The Year of the Conventions Chapter 7 -That Boardgaming Thing
- [Background: In 2004, I traveled over 100K miles and spent over 90 nights in
a hotel room for work assignments. That travel plus a fare war at Dulles
Airport left me with a whole bunch of free travel certificates and mileage
in my frequent flyer account. Even after covering all of the family trips, I
had several travel certificates that had to be used this year. The result is
instead of attending my normal 5 conventions (PrezCon, GCOM Game Days,
Origins, World Boardgaming Championships, and EuroQuest) I would be
attending at least three additional conventions (Mensa MindGames, KublaCon,
and the granddaddy of them all - Essen Spiel Fair).]
My next gaming adventure for the year took me to North Carolina for a 4-day
invitational gaming event - That Board Game Thing (TBGT). Scott Fisher and
David Fair attended TBGT the previous year with their friend Tony Svaljenka
who lives and games in the Durham, North Carolina area. David arranged with
Rob Reinhardt, one of the event organizers, for my invitation. Once I got
the requisite spouse pass for the weekend and cleared my work calendar, I
was all set to try my first invitational event.
The TBGT organizers established a theme for this year - Crime and
Punishment. It added a nice backdrop as you will see later. The organizers
also had a good online database where people could request games to be
brought and indicate that they would like to play certain games. This helped
a lot with the availability of games and to identify people to look for when
starting a game.
(Pictures of many of the games can be found at:
Thursday, September 15th
TBGT officially started that morning but Scott and I both had to work in the
morning. By the time Scott, David, and I were ready to leave from my house,
it was close to 4pm. I offered to take the family van since it had the DVD
entertainment system and satellite radio. The reality was we needed the van
to carry all the games we were bringing. We got off to a very SLOW start -
anyone who knows the Washington, D.C. area can attest to rush hour traffic.
Once we got onto I-95 south of town however, things cleared up quickly. Dave
and Scott got in a game of Travel Blokus, and we had plenty of time to talk
about games, gaming, and our upcoming Essen trip. We made a stop for
dinner/gas enroute and made it to Tony's house round 10:30 pm. Tony had
graciously offered to allow us to sleep at his house for the weekend.
We had a little energy left, so the four of us started with a game of Die
Sieben Siegel (Zing!). As I would come to learn over the course of the
weekend, Tony is an outstanding card game player. He quickly demonstrated
his trick-taking skills and soundly beat us (5/11/12/15). We had enough for
one more game so Dave pulled out Ubongo which none of us had played before.
Rather then use the board with the crystals, we just laid out four crystals
and order of finish determined the order of pick in each round. We played
with four piece puzzles. It took me a few puzzles to get the hang of it but
I was just short in the end. The final scores were 7/5, 7/2, 6, 5 and Dave
had his first win of the weekend, albeit against three new players.
Friday, September 16th
We arrived at the hotel bright and early, and I do mean early. We got our
first introduction to the Crime and Punishment theme of the event when we
had to fingerprint our name badges. I had been given the alias of "The Brat"
and told I had been convicted of "Using Bullets as Currency". Dave turned
out to be "The Spaniard", Scott "Dreamboat", and Tony "Two Fists". We were
each also given one of four puzzles that we had to solve by Saturday night
as part of the group event. We unloaded all our games into the room and
marked the section where they were sitting with provided name tags. We then
headed off to McDonald's for a quick breakfast.
When we returned things were starting to pickup. First off was a six player
game of Shadows over Camelot using a beautifully painted set of figures.
Scott was King Arthur, Dave was Sir Kay, Tony was Galahad, Tami Whitsett was
Gawain, Bert Dreifuss was Tristan, and I was Perceival. Tami added the
'color' commentary to the game and we got off to quick start with a win over
the Saxons. Sir Kay then won Sir Lancelot's armor with one point to spare.
We needed to band together with our Merlin cards to prevent Excalibur from
being lost. The Black Night won unopposed but our brave fighters completed
the Grail Quest! The Picts were next to fall to the good Knights but Morgan
killed four of the knights (Dave, Scott, Tami, and I). We were able to
recover one using the Grail (Tami) and get Excalibur from the Lady of the
Lake. Our quest ended when the Dragon won unopposed leading to an 8-4
victory for the knights. No traitor appeared this day but it was a bloody
I got to play my first "new to me" game: Mermaid Rain. Scott, Dave, Tony,
Tami, Kendall Miles joined me in this Japanese set collection game. We rode
the waves seeking treasures to pay the sea witch with enough left over to
present to the Mermaid. Everyone had enough to pay the witch and I got the
Mermaid with a 65 point win with the remaining scores being 51/50/49/40/31.
On my play list was Age of Steam and I was able to get Brian Pate, Tony,
Mike Allen, and Dan Freedman to join in for a game on the standard map. Tony
and I were the only ones to play before but we gave lots of hints and made
sure no early bankruptcies occurred. I got the first move and was able to
setup a very lucrative rail line. Tony kept nipping away at my early lead
and managed to catch me at the end 45/42. The new players did real well
scoring 38/38/35. I enjoy this game the more I play it and need to try some
of the expansion to how the feel of the game changes.
Next was Reiner Knizia's new game Poison. Ted Cheatham and Charlie Davis had
arrived from West Virginia and were ready for a game. Earl Bailey and
Michelle Corbin joined us for this light trick-taking game. There are three
suits and green poison cards. Three cauldrons are in play, one for each
suit. Players play one card per turn onto the appropriate cauldron with the
Green poison being wild. If your card causes the cauldron to go over 21, you
take the cards in the cauldron and leave the card you just played in the
pot. At the end you get 1 point for each card taken except you can ignore
cards in the suit where you collected the most cards. In the first round
Earl managed to score a perfect 0 while I took 10 points for last place. The
next round Earl picked up 8 to join the rest of us. At the end of the last
round, Charlie was sitting atop the leader board having gotten three points
in the first round and zero points for the next two. Final scores
We then brought one of my current favorites, Turn The Tide, to the table.
Each game consists of X rounds, where X is the number of players. After each
round, players pass their hand to the player on the left so by the end of
the game, each player will have played each hand once. Earl got off to an
early lead but found the later hands harder to play. At the end of round 3,
Michelle and I had moved past Earl with Ted close behind. Earl and Michelle
emerged from round 4 as the leaders and Earl pulled away for the win with 15
points in round 5. Other scores were 13/13/10/8.
I had a chance to play a prototype game with Ruth Berry, Michelle, Earl, and
Jay Bloodworth. The mechanics were fun and we had a chance to provide some
good feedback to the designer.
I found a small lull in the gaming and so I wormed my way into a game of
Pickomino. I first saw this game during a demo by Jay Tummelson at the WBC.
It is basically a dice rolling push your luck game. Ken Walsh, Mary Prasad,
Brian Pate, Scott, and Tony joined in the game. The dominos were flying fast
and furious, as much between players as from the center. I got an early lead
only to watch Brian suck it all away. Scott had one beautiful roll to get a
domino in the thirties. In the end Tony's slow and steady won out with 7
worms to 5/3/2/1/0 worms. Nice filler but not anything I would seek out.
We were looking at the stacks of games picking what do next when Scott
mentioned Samuri. When he found out I had never played this Knizia classic,
it headed right for the table. Kevin Gonzalez joined Scott, Tony, and I.
Like most Knizia games, the scoring has a few twists. The game ended with
Scott making a very slick move at the end, swapping two pieces and scoring
in hats. It turned out to be the winning move since he ended up being the
only one with a majority (in hats no less) to win the game.
Day 1 ended with the trick taking game Was Sticht? At the beginning of the
game you draft tiles with different victory conditions (take 3 tricks, no
red tricks, take last trick, etc.). Once each player has 4 tiles, a series
of hands is played. Each hand the dealer randomly selects the suit and rank
of the trump card. All the cards are laid face up on the table in a series
of tricks. In rotating order, each player takes one card from the trick. The
dealer then states who would have won the trick. The idea is to use the
information to guess what the trump/rank is for that hand. Once all the
cards have been drafted the players pick which goal they are shooting for
that hand. The player play a standard trick-tacking hand with the dealer
trying to be a spoiler for the other players. If he manages to keep another
player from making their goal and makes it himself, he gets to discard one
of his goals. The game ends when one player has gotten rid of all their
goals. Tony's card skills came to light gain as he won while the rest of us
had 1/1/3 goals left. This was my unknown gem of the weekend and I will be
seeking out a copy at Essen next month.
Saturday, September 17th
We had another early morning arrival at the hotel. Scott, who is a Maryland
fan, was actually flying back to Baltimore to watch the Maryland-West
Virginia game with a big group from his office, and flying back that night
to continue gaming. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, Tony, Dave, and I
gave Kreta a try. This reminds me of a cross between El Grande and
Australia. We made one abortive attempt before understanding some of the
nuances so we restarted. I jumped out to an early lead controlling a wheat
area and locking it down with my monk. I controlled the scoring for most of
the game but Dave managed to get better scoring down the stretch and
finished with a 59 point win to 55/40. Nice game but the scoring cards do
have a big impact on the game. I do want to try again and see if there are
ways to mitigate the scoring card randomness.
Mike Mayer joined the three of for a game of Tigris & Euphrates. I really
should have said that Mike taught us a lesson as his kingdoms crushed us
when the two treasure game end occurred. Mike finished with 7/7/8/15. The
other scores were 5/5/5/7, 4/4/6/10, and 4/4/4/5.
The game I was most looking forward to this weekend was up next: Die Macher.
For those of you who have not played it, it is a game that contain a little
of everything: Majority control, auctions, negotiations, resource
management, tactical and strategic play. Yes it takes a solid 3+ hours to
play but there is almost no downtime. Dave and Charlie Davis had not played
before. They joined Mike Mayer, Tony, and myself in trying to lead our party
to victory in the election. The turning point in the game came in the fifth
election when I chose to form a collation with Dave's party thinking he was
behind. Little did I know that his party would transform the National
referendum and completely match the final platform. As a result Dave came
away with the close win 359/340/338/294/269. Dave couldn't wait to tell
Scott when he got back that he missed Die Macher for a resounding loss by
Maryland to West Virginia.
After lunch/dinner, I got to play a quick game of Harry's Grand Slam
Baseball with Ted Cheatham. This is a cute little filler that does feel like
a real baseball game. It plays fast and has some modicum of decision making.
It works best for someone who enjoys baseball and is a great game for young
Ted then pulled out Beowulf and taught Tony, Dave, Curt Churchill, and
myself the game. It's always great to listen to Ted and he does a great job
teaching games. The game reminded me somewhat of Taj Mahal with the card
play and planning for upcoming regions. One player had incredible luck on
the fate draws early, getting two cards each time. He actually complained
when he only got one card on a fate draw! As we approached the end, Ted's
experience at the game came into play and he won with a score of
We headed to the Airport to pickup Scott. He was now a deep red from all the
sun and was none too happy about the final score. Dave told him all about
the Die Macher game on the short ride back. We got back just in time for the
group event/prize table. The group event consisted of teams of 4-8 people
with each team having at least one person with each of the 4 puzzles handed
out at registration. The answers to those puzzles were used to solve a 5th
puzzle which allowed the team to decode a message. The final message was
"Sing Happy Birthday to Rob" which the winning team did to wish Rob
Reinhardt a Happy Birthday. Cake was brought in to celebrate and the winning
team got first dibs.
Next was the eagerly anticipated Prize Table. Each participant brought
donations for the table which was spiced up with games donated by vendors or
purchased by the event organizers. A random order was picked and the
festivities began. There were some nice prizes on the table including a
Carrabande Set and Up Front. I ended up about 3/5ths of the way down the
list and managed to get a new copy of Plunder and a slightly used copy of
Formula De mini. Some people got three items but the pickings were mighty
slim at the end. A few people paid NOT to take an item until finally the
last item went. It was a lot of fun and eyeing the items on the table was a
nice distraction between games.
Once the prize table ceremony ended, we played another "new to me" game:
Santiago. Scott, another excellent teacher of games, gave me the run though.
Tony, Scott, Dave, and Curt Churchill were in this game. It took me a turn
or two to feel out the strategy and the bid valuation. The end game was
close and Dave made the final canal placement to maximize his score. Alas,
he was just short as Curt won 58/56/53/38/38.
Dave, Scott, Tony, and I wanted to get in one more game so we decided to
play Old Town. I first saw this game played at Scott's house when Ted
Cheatham was visiting. It is a form of a logic puzzle, trying to recreate an
old west town. The rules are okay and are best taught by someone who
understand the game. It was getting late and we made it through the game but
it was a solid 4 or 5 rating based on this playing. I'll have to try it
again when fresher and more awake.
Sunday, September 18th
We actually slept in a little this morning and did another McDonald's run
for breakfast. When we arrived, the place was empty. The guys pulled out an
old classic, Password, as a filler game. Scott and Tony teamed up against
Dave and me. I forgot how fun this game can be and we had several very tense
rounds. Scott and Tony won in the end 33/29.
The best part of invitational events is walking the walls and seeing games
that look interesting and giving them a try. Kendall Miles joined the four
of us for a game of King Solomon's Mine. There is a lot going on in this set
collection game. It is a nice balance of luck and strategy that takes about
40 minutes to play. Each person had different strategies (most curses, most
magical items, most complete sets, most gold). Dave came out on top
49/42/41/40/20. This was another fun game that I will be seeking out at
Scott pulled out Iglu Iglu which he got from the prize table the night
before. The game is a tile based area control/action point game. We went
several turns before understanding some of the strategy and worked our way
to the end game. Dave proved to be the master of the cold 32/24/22/15. It
was a good enough game that I would pick-up for the right price (i.e. a 6).
We ended our weekend trying a game that had been getting a lot of "podcast'
time - McMulti. This is a dice rolling game at it's heart with a little bit
of an economic game thrown on top. We read through the rules once and did
our first build. By the end of the third person's turn, we realized our
builds could have been better optimized. So we restarted and had a much
better time with the game. Two hours later things were staring to drag. We
thought $1 Billion would never arrive. I got lucky towards the end when a
depression was triggered at the start of my turn and the recovery began on
the next player's turn. I bought a lot of cheap assets which I was then able
to sell several turns later at the top of the market. We messed up the rule
about selling assets (only active assets can be sold) so the end score was
not reflective of a true game. There is a lot of luck which concerns me with
a game this long. The pieces were nice and the game had some nice elements
to it but it is too long for what it is. Hopefully a variant or two (e.g.
lower dollar taget) can keep the feel of the game without the length.
With that we had reached the end of another gaming event. We said our
goodbyes to Rob and the organizers who did a great job with the location,
participants, and refreshments. I hope to have an opportunity to attend
again in the future. We dropped Tony off at his house and we all appreciate
his family's hospitality. The drive home had no traffic but it was still a
long day. Scott and Dave left to finish their final leg back after a quick
stop to tell my wife Katherine about our adventures.
My first invitational was a success in my book. It has a much different feel
then a tournament. I don't really prefer one over the other, they are just
different. Tournaments allows you to meet more people, especially if you are
not comfortable jumping in with people you don't know well. There is also
less downtime deciding what to play next. The invitational also has high
quality players, an opportunity to play whatever fancied you at the moment,
and to see many obscure titles played. Plenty of room under the tent for
both formats which I hope grow as our hobby grows.
Next Up: Essen!
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