Monday, July 16, 2018

Dice Tower Con 2018 Prototypes Played

This year, I went to Dice Tower Con 2018, a board gaming convention in Orlando, Florida. The convention focuses on playing games. They do have a vendor hall and some special events, but the big draw is the game library and the dedicated fans who spend the better part of five days playing game after game after game after game. This was my first time at this convention (it's been running for seven or eight years), and I had a great time.

One of the joys at a gaming convention is trying out games that are so new, they haven't been published yet. Some games aren't even fully complete. The game designers (and publishers, if the game has gotten that far) bring a prototype to the convention and let people play it. This helps because it increases exposure and provides feedback. Players can create buzz about the game (and maybe sign up for a newsletter or to find out when the game will be published). They can also tell what they like about the game and make suggestions for things to change.

I played a bunch of prototypes at Dice Tower Con 2018.

The first was GSN The Game. GSN stands for Game Show Network. The prototype is based on the classic television game shows LingoMatch Game, and $20,000 Pyramid (or whichever denomination is the one you watched). Teams of players move their token across a board by playing one of the games successfully. Each space on the board is color-coded to a particular show. Each line between the spots has one of three colors. When a team wins, they roll two dice (a number and a color) to move that far along whichever line has the matching color. Three colors works perfectly since the spaces are hexagonal (of course, you only move forward, so only three of the six sides are relevant). If a team gets all the way across, they have to play a final round of each game in order to win. The final rounds are slightly different, again based on the game shows' finales.

The game is reminiscent of the old television game shows they were inspired by. Unfortunately, some of the questions are taken directly from the shows, meaning that references in the clues are dated. We had a least two questions that referenced the celebrity Brett Somers, who was famous in the early 1970s but has faded from view by now. The game designer was glad to get that feedback, along with other suggestions for improving the game. I liked it and am sure it will be even better in a future iteration.

The second prototype I played was a surprise. I signed up to play Tournament at Avalon, which is a sister game to Tournament at Camelot. Both games are trick-taking card games set in King Arthur's time. The twist is that players don't want to take the tricks (because that means their character is wounded) and the low card in the suit wins, not the high card. Both games have the same suits (though they are different from traditional card suits--the suits are Arthurian-themed: arrows, swords, deception, etc.). The game includes a wild-card suit, Alchemy, and a few special ability cards to change what's going on. A Godsend card is given to the player in last place at the end of the first round. The player chooses between two face-up cards (so the player can see the special power) or a face-down card from the draw deck. The Godsend card could be used during the next round's tricks to make things better for the player in last place. Once someone acquires enough wounds to knock them out of the competition, the game ends. The healthiest remaining character is the winner.

The surprise for playing Tournament at Avalon is that the game is in development form, with two big changes. First, the designer is making a party-game version where a large group plays together. Half of the session was this multi-player game (I'm not sure if it was eight or twelve people playing) that mostly followed the Tournament at Camelot rules, I think. I am not sure, because I was in the other half of the session. The party-game players seemed to be having a grand time--they were laughing a lot and shouting, just the sort of reaction you want from a party game.

The other half of the session was a five player game with new characters, new Godsend cards, and new special ability cards. We tried it out, though most of us hadn't played the original game. We enjoyed it a lot but had a lot of questions and did provide a lot of feedback. I am looking forward to the new game coming out.

Knights of Glory in action
In the main gaming hall, I tried my third prototype, Knights of Glory. This game is a quick bluffing game where players are knights trying to escape from a dungeon. Various obstacles and traps are in the way (represented by cards). A player rolls dice to see what resources they need to overcome an individual obstacle or trap. The resources are shields, bombs, keys, swords, and torches. Players are dealt five cards from the deck that have these various symbols. The deck of cards also has some wild cards (that can be any resource) and a few jesters that don't do anything. When players try to defeat an obstacle or trap, they put cards face down next to the dice that (presumably) have the matching shape. Other players then have to vote on whether the cards actual match the dice (a wild card is played face up, so players know that). If the other players successfully identify a bluff, the bluffing player moves back one space. If the others falsely accuse of bluffing, then they move back. If they vote for no bluff, then the player doesn't have to reveal the cards and moves forward normally. Successfully bluffing with a jester gives an extra bonus.

The player aid

I liked the game more than I thought I would. The turns move quickly and the game has a bit of card counting along with the bluff identifying which makes it appealing both to those more mathematically-skilled and to those more socially-skilled (if you have both skills, you will clean up). The game is supposed to come to Kickstarter in the Fall of 2018.

Cool dice tower that will come with the game...maybe?

The next day I tried out The Abandons, a solo game where the player tries to escape a labyrinth. The game is played with a deck of cards that have mostly rooms and some special tools to aid exploring. The player places cards one at a time, with each new room having zero to three exits. If the room is a dead end (i.e., zero exits), the player either backtracks to another card with an alternate route, loses the game by being trapped, or uses the special tools to blow a hole in the wall and move on to a new room. In addition to players causing holes in the wall, occasionally a drawn room card will have a hole in the floor. Then the player removes the currently played cards and starts a new labyrinth with the remaining cards (thus, the player fell to a different level of the maze and has to start over). A staircase card lets the player choose whether to start a new level or not.

After playing a staircase and a bunch of other cards

Solitaire games a fairly rare. I enjoyed playing this one but am not as much of a solitaire gamer that I want to have it. It's on Kickstarter now and finishes on August 2, so pledge soon if you want it.

The fifth prototype I tried was Jinga, a worker-placement game where players build shrines in various regions and territories of Japan. Like similar games, players have three workers to place, either collecting gold or acquiring various parts of shrines or using other powers. A Deeds deck shows what shrines can be built in a region and which parts (buildings, gates, etc.) are needed to complete the shrine. Players are dealt four deed cards at the beginning and keep two. There's also a deck of secret objective cards (e.g., building in certain regions or certain types of shrines) that players can draw from as well.

Board at the beginning of the game

The game has the standard worker-placement drama of not having enough workers to do everything you want each turn and of other people taking an action that you wanted. I am not particularly fond of that drama but it isn't a huge turn-off either. The game has very nice components and art even at its stage in development. I think the makers said that they will Kickstart the game in the Fall of 2018, so they are close to publishing.

The game in progress

The final prototype I tried was Sea of Plunder where players are merchants in an ocean looking for treasure islands and avoiding pirates as best they can. Players are given a hand of five movement cards. On each turn, a player draws two cards and then plays one of the seven cards to move their boat and discards a card to move a pirate boat. Crafty moves can get a player treasure and force pirates further away or into other players' paths! Some special cards add more treasure islands or more magic compasses or other nifty things.

Starting board for Sea of Plunder

The mechanics are pretty simple. Each card has a map with boat movements oriented to a compass on the game board. A player can use a "magic compass" to turn the card to a different orientation, thus allowing movement in a different direction. Too bad magic compasses are a rare commodity! Players can also collect goods from the four regular islands, giving a set collection option. The regular islands always stay in place but the treasure islands move as soon as they are plundered by a player or a pirate. If the pirates gain too many treasures, the game ends. If a player discovers three treasure islands, that ends the game. Points are given for treasures, unused magic compasses, and how many types of goods were collected. The game is currently on Kickstarter and the fundraising ends on August 7, 2018.

More Dice Tower Convention posts to follow...

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