Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

WBC 2014 Friday: WS&IM loss, Acquire victory, and EIC demo

Friday August 8 was the day that the Vendors' Area opened at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so Keith Ferguson and I headed there as soon as the doors opened to see what we could find.  I had a few specific games in mind, and I was fortunate to find immediately the one at the top of my list, Concordia, designed by Mac Gerdts and published in the U.S. by Rio Grande.  I was initially attracted to this game simply because the title, after the Roman goddess of harmony, shares the name of the protagonist in my wife Kathy's series of historical murder mysteries.  Reviews led me to believe that I would appreciate this game in its own right, so I look forward to giving it a try.

(c) Worthington Games - used by permission
I spoke with Mike and Grant Wylie of Worthington Publishing, which produced Trains Planes and Automobiles under the BlueSquare Board Games label, and we discussed possible modifications to TPA with an eye toward a release of a second edition.  I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that Worthington is interested in re-working the game, and we were very much of the same mind as to the weaknesses in the original version that could be improved as well as the strengths that we want to keep in place.  Once I have "East India Company" in a stable place (ideally in the hands of a publisher for evaluation), I'll start working in earnest on making TPA the approachable family game that it really can be.

I also spoke briefly with Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games, which is in the midst of a boom this year in terms of new titles and expansions released.  How this guy maintains such an aggressive pace of growth is beyond me.

Wooden Ships & Iron Men: Ship-of-the-Line duel
In my quest to qualify for the WS&IM semifinal, I found my good sailing acquaintance Rob McKinney, whom I've faced across the decks in years past.  We each took a 64-gun ship-of-the-line and engaged each other immediately, exchanging volleys of chain shot right from the third turn in an effort to knock down each others' masts.  Unlike my frigate duel with Tim Hitchings the previous day, we never got quite close enough to load up doubleshot and really pound each other.  Rob managed to open the distance enough to spend a few turns repairing some of the hull damage I'd done, and that may have been the difference in the game.  When time was called, neither of us had forced a surrender of the other, so we totaled points for damage, and Rob won with 59 points to my 54.  The difference of five points could be accounted for by the three hull squares he had repaired - and in fact, if he had not repaired his ship at all, I would have forced him to strike his colors before the end of the game.  Instead, Rob was the victor.

Lunch with Avalon Hill - sort of
Keith and I sat down for lunch and found ourselves across the table from Richard and Carol Hamblen and (I think) Rex Martin of Firaxis Games.  Richard Hamblen is best known as the designer of Merchant of Venus, Carol Hamblen worked as an administrative assistant at Avalon Hill during its heyday, and Rex Martin designed many Advanced Squad Leader scenarios before moving on to Firaxis as a senior writer and historical researcher.  I was an unabashed eavesdropper as these three old hands from Avalon Hill talked about games and people in the industry.  I asked about the cancellation of the Charles S. Robert Award presentation (a regular event at WBC), but none of the three of them knew why the ceremony was canceled, other than that the selection process had run into some kind of snag this year.  The award was not, as I had believed, originally an Avalon-Hill-sponsored award but had always been presented by an independent committee of devotees.

Lords of Baseball
Max Jamelli had demonstrated "Lords of Baseball" at WBC last year and again at the UnPub Mini in Chantilly last June, but I had missed out on seeing the demo both times.  So I made a point of catching it at WBC this year, and I was not disappointed.  Max, in partnership with his father, has designed a brilliant card game that mimics many of the factors that govern the general management of a professional baseball team.  The game includes considerable flexibility in terms of game length and complexity, and as we worked our way through the early- and mid-season rounds, I really felt as though I was faced with the same kinds of decisions and options that a major league general manager might see.  He has really captured the flavor of the "meta-game" of baseball.  I have seen nothing like it.  My good friend Glenn Weeks would absolutely love this game, and I sincerely hope that Max can bring this to production soon.

East India Company
I'd arranged to meet with a publisher on the open gaming floor Friday afternoon to show him "EIC," and Keith Ferguson was kind enough to join me to help with the demo.  Instead of just a 15-minute pitch, we ended up playing a full three-player game.  I was very pleased with how it went, and the game ran about 75 minutes or so, well within my target of 90 minutes of playtime with the recent modifications.  We agreed that a cap on insurance would probably be a good idea to prevent players from abusing the opportunity to gain a boon from being struck by pirates.  I was pleasantly surprised when the publisher used the term "digestible" several times to describe the way the game struck him, which meant that he was not overwhelmed with the nature of the game and the decisions.  In fact, I felt afterward that I have some room to re-introduced some of the options I'd removed recently.  (In fact, on the drive back to Virginia the following Sunday, Keith and I brainstormed about how to bring tariffs back into the game without interrupting the flow of gameplay, and I think I now have a good idea how to do that.)  In the end, the publisher accepted a copy of the rules to show his partner.  Although no commitments were made and he didn't take the prototype with him for further evaluation, he left with a very positive impression, and I was pleased overall with how the demo went.

Open gaming - Saint Petersburg
Brian Greer later joined Keith and me for some open gaming.  I broke out Saint Petersburg and started to re-acquaint them with the rules, when we were joined by a fourth (whose name I didn't catch).  Our new acquaintance was apparently more comfortable explaining the game than listening to an explanation, so he did me the favor of going over the rules for us.  He ended up winning the game with a strong noble position, although Keith gave him a run for his money with some high-value buildings early in the game.
I made a point of entering the Acquire tournament because it's one of my very favorite games and yet I get so few opportunities to play it normally.  My opponents in the Friday night heat were Richard, Paul, and Ip.  Richard and Paul were clearly quite experienced with the game, although Ip was a relative newcomer.  The nice thing about WBC is that the gameplay is always friendly, so that even a novice like Ip can feel comfortable in the same game with such aficionados.  Still, the competition at both WBC and PrezCon is quite high, and it is a genuine pleasure to play at this level, even though I feel as though I am in over my head sometimes.  Surprisingly, I played my best game ever, and managed to win the heat with some strong merger positions.

More open gaming
I found Brian and Keith at a table with Bill and Laurie of Nomad Games, who were breaking out Spurs (designers Sean Brown and Ole Steiness, artist Jason L. Carr, publisher Mr. B Games), a western-themed game.  Each of us was given a character, and I played as the bandit, with a Wanted bounty on me at the start of the game, compensated by a little extra luck.  I got right into character and had a great time playing this game, which is rich in all the tropes of the old West.  Best line of the game:  "The saloon is always more fun when you have money."  Bill and Laurie apparently had fun watching me getting in character and enjoying the game so much.

Combat is handled by tile bags, in which each player has cardboard bullet tiles of various colors in his own bag, and chit pulls determine the success or failure of an attack.  The best part by far was when Brian came after me in a duel because I had two bounties on my head and a desperado in custody that I hoped to return to the sheriff for a reward.  A duel between players is conducted in real-time:  Each player holds his bullet bag in his left hand and places his right hand on the table.  When the player being challenged (me) calls "draw," each player starts drawing bullets out of his bag one by one and places them on the table as fast as he can until he gets two bullets whose colors match those of the weapon he is using in the shoot-out.  It's amazing how clumsy I became when suddenly my survival (or at least my money) depended on how quickly I could draw cardboard bullets out of a bag.  Brian got the better of me - "D'OH!!  You got me!" - and confiscated my desperado captive.  He also collected $40 in rewards on my head.  Brian ended up winning the game, but we all had a complete blast, and I would love to play Spurs again.

After Bill and Laurie left, we played Villainous Vikings (designers Jeremy Stoltzfus and Graham Weaver, artist Brett Mitchell, publisher Victory Point Games), one of Keith's acquisitions in the Vendors' Area that morning.  This game turned out to be a fun filler in which each player has a viking captain with some special ability and a longship whose crew provides dice to roll in combat - and the more casualties a player suffers, the fewer dice he rolls.  Players can travel around Europe raiding cities, bribing citizens, or trading to bring cities under their control.  The mechanics and point system are fairly elegant, and the game played quickly.  I actually felt that my own viking captain "Ragnar" was a little overpowered, inasmuch as he always added two sword icons in combat whenever a third or more of the longship crew was lost.  I ended up winning that game running away.

So Friday was a really fun day, with an unexpected tournament victory in Acquire, a successful East India Company demo, and some fun discoveries in open gaming.

Next post:  The Acquire semi-final, the WS&IM fleet action, and The Party Game Cast

1 comment:

  1. "Our new acquaintance was apparently more comfortable explaining the game than listening to an explanation, so he did me the favor of going over the rules for us." - LOL