Following up on Jason Dinger’s excellent coverage of HeavyCon, Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another HeavyCon convention report, this time from former Louisiana resident, Matthew Ward of the Dukes of Dice podcast. Matthew lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and enjoys a wide spectrum of games. He also contributes to an excellent series of short reviews, like this one of Century: Spice Road, with his friend, Matt Walker, known collectively as WAM! (“We Are Matt”). Here are his thoughts on his recent trip to HeavyCon in Denver, Colorado.
As I write this on Father’s Day, I realize one of the great joys in my life is being a dad to an amazing daughter. As most parents know, it takes a heck of a lot of work, dedication, and time, which is why, occasionally, I need to get away from it all. Much like books are for the introvert in me, board games take me to another place, where I can find as much solitude or interaction as I need.
This year I have two planned gaming getaways: BGG Con coming up in November, and the other one just happened at the end of May called HeavyCon. It’s run by the Heavy Cardboard podcast with an amazing crew of dedicated local gamers. What sets HeavyCon apart from other conventions is its draw of dedicated and experienced gamers. Very few cons will have pick up games of 18XX, Splotter Spellen, and Phil Eklund games.
This is a con where we don’t have to blow the dust off the games that sit on our shelf of shame, and use our best sales pitch to get players we need. We already know what we are getting into and embrace the journey. This is a place where we get to play our passions and discover new romances.
One of those games that has been nearly impossible for me to get played is Arkwright — or as Kat Demeanour at the table called it, “the 17XX game.” Arkwright is a game of 18th century industrialization in England designed by Stefan Risthaus, and published by Capstone Games and Spielworx. Just learning the rules can take an hour on top of the five or so hours it will take to play. It’s full of planning, recognizing opportunity, and undercutting your opponents.
There was a lot of newbie interest in this one, so I scheduled a learning game. While I really wanted to play, I let another gamer take my spot, and I am glad I did. Teaching it and mentoring the players took most of my focus. I had a blast as I was able to see each player discover some of the depth and nuances of the gameplay.
Another game I absolutely adore is Hanamikoji, designed by Koto Nakayama, and I was able to get that to the table a few times. There are few two player games I love to play and this one is right at the top. In this game you are trying to out think your opponent and gain influence with the seven Geisha in what I feel is very akin to poker. Each player gets the same four actions that they get to use once. The order in which you play them is what makes this game so amazing. Some actions reveal cards from their hand and others hide information. Without going into too much detail, you can see a full review here. Hanamikoji is so much harder than it looks.
Something I never thought would happen to me is a pickup game of an 1846 train game. I had one experience several years ago and it was a learning game with one of the beginner 18XX titles that focuses on either the rail building side or the stock market. It was terrible. Oh, as a side note, all the games start with 18XX, so I couldn’t tell you which game it was. I only can manage to remember 1846 because it’s a popular entry point designed by Tom Lehman and published by GMT. Many of these games are obscure, and hard to get. The lack of distinction of the title names, the high learning curve of the mechanics and terminology, and the horrific amount of mental calculations makes this a very specialized set of games.
That being said 1846 was a treat and very accessible for an 18XX game. I also had the pleasure of playing with some amazingly considerate gamers who gave me advice when I asked, so we could keep the game chugging along. Oh snap…I just went there.
One of the great things about conventions is getting access to hard to find games. Ever since I listened to the Heavy Cardboard’s review of Lignum, I wanted that game, but there was such a limited print run that it was expensive and hard to find. I had been wrestling with paying too much money to buy the first edition, but thanks to Capstone Games, they are publishing a second edition in the U.S. Preorders are up, so go support Capstone!
So what is Lignum? It is a game about the 19th century logging industry in Germany. By the way one of the characteristics of heavy gamers are being drawn to interesting themes. Now most of us will say it is secondary to gameplay, but put an interesting theme on it, and watch our eyes widen and ears perk up. What makes Lignum so great is the planning and trying to predict what the other players are going to do. You will pick up items and do actions in a linear path, never being able to back track. Feel free to go as far down the board you want to go, but you better be sure you don’t need anything you are passing by. It was a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to finally own a copy.
Another game I was excited to get taught is a game called Forged in Steel, published by Knight Works LLC and designed by Wade Broadhead. I love history, and Wade created a Card Driven Game in the same vein as Twilight Struggle, but used the tumultuous past of Pueblo, Colorado as a backdrop. The game mixes in area control, role selection, and it has a very light touch of a war game in it. Although I can see how it needs a particular type of gamer, Forged in Steel is ridiculously under the radar. If you like heavier games, go track down a copy.
I was truly surprised at how many prototypes were at a 100 person convention and Captains of the Gulf was my favorite. I know Jason Dinger, a fellow contributor to Board Game Gumbo, will feel awkward about me talking about his game, but he has put his heart and soul into it, and it shows. Now I have lived in the gulf region of the United States a majority of my life including a large amount of time in Louisiana. It’s where my heart called home for a very long time, so when I heard about a game of fishing boat captains in the Gulf of Mexico, my ears perked right up. I made it a mission to get a play in. There are a few mechanics that immediately make me obsess, and that is rondels, and multi-use cards, which Captains of the Gulf has in spades. This game is all about timing, tough decisions on the card play, area control, planning, and movement. It has a lot going on, but it all works together like a great shrimp etouffee. Lucky for all of us, Spielworxx is publishing this next year, and I definitely will be pre-ordering it.
Conventions are the ultimate venue in promoting our hobby, and even more importantly, creating our community. We all pitch in our knowledge, time, and games to make a great experience, and there is no such thing as zero-sum. One of my favorite contributions was running an Exit: The Game Escape Room tournament. I enlisted three teams of four to venture into an Abandoned Cabin, and try to be the fastest to get out without using too many clues. EXIT: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin is the only one of the series I had done, and I have to tell you that it was fascinating to watch how the other teams tackled the puzzles. I loved the aha moments, and empathized with their struggles. Markus Brand and Inka Brand are designing this series of Escape Room board games, and they are fabulous designers. If you’ve never played Village, seek it out.
I managed to play a bunch more games, and there are lots of stories that I can’t fully relay. I am going to give a quick summary of the rest, so I don’t go on too long on trying to write up a five day convention recap. Games I didn’t talk about, but I got plays in of Yokohama, The Banishing, Century: Spice Road, and Pax Renaissance, There were so many podcasters I got to spend time with including Travis from @LowPlayerCount, Ambie from Board Game Blitz, Jim from @Punch_Cardboard, Brandon from the Brawling Brothers, Adrian from Mile High Game Guys, and of course Ed and Amanda from Heavy Cardboard. Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone. I got to hang with a few game designers including Alex Berry who did High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel and The Gumbo’s own Jason Dinger. I really enjoyed hearing some of their game design philosophy.
As sad as I get leaving my family for a convention, by the end of HeavyCon I was sad to leave my newly made friends and the ones that I had not seen in a while. HeavyCon was a great experience. It was small, intense, and heavy. Can’t wait for next year!
— Matthew Ward @uncouthtooh