Dice Tower 2017 Convention Report — Day Three

Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here, back with more Dice Tower coverage. This time, we’re talking about Friday, otherwise known as Day Three (although it was Day Five for us pre-conners!)

Another day, another early start. The gaming halls are eerily more quiet around 8 am, especially on Friday, but that just means many tables in the hotness area are empty. I met with Minneapolis Mike and No Twitter Nate, and we sat down to try out a new racing game from Big Kid Games. Gondola is a 2016 release designed by jim pinto where players lay tiles to steer their gondola through five checkpoints.

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Gondola with Minneapolis Mike (L) and No Twitter Nate (R)

We learned the rules in ten minutes, and then headed off on the race. Nate took an early lead, but Mike was able to come back with a few well placed tiles. Applying the tile laying strategies in Carcassone and combining them with other mechanisms (like dungeon diving in the upcoming Delve release) always piques my interest, and Gondola delivers on the tense nature of any racing game.

The downside was the rulebook and the artwork. The rule book needs an editing job and some graphic design help. I did not have a big problem with the card art, but Mike did. He kept looking at a hand of cards that had bridges on them thinking they were checkpoints, but the bridges were not in the center — which in all fairness, is spelled out in the rule book. I had a good time, but this would be a “streaming” game for me (as opposed to a “screening” — thanks Rolling Dice & Taking Names).

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Not Alone with Alex and Max (top to bottom on left) and Oscar and D.J. (top to bottom on right)

I headed back to the Stronghold Booth, and this time I was able to teach Not Alone a few times. I’ve now played this one v. many game bunches of times, but I’ve never been the solo baddie. I’ll have to take on the Krewe de Gumbo at our next game night. Alex from the Dukes came back with his buddy Max (more from him later), but this time the alien got a few licks in early and the astronauts were ultimately vanquished.

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Stronghold Booth is hopping with Frogriders, Not Alone, and Fields of Green.

I also demoed Cottage Garden, the Uwe Rosenberg follow up to Patchwork that is finally making its way to the States. I’ve never played Patchwork, but I like interesting two player games that can sneak a theme into abstract mechanics. Cottage Garden seems to play all player counts well, including two player, and every time I showed the game off, players really got into the theme of planting flowers, placing pottery and “bells”, and chasing cats and mice around the garden.

The game really flows, and I love the end game. Somehow, Uwe snuck in his usual diabolical management mechanic, but instead of “feeding your garden”, you have to watch the end game very closely by not overplanting a garden for the last round. If you do not finish one or both of your gardens, and they have three or more tiles on them, then you must keep playing taking penalty points each turn during the final round! Uwe is an evil genius.

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Brandt Sanderson (R) from Portal Podcast

Brandt Sanderson from Portal Podcast also stopped by. He and I had worked together (virtually) on a little project for The Dice Tower, but had never met. Brandt’s podcast is a great listen because you get the inside look at both gaming and the gaming hobby from a FLGS owner’s perspective with his podcast partner, Bryan. (I met Bryan the next day at the Baseball Highlights tourney, and he seemed surprised that I knew who he was by his voice — Bryan, this hobby is a very small pond!). Brandt is a champ of a guy, and can talk board games with the best so make sure you stop and say hello if you see him.

My son Jack had volunteered at the Tortured Earth booth on Thursday, and so on Friday, he hung out at the demo table all morning trying out the combat system. My high school classmate, KB Kidder, has developed his own RPG system and is hitting the con circuit spreading the word. Jack gave it two thumbs up, and has the books now to start his own group. Jack says it’s a classless, level-less game system, based on an post-apocolyptic earth. It runs off skill points, instead of experience, and the main attraction for Jack was the skill set idea and combat system because of the back-to-back nature of the dice rolls. The beauty also of this RPG is that your character can be transferred to any theme setting — horror, science fiction, etc — these can all be found in “The Mist” which is the background of the game experience.

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The amazing Flip Ships from Renegade Games. Alex from the Dukes of Dice (L) and Jack (R)

When he finished, Alex and I grabbed him and Max to play a game of Flip Ships, the 2017 release from Renegade Game Studios. Wow, was I disappointed that this sold out the first day and couldn’t get a copy!

It’s a dexterity based table top co-op with a space invader mechanic of invading aliens attacking our world. The flicking mechanism from Rampage is easy to pick up, but what shines is the additional powers that your ships get (including additional ships) to help your squadron defeat the advancing hordes. I played once, and watched two other games, and it always seems to come down to the last one or two ships to win! Kane Klenko has a winner here.

Next up, Bruce from Northstar Games invited us to play Vegas Wits & Wagers. So, one of the group is not big fans of the party style of the original, but decided to try it anyway. This latest iteration of W&W is the best yet….by far.

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Grandpa for the win! Vegas Wits & Wagers at Northstar Games. In order from L to Right, Jack, Alex, Max, demo person from Northstar, BJ, and Bruce from the PartyGameCast featuring the PartyGameCast (and Northstar Games)

It melds the fun elements of guessing who is closest to the right answer on obscure trivia with the excitement of playing long odds to catch up to the leading person. This is a hoopin’ and hollarin’ trivia party game, and does not overstay its welcome (the reason Trivial Pursuit is buried in thousands of landfills everywhere.) The Kickstarter is out in mid-August, which provides you with this awesome neoprene mat with a Vegas style board with colorful graphics. Can’t wait to try this back home with some friends, a couple pounds of boudin and an ice chest of Abita (root beer or otherwise.)

On the backside of Northside was the Attack Dice group. They were showing off two little micro games, When Zombies Attack! and Dungeon Attack! I tried Zombies, with one eyebrow raised up in hesitation, but it was actually fun for a little beer & pretzels dice game. Players toss dice and try to avoid zombies or send them to the other players. The game time is short and the take that is just light enough that I think it would work as an opening night filler for any group.

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Shadowscape at the NKSN Booth

I stopped by NSKN Games to check out Shadowscape. (Ran out of time, and didn’t get to visit the new Strawberry lineup unfortunately). This one really looks interesting. It is a compact looking dungeon dive with little minis (redundant? No!) and an interesting skill / combat system. After being hands on with my demos for three days, I was hoping to grab some pieces and fight some creatures, but this demo team had more of a rules oriented approach. We were a little disappointed, but maybe we can try again at Gen Con.

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Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done at the TMG booth.

Next up, we checked in at Tasty Minstrel Games for a quick demo of Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done. We had an excellent teacher, and were up and running in minutes. This rondel action based DOAM game with a little engine building to boot was a lot of fun. We played a nearly production ready version, but I’m told the Kickstarter will give it the full enhanced treatment. This is one to watch out for as we get closer. We snuck in another quick visit with Lance while we were there.

Next door was the Meeple Source booth, and with the Baseball Highlights tourney approaching the next day, we picked up some cool runner/batter colored meeples. So much better than playing with bowling pins, right?

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Ready for the tourney! Runners and batter meeples.

After a tremendously good bacon and cheddar hamburger (with chipotle mayo of course) from Tropicale, the casual restaurant in the hotel, I headed back for a game of Concordia. I’ve been wanting to play this Mac Gerdts game since the Secret Cabal started raving about it. Jonathan Howe saw my request on BGG and agreed to teach it to me and Jack. Max from the Dukes of Dice wanted in, too, and already knew the game well, so we really had some good instruction.

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Jonathan (lower R) teaching Max (upper L) and Jack (lower L) and me how to play Concordia.

Concordia is an action selection exploration and trading game in the Mediterranean that seriously lived up to the hype. I don’t know that I have played a more elegant game. Each action I took seemed to make sense, and unlocked other combinations. I told Max that my intent was to try out each of the actions, even if they didn’t make combo-tastic sense, just to see the whirring and purring of the engine. By the end of the game, I was finally seeing some of the VP strategies, but of course, it was way too late, and Max cleaned our clocks. But, he and Jonathan were kind enough to walk us through their strategies in the post-mortem, which really helped us. Now, if the rumored re-printing from Rio Grande (or another company perhaps) would happen….

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Alex (far L) and Sean (L) presenting the Best Art award at the Dice Tower with help from Tom (far R) and Eric (R)

It was time for the Dice Tower Awards. As usual, Eric Summerer and Tom Vasel were breezy and fun, and kept the show moving. There were a lot of first time award presenters, as well as some old favorites. Singing happy birthday to Brian Counter (“and he’s counter-productive) might have been a highlight, until Jason Levine goofed on Eric by exchanging the certificate for game of the year with a movie reference to La-La-Land.

Back in the main gaming hall, I ran into some Louisiana pals (Jesse, Melissa, and Ronald) who needed a fourth for Word Slam. Sorry, no pictures, but this game was right up my alley. Team captains take turns giving clues to a secret word to their team members using only decks of cards with nouns, prepositions, and verbs. The words scale up in difficulty and of course, there is a dreaded timer. I really enjoyed Word Slam and need to find a copy for our scouts game nights and family holiday game days.

We grabbed a couple of people walking by, and laughed when one of them was from New Orleans. Six people at the table, only three of whom had met before the Con, and now five out of six are from the same small state — and the sixth one traveled through the Bayou State on the way to Texas one time. I think we ended up playing for about an hour, cycling through a bunch of words, before Jesse suggested that we check to see if Ethnos was available.

It was! Ethnos went back on the table again for the second night, this time with Windfolk and Giants added. Again — the board is ugly, the pieces are chincy, but the gameplay is rock solid. This one is on my list to pick up.

Not counting demos, that’s six games played in one day — not bad considering my commitments to demoing games at Stronghold! I think I played more this day than I did in three days at GenCon!

 

Next post, we’ll wrap up the convention for me and Jack, since we were leaving Saturday night. Any questions about the games we saw or about the convention in general? Send me a tweet @boardgamegumbo, and I’ll do my best to answer.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

— BJ

Spice it up! with Karuba

Has it really been 17 years since  Carcassone stormed the board gaming world? By now, every game group in America has been exposed to the classic tile laying game. Likely, your group plays the original mixed in with any of the dozens of expansions that have come out.
(Side note: Did you know that even after all these years, the original two expansions, Traders & Builders and Inns & Cathedrals, are still the highest rated by BGG?)
If you are looking to introduce your family to the tile laying genre, or if your game group is finding regular Carcassonne a little bland, well then, let’s Spice it up! with Karuba!
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OVERVIEW:
Karuba is a tile laying, racing game for two to four players published by HABA USA. It was released in 2015 and designed by Rudiger Dorn,  with artwork by Claus Stephen.  It was nominated for the Spiel de Jahres in 2016, but lost to the convention juggernaut that was Code Names.
The set up of the game is unique, but easy to teach. Players each have identical boards depicting a mysterious jungle bordered by a beach (reminiscent of the opening scenes in Indiana Jones). Each player gets the opportunity to set the adventure for all players by placing one adventurer and one like colored temple.
The object of the game is to use the tiles depicting trails in the jungle to connect all four of your adventurers with all four temples faster than the other players, collecting gold nuggets and crystals for extra points along the way.
Collect more points than the other player — before the players run out of tiles or one player lands all of his adventurers in their respective temples — to be the winning adventurer.img_1787
INNOVATIONS:
Getting your family and friends to play this game is easy if they are familiar with Carcassonne. The designer has taken the very player friendly mechanic of laying tiles to build routes and castles, and twisted it into a racing format. Plus, the board is so much smaller (since you are playing on just your player board instead of the entire Carcassonne lay out), so the connections make sense even to first time gamers.
The racing aspect is not that unique, except for the fact that adventurers have to have a way to get off of the beach, and can’t cross or pass each other up. This makes for some interesting decisions, and may even lead to players creating side routes just to park an adventurer or two while running another to the temple.
I love the fact that the players are in control of setting up the objectives. Other tile laying games like Castles of Mad King Ludwig have replayability because of the changing objective tiles, but those are randomly generated. In this game, each player has a hand in creating at least one (and perhaps more, depending on player count) adventurer/temple set up.
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COMPONENTS:
Haba is known for its gorgeous productions for kids games, so it should come as no surprise that the company went all out for this foray into gamer games. The player boards are thick and playable (I am looking at you Terraforming Mars), and the adventurers and temples are nicely designed and colored wooden bits. The location tiles are sturdy, and even have little pictures of jungle fauna and flora on them. The crystals and gold look like little diamonds and nuggets. And the treasure cards are all unique. In short, this is a game with excellent production.
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GAMEPLAY:
The gameplay is simple. Players can only take one of two actions: (a) place a tile on their player board (and a crystal or nugget if one is shown on that tile); or (b) discard that tile to move one adventure up to a number of spaces. The amount of movement has just a few easy rules — adventurers can move the same number of spaces as the amount of exits shown on the discarded tiles, and they can’t occupy or cross over the space of another adventurer.
As you can see, these are the kind of basic rules that allow a broad spectrum of players to easily jump in and start playing. But, just like any classic Euro, there is so much depth in that simple starting play.

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Do you immediately connect one adventurer to a temple as quickly as you can so that you can be the first (and claim the highest treasure?) Or do you try to build a framework of trails that allows multiple adventurers to make their way on shared routes (taking care not to create traffic jams?) Do you build your routes while keeping an eye on the other boards, and then discard a few tiles to ‘snipe’ a treasure right before another player? Or do you focus on getting as many gold nuggets and crystals to supplement the mid level treasures you will probably get?
All of these are valid strategies, and make for very tense decisions especially in the last third of the game.
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FINAL THOUGHTS:
Karuba had been on my radar, because there was a lot of buzz about it following the SdJ nomination. Haba’s reputation as the top producer of children’s games had me thinking that this would be “just a kid’s game.” The nomination changed that, and I am glad I sought out a copy.
This is not just a children’s game. This is a game that we can bring out with new gamers, old and young alike, as an introduction to our hobby. But, I have brought this game to the table at two game nights, and had the gamers up and running in a minute and diving into all of the different strategies.
Overall, the excellent production, easy rules to teach, replay ability due to the different adventurer/temple set up, and interesting decisions all add up to a first class experience. Plus, the game plays in less than hour, which really hits a home run in this category. While it may look like Carcassonne Solitaire at first glance, it is most certainly not solitaire. You must keep an eye out for each other player’s adventurers to decide just when you should start throwing away good tiles so that you can steal the five point treasure right before your mom does (did I say that aloud?).
If you need a great two to four player game, with a good racing element and some light hearted tension building in the back end of the game, head on down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Karuba.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
–B.J.