IndyCon 2014 has now come and gone, it was a great weekend that one of my friends described as a gamer family reunion. This rings more true than ever as we entered our seventh year. Many people from our group have moved or become busy with work and family so IndyCon has become the chance for us all to gather together, catch up, and play some games. It was a bittersweet year for me because I am likely to move in the spring when my wife matches into residency and there’s a very good chance that we’ll be leaving Indiana. I hope that no matter where we end up that I can come back next year for IndyCon and truly experience the reunion after being away from all the friends that I’ve spent the last seven years with. But before I get completely sidetracked thinking about the future I’d like to revisit this year’s wonderful convention.
I’ll start off with a big thanks to all the people that help put the convention together and all the hard work that they do every year to make it possible. At the top of the list are the main organizers Dave Koch and Adam Daulton who do most of the work setting things up ahead of time and getting all the sponsors lined up. I’d also like to thank their wives for allowing them to do so and especially Tami (Dave’s wife) who puts in a lot of her own time to make sure that everyone and all the little details are taken care of. There are also all the volunteers that help with setup and tear down every year among other things, it’s truly a group effort and I appreciate the contributions of everyone that helped out.
Now, On to the fun. I arrived early on Friday morning and was able to enjoy the company of my fellow gamers for the following two and a half days (and late into the night) despite threats of snow and freezing rain. I came in well prepared with a long list of games and people that I wanted to play with. Even though I had over two days to squeeze everything in it was still challenging to try and see everyone and play everything that I wanted to. Regardless of sticking to my carefully crafted plans I had a great time and was able to play with more people than I normally get to which was one of the things that I had hoped for but can be fairly challenging to actually do. So let’s see what I actually ended up playing.
My Games of IndyCon 2014
Railways of the World – I currently rank this as my second favorite game of all time behind Race for the Galaxy but unlike Race it does not boast a quick setup and playtime that will get it many plays. Every year I try to gather a crew to play Railways in order to ensure that I will get a game in despite my urge to play only the newest hotness. Much to my delight we had a full compliment of six players eager to start a game right when the doors opened. This did mean that we were stuck playing the Eastern US map which is my least favorite but I still enjoy it with the full compliment of six players to keep things tight and competition high. There were only two service bounties to start the game and neither of them were in a good position so the bidding didn’t go very high as everyone initially spread out to grab some key starting spots. I went after one of the service bounties up to Toronto which had some decent cubes along the way but wasn’t an especially strong start. I barely missed out on the starting cards, losing out each time to someone else being able to complete it earlier in the turn than I could so I felt like I was fighting to make a come back for most of the game. I had some big deliveries lined up but needed the game to end early before I completely ran out of options. Luckily another one of the players conspired with me to end the game just as we were both running out of steam and we both came just shy of the leader who was able to complete the big 20 point major line. This was a great way to start the convention, I got one of my big ones checked off the list and had a blast playing it.
Homesteaders – Two of the players from my Railways game had voiced interest in playing Homesteaders so I suggested moving right into that game next. This was one that I had played for the first time at the previous IndyCon and had added it to my list of “older” games that I was hoping to play, why not check another one off the list right away? Everyone had played before so we jumped right in and I quickly pursued a variation on my tradition trading strategy. I had an interesting opportunity to pick up a couple of workers really quickly and decided to see if I could make it work despite having to stick one of them on the initial 1VP spot that seems to be a pretty inefficient action early on. I’m not sure that it entirely paid off but I was able to focus on building since I already had enough workers to make it into the later parts of the game. I don’t remember all the details of the final rounds but it ended up being a really close game. I’m really happy that I was able to pick up a second edition copy of Homesteaders as I continue to enjoy how the game provides lots of variation due to the auction mechanic and numerous resource conversion paths. Even when I stick pretty closely to a strategy that I’ve pursued in a previous game I feel like my execution is completely different based on the order that the bidding tiles come out and what the other players are doing. This is one that has easily earned a spot in my top ten and much like Railways I was very happy to get a game in despite being surrounded by many newer offerings.
Terra Mystica – I got the chance to play this about a year ago when it was brand new but there was only one copy in our group (I think) and I often didn’t have the time to commit to it. Luckily this kind of game is perfect when you have all the time you want so I was able to get it played not once but twice during the weekend. In fact it was the only game that I played multiple times, I’d make a strong case for it being the game of the convention for me. In the first game I was learning the ropes again and didn’t have much of a long term plan. I was playing as the Fakirs and didn’t realize that all the deserts on the board were two spots apart so it would have been extremely useful to rush out my stronghold. I was able to get it out much later in the game then I wanted to but once I did things started to go smoother and I used it to get first in end of game building majority. My second game went much better and I tried out the Chaos Magicians who seemed to have an extremely strong double blessing ability if they could overcome starting with just one building. I grabbed the tile that increases your shipping range and focused on spreading out fairly quickly to establish flexible board position. I also grabbed some early blessings to take advantage of the end of turn bonuses from the cult tracks and get a steady source of points during the game from building. I finished up with the shipping track maxed out and really good position on all the cult tracks to get some decent end of game bonuses. I absolutely love how smoothly everything in this game works together once you have experienced a couple of games. There seems to be a lot of variety between the mix of races and variable turn bonuses to keep the game fresh. I really enjoyed my two plays during the con and am looking forward to trying it out with a full group of experienced players. I’ve hesitated on picking this one up because it seems to really benefit from repeated plays with the same group which I’m not sure is that realistic for me but it may be good enough that I’ll get it anyway in the off chance that I can play it from time to time.
Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy – My buddy Mark showed up and wanted to play something lighter than the game of Nations that I was hoping for so he suggested this one. I’ve been intrigued with it since I first heard about it since it combines some of my favorite mechanics (tableau building, hand management, worker placement) along with a nice little story telling element. I really enjoyed the first part of the game but felt like things started to go a little long by the time the third generation rolled around. One of my main problems aside from the length was that there were a variety of options (and corresponding cards) but they didn’t feel all that different from each other to really capitalize on the tension of the worker placement aspect. I didn’t focus very much on missions so I may have missed out on a layer of strategy that is built into all the different cards but overall it wasn’t compelling enough to make me want to play again given the time commitment. I did really enjoy the concept of building your family across multiple generation and having a story to tell along the way. However, I just can’t help but compare it to Last Will which is a game that I think provides much better synergy and distinctions between all the different options and card types. They both tell a fun story and Legacy probably capitalizes better on really telling a great story but I enjoy the experience that Last Will has to offer better considering the similarity in gameplay.
Kingdom Builder – We were looking for something fairly light at this point and there had been some interest in learning Kingdom Builder so I offered to teach it. We had a pretty straightforward set of scoring cards for a learning game (Citizens, Discoverers, Workers) and stuck with buildings from the base game as well. I mentioned how getting your settlements out quickly was very useful but placing fewer of them in more optimal positions can be just as effective given the right cards. This ended up being exactly how the game played out as I tied another one of the players that got all his settlements out despite still having several left in my own supply. The game seemed to go over pretty well with everyone and I’ve continued to enjoy it well into 20+ plays and with my recent addition of Nomads I’m confident that it will remain fresh for a long time to come.
Crokinole – I like to talk up the fact that I won the first Crokinole tournament but every year since then I have been in a pretty big slump. This year was no exception as I got paired up in the first year against one of my friends that went on to the finals. Since I generally only get the chance to play this at IndyCon it can be quite challenging to be paired up against someone good in the first round as you don’t get much time to relearn how to play well. We had a pretty swingy match where the player that was going second would end up scoring 25+ points nearly every time. We had a close finish but I ended up losing in the final round and wished my friend best of luck in winning the tournament so I could at least say that I lost to the winner. Maybe next year I’ll remember to get a warm-up match in before I jump right in to my first round. It was still great fun and I always enjoy getting a chance to play this gem from my childhood.
Tzolk’in – One of my friends showed a lot of interested in playing Tzolk’in and I had played it once before so I told him we could try it out if he didn’t mind me having to refer to the rules during the explanation. Luckily part way into teaching someone passed by that had more experienced and was able to clear up some of the rules that I would have had to look up. This was my second chance to play Tzolk’in and both times I’ve enjoyed it but haven’t felt that it could quite compete with my favorite worker placement games (Agricola, Caylus, The Pillars of the Earth) or newer ones that I’ve played recently (Bora Bora, Russian Railroads). I do think that the gear mechanic to help represent the passage of time is very novel and much more than a gimmick but for whatever reason this game just doesn’t grab me. I feel like it is nicely balanced and offers a lot of meaningful decision but I just haven’t had as much fun playing it as other similar games. Maybe it would start to grow on me more a couple plays down the road but I’m likely to just stick with the worker placement games that I already know I enjoy.
Nations – This is one of the games that I’ve really been getting into this year and I’ll pretty much jump at the opportunity to play it. Since we didn’t end up playing it on Friday night we decided to schedule it for first thing on Saturday morning. We played with the A sides of our boards since it was a learning game for a couple of the players. I decided after turn 1 to attempt pulling a worker off my board every turn until the end of the game to see if I could make it work. I was able to get a wonder and leader that provided food as well as a building that gave 3 food early and ended up dumping a bunch of workers there to pay for all the new ones that I was gaining until I had to shift to mitigating stability. I tried to focus on money early to allow extra flexibility in the early game and took turns with the other low military player in buying cheap wars to allow for maintaining a relatively low military and stability. The events were pretty friendly as well and one even let me gain an additional worker so I was able to end the game with all my workers! I was extremely happy with how well the game went but probably won’t be able to pull it off as easily against more experienced players. I think I’ll probably increase my “difficulty” in the next game that I play to see how much of an impact it makes. Much like with Terra Mystica I’ve considered getting Nations but have been hesitant to pull the trigger. It’s a fantastic game and one that I would be happy just to play once a year so I’ll likely to adding it to my collection at some point over the next couple of years.
Madeira – I had mixed feelings about trying out Madeira going into IndyCon. On one hand it was the perfect time to try out a longer game that I had heard a lot of good things about. On the other hand it proved to be a pretty big time commitment and I had plenty of other games that I knew I wanted to try out. The person that wanted to try it out, Denise, had done a lot of work to prepare for teaching it so I decided to give it a go. As a bit of backstory, Denise and I had participated in a game of Keyflower in the previous year where we gave the teacher a hard time as he patiently attempted to get through the fairly involved rules (all in good fun of course). This year I was feeling pretty punchy from playing games for a day and a half straight so me and another one of the guys in the game decided to have some fun with Denise while she graciously made her way through the lengthy rules explanation. We all had a good laugh as we interupted her often to ask inane questions about various things and by the time she was done going through the rules she actually got up and apologized to our Keyflower instructor from the year before now that she had experienced being on the other side. This set the tone for the game as we tried our best to joke around as we struggled to take in the sheer immensity that is Madeira. It seems fitting to compare the game further to Keyflower as there was a lot of subtlety buried under layers and layers of decisions. It’s relatively straightforward to consider all various different ways to score but it is absolutely not obvious how to do so efficiently. By the end of the game things started to click together just like in Keyflower as you see how all your efforts have paid off (or failed). Of all the games that I’ve played this year Madeira is the one that has gotten stuck in the back of my mind begging me to give it another try so I can unravel all the layers of intricacy. I absolutely love heavy euros that have mechanics that fit together so nicely. It seems that every decision affects your ability to do well in other areas of the board and you just can’t quite do everything you want. I’m glad I took a chance at learning this one and now that I know how to play I’m really looking forward to trying it again.
The New Science – A couple of people expressed interest in learning this one and since I had a copy I was more than happy to bring it along and teach it. We had five players and I was the only one that had played before so I decided to take Galileo as I consider him to be the hardest scientist to play with. Fortunately the happening cards were pretty friendly for the first part of the game so everyone was able to learn how to play without getting their plans ruined by their fellow scientists. We also had good luck with our rolls in the early game so we moved up the tree pretty quickly and actually ended the game several turns early. We had a good amount of competition for publishing and a couple people sneaking in to steal one here or there but it seemed that everyone generally stuck to a different branch of science. I invested heavily in Math, true to my major from college. Things were going along pretty smoothly for me until the first nasty event showed up which allowed a player to pick someone to bump down on the Influence tracks. Because I was in the lead at that point Denise, who I had given a hard time during Madeira, took the opportunity to take me down a couple notches. I ended up losing out on the majority in a couple of the tracks because of this and she picked up the win as a result. I had a great time, as always, pretending to be a famous scientist and undercutting my piers.
Russian Railroads – This one was so hot that when we went to set it up there were literally two other copies being played at the tables directly next to ours. I played with one other guy that had played before and two new comers. There’s not a huge learning curve to this game but having played it before is a distinct advantage because of how much this game snowballs. You could tell around the mid-game point which of us had played before as our engines started churning out big points. It’s critical to establish a strategy and execute it well over the course of the game and you’re greatly rewarded for using your actions efficiently in the initial turns. I know this can be extremely unforgiving and frustrating to new players but I absolutely love games that ruthlessly encourage efficiency. I picked a completely different strategy this time to see how it would compare to my first game. I raced to get both workers as quickly as possible and focused on the bottom track as my main source of points with some extra goodies from the other areas. Another player focused on engineers and factories and even though I shot out to a huge lead he was able to reel me in by the end of the game, passing me with the final engineer bonus. I’m very impressed with the variety and seemingly well balanced array of options in this game, there is a nice balance between giving players a wealth of options but encouraging them to focus and specialize. There’s also more room to dabble in a variety of areas than I had initially thought which means that you don’t have to specialize to the point where your strategy becomes obvious or boring. I’m definitely looking forward to trying this one out again and continuing to experiment with all that different options it provides.
Glass Road – From my first play I mentioned that I wanted to love this one but was simultaneously overwhelmed (by the card selection) and underwhelmed (by what seemed to be a tacked on spatial component). I had a friend mention that it had grown on him and I was hoping the same thing would happen for me. Well I can gladly admit when my first impression of a game was wrong. I think I was simply expecting this game to be more intuitive than it is and was disappointment as a result. I’ll stick by my assessment that this game feels overwhelming on your first play due to having to select your 5 roles from 15 possible options. Fortunately things are far less overwhelming as you gain experience and can focus on certain resources or building/features. I was also able to establish better synergy between my buildings which was something that I did very poorly during my first game. The resource wheel remained an extremely intriguing mechanic and I really enjoyed trying to manipulate it to maintain the resources that I needed for building. I think the part of the game that started to appeal to me during the middle of my second play was the need for flexibility in your role selection. You are picking roles but you aren’t guaranteed what order they will get played in or whether they will be fully executed based on what other players have selected. It may seem chaotic at first but I’ve come to enjoy games about managing uncertainty as long as you are given the tools to remain flexible in your efforts to do so. The only part that I’m unsure about at this point is the purpose of the spatial element that the board introduces. I haven’t seen very many buildings that actually care about what and where things are placed on your board, we played with the basic buildings so I’m hoping there are more buildings that care about the spatial element. I’m very happy with my second play and it has swung Glass Road from a game that I nearly gave up on to one that I’m extremely excited to explore further.
Power Grid – It was getting pretty late on Saturday night (around 1 am) and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to come back on Sunday due to the impending snow storm so I suggested a final game of Power Grid to wrap up the con. We picked one of the maps that is supposed to play pretty quickly but everyone was getting pretty goofy by this point so the game ended up going pretty long anyways. I got off to a pretty slow start but had really good board position with a couple cities tucked away from all the other players that I could save up for when I finally had enough plants to power them. One of the players made a jump into step 2 pretty early and my advantage diminished a little bit but between having little competition for cities early and picking up a couple of wind plants I was able to build up some pretty decent savings for the end game push. Freezing rain rushed our game to an early conclusion and I took advantage of having things wrap up sooner than they should have to pull off a win. I certainly would have lost if it had gone to the proper length but I was happy with how things turned out given my relatively poor start. This represented my third game from my top 10 that I got to play during IndyCon, I was very proud to strike a good balance between new games and old favorites.
Pergamon – Fortunately the weather ended up being much lighter than what they were projecting and so I was able to make it for part of the day on Sunday before having to pick up my daughter who had been with her grandparents for the weekend. I was able to get in a couple of games with the two main organizers (Dave and Adam) with the first one being Terra Mystica. Dave suggested this one for our second game and I knew that he had been talking it up recently so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Pergamon has a really nice mix of mechanics with some push-your-luck elements to keep things relatively light and moving along at a nice pace. I hadn’t heard much about it up until this point and Dave mention that it’s now out of print which is a shame because it seemed like a great lightweight game that my family would enjoy. The theme is relatively novel and the mechanics are nicely integrated and intuitive. I’m glad I tried it out, it’s not as heavy as the games that I try to play during IndyCon but it was still a pleasant surprise.
Race For The Galaxy: Alien Artifacts – I had one more game that I really wanted to check off my list before the convention ended so I mentioned it to a couple of the Race veterans from the group and we slipped it in before things wrapped up. I really wanted to try drafting or playing with the orb again but didn’t feel like there was enough time to do either so we just ended up playing a game with the Alien Artifacts expansion. It was an odd sort of game with all of us focusing on building and almost no production or consumption was called all game. I focused on military and later shifted to developments when my planet supply dried up, another player also chased after military but had less luck than me in finding useful planets to settle, the last player collected a bunch of uplift and alien stuff. I ended up winning with some really nice synergy between a couple of 6-developments and the new Alien Sentinels and Rebel Resistance. I absolutely love Alien Artifacts and have been very impressed with how well it balanced out the base set while providing a totally different experience from the first arc. This was a fitting way to end IndyCon.
That Sounds Fun
It sure was! I had an absolute blast this year and was really happy to get to play games with and see so many of my gaming friends. I was even able to play 9 or the 12 games that I had planned as well as 4 from my top ten. I didn’t win anything in the raffle for the first time but I’m pretty content with my board game collection nowadays so I’m happy to let other people doing the winning this time around.
I mentioned earlier how I’m expecting to move away from Indian this spring but I truly hope that I’ll be able to come back for IndyCon 2015. It’s been a great seven years and I’d be sad to miss the next one. Wherever I end up I hope to find another gaming group and local convention nearly as good as the one I’m blessed with here in Indy but until then I’ve got three more month to enjoy all the gaming I can cram in. Thanks for taking the time to follow along with my IndyCon experience, perhaps it will inspire me to review some of the games that I played soon enough. Are there any from my list that you’d like to see a full review of?