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Friday, 14 December 2012

Kevincon: An Unexpected Journey

Not long after I moved down south Paul Grogan, who demoes CGE's new releases with me every year at Uk Games Expo invited me to his annual games meet up Runemeet. After talking with Kevin from Kevin and Games, we decided to go together and split travel costs and accommodation. However in the final hours circumstances combined to mean that Kevin and I couldn't go.

Now although a little disappointed I was also relieved as in my mind gaming is an activity done behind closed doors. I have never been to a public game group and I only tell a select few about the fact that I play games. Part of the reason for this is that I get social anxiety and meeting and talking to new people frightens me, so the forty new faces at Runemeet was making me a little nervous. So I breathed a sigh of relief and told myself, "next time"; then Kevin text me and said "Why don't we have a mini-con at my house, we could call it Kevincon" and so Kevincon was born!

Day One

So, once again I started to feel anxious about meeting new people, even more so when one of them very kindly offered to pick me up and drive me from the station to Kevin's house. However, Simon, when he picked me up, seemed lovely, a very enthusiastic gamer still discovering the exciting world of board games.

When we got to Kevin's Simon needed to go to his son's Christmas fair so Kevin and I sat down to play Race for the Galaxy, when there was a knock at the door and Stephane from Dr Willet's Workshop turned up (excellent miniature painter, go check out his stuff). So we dealt in Stephane and then watched his brain implode as we tried to explain how Race worked.

Kevin won, but it was a narrow victory with only a few points separating all of us. The second game however was a white wash as I doubled everyone's scores, but I did it with quiet modesty.

By this time Simon had returned so we broke out a new game called Ark. Ark is a game where you score points for having your fingers in the most pies. There are different types of animals that you are trying to get onto the Ark, each time you get an animal on the Ark you place a marker showing you scored that type of animal. The player with the most and second most in each type score big points, anyone else scores a statuary two points. However the complexity of this game is belied by it's kiddish art style. Actually playing your animals to the table becomes extremely complex as each animal has various stats that mean it can only go in certain spots on the Ark, you can usually start a new stack of cards but only by giving a victory point to the player on your right.

If played maliciously Ark could easily be as cutthroat as Carcassonne, although I feel the game would be overall less strategic as it would be difficult to set yourself up at the same time as cutting off a neighbouring player. Overall I would pass on Ark as there are other games that do what it does in simpler ways.

Next we moved on to something far less complex... Argicola! Kevin and I had a discussion about whether or not to use the cards and the effect it has on the game as a whole. In the end we elected not to use cards as Agricola is complex enough to teach without adding a hand of 14 cards to the equation, especially when there were now six of us playing. The problem, of course, with not using the cards is the lack of possible synergies, it makes getting your farm up and running much more difficult and leads to a lower scoring game.

Now, I ended up teaching Agricola, I've probably only played the game six times and teaching it from memory I felt like I did a pretty good job. I tried to emphasise the importance of having some of everything but that message got a little lost under the rest of the explanation. I decided to teach the game as we played, explaining each new card as it came out and how it interacted with the spaces already on the board.

In the end I won, the game took quite a while and some players were obviously frustrated with how difficult it can be to get what you need to survive the game, never mind score points. The scores at the top end were fairly close though and I think overall the game went down well.

Agricola for me is not a "fun" game, its not one you can really play and not care about victory, I think this is probably because it is such a struggle to do everything you want and still feed your family. However it is a rewarding game as you see your engine coming together in the final round, knowing that if you had just one more turn you could finish your board.

As a wind down we then played a game called Pick Picknic A light game about chickens trying to eat corn and foxes trying to eat chickens. Simple to learn with nice artwork it was a fun little filler that took little to no thinking about.

With seven players at the table now we turned towards the lighter games, choosing between Citadels or Saboteur. Saboteur won, which I was glad about as I haven't played Citadels in a year and attempting to teach it to five new people from memory would have been daunting. As always Saboteur played quickly and with lots of laughs and left me, at least, wanting more.

Day Two

The Sunday started with a game of Survive Escape from Atlantis (the latest edition). I have often considered picking the game up but have never actually taken the plunge. I was a little disappointed with the artwork on the land tiles, which looked more like a photo print than art, especially when there was nice art on the board and on the tile reverse. However, that minor quibble vanished and was quickly replaced with what I can only describe as a bloodbath! Meeples were dying left and right as Sharks, Whales and Sea Monsters devoured everything in sight.

Survive was easily the most fun game of the weekend and as a testament to how good it is I got off the fence and the game is now sitting under the Christmas tree. After Survive we got to a game Kevin had been itching to play all weekend, Tzolk'in The Mayan Calander. I demoed Tzolk'in with Paul back when it was called Mayan Ages and the cog mechanism was very intriguing to me. However, the finished product, beautifully painted by Stephane from Dr Willet's Workshop, was a real delight to look at.


Tzolk'in is a pretty heavy Euro Worker Placement game, although, interestingly, in the game you place a worker in one turn and then remove them in later turns, this means that the longer a worker is on the board the better it is for you. However I found the rule that states you can only place or remove workers in one turn restricting. There were times when I had a stock of workers in my hand and one on the board that I wanted to use. If I used the one on the board I couldn't place any of the ones in my hand and vice versa. Perhaps with more plays I would get better at planning ahead. That said, I concentrated on the gods strategy and managed to win by a clear margin. I did however feel I was behind a lot and that I was struggling to get what I needed, often allowing my people to starve in order to generate more points.

The final game of the weekend was CO2, which is another heavy Euro. While I picked up the mechanics quickly, the game was clearly stalling as other players tried to work out what to do. The game was abandoned about a third of the way in due to time restraints. Despite understanding how to play, the theme and mechanics left me with no doubt that I wouldn't want to play it again.

And with that Kevincon was over. I had met a dozen people or so over the weekend and they had all been super nice, leaving me with thoughts that I really should try and attend a local game group in the Canterbury area soon!

As we drove back Kevin and I discussed what it is about games that allow people to connect so well socially. I suggested that the game itself acts as an equaliser. All the players start on an even footing and they all have the same goal and the same struggles. Subconsciously the players feel on a level with everyone at the table, whereas they might not do under different circumstances. Of course competitive games can drive players apart, but they also usually create alliances with other players. Whereas cooperative games force players to work as a team, fostering a sense of camaraderie where none existed before.

Well, that's my theory anyway. So hopefully Kevincon will return soon and until then I will keep trying to find the courage to make new gamer friends in my area. Thanks for reading and have fun playing.

Chris

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