Monday, June 18, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : DiceConWest 2007 #1. A gathering of friends

It's been a busy week for your humble scribe since I posted my 'Last call for DiceConWest 2007' last Monday. Doing the rounds by phone I managed to get a few friends to attend. Hugh, a gaming buddy from the old Edinburgh crew made the trip for a short weekend; Gav (already known to regular readers) made an appearance; and Donald (best known as the young dwarf Mordrin in my little Old World) turned up with his daughter Natasha, both eager to try their hands in the Settlers tournament. In addition to all this, I arranged to borrow Ros' digicam so's I could take some pictures, so I had to master that too (not difficult really, but you never really know about these things when you find yourself becoming an aging technophobe as contemporary developments increasingly outstrip your capacity to keep up!).

In any event, I dragged myself from my slumbers at the appointed hour of 8am yesterday to get ready to arrive promptly for this, the 5th annual DiceConWest. Donald arrived at the appointed time and drove Hugh and I there with Natasha, which was much appreciated by yours truly, bent as I was under the weight of my big bag of games. We met Badger at the entrance to the venue- the Quality Central Hotel- and we were in! We met Andy (of Berthold, the mincing scribe notoriety) inside. Andy's interest yesterday was to have another game of Descent: Journeys in the Dark, so I claimed a table and got setup underway while he went off to sort out mundane stuff elsewhere.

It was barely 10am by this time; gamers were arriving in steady dribs and drabs; and games were already under way as people took their pick from the wide choice made available by the SBGA.

Just a part of the DiceCon gaming library.

By this time Andy had returned, so I left him to be the Overlord in Descent, which handily freed me from setup chores, and let me wander around, soak up the early-day atmosphere, and look for some suitable targets for the digicam I was so eager to try out.

I couldn't resist taking a pic of this game underway- it just looks so neat. If anyone out there can tell me what it's called and what it's about I'd love to hear from you.

In no time at all, the Settlers tournament was under way.

Donald and Natasha at the outset of their attempts at this year's Scottish Title.

Meanwhile, among the welter of familiar faces I was saying hello to and trying to put names to was Barry, who'd taught me such a harsh lesson in lore management in my first Lore game of BL at DiceConEast 2006. He and another friend of his were interested in joining the Descent game Andy was getting moving, so after a hiccup about keeping places open for other friends whose arrival was expected any time, this pair sat down to set to some serious dungeon-delving.

Swords and sandals once more
And so it was that I finally managed to get into my own first game, which turned out to be introducing Hugh to Commands and Colours: Ancients, which meant yours truly enjoyed another chance to see what can be done with the Carthaginian army at Akragas (the beating of which I'd already undertaken).

Hugh and I getting ready to start play once we'd found a table with suitable lighting.

Here's the setup which will be familiar to anyone who's played this great game even just a few times.

The game started well for Hugh: he grasped the rules quickly and moved his units confidently forward, positioning them well. I helped by making a foolish swing forward and left with Himilco's force. I really don't know what I was thinking- I could do nothing with them except beat a hasty retreat from the heavies who were soon bearing down upon them.

There was nothing for to do but turn this to my advantage. I promptly marched Himilco and his lads right across the gap between the 2 armies. The Syracusans hit them in the centre, naturally enough. All those heavies dished out some serious punishment you can be sure, but they didn't get off scot free. When the dust settled we pursued our plans. Hugh used a Line Command and Leadership cards to close in on my centre-right. I combined Himilco and Mago's best frontline infantry, formed into a column, and tried to punch a hole in the Syracusan line.

The dice flew thick and fast and I was able to win through 5-3 in the end. Hugh was a bit stunned that my crazy manoeuvres had pulled the win out for me after his good start, but I'd managed to achieve my primary tactical aim, which was to achieve a local superiority so that his heavies couldn't just smack me down. It also has to be noted that Hugh suffered from his lack of knowledge of the Command deck, and of the pace of the gameplay. This last point was particularly important with his Line Command, which was under-utilised because he didn't take the time to dress his lines first (he still enjoyed playing it mind you!). There really is no way round this in C&C:A- the only way to learn what your armies are capable of is to send them into the fray as you will and find out the hard way. And then try again.


Meanwhile, Bill and his family had arrived while Hugh and I were playing C&C:A. Late thanks to the wonders of the railway service and Saturday morning traffic, Bill and Daniel took the places which were being kept for them in the Descent game.

Andy demonstrating the cheerful insouciance typical of all the best Evil Overlords as Barry, Daniel, Radka and Bill look on in... in... well, in what exactly? I think that is best left for you to figure out for yourselves dear readers.

Settlers Cards
Not resting long content with merely sitting as an onlooker to others' gaming, Radka readily agreed to my suggestion to try a game of the Catan Card Game. I was keen to play this yesterday because I'd just upgraded my old set to the new edition, passing my old set on to the King family at Saturday night's family games session (3 games of Bill's newly acquired copy of the nice GW edition of the peerless Cosmic Encounter, a game much enjoyed in days of yore; and much enjoyed by yours truly Saturday, what with 3 wins, 1 of which was all my very own!).

Radka is a fan of the boardgame (regular readers will already be aware of her reputation there), so she was very interested in finding out how the cardgame worked.

Radka and I early in the opening phase of the game.

Radka grasped the rules very quickly and played very well. Just like Hugh in our C&C:A game, she was hampered by her lack of knowledge of the deck. And she did begin to wonder at her fate when her development stalled as we entered the midgame, while mine seemed to be roaring ahead. But as I knew would happen, her strategy paid off eventually, while her play became more assured to boot. She was able to pull back to level-pegging at one point, and was certainly in with a shout as the endgame approached the finale. Most important of all: Radka enjoyed the game, and is already looking forward to trying it again. Job done!

For my part, I like the new edition. The rules tweaks make sense of a few old anomalies, while other upgrades just make the new rules all the more playable. Well worth the £28 price of admission IMO.

2-0 :)

Elsewhere, the Descent game over, Daniel got the chance to play what I'm sure is his favourite game right now: Ivanhoe. Published by GMT, this most excellent Knizia design has sadly been out of print for some time, although a honcho from GMT has announced that it will be reprinted soon, probably this year. I know that I read this on the ConsimWorld forums somewhere- probably on the GMT games forum, but I can't for the life of me find it again. Anyhoo...

Daniel exercising his Ivanhoe skills. Did he win any games I wonder? I never found out (or I did, and forgot).


Gordon Lamont enjoying a cardgame (a Knizia I expect) at the registration desk.

It's been a good time for Gordon and his brother Fraser at Fragor Games, with their games being snapped-up by publishers all round the world. The German edition of their last Essen hit Shear Panic was on display yesterday, while Mayfair Games have an English edition in print now. The world is now waiting to see what sort of storm the Lamont brothers' new game- Hameln- will kick up at Essen later this year. Have fun guys!

Elsewhere still:

Two Up Front veterans deep in concentration as they ponder the next moves that their cards offer them.

Meanwhile, I also had the chance to say hello to an old DiceCon acquaintance- John Poulter, webmaster at Web-Grognards, who I'd first met at DiceConWest 2004. He and a friend were playing another GMT hit...

John and Richard with GMT's Twilight Struggle.

This is another card-driven game which is on my 'must-buy' list. I was amazed at how attractive it looked. Antony (yes, that's Antony of librarian-thwacking blunderbuss-toting psycho-dwarf infamy- he'd arrived earlier in the afternoon) was interested in what the game was all about. And John, for his part, was surprised that it wasn't already in my collection! It will be sooner or later John, I can assure you! ;)
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