I’ve been going to ConQuest, a fairly large local game con, for a number of years now. In the past, I’ve always taken the opportunity to run a big wargame – I did a Guderian’s Blitzkrieg a couple years back (which was fun), and a EuroFront game last year (which was a disaster). Kim has run Acquire and Liar’s Dice tournaments for a couple years now. The flea market is also an awesome way to sell games that are good but that have just outlived their lifespan. This year, we were undecided as to whether we would be able to go as we were considering doing a longer vacation around Labor Day, so I didn’t sign up to run anything.
We decided to stay home after all and avoid the crowds, so I grabbed the event catalog. I was thinking to get in some of the new euros, maybe a game of Downtown or Sword of Rome or Ardennes ’44, or a small OCS scenario. Much to my disappointment, the boardgame event listings were not just thin, they were extremely thin. Virtually nonexistent, really. In terms of euros, there was almost nothing. The wargame end was slightly better served, but not much – too many pet games, not enough practical ones, and not enough games with serious GMs.
I came very close to not coming at all (one of my friends was having a rather tempting “ConQuest Sucks” gaming party), but I had a lot of games I wanted to sell at the flea market. So I went.
I ended up playing a few pick-up games. I got in a game of Maharaja, which I enjoyed. In a year of fascinating games plagued by balance questions – Goa and the Exploration Track problem (worrying, but probably bogus), St Petersburg and the Judge/Mistress of Ceremonies (definitely a problem), San Juan and the various competing ideas of imbalance (all probably bogus), Power Grid and the mid-game plant problem (definitely an issue), Memoir ’44 and its ludicrously unbalanced scenarios – it’s nice to play a solid game with no obvious question marks. But you should probably bid for starting roles. I look forward to trying the Yogi variant sometime.
I then played Fifth Avenue again. I will again mention a full review is forthcoming. It went over quite well with this group (while the general response has been quite positive among groups I’ve played with, for some people it just doesn’t click).
Last game before the flea market was Alhambra, by Dirk Henn. I’ve been critical of this game in the past, and while I did enjoy this playing (I won), I’m not going to change my tune now – one player in our game mentioned that it seemed to have the “illusion of control”, which I think sums it up pretty well. We did play with one of the variants from the expansion (the Viceroy, I think), which helped a bit. It’s slow, it’s light on decision making and player interaction, but I think in the end it works, if just barely. Not in the same league as Showmanager/Atlantic Star by a far cry, but it seems a game comparable to Carcassone – your less discriminating family and friends may be engaged by that illusion of control, it’s simple (more or less), some skill is still helpful, and it doesn’t hurt your brain like Fifth Avenue sometimes does. Not a recommendation from me, but it does fill a niche I think. If you want a little substance, though, Union Pacific scores over Alhambra in almost every way.
Then, off to the flea market. I love the flea market because it allows me to unload a bunch of middling-value stuff that is too much of a hassle to list on eBay, but ends up being worth a fair amount in aggregate. This time, I liquidated over $400 worth of stuff, so that was time well spent. Some of the games that hit the door included Dos Rios, Nautilus, Rückkehr der Helden, Anno 1503, The Cotton Kingdom, an old beat-up Storm over Arnhem, my old West End Paranoia boxed set (I now have Paranoia XP, which may or may not be an improvement, but at least is hardbound), The Two Towers Kartenspiel, duplicate copies of Kingmaker and Civilization, DAK (I now own DAK II, and despite what I paid for DAK I, I couldn’t quite justify keeping two copies given what I could sell DAK I for), some old surplus GW Lord of the Rings metal … and much more I can’t remember. Some of the stuff left over at the end surprised me … I had a very good condition copy of the Storm over Arnhem folio edition, but no interest. Arena Maximus, which should have appealed more to the ConQuest crowd, didn’t go, even at an aggressive price. Couldn’t liquidate Tobruk, even unpunched and at a $5 price point. The guy who I foisted off, er, sold my copy of Phalanx’ Nero too was back this year and bought a few items, so that was good. Maybe he never played it.
The flea market layout had changed from last year, from a large open court to a single walkway with areas on the sides. Even though I sold a lot of games, I was not particularly thrilled with the new layout, as my space was extremely tight, just enough for about 3 people to look over my games at one time, which is far less than in the past. I’m sure I could have sold most of the stuff that didn’t sell if people could have simply accessed my area more reliably; too often I had people backed up who couldn’t get in. A personal pet peeve is the guy who asks if he can check something like the Fellowship of the Ring Kartenspiel that I have listed at $5, and who then sits there, carefully inventorying the components, checking their condition, reading the rules from front to back … and then simply returns it to the pile without even making an offer. In the past, this was merely slightly frustrating. Now, with so little space, it was extremely annoying – but with all the games being used, I can hardly tell people they can’t review the games…
After the flea market, my friend Charles and I played some Gettysburg: Badges of Courage. I find myself waffling just a touch on this game, but I quite enjoyed this outing. Too bad we didn’t have time to continue to a second day, because it was an interesting setup. I initially thought using the Column optional rule might be an improvement, but now I’m not so sure. It is a lot of hassle, and I’m not sure what it accomplishes is worth the hassle (it slows down the Confederates on the first day, but it also slows down the Union at critical junctures too, so it might be a wash). We played without them this time, and it was quite satisfactory.
The bottom line on the con was that on the one hand, I did enjoy the games I played, and did pretty well at the flea market despite the lame setup. The kicker though was that I was playing almost exclusively pick-up games with people who are my regular gaming buddies. Fun, but there certainly was no need to pay $25, drive the rather wretched commute, and deal with nonexistent parking to do this, we could have all just met at somebody’s house. This is not why I go to cons. I go to cons to meet new people, recruit new players, and to play more organized games in interesting formats. ConQuest desperately needed more organized gaming, perhaps a Kniziathon, or at the very least a Settlers or Acquire or Puerto Rico tournament, some scheduled eurogames, and/or a reasonably well-coordinated open-gaming area. Not to mention some wargames with reasonable playing times and more than minimal player bases (the ASL event being the only solid event run). Without any of these, the only thing that will get me back next year is the flea market.