Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NJ, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas

I’m describing my experience of the trip to bgg.con, and trying not to repeat too much that Jon included in his blog, Yehuda. The Board Game Geek conference is organized by the bgg community.


I arrived in Teaneck Thursday evening. Candle lighting on Friday was at 4, so we mainly cooked. Friday night my cousin and husband went to a birthday party after dinner. I played Puerto Rico, which I gave them, with their kids. They barely remembered having played in Jerusalem a few years ago, so I taught the game and helped them a bit with strategy, because after I left they’d be playing on their own. They did pretty well, Debra took an early hospice, and Michael was doing well and had a lot of points. I ended up winning by 3 points.

Kansas City

Sunday I met Jon at Newark for the flight to Kansas City. A very small plane and a small airport where we were met by Bill and Shirley. Their house is big; we each got a bedroom with bath. They also have a mostly well-behaved, beautiful large puppy dog, Musi, that doesn’t really bark. But does sniff people a lot. Their Christmas tree, which is set up all year, has themed decorations including Americana, comics and Bible stories.

Secret Santa

Jon and I usually participate in the bgg Secret Santa, where you are assigned someone to give a game to, and receive a game from someone. Jon had said he wasn’t going to this year because he was getting enough games, but ended up signing up. He got someone in Singapore. After having gotten someone in Australia one year, I did U.S. only. The assignments came out the Friday before the con, so one of the things we did on Sunday was select and order games. I was going to send Carson City which I like but ended up sending Navigador, which is a better game. My target is in Sebastopol, relatively close to Menlo Park.

I added a note to my Secret Santa that they could ship the game to me at the hotel instead of sending to Israel. Jon added a note to his that they could contact me for suggestions. His Secret Santa did contact me, but when I asked Jon he had no info beyond his wishlist. But I wrote back that they could ship to the hotel, and to let me know which games. Jon wanted to be surprised, but didn’t want to purchase something he was receiving, so we were supposed to stop him from buying those games. His Secret Santa wrote me back that he was shipping to the hotel, but didn’t say which games.


Bill and Shirley were being supportively kosher and had bought enough utensils to cook for us. Monday we hung around a bit setting up new phones and planning food. Then we shopped, did some sightseeing, and got the rental car for the trip. I went along to be listed as a third driver, but at $9 a day for a few hours of driving wasn’t worth it. Shirley could drive, but Bill ended up driving the whole trip down. I went with Bill to drop off something at a friend’s place and to pick up some stuff from his office; I ended up cleaning up which I enjoy doing in offices that need it, and also got a demo of his company’s product.


We ended up leaving at 9 instead of 8 on Tuesday morning. They had to drop the dog off at doggie day care, and we had a lot of food which took a while to fit into the car. Jon wanted to arrive at the con by 6 to help pack welcome bags, where the social card-matching game called Spare Squares which he designed for all attendees to play was being distributed. So he didn’t let us stop for lunch, we had sandwiches in the car.

We did manage to stop for breaks several times, including to take pictures after crossing into Oklahoma and Texas. We listened to a few NPR podcasts and took pictures. I expected the land to be flat and boring, but it’s scenic with a lot of trees with colorful autumn leaves.


We hit a lot of traffic in Dallas, and had problems connecting to get GPS directions; once we got them I wrote them down just in case. It was also very warm, 79 degrees, so Shirley and I were discussing how we only had winter clothes along. We checked in to our hotel, then walked over to the con at the Westin. Of course all the welcome bags were ready and they didn’t need help with setting up. There were already a lot of people playing.

The Con

Roll Through the Ages

We ate the food we had brought, and then played some games in the lobby area. Jon, Bill and I played Roll Through the Ages with someone we met. It’s a cute short and simple game, I tied for second. We walked around gawking at everything, Jon showed me how Crokinole works – it’s tough on the hands like Pitch Car. All the dexterity games looked interesting.


Then Jon and I learned and played Troyes with two other people. I had read about the game but not how it worked, Jon had more of an idea and caught on quicker. In addition to all the actions, each player gets one secret card which gives bonus points at the end of the game. I didn’t understand how everything worked, but focused on my card which gave points for placement on cards. Placement on cards also gives additional victory points for each placement. The other players helped me calculate optimal cards, but within the area I selected, such as which was the best red action. I didn’t understand all the rotating worker mechanics, Jon didn’t either, which affected our points. At the end, I had to choose between two possible bonus point actions without knowing which bonus cards were in the game, I picked wrong, but it ended up not mattering, I won with 37 points. Jon thinks I get extra help because I don’t understand games right away and ask questions, it’s hard to separate learning mechanics from strategy.

I walked around looking at all the different types of games like in the War Game room.

I thought the Game Library with 4,500 games would be crowded and have a long line, but they had a very efficient scan system of a barcode on the game, and on attendee badges, so there was barely any waiting time.


Wednesday morning Jon left early and volunteered at registration, and saved spaces in line for Bill and Shirley but not for me, we were in different lines alphabetically. We didn’t get there until close to 10, which I thought was late. I talked to people I was in line with, very representative of the participants – computer programmers from Texas. I said that I was surprised that the line wasn’t moving, they told me it doesn’t open til 10. So we got there at the right time, it went pretty quickly, all very organized. You pick a free game or two upon registering, I took Highland Clans and Train of Thought, I'm not familiar with either of them.

I had read about a new game, introduced at the recent huge Essen game con in Germany, Walnut Grove, which I was thinking of buying it and wanted to try it out. All day Wednesday and Thursday, whenever I went by it in the Hot Games room, which has Essen games set up, either a game was already in progress or there was no one there. I not only needed players, but someone to teach it.


I walked around looking at games, and ended up joining one in the large main game room, K2. One of the people playing was Mischa, a friend of Jon’s who runs the bgg math trade. I had traded one game but wasn’t going to be able to attend the official trade time on Saturday, so I had emailed the person I needed to give my game to, and the person who was giving me a game. The backup plan was to leave the game with Mischa.

K2 has a simple structure with deeper strategy than it appears.You expend points for climbing and oxygen, selected from cards you pick. I didn’t understand certain things right away, so I was behind most of the game. The other woman player was doing really well, she got both of her climbers to the very top, and down again alive, without even pitching a tent which reduces oxygen required. We were playing on the easy side of the board, with only summer weather, but it was still challenging. At the end, two players weren’t able to prevent either one or both of their climbers from dying, which results in a complete loss of points, so I came in second.

First Sparks

I went back into the Hot Games room and sat down by Walnut Grove, but no players came, and I was hungry, so I found the others and we took a break for lunch. I tried again after lunch, but switched to a game nearby which was starting, First Sparks, by the creator of Power Grid. The game is similar to Power Grid which helped us figure out how to play, and someone came over to teach it. One person hadn’t played Power Grid so we gave him some tips. It has a cave man theme and is simpler than Power Grid. The card structure is similar, but you place cavemen competitively for end game points.

We found out near the end of the game, because someone overheard us, that one of the changes from Power Grid is that you don’t bid for cards, rather you have right of refusal in turn order, so you never pay more than the amount on the card. We hadn’t had much competitive bidding, so it wouldn’t have made a big difference in the game, the card movement and availability are the same. I tied to win and had 3 vs. 1 food left to win the tiebreaker. I want to get this game because it’s good with attractive graphics, and I don’t have Power Grid. The store at the con finally got it from the airport on Friday, but it will be available for less at other stores, hopefully in time for Bill and Shirley to bring it.

Coney Island

Then I played Coney Island in the large room. I had this on my wishlist at one point, but couldn’t remember if I had taken it off or not. After playing, I was really hoping that I wouldn’t receive it as my Secret Santa gift. No one liked it, there are so many better games. We all helped each other as we tried to figure out the game. At one point, they recommended that I make a different move, where if I got a red tile instead of white tile in a random draw, I would get 9 points. It worked, which helped me, though I was still behind. I did start to understand the game by the end, by which time things were mostly already placed. I did what I could, and somehow ended up winning by one point.

Flash Point

Then I joined a firefighting game, Flash Point, an Essen game but in the main room. I didn’t realize it was cooperative, but it was interesting. We were playing with intro rules which meant no firetrucks and hoses, which must make it more interesting. I was fighting fires, everyone else was rescuing people. The game actions cause explosions and destruction. We ended up losing, the house collapsed before we could rescue everyone. But I was the only one who didn’t die because I happened to be outside the house. We had bad luck with the people, the first two tokens were blank rather than victims. It’s a good game because there’s a lot of fast action and some planning.

Jon came with me to try to get a game of Walnut Grove going. Scott Nicholson of Board Games with Scott walked by, he didn’t want to play but gave us a quick rules explanation. More players didn’t join, and Jon decided he was too tired to play a new game.


We walked around a bit, Jon agreed to teach Tobago, and I saw a game of Niagara which I had heard of because one year I gave one of my Secret Santa targets a Niagara exapansion. Jon ended up playing Tobago, so I went back to join Niagara. It’s a good game, simple and cute mechanics, you physically move plastic discs in the river which push your canoes around and over the edge sometimes. It’s very difficult, an experienced player won. They played again but I left.

It was freezing cold on Wednesday, we didn’t have all our warm clothes with us because it had been so warm the day before. The rest of the week it warmed up with sun and some clouds, but we were mainly indoors.

Chitin: I

Bill and Shirley played the redesigned Chitin: I, which Bill had a copy of when he was in high school.



Jon and I started off playing Nefarious, by the designer of Dominion. It took me a while to understand it, but it didn’t matter that much because we had crazy condition cards. I came in second.

Tanto Cuore

Then we walked around and played a game similar to Dominion, Tanto Cuore. It’s Japanese with a theme of hiring maids, Jon had heard of it, and they had a demonstrator in a skimpy maid costume. Jon’s really good at Dominion, I’ve beaten him like once and usually don’t even come close. We thought we understood the game well, but didn’t understand the set-aside mechanic which is not in Dominion. I did very well, but Jon still beat me, 51 to 47, with 30 for the demonstrator, who may not play as hard as possible, or you can’t get good players to wear a maid costume.

I reached the person giving me Agricola by phone, and on the way to Madras Pavilion for lunch we picked it up from him by his hotel. Madras Pavilion was great even though it’s not a pavilion but in a strip mall. Really good kosher vegetarian Indian food, with Bill as a very helpful guide to Indian food.

Space Mission

After lunch Bill, Shirley and I went to pick a game from the game library. Bill wanted a space theme, so we picked Space Mission from the Essen games, and went into the main room. While we were trying to figure out how to play two other players joined us, one was Simon Strange. We managed to work it out, it’s a nice simple game. Tom won the tie with Simon at 39, Shirley and I had 30 and Bill 29. I commented on the nice look of the planets, Simon said better than ours. It turns out that he is a video game developer of Hellboy: Asylum Seeker and Godzilla: Save the Earth among others. He’s now working on a space-themed board game, with prototype artwork including planets, hence his comment. After Space Mission, Bill, Shirley and another player played his prototype with him. It looked too route-like so I decided not to play. Simon also play-tested Bill’s game and provided feedback.


I played Navegador, which I had played once before. I had won that game, but we played something wrong so I shouldn’t have won. This game was the first time for everyone else, someone came by and gave a quick overview. I made a mistake on my first move and was behind the rest of the game. Two of the other players were doing really well, one was doing terribly. He improved, and we ended up tying for last place, he won the tiebreaker, so I lost.

At dinner, Jon said that I played Navegador which he likes, and he played Walnut Grove, which I wanted to play, and didn’t know til then that he had gotten to play. By then, his Secret Santa had written me that he got Navegador and Incan Empire for Jon.

Puerto Rico

Jon and I wanted to try the game library’s copy of the fancy new 10th anniversary edition of Puerto Rico, but it was checked out so we took the regular one. The new version is approved for sale in Europe, but not in the U.S. because of the lead in the coins, they have to reprint them. Jon held it up for a few minutes and two players joined, one had played before. Jon’s much better than me at Puerto Rico, but I can beat him. I’m also not experienced or good at 4-player, we usually play 3-player, and online I play 3-player.

One of the other players crafted into Jon, who was able to trade sugar with two role coins, and he pretty much had the game from there with a coffee monopoly. I got blocked out of trading and couldn’t get anything going. I had a small warehouse, but no harbor, factory or wharf. One player, who only had tobacco and corn, took a harbor at one point. He had enough for a wharf, but I didn’t say anything, because he seemed to know what he was doing, having rejected advice before. But it turns out he had a wrong impression of how harbor works, so I should have mentioned it. I did tell him later that he should consider shipping, which he did, to my detriment. It’s always hard to know how much to help other players, they learn more by making mistakes, but it also makes the game more frustrating. Jon won by less than I expected, but still a lot, I came in second. 58, 45, 40, 37.


We stopped by our hotel office to check for packages. Jon could see a package behind the counter. The desk clerk said it wasn’t for us and went to check the back, nothing there either. Jon asked again about the package he could see, which was a big box. The clerk showed it to us to prove that it wasn’t ours, but he was looking at the return address. It was my Secret Santa package, with an Agricola expansion and London, and Jungle Speed for my kids.

Jon had played Inca Empire on Thursday and liked it, which was handy since that was one of his Secret Santa games. We picked up his package Friday on the way to David’s for Shabbat.



Friday morning Shirley and I packed up, loaded the car, checked out and drove over to the Westin. Jon had gone over early as usual, and Bill was going to Proto Alley that morning to demo his role playing game. He had also done a demo the night before for people he had gotten in touch with before the con. The game sounds interesting with an unusual structure – no DM and an internal economic system. He got a good reception with useful feedback.

I collected all our Spare Squares cards and matched them into sets, and labeled them and the envelopes to turn in. At lunch, Jon scored all the entries to date. The one I did for Shirley scored well, we thought it wouldn’t look right if she won, but Jon said not to worry, there would be higher scores, and there were.

Walnut Grove

Shirley and I sat down at the Walnut Grove table and I finally got to play. A guy from Brazil offered to teach the game, then decided to stay and play because it’s quick, and another guy, who had played before, also joined. I like the game because there’s very little down time, it’s not complicated, but has good decision-making. The guy who had played before beat me by one point, if I had one more cube I could have cancelled my -2 point loan and won.

Later, when I was thinking about the strategy in the game, I realized that I played wrong on the last turn, and actually lost by 2 points. I wanted to make one more enclosure, and I needed one more wood, but I couldn’t enclose my wood area. So I enclosed a different wood area to get the last wood, forgetting that I needed a worker there to produce. So I should have expanded my wood area and lost the extra point for the enclosure. I had 29 points, the winner 31. I got 18 points minus 2 for a loan from having 3 building multipliers. I didn’t realize how they interact so that was good for my score, but probably won’t happen again. We had an advantage during the game because the double production sections came up first round. I may like First Sparks better just because of the graphics, I’ll have to think about that. Well, it’s also a meatier game.

I gave Mischa my game for the math trade, and later ran into him with the person, who preferred to wait for the game rather than carry it around. Jon tracked down most of his games also. He’s taking back a lot of games including 4 or 5 of mine.

Shaarei Tefillah

Friday afternoon was a big rush, more than usual. We ran into a lot of traffic, we saw later that there had been an accident. We left at 3 to arrive at 4, we arrived around 4:15, Shabbat starts right after 5 in Dallas, not 4 like most places this time of year. Jon had the wrong address which delayed us slightly because we had unloaded the trunk and had to reload and re-unload, or rather Bill did. I was staying with someone else who wasn’t home yet, so I helped in the kitchen while the others were moving furniture and making beds. Then I wheeled my suitcase over, took it upstairs, made my bed, got ready, practically threw a gift at the hostess who had already lit, and rushed back for candlelighting and shul. We drove to shul which confused Bill and Shirley, they’re not used to the one-way drive system. No singing during Friday night services, nor dancing, I miss my shul.

I wanted to find out where my friend Joel Zeff was in Dallas, but his wife hadn’t known the name of his shul when I contacted her on Facebook. We were staying with David Elkin, I’d met him several times at Jon’s, he lives in Modiin but spends a semester each year teaching at SMU, and Jon always spends his bgg.con Shabbat with him. David was staying with Hanan Schlesinger, who lives in Alon Shvut but works in Dallas, not so unusual for Israelis. It turns out that Hanan and Joel work together; they had invited Joel for dinner but he was doing something else, he didn’t know that I’d be there. Joel gave two shiurim at shul they next day which I enjoyed. Hanan has met my kids in Alon Shvut through Joel though he didn’t remember them in particular. Eli is currently working with Joel’s son-in-law Micah Smith on set design for videos. At the tisch after dinner, playing Jewish geography, they discovered pretty quickly that the rabbi being honored had taught at the school Jon attended in West Hempstead.


Shabbat afternoon, Jon wasn’t feeling well and went to sleep. Bill, Shirley and I tried out London, with Hanan watching us struggle through the directions for a while. The rules weren’t very clear, even with examples, but we eventually started playing. Jon came down towards the end, right as we were trying to understand a card, which said that you’re exempt from receiving (negative) poverty points from hand cards, because we hadn’t been taking poverty points for those. Jon couldn’t understand how we missed such a basic rule. Which changes the game considerably, so we’ll have to try it the real way. In our game, Shirley won and Bill came in second.

Awards and Prizes

Saturday night is the main con meeting for everyone, where they announce the bgg game of the year winners and raffle prizes. Jon was also announcing the Spare Squares winners, entry deadline was 5:30 Saturday. When that was planned, he hadn’t realized that Shabbat ends at 6:07, so it was another rush to pack up after Shabbat and get back in time. We made it with 10 minutes to spare, and they didn’t start right at 7. It’s fun to see the game winners announced after reading about it for years on bgg, same for many aspects of the con.

The guy sitting across from me won awards for artwork on two games.

In the end there wasn't time for Jon to come up so Aldie announced the Spare Squares winners. Jon got the envelopes later, there were a lot of entries, and perfect scores where they drew for the winner. I hadn’t understood the tracks, I thought they were by letter, but they were by card section.

We had our raffle tickets but didn't win any prizes like this lucky person.

Occupy bgg.con showed up with signs about Meeple rights.


Jon had planned a game of Agricola with friends of his, Jim and Chris. I’d played Puerto Rico with Chris when he visited the group in Jerusalem. Jon had said more could play, Bill decided not to, Shirley was going to work on her laptop, and they also went out to get some dinner. We played in a side room, very calm and quiet. We selected 7 out of 10 for the cards. I had bad cards, and played poorly from the start. Jim was doing really well with tons of food, but then stalled. Jon was doing well, he took actions I wanted a few times, mainly because he was going before me; it didn’t matter since I wasn’t going to win. Jon ended up winning by two, we were the only ones with all our spaces filled, but he had animals and points, I had to kill most of mine for food and never got offspring.


Sunday morning we packed and checked out again. Bill and Shirley were leaving to drive back to KC, they dropped us off with our luggage so we could take the shuttle from the Westin.

Last Will

I wanted to play the new game by the Agricola designer, but the games were in progress, I didn’t have that much time, and another game looked like it was starting. I had seen it and it looked interesting, Last Will. It puts you in a counter intuitive situation where you’re trying to spend money rather than save it. As we were starting, a fifth player asked to join, he had played before but not a full game. I asked questions and thought I understood the game, but I got the victory condition wrong. I thought you need to be at zero by the seventh round and then there’s an end game mechanic. But it’s actually a race to see who finishes first, at that point it’s the person with the least including negative money. I don’t know if I could have done better if I had gotten that; I would have done better if I understood everything from the beginning. I came in third, I had two left, the guy who had played before had minus 6 and another one had zero. I don’t think I like the game, it doesn’t feel very strategic, rather tactical and limited control affected by turn order.


I took the shuttle at 11 for a 1:35 flight to SF which was actually scheduled for 1:48, I didn’t have time for another game anyway. People on the shuttle said there were fewer locals this year, to me it seemed like mostly locals at the con, counting Kansas and Oklahoma. I went through checkin and security in half an hour, it took that long because one self serve kiosk didn’t work and the one I used didn’t print my luggage tag so I had to wait for an agent. I’m used to Newark where everything takes forever.

I found a plug and chair at an adjacent gate, so I couldn’t see my flight info. And I couldn’t get up without packing up my laptop. It needed to charge, and if I got it fully charged I could use it on the plane. At 1:35 I went to see and found out that the flight was delayed at least an hour due to bad weather in SF. So I plugged in again and tried to keep an eye on the far gate. One gate close to me was Chicago, the other one another SF flight. When I heard the SF announcement, I thought it was that flight and not mine, but then I saw people boarding at my gate. We took off at 3:30, with my laptop finally fully charged so that I could finish writing most of this on the plane.

I enjoyed the whole trip with great friends. I had expected to play mostly games that I knew already because it’s harder to learn new games, but learning them with other people at the con worked well, and it’s fun to try out new games. People were very friendly and supportive, and most of the time someone who knew the game explained it which helped. Playing new games is a different challenge than ones you know, and I have more of a chance to do well because focusing on one or two strategies is more likely to work when players haven’t grasped everything.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

November 9, 2011

Gili, Eszter, Emily, Nadine

A short night because I'm leaving for the U.S. tomorrow morning - NY, Kansas City, Dallas and Northern California. Yay bgg.con!


Emily 685, Gili 605, Eszter 565, Nadine 525

Emily collected buildings, and at the end paid Eszter 40 for hers, which let Eszter beat me. I was mostly focused on sorting my email before leaving and a work issue, and my son Eli came by. I did complete 4 cards and had three markers on locations. I knocked Gili off one at the end because I thought she was ahead of Emily. After catching on, Eszter exclaimed what a great game this is. We told her that she says that about every game, she agreed. She wanted to know how we find out about all these great games. Whereas Eli, who isn't into these games, commented that they all look the same.