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BrakkeCon 2012: Of Eurogames and Americubes

Last weekend my family (including my buddy Billy Baroo) made our yearly trek to see Todd in Indianapolis. We take turns driving out to see each other once a year so this was our turn to make the three+ hour drive from the east side of Columbus.

Interstate 70 between Indiana and Ohio is as thrilling as it sounds.

These weekends are mainly boardgame fests and this was no exception although this particular weekend was bizarre in that my wife didn’t take part – she sat on the couch and worked all weekend. Her job sucks that way.

I always find it interesting to play with Todd and his crew. He usually has a few buddies come by to hang out with us so the games tend to be in the 5-6 player range, but watching the dynamics of Todd’s group compared to the one I play with on a regular basis – it’s interesting. For example, Todd doesn’t do civilization games like Small World and Brief History of the World (sucks for me..) but give Todd a pick up and deliver game like Railroad Tycoon or Fire & Axe and he’s a content little Todd. His buddy Jay on the other hand delights in ANY game that allows for direct conflict and laughter and ANY chance to put the screws to Todd. His buddy Jeff will make a deal with you at 8:00 and then by 8:10 absolutely renege on said deal and stab you in the throat. I saw this first hand in a game of Shogun.

“I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone…”

“Sure!”

None of this backstabbing and Machiavellian shenanigans and prevented me from obtaining the title of King of Tokyo.

I adore King of Tokyo. I think it’s truly a wonderful game. The rules can be explained in five minutes and you get to bash other players, talk enormous loads of smack and you can play several games in an hour.

We played multiple games of KoT on Saturday and my daughter took part in a few of them and I could have played more. This press your luck dice rolling game about monsters beating each other up over Tokyo is great because it fosters what, to me anyway, games are all about – interacting directly with friends. I’d hate this game if played on the iPad. Or with strangers. You need to be able to taunt people into staying in Tokyo just one more round. It’s hardly a master class of intricate chin rubbing game design, but in some ways KoT is the perfect game.
I cannot recommend it enough. Unless you are a fun murderer.

(Before I die I will play boardgames with Barnes. NHS fun fact: Barnes is the only member on staff that I have not met in person. Well, Matt lives across the pond so he doesn’t count because I’m an American and we don’t care about Europeans.)

We met Todd’s new girlfriend Friday night for the first time. She’s a lawyer. Seemed like a very nice and personable woman despite her profession and so I decided to toss a game called Patrician on the table. Like I said, King of Tokyo isn’t for strangers – and it’s especially not for new girlfriends.
Patrician is classic Euro Filler. Themeless and easy to learn, it’s what some people call a “gateway” game – a term I have grown to absolutely despise. Still, I like Patrician. It’s a straight Euro that I actually enjoy.

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I have a weird relationship with Eurogames.

I got back into the boardgame hobby around 2006 and like many I got hooked on Settlers of Catan and that opened up the door (gate?) to this bustling hobby with more games than I could ever play. Catan, however, isn’t a “gateway” game. It’s simply a great game. Gateway game makes Catan sound less than what it is – one of the best games ever designed.
I, like a lot of people totally new to all of this, (I hadn’t been heavy into boardgames since I was a kid when I devoured sports games like candy) stumbled upon Board Game Geek and started reading. This, of course, lead me to believe that luck was an evil thing, Eurogames were the best and only thing going, and Risk was for children and grown-ups who simply didn’t know any better. BGG has since evolved into a more rounded website but in 2006 the thought of rolling dice was like letting spiders crawl all over you. Right Todd?

So I jumped in with both feet and bought up Euros like they were subprime mortgages.

Caylus, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, RA, Railroad Tycoon, Agricola, and so on. If this is what the hobby was all about I was going to give it all a shot. Of those games the only ones that “stuck:” were Railroad Tycoon (still one of my favorite games ever) and RA. (a classic auction game that I enjoy with my family). The others? All highly regarded on BGG – I found to be either boring as dry paint watching or fun for a few plays but in the end so rote to be pointless.

Engine games.

But I kept plugging away: Endeavor, Navegador, Age of Empires III (now called the Age of Discovery), Small World. The only game I still play regularly is Age of Empires. Small World was replaced by A Brief History of the World.

It took me a long time to really discover the types of Euros that I enjoy – almost all of them are hybrids. Shogun, Olympos, Cyclades, Antike, El Grande, Imperial, Wars of the Roses, Lancaster, Domaine, Eclipse – these are all favorites of mine and all share that same Euro/Ameritrash/Wargame hybrid quality. In other words there needs to be some conflict and not just “hey you stole my captain card.”

Anyway, Patrician

Patrician is a filler game – the kind of game you play when you have 30-45 minutes to kill. The theme is classic Euro. You are an Italian blah blah and you are trying to build blah blah. Here’s the game’s description:

Patrician takes place in the Middle Ages when men were men and wealthy men were inspired to build magnificent towers in order to show off how prosperous they were. As the old saying goes, the taller the tower, the more influential the family. Players are master builders trying to profit from these vanity-driven families. You build these towers floor by floor, ready to take credit for making them look good. From Mayfair’s description of the game: “You must shrewdly accept the building orders of the patrician families to position yourself in the right place at the right time. Play your cards right, and your name will be famous among the rich and powerful!” Patrician comes with 149 wooden tower pieces, 55 building cards, 20 prestige tokens, and a double-sided playing board.

In short, you’re stacking wooden pieces that are supposed to be towers/buildings in various locations, each of which are worth victory points. There’s just enough player screwage to make it interesting and enough planning involved to tax your brain a bit – but it’s not rote at all. You are not going to figure out this game’s “engine” due to the variability of cards that are played and the strategies that evolve during each game.

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I think Todd’s girlfriend had fun. Although she did leave like 10 minutes after it was over…

Panic Station hit the table Saturday night. I was hoping this would be a faster and less laborious way to get the same traitor mechanic that makes BattleStar such an effective game. It wasn’t.
Barnes described this game as a “hot mess” in his review and he’s dead on. While the game provided some laughs, which earns it some points, it’s just so scatterbrained. The second game we played lasted literally 15 minutes.

The theme is more or less a spin on the movie The Thing. Remote station, one person is infected and looks human but is actually an alien trying to infect everyone. But you also have an android partner who somehow gets infected the minute your human does…and humans can’t use guns but the androids can…it’s all very fucked up. Plus it’s easy to figure out who is the “bad guy” and when that veil is lifted the mechanics can’t hold up. I doubt this sees the table again. That’s the issue with playing a lot of games. They rarely get a second or third chance.

Shogun was next and this is one of our go to games. I love Shogun, even if I’m in a funk with it at the moment. I ended the game with barely any units left on the map. This is a classic Euro/War hybrid design that is part Risk and part individual player mat Euro. Plus that damn battle tower is just neat. Shogun is such a tight design – mainly due to the fact that it’s not a wargame even though it sure looks like one. The game only lasts six maneuverable turns and two “winter” turns and each turn you are only allowed to plan two attacks so the most you will ever attack is 12 times per game and that rarely happens as each province you control is allowed only one action per turn and you likely will need to do other stuff aside from assaulting your neighbor. This makes the attacks you do make all the more important. The downside to attacking is that as your empire grows it requires more rice to feed your (almost always) angry peasants. So there is balance that needs to be struck. Just a great, great game.

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And the tower provides so many laugh out loud moments and moans and groans and “are you kidding me” outcries that it reinforces why games are so entertaining in the first place.

I really want to get the Wallenstein reprint which is Shogun but Thirty Years War Wallenstein with a new map.

 

Sunday morning before we left we got in a game of Lancaster– a game Todd hadn’t played. Again, Lancaster is a hybrid of sorts. It’s one part classic Euro worker placement. However in this case your workers are knights of varying strength. You can place these knights in various areas: either in a “County” which provides either nobles (which provide votes and end game VPs) or a bonus of some sort (a castle upgrade, a higher valued knight token, money, whatever). Your knight can get booted from a county if a higher ranked knight from another player shows up with squires to remove you from the court. An underhanded move, no doubt.

You can also place knights inside your castle which provide a one-time bonus of some sort, or in the war with France which is a bit risky but also could earn you tons of victory points or you could get quagmired in a war for a couple of turns and your knights are wasted – which is bad.

The kicker to all of this, and what in the end makes Lancaster work for me, is that each turn new laws are voted on by all of the players and these laws dramatically alter how the game is played. This opens up the table to deal making, back stabbing and promises that can be kept or ignored. Perhaps a law will be on the table that provides bonus VPs to all players who are currently at war with France. Or maybe a vote will be cast which provides bonuses for all players who are fielding a level 2 knight, etc. There’s a slew of these and three new laws are voted on each turn. Each player earns “voting cubes” each turn so some players will have a LOT more “pull” at Parliament than others and again this can cause some interesting table talk to ensue.

In the end Lancaster works because it’s built upon a solid Euro foundation but it’s nowhere near a classic “multiplayer solitaire” design that so many Eurogames fall prey to. It’s got enough direct interaction to keep it interesting.

(Image courtesy of Hooded Hawk Blog.)

I wish I could have gotten Eclipse out, as Todd wants to see it but his table simply isn’t big enough. You need space for Eclipse.

Perhaps when he makes the trip to Columbus.

Time to dig into Lords of Waterdeep…

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

33 thoughts to “BrakkeCon 2012: Of Eurogames and Americubes”

    1. It was sold out for a long time..but I think it’s either restocked or being restocked.

      I’d grab it quick.

  1. Domaine, god yes, love that game.

    You and I have similar tastes, though I still love Small World.

    Railroad Tycoon is brilliance. Too damn big though!

    Ticket to Ride original favor, just okay. Marklin edition however is fantastic. The passenger mechanic lends just the right complexity.

    Prefer Shadows Over Camelot for traitor mechanics, BSG is fun but too goddamn long.

    You don’t list Acquire or Cosmic Encounter, which I feel must be grave oversights 😉

    1. The original Railroad Tycoon map is enormous, but if you get the Rail of Europe map, that’s actually *much* more reasonable in size. It’s a much better map in general, though you can only play with five players on it. (I think the re-packaged Railways of the World also has a smaller-sized US East map than the original monstrosity.)

  2. I have never played Acquire and I feel dirty saying that.

    I LOVE Cosmic but it’s not really a game for our group. Cosmic ALL depends on the people playing. However my daughter has reached prime gaming age…

    That said there are loads of favorites I didn’t mention.

    Chaos in the Old World, Twilight Struggle, Warriors of God, Hannibal, Mage Knight, Hammer of the Scots…

    1. I wanted so badly to play Chaos in the Old World. Been almost two years since my last playthrough of that, I think.

    2. Acquire with 4 players is the most sublime gaming experience I can picture.

      Chaos is fantabulous.

      I find it boggling that a group of backstabbers and chaos lovers wouldn’t love Cosmic though

  3. When you make the trip here we’ll have a better understanding of player #.

    I thought going in we had SIX…which makes it tough and rules out of LOT of games

    1. I just played the first mission in sky rim Todd. I see what you mean about spiders. And bears.

      Oh, the bears…

      Also, if we ever cross paths at one of these weekends we will bust out tycoon through time. So different yet touches the same great buttons as railways. I prefer the England map over Europe but both are better than east or west USA.

  4. “I’m an American and we don’t care about Europeans.”

    I just can’t understand what he’s sayin’. Learn to talk American!

    1. Cor blimey, love a duck mister, I must say I’m exceptionally peeved to have been singled out due to my nationality in this manner. I will now go away up the old Apples and Pears and comfort myself with a cup of tea, a scone with clotted cream, then perhaps a spot of Morris dancing, cricket and wholesome thoughts about the Queen.

  5. Sounds fun. I haven’t played a boardgame in two months and I’m feeling withdraw.

    I skipped Settlers. First hobby boardgame I bought was Fury of Dracula.
    Oh and Risk is awful. Too much luck.

  6. You know guys I am in Illinois and available for a gaming weekend, just saying.

    I played Liberty Roads this past weekend, my brain still hurts.

    1. Yeah I think I am going to my first ever Gen Con this year w/ McMaster. I normally hate conventions but I’d like to go just once.

      1. I’ve altered my GenCon visits to Weds-Saturday. Come in Weds night. Get in early Thursday to exhibits hall with press badge. Buy all the games I want Thursday. Conduct my meetings Thursday and Friday morning.

        Play board games in the afternoons and evenings. By Saturday morning I am wiped out and head home.

        It’s a great experience but the word is for just playing games BGG con is the place to be. I haven’t gone to that yet.

        1. I’m giving my IP law talk at Gencon again this year. If you guys will be in town I’d love to grab a drink and a game.

          1. I’ll be there for sure and trust me when I say I am out and about in the evenings. World Cup Game sounds great, too bad the company is going OOB.

          2. Sounds like a lot of fun. Too bad it’s in August. Indy’s close enough I’d love to join, unfortunately I’ll be in California for my honeymoon. So yeah I won’t feel too bad about it.

          3. OK so let me see if I have it down.

            Open invite to all NHS readers to hit Todd’s place in Indy for Gencon for some hoot and holler boardgaming.

            You want to give the address or should I?

          4. If the group were small I wouldn’t necessarily rule that out, though I’m still a good 50 minutes from downtown. Better, though, if we found a spot downtown – probably wayyy too late in the game to find rooms, though. For the record, I’m selling spots on my couch for $400 a night. It’ll fit three. Four if you’re all super friendly.

    2. HA, I gotta say when he’s rolling out for Indy I was feeling pangs of jealousy. Being a Chicagoan meant that my mental calculator was showing only 2.5 hours between me and a great time.

      So it’s just as well they didn’t get Eclipse out, my bank account is already strapped. I don’t need to hear about more great games OK? Especially when they’re being played within reasonable driving distance.

  7. Tabletop/roleplaying conventions don’t interest me quite as much as video game conventions due to the time constraints. As any tabletop player knows, it can take a few rounds to really understand the nuances of a game and fully enjoy it. That, in turn, can take numerous hours. So I can either spend half a day to find out if I like a tabletop game, or 20 minutes with a video game. Something like PAX, on the other hand, has enough of both worlds.

  8. One other thing I wanted to say is that Catan sucks.

    No really, it does. Well for me at least.

    See I have this super power, that being that I have terrible luck. If I need to roll a 3 or higher, I’ll roll a 2. So Catan has this huge flaw for me. It is possible to go multiple turns without being able to do a single thing.

    Any game where that can happen is, by my definition, not a great game. Having the die go around the table 5 times without being able to so much as build a road kills a game for me. This has happened many times in Catan for me. My friends love it, I hate it. I play still, but never suggest it.

    That’s why I consider something like Adventurers to be one of my favorites. Even when I lose it was a blast, there is always something you can do on your turn. When you can’t it’s your own fault usually. It’s plenty random, and I usually lose, but I will always try to get it to the table. Besides my fiancee likes it.

    Oh and Railroad Tycoon, friggin awesome game.

    1. The Android (and presumably iOS) version of Catan has a nifty rule where if you go 4 rounds without getting any resources, you get a resource card of your choice. I think I’ll implement that when next I play.

      Similarly, Dominion: First round everyone starts their first hand with 6 cards instead of 5. Much more variability in play, and it gets new cards into play much faster.

  9. It might be heresy, because I know a lot of people don’t like Fantasy Flight, but the game I am enjoying a lot recently is the Game of Thrones 2d edition. There are a lot of justified complaints about balance, but with six players who basically understand the rules the game is just fun. It’s a mind bender, with a lot of tricky decisions to make. My favorite part is that every player feels like they are losing the entire game, right up until someone actually wins. I am hoping to see if we can speed up in the future, because with having to teach the rules every time each of my games has gone into 4 hour range.

    I’d really like to get Eclipse, but it is impossible to find. I had a box in my hands a couple of months ago but was short of money and didn’t buy it.

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