Location: I had every intention to stay inside the whole time, so I won't say much about Dallas other than it was refreshinging to ride on a light rail less pleasant than Portland's. The hotel rooms were very nice, although I'm fine with cheaper and less fancy accommodationsions (e.g., the $50 rooms at Atlanta's Oasis of Fun (OoF)). Having the 5th floor of Plaza of the Americas' South Tower was perfect meeting space; it contained the gaming action, had several small rooms for vendors and the game library, and the layout provided for both noisy and quiet atmospheres to suit a gamer's tastes. The question going forward is whether the con will grow, and outgrow this location. Grade: A-.
Logistics: Great job by all the people involved, and major kudos to the game library volunteers. Everything went very smoothly, and the workers did not draw a lot of attention to themselves as seen elsewhere. However, a lot of resources went into things like prizes, the poker tournament, the Game Show, etc., and while these were all well-executed and enjoyed by many, I didn't get a sense from other con-goers that these were actual highlights of the con. Rather, everyone was talking about the games themselves and meeting other gamers. That said, I would rather have resources go into the most important things first (e.g., read the next section). Grade: A.
Eats: As several others have noted, food was the (relatively) big problem, especially at night and over the weekend. Folks have suggested getting runners for snacks. One of the nicer recent developments at Portland's Game Storm is the hospitality room, where con-goers can find beverages and a wide variety of food, both healthy and, well, less healthy. For a con this size, a beverage option would be nice; I am not a big fan of snack foods at the table for multiple reasons. In the end, I think the primary gap is the lack of meal choices that are cheap, quick, and good. GameStorm has the Bento/wrap joint across the street, OoF has the noteworthy Barbecue Kitchen (meat, two sides, and biscuit for $6!), and both have the nearby Denny's/Waffle House for late night runs. The cafe downstairs was decent but the hours were too limited. Grade: D+.
People: Well, we are all geeks, but some geeks are stranger than others (cue Morrissey: "some geeks' mothers are stranger than other geeks' mothers"). I found this crowd to be fairly easy-going with a pleasant balance between competition and having fun. There seemed to be heavy representation of those who like low-randomness games (made evident by Caylus and Age of Steam being the most-played games). Of the games being played, there were very few party games (other than Werewolf), and not so many "fun" games (except for the new releases, such as Elasund). If you are a fan of games like Puerto Rico, this is your scene. One thing I noticed was the lack of alcohol present compared to other cons. The main reason was probably not having the con directly in the hotel, but I think the seriousness of the gamers factored in as well. Grade: A.
Gaming: There was a healthy mix of early risers and night owls. As I feared, it was hard to find a game at times; I did not put any energy to see there was much "clustering" (where specific groups of individual stuck together for the whole weekend). Folks in the aforementioned BGG thread observed this as well, and there you will find ideas of how to address minimizing downtime for all attendees. Two weeks ago, I expressed concern at attendees trying to schedule games into an open gaming atmosphere; in only one case did I observe a blatant conflict, but there was at least one other incident where things got unnecessarily hairy. In the end, it was easily the lowest average number of games played of any multi-day event I have attended, but the quality of play made up for it somewhat. Grade: C.
So, in the final assessment, I would give the con a grade of B. I recommend it most highly, especially to folks who enjoy low-randomness games. I would also suggest that, if you do go, to bring a buddy along.
While I didn't get a change to try out many of the new sexier titles, I did get a chance to play several new games, ranked here in order from most positive impression to least positive:
- Carcassonne the Discovery: My fellow Rip City Gamers will be shocked to hear that a Carcassonne game is getting my Best of Show award. Unlike the original Carc, you won't be stuck drawing a run of "bad" tiles (e.g., a straight road across farmland), nor will you get obvious windfalls like a mid-game cloister. It also avoids the little increments of scoring that makes Carc H&G mediocre. The subtle changes in meeple management decisions (completed regions don't automatically return the meeples; you may either place or remove one meeple per turn; meeples removed from incomplete regions score a reduced value) are delightful. Screwage is still available via tile placement, but it avoids the pissing matches found in other Carc games.
- Castle Merchants: Yeah, it's a bit klunky, but it's definitely my type of game. I had a solid lead, but then the other two players kept me stranded and I got edged out at end. A key lesson is to not bring yourself to a near-victory with a reduced hand! The game arc is kinda funky, in that movement in the endgame is essentially double-speed, but it's a fun mix of planning, screwage, and luck.
- Techno Witches: When I saw another group playing this, I knew I would have to get this for my family! I played one match using the basic scenario, and was able to wiggle my way to victory while being very risky by selecting multiple tiles between flights. Exactly the type of game we enjoy at home, and it has a fun theme.
- Havoc: Even though I was not part of the official demo team, I played and/or taught this four times over the weekend. In my first match, I was the only one to spend cards (5!) in a battle without getting points, but I still came back to win. I won the second match handily, but unfortunately missed a rule for the 3-player setup (it worked fine anyways). In the third match, I was holding four 6's, when the person to my right recruited the remaining two 6's from the face-up display. Argh! So, after winning the penultimate battle with a straight flush, I only had a Big House for the final battle, which got beat by a better Big House, and I lost the game by a point.
- Mall of Horror: Played this one twice. In the first, I had my top two characters voted out early, so I committed suicide with the third, thus forfeiting my shot at the Sportsmanship award. In the second, I took over a bad position that I couldn't do much with, but had fun anyways. This is a very enjoyable game that critically needs the right mix of people to make it work. (Matt, I think you would really get a kick out of this one, as it's similar to the Lifeboat Game.)
- Kreta: In a four-player match, I didn't really know what was going on in the beginning and developed on the opposite side of the board from where the other players were developing. They built up a big lead in the early scoring, but I ended up coming back and winning when scoring cards for my area started showing up in the endgame. My initial assessment is that this is a mediocre area-influence game where the luck of the draw is going to be maddening at times.
- E&T Cardgame: I've played E&T in as quickly as 25 minutes, and usually within an hour, so I don't see a need for a "fast" version. It takes away many of the interesting facets while not adding anything new. The increased flow of cards reduces the chance of being weak in one color (although there's no easy way to get rid of an unneeded glut), but it also reduces the need to initiate conflicts. In the end, it felt much like the boardgame. For example, at the critical point of the match, I would have scored a huge kill in an external conflict, easily giving me victory, but I failed two successive external conflicts (with a +1 modifier) with 4 red cards in my hand. I'd just assume play the boardgame so I can pretend the rest matters.
- Caylus: In my first match of the much-ballyhooed Caylus, I finished 2nd, well behind 1st and well ahead of 3rd. The game marries my favorite tactical mechanism (action drafting) with my least favorite strategic objective (do-a-lot-of-stuff-get-a-lot-of-points). Having shared building with no spatial element makes it way too tactical for my tastes, the game was too fussy (especially with the 1 VP adjustments for using the buildings), and the player chaos is pretty high, particularly in when someone decides to stop taking actions for a round. The long playing time is just too much given the other problems (especially that of it being a tactical game).
- Cow Poker - A vanilla trick-taking game with a take-that element pasted on. The decent parts of this game reminded me of Gnadenlos!.
- Die Baumeister Des Krimsutep: A vanilla trick-taking game with Carc-ish tile-laying. The hand bidding is similar to the Too Many Cooks menu system, but I do not think it works in a game with trumps. The kingmaking element was enough to put this over the top and make it Worst of Show (congrats to Doug Garrett - that's two cons in a row! Although I should also mention that Doug also taught me the new Carc.).
In addition, I played a couple of prototypes, Yehuda's omnipresent menorah game, and Jerry Dziuba's clever 2-player game. I normally don't say much about prototypes as per standard protocol, but I will say that I am very excited about Jerry's game. I also played some older games, again listed most to least favorable.
- La Citta: I taught the game to two new players, and won by about 5 points or so. As with last match I played, the 3 random Voice of the People cards not used in the game were all the same color, hurting me in the final turn - I only needed one more to show up!
- Money!: I had a horrendous starting hand: 2 gold coins and the rest all low cards - and predictably got spanked.
- Magna Grecia: I volunteered to teach the game as others showed interest in learning it. I have only played once before, and that was a long time ago, but I recently refreshed myself in the rules and was perhaps over-confident in my ability to teach. I botched up the rules a bit, and we ended up voting to play the shortened game halfway through, but I think it gave everyone a taste for what the game provies. I sure want to play again! My massive central city controlled four oracles, which was enough to give me the win.
- Liberte: I played this against four Texans, so it goes without saying that I won. I scored in two colors in the first round, and relied on red for the rest of the game. Red actually came one point short of the special victory condition at one point.
- Princes of Florence: Two VPs separated a pro, myself, and a first-time player! Both myself and the pro built 8 works, but I took too much money out in the 6th round which cost me 1 VP. The jester prices were higher than my local crew usually bids, which I was not used to.
- Fairy Tale: This was my first play. I love this style of draft mechanism, but, compared to CCGs, I felt that the card selection was largely obvious. The effects of the black cards (including cancellers) seemed unnecessarily chaotic for this style of game.
- Alladin's Dragons: I have played this game once before. In that earlier match, I was just edged out wherever I went. This time, I stopped trying to be cute, and focused on only investing in a few key spots, and it paid off in a win. It also helped a lot that I went heavy for spells early on (knowing what the second spell is is almost as powerful as having it yourself), and the counter-spell artifacts didn't come out until mid-game. I definitely enjoyed this session, but I can see that falling behind early on can quickly lead to a miserable experience. Still, I would like to play again soon to see whether I should change my rating from Thumbs Down to Thumbs Up.
- Showmanager: I have played this or Atlantic Star four times or so, and I always do horribly. Here, I finished 4th out of 6. I'm not a fan of card drafting, but otherwise I cannot really pin down what it is that I dislike.
- Werewolf: My history and recent experience with Werewolf deserves its own blog entry. And so it shall be...