BGG Con 2018 In The Books – Part One

Hey, board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here, back with more convention coverage.  My grand mother — ma grand mere en Cajun — used to say that the young people liked to “courir les chemins”, or “run the roads.” Of course, she didn’t mean physically running on the swampy foundations of Louisiana’s highways. She meant that the young liked to stay busy, go places, and see new things.

Ever since I got back into board games ten years ago, I’ve had the envie to courir les chemins — but in this case, to run the roads to conventions near and far. I’ve been fortunate to check a few off my list — Pax, Gen Con, Dice Tower Con, and of course, Gumbo Con — but until this year, I have never been to BGG Con in the fall.

The weekend before Thanksgiving is when BGG Con is held, and that’s usually a tough time for me to leave Acadiana. It is prime time for scout camping, or vacations, or even just visiting family. But with my sons in the service, my daughter at work, and my wife at a work convention, the stars aligned this year for my first trip.

DAY ONE: Hurry Up And Wait.

The Krewe de Gumbo left after work and drove straight to Dallas on Tuesday. We checked into our Best Western — not the convention hotel unfortunately, but just a quick 10 minute drive away. After a good night’s rest, we piled into the Gumbo-mobile, and headed over to the convention.

Arriving at the convention and staring at the lines that had already formed was my first disappointment. My only other experience with a really large “playing” convention (as opposed to the shopping extravaganza that is GEN CON) is the Dice Tower Convention in Orlando. Tom Vasel and his crew at the Dice Tower have made day one a breeze for most convention goers. Sure, there is a big line to get your badges on the first day, but it is made easier with lots of staff, free continental breakfast, and a policy of allowing people into the convention during the first half day even without badges. In other words, at DTC you can take your time getting your badge and get right to the gaming.

Unfortunately BGG does not have that policy. We got to the convention and saw a huge line waiting to get in. After what seemed like a couple hours, we finally made it into the main gaming hall.

Here’s where I will give BGG some big kudos. The swag bag we got was impressive! Every member of the krewe got four brand new games in shrink wrap, plus an awesome beer glass souvenir.

With badges done it was time to start playing games. Wow, what a library! There was literally every game that I want to play on the hot list plus a giant selection of older games. As if that were not enough, there were 20 or 30 tables set up with the beautiful game toppers from Burky’s Gametoppers LLC, with some of the hottest games on the BGG lists. Thumbs up to BGG for an impressive gaming hall and library, which included a game from a local designer, Jason Dinger.

We saw Jason Dinger’s Captains of the Gulf in the Wild!

The other thing that impressed me right off the bat with BGG Con is how it pulls off some “sleight of hand”.  With over 3500 people playing board games in a relatively small place (in comparison to GEN CON or even Pax South), one would think it would be crowded with not much going on besides game playing.  Not true. BGG Con has a very nice sized vendor hall (plenty of shopping if you need it) and tons and tons of activities. Yet, it feels intimate enough, almost like a local game day, where you will see the same people over and over.

On the first day alone, I ran into fellow Punchboard Media members Eric Yurko and Ken Grazier, and saw them almost every day after that.  I got to hang out with friends of Gumbo Live! like Alex Goldsmith and Jeremy “Game Geek Ninja” Davis, finally meet face to face with content creators like Charles Washington, and catch up with creators / industry folk like Stephanie Hodge, Stephen Buonocore, Robert Geistlinger, Lance Myxter, Randy Hoyt, Dennis Hoyle, Curt Covert, Mike Fitzgerald, Spencer & Lara from Married with Board Games, and Christian Strain, many of whom were kind enough to be on Gumbo Live! in the past.  I saw lots and lots of other familiar faces in the designing, publishing, and content creation worlds.

The convention feels just right — big enough to satisfy anyone’s playing/shopping needs, and small enough that you can look over at the next table and see a familiar face every hour.

All right, enough blather. Let’s get to the games!

Our first game was Victorian Masterminds, a 2019 release from CMON Games for two to four players. I have been anticipating this game for two years, a co-design between Antoine Bauza and Eric Lang. Players are evil geniuses out to dominate the planet after the death of famed investigator, Sherlock Holmes, by building their own airships. Players will need to collect resources, and of course, endanger the world’s greatest buildings, on their way to becoming the greatest criminal mastermind, all in about an hour.

The good? The production was amazing. The miniatures are top notch, the gear shaped workers are sturdy, and the artwork is fun. The plus? I loved the unique twist on the worker placement mechanic — all players can play workers face down, and their abilities only trigger when three are stacked and revealed. The meh? Surprisingly, the game felt themeless, samey and, to be honest, pretty dry and dull.  I did enjoy the challenge of how to use the workers, knowing that the order played, and more importantly, the type played, could drastically change the outcome once they fire. Looking back on it, I can probably chalk up the middling experience to the excitement of finally being at the con with lots and lots of distractions while we were playing (oh look, there’s the library! Hey, its Crokinole!), and I am willing to play it again to see if the experience improves.

Next up, we played Alone, a 2-4 player game designed by Andrea Crespi and Lorenzo Silva, and published by Horrible Games (who made one of my favorite games of all time, Steam Park.)

This was a game Bradly really wanted to try so we fired it up. Imagine your typical one versus many dungeon crawl, but this time, the “one” is an astronaut stranded on an alien map, desperately trying to escape the aliens controlled by the other players. There’s hidden movement, lots of card play, and a chance to upgrade the hero with additional weapons and abilities.

As you would expect, this was a complete one eighty in theme from Victorian Masterminds — Alone nails the sci-fi survival horror theme perfectly. I was playing the hero, up against the formidable duo of Carlos and Dave, and it was rough going. I managed to complete one of the quests, and narrowly missed the remaining quest, but there was tension the entire time. Sadly, the rule set is really, really a tough slog. It took awhile for us to be comfortable in thinking that we were playing the game correctly. It almost seems like the designers or rule crafters were trying to walk a thin line between accuracy and the experience, but failed in both regards. A game like Alone, in my opinion, is all about recreating those dark, scary, sci-fi popcorn thrillers, so the rule set needs to get out of the way of the fun. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a blast playing it, though, because once we got the swing of it in the second half, it was a hoot trying my best to outwit the aliens.

We took a break from some alien action to burn our brains at The Estates from Capstone Games’ Simply Complex line. The designer is Klaus Zoch, and the game is geared for two to five players, with a play time in about an hour. The Estates’ premise is simple — develop rows of buildings using the colored blocks available, and score the most points. But, as with the other release from Simply Complex Games, (The Climbers), it is never that easy.

Players are investors trying to take advantage of loose zoning requirements and shady permits to build tall buildings, scoring points along the way. But each piece is secured through a-once-around-the-circle auction, and money is very, very tight. If that is not enough direct player interaction, throw in the ability to purchase pieces that can mess with the other player’s scoring, your own scoring, or even your ability to put down more lots by extending or shrinking the permit size, and you have yourself a pretty nasty game.

This is the third in a row of games that we played that have an amazing table presence. The money (which comes in huge denominations), the buildings, and the board all pop. I played this twice, once as a two player with Jeremy the Game Geek Ninja (“Ninja!”), and then a five player with the rest of the Krewe. If you are thinking about playing or buying this game, you have to be aware of the forced player interaction that the game’s mechanisms require. I love those types of games — see my gushing comments about The Flow of History as proof — but it is not for everybody. I’d definitely play this again, and might even pick up a copy, but caveat emptor.

Enough brain burning, let’s get to some more popcorn. Carlos talked us into playing 8Bit Box, a weird amalgamation of the Nintendo craziness of my young adulthood and board games.  8Bit Box is published by Iello and designed by Frank Crittin and Gregoire Largey. I only played one of the entries (known as “cartridges” in the box) called Pacman…errr….Pixoid, and I did so reluctantly. Never judge a book by its cover, however, because the game was surprisingly fun.

Players take turns as the titular hero, with the other players playing the ghosts…ahem…computer Bugs. The hero scores points by staying alive the longest and collecting the rewards on the board. I would not buy 8Bit Box for my collection, but I can see how it is a non-harmful little filler that has some nostalgic value to it.

When I went to New Orleans recently, I stopped at +1 Gaming as I heard they had demo copies of Catch The Moon out and Eric “What’s Eric Playing” Yurko has raved about it on social media. Catch the Moon was indeed there, but I got a call, and could not stay to play. Would it be at BGG Con?

I was in luck! Ninja and I grabbed a copy, and taught ourselves the game in minutes. Catch the Moon is a 2017 release from Bombyx, designed by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, that plays in about twenty minutes. Two to four players take turns obeying the directive that the roll of the die gives them for strategically placing ladders above a beautiful cloud shaped board. Balance them incorrectly, and the ladders will fall, causing the moon to cry (and hand you one of her cute little blue tears.) Just like in love, too many tears in this game can spell doom for anyone playing.

Normally, I like dexterity games, so I was high on playing this one. Ninja and I played twice, and the first game was more of an experimentation with the rules and scoring. The second game was a lot better, as I quickly realized that the fun in the game for me is not actually in winning, but pulling off the most amazing combination of crazy ladder connections. Putting a ladder in such a way that it makes the next person’s play even harder is just sweet, sweet science. The game is quick, oh so easy to teach, and looks really cool, so I’d definitely recommend trying it out.

No convention this size is complete without exploring the good doctor’s offerings, so Jeremy and I had also grabbed Blue Lagoon. This is a re-imagining of an earlier hit by Dr. Reiner Knizia, Through The Desert, one that I’ve never played, so I was anxious to try it. Luckily, Ninja knew it well, so we were off to the races quickly. Blue Lagoon is a 2018 game published by Blue Orange Games, with art from Tomasz Larek, who seemed to be channeling Moana with his brush.

I won’t shrink away from my duty here — this game is themeless. It its ostensibly about exploring a newly discovered archipelago, and yes, the bits and board do reflect the theme, but it is essentially an exercise in efficiently expanding connections on a board and chaining up islands. I like abstract games as much as the next guy — see my reviews of Ingenious, Sagrada, and Azul for proof — but for some reason, Blue Lagoon seemed pretty dry. I don’t think I’m really a fan of the lay-out-the-chains mechanic, as I seem to recall being put off by it in other games. I’d like to try it at three players, to see if that would spark some juice. I certainly would play it again, as my apathy never rose to revulsion.

At this point, we joined back up with the Krewe, and Alex Goldsmith of the Dukes of Dice was looking for a game to play. It was late in the evening, and that’s usually a good time for a story game, so we pulled out Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, the 2017 re-skin of the original Betrayal by Avalon Hill, designed by Chris Dupuis and Mike Mearls (of D&D fame). I am kind of lukewarm on the original — I have the same tired cliched opinion that the mechanics sometimes get in the way of the story, or that the particular haunt doesn’t resonate with the table, blah blah blah — but I will admit, if you have a group of fun, story driven, former / current RPG types at your table, by all means, pull out the Betrayal series and laugh your socks off.

And away we went! I’ll assume most readers know the game, but the high level overview is that players are in the town of Baldur’s Gate, exploring its buildings and pathways, building up their characters in anticipation of the “haunt”, an event that usually signals the big battle at the end of the game. In all of my previous games, the haunt was a one versus many type affair, with one player as the traitor and the rest of the table trying to win cooperatively. Would this be the case in Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate?

img_4322It did not take long for our party to get split up, or for the haunt to start. In this one, we had to escort a mesmerized spell caster away from a nasty golem and his very weak henchman. Our task was to bring the ‘caster to a spell shop (I think?) to break the spell and stop the destruction of the entire universe (or maybe just our location.) This was my first fully co-operative haunt, and it was fun! I grabbed the ‘caster, and started making for the exits, while Alex, Ninja, Carlos and Bradly cleared the way with spells and combat. We were victorious, but just barely, and most of the credit goes to the completely inept bad guys that the designers put in front of us. When we rolled for their hits, the baddies missed nearly every time and it was not even close. Baldur’s Gate reminded me again how much a late night, story-based game can really make for magical moments at a convention especially if played by the right group.

It was close to midnight, but the Krewe needed something to put a night cap on the first day. We found some empty Crokinole tables, and I finally got to try this game that I have been dying to play. Wow, Crokinole is as much fun as advertised, and I think it is time to purchase one as a Christmas gift for the family to play. Big thanks goes out to the BGG crew for laying out so many cool dexterity games just waiting for players to play between the main hall and the library.

So that’s it for the first day, I’ll be back in a day or so to post about the rest of the trip. Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ

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