Granite Game Summit (2020) Recap

This last weekend I headed to New Hampshire to play some games. My friend Kimberly is one of the organizers of the Granite Game Summit, and with BGGCON exiting my annual schedule, it would be a nice way to support her and visit with friends from the New England area (and I’d been meaning to go for a few years.)

As intended, it’s a sort of BGGCON-lite, with everything shrunk down to about 10% of the Texas-sized con.

This year it was held at the DoubleTree in Nashua, with all the trimmings that implies. The library is modest, again think BGGCON*0.1.

But… those aren’t the only games that’ll be available. (We’ll come back to that.)

Here’s the main ballroom, open around 10a-midnight each day. The lighting was good, seats comfortable, and noise level reasonable.

But around the outside was this sort of half row of tables where the attendees maintain the sort of co-op library that is common (and possible) at events of this size. (I snuck in prior to opening; these tables were quite full through the weekend.)

At various numbered stations, the organizers had prepared sheets for a contributing attendee to list their name, games, and departure time. There were also numbered sheets that could be placed in the boxes to ensure their return to the right location! (The bags under the tables are the code for “I want these available for myself, but would not like to participate in the library system.”)

Like I said, there were other rooms to play in, such as this room, which has the bonus of the natural light, but, uh, also smelled a bit of chlorine as it was right above the pool.

Or this, uh…, hallway off of the lobby. Haha, I don’t think I’ve been to a con at a hotel with this sort of use of common space. (I mostly played in the library room, which I didn’t otherwise get a picture of.)

This year, the convention ran Friday through Sunday, though I believe it is expected to extend earlier in the week next year. It’s an interesting situation, as other than myself and an attendee from the UK who was otherwise already in the country, the attendees seemed to come from the Boston and NYC area -which meant there wasn’t the precipitous drop in the open gaming rooms on Sunday morning as folks needed to catch a flight, and, actually, there were still many locals arriving for just Sunday!

I had flown into Boston on Thursday to meet up with a good friend that I hadn’t seen in many years, and to explore a bit, eating ice cream with Rand and Suzi. I drove up Friday morning, and with registration opening at 10, didn’t rush myself too much.

It was an interesting morning, as, well, I didn’t know too many people at the show yet, or hadn’t yet met the people it turns out I did know. Kimberly was busy running the convention; Rand, Suzi, Jess, and others weren’t due up until later; and I’m not great at meeting new people. That means it was a morning of trying to get better at meeting strangers and playing 2P games with the folks I knew that I could find.

First up, Daniel found me and we tried Renegade’s recent release “Stellar”.

It’s a 2P only mathy card game that is, uh, loosely about astronomy, but it’s just numbers and colors. Each turn you will place one card in your pyramid tableau, and one in another tableau off to the side. Cards have 3 values: a suit, a rank, and a point value. Scoring is mostly made up of two factors: area majority in the pyramid tableau by section (adding up the ranks of the cards present), and a product of the points of adjacent cards of the same suit in the pyramid tableau by the number of cards in that suit in the other tableau.

You have a hand of cards, and each turn draw one from a row of 5 cards. You’ll play one of those cards into one of your tableaus, and the games comes from the limits placed on the second card. The second card must be placed in the other tableau, and must be the card in the 5 card row that matches the slot number of the rank of the first card you played this turn: whatever card you play from your hand into one tableau means that you must play the card from the row with the same slot as the rank of the played card into your other tableau.

It was fine.

While I had Daniel, we tried a game that I had brought, Strategist Strategy.

It’s a two player skirmish game that uses card programming such that your orders don’t take affect right away and will be delayed a few turns. You alternate planning orders face down and face up, and are rewarded with more strategy points for planning further ahead. Victory is either overrunning your opponent, moving three pieces into their home row, or capturing a specific piece that you secretly determine during setup.

Ultimately I don’t think it is my style of game, but I played it several more times during the week and will try to give you a thorough write up in the coming weeks.

During those games, I had kept an eye on the other end of our table, as a group seemed to be having a Saashi & Saashi marathon. After Strategist Strategy, Daniel ran off, and after making a pass or two around and not finding anyone else I knew that was available, I asked the Saashi & Saashi table if I could sit and join them, and I could.

I had not brought the newest, Remember Our Trip, as I imagined Rand or someone local might have it, and I had already brought quite a few things. I asked these folks (Danielle, Chris, and Dan) if they had played it and they had not. That gave me a side quest to work on while they finished up waiting for the elevator. I checked with Rand, he didn’t have it. I asked Kimberly who in attendance might have it, and she thought Dan might. Wait, Dan B.? I’d known of Dan for years, and communicated via e-mail for several less, but still a plural amount of years, but never met him. Kimberley tracked him town, and the side quest of my side quest, meeting Dan was accomplished. But, alas, no Remember Our Trip.

But it turns out Chris and Danielle and crew were down for other games from my bag of wonders, and we sat down to play Honey Festa, a game that… is very for me, and the first of two games in this post from designer ゆたか (Yutaka).

The game is in the Take It Easy/Karuba style bingo-caller tile placement genre, and that probably gives you some sense of if it is something up your alley. Players have a queue of bees of different colors and numbers entering their board, and must either place them next to the Leader or use them to move the leader. Points are achieved by meeting certain criteria, generally related to flipping over adjacent tiles of the same color that sum to exactly 8.

It isn’t without its issues, though I think those are mostly, if not entirely, alleviated by playing only at the full complement of 4 players. The central puzzle of the bee tile placement is a delight. Full write up to come later in April or May.

Another title that I played several times throughout the week and intend to give a full write up to soon is 四畳半ペーパー賽系 , roughly translated as Four and a Half Tatami Mat Room.

It is a flip & roll & color game about the last year of college, with the different colors of shapes/dice corresponding to different parts of your life: hobbies, friends, romance, school, and your part-time job. Each of these will score in a different way, and there are also randomized objective cards.

I enjoy this one quite a bit. Some of the scoring categories are a bit wonky to explain, but intuitive once they click. Another where I would expect a full write up in the next month or two.

The convention was less than a week ago, but it felt like a much different time from when I’m writing this up. Concerns about the virus were present, but the movement of schools to online classes, and the cautionary cancellation or prohibition against larger gatherings hadn’t yet begun in earnest across the country.

The Osaka Game Market was to have taken place in Japan while I was in Nashua, but it was cancelled in late February -which, while it feels like ages ago, was, well, 2 weeks. The games were, for the most part, already made, or at least printing orders had been submitted, but new distribution plans would be necessary. One arrived a few days before I left for this trip, and I have a few others currently sitting at a warehouse in Tokyo waiting on receipt of a few others.

The one that arrived is known as ⊿railways inc. After The RAIN, with the name being an allusion to the series of Japanese train-themed computer games, A-TRAIN.

One thing that is unknowingly and increasingly pressuring me to add it to my spreadsheet of things to do when I (hope to) visit Japan in a few years is shop at a dollar store. This is another game with the components sourced from one, this time mostly generic Lego blocks.

It is a train game with most of the things you would expect: laying track; investing; transporting things with your train. It uses some of the automatic-growth type mechanic of a game like Indonesia. It’s a game where I get so waylaid by its wonkyness, that I can’t get a sense of how I feel about it! I played twice during the weekend, with one game being a lot of fun, and the other being…different -sometimes in good ways, and one time in the opposite of that. It’s on the “let’s explore further” shelf.

So, Rand, it turned out couldn’t make. When Suzi came up Saturday morning, she brought various games he had sold to folks and PAX’s demo copies of a few upcoming releases, such as Mind MGMT, Mini Express, and Cosmic Frog. She set up a station for folks to find her and pick up games, and I helped where I could, such as finding Dan. At one point, a game went from Rand to Suzi to Me to Allison (via Dan) and hopefully one day makes it to Hanibal, who really is the one that bought the game from Rand.

While I wanted to play Mind MGMT and Cosmic Frog, we didn’t have a teacher and I wasn’t especially in the mood to learn something new. (That morning I had played Agricola and 3 games of Dominion. I scored exactly 42 points in each of 4 back to back games! I’m trying to do a better job of playing games I love, and not always learning something new.) Luckily I knew Mini Express (and Mark had asked us to have it here and play it so that he could be here in spirit.)

I should stop calling it Mini Rails II and stop calling it the sequel to Mini Rails. It’s not either of those things. Yes, the designer and publisher are the same, as are, essentially, your options on your turn. Yes, money is abstracted away. Yes, it has a mechanic not dissimilar from the taxation in Mini Rails where a company’s ability to score for you can take swings.

OK, the more I talk about it, yes, it seems like there are similarities, but it feels more like a cube rails game. This is “Express” in the sense of Chicago Express, not Risk Express, etc. Cube rails along the lines of American Rails.

But not. Like I said, money abstracted out and all that. Each version I play of it smooths out the weakest points, and it’s coming along nicely.

Afterwards, at least two of us had not played Mini Rails, so we found a copy to play. You can refer to my previous review here; it’s a game I love.

One of my favorite games of last year is the Japanese card game SCOUT! I talked a bit about it during my write-up of T6, but more plays have certainly not hampered my love for it. Through most of a 30,000 foot view, you’ll say “I’ve played that. It’s called Krass Kariert.” It’s not. You haven’t.

Yes, it’s a climbing game where you can’t rearrange your hand. Yes, it’s a climbing game where as you pass, you’ll add a card to your hand. But it has a few more wrinkles up its sleeve. I’ll certainly been rhapsodizing at length about this one soon enough, but for now, here’s how passing works in SCOUT!: Player A plays a large set, that Player B can’t beat. Player B passes, with an action called “scouting”. Player B takes a card from either end of Player A’s set, and places it at any position in their hand –with either side up (see how the cards are sort of dominoes.). Player A gets a point when this happens. Player B gets a better hand. Player C is faced with a weaker set on the table that will be easier to beat. Win, win, win.

@OpinionatedEaters break. I’m an early riser at cons. I’m usually up by 7, shower, eat a salad, and ready to game at 8. At BGGCON, that usually means not many folks around. Heck, when I arrived with pastries on Friday morning of T6 there was no one around. But this convention has a “cereal club”.

Patrick brought some more exotic flavors later, and there were some dairy alternatives, but there was also a room full of people! This morning I had a bowl of froot loops and a bowl of raisin bran. Yum!

I glossed over a chance to give him a second shout-out above, but here’s Hanibal’s would-be third, as I finally played Jumble Order! At his urging, I got in a play after it sat on my shelf for 14 months or so unplayed.

That may not seem like a lot, and probably isn’t, but…that logo in the lower right of the box cover. It’s from Muneyuki Yokouchi, the designer of multiple games that I’ve considered my favorite game at one point or another, and several others that I adore.

It’s not that I hadn’t learned the rules. Or set it up. Or taken a few turns. I just never played past a second or third turn. Let me explain. The first time I played, it was at a family gathering that I ended up needing to leave abruptly, and so we didn’t finish the game. The second time was Patrick’s birthday party, and, the same happened, though this time it was that our time in the space was up.

And…well, the first 2 or 3 turns aren’t inspiring. There is an alternate setup, and perhaps it will alleviate that, but, my point here, is that’s why I’ve been hesitant to break it out again.

Anyway, it’s a deck-building game. You don’t have a hand of cards, and most turns are revealing 4 cards from your deck, one at a time. Cards have a money value that allows you to purchase new cards. Cards have a military value that allows you to win a “war” that occurs each turn, and with this win comes territory, the currency spent to purchase most victory point cards.

The joy in the game will come from the combinations that you try to achieve with the cards you’ve purchased. Some cards have certain affects for being face down or face up. They let you plan your deck a bit. Or get a fifth card out. Others grant rewards for having a certain number of differently colored cards in play. Or cards that have a straight in a certain currency (e.g. strengths of 2, 3, 4, and 5, in any order.)

I’m now looking forward to playing it again.

Saturday evening Rand had scheduled a trick-taking event, and, well, it turns out there was someone willing to appoint themselves deputy and sort of run things, though there wasn’t much to organize. It was more gathering folks interested in playing certain types of games in the same place. Done and done.

There was some Die Crew played. A lot. This night, and throughout the con.

I also saw many games of Nokosu Dice.

One new one I had brought, new as in to me, is the 2015 release Rinpa. It is a set-collecting trick-taking game, where sets are made up of 1-6, 7-10, and 11-12. Cards played to a trick are moved to the corresponding spots in the various sets. Once a set is complete, the person who played the last card to that set collects it, with the game granting 1 point per card collected. However, the winner of the trick can take the set first if it is of the same color as the suit lead.

Dan and Suzi were troopers throughout the day as I pulled one mystery game after another out of my bag, and I’m grateful for their kindness, time, and friendship. This one was, uh, not best at 3. I will be trying again at a higher player count.

Speaking of sensitive-to-player-count trick-taking games, I played BON (Boast or Nothing) twice during the weekend, aiming to get enough plays that I’m comfortable giving it a full write-up. (My current believe is to only play with 4-players.)

The game centers around the stack of 3 discs there in the center. That is the ranking of the suits – all yellow cards, beat all red, beat all blue. However, when a trick is won? The color of the winning card is moved to the bottom of the stack. Points are only granted when a player wins 0 or 2 tricks (in a 4 player game).

There was recently a hashtag going around the Japanese trick-taking community on Twitter of folks’ 10 favorite games, and I was surprised how many of my friends’ lists had non-commercial games on them, and I was reminded how I had a binder of several such rule sets that I wanted to play. (I also discovered several new ones that I hurriedly translated so that we could try.)

So, do I remember what we were playing in this picture? Um, no. I think this is when Dave joined us for Notice. In Notice, players bid on how many tricks two hands will win. You’re dealt one hand, predict how many tricks it will win, then pass it to another player (in a prescribed manner based upon player count and round number). Then, also predict the number of tricks the new hand you’ve been given will win; you’ll play the round with that hand. Points are awarded for accuracy.

We also played Trapzista, one of the nominees for @kumagoro_h’s 2017 Trick Taking Party, and from designer ゆたか (Yutaka). It has a fairly routine trick-taking structure, though there are two jokers which flip (or unflip) the rankings of the cards. However, what I love is what it found to incentivize: it rewards winning tricks before or after certain other players, and I can’t think of another game that does that. (Thematically, players are trapeze artists and want to be in a stack with other players, but if a trick is won at the wrong time, you can fall.)

We also played Cursed Tricks, one that I imagine I’ll give a full write-up at some point. (I’ll also point out that the rules include a caveat from the designer that they realize the game may be hard to get, so you are encouraged to use a standard deck of cards and play anyway.)

It is a standard “must follow”, no trump, affair, with super-1’s. However, when you win a trick, you may be “cursed” in that color. Normally, players earn 1 point per card won, but the curse prevents you from scoring cards of that color. A second trick prevents you from scoring at all, and a third ends the round prematurely with a severe penalty. (Curses can be broken by playing the lowest card in the lead suit.)

(Geez, these photos are all out of order.) Prior to the trick-taking night, Suzi and I had driven to get a salad and snacks from a local grocery. I came back with a bag of extra-crispy pretzels to share. When we got back these folks were eagerly reading the results of several raffle drawings for games, bags, bags of games, etc. I won the @OpinionatedEaters raffle and ate this horchata ice cream sandwich I bought myself at the grocery.

At some point trick-taking night was over.

That meant it was time for late night con games. I had treated myself in advance. Twice. First, I booked an evening flight out on Sunday, so that I could stay up late on Saturday and just sleep in – Sunday wouldn’t be for games, just for driving back to Boston to spend a little more time with a friend there, and then flying home. There was plenty of time for that, so a late Saturday is fine. (Second, no more daily con reports.)

First up was Babel. This is a social deduction dexterity game. Several players are trying to make this a successful tower. A few people may not be.

Geez, that doesn’t sound like me.

I know, but here’s the thing. It’s from the designer and publisher behind Hiktorune, and I have a soft spot for stacking games, and a tiny, tiny candle burning somewhere inside that dimly lights a note that say “there might be a social deduction game you enjoy someday….”

So I brought a copy. My usual weekly group wouldn’t be the right group, but I thought such a con might be. As expected, the paper is outstanding. The trick here is that each floor must be built with 2 walls, but the walls are of different heights. The active player reveals a card, say a 3. The other players choose a card and vaguely claim how it can help (or not help.). If you offer a 3, it will be easy to make a level floor. If you offer a 5 when I played a 1, you are probably a traitor. (Later though, it could be just the right imbalance we need to get things back to level!)

I had fun, though, of course, the company would be much of that. Ultimately, the social deduction part is something I had too much trouble engaging with, as I feared. I will likely try this with my family at some point, as it has just occurred to me, that it might be just right for the accusatory way we like to talk to each other (and we’re still playing “who took the corner brownie before we had dinner!?” from last Thanksgiving. It’s been a great game of intrigue for months.)

I played a few other things the next morning, but we wrapped up Saturday night with a game of Age of Steam, the South America map.

Here, the blue city is removed, as is the auction pass. Buenos Aires, the printed blue city, requires a player to pay $1 to the bank whenever a cube is delivered to, from, or through it! (The special action that replaces the pass allows the player that selects it to collect that money instead, and not pay if they use Buenos Aires.)

It was a doozy! I may have technically won, but Kimberly deserved the win.

So in the early afternoon Sunday, I drove back to Boston to visit my friend. We went to get bahn mi’s, explore the city, and catch up a bit more. OK, we also managed to stop for ice cream. It was a nice touch. Not the ice cream, but reconnecting with old friends in ways that you immediately can feel how you’d become such friends in the first place. As bookends, the time became perfectly placed expansion joints of not-work and not-gaming time between days I’m too certain to overfill with each.

I know I said that This last weekend I headed to New Hampshire to play some games, but what I meant was This last weekend I headed to New Hampshire to see some friends, and I’m glad I did.

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6 Responses to Granite Game Summit (2020) Recap

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  3. Dan Blum says:

    It was good to meet you, and I always enjoy playing weird new Japanese games.

    Was our game of Delta Railways the one that was fun or the one that was “different?”

    • xitoliv says:

      Different. In the first game, the final construction phase felt appropriately proportional.

      • Dan Blum says:

        Yeah, those long routes we built probably gave us too much money… but the game does allow you to do that. Maybe we should have been blocking each other more? (Or maybe it just doesn’t work that well.)

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