Where else can you manage to play 30 games in a four day span, primarily things you’ve never heard of or played before, but at the annual Geekway to the West convention in St. Louis, MO.
This year the convention moved from the Westport Plaza, where it had overgrown the venue (twice!), to the St. Charles Convention Center. The new venue was amazing. Everyone was in, primarily, one large area. Finding games and places to play them was trivial. There was plenty of room between tables and never once did I have an issue with feeling claustrophobic like at previous years.
Play to Win, the star of the convention, also saw huge improvements over previous years. In the past by Friday night the Play to Win tables were empty. You’d be hard pressed to find a game to play, let alone have a chance at one of the must-plays of the convention. This year every time I went into the Play to Win room to checkout a new game, it was easy to find something that I wanted to play. The games to attendance ratio was drastically improved over last year, and so was the selection. There were lots of games for all group sizes, though it would have been nice to see a few more games for larger groups on the list.
As for the games? I found a ton to add to my want lists, and several to my must have list.
The star of the convention this year was Gloomhaven, which unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to play, and didn’t go out of my way to try to get it to the table since I backed the second print Kickstarter. Personally, my number one game was easily Scythe, which I got to play using the big side of the board for the first time this weekend. If you don’t count games I’ve played previously, then Potion Explosion becomes my top tier.
Potion Explostion is a charming game that plays similarly to Candy Crush, Bejeweled, and other color matching cell phone games. The game comes with an awesome cardboard marble machine that randomizes what ingredients are available to use for brewing potions. When you take one marble out, marbles collide together causing explosions letting you take more marbles, that if you’re lucky cause more explosions letting you take even more marbles. Aside from the color-matching marble machine mechanic, the game is essentially a set collection game. Each potion you complete gets you points. Complete 5 different potions or three potions of the same kind and get bonus points.
In a more party-game flavor, New York Slice quickly became my second favorite game of the convention, and not just because I won every time I played it. This is a game where you take a pizza made of 11 slices (who in their right mind cuts a pizza into 11 slices?) and divide it into a number of sections equal to the number of players. The trick is that you get the last pick of the sections, meaning you need to make them all equally valuable, while still finding a way to give yourself an edge.
On the heavier side, Terraforming Mars was a surprisingly good game. I know it’s been hyped everywhere, but every time I looked at it previously it just looked uninspired. The art is bland and unoriginal, the font use is atrocious, and the game itself just looks at first glance to be rather dry. As it turns out, once you get through the god awful rule book, there’s a really fun an engaging game beneath the surface. The game isn’t particularly hard to learn if you’re fortunate enough to have someone who knows how to play teach it to you, but learning blind from the rules is a nightmare. Even just getting through setup was confusing. This will definitely be a game I want to pick the rules a part for if I get my hands on a copy. Play-wise, it’s resource management and engine building at it’s core. Players collect resources, use those resources to further your own personal goals, and semi-cooperatively bring Mars’ environment up to a habitable level.
The hidden surprise of the convention was easily Starfall, another set collection game but this time with a press your luck mechanic. Players take turns either making a tile with stars, nebulas, comets, planets, moons, and black holes cheaper, adding another to the game board, or buying one off the game board for the limited number of stardust you’re allotted at the beginning of the game. The trick is that you never get more stardust so you have to be careful how you spend what you have and make sure it lasts until the end of the game.
Other honorable mentions are Plague, Inc. which plays identically to the mobile game of the same name, The Great Dinosaur Rush, a game about building dinosaurs out of bones, and Karuba, the game that if I told you Haba made it would blow your mind because it’s far heavier than any Haba game I’ve played before, and that somehow makes it even more awesome than it already is.
The lame duck of the convention goes to Pocket Dungeon Quest, a game that not only has an atrocious and completely unhelpful excuse of a rule book, but has very little game and no interesting decisions while playing it. Close second is Virulence, which I heard another convention participant explain as Sushi Go but with a blind auction to decide who gets cards. The comparison fails, because while Sushi Go is actually fun, Virulence is a long slog of misery.
Besides those mentioned already, Covert gets a special mention, because there’s definitely a fun game there, but with two players alone it was overly long and uninteresting. Another play or two needs to be made before I can properly go into my thoughts on it. Cultists of Cthulhu gets a special mention as well, primarily because while learning the game as two players is practically impossible, there appears to be a good game in there somewhere.
In the end, the long 4 days ended with the drawing of Play to Wins, which somehow my wife and I ended up walking away with four games! Not only did we get our absolute favorite, Potion Explosion, but also New York Slice as an added bonus. In addition, we got Virulence and Covert. That isn’t even including the free games given at registration, which included two copies of both Backyard Builders Treehouse and Fish Frenzy, Praetor, and Island Fortress.
Last but not least, Jamey Stegmaier gets a special mention for being an awesome guy and signing my wife and my copy of Scythe and Invaders from Afar, allowing us to fangirl him for a few minutes early on Sunday.