Top Games of BGG Con 2019

The elevator silently lifted us up straight to our room, and through the glass, I could already see people playing games or renewing old friendships. Peeking out the windows of our room, I could see parts of Downtown Dallas splayed out crazily like the pieces from one of the Dice Tower’s component drop videos. We unpacked our bags as fast as we could, and headed straight to the library to feast upon the sight of nearly ten tons of cardboard just waiting for us to explore. BGG Con 2019, commencer!

Dallas was the center of the board gaming universe again, at least for one week, right before this past Thanksgiving. The Board Game Gumbo Krewe gamed their way through another awesome Fall BGG Con, this time in some new, fancy digs. After outgrowing the previous hotel located at DFW airport, Board Game Geek moved the fall con to the Hyatt Regency Dallas. What an amazing location! This was definitely a step up from the previous hotel.

But enough blather about the convention space. Let’s talk about some games. Instead of a daily recap of our adventures, I thought I’d geaux over the top six games we played at BGG Con, with some lagniappe, of course.

Number 6, Cities Skylines

Full disclaimer — I volunteered for KOSMOS this year, so I played this game a lot (and received a free badge and the game for demoing all weekend). Disclaimer aside, this was the best game I demoed all weekend (although Imhotep: Duel was close.) To be fair, when KOSMOS sent me the game in advance to prepare for the con, and the Krewe opened it up with me, we were all a little underwhelmed. The punchboard is not your typical KOSMOS quality, and a basically solo version of a Steam game would not normally be on my list of games to play. But, as I demoed the game over and over each day, and watched the different strategies people took to survive the first (and sometimes second if there was no one in line) milestone (think era or epoch or act), I began to like the game more and more.

Cities Skylines is a cooperative game with open information in which players try to build the ‘happiest’ city they can together. Players play through three milestones (at least in the base game), taking turns adding different types of buildings to the city all while keeping a close eye on a bunch of different meters which can cost them money and victory points. Players need to work together to play buildings and services and utilities that chain off of each other — a subdivision near a park will make the environment better and the people happier, for instance.

Cities Skylines might have a bit of an alpha gamer problem for larger player counts than two, but that is mostly because each turn really consists of playing just one of five cards. That means choices are relatively limited, and one player is usually going to spot the one or two best plays. I think this game shines at two players, however.

Many of the people who demoed it were couples looking for a relaxing date night game with just a little bit of tension and strategy. The use of polynomial tiles, the increasing threat levels with the different sliders (crime, pollution, etc.) and the geometric puzzle that goes into any tile laying game all combine to make a great experience for a couple to play. Cities Skylines is also a great family weight game, since mom or dad can help the kids with their choices but still give them agency in the decisions. All in all, this is a winner for us and a keeper for the collection.

Number 5. Cthulhu: Death May Die

Okay, I know some of you are shaking your head, as a game like this rarely makes my part of the blog. I’ll just remind you that I come from a D&D background, loved RPG type computer games growing up, and have had a good time playing games like the D&D adventure game series and Gloomhaven. Sure, my favorite experiences are euros, but give me a good dice chucking game that is streamlined, has a good story line and a cinematic finish, and I’m in.

And that’s the beauty of Cthulhu: Death May Die, out now from CMON Games. The combination of Daviau and Lang turned out a big winner here in my book. The mechanics are pretty typical of the genre — move a set number of spaces, interact with the room or battle monsters, and level up. But the injection of an interesting storyline in each mission, the inclusion of so many diverse, interesting characters, and the fact that the game ramps up the danger level AND the player’s own powers towards the end of the game means the game experience crescendoed to a huge adrenaline high by the end of the game.

I don’t own any games like this, but I could definitely see owning this one to play with my sons. They love these hack and slash games, and the tension of the end piece would be something they would really enjoy.

Number 4. Azul: Summer Pavilion

This was one of my most anticipated games going into BGG Con. I love the original Azul, haven’t played the sequel (it just does not look that interesting to me), and I was hoping for something that could elevate Azul to the next level. Summer Pavilion does the trick. Somehow they made the drafting mechanic even more interesting, and certainly the build part of the round is way better.

In Azul: Summer Pavilion (con goers called it “Azul3” everywhere I went), the players are still trying to impress the king. But this time, players are tasked with crafting beautiful star shaped pavilions for the king. The scoring in Summer Pavilion is very intuitive, at least compared to the regular base game. Players will score for the number of times they can make chains of tiles in each star, and they can also earn bonus tiles if they cover up certain decorations around the windows.

We played Azul3 in the hot games room at BGG Con. Kudos to the convention organizers for having a large, well lit room with tons of game topper tables and multiple copies of the hottest games. It was almost too good there, though, as the room was crowded for most of the day (and a little stuffy). Dave and I grabbed empty seats with two other players, read the rules (after watching the previous group play), and away we went.

The scoring in Azul3 alone would make me sell my old copy of Azul and get this one instead, and I’m tempted to do so. Next Move Games has a hit here with Summer Pavilion.

Number 3, Aquatica

This was another one of my anticipated games of the con. It too was in the hot games room, and it was a busy table there all weekend. Luckily, we were hanging out with the crew from Iowa that Carlos knows, and one of them knew the game well enough to teach it.

Aquatica is a new game from Cosmodrome Games (you may remember them from Smartphone Inc.) all about undersea exploring. Players will draft cards from two separate markets — characters and locations — using either gold or fighting ability to earn the cards. They can also earn cute little plastic mantas, which have special powers. Aquatica’s secret is that it uses the Concordia mechanic in two ways: players will play one of their character cards to a discard pile, and flip over the mantas when they use them, too. When the player is ready, there is a non-discarded card which gives you your entire deck back plus readies the mantas once again.

I played this twice at the con, and watched another game. I saw so many different strategies being used! The game art is beautiful, reminiscent (probably due to the underwater kingdom theme) of Abyss, but the game play is so much better than Abyss. In fact, if I can ever get my hands on a copy of Aquatica, Abyss will immediately go on the trade pile.

Number 2, Die Crew

I’m cheating a bit here. KOSMOS had only a few copies of this game, and it was not for sale yet. But, it was available for play in the library (plus I had Tom’s personal German copy from Essen to test out).

Die Crew is a cooperative trick taking game with ever increasing levels of difficulty as you play each mission. Players are in training to discover the new ninth planet of the solar system, and have to work together without any verbal communication. There is limited information shared through the use of an innovative tile mechanic.

Die Crew is to me the front runner for next year’s Spiel des Jahres. It is simply that good of a game, and honestly, it is one of those games (like Just One) that people will wonder why it has not been designed before. The crux of the game is that the captain will have to divvy out assignments for each mission for players to win certain cards out of the deck in the trick. The elevator pitch is that it is The Mind plus a trick-taking game, and what I mean by that is players will sometimes have to “mind-meld” in hopes of playing the right cards in the right order to help players win those tricks. The higher up in level that players geaux, the harder it is to win.

We got stuck on one or two levels as we played our way to level 7 (there are 50 missions in the box). We played the game over and over for nearly three hours on Saturday night. Die Crew could easily have been the game of the con if it was not for the next game on the list, and I cannot wait to have my own copy in the spring.

Number 1, Detective: City of Angels

Van Ryder Games has been teasing this game for ages. I first heard about it in passing, but then listened last year (I think) to an episode of Blue Peg, Pink Peg where they talked about the game at length. I was hooked by the premise of a Raymond Chandler type of experience but still with good gamer elements.

Detective: City of Angels is a competitive (although you can play it cooperatively, too) thematic deduction game where players are competing city detectives trying to solve a mystery and bring a criminal to justice. Working against them is The Chisel, a player who knows the game and the story well enough to answer the questions posed by the players to any of the suspects in the game. Will The Chisel tell the truth when players question a key witness? The only way to find out is to challenge the Chisel, but doing so carries a price. If successful, the player gets the truthful answer AND leverage on The Chisel for future questions, but if unsuccessful, The Chisel now has leverage, meaning they can block questions or prevent a detective from investigating a clue.

This was easily the game of the con for me. I normally plays lots and lots of different games, and I did some of that, but Detective kept calling me back in. I think we clocked in eleven hours over four different scenarios. We played at three, four and five player counts, and three players was by far the best experience. The turns move quick with only three players (two detectives and The Chisel) and the tension remains high. I can wholeheartedly recommend Detective: City of Angels, and right now, it has to be my front runner for game of the year.

So that’s the top six. How about a few extra categories?

Second best quick playing card game? Silver

That has to go to Silver. I was intrigued by Chris Wray’s description of the gameplay, but I must admit that I was underwhelmed by the app version. Forget the app — the strength of this game lies in playing with real opponents. Nick & Andre taught me this game Saturday morning, and I had a blast, especially once I learned the mechanics. They are not hard, but it is one of those timing and card ability games that just takes a few rounds to get your feet set. I would definitely play it again, and bought a copy to give to my niece for Christmas as she loves those kinds of games.

Best new-to-me game: Trickerion

One of the joys at a big con is playing games that are on your bucket list, right? Carlos introduced me to Josh & Rob from The Board Boys podcast, which as far as I know, is the number one board gaming podcast based in Des Moines, Iowa. These guys were fantastic, even when Josh was killing me in Aquatica. Rob has the collector’s edition of Trickerion, and I was super excited to play it. The experience was everything I thought — deep, strategic, tactical and a medium+ euro with an absolutely fantastic production. I would definitely play it again.

 

Best game I tried to learn but was too tired to do so:  A Fistful Of Meeples

My buddy Jonny Pac has a plethora of games out right now, but the one that intrigued me the most going into the con was his western themed mancala game. (Disclaimer: Final Frontier sent us a review copy of the game, which write-up Bryan is working on right now). I’m not a mancala fan, so could Jonny get me past my hesitation with the theme and game play?

First thing on Saturday morning, I grabbed a copy in the library, and sat down to read the instructions. Sadly, we had stayed up until 2:30 am the night before playing Detective: City of Angels, and my seven o’clock wake up call was too early for my brain to work. I could not get some of the meeple power rules in my head, so when Tom Vasel walked by with a copy of Babylonia and offered to teach me, I put away A Fistful of Meeples immediately. When I got back, Bryan taught me the game, however, and we really enjoyed the actions. Oh, and thumbs up for Babylonia, too.

So that’s it for our gaming experiences at BGG Con. If you live anywhere within ten hours of Dallas, you ought it to yourself to come to one of the two cons BGG puts on (Memorial Day weekend or the weekend before Thanksgiving). The new hotel space for the Fall version is amazing, with plenty of food within the hotel or within walking distance, and tons of gaming space in addition to the best gaming library out there.

Can’t wait for next year! Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ @BoardGameGumbo

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