Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Monday, August 6, 2012

World Boardgaming Championships: Wonders, ships, and farmers

Last Thursday, I arrived at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with a "flexible plan" (which is just one step above no plan at all) of how best to enjoy this annual trek to the highlight event of the Boardgame Players Association.

7 Wonders
I was happy to arrive in time to jump in to the tournament for one of my favorite low-pressure games, 7 Wonders (designer Antoine Bauza, artist Miguel Coimbra, publisher Repos Production).  My opponents in my heat were Adina, Jeff, Steve, James, John, and Mark.  I knew Mark Love from both PrezCon and Congress of Gamers as a frequent GM of Monsters Menace America and other American games.  The tournament format had us play two games back-to-back (with randomized seating for both rounds), after which we each added our scores to determine our standing out of seven.  In the first session of 7W, I drew the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and won with 57 points; in the second, I had the Lighthouse at Alexandria and won again with a surprising 67 points, mostly on the Philosopher's Guild, which scored high on the science buildings from both neighbors, plus a strong military standing.  I qualified for the quarterfinal, where I tied for fifth place out of seven despite completing all four levels of the Pyramids at Giza.  More disturbing than my loss in the quarterfinal, however, was the discovery that one of the cards from my copy of the game disappeared sometime between the heat and the start of the quarterfinal.  I'll have to contact Repos Production and see about obtaining a replacement.

Wooden Ships and Iron Men: One-on-one
For some reason, I'd had the impression that the WS&IM (designer the late S. Craig Taylor, artist Edward Moran, publisher Avalon Hill) tournament had already completed earlier in the week, before my arrival at WBC.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the competition still very much in progress, with the semifinal and final not scheduled until Saturday.  So I sat down for a quick one-on-one encounter with Johnny Wilson.  We each commanded a 64-gun Ship-of-the-Line.  I started the scenario by tacking HMS Snook upwind to obtain the weather gauge, but Johnny managed to stay even with me to deny me the advantage.  I opened fire with chain shot to his rigging and before long knocked down one of his masts to degrade his maneuverability (a favorite tactic).  A critical hit left his broadside partially obstructed by fallen rigging.  He deftly came about and fired on me with an initial broadside from the other side.  My attempt to race ahead and cut him off with a rake across the bow resulted instead in a collision, and he raked me with his forward guns.  His perpetual barrage on my hull eventually forced me to strike colors and concede defeat on Turn 16 to save ship and crew.
A bow rake in my first heat of Wooden Ships and Iron Men
Ship models provided and painted by GM Tim Hitchings

Late that evening, I took on the meaty game of the day, Uwe Rosenberg's Agricola (artist Klemens Franz, publisher Z-Man Games).  We played with the Interactive ('I') Deck using drafting.  I was not nearly as familiar with the deck as two of my three opponents were, but I found some mutually supportive cards - Harvest Helper, which gave me one grain from someone else's field at every harvest, and Corn Profiteer, which allowed me to convert one grain to three food at any time.  Garnering 36 points in a third-place finish, I was more or less pleased with my farm, given the obvious experience of two of my opponents.

There is something about Agricola that can bring out the testiness in people, I think because it can be mentally demanding.  I am embarrassed to admit that at PrezCon a year or two ago, I expressed some irritation when Bill Crenshaw took sheep that he could not use just to deprive me of them, and in his subsequent action took the last food source on the board; my failure to anticipate this perfectly legal if cutthroat sequence left me one food short at harvest and having to take a Beggar card.  I was visibly annoyed and flustered for quite some time, and to this day I regret allowing my feelings about it to get the better of me.  (Bill later graciously accepted my apology for my discourteousness.)

We had a similar incident at our table at WBC on Thursday.  The opponent to my left had a tendency to do "housekeeping" on the board; if he saw an opportunity to free up some resource by using the goods multiplier tiles, he would do so in order to keep the supplies stocked.  At one point, the wood supply was running low and he noticed that the player across the table from him had a stash of about 11 wood.  So he started exchanging his opponent's pieces for multipliers, asking as he did so if it was okay.  Well, it turned out to be this fellow's turn at the time, and he was just about to take his action, but he just kept saying (in a rather curt tone), "Go ahead and finish what you're doing."

The "housekeeper" asked several times if it was alright for him to exchange the wood, and the response was repeatedly, "Go ahead, I'll wait till you're done."  Then once the "housekeeper" was done exchanging the wood, the fellow turned it all in for fences.  It was clear that the guy was annoyed that another player had presumed to handle his pieces, and he stayed irked for, it seemed, the rest of the game.  The "housekeeper" admitted afterward that he had a tendency to be pushy, and in this case, it seemed to get under this other fellow's skin in a way that took away his enjoyment of the game.

In my mind, it is a shame - even if it is human nature - to let frustration in a difficult game get in the way of its enjoyment.  When we get too wrapped up in what we are trying to do, we can inadvertently take setbacks personally.  Taking a game seriously can lead to hurt feelings when plans are thwarted or allow other players' idiosyncrasies to become major irritants.  I wish that I could always transcend that human tendency for self-absorption.  I find that I usually enjoy a game more when I strike that balance of earnestly trying my best to win without placing great stakes on winning.  After all, gaming is first of all a social activity, and it is playing in the company of friendly people that I find to be its best part.


  1. As for your Agricola experiences, I'll just say, "I don't go to conventions."
    'Nuff said.

  2. Yes, conventions expose us to all kinds of game players and their idiosyncrasies.