Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Congress of Gamers 2016

Every fall there's a little weekend convention in Rockville, Maryland that I've always enjoyed.  Hosted at the unassuming Rockville Senior Center, Congress of Gamers features a series of Euro tournaments, an auction store, and a game design room.  The Games Club of Maryland sponsored the convention, and Break My Game ran the prototype testing event this year's session, which convened last weekend. 

My first priority was to play Acquire (designer Sid Sackson), my favorite game that I never get to play.  Five of us signed up to play in a single game that was a real brain-burner.  All seven companies came out within the first two rounds of play.  I had no chance of keeping track of who had what.  By the end, it occurred to me that I need to reconsider how I play this game.  I tend to buy shares strictly in small companies that I anticipate being taken over, in the interest of pursuing bonuses with a high return on investment.  Unfortunately, at the end of the game I found myself with a lot of cash but very few shares of the large high-value surviving companies.  The result was that I came in a distant second to Bill, the player to my right, whose purchase timing seemed impeccable throughout the game.  If I have one complaint about Acquire, it is that tile luck can factor strongly in the outcome, and Bill readily admitted that the right tiles came out for him.  Nevertheless I'm convinced that he also made some excellent investments at the right time and capitalized on a number of other players' mergers, so he deserved the win outright.

I spent most of my time in the Unpublished Gaming Room, as I usually do.  I didn't bring any designs myself but spent the entire time playtesting other people's games.  Highlights included
David Stephenson explains "Empire" to
Matt and Corinne Yeager

  • Getting in a four-player game of David Stephenson's "Empire."  I played it once head-to-head with David at UnPub 6 last spring, and I can tell now that the game is much more interesting in a larger group.  Negotiation plays a big part in this abstracted nation-building game.  I'm really fond of it, and it deserves attention from publishers.
  • Discovering "Bring in the Birds" by Elizabeth Hargrave, such an innocent-sounding game, and so strategic
  • Revisiting "Dichotomy" (alias "Zhongbai: Game of Balance"), by Matthew Yeager, much cleaner than its 2015 Congress of Gamers rendition and perhaps one of the best trick-taking games I've ever played (and that includes Diamonds
  • Trying out "Fealty," David Stephenson's nifty social bluffing game (that might need a new name, since Asmadi has a 2011 release with that title)
  • Learning "Cave Paintings of Lascaux," by Corinne Yeager, a dice-driven set collector with a simple tech tree and elements of Splendor 
  • David Stephenson (l.) gives feedback to
    designer Austin Smokowicz on
    "Cattle Car"
  • Playing through "Cattle Car," by Austin Smokowicz and Aaron Honsowetz (the "Dr Wictz" design team), a lean deck builder with a Western theme that I'd seen before but don't recall playing.  It's got some tricky little interaction mechanics, as Josh Tempkin demonstrated in our playtest.
  • Jumping back into Adam "Alf Shadowsong" Fischer's "Kahl'Shera," a chaotic dice game with a whirling dervish martial showmanship dance kind of theme that I'd seen at an UnPub event somewhere before

(l. to r.) Peter Gousis, Dan H., and
Jessica Wade schooling me in Asara
Also in open gaming, I met up with Peter Gousis (MVP Games), Dan H. (League of Nonsensical Gamers), and Jessica Wade (Dice Hate Me - State of Games podcast).   (Actually, I kind of invited myself to their table.)  We all learned Asara (designers Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer, publisher Rio Grande), which turns out to be a nifty area control game.  Fun and clever, if not life-changing.

I also sat in on a demonstration of Eminent Domain (designer Seth Jaffee, publisher Tasty Minstrel Games), which I'd always been curious about since its seminal success on Kickstarter in the fall of 2010 as one of the ground-breaking boardgames of those early crowd-funding days.  As it happens, I found it to be rather a love-child of Dominion and Race for the Galaxy, both games that I wish I liked more than I do, and so I was left similarly unexcited by ED.  That's okay; that's why we do demos.

So Congress of Gamers was a fun, low-key gaming weekend.  Such a nice little convention.  I look forward to next year.


  1. From their web page, Empire sounds interesting.

  2. It really is. It's remarkably stark and abstracted, a very pure treatment of the nation-building construct.