Dice Tower 2017 Convention Report – Final Day and Final Thoughts

Two days of pre-con gaming, four full days of gaming non-stop from morning until midnight, thirty-one different games played — and it all comes down to the last day of Dice Tower Con.

Saturday was bittersweet, knowing that we were leaving that night. Jack and I met a lot of people at the con, and made a lot of good gaming friends. But, on the bright side, Saturday was also the morning of the Very Unofficial Dukes of Dice Baseball Highlights 2045 tourney. Plus, there should be plenty of time for gaming after the tourney ends.

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Lots of Duchy friends. Jack is playing in the back on the left behind the fan with the hat, Alex watching behind the table, Jake from Draft Mechanic sitting across from Jack, and Evan the Organized on the right hand side. (Photo courtesy of “Burky” from the Burky & Badger Podcast).

Jack and I headed to the Con hall with very little sleep between us. He had stayed up way late playing a bunch of big con games like Werewolf, while I stayed up for another Ethnos game.

We ran into Alex from the Dukes and Evan, the organizer of the event, and started setting up tables and decks. We ended up with sixteen players, so four tables of four players squared off. (Brandt Sanderson from Portal Podcast could not stay, and we had a cancellation, so he was gracious enough to take a dive in the first round against Alex.)

Speaking of cancellations, the defending champion who lobbied to be a late add to the tourney didn’t show! When I left Max the night before after we finished Concordia, he apparently kept playing games until the wee hours of the morning. Sorry, Max, we’ll catch you at the next tourney.

Back to the action — I quickly was dismantled by a young fellow from Jacksonville named Jeremy.  He has played many times on the app, but had never played the physical form. He quickly picked up on my plan to draft cards against his natural stacked deck, and then completely ditched the naturals for a spread between robots and cyborgs. I was lucky to beat him in two games, but he eventually finished me off four games to two. The fact that I was buying cheap robot control cards, and then missed the robot check the first five times, really hurt me.

Jack also had to face some pretty good players. He took on Jake from Draft Mechanic and Evan the Organized, before facing Burky from the Burky & Badger podcast show (and from Royals fame).  According to Alex, Burke is one of the best players out there, and won a local Dukes tourney in ABQ as I recall.  It was nip and tuck between them, but eventually Jack out drafted him to win four games to two.

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Evan the Organized, Jeff from Mo, and Alex trying to defend Earth in Flipships by Kane Klenko and Renegade Games.

While waiting for some of the games to finish, Alex set up a game of Flip Ships and played with Evan and Jeff from Mo, while I taught Sean’s buddy, Ellie, Kingdomino in the 7×7 format. Both games look so good on the table, are easy to teach, and have a lot of game in such small packages. I can rate both of them two thumbs up, despite Ellie destroying me in the format!

With Jack’s win against Burky secure, the finals were set!

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For all the marbles, the final World Series of the Basekball Highlights:2045 tourney between Jeremy from Jacksonville (L) and Jack from Louisiana (R)

Jack had to take on the same guy that beat me in the first round, Jeremy from Jacksonville.  What a matchup! Both teams were very good at buying cards and playing strategies. I broadcast bits and pieces of the match on Facebook Live before my battery crapped out. Each team split one game after another until the series was tied at three to three. It came down to the last inning of the seventh game of the World Series — just the way baseball should be played — and Jeremy could not get a visitor’s save.  Jack was the winner!

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Suze fact checking Sean or Alex? Hmm….could be…

The Dukes of Dice were recording right next to the tourney with honorary Duke Suzanne Sheldon from The Dice Tower.  The show ran long, so they missed the final game, but Alex kept tabs on the score and gave updates to the podcast audience.  I had named the episode Rasp of Con! (I’M COMING AFTER YOU, NAME FATHER!!) and Sean was gracious enough to invite me to announce the episode name and talk about the con. Alex even got in a mention about Jack’s win, so he was very thrilled with that.

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The Duchy is strongly represented at Dice Tower Con.

We had a few of the Dukes listeners stick around. Jeff from Mo, Ellie, and many others that I can’t remember all played or watched some of the games. If you haven’t played Baseball Highlights: 2045, you owe it to yourself to try this amazingly well done deck builder by the card guru himself, Mike Fitzgerald.

Then, it was on to the Stronghold booth, while Jack picked up another game of Game of Thrones. At the booth, I demoed Frogriders, the new Spiel de Jahres weight game from Stronghold. The game plays two to four players, and takes only about twenty minutes. Players jump frogs in a checkers type move, but each frog has a unique power, either giving the player points or allowing them to purchase upgrade cards or even taking another jump and another frog.

img_3383Frogriders looks beautiful on the table. It has a ton of colorful plastic frogs with stylized riders on the back. It has an easy mode, which I successfully taught to kids as young as second graders, but the game also comes with some “advanced” cards which have more gamer effects on them. The combination of the special powers of each colored frog, the public and hidden information regarding objectives and bonus points, and the more advanced cards all allows a family of gamers to play with different levels of interest from the non-gamer all the way up to the serious gamer.

With my shift over, and Jack still playing Game of Thrones, I went back into the main gaming hall and spotted Minneapolis Mike and Ellie’s friend Jay setting up Great Western Trail. I have really enjoyed every play I have had of that Stronghold release, so I was happy to join in when asked.

Great Western Trail is a classic Euro, where there are multiple paths to scoring victory points. Players take turns driving their cattle (in the form of a deck) all the way from one side of the board to the other. Once you reach Kansas City, you total up the cows in your deck and score points as your train takes off to points further west. Okay, thematically there are some holes, but the mechanics of the game are rock solid.

I tried a strictly Engineering and one builder strategy, but as usual lost out to the other three players who were focusing on cowboys.  I’m convinced that the Engineer strategy can win if played by a player with better resource management and efficiency.

And that was the end of the Con for me, as Jack arrived after battling it through with his Lannister House until the very end of Game of Thrones. We said our goodbyes, and then headed back to Louisiana, anxious to book our trip for next year.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

So, after having attended a local con, the spectacle of Gen Con, and the warmth of Pax South, was Dice Tower Con all that Tom Vasel made it out to be?

Short answer, No, it was more than Tom Vasel made it out to be!

If you like gaming, there is NON-STOP gaming in the halls all five days. I always saw plenty of players wanted or teachers wanted signs. In fact, I ended up teaching Viticulture even though I was just passing by a table.  The library is AMAZING especially compared to the one at Pax South, which had a lot more of the mass market type games. Every game I wanted to try was available at the library, although you may have to wait.

If you like shopping, Gen Con obviously has a lot more vendors and newer games. However, people raved about the deals that they got at the flea market. Also, I was able to pick up a pristine copy of Aquasphere in the awesome Virtual Flea Market. Finally, the exhibitor hall and more vendors than I could see in my limited time, plus a full Cool Stuff Inc. presence. I was told that you could even order off of the website and have it delivered to the con if you did not want to search the humongous ding and dent area.

If you like organized play, there was a lot more of that than I was expecting. No, it is not like Gen Con where you can spend tickets on just about any game and likely play with someone well versed in the rules or even the designers themselves!  But, again there was a pre-con sign up sheet for informal teaching of games, and there were daily sign up sheets for numerous games in the Game Zone. I saw everything from New Bedford to Viticulture to some of the latest games all being offered for play.

If you are into the hottest games, or want to try prototypes, then this con is again for you. Tom set up a dedicated “hot games are” where many of the Spiel de Jahres nominated games and the hottest games from Essen stayed permanently set up on the table. You could fiddle with the pieces, read the rules, or join in a game 24-7.

TIPS:

I hope to collect more tips but here’s a few I collected along the way:

  • Go early — we had as much fun gaming with the games brought by Evan, Mariana, Jon and so many other people as we did during the Con itself;
  • Book early — tickets go on sale in November, and they will sell out, plus hotels can be cancelled at any time;
  • Arrive early — if you are at all a morning person, you are in luck! The hotness tables are usually pretty quiet or empty, and you can even play a game with Eric or Tom as they are there just about every morning before 8 am;
  • Play late — again, as the midnight hour approaches, the tables start to thin out a bit, and you are more likely to see a players wanted sign; and
  • Register late — this seems counter intuitive, but unless you have something you really need from the library on Wednesday morning, bring a favorite game and start playing on one of the tables because you don’t need to register right away.  Tom allows people to start playing right away, and by the early afternoon, the register lines were so low we just walked right up and got our stuff.

Well, that’s our Dice Tower Con wrap up. I hope to see you at the Con in 2018. It will be held at the same July 4th week and at the same hotel.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

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Burky and Alex squaring off right in the opening round. (Photo courtesy of Burky).

Spice it up! With Baseball Highlights: 2045

I love baseball, and I love board games. I have been searching for years for a game that combines both of my favorite pastimes, and I will tell you all about my find today. Before we get to the discussion, this is a great time to do a quick review of Baseball Highlights:2045, because we should note that Eagle-Gryphon Games has made it easy to introduce the game to any audience.  Right now, there is a Kickstarter going on for three new expansions to the base game– but for new payers, there is also a “Spring Training” edition of the game. It is priced right at under $20 per copy, and gives enough cards for two players to learn and play the game. The box will be delivered to your door in September, just in time for the playoffs.  Play ball! 

I can still remember the smell of fresh cut grass and the feel of wet blades stuck to the bottom of my trousers. It was my first season coaching t-ball to my oldest child. I had not been at my hometown ballpark since I myself was just a wee lad. There were more fields now, and the bleachers seemed a little more worn down, but I slowly did a 360 degree turn and saw the entire park filled with happy children chasing each other in brightly colored uniforms.

Baseball. America’s favorite past time.

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, the nation’s eyes turn toward shiny ball parks in Arizona and Florida. It is spring training down there, and hundreds of players are stretching, spitting, and stealing bases in hopes of making it to The Show.

Is there a board game that can give players the excitement and tension of a real live major league baseball game? Are your game nights getting a little stale playing the same old wizards and zombie themed games?

Well then, Spice it up with Baseball Highlights: 2045!

Baseball Highlights is a “tactical card game with deck building elements” (as Sean Ramirez from The Dukes of Dice likes to say) by Mike Fitzgerald published by Eagle-Gryphon Games in 2014. I talked a little bit about the game in January in discussing Clank!, another deck building game that used deck building as the mechanic to help players explore a dungeon.

This month, let’s talk about a card game that simulates a futuristic style of baseball played with cyborgs, robots, and regular ole’ humans (called “naturals” in the game, because they do not have any augmented body parts like cyborgs do). Fitzgerald uses the deck building mechanic as a way to enhance the development of each team and to power the six-inning, seven game series of ball games.

Player board with Player Aid — four boards provided in the Deluxe Edition

Theme:

The year is 2045, and America has long since passed on the glory days of its favorite past-time. In an effort to revitalize the sport, the powers-that-be brought in robots (with amazing hitting prowess) and cyborgs (with amazing pitching arms) to bring excitement to the stands. The theme is carried through the beautiful artwork, the full color player boards, and especially through the player cards. Each card in the free agent deck has unique names that evoke well known baseball players (for the naturals), funky robotic names from the future, or cartoon style cyborg names.

I recommend you get the big box deluxe edition, which comes with the base game plus seven small expansions.  Each expansion not only adds tons of replayability to the game, but also has different themes like added cards for each of the types of players or combo cards that can really change the play style. I especially like the Rally cards which give teams a chance to mount a comeback or kill a rally.

Naturals, Cyborgs and Robots from the Free Agent Deck

Innovations:

Baseball Highlights: 2045 brings out a number of innovations. Sure, at first glance, it looks like another take on the deck building mechanic, but unlike the dry theme of Dominion, Baseball Highlights 2045 evokes the theme of baseball well.  It was one of the first card games that I played that used deck building as just a mechanic rather than the entire scheme, as in Dominion.  Instead of being the sole focus of gameplay, deck building here allows players to flesh out their teams with a dizzying array of free agent cards.

The game also is innovative in the way that Fitzgerald developed the cards and the game play.  It really feels like you are pitching and hitting against another team. Each side plays one card at a time, and the cards have varying effects which automatically stack depending upon the type of action.

 

Rookie cards from Boston and L.A.
Veterans from the base decks of New York and San Francisco
The game of baseball can be a bit long for some people, and would not translate well into a normal deck builder. That’s why Mike Fitzgerald came up with the idea of reducing the game to six innings (or six card hands.) It works really well in this format, and allows players to attack each other quickly over a seven game series.  The regular rules of baseball (steals, double plays, etc.) are generally used, although they come mostly in the form of immediate actions that are found on the cards.

Gameplay:

The game is surprisingly easy to teach.  Players start out with a small deck of 15 cards consisting of ‘veterans’ and ‘rookies.’ These are low powered cards of hitters and pitchers that have basic abilities.  Players play head to head over seven games, playing baseball player cards out of their hand and deck, trying to score more runs than the other player in only six innings.

The designer suggests that the two players play a three game mini-series. Each player during the game take turns laying down one of the six cards in their hand, and “threatening” hits like singles, doubles or even home runs. If the other player cannot counter that action, then the hit takes place, and runners are moved around the bases.

At the end of six innings (when the cards run out), the visiting player has a chance to “save the day” if he or she is behind, by playing a card from their pinch hit pile or a random card off the top of the deck. This always creates tension in the game, especially if the score is tied and the home team is about to rally for a walk off win.

At the end of each game, the players totally up each of their cards’ “buy value” and then hop into the free agent market. There, six cards are displayed, which offers the players better players, more abilities, better buy values, and stronger hitting or pitching. The player take turns buying the free agents. Once purchased, the card goes right onto the deck to be used in the very next game, which adds some strategy considerations since the other player has to decide whether to counter the card now, or continue with his or her own deck building strategy.  Of course, purchasing free agents also lets you tighten your deck, since you must discard one of the just used player cards right out of the game for every card you buy. Looks like Fitzgerald was serious about limiting each deck to only fifteen cards! Once the buy phase is completed, the next game starts until the World Series is decided (usually by winning four out of seven games).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

There will be plenty of joy in Cardville after playing this game. I have introduced Baseball Highlights:2045 to gamers, even those who don’t find any joy in the game of baseball, and it has been a big hit. There is something about the quick games, the take that card play, and period artwork that combine to make it a great expression of the beautiful game of baseball.  Throw in the free agent pool, where there are so many decisions as to what to buy to fill out your deck, and you have a real winner with plenty of deep strategy as well as emotional experiences.

Without a doubt, Mike Fitzgerald hit a home run with Baseball Highlights:2045. If your game nights are getting bland, or you are looking for a great two player card game (or even four player card game if you and three friends play side by side with the winners taking on each other), leg out a double to your Friendly Local Game Store and pick up a copy of Baseball Highlights: 2045. Or hit that Kickstarter for a great way to introduce yourself to the game. At only $19, it is a….steal!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

— B.J.