There's a New York Mets radio announcer, Howie Rose, who concludes every game with "Put it in the books!" Well, that time has come and gone at the WBC this year, and with full-scale event reports to follow (on the convention Web site - http://www.boardgamers.org/), detailing the winners and results of the 130+ tournaments, it's all pretty much "in the books."
On Wednesday, August 1, I sat down in my room at the Lancaster Host Resort and started to write about a new game called Tin Goose, an aviation-themed game that will be released by Rio Grande Games sometime within the next year or so. A full-production model of the game was on-hand at Cafe Jay, and will be followed by production work that will detail the make-up of its varied components, the artwork, and the rule set (which, in the model, was only three, double-sided pages). Also on hand (off and on) at Cafe Jay was the game's designer Matt Calkin.
There is nothing quite like being taught a new game by its designer, because unlike most other game-learning experiences, you don't find yourself grabbing for the rule book to clarify a given point. You just ask the guy. I've been taught a game by its designer exactly three times (Attika, Venus Needs Men, and Tin Goose). Normally, I don't tend to play the Rio Grande games I'm teaching. I sit others down at a table, get them rolling with enough information to get the game underway, and let them proceed on their own, as I turn to help others, interested in one of the others on display. I check back with a table to assure that things are proceeding smoothly and that no procedural questions have arisen. A given group will have a rule book to consult, but when people get into a game being taught for the first time, they don't really know where in the rule book to find answers to intricate questions.
With Tin Goose, however, since I would be expected to teach it in the absence of Calkin, I had to sit down and play the thing. It's a complex exercise and there was no way I was going to read through the rules and figure it out. So down I sat, with three others, as Calkin walked us through it.
A more expansive review of this game will happen, down the road a piece, but for now, I can tell you that it's about trying to create, expand and profit from owning an airline company. From modest beginnings, played out on a US map with isolated international connection possibilities, you will nurture the growth of your company through three separate eras in the history of aviation. In the beginning, you will be dealing with hazardous, and fuel inefficient aircraft, as you establish US routes to which your airline can fly. You will add, as time proceeds, less hazardous and more fuel-efficient aircraft that can fly further. As these additions and improvements to your fleet of aircraft occur, your income potential rises, allowing you to expand and improve the fleet. In the end, the player who has amassed the most money wins. A lot of the money will be doled out at the end, based on the number of international connections you've been able to establish, the number of major cities in the US you have managed to inhabit, the overall level of your income when the game ends, minus money (with interest) that you've borrowed.
There's a lot going on with this game, and while process-wise, it's fairly straight forward (bid on an aircraft until it's sold, or initiate a strike, crash or oil event and then take three of five possible actions on your turn). Determining, at any given point in time, the best way to proceed, is a multi-layered exercise. At every juncture, you're assessing your relative position to the goal and the progress of others, while trying to ascertain how to direct your activities in a way that will enhance your future; in other words, you're constantly examining both long and short-term goals. I liked this game, and eventually, when a full-production copy becomes available, I'll check in with a more thorough review.
To the designer's question (asked of all who played) regarding whether one might purchase Tin Goose, the overwhelming response from day one was "Yes."
Now, six days later, I'm back in my personal 'friendly confines' trying to finish what I started, which was initially to be a post about the WBC, in general, but latched onto the phenomenon of Tin Goose and for a while there, wouldn't let go.
The experience of the World Boardgaming Championships is unique to almost everyone in attendance; from administrators who keep it running smoothly, and don't play a lot of games to fanatic geeks, who plot out a day-by-day schedule for participating in multiple tournaments, and play every game they can within the allotted week. From people who think that tournaments are a little too aggressive for their taste and spend virtually all of their time in Open Gaming, where they can play as much or as little as they want, to the spouse and children support network, which, by varying degrees play together as a family, or spends time pool-side, reading a good book. You can mix and match all those comparisons; the administrator might finish work and go to Open Gaming, for example, or the 'schedule' kind of guy or gal might go to the pool (less likely).
As a representative of Rio Grande Games, my WBC experience was defined by the work at its core. I was there to teach approximately eight games to anyone who wanted to learn. Some were brand-new (Upon A Salty Ocean, The Forgotten Planet). Some had some history to them (Leader 1: Hell of the North, Pantheon, Olympos). All had a way of impeding my rush to play games when I was done for the day, like the IT guy who doesn't find playing on his home computer relaxing.
That said, I entered six tournaments - Thurn and Taxis (all three heats), Acquire, Puerto Rico (twice), Tigris & Euphrates, Facts in Five, and Slapshot, playing nine times, and winning only once; the second heat of Thurn and Taxis. One of the criteria for advancement to the semifinals was "total number of wins" and if memory serves, those who'd won two or three times comprised the bulk of the final 16, so in spite of finishing (in order) second, first, and then third in three heats, I missed an opportunity to advance.
I ventured into Open Gaming and with two random gamers who happened to walk by, I played a game of Vasco Da Gama. One of my opponents interpreted the rules differently than I did. We battled (gently) through three procedural disagreements. I'll likely bring these anomalies to a BoardGameGeek Vasco Da Gama page and get back to you.
With an understanding that we would all be learning it for the first time, four of us sat down at 1 a.m. and attempted to learn/play Martin Wallace's Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant. Mea culpa, but we missed an important component of the set up, which made life in the first round much, much harder than it should have been, and led to the eventual collapse of the game itself; we stopped playing after the second round of two at 3 a.m. The late start didn't improve our mental acuity, or patience with problems, and it would be hard to describe our experience with the game as fun. This is not uncommon. You need to thoroughly understand a game to have any fun at it, and rare is the really good game that doesn't have a certain degree of challenging complexity to it. Rulebooks and gaming experience are the only two things that stand in the way of interpreting and then understanding a game on the first try, so again, I'll get back to you.
More to come on the WBC, as I compile data and continue interaction with the new (to me) games. Every year, at the WBC, a handful of games creates a 'buzz'; people talking about one game, playing it, entering a tournament. Right off the top of my head, and subject to my personal experience only, I'd say the loudest 'buzz' belonged to Power Grid: First Sparks, one of the games I was teaching (heard others talking about it when I was away from Cafe Jay, too). There were others, stay tuned.