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).

Dice Tower Convention 2017 Report — Day One

Hey boardgamers, BJ from Boardgame Gumbo here, and I survived my first day at my first ever Dice Tower Convention here in what I assume is sunny Orlando (I got more of a neon tan today than a real one).

Just steps away from Walt Disney World, the convention provided its own magical times on day one. First up, there was free breakfast for all of the attendees, which helped since the line for registration covered the entire convention hall. The staff announced several times that players could jump right into the hall and start playing or visiting, but I am pretty sure there were a number of attendees who wanted the first crack at that juicy experience from the MASSIVE game library or to be first at the Exhibitor booths.I wandered backstage to the Stronghold Booth way early, but head man Stephen Buonocore was already there prepping the booth for the onslaught. Once a few other knights showed up a couple of minutes later, we started breaking out the games and playing.

I was lucky enough to get a deep dive play with Dan (you know him from his adorable game videos on the Dice Tower with his daughter Cora) on Fields of Green. This new American release of the game really shines. I like engine builders a lot, but many times I get outclassed by other players who are longer range planners. This distills the fun of an engine builder, with a new theme of modern farming, into 45 minutes. Dan is a great teacher with a wonderful sense of humor and even shared some amazing treats from his side of the pond. The Stroopwaffle (think Stinger energy waffles with better flavor) from the Netherlands was particularly good.

Then, the exhibitor doors opened and it was nonstop gaming all day. I manned the Fields of Green table, and we always had a demo game going all day.

One of the memorable games was teaching the crew from Must Love Boardgames, a funny movie directed by Jessie Seidule of Baton Rouge. Jessie, Melissa, and Ronald were fun to hang around with during the game, and it was nice to catch up about gaming in South Louisiana.


I also had a chance to slide around to greet people and play games when I could. One of the highlights was an epic Pit Crew battle with Jon V from Montreal. It came down to the wire, and they used one of Geoff Englestein’s diabolical monkey wrench cards to draft around us for the win.

The guys from Dukes of Dice podcast turned me on to the Draft Mechanic podcast a few weeks ago, and I have been enjoying listening to Jake and Danielle riff on boardgames and craft beer. So, it was fun to meet them in person and teach games at the booth. They are both deadpan funny people, so say hello if you get a chance.

After the booth closed, a bunch of listeners to the Boardgames Insider podcast (co-hosted by Ignacy from Portal and Stephen from Stronghold) gathered at the hotel for a podcast meetup. I think even Stephen was surprised by the large turnout on short notice.

Ignacy had challenged Stephen to a Crokinole match, and I got to watch almost to the end. When I left, the “Pride of New Jersey” was in the lead, and on my way back from dinner with Sneauxbunny, I saw Ignacy racing to the designer panel. When I asked him about the finish, he just smiled and said “No talk about it, I don’t know what happened!” If you haven’t met Ignacy yet, you should because he is one of the smartest gamers and funniest guys in gaming.

After dinner, Alex and Sean of the Dukes of Dice podcast invited us to play games in the main hall. I finally got to play some convention games that I have seen at GenCon but never got to play, like Pitchcar, Rhino Hero, and Monikers.


Pitchcar is a great dexterity racing game where players flick cars one at a time in a race to complete a lap around the track. This was a huge track set up right in the front of the hall. (I’m not sure what regular Pitchcar looks like, but this was a really long track.) Had a great time flicking the car around, but one lap around the track was plenty enough for me. The best part of pitchcar to me is the smacktalk, and since I was in a large group of people that were pretty familiar with each other, there was a lot of that going around.

Rhino Hero — I bought this for my nephew in Maryland for Christmas years ago, but never tried it. I liked it, but I might like it better on a steadier surface than the table we were using. Needless to say, we did not last very long in the game.

Monikers is a Time’s Up clone, but with weirder titles and explanation. Team Sean won after we had a couple of big turns.

Jake from Draft Mechanic broke out Vegas, a game from Rudiger Dorn (the designer of Karuba and many other games). What looked like a simple dice fest — okay, it is a simple dice fest — turned out to have some strategy. Players toss a handful of dice, and then use the results to claim casinos each worth random amounts of money (but at least $50k each). The player with the most of her colored dice on the casino at the end of the round claims that dollar amount. There is a catch — ties are no good as they knock you completely out of the running for the prize. You have to look at the other players hands of dice to gauge how much you need to support your own hold on a casino. This is a perfect beer & pretzel game for my brothers, and I will have to try and hunt down a copy.

After we finally finished playing these deep, brainy, mind burning strategy games, we decided to lighten things up with a game of Ethnos from CMON games. We had six players, so Ethnos was a good choice. Plus, plus, the library copy has the Fairy promo which I had never played.


Ethnos may not look like much on the table, but man is there a lot of gameplay. Players try to play sets of cards with the same color or race on them in an effort to put down their token on one of six areas on the board, with each area having a randomized value at the start of the game. Each faction has a unique special power that if played effectively can lead to awesome combos.

You’re only picking up one card at a time, but there’s lots of tense decisions because of the dragon timer. The bottom third of the deck is seeded with three dragons, and when the last one comes out, the round is over and any cards in your hand that have not been played are worth nothing.

The last time I played was just a learning game where I was trying to understand the rules, but this time, I was able to see the nuances of the combos in the races. Ethnos is one of those games where you are tempted to go for everything, but specializing in three, maybe four areas seems a better choice. I had the lead going into the final round, but tried to shoot the moon on a troll combo that didn’t work. Awesome, awesome game made better with some great players (Ellison, Jay, Jake, Danielle, and Alex).

It was almost midnight, and I had an early morning shift at the booth, so I said goodbye to some new friends. I did see my son Jack at a different table, and got to visit with him about his epic Game of Thrones experience. Sounds like he was having a blast running House Stark. 

I’ll have more thoughts on the Stronghold games we are demoing tomorrow, and hopefully can report on some of the other booths and games that I plan to play.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

HeavyCon Recap with Matthew Ward

Following up on Jason Dinger’s excellent coverage of HeavyCon, Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another HeavyCon convention report, this time from former Louisiana resident, Matthew Ward of the Dukes of Dice podcast.  Matthew lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and enjoys a wide spectrum of games. He also contributes to an excellent series of short reviews, like this one of Century: Spice Road, with his friend, Matt Walker, known collectively as WAM! (“We Are Matt”). Here are his thoughts on his recent trip to HeavyCon in Denver, Colorado. 

As I write this on Father’s Day, I realize one of the great joys in my life is being a dad to an amazing daughter. As most parents know, it takes a heck of a lot of work, dedication, and time, which is why, occasionally, I need to get away from it all. Much like books are for the introvert in me, board games take me to another place, where I can find as much solitude or interaction as I need.

This year I have two planned gaming getaways: BGG Con coming up in November, and the other one just happened at the end of May called HeavyCon. It’s run by the Heavy Cardboard podcast with an amazing crew of dedicated local gamers. What sets HeavyCon apart from other conventions is its draw of dedicated and experienced gamers. Very few cons will have pick up games of 18XX, Splotter Spellen, and Phil Eklund games.

This is a con where we don’t have to blow the dust off the games that sit on our shelf of shame, and use our best sales pitch to get players we need. We already know what we are getting into and embrace the journey. This is a place where we get to play our passions and discover new romances.

One of those games that has been nearly impossible for me to get played is Arkwright — or as Kat Demeanour at the table called it, “the 17XX game.” Arkwright is a game of 18th century industrialization in England designed by Stefan Risthaus, and published by Capstone Games and Spielworx. Just learning the rules can take an hour on top of the five or so hours it will take to play. It’s full of planning, recognizing opportunity, and undercutting your opponents.

There was a lot of newbie interest in this one, so I scheduled a learning game. While I really wanted to play, I let another gamer take my spot, and I am glad I did. Teaching it and mentoring the players took most of my focus. I had a blast as I was able to see each player discover some of the depth and nuances of the gameplay.

Playing Arkwright with Kat Demeanor, Joshua Acosts from WDYPTW, Dave Armstrong (not pictured) (Photo courtesy of Matthew Ward)

Another game I absolutely adore is Hanamikoji, designed by Koto Nakayama, and I was able to get that to the table a few times. There are few two player games I love to play and this one is right at the top. In this game you are trying to out think your opponent and gain influence with the seven Geisha in what I feel is very akin to poker. Each player gets the same four actions that they get to use once. The order in which you play them is what makes this game so amazing. Some actions reveal cards from their hand and others hide information. Without going into too much detail, you can see a full review here. Hanamikoji is so much harder than it looks.

Anthony (“Tony”) Fryer, formerly of the Heavy Cardboard podcast, takes on Matthew (not pictured) in Hanamakoji. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Ward)

Something I never thought would happen to me is a pickup game of an 1846 train game. I had one experience several years ago and it was a learning game with one of the beginner 18XX titles that focuses on either the rail building side or the stock market. It was terrible. Oh, as a side note, all the games start with 18XX, so I couldn’t tell you which game it was.  I only can manage to remember 1846 because it’s a popular entry point designed by Tom Lehman and published by GMT. Many of these games are obscure, and hard to get. The lack of distinction of the title names, the high learning curve of the mechanics and terminology, and the horrific amount of mental calculations makes this a very specialized set of games.

1846 was a good year for trains, and a good game for Matthew, Stefan Ebner, Christian Winkler, and Nicolas from Meeples Included (none in the photo). (Photo courtesy of Matthew Ward)

That being said 1846 was a treat and very accessible for an 18XX game. I also had the pleasure of playing with some amazingly considerate gamers who gave me advice when I asked, so we could keep the game chugging along. Oh snap…I just went there.

One of the great things about conventions is getting access to hard to find games. Ever since I listened to the Heavy Cardboard’s review of Lignum, I wanted that game, but there was such a limited print run that it was expensive and hard to find. I had been wrestling with paying too much money to buy the first edition, but thanks to Capstone Games, they are publishing a second edition in the U.S. Preorders are up, so go support Capstone!

Enjoying Lignum is Jim from Punching Cardboard with Jason and Donna (not pictured) Dinger and Matthew (not pictured.) Photo courtesy of Matthew Ward

So what is Lignum? It is a game about the 19th century logging industry in Germany. By the way one of the characteristics of heavy gamers are being drawn to interesting themes. Now most of us will say it is secondary to gameplay, but put an interesting theme on it, and watch our eyes widen and ears perk up. What makes Lignum so great is the planning and trying to predict what the other players are going to do. You will pick up items and do actions in a linear path, never being able to back track. Feel free to go as far down the board you want to go, but you better be sure you don’t need anything you are passing by. It was a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to finally own a copy.

Another game I was excited to get taught is a game called Forged in Steel, published by Knight Works LLC and designed by Wade Broadhead. I love history, and Wade created a Card Driven Game in the same vein as Twilight Struggle, but used the tumultuous past of Pueblo, Colorado as a backdrop. The game mixes in area control, role selection, and it has a very light touch of a war game in it. Although I can see how it needs a particular type of gamer, Forged in Steel is ridiculously under the radar. If you like heavier games, go track down a copy.

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Carmen Petruzzelli, owner of Boardgame Surplus, playing Forged in Steel. (photo courtesy of Matthew Ward).

I was truly surprised at how many prototypes were at a 100 person convention and Captains of the Gulf was my favorite. I know Jason Dinger, a fellow contributor to Board Game Gumbo, will feel awkward about me talking about his game, but he has put his heart and soul into it, and it shows. Now I have lived in the gulf region of the United States a majority of my life including a large amount of time in Louisiana. It’s where my heart called home for a very long time, so when I heard about a game of fishing boat captains in the Gulf of Mexico, my ears perked right up. I made it a mission to get a play in. There are a few mechanics that immediately make me obsess, and that is rondels, and multi-use cards, which Captains of the Gulf has in spades. This game is all about timing, tough decisions on the card play, area control, planning, and movement. It has a lot going on, but it all works together like a great shrimp etouffee. Lucky for all of us, Spielworxx is publishing this next year, and I definitely will be pre-ordering it.

 

Captains of the Gulf by Jason Dinger. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Ward)

Conventions are the ultimate venue in promoting our hobby, and even more importantly, creating our community. We all pitch in our knowledge, time, and games to make a great experience, and there is no such thing as zero-sum. One of my favorite contributions was running an Exit: The Game Escape Room tournament. I enlisted three teams of four to venture into an Abandoned Cabin, and try to be the fastest to get out without using too many clues. EXIT: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin is the only one of the series I had done, and I have to tell you that it was fascinating to watch how the other teams tackled the puzzles. I loved the aha moments, and empathized with their struggles. Markus Brand and Inka Brand are designing this series of Escape Room board games, and they are fabulous designers. If you’ve never played Village, seek it out.

Top left: Kat Deameanor, Amanda Uhler from Heavy Cardboard, Adrian Richardson from Mile High Game Guys, and Scott Kippen (Skippen); top right: Ed Uhler from Heavy Cardboard, Brandon All from Brawling Brothers, Stefan Ebner, Derek Yeung; bottom left: Christian Winkler, Joe Sturgiss, Ambie Valdes, and Toby Mao from Board Game Blitz (Photo courtesy of Matthew Ward)

 

I managed to play a bunch more games, and there are lots of stories that I can’t fully relay. I am going to give a quick summary of the rest, so I don’t go on too long on trying to write up a five day convention recap. Games I didn’t talk about, but I got plays in of Yokohama, The Banishing, Century: Spice Road, and Pax Renaissance, There were so many podcasters I got to spend time with including Travis from @LowPlayerCount, Ambie from Board Game Blitz, Jim from @Punch_Cardboard, Brandon from the Brawling Brothers, Adrian from Mile High Game Guys, and of course Ed and Amanda from Heavy Cardboard. Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone. I got to hang with a few game designers including Alex Berry who did High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel and The Gumbo’s own Jason Dinger. I really enjoyed hearing some of their game design philosophy.

As sad as I get leaving my family for a convention, by the end of HeavyCon I was sad to leave my newly made friends and the ones that I had not seen in a while. HeavyCon was a great experience. It was small, intense, and heavy. Can’t wait for next year!

— Matthew Ward @uncouthtooh