WBC, Day 3: John’s Perspective

August 5, 2009

There is a comic strip from Knights of the Dinner Table I remember well. In it, a group of players are around a table, playing a roleplaying game. Their characters are captured by the king’s guards and beaten within an inch of their lives (one hit point apiece!). Afterwards, they are thrown into a ditch. One of the player remarks, “Gee, I can tell I was being beaten by the best of the best. That was a quality thrashing.” I know most of my friends back home are snickering right now because they all get to rib me for not being nearly as good as I think I am at various games. I promise them I shall return to Minnesota a more humble man. However, remember this, people–we came to game with the best. And getting beaten by the best means…well, nothing really. But I can pretend, right?

8:30 AM: I showed up early for the Wilderness War, despite being dog-tired. We were quickly paired up, the best ranked players against the unranked players (more on my thoughts about that at another time). Before we began play, I shook hands with Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and thanked him for getting me to come to the WBC. I was matched up with Paul, a two-time world champion. We rolled off to see who got what side; I headed for the English side of the table. In the tournament scenario, the English need to be really aggressive because the French start at four victory points. I was hamstrung early on by a hand of low-value cards that didn’t allow me to move my principal leaders. My one good leader (Wolfe!) quickly invaded Louisbourg and laid siege to it. This was horribly thwarted, however, when the ever-sneaky Paul left one measly French fur trapper outside the fort while the rest of his force retreated inside. He got to fire, rolled a six. No big deal, right? Wrong. This meant one of my units was injured (no biggie) but it also meant I had to roll to see if my leader got killed. I rolled the die (this is now a 1 in 36 chance, mind you) and that was that. Wolfe got a musketball through the heart and my hopes for Louisbourg were over for the first turn.

Play continued, and I learned a lot about the game in the process (remember, this is my second play ever). The French essentially raid with Indian units and keep an eye on the lumbering British forces. The moment the British get ideas and start heading north, the French burn down their forts to deny them to the enemy and head north. As this was my second game, I expected to get beaten, and I’m happy to report that eventually Louisbourg fell, though the French won, having only gained one more VP than they started with. Thanks to Paul for his kindness and patience.

11:30 AM: I stopped for lunch. Play of Wilderness War was to continue throughout the day, but there were other things to do. I met up with Nathan from last night’s Here I Stand game and ran him through a turn or two of Hammer of the Scots (rather poorly; I was running on six hours of sleep, a waffle, a bologna sandwich, and a can of Mountain Dew…disgusting, I know).

2:30 PM: The Hammer tourney got started a bit late. I was paired up with Lyman, a champion from a few years back [edit: Lyman later won the tournament]. Holy cow; we were done in 90 minutes. My Scots were begging for mercy pretty quick. I learned some new tricks, though

4:30 PM: Russ and I headed downstairs for a little pizza. We had a good conversation with Keith, founder and president of the Games Club of Maryland and a member of the WBC board of directors. Very nice guy. Russ and I were a bit surly at this point; we’d been getting beaten all day and it took a toll. Keith’s pleasant company and the food restored us.

5:45: I sat down to play Joe, the oft-mentioned “friend of the show” from Point 2 Point. I managed to last seven of nine turns. I made a pretty good run early on with the English, taking back a lot of early losses and making it to Buchan, but just fell asleep on the subsequent turn, made some stupid moves, and lost it.

Today was what I’ll call a learning day; in the future, I’ll have a lot more on what I learned! For now, I’m going to crack open Carcassonne (purchased yesterday) and see what’s what. Tomorrow morning will be some open gaming, Power Grid, and then Here I Stand in the evening. Wish us luck; we need it!

WBC, Day 2: Russ’s Perspective

August 5, 2009

As I’m writing my day two reactions this morning, I’m coming to the realization that the hotel orange juice tastes surprisingly like Tang. Somehow, that’s an improvement over most hotel orange juice. Yesterday was also full of surprises.

I started the day, sitting down at a table with a father and two sons who gladly taught me a new game, Dominion: Intrigue. This is a card game that uses a deck building and card playing mechanic similar to a collectible card game. The game played quickly and was immensely fun. It’s now on my short list of games to buy.

After that, I sat in at a Lost Cities: The Board Game table. Joining me were a mom and her two daughters. I started to wonder if was going to have a theme for the rest of the day. Lost Cities is a fun little Euro style game where players try to advance down five different tracks by playing incremental card plays. Victory points are awarded based on how far you advance and the events you triggered along the way. Honestly, I think the experience was better by playing with kids (and not because it was the only game I won all day). Lost Cities isn’t the kind of game that would keep me occupied through multiple plays, but it was fun to see kids figure out the strategies and get excited by earning points. Ultimately, I would play the game again, but I won’t be buying it.

After lunch, I hopped into a Ra: The Dice Game demo. Despite one of the guys at the table really liking it, to me it just felt like an Egyptian themed variation of Yahtzee with a set scoring pattern.

Later, I joined a game of Steam. Steam is about trying to make a profit through shipping goods over the railroads you build. After asking a few questions and glancing over the rules, I had the game down pretty well. Perhaps the most interesting part of the game is that you start with no money and immediately go into debt by borrowing it. From then on, players must balance track building, train upgrades, shipping for profit, and role bidding while trying to make more money than the other players. It is a game I’d consider buying, except I don’t think I’d get it to the table much to actually play.

Finally, John and I learned Britannia from Ewan, a great fellow whom we first learned about by his comments on this blog. The interesting thing about Britannia is that the game and many of the strategies are scripted. Players are rewarded for following scoring summary on their cards that end up following history. Of course, you can’t follow history exactly or the winner would always be predetermined. I look forward to playing all the way through it when we get home.

The final game of the day was also my only tournament game, Here I Stand. I expected tournament play to be difficult, but not in the way I experienced it. Four out of the six players at the table were beginners. As a result, they didn’t appreciate the long term consequences of their actions and I had my worst ever HIS game. Playing the Ottomans, I ended the game with a net one victory point increase. I’m sure there’s a post in me about just what lead to this disaster of a game for me, but the short of it is HIS should not be marked as a beginner’s welcome game. There were two many take backs and goofy happenings going on at my table to make me feel like I was playing in a tournament. My sampler game of Steam was more cut throat!

WBC, Day 2 continued: John’s Perspective

August 4, 2009

This is going to be a short post, because I am tired. We finished our Here I Stand game not too long ago. I lost as the French, but came in second (22 VP) behind the Protestants (24 VP). With much wheeling and dealing, I got four card draws from various players and took Metz and Milan. Genoa ended up as a failure, and my explorations didn’t do too hot. Despite this, this was  hands down the best I’ve ever played personally, and I am very happy with the way it ended up. Thanks to Phil, Dave, Nathan, Brad, and Dave for the great game, and congrats to second Dave for the excellent Protestant victory in turn five (and his “winner buys beer” motto). Very much looking forward to the next game on Thursday evening. My 22 VP should get me in a decent position to qualify for the semifinals. Okay–time to get to bed. My forays into multiplayer gaming are done for a bit. Tomorrow is Wilderness War and Hammer of the Scots.

WBC, Day 2: John’s Perspective, Part 1

August 4, 2009

I’ll apologize in advance for the early post today–it’s going to be a very busy evening, and I’ve got a little bit of time right now. Russ and I arrived at the Host at 8:50 AM and jumped right in. I attended the Sampler Showcase and was placed into a five-player game of Small World. This game has been getting a lot of buzz recently, and it’s well-founded! Small World is a Euro-ish game of various fantasy races all vying for a limited amount of territory on a very crowded map. You essentially play your race, which has a few special abilities, until you can’t expand anymore, and then you allow your race to “decline” and activate a second race. You get points by taking over territory, and some races get bonus points for taking over particular territories (farms, mountains, etc.).

Small World, about mid-game.

Small World, about mid-game.

What’s neat about the design is this: there are many races, and even more special abilities. They hook into each other; some hilarious combinations we saw this morning included “Diplomatic Skeletons” and “Mounted Dwarves.” This means that each play of the game contains a really unique set of combinations. You begin by bidding for your race; I picked up DragonMaster Giants pretty quick. This gave me a dragon token to eliminate huge enemy stacks early and bonuses when attacking territories adjacent to mountains. When I had extended to my limit, I moved over to Stout Orcs, and then Pillaging Humans. However, I was beaten rather badly (fifth place out of five!) by Brian, who won with a nice combination of Wealthy Trolls and Marsh-dwelling Tritons. None of us had played before, and it’s safe to say we all had a lot of fun. Thanks to John, Brian, AJ, and Tom, my opponents. This is definitely going on my “to buy” list.

After a short five-minute break, I attended a demo of Battlestar Galactica. There were probably twenty people crammed around the table, listening to the guy teaching it, but there were only two copies. But I had a huge stroke of luck; some guys found a third copy and, as I was at the back of the crowd, they tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to play. This let to a three-hour teaching game. Our teacher (sorry, missed his name) was ver knoledeable, and we had a good time watching all the various sub-mechanics interact. This is a strategy game where there are a few humans players and a few “secret Cylon” players. The humans try to get humanity to the planet of Kobol (watching their morale, fuel, population, and food), while the Cylons quietly sabatobe them. During all this, the ship gets jumped to various planets and Cylon ships attack the Battlestar Galactica. While this game seems to have too many sub-mechanics to really appeal to me, it was pretty interesting. I played Admiral Adama and had control of the nukes, which I used to blow up a Cylon Basestar (neat!). However, our secret Cylon (Starbuck this time, played by David) did various things that caused us to run out of fuel and the humans lost.

I also had a few moments to peak into the auction room. Now I’ll be dropping by our hotel to make some bag dinners, and return to learn Britannia from the 2008 world champion. Then it’s off to the Here I Stand tourney (7PM-?). Today has been a really good day so far–let’s hope it continues!

WBC, Day 1: Russ’s Perspective

August 3, 2009

To be honest, I’m just glad we finally arrived. After all the time spent in the car, I was ready to be done. Of course, Mike, John, and I did make a detour to the Gettysburg battlefield and visitors’ center. It was a great choice and I really wish I could have spent more time there reading all the descriptions and watching the videos in the museum, then walking the battlefield and trying to place myself back in time during the heroics and the tragedy. But, we had a time table to keep and more driving ahead of us.

Walking into the Lancaster Host after dinner, I couldn’t really believe I was doing this. Am I really this hardcore about board games that I traveled across country to be here? I mean, I really only know a few games all that well to feel comfortable in tournament play. I’m actually pretty new to the board gaming scene too. But it was time to jump in feet first.

John and I picked up our badges, got our pictures taken—just in case we actually won a tournament—and proceeded to get a lay of the land. Basically, we saw tables laid out all around the lower level of the hotel and ready to be taken over by eager gamers.

Pro Tip: When losing, don't be afraid to adopt intimidation tactics.

Pro Tip: When losing, don't be afraid to adopt intimidation tactics.

Unfortunately, we were both spent from the travel of the past few days. Meeting new and interesting people when your brain is slowly turning to mush isn’t exactly an easy prospect. So, we pulled out 1960: The Making of the President and played each other for only the second time. And despite owning the game, I once again lost to John. As we played, more and more people started filling into the room wearing the blue WBC badge. It was strange and amazing to think this many people were this excited to play board games with complete strangers.

Tomorrow, I hope to meet and compete against some of these people. I also want to score more victory points than them and leave them in stunned awe of my strategic genius, but that’s a post for tomorrow.

WBC, Day 1: John’s Perspective

August 3, 2009

This morning we headed out around 8AM from Pittsburgh and drove the 3.5 hours to Gettysburg, PA to tour the battlefield. Mike is a former National Park Ranger, and so he was able to give us the inside scoop on the various controversies surrounding the building of the new visitor center. Whatever people’s complaints are, I think if they visit the center they’ll forget about them. The new museum is beautiful and contains many artifacts I didn’t expect to see, including the stretcher that Stonewall Jackson was carried away on after the Battle of Chancellorsville and the pen that Grant used to sign Lee’s surrender letter at Appomattox.

We then left Gettysburg about 3PM and drove a to Lancaster. Russ and I deposited Mike at the railroad station (he’s going to NYC) and headed to our hotel. After a quick room change–ours smelled like cigarette smoke–we unpacked our things, headed to dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, and then drove across the road to the Lancaster Host, home of the WBC. It’s about two blocks from our hotel and is situated on top of a hill. The Host has several ballrooms and meetings rooms, and the WBC is spread out around the front half of the hotel on two levels. There are three restaurants and one bar, which we’ll probably be patronizing at least once or twice.

We made it!

We made it!

Upon arriving, we were directed to a small room downstairs to pick up our badges and badgeholders; the latter are pretty nice. They have a clear plastic front where your name and hometown are clearly displayed, and have a zippered pouch on top so you can store your keys, cash, I.D., etc. You wear it on a cord around your neck. We also got our mug-shots taken. This is so our pictures can be displayed on the WBC Web site if we end up finishing in the top three in any game (ha!). We also received our 2009 WBC T-shirts. I had completely forgotten about this. As it turns out, if you register early enough, you get the shirt for free.

It was rather quiet when we got to the Host–perhaps 100-150 people immersed in various games. We hadn’t shown up early enough to play in the Manoeuvre tourney, and since it didn’t look like we’d be rustling up any multiplayer action, Russ and I peeked over a few people’s shoulders to see what was being played. In the back of the Host the Paths of Glory tourney was in full swing. We spotted a table with two mock-ups on it; apparently some designers were playtesting. One was 1989: Dawn of Freedom (upon web research, I learned this was, in fact, a web published game). This simulates the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe using the Twilight Struggle mechanics. The second (actually a playtest) was Washington’s War, a remake of We the People. A gentleman named Steve informed us that right now they’re in the process of trying to iron out the combat mechanics.

After about 15 minutes of wandering and realizing the crowd was already engaged in  games, we grabbed 1960: The Making of the President, and played. This was pretty rough, rules-wise. We’ve only played once, and trying to flip through a rulebook while surrounded by the murmur of conversation isn’t all that easy. But we got into the groove and finished in about two hours. As Kennedy, I snatched up Illinois and California late in the game and won with 265 electoral votes. As the game came to a close, I noticed that the traffic had considerably picked up around the convention hall. I think this was the post-dinner crowd returning. So we missed out on some potential gaming with new people, but tomorrow is full of the Sampler Showcase, etc., so we’ll be meeting people…and handing them our business cards with the blog name and URL on it.

WBC Travel Day

August 2, 2009
The Sears Tower in Chicago...oh, wait...

The Sears Tower in Chicago! Oh, wait...

Just a quick update from the road. We are staying in a Super 8 motel SE of Pittsburgh. At 7:30 this morning, Russ and I loaded his car and we picked up Mike. While we had the usual traffic congestion in Chicago and a bit of road work in Ohio, everything else went fine. The three of us travel well together. Some highlights included a SmartCar going dangerously fast on the Ohio Turnpike and a convoy of old police cars traveling (we assume) to an auto show of some sort. Tomorrow: a quick side trip to Gettysburg National Park, a stop to drop Mike at the Lancaster train station, and then…the WBC! Time to hit the hay…

Headed off to the WBC

July 31, 2009

It’s official– on Sunday, Russ and I are headed the 1,128 miles from Rockford, MN, to the weeklong World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, PA. Mike is tagging along for two days; he’ll stay Sunday night with us in Pittsburgh and then hop a train from Lancaster to New York City. In recent days, we have learned that the WBC has shattered all previous records and a huge number of people have pre-registered this year. We expect around 1500 gamers to be there, along with various boardgame manufacturers. The heart of the WBC is competitive play, which is why we chose to attend; other options included GenCon and Origins. What will we be doing this week, you ask? Well, I’d like to divide that into four categories: compete, meet, try, and buy (catchy, I know!).

Compete: This is truly the core of the convention. 125 different games will be played; winners will take home plaques declaring them to be the champion for 2009. In essence, we are traveling to Lancaster because we want to match our skills against the best of the best. Tourney formats differ, but most include a few rounds of preliminary play, followed by a quarter-, semi-, and final round in which the winner is determined. Some tourneys have hundreds of people competing, while others have only a few dozen. I’ve packed my schedule because I’m thinking that I’ll get knocked out in a lot of first or second round games. Here’s the list: Here I Stand, Hammer of the Scots, Wilderness War, Twilight Struggle, Britannia, and Crusader Rex. Russ will be tackling most of these same games, but he’ll also add 1960: the Making of the President.

Meet: I’ve had the good fortune to rub elbows with a fair number of gamers and game designers via various blogs, Web sites, podcasts, and Play-by-Email (PBEM) tournaments. We hope to see some of these people and person, and no doubt we will make some friends across the gaming table as well.

Try: This is the other exciting part of the WBC. Many games are demo-ed by the designers themselves. Often, there is a one-hour slot in the convention schedule during which you can meet up with other interested people and the designer, and he/she will teach you the game. You often then have about an hour before the tourney begins. Russ and I have both compiled lists of games we’d like to demo at the convention. The other cool part about trying games is the Open-Gaming Room, a massive ballroom with a free games library. You can just check a game out, find some random people, and begin play. I’m hoping to learn Britannia this way; it’s sat on my game shelf for two years now, and I’ve never played it. If I’m lucky, a group of veterans will have mercy on me and teach it! I’m interested in trying the following: San Juan, Thurn & Taxis, Britannia, Advanced Civilization, Fields of Fire, Battlestar Galactica, Steam, and Puerto Rico. Many game designers also take this time to playtest games they’re tweaking. I’m hoping to at least see Virgin Queen (the sequel to Here I Stand) and War of the Roses in action.

Buy: We are gamers on a budget, but that shouldn’t stop us from picking up a game or two. WBC has a Tuesday auction that goes practically all day, and an silent auction store running at the same time. I have a list of things to shop for, but I’ll wait and see what I actually purchase before it ends up here on the blog.


The games I'm taking to the WBC.

Are we excited for this? You bet! This is the culmination of ten months of planning and a personal promise that I made to myself: to get in shape and lose twenty pounds. This trip (definitely made possible by the amazing support of my loving wife!) is the long-awaited reward for that. Expect to see semi-regular updates from the convention–check back often as we offer coverage, analysis, and musings from the Lancaster Host Hotel.