Helcon III — Saturday

Helcon III began early in the morning, when we packed up everything in Tommy’s car and headed to the location. We quickly set everything up, unpacked games and arranged the tables and whatnot. First visitors arrived early and started playing games soon and soon more came.

First game I played was a four-player Crokinole match. There are plenty of people who just love Crokinole and for whom Helcon is pretty much the only chance to play the game. Tommy’s board saw lots of action during the weekend. I got my fix early. I teamed up with another gamer from Tampere, whom I had actually never met. We lost, unfortunately.

Then it was time for the Die Macher game we had scheduled in advance. I had to explain the game twice, that took some time. But so did the game, too, clocking in on four hours and 15 minutes. No matter how much I like the game, I can’t help it: it’s too bloody long. With about one chance to play the game each year I’m kind of wondering why I rate it a 10. And it all depends on players, too… I’d love to play the game with people who already know the rules, but that’s too much to ask. I don’t know — it’s too heavy, really. I’m soft, sure, but four hours is just too much. I felt kind of sad, being locked down in the Die Macher game with all the other games I could be playing. And still — I can’t help but appreciate the game. Perhaps it’s one of those games you appreciate but never actually play.

Anyway, Markus, who has proved his superiority before, won our game. The point spread was wide, from Markus’s 412 to my 254. No celebrations at the PDS headquarters this year!

After a decent pizza, it was time for other games. While Tommy didn’t buy Oltremare for some odd reason, he brought one for Stefu. It was a must-try, after all the good buzz about it. It’s an interesting game, that’s for sure, but it’s not the second coming of Jesus Christ as some had it.

It’s all about trading stuff on the Mediterranean — how sweetly original. The game plays a bit like Bohnanza, but not quite. All play is focused on cards, which have lots of information crammed on them. First of all, there’s goods. Players try to collect sets of similar goods. Cards are played in a stack and similar cards lumped together in the stack score like in Bohnanza: more cards you have, more money you get. The topmost card of the stack is visible and dictates the turns. First there is maritime power, lack of which can force players to discard cards in pirate stacks (negative points). Other issue is cargo capacity, ie. the number of cards players must play on each turn. Of course, you try to get a card with as much maritime power and cargo capacity as possible on top.

Cards have two out of four possible symbols. There’s money, cards, pirates and ship moves. Money brings money (points), cards give you cards, pirates add cards to your pirate stack and ship moves allow you to move your ship around the map, collecting bonus abilities. It’s a tricky thing, trying to manipulate everything to work in your advantage while collecting as large sets as possible. Add in trading between players and you get quite a game.

The print run of 700 copies was quickly sold out in Essen, but I’m sure there’s a proper edition coming out sooner or later. It’s such a good game, after all. I liked it, but I’m not in a rush to buy it myself. I already have Bohnanza and while Oltremare certainly adds to that, it’s just not my type of game. I can, however, understand the enthusiasm of others.

After Oltremare I wanted to try Niagara, another Essen piece of interest. I had seen the pictures, but the game is even better in real life. It’s gorgeous! Unfortunately we played it wrong: first game was very much wrong and second one still had major rules issues. However, the game is fun. It’s a chaotic little rush, where players try to paddle around in quickly flowing river, trying to collect gems. Mistakes can cause one’s canoes to go flying down the falls.

It’s not a serious game, but great fun and spectacular looks make it all work out fine. The way the river works, with plastic discs you push down the river towards the falls, it’s just so … tactile. It’s a lovely game and one I’d really like to try with correct rules.

Tommy had bought Don and wanted to try it. The game is a clever little auction game. Iain likes it, and so does Bruno Faidutti, who lists it in his very best games. However, it fell a bit flat.

The game is about auctioning cards with numbers from zero to nine on them. When you win a card, you can no longer make bids ending in that digit. If such bid wins the auction, you collect the money. Otherwise the money is divided between the players. Players try to collect sets of same-coloured cards. The game sounds great, but in practise it just felt a bit stupid. We had a rule wrong — we always auctioned one card instead of a cycle of one card, two cards, three cards. We also had too many players: Bruno Faidutti says the game doesn’t really work with more than four. We had five.

So, while I didn’t like the game much, I’m going to try it again. That’ll be easy, because Tommy sold the game already and it was bought by Olli from my local club. I just hope he’s coming to next meeting!

After that, I was kind of without a game and picked up Yinsh, interested to take a look at the only Gipf game I’ve never tried. I was studying the rules when I was approached by Magnus, Stefu’s older brother whose game it was. He was more than happy to teach me the rules. Yinsh is a bit like advanced indirect five-in-row. Players jump around with rings, placing pieces where the rings lay and turning over all pieces the rings jump over. If player gets five in a row, the pieces are removed and so is one ring. The player who collects three rings first wins. The better you’re doing, the more difficult the game gets, of course.

I did fairly well, but Magnus’s superior skills were quite enough to beat me. However, it wasn’t that obvious. I think Yinsh is a pretty good introduction to Gipf games, as it was fairly easy to play. Difficult to master, sure, but getting in the game was easier than in Zèrtz, for example.

And as a matter of fact, I paid back the favour by teaching Zèrtz to Magnus. I kicked his butt, even though I was rusty after a long time without any exercise. Maybe I’ve played more Zèrtz than Magnus has has played Yinsh, but I think Zèrtz is more difficult game. It’s odder, more unlike other games. Getting the right mindset is more difficult in Zèrtz.

After Gipf games it was time to spread the contagion and convert more fans for Geschenkt. We played with five and the game’s great fun that way, too. Everybody liked it, too — I think the game’s going to be a wild success.

I avoided a game of Bang! and teached Einfach Genial to Robert, David and Eveliina. It was quite a different game compared to the one I’d played yesterday. We had loads of points! Robert won the game with 16 points in his weakest colour (18 points is the maximum amount of points). That was something else. Definitely not enough blocking and defensive play, this time! That’s what you get with all newbies, I suppose. Funny though, I hadn’t really noticed Tommy and Laura play defensive moves the day before, but maybe it’s just so subtle?

Anyway, we were then looking for something quick and I noticed a copy of Europa Tour lying around. Robert owns the game and was able to teach the rules to us and off we went, criss-crossing around Europe. I got a good start and managed to complete a route from Portugal to Turkey, visiting Robert’s home country of Croatia. It was a fun little game, but nothing too spectacular. I wouldn’t mind playing it, but probably wouldn’t actively suggest it. Most people seem to like the two-player game, we had four players, so perhaps it gets better with fewer players. Still, it’s good family fare in my books.

To wrap it up, I played two more games of Geschenkt with the same guys. This time I explained the rules wrong (or they heard wrong — that’s my stand in the issue), they thought it takes three cards to get the discounts. They enjoyed the game still, it’s that robust!

Oh, one more game: throughout the day, we had a No-game going on. It’s a Sid Sackson design from his Gamut of Games. Each player gets a token (I used large plastic paperclips). If someone says “no, the first person to notice gets all their clips. It was a fun game. Some people liked it, some people didn’t, but those who didn’t could bail out easily. One guy took it very seriously and managed to keep his clips for a long time. Then he found out the game we were giving as a reward (Evergreen) and gave up. In the end Stefu won the game, ambushing his brother just minutes before the game ended. Nice move!

And that’s it, for Saturday and really most of the Helcon. Stay tuned for one more entry with Sunday games and some general stuff. Update: proceed to Helcon III — Sunday.

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