Once a year, my old college buddy Tim Ryan, his friend David Wolfe, and I rent a little suite at a business hotel in Schaumburg for three days of gaming, cigars, and liquor. Tim and Dave drive from Indy; I drive from Wisconsin. On Saturdays, our mutual friend Rob King and his son Aidan often join us. This post is an AAR (after action review) of TLD’s (Tim, Les, and Dave’s) mini convention.
My choice this year was Don Julio añejo tequila. Tequila treats me kindly—at least the good stuff, and Don Julio is good stuff.
Dave stuck mainly to mojitos. Tim had some rye whiskey on hand but mainly drank beer.
We planned this weekend to coincide with the Midwest Smoke Out, a one-night exhibition of cigars with dozens of manufacturers and suppliers. Two years ago, I filled my humidor from this event, and I was looking forward to refilling it this year with a new variety. Sadly, the event was canceled two days before launch—something about indoor smoking permits. So the three of us visited a local tobacconist instead. Most of his stock seems more robust than I’m used to, but I’ve found a few new favorites from the visit.
This year was more about trying new things than replaying old favorites. Here’s an annotated alphabetical list:
Cards Against Humanity: I’ve heard more than one retailer express moral discomfort about selling this popular product. Given how nonjudgmental retailers tend to be, I’ve been curious about the game. Here’s my summation: (1) Take Apples to Apples; (2) strip out all art and color; (3) replace the text with phrases from truck-stop toilet walls; (4) pack it in a black box with plain white text; (5) build a buzz on Kickstarter. Yep, plain text on plain cards in a plain box using rules from someone else’s game, with a scatological bent—that’s CAH. Not my cup o’ tea.
Condottiere: This is a great game in any edition (I’ve encountered three so far), with a fairly unique combat-cards system and straightforward victory conditions, representing wars in Renaissance Italy, in an attractive package with well-conceived components. I’m always willing to play this; and I always lose.
Dracula: Here’s another game I always lose at, but still enjoy. This one is a two-player competition: one person plays Dracula, the other Van Helsing. Dracula is searching for five victim cards while avoiding vampire hunters; Van Helsing is searching for five coffin cards while avoiding spawn of Dracula. The board represents a small residential area, each space holding a small encounter card from a mix of both players’ decks.
Full-size action cards (again one deck for each player) do quadruple duty of determining distance you move on the board, strength in a fight, a possible special effect, and placing or moving a colored barrier to hinder your opponent’s movement. As you move and encounter cards, you may swap or place new ones of your own, so the board is ever changing. The game is fairly simple and elegant in execution, though deep in strategy.
Elder Sign: Tim and I have played the app version quite a bit (you can find a series of posts on this blog, detailing my adventures using different characters). The board game is only slightly different—maybe more difficult.
I’m not a fan of big boxes full of lots of fiddly components (like the revised Arkham Horror—give me the simpler original edition); this one is a small box with lots of tiny components and a somewhat fiddly turn sequence. But it’s not quite too complex for my tastes. We took on Yig, with Jenny Barnes, Sister Mary, and Darrell Simmons, and managed to eke out a win—though Darrell perished a turn before. This game has earned its spot on my game shelf.
Evolution: With each playing of this game, I’m more impressed. It’s all about building species and giving them traits to survive an evolving ecosystem. The rules are straightforward and elegant, the victory conditions inventive, the components beautiful, the theme engaging, and the strategies shifting. Honestly, it’s one of the best game designs I’ve ever encountered. We played twice—once with three players and once with five—and both sessions were utterly satisfying.
Inkognito: It’s carnevale in Venice, and four master spies have come to discover the code to a safe and open it before the others. Each is a master of disguise, capable of posing even as one of the others. Also in town is an ambassador who might let slip a secret or two, sometimes to your detriment. Each player is randomly assigned one of the four roles and one quarter of the safe code. Your job is to meet with the others one-on-one, and ferret out their identity and portion of the code. Managing to meet up can be difficult—it’s based on playing a tile declaring your location, and with the ambassador showing up at random, your plans can be thwarted. In all, this is a very good little game, a great one for pick-up play.
Lord of the Rings Nazgul: A HeroClix game with great components, a fun concept, obscure rules, and (if we understand those rules correctly) nearly unbeatable. If you want a copy, mine’s for sale.
Machi Koro: Here’s another little card-based game with rules that are easy to grasp on first play, a wide range of strategies, very nice graphics, and lots of replayability. We played twice over the weekend, both times very engaging. I had to pick up a copy for my game shelf, and can’t wait to introduce the family to it.
Mythos: This is Chaosium’s old trading-card game based on the Cthulhu mythos. It’s out of print, but I carry a dozen prebuilt decks with me to every game session and convention, just in case I find another fan. Tim, Dave, and I played twice over the weekend—once with decks representing a coal miner who becomes a sorcerer in the Dreamlands, a tournament-winning Egyptologist, and a WWI veteran intent on ending the world; and once with a gangster serving a bronze head, a pastor opposing Cthulhu’s rise, and a modern programmer controlling robots and computer demons. Can you tell I love this game?
Bridges of Shangri-La: Normally pure strategy games don’t scratch my itch, but this one had just enough mystical veneer to catch my attention, and such fascinating game play that I’m sure to play again, despite having lost pretty badly. The board represents a mountain range full of villages connected by paths with bridges. Your pieces are followers of seven different schools (each player has counters of all seven schools, though in player-specific colors). Your goal is to have the most pieces on the board at game’s end. You start with a scattering of masters (solitary pieces) in different villages, and you spread by either placing a new master of a different school in a village where your color is represented; by spawning students on two existing masters; or by moving students from one village (all students of all players in that village) to an adjacent village, which destroys the bridge between them. As bridges fall, villages become locked, until finally no further travel (or placement) is possible. This relatively little-known Eurogame is pretty fascinating.
Sheriff of Nottingham: In this bluffing game, players try to get goods to market to score the most coins at game’s end. The goods are represented by cards, which you place in a bag with a snap closure. The trouble is, some goods are contraband, and even safe goods are limited to one type per bag per market day. So if you want to score high, sometimes you have to cheat, either mixing goods or even carrying contraband. Each turn, one player takes the role of the sheriff and has to decide whether to let bags pass or inspect them. Inspect a bag of valid goods, and you have to pay the owner for having doubted; inspect a bag of invalid goods, and the owner pays a fine (and contraband is confiscated). Winning requires a mix of card strategy, bluffing, and bribing. It’s a fun game, one I’d play again, but not something I’ll buy to add to my shelf.
Teledraw: I’m not sure where this concept came from, but all that’s involved is a group of players, and a pad of paper and pencil for each. On round one, you write down a phrase of some sort (whatever you like) and pass your tablet to the next player. On round two, you look at the phrase passed to you, move it to the bottom of the pad, draw a picture to capture it, and pass again. On round three, you look at the picture you’ve been passed, write a phrase you think it represents, and pass again. On round four, you look at the new phrase passed to you, draw a picture of it, and pass again. This process continues until your own tablet circles the table back to you. Then one at a time, players each reveal the sequence of pictures and phrases spawned by their original. Nobody wins or loses; it’s all about the laughter, which actually means everybody wins. Highly recommended as a party game.