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This is my first time in Iowa! I flew into Des Moines but my final destination is Cedar Rapids for a gaming convention. I had an early 5:50 am flight out of Reagan National. By the time I showed up at the airport, the security line for my gate has snaked out of the queue and sprawled out to the middle of the main terminal. Kind of ironic that the longest TSA line I have seen this year was after the government shutdown. Makes me wonder how much of it was media hype. Anyway I have TSA Pre-check so I quickly go through the screening . This time we took off on runway 33 so no view of the National Mall, but we did over fly the Pentagon.

Iowa was just like I imaged...flat.  Instead of corn fields there are endless tracts of snow covered farmland. They must have had a recent snowstorm because I saw at least 5 cars stranded along the shoulder or median. I am staying at the Marriott where the convention was being held. My room was not ready so I grabbed some lunch. The first thing I did once the room was ready was to shower. I skipped it this morning to get some extra snooze time...Eeww.  While waiting for my friends, Jenni and Chris, to drive up from Iowa City, I walked around the convention floor to check out what games were being played. One game caught my attention because of the cool looking miniatures, Starship Samurai. The game was already in progress but one of the players, Joe was kind enough to explain the rules of the game to me. Basically you are in control of a mechanized samurai robot and your goal is to colonize planet while beating back rival forces/robots.

I found another table where the GM (game master), Brian, had no one signed up to play the game he wanted to demo, Nanuk. I had no desire to learn that game but was interested in playing a Batman dice game he had in his collection. We found 2 other players and played a game. You are one of the villians...I was Catwoman...you rolled 3 dice. The outcome of the die can be either money, roll again or bat symbol. You set aside any rolled loot and Batman symbol and can continue rolling 3 more dice until you decide to stop or rolled 3 Batman symbols. The first villain to collect a total of 30 loot wins. The winner, Sarah, was playing the Riddler. This game is fairly quick to play and we were almost done when Jenni and Chris arrived.

I knew Jenni through traveling. She taught me the ins and outs of mile running, where you fly to accumulate frequent flyer miles cheaply.  Some of my past trips were due to Jenni alerting me to some low or mistake fare. The best trips were the ones when our schedules aligned and we could go together because Jenni would do all the trip planning. The best part of Jenni's itineraries were the places she picked to have a meal. Whether it was an incredible hidden ramen noodle place in Tokyo or exotic night food market in Singapore where I ate sting ray, all the restaurants were phenomenal. Occasionally Jenni would invite me to a dinner party at her place where she demonstrated her talents go beyond picking good places to eat. About two years ago Jenni and Chris moved to Iowa and this would be the first time I see them since the move.
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Jenni is coordinating a 7 player game of Paper Tales among the gamers she knows. I was introduced to Pretty John, Jeremy, Katie and Dan. It turned out that this is the first time Jenni met Jeremy and Dan face to face. Jeremy and Dan are one of Jenni's subscribers to her board game reviews. Jenni has enough of a following that game producers are seeking her out to review their new games. Paper Tales is a card drafting game where you draft cards to help protect you from attacks from the players next to you while trying to amass enough income to build buildings. Chris and I were able to quickly erect our structures but Pretty John ended up winning by getting cards which gave him end of game victory points. Paper Tales is one of the convention's "play to win" games. Anyone who plays the game can submit the names of the players and winner. On Sunday they will raffle off the game to one person from the submitted names. I assume if you win you get multiple entries in the raffle.

After the game Jenni, Chris and I went out for dinner at a restaurant called Taste of India. It took almost an hour before we got the food we ordered. Jenni asked to speak to the manager. Chris and I watched Jenni do her magic. Jenni should teach a class on how to submit a complaint. She was cordial but still made it clear she was not happy with the service. The manager finally agreed to not charge us for your drinks as compensation...sweet! Can I  have another beer. I had the curry shrimp. I asked that the dish to be made very spicy, but it barely hit one pepper (runny nose) on my hotness scale. I guess this is what Iowans call spicy food.

After Jenni and Chris headed back to Iowa City, I went back to the convention floor. I saw Joe from Starship Samurai  unwrapping a game and he invited me to play test it. The game is a card game version of Cerebria. The goal is to collect and play emotions cards to fully form a personality.  Even though we both finished a fully formed gloomy personality, Joe won because he had more fragments of a cheery personality. I don't think Joe got the rules completely correct, so I signed up for the game demo, Saturday morning. I was right. We did have some of the rules wrong last night. I won the game on Saturday by completing a balanced personality with equal parts cheery and gloomy aspects.

For the rest of the morning I played in a Settlers of Catan tournament. Settlers of Catan was my gateway game into the world of "euro" games. "Euro" games de-emphasize direct player to player conflict/interaction and reward the players ability to manage the resources on hand. In Settlers of Catan the different hex tiles can produce wool, clay, ore, wheat and wood. You use the resources to build roads, settlements (1 pt) and cities (2 pt). The first person to reach a total of 10 points, wins. For the tournament I will be playing three 3 player games where you earn points based on how you finish in each game. The top 4 players will face each other in a final game.
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My first game I departed from my typical strategy because my first two settlements were 4 hexes apart; however, I had access to all resources and the numbers (5, 6, 8, 9 and 10) working for me.  With a couple good rolls I was able to upgrade one of my settlements into a city before the other players could even get a settlement built. I was able to connect my first two settlements with the longest road (2 pt). Once I gathered enough resources to hire knights, I got the largest army (2 pt) and the victory.

The second game was not as easy. I was able to keep my two starting settlements near each other. I employed my normal strategy of encircling a hex with a good number; my friends call it a Wincer circle. If the number is rolled, you can get a lot of one type of resource in this case, clay. You can then trade it to other players for a resource you need or sell it in a port. Of course this leaves you vulnerable if the number is not rolled or block by the robber. The winner of the game, Dave, pulled a tactic that only makes sense in context of the tournament. It was a close game with Dave having 8 points, I had 7 points and the other player had 4 points. I was sure the game was over because Dave was one knight away from the largest army which would have given him a total of 10 points. Dave indicated he did not have a knight but probably will get it his next turn. This prompted the other player to use all his resources to build 4 roads to steal the longest road from me. Dave also locked down my circle by placing a robber on it, so I had no resources to build anything on my turn. When it was Dave's turn, he revealed that he did have the 3rd knight, so he extended the game in order to amass 12 points, which may factor in tournament tie breaker and have me finish third...i guess I should be honored that he considered me such a threat.
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The third game was easy with the Wincer circle netting me a win. With a 2-1 record I finished 3rd overall and will be playing in the finals this evening. While I was playing Settlers, Jenni and Chris was participating in a game auction. Chris won the bid for Histrio, a game about putting on plays. Once I was finished with the preliminary round, Jenni was delighted to teach me her current favorite game, Brass Birmingham. Jenni liked the game so much it took her weeks to write her review of the game because she preferred to play the game on her free time instead of writing the review. Brass is an economic strategy game where you pit wits as competing entrepreneurs during the industrial revolution. My character was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a civil and mechanical engineer considered "one of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution who changed the face of the English landscape with his groundbreaking designs and ingenious constructions." I wished I could claim that I channeled his spirit but I finished last, 24 points behind the winner, Jenni. The Brass game finished one hour before the Settlers final. We played a "play to win" card game called Illimat with Jenni's friend Megan. Illimat was designed by the members of the band, Decemberists, as they toured the country. Again, I finished dead...my confidence has taken a beating. This time Chris won the game.
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A paid entry to the National Championship was up for grabs at the finals. Joining me at the table was Dave who went undefeated in preliminary, Ryan who won this tournament last year and Old Man Joe (that's what was on his name tag). I had a quick start forming my Wincer circle, but Dave shut me down with the robber. Unfortunately I did not have the right resources to hire knights to repell the robber. Dave probably should have focused less on me and more on Ryan. Ryan positioned himself to gather a lot of resources but he stalled at 9 points. Dave made a roaring comeback and won. I finished 3rd and won some game supplements that I am eager to try out when I get home. I ended my night with a win playing Bill and Ted's Excellent Boardgame...party on.

This featured blog entry was written by NDSquirrel from the blog 50 in 50.
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By NDSquirrel

Posted Fri, Mar 01, 2019 | USA | Comments