I’m writing this up from the registration line of BGGCON this morning, the convention’s first time at this new hotel -now outside of the DFW airport (again), and after an afternoon and an evening, it’s already been a nice change, as you can walk outside to nearby restaraunts and the views are, well, not of endless tarmac.
One of the other features is that it is connected to via an underground tunnel to the Amtrak station. I mean, when you arrive by train, the hotel is right there!
The hotel is…large. I’ll talk more about it tonight, tomorrow, on Twitter, and all week. But this is a post about the second time we took the train to BGGCON so that we could play train games aboard the train.
We met again in the main hall at Chicago’s Union Station, with folks taking turns to watch over our ever growing luggage pile of games to play, games to sell, games to gift, and some clothes, so that others could foray out for lunch.
We had 13 folks this year, coming from destinations such as Boston and Portland, Providence and Taiwan. Our train would take us south across Illinois, down through St. Louis, Little Rock, Texarkana, and across to Dallas, before moving on to Los Angeles without us.
Rand had designed us the beautiful shirt I showed above, and a few of us brought them in various colors, Andy brought a trough of games (ok, 2), Matt brought 2 boxes of Age of Steam maps and another box of cube rail games, and some others brought assorted games that had been requested in a Google doc in the preceding months.
I didn’t get a good picture of the train car itself, but you can see what we were working with in last year’s post about our inaugural trip, and, well, things were pretty much the same, but with a few less announcements that admonished us to keep our shoes on, and some luggage storage now in the creepy leaf room.
I started out the trip with a small train themed game recently released at Spiel, Rollecate.
In the game, players are laying out rail cards to form a route, and the cards have numbers on them which also restrict which ones you can play, in a method similar to Uno, though it also allows you to chain your plays as long as you can.
It also doesn’t restrict how you lay them, and you certainly can play cards such that the route curls in on itself and the next player has no room to play a card.
The rub is, you don’t want points, and as the game progresses, the tail of the track is consumed, by one player or the other, earning them points. Can’t lay a card? Take the last piece of track. When you lay cards? Sum their value, roll that many dice, and for each wheel, the Rollecate figure advances, and if it can’t? Take a card from the end for each one it’s short.
What makes it not completely unremarkable is that when you take penalties, you can take them in any order, and if one you take matches the top in your score pile, they cancel, so sometimes you’re hoping to overshoot the end of the track and collect cards that will negate your previous demerits.
At times, this was two concurrent conventions, as at least 1 table seemed to always have a Tom Russell game on it, such as my second game, Trans-Siberian Railroad.
As with most Tom and Winsome games, players will be buying shares in a number of train companies, with the amount of money paid for those shares becoming the company’s treasury, and the majority stockholder(s) making the decisions for the company.
Here we’ve also got nationalization, where at a given point it becomes possible for the game itself to sort of just take your company if its is too weak, paying one final dividend before your stock and company poof into an oligarchical dream.
Several specific actions push a timer of the game which will trigger dividend payouts and the ultimate game end condition, and at one point allow 2 new companies to enter the board.
I really enjoyed this one. This was probably my second favorite game of the trip, though currently as unavailable as what you’ll see my favorite was.
In general, I have my druthers with cube rail games, and while I’m always happy to try them, don’t find a lot I want to play a second time. However, I found this one plausibly understandable on a first play such that you could already sense the possibilities that could arise in your future endeavors. The game seems like a good candidate for Rio Grande or Capstone to pick up, and I hope they do.
I’m not going to remember what order we played things in, so sometimes when I will say “next”, I more mean next in my writing and your reading than I do a recreation of our train timeline.
Which is to say “next” was the recent Japanese reprint of TransAmerica, which introduced a Japan map and the inclusion of several tweaks from the recent Ravensburger release, such as a tweak to the scoring and some optional event cards.
In TransJapan, and the other maps, each player has a set of 5 destinations, 1 each in 5 colors. The players are collectively extending one rail network, which starts at 5 different destinations, one of each players choosing, and eventually merging.
At any point when the network connects each of a player’s destinations, they can declare victory for the round, even if on another players turn, with points being awarded for this feat, and there is a scale of decreasing points to be awarded depending on how short each of the other players came to completing their routes.
The players continue these “mini” rounds, resetting destinations and the board between each, until a player earns a certain amount of points and wins.
It’s a game I enjoy, but never got around to picking up, so I jumped at the chance when the 2-sided Japanese map was announced. It’s a classic and rightfully so. I’m not typically a fan of such games that allow other players’ actions to unpredictability trigger your hidden scoring cards, but it’s tuned just right for me here.
Next was, and not to hype it too much, but my favorite game of the train, and one I don’t know the name of! The map though was labeled “Mini Express”.
This is…a sequel? A follow-up? to Mark Gerrits’ Mini Rails, and also will be coming from Moaideas. (Thanks to both of them for setting us up to be able to try it on our trip!)
I have permission to share photos, but can’t say a lot about it. I will say that I think “Mini Express” is not an apt name, as this is more complex than Mini Rails, a game I love. Rand described it as “entangled and crunchy” which I think is both perfect and within the bounds of what we can say. It’s more of a Mini Rails II+, though things are subject to change.
As with last year, we had a number of inquiries from folks riding the train about what was going on, including this fellow who stopped by the Tom Russell wing and was getting quite the sales pitch from Andy about the joys of For-Ex.
(It wasn’t a game I enjoyed, but seeing Andy’s love of it, and the wonderful webapp implementation that handled some of the bookkeeping, he almost had me wanting to try it again!)
Next, a reunion of sorts with some of my Age of Steam con regular opponents, Jac and Matt, for a game on one of the maps we received at the convention, 1890 Berlin.
The scenario for this map is that only the leftmost cube in a city can be delivered, and all terrain costs $2. Players may only build 2 track on their turn, and there are no towns or urbanization.
It was a tight map, with all but one possible route built, and that route would have run the width of the board. I found the cubes were delivered in an unpredictable way by my opponents, and given how few cubes are actually available to deliver on your turn, it pushed the cube deliveries in too far of a tactical direction for my tastes.
Loyal readers may remember that I almost played Dutch InterCity at BGGCON last year, but we couldn’t get the rules squared away before I had a prior obligations, so I was excited when I saw that Andy was picking up a copy at Spiel.
I guess I’m less excited now that I’ve played it? Haha, wait, let’s go with, I’m glad I scratched my curiosity to play the game.
It’s again a Winsome with purchasing shares, company treasuries, etc., but now with simultaneous track selection, and scoring that felt dated.
I was getting tired, both from travel and learning games where none of us had played before, so I pulled out Across the United States, which I’ve talked about previously.
(If you’re curious, I still love it!)
Sleep was, rough. I went with trying to sleep in a regular seat again, and I think it was less a problem of being physically comfortable, than temperature, odors, and a little too much excitement to actually get to sleep. (The trip isn’t without its blemishes…)
I let myself get up at 6 to play again, justifying it to myself as being 7 in my home time zone. I had one last train game I wanted to try before I decided I might let myself relax into other genres, and that was Trans-Siberian.
Not the Trans-Siberian Railroad we played earlier, but rather Trans-Siberian from Mondainai.
This was another of Andy’s recent acquisitions, and both were from fellow OGers. This is from the same folks that made Swedish Parliament 2014 that I played at HeavyCon a few years ago, but is considerably lighter.
It uses Mondainai’s typical rhombus track, and, well, let’s you travel not over rail. You have a train figure that you move from town to town, sometimes over your own track for free, other folks tracks at a minor cost, or, walking, I suppose, for ever increasing outrageous costs.
Track is built from hex-center to hex-center, costing 1 cube of each corresponding landscape color, and doesn’t need to be connected to other track. The game seems to center around cube trading, with each city having different trading ratios depending upon what you offer and the cities current supply of the color you want. Once a city has each of the 3 colors it doesn’t produce present, they poof and it triggers a resupply of additional cubes of the cities’ production color.
At the end of the game, each track is worth 2 points, each cube is worth 1 point, and there is minor points for money.
It’s a game I have played. Or, as a friend just told me about a game he played last night: the designer’s heart was in the right place.
Laying track at the beginning was prohibitively difficult, such that the best option was usually passing your turn. But, soon enough, the game had become an obscene game of cube trading and track seemed superfluous.
Glad to have scratched that itch, and I will say the rulebook is almost worth reading for its own sake; it was brilliantly entertaining.
I don’t have a picture of mid-journey planks in the aisle this year, but your self care photo will instead be Rand and I taking our morning vitamins at our wives’ reminders.
If you see me randomly planking, lunging places, etc., this week, I’m trying to get in a little exercise, even if not a proper workout.
At this point, we were in Texas! The homestretch and we were still on time, but we were also entering the troublesome freight corridor where we are most likely to fall behind.
My final game would be Square on Sale, a reprint of an older Japanese title from New Games Order.
In short, it was a 4 player Othello game with slow motion auctions.
You start the game by bidding on certain squares with an amount of money, hoping to place one of your squares there. When you bid, you typically place a timer on the pile of money that starts at 2. On your next turn it becomes a 1, and after that you add a square!
But, instead of placing a bid on a square without a bid, you can outbid someone else. In this case, rather than adding a new timer, you take the one from the outbid player’s money, possibly snaking their 1!
When you do get to place a square, look in each direction, and if you see another of yours, you can place a square on top of each stack between them.
I should also note that you don’t get your money back right away. Rather, for the inner 9 squares, you get 1 back per square per turn, and for the outer hexes the same, but only if you don’t place a bid that turn!
Despite that description and the game’s look, it felt more euro-y and less abstract. It was a very good game and one worth trying if you have a chance (and it sounds interesting to you.). Another good candidate for someone like Capstone to pick up.
So, I think that’s it!
I only have one last photo to share. Thanks to all these folks for sharing in our whimsy and joining us for the adventure. My experience was enriched because you were there. ❤️
If anybody who didn’t join us on the train would like a RollingCon ribbon for their badge, come find me!