GenCon…in the Big Easy?

Rumors abound that GenCon is looking to host a second convention, and that they are looking at Southern cities as a possibility. Since this blog is all about Board Gaming in the South, I thought I would investigate.

There is precedent for multiple conventions spread out across the country. According to its wiki page, back in the 1980s, when GenCon’s regular attendance in Wisconsin hovered around 5000, the convention hosted three different events: (1) University of Wisconsin-Parkside; (2) GenCon South in Jacksonville; and (3) GenCon East in Cherry Hills, New Jersey.

This was not the only time GenCon spread itself around. In fact, there were multiple years where there were multiple conventions. In 2004, there were GenCons in the UK, California, Indianapolis, and even Barcelona!

But it has been a long time since Indy took over GenCon as the sole host. A post on BGG suggested that the GenCon owners are in the process of evaluating whether a second GenCon is feasible.  With the convention busting its seams every year, and overall fever for board game conventions at an all time high, this is probably an opportune time for GenCon to expand.

Where to go? If I were GenCon, I would put New Orleans on my short list! The Crescent City has a world class convention center right on the river. The Ernest Morial Convention Center boasts over 1.1 million feet of exhibit space, and over 3 million total space! That’s a lot of room to spread out the bits and boards in Argent: The Consortium!

And according to the New Orleans convention bureau, the city has over 35,000 hotel rooms available for convention season. That’s plenty of room for a second convention.

Weather in May, say near Memorial Day weekend, is just gorgeous down in New Orleans. You will have temperatures in the 80s during the day, and strolling the streets at night would be a breeze. Plus at the end of the month is the amazing New Orleans Wine & Experience, so you and your friends / significant others can take a break from the convention…if you really want to.

Here are my top three reasons why GenCon should consider The Big Easy:

1. The convention center has a 4000 seat auditorium, so the Dice Tower Live broadcast would definitely not run out of tickets even if they booked Rich Sommers and Will Wheaton as guest speakers;

2.The debate over who has the best food, Origins or GenCon, would end:neworleans_11_bg_021703 gumbo3bg_122499

(Photos of crawfish etoufee and shrimp gumbo courtesy of http://www.PDPhoto.org.) shrimppoboy(Shrimp Po Boy from Crabby Jack’s Restaurant photo Courtesy of Jason Perlow (jason@egullet.org)

the_food_at_davids_kitchen_135 (Fully dressed roast beef poboys photo By David Reber from Kansas City, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

3. Who wants to ride a bus or taxiwhen you can take a street car from your hotel?

street_cars_in_new_orleans

By Bob Jagendorf (BobJagendorf@Yahoo.Com – http://Jagendorf.Com/) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

(By the way, the featured photo New Orleans at the top is also courtesy of PDPhoto.org.)

I’ll be adding to this post as I think of more reasons. Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B. J. 

Lagniappe! with 7 Wonders: Duel

In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain marveled at a Louisiana word he heard used very frequently, called “Lagniappe.”  He called it “something thrown in for good measure,” and compared it to the thirteenth donut in the baker’s dozen.

What is interesting about Twain’s essay is the story he relates about its usage. Here’s Twain: “When a child or a servant buys something in a shop — or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know — he finishes the operation by saying — “Give me something for lagniappe.”

Notice that the child is asking for extra even though he received his full due.

That brings me to my next topic. In terms of expansions to our favorite games, when is enough, enough? When have we gamers received our full due?? That, my friends, is a question for another time, but today, let’s figure out together whether “enough is enough” when it comes to Antoine Bauza’s top rated civ building game, 7 Wonders.

The original 7 Wonders is a card drafting game similar to Fairy TaleSushi Go! or Magic: The Gathering draft style games, but in 7 Wonders, the admittedly tenuous theme is a competition among up to seven players to score the most points as you build the ancient 7 wonders.  Players take turns drafting their “civilization” out of a shared set of cards. The cards that are drafted generate resources, build up military, garner money, stockpile victory points and eventually lead to the building of one of the great 7 wonders. The player with the most victory points at the end of Three Ages (each with successively more powerful cards, buildings and resources) wins!  Antoine Bauza has released three major expansions for the game, all changing the rules or adding to them significantly. But there was one area he did not address until now.

Look, 7 Wonders is an awesome game, one of my favorites to play.   But the base game is more fun with at least 3 players (I think the sweet spot is 4-5 but it handles 7 quite easily). And it does take some explaining for those new to the hobby.

It also contained a two player variant that…well really wasn’t all that fun. But now,  Bauza’s back, with his fellow game designer, Bruno Cathala(that’s right the guy from Shadows Over Camelot and Five Tribes). 

And the two of them have designed a variant for the game that is so much more than just a variant. It truly stands out on its own as a new game. I am talking about that 2015 release from Repos Productions, 7 Wonders: Duel!

In 7 Wonders: Duel, Cathala injected a unique pyramid building structure for each age (so the shared hand is laid out in front of both players instead of in hidden hands.) Of course, some of the rows of cards are face up (and you can make a plan for how to get them) and some are face down (so it is a surprise to you when they turn over). It plays very similar to 7 Wonders in the respect of drawing the resources, building the buildings, and getting victory points, but they made subtle tweaks to a few areas. For instance, there is a military track where each military card moves the plastic shield piece one way or the other towards the players depending upon the number of shields on the card played. If one of the players can move it all the way to the other side of the track, then the game is over.

They also changed up the way science buildings are scored, and introduced a randomized set of “bonus” cards that can really change your strategy of building your civilization. In the games I have played so far, money has been tight early in the game, leading to a lot of tough choices whether to buy a card or wait for the cheaper one down the road.

So, let’s turn back to that final question. Is “enough, enough?” in the case of 7 Wonders?   Did we really need to ask the designer for yet another expansion to what was already a great game? Did we really need a littler “Lagniappe” for 7 Wonders considering the very well received expansions that have already been produced? 

Absolutely!  7 Wonders:Duel is not only a great addition to the 7 Wonders family, it can stand on its own as a great game. 

If you like two player games, or you like 7 Wonders but can’t always get that big game group together, then 7 Wonders:Duel is for you.

Better rules, better gameplay, great components — 7 Wonders: Duel is the complete package. So head out to your friendly local game store, and ask for a little lagniappe —

7 Wonders:Duel.    Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B. J.

 

Voodoo! with the 5-6 Player Expansion of Catan

Listen, I love Catan. I loved it when it was Settlers of Catan, and I love it now that it is just plain old Catan (even though I used to call it Settlers for short).

It was one of the first five or so games I played when I discovered the hobby gaming industry. I’ve introduced it to friends and family, and it has almost always been a hit. (My wife, SneauxBunny, says not always!.)

So you know I was excited last year when I finally ordered the 5-6 player expansion and it arrived on my front porch. More Catan means more fun, right!

Not right. More Catan means a longer game. Instead of finishing in about an hour and half, our games have doubled, especially with new players. Trying to convince someone new to stick with the hobby when their first experience is a three hour game?? That mes amis is a recipe for failure. Luckily, a few games of Code Names can easily remedy the situation.

So here’s the basics.  Catan, as everyone knows, is a hand management euro that includes a little dice rolling for randomizing the resources, has a little backstabbing with the use of a robber who prevents your opponents from getting resources, and has a pre-generated tile layout that can also be randomized. For many gamers, it’s their first introduction to winning with victory points as opposed to a finish line or victory condition or bankrupting your opponent. It was designed by Klaus Teuber and published way back in 1995.

Since then it has spawned tons of sequels, expansions, spin offs, and maybe someday the LA Rams will play in Catan Coliseum. And the next year in 1996, it spawned the 5-6 Expansion (or as Board Game geek calls it, THE EXTENSION.)

The small box comes with 11 additional terrain hexes to make a bigger board, new frame and harbor pieces, additional resource cards and development cards, and everything else you need to add two more excited Catan fans.

Look, its not all bad. those new bits do come with some cool new colors, green and brown if I recall correctly, for your roads and settlements and cities. (If you are like me, you can add them both to the regular game as additional choices.)

And I admit — I like the “special building phase”, a new rule that the designer added that takes place at the end of each turn. Right after you pass the dice to the next player, and before he or she takes their turn, your opponents get to build roads, settlements or cities or even buy a development card — but they cannot play a development card or trade with other players. While it is not a “full turn”, it goes by quickly and allows players to stay interested in the game despite the long wait between turns.

And that is the flaw of this expansion. With six players, lots of decisions to make, lots of calculations as to what you are gunning for and what you need to trade for and what you want to build, there can be a LOT of downtime between turns. Even with the “special building phase” that’s still a lot of waiting. That’s where the 5-6 expansion just doesn’t make it for me.

I am all for expansions. I get as excited as the next player when my favorite designer cooks up something new for one of my favorite designs.  BUT, if you are looking for a little LAGNIAPPE, that little something extra to spice up your Catan gaming night, stay away from the 5-6 player expansion. Find a game that handles 5-6 players better, and you’ll thank me later.

And seriously, how did they not include green as a color in the game in the first place?  Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B J

Lagniappe! with Takenoko Chibis

There’s a word we use in Louisiana that is very apropos to gaming: Lagniappe.

It means “a little something extra.” What a great word for our board game hobby, especially when a designer gives us a little something extra for a beloved game.

Today, I’ve got a little lagniappe for you — one of the best expansions of 2015 —

Takenoko Chibis, a small expansion for Takenoko. The base game came out in 2011, and was designed by Antoine Bauza one of my favorite designers. As a side note, still not sure how Takenoko was not recognized with the 2011 or 2012 Spiel de Jahres, or at least a nominee.  Sure Quirkle has sold a million copies, and Kingdom Builder by Donald X Vaccharino is more fun than Tom Vasel gives it credit for, but of those three games, which one of the three is going to have a more lasting impression on the hobby (not on the mass market) — yep, Takenoko is still played, still beloved, and the only one of the three to get an expensive but beautiful extra large edition.

But back to our Lagniappe. Chibis is a small box expansion designed by Antoine and Corentin Lebrat (they previously collaborated on “Open Sesame”).  The base game is essentially a cute tile laying game similar to Carcassonne that adds a few thematic elements. The players score points as they build out the gardens, or if the Royal Gardner grows certain types of bamboo, or even if they can entice the Giant Panda to eat the just the right color of bamboo.

IMG_1757This new expansion essentially adds three elements — (1) new specialty tiles (including some beautiful new water tiles); (2) new objective cards to score points, (3) and a giant female panda with her little baby pandas that produce effects to help the players irrigate the plots or improve the tiles. And of course, those little baby chibis pandas also give bonus victory points at the end.

The word LAGNIAPPE implies that the something extra is something “good” (or else it wouldn’t really be LAGNIAPPE.) That’s what I like best about this expansion. It adds more of what we like in the game (unique tiles, cool new objectives, and more Pandas!!) without adding to the length of the game. You should still be able to set up and complete a game in ABOUT AN HOUR.

There is a couple of little downsides.  While the game box is perfectly sized and has a great insert, there are some printing issues on the backs of the tiles that make the new ones stand out. But, Takenoko the base game never really relied on blind draws, since you could pull three tiles at a time and choose the one you wanted to use anyway.  Another downside is that the little panda chibis are just small round cardboard tokens. Sure, Antoine probably needed it this way to make it easier for game play, since the Chibis have little icons on them showing what to do with them. But, it is a little disappointing that the only Panda miniature in the box is the mother panda, when it would have been so much cooler to have her as well as her little chibis babies.

But as you can tell, I am just nit picking here. This is a well thought out, well designed expansion that hits all the marks for me. It provides a little more complexity, a little more strategy, definitely new elements to make it a fresh game again, and all without increasing the length. My wife and I don’t play Takenoko anymore without the Chibis expansion. I give it 3 out of 5 Cayenne Peppers.

I am glad the folks at Bombyx and Matagot got together with Antoine to bring to the Takenoko world a little LAGNIAPPE for the game. If you own Takenoko, get to your friendly local game store and get you some LAGNIAPPE too.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B. J.

Spice it up! with Fury of Dracula, 3d Edition

Sometime, somewhere, someone introduced you to your first cooperative game. (By all measurements on the Geek, it was probably Pandemic, right?) You taught it to your friends and family, and everybody’s happy. You and your fellow scientists have eradicated all of the viruses and saved the planet ten times in a row.

Now what?

Here in Louisiana, we’re never satisfied with anything boring or bland.  We like to SPICE IT UP.  So for your next game night, grab a copy of Fury of Dracula (3rd Edition).  This is a 2015 release from Fantasy Flight, designed by Frank Brooks from design elements from Stephen Hand and Kevin Wilson.

This is a cooperative variant, where up to four players play vampire hunters against one player, who is cast as Count Dracula. Over a period of a few weeks, the hunters desperately search for the Count, who spreads rumors, minions, terror and combat all throughout a gorgeous map of Europe.

This game is a stunner. The artwork on the board captures the time period and yet feels foreboding. The plastic minis are good representations of all the characters (but scream for a good paint job). The cards and player aids are all top notch, as we have come to expect from FFG.

Game play starts slow as each side builds their arsenal of weapons and favorable events. It bears some resemblance to any adventure game minus the tile laying. Dracula is hidden from view (unless players locate him through coincidence, cards, or special powers.) And each mechanic in the game gives you the hunter the sense that you are on a vampire chase. (I have yet to play the big baddie, but it looks like the Count’s mechanics all fit his persona with lots of shape shifting, mesmorizing, and tuned up fangs.)

Why is this spicier than Pandemic?

First, Pandemic can suffer from the quarterback / alpha gamer syndrome, where one player basically directs the action for all of the other players.  Fury of Dracula sends players all over the board with each a special power that requires the use of the games actions in a different way. There appears to be many ways for the hunters to track-and-attack the vampire, so there is less likely the chance that one person has the “best” strategy on each move. Obviously, the game is cooperative, so you will experience lots of discussion and consensus building in the strategy, but each player is free to take their own route to the team victory.

Second, while there are a lot of thematic elements in Pandemic that contribute to the game experience, in the end it does kind of feel like you are playing an elaborate puzzle. Not so in Fury of Dracula, and I think it is partly because of the way the mechanics of looking for the vampire tie back to the theme, but even more so, it is because the combat system is better than just automatically overwhelming a virus or two.  In Fury, players build a “mini deck” of powers including attacks, defenses and special actions, that must be played tactically against the vampire and his minions. Let me tell you, the first time you corner the vampire (or better still, wait until you reach a battle that  you just know is going to be the deciding one), you will feel tension and you will sweat out the details of the multiple actions staring at you from your hand. (Yes, I know that the combat is short, only six rounds, and that it essentially comes down to a rock-paper-scissors type of resolution, but it fits the theme perfectly.)

The downside? I can’t say I am happy with the rule book. There appears to be a few errors in the printing, and some of the terms are either vague or used incorrectly (IMHO). We had to go back to the rule book frequently, and frankly did not always find the answer we needed.  And this game is not for everyone, not even likely for my own group. We play lots of shorter, one hour based games. Fury’s publisher states the game takes 2-3 hours, and that is about what you should expect especially for your first game (which in truth may take even longer as you pore into the rule book.)

But don’t let a couple of inconsistently written rules stop you from playing. Just pop a few cracklins in your mouth, swig some Abita Root Beer, and tell yourself and your game buddies that the thrill of the first game is in PLAYING the game and experiencing the chase (or hiding from the hunters!)  Fury of the Dracula is big, it is epic, it has mechanics that move the theme forward, and should be on everybody’s “must play” list. I give it four out of five cayenne peppers!

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B. J.