Hey board gamers, it’s time for our third and final post from sunny Orlando, Florida! I’m actually back home now, finishing up my thoughts. Spoiler — this was one of my favorite DT Con’s ever because of the smaller crowds and the wonderful people we gamed. Yes, I missed hanging out with the Dukes of Dice and I Heart BG krewes, and I was sad to miss the Board Game Insider crokinole championships — not to mention our semi-annual Baseball Highlights: 2045 tourney — but we made new friends, saw some old ones, and had a jolly old time.
But enough blather, what about the games?!
The con stretches to Sunday, but because of family commitments, we only had two days left. On Thursday, we four new games to us, and tonnerre mes chiens, they were good!
On the Beans & Dice discord server, some of the krewe divided up the rule sets for the games in the Hot Games section so we could learn-and-teach. I drew the Terracotta Army straw, and was happy to learn it because Boards & Dice are becoming one of my favorite publishers. But I got even luckier! I ran into Rainer, games teacher extraordinaire from B&D, after volunteering to set up the library and he offered to teach us! Ca, c’est bien!
Terracotta Army isn’t what I thought it was. I shied away because I thought it might have been some kind of conflict game involving raising the famous Terracotta army from China into a live fighting force. Instead, one part of the game was right up my alley. Players compete to build a terracotta army in a crypt using an innovative three-part action wheel, using “wet clay” and “coins” as your resource. Clay dries out and money is tight, so getting an engine going by learning from the “master craftsman” available to you is key.
The other half of the game is less in my wheelhouse, namely a very puzzly, thinky grid system where players lay out the miniatures representing the warriors from the terracotta armies to have “presence” and “area majority” according to the randomly set up goals for each game. I was okay at the first part, building up a nice little contraption that fed me coins and wet clay each round, but terrrrrrible at spotting what each warrior would. In a sense, you have to know the special rules of scoring for about eight different figures.
This is the kind of deep strategy game that players will really enjoy on multiple plays. In fact, my play was with Rob and Mitchell from the Beans & Dice krewe, and Rob went back for a second round and then taught the game multiple times. Each time, he said the scoring got easier and the gameplay got spicier. (I’m paraphrasing a la Louisiana, of course.) That tells me one thing: I need to play this again!
The Guild of Merchant Explorers
I specifically grabbed this one out of the library for two reasons: first, I’m always looking for Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert‘s next big game, after loving Elysium way back at Gencon 2017. Second, Alex and Sean from the Dukes of Dice talked it up for their next review, so I was anxious to play and share my thoughts. (Bonus: that cover from artist Gerralt Landman is very tasty.)
SneauxBunny and I happened to run into Jason from Baltimore, and we roped him into playing with us and learning from the rules. The rulebook was well done, only a few hiccups we had to process, and we dove right in. Essentially, The Guild is a randowriter without any writing, a roll and write without any rolling, and a rollicking good time which is surprising for a pretty dry theme.
Players are explorers set out to re-explore an area of a kingdom that had been long forgotten. A small deck of cards representing five to eight actions are used to put cubes representing your explorers on a beautifully illustrated map. Fill up the ‘districts’ (I.e. same type of landmass), and you can add villages to the map, and explore towers and ruins to get points and treasure. This is key, because once the deck runs out, anything not nailed down is wiped from memory, and you have to start exploring on a fresh map again.
I really dug the combo of the randowriter, the Memento / Finding Dory mechanism, and the random objectives that you race to complete. I was pleasantly surprised to find that SneauxBunny loved it, too, even though we were both whomped by Jason. Thumbs up after our first play.
Back in 2014, two games duked it out for the hearts and minds of euro gamers everywhere: Concordia and Istanbul. Istanbul won the prestigious Kennerspiel game of the year prize (plus runner-up for Juego del Ano) but I’ve only played the lighter dice version. Luckily, Mitchell knows it well and taught it to a group of us. I played with Mitchell and Carlos from Beans & Dice, plus Ron Frazier from Ron Talks Tabletop.
In Istanbul, players race around a market of tiles grabbing resources and trying to turn them in for special powers and rubies. Rubies are the name of the game — first to collect the required number wins. In that way, it is similar to the dice version, and the markets and resources felt similar, too, but other than that, these are two totally different games.
While I enjoyed my play, I’m not sure why this would have beat Concordia for the KdJ. Concordia is deeper, more elegant, and infinitely expandable. In fact, for my money, I’d rather play the dice version over the tile variety. That being said, I am glad I finally got to compare the three.
The Virtual Flea Market is an addictive unofficial section of any Dice Tower Con, and this time, I was able to snag a beautiful copy of The Gallerist from Steph. I’ve played a couple Vital Lacerta games, but didn’t know how to play this one. Luckily, Mark from New Orleans saved the day. He knew the game well, having just taught it the week before.
During the live broadcast of The Beans & Dice call in show, Mark and I set up right behind the krewe and played a two player version. It’s one of those thematic euros, where Lacerta’s mechanics are all informed by the actions that one would take in running an internationally famous gallery. I loved discovering new artists, and then pumping up their works to sell the art pieces later. I also loved that bump mechanic of the workers, where you can leave an assistant behind to take a lesser action. I even didn’t mind the area majority aspects, especially since it was just me and Mark battling it out.
Two thumbs up — I still like Lisboa the best, but I think I prefer The Gallerist over Vinhos. I guess I will just have to play it more to be sure!
We also played some more SCOUT and even snuck in a quick game of Carcassonne: Star Wars. Fortunately, my wife loved SCOUT but unfortunately, she hated C:SW. She just didn’t understand why a simple game like Carcassonne needed a sci-fi overlay and I could not disagree more. The more I play C:SW, the more I want to own my own copy! If I can get one more play at BGG Con, I’ll write up a full review.
And then, it was on to the last day of our con trip. We had family plans, so we left on Saturday morning, but on Friday, we got in a few more games.
First thing in the morning, we met back up with our friends Bryan and Tiff for two games. After teaching and playing SCOUT (again!), which they loved, we moved on to a favorite Indiana Jones style game of mine.
Lost Ruins of Arnak
Why is a game that was runner-up to Beyond The Sun for our 2020 Fleur Des Ludo award mentioned here? Because SneauxBunny finally played Lost Ruins of Arnak! I’ve always thought that this Indian Jones meets deck building game would be something she would find irresistible if ever she played, and I was right. Bryan and Tiff already knew how to play, so I gave her a quick teach and we jumped right in.
What was amazing about this play was the use of some tremendous upgraded components that Tom had in the Hot Games section. (Arnak was there because of the interest in the new expedition leaders expansion, which I had already tried a couple of weeks ago.) From a 3d printed temple to hold the end game tiles to cool looking jungle bins to hold the resources, this was a blinged out copy.
Back to the game — I piddled around trying to get a combo of get-more-cards-with-cards buys, and screwed up a couple of monster encounters. SneauxBunny and the other couple were neck-and-neck in points the whole way, with my wife coming out on top in her very first play. Kudos! Best part? She asked if we owned the game (we do) and if we could play when we got back to Louisiana (of course!)
Baseball Highlights: 2045
Some of my favorite memories of past conventions in Orlando was the annual Dukes of Dice Baseball Highlights 2045 world championship! Way back in 2017, I was thrilled to teach Jack the game, watch him enjoy his plays enough to enter the tourney, and then take the whole thing! Because of the thematic play and so many good memories, BH2045 has a permanent place in my top ten games of all time.
When Burky — of GamerToppers LLC fame — found out I was there at DTE Con, we quickly organized a four team World Series with Carlos and MItchell from The Beans & Dice Podcast. (Unfortunately, Evan and Damian were unable to join us.)
Baseball Highlights: 2045 turns the game of baseball a bit on its head. It’s the future, and players compete for spots on your team next to robots and cyborgs. I took on Mitchell, who was learning how to play, and Carlos battled against Burky.
I grabbed the Washington deck instead of my usual Los Angeles stand by, and proceeded to draft as many high dollar, high performing players as I could. Mitchell on the other hand tried to buy two solid cards each round, and ended up with a more full roster of players.
I went down hard, 4-1 in the World Series, but had a blast doing it. Carlos fared better, but in the end, Burky took him down with his MInnesota maulers.
We went back to the Portal Games room to try out a demo of a game that Mitchell had played earlier and really liked, Dreadful Circus by Bruno Faidutti. This is an interesting turn on a blind bidding game — players take turns offering cards out of their hands representing circus acts or locations. Some are just standard set collection points, but many have game swinging abilities or ways to score many points. All of the players then bid on the cards, but in blind boxes, and then the offerers get to choose from the offerings.
Of course, there’s no way to know what’s inside the box, so there were tons of chances to try to “mind meld” with your fellow players. It all plays out quickly, with an ebb and flow that feels very dramatic especially as the last best cards are finally let go to the bidding. SneauxBunny said it was not for her, but the rest of us (Mitchell and Rob) loved it. I’m going to try and get my hands on a copy, because I think this would work great with my poker loving brothers at Christmas time.
Ratfink: Scurry & Scamper
Our last game of the con was a prototype of the new stand alone expansion to Ratfink called Scurry & Scamper. Ratfink is a game I did not know much about, other than it was a thematic game with rats. I learned from the excellent teach from designer, Dawson Cawls, that this is trick-taking with rats and cheese, and that’s exactly what we played.
Over the course of a number of rounds, we played tricks according to the varied rules of the game. We mostly played using the highest numbers to win tricks, but the twist here is that before the round starts, and again when all are finished, players can play “scurry” and “scamper” cards that can really break the game. It could change what is trump for the round, or steal cheese from another player, for instance. The name of the game is winning tricks / cheese so that you don’t get negative percussions, because at the end of the game, the player with the fewest bad marks wins the game.
While playing this, it brought back to mind a game I had played last year called Storm Dragons. I remember thinking back then that card games are at their best when they are familiar yet with wrinkles just unfamiliar enough to add some spice to the game — think Papayoo or The Crew or Scout, for instance. I can see why Ratfink: Scurry and Scamper will be popular. There is a lot of fun player interactivity, everyone battling over the cheese or the first player token, or trying to protect their stash or change the trump to fit the cards in their hand. Players that like Tournament at Camelot will dig this interaction, but for me, it was just a little bit too much. Looking at the hilarious artwork made me think this would be a quick playing ten to fifteen minute game, but it plays more like a one hour wonder. Your mileage may vary.
The Wrap Up:
Lest I forget, all of the comparisons and memory walking from previous “Dice Tower Cons” that I have made in these blog posts are a bit of a misnomer. As Tom Vasel has patiently explained, this Dice Tower East 2022 was the first “Dice Tower East Con”, not a continuation of the previous conventions held at the same time at the same hotel. The difference? This is the first Dice Tower East run by the Dice Tower staff themselves.
So what did I think? While I missed the larger size of past conventions held in Orlando at the same hotel, I did not miss the crowds very much (other than missing out on seeing friends who usually come but couldn’t make it this year.) A 1600 person convention at a humongous hotel like this one with tons of theme parks within minutes really spreads out the gamers. The con never felt crowded (except maybe at the VFM, which had a room about 50% smaller than it needed). It never felt rushed. The Dice Tower staff was friendly, engaging, and everywhere.
Honestly, DTE Con is my favorite of all of the out-of-state cons that I go to. Yes, BGG Con is a blast, because I get to hang out with my content creating buddies from across the world, and play TONS of games. Yes, GEN CON is a spectacle, filled with familiar places and faces, yet with the joy of seeing all of the latest greatest games. But for my money, hanging out with my best friend (SneauxBunny), having access to tons of food options, staying healthy by working out and keeping reasonable hours during the con, and getting access to the best board game library out there makes going to Dice Tower Con East every year or every other year a no-brainer. Plus, add the fact that you can get there early and game at the amazing Caribe Royal is just lagniappe.
Until next time….or until the next con….Laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ from Board Game Gumbo