This year I was able to make the annual pilgrimage to the hallowed halls of Cancon and stay to the very end.
I had been invited to an inaugural gaming gathering (The Siege of the Fortress of Awesome) and so was staying the full week after Cancon – therefore was there to the bitter end (the stripping down and packing away of the games library)
This year I barely made it out of the board game library (except for ablutions and social functions with the family.) I didn’t even wander amongst the massive miniature setups as I have done in the past.
Friday I managed to get the two big games I wanted to play under my belt: Great Western Trail and Terraforming Mars
GWT was pretty much the hit of Cancon for me and several others. I fell for Alexander Pfister’s previous big box Euro, Mombasa, in a big way. I had lost a lot of interest in the new Euro games, feeling that they were just tinkering around the edges with well worn mechanisms (especially worker placement) and were just becoming complex for complexity’s sake. They didn’t feel organic to me. Mombasa did, it had just the right amount of randomness with the market tiles coming out and every microsystem seemed to work in tune with the others. It was my favourite game last year.
GWT is somehow similar to Mombasa – it’s another setting of micro gaming systems that generate gaming wonder through their interrelationships. You have to get cattle to market (from the bottom of the board to the top of the board.) The market will pay you best for different breeds of cattle (you have a deck of cards representing your cattle, with a hand of cards representing your current stock – part of the game is improving the diversity of your hand as you make it up the board to Kansas City to sell them.)
So you can change your hand and buy new stock from it from buildings on the way to Kansas City, neutral buildings and buildings you put there yourself. Buildings, of course, cost money. It’s possible to earn money on the way, but the big pay off is in Kansas City.
You also have a train line – the train line enables you to reach further cities to sell your cattle. Which is important because you can only sell your cattle once to each city. But, then, when you do – you take a counter off your player board allowing you to move further, or to cycle through more cards or to improve other actions.
I haven’t even gone into the objective cards, trading with native Americans, avoiding hazards, the different employees and the need to leave one or more behind as stationmasters as the game progresses.
There’s so much in it, and yet none of it feels overwhelming (much like Mombasa.) Every thing you do is tied to your basic objective of getting the best price of your cattle once you get them to Kansas City. As each building forms a space, and each subsequent trip adds more buildings (yours and your opponents) more possibilities start to open up. It’s very, very clever and I can’t wait to play it again.
The other game I was eager to try was Terraforming Mars – which has already received a few plays at my local games group. There were no copies for sale at all at Cancon, and the sole library copy was in constant use. Fortunately my friend Simon from Inner West Gamers had his own copy along, so I finally got to play it.
And there’s not that much to it. It’s really a tableau building game where you are building up card based resources, both on a rather unstable play mat and a tableau, to increase the oxygen level and temperature of Mars to the point where it is habitable. Whoever does the most “work” in both terraforming points and additional VPs along the way, wins.
We played a drafting variant which seems to be a good way to play. It’s basically engine building with a spatial element provided by the board and the victory point dependencies between vegetation and cities (owned by players) and oceans, owned by everyone, along with a few special hexes that can be place through the use of cards.
It’s obvious why it’s popular. The hard science setting works well but doesn’t overwhelm the clarity of the cards (like it does in a Phil Eklund game – TM could almost be called Pax Mars.) There are things to do each turn. You can screw people over (especially on the board) but not so they’re out of the game.
Other games played:
I was not as taken with Adrenaline, an attempt to turn a first person shooter into a board game – specifically a PvP shooter. The game looks fantastic with nice plastic models and droplets for damage markers, but it’s basically an area control game, with each player being the area the other players have to control. There’s not a lot to it – weapons (which do have different effects) require different kinds of ammo, but players can only hold three cubes of ammo at a time (though upgrade cards can be used as ammo cubes) so, despite ostensibly running around shooting everyone in sight, you are actually converting cubs to damage markers to claim the most damage. There are other games of that kind I’d rather play, no matter how pretty the components are.
I’m not a huge fan of flicking games per se, but Ice Cool has penguins in high school, so it gets a pass from me. For a game so cute there’s a weird slasher film vibe to it. All but one player are trying to flick their penguin through doorways to collect the fish above, however that one player is a hall monitor who has to hit the other penguins to collect their ID tags. Surely it’s a just a reskin away from being a Friday the 13th style game.
It’s a cute game but fairly inessential.
A kickstarter game in that the emphasis was on the graphic design rather than the actual game play. My impression was of a Mad magazine parody of current tv shows, snipped up into cards with some rules tossed over the top to justify its existence as a game. There’s not a lot of there, there.
On the other hand, there’s Lorenzo Il Magnifico – which was fine. Just not terribly exciting, not engaging in the way that Great Western Trail and Terraforming Mars is. Worker placement with the workers keyed to dice, and a pain mechanism based on Papal favours, it has some clever ideas but didn’t really distinguish itself, though there was much more of a game there than The Networks.
Cancon is usually a big buying con, with a second hand stall (that this time used ticketing to control the crowds) and many local game stores setting up shop. This year there wasn’t many bargains to be had and all the stores were sold out of Terraforming Mars – the most sought after game of the con.
But somehow I made do:
From the top we have:
The Bots expansion for Theseus
Merchants of Amsterdam
Great Western Trail
In the Shadow of the Emperor
Gamma World (2nd edition)
The Little Prince – Rising to the Stars
Magic the Gathering – Arena of the Planeswalkers
War of the Ring
on the side:
Deep Sea Adventure
Isle of Trains
Great Heartland Hauling Company
Now all I have to do is find the time to play them and the space to store them.