stm4e (stm4e) wrote,

WBC 2009

The WBC boardgame convention was a couple weeks ago, and after spending a week recovering, I can write about it. It's a great convention, especially if you like playing lots of tournaments in lots of different games.

This year was a good year in that I actually got to play the whole week (unlike last year when I had to leave early for my sister's wedding), but a bad year because I lost pretty much every important game I played..

San Juan. The convention bills itself this year as "Now running for a full week!" which is a bit misleading, partially because there are "pre-con" events running for several days before the convention starts (I always want to play in them, but I'm not good enough in the games played to justify the extra time or expense), and partially because we've always had stuff on Monday for the last few years, but we don't schedule much on Tuesday during the day because of the auction. So now with the "full week" advertising, people are grumbling that we should run stuff during the auction. Which will never happen, since the auction staff (and, I think, most of the bidders) only are at the auction because there are no games to play instead. But I think it still was a PR mistake.

Anyway, that's all background to say that I played San Juan on Monday morning. I do think that the "whole week" advertising bumped up the numbers of this tournament to almost unreasonable numbers, given the format that's used. It's a 4-round Swiss system (players of similar records play each other), and then everyone with 3 wins makes it to a single-elimination bracket. The problem is that when you're trying to pair 60+ people by record, it's a hard process and takes a while. I ended up drawing fairly lucky in my games, and beating the people I played, while avoiding the sharks. I went 3-0 in the Swiss rounds, and then had a really exciting game in my first bracket round, where I had horrible cards, but battled back to only lose by 1 point. So close! Oh well.

Union Pacific. I tend to like the "connection-style" train games (like, say, Iron Dragon or Ticket to Ride), more than "Stock-collection" train games like Union Pacific, but we've played this in the game club for a long time, and it's worth a play or 2. This was ran as a swiss-style event too, so I won my first game (at the table of random players). The funny thing about that game was that people were complaining about one guy who was "doing stupid moves to throw the game", but he ended up only losing by a couple of dollars and maybe just one turn. At the "winner's table", I ended up a distant second, and then at the "everyone with one win and one second table", I came in third, ending my day. I probably didn't play very well, but in that last game, I could never draw any cards that I needed. Sort of a theme for the week :)

The auction. Not really a game, but since I spent most of Tuesday working it, I should probably include it. This year was my first time selling things in the Auction Store (basically a flea market for cheap items), and I put in a bunch of stuff that I'll never play, or that popped up when we were moving and I said "Where did that come from??" To my great surprise, all of my crappy games sold (and there was some real crap in there), netting me a few hundred dollars. Yay! I bought some cool-looking things myself (most notably, the Mayfair (good) edition of Cosmic Encounter , one of my favorite games from Grad School, but not too much, so I still came out ahead.

Superstar Baseball. This is a "free-form" event, which means that you meet up with people whenever you're free and play a quick game. I signed up for it for the first time this year, and selected the 1980 Phillies (all the good Yankees teams were taken, but I figured Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, and Steve Carlton made a good core of a team). I don't think the format is for me, though, since I never got a game in. I schedule my week pretty densely, and in the free times that I do have, I'm usually more interested in going off-site to get good food, or in relaxing in the room, than I am in hunting down strangers and asking them to play a game with me. Still, it was good to find that out.

March Madness. I make it a point to play in the first heat of this (Tuesday Night) every year to make sure I get it in. I often play in an additional heat, but sometimes (like this year), the changing schedule later in the week means that I'm doing other things instead. I think I've came in second in this event twice, and it would be nice to win it at some point, but it really depends on the team you pick. This year, I got a team in the middle of the pack, and won my first game when I rolled well, and lose my second game when I rolled badly. Wait till next year!

Star Wars: Queen's Gambit. An early exit from March Madness means that I can run over and play Queen's Gambit, which is another game I like a lot and make room in my WBC schedule for. It's really a fun game, even if it turns off a lot of people, partially because it's about Episode 1, and partially because it looks so imposing. I ended up winning my first game, which was enough to have me qualify for the single-elimination semifinals later in the week. In that game, I played a kid who I think I was better than, and jumped out to an early lead, and proceeded to wait over an hour for me to make a roll to win the game, which I never got. Eventually, time ran out and I lost. Given that I lost in the finals of this a few years ago to a kid who rolled perfectly and won in 10 minutes, I may try to seek out old people when playing this game from now on :)

Win, Place & Show. A horse-racing game I play once a year because I'm friends with a lot of people who play it. My rust shows every year. This year's fatal mistake was to hedge my bets on two horses in the same race. Which is fine, but if you're going to do that, you should hedge your bets between horses that do well in slow races and horses that like fast races. If you do what I did, and bet on two fast-race horses, you're just throwing away money.

Titan I play in the two-player tournament to defend my (unlikely) win of a few years ago. I won my first-round game pretty easily by getting good recruitment rolls through the game. I had to wait to see who I would play next because they decided to take a break halfway through and finish that (Wednesday) night, which let me go play other stuff during the day. We set up our second round game for Thursday morning, and I managed to trap his Titan stack, and he was afraid to break through my blockers, so he kept his Titan stack not moving (or recruiting) for too long, while I could build up my other groups and eventually kill him. The guy I was going to play in my third round game wanted to do other stuff during the day, so we agreed to meet and play the game "tonight". Unfortunately, that was a pretty vague description, and I think he got hung up doing other things, so we missed each other. We did hook up Friday morning, and we played a quick game where he decided to make a risky attack with his Titan, having to guess whether the stack he was attacking was my Titan stack (making his decision a good one), or my Angel (making his decision a bad one). He guessed wrong, and I moved on to the Final 4.

In this round, I played the guy I beat a couple of years ago to win the tournament. I know he's better than me, and he knows it too. He jumped out to an early recruiting lead, getting a Hydra in his titan stack. He then, somewhat boldly, put the group in unfavorable terrain in front of my Titan stack, who had weaker creatures but liked the terrain. Figuring that matters would only get worse later on, I attacked him. It wasn't a great battle for me, but I think I fought it pretty well, and really worried him a lot before he plowed me under with sheer numbers and won the game. That's the closest I got to winning anything all week. Sigh.

I also played in the 4-player Titan tournament, but I didn't make time to play in enough different games to advance. I got two second places in the 2 games I played, and I probably needed at least another win to advance to the semis. Every year I think it would be cool to make it a priority to play a lot of multiplayer Titan, and every year I get distracted by other games.

For those of you who don't play Titan because it's "too long a game", I should point out that my 4 two-player games were done in a total of 4-5 hours. The multiplayer games took longer, but two-player titan can be really fast, since you're not waiting for other people to fight their battles

Galaxy. Not to be confused with Race for the Galaxy (which I did play), this is a betting game which I don't play as often as I like at the club, so I make sure to play it here. I lost my first game, probably because I was a little rusty, but came back the next day and won a bloody, low-scoring game, which which enough to get me into the semifinals. In that game, I was doing well until one player (who, looking at past results, seems to be pretty good) made a desperation move that ended up taking him out of the game, and took me with him as collateral damage. I think his move was a mistake even when he made it, but dealing with the randomness of others is part of the game. Oh well.

Kremlin. (Random aside- the "Kremlin" page on boardgamegeek that I linked to loads a page from GoogleAds about "finding your Russian beauty". Heh.) Lots of people say "Man, who'd want to play a game about a political system that died before many of the people playing it were born?" (and doesn't that make you feel old?) But when you think about the number of games featuring WWII, WWI, the Civil War, and so on, it's not like we're afraid of history at this convention. And the game is kind of unique in its mechanics- you have secret influence on the various politicians, and you can control them to do various tasks to further your other politicians (who, hopefully, you control). So it's a fun game, and I recommend giving it a try. In my game, I had three new players, and ended up winning pretty quickly, even though that wasn't really my plan. But I won't complain. In the final, I ended up choosing the wrong people for my influence points, so my 8-point guy was someone's 9-point guy, and my 9-point guy was someone's 10-point guy. As a result, I never really controlled anyone, and wasn't much of a factor.

Alhambra. A fun, medium-complexity Euro that fit nicely in my schedule while I was waiting for my next Titan game. I got placed at a 4-player table, which was nice, because it made the game more skill-based. No amount of skill would've been enough to stop me in this game, though, as I had several turns of being able to buy for exact change, the piece that fit my building exactly, and was the color I needed. I ended up winning by like 40 points, which is unheard of. Sadly, the semi was during the Kremlin final, and I did that instead, though now I sort of wish I hadn't :)

Ingenious. Another short Euro, lighter than Alhambra, but still has some strategy. I ended up losing this game when I couldn't draw anything that I needed, but there was so many people playing in this event that you probably needed 2 wins to advance anyway. We're starting to see lots of 150+ player events at the WBC in recent years, and I don't know that the regular "advance the top 16 to a semifinal" strategy works great for them.

Pro Golf. Now here's an event that's entirely luck. You get a random golfer, roll some dice, and the chart tells you how you did on the hole. That's it. It's still fun because you get to sit with your friends and laugh at them when they bounce off trees into water hazards, and it's a good way to blow off steam at the end of the day.

Battle Line Three card poker repeated 9 times, with random events to mess with people's hands, this is a game I like a lot. It's got some randomness, but skill wins more often than you'd think. You get placed into 4-player "pods", where you play the other 3 people in the pod. I was a bit over-confident in my pod, and lost a game I probably shouldn't have. Luckily, we ended up in a 3-way tie and I won the tiebreaker to advance to the single-elimination bracket.

In that round, I played a former champion (he beat me in the finals a few years ago) who I always have close games against. This time, he got his hand, and was disgusted with it. He started showing his cards to people, saying "Look! See how low my cards are! My 7 cards total 10!" and stuff. Of course, I knew that when you have all low cards, it's actually not that bad a hand, because they match up well with each other. Sure enough, he eventually played three low straight flushes to beat me.

Lost Cities. Similar to Battle Line, but more luck-focused, this is another event that draws a ton of people. It had 185 last year, and I bet it went over 200 this year. Since the semifinal round only takes 32 people, that means you have to win at least twice, probably 3 times to make it. I won the 3 heat games I played in, and then got pretty unlucky in the first round of the bracket. Twice I got a 7-card run, when an 8th card would have scored me tons of bonus points (enough to win). Once I had a hand full of cards to make a long run, but no "handshakes" that would double the points I'd get, so I had to play it undoubled. One or two more cards in my favor, and I advance, and then who knows?

Liar's Dice. Probably the most "skillful" of the late-night party games. That's not saying much, when I lost 3 dice to collateral damage, and my last to when someone rolled 4 of a kind.

Titan: The Arena This is sort of "Galaxy Lite", and I like Galaxy better. This is a fun game, and goes really fast, but in the last round, the game pretty much ends without you having much ability to affect the outcome.

Race for the Galaxy This is like advanced San Juan, and unlike the Titan Arena/Galaxy situation, here I like the simpler game (San Juan) better. I think Galaxy adds too much, and the game ends too soon to make use of it all. Also, since there are so many things, it's really important to draw the right cards. This was the first time (of the 10 or so games I've played) where I really felt like I had a strategy to how I played the game. It wasn't enough, and I still lost.

Dominion The hot new Euro, though I'd only played it once before coming to WBC. It's basically a deck-building game- you draw cards that give you actions, and the actions give you abilities that help you get points. It's a cool game, and has wide appeal (and is sort of similar to Magic, which most board gamers have dabbled in at one time or another), so I can see why it's so popular. In fact, playing it has rekindled my interest in BrettSpielWelt, a German site that has online versions of lots of board games (including Dominion). I haven't bought the game yet. I just can't bring myself to spend $30-$50 on what is essentially a deck of cards. Especially when they have a Second version that's the exact same game with different actions (so you'd get 2 sets of all the VP cards and stuff), and a Third version coming out soon. It seems like it'll cost a lot of money eventually, so I'm afraid to jump in.

Ticket to Ride (regular, none of that crappy Europe of Marklin stuff for me, thanks!) Another game that had a ton of people, but I'm glad I got a game in. As it turns out, I ended up not being able to draw the color I needed and being one short (again) at the end of the game. I did the math, and drawing that one card would've gotten me 59 points- 15 for making the connection, and I'd have made a 22 point ticket (so I wouldn't have lose the 22 points, and would have gained them instead). It's not often you see that large a swing on one card, but that's the story of my week.

Facts in Five It's run more like a quiz show, where the moderator picks the topics and has a list of correct answers. I gave away a few points on stupid stuff (German Battleships "B": Bismark!, Seas "M": Mediterranean!, any movie that won both the Oscar and Golden Globe: ??), but the moderator definitely has biases- he likes old generals, and he likes old music (2 categories were Beatles White Album Songs and Jethro Tull Album titles), which are things that I'm not good at. I did ace the Shakespeare Play, NHL team, and Books in the Bible categories though.

Slapshot The event I GM, and the unofficial end of the convention. The younger kids are growing up and really making a (drunken) mark in this event. 4 of the 6 finalists were "young" (early to mid 20's, I think), and they added a lot of energy to the game, which was fun to see.

TransAmerica Sunday Morning's farewell event, it's not my favorite game, but it's quick and easy, and doesn't require much thought after running Slapshot till after 2 AM the night before. I think I got bad luck, but since the person who won killed all of us, it might not have mattered.

Despite the results, I had a great time as always. Next year, I'll (hopefully) have a kid who's almost a year old, so we'll see if that affects my schedule at all. At the very least, I think a year of child-raising will exhaust me so much that I won't be able to play so many things..
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