While discussing with Jessica Wade what games we were interested in, we’d both mentioned Favelas by Chris Bryan. Walking over to the event on Saturday we decided to head for his table as soon as the doors opened to playtesters and so Favelas was our first game of Saturday. It’s a gorgeous tile-stacking game themed around the painted slums of Rio de Janeiro and the “market” manipulation that takes place is fascinating, as players attempt to bump up the attractiveness of the colours they’re dominating in while reducing the points awarded for the others. Even though I lost miserably, I loved every minute of the game, and the only suggestions I could make for improvement were minor component or graphic design tweaks. It’s one of two games I played more than once during the weekend, and I’m sure it will be published leaving me waiting impatiently until I can get my own copy. I understand from Chris’s March 22nd Board Game News there will be news soon, and I’m waiting to hear some details.
After Favelas, we continued to explore the hall, and came across Aaron Wilson. I hadn’t been too interested in New Reign when I saw it listed as area-control in the program, but Aaron offered to show Jessica and me a few sample turns and so we sat down. And I really liked what I saw. I’m actually sad I didn’t get in a full game of this sci-fi themed game of manipulating the upcoming government of a freshly-independent planet’s colonies. The gameplay is smart and fairly intuitive to pick up, it’s highly interactive but in a way that doesn’t feel brutal, and the prototype is gorgeous and easy to understand thanks to Aaron’s graphic design wizardry. It’s a game I’ll be looking out for in the future, and he even gave us copies of his Roll & Write version so I’ll be checking that out soon now that I’m home.
Heading back along the front of the room, we found Daniel Solis getting ready to teach Pixel Factory to Kerry and Adam. I couldn’t resist the chance to finally play a game with them and so we joined the table. I had previously played Pixel Factory at a GDoNC meeting and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to seeing what had been tweaked since then. It’s a significantly bigger game than Daniel typically works on and is a co-design with Graham Russell. The game is super fun, can be mean or nice, and it’s super satisfying to build the sprites out of chunky plastic cubes as players work away in the factory building sprites to populate video game stages.
After a quick lunch at Pratt St, I joined up with Chris Mosley and we played a two-player game of James Meyers’ The Library is Burning. I’d been looking forward to trying this game themed around rushing to preserve knowledge from the burning Library of Alexandria before it’s lost in the flames. The game is really good! It played well two-player, and I played a four-player, slightly tweaked game of it on Sunday which was also thoroughly enjoyable. He has a few thoughts about reducing components and increasing intuitiveness but the game is pretty much done and I really hope someone picks it up soon. Otherwise poor James will have to suffer my demanding the game at every GDoNC meeting from now on.
Chris and I then slid over to the next table to play Levi Mote’s Horizons with him and Ben Begeal. Horizons features players adapting their colonies in order to settle on and use the resources available on various planets as they explore a number of solar systems. The theme is familiar but the judicious use of allies to augment the available actions added plenty of variety, with the kicker being that once you’d used an ally twice, it returned to the bottom of the deck it had originally come from. I can see the similarities to the Valeria games; however while those had all fallen flat for me, Horizons was actually a lot of fun. Even if Levi did stop the game for a few minutes to ask Mosley if he was actually finding any enjoyment in the experience at all – I guess Mosley’s patent-pending blank player face can be traumatic for a designer trying to read his playtesters.
Ben then had to go be Mayor of UnPub, but Chris and I stuck around to try a quick “cards with numbers” game that Levi’s been toying with. Each player starts with an identical hand of 1-5 and is attempting to blind bid on the rest of the deck (ranked 6-12) in order to end the game with the most valuable 5-card hand. It worked really well, especially due to the bidding being won being the lowest card that wasn’t tied by anyone else. I won a bunch of higher valued cards in the first round, improving my end for the final scoring but dramatically reducing my bidding power. It was super fun, and had some great moments when someone was forced to downgrade a card thanks to an unlucky bid.
I joined Jessica and Mosley for a quick (though less quick than expected) dinner at Chipotle before heading back to the convention centre. Officially playtesting was over and it was UnPub After Dark, but this year without consciously deciding to, I stuck with prototypes. I asked Daniel Solis about Kitsune’s Tails which he’d mentioned pre-UnPub but I hadn’t seen him test, and he mentioned it needed some things hashed out. I love sitting down with Daniel to play around with an idea and so Jessica, Mosley and I joined him for some tests. We tried a couple of different ways to score and assess the rounds, and I hope in the end that it helped. We were joined for the second and third versions by Lacey who was a pre-teen ball of sass and fire, and her threatening Daniel and Mosley with terrible consequences for considering taking the cards she wanted might be my memory of the con.
We then moved over to the Ridback table where I finally got my hands on Fleet: Dicey Waters. I was playing against Matt Riddle, Mosley, and Jessica so the crowd was tough but oh man, the game is awesome. It’s so much heavier than the description “Roll & Write” would suggest (it takes an hour for crying out loud), and I loved it so much, more than Fleet actually. The decisions are tough and interesting, there are tons of strategies to explore, and it all gels together beautifully. I can’t wait to see the final product, and when it’s released (which it will be), it’ll be proudly sitting on my shelves.
Next up, we were joined by Jason Dinger for a 5-player game of Ladder 29, the game that inadvertently inspired a mini-rant from me on Twitter recently. Apart from a very confusing game of Tichu some years ago, this was my first ladder-climbing game, and while I can see that it’s good, the game is definitely not a game for me. But, if you like classic games like this, the drafted restrictions do add some interesting choices. It’s on Kickstarter through April 12th and is published by Green Couch Games so you know production and fulfillment will be stellar.
At this point I was planning to head for the hotel, but I was stopped by Chris Mosley bringing out a non-UnPub game that I just had to try. Unlike a certain recent Kickstarter, Mark Mosley’s Hits & Home Runs is a personal reskin of Eggs & Empires that was created in honour of Ben Pinchback & Matt Riddle and their love of baseball. His brother had brought it to the convention, and Matt & Ben jumped at the chance to try it out. I couldn’t pass up the chance to share their enthusiasm and so joined the game. It was actually a really neat reworking of the game as it added a field element with runners rounding the bases to score runs based on the hit cards gained during the bidding. And the cards were awesome paste-ups of baseball cards which had everyone chuckling over hairstyles, facial hair, and one odd inclusion of a parrot!?! Mark had also illustrated Fleeple baseball cards for the pair, which they were thoroughly delighted with. It was a great end to the day, before we packed up and returned to join a motley crew hanging out chatting & grabbing a beer in the hotel lobby.
Featured image of Daniel Newman, Tony Miller, and myself courtesy of Aaron Wilson