Sunday, July 01, 2007

Board Games are Great

Well, the 2007 Utah Board Game Convention has come and gone. This year wasn't nearly as profitable as last year was for me (last year Lynette and I managed to walk away with a large majority of the prizes), it was still a ton of fun.

With the 4th of July holiday so close, we actually went to the parade with the kids first (I was going to go golfing, but the parade won out). We hit the convention around noon.

It was a lot bigger than last year, probably a little more than twice as big. As we walked in, most everybody was already playing a game so we dropped our armfulls off in the game library and began to mingle.

After a few minutes, we sat down and played Loot with Ken and his family of gamers. It was a fun card game that I think my kids will enjoy. We might find this one in a Christmas stocking this winter. :) Plus it's pirates...gotta love that. ;)

After Loot, we split up for a bit. Lynette sat down and played some Crokinole (which she later described as a fun sort of shuffleboard cousin). Meanwhile, I hopped into a prototype game called Swashbuckled, a game in development from Fun At Home Games, a startup game company down in Orem, Utah. I played with two of the designers of the game and had a lot of fun. I admit to having a certain bias towards pirate themes, but even without the bias I think it's fair to say that this is a great title. They are planning to have it on shelves this fall.

After Swashbuckled, I found Lynette playing Garden Competition. It looked fairly interesting and she said it was pretty fun. I watched for a couple of turns as players pulled money from neighbors and tried to plant flowers. I may have to try this one out another time. :)

I walked over to the "horror corner" and watched a few turns of Arkham Horror. I had hoped to play in this one and learn how to play first hand, but the game had already started by the time we arrived. One of the other bystanders gave me an in depth explanation of how the game is played. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun, but it is definitely an intricate game that requires a lot of time.

Not to be put off by missing out on one lengthy game, I joined a game of The Scepter of Zavandor. For the next ~4 hours (or more?) I played the part of a little elf-like magic guy collecting gem stones, pixie dust and magic relics. The magic/fantasy theme is actually very light weight and the game itself could easily be applied to most any economically themed idea. After hours of bidding, selling and strategizing for position, I ended up in the dead middle of the pack for 3rd place. It was a fun game, but probably a little to lengthy for an average gaming session.

At this point it was dinner time. The prize drawings were done (we won a copy of Apples to Apples). So we headed home to relieve the babysitter and catch some dinner. Lynette had her fill of gaming so she stayed home with the kids and I came back out. The night was wearing down so I wasn't sure how much more I'd get, but I was determined to squeeze as much in as possible. :)

While walking around the room again, I ran into Ryan who taught me how to play Go. I have always been intrigued by Go and meant to learn it, so finally I did. It's actually a pretty cool game. There's definitely a lot of strategy to learn and a lot of depth to it. It will take a lot of practice to get to be any good at it. One interesting aspect that was pointed out was that this game actually had a built in method to handicap the stronger player and make it a more even game. It's actually a very nice addition to a game like that. Adding something like that to chess would definitely make for more interesting and balanced games.

After Go, I sat down and learned how to play Trans America. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this one. From a high level, it plays like a very lightweight and sped up Ticket to Ride. You draw 5 cities spread across the US and your goal is to create a train route that connects all 5 cities. Similar to TtR and its ticket system. However, the gameplay is a bit different in that everybody has the same supply of tracks so once your tracks connect to an opponent's tracks, you can each use the efforts of the other player to further your route. Also, instead of being limited to play tracks based on colors/cards, you simply place one or two sections of tracks at the end of a track segment that you're working on. The gameplay is actually quite fast and things can change quickly as soon as you and your opponents connect tracks.

For my final game of the night, I learned how to play Cloud 9. This game involves playing cards to help a balloon fly. Each hand a new balloon pilot is selected, dice are rolled to determine the required cards to advance to the next 'cloud' level, and all players (except the pilot) get to decide if they trust their pilot enough to continue the flight. If the player bets that the pilot has the required cards, they stay on the balloon...if they bet against the pilot, they jump out of the balloon and return to the ground, scoring points for the current cloud level. Then the pilot reveals whether he has the cards or not...if he does, the balloon goes up. If he doesn't, the balloon crashes down and none of the players in the balloon receive any points. It's actually a cute concept with a fun theme. The balloon piece is fun. It was a nice little game to end the day.

There is talk of another Game Convention in the winter. I'll keep you posted.

Compared with last year's game convention, I felt a little bit let down with this one. It was larger and better attended, which was cool, but it also felt a bit harder to find a group to play with. I was able to play games a lot of the time, but one thing I really enjoyed last year was the structured schedule that indicated when specific games would be demoed or have tournaments. Tournaments were also noticeably absent this year. There was a single Settlers of Catan tournament which was played over the course of 3 weeks (I didn't qualify for the finals, but still had a lot of fun), but additional events were lacking. Last year I believe there were 4 or 5 tournaments at the event itself. Perhaps the larger dollar value prize on the Settlers tourney forced them to cut the other tourneys. I don't know. In any case, I would've enjoyed a structured schedule that allowed people to sign up for game times.

I still had a lot of fun and look forward to the next one. Who's with me? ;)

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