I’ll never forget the first time I learned of Age of Steam. I had moved back to the Cincinnati area after discovering modern board games elsewhere, and at a public game night, Mike brought two games: Age of Steam and Reef Encounter.
It was the first time I had met up with this group, and I ended up playing Reef Encounter , but it was the look of Mike’s AoS box that sticks with me. It was so worn. So loved. The number of times he must have taken that box off the shelf to play it or to take it somewhere else to play it. Wow, I thought. That game must be incredible –though I wouldn’t play it for another 10 years.
I didn’t know anything about it that night, and I wouldn’t understand what it meant to play the system until I enjoyed a game of Steam with Mike a few years later and watched him lay his track in knots.
Age of Steam Con was an easy decision for me this year after reading Chris’ recap last year, but it was even easier when I saw a few things on the con website: the map drawer; “homemade cinnamon rolls” are listed on the breakfast agenda each day; and, of course, I love themed game nights, but even more so themed game days and themed game cons.
I don’t imagine anyone wanted to read an Age-of-Steam-Con-Anticipation post, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m writing this weeks before the con: I. Can. Not. Wait.
Contemporaneously though, I’m going to add some things from my trip. First is an @OpinionatedEaters break at Milktooth in Indianapolis.
I planned to stop by for breakfast, but hadn’t realized they have different hours for full breakfast and coffee/pastries. So breakfast was some vegetables and a frozen piece of fish at home. Pastry stop was this rhubarb danish. The pastry chef had posted it to her Instagram account earlier in the week and assured me it would still be around Thursday.
I hadn’t realized there was a passionfruit curd involved too. I also got an apple/kumquat buckwheat scone to go. Delicious all around and the taste of rhubarb is treasure.
I have no intention of weaving a review of AoS through my daily recaps this weekend, but I think a brief overview will help you follow along with why some of the maps can be interesting in what they do.
Your goal will be to score the most points. These will largely be acquired by delivering cubes from one location on the board to another. Cubes will be delivered to a city of a matching color and then removed from the board. (Cubes also cannot pass through a matching city without being delivered or enter the same city more than once.)
To build the track to deliver cubes, you’ll need to take out loans. Track will cost a different amount depending upon the terrain, and you’ll be permitted to build a certain number per turn. To start, you’ll only be able to move a cube a short distance, but you will (likely) be able to move it over longer distances as the game progresses.
The game lasts a certain number of turns, and the victory point calculation involves income you’ve received from delivering cubes, track you’ve laid, and penalties for the number of loans.
(I’ve left out what some people think is the central part of the game; towards the beginning of each turn is an auction for a special ability that round: laying extra track, delivering cubes first, increasing the distance you can deliver, etc.)
Next stop was Cahokia.
Across the river from St. Louis, in Illinois, Cahokia is a UNESCO world heritage site that at some point around the years 800-1400 CE was the largest settlement north of Mexico. Its peak was believed to be 1050 to 1150 when 10,000 to 20,000 people lived there.
The site was stunning, but difficult to capture in a photo. There were many earthenworks of various size and purpose, with the terraced one in the distance there taking 300 years to build and taking up 17 acres at its base. For some scale, you can sort of see a car towards the bottom. This one is not a burial mound and there are steps up to the top. From there you can see for quite a ways, including downtown St. Louis, the arch, and, well, a nearby landfill mound that did not take 300 years to build.
It may look dreary in these photos, though that is simply foreshadowing: the weather was perfect. Just cool enough and cloudy enough. The venerable trees throughout, the birds, the frogs… it was serene.
At the time I’m putting this post together, well, I haven’t been to the con yet, but it is great already. There’s a central spreadsheet where Chad and Kevin, the organizers, take planned attendance for scheduling. Current estimate is around 30 folks (with an average of 24) and because the maps have similar playtimes, the con is structured: 4 games per day at 9, 12:30, 5, and 8:30. Over the course of 3 days, you’ll have the opportunity to try 12 different maps.
Each attendee is able to request 2 specific maps they’d like to play, and Chad and Kevin are organizing things in a tab labeled “Map Friends”. (While your quasi-guaranteed to get your 2 requests played, there are spots for up to 12, and, well, I’ve taken advantage of that.)
There are also door-prizes of a sort in that each of us will receive a few maps. This year, one previously published map and 2 maps designed for the con. To be frank, each of the three were on my short list of maps to request before I realized I would get to take them home, so I’m quite excited about this.
Your other @OpinionatedEaters break is just going to be this salad I put together for dinner. I’m fairly certain there is going to be plenty of pastries and bbq later this week, so I’m vegging up while I can, as I often do when I travel.
I’ve been addicted to the planning spreadsheet. Google Map let’s you sorta subscribe to spreadsheets and get e-mails when any changes are made (in a way that it doesn’t allow with word documents), and I get excited each time I receive an e-mail that the AoSCon spreadsheet has been updated.
Some of the maps I’ve requested to play feature: cubes that change colors once delivered rather than being removed from the board; the auction is for _worse_ versions of the actions rather than better; some track is free to build, but a disaster will happen a few turns in those track pieces will be removed from the board; players have their own individual map rather than playing on a central board; cities can change color. And more. (And it isn’t just the rule tweaks. The geography of the map alone can alter play in interesting ways.)
There were spots in the draft of this for scenery photos between lunch and dinner or after dinner, but, uh, after St. Louis and until my destination, there were torrential rains, not much to see, and a fairly unenjoyable drive.
Instead, here’s an exhibit on play from the museum at Cahokia. It includes some examples of two-sided “dice” where the people would paint or otherwise mark on one side of a seed or something similar that they could toss. Some three-card monte shell games. Most common in the museum was references to a game called “Chunkey” that appears to resemble bocce ball, but with a notable difference. The players roll one of those heavy stones in the photo below and each have a javelin. The goal is to have your javelin closer to the stone than the other player. However, you throw the javelin’s _before_ the stone has stopped rolling -which I suppose the analogy for this audience is perhaps the Haba game Maus nach Haus.
I’ve actually only played 3 games of Age of Steam before, and two of those were during last fall’s RollingCon. I’m not without trepidation about what this will be like. I think back to a time when I traveled regularly for work and was going to play Chinatown at a public meetup in Denver. Would I embarrass myself with how I played? I know it’s not important if I’m skilled at these games or not, but that doesn’t mean the knowledge exerts the proper influence over my feelings. Have we been playing by the right rules? Will I handle things tactfully if they’ve been playing by the wrong rules? You can go bankrupt in Age of Steam and watch as the other player’s finish out; will that be me? Things are different at a con where you’ll all be playing the same game: you lack the shared experience of learning a game together or teaching someone a favorite game of yours. Instead, what baggage, conventions, metagame, and assumptions will the different players bring?
Over some cinnamon rolls and BBQ, we’ll find out. :)