This was the third BGG.Con. I had a great time at the first one. Last year I was changing jobs and sprained my ankle so I couldn't go. This year was much closer to the first one.
I arrived late on Friday--the con had been running since Thursday morning. I found some friends but they were all in games, so I joined a game of Railroad Tycoon, one of my favorites. The owner was teaching it to a couple of newbies. I came out with a good score. Didn't win. He'd broken a hundred. But you'd expect that from someone who'd been in the RRT tournament at Gencon. Afterwards meerkat1 and I went off for a later dinner and a long catch-up chat--it'd been a year since we'd seen each other.
Afterwards we were going to play Empyrean together, but she had to bail out to let Brack into their hotel room. So I played with some of the friends who'd come out from Washington with her.
I ran into Simon Hunt, who I'd met at the first BGG. We'd playtested each other games and he's gotten his published. He gave me a copy of Take Stock as thanks for being a playtester. He also introduced me to his next game, Pick and Pack. Imagine a Laurel and Hardy movie with them working in an apple-packing factory with a defective conveyor belt. The players compete to grab the best apples while sticking each other with the worst . . . but if you leave him with no apples to grab he can apply a special card. I won by grabbing the "premium" card and doubling the value of one very-full crate of apples after spending the whole game getting consistently out maneuvered. Too abstract to be one of my favorites, but I could see getting a copy if we'd play it often enough.
I was invited to playtest another game--Albion: Kings & Kingdoms, a strategy game of the barbarian invasions of Britain after the Romans left. One of the waves of invaders is the Irish, so the theme had my total attention. It's an area control game--you win by outnumbering the opponent in the region. It has a "eurogame" feel in that there's little nasty combat--attacking to remove someone else's units is an option, but rarely a good one, and players can't be eliminated. The mechanics fit the theme well, it's not just pasted on. Given that the theme appeals to the historical and Celtic interests of our household I think there's a good chance we'll get this when it comes out next year.
Another game publisher was luring people into demo games of Wealth of Nations. I'd heard about this from their BGG ads and it sounded right up my alley--I like economic games. It wound up not working for me because of the mix of abstraction levels. The trading part of the game was quite realistic, they even had a nice mechanism to model supply and demand effects on prices (much better than how, say, Supremacy handled the same problem). Trading worked smoothly. Instead of having a map of Europe or some fantasy land we had a blank hex map that we would fill in with our nations. That's a little more abstract than I like but it worked--you placed flags to claim a territory, then spent more resources to build it up with farms, factories, or whatever. The tiles for each each kind of production were marked with dots, so if you put the right combination of corners and edges together you could get extra production. What totally broke the game for me is that you can spend just a little bit to pick up your territory tiles and put them anywhere else on the map. Yep, if there's some unimproved space in the middle of another country you can just lift up the mines you built in those mountains and plunk them right there.
In a game as abstract as Go that wouldn't bother me. But when your economics are so detailed you have a sliding scale of interest rates as a player gets deeper in debt, letting geography be so random broke the game for me. It's like Up Front, a WWII game where you use a table to see how many hits your machine gun gets at a particular range--but find out whether the new area you advanced into has cover by waiting for your opponent to play a terrain card on you. It breaks my suspenders and keeps me from enjoying the game.
At 1pm we had the Math Trade. Over a hundred geeks had submitted games they were willing to trade and what they'd accept in exchange for Rossum to run through his computer and make matches. Now the four hundred swaps would all happen at once. Amazingly the initial chaos only lasted about fifteen minutes. People wandered about waving game boxes until someone stopped them to do an exchange. No central control, good results. At twenty after Rossum was left with just paging the two missing geeks and everyone else was happy. I traded away Age of Renaissance, which tried to be Advanced Civ in a later period but pretended to be pacifist by renaming all the combat actions, which annoyed me too much to ever want to play it. The other was Ivanhoe, which flopped with our group and should get a good home. One of the new ones is Axis & Allies: Europe which may get played if we have a group in a mood for WWII but I really want so I can use the pieces for a future Ogre Minis game.
The other was 2038, one of the games I was looking at in my quest for a science fiction version of Railroad Tycoon (that was really the main theme of the weekend). I immediately went off to go through the game and figure out how it works. Unfortunately I don't think the "Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt" game will ever get on the table at our place. It's just too damn complicated and I don't have the time for that any more. An economic simulation that realistically handles stock market speculative bubbles and CEOs gutting companies to cheat the other investors is something that might get used in the homeschooling curriculum but not as a fun way to pass an evening.
I found meerkat1 playing Lost Adventures, a prototype of an Indiana Jones-style adventure game. It was nicely made and they all looked to be having a good time. After the big giveaway I got to play the game I most wanted to find: Merchants of Venus. This is a space trading game with each player taking a ship and exploring new solar systems to find out what they can sell and what they want to buy. You can also stumble across ancient artifacts and get hung up by navigational hazards. I loved it but didn't score too well. I spent too much time running around exploring, then got hung up in the vortex when I needed to make deliveries. So by the time I did get some good trading runs going the other players were way ahead of me. Buying this one isn't an issue though, it's hideously out of print and hard to find. There's enough scans of it that I might be able to make a copy but its complexity level is noticeably higher than Railroad Tycoon. Players have to balance the distance and demand levels of potential customers and eventually consider building trade stations and factories to make shipping easier and provide more goods. So most likely it wouldn't go over well with our usual gaming crowd. I'd love to play it again though.
After a late dinner I tracked down Seth Jaffee for a playtest of his Serenity game, Blockade Runner. It's more abstract than I'd envisioned but works. Players try to deliver supplies to besieged Independent worlds while staying ahead of a pursuing Alliance cruiser--and taking pot shots at their fellow smugglers. It works. Not complex enough to be one of my favorites, but I'd buy it--I have a hard time resisting Serenity stuff.
Sunday morning I found meerkat1 and this time we were both free to play a game together! The game library was open for a few more hours so we checked out Starfarers of Catan. This is great. It carries over some of the mechanics of Settlers of Catan but has a completely different feel. You have to balance among planting new colonies to gain resources, establishing trade with aliens to get their fancy toys, and upgrading your ships to make it easier to do the other two later. The "random encounters" make it feel like you're out in the unknown (and possibly introduce too much luck into the game, but I'll need to play more to tell). This is one I want to get a copy of. We couldn't finish, had to hand it back to the library, but we were a good way into the game.
Afterwards we got in one more game. With the library closed we just had what I had on me, and the only other multiplayer game was my prototype, Keep Flying. Brack won in a surprisingly close game--he had one card left when the rest of us were all grounded.
It was a very successful con for me. I didn't get to try every game I wanted to. Two I missed were Agricola ('cause Ryan was raving about it) and Race for the Galaxy. Something to try for next year, when they'll have open seats 'cause everyone will be trying to play the next wave of hot games.