FallCon is a 26-hours-over-three-days boardgaming convention that happens in Calgary the last weekend of every September. This year was their 25th anniversary. Talk about overstimulation! There are hosted events, where you are taught the games by an “ambassador” (always the best way), and of course open gaming is happening throughout. Darren and Jasen (2 members of the FallCon committee) provided a library of 450 games you could check out and play. So many games, nowhere near enough time! A session report of each of the games I played is at the end of this post.
Defenders of the Realm (DotR) was the highlight for me. It was the hosted event I was looking most forward to, and I was not disappointed, due in large part to our excellent ambassador, Brent. (I know the game has been out for a number of years, but I seem to always be about five years behind. I just don’t have the gaming time to let me keep up with current events.) DotR is a fantasy-themed cooperative game. Because I play with so many different groups of people, my collection needs diversity. Cooperative games are great “gateway games” and have seen lots of successful plays in family groups. After just a single play, DotR is my new favourite. There is just so much variety to be had, and it’s hard (though, much to Brent’s surprise, all four tables beat the base game).
The board is a “map” of the land around Monarch City, besieged by four generals: a dragon, a demon, a lich, and an orc. Each general has special powers and their minions are also different from each other. Each player has a unique role with special powers as well. Your goal is to destry the four generals. As with most cooperative games, there’s one way to win and a seeming gazillion ways to lose. The mechanics are similar to those in Pandemic, but there are lots of interesting differences, too. DotR also has a wealth of variants that give the game additional depth. It’s hard to find, now, but I’m really hoping a reprint comes out soon. It’s at the top of my wishlist now!
Other cooperative games I recommend
- Pandemic (You are researchers trying stop a number of diseases from decimating the world population.)
- Red November (You are gnomes trying desperately to keep your submarine from imploding before help can arrive.)
Only two bummers, and they have nothing to do with the convention itself.
- The one game (after DotR) that I most wanted to experience was Dominant Species. The problem was it’s a 2–4 hour game and is complex enough that I really wanted to play with some people who knew how. I watched parts of two different sessions, but never got in early enough to sit in. I told myself I would definitely play during Sunday’s open gaming session, but the place was packed, and the odds of finding five others to sit and play a brain burner seemed small.
- I skipped the hosted session for Goa that I registered for. (Sorry, guys!) I read the rules and decided it probably wasn’t right for my collection. Combined with the fact that it’s out of print, I decided to play some other games in the open gaming area. Later I discovered that Goa has been reprinted! Doh! Now I wish I played it so I could firmly decide whether to keep it on my list or not. (Reading the rules is never the same as actually playing it once.) I don’t regret skipping it, per se—I got to play three other games on my list—but now that I know it’s available again, I want to play it.
First off, huge kudos to the Fallcon committee and volunteers! I know how much time and effort such events take to put on. You did a tremendous job.
What I love about table-top gaming is the structured sociality it provides. I’m an introvert and often struggle in social situations. (I really suck at maintaining conversations.) Gaming makes it possible to meet and get to know people while providing something to focus on outside the social interaction itself. What I really enjoy about Fallcon is the people. Without fail I played with interesting people who were just as excited as I was to be there. I’m particularly grateful to those who took the time to teach me new games. Often I was the only person at the table that hadn’t played. Everyone was very patient. The convention is really family friendly. It was great to see some kids there having fun with their parents.
Needless to say, I had a great time. A huge thank you to my wife and her caregivers for letting me get away for the weekend. I’m looking very forward to next year.
Castles of Burgundy
I had heard conflicting reports Castles of Burgundy, but it looked like a good fit given the groups I play with. There were no other hosted games in that first session that really jumped out at me, so I gave it a go.
I really enjoyed the game. (And I don’t think the fact that I won is biasing me.) Each player has a playmat with hexes of different terrain types and dice numbers. (We all played with the same configuration playmat, but there are lots of different maps and you can play asymmetrically.) A central board contains the resources the players are vying for. Each player has two dice that are rolled at the beginning of each turn, and which constrain somewhat what actions you can take. The goal is to accumulate the most victory points by placing hexes on your playmat in scoring positions. There is a mechanic for altering your dice roll and special tiles that alter fundamental game rules for the player that claims them. My one complaint is with the building tiles. I found it very hard to discern and remember the different building types. We were constantly referring to the cheat sheet. Yes it was our first play, but I got the sense that I would never immediately recognize the different types. I think I would have preferred they use icons depicting the building’s powers instead of pictures of the buildings themselves.
It plays relatively quickly once everyone knows how to play, and the mechanics are not complex to teach. Player interaction is low, but advanced competitive players still have “gotcha” opportunities. The different map configurations look like they would really add to the replayability factor. This game is certainly on my to-buy list.
Summoner Wars is a sort of cross between chess and Magic: The Gathering. The base game is for two players, but you can expand it to four if you have another board. (The board is just a grid of appropriate size. You can easily make your own.) there are 8 or 10 different races, each with their own deck of cards and special powers. You bring your cards into play and attack your opponent until you destroy their Summoner.
A “Master Set” has recently been published that includes all the expansion races in a single box. This is what I would buy. I think this would work well with teenagers, so I’ll add it somewhere in the middle of my to-buy list.
Defenders of the Realm
As stated in the Highlights section, this game is awesome. I really, really want to add this to my collection as soon as I can. Love it.
Alien Frontiers is a game that got lots of positive reviews, so I wanted to be sure to give it a try. This was one of the three games I played instead of my scheduled hosted Goa game.
Alien Frontiers is a worker-placement game played with dice. You start off with three dice representing your ships. The board has various powers that are activated by placing dice of certain numbers or configurations in the spaces (including creating more ships/dice). There is also an alien planet to colonize, each sector granting perks to whoever controls it. At the start of your turn you roll your ships and then allocate them based on what you rolled. You can convert them into one of two resources (used to create colonies and ships), raid other players’ stashes, discover alien technologies, and of course colonize the planet. The game ends when somebody places their last colony.
Victory is determined by victory points, but unlike most games where points accumulate over the course of the game, all that matters here is the VP you hold at the moment the game ends. This can cause some last-minute upsets.
The game was light and played quickly once everyone knew what they were doing. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I will have to play with the expansions to get a better feel. It’s not on my to-buy list, but it’s still on my list of games I’m interested in.
Thunderstone is a deck-building game along the lines of Dominion, but with a fantasy theme. Generally I go for fantasy-themed games, but in this case, I think Dominion is the clear winner. There are lots of different Thunderstone sets out there. This one was Thunderstone Advance: SomethingOrOther (I can’t remember). There was one standalone expansion that I am told is the one to buy, so I’ll keep that particular exapnsion on my list of things to check out. I was underwhelmed by this game (even though I ended up winning).
Like Dominion, you slowly build up your deck, from which your available actions are drawn. Cards are worth varying amounts of gold that you can use in the village to upgrade your weapons, hire mercenaries, or purchase other perks. Most cards have other powers that are used in the dungeon. The dungeon has four levels, each one darker than the one before. Darkness gives you attack penalties and can be offset by playing torches or other light sources. (Some heroes gain bonuses in darkness.) You earn XP and VP by defeating monsters in the dungeon. XP is used to upgrade your heroes, and VP of course is how you win.
Perhaps we didn’t play correctly (someone else taught it to the group), but it appears the only way to gain VP is from defeating monsters, and there are no negative VP cards. (There are curses, but they are usually easy to get rid of and don’t affect your final score.) The options available in the village were quite restricted, and I thought the winning strategy was obvious.
Dominion, on the other hand, has multiple ways to gain VP, at least one way to lose them, and has many more card options that give the game huge replayability, optional direct player interaction, and a variety of winning strategies.
Race for the Galaxy
I’ve almost bought Race for the Galaxy (RftG) a couple of times, but I am loath to spend good money on games I’ve never played. (I’ve been burned a few times.) Ultimately I’m glad I didn’t buy it, and I will have to play a few more times before I commit to buying it.
Usually I go gaga for space-themed games, too. RftG is a card game where you are building an empire. There are a handful of base actions from which players choose simultaneously each round. When an action is chosen, everybody gets to do that action, but those who actually selected it also get some sort of bonus. During the game you will draw cards, settle new planets, develop them, and gather/trade goods your planets develop. These cards are worth varying amounts of victory points. Once somebody places their twelfth planet or development, the game ends and points are scored.
Once I sort of understood the rules, things went relatively quickly, but the game seems to have a serious learning curve. My biggest problem was with the graphics. I found the iconography to be quite opaque, and there were just so many to try to take in. I can see having a really difficult time teaching this game to a group not willing to stumble through the first few plays (i.e., most groups I play with). This is another game with low player interaction, which can be a great thing in many groups, but can also be a downside for more competitive types.
Werewolf is also known by many other names, but the most common alias is Mafia. It’s a party game where a small subset of players are werewolves and are trying to eat all the villagers (everybody else). If you really want to explore the mechanics, there are legion variants that give
villagers special powers. If you really want, you can go buy the game, but all it is is a deck of special cards. Really you can just use slips of paper.
The basic gameplay is as follows. The game has a moderator to keep things together. The game is played in alternating day and night phases. At night, everybody closes their eyes as if asleep. The werewolves open their eyes and select (as quietly and secretly as possible) a villager to kill. Everybody wakes up and the killed player is out of the game. The survivors then have to select somebody to lynch. Hopefully it’s a werewolf, but usually it’s not. The players want to kill all the werewolves. The werewolves want to eliminate villagers until the number of werewolves equals the number of villagers.
While I’ve known of the game for a long time, this is the first time I’ve ever played it. It was fascinating. I immediately discovered that I suck at it. I’m just not a very good liar. There’s some interesting strategy involved, though. It was great to watch people who’ve played it a lot. I can really see how certain groups would really enjoy this game, but I can also conceive of groups that would hate it. You have to be able to laugh at yourselves and have a good time. If you have people that takes things too seriously, things could degrade fast.
As I said in the Bummers section, it just didn’t look like I’d get a chance to play Dominant Species on Sunday afternoon. So instead I looked at the various hosted games to see what was available. Formula Dé is a car racing game that has been around for quite a while. It’s most recent edition is Formula D. I had heard lots of good things about it, and the ambassador was clearly a big fan (he had a really pimped-out setup), so I waitlisted and got in. There ended up being eight players in the three-lap race.
Each car has a fixed number of tire, brake, and gearbox points that they can spend as the race progresses. They also have so many points of damage they can take to the chassis and suspension before exploding. At pit stops, you can replensh some of the points you’ve expended.
Each car has six gears, each corresponding to the die you roll to determine your movement that turn (e.g., in first gear you can roll 1–2, in third gear 4–8, and in sixth gear 21–30). You have to move the full number of spaces unless you spend brake points. The trick is cornering. Different corners require you to spend a different number of turns in the corner. Overshooting will cost you tire points and could result in you flying off the track. While there is a certain amount of randomness introduced by the dice, experienced players who manage their gear shifting properly will outperform n00bs over multiple laps. Of the eight that started, 2 cars exploded, so I finished fifth overall.
I actually had a great time, but it clearly depends on the group you’re with. It’s relatively light, but the long-term strategy does matter. And you can be as detailed as you want to be. You can have debris on the track, weather, slipstreaming, you name it. This game has certainly moved further up my to-buy list as I think it could be a real hit with some of the nieces and nephews.