MACE Convention Wrap-up
As many of you dear readers know, I attended a local gaming convention this weekend in Hickory, NC – MACE West, the sister convention to the somewhat-larger MACE held in High Point in November each year. Smaller in no way means that there was less fun to be had, as I and my gaming companions – Michael, Shawn, Scott and Matt – proceeded to play the holy heck out of 11 different games over two and a half days. I was also lucky enough to walk away from the convention with a smorgasboard of gaming goodness; after winning a silent auction, I got great deals on two tickets to Origins Game Fair, as well as the games Infinite City, Mystery Express and Lords of Vegas (which Monkey238 and I have already tried out and loved; look for more on it in the next State of Games podcast).
Since so many games were played and loved over the weekend, it felt appropriate to share my quick thoughts on each, from wonderful, trollish experiences, to unfortunate bear rape, to the utter disappointment and disillusionment that is Mansions of Madness. Enjoy.
I had the pleasure of introducing three of my con companions to Alf Seegert’s trollish masterpiece. This beautiful, whimsical, gem of a game gets better every time you play it, and Shawn, Matt and Michael all agreed that it was one of the best game experiences of the weekend. Within two turns, everyone had the unique but intuitive mechanics down pat and we all settled in for a tight race. Ultimately, I pulled out a victory with the always-welcome help of Pig Boy and Dinner.
Just before I left for MACE, Alf was kind enough to send along a copy of his previous game, Bridge Troll. Since Trollhalla had set the bar to such a high level, I was skeptical that its predecessor would deliver as rich a gaming experience. I shouldn’t have worried. Bridge Troll was loved by all, and the bidding system, player interaction and special card mechanics all combine for a truly unique and fun game. Look for a full review on Dice Hate Me soon.
I was finally able to get Nightfall to the table a few times with the maximum five players, and it’s a very different animal with that many people in the mix. All the players were new to the game except for me, but they were able to pick up the mechanics and combo strategies fairly quickly. Opinions on actual gameplay were mixed, but everyone enjoyed the game and were definitely interested in playing more to see if the experience improved. As for me – well, look for my full thoughts on this deck-building brawler later this week with the full Dice Hate Me treatment.
Before MACE, I had only been able to get this eurogame full of a buffet of choices to the table once before with Monkey238. Luckily, Shawn, Michael and I sat down with Hansa for a quiet, after-breakfast game on Saturday. With the bevy of choices available, it took a few turns before the scoring system sunk in, but by mid-game everyone was feeling comfortable and getting into a decent rhythm. I fell prey to an early-game arms race with Shawn, however, and he ended up crushing Michael and me under his German boot heels – well, as much crushing as a 16th-century Bavarian merchant can do, at any rate. Overall, a great game with more strategic choices than I’ve seen in many years.
I had been yearning to play Ra for years since I love auction games, and thankfully our resident Man In Black, Scott, bought it on Saturday. The game is very easy to learn, but there were some subtle nuances to scoring that weren’t fully evident until the end game. The auction system is smooth and simple, and gameplay progresses quickly. A great game for five players, but I’m not sure the same thrill would carry over to two or three.
It had been almost ten years since I played Cosmic Encounter, and two years after buying the newest edition from Fantasy Flight, I was finally able to get it to the table. The wait was worth it – the game was just as I remembered it, full of frenetic diplomacy, constant paranoia, sneaky victories and glorious upsets. In the past, I had always remembered Cosmic as a raucous affair, best played by good friends with thick skins, or at least strangers you might never see (or want to talk to) again. Thankfully, a few editions later, that same wonderful experience is still around, and still just as good.
“To describe (Wrath of Ashardalon’s) gameplay, I can only say that it all felt a bit like going to a carnival and locking yourself in a Tilt-a-Whirl with two angry badgers.”
Wrath of Ashardalon
Every so often I will encounter a game that takes the rules of good game design, solid mechanics and player interaction and slowly roasts them over an open spit while giggling maniacally. Wrath of Ashardalon is just such a game. To describe the gameplay, I can only say that it all felt a bit like going to a carnival and locking yourself in a Tilt-a-Whirl with two angry badgers. I made the first move in the game, took one step – ONE STEP - and suddenly half the damn dungeon was revealed, along with a kobold, an orc, and a demonic dwarf with a bloody warhammer. By the end of the second player’s turn, we were eyeball-deep in lava and the mage was almost dead. I’m not even going to get into the bear rape that my rogue suffered. The only redeeming aspect of the game was that after the mage was toast I was forced to make the final, winning roll of the die – me, rolling a DIE – and, against all odds, I succeeded. We had saved the world, but would end up as smudges on the dungeon floor since we were surrounded by several bears, kobolds, orcs, devil dwarves and gibbering mouthers. Ultimately, I had a good time, but only because we could not stop laughing hysterically at the sheer, excessive, desperate excess of the game’s sadistic machinations.
Another golden classic that I hadn’t had a chance to visit in years, Frag is still the same insane, adrenaline-fueled deathfest that can elicit more cries of despair and glee in a minute’s time than any other game I’ve ever played. Five of us sat down for a nice, quiet Sunday morning in the arena of death – three of whom had never played Frag before – and within five minutes, one of the newbies commented that the game was better than playing Halo. Even Matt – who would soon take on the nickname of “Frag Boy” because of his uncanny knack of getting himself exploded every single turn – could not stop laughing at the hilariously-enjoyable insanity. Once a classic, always a classic.
Mansions of Madness
After two full weeks of planning, Michael Harrison and I ran two sessions of this long-awaited Lovecraftian behemoth at MACE; I acted as Keeper for The Inner Sanctum, while Michael orchestrated the advanced Green-Eyed Boy story. After our two sessions – and the few that preceded them – I can only summarize my impressions the same as I did in 140 characters on Twitter: Mansions of Madness is The Phantom Menace of board games; the only difference is that The Phantom Menace had a plot. The Inner Sanctum plodded along well enough to a tight, well-earned investigator victory, but the wheels completely fell off the wagon in Green-Eyed Boy when the game was lost in turn 4 after what we now refer to as “The Incident.” And, yes, I said turn 4. Two hours of pre-planning and set-up, thirty minutes of character selection and exposition, and the game ended in turn 4. To rub salt in the wound, the loss made no sense whatsoever. Much gamer rage ensued. There aren’t enough written words to express my overall disappointment with this game I have coveted for too many months to count; look for my impassioned rant on the next State of Games podcast this coming Monday: The One About Mansions of Madness.
Did you know that when you buy from Funagain Games that you’re helping out this site? It’s true! Pick up any of the fine games mentioned here (except maybe Mansions of Madness), help out your favorite blog. It’s win/win!
- Where the Games Are
- The State of Games, Episode 4 – The One About the 7 Deadly Sins
- Dice Hate Me at the Movies
- The 2010 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide
- Dice Hate Me at the Bookstore: The Games Bible