Sunday, September 18, 2011

DOs and DON'Ts of attending Board Game Conventions

Here are some DOs and DON'Ts for attending Board Game conventions that I've learned over the years:

- DO bring a friend with you.  This year was the first time that I had a friend join me, and it was a lot more fun.  You always have someone to get a game started with, and experiences of the great games you played are best shared with someone else.

- DO bring small snacks.  You will often find yourself getting hungry in the middle of a game, and will not want to leave in the middle of it.

- DO bring your own copy of a game if it is something you absolutely want to play.  I always like to join a Battlestar Galactica game at each con.  When I showed up for the scheduled game, there were already more than enough players.  But since I had my copy of the game, we were able to set up 2 games to accommodate everyone.

- DO wander the room and find random games to join, even if it's something you have never heard of.  My favorite game of this con was Ascending Empires.  I had never heard of it, and I joined simply because it looked interesting.  I normally would never have played a dexterity game.  But I enjoyed it so much that I recently bought it for myself.

-  DO try to meet and talk with game designers, or even play a game with them.  It's a great way to get some insight on the development of your favorite games, and maybe even get the inside scoop on upcoming projects.  Also, if you know which designers will be there, bring a game of theirs to have it signed.

- DO check out some of the games from the Game Library.  This is a great opportunity to check out those games that have been on your radar but you aren't sure about purchasing just yet. 

- DON'T forget to use proper personal hygiene.  This includes bathing, wearing deodorant, and clean clothes.  You'd think this would be a given, but there always are a few people each year that you can smell from across the room.  Gaming may not be a physically strenuous activity, but you will still stink after 14 hours of non-stop gaming.  And Axe body spray is not a substitute for a shower.

- DON'T hover too close over a game in progress that you are not involved with.  There is nothing wrong with taking a look at what other people are playing and maybe asking a couple questions.  But respect people's personal space and respect that they are engrossed in a game and would appreciate minimal interruptions.  I was in the middle of a BSG game when a random person walked up and started standing right over the shoulders of other players.  Then he started picking up various pieces and looking at them without asking.  The worst part was when he reached right in front of me to move one of the cards on my playing area to read it better.  It was totally rude.

- DON'T walk up to a game in progress and start offering unsolicited strategy advice.  If you want to play that game, then sit down and play something.  Don't go around telling other people how they should be playing.

- DON'T forget to allow time for eating and sleeping.  You may feel like you want to play games for 20 hours straight.  But you'll quickly fade without some proper rest and nourishment.

- DON'T join an experienced game if you are a noob, unless you are invited to do so.  

- DON'T leave a game you just finished without helping to pick it up, or at least offering to help. 

And most importantly:  DO have fun, and play as many new games as you can!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How I got my wife to play Caylus

Caylus is my second favorite game in my collection (behind only Agricola), and is currently the #10 ranked game on BGG.  It is a brilliantly designed game of pure strategy.  The only randomness is in the setup at the beginning of the game.  Once the game starts, how well you do depends solely on the choices you make. 

This has long been a game that Michelle would never play with me.....until tonight!  We just finished playing our first game of Caylus together.  How was I finally able to convince my wife to give this great game a shot?  To answer that, we have to go back in time nearly 5 years.............

Michelle and I were engaged in 2006, and in Sept 2006 she came to visit me in San Diego.  We had decided to pick out her engagement ring together, so we planned a day to go up to the LA Diamond District to find the perfect ring.  That morning, Michelle presented me with a gift.  I could tell by the size of the box what it was: board games!  Caylus and Thurn and Taxis, to be exact.  So she got a diamond ring, and I got board games.  Hmm.  Well, maybe it wasn't a fair exchange, but we both got something that we will love for years to come!
The night we got Michelle's ring, we came back and played Thurn and Taxis.  But I didn't bring out Caylus for Michelle to learn until over a year and a half later.  For our 1-year anniversary, we went up to Mount Laguna and stayed in a cabin for a few days.  Staying in a cabin with no TV allows for lots of gaming time, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to play Caylus.  So one afternoon, I set it all up and began explaining the rules. 

After I've played a game a few times and have learned the flow of it, I find it very easy to remember all the rules, especially for a game with intuitive gameplay.  Reading the rulebook 2 or 3 times probably helps too.  But when I go to teach a new player, I suddenly remember how overwhelming learning all those intricate rules can be.  As I was explaining the rules, I could see Michelle's eyes start to glaze over.  So we went over the essentials, and then got started, hoping that I could explain the rest as we went.  Unfortunately it turned out to be too much to absorb in one sitting, and Michelle gave up playing after a couple turns.  Disappointed, I packed up the game, and it sat on my shelf for 3 years.  My game collection grew and grew, and Caylus was soon at the bottom of the stack of newer games, many of which Michelle did like.  I never thought she would give Caylus a second chance...until...........
...I received a copy of Caylus Magna Carta in a trade.  This is a simplified, card-based version of Caylus.  I never had given it much thought before.  After all, I'd rather play the real thing rather than a watered-down version of it.  But then I remembered that Michelle really enjoyed playing San Juan, which led to her liking Puerto Rico.  So perhaps Magna Carta would pique her interest in Caylus again.
Michelle agreed to play Magna Carta, and we started by using the Beginner rule set.  This introduces the basics of how the game works.  It essentially plays the same as Caylus, but with much fewer options and more randomness.  She really enjoyed the first game we played (and won!), so the next time we played with the full rule set which has more direct player interaction.  Michelle won again!  And no, I was not letting her win.

Now that she understood the basics of how the game was played, she agreed to give the original Caylus a try again.  Again, I used a simplified rule set, which eliminates one of the more complex rules in the game.  This makes it much easier for a new player to understand the flow of the game before they have to worry about the deeper strategy.  This time, I won, but only by 3 points.  But, more importantly, Michelle understood the game, and enjoyed it!  Next week, we'll try playing Caylus with the complete rule set. 

Whenever I play Caylus, it reminds me of the day I bought Michelle's ring.  And now, it also reminds me how grateful I am to have a wife who is willing to learn and play complex board games with me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stone Brewery Tour

Last Wednesday, Michelle organized a surprise outing for me.  Well, I ended up guessing what it was that morning, so maybe it wasn't a complete surprise.  But it was a wonderful treat!  Michelle arranged to pick me up from work early (good start to the surprise already!), and we went to Stone Brewery to do their free brewery tour.  We've always said that we wanted to do the tour, but we had never actually done it.  Now, I'm glad that we finally did!

The tour is free.  You just have to get there early enough to reserve a spot.  Michelle went beforehand to secure our tickets, just in case a large group came in.  We arrived about 30 minutes ahead of time, so we had a quick drink in the bar.
Michelle had a Black Market Hefeweizen from Temecula, and I had Lightning - Old Tempest from Poway, served on cask.  Both were delicious.

After our drinks, we got started on the tour.  There were about 12 of us.  They walk you around all the big beautiful stainless steel brewing tanks, and tell you a little bit about how beer is made.  Our tour guide reviewed the ingredients in beer (water, barley, hops, yeast), and explained how the different variations in just those 4 ingredients create the multitude of beer varieties we can enjoy.  We tasted the barley and smelled the hops.
I wish our tour guide had talked a little more about the actual brewing process or the history of the company, instead of making lots of silly jokes, but we did learn some interesting facts (which I've now forgotten, unfortunately).  It was fascinating to see how they brew beer on such a large scale (well, large for a craft brewery anyway).  Stone is going to start brewing 24 hours a day in order to keep up with the demand.
At the end of the tour, everyone gets 4 free beer tastings!  You get to try the Pale Ale, Smoked Porter, IPA, and Arrogant Bastard.  I tried to trade in some of my tastings for a taste of the specialty beers, but they wouldn't allow it.  I really wanted the Old Guardian Belgo Barley Wine!  But, I can't complain about free beer.  And, as the generous husband that I am, I offered to help Michelle finish her tastings too.
I highly recommend the tour.  Stone Brewery is one of the elite San Diego breweries.  While not everyone will love their amazingly hoppy brews, the brewery restaurant and gardens are worth the trip alone.  For the low price of $0, you get to tour the brewery, learn about the art of craft brewing, and sample some of the best beers from San Diego.  Who says you can't get anything for free?

On a related note, that same morning that we did the tour, Stone had a large media event where they announced some exciting new expansions.  I can't wait to see how their plans turn out.  It's exciting to see a local North County brewery doing so well.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Game Night - 5/11/11

Game night was at my house this week, with Matt, Condo and my dad. I love playing cards with my Dad. After all, my love of games partially comes from him. Growing up, we played countless games of Rummy and Canasta. His favorite card game is Pinochle, so I knew he'd enjoy Tichu.

Tichu is a popular Chinese card game that I would describe as a cross between Pinochle and Poker.  It's highly interactive and each play is a tough choice to make.  The goal is to get rid of your cards first by playing progressively higher combinations of cards in each trick (single, pair, full house, straight, etc).  It's a partnership game, so reading your partner plays a big part too.
Condo and I teamed up against Matt and my dad.  They were worthy opponents, but the deck was stacked against them this night.  In all but 2 or 3 hands, Condo and I went out first, earning us 200 points each hand toward our 1000 point goal.  Matt and Dad spent almost the entire game in negative points.  I think they made it into the black on the last hand, but by then it was too late. 
Our beer selection for the night was:
  •  Ballast Point - Big Eye IPA: A great all-around IPA from one of the great San Diego breweries.  Great flavor, easy to drink, yet packs a decent punch at 7%.  You can't go wrong with this.
  • Mikkeller - Koppi Coffee IPA: Mikkeller has quite a few unique brews out there (Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, I'm looking at you.)  This is one of them.  I had never heard of a Coffee IPA before tonight, so was excited to try it.  However, while I thought the brew was quite delicious and a unique twist on your typical IPA, I tasted no coffee whatsoever.  The color was a hazy amber, much lighter than I expected from a coffee beer.  There were no coffee notes in the nose.  And only a slight hint in the flavor.  I enjoyed this, but if you try it, don't expect bold coffee flavors here.
  • Karl Strauss - Parrot in a Palm Tree:  Great choice by my dad in bringing this delicious Baltic Porter from Karl Strauss.  KS is really stepping it up with their seasonal releases.  I think they've seen the huge market in San Diego for specialty craft beers.  They don't disappoint with this one!  It's one of the best porters I've ever tasted.  Aging it in port barrels gives it a unique taste compared to other porters.
  • Avery - Dihos Dactylion: I picked this up on my last trip to Denver.  I was in the bottle shop and I asked the guy there what were some local beers that I wouldn't be able to get back home.  He brought this one out of the back room for me.  It was the last bottle!  Now, we do get Avery beer here in San Diego.  But this was an extremely limited release.  I believe there were only 264 cases bottled.  It was a sour ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, over 10%.  Very tart and sweet, but not so harsh as a Flanders Red can be.  I found it to be very smooth and easy to drink, though I don't know if I'd enjoy drinking a whole bottle.  This was a good one to end the night with.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Game Night - 5/4/2011

Game night on 5/4/11 was hosted by Erik.  In attendance were Erik, Daniel, Matt, Condo, Darryl, and Todd.  Austin was there early on, but had to leave early so did not have a chance to play.  This was the largest turnout for game night in quite some time, and it was Todd's first time joining our group.

With such a large group, we decided to play 7 Wonders.  This is one of the newer additions to my collection, but has quickly become my game of choice for large groups (it takes 3-7 players) and for newer players.  Even with a large group, the game does not drag because everyone takes their actions simultaneously.  So with 3 players or with 7, it still takes about the same amount of time.  It is also easily explained within 10 minutes.  The concepts are easy enough for newer gamers, but interesting enough for experienced players.  And the 7 different civilization boards, each with 2 sides, adds variability between games.

Darryl won with an impressive 53 points.

Our second game was The Traders of Genoa (or just Genoa, as the newer edition of the game is now called).  I recently picked up a used copy of this game from Pair-A-Dice for $20.  This was my first time ever playing the game, so setup and rules explanation took a bit longer than normal, but we got the hang of it after a few turns.

Darryl and Condo sat out this game, so it was just me, Matt, Erik & Todd.  Traders of Genoa is a negotiation game, where you play the role of a trader trying to make money by filling orders and delivering messages throughout the city.  What makes it interesting is that just about everything is up for negotiation.  You can trade goods, order cards, special cards, or money to get the things you need.  Because everything is up for negotiation, there is little down time, since all players can be involved in negotiations.  I barely won this game, with just a few ducats more than Todd in the end.  Now that we understand the game, we want to play it again soon.

The beers we enjoyed this evening were:
Shipyard - XXXX IPA - Nice Imperial IPA.  One of the best I've had from Shipyard.
Left Hand - Wake Up Dead  - An Imperial Stout I brought back from Denver.
Mikkeller - Big Worse - Very potent barley wine.
Karl Strauss - Blackball Belgian IPA - I liked it, but not as much as Stone Cali-Belgique.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Greetings fellow gamers and craft beer lovers!  This blog will be devoted to all things involving designer board games and craft beer.  Game night session reports, beer reviews, game reviews, and other ramblings to follow.