JimCon 2012 – part 1: Board Games

So, this past weekend was the second JimCon, a board/tabletop RPG/mini/whatever gaming convention in my hometown of Winnipeg.  I made the trek from my new home in Brandon, with the main goal of finding some folks to run some homebrewed Dungeon World adventures for, but also hoping to get in some playing and board gaming.  I managed to split my time almost equally between board gaming, role-playing, attending panels, and wandering around desperately attempting to recruit players for my DW sessions.  I’m going to be splitting this retrospective up into two parts, the first will be focused on my experience with board gaming at JimCon, and the second on RPGs.

Initial thoughts

First off, I have to give a big shout out to the organizers and volunteers at JimCon.  You folks did a bang up job, and I’m sure everyone in the hall valued your contribution immensely.

The venue was great.  Bronx Park Community Centre is a clean and modern facility, one which is great for this kind of event.  While it isn’t exactly the Greek’s, having a canteen and a functioning kitchen was great to satisfy the hunger that one can build up over a day of gaming, and I know I had more than a couple cheeseburgers.

"Okay, give me a Defy Danger roll"

The author, pictured after a few hours of DMing

Board games seemed to be the main focus of JimCon, with the entire auditorium dedicated to board gaming and only a smaller room with about 10 tables for RPGs.  The RPG scene seemed to be dominated by the Pathfinder crew, but a few other RPGs managed to carve out a little space for themselves as well.  All kinds of games were welcome and when not playing, I enjoyed wandering around and checking out all the cool games other people were playing.  Especially the miniatures games; while I would probably prefer to stick with RPGs, I have to appreciate the craftsmanship these people put into painting their armies.  They really put those plastic model airplanes I made as a kid to shame.

What’s He Building In There?

The first game I played was “What’s He Building In There?”, a prototype from Baksha Games and the sequel to Good Help.  I must admit, I was a little taken aback as this was the first time since grade school that I have played a board game hand-drawn on some pieces of cardboard.  Although I would like to add that for the record, my version of Risk set in the world of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was clearly the most popular game in class.  Sean, the creator, was a great help in running us through it, and everyone got the hang of it in just a few turns.  It is a resource collecting game, where you have 15 days to:

1. Build a doomsday weapon and an escape plan

2. Get the most victory points

Each player at the start of the game is given a doomsday device and an escape plan to build.  Each doomsday device or escape plan requires resources (both raw and refined), genius at work, manual labour, and specific inventions to complete.  Both unleashing your doomsday weapon on the unsuspecting populace and escaping are a precondition for victory, so make sure you have an exit strategy!

“Shit.”

How the game works is that the players each have an evil genius and three henchmen.  Players take turns placing one of these four characters at a time.  On their turn, they can place it on any space on the board which isn’t already taken.  Each space gives you something, whether it be a physical resource, some cash, or an abstract representation of manual labour or genius at work.  Once each character has been placed, the boards are resolved, and players have the opportunity to invent something using their resources and some genius at work (or, if someone else has beaten you to the patent, you can license it from them for a bit of cash).  These resources can be put towards a variety of things – inventions, advancements on the social, security or animal taming ladder, or your doomsday device and escape plan – which are worth victory points at the end.

At the end of the game, victory points are tallied up and to the victor go the spoils.  Despite an idiotic blunder on my final turn which cost me a whopping 14 points (my genius should have gone to work on his submarine instead of advancing on the social track), I managed to pull out a victory thanks mostly to securing a sweet invention early on which allowed me to remain flush with cash into the later stages of the game, and enabling me rack up a cool 40 points on the social and security ladders.

First you get the money, then you get the victory points, then you get the women

In short, it was a blast.  While it looks complex at first glance, because each turn contains only a few steps, it’s easy to learn and by the end of your first game you will get the hang of it.  I’m definitely going to get in on the up and coming Kickstarter for this one.  My only real criticism is the fact that the designer uses Comic Sans on his website.

Pentago

Pentago is tic-tac-toe with a twist.  It is played on four 3×3 grids, arranged in a square, making it into a 6×6.  Your goal is to get five marbles in a row.  The twist comes in after you place a marble; you rotate one 3×3 grid 90 degrees.

It is what it is, a short and sweet game which can be taught in seconds and played in minutes.  It won’t keep your attention for a long time, but it’ll keep you busy for a little while.  My main strategy was to nab the center pieces of the 3×3 grids, and then try to connect them up through placement and rotation.  Also, playing aggressively seems to work well as it’s hard to play defensively when the board keeps changing, and an opponent who had to constantly respond to your threats will have difficulty creating threats of his own.  These strategies seemed to be reasonably effective, but it was my first time and I only played against one opponent, so I can’t say with any certainty what works.

Smash Up

Smash Up is a card game which is fairly quick to play.  Players create a unique deck by shuffling two faction decks together.  Factions include Pirates, Zombies, Robots, Ninjas, and several others.  There are two types of cards, action cards and minions.  The goal of the game is to score victory points by capturing bases.

On a player’s turn, they can play a minion card and an action card.  Of course, these cards have all kinds of unique abilities on them which allow players to do stuff.  Minion cards are placed on a base, and have a point value in addition to an ability.  A base is captured when the point value of all the minions on the base exceeds the point value of the base, at which point Victory Points are awarded to the players who have the first, second or third highest minion value on that base.  The base is then replaced and the whole thing starts again until

My first choice was Pirates, in honour of one of my favourite movies.

Also, my favourite opera

My second choice was Ninjas, because Pirates and Ninjas have a notoriously good working relationship in internet culture.

After seeing the cards my opponents played, I was left wondering a little about the balance.  Maybe they had better synergies than me, or maybe I just sucked as a player, but it seemed as though their cards were mopping the floor with mine.  I did, however, have the Pirate King card, which among other things, gave me the ability to interrupt the game with showtunes.

Check out that chest hair

Would you believe that Kevin Kline circa 1983 is also my current D&D character?

My reaction to this game was mostly “meh.”  It’s not bad, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea so I wasn’t particularly wowed by it.  I can see how it would be fun for people who are more into card games though.

Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot

Okay, I’ll just get this out of the way right off the bat.

This is a weird one.  It’s another card game, and as the title suggests, you are Killer Bunnies on a quest for a magic carrot.

In this game, your goal is to collect carrots.  One of them is the magic carrot, although which one it is is unknown until all the carrots are collected.  On the way, you can hamper your opponents by killing their bunnies, either through attacking them or trying to starve them to death.  As a player, you want to keep your bunnies alive because you need to have at least one bunny at the end to win the game, and because certain cards can only be played if you have a bunny.

It has an interesting method of playing cards though.  You start out by putting two cards face down in front of you.  On your turn, you flip over and play the top card, move the bottom card to the top, and replace the bottom card with one in your hand.  This means that there is a delay between when you put a card down on the table and when it is played, so you have to think strategically because a lot can change in those two turns.

Again, it wasn’t bad, but there were things I liked and didn’t like about this one.  I liked the card-playing mechanic as it encouraged players to think ahead and plan whatever strategies they can in advance.  The artwork is a matter of opinion, but I thought the whimsical nature of the killer bunnies was a plus.  My main problem is that it felt like too much rode on luck.  Often, whether your bunny would live or die depended on one die roll.  And the victory conditions are such that if you’ve managed to collect ten carrots, you could still be beaten by a guy with one carrot if he has the right one.  There is something a little unsatisfying about duking it out with your opponents for a half hour, killing each other’s bunnies and trying to acquire as many carrots as possible, and then having the winner be decided essentially at random.

Bonus:  Silent Auction Prizes!

On top of it all, my strategy of “put one ticket in everything” paid off and I managed to score a few games at the silent auction.  Thank you, vendors!  Of course, I haven’t had the chance to play them yet, but here are my initial reactions so far from opening the boxes (after “Score!  Free games!”):

Evolution: The Origin of Species:  Looks cool, and the idea of a game about evolution designed by a Ph.D. in biology is intriguing.  On the other hand, the cards, box and elements seem to be a tad on the cheap side, and whoever translated this from Russian didn’t quite have their syntax down, but these are relatively minor critiques.

Potion-Making Practice:  I’ll be honest, this isn’t a game that I would have picked up off the shelf of a game store – neither the box nor the title are particularly appealing.  But, it would be a folly to judge a game by its cover, so I’ll try it out next time I have an opportunity.  It’s made by the same company as Evolution, so it has a bit of the same problem.

Pieces of Eight:  Metal tokens and a coin pouch?  This is so sweet, I can’t wait to play this with… wait a minute, this box only contains enough tokens for one player!

So, that about wraps up my board gaming experience at JimCon.  I’ll try to follow up later this week with my experience playing and DMing RPGs, including my Dungeon World game which left many of my players wondering what I was smoking.

EDIT: BONUS!

An Engineered Fun exclusive (at least, until such time I find out it is not an exclusive):  The cover art for What’s He Building In There?

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4 Responses to JimCon 2012 – part 1: Board Games

  1. Rebecca says:

    Yeah, I don’t really like Killer Bunnies. I don’t like the way the attack/defend cards are all in pairs. You get a particular defense card in to your hand and hold on to it just in case a particular attack is played, essentially limiting your hand size for something you might not even need. I guess you’re right when you say the artwork is a matter of opinion but to me it smacks of “Hey, Joe’s really good at drawing, we’ll get Joe to do it for us!”. One thing that really bugs me is the font they chose for the cards, it’s hard to read. The whole thing just seems like a great example in why you shouldn’t cheap out on graphic design.

    You’re right about the randomness too. I can scheme my win in Munchkin. Killer Bunnies is just frustrating.

    I think I’ve played Good Help, too. It was okay but a little too long for what it was. I’d like to try that Banditos though. Nice to see some production right in Manitoba.

    • crimsyn says:

      Yeah, regarding the art I did like the whimsical nature – making it about bunnies rather than something mundane (mundane for our hobby at least) like pirates or knights or spacemen. But you have a point; the execution left a bit to be desired. It seems to me that with the cartoonish art and essentially random victory conditions, it might be a bit more appropriate for a younger audience.

  2. sean says:

    thanks for the plug! what address can i use to send you the cover art for “what’s he building in there? -sean.

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