Con report: The Cast are Dice (TCAD) 2016

TCAD logoAfter having a cracking time at both SorCon and the UK Games Expo this year I decided to have a crack at The Cast are Dice – one of the many other smaller UK board game cons.

Around 200 players descended on Stoke-on-Trent 6th Form College for a Saturday and Sunday of gaming.

I’ve decided to compare the event directly with SorCon as they’re very similar and appeal to the same crowd (I saw many faces at both), but this means your millage will of course vary; many of the things I prefer at one to the other would be the total opposite for others, so rather than skipping to the conclusion please take all the points on their merits and remember this is simply my experience!

Location location location

Here’s a great example of why your opinion may differ from mine, as for me this was a complete knockout for SorCon’s Holiday Inn over TCAD’s college campus. And before I go on its important to point out that both had great, friendly staff, well-lit rooms and reasonable/reasonably priced food.

The first problem is TCAD kicked you out at 10pm on Saturday and 8pm on Sunday, while at SorCon I was still playing at 4am on Sunday morning. And while I was dry as a bone at TCAD, there was always the promise of a beer or two if you wanted one at SorCon.

Stoke TCAD collegeThis had the added effect of meaning early (Friday) arrivals such as myself had nothing to do – while late leavers (again like myself…) also had nothing to do on Sunday evening.

And it was in a crappy area, with nothing but a Subway (bleugh) and some really grotty looking dogburger takeaways for sustenance: SorCon is surrounded by chain restaurants.

This was made worse by the shabby ‘recommended’ North Stafford Hotel. The prices were OK, as were the food and drinks, but with a drunken 18th birthday do on the Friday night and an Indian wedding on the Sunday it was a million miles from what I’d hoped – and barely any other gamers were to be seen.

Secondly, I much preferred SorCon’s big gaming room to the ‘lots of small rooms’ approach of TCAD. It rarely felt like you were part of something and many of the people even had the doors closed to rooms, which just made you feel unwelcome. But as I said above, this is personal taste and I have no actual complaints – it just wasn’t really for me.

Available board and card games

On the flip side this was a big win for TCAD, which was excellently run by the friendly staff and family/friends of Stoke’s own Shire Games. A weekend ticket was just £15 which included a ‘guaranteed prize’ raffle. I randomly drew a ticket for the crappiest prize table and still managed to get a copy of Tichu (£8).

There was also an excellent (and well run) games library with hundreds of games, with a great mix of classics and recent releases and a wide range from quick fillers to long, complex euros. We never found ourselves short of choices and the games were all in good condition.

In comparison SorCon had no prize draw and a library of about 20 games – but that wasn’t an issue as you knew that in advance so brought your own. But more importantly it makes TCAD more of an inclusive event as in theory anyone could’ve rocked up and joined in, whether they were a gamer or not.

Gaming highlights: Old favourites

Cant StopI’d expected this to be a weekend of three-player medium weight euros, but what I ended up with was a weekend of five-player light weight board and card games – which, apart from lugging a bunch of games I didn’t play on the train, was fine with me.

I ended up teaching some of my favourite games – Ra, Notre Dame, Can’t Stop and For Sale: all of which were in my last top 50 and were in TCAD’s impressive games library.

I think Can’t Stop went down the best, with it being both the first and last game we played over the weekend despite it only going to four players (although I’ve pimped my own copy out to play five and you can easily add more cones to take it to six) – not bad for a 35-year-old game!

The other three are great with five and also went down really well. For Sale continues to go up in my estimations as its so easy to teach, always gets a reaction and is out, played and back in the box in 30 minutes tops. Note Dame is probably at its best with three but still sings at five (I don’t mind the extra game length at all), while Ra is a great game from three to five players.

Gaming highlights: New favourites

Isle of SkyI learnt three new games over the weekend and bizarrely managed to win two of them, but it was the one I didn’t win that left the biggest impression.

Isle of Skye was number five on my Essen wishlist last year and has since gone on to win the coveted Spiel des Jahres Kennerspiel award – so it’s hard to believe I’ve only just gotten around to it!

It’s a really solid tile-laying game that played in about an hour, even with five players. There are plenty of genuine decisions to make and while there was quite a bit of luck-of-the-draw, it was fine for a game of this length.

There were just enough new and interesting ideas to merit its lofty status too, but despite all this I won’t be seeking it out as it isn’t quite strong enough to knock the likes of Maori or Entdecker out of my collection.

I also enjoyed my first play of Augustus (gamer bingo!), but it was very light and I can see the shine wearing off quite quickly. As for The Networks I enjoyed the theme and humour on the cards and the gameplay was good; but it was terrible with five and had that hallmark ‘slightly underdeveloped’ Kickstarter vibe – especially in the effect the random show draw affected points in scheduling, and the unbalanced Network cards.

That said, I’d happily player either of them again – with the caveat that I’d only play The Networks with two or three players max.

TCAD: Will I be back in 2017?

To be honest, it’s highly unlikely. Despite being really well run neither the location nor the hotel/con venues would tempt me back. I’d rather try my luck at a different event, as there are so many others out there to check out. Stoke was a pain in the arse for me to get to and it really didn’t feel like it would be worth the money/effort a second time.

But a big thanks to both the organisers and my gaming compadres for the weekend (Keef, Claire, Becks and Fin) – I still had a really good weekend of gaming. And if you’re not really a drinker/late night gamer, live in the Midlands and like to play board and card games The Cast are Dice convention comes highly recommended.

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