Congress of Gamers is a small(ish) gathering of board gamers in Rockville, MD, just outside of Washington DC. It's just under 3 hours from my house, so I took the long solo drive down to see what it was all about. I really had no clue going into it because 1) Like I said, it's small(ish), 2) It's only been around for a few years, and 3) Their website is a little rough. Just finding out the location requires the user to channel their inner internet detective.
Even walking up to it, I still had no clue what to expect. The event was in a Senior Center, which sounds like it'll be a one or two room building, but this was bigger than most high schools. Tons of themed rooms, with tones of things to do. It made me want to skip 30 years into the future just to have the possibility of hanging out at one of these places.
But I was there to play games. The main room had a whole bunch of people playing Power Grid at once, with a silent Board Game Auction happening along side of it. Instead, I spent my time in the Unpub Protozone, a room for established, and up-and-coming designers to demo their new and unpublished games. The mood was very upbeat and creative in there, with a lot of great minds huddled around each game. I only played a few, and photographed a few more, but overall had a great time.
I was one of the first designers to arrive, so my first few games were play tests of my own game, ZombieZone. It's a 2 player head-to-head battle game, currently in beta testing.
We played the game about 8-10 times throughout the day, with most players getting in more than one session, which is always a great initial compliment in these testing sessions. Everyone seemed to be having a blast, with it being the loudest game in the room (at least until Pole Position got rolling) and the anonymous user feedback forms proved that everyone did enjoy themselves.
My goal with the game right now is to finalize the basic units and start introducing new ones. The balance leans a little bit to the Zombie side right now and these sessions have helped tighten it up. You can pick up a copy of ZombieZone at The Game Crafter, or print your own at this link: http://buttonshy.blogspot.com/2012/10/zombiezone-full-pnp.html
VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game
With VivaJava just shipping out to its Kickstarter backers, getting a chance to play TC Petty III's dice version of the game was an unexpected surprise. I knew TC would be in attendance (as he was co-running the event) but I had no clue such a prototype existed. I think this was the one of the first public tests of the game.
So what can I tell you about it? Well, it's basically VivaJava lite. Just replace the beans with dice. If you've played VivaJava, you'll recognize all of the familiar mechanics. There are the blends (and even the epic Rainbow blend), the research (which modifies your die rolls instead of your bean pulls). Players can bet on other blends, and also obtain more/better dice.
If you haven't played VivaJava, the prototype might take a little more explanation, if only to bring in the coffee theme. Players will roll dice trying to make their best coffee blend. A blend is similar to a poker hand, with 3 of a kind beating a pair, and 4 of a kind beating 3 of a kind. Only one blend can be in play at once, so a better blend will dethrone the previous leader. Points are scored throughout the game, with the most coming in after successfully surviving a full round as the top blend. The alternative to blending is to research, which gives you special abilities once you reach certain checkpoints on the blend board.
As a fan of VivaJava, I was instantly hooked on this. And as a fan of great mechanics, I think most would also get hooked in. The only thing missing from VivaJava is the social side to it… but this is smaller, lighter, and quicker. It really captures the brilliance of VivaJava, with dice.
Walls of Light
I didn't expect to get to play Walls of Light. This is Jesse Catron's Game Crafter game about stained glass windows. Probably one of the most extreme themes (extreme, as in far from the normal, not to be confused with an EXTREME! theme) I've played in a while, and it meshes really nicely with the mechanics.
In the game, players are completing windows by playing transparent tiddly winks on top of each other to form various colors. When two colors form a third color, a player may earn extra points (as points are calculated by the amount of different colors in a single window).
The game is very inexpensive and you can get a copy at The Game Crafter for just $9.99. It's light on components, but the quality of the design makes it feel like it should cost twice as much. I ordered my copy and I'm looking forward to playing again.
I've talked about Salmon Run a few times before. It's a very solid, customizable, deckbuilding Salmon racing game, and it's currently nearing the end of it's very long Kickstarter run. You can still pledge for the next 12 days.
Each time I play, I enjoy the game more and more. Even this time, I lost terribly, but still had a great time. Gryphon Games lis doing an amazing job with the production mock ups, but I will miss the art and appeal of the prototype. Look at that 3D rendered bear!
I didn't get to play these last three games, but everyone seemed to have a great time with them. I can vouch for event co-organizer, Darrell Louder's upcoming Dice Hate Me game, Compounded. It's solid. Absolutely solid.
I didn't get the names of the designers of Pole Position, but they came in asking if there was space to demo their game, and they quickly had everyone in the room playing their horse race / auction game, ALL AT ONCE. It was crazy how it took off, and sustained that momentum all day long.
East India Company
The final game that I missed was Paul Owens' East India Company. I was told that it was THE game to play at Congress Of Gamers, but it didn't make the table the day I was there. I got to chat with Paul for a while (great guy) and he let me take a few shots of the game. Hope to play at an upcoming event.
And that was my day at the Rockville Senior Center a/k/a Congress of Gamers. A nice, small gathering of great designers and great games. I say it was small because there were only a few dozen people in the room throughout the day, but that was plenty to keep the games going on a consistent basis. The silent auction was worth it too. I didn't get anything because I saw it too late, but I know someone bought Power Grid with 2 extra maps for $20. That would have been worth the 3 hour drive alone.