NYC Gamer              

J&J Con

February 2, 2010

The worst thing about recently moving from NYC to DC was leaving behind all of the friends with whom I played board games. Sure I miss the restaurants, and the theater, and the convenience, among other things, but the people back in NYC top the list. The isle of Manhattan does not have a particularly robust or organized board gaming community, as opposed to other cities across the country such as Denver, but there is a smattering of gamers who I've had the pleasure of meeting over the past few years. I managed to convince two of them - John and James - to travel down the coast to visit DC on two different weekends in January. The nice thing about moving from NYC to DC is not only that I now have room for a third bookcase of games, but also that I have a guest bedroom for hosting out-of-town visitors attending our own personal board gaming extravaganza. This is the tale of the gaming marathons that ensued in our nation's capital in the dead of winter - J&J Con.

The Book of John

Given that my game collection is nearing the 300 mark, I told both John and James that they didn't need to bring any games, just themselves, but of course they both had shiny new games that they just had to bring so we could try them out. John brought a tome, that being the spiral-bound novel that comes with the Z-Man reprint of Tales of the Arabian Nights, which had arrived on John's doorstep the day before he boarded the bus to DC. Arriving on Friday evening, and having read the rules to Tales, but neither of us having played before, we dove right in to a two-player game. Tales of the Arabian Nights isn't really a board game; it is a choose-your-own-adventure story that happens to have a board and pieces. If you're playing Tales of the Arabian Nights to win then you're doing it wrong. This was a great experience, but I can easily imagine it being a terrible experience with the wrong group of people who, for instance, approach the game competitively. Also, while the game claims to work with up to 6 players, I imagine I would find the down-time insufferable with many more players. The "game" had us wandering from Europe to Africa to Asia examining, hiding, robbing, and many more verbs to and from beggars, efreets, sages, and many more people and creatures, described by countless different adjectives. The giant spiral-bound book that comes with the game is extremely impressive and just thinking about the amount of work that went into it is mind-boggling. Basically, on your turn you move your character to a city, flip an Encounter card, roll a die to determine what kind of person or creature you encounter, select an action to perform from a list of possibilities, and turn to the indicated page of the book to discover the results. The results can range from awarding you points, to awarding you skills (which modify your results in future Encounters), to giving you a Treasure or Status card. The Status cards range from good things like being Respected or the Vizier, to bad things like being Imprisoned or Crippled. It was a great experience, particularly once we got into the idea of reading the Encounter results to each other, which adds to the suspense and narrative aspect of the story. It's a fairly aimless story and has a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but it's nonetheless a wonderful change of pace and a highly entertaining experience.

After a quick dinner, next up on the agenda was Vlaada Chvatil's masterpiece Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization. John and I had both tried Through the Ages back in April 2008, and we had both disliked the game. It was a four-player game, and it felt too fiddly and there was too much downtime. Neither of us really gave the game a second thought for a year and a half. One of the boons of moving to DC was connecting with the DC Gamers group, and one of the members convinced me to give Through the Ages another shot. It was one of his favorite games and since we had similar taste otherwise, he insisted that I try it again. I'm very thankful that he did. I tried it again in October 2009 as a two-player game and began to see a glimmer of what I had been missing. I played it again in November and December, and began to appreciate the game more and more as I became more comfortable with it, so I finally picked up a copy. I've now played Through the Ages six times in January 2010 alone, bringing me up to 11 total plays, and it's vaulted into my Top 50 games of all-time quicker than any game I can remember (ignoring that 18 month hiatus of course). John and I enjoyed our game of Through the Ages on Friday night so much that we knew we'd play it again later in the weekend, and I knew I'd break it out again when James showed up two weeks later.

Friday was capped off with two games of Pandemic with the On the Brink expansion, which I had played a few times before, but which John had yet to try. We did one game with the Virulent Strain challenge and one game with the Mutation challenge, both with 5 epidemics, and managed to save the world twice, so we called it a successful night and headed to bed for a few hours of sleep. J&J Con was marked by a sleep deficit that I had not known since BGG.CON back in November 2009; a sleep deficit that results as much from an inability to fall asleep with a day of games buzzing through your head as from a desire to stay up late and get up early to pack in as many games as possible.

Cooperation and Competition

John and I share a love of cooperative games, which is a genre that I understand doesn't appeal to everyone out there. We've both been enjoying Pandemic, Ghost Stories, and Red November since the trio was released in 2008. John also likes the Lord of the Rings cooperative game, which is actually one of my least favorite games of all-time, but I'll forgive him that indulgence for now. Given our shared love of cooperative games and our successful outing in Pandemic to wrap up the night before, we started Saturday morning by jumping into the world of Wu-Feng. I had recently acquired the Ghost Stories: White Moon expansion, so we decided to see how the villagers, moon gate, and Su-Ling simultaneously impeded and aided our efforts to save the village from the surrounding legion of ghosts. Ghost Stories was my game of the year for 2008, but I've already written elsewhere about my preference for On the Brink over White Moon. John and I failed to save the village as we managed to let 12 villagers die a horrible death, but we enjoyed the game nonetheless. I'm still not sure if I'll keep using the White Moon or revert back to original vanilla Ghost Stories because the added complexity of White Moon seems unnecessary, and even 39 plays of Ghost Stories (35 of which have been without White Moon) have not made me tired of it yet. Two cooperative games down, we only had Red November to get to later in the weekend, but would our efforts to save the Gnomish submarine turn out like our successful disease fighting or our failed ghost killing?

Next up came a game that I had been very eagerly anticipating since it was announced during the lead up to Essen 2009 - Dungeon Lords. The second Chvatil design of the weekend didn't go over nearly as well as the first though. I've already explained my disappointment with Dungeon Lords in my In With The New column, so I won't repeat that entirely here, except to say that the cumbersome nature of the game and the mismatch between the mechanics and the theme have led me to conclude I should send the game to greener pastures, having played it 7 times and after many attempts to really try to enjoy it. My first 6 plays had been with 3 or 4 players, but as with all of this weekend's games, this play was with two-players, which the rules and BoardGameGeek forums had warned against, but which actually turned out to be perhaps even better than with more players. The added control over the simultaneous action selection phase made me appreciate the game more by removing some of the unpredictability of the game's key phase. Plus the fact that I crushed John made me realize that perhaps I had in fact learned something in my first 6 plays, although the downside of that could be that experience will decisively decide games just as it does with the wonderful Galaxy Trucker (a game decided far more by experience than luck, contrary to popular opinion).

One of our favorite games back in NYC was Duel of Ages. I picked it up off the BGG.CON prize table in 2008 and I've only ever played it with John, but he's the perfect opponent for this experience game that really requires players to get into the spirit of the game in order to prop up the somewhat shaky framework of the mechanics. It's a fantastically entertaining game, and one of the few that saw multiple plays over the weekend. We used the Worldspanner, Intensity, and Vast Horizons sets, with four characters each (selected from a hand of six) and with a two-hour time limit. I'm tempted by the other expansions for the game, but I gather they principally add additional characters, items, and a map key, whereas I'd much rather have an expansion that adds additional adventure cards, which I don't believe exists. Duel of Ages is essentially role-playing lite as you really need to get into the spirit of your wacky characters running around the map board with their incongruous items, fighting each other and attempting even more incongruous adventures, all of which is determined by rolling dice. If this image of Sterling Jack riding a hoverskid around the fallen Colossus, while wielding a knight's shield and a rifle intrigues and amuses you then Duel of Ages might just be for you, otherwise stay far away.

We continued the games marathon with a quick game of Red November; quick because we failed utterly to prevent the submarine's launch of nuclear missiles, dooming the world and ourselves. We deactivated the launch codes the first time around, but they reactivated shortly thereafter and the submarine was kind enough to spring a leak at the same time, flooding the nuclear missile room of course. Red November seems to be a game designed to perfectly demonstrate Murphy's Law every time. Following up Red November was our first repeated game of the weekend when we dove back into Tales of the Arabian Nights for a second go. This time we both avoided becoming Grief Stricken early on, which allowed us to accumulate more skills and beneficial Statuses as well. We both prospered far more than in the previous outing, with far less in the way of imprisonment and crippling injuries, but in the end I emerged victorious by discovering my cousin lost in the European hinterlands and by robbing just about everyone I met.

As fans of the original Mr. Jack, we just had to try the new Mr. Jack in New York, which served as a short and sweet appetizer before dinner. It seems as if we may know each other too well because we played twice, switching sides, and the Investigator won both games handily. We both found it surprisingly easy to identify which character was Jack more by intuition than by the gameplay. While the potatoes were roasting and the chicken was baking, we decided to bust out an old childhood favorite - Omega Virus. We both had fond memories of independently playing this game countless times long ago, but had not forayed into the world of the digital taunting machine for many years. We played two quick back-to-back games, the first on Medium difficulty which John won handily, and the second on Hard difficulty in which the computer virus decimated us. The game was surprisingly as fun and silly as we remembered, which is a rare thing for games that you're nostalgic about.

After dinner came a pair of heavyweights - Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit and a second round of Through the Ages. In Queen's Gambit, John's Trade Federation forces sadly demolished my Naboo palace guards before Anakin could shut down the droid control ship. For anyone who hasn't played Queen's Gambit yet, you should really give it a try sometime if you ever have a chance. I finally snagged a copy on eBay about 6 months ago and Iím loving it. Iíve played 9 times and itís a blast every time! Setup does take a while, but it speeds up with experience, and the components are so fantastic that itís still a joy to setup. For any fans of Star Wars who donít completely abhor Episode I, this game will almost certainly go over well. The ďclockĒ determining the length of the game (i.e., Anakinís movement) can be a bit wonky sometimes, throwing off the results of the game on occasion, but itís the experience that matters and that always goes well. Iíve had so many exciting and tense finishes where, for instance, Darth Maul is racing up the steps to the throne room as time is running out, and both players are literally on the edge of their seat. Itís just such a memorable game every time and a joy to play! Next came Through the Ages, and as you can see in this photo, my combo of Moses, James Cook, and Elvis worked together to top John's combo of Hammurabi, Genghis Khan, and Gandhi, although I think my movie theaters might have also had something to do with it. After Queen's Gambit and Through the Ages, we finished off Saturday night with a quick game of Hansa Teutonica. I've already written about what a pleasant surprise Hansa Teutonica was at BGG.CON 2009 in my In With The New column, but I neglected to mention that I don't think it's a very good game with 2 players. It claims to scale from 2 to 5 players, but I found it too chaotic and slow with 5 players, and I found the special 2 player rules too frustrating and limiting. I think 3 or 4 players is the sweet spot. The special 2 player rules restrict where you can place in order to manufacture conflict, but it just gives you an extra thing to think about, which the game certainly doesn't need, and it severely limits the openness of the gameplay, so I'll stick to playing it with more players in the future. Though after 9 plays of Hansa Teutonica, I am still very happy I bought it at BGG.CON and I hope that this great game becomes widely available sooner rather than later so everyone can enjoy it.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

The final day of the first half of J&J Con got off to a bloody start with a game of Hammer of the Scots. John had never played before, so I taught him, and he played the Scottish in The Bruce scenario. The student surpassed the teacher in no time flat. It was my seventh game of Hammer of the Scots, but a truly epic fail on my part. John did a better job than anyone I'd ever seen before of creating a unified front in the north-east around Buchan, Angus, and Mar, and then pushing out from there. After the Scottish captured Mentieth, Argyll, and Lennox, I knew it was completely over. Edward II ventured out one last time, remarkably coming face to face with the Scottish king, alone on the plains of Lothian, and the two battled it out to the death. Knowing that the English fate was already sealed, Edward II chose a noble death over an ignoble retreat, and the Scottish king stood victorious over the fallen opposition. It was a fast and furious match right from 1306 onward. We followed it up with two quick games of Hey That's My Fish, a more bloodless and amiable game, unless you happen to subscribe to the school of thought of the completely fabulous Playmobil Legion Reviews, which suggest that trapped penguins sink below the bitter waves to their watery doom...

Before diving into a bloody Duel of Ages rematch, we played a quick game of Roma, where John's formidable Forums dispatched my forces in no time flat. The second match of Duel of Ages turned out to be one of the most bloody Duel of Ages games we'd ever played. Almost half the characters died and more were gravely wounded. Both of us acquired a good number of items early, from our vaults and from the adventures, and moreover those items happened to be weapons that were useful to our particular characters, which is the key to success in combat in Duel of Ages. As you can see from this photo, I emerged victorious with Annie Oakley's steady hands firing the winning shot to bring down John's football player.

After a grueling Duel of Ages match came a card game called PowerMage 54, which I recently received from the publisher as a review copy. I discussed the game in my In With The New column, where I explained that PowerMage 54 is a game for people who find appealing the notion of combat among tomahawk missiles, shotguns, kevlar helmets, pepper spray, bionic hearts, and neck braces, among many other things. Like Duel of Ages actually, PowerMage 54 is a card game that you'll enjoy far more if you're playing with people who can really get into the spirit of the game. This is a card game for 2-6 players who use their hand of cards to battle it out as superheroes (known as "PowerMages" in the game). Each player starts with 100 health and you're eliminated when you've lost all of your health (a la Magic: The Gathering); last man standing wins. The deck is a standard deck of cards, but with the suits adapted so that Clubs are Defense, Spades are Attack, Hearts are Health, and Diamonds are Thump (which are multiplier and special ability cards that modify the others). The face cards in all suits are PowerMages, each with its own special ability written on the card. The artwork is one of the notable pluses of the game. As soon as I opened the game up, I was struck by how much attention to detail was paid to the artwork. Each card is unique and has a name/drawing that reflects its value. Thus, a low value Health card is a cold compress or aspirin, a medium Health card is neck brace or bionic heart, and a high value Health card is molecular reconstruction. Similarly, Attack cards range from things like shotguns all the way up to things like tomahawk missiles; and Defense cards from a trash can lid, to a kevlar helmet, to a missile defense shield. The artwork has a great evocative comic-book style. None of this is strictly necessary to the game since it's really just a numbers game, but it does add a nice flavor that helps create the mood of the game. The gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. Each player starts with a random hand of 5 cards, and on your turn you draw a card and then either play an attack, a health card, use a text card's special ability, or pass, then you discard down to 5 cards. The crux of the game after my two plays so far seems to be the Thump suit, which provides a multiplier to an attack, defense, or health card equal to its face value. So instead of playing an attack card worth 8 to do 8 damage, it's much more efficient and effective to pair high value attack cards with high value Thump multipliers, so using a 7 Thump card with your 8 Attack card means doing 56 damage, which is more than half of your opponent's starting health in a single turn. You can do the same thing with Health cards, and easily double your own health in a single play. In my game with John I did this and actually ended the game with 189 health, almost twice what I had started with. The way in which the game attempts to regulate this is that you need to have and reveal a face card PowerMage to be able to play a Thump multiplier. This means that you need to not be using up your face cards for their textual special abilities. It's an interesting system, but the potential downsides seem to be the arithmetic that slows down the game a bit, and the potential for the game to last anywhere from 2 minutes to 30 minutes roughly. It could be over before you know it with a single large attack or last for a long time with large Health increases. I also had a few turns where I couldn't do anything due to a hand of Defense cards and just had to keep drawing and discarding, which was a bit frustrating. All that being said, PowerMage does a nice job integrating the theme and mechanics. It's the kind of light, quick, and amusing card game that you should have a pretty good idea of whether you'll enjoy it based on the descriptions and reviews available, so if they make it sound appealing then I recommend checking it out. For fans of other humorous card games like Munchkin or Fluxx, PowerMage 54 is definitely worth a close look. And for fans of German-style filler card games like Coloretto and No Thanks, PowerMage 54 may be a sillier way to occupy your time between games of Caylus and Princes of Florence. I particularly appreciate the fact that every card is unique and has great comic artwork to make the card play entertaining, especially when you block a ballistic missile with a well-multiplied pepper spray.

Following the bloody and violent trio of Hammer of the Scots, Duel of Ages, and PowerMage 54, we decided to end the weekend with a trio of more peaceful games - Big City, Pandemic, and Le Havre. First, John and I built a beautiful city, complete with two shopping centers. John had never played Big City before, but promptly logged onto my computer to add it to his wishlist and check for potential trades on BoardGameGeek; he did the same with Through the Ages incidentally, so I think the weekend was a success! I actually hadn't played Big City since September 2008, so playing it again in January 2010 was a great reminder of what a fun and gorgeous game this is. Second, we revisited Pandemic and On the Brink for three back-to-back games. The first was with both the Virulent Strain challenge and the Mutation challenge (with 5 epidemics) and we lost, but the second was with both challenges and 4 epidemics, which we won, and the third was with neither challenge but with 7 epidemics, which we nearly won with 3 out of 4 cures, but managed to barely lose. The five games of Pandemic during J&J Con brought me up to 41 total plays, making Pandemic one of my most-played board games of all-time, which is well-deserved for this Matt Leacock game that seems destined to be a classic. Here's hoping that his upcoming Forbidden Island is even half as good. Finally, we ended the night with Rosenberg's Le Havre, my personal favorite of the "harvest trilogy." It was a nice change of pace from many of the games that we'd played during the weekend, and a solid game to close out the weekend on. My early boats and plethora of buildings snagged me the win for the final game, but in the end we both won with such a fantastic and memorable weekend of gaming. John might not have had a chance to see the Smithsonian or the Washington Monument, but we did visit Scotland, Naboo, Arabia, Rome, and France among other far-flung locales.

James' Invasion

I didn't have long to pine for the gaming marathon with John because James showed up on my doorstep just two weeks later to pick-up J&J Con where it had left off. Despite my assurance that he need not schlep any games down to DC, he came bearing Ignacy Trzewiczek's Stronghold, along with Campaign Manager and Mystery Rummy. Nonetheless, we really did pick-up where I left off with John because we started with Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization on Friday night, which James had never played before. Another success because James is also now looking into buying a copy, so perhaps I should see someone about my commission, eh? The second half of J&J Con was remarkably like a palindrome actually because it started with Through the Ages, continued on to Stronghold, had a few games in the middle, and ended with a second play of both Stronghold and lastly Through the Ages on Sunday. The Friday night game of Through the Ages saw me pull off a victory because I'd clearly failed to sufficiently emphasize the importance of science to James, whose light bulb deficit hampered his efforts all game, but you'll see who got the last laugh on Sunday.

The invasion began in earnest on Saturday morning when we sat down to our first game of Stronghold. If you don't know much about Stronghold yet then you should check out this video explanation of the game from the Geekdo booth at Essen 2009. Or for a more stylized video about the game, check out this dramatic trailer on YouTube. It's basically a game about a siege, like Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings but without the license, where one side plays the invader and the other plays the defender. I gather it has rules for playing with more than two players, but like Queen's Gambit, I imagine these might be fairly tacked on as the game lends itself to being a two-player duel. I had read much of the hype surrounding Stronghold back in October 2009 and been unmoved. It was clearly one of the most highly anticipated games of the convention, right up there with Dungeon Lords and At the Gates of Loyang (incidentally both duds in my opinion), but for some reason Stronghold didn't appeal to me. Ignacy Trzewiczek's Game Designer's Journal on Boardgame News detailing the origin and development of Stronghold did not capture my interest in the way it captured the interest of so many BoardGameGeek users. For some inexplicable reason, I was remarkably disinterested in Stronghold before actually trying it out, considering all of the buzz leading up to its release.

Despite all of that, half-way into my first play of Stronghold I was completely hooked. I realized I was on the edge of my seat, anxiously planning my moves, and eagerly waiting to see what James would do next. It was a remarkably tense, exciting, and engaging game. For the first game I played as the Defender and James as the Attacker. It was interesting to see how I was constantly afraid that James was about to break into the castle, while James was constantly afraid that I would rebuff him at every rampart. We were both convinced that the other was winning and we were both nervous wrecks. This has all the makings of a great game! Stronghold is a game about a siege where the Attacker begins with 10 points, but gives the Defender 1 point per turn. The game ends once the Attacker finally breaks into the castle, which leads to a few final points being awarded, and the winner being the person who has the most points. So the Attacker will ultimately "win" the siege by breaking into the castle; the Defender's troops are doomed. However, if the Defender can hold out for enough turns then he or she will earn enough points to win the game. This is the definition of tense. It is truly a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat affair that makes most other games look tame and dull by comparison. The mechanics are also very clever. The Attacker draws a random assortment of units (goblins, orcs, and trolls) from a bag each turn, and allocates them to a variety of tasks, such as building catapults, ladders, and banners, or marching towards and climbing the Defender's walls. For each action that the Attacker takes, the Defender earns an "hourglass" token, which the Defender can use for numerous different actions, such as training or moving units, and building cannons or pots of boiling oil. There is a lot going on in the game, but it all makes sense and fits together, which means that despite the game's significant complexity you don't need to constantly be referring to the rules. The game just clicks and works in a way that most games this long and complicated don't often work. John and James have paid me back for adding Through the Ages to their wishlists because I quickly went and added Stronghold to mine.

The second game of the second Saturday of J&J Con was Campaign Manager 2008. James and I had both played Campaign Manager at BGG.CON 2009, and thankfully James had bought a copy because my copy was still on pre-order at Thought Hammer (holding up my copy of Tobago, Shipyard, and Alea Iacta Est sadly). I got out to an early lead with McCain due to my plethora of cards to "Go Negative" and my media event that prevented the negative die roll. James pulled Obama back into the race, but Pennsylvania and Wisconsin helped close the deal for a McCain victory. My combination of being able to draw 3 cards and having a number of powerful cards that required discarding worked well, and my Drill Baby Drill card kept me in it for the states that cared about the Economy rather than Defense. My inability to switch the majority/minority issue was my biggest weakness, so I'll keep an eye out for a card that lets me do that in my next game. I'm looking forward to my copy arriving soon hopefully (although adding Feld's Macao to that order will likely delay it further), and am looking forward to playing Campaign Manager many more times.

Before heading out for some Thai food, I taught Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit to James. I'd been playing the Naboo recently and losing every time, so I decided to play as the Trade Federation this time around so I could finally be triumphant. That didn't work out as planned. Despite this being my eleventh game of Queen's Gambit, James piloted Anakin to victory with plenty of palace guards still alive and with Darth Maul long dead. My destroyer droids kept heading into the palace, but James relentlessly shot at them until their shields faltered. James used window ledge movement to stake out a solid position on the 2nd floor of Theed Palace, where he quickly shot down anything that came down or up the staircases. Anakin bobbed and weaved through my star fighter cards with relative ease and brought my army to a crashing halt before I could "wipe them out, all of them."

After dinner, we set Stronghold back up and switched sides so I was the Attacker and James was the Defender. It was another great game. While playing as the Defender in the first game, I came up with all sorts of grand plans about how I would play as the Attacker and win the game. I tried to implement them and failed miserably. That just makes me want to play the game again even more! I tried to use a number of siege machines and trolls on one side of the castle as a feint to distract from my primary effort on the other side, which was a band of goblins that I planned to triple in strength with a key order token. James saw through my plans and mercilessly poured a vat of boiling oil on my goblins, decimating them. My siege machines missed at crucial moments and James' heroes showed up to bolster his defenses in all the right places and at all the right times. My only issue with Stronghold is that we saw the Defender win both times and it seemed as if it would be difficult for the Attacker to win. We did both feel as the Defender as if we were in danger of having the castle breached at many points, so it's not as if the games weren't close, and I think it will work out, but I would like to see the Attacker win. It may just be that it's a bit trickier to play the Attacker side well than the Defender side. I was thinking that an easy fix though if the game does turn out to be somewhat unbalanced would be to not have the Attacker give the Defender a victory point for the first turn or two. This wouldn't change the actual gameplay at all, but would give the Attacker a little more time to set things up for the assault before running out of time and losing the game. I am very eager to play Stronghold more though to try out a variety of alternative strategies and to see all that the game has to offer, which includes a variety of options and components that we didn't even use in our first two games. Each game only certain things are available for the Attacker to build and use, so we have yet to see many of the game's possibilities. I know I've been gushing about Stronghold here, but I really am more excited about this game than I've been about a game in a while, although my new-found love of Through the Ages (and the recent release of the fabulous Imperial 2030) are right up there as well.

To close out the night, but keep the tension high, we returned to the Jason Matthews well with a game of Twilight Struggle. I led the United States to victory with a beautiful combination of Voice of America, Puppet Governments, and South America Scoring. My domination in Africa also helped rake in a good number of points as well, not to mention a nicely timed use of "How I Learned to Love the Bomb." I'm still eagerly awaiting the arrival of my mounted deluxe board for Twilight Struggle, but in the meantime I've already enjoyed two plays of this excellent game in 2010. I was trying to convince James that my comparison review of Twilight Struggle and 1960 was correct, but I think he mistakenly continues to believe that 1960 is superior. Alas we'll have to agree to disagree. I would actually like to think of a way to swap out the dice-rolling of the coups for something along the lines of the political capital bag, but regardless I'm solidly in the Twilight Struggle camp on this one. To calm our nerves from the tense trio of Queen's Gambit, Stronghold, and Twilight Struggle, we closed out the night with two games of Fairy Tale. Satoshi Nakamura's card game is one that I'm convinced gets better and better the more you play it, and I should know given that I'm up to 55 plays now. I think it's better with four-players as a team game, but is actually a decent two-player game as well. It's light and quick, and once you know the 100 cards in the deck inside-and-out then the game markedly improves. I recently purchased Nakamura's Masquerade, which I'm looking forward to trying out and seeing if it measures up to the high bar he has set for himself.

All Good Things

Sadly J&J Con could not last forever. The gaming marathon ended just as it began - with a game of Vlaada Chvatil's Through the Ages. My eleventh play of this new-found love taught me a lesson that I'd not seen in my previous ten games. Despite getting out to a remarkable lead with Shakespeare and two pairs of libraries and theaters, I was overtaken in the end by a pair of wars, First Space Flight, and a last turn aggression that barely tipped the balance. James lulled me into a false sense of complacency by not building up his military until Age III when he made a sudden and dramatic military investment, which caught me off guard and pummeled my civilization. James learned his lesson from the game on Friday night and made sure he always had enough science to play the technology cards that he needed, which made his Space Flight especially valuable. A last turn completion of the Hollywood wonder almost allowed me to retake the lead, but I came up a few points short. It was a fantastically close game as seen here and a wonderful way to wrap up J&J Con. I hope that John and James had even half as much fun as I did over these weekends of gaming extravaganza. Like all good things though, these gaming marathons had to come to an end. But the memory lives on... of Edward II's final breath, Annie Oakley's sure hands, Anakin slipping through the star fighters, the sword being mightier than Shakespeare's pen, and many more key moments. These weekends were what the board gaming hobby is all about to me - getting together with friends for an engaging, fun, and memorable time.

(See Boardgame News for this column plus additional comments on it)