Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 5: Finals

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Saturday of PrezCon was a wonderfully full day of gaming.  It started at 9:00 AM with a game of Power Grid (designer Friedemann Friese; artists Antonio Dessi, Lars-Arne "Maura" Kalusky, and Harald Lieske; publisher Rio Grande), which I love but really don't play well.  We played on the original map of Germany, and I started in the north, where I found myself immediately in competition with Henry Ho.  I think the two of us beat each other down pretty aggressively, stealing cheap connections and forcing each other to leap-frog one another in order to expand, so we both ended up finishing poorly.  James Henderson, against whom I'd also played Acquire earlier in the week, narrowly won our game over Joe Rudmin in second.  I placed third powering 12 cities.

At 11:00 I made my way to the family game auction, where I had a number of games up for sale.  I was pleased to see people actually pay a few dollars to take games home that I was trying to get rid of for the shelf space.  For my part, I picked up several sets of poker chips (including one in a very nice box), a set of historical playing cards (because I have an unhealthy collector's fetish about playing card decks), and a copy of New England (designers Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum, artist Franz Vohwinkel, publisher Überplay), which was an impulse based purely on the theme (plus Alan R. Moon is the designer), that I managed to snag for 12 bucks.  I was told afterward that it is an excellent game, and Josh Tempkin called it a "steal" at that price.  I subsequently learned that it won the Games Magazine Traditional Game of the Year for 2004.  So I was pleased.

At 1:00, I jumped into Keith Ferguson's tournament for Lords of Waterdeep (designers Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson, numerous artists, publisher Wizards of the Coast).  I played against Mike, Andrew, and young Meredith.  It was a fun game.  I'd drawn Larissa, the lord (lady, actually) that scores bonus points for buildings, and made no effort to hide it - figuring I could jump in and score buildings early and benefit from them throughout the game.  Mike caught on pretty early and tried to get the other players to block me from getting more buildings, which worked up to a point.  I ended up finishing in third, and Mike the Instigator won our game.

(c) Repos Productions
Used by permission
Later in the day, I joined Keith F., Mark, Mike, and a few others in open gaming for 7 Wonders (designer Antoine Bauza, artist Miguel Coimbra, publisher Repos Production).   7W is such a great pick-up game for larger groups, and it's quick. I won with one of my favorite wonders, the Lighthouse at Alexandria, at a whopping 66 points. Then I taught the group Resistance: Avalon (designer Don Eskridge; artists Luis FranciscoGeorge Patsouras, and Rafal Szyma; publisher Indie Boards and Cards), which was a lot of fun, and in this instance, the loyal followers of King Arthur won against the minions of Mordred. Huzzah!

Chicago Express
At 6:00 PM came the event I've been looking forward to for months - the final for Chicago Express (designer Harry Wu, artist Michael Menzel, publisher Queen Games). I faced Philip and Jessica Shea and Mike Senzig Jr. (who was in the final last year as well).  I would learn a lot about CE  that evening.  The GM, Lee Sensabaugh, took meticulous notes and translated them to boardgamegeek, so it is easy to reconstruct what happened (if not my thinking as to why I did what I did).

I won the opening Pennsylvania Railroad auction bidding $16, which left me $14 to drive up the price of the other railroad auctions.  Phil won B&O with $15.  I drove the price of C&O up with a $14 bid, and no one else took it, so I started the game with shares in two railroads (which may or may not be a good thing).  The key consequence of that is that at least one player would end up without a share at the start of the game.  Worse, Phil ended up winning the New York Central auction with his remaining $15, which meant that both Mike and Jessica were betting on being able to initiate auctions during the first round and getting shares cheaper before the first income dividend.

The Chicago Express finalists - (l. to r.) Paul Owen,
Phil Shea, Mike Senzig Jr., and Jessica Shea
Phil talked me into opening with a null auction action, and he did the same, which meant that only one auction would happen in the first round.  Mike auctioned the second share of PRR, and won it with $16 (the same price I paid), which meant that Jess would have no shares going into the first dividend declaration.  Phil extended B&O to Martinsburg, Mike and I extended PRR to Harrisburg and Altuna, but because Phil was the sole shareholder in two railroads with good income, he collected the most income on the first dividend declaration with $15.  He still didn't have the most cash - Mike had $20 and Jess still had her original $30 - but it would turn out that Phil would collect the most income every turn for the entire game.

The second round, I decided to work on C&O, since I had to share PRR income with Mike.  Mike picked up the second share of B&O for $16, Phil the third share of PRR for $15, and Jess the second share of C&O for $12.  All railroads but NYC got extended, but NYC remained the highest earning per-share RR at $8 in the second round, which meant that Phil really raked in the money.  Jess still had the most cash in hand, however, having only purchased one $12 share.

In the third round, Phil picked up the third share of C&O for only $8, which meant he had a share in each of the initial four railroads.  This would be a big problem; at this point Phil was in a position to benefit from anyone's action that increased a railroad's income.  I got a share of NYC for $12, which I thought was a  great deal, but it didn't solve the Phil problem.  Jess got the third share of B&O.  I extended PRR to Fort Wayne, within reach of Chicago.  Phil built B&O to Columbus, within two turns of Chicago.

Mike now had a crucial decision.  He could extend the B&O closer to Chicago, in anticipation that Jess would take it all the way in.  That would be good for everybody but me.  Or he could extend the PRR into Chicago, which would be good for everybody but Jess (who was pretty clearly not a threat).  If he did neither, Jess wouldn't be able to extend B&O to Chicago by herself before I pushed the PRR the rest of the way there, so he would be letting me do it by default - again, good for everybody but Jess.  Mike decided to improve Columbus, which boosted income for both PRR and B&O and helped him and Phil more than it helped Jess and me.  

That left Jess with the decision to extend the C&O to Charleston, which helped everybody but Mike.  It was at this point that I made what might have been the fatal flaw of the game.  I extended PRR to Chicago, which opened the Wabash Railroad for auction.  Phil won that share with $11.  That action was the last action of the third round, and Phil would go first in the next round.  At this point, Mike had the most cash at $41, just ahead of me at $37 and Phil at $36, but Phil was getting much more income than the rest of us, and he was still gaining momentum.

In the fourth round, Phil extended the Wabash to Chicago and made back most of his investment immediately.  Mike put up the second Wabash share for auction, but Phil won that as well for just $5.  I don't know what we were thinking at that point by letting Phil get the other Wabash share, other than that we knew the game was coming to an end and that Wabash would pay only once more.  Jess and Phil extended B&O to Chicago while I extended NYC, thinking that it did the least damage (although it still helped Phil).  Mike auctioned the fourth B&O share (which triggered game end), and Jess took it for $8 (a dollar more than it would pay in the final dividend).  I auctioned NYC and got it for $4, which had the effect of diminishing Phil's income - too little too late.
Chicago Express final position

In the final dividend declaration, Phil collected $33, which was $12 more than I did, and I was the second-biggest money maker.  That put Phil over the top with $81 - the only time he led the game in cash (but the only time that counts).  Mike was a distant second at $66, I had $54, and Jess finished with $42.  The whole game really was a schooling by Phil in how to play CE, and to be honest, I still look back at that game and wonder what went wrong.  I feel as though we let him get away with buying shares too cheaply, and he really made us pay for it.

I am very grateful to Lee Sensabaugh, both for running the event and for posting such great notes on boardgamegeek.  We had an interesting discussion afterward about how the game went, and once again I came away thinking that I still don't understand this game that I enjoy so much.

Late night open gaming
All that remained was to retire to the open gaming room, drink beer, and go hoarse from playing loud and crazy boardgames.  Mike Senzig Sr., Mike Junior, Luke Senzig, Brian Greer, Tom Snyder, Keith Ferguson, and I started with three rounds of Ca$h 'n Gun$ (designer Ludovic Maublanc, artist Gérard Mathieu, publisher Repos Production).  I'd heard about this game on several podcasts and had harbored concerns about a game that involves pointing toy guns at other people, but it turns out to be just a fun bluffing game with orange foam rubber "guns" that motivate your opponents to "back down."  I really liked this one, and I think I won the first of the three games we played.

Next was three games of Resistance.  Incredibly, Mike Sr. and Brian turned out to be spies all three times, and Keith was a spy twice.  In the third game, we played with the "Merlin and the Assassin" variant.  I turned out to be Merlin, so I knew who the spies were.  The Resistance successfully completed three missions, but then Keith as the assassin correctly guessed that I was Merlin, so once again, the Spies won the game.  That is such a great game, and I am so bad at it.  People constantly accuse me of talking too much and therefore being a spy, when in fact I talk out loud to reason through who must be a spy and who must be good (and to convince my fellow Resistance members of my thinking).  "Sure, Paul, sure .. you SPY!"

(c) Fantasy Flight
Used by permission
Our last game was Citadels (designer Bruno Faidetti, numerous artists, publisher Fantasy Flight), another fun late-night convention game. Brian won that game, but by that point I was so sleep-deprived that I have no recollection of how or why. I seem to recall we played with two of the expansion characters.

I ended up spending a good part of Saturday night and early Sunday morning in the bathroom suffering the effects of either food contamination or a stomach virus.  The convention director, Justin Thompson, had been down with it earlier in the week, and so had Mike Senzig Sr., along with a number of others, so I guess my number was on that bug as well.  Earlier in the week, the hotel had also suffered from an intermittently failing elevator and a fire alarm that we couldn't hear in the ballroom (thanks to Keith Ferguson and his bellowing voice, we were all safely evacuated).  So it wasn't the hotel's finest week in PrezCon history, but the convention was still a success, and I never heard any serious complaining.

So Sunday saw no gaming for me at all - just collecting my proceeds from the auction (many thanks to Grant Dagliesh, Claire Brosius, and Justin Thompson for the last-minute scramble on that), packing up the car, and giving my regards to everyone at the con.


  1. Thanks for the "bellowing voice" compliment. That was a compliment, correct?

    Phil schooled me in our heat of Chicago Express as well. And he did it while attending to two children under the age of 5. So...yeah...he's good at the game. A little hard to follow along with the flow of the game, but what was the critical part of the game do you think? I'm unclear how Phil was able to buy into all the railroads...were people letting them go cheap?

  2. I'm going to have to go back through Lee's notes step by step again and figure out just how it happened. I do think that we dropped out of auctions too early and let him get fully invested. But I don't want to take away from his mastery of the game. He really knows what he's doing.