Guest author Chip Beauvais provides a reflective look back at his time at TotalCon 2015, the 29th annual board game convention held at the Holiday Inn Mansfield in Massachusetts, New England between February 19th and 22nd.
My goals for TotalCon 2015 were to play (and give feedback on) prototypes, hang out with the guys from Flip the Table, meet new game designers, and demo Chroma Cubes on request. How did I do?
Let’s start with Thursday…
Dominion (BGG Link)
I arrived at the hotel just in time to play in the first heat of a Dominion tournament. We played two rounds, and I came in 3rd and 2nd (respectively), but 4th overall. In both games, I felt I mistimed the switch to gathering VPs.
My opponents played well, as reflected in the final scores.
Before the convention, I opened up my schedule to anyone willing to show me their prototype. Including Chris from Flip the Table (thus completing two goals with one “stone”), I had four developers take me up on this offer, starting with …
Space Station Disaster (BGG Link)
I roped my friend Carl into playing Space Station Disaster by Chris Anderson of Blue Cube Board Games. It’s a neat tile-laying game set on a space station with the worst luck in the galaxy! Set on from all sides by deviant aliens, uncontrollable flames, and out-of-control robots (among other threats), players race to scoop up points and avoid disaster.
I enjoy puzzle games, and this definitely has the potential to become a puzzle game. However, I think the designer is going for more of an experience game, where players get a sense of panic from the increasing number of threats as the board develops. In our particular playthrough, we were able to handle all the threats within a turn or two, so it wasn’t as tense as it could be.
Space Station Disaster has a lot of promise, and plays smoothly. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.
Final scores: Chip: 10, Chris: 7, Carl: 4
One of the neat things about TotalCon (or conventions in general) is the people you meet. While handing out scorecards for the twitter scavenger hunt, I met Emerson Matsuuchi. I mentioned that I was trying out a new prototype, and he jumped right in.
Ûber Epic (BGG Link)
Über Epic, by Courtney and Lisa Moore, is a tactical minis game.
Each player controls a squad of characters. You can score points in combat, by completing epic quests, or by stealing your opponent’s flags.
There’s a healthy amount of randomness, mostly in which goals you draw, and players may have to sit out a round if all of their characters are incapacitated (as Emerson discovered).
But the game plays quickly, and combat is simple and accessible.
If you like Nexus Ops, but are looking for something more squad-based, you should check out Über Epic.
Friday got off to a great start when I ran into Chris and Jared from the Flip the Table podcast.
Chroma Cubes (2P) (BGG Link)
One of my most important tasks at TotalCon was to get copies of the solo and head-to-head Chroma Cubes rules into the hands of fans of the game.
When I started explaining how it works, he suggested playing right there and then. Who am I to refuse?
X-Files (BGG Link)
After Chroma Cubes, Chris and Jared started setting up X-Files. Eric Summerer, unable to find anyone willing to try Troll Hunt, joined us.
Chris took the part of the big bad (the Syndicate, I believe), while Eric, Jared, and I teamed up to investigate cases and stop him.
By, uh, constructing the “Believe” poster out of 9 puzzle pieces.
And I’m not sure how putting together a poster “wins” the game.
This game is for fans of the show who appreciate the references without requiring too much thematic consistency (or logic).
Troll Hunt (BGG Link)
After X-Files, I watched Chris, Jared, and Eric play Troll Hunt.
Players attempt to reflect beams of light (not actual beams of light – this isn’t Khet) into the eyes of trolls (not actual trolls) using lanterns (not actual – okay, you get the idea)
placed at the start of the game.
As an early indication that something wasn’t quite right with the game, a few of the initial troll placements had to be re-done, as they led to invalid configurations.
While none of the players seemed particularly impressed by the game, Troll Hunt is the type of puzzle game that appeals to me. I’d like to try it for myself sometime.
Lunch & Nap
My roommate at the convention attends primarily for the old school RPGs, so our paths don’t overlap much. Last year we went out for lunch together on Saturday, and couldn’t find a parking spot at the hotel when we returned.
This year, with that experience in mind, we went out for lunch on Friday instead, when there were less people at the convention.
Unfortunately, there was no parking at the hotel when we returned. In fact, the hotel was actively towing people who were illegally parked (which continued through the weekend).
Against the advice of the hotel staff (who couldn’t offer us any legal options), we parked at a nearby business and were fortunate not to get towed.
After lunch, I took a nap. While this may seem like an unwise use of time (given the abundant gaming opportunity so close by), I knew I had an exciting
afternoon/evening planned, and wanted to be refreshed to enjoy it.
Dice Tower Live + Dinner
In the afternoon, I attended a live recording of the Dice Tower. As Tom was in abstencia (somewhere warmer and less snowy, I presume),
Eric enlisted the aid of Jared and Chris from Flip the Table as co-hosts. Between the Epic Battle of Wits (with audience participation)
and the question of the week (listen for my answer), it was a great show, and I recommend checking it out as soon as it becomes available.
After the podcast recording, as tradition dictates, a bunch of us went to Bertucci’s for the annual Dice Tower Dinner.
While a number of people were scared off by the parking situation, a few brave souls risked losing their treasured parking spot to drive us all to the restaurant for a great meal.
Wits and Wagers (BGG Link)
After returning from the Dice Tower Dinner, Eric set up another annual tradition – game-show style Wits and Wagers.
I was on Team Chroma Crüë with Chris and Jillian, a wise young woman who was attending her first TotalCon with her dad.
It was, in fact, Jillian’s caution that allowed us to save a few chips for the final round. At her suggestion, we bet all those chips on our final answer
(claiming that all the chicken wings consumed during the Super Bowl would cover at least a million football fields), and we were (to my surprise) correct! She singlehandedly won the game for us (:
Chroma Cubes Tournament
I was fortunate to be able to arrange a Chroma Cubes: Battle of the Podcasters tournament for Saturday night.
The participants were Meg (Not Just Another Gaming Podcast), Jared (Flip the Table), Eric (The Dice Tower), Chris (Flip the Table), and Anthony (Cardboard Jungle).
They each got a chance to pose with the trophy (a giant inflatable blue crayon), but only the victor would take it home. After a very intense battle, Anthony sweet-talked Jared into trading him the last die that he needed to win.
Bad Medicine (BGG Link)
I brought a copy of Gil Hova’s party game, Bad Medicine.
It’s like Apples to Apples with drugs. That is, each player uses cards to construct a fake drug name, and pitches the drug to his opponents.
The other players anonymously propose side effects of that drug, and the active player selects one and describes why it’s not a big deal.
After each player takes a turn, everyone votes on their favorite drug.
We played an example round, and then the players insisted on playing again. This game needs a warning label for its additive nature!
Hard to believe it’s already Saturday morning… about halfway through the convention.
Casablanca (BGG Link)
Before the convention began, I made arrangements to play two of Professor Laserbooks’s designs that Chris was kind enough to bring to TotalCon.
In Casablanca, based on the movie, players move around France gathering exit visas and trying to avoid the local police.
Players can peek at face-down tokens or press their luck by taking them sight unseen.
We didn’t play a full game, but played a few rounds and then provided Chris with our feedback. Despite my memory and minimal knowledge of the classic movie,
I think this game has a lot of promise.
After playing Casablanca with Rachelle and Steve, Chris talked them into trying a round of Chroma Cubes.
Specter Ops (BGG Link)
Gaming space was at a premium on Saturday, but I was able to snag an empty table in the quiet board room for a demo of Specter Ops by Emerson.
This is a game of hidden movement, like Scotland Yard, with a futuristic setting.
Chris and Jared played the Hunters, and I played as the agent. As the agent, I got to pick three superpowers from four options.
Emerson described all four powers to all of players, and then I selected three secretively.
I found myself trapped down early in the game, and looked through my superpowers for one that increased my movement 150%. What bad luck! It
was the only superpower I didn’t pick! What could I do?
Well, it turns out that while I must reveal to my opponents that I am using a superpower, I don’t have to reveal what that power is.
So, I decided to bluff. I’d use a superpower, they would assume I was running for it, but I’d stay still, and they’d be looking for me farther away.
Only after I took this turn did I see the flaw in my plan. Chris and Jared completely ignored the fact that I used one of my three powers, and didn’t consider that I might be farther away!
In any event, I was able to sneak away and complete all of my objectives. But, before my agent could escape, Jared (the Gun) tracked me down and shot me.
I had high expectations for this game after watching others play it, and Specter Ops lived up to those expectations.
We had lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, which was relatively deserted.
Rubicon (BGG Link)
After lunch, we stayed at the table to play Rubicon, another game designed by Professor Laserbooks.
This is a dice-building game, like Quarriors, set in ancient Rome.
Players take turns using dice to increase their score and decrease the score of the (perceived) leader.
There’s a fair amount of “take that” in the game, but we didn’t find ourselves buying new dice or improving our dice pool much over the course of the game.
Having said that, though, I didn’t miss that aspect of the game. There was enough of a game in deciding who to attack, and which order to activate your dice.
In fact, if each player got a (different) preset collection of 12 dice, and kept them for the entire game, it would still be a fun game.
Like Casablanca, Rubicon brings something new to the table, and I look forward to see where this goes.
Was it unfair of me to abandon Chris when he brought out The Price is Right and Hearthrob? Perhaps. In any event, Jared and I met up with Ben (from Troll In the Corner) and Steve (from Nerd Rage News) to play another game designed by Emerson, Volt.
Volt (BGG Link)
The comparisons to Robo Rally are inevitable.
Sometimes you want to simulate the frustration of programming by watching your well-laid plans go awry.
Other times, you just want to control and robot and blow up other robots. For those times, break out Volt.
Volt removes the frustration of not drawing the card you need (even at full health).
Players set their three dice in any order they want to do the action they want.
Volt removes the frustration of watching four actions go poorly after miscalculating the first.
Each round has three actions, so you’re always close to resetting your plans.
Volt removes the frustration of losing your orientation (aka the “robot dance”)
Players set up their programming board parallel to the arena board.
I’m a big fan of Roborally, but I’m also a fan of elegance.
I taught Chroma Cubes to Dew, Emerson, and two other gamers whose name I think I may have written down.
During dinner, I also taught Chroma Cubes to Lisa (co-designer of Uber Epic) and her friends.
There may or may not have been some crayon-hoarding in this game.
After dinner, I played an as-yet-unnamed prototype. Unfortunately, the relatively-new-to-the-hobby designers asked me to sign an NDA (which I did). And thus, as much as I’d like to tell you about this game and the parts I like about it, my lips are sealed.
Mysterium (BGG Link)
Mysterium is a visual cooperative deduction game similar to Dixit.
I had heard great things about this game, so I was looking forward to trying it, despite not being a fan of coop games in general.
Some clues require astute observation and the ability to make clever connections. “Here’s a bird, and this location has a broken bird cage …” Other clues are less satisfying. “The background is mostly green, and the background of this weapon is mostly green.” Unfortunately, you don’t know which type of clue you’ve received.
A two-player game of “read my mind” without any other clues can be frustrating. When it’s expanded to a committee of six players, I can’t help but disengage. But, I have this problem with all co-op games, so take my appraisal with an appropriate amount of salt.
On Sunday things started to wind down.
I was flattered to be asked to participate in the Prototype Pitch with Ben Gerber, Glen from Games by Play Date, and Mike Pondsmith.
A dungeon crawl with minimal setup using Battleship-like player boards? Yes, please!
This game shows a lot of promise and all the mini-games are tied together by a simple bluffing mechanic.
I think a well-planned mini demo would blow the right publisher away. There’s a lot of room for expansions or community-created content.
Also surprised to see the name “questmaster” isn’t already taken on BGG.
This game is in its early stages, but so far seems really promising.
Personally, I’m more interested in the mechanic (roll dice, put them on matching spaces on your cards to activate special abilities) than the theme.
I’m looking forward to seeing where Ed takes this.
Also, the prototype pitch gave me an opportunity to advise a designer against allocating the special abilities of his characters based solely on the character’s gender. This was most likely unintentional chauvinism and, to the designer’s credit, he seemed to agree to the suggested changes.
While I try to avoid pushing my own game, I’m always happy to offer a demo if it comes up.
Emerson and Ben, having played before, were at a bit of an advantage, but Rhiannon and Glen set the pace of the game by coloring quickly.
So, to wrap up, how many of my goals did I meet?
- I played a total of 10 prototypes (including two under NDA), and was really impressed with the overall quality.
- Counting the number of games played with the Flip the Table guys seems to miss the point. A better metric would be the number of laughs shared, but I was having too much fun to keep track.
- Meeting new designers, whether they are just starting out, struggling to get their game off the ground, or enjoying their success, is always a pleasure.
- In addition to the scheduled Battle of the Podcasters, I ran more demos of Chroma Cubes than I anticipated. With so many other options at their fingertips, I’m pleased that people took the time to try my game.
Of course, it’s easy to meet all of your goals when you set them after (instead of before) the convention. Too bad annual reviews don’t work this way
TotalCon 30 will be held on will be held February 18-24, 2016 more info will be available on the official website.