Sunday, February 27, 2011

Guest Article: vs. QuakeCon...

(This article first appeared here at

BGG.con vs. QuakeCon - For The Love of Gaming 

by Chris Palmarozzi

 Sometime around 2007 began a fascination with an activity I had long since forgotten in my childhood. I have several fond memories of playing board games like Risk and Monopoly. As I got older the lack of any real decision making in those games, and PC releases such as Civilization II, pushed me in the direction of video games to get my strategy fix. Then a friend introduced me to Settlers of Catan and from there began a reinvigoration of my childhood play activity.

In 2010 I attended my first BoardGameGeek.Con (BGG.con). You can find articles about the nooks and crannies of the convention over the internet so I want to share a different perspective. Over the past decade, I have many times attended the giant PC gaming LAN party called QuakeCon. It struck me that there seemed to be a surprisingly low crossover rate between the conventions. After all, both are in Dallas and both boast one of the largest gaming events in the world - QuakeCon drawing about 3,000 and BGG.con drawing 1,000. Both are fun getaways with great people that really enhance the gaming experience past simply playing at home. Yet attending one doesn't really do anything to prepare you for the other. They are as unique as the people who participate.


The video games of QuakeCon tend to attract a much younger crowd with people falling in the late high school to the grad school student age groups. I would say that by the time I turn 40 I would feel out of place at QuakeCon, but that might not be the case. Video games are a relatively recent hobby that didn't exist while older generations were growing up. I think as my generation turns into the older generation the age range of video gamers will be as diverse as board gamers.

The typical range of ages at BGG.con extended from 18 to 60 with an average age somewhere around the mid to late 30s. Less children attend BGG.con and unsurprisingly the ones who did came along with a parent. Females were in slightly greater numbers at BGG.con than at QuakeCon and more than I expected. About half of my games included at least one person without a Y chromosome.

My interaction with people at QuakeCon was sporadic as people were excited to get to the gaming, swag, and tournaments. Sure, people like to chat but it almost feels like a means to an end. For example, you might decide you really want to get in some good games of Dawn of War II so you go looking for like minded individuals. A few conversations later may lead to an impromptu tournament or a series of epic 4v4 matches. You have a great time playing and exchanging friendly taunts but chances are you don't even remember your opponents names, if you learned them to begin with.

BGGers were more about the holistic experience. Many were happy to spend time chatting in the drool-worthy games library. If people weren't gaming you would often even find them teaching games to other players in the gaming halls. When someone is ready for a game all it takes is holding a game box in the air or looking for someone doing the same. You might be jumping into a game you've never heard of but at least the company will be friendly, albeit sometimes incredibly slow to make moves. A curse of the hobby and a risk worth taking.


Every night at BGG.con I ended up going to bed around 2-3 am and waking up at 9:30 so I could eat a free continental breakfast. I lost sleep every night but I did so at a regular pace. Board games really eat into your brain’s capacity so it’s tough to get anything done in the wee hours of the morning. Alternatively, at Quakecon I would sleep anywhere from a few hours to a full night’s sleep depending on caffeine and how mesmerizing the glow of my computer screen was. A lot of the Quakecon sleeping amongst roommates was done in shifts. I remember falling asleep sometime in the afternoon and waking up in the evening to a couple friends walking in, ready to lay down. I also love seeing people crawl under their computers to sleep. These were some dedicated (albeit poor) gamers and it created much more of a party atmosphere than BGG.con did.

QuakeCon, the convention that never sleeps. (credit)


So how about the free stuff? Quakecon is always kind of exciting when it comes to swag. One minute you're playing video games and the next minute you’re part of a competition to win a free t-shirt, mouse, or whatever. The vendors also host competitions throughout the convention which result in some pretty sweet outcomes. One year I played in a Doom 3 competition and I won a $300 AMD processor by outfragging 2 other people and winning a raffle amongst 3 other “winners”. You never know when something is going to be given away at Quakecon and it’s another part of what keeps your rush constantly going.

The rush at BGG.con, on the other hand, hits you in stages. The first is when you walk into the main lobby with all the dexterity games. Register, take your badge, and immediately score 2-3 shrink wrapped games. I arrived on day 2 so the selection was reduced but I still made out with 2 pretty good games. Throughout every day there were scheduled drawings. Some were multiple game packages offered by the BGG staff and some were vendor related such as Thoughthammer’s game drawings. None of the 10 or so people I personally knew won anything, which was disappointing. On the other hand I’ll be making the trek up to Dallas many more times and when I win I hope it becomes as memorable as my $300 processor.

There’s a lot more money in video games and hardware than board games, and vendors love to show off at Quakecon. In 2009 there were couches set up for people to play games on DLP TV complete with full 3D technology thanks to NVIDIA. You will always find a good mix of both console and computer games out in the vendor area. Computers on steroids are set up to display gorgeous graphics and just watching modern technology in action is impressive. But the most noticeable eye candy are the models hired for the event. I imagine some of them get tired with the flirting and geeky ogles but most are good spirited. Games, girls, and gifts - these marketing pros know what their audience wants.

Vendor Booths

The BGG.con booths were smaller and partially manned by somebody high up on the publisher ladder such as Zev Shlasinger, owner of Z-Man Games, proudly displaying his company's recent and awesome additions to the board game market. There was no flash but you might be able to find a teacher for that game you've been eyeing for the past year. Fumbling over rules is one of the most difficult parts of the board gaming hobby. Having somebody sit down and explain how to play really sells the game to this market as much as anything does for video gamers.

Games, New and Old

It's no surprise that it's cheaper and easier to produce a board game than a video game. The result is that in a year when 10 great PC games hit the market, 50 great board games will too. While I can usually find a demo online to play a video game I'm interested in, it's not so easy to try out a board game. Because of that I felt like there was a lot less pressure to game at Quakecon. I always spent plenty of time in the vendor area, entering tournaments I couldn't win and generally just hanging out with people. At BGG.con, I really felt the need to cram in as many games as I could.

In a sense, a convention like BGG.con is a massive demoing of games. Board games are usually going to cost $30+ in addition to having to find people to play it. So whatever I don’t get to play at BGG.con I can only play if a friend or I just break down and purchase it. The double edged sword of board gaming is that old, good games still have a place in the hobby, meaning the number of games that are "in" keeps growing. By contrast, the number of multiplayer PC games is smaller as modern technology typically obsoletes older games. Although it's possible at QuakeCon to get in a game of a classic like Age of Empires II most of what you will find is limited to a couple dozen titles. To get a sense of how many games get played at BGG.con refer back to the games library link above.

What do people play at BGG.con? EVERYTHING. (This is part of one of many rooms.)

Tournaments and Events

BGG.con offers one big tournament per day. Although I was too enamored by the sight of new-to-me cardboard to partake, they all seemed to be pretty successful. The poker tournament started with around 170 people, had no entry fee, and offered shrink wrapped games for the winners. I actually sat in the poker room for a while to play a game of Dungeon Lords because all of the other tables were in use. So even though I didn't get to play I can attest for a well run tournament. I can also attest that the speaker I foolishly sat right next to was working. Attendees also enjoyed a Tichu tournament (I need to learn that game) and a puzzle hunt (puzzle solving + scavenger hunt). According to some friends, the puzzle hunt had some weird scoring system but overall was a fun experience. These are all just diversions though with gamers playing for the sake of gaming. I daresay winning holds no meaning but it's pretty far from the list of objectives at BGG.con.

On the other hand, QuakeCon is a very competitive group! If there is something that can be turned into a competition, it is. Who can score the most frags on a gaming pro? Who has the coolest modded PC case? Even who has the most porn on their computer. Not everything is officially organized and gamers will often run their own tournaments and competitions. The only rule to follow is no entry charges, but you can usually count on some cool donations. Or at least donations consisting of free swag received from the day before.

QuakeCon is also known for the big money, sponsor endorsed, official tournaments. This year the game was Quake Live with 1v1 and capture the flag contestants playing for bragging rights and cash. Years past have seen id software showcasing their newest game and without any recent releases the easily accessible Quake Live was a good choice for this year's tournament crop.

All that being said, the coolest event at either con had to have been BGG.con's flea market. For one hour people basically host a giant, collective garage sale with things I actually want to buy. About 70 people can register to sell used games in the flea market and they get an hour before anyone else is allowed access. So the advantage to the sellers is they can buy some games early on with limited competition. The advantage to the buyers is that sellers really just want to get rid of these games. You can get some crazy deals during the final seconds of the flea market. One friend bought a $25 game, Roma, for only $2! It's fun working deals, it's fun seeing what's available, and it's one of the few times I have enjoyed shopping.

Closing Comments

There is no doubt that I will go back to both of these conventions many times throughout my life. I may outgrow QuakeCon because of the narrowly defined, younger age range but that's a ways further in the future than I typically think about. Even though I knew several people at both conventions there has been nobody else amongst my friends that have attended both. That may change in the future but I still don't expect much crossover.

The QuakeCon crowd is energetic, runs wild, and is enthralled by reflex based games. The BGG.con crowd is pensive, courteous, and enjoys careful dexterity games and interesting strategic decisions. Sure, there is some crossover in the game offerings but reflex based board games and multiplayer, turn based strategic video games are rare. Whether its sports, video games, or board games - I love games. I am happy to travel to Dallas for these good times and I'm happy there are good people at both stops to enjoy them with.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Well, that's an interesting use for a meeple....

Opinionated Gamers, one of my new favourite blogs, has an interesting list of, er...  "adult"-oriented, board game-inspired toys.  Very funny.  I think '7" Wonders' is my favourite.  You've been warned.

At risk of losing a few readers, might I also suggest a couple of names?  How about 'BIG Black Friday' and 'Not-so-Small World'?  Okay.  I'm done now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Long weekend gaming pics...

Some great games played Sunday and Monday.  I finally played Black Friday with the correct rules and can confirm that it is a brilliant game, elegant and tense.  I learned what it's like too have way too much money in Dominion - gotta love it.  And I found out that Wallace's London may be one of his best games yet and has something that a lot of his games often lack - fun!  And I took two more off my February list of games I need to play...  Doing good.

Black Friday makes for a very good Sunday
A devastating loss in Pandemic...
Serengeti - tricky little card game
Space Alert took some getting used to.  And my partner thought we were the biggest nerds ever while the CD played.

Ah, more money and colonies......
Building casinos in Vegas Showdown
London....   MUST play this again.  Quite good.
Empire Builder.  Classic.  They were on hour 4 when I left.  Mathematicians....
Hansa Teutonica.  Need to play this more.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On The Horizon: Brains...

My partner was lucky enough to receive an Ipad for Christmas from our dog this past December (I know, nice dog, eh!) and I have played a few games on it recently.  One cute, little obsession-forming game which I particularly enjoy is Plants Vs. Zombies.  Zombies are attacking your neighbourhood and you need to plant crazy plants to help defend your home from attack.  It's all very silly but extremely addictive, much like many of the games from PopCap Games (I'm looking at you, Peggle...)

While, joy of joys, looks like PvZ is gonna be a board game now from the company who makes the SceneIt games.  Whether it'll be fun or not is another question but I, for one, am excited to be able to knock off my opponent's pogo stick zombie with my cactus.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ticket To Ride contest...

In anticipation of my first game of TTR with the Monster expansion this weekend, I must mention the new contest being put on by Days of Wonder (contest details here).  They are giving away 10,000 bucks to the person who designs the best TTR board for the upcoming expansions due out the end of this year.  To be honest, I probably won't bother designing a board for the contest, I'm just excited about NEW TICKET TO RIDE BOARDS IN OCTOBER!!!!!!   WOOHOO!!!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Play: Buy Low, Sell High..., oops, I mean Black Friday.  And yes, that is what you need to do in this subtle, brilliant stock market speculation game.  Like Friese's other big hit Power Grid, his design here is elegant, pared-down to the bare essentials, subtle, and surprisingly realistic.  And boy am I bad at it.  Buying tons of stock and then watching the market crash before you can sell any of it is quite a devastating feeling.  And yet I'm hooked and want to do it again.  This is pretty impressive considering that at times we needed to use calculators to determine the cost of our purchases and I had to download two different sheets of errata and rules clarifications before I understood how to play.

At least now I know that I should never invest.....

Monday, February 14, 2011

You tell me: blogs and websites...

You obviously take a look at this blog for info and rants.  What are your websites, blogs, online dabblings, board-game related or otherwise?  Add 'em to the comments and grab some readers!  If it's game-related, maybe it'll even end up in my blog-roll....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wow, what an awful rule-set...

...for the game Black Friday (Schwarzer Freitag) by the inventor of Power Grid, Friedemann Friese.  Just sat down to try and make sense of how to play the game and I must admit that I'm quite confused.  It doesn't even seem like it should be that complicated of a game but I have already gone on the Geek to try and answer a few questions I have that are not in the rules.  Ugh.  I also just discovered I'm not the only one having these issues, as is Brian Bankler at Tao of Gaming.

Well, at least I know I'm not crazy.  But seriously, Rio Grande Games, did no one try to learn the game from the rule-set before you published it?

Having said all that, it looks like quite a bit of fun, if we ever get to play it correctly.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On the horizon: way too much....

Lots coming this year (I'm already envisioning my bank account draining...):

Cargo Noir - See my excitement here and the rules for the new Days of Wonder game here.

Airlines Europe - Alan Moon's new remake of his old Airlines/Union Pacific system sounds like it'll fix a few of the issues I had with UP while keeping the clever gameplay.  First, the useless track cards will be removed (they seemed extraneous to me) and the gameplay will be much shorter.  This is also more of a board version of my current love Gloria Picktoria.  And it's an Alan Moon game.  Seriously. A must-buy.

7 Wonders: Leaders - An expansion for the best game of last year?  Yes, please!  Photo here.

Dixit:  The Odyssey - A new Dixit game?  We love Dixit, especially for the lovely artwork, and will try anything related to it.

Spectral Rails - A ghost-themed train game from Z-Man games where your train delivers souls to the underworld while leaving a trail of ether for other players to ride.  The strange details for this one are in the latest Z-Man newsletter.

These are just some of the titles that I'm looking forward to soon.  On a side note, Boardgame News has merged with BoardGameGeek and all of the BGN posts are showing up on the home page of BGG now.  So glad the other Eric is back...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Guest post: Impressions of Witch's Brew...

"So I picked up Witch's Brew. I played it last December and was hooked right away.

It is short, at about half an hour a game, but the game still manages to offer a number of interesting choices along with the fun of saying such things as "NO! I'm the Witch" as a part of the actual game. It is also a very teachable game, with rules taking less than 15min. Oh, and best of all, it is fun even when you're not saying "I'm the Witch." And it seems to allow for people to play well without a deep understanding, making it a quick sell to new players, while at the same time offering enough depth for experienced players to make informed, interesting decisions that may not win them the game, but will leave them in good standing, making for high re-playability.

The bits are okay, though I wish they used wooden pieces for the gold and viles. Also, some of the important notation is subtler than it ought to be, and missing in one instance all together.

But overall, I would recommend this game to anyone who plays board games. The mechanics are simple and fun, while still offering some depth. The games are short, allowing you to play several games in a row or use it as a nice filler before playing a big sloggy game like Imperial. Personally, the problem with the bits and notation are easily over looked, and don't impact how good this game is." 

-Andrew Brown (Andrew organizes the weekly board game nights at the University of Waterloo, where he is an avid Go player currently working towards a PhD. in Mathematics.  He is also quite good at explaining the rules to complicated games in a simple way....  I think it's a math thing.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

You tell me: your favourite FLGS...

Just had another great experience with the owner of  Although his site is simple to look at, it is updated weekly, easy to search, very cheap prices, and his selection of new and obscure European titles is fantastic.  I just picked up London, Martin Wallace's latest from Treefrog Games, through him and didn't have to pay any of the extra shipping that would have occurred if I'd ordered directly from the UK.  Not only is his warehouse blocks from my house in Kitchener, Ontario, saving me on all my shipping costs, but he is a super-nice guy with a new kid and I'm happy to support him. AND HE KNOWS WHAT HE'S TALKING ABOUT!!!!  I get so annoyed with merchants who always recommend Settlers or Carcassonne to confused customers, not because they've played them, but because it's their biggest sellers. 

What is your favourite games merchant website or Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS, get it?)  Why?  C'mon, give them some props and maybe some new business, too!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

First Plays: Magical Athlete and Gloria Picktoria...

In keeping with my February goals, Monday night we played two of my many games that had yet to be cracked open. And much to our delight, they were both quite a lot of fun, one being hilariously chaotic and the other being tactical and quite tense.

The first, Magical Athlete, is a rather silly game from Japan which is very easy to explain.  Everyone bids on various different characters and they all race them over a series of rounds.  The races are actually quite simple - one 6-sided die determines how far you move down a track with 30 spaces to the goal. 

Where it gets interesting is the interaction of the different characters.  Think Cosmic Encounter meets Snakes and Ladders.  Some characters move others back or cause others to lose turns, others  can guess on a winner or steal victory points earned from previous races.  It's all rather random and quite chaotic but it was also quick, hilarious, and fairly close at the end.  Unfortunately, the artwork on the board is god-awful but I still seem to like it a lot.

The second game of the night was a big hit and got played twice-in-a-row which is always a good sign.  You've probably never heard of it, but I did mention Gloria Picktoria in a previous post as it's a remake of a great Alan Moon card game which is a remake of an even older Alan Moon card game.  I love this game.  Love it.  And I'll be doing a more detailed review fairly soon (it'll probably start with the words "Alan Moon is brilliant") so I'll just talk about it briefly here.

GP is a little card game about getting majorities in one of the ten different colours.  First and second place are worth points, third is worth nothing.  One draws cards Ticket To Ride-style and plays them down in front using 3 action points a turn.  Fairly simple.  What ramps the tension up tremendously are the scoring cards that are mixed into the deck and come up fairly randomly.  There are 10 scoring cards and when the 4th, 7th, and 10th come out, scoring occurs immediately.   The brilliant addition to this version of the game is the nasty fox who leaps around the board like a hot potato, canceling out whomever's pile of cards he sits on.  This fox element takes what was already a great little card game (Get The Goods from 1996) and makes it an even more agonizing game of pushing your luck.  Fantastic.

I can't recommend the new version from 2007 enough.  I'll tell you more in a detailed review soon.  While you're waiting, go out and buy a copy!