Tracon III

I spent most of my yesterday attending Tracon. Tracon is a yearly convention here in Tampere, this was the third time it was organized. Tracon is mostly about anime, manga and role-playing games. In the first two Tracon’s, I don’t think there was any board game presence, but this time the Finnish Board Game Society organized a small board game room. Since Tracon was close and friends from outside Tampere were attending, I joined the fun.

It was quite popular event, with about 3000 people attending (according to the web site). The defining element of Tracon was without a doubt cosplay. It seems to me that cosplay is the new live-action role-playing. When I was a teen, larping became popular (I was among the first major LARP wave back in 1994 or so), now it seems cosplay is the hip thing to do. Japan is very popular in general, I think most kids who start drawing comics these days adapt a very manga-influenced style and J-rock is quite popular.

Which is cool, and certainly made Tracon interesting to see. Most of the attendees were fairly young, I think. While board games in Finland are popular over wide age spectrum, the hard core hobbyists are “university age, that is 20-25 or so, well 20-30 perhaps (I’m getting closer to 30 myself, so extension is needed here). These cosplay folks are probably around 15-20. High school kids, that is.

Our little board game room (the event was held on the local technical university, a pretty nice venue actually) was a small class room, with nice differential equations decorating the black boards from Friday’s lectures… It was a pleasant center of normality in the con, as most people in costume avoided it. We had a fairly small bunch of hard core board game folks, I’d say probably less than twenty people spent their whole day playing board games. That was quite enough, though, and quality certainly beats quantity.

Well, the costume people and other anime fans did play some board games as well. I had carried my Crokinole board and, fortunately, it saw almost constant action. I had a rules printout and many people had the patience to learn the game from the rules. That was admirable. I suppose it just looks too cool to pass. The cool factor certainly made the other hit of the day, Hamsterrolle. This group of anime fans played the game for a really long time, having quite a bit of fun. That was very nice.

I was hoping to play Roads and Boats, but the lack of people made that impossible. That wasn’t a problem, as I then ended up playing lots of smaller games. Roads and Boats hits the table later, I hope. Oskari had asked me to bring bunch of games he hadn’t played, and we ended up playing most if not all the games I brought, and that I consider major success.

As a warm-up, we started with Crokinole. I played with three newbies and the result was rather clear: after four rounds my team won exactly 100-0 (I always play four rounds or 100 points, whichever comes first). It was fun to flick the discs, it’s been a while since I last played the game. It’s just too heavy to carry in a bus, and nobody ever comes to my place to play games (might be because I never invite anybody).

Race for the Galaxy box

Next up was Race for the Galaxy with Sami, and later I played the game twice with Oskari. It’s a nice, swift two-player game indeed, and I even managed to win all three games. And I think Oskari mentioned something about coming to teach me how to play… Well, he did have rotten luck with his cards in one of the games, though I won the otehr despite having rather weak set of cards on table.

Dvonn cover

I played Dvonn twice, first with Mankka and then with Oskari. Both were new to the game, while I’ve played it 100+ times (mostly on Little Golem). Interesting enough, while I was able to give Mankka the typical newbie handling, winning every disc, Oskari was able to beat me.

Let me be the first one to admit that I’m fairly clueless with the game, despite my quite extensive experience, though. I’ve made it to the second level of Dvonn skill and got stuck there, I suppose. I don’t mind, because I like playing the game as it is and if newbies can beat me, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing in the end.

Qwirkle box cover

Qwirkle was one of the hits. I played it first with Mankka, then with Oskari and as the very last game I played, we had one four-player game. I got some confirmation that the game has a skill element, as I was able to win both two-player games. With Oskari, the final result was 256-183, which was pretty heavy. With four-players, the game was closer. I suppose the two-player game is kind of easier, as you get more tiles and have more opportunities for high scores. I made some pretty nice moves against Oskari, 17, 20, and 21 points! My average was about 7.4 points per move, so those were good moves.

Everybody liked the game and I noticed Mankka taught the game to Cane from Boardgaming Finland. My opinion of the game improved, as well. I particularly enjoyed the two-player games, as they have more turns and less downtime. That’s always a bonus, as I don’t find player interaction the strongest point of Qwirkle (bit of fixed fun there, I suppose). Not that the four-player game is bad, unless the players are extra slow. So, yes, it’s definitely a good game, but I think I’ll need to print out a score board, as writing down the scores is kind of annoying.

Hamsterrolle box

I played a game of Hamsterrolle as well. It’s not my favourite dexterity game, but perhaps I just need more practise? Mankka was the only experienced player in our game and it showed, as his team won hands down. I guess I made the biggest blunder, dropping bunch of blocks from the wheel, thus sealing the fate of our team. Hamsterrolle is neat, but I actually might prefer watching the game.

Ubongo Extrem box

Ubongo Extrem was on Oskari’s list of games to test, so we played that next. Apparently Oskari didn’t like it, at least not as much as regular Ubongo. I still prefer Extrem, the new scoring is just that good as it makes the game focus on puzzle solving. I do agree with Oskari that the timer is probably too long. I should find a quicker timer somewhere and try the game that way.

Kingsburg box

Kingsburg was the first new game of the day. This Italian-made game is basically standard resource management: players get cubes and turn them to buildings and victory points. There’s worker placement, too. However, the main mechanism of the game is based on Yahtzee-like die rolling.

To start each round, players roll three dice. The board has 18 spots, numbered 1-18. Turn order is determined by the sums of the dice: smallest sum starts, biggest sum is last. Players can take any set of dice and place them on a spot marked with that number. So, if you roll 5-4-2, you could take spot 11 using all your dice, or take 9 and leave the 2 for later. Each spot can be chosen only once per turn, so you have to consider what other players have rolled. Players can also get +2 markers and some buildings allow a bit more flexibility.

Each spot produces stuff, with bigger, harder to reach numbers producing better results. Players must collect resource cubes so they can build buildings, but they also need soldiers. After three turns, there’s war against enemies of the kingdom and if players don’t have enough soldiers, they’ll suffer penalties. There’s some pressure and tension there, particularly in the end game when the opponents get tougher.

It’s pretty neat and unusual. Oskari wouldn’t want to play a five-player game and I can see why: the game has plenty of analysis paralysis potential. Choosing how to use the dice takes some thinking and the situation is sometimes hard to predict, so it’s easy to get stuck. We managed to play our four-player game in 70 minutes, which was ok.

I think Kingsburg is ok, but not much more. My main problem is that I didn’t have fun playing the game. Quite the contrary, I felt frustrated. I wanted to achieve things, but collecting resources was hard and with the dice having so big a role, it wasn’t good hard. I don’t mind difficult games, but here I felt I was too much at the mercy of the dice. So, I’d say try before you buy if possible, as I’m quite sure this game isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.

Fresh Fish box

Fresh Fish was another one of Oskari’s wishes. Too bad we didn’t get anybody else playing. I can assure you this was quite likely my first and last two-player game of Fresh Fish ever. It just doesn’t work with two, the board is too small and the auctions get uninteresting. Well, at least Oskari got some idea of how the game works, and he did seem to appreciate the road mechanic, despite his low initial rating for the game in Geek (6, but I wouldn’t given a better rating for this particular game either).

Pünct box

Me and Oskari were getting slightly desperate with playing two-player games, that’s my excuse for agreeing to play Pünct. I still don’t like it, and I actually went and dropped my rating at Geek from six to four. I don’t like it, but apparently can be talked into playing it occasionally… Pünct is easily my least favourite in the Gipf series.

Halli Galli Extreme was my party, but then again, opponents were all newbies to Extreme (some were total Halli Galli newbies). It was the same with Flix Mix, where I dominated against players who played by correct rules (one of them didn’t, and won the first round).

Dia de los Muertos box

Next, Tommy appeared out of nowhere (apparently he had been ice-fishing the whole day and decided to join the fray for few hours). Nice surprise! We instantly recruited him to our game of Dia de los Muertos. It was an interesting match of this old trick-taking twister. Points in this game are made of two cards: a soul and food to feed it. Me and Tommy got most of the food, while Oskari and Marko got most of the souls. Too bad we got two souls while they got only one food…

It’s a twisted little game with lots of chaos and twists and turns, yet the game offers some good possibilities of control and deduction. I like it. Our game was curious, as of the nine possible points, we scored only three. A bit lame, I suppose. Cue the mantra: I need to get this out more often. Oh, and now I know: Four Dragons is going away, I’m selling it.

Animalia box

One final new game: Animalia. This is apparently fairly rare filler game, where players try to collect a good set of five animals. Basically you try to collect as many animals of the same kind as possible. If you have at least two of the same animal, you get as many medals as you have those animals. Single animal is worth nothing, unless all your animals are different.

After three rounds, most medals wins the game. There are few twists. First of all dedication helps, as you get extra bonus of five points for every five medals of one kind. Some animals have special abilities, allowing you to give away your animals or steal someone else’s animals. Some have stars, and whoever has most stars after a round, gets bonus cards they can use to improve their collection.

It’s all fairly simple and entertaining. The game looks pretty cool. The cards have few symbols, though, the different special abilities are integrated in the art. It’s neat, but takes some getting used to. We had a bit of a problem, though: we ran out of medals in the end. The rules say nothing about running out of medals. Is that possible? We don’t know. It certainly happened. So who gets the last medal? We don’t know. The rules don’t have a word about it.

That was a bit of a bummer. Later discussion on the Board Game Society forums seems to imply that medals are unlimited, as in the card game version there are no actual medals, they’re just counted on paper with no limits. That makes sense, but it still makes things a bit difficult for the version with the insufficient medal tiles.

So, not my favourite, and while it’s decent filler, there are plenty of better fillers that have complete, unambiguous rules.

And that’s it. Tracon was fairly well-organized event from our point of view. We had the classroom and it was enough for us (though bit more traffic at the peak times and we would’ve run out of space), our tested game borrowing system worked well and didn’t require much effort from our part. People played games and had fun.

Thanks to Mika for organizing a pizza delivery, that solved the food thing well. I didn’t even have to leave the game room to eat, how efficient! I will definitely attend Tracon again if Board Game Society decides to have some presence and it fits in my schedule.

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