A second blog post in a week might be a record, (P.S it's a long one!), but let's get straight to it. This weekend, I made the trip go Handycon a "thrilling board game convention" (Handycon's words, not mine! ). Over 3 days, I played 18 games, ranging from the light to heavy. From Food Truck to Food Chain Magnate.
I arrived Thursday mid afternoon and looked to try and get in an early game or two, but it was not to be sadly. I tried in the hotel, and sadly, I either was too early or the gaming that was happening was hidden off in a side room and not obvious to me. By the time I got back to my hotel, I saw a post on the event asking for players, which didn't get any replies. But I did find myself in a game of Carnegie, which worked out okay in the end.
Friday began with me teaching Kutna Hora, which I went onto win. I did begin the teach with, this is the game I'll win. It turned out to be the case, sneaking a victory on tiebreaker due to the vast amount of income I had generated in the last couple of turns. Kutna Hora was described by some as the Brass replacement, and it's got some similarities. However, I can definitely see both having a place in a collection. So far, my own gripe is the components that have a shine to them, which can make them difficult to see as the light hits them.
A short intermission saw Fantasy Realms make an outing, which is a game I've previously loved and still do love. But I've found it not able to get a home at game night, with it falling flat. However, it's going back on my wishlist, with renewed hope of getting it to the table at game night.
What followed was a game of transcribing and translating in Scholars of the South Tigris, which was fairly enjoyable. A dice placement game that, after one play, my criticism is the inability to reroll dice or reroll dice kept in your "hand" during the rest action. A roll of 5 1's was rather painful, requiring multiple workers to make the dice useful, workers which I needed higher value dice to get.
I was then introduced to vegetable stock, which felt like it had similarities to No thanks in its pure often chaotic meaniness, and I suspect it will be a hit with my local game night. It's a remarkably simple game involving a stock market that is kept fluctating and seeing the price of your vegetable crash can be hesrt breaking. Only for you to then crash someone elses prized vegetable!
And then start ups, a game that I had overlooked after one play, which left me feeling largely negative. Startups from Oink games again has a very similar feel to Vegetable Stock and No thanks in its simplicity, but also way in which you can effectively push stocks around the table to increase the tokens you hold, but it's a balancing act as more tokens could mean you paying out more to opponents.
Path of Civilization was up next, which probably had the most fiddly setup of the entire weekend, and also took up with felt like the most table real estate, just fitting onto our table. Path of Civilization is a hand management simultaneous action game all about tech trees and developing your civilization. This was a hidden hit for me and one I really enjoyed, minus the fiddly set up and overwhelming number of icons! We also realised that after 3 or 4 rounds, we'd been completing one event type wrong, which maybe impacted scores slightly. However, we'd all been playing the same way. For a £75+ game, the durability of the components isn't there. This was the first outting for our copy, and boards were heavily warped and showing signs of wear. One player pointed out that their own copy after a handful of plays was essentially looking heavily played, not something you'd expect to see after just a few plays for such an expensive game.
Path Of Civilization was followed by Brass Birmingham, I don't think I have anything to add to the discourse about Brass Birmingham at this point. Other than I love it! And probably need to diversity my game from a heavy reliance on Iron and manufactured goods. However, it was enough to claim 2nd.
With our brain capacity restored for Saturday, we began with Sankore: The Pride of Mansu Musa, which I think is my game of the weekend! Although, I feel like there might be something missing for me to come back frequently for multiple plays. Sankore combines worker placement, area control, and tech trees, and what feels like 4 mini games into this giant effectively efficiency puzzle. I definitely need to play it a couple more times as there were parts of the game I didn't explore and I felt like there may be one or too elements that are same what samey game after game without a feeling of satisfaction, however, after one game, I'm not sure. It also felt like my brain had taken a 3 hour mushing at the number of decisions available, which felt me feeling like a break was needed.
Ramen Fury was up next over lunch to hopefully restore some capacity to our heads. Ramen fury is a very simple and light take that game in which you are effectively set collecting ingredients to make and eat 3 bowls of ramen. It was alright, and probably my least favourite game of the entire weekend. Unlike other food theme games in which you are often required to fill orders, Ramen Fury has you picking how you construct your bowl, although other players could ruin your bowls. Luckily, it isn't a very long game. However, it's not one I need to own.
Keeping with the food theme, Food Chain Magnate was next on the list, and I went what is known as "full waitress" and had what felt like the most peaceful game of Food Chain Magnate. However, going full waitress meant that my turns were over in a matter of seconds, whilst the other players turns were significantly longer, leaving me largely uninvolved in the marketing, production and selling of food and drink. I simply didn't care as my company was all about the waitresses, which saw me finish second with £416.
With our brains throughly now been through what felt like several tests, we decided Carnegie with all the expansions was a good idea. Honestly, I've never had a game of Carnegie feel so depressing, we threw in the bidding for resources, which meant we all effectively made ourselves start worse off than in the base game, combined with new departments and new donations.
There were turns where often one or two players only had one action, and some actions were completely passed. It was the lowest scoring game of Carnegie I'd seen for some time, with most of the donations unclaimed. I also realise that I may not need to own Carnegie after hunting down a copy it may very well be a convention and board game arena game. So that shiny deluxe copy I hunted down may be going unplayed and unopened into the sales pile.
And to end, we turned to Food Truck, which to me feels potentially a bit too random although could be houseruled to allow you to plan your special actions, which would probably help with my one complaint. I did choose to play both my order deck and special action deck randomly shuffled. Somehow, this all still worked out, and I managed to keep the crowds coming to my food truck much longer than I expected!
We finished Saturday with Faraway , Faraway might be a game I break my buying hiatus for, but I must remain strong. I want to make it to UKGE without buying a game and then going on a mini splurge at UKGE. Faraway is a set collection open drafting game, which is surprisingly simple. However, deceptively clever, as cards are scored in the revese order, meaning you'll score your 8th card, then your 7th card (counting your 8th card icons for scoring if applicable) and so on.
Sunday was planned to be another fairly heavy day of games, but train issues meant I was just able to get in a game of Hegemony. I say "just" even though its a 3 hour mammoth of a game. And yes, we managed the game in 3 hours. Everyone had played before, and the game went at a largely snappy pace, with only a few minor rule checks and one or two redos for errors. Hegemony is an asymmetric economic, political game in which you take on the role of effectively a socio-economic group and need to take your class to victory. Each class comes with different aims, objectives, and ultimately actions, which are all somehow interwoven into this behemoth of a game. There was a lot of Hegemony at Handycon, and some games around us took 7 or more hours, honestly its not worth a 7 hour time investment when Twilight Imperium 4 can fit into that,
Overall, I had a great gaming weekend with friends. The venue was well lit, and there was plenty of table space, although seemingly not enough chairs at times. However, the venue in terms of pricing was pretty poor, with flucating prices at the bar (I paid 3 different prices for the same drink) and an ordering system that really needed a rehaul, to prevent lengthy queues. You were asked not to bring in outside food and drink, however, after trying the venue food on the Friday and paying £6.50 for effectively a very limited supermarket meal deal. And seeing others bring in takeaways and the like, I then turned to outside food for lunch and grabbed a meal in the convention in the evening, although I couldn't help but feel that this was a hidden cost of a convention that wasn't often recognised. As it quickly adds up, although the argument is that convention tickets would need to double to allow outside food as hotels offer discounted event rates on the basis of exclusivity for food and drink, it feels like more needs to be done in this space. Doubling the entry price and saving £20-30 a day on food and drink would probably still work out cheaper and the hidden cost or expectation of purchasing food and drink on site could exclude folks. Other attendees mentioned the spiralling costs of conventions from entry prices, hotels, and often expensive food and drink meant they were reflecting on how frequently they would attend and look at more affordable alternatives. As a convention can quickly and easily add up to an all inclusive holiday abroad (one person pointed out that two tickets to Airecon, a hotel, plus spending for just food/drink is less than their 7 days holiday abroad at an all inclusive resort). For me, it means I'm looking at 3 conventions at most this year and how I can reduce or cover costs, e.g., through game sales, choosing alternative food options.
Another factor was for those attending alone and whether it'll be a good experience. Honestly, I think it can be a matter of timing and good luck, the last convention I attend alone was UKGE and that was a horrible experience of walking aimlessly to try and find a game and posting in various groups to silence. I saw one person set up a game and sat for about an hour with a players wanted sign before they put that game away and set up another, again with a sign, before they seemingly disappeared. I hope to a game.
Another said they'd been sitting for about 60 minutes with a players wanted sign before they packed up the game and gave up. We tried "players wanted" signs on each day and succeeded once in finding another player. Which would suggest folks are largely in pre-arranged games or groups?
Something also needs to cover the toilet status (they were a slip hazard all weekend for starters!), with a female friend saying they were uncomfortable with gender neutral toilets and would just go back to their room each time. Whilst another male friend said they felt uncomfortable using urinals in neutral toilets. It feels like a combination of specific gender and gender neutral toilets were needed.
In conclusion, I had a blast with gaming friends at Handycon and am looking forward to gaming again! However, I'm increasingly realising that I don't need to own as many games (board game sale incoming..) and it feels less about the event so to speak, more about the gaming experiences you're able to partake in and play, and if that happens to with prearranged groups or games, it probably means I'm going to use less of the extras offered by a convention especially as I try to focus on playing rather than buying.
Game of the convention: Sankore: The Pride of Mansa Musa or Kutna Hora
Least favourite game of the convention: Ramen Fury
Thanks for reading!