Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

PrezCon 2013 - Thursday

It's good to be at PrezCon. It's always good to be here.  These posts are going to be quick and messy....

Keith Ferguson and Larry Tentor in
first heat of Pillars of the Earth
Pillars of the Earth
Thursday I ran my first heat of a tournament as a Game Master, and already I have a bit of a "referee challenge" that I need to resolve. One of the players in my Pillars of the Earth (designers Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler; artists Michael Menzel, Anke Pohl, and Thilo Rick, publisher Mayfair) tournament brought a kind of a "cheat sheet," a spreadsheet printout that he'd made as a strategy guide to use during the game.  None of the other players raised an objection, but I am concerned that it amounts to the moral equivalent of "card counting."  The pace and arc of Pillars of the Earth is set by the sequence of craftsmen that come out over the course of the six rounds of the game.  A very experienced player might very well have memorized most of the craftsmen's characteristics, but the use of a pre-written set of shortcuts and decision criteria seems to me to constitute an unfair advantage outside the spirit of the game.

Peter Gathmann and Glenn Weeks
The moral ground is not entirely clear here, however.  In Ticket to Ride: The Card Game, the rules explicitly state that players may not go back and look at cards that they have previously scored to review what they've done and assess what they might need to play to optimize their play.  No such explicit provision exists in PotE, and I didn't establish any tournament-specific rules regarding such things as a list of cards and pre-generated decision trees for aiding play.

Brian Greer, Shane McBee, and
Martin Houghton
I consulted another GM (Lee Sensabaugh, who runs the Chicago Express tournament) about his thoughts on the situation, and although unfamiliar with PotE, he felt that in principle he would not allow a player to use a guide like that unless he were willing to set it out on the table and share the information with the other players.  At this point, I'm thinking that I will establish a rule for the semi-final and final rounds that no such player aids are allowed.  I'll probably talk to the convention director beforehand to make sure that I am on firm ground on this point.

Carcassonne  - my disaster in progress
I played my worst game of Carcassonne (designer Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, artist Doris Matthaus, publisher Rio Grande) ever.  I was working on a nice big city until Shane McBee set up to share it with me.  I got jealous of my progress and didn't want to share with him, so I essentially gave up on that knight for the rest of the game.  I foolishly started several other cities that never got finished, either, and my farms never paid out the way I expected, so I finished a distant last.

Image (c) Queen Games
Used by permission
Chicago Express
I love Chicago Express (designer Harry Wu, artist Michael Menzel, publisher Queen Games) for its value estimation element as well as the absence of luck.  I remembered under-valuing stocks in the CE final last year and being stuck without enough shares to maintain a decent income.  This year I was determined to have at least a position of parity among my opponents, and almost succeeded. I won the opening auction of the Pennsylvania Railroad with an $18 dollar bid.  Everyone else got their first share for less, which meant I had the lowest cash position going into the next auction, and was behind at least one other player for the next three auctions.  The result was a weak income position, and although the Pennsylvania eventually reached Chicago, it was not the first; I ended up losing to Deny McBee, who first learned CE at PrezCon last year.

Auction store and auction
In an effort to deconflict the auction from the vendor store hours, the auctions at PrezCon were scheduled Thursday evening, before vendors would arrive on Friday.  I thought that was a very reasonable adjustment to make out of consideration for the convention sponsors, who were faced with declining foot traffic and on-site competition during the auction store (flea market) and auction hours.  This year, the auction store and auctions have closed for the year by the time the vendors arrive Friday morning, so they have the undivided attention of the clientele.

My first stop was the auction store, where I picked up Mr. Jack and Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  I'd read that Mr. Jack is an intriguing and unique two-player game, but I'd held back from getting it because of the underlying association with Jack the Ripper.  Unlike Letters from Whitechapel, however, by at least one reviewer's account, the actual crimes of the fugitive are unstated and not relevant to the game play, so I thought I would give it a try.  LotR:TCG looks to be a terrific Reiner Knizia co-op.

I made the unfortunate mistake of having a beer before going to the family games auction, and I may have been a bit eager in my bidding, but I'm pretty pleased with the results nevertheless - a couple of gift items and a copy of Cold War: CIA vs. KGB, what looks to be a very promising two-player card game that Erik Arneson ranked "best card game of 2007."

Ticket to Ride: The Card Game
Although in large part a memory game, I enjoy Ticket to Ride: The Card Game (designer Alan R. Moon, artists Julien Delval and Alan R. Moon, publisher Days of Wonder) as a light little exercise in set-making.  This heat was the first time I'd ever played with four players, which requires running through the train deck twice and interrupting the game when the deck runs out the first time to score completed tickets and flush unused train cards before reshuffling and resuming the game.  It's an odd little procedure that threw us all off a little, but we managed to figure it out.  I was completely skunked and finished last, but it was still fun.

Michelle Hymowitz, Carolyn Hanle, and
my partner Sean in Ticket to Ride: Asia 
Ticket to Ride: Asia Partners
At the TtR:TCG table, as we were finishing up, I was recruited by Liz (whom I'd met in an Alhambra game at either PrezCon or WBC some years ago) to join a group for a six-player game of TtR:Asia in the open gaming room.  This game is played in teams of partners who share some cards on a stand and keep others in a private hand.  It was my first time seeing a TtR map with tunnels, which took a little getting used to.  My team won, mostly through some aggressive ticket draws near the end of the game that paid off with a little bit of card luck and an extensive rail network that hit a lot of major cities.  The group included Michelle Hymowitz, whom I'd met in numerous PrezCon events before and who was inducted the following evening into the PrezCon Hall of Fame.

I'd heard about Bang! (designer Emiliano Sciarra, artist Alessandro Pierangelini, publisher dV Giochi) on a number of podcasts, and as I was leaving the open gaming area, I ran across Keith Ferguson, Brian Greer, Tom Snyder, Mike Selznick Sr., and Mike Selznick Jr. having a lot of fun with it.  I joined the next couple of rounds, and we had a blast.  Much of the text on the cards is Italian, so we'd play cards with a flourish and an Italian accent (made worse by my efforts to speak Italian with a Mexican accent, further complicated by a character with a French name).  Our favorite is if a player tries to shoot you with a "Bang!" card, you can respond with the "Missed" card, which has become our Italian hail for each other - Mancato!

(c) Indie Boards and Cards
Used by permission
The Resistance
After Bang!, we played The Resistance (designer Don Eskridge, artist Jordy Knoop, publisher Indie Boards and Cards) along with Glenn Weeks.  We kept screwing up the spies, though; we must have played five games and messed up three of them.  In this secret identity game, each player gets a card to indicate whether he is a Resistance member or a spy.  At the start, all players close their eyes, then the spies all open their eyes to identify each other (like werewolves in Are You a Werewolf?).  Perhaps it was the beer, perhaps it's because it was after midnight, but on three different occasions, one of the spies forgot to open his eyes and we had to start over.  Another time, Glenn revealed the fact that he was a spy because he prematurely thought his team had won already.

For all of that, I am completely sold that The Resistance is an even better game than Are You a Werewolf, which is a big favorite.

More to follow ...

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