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What We Played at OzBunnyCon 2016: A Games vs Play Wrap

What We Played at OzBunnyCon 2016: A Games vs Play Wrap

Hello OzBunnies,
It’s been a week since OzBunnyCon 2016, and I’m starting to feel withdrawal! The team from Games vs Play was able to attend on the first day of the con. Between the four of us – Marianne, Peter, Falk and myself – we played 10 games in 11 hours, a modest record that we’ll aim to break in 2017. Here’s our final playlist for the Friday:
1) Splendor
2) Istanbul
3) Lords of Waterdeep
4) Smash Up
5) Riff Raff
6) Bamboleo
7) Incan Gold
8) Andean Abyss
9) King of Tokyo
10) Codenames

I really want to thank Kerrin and everyone else who helped organise the event. You guys did a fantastic job, from keeping us up-to-date on the Facebook page to the awesome little nametags and lanyards that awaited us on arrival. Plus what a great venue, with plenty of space for parking, playing, and housing the huge games library for the four days! Well done on a splendid event, we’re looking forward to next year already.

What I’ve decided to do in this blog is write about the games that I played at OzBunnyCon. I’d like to thank everyone we played with in advance – you were all super-friendly and very happy to teach the games we didn’t know. Once again I’m just so heartened by the openness and just sheer niceness of the boardgaming community. You guys rock!!!

Anyway, here we go – here’s the five games I played at OzBunnyCon:

First up was a quick game of Splendor, into which I was drafted by Karl and Laura within minutes of getting our lanyards on (I wore two: one for BunnyCon and one for Games vs Play). We were joined by Trevor who was wearing a Twilight Struggle t-shirt. Judging by how quickly he collected a winning hand of gems [SPOILER ALERT!] I’m guessing he plays on the side of capitalism in that particular Cold War game.

There’s nothing actually wrong with it – the game system is well designed and the look of the playing cards is, well, splendid – but Splendor struck me as a fairly abstract Eurogame with a thinly applied Renaissance-era theme. It’s like buying a Volvo sedan and then taking it to a bodywork shop to make it look like a wealthy 14th century Florentine merchant’s carriage. Sure it’s eye catching, but the engine is still a Volvo and there aren’t any horses pulling the thing. I want horses!

There are other Eurogames similar to Splendor that I quite enjoy. Like Der Palast von Alhambra, for instance, which also has a card-drafting and set collection mechanic (plus a bit of Carcassonne-style tile-laying for good measure). But I found Splendor just a little too stripped back and basic for my taste. My reaction probably has more to do with my Achilles heel for thematic games that offer more of an immersive playing experience. Undoubtedly this goes back to my wasted youth spent on roleplaying games (as I’ve talked about on GvP here). But still it was fun playing with the other guys, who were super-patient teachers and friendly to boot.

Lords of Waterdeep
And now I’m going to go back on everything I just said about abstract Eurogames with thinly-applied themes, because even though Lords of Waterdeep could easily meet such criteria I really enjoyed this game. A lot!

We had a five-player game – me, Falk, Karl (who suggested it), John and Mark. It was Mark’s copy we played, which he pulled out of a suitcase packed to the expander zips with classics like Robo Rally and Elder Sign. Watching him unpack that suitcase was like the moment in Pulp Fiction when Vincent and Jules open the briefcase belonging to Marcellus Wallace and the contents literally glow – except this time we actually got to see what was inside.
I won’t talk too much about Waterdeep because Mark did a 1-Minute Review of the game (see the link below). Players run various factions governing the city of Waterdeep, originally created as a campaign setting from the Dungeons & Dragons’ Forgotten Realms universe. Over eight rounds you compete against your fellow rogues to complete the most quests, or stop your opponents from completing their quests, if you’re more strategically (and vindictively) minded. There’s a fair bit of resource collecting and worker placement, plus opportunities for city building. What I really liked about this game was how dynamic the play stayed over the entire eight rounds. There’s a lot of scope for tactical movement in Waterdeep – this is not the sort of game where the winner is predetermined by the third or fourth round. Like I said, I really liked Lords of Waterdeep, but it’s over to Mark now to say more about why it’s one of his favourites too (Click here to see Mark’s 1-Minute Review on the GvP Facebook page).

Riff Raff
I’m the father of two young boys, so I always like to check out a few children’s games. Actually that’s not completely true – I also like playing kids games simply because kids games are fun!

Riff Raff is in the balancing/dexterity game genre, and if you’ve played Animal Upon Animal or Don’t Rock the Boat you’ll have a good idea how Riff Raff works. Each player starts with 8 wooden playing pieces of the kind things you’d find in a pirate ship – parrots, treasure chests, bottles of rum and the like. The object of the game is to be the first to empty your “hand” by successfully balancing all your pieces on a very unstable pirate ship. Each player starts the game with 10 numbered cards that correspond to the 10 available places on the ship’s masts and decking. At the start of each round the players simultaneously reveal their cards to show where they intend to place their next piece, thus introducing a surprising amount of bluff and strategy into the game.
We had 4 players fighting for balance – Gemma, Tom, Falk and myself. Falk filmed my 1-Mintue Review of the game, which you can watch here. If I come across as a bit crazed it’s because we recorded it in the 1 minute I literally had remaining between finishing Incan Gold and rushing off to start the 5-hour epic session of Andean Abyss. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Incan Gold
IncanGold2             IncanGold1
Sometimes it’s the random decisions in life that yield the most surprising results. The same can be said of browsing a games library – Peter and Marianne picked Incan Gold from the games library mainly because I only had 30 minutes left before Andean Abyss began in Meeting Room 2. We played a 5-player game: Peter, Marianne, Falk, Kane and myself. The gameplay of Incan Gold is deceptively simple. Players assume the roles of a group of Indiana Jones-style archaeologists venturing into a lost Peruvian temple in search of treasure. With each round a randomly selected card reveals either treasure or a dangerous obstacle; the players reveal simultaneously whether they want to leave the temple, taking a share of the treasure along with them, or to keep going in the hope of finding more riches. The only catches are: 1) players who leave the temple at the same time have to share the treasure between them – 14 gems split between 4 players doesn’t amount to much – and 2) when the same obstacle card comes up for the second time that round is immediately over, and any players who haven’t left the temple forfeit any uncollected treasure.

I really enjoyed this little test-your-luck game. Despite the simplicity of the mechanics, Incan Gold allows for a lot of psychological bluff and counter-bluffing. You could take the money and run when the first big treasure card comes up, but what if everyone else does the same? In which case it would clearly be better to wait for a larger treasure to come up … unless everyone else is thinking this and decides not to run too? Aaargh!!! We played 2 games in 30 minutes; playing it faster with less time for decision-making was definitely more fun. My only complaint about Incan Gold is that despite being set in Peru, the temple shown on the box is clearly a Late Classical Mayan pyramid of the type found in Tikal, Guatemala. Dr Jones would not be happy.

Andean Abyss
AndeanAbyss1       AndeanAbyss2
When I told people I’d put my name down to play Andean Abyss they said, “Wow, you must be pretty hardcore.” When I admitted I had never played a COIN game before, they said, “Wow, you must be crazy.” Having now played my first 5-hour session of Andean Abyss I can confidently say I’m both hardcore and crazy.

Andean Abyss is a four player wargame that sets out to recreate the period of political violence and civil turmoil that was Colombia in the 1990s and early 2000s. There’s half a dozen other games in GMT’s COIN series with settings in Cuba, Vietnam, the American War of Independence and Caesar’s Gallic Wars. What all these titles share in common are game systems that allow for asymmetric contests between multiple insurgent factions and more conventional armed forces (the “COIN” series title takes its name from military lingo for “COunter INsurgency operations”). In Andean Abyss the four factions taken by the players includes the Colombian Government (blue), the left-wing FARC guerrillas (red, and appropriately named given they did their best to FARC-up the country in real life), the right-wing AUC guerrillas (yellow) and the cocaine-producing drug cartels (a very leafy green). I played the FARC, and was interested to discover afterwards that my fortunes in the game mirrored those of the actual FARC: the early gains I made in territory and popular support, thereby threatening to gain control of the country, were successively beaten back by an uneasy coalition of Government forces and AUC guerrillas until I found myself effectively contained in my starting zone of remote jungle bases. History was repeating itself – have we learnt nothing?!?

I really enjoyed Andean Abyss, but I think it’s fair to say it’s not everybody’s cup of tea (or single original Colombian, for that matter). It’s long, for starters. Our session went from 6pm to 11pm on the Friday night, this being a pretty average playing time for the game. It’s also a fairly complex game system, with a combination of card-driven actions, variable phase order and long-range strategy all happening at once. And finally it is a wargame which might put some people off, despite the relative lack of direct combat and greater emphasis on the political and social aspects of the Colombian conflict.

I wrote on the Games vs Play Facebook page soon after finishing Andean Abyss that it was a game that I was in awe of, but couldn’t quite bring myself to love. With a week now having passed I think I can revise that statement to say that this is a game that I really admire. I admire it for its complexity, for its almost God-like attempt to embrace everything that fed into the Colombian civil war. The playing time was long, for sure, but the gameplay is so involving and intense that it felt more like two hours had passed rather than five. Playing Andean Abyss was almost a sublime experience – I often felt overwhelmed, like I was a bit-player in a much greater drama rather than just a mere boardgame.
Would I play one of the COIN games again? Like a moth to the flame, yes.

Finally, I really need to thank my fellow players in this session: Tim, John and particularly Andy, who set up the game and was unflagging in his patience to explain every aspect of this enormous game. Well played everyone, and to paraphrase another Latin American revolutionary: Hasta la victoria siempre, amigos!

About Martin

Martin is a writer and blogger based in Melbourne, Australia. You can read more about Martin by clicking here.