The best board game convention of the year is over, but here are the games that really stuck with me.
BGG.con isn’t the biggest board game convention or the most well know, but it’s just about unanimously considered the favorite. While most board game publishers show at BGG.con, often with new games not yet available in stores, the focus is far more on playing games. In fact, most of the Hyatt Regency in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport is dedicated to gameplay space. More than 2000 gamers gather, play, have fun, and (in many cases) get a lil drunk.
It’s at BGG.con that you get the best sense of the tightknit and amazing board game community. It’s sort of the summer camp of board game conventions. This was my second year attending and the sequel proved even greater than the original.
While I played a ton of games – including some amazing prototypes from the likes of Eric Lang, among others – I’m going to focus on my five best experiences. Because, ultimately, isn’t it the experiences we have around board games that make them special?
Fuse is a real-time 10-minute ball of stress. You and your pals are trying to diffuse a bomb before time runs out. You do this by rolling dice and assigning them to cards that are like little puzzles. Get through all of the cards in the deck before time runs out and you win.
Normally, I wouldn't be into a real-time dice rolling game like this. Too much stress, too necessary to be on top of your game. But at the Plaid Hat Games party, a few bottles of beer removed my inhibitions and I played a couple of games of strip Fuse. It wasn’t really strip Fuse, but I imagined all of my compatriots naked during the entire thing so I wouldn’t get nervous.
Fuse is an excellent filler game and gets your brain going just a little bit. It requires communication, as everyone’s shouting about the dice they need, and it really does feel like you win or lose together. Mostly, lose together. It was a great capper to the party, even if that was just the beginnings of a long, late night of playing games.
Above and Below
My favorite available game for the show, Above and Below is the kind of game that I knew I’d love the moment it hit the table. It’s a blend of city building, dungeon exploring, and narrative gameplay. It’s pretty much the perfect game for me.
The design of Above and Below is rocking too. The main board fits the title theme perfectly with blue skies at the top where you place the “building” cards and a game turn tracking path that winds down through the ground and into the depths, to where you place the dungeon cards.
The narrative comes into play when you explore dungeons. Each dungeon card has six numbers corresponding to possible dice results. These match entries in an adventure book. If you’ve played Tales of the Arabian Nights, you should get the idea pretty easily. The passages are fairly short and almost always end in a morality choice. While morality plays a small role in scoring, it’s really more about how you want to evolve your little village.
Above and Below is the type of game you want to play with people you love. I settled for people whose beards I wouldn’t mind stroking. It worked the same. It has plenty of “game” to it – that is, there is real strategy and some interesting scoring involved – but it’s really a game about the different ways you can develop your own community of explorers. It’s fun, surprising, and adorably delightful.
BGG.con isn’t just about playing new games. The library (free to check out games!) has thousands of board games. One of these is a unique and amazingly unexpected giant wood box of delight. Master Thieves has everyone playing as jewel thieves, tasked with getting rid of their imposter jewels and stealing new ones. The catch? You’re putting them into a Hellraiser-worthy three-tiered wood box full of drawers that twists around at each level. You even flip the box over if you want on your turn.
See, the drawers have two sided shelves – top and bottom. If you put a gem in the top and turn the box over, well, now the gem will fall out when you open that drawer again. The goal is to remember who put what where and then where those items went as the box gets twisted and flipped around.
Or you can do what I did, which is to pay no attention to this and just have fun flipping and slamming the five-pound box again and again.Wheeeee!
T.I.M.E. Stories / The Big Book of Monsters / Shakespeare / Potion Explosion
Though BGG.con lasts five days, a lot of that time is spent socializing. It’s not just a show about playing board games, but about being around other gamers. And while I tried to cram as much gaming as possible (I averaged 3 hours of sleep each night), there are still games I missed out on.
There were four games in particular that stuck out as games I didn't play, but wanted to own. I was able to watch others play each of these for a bit and I'm buying (or already bought without even playing) all of them.
In T.I.M.E. Stories you play temporal agents trying to protect the timeline. It’s a pretty hefty narrative game. Looks like a blast. The Big Book of Monsters is a somewhat intimidating mess of cards and yet everyone I spoke to at the con who played it absolutely loved it. Shakespeare has everyone competing to create the best play for the Queen. And Potion Explosion is a game where everyone is trying to craft awesome potions... using marbles. Marbles!
T.I.M.E. Stories, The Big Book of Monsters, and Shakespeare are all available now or at least by year’s end. Check your local game store as all are great-looking games. Potion Explosion is being published in English by Cool Mini or Not in 2016, so expect a serious component upgrade for that one.
There was no hotter game than Codenames at BGG.con. Everyone was playing it. Without question, it was the top filler game of the show. And on the final night of BGG.con, a half-dozen or so idiots were up at 5am designing a new version of Codenames. I'm proud to say that I was one of the biggest idiots in that group.
Codenames Legacy - our new mutated version of the already classic party game - has you crossing out words from Codenames and writing new ones whenever your team guesses correctly. Incorrectly guess a card? Oh, then you tear that word up.
An hour of design and silliness left us with a new, nonsensical version of Codenames. Were we drunk? Nope. We were all stone sober at that point. We were just having fun. It was an incredible, unique, and unexpected experience where people who love one another, and love board games to boot, gathered and just got silly.
Nothing felt more true to the spirit of BGG.con – having fun and being with like-minded folks who accept your weirdness – than creating Codenames Legacy.
See You Next Year!
BGG.con is one of the best weeks of the year. I love it. And I hope that if you went this year you had as much fun as I did. And if you didn’t get to go, be sure to look on boardgamegeek.com in March, when tickets usually go on sale (and sell out within a week).
I hope to see more of you next year. Until then, please get off my lawn!
Photos provided by Brittanie Boe.