This weekend, I attend a board game convention that had absolutely nothing to do with ECCC (that’s Emerald City Comic Con, the ‘other’ convention for nerds happening this weekend). Named “IndyCon,” it is a small, very simple convention focused on one thing: playing board games. And lots of them.
Small enough to allow a bit of trust, the convention consists of a large room in a hotel with shelves of games brought by the organizers and attendees. Any attendee can freely choose any board game on the shelf and start playing. That’s all. No vendors with flashy booths trying to sell you anything. Just gamers, games, and gamers.
Because it was based in Indianapolis, which is not where I’m from, and I have a job I have to attend and stuff, I made it out only for friday night and saturday, staying up late and getting little sleep to pack in as much effective gaming time as possible. I tried out several new games I’ve never heard of before. I learned so many new games my brain started hurting (okay, that could have been the effect of a ridiculous amount of caffeine and sugar to keep me going). I also played a couple old favorites and learned some new things about them (not necessarily mechanics wise, more… I dunno… thematic? Interaction? something on a more meta level). I also got a chance to run a playtest of Armyland with friends who had never played before, which was great.
As a gaming blogger, I of course, had thoughts about everything that happened. So in the list that follows I will share some of those thoughts – some general ideas, some thoughts on the games I played.
1. Learning Board Games is like Awesome Exercise for Your Brain
I know that playing board games is good for you in a lot of ways, and I’ll probably write a full post on that sometime soon. But specifically this weekend it was very apparent that learning new board games is great for your brain. Beyond just learning facts, your brain has to take in a lot of information, immediately apply it to an interactive process, and then figure out how all the mechanics can be put together to form a winning strategy. I have to assume that much like exercising your body, exercising your brain must make it bigger, better, and faster.
2. Heroes of Graxia
The first game I tried, this is a deck-building game somewhat similar to Dominion. In that it’s a deckbuilding game. In this game you are building up an army to fight monsters and other players. It was fairly tough to learn and involved a lot of math. I wasn’t that impressed, but it’s entirely possible we didn’t play it right, going after the other players too soon before building up our armies. But definitely lots of adding up numbers, as each attack you make involves adding up all the attack values on all the cards played in your “Legion” including Heroes, Henchmen, Armies, and Militia. These could also be combined with weapons and armor which added additional attack points, and spells. Then the other player adds up their defense points the same way… and the difference (if the attack is greater) is how many wounds the defender must spread out in their army. Also when you make an attack, both sides get to attack and defend at the same time, so there’s really no advantage to attacking first.
A game I had never heard of before, this game consists of Turns. Each turn is a year, divided into 4 seasons. Spring, Summer, and Fall, players roll 3 dice and then ‘spend’ the roll to influence an advisor. 18 advisors (numbered 1-18) were available and each provided it’s own bonus, such as a resource (or more than 1 resource), points, or Army power. Resources could be used to construct buildings, which provided various bonuses and abilities. The catch with influencing advisors is that you have to place the exact amount, with your dice, equal to the # of the advisor. And, each Advisor could only have 1 player on it at a time.
Finally, in the winter season, a monster was revealed. Anyone without a high enough Army power would suffer the ill affects of the monster’s attack, such as losing resources, points, or even buildings.
This game was pretty fun, not gonna lie. It may go onto my wish list. The dice rolling mechanic added variability, without forcing players to live or die by the dice rolls, since you could choose how to place your dice to maximum effect and to avoid being blocked by the other players. You could get something every turn, regardless of what you rolled. And as buildings get constructed, you gain even more ways to modify your numbers to control your placement even further.
I’ve been wanting to try this game out for a while. Myself and Blake sat down to try this game… fortunately, a helpful gamer stopped by and explained the rules to us, or we would have totally been confused. The game involves building up a farm by utilizing the members of your family to accomplish certain tasks. You could increase the size of your family, but you have to feed everyone at Harvest time. It was fun but we had no idea what we were doing, and a few more playthroughs would definitely help.
This is another deck-building game, much closer to Dominion than that other game I talked about. Much more focus on attacking things though. You have cards that help with buying new cards, and cards that help you attack monsters. Every card you purchase has some point value at the end of the game, and killing monsters rewarded you with runes that were also worth points, as well as some special rewards based on the monster you killed.
The game was fun and fast paced, although in a few ways I felt it was unbalanced. Unlike Dominion, which has all cards in play available for purchase at all times, Ascension has a deck of cards all mixed up, with 6 cards placed face up and available for purchase (or for attacking, depending on the card.) Unfortunately, that meant a card you really wanted could easily be gone by the time it gets around to your turn. Also, while there are no “dead” cards in Ascension (In Dominion, victory point cards do nothing during game play. In ascension, every card has some sort of attack or purchase bonus) I kept running into situations where the hand I pulled was completely useless. I found myself drawing a large number of attack cards when no monsters were available to attack, and then when the face-up cards were items, the good ones would get snatched before my turn, and the ones available when it got back around to me were either too expensive for my hand, or cheap but not really that useful to me. I couldn’t get my deck and the other deck to line up, which was frustrating, because it broke my strategy.
A mechanic I did like though, was that once the game-ending condition was met, the turn order was finished up – so if the 1st player ended the game, everyone else would still get another turn to equal things out.Also, don’t get me wrong – despite that long paragraph, the game was still fun. It was very actiony, and there were at least 3 cards that were always available that would boost your deck, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t able to play the whole time. I just didn’t get as many special cards as I would have liked.
This is turning into a lot for one post, so I’ll finish with part 2 tomorrow, including thoughts on Fürstenfeld, Smallworld, Cosmic Encounter, and Armyland.