There is a surprising synergy between writing and board games. All games offer a goal of some sort and even abstract or puzzly sorts of games often have a theme or evoke some sort of feeling of conflict or challenge. Whereas characters in a novel have goals and motivations, so to do players in games. And with certain games, the themes are so strong, that you can come away feeling like you have lived through a story of your own, or at least spent time kicking around in the world the game presented. The difference is that most writing is a solitary affair, but with games, the shared story that you come away with is a collaborative effort.
And for that reason and many others I was keen on attending, along with my family the five day board gaming extravaganza which was Dicetower Con 2015.
Now in it’s fourth year, this little convention that could in Orlando Florida drew upwards of a thousand people this year. And by all outward indications everyone at Dicetower Con 2015 was, by all indications, just as much or more an aficionado of the cardboard kingdom as myself. I’m not one for large crowds so I was a bit nervous, but as I think you can see from the pictures, it was not nearly as crowded as I had feared and really, after the first few moments of nervous disorientation upon entering the main hall of the convention, I never really felt out of sorts and most everyone I interacted with was incredibly friendly. So hold onto your hats. This post is going to be a bit longer than usual. But if you’re at all curious about what something like this is like, read on.
It’s your birthday…for five days in a row
Though you could play games in several rooms in the Doubletree hotel where the convention was held, the main room was where the game library was located (see, I told you games and writing had a lot in common). This library was stocked with over a thousand games and multiple copies of the more popular one. All you had to do to play one was show your badge and they would scan it and bring you the game. It was like having a birthday party where you got to pick the presents. And the party lasted for five days!
We just kept going back for game after game. Truth be told with over 1000 games in the library there just were not enough hours even in five days to do more than scratch the surface. It was fun just to look around and see other games being played as well and then later check them out for ourselves. You could put up ‘players wanted’ signs or join other groups looking for players and we did group up with other attendees a few times, but mostly just took advantage of the occasion as a great chance for extended family time together.
While I can’t cover all of the games we played, I’ll touch on a few of the more memorable ones. I’ll even put links for them if you fancy picking up a copy for yourself.
Tokaido: I love the artwork in this game. The simple, Japanese style fits perfectly with the relaxed theme. The premise is that all of the players are travelers between two Japanese cities (I think Tokaido was the name of an actual road in ancient Japan). The object of the game is to see who has the most enjoyable trip. Perfect theme for a vacation, right? You get points for things like sight-seeing, buying souvenirs, visiting people on the road, and even the meals you eat. I don’t really read “travel” fiction, but this would fall along those lines, I think, in terms of the story it brings across. This was the first game we played and was a great way to start off the convention.
Specter Ops: This was not only one of my favorite games I played, it was probably the game I saw being played more than any other at Dicetower Con 2015. Stunning production with this game and it had a strong, dystopian theme reminiscent of Jammer and the Blade that was right up my alley. The game itself is a great, cat and mouse challenge with one player sneaking around unseen and marking their position on a hidden map, while the others sherlocking around the board in a desperate attempt to find the agent before he completes his three objectives. Adding to the tension, there are four agents to choose from, all with different powers so you never know exactly who you’re up against until you finally spot them the first time. The hunters are all unique as well and each one plays differently than the others. A very tense game, especially if you are the agent!
Toc Toc Woodman: This little game from Korea is a lot like a more exotic version of Jenga. You try to tap the tree with your little plastic axe and knock off only the bark. You get a point for each piece of bark you knock off, but watch out! If you inadvertently knock of one of the center pieces you get negative points. This one is simple and fast and fun. We played it several times over the course of the convention and this is one that I’d definitely recommend for anyone as even the smallest little gamers can join in the fun on this one.
Get Bit Deluxe: Though I did not get to play this game myself, my wife and daughters did and it looked like a ton of fun. Essentially you control one or more action figures who are swimming in a line trying to avoid getting eaten by a shark. At the end of each round the figure at the end of the line “gets bit” which means that you pull off one of their arms or legs. If your figure loses both arms and legs, he gets eaten and you lose. You play cards to try and swim ahead of other players, but everyone has the same cards so the timing on when you play them determines if you move to the front or “get bit”. This came proves that old saying, “How fast do you need to be to out swim a shark? Faster than the guy behind you!”
A La Carte: Another game along the lines of, “this is really like playing with a toy, but there’s a game surrounding it”, was “A La Carte”. This one was a big hit with my youngest, but even my son, who is in his teens, got into it using a funny French accent as he attempted to prepare his recipes. The object of the game is to add the correct ingredients to whatever dish you are trying to make and get it to the write temperature. You roll dice to heat your stove which actually has a little movable dial to keep track of what the temperature is. You tip the spice jars into your pan to get the ingredients and see what comes out. But be careful, if you over spice your dish or overheat it, it has to get thrown into the sink. The French accents are optional, but this game has great pieces, and goofy artwork that will definitely tempt you to start twiddling your imaginary mustache. Definitely not a serious game, but it sure is fun to laugh at mom when she burns her entree!
River Dragons: It seems like the oriental themed games often have some of the best art and components. Such is certainly the case with this game about trying to be the first player to get your piece across the river. This one can get pretty crazy as everyone is laying down planks and stones to walk across the gaps and also playing “river dragon” cards to cancel their opponent’s moves. Sooner or later you are bound to find yourself heading down a path to nowhere or even falling in the river and having to start all over. We had no idea who was going to wind up winning until the very last turn. This one is madcap fun in a beautiful package.
The point of the game is to see who can build the “maddest” castle of all. You take turns buying different rooms for your castle and placing them wherever they can connect to another room. Points are awarded for placing certain rooms in certain locations or even for building certain types or sizes of rooms. The goals are randomized each game and each player has hidden goals they are going for so you never know what you’re going to end up with. After it was all said and done we spent a long time poking fun at each others’ bizarre arrangements. It was a hoot trying to explain why on earth someone would need so many bedrooms and no kitchen or how the anteroom must be full of ants or what the castle guard thought when the only way to get to the armory was to go through the mold chamber! Lots of laughs with this one to be sure.
Play it again, Sam
I could go on and on about all the “mad” adventures we had at Dicetower Con 2015 and all the stories we created just sitting at a table fiddling with dice, cardboard, and cards. This was definitely one of the most fun vacations I have had. Ever. By the last day, my kids did not want to leave and neither did I. My wife was not as over the moon about it as the rest of us, but even she had a blast and said she would love to come back. So could this be an annual Edwardson family event? We’ll see.
What about you? Did any of these games sound fun to you? Did Dicetower Con sound as fun to you as it was for me? Or what about your own experience with board games? Are there some you love to play with your own family and friends? Let me know in the comments. And who knows, maybe I’ll see you at Dicetower Con 2016!