The last few weeks have been a blur in gaming, mostly centered around opening up, bagging, and playing the Kickstarter edition of Near and Far by Red Raven Games. I plan to talk more about the game in another blog post, once I have a few more plays in, but spoiler alert — I really love this game.
Story telling games have always fascinated me, perhaps from my love of choose your own adventure books and RPGs as a young man. Above and Below, Red Raven’s earlier attempt at a world building story telling game, was a big hit with me and my two sons, and in all honesty, winning was in second place to exploring the underground in that game.
I had yet to bring my wife into the fantastical world of Red Raven Games and Ryan Laukat’s whimsical art, so I thought Islebound would be a good place to start. Islebound is a 2016 release where players sail ships around a modular board conquering and/or negotiating treaties with towns and ports, all in an effort to score journey points along the way. I was excited to introduce her to a mechanic that I really like in Red Raven’s last three games.
The thing that I like about this “trilogy” of games (Above and Below, Islebound, and Near and Far) is that each one has story elements built in, albeit in different ways. If the games had been published in order from Islebound to Near and Far, you might even say that there was a bit of an advancement in the way Laukat implements the story mechanic. In Islebound, the story elements are mainly found in the “troubadour” cards (as my wife calls them) and “event” cards. These cards, found on the side board, allow you to increase your renown and influence by meeting certain objectives, and on each one is a little story about why you need to take that action or about the reward you will get.
Laukat took that concept to a higher level in Above and Below, where you are presented choices in the story mode of the game. You have to make decisions in choose-your-own-adventure fashion, and choose between two or three actions. The consequences of your choice can make a difference in terms of your rewards (although there is some valid criticism about the connection between the stories and rewards, and the rather abrupt way most stories end.)
The ultimate is the way Near and Far integrates the stories into the game at every level. The story elements are clearly interconnected to each map and even throughout the campaign.
So, I thought I would read the flavor text each time when we finally brought Islebound to the table, as a good introduction to the world. But each time I read the cards, she waved her hands dismissively and said to move on to the action.
That frankly shocked me a bit. My wife loves stories, movies and music, so the concept of make believe does not bother her. So why didn’t she enjoy the text? I was not expecting her to reject this part of the game.
When I asked her about it after the game ended (victoriously in her case, again), she said that the stories did not really seem connected to what we were doing at the time. To her, it was just a bunch of “fluff.”
That got me thinking about flavor text in games. Why do I enjoy well written flavor text? I grew up playing D&D, and moved to Magic in 1993-94. Magic cards are notorious for having great flavor text. Even in today’s modern board games, I am always on the look out for extra flavor. We’ve been playing a lot of Clank! lately, and if you look at those cards, you will see a lot of humorous text to go with the illustrations on the cards.
To me, you miss out a lot if you don’t at least glance at the text, and see how the theme interacts with the gameplay. But, maybe she is correct? Does Islebound really need the flavor text? Would it be just as good of a game with less emphasis on the story elements (small that they may be)? Does a game need to integrate meaningful decisions if the designer wants players to take the flavor text seriously?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Send me a reply in the comments below or a tweet @boardgamegumbo.
Until the next time we met up in Arzium, Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Each year, there seems to be more and more buzz surrounding the day, as more and more game stores get involved and our hobby grows. But International Tabletop Day is still in his toddler stage, and I think after five either iterations, it is time to evaluate how we as gamers can make the experience better for the hobby in general.
What are we gamers looking for at International Tabletop Day (“ITTD”)? What can our friendly local game stores learn from us, the consumers?
Here’s a list of eight things I think game stores should do in 2018 to make ITTD a better day for all:
Number One. Use Social Media and free media to spread the word.
If you are a gamer, chances are you are on some kind of social media. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Slack. Google +. Websites like Reddit and Board Game Geek. If your game store did not advertise for free in 2017 on any or all of those platforms, you are doing yourself and your game store a disservice.
Gamers spend hours during their lunch hour or while waiting for the next elevator to find out the next big event. If a board gamer knows that your store is having an event, and that gamer thinks there is even a chance that someone will play Blood Rage or Anachrony with him or her, then that gamer will make every effort to get to your store. And maybe bring friends!
Get a calendar out; start backdating. About two months before, post a brief message saying “ITTD at — SAVE THE DATE”. Then a month before, start teasing out the events (see below). And the week of the event, make sure you are tweeting, Facebook posting, Instagramming and posting all about your event and what makes it special.
Number Two. Start a game night before ITTD happens.
This is a no-brainer. If your store does not already have a once or twice weekly game night dedicated just to board gamers, then start one before International Table Top Day happens. That seems counter intuitive, right? Most store would probably think to use ITTD as a jump off point to a regular game night. The opposite is true.
Hosting a regular game night in the weeks leading up to the day means you have a ready made audience who can build up some excitement about your upcoming event. Don’t wait until after, when the fire may burn down a bit (or more likely, they will just join a friend’s game group.) Put up some flyers, post it on
Number Three. Leverage your current assets.
Does your game store already have a game night? Then you have evangelists already on board! Three months before, spring for some snacks and drinks and have a 30 minute brainstorming session with your regulars. What games do they want to play? What events do they want to run for you? Do they want special hours, or a food special, or a game to be on sale that they can help teach? Maybe its a newcomer friendly game like Ticket to Ride or New York 1901? Or maybe they want at least a section of your store blocked out for some heavy cardboard? Find out!
Your regulars come to your game store because they like your space, and they need more people to come because that ensures you stay open. Plus, they have more people to PLAY THEIR GAMES. Utilize the volunteer sales staff you already have in place to craft the best experience for all.
Number Four: Use old media to drum up some interest.
Board games are hot topics in newspapers and on TV. Old line media loves anything nostalgic or anything that is out of the ordinary. Let’s face it, 90% of your non-gaming acquaintances think “Monopoly” and “Candyland” when they about board games.
A quick email or tweet to the local news desk might entice some young reporter (who maybe plays games or has an interest in the hobby) to come out and do a pre-ITTD story. The worst that the media can do is say no, right? But the best thing could be your own feature article.
Number Five: Take Pictures of the games!
I cannot believe I have to say this, but unfortunately I do. Get your iPhone / Android device out and snap some pictures! If you are uncomfortable putting people in your pictures for advertising sake, then snap close ups of meeples and dragons and actual boards and cards. Or, have a standard form (you can download free media use forms all over the internet) and have people sign — in exchange, they get a free promo card to their favorite game! Or they get their name in a drawing for a free game or expansion!
Giving out free promos or snacks or chance to win a game is the least you can do to have smiling happy people plastered all over your website, Twitter feed, and Facebook mentions.
Number Six: Not too few, not too many, but just right.
What’s International Tabletop Day without fun events? Well, from a consumer side of things, I would rather see fewer than greater. For most people, the day is really about playing as many games as possible while still having time to hydrate and use the restroom…and socialize with our friends, too.
Get some of your diehards to run bigger games that day, too, but ask them to leave one or two spots open for newcomers. Make sure that the schedule is posted prominently on your website and Facebook pages and somewhere on your wall. Maybe end up with a big event, like a game show or big group game such as Two Rooms and a Boom.
Number Seven: You got customers.
We know that the reason (most likely) that you opened this game store was not just to provide a friendly atmosphere for gamers and/or families to play board game nights on week nights and all weekend. We get it, there are bills to be paid. So, let us help you!
Have some kind of sale for that day, something that would entice both the new gamers and the experienced hands alike.
You will most likely have a handful or even a few dozen newcomers to the hobby strolling in, just curious to see what the whole “board game craze” is all about it. Have a display of games that are easy for them to get into, but mix it up between old favorites like Carcassone and Ticket to Ride to things we know by heart but they have probably never heard of: King of Tokyo, Codenames, Kingdomino, Sheriff of Nottingham, Imhotep, Karuba, Pandemic, and Camel Up. Give them a reason to buy those games with some kind of special, like Buy One, Get One Half Off. Sure, we know that some of the “friends” will split up the cost of the games, but you may end the day with a lot of two games sold instead of none transactions.
For the experienced gamers, give them a coupon for 20% any game in the store if they teach a game to a newcomer. Or have a pre-order sale — give them a discount if they order from you that day only if they order from you instead of Amazon. Again, it is a sale for product you don’t even have in the store, so you would have missed out on it anyway.
Plus, look around your store. There must be a really big ticket item (maybe the Takenoko special edition?) that has been sitting on your shelf way too long. Pick out five or ten of them, and make a big display out of them with a sales price TODAY ONLY.
Number Eight: Gonna Dress You Up In My Knowledge
Ever walk around World Market’s wine section? There’s always stickers and index cards and posters and arrows pointing out which wines made this Best Wine List or scored This Many Points on Wine Snob’s 2017 List. Now’s your chance to help spread some knowledge today, and it just might get you a sale or two.
Make a display with all of the SdJ winners that you stock in your store, and list them out by year and with the awards they won. Or do the same for BGG and The Dice Tower awards. You can probably find one of your regulars who would be willing to write up a little index card about the game and why it is awesome or why they think it won that year.
For some of your heaviest games, don’t be afraid to post the Heavy Scale from Board Game Geek right on the box or on the shelf. For some gamers, that will actually make the game more attractive!
This hobby is all about socializing in person and on the internet, and if you can show that your store is an active follower of board game media, then the new customers will be impressed. Remember, not all of those new faces in your store will be newbies to the hobby — many of them will be people who rabidly digest board game media but have never been to your store before.
BONUS! Post-Game Day Means Posting Pictures!
There’s nothing more frustrating to a gamer than to know that she missed out on a great day of board gaming. Maybe it was the latest hotness from Essen, Gen Con or Kickstarter that hit the table all day and she had been dying to try it (and maybe buy it?) Maybe it was that old classic that she loves to play with a big group. Maybe it was just a large scale party or crowd game that she has never tried.
Make her and her friends desire to pledge that they will not miss ITTD the following year, with some salivating pictures of people playing games and having a great time. That will set the table for next year for sure, and maybe lead them to your game night if you advertise it in conjunction with the postings.
I hope this helps friendly local game stores from around the country see International Tabletop Day from the gamers perspective. This day should be a celebration of everything good about our hobby, but also give you a chance to show everything good about your store. Take advantage of the day, and maybe you will have a Krewe of gamers knocking at your door saying, “Can we play a game?”
So, how was your International Tabletop Day experience? What did your friendly local game store get right, and what could they use some improvement on for next year? Post a comment below or hit me up @boardgamegumbo on Twitter.
The first brisk north wind that whips south of I-20 down toward the Atchafalaya Basin ushers in the favorite of the true Cajun’s four seasons. After a short winter, short spring, and very long summer, it is finally time for Gumbo season (or as Northerners would call it, “Fall”.)
But for some of us familiar with the history of the Acadian migration, otherwise known as Le Grand Derangement, the first time the temperature dips below 72 in the morning dredges up memories that do not emanate from our brains, but instead, are encased in our bones and DNA and well up from our hearts. We do not ever remember the smell of the Atlantic Ocean or the taste of its sea salt on our cracked lips, but somehow, something primitive emerges. We tug on our coats and turn our eyes northward, and wonder, even unconsciously, whether our beloved Acadie seashore feels the same chill.
Cajuns in Louisiana that descend from the Acadian soil have sea salt in their veins. Likewise, many other “Cajuns” (called that because after 200 years of intermarriage between French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German and Irish settlers with those who were expelled from the Acadian colony in Nova Scotia, you become Cajun yourself especially if your mom and your grandma speak Cajun French!) share that same saline infused blood.
Many of the prairie Cajuns where I come from have no roots in Acadie. Some were French courir-de-bois (“runners of the woods”) who meandered their way down to a French settlement in Louisiana. Many were French soldiers, pushed by British troops further and further down the Mississippi River until reaching the fort near Washington, Louisiana, or in New Orleans and then settling up and down the bayous of present day Acadiana. Some were Spanish or Portuguese or Italian sailors or sailmakers or the sons and daughters of minor nobles in their homelands, bereft of inheritance under Old World law who came to the New World on the great wooden ships of Europe to make their own fortune.
The sea calls to those of us in Acadiana, and we answer by plying the waters in search of the best bounty — the tasty variety like shrimp or redfish or crab, or the black, slick money making kind that is propelled upwards in the hundreds of rigs that dot the Gulf of Mexico.
We are connected to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But deep down inside, somewhere two hundred years in the making, does the natural reaction to the first sign of Fall mean that our bones still yearn for those cold Atlantic waters?
If your game group is anything like mine, your friends love worker placement games, but tire of the same old trading in the Mediterranean theme. Your group wants more theme. Is there a game that gives us a great theme, beautiful components, and satiates our need for salt air?
New Bedford is the 2016 release from Greater Than Games (Dice Hate Me Games). It was designed by Nathaniel Levan, with art from Nolan Nasser. It plays from 2-4 players, and plays in about an hour and a half.
Players compete trying to score the most victory points by building out the town of New Bedford, a former center of the whaling industry in the mid-1800s. They also score points by building ships and sending them out to stalk the great whales of the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Money counts for VPs, too, but the heart of the game is in developing your section of the town and collecting whale tokens for your two ships.The game plays in twelve rounds, and with only two workers, it is an easy transition from other genres of board games into this worker placement. On the lightness scale, I would call it a little lighter (and with just as much theme) as my favorite WP game, Viticulture. Each round, players place their workers on various “buildings” that represent the different actions, like collecting resources (brick, wood, “biscuits”) or building buildings or preparing and launching your ships.
At the end of each round, two important steps happen out on the whaling board that comes with the game. First, ships move closer to the dock, and any ship that ‘returns’ must ‘pay the lay’ for the whales on the ships. This represents the history of captains paying their crew for the production. Next, the ships that are out on the ocean get a chance to pull whale tiles from a bag, and store them on their ships. There is a chance at three different types of whales, all with different icons, costs and rewards. There is also a chance at pulling an empty sea token, which cannot be used by the captain — unless you build a special building or two that bends the rules.
After twelve rounds, and a few more whaling expeditions, the points are tallied. Players get one point for every building, extra VPs for the special victory point buildings, the points for the whales that made it into their warehouse, and of course, a point for every five coins. The winner is the builder/captain with the most points.
The production on the base game is stunning. It has absolutely gorgeous art on every square inch of the game. Even the backs of the boards and tiles have beautiful artwork or historical information or even quotes from Moby Dick. There was a lot of care built into the art and graphic design — as we have come to expect from Dice Hate Me games. Each town location has design that looks like a historical place, and the designer notes show that Nathaniel did a lot of research on the town and the real locations there, and tried to represent them well in the game.
The bits and pieces are fun. They are all made out of wood (except for the cardboard money, which has unique graphics on both sides) and accurately represent the pieces. The bricks are red and really look like little bricks, and the wood is represented by a little stack of lumber. The ships come in two different sizes for distinguishing them. (The sizes are fine, but the colors frankly stink. The green and the blue are so close to each other even for someone who is not color blind like me that in a room that has less light than the sterile operating room at your local Parish hospital, it is VERY hard to distinguish them especially if they are next to each other on the whaling track.)
I love the game play. With only two workers, turns go by very quick, and twelve rounds seems just too short! I haven’t played a game yet where each player just wanted “one more turn,” which is usually the sign of a great worker placement game. The base game comes with around twenty tiles, and there are suggestions on BGG for how to use the tiles in different starting formats to make the game repayable. (Plus there is an expansion, New Bedford: Rising Tide (2016), that I will try and review later, that adds tons more tiles, a fifth player expansion, and even event cards that can really spice up the game.)
I also like some of the unique twists on worker placement games. Each player has a chance to add more locations for the workers to visit. If you build a location on your side of town, the location is not strictly limited to your use, but like in some other games, there is a bonus if another player uses your building, who has to pay you a $1. Also, the town and harbor sections allow for unlimited workers — but all give some kind of added bonus if you are the first worker at that spot.
But, each player’s town section add-ons are limited to one worker per space, so there are some juicy decisions on each turn as to where a player will put that first worker. Take the bonus spot that is your second choice only because you need the bonus? Or risk that the location will still be available with your second worker? Build the building and use the resources, or spend the resources on whaling or other buildings and just drop a few coins to the other player to use that building? All great decisions, made even more tense as we get closer to round 12.
I love that there is not just one way of winning this game. Do you go with a straight building strategy, or do you focus solely on whaling early and often? Do you mix a little town development with some mid game whaling to steal some of the big whales with a little luck? Or do you focus on resources so that you combo buildings with VPs from them? There are lots of ways to win, and it is fun to watch the other sections of the board and guess which way the other players will go.
As you can see, I love this game. (I love it even more with the expansion). I think it is the perfect game to introduce the worker placement concept to new players, but has plenty of strategy and deep decisions for more experienced players. I am a big fan of games that really develop the theme in the game, and each of the mechanisms that the designer uses seems to fit the game. There is even a historical nod to the decline of the whaling industry — when players remove tokens from the bag, empty sea tokens normally go back in each round, which means that the pool of available whale tokens gets smaller and smaller each round, which represents the effect that overfishing the Atlantic had on reducing the whale population.
If your game group is looking for a quick to learn, quick to play worker placement game with very little down time and great strategy, then I would head down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of New Bedford. The leaves are falling, there is a chill in the air, and I can smell the roux cooking on the stove. I think I will add a little sausage and tasso to the pot, and enjoy my gumbo with a great game and a silent prayer of thanks to my nautical ancestors.
What a weekend! The second Louisiana Comic Con – Lafayette happened this weekend, and the Board Game Gumbo Krewe was in full force. The convention organizers asked us to man the board game section of the con, which took up a large section of the second floor next to the Main Panel area.
The Krewe responded, bringing eight members to teach new and experienced gamers alike. This was our first time ever staffing a convention, but our members have been to Gen Con, Board Game Geek (the other BGG) con, and many other regional conventions from L.A. to New Orleans.
This is intended not only as a wrap up of the Con and our efforts there, but also as a convention diary to game plan future events, basically a “roses and thorns” of the weekend. We started planning for the event months ago, with planning sessions on our Wednesday night game nights and lots of email, text and Google doc exchanges.
We chose this Con for obvious reasons, because it is in our backyard, but also because we could test some of our ideas on a smaller crowd. We hoped to leverage our previous experience as attendees at larger cons into really upgrading the fan experience.
What did we want to accomplish? What would we offer the con and the convention goers? These are questions any volunteer organization needs to answer to have an impact at a Con.
First, we talked about what our goals were. After a lot of discussion, we thought back to last year’s con. Because board gaming is still a relatively new hobby to most of this area (although there are individually many players with lots of experience, we are vastly outnumbered by those interested in the hobby), we thought we would focus on one of our strengths — teaching quick, simple but engaging games to the casual fan and interested gamer, while sprinkling in the latest hotness from Gen Con and deeper games for those that are inclined.
Next, we researched what our assignments would be. That’s where Mike Russell, the staff member in charge of the board game area, came in. We reached out to him and the AVC, the owners of the con, for suggested assignments, and were happy when they gave us carte blanche to brainstorm new ideas to….well…spice up the con. We quickly agreed that manning at least four or five tables in one corner of the room would give us a visibility and inviting presence for those new gamers that might be a little intimidated by leaping into the hobby.
On Friday night, we showed up early to help set up the area and check in with the main convention staff.
Basically, we organized the room into three areas. Once convention goers entered the area, they saw a big friendly sign that invited them to play games for free, with a chance to win free games. (We gave away Celestia, Five Tribes, Hand Off -LSU, and the New York 1901 architect promos — and all were big hits!) Ahead of them was a large library with free tables brought by Mike Russell and his crew. (Mike is with IGA, and has lots of contacts in the industry, so he brought an amazing collection — everything from entry level mass market games to the latest big releases.)
To the right we set up an area for designers to get players for prototypes, and two guys from Lafayette (Joshua Sonnier and Lester Tisdale) working on a great new card game design called Kaiju Crisis brought their prototype and dozens and dozens of people try over the weekend. Their tables were crowded all weekend long. Joshua told me that he and Lester were ecstatic with the number of players and feedback that they got. Lafayette has always had a very active CCG scene, so he had good feedback from players familiar with card game combos and attacks. Check out their GoFundMe page here.
Finally, to the left, the Krewe set up a long line of tables with a wall of games behind them. Each Krewe member manned a table, or walked the floor, and invited players to try out the games already set up or pick out a game from the wall for playing.
That part we were not sure about going into the Con. Would we get players interested in trying games that they have never heard of? Would people be too intimidated by the neon yellow shirts the convention gave us?
On Saturday morning, things started slow. The excitement of a Comic Con is in visiting the entire convention at first, checking out the vendor hall (which was huge for a regional con, with lots of variety including a booth from my old high school classmate, Kenneth Kidder, who has attended 18 cons this year promoting the release of his independent RPG game, Tortured Earth), and seeing all the cosplayers. It takes a little while for people to wander upstairs to the panel rooms and the board game room.
51st State — we suckered — err encouraged — some Pokemon card game players into trying this card game, and they loved it.
My Village demo — people loved the bits and colorful artwork.
Bradly and I set up some demo areas of 51st State from Portal Games and My Village from Stronghold Games. This was right after the doors opened, so we had some quiet time to show the game to a few interested people. Once the attendees made it through the vendor area and up the escalator around 11:00 am, it was a mad house from then until close!
I had some of my favorites and some of the newest games I picked up at GenCon on the window shelf right behind my table. After the My Village demos were done each day, we let visitors pick out games from the shelf.At first, people were a little hesitant, but when they came back on Sunday, they were ready to play!
One of the games that was a bit hit on Sunday was Colt Express. I played it with a few gamers, and one of them was so excited, he stayed to play and taught the game to two other groups (with a little help from me on the first, but not much on the second game at all.) That was really a success!
We had numerous visitors come right up to the table and ask about certain games and whether we were able to teach them, and of course, we accommodated them.
I taught Kirk how to play a Bottom of the 9th, from Dice Hate Me Games and Greater Than Games, and he quickly set up the game for new players. That was a big hit! The game is gorgeous, the game play is easy to teach, frantic and really feels like baseball, and is a great game to introduce to new gamers. We had a lot of young players familiar with games who jumped right in, while dad (who wasn’t a gamer) watched. It didn’t take long before Kirk was able to sit the dads down, too, and we may have brought in some new gamers into the fold. Kirk told me by the end of the day he had basically played two nine inning games of baseball!
Dustin came in on Sunday to relieve Kirk, and brought a whole host of colorful games, running the gamut from the easy to teach Jamaica, to the brightly designed Asking for Trobils, from the design studio Kraken Games right down the road from us in Houston (reprint coming soon!). We met a few former war gamers, who were looking for a good game to get into in the board game hobby side, and so Dustin broke out Cry Havoc from Grant Rodiek and Portal Games, which was a big hit.
Dave (the Kaplan Capo) brought a whole mix of games, everything from light and easy party games to some great Euros. He started off the crowd with King of Tokyo, which was a big success. He also broke out Celestia, Camel Up, Love Letter,Splendor, and a host of other games.
He and his wife Melissa had a great time introducing family weight games, and his side of the table was full all weekend long. They also had the pleasure of generating lots of tickets for our raffle, where we gave away Celestia and Hand Off on the first day — so it was not a surprise when players of their games won both games!
Bryan is our resident card game expert, and he brought two of his favorites. He loves the Legendary system, and brought Legendary Encounters: A Firefly Deckbuilding Gameto the table all day on Saturday and Sunday morning. He also knew that comic book fans not familiar with gaming might be enticed if they saw their favorite heroes on the table, so he brought out the DC Comics Deckbuilding Game, and taught numerous new gamers how to play.
Carlos played more than just Camel Up, although every time I took a picture it seemed like he had a new group of players joining in a new game! He was the go to guy as the moderator for Mysterium, lending a spooky flavor to a number of games with new and experienced players alike. Plus, he enjoyed a few innings with the convention guests in Bottom of the 9th. And, he even squeezed in a game or two of Ashes and Lords of Waterdeep! Busy guy.
51st State — we suckered — err encouraged — some Pokemon card game players into trying this card game, and they loved it.
Last, but not least, Bradly taught a whole slew of games. In fact, he had a table set up just for the large collection he brought to the con. He had complete play throughs of 51st State, Hanabi, DC Deck Building, Artifacts Inc. and even ran a long demo of Castles of Mad King Ludwig on Sunday morning.
We also took part in our first ever panel. I was asked to be a moderator at an “Intro to Board Gaming” panel on Sunday morning, so I invited Bryan and Dave from Board Game Gumbo as well as two organizers of the game nights at our local board game stores.
Andrew “Andy” Graves from Sword & Board came and talked up his game night, along with his favorite games to break out for new gamers. Andrew “Andy” Lee from And Books Too talked up his store’s efforts to bring in new gamers as well as his favorite genres for new people to the hobby. Bryan talked about conventions, and also how playing deck builders is an easy entry into the hobby especially for fans of CCGs. Finally, Dave talked about a few of his favorite games and then gave an impassioned talk encouraging the audience to join a game group as it can really amp up your participation in the hobby.
Whew. As I said on Twitter, I have a newfound appreciation for the volunteers around the country who give up their weekends to introduce the hobby to new gamers and to teach experienced gamers the latest games or classic games we may have missed. Kudos also to the designers, developers, publishers and vendors themselves who not only work tirelessly to bring us great games but also give up their free time to market the hobby at these conventions, which now occur just about every weekend of the year.
I also was frankly surprised at the depth and complexity of games we were able to bring out. I was worried that new players might not be interested or feel comfortable handling games with complex mechanics, but as the weekend wore on, we were able to introduce more and more deeper games. Admittedly, any game with eye popping features — like the train set from Colt Express or the airship from Celestia or the camels / pyramid of Camel Up — was an easy draw, but games like 51st State, Abyss, New Bedford, Asking for Trobils, and Terraforming Mars were all hits.
I may add to this little diary from time to time as we plan the Board Game Gumbo’s next con adventure. I hope this blog entry encourages other people already involved in the hobby but who have never volunteered at a con to reach out to their local conventions like we did and offer to help. Make sure you come visit us at the next convention (some of us will be at BGG.Con this year), or come by Louisiana Comic Con in 2017 to see how we can Spice it up!
After a too short sleep period, where the Krewe de Gumbo dreamed of hot boudin, cold Canebrake, and sweet pecan pie, we woke up bright and early to once again dive into the crazy cacophony that is Gen Con.
But first, fuel. Phillip and I headed to First Watch, a great little redesigned breakfast place just about six blocks from the Convention Center. First, we needed to clear our heads and sample some fresh air, if only briefly. Second, we wanted some fresh fruit and homemade wheat pancakes with turkey sausage, and what do you know…that is what they serve! Third, two words that will defeat the onset of Con Crud — orange juice. You owe it to yourself to stop here next year, but get here early…word gets around and the place was packed by 9:00 am.
But let’s get back to games, shall we?
The plan was to head to Mayfair’s humongous play area, and get in a four player game of Murano. But Phillip and I got distracted with this crazy little dexterity game called Klask! Imagine air hockey on a small scale with magnets and mines; that’s the game in a nutshell. It was a blast, and if we did not have to run to our next event, I might’ve bought it right then and there.
But run we did…right to Mayfair’s area for our Murano play through. We only had two tickets…so the four of us (Doc, Phillip, Dustin and I) went early hoping that the other half of our scheduled game would not show. Alas, they did show, and so Doc and Phillip scattered to enjoy other games while Dustin and I reveled in this amazing game.
And actually it worked out great. We played with Geoff and his friend (sorry, name slips me right now), and they were some of the best playing partners we encountered all weekend. They were funny, picked up the game right away (we taught ourselves the rules with excellent help from Dustin), and played quickly. There was lots of banter, joking with each other, and even some good natured smack talk.
The game itself is gorgeous. It is a classic Euro, with a neat mechanic of moving the gondola meeples around the board to choose your action. (Think Puerto Rico with sliding action choices.) Throw in a little bit of push your luck or betting style, with the option to make money through the production of glassware, and you have the perfect game for our game group. I don’t want to spoil a review, but this one will get multiple cayenne peppers from me. The game played really quick, and we were all lamenting when it was over…especially me because I just needed “ONE MORE TURN ™.”
While we were enjoying the heck out Murano, Phillip jumped in on a game of King Chocolate. Yeah, I know Tom Vasel and Jason the Cave bombed the game, and the art work is …. well, a bit plain to say the least, but I found the intricate puzzle-y aspects of the game to be very interesting. I would be interested in a full game play, but I don’t think it is a buy for me.
Meanwhile, Doc came by and threw his hat into a game by Mayfair called Mad City. Doc and his playing partners totally trashed the game, saying it was way too complicated to be taught in a one hour session. I bet with the right teacher and the right group, Doc would have enjoyed it — but in all honesty, he loves the best of Amerithrash fantasy or SF type games, so maybe I would be wrong.
Can I give kudos to a competing convention here? I will do it anyway. Hats off to Board Game Geek (BGG) who put on at the very last minute a cool Hotness Room, where you could play almost all of the very latest games from 2016 for only one generic ticket. We ran down there after our Murano play through, and grabbed a copy of Imhotep and Mystic Vale.
Phillip and Dustin and I worked on Imhotep, while Dave and Carlos tackled MV. I think we got the better end of it. How did Imhotep not win the SdJ? This is hands down the best new game I have played so far this year. We played it in the hall, then Phillip raced out to get a copy, and we played it again later…much later..
Look at those bits and artwork! Big chunky blocks for stacking, cool little barges for shipping, fun sized modular board (and we ended up with a promo that added a little betting mechanic.) Well done and a must buy for anyone’s collection. There will be a Board Game Gumbo segment on this one hopefully soon.
The group had to split up then, as Dustin and Doc went after their big SF type games while Phillip and I explored a game that The Secret Cabal and The Dice Tower has been lauding for months, Stockpile. We had signed up to be taught by the designer, Seth from Nauvoo Games, and we got lucky. Seth is an amazing teacher, very patient and very prepared. Kudos to him for not only designing what has got to be one of the best stock market simulations out there, but also for bringing the fun to the party.
Again, we were lucky in our playing partners too, as all were experienced gamers who picked up the game right away. There was lots of laughing and joking and when one of the partners had to leave early, we got the joy of beating the designer at his own game!! (Small fine print, he only took one turn).
I was disappointed in not being able to get The Networks from Gil Hova, as it sold out in seconds, but this game more than made up for it. Phillip and I yelled… err.. fought… err.. politely discussed who was buying Imhotep and who was buying Stockpile. I think we both won, but I got the pleasure of buying Stockpile from the guys at Nauvoo, including the expansion, and with a bonus treat of a few more investor cards as promos. Seriously, go support those guys, they love what they do and they produce a great product.
(Secret tip — they are working with a prototype of a new game — all hush hush, but hopefully there should be more info soon — will likely be a must buy for me.)
Up next, Bryan Fischer (@bryanfischer) had graciously arranged for the Krewe to try our first ever prototype. His friend Eric (@boardandcafe) is working on a new set collection game, that carries an unusual theme. The players are new vinyl record collectors, who wandered into a huge store carrying tons of vinyl records — but they have to battle it out to put together the deepest, coolest collection. Now that is definitely not a Trading in the Mediterranean theme!
We had a good time learning the rules and critiquing the game. I hope we gave the designer some good feedback on what looks like a very promising game with interesting new mechanics.
After a quick trip to the food trucks for some BBQ and noodles, it was time…yes that time…the time had come…THE SECRET CABAL MEET UP (cue the loud stadium jam music).
I have listened to every single episode of the Cabal, so finally getting the chance to go to the famed meet up was something I had been looking forward to all Con. We got there early….like embarrassingly early…like so early Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games was drinking beers with us at the hotel bar upstairs. He introduced us to one of his loyal Knights, Jay, and we all went down to the meet up over two and half hours early. Even then, there were fifty people there already, and it only got more crowded.
One of the weirder traditions (I am assuming it is a tradition) at the meet up is the fact that Cabalists play games during the meet up. That’s right, it is the Convention’s Biggest Kegger, and instead of just standing around drinking, Cabalists bring all kinds of games from the goofiest wooden dexterity games to even some fairly heavy Euro style games. Come to think of it, it is a great tradition!!
For our part, we brought our newly purchased Imhotep and Stockpile games, and immediately started unboxing and punching them out. While we were doing this, Jay Volk from Stonghold Games walked over, and we invited him to join in a game of Stockpile. He is very familiar with the game, and except for a few lucky plays, would have handed us our ******* in both games.
Jay told me he has been teaching Pursuit of Happiness for Stronghold all weekend — and you can see why he is a loyal Knight. He is one of the best game teachers I have ever seen. It is hard to give you a visual of how difficult that night would be for a normal game teacher. Imagine 400 people crowding around a stand up chest height table where Stockpile took literally every inch, and all 400 people are drinking and singing and yelling and giving great big bear hugs.
Distracting? Noisy? To say the least. (It cost me my voice for the rest of the weekend). But Jay was a trooper who kept the energy level high during the entire two games we played.
He even convinced us to use the backside of the board, and I am glad he did. The game’s stock price swings are much more volatile with that side, but that makes the game a lot more fun.
The Krew de Gumbo broke out Imhotep and a-never-to-be-discussed other game, and looked like they had a good time doing it. I saw lots of other games being played including Secret Hitler and Celestia and a really interesting game called Vast, where the five players have asynchronous powers involving goblins and thieves battling dragons in a cave that is determined not to let any of them out safely. Somehow I missed the buzz on that one, and now I wished I had at least demoed the game, if not outright bought it.
We even caught a glimpse of a quick dexterity battle between Rodney Smith of Watch It Played and Mr. Cross Fit himself, Tony T. I did not get a shot, but here is a picture of Phillip and I going after each other in this great little Austrlian time waster.
Thank you to the guys from the Secret Cabal, and all of the game publishers who helped make the meet up a success. As Carlos and I ruminated during the night, what other industry brings together the biggest competitors all under one roof, and they all hang out, share the spotlight, support each other’s projects, and become friends? I cannot think of one, and it certainly makes me proud to be one small part of this amazing community.
After a looooong day, and an evening looooonger night, we all settled back at the Westin to watch Dustin unbox his pride and joy, the new hotness from Portal Games, Cry Havoc.
In a manufacturing mix up, Dustin got three sets of robots and one set of some other faction. That’s right, after weeks of anticipation and after paying for the pre-order, Dustin did not have the full game.
Any good set of friends, would have been very sympathetic and support Dustin in his desperate hour of sadness, right? WRONG. The Krewe taunted Dustin unmercifully until bed time, with ever more elaborate plans for him to head to Poland to fix the problem.
But, here’s the best part of the story — one quick tweet to the hardest working man in board gaming, Ignacy (yeah, you try spelling his last name from memory on an iPad) from Portal, and we had an appointment the next morning for the product malfunction to be rectified. Kudos to Ignacy and his excellent team at Portal–that’s good customer service.
So, the Krewe watched as David broke out Terraforming Mars so that we could admire the excellent production and bits in that game. But that’s it for Day 2 (which was Saturday and day 1 for most other people.) Stay tuned for the final thoughts on Gen Con and the releases shortly.
There was a Cajun invasion at Gen Con, and somehow the convention (which turns 50 next year) survived! Traveling by pirogue, by air boat, and even by modern day conveniences like planes, cars and hypertubes, nine members of the Krewe de Gumbo stormed into Gen Con 2016 for their first ever experience (well for some of us — Bradly and Bryan were experts) and it was everything as advertised. It was huge, it was overwhelming, it had amazing games (and more than a few duds), but above all, it was the Super Bowl of gaming.
You have probably heard that there are a lot of game companies showing off new games at Gen Con, or that there are a lot of games being played, or that there’s just a lot of people there. Well, Gen Con is everything you heard, and much, much more.
Here is a recap of the games we saw, and the games we played on Friday.
On Friday morning (which for early birds, was the second day of the official Con), we poked around the dealer hall while waiting for the Dice Tower Live show. We had just enough time to see that many of the hottest games around were already sold out: SeaFall, Cry Havoc, and The Networks to name a few. Yeah, that was a downer. But, it was a good sign for the industry. Many game companies like Stronghold Games went to the added expense of flying in games from China for the con, creating a big expense. When the owners were rewarded with sell outs of games like The Dragon & Flagon (a game that was definitely on my radar — but never had time to demo, unfortunately), you gotta think guys like Mr. Buonocore were happy to be rewarded for going the extra step.
To quickly cheer us up, Phillip and I challenged a box of rocks to a trivia game. That’s right a box of rocks. And we won, just barely. (At the point we played, the humans were only about 4 games ahead of the rocks). Simply put, Box of Rocks challenges the players to answer trivia questions that only have the answer 0, 1, or 2. Then the rocks are random ally shaken in a box, to reveal either a 0,1, or 2 guess. Who can get three answers right before the other player? Well, for us it was the humans, but there were a lot of dumb humans around (or lucky rocks).
But I did manage to meet Chris from Calliope Games, who did a great video with Eric Summerer of The Dice Tower fame back at Origins where they had a “Gravitas Voice” showdown. (Check it out at the Dice Tower videos for sure.). He was kind enough to do his Gravitas Voice for us while we checked out the expansion to Tsuro of the Seas. (That’s a “sequel” game that really improved on the simple game play of the original, adding more strategy and deeper game play.) I liked what I saw out of the expansion (can you say Tidal Waves and cannons?) Definitely on my radar…
I also finally got to demo a game of Spike. It gets mixed reviews on the Internet, and admittedly I am not a big fan of the graphic design on the board or the cards or the layout, but man I love the pick up and deliver aspects of this game. I want to get a full play of it, but I could see myself rating this one very highly at least for game play. And an added bonus — we had a great teacher. Good job R&R Games for recruiting good volunteers.
The Dice Tower Live show was fabulous, and was plenty long enough, capping at about two hours. There were some game announcements that were the scoop at the con. I think the one that put the envie into the room was Eric Lang’s announcement that he was releasing a “spiritual successor” to Diplomacy, which he called Rising Sun. I got a chance to see the art work later in the con, and wow — I was impressed by the talent. I love Japanese themed games, so I am intrigued but this one is definitely on a wait and see list.
Check my Twitter feed @boardgamegumbo for more info on the news announced at event, but by now most of the board game media have surely covered the meat of it. However, a surprise announcement from Rob Daviau had the hall twittering (and even the normally most-unimpressed Krewe members talked about it all weekend) — he and a friend have started a new game company called Restoration Games. Their aim? Final older games that are beloved by gamers, freshen them up with better game mechanics and release them into the wild. Think Dark Tower with better components and a cool storyline, or PayDay with mean take that mechanics and upgraded components.
The Krewe will be watching for their first release. I was impressed by the marketing strategy — they invited all gamers to come by the booth and let the team know what game they wanted updated, which of course created tremendous traffic and buzz in the halls.
Next up, back to the dealer hall where I saw Islebound from Red Raven games being demoed. I could kick myself for not….well kick starting that game. I got to visit with Brenna and Craig, key components of the development of the newest release, Near and Far (which I have already backed.) Nothing earth shattering to report..yet…but the Kickstarter is smashing all of its early stretch level goals.
My viewing was cut short, because I had to get over to the playing area to catch Tyrants of the Underdark. This 2016 release from Gale Force 9 carries the WOTC name and theming and blessing, so you are thinking “four cayenne peppers”, right? Well, I have to separate my ratings here. From the first turn on, this game is a lot of fun. Love the card mechanics, love the mutilple ways you can win, and love the interaction between the players. But VOODOO — the board and card art and graphic design just puts a damper on your enthusiasm. I can’t sugar coat it, I hate the layouts and color schemes. Maybe it is something we will get used to, but I don’t think so. This game (already) needs a second edition with better graphics and card art.
I think Doc is saying, “Is that really the best card art they could get?”
From the swamps to Slidell, everybody is in the Krewe de Gumbo. And yes, I did come out last and showed it off.
Gale Force 9 had some excellent teachers. This guy knew the game backwards and forwards.
But we were lucky enough to have two or three great teachers from Gale Force Nine to help us, including one very nice young lady who should be a honorary member of the Krewe de Gumbo — she grew up on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain before working for GF9. What a welcome break, to reminisce about Louisiana right in the middle of the con.
We ended the night with some rousing games of Celestia (shout out to Krewe member Dustin for being way ahead of the curve on that game!), Elysium (Krewe member Phillip’s first win–and he owns the game), and Usual Suspects back at our hotel near the Paizo play area. I did not play the latter, but it looked like people were enjoying it. As for the other two, Celestia should be in EVERY gamer’s house. It is easy to set up and has great eye appeal. The game play is VERY ENGAGING, and with the right crowd, the money being won takes a back seat to the joy of bluffing and pushing your luck.I think our group brought back at least four copies!
Love those bits and artwork. Hear that Gale Force 9?
So to wrap up day one (reminder: for me, that was Friday):
Spicy new games to me — Tsuro of the Seas (just need to trade out the original) with expansion, and Celestia.
On the radar — Spike and Tyrants of the Underdark
Great gag gift that actually has some fun (but limited) gamer appeal — Box of Rocks