MACE 2011 Convention Wrap-up

Greetings, dear readers, ’tis the season for gaming! No, not because of the impending holidays (although that’s wonderful, as well), but because it’s the time of the year when we can load up the party wagon and head west – an hour west to our local con, MACE, in High Point. Last year, only three of us made the trek. This year, however, we had a veritable gang of geeky gamers – seven of us in total. The resulting maelstrom of gaming and imbibing manly liquids left me with some fuzzy accounts, but I shall endeavor to do my best to summarize all the geeky goodness. And although there was no bear rape nor freezer incidents to speak of (see my MACE West roundup for that bit of insanity), a fun time was had by all.
After the Best Western staff informed all 1,200 of us that we would have to wait until 3 p.m. sharp to check into our rooms at the same time (and we got there at 1:30), we decided to christen the main game room with some PitchCar. Despite the fact that every table in the room was either horribly uneven or 6 inches wide, we made a go of it. Unfortunately, most of us made a go at crashing horribly to the floor after our wooden discs vaulted off the course and across the room. 

We soon abandoned all hope of a competitive race, but luckily our rooms were ready. All of us but Scott (being an MIB, he was demoing Revolution), headed up for libations. Eager to game, but not yet ready to brave the game rooms, it seemed a likely time for some monster brawling – so we broke out King of Tokyo on our 12 inch by 12 inch cocktail table. Amazingly, it fit, and the several players who were new to the Tokyo experience were enthralled.

By the time we made our way downstairs, Scott was free from demo duty, so we all agreed to unleash hell on each other in a 7-player free-for-all of the classic…


Guess whose ships those are in the warp?

There’s a reason Cosmic Encounter has long been played and loved since 1977 – it remains one of the easiest and hassle-free ways to end a friendship. I had never played Cosmic with any of the new expansions, but Neal had brought along all the goodies. We all chose between two races – I wildly chose the Sadist, even though I knew there was no way in blue Hades I’d accomplish my win condition – and it was time for some whipping. Although I held the powerful Flare for Sadist, I avoided playing it for almost the entire game, hiding my race and my victory condition secret for the longest time. I played wildly, pitting players against other players constantly, backing out of deals, causing general chaos and finally managing – against all odds – to be four ships away from having at least 8 from every player in the warp, a monumental task for a 7-player game. And then Neal played Mobius Tubes, which rescued every player’s ship from the warp. I didn’t feel the need to play Cosmic Encounter again that night.

Having had enough intergalactic mayhem for the time being, Matt, Scott and I split off to the next table and broke out a couple of great three-player games.

I’m going to save most of my thoughts for a little special mini-review of EmDo later, but for now, suffice it to say that I enjoy the heck out of this little deck-builder. Shocking, I know. Matt and Scott, having both been veteran card and deck-building veterans, took to the rules very quickly. Having played a few times before, I had the advantage, but for the first few turns I spun my wheels trying to run the Warfare route with little success. I finally listened to what my deck was whispering and quickly jumped headlong into heavy Research and Trade/Produce. Familiarity with the tech tree finally won me the game, but it was a close-fought battle. Both opponents really enjoyed the game, and I look forward to my next few plays.

After EmDo’s heavy card action, the guys were ready for some dice. I was all too happy to whip out Alea Iacta Est, one of my favorite finds of the year. I’m not sure how to describe the effect, but the game is both relaxing and tense. There is just the right mix of hard choices and moments of confident dominance to keep bringing you back. By the second turn, the guys were comfortable and feeling it, so it was a tight race to the last round. In the end, I won by one point – a testament to the easy-to-understand rules and smooth, balanced play.

After we wrapped EmDo and Alea, the other group soon wrapped their multiple bouts of deliciously poisonous Cosmic Encounter, and we decided it was time for some spooky house hunting.


"Come on, kids - let me show you my jazz collection."

This was my first ever play of Betrayal, and as a fan of spooky and atmospheric games, it has been high on my list for several years. After this particular play, it will now likely go on my short list. Although I had a good time playing, I have a sneaky suspicion it was because of the company I was keeping rather than the game in front of all of us. Granted, it was no debacle as bad as Wrath of Ashardalon, or the madcap mayhem in Mansions of Madness at MACE West, but for now, it will go down in the books as the time I played a creepy pseudo-pedophile in charge of two small children in a haunted mansion.

Having been creeped out more than long enough, we all headed up to the rooms for the night. We lost three to attrition, so Shawn broke out his copy of Quarriors for the remaining four, and after about an hour of the game that would not end, we all decided we just wouldn’t play that again. Ever.

Luckily, our nightcap was much better.

Although it was bordering on 3 a.m. when we started up The Speicherstadt, even the most tired or most tipsy of us easily understood the wonderfully elegant and simple rules of this bidding game. Stefan Feld has proven to be the designer du jour of late, and this latest sampling from him is absolutely perfect when you want to focus on playing the gamer and not the game – something that would occur in one of Feld’s other games, Macao, on Saturday. For now, in the quiet but dwindling hours of the night, four weary but willful gamers played a wonderful game, not for the win, but for the enjoyment of the experience.

As has become my custom at just about any con I attend, I missed breakfast. My gaming cohorts naturally rubbed it in, regaling me with tales of endless fields of waffles, home fries and link sausage. Whatever, I got 30 minutes extra sleep, and that could mean the difference between victory and defeat! Also, I gathered up three of the fattened friends and decided on my own special course for a breakfast buffet. 


A hearty gamer's breakfast.

Shawn, Scott, Dave and I broke open one of the forerunners for the Dice Hate Me Game of the Year, and put it through the paces. The game proved just as engaging as always, with lots of twists and turns, plus fairly tight scoring – at least for the first seven rounds. Despite my rags-to-riches strategy of grabbing everything that could bank me some extra coin, Shawn’s near-maxing of his elf and dwarf workforce ultimately proved our undoing. He constantly dominated the racial majority bonus, and still managed to eke out some leader points in the districts. It was close until round 6 – and then it was all over but the shouting. Everyone still had a great time despite the shellacking, so I would consider that another plus for this enticing Euro.

After our hearty breakfast, I finally grabbed some lunch and gathered the guys for a six-player demo of Kings of Air & Steam. That, however, is a tale for a much broader post coming later this week…

With lunch completed, it was finally time to hunt down my personal white whale – so I searched out Tom, Chris and Kenny and begged them to finally break out the game that has eluded me for oh so long…


There's Tom, right in the middle, looking so innocent. Don't believe it.

This Stefan Feld cube-pushing brainbender has been on many a gamer’s short list since it came out a couple of years ago. And ever since it came out in 2009, I’ve been trying to convince someone to play it. Now was my chance, and I puffed out my chest, put my big Euro pants on, and settled in for the rules explanation. 15 minutes later I thought my head might explode – multi-colored dice, a legion of differently-powered cards, a constantly-rotating rondel, buying goods, buying city districts, sailing around the world… this was no ordinary Euro! I started out confident in my tactical dice/resource assignments, jumping ahead of the pack in points, but when the dust finally settled, after all that puffery, I was crushed in final scoring and some smoke was pouring out of my ears. And on top of all that, Tom – the teddy bear of our group – had mischievously snatched up my only hope of competing in the final round, and grinned like a polecat for an hour after the game! I eagerly await my next attempt at this monster – but on this particular Saturday afternoon, my brain was ready for something a little bit simpler.

So… we broke out the monsters. King of Tokyo once again proved to be a wonderful filler and undwinder, and we made talk of our next meaty project – a foray into a world of which I am all too familiar: the wartorn edges of the 41st millennium.


Piece of cake.

Yet another game I’ve been trying to check out since its release, Death Angel just had to make it to the table since Michael had been lamenting the lack of plays for weeks. Besides, it never takes much arm-twisting for me to delve into the realm of Warhammer 40K. The game didn’t take long for me to grasp, especially since I’m an old school Space Hulk player, and the mechanics and theme were really tight, providing a deep and engaging experience, especially for a card game. The game has a hard-edged reputation, but we were all able to dispatch the Genestealers fairly easily, with only minimal loss of Space Marine life. I think it was a mix of open communication and tactical experience that won the day. Regardless, this is one game that I certainly would like to try on many more occasions.

Once we had secured the ancient space hulk, we kept our attention on space, and on a game that had been delivered to Shawn mere days before the convention….

Just… no. Don’t even. Seriously.


Anyway… once we had properly drowned our sorrows from the hideously misguided rules of ST:TNG, I thought it was high time that several members of our party experience what my college cohorts and I affectionately referred to as “Adult Candyland.”

This weekend, I learned that everyone has a game that turns them into a bitch. And mine is Talisman. – Michael

For those unacquainted with the wonders of Talisman, it goes a little something like this: You pick a character – one generally steeped in the archetypes of high fantasy such as an elf or a thief or a wizard or somesuch – and then, on your turn, you roll a die and move a few spaces. The space you land on has instructions. You follow the instructions, which typically requires the pull of a card which says you found two bags of gold or got your butt handed to you by a Strength 7 dragon. Then it’s the next poor sap’s turn. This continues for about four hours until someone drops dead from exhaustion or someone has been lucky enough to find a Talisman, fight through 80 levels of horrifically-redundant creatures, and reached the Crown of Command, which basically forces all the other players to choke themselves, slowly, over another two hours, if no one has given up by then. The bottom line is: it’s fun – but only if you’re three sheets to the wind. Which everybody was. Except for Michael, who later stated on Twitter that: “This weekend, I learned that everyone has a game that turns them into a bitch. And mine is Talisman.” Amen, brother. Amen.

After that, everybody pretty much passed out except for me and Dave (who were completely wired), and Shawn, who was too drunk to know that he was tired. Naturally, we all decided it was time to head down to the dimly-lit lobby and play a hybrid Euro with an unnaturally-unique theme.

I’ve sang Alf Seegert’s praises many times, but let me reiterate that he has outdone himself with The Road to Canterbury. From the tightly-integrated theme, to the humor, to the off-beat Euro mechanics, this game is a delight. It’s also a bit difficult to explain at 4 a.m. without much light to differentiate between colors on the game board. However, after a couple of rounds of trial and error, Dave took to the game like a fish to water, giving me a huge run for my money all the way up to the very last play. Poor Shawn, however, barely knew which way to have his cards facing – which was all very well, as we would normally never stand a chance against him in a game with this much cube-pushing. I’d like to say that I won, but I honestly can’t remember – all I know is that we finished, it was awesome, and I have no idea how I got back up to the hotel room.

I missed breakfast. Again. 

But I did get a chance to finally meet up with Doug Bass and try out the dice and tile game he’s created, and will be releasing on Kickstarter soon.

In Garden Dice, each player is a farmer trying to plant and harvest five different kinds of crops throughout the game. The veggies range in points from 1 to 5 (squash, carrots, tomatoes, artichokes and eggplants). The board is laid out in a 6X6 grid, and represents an open field where each farmer works to plant and harvest. Each turn, the active player rolls four dice and can use them in various combinations to carry out several actions. Typical actions include buying seeds of one of the five veggies, planting seeds in a particular empty spot in the fields that correspond to the coordinates that two dice create (square 2-3, for example), and using a die to water a veggie. The game ratchets up the tactics (and punk factor) with the addition of birds and rabbits that can eat seeds and veggies, respectively. Players are able to place a sundial on the board, which allows them to slightly modify die values that are used for coordinates, or they can be flipped over to become a scarecrow by using a die of value six. Scarecrows protect all surrounding seeds of one particular player from birds. End points are awarded depending on sets of veggies created during play – pairs, straights, etc.

Shawn and I played against Doug in the full demo, and although the scoring was all over the place during the game, the end score was remarkably tight, with Shawn and I tying for second only four points behind Doug. All in all, Garden Dice is a great little game with lots of tactics, punk factor and lasting family entertainment. I’ll have more on Garden Dice after Doug launches the official Kickstarter campaign.

Just after wrapping up the Garden Dice demo, Chris Norwood popped out of the general play area and I asked to play the latest iteration of his new game design. He eagerly agreed.

Chris has been working on this coop design for a few months now, with good design notes on his personal blog, so I was eager to get in a play. The main premise is that all players are nurses in an acute care unit, charged with looking after existing patients, admitting new ones, and dealing with sometimes-small and often-big crises that pop up during their shifts. As of this iteration of the prototype, players have a set number of action cubes they can allocate during each “hour” of play – these cubes being used to care for patients, help make them better, admit new patients, discharge some to the ICU, and deal with events that can complicate their jobs. Despite the fact that we all found a way to somewhat break the game through one small point-gaining aspect (you gotta love playtesting), the game was enjoyable and a very unique and non-derivative coop experience. A post-game brainstorming session offered up a lot of great ideas for development, so I really look forward to playing the next few iterations as Chris tweaks and refines the game.

There was some soft muttering about Kingdom Builder and, perhaps, an encore session of Catacombs after this bout of gaming, but most of the group were barely able to stand, much less open a box and pull out its contents. Unfortunately, that also meant that Michael wasn’t able to get in his long-awaited play of Ikusa, which I was really looking forward to. We’ll get our chance – this I vow.

And, so, another year at MACE had come to a close, and we all said our grand goodbyes – this time to High Point, as next year will be in Charlotte. More’s the better I say – or, rather, I will, as long as they can promise a true open gaming area for the boardgamers. We’re starting to outnumber the role-players, so they’d better start honoring our demands. They don’t want us breaking out the big boxes. I have a Twilight Imperium that could crush three in one blow.

I’ll be back with more coverage of the next con, which I hope will be Prezcon in Charlottesville, Va. Until then, let me know all of your great con war stories. Happy gaming!

Related posts:

  1. MACE Convention Wrap-up
  2. Origins Game Fair 2011: Day 1
  3. Origins Game Fair 2011: Day 3
  4. Origins Game Fair 2011: Day 4
  5. Guest Impressions: GenCon 2011
6 Responses to “MACE 2011 Convention Wrap-up”
  1. Shawn says:

    I think I’ve learned my important lessons – don’t bring my games to a con (I was 0 for 3), don’t play Cosmic Encounters to do anything other than to see what crazy things will happen and laugh about them, and don’t try to learn new exotic games at 4am while barely being able to see.

  2. Shawn says:

    I’m just sorry I did not get to play games with you, Chris! I was so looking forward to playing with you and the others. I did get to play a little with some of the guys from Durham, but not as much as I would have liked. We really need to do a game day again real soon. Maybe after the holidays?

    Also, I was so looking forward to VivaJava, and also playing a game of Carnival while there too. I was really disappointed I did not get to play either one of them. And I am extremely Jealous that I was not asked to carry a prototype of VivaJava for the next few months, but I know Chris Norwood will bring it (at least I hope he does) a bit to Hypermind and shares it with all of us. The problem is he always gets there around 8, and I can’t stay really too late past 10PM…so getting to play with him is really tough too even at out local game store. I know I would have made a good choice because I get to the store early enough to give virtually all the players who come there a good chance to play no matter what time they arrive. Anyway…another tale another time. I wish he could get there earlier, but alas, he has other responsibilities which I totally understand.

    Anyway, it was still great to see you guys, even though we did not get to hang together as much as I would have liked.

    I was also happy to score a copy of Frag and Revolution off of Scott. Scott, if you are reading this, thank you again! I’m proud to have those two in my copy of games now.


  3. I see that we disagree about Star Trek. Oh well. Of course, I had someone teaching me the game, so that may have helped quite a bit.

  4. dicehateme says:

    Shawn P – No worries; I’d definitely try ST:TNG again, and I think we just need to limit Quarriors to two players. It was an awesome time, no matter what we played!

  5. dicehateme says:

    Shawn K – No worries, man! The time just slipped by way too fast. We’ll get together for some gaming soon, right after the holidays most likely. I was looking forward to Carnival and VivaJava, too – there was just too much going on. And I’m sure Norwood will show off the prototype at Hypermind – I want you guys to play often so you can offer feedback up until production time. By the way, that’s awesome that you were able to score Frag and Revolution from Scott. I STILL need a copy of Revolution!

  6. dicehateme says:

    Josh – I think it was just a product of a little too much Jim Beam and not terribly clear rules. I would definitely try it again, with some clarifications.

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