Casual games at Finncon

Finncon was in Jyväskylä this year. It’s a major Finnish science fiction con (biggest free SF con in Europe or something like that), but it also had some games, as local board gamers organized a game room. I was in Jyväskylä at my mother’s with the kids and was able to leave for the Saturday to go play some games and leave the kids to enjoy the grandparents.

This was very much a win-win situation for everybody involved, and I’m likely to repeat this for the JyCon next year — that’s an actual board game con and even more interesting.

As the Finncon had a theme of roots this year, the game area featured some real classic games. I was interested in going further back and playing some gems from 17th century or so. Old card games, that is. Well, that didn’t quite happen, as the Finncon doesn’t really draw gamers enough for something like that, but I still had a good day of gaming, mostly casual games.

  • Dixit cover artWe started with Dixit, which was a gap in my knowledge I definitely wanted to fix. SdJ winner and a likely game of the year in Finland as well. We got five players, mostly strangers, and off we went. It was a fairly careful game, short and fairly concrete hints, but it was entertaining. For some reason I didn’t connect with the other players and soon fell back in scores. In many cases where there were two likely candidates, I chose the wrong one. This is a game where it’s pretty hard to catch the leader once you fall back… Good for a party game, but as a party game, unlikely to see play. Still, I think I may save this to play with family. Rated as 7.
  • We did play a 19th century version of Hombre (as described in Parlett’s book). This game introduced bidding to trick-taking games in the 17th centure and was a big hit for few centuries (take that, Dominion). It has few unnecessary complications (reverse ranking for numeral cards in red suits is the worst offender), couple of simple contracts (choose trump and exchange; random trump and exchange; choose trump and no exchange), defenders can also exchange cards and scoring is a complex system of a pot and payments. It was actually fun, because I had ridiculous luck with cards. In one hand I exchanged some cards and held six top trumps — in a game where declarer must win five tricks. I won. This isn’t a bad three-player game, if you can bear the complications (or skip them, in which case you should probably go straight for some more modern variation of the theme anyhow). Rated 7.
  • A great game of Bandu! This is a game that’s almost always great fun. We taught this to some random bystanders. Eventually it was me, him and her, with no gems left. He shows some tactical eye and gives an easy piece to her — had he forced her to drop out, I would’ve given him something impossible. She doesn’t do the same, but instead eliminates me (that wasn’t very hard at that point). Ok, game over, I think, he just finishes her tower off. But no — they keep on playing for couple of rounds more, her tower in particular getting impressive. Turns out she’s a master balancer and she eventually wins the game with a gorgeous tower. An excellent game, and here’s something even better: he’s my brother’s best friend from 20 years ago. No wonder he looked kind of familiar. Turns out he’s interested in games and lives in Tampere and was just visiting Jyväskylä. I already invited him to our game group.
  • Last game of the evening was Halli Galli Extreme. After a bland three-player game of Jungle Speed, I wanted to play something fun. What’s that game, they ask. Ooh, a bell, they say. Next thing they know they’re laughing and having excellent time, banging the bell. The games are even close enough, there’s couple of quick, alert folks in the game so I don’t even manage to win both games (one, yes, I’m not that rusty). I l-o-v-e this game, and moments like these when you can have great fun with people you don’t even know — that’s one of the things that so great about board games.

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