Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Congress of Gamers 2013 Part 1: Mares and Mariners

Last weekend I made my annual trek to nearby Rockville, Maryland, to participate in Congress of Gamers, a friendly little weekend convention run by Eric Englemann of the Games Club of Maryland.  A series of Eurogame tournaments make up the convention's big draw, but CoG also features a number of other events, including the "Copyright Office," a game designer's prototype playtest room run by UnPub.net as a "ProtoZone" event.  That's where I spent virtually all of my time during CoG.

Post Position
Perhaps the prototype highlight of last year's CoG was the debut of "Post Position" (designers Aaron Honsowetz and Austin Smokowicz), which was a big hit both there and at UnPub 3 last January in Magnolia, Delaware.  "Post Position" is a stock market trading game disguised as a horse racing game, and I've absolutely fallen in love with it.  So I was tremendously pleased to find Aaron and Austin setting up "PP" when I arrived Saturday morning.  I leapt right into the first game, which had about eight players.  I think I overbid for my opening shares of horses and didn't do a good job of keeping track of how many people held an interest in which horses.  At one point, Austin and I realized that we each had sold shares in the same horse to different people, with the result that the horse attracted a lot of votes and advanced near the front of the pack.  That's bad news for Austin and me, since we had to cover the winnings of the horses in which we'd sold shares.  But the good news was that I'd bought a share in the winning horse - the only transaction in which I made money but which was sufficient to make up for all my losses.  I finished with $100, exactly the amount with which I'd started.

(Clockwise from lower left:) Eric Handler, Anna
Rutledge, Paul Owen, Austin Smokowicz, and
Aaron Honsowetz with "East India Company"
- Photo by Nathaniel Levan
East India Company
Austin and Aaron, in turn, were interested in trying out my work-in-progress, "East India Company," since they'd missed out at UnPub 3 and since I hadn't brought it to any game design events since then.  They were joined by Eric Handler and Anna Rutledge.  Aaron took on a very aggressive leveraging strategy, taking out four loans on the first turn and three more on the second turn.  Austin and Eric felt the need to borrow as well, just to keep up with Aaron, whereas Anna was not comfortable taking on so much debt.  The market was remarkably lean, with only the low-profit commodities of timber, tobacco, and silver available for the early part of the game.  Aaron ended up getting himself in over his head and went bankrupt, which was bad news for him but a great opportunity for me as a designer to see my bankruptcy rule in action.  I think it might actually be too harsh, since it amounts to little more than player elimination (which I would rather avoid).  In the end, Anna won with 21 Indies in cash, two loans outstanding, and eight bonus points for a net score of +9.  Everybody else was so far in debt that they finished with a negative score, including Aaron at an unprecedented -63.  Aaron has subsequently vowed to be the first to win "EIC" with a negative score.

More to follow ...

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