to get something. Moreover, after the goods were delivered, everyone had an opportunity to play cards from their hand to manipulate the lines so that they were the ones who ended up getting the goods. It quickly turned into a unique, oppressive experience, and I’m glad I played it.
Most Approachable Legacy Game: My one concern about Gloomhaven is that some people may find the amount of content intimidating. They may look at the sheer size of the box and run screaming from the room. If nothing else, Fabled Fruit doesn’t have this problem. It implements a legacy mechanic in the simplest way possible. You start your first game with a bunch of stacks of action spaces to collect fruit cards in different ways. The action spaces also function as points, though, so when you acquire a set of fruit, you can go to the action space and buy it instead of using it’s ability. Whenever that is done, you remove one card from the stack of that space, and a new space comes out to replace it from a giant stack of ordered cards. By the end of the first game, maybe three new stacks of action spaces have been placed on the table, and then that configuration of action spaces is what you start the next game with. So by playing a bunch of games, you get to cycle through all these different action spaces that do different things, making each game different. The game was a very light set collection thing, but the concept was cool.
Best City-Building Game: Whenever I go to a convention by myself (which is pretty much always), I am always looking to attach to a group so that I don’t have to butt in on random groups every time I want to play a game. One group I latched onto after demoing Gloomhaven for them seemed to be really into city-building games. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I ended up playing Dream Home (okay, more of a house-building game, but the concepts were the same), Capital, and Key to the City: London with them. The best of this bunch was definitely Key to the City: London, which I would say is a definite step up from Keyflower. I can recognize that Keyflower is a good game, but for some reason, that game frustrates me and makes me miserable. Key to the City seems to have refined all the issues that made Keyflower frustrating, because I had a great time playing. It also played much faster, which was another bonus.
Best Uwe Rosenberg Game: As we all know, Uwe Rosenberg released two big games at Essen this year, and while I didn’t get a chance to play Cottage Garden, I feel confident saying that A Feast for Odin is the best fit for my tastes. Now, I’m an Agricola gamer (as opposed to a Caverna gamer), so the whole concept of a million different actions with a million different paths to victory doesn’t excite me as much as a nice, tight worker placement game. And there was nothing tight about A Feast for Odin, but the addition of the spatial component (I’m a real sucker for spatial reasoning in games) of placing your goods on the board to earn points and increase your income really put this game in the win column for me. It was very enjoyable, and I’d be happy to play it some more.
Best Train Game: Ah, train games, the most boring genre of games. I was never into trains when I was growing up, and the concept of trains only got less exciting as I got older. I’ll never understand the appeal, but that’s never stopped me from trying any game at least once. After all, train games usually have spatial aspects to them and economic aspects, and I can certainly get behind that. Railways of the World was a big win for me at Origins and Railroad Revolution was no different at BGG Con. I am starting to really dig the idea of specialized workers in games, where different types of workers will give you different bonuses depending on what action they are assigned to, and Railroad Revolution really delivered on this front, where you were constantly adding new workers to your pool and you had plan your future actions very carefully depending on what workers you were getting. I unfortunately didn’t get in a complete game of this, and now I am itching to play it again.
Best Game of the Convention: In case it’s not clear, I played a lot of great games at BGG Con and had a fantastic time doing it. It was easily one of the best convention experiences I’ve ever had, and the only down-side is that convention season is over and I have to wait many long months before I get to go to another one. But anyway, at the end of the day, we have to decide on a favorite game of the con, and it was a really tough decision. Terraforming Mars almost won, but instead I have to give it to Lisboa, which I was lucky enough to try at the Heavy Cardboard meetup. Vital Lacerda is a truly masterful designer with an ability to interweave so many different moving parts so seamlessly together, and Lisboa is at the top of the form in that regard. There’s really only four different things you can do on your turn (similar to The Gallerist), but each one has so many far-reaching implications and sub-actions, it’s like playing in a Rube Goldberg machine. Planning is paramount, and there’s nothing I love more in a game than being rewarded for proper planning. This was a real joy to play.
So that’s it! I have no more awards to give. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. BGG Con is SO GREAT. I was so happy I went, and I am already looking forward to going back again next year to hang out with all the cool, stupendous people I met all over again.