Jennifer Geske: BGG.CON 2011 – Before the Weekend

The first two days of BGG.CON 2011 has been a flurry of activities for me. I still haven’t gotten more than 4 hours of sleep a night, and so far have only left the hotel once (for a quick lunch) since arriving on Tuesday.  I didn’t get to play as many games as I’d planned – a recurring lament at every convention that I’ve ever attended, but there’s still the upcoming weekend to remedy that.

As I was leaving my room to join the registration line on Wednesday morning, I realized that the BGG library’s copies of Ora et Labora set up in the Hot Games room were missing English translation for the cards. I pushed through the gamers waiting in the registration line (lines were almost all the way out to the lobby at that point) to get into the Hot Games room for a closer look at the cards. While the effects on most cards can be deciphered via icons, there are some that would need translation. Luckily, someone at the first session I taught knew some German so we struggled through it.

It wasn’t until Lorna showed up later in the afternoon that I realized I had been in the Hot Games room all day helping folks figure out new games like Ora et Labora, Hawaii, Drum Roll, etc. Around 5 p.m., I finally checked out my first game from the library, with the plan of reading the rules while getting dinner and waiting for Lorna to finish her game so we could then play a game together. Wouldn’t you know it – this had to be one of the few games from the library with no English rules in the box (and I didn’t discover it until after sitting down at the restaurant) – so much for my clever planning of efficient use of time.

Both Dale Yu and Jonathan Franklin came to the rescue this time with English rule translation and player aid cards. At around 7:30 on Wednesday, I sat down to play my first new game at BGG.CON 2011, Recicle – a game about operating a recycling center from Brazilian publisher Galapagos Jogos. I had actually ordered this game plus a couple others for Essen pick-up. However, the meeting place provided in the instruction turned out to be in the part of Messe that was closed so we missed the connection. The game is an interesting twist on worker placement. In our 4-player game, we all sold the materials picked up by our collectors to the public warehouse (you kind of have to in the first round to generate enough money to buy equipment for the recycling center to be operational) so it became so inexpensive to buy from the warehouse that we hardly bought from our own carts. We also didn’t use the action cards very much, except for a couple that clearly helped with purchasing materials. The keys to a successful recycling business is apparently specializing in a material no one else is using and/or specializing in cheap material, as Bay was the only one processing metal and he won and Lorna was only 2 points behind by processing bushels of paper. It’s fun and reasonably quick. I would definitely play it again once Jonathan Franklin gets his copy of the game.

I wanted to try Takenoko or Siberia next but both were checked out so I sat down for a quick game of Fealty instead. This soon-to-be-released game (game is done and on the ship to the US from Germany) from Asmadi Games is a very good positioning and territory control game. Each player has the same 9 role cards (9 different characters with different rules about conquering territories) but only 3 in the hand at a time. Players choose which card to play and then in the order of role activation, place the chosen character on the board to maximize its conquering potential while blocking other players. The game plays in less than 30 minutes but offers a lot of interesting and difficult decisions. I look forward to trying this game again once it hits the stores.

Next I picked up Aquileia. Reading through the rules it seems similar to another Roman-themed game that I like, Tribune, minus the family control part of Tribune. We misunderstood the rules about the chariot race (we played it as 2 races instead of 1) and made a mistake on the theater card bidding (the winning bid should be paid to the auctioneer instead of the bank). So we ended up with a shortened game. The game offers different paths to victory and the ‘exact money type’ requirement adds a twist to an otherwise average worker-placement game. One of the players tried the game again with the correct rules and liked it a lot better the second time. This is another game I would gladly play again.

I checked out Siberia before the library and the Hot Games room closed so I could read the rules at night. On Thursday morning, we finally got to play the game. It has a very interesting action activation mechanism. Each action token (except for the manager token) has 2 icons and can be used for either the resource extraction or the personnel management side of action planning, as well as in the ‘research’ action, which simply adds a specific resource to a location of choice. Players can not execute an action until 2 action tokens have been placed on the same action. As the action tokens are randomly drawn from the bag each round, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to do what you wan to do, or that the actions you can do will be most beneficial to you to perform this round versus waiting until later (can’t predict what other players will be able to do next round). I think we kind of focused too much on getting actions every turn and very quickly exhausted resources in many regions, which is the clock for the end of the game. This game is just now being released by DLP Games, and I learned that there will be US distribution, and the games should be available in the US in December. I like the game enough to pick up a copy when it shows up here, and look forward to trying it again then (hopefully I would have finished playing the other Essen games by then).

Lorna and I then tried Village, an Eggertspiele game that the BGG library has in the prototype format (as the game is not yet released). The game reminds me of A Castle for All Seasons, with its medieval theme and worker placement mechanics. For some reason, I wasn’t able to get an ox or a plow so my wheat production was limited, and it seemed that in medieval Germany, wheat is what moves you forward in the stairway to heaven (for monks placed in the church). So I instead had a worker spending his entire life (actually a couple generations of workers in the same business) making low-quality wagons that fell apart after one use to enable another couple of workers who spent their entire lives traveling to different locations. We both had fun killing off our workers so they could be noted in the village chronicle to give us victory points. Other than that, the game play seemed repetitive – get wheat, make babies, make goods, sell goods, etc. I guess maybe being a medieval villager isn’t as glamorous as what I remember from the re-enactments.

We used the restaurant bus sponsored by Rio Grande Games to finally leave the hotel for lunch. After that began a couple of hours of futile search for the next game. I checked out Fief because the description sounded interesting, but gave up on it after finding out that there were 15 pages of rules. I am still interested in trying the game, but will need someone who knows the game to teach it. I then checked out 2019: The Arctic and read the rules while Lorna and Kris were in a game of Vanuatu. The game sounds very interesting from reading the rules, but we discovered that the copy in the BGG library does not have all the components so it could not be played. I had been on the hunt for Takenoko for 2 days and it was not available from the BGG library. Aldie and I walked around the entire convention and could not find the game. However, Takenoko managed to remain in the top 5 on the Geek Buzz list for a game that no one had seen in 2 days. I don’t really understand the algorithms behind Geek Buzz. Now I am more confused then ever. On the other hand, my resolve to find this ‘endangered’ panda game strengthened.

Thursday also had a couple of official tournaments with high participation. The first day of the Tichu tournament was the round-robin format to determine the brackets for Friday. There was also a 7 Wonders tournament sponsored by Asmodee from 7 p.m. to midnight.

After a failed attempt to leave the hotel for the second time in a day, Kris and I ended up having dinner at the hotel restaurant and then played a few lighter new Essen fares – Die GulliPiratten, Burdigala, and Tante Trudels Trodel. All of them are not games I would not have purchased so I am glad that they are in the library so I could try them. Then, after a quick game of Burg Drachengold, I finally tracked down Takenoko, the elusive panda game. It is a light family fare, but some of the objectives are more difficult than they first seem. I enjoyed the game and will play it again after my pre-ordered copy arrives.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am ending the first 2 days at BGG.CON with light reading of game rules, this time for Zeitalter der Vernunft (Age of Reason), a simplified version/remake of Struggle of Empires.  If the last few days are any indication, the weekend will likely see more unexpected but fun experiences. I am ready, sleep deprivation or not.

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4 Responses to Jennifer Geske: BGG.CON 2011 – Before the Weekend

  1. Dale Yu says:

    Awesome report! Sounds like you’re having a great time — and, sleep is truly over-rated at these cons…

  2. Tom Rosen says:

    Hey that’s my arm! I don’t even remember you taking a photo during that game :)
    I think Fraser and my other compatriots didn’t have enough of that fishbowl at dinner.

    It was nice gaming with you Jennifer. Thanks so much for letting me join in the “elusive panda game,” which I’d also been bugging the librarians about constantly since it was always missing.

  3. Scott Anderson says:

    I can probably help answer the mystery of the high rating for Takenoko while it was “unavailable” from the library…

    Jess and I checked it out of the library Wednesday afternoon and we were at least the second group to play it. While we were playing it, Stefan (from Asmodee) came by and told us to make sure the library set it aside after we were done with it since it was the only copy he had and it wasn’t supposed to be available in the library yet.

    Right after playing Takenoko, Jess and I helped Lincoln set up the GeekBuzz, and we were the first two people to rate anything in the system. Since we had just played and enjoyed Takenoko, it got high ratings within 60 seconds of the GeekBuzz system going live!

  4. jgeske says:

    I figured some people got to play Takenoko Wednesday morning or early afternoon. I talked to Stefan on Tuesday and he said there’d be a library copy. However, the big mystery is that between Wednesday afternoon when the game was pulled from the library and late Thursday night when I finally got the game from Stefan, Takenoko remained in the top 5 on GeekBuzz when no one even knew where the game was.

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