This weekend I took a couple days off work to attend KublaCon, which bills itself as the largest gaming convention on the West Coast. Since I attended solo, the entire convention consisted of introducing myself to random strangers and joining them (or having them join me) for a variety of board games.
On the first day of the convention, I tossed a few portable games into a backpack and headed to the hotel, which is just a few miles north of where I live--and, fortunately, right on a convenient bus route. I arrived just around opening time at 1pm and headed into the game library/open gaming area, where I set my things on a table and sat there scoping the room for a while.
The convention does offer formal events in which someone volunteers to teach a particular game at a specific time slot. The events being offered are listed in binders with sign up sheets each day. There wasn't anything that particularly interested me the first evening, so I planned on doing a bit of open gaming for a while.
After about fifteen minutes, I was invited by a group to join their game of Fury of Dracula. This is a "One vs. Many" game in which one player is the character of Dracula, who uses secret location cards to travel across a map of Europe, and all the other players are vampire hunters trying to track him down and kill him. The Dracula player was doing pretty well until on one of my turns I happened to step on the city where he was located, which revealed him. He tried a lot of tricks to escape, but we managed to surround him and take him out before he could gain enough power to win.
Once that game ended, a few players wandered off, leaving us down to three people. I pulled out my copy of Machi Koro and started playing it. The other players liked it so much, they requested to play it again. We broke up for a few minutes to browse the dealer's room before it closed, then joined up for another game. At that point, I broke out the expansion and added that in for another two games. By the time we got done with the fifth game, it was past 9:30pm and I hadn't eaten anything yet, so I bowed out for the night.
Waiting for the next bus (which only comes once per hour at that time of night) and walking home from the bus stop meant it was nearly 11pm by the time I managed to crawl into bed.
In the morning, I packed several more games into my new wheeled carryon bag and lugged them (along with my backpack from the day before) to the convention, arriving around 8:30am. I wanted to sign up for the Among the Stars event that was supposed to be at 9am, but it ended up being canceled (perhaps due to lack of interest). That left my entire morning free, though I did sign up for something else at 6pm, figuring a 2 hour game session at that time would allow me to return home for a good night's sleep.
I unpacked all my games and stacked them on a table (of which there were plenty that early in the morning). I got two passing women to join me for a game of Finca, which I only recently purchased (for a ridiculous amount of money, because it's out of print). This is a resource management game in which players collect various fruits and nuts and turn them in for points. The interesting thing about this game is that the more players land on the same resource space, the more profitable the space becomes. It's the opposite of games where the first player will block the space for all subsequent players. Plus, the pieces are beautifully colorful.
One of the ladies left, but the other remained for a two player game of Machi Koro. It doesn't have quite as much unpredictability and interaction as a game with more players, but it's still entertaining.
My table companion brought out her games, and we played a deckbuilder called Paperback, which is essentially a cross between Dominion and Scrabble. The cards are all letters (or combinations of letters or wild cards), and the player must form a word to play the cards. Each letter has a certain coin value that, when played, can be used to purchase either more letters or wild cards worth victory points. Some of the letters have special powers as well. It was a lot of fun, more so than I had expected.
By then it was about 11:30, and I was getting hungry, so we broke up for lunch. I went to a restaurant across the street--which must have been new, because I don't remember it being there when I attended YaoiCon several years ago. I wasn't very impressed by it, unfortunately. I tried ordering the pizza, only to be informed by the server that they don't start making pizza until 1pm (information that isn't written anywhere in the menu), so I had to switch to a pasta dish that was okay but not great. At least there was sufficient quantity that I could save half of it to eat for supper, though that meant I had to carry a carton of pasta around with me the rest of the day.
After lunch, I wandered around for quite a while looking for an empty table. It was full everywhere. I managed to find a spot at a table that was reserved for a later event, so I had enough time for one game before I had to clear out. Two guys joined me for a quick game of San Juan (which I had repurchased in English after acquiring a Japanese copy on my vacation last winter). One of them had played it a lot on his digital iOS version but had never played a physical copy before. (It's another game that is currently out of print and therefore difficult to purchase.)
I spent a bit of time looking around the dealer's room, but there wasn't really anything I wanted to buy. Actually...there was one game I would have been interested in buying, but the price tag on it was $75. Since the MSRP was only $60 (not to mention that it could be readily purchased online for $40), I wasn't about to dump my money on it. I did, however, come across a table where a guy was giving demonstrations of his game, Dragon's Hoard, and selling them at a discounted rate (even compared to online prices). After watching the demonstration for a few minutes, I ended up getting a copy for myself. (I will admit, I bought it mainly for the art...)
At 3pm, I met up with a bunch of people from the website BoardGameGeek for a math trade. This is a process in which a bunch of people submit lists of games they are willing to trade away. The participants look at the available games and then mark which ones they'd be willing to take in exchange for the ones they are offering. Then a computer program calculates the trades (sometimes very complicated ones) that will satisfy the most people. I was trading away one of my games (Police Precinct) in exchange for a fantasy parody game called Dungeon Lords. I got a bit worried when nearly everyone else had finished their trades and my trading partner hadn't shown up yet. The person who had arranged the math trade had his number, fortunately, and was able to text him. He showed up about 3:25 and we completed the trade without any further trouble.
I returned to the open gaming room, where once again the tables were packed. I browsed for a while before I was finally invited to join a group for the cooperative card game Sentinels of the Multiverse, in which the players are each comic book style heroes duking it out with a villain and an army of minions. It was definitely a challenging game, and I can see why a lot of people are crazy for it, though I think it isn't really my style. In addition to the art, which didn't particularly appeal to me, I'm not as much of a fan of games where players only draw and play 1-2 cards per round. It just doesn't seem like enough actions.
When that game ended it was about time for my 6pm event to start. The event host showed up with the sign up sheet, which had grown to 20+ names (for a 7 player game)--and more people were still signing up as he stood there. Fortunately, my name was like #3 on the list, so I knew I would be getting in a game. Also, not everyone who signed up actually showed. Another person ended up breaking out a second copy and volunteering to host a second game, so we split into two groups for two 6-player games. I had anticipated spending about 2 hours on this event, as I mentioned earlier, but with all that group coordination and then teaching and then playing with so many people, the game ran until about 10:45pm--well over four hours! I had initially put this game on my wishlist of things perhaps to buy the next time I made a game order, but there's no way I'm ever going to get a 4-hour worker placement game to the table. I have too large a collection even to bother with it at this point.
By the time I managed to get home and tumble into bed, it was nearly midnight--far later than I had anticipated, that's for certain.
I arrived at the hotel the same time as the previous day, knowing that if I came too much later I would have a problem getting a table. I considered signing up for a 6pm event of Pandemic, but when I checked the binder for the sign up sheet, it didn't have one. I guess it was canceled. I claimed a table right away and was promptly joined by someone asking if I would help test his game prototype. I said I would, and he brought over the game supplies, then roped two more guys into joining. He stayed out of the game and explained things while the three of us played. He said the working title of the game is Capital of Magic, though he may change it before he tries running a Kickstarter project for it. It's essentially a resource management game in which the players are wizards trying to use magic, wood, and stone to build towers for themselves in a land filled with perilous monsters. My two opponents spent a lot of their time summoning up powerful armies to attack more areas, while I used my resources to buy a bunch of spells. I ended up building my three towers to win the game before the others managed to build their second towers. It was an entertaining game, though I don't know that I would buy it personally.
I stayed at the same table, while the game designer took his prototype off to try a game with a different group. I wound up teaching two more games of Machi Koro, the first with a grandmother and her two adult children, the next with a mother and her three teenage children (in which I just acted as the GM, since the game only handles four players). The game clearly appeals to all ages.
Once those games finished, it was nearly 2pm, so I took the shuttle bus to downtown Burlingame to pick up some lunch. I ate at a brunch restaurant that I pass by whenever I take that bus route yet had never tried stopping at before. It was a little on the pricey side, but the food and the service were quite good. I had good timing and didn't have to wait long for the bus to take me back to the hotel. I had to wander around for a while, but eventually I nabbed myself a table and set up my game stacks again.
A young couple joined me at my table and selected Takenoko out of the pile, because they said they had seen the box around for sale and had been dying to try it out to know if they would like it. A game of it convinced them that it was something they would definitely enjoy. After that they also tried out Machi Koro, which they also liked. A young man visited my table and said he desperately wanted to try Machi Koro as well, but he was entered into a tournament in another room and would have to come back later
After the couple left, three more people joined my table for a game of Among the Stars, a science fiction themed drafting game that I had bought last year yet hadn't gotten a chance to play. The main problem with it is that players lay out their cards to form ever expanding space stations, and it takes up so much table area that it's far too large for either of the locations where I go to game meetups. With four of us, it barely fit on the hotel-provided gaming table. I thought it was fun, though as a learning game it went very slowly, since each person had to study the text on every single card each turn. With practice and familiarity, I'm sure it would go a lot more quickly.
Once that game was over and those players left, I was joined by a new couple. They agreed to play another one of my games that I hadn't been able to try yet, a simple drafting game called Fairy Tale. The game is incredibly easy to learn (the rules only take up one double-sided piece of paper), but ridiculously complicated to score. We played through one game quickly, then worked out the scoring, at which point they could see where they had made mistakes in what they thought would be earning points. We played a second game, and they did much better. I thought the game was a great deal of fun, and I can't wait to get another chance to play it.
Once we had mastered Fairy Tale, we turned to the game the couple had just purchased, which was a cooperative game in which the players are robots trying to rescue people from a space station being invaded by aliens. I ran off and bought a tiny pizza being sold by a vendor in the hotel hallway (no doubt sponsored by one of the hotel restaurants) while they set it up, then returned to try out the game. Unfortunately, we had the bad luck to draw a series of terrible event cards in a row. We had our actions reduced from 5 per turn to 1 per turn, and our hand sizes reduced from 4 special power cards to 2. We just couldn't accomplish enough within those restrictions and only managed to rescue 7 of the required 28 people.
The guy who wanted to play Machi Koro returned after his tournament, and I began to set up the game, but then his companion decided that it was too late at night for another game and demanded to return home. He made me assure him that I would be back the next day before he was willing to leave. Before I could start putting the game away, two more guys joined me (one of whom I believe was the guy who liked it so much on Friday night) for one more game.
I ended up catching the 11:20pm bus home again that night and going straight to bed.
I had to wake up early enough in the morning to get my laundry done before leaving. I managed to finish just in time to catch the bus that would get me to the convention by opening time. I swapped out some of the games I had taken the previous day in favor of new ones to try.
While I was occupying myself sleeving some cards for Archon, a guy from Australia stopped at my table to make conversation about it. (It has extremely eye-catching art.) He spotted Glass Road in my game stack and asked to play it, saying it was one of his favorites. I had only ever played it solo, so I was glad to get the chance to try out the multiplayer version.
After he and his friend left, the Fairy Tale/Jupiter Rescue couple from the previous evening joined me at my table again. They wanted something that would be relatively light to play first thing in the morning, so I broke out Machi Koro for yet another learning game. During that game, I found out that they were familiar with Dominion, so they didn't have any trouble picking up the principle of buying a bunch of cards from a selection in the center of the table.
Since they were familiar with deckbuilders, and they wanted to stick around for a second game, I brought out Arctic Scavengers to teach them. The lady had a little bit of trouble realizing how the different resources and tools worked and how to save cards for the skirmish phase at the end, so I thought that she would be too frustrated to enjoy it, but after the game was over she announced that she wanted to buy a copy because she thought she could get better with practice.
At this point, the dealer's room had closed up and the convention was pretty much coming to an end. The young man from the previous night managed to catch up with me, and I played one last teaching game of Machi Koro with him and his companion (who clearly hadn't gotten enough sleep, because she was still a bit grumpy). He was really excited to have the chance to play it. My total plays of this game is now second only to Dominion.
I'm kind of amazed at how many games I was able to get through...not to mention how little sleep I was able to snatch every night. I suspect I'm going to crash tonight before I have to start back to work bright and early tomorrow morning.