Airecon 5: Hitting the North on March 8-10, 2019

Last year saw me head to the frozen (quite literally last year!) North to attend my first Airecon in Harrogate. You can read all about my exploits on last year’s post-con Top 10 list, but suffice it to say I had a good enough time that I’ll be returning again next year.

Tickets are already on sale for the event, and you can find out more by either visiting the Airecon website or getting involved over at their Facebook page. A three-day adult ticket costs just £28 (half that for youngsters), while adult day tickets are £12.

Having had a good six months to reflect on this year’s event, what made Airecon so enjoyable for me was that despite being bigger than most board game cons it still had the atmosphere of one of those nice small local ones. It felt warm and friendly, despite there being masses of table space and loads more publishers and retailers than you’d get at a smaller event. And you won’t get a 350-game library (provided by games retailer and main sponsor Travelling Man) at many other events. There might even be some special guests…It also has the advantage of being slap-bang in the middle of a lovely place. There were a few moans about the variety of food on offer last year, but when you have an entire town full of bars and restaurants literally five minutes away that complaint seems a little churlish! If you want uninterrupted gaming to the nth degree, bring provisions: personally I loved the fact I could take a break and easily have loads of great options within easy reach – and exactly the same went for accommodation.

Alongside the gaming space and retail therapy, last year also had a full list of events including competitions, seminars, live shows and a quiz (we was robbed!) – and you can expect the same at Airecon 5. Again, its nice to have the option of distractions even if you don’t use them – and they’re held in a purpose-built space (Harrogate is a real convention centre town). And don’t forget you’re right on the edge of some beautiful countryside if you’re feeling more adventurous.

This is probably starting to sound like an advert, but hey – last year was great and if they manage to supply more of the same in 2019 it may become my favourite con, so what can I say except hopefully I’ll see you there. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t like it!

Con report: Cologne & Essen Spiel 2018

Luckily this year Essen Spiel coincided with the school half-term in the UK (and will again next year) – so Sarah and me took the opportunity to spend a lovely long weekend in Cologne.

Afterwards I went on to Spiel 2018 and she headed home to be a responsible adult (them’s the breaks). And while we didn’t do much gaming in Cologne, we did find one of the best board game stores in all the land – for more on this, skip to the bottom of this post. Suffice it to say that each trip to Essen from now on is going to have to coincide with a Cologne pit stop…

My Essen Spiel 2018

As always, I had a brilliant if exhausting time in Essen. I only had publisher meetings on Friday, dedicating the rest of my time to simply looking, playing and picking up review copies of games – as well as socialising and catching up with as many people as possible.

I also spent chunks of time on both Saturday and Sunday on the Drawlab booth, talking about and signing copies of Witless Wizards: so if you were one of those that bought a copy, and particularly if we had a chat, thank you so much – it was great fun meeting and chatting to you all. The game did well and pretty much sold through the copies they had with them, which is all I could have hoped for – and all the guys (and gals) working on the booth did a brilliant job of explaining and selling the game – thank you all (again).

In terms of organisation, this was the best Essen Spiel I’ve been to (this was my seventh). While numbers rose once more (more than 190,000 came through the doors over the four days) it rarely felt ridiculously crowded. The one exception was the Galleria, which has become an unfortunate bottleneck. I understand why they fill it with kids’ stuff, but they really need a new solution for next year so this area can simply be used a smooth funnel between halls.

With the addition of a new entrance via Hall 6, it also meant there wasn’t really a hall where games went to die. Some smaller publishers in Hall 6 may dispute this, as it was mainly dedicated to everything from weird beer to cuddly toys, but overall it felt as if there was more of a flow between halls.

Games and gaming at Spiel: Hits and misses

I felt, in terms of new releases, it was an average year. The games generating buzz were often those which had limited copies, rather than the ones people were looking forward to most. I don’t think people wanted Newton more than Coimbra, for example – it’s just there were less copies of Newton available.

It’s a shame poor management by publishers still generates more buzz for a title than it actually being a good game (not to say Newton isn’t one). People – it will be in the shops soon, and it’s not as if there weren’t another 1,000+ other new games to choose from…

In terms of innovation, you don’t expect to be saying Fantasy Flight stole the show – but they did. Both KeyForge and Discover have been troubling the top of the Board Game Geek Hotness list for months and were very highly discussed, played and coveted at Essen Spiel. I’m hoping to get hold of copies of both, but the idea of every box containing unique content – but with a shared rule set – is fascinating. Even if it isn’t perfect this time around, the idea computer algorithms are starting to make their own games (in a way) is a fascinating one.

But beyond Fantasy Flight, the output from the larger publishers – for me at least – was largely disappointing: it felt more mass market and largely bereft of imagination. Titles such as The River (Days of Wonder), Azul: Stained Glass (Next Move), Solenia (Pearl) and Blue Lagoon (Blue Orange) felt derivative and unoriginal (if fine to play), which suggests to me the larger publishers are – probably quite rightly, in a business sense – targeting the ever-growing number of players new to the hobby.

My hunt for interesting mechanisms and ideas kept leading me out to halls four and five – and the great majority of games I brought home were from smaller publishers (see my list of incoming reviews here). But again, this isn’t a criticism of the big boys – more an acknowledgement that, as the market continues to grow, the priorities for the larger publishers will change in terms of what they’re aiming at this new, uninitiated public. The fact masses of new gamers seem to think Century: Spice Road is a ‘game’ (to me it’s a mechanism at best) suggests I’m part of the past, not the future!

Outside the halls: Essen itself

Finally, a few words on Essen the place, as I’ve been mean about it in the past. My first few visits to the city (2012, 2013) were a real struggle in terms of finding anywhere nice to eat or drink, but things have certainly come on in the past couple of years.

Fritzpatricks (pictured) still serves a great pint of Guinness and is the go-to place to meet up, while the Istra Steakhaus is still my favourite place to get a plate of meat and a lovely cold German beer on tap. But they’ve been joined by an ever-growing list of solid eateries on Rüttenscheider Straße and also Alfredstraße. Special mentions this year to the burgers and craft beers at Kohle*Craft*Werk and the hot dogs at Pan’s BeBop.

And finally, a hotel bombshell… After seven years in seven different establishments, I have finally booked the same place two years in a row for 2019! Congratulations, Boutique 019. You may not be in the best location, and you may not have a bar, but the fact you have a nice breakfast included, good free Wi-Fi, comfy bed and good shower makes up for that. And better still, you have single rooms at under £100 per night – pretty much gold dust in Essen during Spiel.

Cologne: Second-hand board game paradise

Being the world’s most mature board game market, Germany has a thriving second-hand game trade that stretches back into the nineties and beyond. It means you can find some amazing bargains alongside reasonably priced games that are super hard to find (and/or expensive) elsewhere.

While we largely did the tourist stuff in Cologne she did humour me for a morning in what many describe as the best second-hand board game store in all of Germany, Spielbrett. Owner Nadine Pick was great company and I could’ve spent all day in the shop.

The place really needs to be seen to be believed (check out the video snippet of one of the rooms below). An unassuming entrance leads to a series of small but jam-packed rooms full of games new and old, both in German and English, covering the history of the hobby. And I mean full – we’re talking floor to ceiling here, and some of the ceilings are pretty high. The actual collection stretches beyond 10,000 titles, with perhaps a third of that on display – but everything is catalogued, while you can enquire and even order much of it online (via Board Game Geek).

Via Spielbrett and the second-hand traders at Spiel, I managed to pick up the following:

  • Kupferkessel Co: (2001) A two-player game from Maori designer Günter Burkhardt that uses the same ‘move around the outside of a tile grid’ mechanism. I’ve been on the look out for it for ages, and this copy was still sealed. It was a SdJ ‘recommended’ back in 2002, but never got an English language release.
  • Balloon Cup: (2003) This whimsical looking yet mean two-player game has been on my radar since playing it on Yucata – but I couldn’t bring myself to get the horrible Rio Grande reprint (as Piñata). I instead picked up the original German version, in perfect condition, for a cheaper price.
  • Manhattan: (1994) Another classic (surprisingly aggressive area control) with a reprint that is no more appealing than the original; surprising in this case, as the original wasn’t exactly stellar in the looks department. Found the original German version for way under the price of a ‘new’ copy, again in great condition.
  • Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glory & All Roads Lead to Rome: (2007/8) The original Thurn and Taxis is an enduring favourite, so I kept a lookout for its two expansions. I found both second-hand for less than 20 euros each, so snapped them up. Now to get all this new nonsense played so I can get to the old stuff!

Overall, it was another brilliant trip to Germany. I just need to remember to book a few days off afterwards next year to recover…

Con report: ColCon 2018, near Colchester

Having just gotten back from the first running of the UK’s newest board game convention, ColCon, what better time to give it a bit of a write up; especially as it looks like it will become a regular fixture on the gaming con calendar.

My biggest takeaway was that, despite being very small (they didn’t have that long to promote it, from conception to event), it got all the most important thing right. So if you’re looking to plan your own convention – or wondering whether to come along to this one next year – hopefully this will stear you in the right direction.

I’d never heard of Marks Tey, a small village outside of Colchester – but the important thing is that its easy to get to either by train (the station is a 10-minute walk from the hotel and less than an hour to London) or car (its right on the A12). We rocked up Friday afternoon and checked straight in.

The venue

The Marks Tey Hotel is a Best Western, putting it firmly in the ‘better than a Travelodge’ category. And the organisers had worked out a price deal on a room that was a genuine bargain (£65 a double for two people, including brekkie).

I’ve been to cons before where the deal is no better than promos you’d find on hotel comparison sites – while the larger cons pretty much leave you to fend for yourself, with local prices rising as the event gains traction over the years. The place was a little tired, but the bed was comfy: sold.

Apart from the large (air conditioned when needed) room we were playing in, the hotel had loads of other areas (large and small) to expand into if we needed them – plus two bars, a restaurant, bar food. The food was pretty good too; standard hotel prices, but filling and tasty – as was the full buffet breakfast.

There’s even a spa on site (steam room, sauna etc), plus a 15m pool and gym; even a tennis court. Did I use any of them? Of course not – I was too busy losing at games in a darkened room. But it’s nice to have the option – especially if you have a partner, children etc who want a little more to do.

The con

Like most smaller conventions, ColCon had a very friendly vibe. You got a name badge as you came in and there was a small but interesting game library on hand – although most people brought huge bags full of their own favourites with them.

It was great to see a dedicated designer playtest area set up, with several playtest demos set up all weekend – as well as an upcoming Kickstarter title SSO (a narrative sci-fi game) you could try out. There were also a couple of small tournaments you could sign up for (Codenames and Terraforming Mars), but you got the feeling you’d have been welcome to try something yourself if you were so inclined.

Alongside the games library (probably about 50 titles) there was retailer Xtreme Trades on hand, as well as a ‘bring and buy’ area for anyone trying to sell some of their unloved games. There were the obligatory ‘looking for players’ signs to pop on the table if you were – you guessed it – looking for more players; and you could get food brought to your table from a reduced-price menu. For £25 for the weekend (Friday to Sunday) you certainly couldn’t complain.

Other important things: As well as Guinness on tap (a proper tap – not one of those shaky can thingies), the organisers had arranged for five (!) different real ales to be delivered from the local Colchester Brewery. Unfortunately one of them wasn’t their magnificent Brazilian Coffee and Vanilla Porter, but there was another nice porter amongst them (until it ran out early on Saturday – can’t think why…).

The games

As usual I seemed to spend as much timer faffing, drinking, talking and eating as I did playing games, but that suits me fine. I did manage 10 plays (despite no early starts or late nights – getting old!), with the only game I had to learn from scratch being a prototype.

I played four medium weight euros with old friends Keef and Clare: Yokohama, Deus, Transatlantic and Caverna. I started brilliantly in Caverna, but as always started to fade as the decision tree grew beyond my tiny mind – but managed to hang on for a share of the win. I also put in a decent display in Yokohama, coming a close-ish second, but I need to master the game’s arc. Again, I felt like I was motoring only to fizzle out toward the end.

This was our first play of Deus with the Egypt expansion – and perhaps stupidly we used all the new cards at once. This led to an awful lot of reading between turns, and not really having a clue what synergies might be on offer, but the consensus was that while really changing the game’s feel it kept all the things we liked about the original intact: a big win. Transatlantic was a little less well received, but more of that in my next four-sided review (next week).

Sarah joined us on and off through the weekend, which gave us the perfect opportunity to rest our addled brains with three lighter favourites: Ticket to Ride, Africana and Thurn and Taxis.

It was a first play of the Legendary Asia map for Keef and Clare, but it didn’t stop them coming first and second. It was the same in Africana – mainly because it is such a different game with four than with two. By the time Sarah and I had adapted our play, we were already dead and buried! At least I won Thurn and Taxis…

The prototype I got to play was The Seven Dwarves: a Kingsburg-style dice placement game. As the dice roll/placement system is currently identical to Kingsburg, it may be one publishers turn their noses up at: but the goals have a simpler set collection/recipe completion feel, making it a faster but equally satisfying experience. It needs some work but showed potential. Finally, Sarah and me had a couple of games of the cruelly overlooked Adios Calavera: now our go-to two-player game.

The end

I had a really nice time at ColCon. Staff and gamers were friendly, the facilities were excellent and prices reasonable: what more could you ask for? I expect the organisers will be a little disappointed with the attendance on the Friday and Sunday, but there must have been 50-100 there on Saturday – a sure sign of what is possible in future. I’m certainly hopefully of attending again next year. As long as there’s more porter…

As well as the link to its website above, you can also stay up to date with future events by following ColCon on Facebook.

Board game Top 10: AireCon highlights

This is a bit different from my usual top 10s, but seemed a good way to talk about what was a fabulous weekend away in Harrogate. So expect an eclectic mix below including everything from prototypes to people to pork pies…

It was my first visit to AireCon and only its second year in its new venue. But with dates already announced for next year (March 8-10, 2019) and a big bump in attendance numbers this year (which more than doubled to more than 1,500 unique attendees) it feels as if it’s here to stay. And I feel as if it is now one of the first things I’ll be adding to my 2019 calendar.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here’s…

My top 10 AireCon highlights

Monumental: Now on Kickstarter, designer Matthew Dunstan had a copy of his latest prototype with him. It’s a card-driven civ building euro that plays fast (60-90 mins), but you get a satisfying feel of progression throughout. You start with a couple of unique powers but through deck-building soon diversify more – and a clever system of activating a row and column from a 3×3 card grid offers strong replayability. The modular map has you bumping heads too, giving that proper civ feel.

Harrogate: As towns go, they don’t come much nicer. Despite being way oop north it’s an easy destination to reach by train – and once you’ve arrived, it’s very compact and pleasant to wander around. It’s got a lovely, oldie-worldy feel that reminds me of Edinburgh; lots of solid grey Victorian (that’s a guess) buildings and they’ve done well to keep the old town looking great. As it’s a big conference and tourist town, there’s also loads of variety in terms of hotels, bars and restaurants – including plenty of independent places. And better still, the prices are largely reasonable too. And better still, it’s only about a 20 minute walk to get out into the beautiful local countryside.

Yokohama: Despite years of practice, I’m still rubbish at picking out the best euro games from the huge annual list of Essen releases. This is another case in point: a game that passed me by in 2016 that, after two plays this year, I have totally fallen in love with. It has a similar modular board and route building mechanism to Istanbul, but there’s so much more complexity here. The theme and components add little, but the efficiency puzzle (as others players get in your way) is delicious. Add lots of ways to score, plus plenty of items to add variety, and you have a real winner for point salad fans such as myself.

Fine dining (beer, pie etc): Conventions of any kind can be a nightmare when it comes to the food and drink on offer, often leading to low quality and small portion sizes for a high price tag. AireCon fell down a little on variety, but what it did have was lovely. Both the small pork pie stand and craft beer stall had really nice offerings, while the pizza van also served up great pizza. Beyond a coffee/snacks stand there was only a typical burger van for variety – and anyone with food allergies was poorly catered for. But from a purely selfish (and unhealthy) perspective, the beer, pizza and pork pies were magic!

Mini Rails: One of the real arts of board game design is cutting through the excess nonsense to distil a game down to its pure essence – while retaining enough game to keep it fun. Admittedly this is after only one play, but Mini Rails seems to have nailed that concept. Buy stocks, build track, screw over the competition: this is a classic train stocks game in a small package that plays in under an hour, for three to five players. Mean, thinky and fun.

(Oh what an) atmosphere: What makes a good con atmosphere? Friends and/or friendly, happy people – check. Welcoming but unobtrusive staff/vendors who all actually seem to be enjoying themselves – check. Loads of space, for both walking around and gaming, meaning you never worry about finding somewhere to set up a game or having to push through crowds – check. Even at peak times on Saturday, there were always free tables in several areas, which makes such a difference. There was also an area set aside for quite gaming, one for RPGs, ones with a view of the outside world etc. All this was hugely conducive to having a stress-free weekend.

Pioneer Days: Despite 150 air-freighted copies of our latest release making it to Essen last year, Matt and me were yet to play hadn’t played the finished version together. But with the shipment having just arrived in the US this was a timely opportunity for us to have a game – and who better to teach it to than special con guest Mr ‘Watch It Played’ himself, Rodney Smith? Luckily he really enjoyed it (fingers crossed for a video in the not too distant future) and it was a good close game, with all within 10 points of each other. In a store new you soon folks…

The unexpected: While you make grand plans to play all kinds of games at a con, you invariably end up playing a bunch of things you didn’t expect to. Often they’re horrible dross that should be burned – but even the worst of my experiences here were OK. The best were Aquasphere (a Stefan Feld I’d been put off of by the gaudy artwork, is a solid puzzley euro); Nyet! (a trick-taking game with an interesting twist) and Dice Throne (the Yahtzee mechanic used to good effect in a fantasy combat game). All three games, while I won’t be seeking out for my collection, I’d be more than happy to play again.

Orleans: I don’t have much of a list of game I’m desperate to play, but Orleans was on that list: a game I’d earmarked to grab at Essen 2014 but that hadn’t quite made the cut – and that I’d tried and failed to play ever since. Having recently been a little underwhelmed by its successor Altiplano I had lowered my expectations – but as it turned out, I far preferred this bag-builder to its more recent companion. The fun is in the puzzle of trying to work out what your opponents are trying to do so you don’t get beaten to the punch, while creating a strong but lean selection of tiles (as in any deck-builder – the bag is purely a gimmick). It also looks good and plays smooth.

Zizzi: You know the stars are aligned when you’re wandering around feeling a bit hungry, spot an above average chain restaurant on the horizon, wander in – and they’ve  essentially creating the pizza you’d always wanted despite never having heard of it before. Pulled pork, fine – but crackling too? And sweet chilli jelly? Oh my…

AireCon misses

Of course it wasn’t all hearts and flowers – and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t put at least a bit of a negative spin on proceedings. But I actually struggled to find bad things to say about my weekend.

The hotel I stayed in (The Crown) had a good breakfast and friendly staff, but it was really noisy and the pillows were crap – but nothing some ear plugs and my own pillow wouldn’t fix! There was also a gaming pub quiz on the first night which was kind of fun, but totally shambolic with several really stupid (and not in a good way) rounds. A good idea but poorly executed – and hopefully it’ll work next time.

And yes, those really were the low lights. As I wandered out of the convention centre late on Sunday afternoon, relieved to have booked an extra night so as not to have to leave early, I was powered by the warm glow of gaming goodness. Maybe in the morning I’d also have enough time for one last walk out into the Yorkshire countryside? Either way, a weekend well spent. See you next year!

Board gaming and anxiety: My pros and cons of cons

So this may surprise people, as anxiety isn’t something I’ve talked about openly before. I’d think most of my friends and acquaintances see me as an affable gobshite who tends to relish social situations as part of a never-ending crusade against growing up. But while some of that may be true, it just goes to show – there is often a bit more going on behind the curtain.

I chose to write about board game conventions because they have been a big part of my social life over the past few years. I’m at my second of the year this weekend (AireCon), and the fourth in as many months. But I find them a mess of contradictions in terms of anxiety issues, so I thought I’d give a bit of a breakdown of my experiences – including the goods and bads that work for me (I know this may be totally different for others).

I’d love to hear your comments and experiences too – and I plan to write some more posts (including a more general ‘why gaming is good for me’ one) on the topic, so all feedback/ideas etc welcome. That said, pressing ‘publish’ on this is proving ridiculously difficult, so we’ll see how that goes…

Staying on and off site

One of the beauties of a con such as LoBsterCon or SorCon is the fact you have a hotel room in the same building as the gaming area – and what takes LoBsterCon to the next level in the last couple of years is the fact everyone staying in the hotel is at the con (so no awkward “what are those weirdos doing” looks from other patrons).

The big plus for me is having somewhere close to escape to that’s totally your space – as well as knowing that if you forget anything etc, it’s just a few floors up in the lift. For this reason I often book an extra night after the con, because otherwise – once I’ve checked out – I can start to feel a bit trapped and edgy. If I don’t stay that extra night, chances are I’ll leave soon after check-out and miss a day of gaming. I also like to arrive an evening early where possible, to get settled in and to be mentally ready for day one.

But of course, this locale bonus also relies on the hotel being somewhere you want to stay. Taking UK Games Expo as an example, the benefits listed above were largely negated at the Hilton last year: ridiculous room prices, even worse bar prices and a steady stream of rude and incompetent staff negated pretty much all the pluses (good breakfast though, in fairness).

‘Gamers needed’ flags

This may seem like a pretty minor issue, but these things are an absolute godsend: they should be made con-pulsory (ho ho) as far as I’m concerned. For the uninitiated, these are little flags you can put on your table as you’re setting up a game to indicate that you’re looking for more players to join you.

Firstly, this is great when you look around a room (especially a larger one) to try and find a game. Just because someone is setting up doesn’t mean they’re looking for players, so it avoids potentially awkward situations and pointless, stilted conversations. Plus, it saves people having to walk around the room trying to find players – which again can lead to some super awkward conversations.

But the unexpected extra bonus for me is people don’t (well, less often at least) see an empty chair and decide to come and impose themselves on you. I really don’t care if the game goes to five players: I’ve sat down with two good friends I rarely see to play it while we have a nice chat and a catch up – I’m sure you’re a nice person, but adding you would totally change the dynamic, so no thank you.

100 people good, 1,000 people bad

This may sound odd, but I very much feel that – despite 100 people being a lot – I gravitate more towards smaller cons. Walking into a room with 100 people isn’t daunting for me: it’s not as if we’re going to have a Slaughtered Lamb moment where everyone stops talking and looks at me. But at the same time, you immediately take in a bunch of faces you know you’re likely to be seeing regularly over the next few days.

I like that sense of belonging that comes from a smaller, more recognisable group: it’s probably why I never have a problem walking into my local pub even though I have nothing in common with many of the people that drink there – but when I’m having a bad day, I can fail to turn up to a gig by a band I love because I can’t face walking into a venue full of thousands of probably like-minded strangers.

I’ve failed to book a hotel for UK Games Expo so far and I think (along with the price etc problems mentioned above) this is a big part of why. I don’t really want to go, despite the fact I do want to go. It’s too big for me, too impersonal, too shambolic (you can struggle to even find a table to play on at times in recent years) – but at the same time too enclosing and too in-your-face (especially in the vendor area).

 

So… why the hell do you like Essen?

Essen Spiel is unique. Over 100,000 gamers uncomfortably packed into a bunch of convention centre halls which have zero open gaming space – meaning everything there is geared towards selling you product. On top of that, unless you’re royalty you’re looking at a 15-60 minute walk – or a packed public transport cattle experience – to and from your hotel. Everything I hate, right?

Wrong. Unlike every horrible sales pitch infested expo you may have attended before, you rarely find any hard sell here (unless you find yourself in the most outlying hall where terrible games go to die). In fact, if you see a stall worker that isn’t occupied they’re more likely to try and avoid your eye than get it – they’re probably taking a quick five-second breather from the retail carnage.

Add this attitude to the virtual sea of seemingly millions of excited gamers and what I find myself experiencing is strange kind of peace: I’m with my people, immersed in the best my hobby has to offer, but absolutely no one is paying any attention to me. I can just bimble around people watching, game watching, researching, without a care in the world. Everything I want to see is there, but the level of interaction is in my control – something I find increasingly important nowadays.

Later, when you get back to your hotel, you’ll probably find 90+% of the residents are fellow gamers – and the hotel (which are all well used to Essen Spiel by now) will have a small con-sized gaming area full of those familiar faces I spoke about before: people you’ll be in the same space with on the evenings for the week. Weirdly, somehow, that all makes sense. What can I say? That’s just me.

AireCon 2018: A rising star in the north

In the last decade, Birmingham’s UK Games Expo has cemented its place as the UK’s largest board game convention. It is now a genuine mark on the global gaming convention map, with the cream of publishers (as well as the biggest tournaments) in attendance.

But with this success have come the inevitable problems of growth. Reasonably priced hotels near the NEC were snapped up a year in advance, leaving ridiculously priced options or a commute as the only options – not great when the trains into the city stop running early and cabs cost a fortune. And both of the last two years have seen times when the open gaming space was full. So despite its clear success (I’ll certainly be attending again this year), it shows there is room in the market for more such events.

With the Midlands well catered for, up has stepped Tabletop Gaming Live (London in September) in the South, and AireCon (Harrogate in March) in the North – with AireCon being sponsored by UK Games Expo itself (amongst others).

So why AireCon?

While this will officially be the fifth AireCon, it became an annual event last year when it moved to its current home in the Harrogate Convention Centre.

It describes itself as a “friendly and inclusive analog gaming festival” and has secured sponsorship from one of the worlds most respected games publishers, Czech Games Edition (CGE). Better still, there will be a 350-game library courtesy of FLG Travelling Man, which has stores in Leeds, York, Newcastle and Manchester.

There’s plenty to recommend AireCon. Firstly its in Harrogate, which is lovely (in stark comparison to London and Birmingham…). Second, it’s in a great modern venue and is currently a small but perfectly formed version of Expo (they’re expecting 1,000 unique visitors over the weekend) – plenty of open gaming space, plus a bit of retail therapy to demo and buy new games (there are more than 25 exhibitors confirmed, including Asmodee and the Ragnar Brothers).

The organisers provide a fun, relaxed environment and welcome all (respectful and not smelly) gamers from across the various strands of the hobby. Alongside the kind of tabletop games I talk about here, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to try RPGs – as well as gaming industry panels, quizzes, a play-test area for unpublished games, contests, a family area and giant versions of some of your favourite games. Plus there’s the Super Board team competition – with a 1st prize including tickets and flights to Essen 2018!

See you there?

AireCon is smack-bang in the middle of the town and easily accessible by road or rail. It’s spread over three days (March 9-11) and tickets are just £25 (£12 kids) for the weekend, or £10 (£5 kids) for a day if you just want to test the water.

Those of us travelling from around the rest of the planet have plenty of nice hotels and B&Bs to choose from (it’s a pretty big tourist town), and I’m really looking forward to it. You can find all the nitty gritty details in their official FAQ here.

If you like reading about games listening to gaming podcasts or watching gaming videos there will be plenty of us in attendance to have a chinwag with: I’ll be travelling up with The Game Pit boys, while the chaps from Gaming Rules, Polyhedron Collider, No Pun Included, Toucan Play That Game and Watch it Played will also be in attendance – plus loads more I’m sure. Hopefully more UK designers will be in attendance too: I know several who are hoping to pop along – not that anyone wants to speak to us when they can speak to a video blogger! Welcome to the future… 🙂

Con report: UK Games Expo 2017

At last week’s UK Games Expo I managed to break my own PB for different hats worn and sleep deprivation, adding ‘PR demo guy for a publisher’ to my usual list of designer (on booth), designer (publisher meetings), designer (play-testing), journalist and punter. It was an exhausting four days, but thoroughly enjoyable all the same.

My PR stint involved showing the next three games from LudiCreations to a variety of games journalists: Iunu, Diesel Demolition Derby and Alexandria. I’m lucky enough to now have one of my co-designs with Matt Dunstan signed with Ludi now, so I’ll no longer be reviewing its games – but I wanted to give a bit of a preview of them here.

Elsewhere I got to help out a bit with demoing Armageddon to a steady flow of punters, grab a few new games to review and show some of my own new titles to some great publishers – as well as catching up with lots of old friends I only seem to see in Birmingham, Eastbourne and Germany nowadays!

Ludi’s latest creations

I was demoing three games for LudiCreations: one currently on Kickstarter, and two more on the way in the next month or so.

I had the pleasure of sharing the games with the fine people at The Game Pit Podcast, Polyhedron Collider, Creaking Shelves, Broken Meeple and Devon Dice. Hopefully you’ll be able to check them out for more opinionated articles.

Iunu is on Kickstarter until June 30, for as little as $10. It’s a simple yet clever 2-4 player card game with elements of drafting, set collection, building majorities and engine building. It has a delicious tipping point midway though and, despite looking very simple, packs some genuine decisions into a short playing time (sub-one hour). It demoed well with everyone I played with – and you can try it yourself on Tabletopia.

Diesel Demolition Derby is a simple ‘robot smash’ drafting game from Matt Dunstan. Rounds are super fast, with many cards having effects that hit your opponents’ robots as you all try to get the most strength in machines into your tableau – but the bigger the robot, the bigger the target and the little ones, played well, will often give you those satisfying David and Goliath moments. There are a bunch of arena cards that make every round different, it plays 2-6 and lasts about 30 minutes. One for fans of filler games, drafting, simple combat, micro games, and trying to read your opponents’ plans.

Alexandria is an asymmetric, action point allowance and hand management game, played out on a modular board representing the great Library of Alexandria (2-4 players, 1-2 hours). Each character has a unique card deck and they all play very differently; as you’re trying to save particular items from the fire, you can bet one of your opponents is trying to smash them to gain their own advantage! The board shrinks each round, adding to the tension, while a bunch of reaction cards keep everyone on their toes. It tells a strong story, and will appeal to euro fans who like a bit of interaction in their games and anyone who enjoys putting together card combos.

The now, the soon and the maybes

It was great to see Queen Games at Expo, with two tables demoing Armageddon. They didn’t have loads of copies with them but they sold what they had, and the tables were full all weekend. It was fun watching groups sit down to learn the game but instead of playing a couple of turns, stay for the whole game.

It was also great to catch up with Seth Jaffee, of Tasty Minstrel Games. He has been developing Matt Dunstan and my next release, Pioneer Days, which should be out later in 2017. It’s a dice-driven euro game which I think does a good job of bringing out the Oregon Trail theme; and I’m super pumped at how the finished version is turning out.

Armageddon co-designer David Thompson and me also showed our most recent two prototypes to several publishers. It’s hard to believe how far the Expo has come in just a few years, in terms of the staff from top publishers in attendance: they genuinely see it as a key event on the calendar. The likes of AEG, Pegasus, Queen, Mage Company and Mayfair all had senior staffers on hand, to name but a few. We didn’t sign any deals, but had some positive meetings.

Reviews incoming

I was deliberately subdued on the review front for two reasons: one, I’ve still got games to review from Essen so didn’t want to add to the pile too much; and two, there really wasn’t that much ‘new’ stuff on show that interested me. There were lots of mini-heavy offerings, some pretty rustic looking affairs and a bunch of hopeful Kickstarters: not really my bag!

I did grab Design Town from Pegasus; Kingdomino and Baobab (Tumble Tree) from Coiledspring/Blue Orange, and The Cousin’s War from Surprised Stare. Design Town, or Flip City, is an interesting deck-builder; Tumble Tree a great little dexterity game; Kingdomino a light domino game recently announced as one of this year’s Spiel de Jares nominees; and The Cousin’s War is a light and fast two-player card driven war game. Hopefully I’ll get them all reviewed before Essen…

As for being a punter, I realised on Sunday morning that I’d played 15 games at the con to that point – only one of which was published! That was classic Knizia bidding game Medici, that I’d never played. I managed an inglorious last place but did enjoy the challenge – thanks to Rogue from GCT Studios for teaching.

Pros and con cons

At the end of the weekend, thoughts inevitably turned to next year. This time I stayed at the Hilton Metropole for the first time, which was brilliant in terms of being able to sneak off and desocialise when all the crowds and noise got a bit much. And it was also a godsend on two occasions when I needed to demo games, but we couldn’t find a free table anywhere, so used my frankly ridiculous sized room.

But despite a comfy bed and fantastic breakfast, the hotel was pretty awful. Staff were often rude and/or incompetent (especially at the bar), my room was never properly cleaned and the price of everything – from the room to drinks and food – was ridiculous for the poor level of service provided. I get better cleaners/bar staff in London fleapits. I expect I’ll try and get into one of the other large hotels nearby, if I can afford it…

As for UK Games Expo itself, I continue to be amazed at how it copes with exponential growth every year with such little fuss and drama. As ever the Expo volunteers were helpful and smiling throughout the weekend, in stark contrast to those of the Hilton. But while the areas of the NEC used were well organised, the Hilton gaming space was at breaking point the whole weekend; a problem they’ll have to seriously address – and get ahead of – for next year. But i’m confident the organisers can, yet again, rise to the task.

Con report: SorCon 2017, Basildon

After having a great time at last year’s SorCon, it was great to be able to head back to Basildon for SorCon 10. The event is held in a Holiday Inn from Friday lunchtime until the last stragglers head off early on Sunday evening, with a nominal entry fee presumably covering the cost of the conference facilities.

Most of the gaming is done in a large, well lit room with good-sized tables and very comfy chairs (there’s an over-spill room too, if you want to get away from the hubbub). There’s an average of just over 100 attendees per day, making it a comfortable size, while the food and drink is pretty good as well as reasonably priced (but as it’s a hotel, don’t expect any cask ales).

But more importantly, it has a great atmosphere. The organisers are friendly, while I’ve not been to a con where people seem as comfortable asking if there’s space in a game than they do here. It would probably benefit from some ’empty slots’ cones, or similar, but it’s nice that people feel everyone is approachable enough anyway.

There’s not much going on beyond open gaming though. That certainly doesn’t bother me, but people wanting variety may struggle. That said there is the gamer oriented Saturday night quiz-a-hunt, a bring-and-buy table and a local board game retailer on hand – as well as loads of chain restaurants and a cinema on the doorstep.

A quick shout-out to old friends Keef and Claire for driving me to the con and humouring me throughout. And it was great to have Sarah with me for the first night (her first con and a successful one), as well as seeing old friends such as Matt (Creaking Shelves), John (LoB) and the rest – sorry I didn’t get to play with many of you!

Will I be going back? Absolutely – the date will go straight in my diary when it’s announced. Behind LoBsterCon this is my favourite UK event of the year – and one I’d suggest any gamer should check out if looking for a small, friendly con with a good variety of games – from party to the epics (I saw full games of both Colony and Mega Civ played).

Gaming highlights

  • The Oracle of Delphi: This was comfortably my game of the weekend. I’d been needing to get it to the table to review it, but was lucky to be expertly taught it here (thanks Phil!). Expect the review in the next month or so – but it’s a classic Feld that removes point salad for a race mechanism. There may be a little too much luck for some, but it’s also relatively short. And the play was super tense at the end, with me losing to Claire on the second tie-breaker (Keef and Phil were a turn behind us).
  • Castles of Burgundy: Another Feld, another highlight. This old favourite is always fun, but all the more so with experienced players. Claire, Keef and me are all fans and as always the game ebbed and flowed. As we neared the end it looked for a while that I’d run away with it – but once again Claire came back and just pipped me on end-game bonuses, taking the win on 206 to my 204.
  • Celestia: We closed Saturday night out with this great, and beautiful, little filler – and it was well received by everyone. It’s so simple to teach and immediately gets people chatting around the table, which is perfect when people are a little oiled. We ended up playing back-to-back games – the second with the recent expansion – with wins for Claire and SorCon buddy Craig. The expansion adds individual player abilities, which were a bit underwhelming, and a bunch of new cards that were great fun. Expect a review of the expansion soon.

The other ‘new to me’ games

  • Glass Road: I’d managed to miss this Uwe offering somehow, so was happy to give it a go. I liked the resource wheel mechanism in Le Havre: Inland Port, while not enjoying the game, and it turns out it is used to much better effect here. This is classic mid-weight Rosenberg – you have no idea what the hell to do at first, faced with a plethora of similarly weighted options, but after a few rounds it starts to make sense. But unlike games such as (proper) Le Havre it is pretty quick and the choices never become overwhelming once you’ve got the basics down. A good game that I’d play again, but not one I’ll be seeking out to buy.
  • Railroad Revolution: This was another game on my review shelf I’d brought along in the hope of being taught it – and once again Phil (with help from Keef) came to the rescue. While I quite enjoyed my play – and ended up winning – it was a little underwhelming overall; basically some of the scoring sections didn’t seem very fair for what you had to do to get the points. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve played it a few more times (again, review incoming), but it seems a common complaint from those who’ve played it a few times. On the plus side, mechanically it was very enjoyable – lots of interesting decisions and very tricky resource management.
  • Steampunk Rally: Our last game of the con, this seemed a good choice for our frazzled brains – but was actually thinkier than I’d thought it would be (thanks to Paul for teaching). It’s a clever puzzle of a game, with a solid mix of dice, drafting and racing – but with the real key being engine building. I kind of missed this, building a sleek machine that got over the line – but only in joint last place. The game was OK, but definitely had that slightly shonky Kickstarter sheen – and was sadly lacking in player interaction (there are some screwage cards, but not many).
  • Ticket to Ride – Rails and Sails: I’d heard bad things about the most recent Ticket to ride offering and my fears were sadly borne out. As the title suggests this version adds boats to the mix – but only really adds fiddliness via an extra set of cards. This just proved to be a painful lesson in irritating admin rather than an interesting innovation on a system I love – and I wouldn’t seek it out again (but would play if someone really wanted to. Seemed particularly irksome with five players.

Games I’d played before

  • Can’t Stop: Always a winner, as two more highly entertaining four-player games (jumping variant) proved once again. Sarah grabbed her second win in her second play of the game, while Keef took the win the following evening.
  • Ulm: It was nice to play this four-player, and find it stands up nicely to all player counts. We played with the roof tiles face-up, which is meant to be the more ‘gamer’ version, but I just found it added a level of extra information that didn’t really add to the game – if anything it made it more cumbersome without really adding much to the experience. That said, I still really enjoyed the play – expect a full review of Ulm on the blog next week.
  • Voyages of Marco Polo: My second ‘real life’ play of this, more than a year after the first, saw me teaching it from the rules to Keef and Claire. Despite one cock up I must’ve explained them reasonably well, as they wiped the floor with me! I still think this is an OK game, but don’t really see what all the fuss is all about – overall, it’s very average. While I like the amount of variety in setup, the things you’re doing just aren’t interesting enough to make it fun over time regardless of this.
  • Castles of Mad King Ludwig: My third play of Ludwig, and my third comfortable win. No, I have no idea why I keep winning either – and I still don’t really like it. The castle building part is right up my street, but the bit where you have to set the values of the rooms is absolutely horrible (for me anyway). We played with the moats/swans expansion, which I enjoyed as an extra set of challenges/options – just give me a different option for choosing values each turn and I’d be converted.

Overall, I had a fantastic time throughout the convention (even the sausages at breakfast were good, and the Guinness reasonable). And I enjoyed every play of the weekend, even if I wasn’t sold on the game, and I didn’t play anything below average – or with anyone other than really nice gamers. Bring on SorCon 11!

Nuremberg Toy Fair versus Essen: Spielwarenmesse for game designers

I’ve wanted to go to the Nuremberg Toy Fair since I started down the game design rabbit hole and finally made it happen this year – so thought I’d pass on a few thoughts on my experiences in case any other fledgling designers were considering making the trip.

For the uninitiated, the fair (official snappy title: Spielwarenmesse) is massive: almost 3,000 exhibitors showing a million products to almost 75,000 trade visitors.

While the board game halls are just about two of the 20 or so on offer, the list of publishers in attendance is impressive: alongside all the key German players (Kosmos, Huch, Haba, Pegasus, Queen, Alea, Amigo, Schmidt etc) you’ll find many of the world’s finest on hand – from Asmodee and Granna to Blackrock and Mayfair, and many more in between.

Below I’m going to compare my Nuremberg experience, in as much as I can, to going to Essen – as both a game designer and a game fan/blogger. The two are very different experiences and both have their advantages (or perhaps disadvantages, depending on your point of view!).

Nuremberg versus Essen

1. The great unwashed: One of the great joys of Nuremberg is that it isn’t open to the general public. This means that, in terms of crowding, it is far more relaxed – especially because the board gaming areas aren’t the most heavily trafficked (that’s reserved for Lego and the like).

This also translates to the public transport to and from the show (the price of which is handily included in your show ticket), which is far less packed, while it’s easy to find short food queues once you find some of the more hidden away cafe areas (no, I’m not telling!).

2. The atmosphere inside: After the lower numbers in the halls, the next thing you notice in comparison to Essen is the subsequent volume level. This is a huge boon in terms of trying to have meetings as you don’t have to shout over the crowd the whole time; and the lack of crowding gamers means it’s easier to get from one meeting to the next – not to mention almost all the publishers you’ll need to see being in two adjacent halls.

3. Relaxed meetings: As stands aren’t all hands to the pumps, it means games developers can concentrate purely on taking meetings. And better still, they don’t need to fill said stands with tonnes of games to sell – meaning the stands are much more geared towards meeting spaces with tables and chairs. Having seen games pitched at Essen anywhere from a window ledge to the floor, it’s a welcome change!

Also, as the show lasts a full week, there are usually plenty of time slots to be had (mileage may vary here though). This means you can go for less time, but still squeeze a lot in – we managed to take a dozen meetings in two days, while still having time to eat and wander around the halls a bit – and it never felt as if we were having to rush a pitch.

4. More time for your games: Better still is the logistics of the European game release year. Most hobby publishers will release a lot more games at Essen than at Nuremberg – and the gap from Nuremberg to Essen is longer, meaning that publishers are feeling the pressure is off a little at this time of year (February/March).

This means they have more time to play prototypes – and yours will be fresh in their minds if you show here, rather than Essen. You can also improve on ideas between the two, or work towards ideas they may have hinted at back in October. And publishers will generally be more patient as you bumble through!

5. Outside the fair: Comparing the cities culturally is a total mismatch: Nuremberg has a fantastic medieval castle and district, a great train museum, art of all kinds and German history museum – as well as a bustling shopping centre and some decent restaurants and bars. Essen has something of the latter. However Nuremberg has an accommodation market well used to Spielwarenmesse being in town, so staying during the show is eye-wateringly expensive. That said, as there are way less publishers than at Essen – who have more time slots – you can stay for a shorter break.

So which is better: Nuremberg Spielwarenmesse or Essen Spieltage?

I don’t think it’s possible to say one is better than the other, as every visiting designer will be different. But what I can say for sure is that the two complement each other beautifully: I’ll try to continue to do both, but think Essen will remain the priority.

I fell for Nuremberg as a city and would love to head back for a touristy visit (when it’s less expensive!). I had some great publisher meetings, met some great people and – money permitting – will return next year (perhaps commuting from a nearby city).

But, despite any perceived slights, for my money you just can’t beat Essen. Every publisher worth their onions is there, a thousand new games are released, its organised chaos and something always goes wrong – but it’s the most exciting and exhilarating gaming weekend of the year.

It’s like the difference between a folk festival and a rock festival. One is better organised, has better toilets, you’ll be able to see, things will run on time, and you’ll come away from it with most things you took with you. But the other – once you submit to its rakish charms – will give you the memories you’ll treasure for a lifetime.

Con report: LoBsterCon XII, Eastbourne, December 2016

marine-eastbourneDespite the best efforts of freezing winds and the utter incompetence of Southern Rail, around 100 hardy souls managed to make it to Eastbourne for the winter leg of London on Board’s bi-annual board game extravaganza.

Returning to The Cumberland was like warmly hugging an old friend, despite it only being our second time here. It has that creaky, tired charm you tend to find in English seaside resort hotels – all creaking floorboards and wobbly staircases. But it’s friendly and we have the place to ourselves for four solid days of drinking gaming.

I’ve been having a crappy time of late, so it as nice to get away from reality for an extended weekend. But geography can only take you head so far and I found myself playing a lot fewer games than usual, preferring to spend quite a bit of time just relaxing and emptying my mind. The Marine’s Christmas grotto (pictured) certainly helped for an evening out and about, while the nearby Victoria was also lovely. Even the dodgy looking American diner in town served up some pretty great food.

I love our Eastbourne trips the way they are – a big room of gamers playing, drinking and trash talking. So the addition of a bring-and-buy, secret santa and probably some other newfangled ideas for the kids totally passed me by (but were apparently enjoyed by those who got involved). And I’m glad I didn’t get involved, as I was probably hiding away in my room while they were going on anyway.

I did manage to play 17 games (13 different ones) over the four days, including quite a few gems I’d missed from Essen 2016. But as always it was more about the people – catching up with old friends and making new ones. To everyone I gamed with, and/or had a beer/meal with, thank you – and see you next time.

terraforming-marsNew game highlights

  • Terraforming Mars: This was comfortably the game I most regretted not bringing home from Essen – and it turned out to be everything I’d hoped it would be. It has the tough decisions and massive card stack of Race for the Galaxy, but without the confusing iconography. It also adds a board, a mild ‘take that’ element that works and about two hours more playtime per game – but it genuinely flew by. This is definitely a game I will be getting my hands on as soon as they manage to get it back in print.
  • Lorenzo il Magnifico: Another I’d had my eye on at Essen, I’d cooled on it after being pretty bored by the design team’s previous release, Grand Austria Hotel. This is also a dice-based action selection euro game, but a great improvement on its predecessor – it halves the game time by largely eliminating the AP downtime. It does this by reducing the game space considerably – there are fewer wordy options, but the decisions are much more meaningful and it still feels as if you’re all traversing different paths. I have some doubts about its longevity, but if I get 5-10 plays out of it that are this much fun it’ll worth the entrance fee.
  • Fabled Fruit: The latest idea from the unique mind of Friedemann Friese, I’d decided against pursuing this at Essen because you can never be sure if his games are more about a concept than actually having any fun. But post-Essen reports had been positive, so I made sure to get a few games in. It proved to be a great little simple card game, where you stayed engaged because the mix of available actions changes a little every few turns. It’s not a crazy change, as in Fluxx, but much more subtle – it keeps you on your toes, but never feels complicated. I won’t be seeking a copy out, as I don’t think my regular groups will car enough, but I look forward to exploring it more when I get the opportunity.
  • Manhattan Project – Energy Empire: The spiritual successor to Manhattan Project polishes the kinks out of the original design, making it a much smoother ride. But in doing so it takes out all the take-that and the end game tension, making it a rather solitary engine building affair with a set number of rounds. I really enjoyed my play and would play again, but was left feeling the perfect version of this game is somewhere between the two – and hopefully still in the making.

Other ‘new to me’ games

  • Oh My Goods – Longsdale in Turmoil: I’ve enjoyed my plays of Oh My Goods and was keen to try the expansion. You can absolutely see what he was trying to do here – but unfortunately it seems he wrote the ideas on the back of a fag packet and they published them by mistake. Much as with Manhattan Project above, a reprint of the original with a lot of this included (after some serious work on it) could be awesome – but this feels wholly unfinished. Each player could’ve won, depending on which interpretation of the rules you decided to throw up in the air.
  • Dale of Merchants: Sometimes you start playing a game and just think, Kickstarter. This is one of those games. There’s nothing wrong with it – there’s just no point in it existing. From the mediocre mechanisms, terrible title and clichéd fantasy animal setting to the mass of options that will never make the game different enough each time to care about, it’s just an over-complicated exercise in draw one, play one with way too much AP-inducing card text. Really, really average – never again.

The Dwarves boxGames I brought and played

  • The Dwarves: Once again Sean and Natalie joined our latest attempt to save the world from trolls, orcs and dark elves – this time joined by Hella and John Mitchell. We played the ‘Book 5: Triumph of the Dwarves’ mini expansion on ‘difficult’ and, after a relatively simple start to the game, I decided to spruce things up with some epicly bad Sean-esque dice rolling. Luckily I redeemed myself (a bit) in the final battle to secure a very narrow win with just a couple of turns to spare. Love it.
  • Armageddon: I explained the rules (poorly) to Hella, Sherine and Teri – and then Teri showed us how to play the game. I was lucky to end up joint third, but more disappointed to find a couple of the end game tiles are problematic balance-wise. Don’t look at me! Also gave everyone a chance to mock me as they wandered past – which was much like I imagine it feels like being in the stocks! Hats off especially to Jacob who mocked me, came back and told me how much he actually enjoyed his one play of it, before walking away – and then thinking better of it, doubling back, and mocking me again.
  • Planet Defenders: I’m still reserving judgement on this one, because it has garnered such mixed reactions – weird for such an innocuous game. It’s a cleverly designed puzzle game where you’re essentially trying to fulfil cube combos to capture robots. But the art is cute, it plays fast and there are some nice little tech cards to differentiate the players. It may be a layer short of holding the imagination of more experienced gamers, but I don’t think that makes it a bad game – more a family or gateway game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. More on it soon.

Other games I’d played before

  • Navegador: In a year dominated by review plays, my three plays of Navegador make it stand out as one of the most popular of my oldies – and this was another fantastic play through. The builders (Karl and me) got going faster than the explorers (Anne and Adam) and we were about 10 points ahead of them by the end – with Karl pipping me by three for the win.
  • Acquire: Another old favourite, this turned out to be my 10th play of the 60s classic – but I didn’t have it my way. A great start was scuppered mid game as my stock of hotel making pairs dried up – leaving me holding a lot of stock in a dead chain and my influence dwindling. But it was great fun, as always. This is a game I very rarely reach for on my own shelves, but am always happy when someone else suggests it – so thanks for doing so Simon!
  • 6 Nimmt!: I entered a LoBsterCon tournament for the first time – and ended up coming third. I really don’t like tournaments, they can really drag, so I’ll probably end up going out on a high. Three went through to the final table from the two starting tables, from which I progressed in second place. Two players fell early in the final and I was in a strong position, until one bad hand left me adrift of the top two. The final hand saw one card I played (I couldn’t have seen it coming) really stitch up Rocky (which is always fun) and ultimately it handed Marcus the trophy. But despite it going very long for what should be a short, fun party game I did really enjoy it.
  • Race for the Galaxy: Can this really only be my sixth play of the year of my favourite game…? Shocker – and it shows what a strange year it has been for me. It was an enjoyable five-player game, despite a couple of newbies struggling their way through making it very slow (never something I really care about). I used the contact specialist to spam out a bunch of military windfall worlds, guaranteeing myself a regular stream of cards to choose from and a steady flow of points. Laying the nine-point grey rebel world sealed a narrow win in the final turn. And what better note to end a con report on, than with a scrappy victory?