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Showing posts with label Congress of Gamers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Congress of Gamers. Show all posts

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I spent most of my time in the Unpublished Gaming Room, as I usually do.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.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Congress of Gamers 2013 Part 5: Five-player "East India Company"

Wrapping up my Congress of Gamers coverage from almost three weeks ago, I've got a five-player playtest of "East India Company" and just a few other odds and ends to close things out.

Clockwise from left foreground:  Jason Tagmire, Marty, myself, Alf Shadowsong, Kiva Fecteau, and John Weber as I facilitate a five-player playtest of  "East India Company" - Photo by Mike Mullins


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Congress of Gamers 2013 Part 4: Tiny Battles and Big Battleships

Tiny Epic Battles
One of the cool things about the UnPub ProtoZones is that you get to meet new designers and discover their creations.  I met Alf Shadowsong and Kiva Fecteau, who had a couple of prototypes, and the one I got to try is called "Tiny Epic Battles."  The way Alf tells it, he designed this little card game as a method to teach tactics to Kiva.  The exercise evolved into a stand-alone two-player deck-construction game.  Each player starts with an action deck, a resource deck, and three "houses" face up in a tableau that he needs to defend.  A player loses if he exhausts either deck or loses all of his "houses."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Congress of Gamers 2013 Part 3: "New Bedford"

Anna Rutledge and Nathaniel Levan
demonstrate "New Bedford"
I had been looking forward to playing "New Bedford" since I first heard of it on the UnPub.net website.  My family has deep attachments to that old Massachusetts whaling town.  Nathaniel Levan is the designer of this worker placement prototype, and I got to meet him in the UnPub ProtoZone at Congress of Gamers a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Congress of Gamers 2013 Part 2: "Firebreak"

At the World Boardgaming Championships last August, I met up briefly with Charlie Hoopes but never got a chance to play his game Fill the Barn.  I had also missed out on playing "AtataT" at UnPub 3 last January.  Fortunately, I was able to make up for it at Congress of Gamers last week by playing his latest co-op prototype, "Firebreak."  We were joined by Bruce Voge of The Party Gamecast and Aaron Honsowetz and Austin Smokowicz, designers of "Post Position."
Bruce Voge, Charlie Hoopes, Austin Smocowicz, and Paul Owen playtesting "Firebreak."
Photo by Aaron Honsowetz

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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

CoG Unpub Protozone Report, Part 3

Finishing up my after-action report on the Unpub ProtoZone event at Congress of Gamers.
[Edit:  The "Dr. Wictz" design team has changed the name of their game from "Pole Position" to "Post Position," so I have updated it here for correctness. - PDO]

Post Position
Austin Smokowicz and Aaron Honsowetz
with "Post Position"
The Unpub Protozone was organized to have us designers pre-register to bring our designs in for playtesting, but in fact the event was actually pretty open-ended.  Two fellows I'd never met before, Aaron Honsowetz and Austin Smokowicz, came in and asked Darrell Louder if they could get their game design playtested even though they hadn't pre-registered.  As it happened, there was an open table, so Darrell said, "Sure, no problem, go ahead and set up."  And thus the game "Post Position" was introduced to the Unpub.

Monday, October 8, 2012

CoG: Unpub Protozone Report, Part 2

Tonight's post continues my accounts of games playtested in the Congress of Gamers designers room last weekend.

Compounded
T.C. Petty III considers his next
chemical concoction in
"Compounded"
The game I specifically remembered from the CoG design room last year and really wanted to play again was Darrell Louder's "Compounded," a game of set construction with a particularly unique theme - building molecular compounds by combining elements.  Darrell calls it "better gameplaying through chemistry."  Players draw crystals from a bag whose six colors represent elements.  An array of 16 cards in the center of the table depicts different molecular diagrams that players can populate with element crystals to complete and score the corresponding compounds.  Some compounds are flammable and can be lost or even cause chain reactions.  All compounds score points when completed, but some also enable a player to draw more elements from the bag, store more on his workbench, claim more compounds for future scoring, or place more elements in a single turn.  Some also provide other particular special benefits.

Congress of Gamers: Unpub Protozone Report, Part 1

This weekend saw a two-day session of game design playtesting at the Congress of Gamers in Rockville, Maryland.  CoG was the venue for an Unpub Protozone event in which several designers convened to have prototypes playtested and to compare notes on game design, development, and publication.  I had a terrific time with a number of energetic, imaginative game designers and saw some clever prototypes.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Quick note on Congress of Gamers

A very quick note after the first day of Congress of Gamers 2012:  I spent most of the day in the designers room.  Detailed notes to follow in a subsequent post.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Congress of Gamers: Acquisitions

Okay, after this, I'm done posting about Congress of Gamers (for now).

I still remember the best advice anybody ever gave me about a gaming convention.  It came from Justin Thompson as a recommended goal when attending PrezCon:  "Learn at least one new game; buy at least one new game."  Over the last few days, I've posted about the games I learned in the game design room at CoG.  But the convention experience wouldn't be complete if I didn't fork over a little cash to bring something home to play.

For my 15-year-old, I picked up two Steve Jackson titles.  The first was Zombie Dice from Our Game Table.  I'm not a fan of zombies (in fact, I despise zombie games), but heck, he likes zombies, and he likes dice.  It's a no-brainer.  (Sorry.)  Also, literally at the eleventh hour, Vince Lupo was packing up his stuff in the designers room when he held up a box and said, "Anybody want to buy Frag?"  It took maybe one round of haggling for me to take it off his hands.  The cover says, "If it moves, shoot it."  So that's another game that my 15-year-old seems likely to enjoy.  Vince also threw in a set of hand-made maps to augment the game, which I think is pretty cool.

For my ten-year-old, I picked up a clever little tile-placement game called Continuo (designer Maureen Hiron, publisher U.S. Game Systems) at the Bring-and-buy flea market.  It's designer touts Continuo as a "one-rule game for the whole family."  I look forward to trying it out with my son.  (I also got him four alien dice at Our Game Table, because, you know, he likes UFOs, and he likes dice.  It's not rocket science.) (Sorry again.)

(c) Queen Games
Used by permission
For my wife Kathy and me, I bought Roma (designer Stefan Feld, artist Michael Menzel, publisher Queen Games) for a very reasonable price at the Bring-and-buy.  I'd read at least one positive review of this as a good game between spouses.  We've played through it once on a "we're not playing to win, we're helping each other learn the game" basis, and I think we're going to like it.  I can't wait to play it again on a "now that we know the game, we're out for blood" basis.

Meanwhile, I dropped off five games at the Bring-and-buy flea market to sell.  Of those, it was the two role-playing games that attracted buyers - En Garde! (the TSR role-playing rules set for 17th century rapier-dueling and derring-do) and James Bond 007: Goldfinger (a scenario module for the Victory Games RPG based on the Ian Fleming series).  I don't think I'll miss them, and I hope somebody out there gives them a new lease on life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Congress of Gamers digression: Notes from a conversation with John Moller

I met John Moller of Car Trunk Entertainment in the game design contest room at Congress of Gamers the other day.  We started getting a little philosophical about game design - what we like in a game, what leaves us flat.  I like his perspective, and one observation he made stuck with me enough that I thought I'd expound on it here a little.

It's probably "card-driven" when the
printer resorts to 4-point font to fit the
special instructions on the card.
John described an interesting distinction he makes among card games into two general categories - card-driven games and player-driven games.  (I might not quite have his terminology right.)  The distinguishing concept is the nature of the cards in the game.  In a "card-driven game," most of the behavior of the game is governed by the text on the card - i.e. every card has its own rules or unique icons printed on it to describe its function and effects.  In a "player-driven game," the cards are relatively abstract, having only rank, suit, and/or perhaps a few other general categories, and the rules generalize across the deck.  In the extremes, a collectible card game would be "card-driven" and cribbage would be "player-driven."

One or two words on the "special" cards -
still in the spirit of a "player-driven" game
Of course, these are two general categories and not a strict taxonomy of card games.  Still, to refine definitions like these, I have a tendency to want to find exceptions, or ambiguities at the boundary between categories.  For example, Uno (designer Merle Robbins, artists Kinetic and Jeff Kinney, publisher Mattel) has mostly rank-suit cards, but there are a few special cards that change the play of the game - "Reverse," "Skip," "Draw two."   But really, I think Uno keeps to the spirit of what John describes as a "player-driven game," in which the card that you play depends on the tactical situation at the time and not so much whether you got a special card that drives a special effect under the circumstances.

I think Fluxx (designers Andrew and Kristin Looney, publisher Looney Labs) and its variations, by contrast, fall into the "card-driven" category.  Although some cards are simply objects ("Keepers") and objectives ("Goals"), many are unique rules and special effects.  I don't necessarily mean the simple cases of "Draw Two" or "Hand Limit Three."  The particularly unique cases of cards that interact with other cards - you can do this unless your opponent has that Keeper, etc - make Fluxx more of a card-driven game.  The point is that you can add or delete or modify the specific rules or effects on the individual cards in a card-driven game, and all you've done is change the game in some lateral way; instead of Martian Fluxx, it's Pirate Fluxx.

I think John's point about "card-driven" games is that they play themselves to a certain degree.  The course of the game is governed by the shuffle and who gets which card when, more than by the tactics that the different players choose to take.  I might not be explaining John's thesis very well, and perhaps it deserves a little more thought for me to appreciate and articulate it.  I was hoping - but failed - to find a write-up on the concept in his Car Trunk Entertainment blog, so perhaps I can persuade him to spend a few words on it some time soon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Congress of Gamers Part II: Flummoxed Families and Punchin' Planes


I spent the latter half of my day at Congress of Gamers entirely in the game design room.  There I met John Moller of Car Trunk Entertainment.  He and I talked quite a bit about our philosophies on game design.  Rather than go into details on some of John's thoughts, I'll hold them for a subsequent post.

On to the games then:  John first showed me his game Flummox (artists Bill Bricker and Darrell Louder, publisher Clever Mojo, planned release March 2012), which involves taking actions and activating cards to move a marker (the "Flummox") among the players' arrays of cards in an effort to score points by having the Flummox end up on one's own array - or cause an opponent to lose points by putting the Flummox on his or her array, depending on whether the Flummox is "good" or "bad" in that turn.  I found this game to be a fun exercise in logic and tactics, vaguely along the lines of Guillotine from the standpoint of manipulating the arrangements of cards to gain points and thwart opponents  I think John's action-driven mechanism is a little more elegant than Guillotine, which depends on a separate action card deck to manipulate a line of nobles.  In Flummox, a player may exercise only one of four actions and then activate only one of two cards on the ends of his or her array in order to move the Flummox or modify the players' arrays on the table.  The cards themselves have only a few different characteristics and types, but they combine in a way that makes for some fascinating conundrums.  I really look forward to trying this game again.

John also showed me his design contest entry Family Reunion, a rather bizarre little game that I came to think of as a cross between Concentration and a kind of two-dimensional Guillotine.  (Maybe I just have Guillotine on the brain today.)  Again, this one provides a neat logical challenge, but I found the unique behavior of each family member's card to be a little overwhelming, at least in a first playing.  I imagine I would get the hang of it before too long.  I like the game, and I want to try it again as John refines it, but I can't decide whether I like it as much as Flummox.

John was good enough to try Trains Planes and Automobiles with me, along with Tim, who'd played it once already.  This would be my third demo of the day.  I think I was tickled just that Tim wanted to play it again.  For the second time that afternoon, I had ridiculous card luck with airline tickets.  Usually, games I've played have all been close, and I always lose.  At Congress of Gamers, I was winning by substantial margins.  I think I'm going to pay close attention to the course of the games I play to see whether card luck is too strong a factor.  Right now I still think that card luck can be mitigated with good flexibility and use of the discard-replace rule (or even the trading rule, which no one seems to use).

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
After dinner, Tim Hing, T.C. Petty, and I got The Speicherstadt out of the game library.  Tim had played before, but T.C. had not.  I had only played in two-player sessions with my wife Kathy at home, so I was looking forward to playing a three-player game.  The Speicherstadt has a nice bidding mechanic in which demand for available cards determines their prices.  The first bidder for a given card has the first opportunity to buy, but at the highest price.  If he elects to pass, the next bidder in line has an opportunity to buy the same card for one coin less, and so on until a bidder decides to buy the card for the available price (or the last bidder passes, in which case the card is discarded).  Money is very tight in this game, and bidding from a strong position can count for a lot if the right cards come up for sale.  I did very well in this game with a dominating position in firemen and the completion of some pretty hefty contracts.

T.C. then demonstrated Good Ol' Punchin' Planes, a prototype two-player game on the hilarious premise of pre-World-War-I airplanes that race alongside one another while pugilists stand on the wings and engage in fisticuffs.  Simultaneous card play determines both the relative motion of the two aircraft and the trading of blows between the two fighters.  Terrain obstacles over the race course (yes, these airplanes fly very low) present additional hazards to the pugilists, such as bridges, telegraph wires, and a barn.  I played against Josh Tempkin, moderator of the design contest, who managed to achieve a more crowd-pleasing performance than I did and therefore won the event.  Afterward, Josh and I had some ideas for TC to give a little more depth to the "combat" part of the game, but I have to say that it was good for a hearty laugh more than once during the race.

Upcoming posts:  What I bought and sold at CoG, and notes from a conversation with designer John Moller

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Congress of Gamers Part I: Best laid designs

My plan for Congress of Gamers was to demonstrate Trains Planes and Automobiles once and then move on to the usual Eurogaming fare (Carcassone, 7 Wonders, Agricola, Settlers of Catan) for the rest of the day.  Strangely, it didn't work out that way.

Parker Brothers
1971 edition
Waiting for the main events to get started, I played a pick-up game of Mille Bornes (designer Arthur "Edmond" Dujardin, artist Joseph le Callennac, publisher Winning Moves) with young Josh and his father John.  I've always liked MB for sentimental reasons.  My family played it when I was growing up, and it brings back fond memories of my Mom (almost as much as Clue does).  Those memories were even stronger yesterday, because John and Josh had the same 1971 edition MB that was our first family copy of the game, with a chartreuse plastic card tray.  Theirs was an obviously well-loved copy, because the cards showed the wear of many, many plays.  It is especially appropriate that MB should be the first game I played yesterday, because its card-play mechanic provided the inspiration for the Travel deck in TPA.

I had time to play Can't Stop, the first entry in Mark Love's "America First" tournament series at CoG.  Clearly, I am way too conservative in my dice rolling in this terrific push-your-luck game.  I came in last place at a table of four players (with Phil and two more Joshes) because I just couldn't bring myself to be as aggressive as they were in the dice rolling.  The three central columns - sixes, sevens, and eights, were finished early, which made all subsequent dice-rolling risky.

I set up for my TPA demo later that morning in the same gaming room where the Stone Age / Ticket to Ride / Vegas Showdown Eurocaucus event was going on.  I had only one taker - young Josh from our earlier MB game.  (I didn't see as many kids at CoG yesterday as I thought I'd remembered seeing in earlier years, but perhaps I'm mistaken.)  Josh enjoyed playing, and the game attracted some attention from a few others in the room.

After lunch, I hooked up with TC Petty (designer of Viva Java, which I'd playtested at WBC last summer) and his friend Tim.  We had some time to kill, so I introduced them to TPA.  They seemed to like it, despite my ridiculous card luck with unlimited mileage airline tickets.

At this point, I made a pretty fundamental change in plans for the day.  Instead of playing Carcassonne or De Bellis Antiquitatis, I decided to head to the game design contest hosted by Josh Tempkin.  There I met Darrell Louder, whose unpublished prototype Compounded was ready for a run-through.  I sat down at what turned out to be a six-player game, the first time Compounded would ever have been played with that many people.

I have to say that I really like what I saw in Darrell's design.  As chemists, players accumulate crystals that represent elements (hydrogen, oxygen, etc), claim eligible compounds (hydrogen peroxide, sulfur dioxide, etc), and then allocate elements to those compounds to complete them for points, increased abilities, and new functions.  Compounds in progress can be undone by lab fires or an excess of oxygen.  What really impressed me was the way that the end-game conditions came together.  Game end is triggered by any of three conditions - running through the deck of compounds twice, scoring at least 50 points, or completing three of four experiments (solid, liquid, gas, or "wildcard").  In our session, all three conditions were met almost simultaneously.  Although the game was a bit lengthy for six players (five of whom were new to the game), I was hard-pressed to suggest any tweak to shorten the game duration that wouldn't disrupt the balance among the game elements.

Next post:  CoG Part II - More adventures in the game design contest room

Friday, October 7, 2011

Packed up for Congress of Gamers

Just a quick post in preparation for Congress of Gamers tomorrow in Rockville.  I get to demonstrate Trains Planes and Automobiles at 11:00 a.m.  Otherwise, there's pretty much at least two things going on at any given time that I want to do, every hour of the day.  Usually for a convention I'll plan out an itinerary, but I think this time I'm going to "improvise" from one hour to the next.  Maybe I'll play in the De Bellis Antiquitatis tournament, so I'm bringing my 15mm later hoplite Greek army.  Maybe I'll play in the Eurocaucus series of Euro games, or maybe I'll check in with the game design contest.  I'd really like to learn Go, finally, after all these years.  And there's a series of race games, including McGartlin Motor Racing, which I first learned at CoG a couple of years ago.  And Mark Love is running a series of American-designed games.

I'm also bringing a few games to sell at the bring-and-buy, games that have some degree of sentimental value but that just aren't going to get played again in my house and deserve a new home with a new opportunity to entertain:

  • Foxbat and Phantom, an SPI flat-box game of tactical jet combat in the 1970s
  • Gulf Strike, a Victory Games heavy-duty modern-day operational warfare game in the Persian Gulf
  • Wiz Kids, a simple little word game for kids
  • En Garde!, a TSR role-playing rules set for 17th century rapier-dueling and derring-do
  • James Bond 007: Goldfinger, a scenario module for the Victory Games role-playing game based on the Ian Fleming series.  (Somehow I managed to sell the core game JB007 at a yard sale but ended up with this module - how did that happen?)
I'll follow up with a post on Monday with feedback from CoG.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Congress of Gamers on Sat 8 Oct

Okay, everybody, I can't help but plug my favorite little game convention, Congress of Gamers.  This event is a nice opportunity for those in the D.C. and Maryland area to have an inexpensive, friendly one-day boardgaming experience.  Hope to see you there.

Here's convention director Kaarin E.'s email:

Congress of Gamers 2011 is coming soon--from 9am to midnight on Saturday, Oct. 8, in the same location as last year:
Rockville Senior Center
1150 Carnation Dr.
Rockville, MD 20850-2043. 


Go to http://www.congressofgamers.org/register.php to register and pay online. If you would like a t-shirt, get your order in this week. A few shirts will be available at the con, but they will be limited in number and size.


We'll have many great events, including the EuroCaucus, CoG Racing Series, General Services Administration (RoboRally), Embassy from China, Transportation Department (a demonstration and game of Trains, Planes, and Automobiles), Education Department (demonstration of Dystopian Wars), De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) Tutorial, the 7th Annual Washington DC-area DBA Open Tournament, and more! Take a look at the schedule at http://www.congressofgamers.org/schedule.php. We'll also have lots of open gaming, and Games Club of Maryland (GCOM) will bring a library of games that everyone can use.


The math trade will start soon. Watch the website and Boardgame Geek Convention Forum for details. 


If you are planning to sell things at the Bring and Buy, you can download item sheets at http://www.congressofgamers.org/commerce.php.


Our Game Table will be joining us as a vendor with great games and accessories. 


We look forward to seeing you this year!


Kaarin Engelmann
Convention Director, Congress of Gamers