SorCon highlights: A board game Top 10

I’ve just got back from SorCon in Basildon (well a Holiday Inn on the edge of Basildon, which helps). Knowing my retention span for such events, I thought I’d get it down for posterity as soon as possible.

One of its delights is it doesn’t change much. This was SorCon 12 and apart from a small extra area or two it has barely changed since my first visit four years ago.

While I love the consistency it does make it hard to blog about year on year (check out old SorCon posts for that). So, I’m just going to cover my top 10 plays of the weekend. Thanks to Sarah, Keef and Clare for being competitors/teachers in most of the games – a pleasure, as always!

I enjoyed 15 games over two days, two of them twice – so just three titles missed the list below. The Estates sadly went down like a lead balloon (full review next week); as did Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done (an average euro with a regrettable theme). I’m also leaving off Ticket to Ride (would’ve been 8th) as I think it gets enough press from me and everyone else! But in truth I didn’t hate anything I played over the weekend. I put them in order mixing how fun the play was and my general feelings for the game.

10. Space Base (2-5 players, 2018, AEG)

This light and simple game takes the basics of Machi Koro and makes something slightly less rubbish. In space. While you can mitigate the luck of the dice to a degree, you’re still a slave to them. So if one player has a great run of luck, especially near the start, they’re going to win. AEG missed several tricks which would balance the early game without adding many rules (having starting tiles with oft rolled numbers, for example. The difference between starting with a free 7 or a free 12 is massive). I’d expect more from a large publisher. And it felt too long with five players.

9. Sagrada (1-4 players, 2017, Floodgate)

Don’t believe the weird hype levels around this one. Firstly, it is nothing like Azul. This is a pleasant enough dice drafting puzzle game with little to no interaction. But there is a strong element of luck. You get a dice colour you will score on per pip, so if no high numbers are rolled in your colour you can probably forget winning. This rather negates the cleverer elements of scoring and choosing a hard or easy scoring card. But I had a pleasant time playing two games (winning one) and would play again.

8. Orbital (2-4 players, 2018, DMZ)

Still one of my favourites from Essen 2018, but it can be too dry for some. I think putting a space theme on a wholly abstract game can be detrimental as people expect theme from a space game. Otherwise, it’s great. Some majority scoring means you need to pay attention to what others are doing and can hate draft a tiny bit. The economy is incredibly tight and while the placement scoring rules can feel overwhelming, it rewards repeat plays. Which was proved by this being one of my wins of the weekend!

7. PitchCar (2-8 players, 1995, Ferti)

Putting a disk-flicking game on a Scalextric-style race track was simply inspired. Last year this was a SorCon highlight, but this time we played a little too late in the day. People were frazzled so it didn’t have quite the same atmosphere. But it was still great fun – plus I managed to win from fourth on the grid. We’re lucky a friend (hi Sheepy!) has several of the expansions (jumps, chicanes etc) but I’m sure it would be fun in any form. Still behind Tumblin’ Dice on my dexterity game wishlist, but only just.

6. Heaven and Ale (2-4 players, 2017, Eggertspiele)

I played this at Essen 2017, slightly regretted not buying it, then haven’t seen it since. Playing again reminded me what a good euro it is. Under two hours, a bit of of push-your-luck, interesting decisions and clever scoring. Plus, you have to keep an eye on what other’s want, bringing an element of largely passive but significant interaction. I don’t feel the need to own it, but I hope to play it more often at this kind of event.

5. Uptown (2-5 players, 2007, Funagain)

This is one of Sarah’s favourites. It’s an incredibly simple rule set but feels very different from other abstract games I own. And this edition (the game is better known as Blockers) has gorgeous production. It is very interactive, as you try to group your tiles into as few groups as possible while following strict placement rules. We play a lot two-player at home, which is very different, so it is always nice to play with more. I came in third, but Sarah managed to win this four-player game.

4. Azul (2-4 players, 2017, Plan B)

From here down was pretty much joint first place. I enjoy all my plays of Azul, comfortably still the best game of the last two years for me. This one was particularly good as it was tight throughout, with about 10 points between us at the end, and I won on 63. The game is gorgeous, tactile, simple to teach but thinky to play. It’s quick with lots of interesting decisions and some interaction. It falls into a small category of games I think everyone should play and I’m glad to finally own it. A true classic.

3. Tales of Glory (2-5 players, 2018, Ankama)

This was near the top of my Essen 2018 wishlist. The publisher didn’t want to give me a discount (fair enough), so I waited to try before deciding to buy. And now I will, because I loved it (Thanks John for teaching). While abstract, the fantasy art does tell a story and the puzzly elements of the game play are right up my street. It plays fast and there are loads of routes to victory. Choosing tiles is simple but doesn’t always go your way – although no tile is really bad and you can battle for turn order. Two plays, both great.

2. The Oracle of Delphi (2-4 players, 2016, Pegasus)

I think this is now my favourite Stefan Feld design, because the theme/look and race elements are so compelling. It’s a two-hour euro game which takes a bit of learning, but the mechanisms are a simple as they are plentiful. Sure, the game has some luck than can screw you which puts some players off. But I can tolerate it here as it fits the theme and the rest is good enough for me to get past it. Even when I get shafted, I still enjoy my plays. I just need to avoid situational ship tiles, as they screw me every time.

1. Thurn and Taxis (2-4 players, 2006, Hans im Gluck)

At SorCon we added the ‘Offices of Honour’ expansion, which is the perfect addition. It adds a small extra decision space while not spoiling anything of the original design. I came last, faffing around without much of a plan, but still thoroughly enjoyed myself. But there were just five points between first and last. This game is a perfect storm for Sarah and my tastes: euro/German enough for me, while mechanically falling into Sarah’s sweet spot: simple to learn, hard to master – plus competitive route building.

The most important outcome from SorCon was only Tales of Glory hit my wishlist, while I sold two games. This means my ‘owned’ list is still going in the right direction size-wise, so all’s right with the world. Until AireCon in a few weeks…

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