One of our listeners visited a Seattle board game convention called Dragonflight. I asked him for impressions that we could share on the show, and he gave us way too much to cover. Here’s the unedited, unabridged version of his email for you to digest:
Per discussions on Twitter, here is my roundup e-mail on the Dragonflight 2013 gaming convention.
Dragonflight is a yearly board, card, and RPG gaming convention that happens in Seattle. This year was the first year that I attended, and it was an interesting experience to say the least. Games were scheduled events, and there were some interesting organizational problems with sign ups (sign ups with less game spaces then players that were allowed to sign up, etc). I almost missed out on playing Battlestar Galactica the Board Game due to this, but luckily that didn’t happen. Several of my friends from out of town came to the con and had rooms in the Hilton where the convention was held, which was quite nice when one needed a break from the gaming floor. Showering was optional for most attendees, but that seems par for the course for a lot of gaming/sci-fi/other conventions lol.
The best way to handle what I played, IMO, is to present a summary of each game and discuss the pros and cons and describe the experience as a whole. So, without further ado, the list goes as follows:
Love Letter: Love Letter is a 2-4 player card game wherein each person receives a hand of one card and draws a second card on their turn. They must play one of these cards during their turn, with the cards having effects on themselves or other players. Players can be eliminated through card effects. The goal of each round is to either eliminate all other players or have the highest valued card in hand at the end, with the game ending when one player has earned more of the 13 victory points than any other player could earn (7 for two players, 5 for 3 players, etc). The game itself is a game of strategy and bluffing, as each player knows what the deck is made of and can see what cards each player has played, allowing the player to make reasonable determinations as to what card a player may have on their turn. This is hampered by the fact that cards are eliminated from play before each round randomly, creating doubt as to what cards are actually held.
Having briefly, poorly laid out the mechanics of the game, what I can tell you is that from a value for the dollar perspective, Love Letter is a huge winner. It is fun, simple to play, quick, and satisfies the itch to screw over your friends. I payed 7 dollars for my copy, and am confident that it will more than deliver on that price point (MSRP is 9.99 I believe). Surprisingly, the game works well with any number of players. I say surprisingly because often games like this suffer when scaled down to two players, but I found it played well regardless of number of players. Very fun small scale game.
Alien Frontiers: A resource management, victory point worker placement type game where worker placement is partially determined by die roll. I think that’s a description of what happens in this game. The rub for this one is that there are limited slots on the work stations that, once occupied, deny the other players access to that resource or, in the case of some resources, restrict access while still allowing others in. The game itself is fun, with mechanics available for stealing resources, increases worker numbers, and multiple victory strategies being available. However, what I found, having won, is that your die rolls (dice or your ships, i.e. workers) have a very significant impact on what you can do. Roll well, and you can dominate easily, roll poorly and you find yourself locked out of advancement options and sunk. Overall a good game, but I think the luck factor is very strong here and even the soundest of strategies isn’t going to help if you roll 1s and 2s every time.
Battlestar Galactica: A cooperative board game where the goal is to “survive” and reach Kobol. Or Earth. Or something. The trick is that there is a chance at the beginning that someone is working to help the “game” win as a Cylon. What makes BSG different then the similar Shadows Over Camelot is that halfway through the game, new cards a handed out which can make players into Cylons at that point. The cooperative mechanics are fun, but there are some hindrances that keep me from giving this game the praise I typically heap on Shadows Over Camelot. The opportunities for Cylons to sabotage come in the form of events where players can contribute points towards the success or failure of said event through secret contributions of points. However, there is a card that requires all points cards to be played face up, meaning that to sabotage the event at that point, the Cylon would have to reveal themselves in at that point. I suppose the idea is that this card will not be present at every event…but in our 6 player game, it was played every time. The other problem is with the mid game loyalty change. I can see that some players would love this mechanic, but for me, in the style I played, I found it to be a huge negative. If, as I was, you were a Human in the first half of the game, you clearly want as much success as possible, so I did everything I could to help move the game forward. Then, the second half loyalty switch happened, and I became a Cylon. Now everything I had done earlier had actually screwed my chances of winning completely. On top of that, continued play of “All event points cards must be played face up” kept me from clandestinely screwing the Humans to help the Cylons win. It was a close game, and there was some fun to be had. But for me, (and I don’t think this is unreasonable) the point of a game is to have fun AND to win. And winning is more fun then losing, most of the time. So a game that switches my win condition and invalidates all my previous strategies AND has a bunch of mechanics to keep me from pursuing my new win condition has some problems, in my opinion.
Also, as an anecdote, two games of this were being played next to eachother. My group was laughing, having a good time, making wild accusations as to everyone being Cylons. The other group looked at us and said we were the “kiddie” table, offered us sippy cups, and basically said we weren’t taking the game seriously enough. I said I was happier there than at the “no-fun” table. People: THEY ARE GAMES. Enjoy them, have fun. Seriously.
Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures: I won’t get into mechanics since I know you guys know them already. It was my first time playing, and we went with 55 point armies since my friends who had the game had the base game plus 1 extra TIE and X-Wing. I played 3 TIEs vs. 2 X-Wings. The mechanics of the game are fairly well balanced, though in the game we played it was clear that the X-Wings have a huge advantage over the TIEs. I was also frustrated with the fact that even though my strategy was extremely sound (several of my friends who had played in the past were surprised and said I lived much longer than most of their previous games had indicated I would, etc) the die rolls came up repeatedly negative to the point that regardless of strategy, I was losing. Once the X-Wings picked off one of my TIEs, the game was over because 2 regular TIEs have 0 chance against 2 X-Wings with full shields and R2 onboard. I could see this game being fun with full 100 point groups to give the Empire additional support, but the way I played the game made for a disappointing experience.
King Of Tokyo: King of Tokyo’s central mechanic is a yahtzee-style dice game. You roll 6 dice the have a 1,2,3, claw, heart, and power icon. 3 of a kinds earn victory points with an additional point for every die of the same value (i.e. 1-1-1 is worth 1 victory point, 2-2-2-2 is worth 3 victory points (2 for the 3 2s plus one for the extra 2) 3-3-3-3-3 is worth five) lightning bolts earn you power which is spent to buy cards that effect the game, hearts heal and claws attack. What do you heal and attack? Your Monster! Every player is a monster who has certain hit points. Your goal is to earn victory points by either rolling them on the die or by occupying Tokyo. With your attacks, you either attack the Monster currently in Tokyo or, if in Tokyo, you attack all the monsters outside of Tokyo. While in Tokyo, you cannot heal. Because of this, if you are attacked in Tokyo, you have the option to leave Tokyo and pull the monster that attacked you into Tokyo. You earn 2 VP for entering Tokyo and 1 for each turn you start in Tokyo. So you end up with a King of the Hill/Tug of War mechanic of monsters trying to get into Tokyo to earn points and getting out to heal, because if you lose all of your hit points, you are eliminated from the game. The result is a very fun, quick game that has a good balance of strategy and randomness, with the dice playing a factor but your own strategy being able to have a greater influence on game results.
Power Grid: I was told by someone at the con that Power Grid was the “Monopoly of serious gamers” so I won’t get into a whole lot of details about it. I enjoyed it once I got a solid handle on the mechanics. It’s a meaty game, in my opinion, very European, which is good and bad, but at least it isn’t Die Macher (There was a Die Macher game running from 9 am to 6 pm Sunday. I decided to say no to a 9 hour game). I enjoyed the experience and would definitely play it again if the opportunity arose.
Helionox: I was roped into this by the designers, who were play testing the game at Dragonflight. I was nervous at first, but was pleasantly surprised by the experience. The game is a deck-buiding game with a sci-fi theme. The game has 2 currencies, “defense” and money, which I called gold for lack of a better term. Gold is used to purchase cards from 5 different equipment decks, 4 of which are themed and one of which is a generic +2 gold card for 3 gold, I believe. The defense currency is used to defeat the “Events” which are akin to monsters but do not enter your deck, instead being worth victory points towards winning the game. The events move along a track and enter locations that players can be at, which have different effects similar to the cards, essentially allowing you to chose one of 5 extra cards to be part of your hand. The game has a lot of potential, and I would like these guys to get more help and press if possible, so there website is www.zeroicgames.com and their twitter is @zeroicgames. They were awesome to work with, and were very receptive to comments on their game. They will be at GenCon as well, so I hope they have a good showing!
Space Cadet: Imagine Artemis Bridge Simulator. Now imagine someone made that a board game with timed minigames as part of each station. Awesome, maybe? Now add what is the worst instruction manual I have ever seen included with a game. You have Space Cadet. There may be a good game in there, really. But you have a game where there is a certain order that things happen during a turn, and an instruction manual that at no time mentions this order and instead talks about every station in a vacuum, not relating it to where the event fits in to the turn or even presenting players with an in-text example turn. The result is a frustrating mess where, if no one has played the game before, you quickly get lost. I am sure that there are better written guides on the web for this game, and if you play it, be sure to read one FIRST, because the manual will not help you to really understand this game.
Forbidden Desert/ Forbidden Island: I’m lumping these together because of the similar mechanics. You lay out a set of tiles upon which there are treasures/parts of your escape vehicle. Your job is to get the treasure and escape before the island sinks under your feet/you die of dehydration. Both fun games, Forbidden Desert adds in a mechanic of being squares not going away but simply being more difficult to recover while Island the squares disappear. Mensa award winning, fun games, and both 2 player games which are good since I can play them with my wife.
Zombie Dice: The press your luck dice game, I don’t see the need to get into a lot of details here, fun for when you have ten minutes or want a distraction from watching TV. Perfect, IMO, for play while someone sets up a really complicated board game.
Gauntlet of Fools: Set-up on this one is interesting. Random heroes are matched with random weapons. Players bid one heroes by “boasting” what they can do. Each boast comes with a negative, like having an extra wound, not being able to roll the full number of dice on attack, or less defense. Once every player has a hero, they enter a dungeon, all players fighting the same monsters to receive gold. The player with the most gold at the time of their death wins. Interesting game, interesting mechanic. The game is a little chaotic due to the way the rolls have to work for the game to be played in the time suggested. A monster comes out of the dungeon deck, everyone does their attack or effect (heroes and weapons have an effect that a player can use a limited number of times by spending tokens that are assigned at the beginning of the game based on the hero and weapon) and then effects are resolved. Interesting, somewhat fun, but needs to be played in the right group for sure. The overly competitive and serious need not apply.
Council of Verona: A recently kickstarted game based on Romeo and Juliet and scoring points by placing characters in either an Exiled or Council position in ways that fulfill the requirements of Agenda cards and then having the most influence on those agenda cards. The mechanic is interesting, but unfortunately each side (Montague and Capulet) are perfectly balanced with cards that do the same things and the ones that have different mechanics cancelling each other out (i.e. a Capulet card says “Move on character from Exile to Council” and a Montague card saying “Move on character from Council to Exile). The fact that the cards are so balanced makes it difficult to make a strategy that is not going to be countered by an opponent. It was interesting but not a game I would buy or recommend
Cards Against Humanity: My friends and I all got invited up to one of the dealer girls rooms, where we played cards against humanity while drinking red wine and having COMPLETELY inappropriate conversations. Fun, but unfortunately one of my friends was trying to get some and failed in his attempt.
One last game
Summoner Wars: You guys talk about it a lot, and I found a starter set for 20 bucks. Played it, and wow. That is a wonderful game. Fun, easy to play, tons of different strategies involved. Can’t say enough about it. Immediately bought 2 faction decks. My goal is to use it to transition my wife into more complex games. We already play Deck Building games like Tanto Cuore, DC Deckbuilding, and the Penny Arcade game, which she likes. I’m using Summoner Wars to introduce more complex cards and card interactions, and maybe some light deckbuilding. Then I am going to move her into Netrunner and possible the Star Trek Card Game, which are more complex and from what I see have more deck building aspects then Summoner Wars.
So, there you have it. As far as recommend/not recommend:
- Love Letter: Recommended
- Alien Frontiers: Recommended with some concerns
- Battlestar Galactica: For me, I have to go with a not recommended. Not a bad game, I just think there are better places to put your gaming money even if you love the traitor/cooperative board game mechanic.
- Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures: My experience left me with a not recommended verdict, but I think your mileage may vary, and if I had the opportunity to play it in a full 100 point army method, I would try it again and revise accordingly
- King of Tokyo: Recommended. Fun, easy, quick.
- Power Grid: Recommended. Even if it is “Monopoly for serious gamers” you know what? A nice game of simple Monopoly is fun sometimes too
- Helionox: They’re not there yet, but keep an eye on it and hope they follow my repeated advice of getting their price point to 30-35 dollars. At that price I think they could have a real gem on their hands. Much more than that and they’re going to be another face in the crowded deck builder market.
- Space Cadet: Not recommended without spending some serious time either finding a good online walkthrough/manual or the company engaging in a serious rewrite of the manual. There is something there, but in the current state and the 60-70 dollar price, save yourself the frustrating and put the money somewhere better.
- Forbidden Island/Forbidden Desert: Both recommend. They are fun games with simple mechanics and complex, cooperative strategies. Fun and priced right. I spent 16 on Forbidden Island and I think Desert is in the 30 dollar range
- Zombie Dice: Recommend. Great for when you want to spend 10-20 minutes doing something.
- Gauntlet of Fools: Tough, but I’d say not recommended. It was fun, but not something I’d seek out to play again.
- Council of Verona: Not recommended. They didn’t do a good enough job of diversifying the cards to make the game strategically interesting. Especially in a larger group, there is only going to be one way to win, and that doesn’t strike me as fun.
- Summoner Wars: Recommended
So there you have it. I bought Love Letter, Zombie Dice, Forbidden Island, and Summoner Wars: Cave Goblins vs Guild Dwarves and The Filth and Vanguard Faction Decks.
And, finally, please shout out my Extra Life Raffe: www.extra-life.org/participant/iamkelso. I’ve got steam codes, RPG books, and some board games up for grabs and every 2 dollar donation earns you a raffle ticket. Thanks guys!