After abandoning my game collection to move to Vancouver, which also messed up my Breakout Con plans, a weekend of gaming was much needed. So last weekend I attended the Terminal City Tabletop Convention. For those who haven’t been to one (pro tip: you should go), a board game convention is basically rows and rows of tables for gaming, including distributors showing off their new releases and designers playtesting prototypes. TCTC also features a silent auction, play to win games, and tournaments for games like Catan, 7 Wonders, and Pandemic Survival. I managed to walk away with easily over $300 in brand new in shrink games for $41 from said auction.
I wasn’t able to play every prototype I wanted to, but I will share thoughts on the games I did play to show you what games are coming in the near future.
Sky Duels is a two player combat card game with a neat mechanic where card ability slots connect to opposing card slots. The trick of the game is to deploy cards that you can connect in such a way that they block abilities from your opponent and deal big damage. Players aim to destroy the three sections of their opponent’s airship (which also have ability slots to connect to). Cards can be played on your airship to either buff the ability slots or add a special ability.
From speaking with the designers, Eric Raué and Craig Bednar, it sounds like they have interesting plans to allow players to build their decks by combining different airship sections. Each section paired with a number of cards that are added to the deck, making Sky Duels a customizable combat game along the lines of Gruff. For the most part, all the major building blocks are in place. The alignment mechanic works really well and they’ve included related abilities like shift that shakes things up by letting you modify the alignment of the slots. More factions just need to be playtested and a few rules need tweaking to avoid confusion, but there is a solid game here and one I’m interested in playing again.
Town Builder is another game from Eric Raué in the final stages of development with First Fish Games. It is a resource gathering, set collection game about developing your town. Like in Villages of Valeria, cards can be used as a resource or built for points and abilities. Points are scored for individual buildings and collecting sets specified on goal cards. For example, one goal card I played with required constructed buildings costing 1, 2, and 3 resources in your town. Other buildings also add end game scoring for things such as having the most buildings of one type. The rules are super simple and streamlined, players take two cards on their turn either as the resource or gold on it, or as a foundation (a building they will use resources to build). When the deck is exhausted, each player gets one more turn and whoever earns the most points wins.
First Fish had a two player game set up for demo purposes and I found it played very smooth with two players. With more players, it will likely be more challenging to get all the buildings you need but buildings will be more distributed. If I neglect collecting culture buildings, the other player isn’t going to automatically have the most and easily score points for that because there are more players to compete against. While not a wholly original concept to make players choose to use a card as a building or resource, I liked how it was implemented in Town Builder. Resources collected in Villages of Valeria are permanently available to you, whereas resources in Town Builder are spent. So getting one wood resource will help build one building that needs wood, but not all your buildings that need wood. When my opponent had lots of foundations that needed straw to be constructed, I was able to keep drafting most of the cards with straw on them to limit their decisions. The same can be done if opponents don’t have the gold collected to take cards costing gold as a foundation. You need to simultaneously determine which card will be best for you, but also removes a good option for your opponents. This creates some indirect interaction between players and in a friendly competitive way, as opposed to the take that style of stealing or discarding players’ cards. I really enjoy these tableau building games like Fields of Green and Villages of Valeria, so had Town Builder been available for purchase already I definitely would’ve grabbed a copy.
Taoex is an abstract strategy game for up to 6 players that was first conceptualized in 1982 by the designer Les Romhanyi. While not really a prototype, it does fit into the unpublished or self-published category and is worth mentioning. Players have pieces with compass directions on the side and a movement value of 2 or 3. This is the direction and distance the pieces can move. Once a piece intersects the yellow lines on the board, a ten sided die is rolled to determine the distance it moves along the line (ranging from 0-4 spaces). When your piece would move onto another piece, you stack them creating a tower that can move in the direction of any piece in the stack. Additional pieces are placed on the yellow lines which allow you to move in the direction of one piece and hook one space in the indicated direction. First player to control a tower with 6 pieces of the same color wins the game.
Taoex was quite a strategic chess match, figuring out the optimal moves and making moves to force your opponent’s hand. Though appearing quite daunting on first look, the actual rules are really simple. There is an element of chance, so you have to be willingly to make some risky moves to win the game. If you enjoy abstract strategy games, this is one to try for sure. The big shortcomings in the game are more from a user-friendly point of view. Processing all your options become more challenging when at a glance you can’t see who controls a piece or a tower. It was also a little fiddly to have to flip over pieces and reorder them when you gain control of a tower. All this draws out the length of the game, but are fixable problems. Coloring the tops of pieces will make it obvious who is in control of what and directions on the side of pieces could be reworked so they don’t need to be flipped. Production cost is high since Taoex isn’t mass produced, but there is an online version you can play for free.
Diceborn Heroes is a cooperative dice rolling, fantasy RPG board game designed by Keith Donaldson. Players roll dice and use them to activate abilities based on the die color and number. Players defeat monsters to complete quests and can purchase item cards with one time use actions or new die abilities on them. When quests are completed, heroes will be leveled up and earn upgrades. Much of this may sound like Arcadia Quest or Masmorra, but Diceborn Heroes is only card based. Players are not moving heroes or monsters around a dungeon. A quest card is revealed along with 3 monster cards. Complete 3 of these quests and defeat the final boss to win.
There were two things I found quite clever about Diceborn Heroes. The mechanic to put a clock on the game is a deck of attack cards. When monsters are defeated they return a specified number of discarded cards to the draw pile, thus prolonging the game. Which monster we defeat, and when, can be important since it determines which cards are added back to the attack deck. Attacks are performed in ascending order of the dice activated by heroes and the value on the attack cards for each monster. The other interesting mechanic was how monsters target heroes. Monster attacks only attack heroes using a die of their attack value or higher. This may sometimes make it more beneficial to do a weaker attack that requires a low roll and not take damage from the enemy. However, this can’t be done for too long, or you’ll soon run short on attack cards and lose the game. There was a good variety of characters, different abilities when upgrading, as well as plenty of items to make every adventure different. Not to mention more quests and bosses we didn’t play with. I only played one 3-player game and managed to pull off a victory, so I would need more plays to determine how difficult it can get. Based on this one play, I think it is a good intermediate game to step up to from Forbidden Island, and before teaching Arcadia Quest.
Point Salad is a casual card drafting, set collection game from Flatout Games that mixes the feel of Sushi Go with Herbaceous. Card are drafted from a public pool of cards and added to a personal stash to attempt to create a salad worth the most points. Cards are various veggies like onions, cabbage, lettuce, et cetera and on the back side are different objectives or ways to earn points. Unlike Herbaceous where all players have the same sets to collect, you will be drafting your objectives during Point Salad. Players can either take two veggie cards or one objective card. Some objectives may have you avoiding certain veggies or will have you hoarding all of one type trying to get the most for 10 points. Trying to figure out which objectives will compliment each other best is a great way to score loads of points and is all part of the fun. Point Salad is a very straightforward filler game with good looking, colorful cards.
During the convention, I meet none other than Christian from Take Your Chits. Mr. Incorrigible himself suggested playing this game by these two designers in yellow hard hats. I took a look and found this dice rolling, worker placement game with a focus on engine building called Fantastic Factories. Cards are drafted from a market each round and then worker dice are rolled and allocated simultaneously to generate resources and activate building cards. This is all in an attempt to create an engine (a.k.a. fantastic factory) that can turn resources or worker dice into more manufactured goods than your opponents.
The best part of the game is the simultaneous worker placement phase. No waiting for other players to make their moves, just you working out the best way to activate your dice. I also really enjoy games where order matters and Fantastic Factories is one of those games. It is not just a matter of playing all the dice you rolled, but figuring out how to play them so you get more accomplished in one turn. It requires more thought, but it is what makes the game fun. The other great challenge in the game is constructing buildings. Not only do they cost resources, but also a card of a specific type must be discarded. This forces you to make tough decisions about which cards you want to keep and perhaps even draft cards just to discard them. It felted like a good balance of meaty depth and relaxed fun dice rolling. Playing against both designers (Joseph Z Chen and Justin Faulkner) in a 5-player game, I managed to eek out a win on a tie-breaker rule. Pretty much everyone was in contention to win throughout the whole game.
This final prototype I played was the winner of the Golden Arbutus, an award for the best game design in proto-alley at Terminal City Tabletop Convention. This year’s winner was Spellslingerz, the magical set collection game designed by Jonathan Moxness. Players cast spells to use the ability on the spell cards, or draft cards from the spell pool. Points are earned for casting spells, from artifact cards, spells matching your spellslingerz specialty, and from leveling up. When a player reaches level 3, all other players have one turn to accumulate as many points as they can to try and win.
I really enjoyed the layers of set collection in Spellslingerz. You are collecting spells from the pool to get three of a kind to be able to cast spells, but you are also collecting spells that match the type on your secret spellslingerz card. Leveling up requires any 5 cast spells, or 3 cast spells of the same type. Bonus points are awarded at the end of the game for casting one of each spell type. You need to collect the sets that will score you lots of points, but also give you useful abilities at the time of casting them. My least favorite part of the game is the take that element. Cards in your hand are never safe and neither are cast spells. Spell abilities can be use to steal cards or swap cast spells. A player in the lead can be targeted, having cards stolen from them or points removed. It sucks when it happens to you, but can be done fairly easily back to your opponents. Leveling up was a cool aspect to the game, where players got a choice at each level for a new passive ability. Depending on what strategy they had developed, they could take abilities to draw a extra spell card each turn or to get more arcane study cards (potentially to aid in looking for artifacts worth points during end game scoring). That mechanic and the master spells in the arcane study cards added some more complexity to make it more than just a basic set collection. Master spells were new spell recipes that required different spell cards and had different abilities from the basic spells. All the spell abilities were intuitive and gameplay was quick, keeping Spellslingerz a well paced game with brief downtime between turns, even with 5 players.
Overall, I had an amazing weekend meeting new friends and playing great games. I highly recommend attending a board game convention in your area, they are nothing but good fun. If you have any suggestions for other tabletop conventions near Vancouver or Seattle, share them with me in the comments. Terminal City Tabletop Convention is definitely a well run event and if you are able to make it out to Vancouver, I’ll see you there next year.