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Tuesday Chatterbox – Abnercon Edition

Railroad Tycoon at Abnercon

Railroad Tycoon at Abnercon. I’m Yellow. No, I didn’t win.

Abnercon Wrap-up

Abnercon was, as always, a fantastic time. Over the weekend we played 7 Wonders w/expansions (x2), World Cup, Spartacus, Mare Nostrum w/expansion (x2), Railroad Tycoon (US East map), Cosmic Encounter, and Tomorrow (in development). I pulled out victories in World Cup (with Ireland, no less!), Spartacus, and Cosmic Encounter (total fluke). I finished strictly middle of the pack in Railroad Tycoon and was fortunate to do that after I completely biffed my opening turn. I am ashamed. As to the other high and lowlights, let’s dig in…

First, Tomorrow. This game really is promising. Bill and Dirk are still fine-tuning, but it’s got that certain something and, like Diplomacy, with it’s divided loyalties and conflicting agendas, it’s a game destined to end friendships when the player you think you’re allied with drops a nuke on one of your controlled territories. I had control of Europe. We were depopulated. The only saving grace is that I did at least beat Jon Shafer… by a single point. Trust me when I tell you I will remind him of that fact whenever we meet again.

Then there’s Mare Nostrum, a territory gathering and resource collecting game set in the Mediterranean in which you control an ancient civ (Greeks, Romans, etc.) and try to build up some achievements. I played this at Bill’s, once, years ago and had very positive memories of it. Not so this time, and not just because we got some of the rules wrong in both games we played. It’s too convoluted. There’s too much downtime. It is not an elegant design in any sense of the word. I think these things stand out more to me now because I’ve played so many different games since we last broke it out. Speaking purely on game terms, it was the weekend’s lowlight, which should not be confused with not having had a good time. That’s the thing about board games. Even bad games are a good time with the right people around the table and this weekend was lousy with great people at the tables.

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The game of the weekend for me, however, was Spartacus. (World Cup was a close second.) It was only one play (the 2-4 player limit hurts at a weekend like this one) and I’ve never watched the show on which it’s based, but it’s a brilliant design. It moves quickly, its gladiatorial battles (played out with dice) are compelling even if you’re not directly involved, and there’s constant player interaction with no room to grow bored. This will be my next boardgame purchase, hands down. I’ve also added a Starz subscription to my DTV service specifically to go back and watch the show. (It beats paying Amazon $35 to stream it or having to add a DVD subscription to Netflix.)

All in all, big props to Bill and Mary for all the work they put into making the weekend go off without a hitch. Those two (and their spunky, punky teenage daughter) are aces. Aces, I tell you!

Transistor in 2014

YouTube video

Supergiant Games, the folks behind Bastion, have announced their next project — Transistor. I was never quite as high on Bastion as most, but I still thought it was a very good game and a great value. Summing up this trailer in a word? Sold. About the vocalist for the theme music — that is the same voice as the woman who sang Build That Wall in Bastion, right? I’m not imagining that am I? Wonderful voice.

EA Being EA

In EA news, Sim City is still a fiasco and not just because of server issues. The more people dig into the game, the more it looks the like the underlying play mechanics are rather buggered. RPS is doing wonderful work covering this story. A sincere hat-tip to John Walker and his merry band for taking both EA and Maxis to task.

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Unrelated and yet related, CEO John Riccitiello has stepped down. I say it’s both of these things because SimCity, specifically, surely had little to do with his resignation. The mindset that lead to EA’s strategy of trying to wring every last cent out of gamers for a line of products of inconsistent quality (like SimCity) almost surely did. But then, did he have a choice? Whenever you hear about the business of EA it’s about shareholders and their love of subscriptions and microtransations and “monetizing” gamers without regard for offering value. That’s not the business of quality gaming and it takes quality games to sell the unwashed masses on your $60 product (plus DLC, plus microtrans, etc.). The desires of EA shareholders are in conflict with the desires of gamers who actually purchase product and no one wins when that’s the case. These models are not a match made in heaven and only a very select few (or one… or none) will make it work over the long haul.

Yes, yes, SimCity has reportedly sold 1.1M copies in two weeks. Should we be impressed by that? It’s a Sim game. That franchise is an evergreen seller. And the always-online requirement makes it pretty darn difficult to pirate. So, if all those legions of filthy, nasty pirates have to put down an honest buck to play this immaculate product then where are all those gained sales? If piracy is all that stands between the publishing big boys and a new era of increased sales, shouldn’t this already be a 3M unit seller? Shouldn’t it be doing Call of Duty numbers? That sound you hear is all of us not being the least bit surprised that this model won’t turn out to be the savior of AAA budget-busting games. Cue next-gen industry crash in the next 12 to 24 months.

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As for Mr. R, he gets himself 24 months of continued salary for doing nothing. It’s nice to know he’ll be able to make it through the lean times… unlike the numerous rank and file worker bees EA has cast out during his tenure.


Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at

4 thoughts to “Tuesday Chatterbox – Abnercon Edition”

  1. Ah, but did you pull off a solo win in Cosmic? That’s truly impressive…particularly if you play in my group, where what tends to happen is either there’s a “Winner’s Circle” of three or so players…or we have really close games and everyone decides to partner up at the end to make one- and only one- player lose.

    Best game ever made. If I were given the option of burning every game I own in a fire or just torching Cosmic, I would be making a big ol’ 75+ game bonfire. I think my Hellfire Club boys would be totally OK with that too- it’s requested EVERY game night.

    Mare Nostrum a lowlight? Really? That’s such a great game…the only thing that’s really convoluted is the whole thing with occupying territories, that’s the only mechanic I think is a little superfluous. Everything else is gold, especially with Mythology. I can see where it may drag if you’re coming into it cold though…did somebody get stupid and trade all their taxes to Egypt? We had a 45 minute long game once because there were two new people that wouldn’t listen and traded taxes to Egypt every time. Pyramids built, end of game.

    Spartacus has an expansion coming…lets you table six players (YES!) and it allows for…MULTIPLAYER gladiator battles (HELL YES!).

    How the hell did Ireland win? I mean, any team can theoretically win, but I don’t think they’re very highly ranked in any of the Cups I’ve played.

    I’ve looked over the semi-final reviews to Tomorrow and it looks pretty great. I won’t review it since I’ve been around early versions of it and offered some input, but I think it’s going to turn out to be Conquistador’s best yet.

    As for SimCity…I’d be interested to see how many of those 1.1 million were preorders for digital copies. I’d like to know how many people were SUCKERS and put their money down for it in advance, for no reason. It used to be that you’d preorder something because there could be a shortage. But there can’t be a shortage of a digital game, so all you’re doing is pledging to buy BEFORE the game drops and is unplayable during release WEEK. But now, they’ll give you a copy of Mass Effect 3 and you can sort of build your little city so it’s all good right?

    Yes, thankfully RPS isn’t letting it go…unfortunately, elsewhere it’s more or less just another “outrage of the week” like Aliens: CM turned out to be…swept away, forgotten, with very few repercussions or actual consequences for the parties involved in wrongdoing.

    I really liked RPS’ article this week about stopping the preorders…I’ll say this in no uncertain terms- anyone that preorders a game after some of the shit that’s gone down recently is an idiot.

    1. What Bill said about Mare. The God phase is a flow-killer, as is the collection of resources when you have a six-player game. It probably didn’t help that I ended up being the proverbial banker in both games. Spent most of my time just handing out cards. Don’t get me wrong, it has moments where I think things are really interesting, but not enough to make me want to play it over other designs.

      Cosmic… man, everyone *loves* that game. I mean everyone. I really don’t get it. I can’t even tell you why I don’t like it beyond some paltry justifications about the randomness being too much for me and whatnot. It just doesn’t grab me. That said, I did win the game solo. There’s no way on earth I should have, but we had four of five players at four points and I was on the attack in a battle I “couldn’t win” so everybody allied with defense. And I did lose, except I had that race that lets you draw three cards from the deck and use one to add to (or replace) your attack. On that draw I pulled the +40 card, won the encounter, and the game. Woot!

      On World Cup Ireland is a Green team (basically second tier if red and black are top and blue and green are largely equal) that was fortunate to have their opponent (Portugal?) make zero effort to win in the second round (I think it was that Bill was focusing on making sure Germany won) and from there, I think it was a tie-break or three to the cup. Also, they had a genius manager.

  2. I am a fan of Mare, but it IS a tough game to get into when you are new because it’s one of those games that you play for 90 mins and things are about to get fun and then — poof — someone wins.

    Todd is also right about downtime — that God phase is brutal because people want to see the god cards every turn.

    Mare Nostrum is a game that I WANT to love. It has sooo many great things. But it has that chance of falling flat. I played it twice abd both games it just didnt click.

    And Yes, Cosmic is awesome. Todd just hates fun.

  3. Railroad Tycoon, what a great game. I love how that looking at that board it’s not obvious who’s winning, because it is so dependent on the color of the goods cubes.

    I’m with you about Cosmic Encounter, to a degree. It’s certainly not a bad game, but the wrong mix of alien races can really make the game fail.

    But more board game talk please, give us the bloody details of Abnercon. At least I can board game vicariously through you, since I don’t have time to do it myself.

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