Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, August 14, 2015

WBC 2015

Keith Ferguson and I drove up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania last Thursday for our annual pilgrimage to the World Boardgaming Championships.

One benefit of reserving a demo table at WBC was that Don Greenwood, the convention director, made a point of providing designer contact information to the publishers that would be there ahead of time to give them an opportunity to reach out to any designers whose titles might interest them.  I was contacted by two, and arranged to meet with one on Thursday and one on Saturday.

"East India Company" is my current work in progress that I hope to bring to publication. The Thursday pitch to the first publisher went very well.  He asked some engaging questions, particularly with regard to historical context and how I treated certain aspects of commerce in those days.  He expressed real interest in the game, and at the end asked for a prototype.  Since my current version of the rules doesn't yet reflect the action cards that I added to the game, I offered to ship a prototype to him after I'd finished the re-write.  He agreed and gave me his address.

The only reservation I have about this publisher with respect to "EIC" is that the company has a strong reputation for its wargames but has published no other genre that I know of.  I asked that question, and the publisher said that "EIC" represented the kind of game that his company hoped to get into.  That's good, but I have to give serious thought to whether a wargame company will have the right marketing and distribution infrastructure to get "EIC" to its target audience.

I hadn't planned on attending any seminars this year, but I stumbled upon a presentation by attorney Anthony Verna on copyright and trademark law in the context of game design and publication.  As it happened, only a couple of us attended, so we had a nice personal discussion that made me realize I have only a rudimentary understanding of copyright protections.  I could have spent half a day asking questions instead of just an hour.

I'd scheduled demo tables on two days for "East India Company."  My first demo on Thursday afternoon went very well, with a complete five-player game in about an hour and a half.  The players included writers Sean and Leslie Vessey, who happen to live in Vienna, Virginia, not far from me, and we exchanged contact information.  As it happened, near the end of the demo, the publisher to whom I'd pitched the game that morning dropped by and heard a lot of positive comments from the people who played it, which was gratifying (to both of us, I think).

Spontaneously I sat down at the Mayfair Games demo table to join a session of Star Trek: Five-year Mission already in progress.  This dice-driven co-op game reminds me of the Table Top session of Elder Signs in that players seek to roll certain dice combinations to achieve goals depicted on cards at the risk of various setbacks.  This was fun, especially because its two-sided boards and two decks of cards are themed for either the original series or ST: The Next Generation.

In years past, the Wooden Ships & Iron Men tournament has figured prominently in my WBC experience, but this year, the wind just wasn't in my sails for it.  I played just one game, a duel of 38-gun frigates with Brian Stuck.  I used chain shot to knock down his first mast early and maintained the wind advantage for most of the game - the wind direction never changed for the entire battle - although I never managed to turn my advantage into a rake position.  Meanwhile he inflicted 50% damage to my hull fairly early on.  I really thought I was in trouble until his crew casualties - including those lost early on from the chain shot - added up to a lost crew section.  At one point I was able to fire on him at range without suffering any damage due to his depleted crew.  For the rest of the game, I had a distinct firing advantage, and just kept him in my firing arc and pounded him until his entire crew was lost.  So I had a win (which is better than I did last year), but that was all I accomplished in the tournament.  I didn't even participate in the Saturday fleet action.

Thursday evening I ran my customary Trains Planes and Automobiles tournament in the Juniors Room.  I had 16 participants in four 4-player tables with winners advancing to a four-player final.  The winner, Bailey, had played it for the first time that day.  I also donated a copy of the game that I'd picked up on clearance to the JR library, and Laurie W. told me later that it was checked out six or seven times in open gaming over the rest of the convention.

I participated in a late-night heat of Ingenious, and was astounded (as I was last year) by the propensity of tournament players to pursue an Ingenious score of 18 points in single colors one at a time, rather than advance their overall minimum as I tend to do.  Once again, my strategy failed to keep up, as the winner managed to complete an Ingenious in all six colors.  I have to revisit how I play this game.

Keith and I did some late-night open gaming.  We played Deck Building: The Deck Building Game, which is actually pretty good.  We played The Builders: Middle Ages, which Kathy and I have played a couple of times.  I'd like to try that out with more players.  We also played King's Kilt, a not-so-abstract card game of Scottish politics and intrigue in which card play advances members of various clans into a power heirarchy whose final position scores points for the player whose clans are in power.  It's funny, because I talked Keith into Kickstarting that game, and he went so far as to pledge enough to have the Ferguson clan included in the game.  Now I really like it and have added it to my wish list.

Friday morning I decided to check out the demo of Evolution run by Luke Warren of North Star Games.  I was really impressed with the elegance of this game and decided on the spot to participate in the tournament heat immediately following the demo.  As it happens, at my table was Karl, a co-worker of Keith.  I struggled with how to make the carnivores work and eventually abandoned that approach in favor of an all-herbivore strategy.  Karl jumped to an early lead, which attracted the attention of Curt, the only prevalent carnivore in the game.  The result was that I had a late surge and ended up tying with Karl for second behind Curt, the clear winner.  I really like Evolution and consider it the discovery of the convention.  Since it wasn't available in the vendor hall (second edition is in pre-order), I'll look forward to picking it up at my next opportunity.

If Evolution was the discovery of the convention, Splendor was the odds-on favorite for fastest-growing tournament.  The lines for getting into each heat formed early, so much so that the GM was starting tables as early as half an hour before the scheduled start time.  I wasn't sure why she elected to seat three-player heats rather than four-player, but it seemed to work.  In my heat, we ended up in a three-way tie with 15 points, so the win went to Angelina G., who won the tie-breaker on fewest cards.  As it happens, Angelina was a finalist in my Trains Planes and Automobiles juniors tournament the night before.

Brian, Keith, Kurt, and I played a round of "East India Company" in open gaming, and they gave me some good feedback about removing some of the harsher "take-that" cards from the action deck - especially those that can't be planned for, such as "Local Dispute," which prevents a player from a purchase or sale at the time he makes the decision.  I have to figure out a way to make a tile counter / insurance track so that it doesn't involve counting tiles and looking up a value in a table.  I may reduce the price on cards, since in many cases they are not cost-effective.  And I adopted for my very next demo the option to play action cards at the start of the Ship Operations Phase, so that they take effect for all players (and not just those that come later in player order).

I think my biggest mistake of the convention was opting to skip Max Jamelli's "Lords of Baseball" demo in favor of the Catan: Cities & Knights heat, which started later and ran longer.  Not only did I miss out on my favorite unpublished game, but C:C&K finished so late that I was unable to meet with Luke Peterschmidt, one of the two partners of Fun to 11 Games I'd arranged to see.  It turned out not to be a fatal mistake, but it was a lesson in priorities for me.

(c) GMT Games
Used by permission

Friday evening I entered the Battle Line tournament, in which we were seated in groups of four and played each of our three opponents in a single game to determine which of the four of us would advance.  I won our group with two victories, both of which were breakthroughs.  But in the first single-elimination bracket that followed, I lost to a breakthrough as well.  I really like the tension of Battle Line, in which every single card play is significant.  Unfortunately, it does not appear as a tournament game at PrezCon, and with the WBC move to Seven Springs next year, I don't know when I'll have my next opportunity for competitive play.

Late that night I played my most anticipated game of the convention, Acquire.  The competition in this Sid Sackson classic is truly epic, and the game is just an edge-of-the-seat showdown.  I managed to win my heat with $43.7K.  I would learn the next day whether I would advance to the semifinal or not.

The next morning I had three games I wanted to play that were all scheduled simultaneously.  I opted for Concordia, which I'd only played twice, and I'm really glad I did.  I think I finished last at my table, but I had a great time pursuing a "Vesta-Mercator" strategy that depends on gaining all four cloth cities and selling cloth to acquire other goods as needed.  I didn't pull it off completely, but I had fun trying, and I look forward to playing this game again.

Although I missed meeting Luke Peterschmidt of Fun to 11, I was able to pitch "East India Company" to his associate, Jordan Martin.  For some reason, I stumbled through the first five minutes of the pitch (a testament to the importance of preparation) but managed to get my feet under me and explain the game.  We ran through a few turns, and Jordan concluded - rightly so, I think - that "EIC" isn't a good fit for what Fun to 11 is doing.  I was glad to get the opportunity to share the game with him, even if it didn't turn out to be the right game for his company.

I think it was around this time that I stopped by the Rio Grande demo tables and learned 20th Century Limited, a rail game that has been compared to TransAmerica but which reminds me at first glance of Alexandros with its grid of equilateral triangles and wooden connecting segment pieces.  The gameplay actually reminds me more of Ticket to Ride, though, with more complexity and strategy, as the goal is to connect a network of cities to complete a "company" for points.  I like the game well enough, and I'd be happy to play it again, but I won't necessarily look for it myself.

That afternoon came my second formal "East India Company" demo, and at first I didn't think I'd have anyone to whom to demonstrate it, until Rob Mattox (who is working on his own game, Hope City) saw the game and called his friends to join us in a demo.  Before long, we had a five-player game going, and a few observers later as well.  Although we didn't finish the entire play-through, everybody seemed to enjoy it, and I took notes on further improvements to the game.

My Acquire win the previous night got me on the list of alternates for the semi-final, and there were enough no-shows that a slot was available for me to compete.  It did not go well for me, however, as I finished a distant fourth due to some bad investments leaving me something like eight consecutive turns without cash to purchase shares.  Nevertheless, I absolutely love this game and the level of competition I find in this tournament.

Late-night open gaming
Keith, Brian, Kurt, and I got together for open gaming on Friday and Saturday nights.  Which games came on which nights ran together in my sleep-deprived state, but we played some combination of the following:
  • Alhambra
  • Spyfall 
  • Coup: Reformation
  • Citadels
I probably forgot others as well.
On Sunday, because my family likes Survive: Escape from Atlantis so much, I picked up both the "Dolphins and Dive Dice" and "Giant Squid" expansions at the Stronghold Games booth.  I also bought Cacao from Z-man just on reputation.  Kurt, Brian, and I played Cacao in open gaming with a fourth (Helen) who joined us (while Keith played his Castles of Mad King Ludwig semifinal).  We picked up the rules fairly easily and enjoyed the game.  I was glad to have made a good choice for a game purchase.

So while it was a good WBC experience (despite my lost appetite for WS&IM), the convention will be moving to Seven Springs, Pennsylvania in 2016, and I don't think I'll be joining it.  So this will have been my last Trains Planes and Automobiles tournament, and there are a number of competitions in WBC that aren't duplicated at PrezCon - WS&IM, Ingenious, Evolution, Catan: Cities and Knights, and Battle Line.  And for the foreseeable future, this will be my last visit to Lancaster.

Nevertheless, Justin Thompson has already positioned himself to fill the mid-Atlantic summer power vacuum with a new convention next year, the PrezCon Summer Nationals, June 27 through July 3.  Keith expressed concern that it will conflict with traditional family plans for Independence Day weekend, but for my part, I'd much rather go to Charlottesville than Seven Springs.  So we'll see what happens next summer.