Monday, May 03, 2010

Geekway to the West 2010 - Thursday

The Geekway to the West is a gaming convention in St. Louis, MO. Started 6 years ago and hosted in Jay Little's basement, it has grown into three days of 250 crammed together in a hotel to play games. Jay Little has moved on to Minnesota and a position with Fantasy Flight Games, but his Con lives on. Nowdays, Christopher Darden and Jay Moore have taken and grown this beast. This was the first year the Con moved to a hotel for 24-7 (3) gaming and the venue was pretty decent. Once again, Nathan Winchester and I roomed together and I played most of my games with/against this guy. There were a lot of familiar faces (and of course some new ones). Lots of games, though it felt like less new games than in the past. This year I think I'll go with a short session report/summary and then comment on the game. The story begins on Thursday April 29th.

We started the gaming off playing some Hive at the airport while we waited for our flight (after getting some coffee of course). I made some silly moves and deserved to lose the first game. I blamed my lack of coffee and we went again - this time I trounced Nathan in short order.

Hive is an abstract, but one where the theme helps a little in "describing" the goal (protect the queen) and how the pieces move. It looks nice and the pieces are the right size and feel. Beyond looks though is a great two-player game. It is fast and challenging and is better almost every time I play it (win or lose). There is one expansion piece out that is interesting enough that it is worth adding, but the game is fine without it.

Next up after we split games of Hive was Taluva. We'd play this once at the airport and twice more at the hotel after we arrived in St. Louis. Much to Nathan's chagrin, I won all three games. I can't recall for sure, but I believe I dumped temples and huts in two games and dumped towers and huts or temples in the other. The tower thing was odd to me - I almost never play them in a two player game.

This is another good abstract game (with some kind of tacked on theme). This one is great with 2, 3, or 4 players (worst with 4, but ok) and plays pretty differently with each number. Two-players is a back and forth bash fest. The first one to flinch loses. Most two-player games (and three) are short and have interesting choices. I also really enjoy the spatial feel to the game and it is nice looking to boot. Good game!

Last year, I put together a travel board for Twilight Struggle and I brought it along again this year for Nathan and I to get in a rematch. We drew for sides and I ended up as the US again. I can't even begin to explain how, but I had a pretty good run of cards. The dice? Not so much. For each "1" that Nathan got in the Space Race, I rolled a "5" (and he rolled a 1 each time he tried the Space Race). But the Space Race was all Nathan could get going. I made huge inroads into Asia (and Southeast Asia) and scored a ton of points. As the US, I managed a crazy win in the 4th round! We'd start another game Friday morning at the Geekway so that we could try out the Deluxe version of the game (of which there were two copies on the Play-To-Win table and of which we won neither). The Friday game only made it through two turns, but we finished Sunday at the St. Louis airport. We switched sides and I got to play the Red team finally. I again abused Nathan and had a 14pt lead going into the 4th round. In the 4th turn, I had a SWEET hand of cards and scored point after point and won about halfway through the round.

Twilight Struggle is a really, really good game. It is nearly exclusively driven by cards (there are a few dice rolls) and is the most thematic game - everything about the tension and cards and geography really give this game the flavor and feel of the Cold War. It is a longer games, but it is really interesting the whole time you are playing. Are there flaws? One or two cards feel imbalanced, but overall this game is top notch. In fact, the game gets better and better the more you play it. Knowing the cards and when to play them is the key. The deluxe version with the mounted board is really outstanding and worth every penny.

After we got checked into the hotel, Nathan and I grabbed some diner and then went back to the room where we played a couple of games of Taluva and then I taught him Fjords. This is yet another abstract game with some kind of tacked on themes about vikings claiming farmland or something. We played two rounds (of the three) with Nathan killing me, but then broke to see if the folks setting up could use a hand with anything. After we got back to the room, we played the final round and I made an astonishing comeback which gave me enough points to sneak away with another win.

Fjords is nice little two player game that feels like a mix between Carcassonne and Hey! That's My Fish! The game plays in two parts - laying tiles to build the island, and then a land grab. The first part is the more interesting of the two, though that doesn't mean that the choices are all that interesting - they are less interesting than those in Carc. The interesting part is in seeing the island grow and take shape. The rest of the game doesn't really have many decisions left to make. This one is ok, but nothing special and if anything feels a hair too long.

Interestingly, my game of the Geekway is a game I didn't technically play during the Geekway. After helping to get the games unloaded for the game library, Chester Ogborn, Michael Silbey, Nathan and I sat down to play a game Chester pulled from Chris Darden's collection. Neue Heimat. Neue Heimat is a brutal little auction game played over three rounds. During the first round, Chester was astonished time and again with our (poor) play and finished the first round with NEGATIVE 17 points. I make note of this key fact, because I lead in points after the first round. I was also firmly targeted in following rounds and thrashed. Chester was not and he managed a huge comeback win. Nathan immediately looked up the game and I sent an email to chilispiel to see about acquiring the game. The inquiry turned up that the cost was about 32,00 € and another 30,00 € in shipping to the US. With current conversion rates - about $100. Dang.

Neue Heimat is a brutal little auction game played over three rounds. Players all start with a set amount of money - the money is the entire economy for the game (ie no money comes into or leaves the game). Each round, players bid on a piece numbered 1-6 in 6 different colors. The first player to acquire a color in the round will own that color for the rest of that round and score if his piece is on the top of a "finished" stack (the stacks being houses). Whether he scores positive or negative points is the tricky part, as the player's stack only scores positive points if it is finished (has a roof) in a neighborhood that is complete. If all the stacks in a neighborhood are unfinished, they will score negative for their owners. Each round on their turn, a player picks a block or a roof for auction. The auction then goes once around and then the player has the option to pay the high bid to the bidder and take the piece OR take the money from the bidder. The payer then takes the piece and places it on the board. That's it (mostly). Brutality wrapped up in simplicity. Scoring well is a game of chicken and cooperation with other players - but only if you can't just control the auctions.

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