The Crowded Table – Shmoecon Edition!

shmoebadgeHello, dear Shmoes! Some of you that follow @dicehateme on Twitter or listen to The State of Games and The Geek All-Stars podcasts have heard mysterious mentions of Shmoes and Shmoecon over the past few weeks. What exactly is a Shmoe and what does it have to do with a con? Well, a Shmoe is just a regular gamer who wants to play games with other Shmoes – so if you love playing games, you’re already a Shmoe! More specific to our gaming group here in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, the Shmoes came together for the first official time this past weekend at Shmoecon 0.5. Some Shmoes were invited to a local con while other Shmoes were left out. So, we did what any sensible Shmoes would do – we held our own con in the hotel lobby!

Over the course of five days, we Shmoes played a lot of games, got little sleep, and generally had a great time. The following is a breakdown of the games I personally played and a few brief words about some of the more memorable games to hit the tables. Enjoy!

Games played at the con: 

  • Black Spy
  • Gravwell
  • Belle of the Ball
  • Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
  • Nothing Personal
  • Copycat
  • Downfall of Pompeii
  • Lords of Waterdeep with Scoundrels of Skullport expansion
  • DC: Deckbuilding Game
  • Castle Dice
  • Compounded
  • Holiday Wars: Slugfest
  • VivaJava
  • Nefarious
  • Hot Rod Creeps
  • Firefly
  • Last Will
  • Trollstigen
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

agricolaWhen this two-player version of Agricola was introduced to the gaming world last year, I was a bit skeptical. The game promised rich and fulfilling Euro-style gameplay in under thirty minutes – certainly a tall order. Having played Agricola: ACBS three times over the course of Shmoecon I can say, definitively, that it delivers on all promises – plus, there are animeeples! Agricola: ACBS basically distills all the fun bits of big brother Agricola into a tiny package that plays fast, easy and yet surprisingly deep. It is certainly one of the best two-player games I’ve had the pleasure of playing, and it makes me want to check out Le Havre: The Inland Port as soon as possible.

Impression score: 6 out of 6

Nothing Personal

nothingpersonalI first had the pleasure of trying out Nothing Personal with co-designer Tom Vasel at last year’s GenCon, but that first game was a bit of a blur, I underestimated some Influence cards, and ended up in last place. Fast-forward a year later and my second play on day two of Shmoecon was much more successful. I parlayed some wisely-played Influence cards and a fair bit of my typical social play into a strong win against three other gangsters. The game felt smooth, fluid and was a lot of fun. And then a funny thing happened the next day in a five-player bout – the fun just wasn’t there for the majority of the table. There was a bit of a runaway leader while half the table languished, unable to influence useful gangsters turn after turn. The consensus at the table was the number of players – for now, I can’t recommend the five-player experience until I investigate with more plays. In the end, though, I did have fun rescuing my personal gangster from jail three times in the last game – no cell can contain me!

Impression score: 5 out of 6


copycatThis late 2012 darling from popular designer Friedemann Friese has been all the buzz lately – and that buzz continued at Shmoecon where it hit the table on multiple occasions. I gave it a go on day two and was pleasantly surprised, especially because a large part of the game involves collecting cards from a constantly-shifting draft line in order to customize and build your decks. Those who’ve been around for a bit know that deck-building just ain’t my thing, but when you combine that often-overused mechanic with solid worker placement I’m suddenly all ears. After my initial play I won’t immediately say that the game is completely balanced nor entirely gripping, but I did feel fairly comfortable during that first play and made a strong showing despite hanging onto my strategy by a thread. Would I personally buy Copycat? Probably not. But I certainly wouldn’t turn down another game if asked to play.

Impression score: 4 out of 6

Downfall of Pompeii

pompeiiThis recent reprinted classic was the second game I snagged during my mad buying spree on the first day of GenCon. Having played it three times at Shmoecon I can safely say that it was worth every penny and bit of effort to nab at the big show. The game plays quickly over two stages: Stage one has players playing cards from their hands to place people (Pompeeples?) in various buildings around Pompeii. At some point during stage one, Vesuvius starts to rumble and Omen cards start popping up. That’s when the real fun starts. Any player drawing an Omen card gets to choose one Pompeeple of any other player and toss the piece into the little plastic volcano on the edge of the board. Making screaming noises while doing so is optional – but highly recommended. The second stage of the game occurs when Vesuvius erupts. Players now take turns drawing lava tiles from a bag and using actions to move their little Pompeeples out the city as quickly as they can. It’s total chaos, with Pompeeples running for their lives and players cackling gleefully as they place lava tiles down in their paths, sealing fates and taking names. In other words, it’s totally awesome fun – all in about 30 to 40 minutes. I can’t recommend this game enough.

Impression score: 6 out of 6

Lords of Waterdeep (with Scoundrels of Skullport expansion)

waterdeepA few Shmoes sat down on the third day of the con to give Lords of Waterdeep a go with the Scoundrels of Skullport (and Undermountain expansions) in tow. This would mark the fourth time I had tried out the game with the new expansions and it just keeps getting better. The Undermountain portion of the new expansion box is the more subtle of the two; each expansion module includes a new board for worker placement and Undermountain’s seems a tad underwhelming, at first. Where Undermountain more than makes up for it is in the massive new quests, interesting Intrigue cards and extremely useful buildings. The Scoundrels of Skullport module ups the ante even more. The Scoundrels’ side board includes spaces with untold riches like taking two warriors and two rogues, or two of any kind of adventurer. However, the riches have a steep price – players must also begin collecting corruption tokens, which are worth a negative amount at the end of the game depending on the amount of tokens taken collectively by all the players throughout the game. The addition of the corruption track – and the ridiculously-tempting action spaces, buildings, Quests and Intrigue cards that come with the module – truly elevate Lords of Waterdeep into serious Euro territory, and should make more hardcore gamers sit up and contemplate corrupting their purist sensibilities in the world of D&D.

Impression score: 5 out of 6


fireflyShmoecon would mark the fourth time I had the pleasure of getting Firefly to the table since GenCon – a feat I never would have predicted given the game’s scope and length. Having completed four full games of Firefly, I can say that I’ve seen most of the what the game has to offer and can think of only one word to describe the whole experience: Shiny. At its heart, Firefly is most comparable to a theme-rich, pick-up-and-deliver game: Players take on the roles of captains piloting their very own Firefly class ship, traveling the ‘Verse hiring crew, taking on jobs and constantly dodging the Alliance and Reavers. The game is heavily card driven and there are cards for everything – jobs, crew, items, ship upgrades, and even movement through the ‘Verse. Typically clocking in at around 3 hours of playtime with a fair deal of randomness thrown in, it’s not for the faint of heart nor those with a short attention span. But for those gamers willing to put in the time and relish in the rich story that develops from game to game, Firefly is well worth exploring.

Impression score: 6 out of 6

Last Will

lastwillOn my first time trying to lose my inheritance in Last Will last year, I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed – after all, I felt hamstrung by card draws, the drafting order and the lack of any sort of money-losing engine whatsoever. It probably didn’t help that fellow Shmoe Adam O. managed to lose his entire fortune by about round five before I had even thrown a lavish party to trash my newly-bought mansion on Easy Street. I loved the concept of the game, however, so I decided to give it another chance – and I’m so glad that I did. The first time around, my brain had a hard time reversing the typical inclination to make as much money as possible in a Euro – this time, however, something clicked into place and I started seeing all the sweet, money-losing possibilities in front of me. In the end, I decided to eat and drink myself into oblivion, hiring two cooks, eating out every night and visiting my local gentlemen’s club as often as possible. I wasn’t exactly in striking distance of the win by the time we wrapped, but I felt like I could have a shot the next time we play, which I hope is very, very soon. It’s easier for me to see now why Last Will was on the short list of best games of 2012. I may just have to plunk down some hard-earned cash for my own copy before too long, proving that playing this game isn’t the only way to blow through your inheritance.

Impression score: 5 out of 6

Related posts:

  1. The Crowded Table – Summer 2012 Pre-GenCon Edition
  2. The Crowded Table – Late Spring 2013 Edition
  3. The Crowded Table: Fall 2012 Edition
  4. The Crowded Table: April/May Edition
  5. The Crowded Table: Autumn 2011 Edition
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