Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Australian Games Expo 2007

Last week we went to the Australian Games Expo in Albury (a bit over three hours drive from Melbourne and six to seven hours from Sydney, the two main population centres in Australia). The expo officially ran on Saturday and Sunday, we arrived on Friday afternoon and left on Monday morning.

Last year we stayed at the Hume Inn and used their function room one very cold night. We thought that if it was heated it would make an excellent evening games venue. Local resident and tournament organiser Neil Thomson made enquiries and a deal was struck that we could have their function room for free if thirty bookings were made at the motel. This was achieved and we had the function room for gaming on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Last year I played in both the Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne tournaments. It meant that my daylight hours were driven by the tournament schedule and there was very little time to browse, chat or play other games, especially longer games. This year I decided to go sans-tournament and make my time my own.

Here are the games that I remember I played.

We had dinner at TB’s, which is a tradition for some of us whenever we hit Albury and then Melissa went off schmoozing and I took the girls back to the motel. Melissa came back to the room about 10:30 during Daughter the Elder’s meltdown about not being allowed to sleep in a wardrobe instead of her bed, so I was relieved of duty and went off to the function room.

I joined in a six player game of Antike. The other players were Rob, Bill, Kev, Louise, Rose. The game started slowly as we built up the necessary resources to do anything and then hurried along in the mid game (the term “hurried” is used advisedly given the actual duration of the game) and then the fine art of bash the leader, a new leader appears, bash the leader, rinse, lather and repeat began. This meant that the end game was a) quite slow and b) quite engrossing. Kev almost pulled victory off three turns in a row but was thwarted, for two gold more to take my gold and coin total to twenty-six I could have pulled it off on a different turn, and Rob and Bill were also in contention. I do believe we spent close to two hours in the end game and if all of the last three victory point cards had gone to Rose we could have ended up with the victory point supply expended and no actual winner. Joe from the motel who was running the bar was paying close attention to the game. Bill managed to score the win a little before three o’clock in the morning, which was not so good for me since I had to be in at the expo five hours later. The game took us about four hours, with more experienced players or less than six I can see it running a lot quicker. I enjoyed it and have put it on my wishlist as a definite possibility.

I don’t actually remember if we were the last game to finish that night. After the game was packed up and the floor check done, I headed off back to our room, to find Daughter the Elder asleep in the shower recess. She had not been allowed back into the wardrobe, refused her bed, or the floor, so went for the shower recess. One must give her points for sheer bloody mindedness if nothing else :-)

A few hours later, I was up and dressed and headed off for breakfast and then off to the Expo. First there was some wandering around checking out the stalls. Then I ran into Ben and Vince and somebody suggested Hey that’s my Fish!. A quick explanation of the rules and we were off. The territorial wars started right form the very start and once the smoke settled, Vince had managed to isolate himself a very rich fishing ground indeed. Vince 35, Fraser 30, Ben 28. This is a great little game, plays quickly, can be nice, can be nasty and it has penguins.

After a little more cruising around we had a group of seven or eight who then split into a game of something and a four player game of Imperial. I was playing with Hayden, Greg and Andrew. I found out the next day that Greg’s surname was Greg Pinder. After a few whirs and clicks from my memory I remember that Greg is one of the founders of the Australian Design Group. Greg and Andrew were new to the game, I had played once before and Hayden twice. We called on Ben at the other game for rules advice occasionally. The countries were closely contested with lots of banter. I spent quite a while without a controlling interest in any county, a couple of times I managed to snatch control only to have it immediately taken back off me. Now this doesn’t necessarily ruin your position in the game at all, in fact I came second and if England had been one more point down the track I would have actually come first, but the period where you are sitting there hoping that somebody pays a dividend out in one of the countries you have invested in can get rather boring as you are just a passenger. I like the game, but this possibility of being removed from any active decision making for potentially lengthy periods of the game can be a little off putting.

It was being able to play Imperial that reinforced to me that my decision to not play in the tournaments was the correct one to make.

Later on I joined up with Patrick and Paul for a game of Slutty Princess^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Kingdom Quest, part of a range of well produced, recently released games. Readers with good memories may remember Melissa’s piece on the Toy and Hobby Expo where she coined the phrase “The Slutty Princess” about this game. I am afraid that it has stuck in our household. Anyway, when one of the official demo guys came over to talk to us about the game he mentioned that the Princess was known by another name. He asked us if we knew about BoardGameGeek which was when Patrick piped in that he was “user number eight”. The demo guy said that a lady had written a nice piece on the game and had called the Princess the Slutty Princess which was where I got to roll out that classic vaudeville punch line “That was no lady, that was my wife!”. We certainly thought it was funny.

The game itself is interesting, you have a bunch of identical cubes, and move them on the board by rolling them orthogonally. This make a different character appear on the top face, thus changing the character. If you end next to another player’s cube with the appropriate character face up you create a pairing and remove the other player’s cube. The thinking can get quite deep and you will find yourself playing around with a spare cube to determine what your moves should be. Definitely not a game to play with AP sufferers! I suspect it would be quite easy for a two player game to fall into a Mexican stand off position. The three player game potentially runs the risk of two of the players ganging up on the third, although this did not overtly happen in our game. It would probably be best with four. This was a win for me.

Since we were right next to the Z-Man games stand, we checked out a few of Zev’s games and ended up playing Owner’s Choice because Gregor had played it before and could teach the rest of us including Anna, Paul and Patrick.

This is not a deep game by any means, but it is quite short and a bit of fun. There are four companies that you can invest in. People then choose to move one, two or three spaces around the board. If they land on a company the president (controlling shareholder) can choose to roll the President’s die which will do something good or bad for the company. Each company has a different die and thus different effects occur. The idea is to hopefully buy in, push the shares up, sell them off and hope they fall again. At the end of the game most of thought it was being fought out between me and Patrick, but Anna had snuck the win and trounced us all. A good filler type game, definitely not gamer’s game material, but it is quicker that The Stock Market Game probably quite good with older children too.

After dinner it was back the Hume Inn where I managed to get into a game of On the Underground being taught by Neil T. I had seen this a couple of times at Gamers@Dockers but never managed to get into a game. I made a bit of a mistake by starting in the centre with my short line instead of the long one. We had five players, but I forgot to make a note of anybody else’s name. It ended up being a very tight game with only a five point spread between first and last. I will definitely be playing this again.

Next up Neil F taught Patrick, Paul and myself Spank the Monkey. The rules explanation actually took longer than the game did, since Neil said we were playing one optional rule which was multiple build cards. I was first, played a couple of cards, then Patrick had his turn and went build, build, build right up to the monkey, rolled and won. Game over red rover.

After that we moved on to Tichu. Those weird New South Welshmen don’t play by the rules, instead of going to the right they play clockwise. Since it was three to one, I had to relent. It meant that whenever I had the one, I was remembering what I passed to the person on my right which was then useless. Neil F and I defeated the two P’s. It was now after midnight and time for me to relieve my sister of her babysitting duties. Melissa played on until about three am.


Another early morning to a breakfast talk by Mike Hirtle. Very interesting.

The first game was Gheos. Melissa and I who had played it once before two player at the start of the year, taught it to Patrick and Paul as we were the veterans. It has less of an abstract feel as you add extra players. I benefited greatly when four epoch tiles were drawn in a row and I had control of the largest empire at the time. This gave me the lead, which was never overtaken. The scoring tokens seem to be a lot more important in a four player game than a two. I think this is more likely to come out at home now.

Later on I was watching some others play three piece Ubongo, a couple of them had to leave to go play a tournament so I was one of the substitute players when they started the four piece version. I got my first puzzle very quickly and then struggled for the most of the rest. I am sure practice will make perfect and a copy of this was part of our rather large purchase from Zev.

Speaking of Zev, my next game was Castle Merchants with Melissa, Duncan and Paul. It took a little while to get the hang of what was going on, and I think we would be more focused and quicker the next time. If it was around, I would play it again, but I don’t feel the urge to purchase it, although it would probably work quite well with older children. I managed to snatch the win from Duncan and Paul.

Melissa and I tried Khet next. We had a twenty second run through and no copy of the rules, so we are not entirely sure if we were playing it correctly. After killing off a few of my own pieces (assuming that is legal) I managed to defeat Melissa. This game is defitinitely one of those that has the WOW factor. I’d like to play it again a few times before deciding on a purchase though. The distributor told us that they had sold over sixty copies during the expo.

Next was The Princess and the Pea with Melissa and one of the guys from the Mayfair stand. This would be good with two and three year olds, but Daughter the Younger is already too old for it. Nice components, but small children only.

Another Haba game, this time with Patrick and Daughter the Elder was Von 0 auf 100. We had had a demo copy from CaterpillarGames for the school games night and I had taken it to work and played it a few times and enjoyed it. I hadn’t had a chance to try it out with Daughter the Elder and Patrick hadn’t played it either. Perhaps she is spoiled since we already play Formula De but Daughter the Elder was not taken with it, so it has now dropped a few points down my wishlist. Patrick was the first player car home.

Killing some time as the Expo closed down, I played a game of Chess with Hayden. I was holding my own for a while, but then the fa├žade dropped and I was crushed.

After dinner at TB’s again, we headed off to the Hume Inn function room for more games. I only managed one that night but it was a good one. Zev had one carton of Duel in the Dark. Zev had one at the Hume Inn, punched and ready to go. A few of us were chatting to him when he brought it out and suggested we play. Giles and I were the lucky ones. You can read my session report and mini review and the review by Giles based on that evening. This is another game that has WOW factor. It looks great. Most people who looked at it or watched it being played want a copy.

I am told that the last game of Werewolf finished at six am and that Joe from the Hume Inn was playing it that. Excellent service from the Hume Inn.

Other highlights not involving playing games. Chatting to the designer of Squatter about some of the differences between the current edition and the old ones and how the new one actually reflects some of the colours that he wanted in the original edition. Watching Mike and Mary's Hive grudge match, talking to various stall holders and catching up with old gaming friends or meeting new ones, including Patrick, Paul, Richard, Neil F, Al, Max, Phil, Terry, Rob, Kev, Bill, Louise, Shebby, John, Neil T, Patty, Janet, The whole Melbourne Crew that I see normally anyway, Greg, Andrew and many more. Last but not least was the launch of the GamesAustralia awards.

Apologies for the lateness of this post, but we were playing Die Macher this afternoon, I am sure you will understand.

Mmm meeples taste like


Gerald McD said...

Sounds like everyone had a great time. It was a neat family affair. Excellent report.

caradoc said...

It was a great time! Duel in the Dark was great fun. I am already looking forward to next year!

Great report Fraser!