Board Game Gumbo: MobiCon 2018 Recap
In past blog entries, I have detailed my travels to Gulf Shores, Alabama — a very common vacation spot for gamers on the Gulf Coast. Anytime I can mix gaming and a vacation, I am a happy camper. This time, our trip coincided with MobiCon, an annual geek-type convention in nearby Mobile, MobiCon.
Steve Huckabee from Gulf Coast Gaming Library invited me to spend Saturday, May 26, 2018 volunteering in the board game library area. Steve has a massive collection of over 1500 titles on nine rolling cart shelves! I love hanging out with Steve and Robert and their friends and family, so I was excited to go.
Caveat -- this report is only for my one day of volunteering. I spent most of my time in the gaming area, so I can’t tell you much about the rest of the con. I did briefly walk through the vendor hall and was impressed with the size of the hall, especially for a smaller con. And I got to visit with my old high school chum, Kenneth Kidder, who was demoing and selling his RPG, Tortured Earth.
One of the first things that impressed me about MobiCon was the open hours. The doors open at nine in the morning, and the gaming library itself doesn’t close until two in the morning. For anybody that has ever worked a convention, you know that is a long day!
Anybody that knows me knows that I love arriving early. I got there at eight in the morning ready to game. I didn’t realize that the registration booth didn’t open until nine, but this was a perfect opportunity to explore the con area, and check out the new games Steve had in his library. The game con is located at a very nice hotel, the Renaissance Downtown. There’s plenty of free parking across the street by the Convention Center, and since the Mobile downtown area is hopping, you will find plenty of food and drink options right next door.
I wandered around the hotel checking out the areas. They had a nice sized vendor hall, and an even nicer laid out area for RPG and miniature war gaming downstairs where the board gaming was located. I wandered down to the library room, and spied a copy of a game I had been wanting to play.
First up was Memoarrr! from Stronghold Games. Memory games are generally not my favorite type of game -- which is strange because Kim’s Game is my absolute favorite scout game. Generally, they remind me of boring IP based memory games from my childhood.
But Memoarrr! was different. When Stephen Buonocore was on Gumbo Live! earlier this season, he implored me to try it. Plus, I have friends on Punch Board Media who keep saying the Spiel des Jahres jury loved this game.
Now I see why. Sure it is a competitive memory game, but it has some take that (just a tiny bit) and some point scoring with unique mechanics. Players populate a five by five grid of cards with five different animals on five different backgrounds. The middle card is taken out without being revealed, and replaced with random treasure cards plus volcanoes.
Players each have a chance to peek at the three cards in front of them, and then take turns revealing one card on the 5x5 grid. The next person MUST reveal a card that matches either the background OR the animal. If they reveal a non-matching card, then they have to pick up a volcano card, which takes them out of the running to win this round. (Don’t worry, the rounds last less than a minute, usually, so player elimination is never a problem). The last person standing gets a treasure card, with the amount of treasure points on the card hidden from other players, and another round starts with all players back in. Play continues until all the treasure cards are doled out, which takes about 10 minutes.
Memoarrr! is an easy teach, and plays very quickly. This game was a big hit, and I think it is not only because of the good presentation, but also because it puts a unique spin on the memory match genre. I think this is a perfect addition to any con library.
Next up was a learning game of Drop It from Kosmos Games.. This is another game that I heard a lot of buzz, and I can see why. It looks like Connect 4, but in reality it’s closer to a gamer version of Tetris with a very unique scoring mechanism. Players take turns dropping different colored shapes into a clear plastic stand. They will score points when the piece lands without touching the same color or the same shape.
There’s also some bonuses depending on where it is placed, but be careful, a player can lose all of their points if the piece is touching a part of the wall that is prohibited for that piece (such as if a green piece touches the “no green piece” area of the wall.) This is a stand out family game — I taught it over and over and saw many families play it repeatedly.
DEMO TIME: SLIDE BLAST
Gulf Coast asked me to schedule some demos for the con, and I was happy to oblige. My first demo was Slide Blast from Fox Mind Games. I’ve played this one many times in the past, so this was an easy game to demo. Set up is a breeze, and if you like tile laying games, it is an especially pleasant game to teach. Players take turns placing tiles representing parts of a waterslide, and then watch their meeples slide down the slide. They’ll score bonus points if they can make the other players slide, too.
Slide last is fun for families and looks cool on the table. I especially love the big thick pieces that represent fun elements of a water park, like the speed slides or the big pirate ships. I have only played it with older gamers, and so I was surprised how easy families pick it up. I even saw a young boy about six years old playing and having fun.
DEMO TIME TWO: ULM
My next demo was a little trickier to manage. This was my first time to MobiCon, and to be honest, I was not very sure whether this particular audience would warm to a Euro style game. The little experience I have with comic con style conventions is that the players are new to the hobby (or not exposed at all), and that many players are looking for either familiar titles or familiar IPs.
Ulm is an easy teach for experienced euro gamers, but it does have a busy board and a lot of little rules that can throw off a new gamer. I definitely wouldn’t call it a heavy weight game, but it is not a gateway game either.
My little gamble paid off. I demoted to a couple passing groups, and then found two groups willing to play. One group was an experienced euro group, and they picked up the rules right away.
The second group was made up of four friends who were relatively new to gaming. I took my time and reiterated some of the rules, and stayed with them for a couple of rounds helping each player through the different actions and strategies.
By the second round, most of the group had got it, and even the guy who took a few more rounds to figure it out, played so well in the second half of the game that he actually won. He saw the importance of buying cards late and put all of his effort into collecting sets and moving his barge.
That’s always a cool moment, when you see the light come on, and a gamer figures out the “why” of the game. And another cool moment was when a demo group tells you, “Hey, BJ, can we buy this at a local game store?” Evangelizing for the win!
TEACHING TIME: ICE COOL, CLANK!, DROP IT
I was scheduled to do another game from R&R for my last demo, but switched it up for some free form teaching and demoing around the library open gaming space.
I was able to teach multiple games of Ice Cool from Brain Games, one of my top ten games last year.
My favorite Ice Cool moment at MobiCon was spying an older dad (with three excited pre-teens) who walked into the library. I asked him if he was there to game, and he gave me a weary look, and said, “I’m just here to tag along.”
I shook my head, and steered them to Ice Cool. I could see the hesitation, but by the end of the first round, he was smiling and talking smack with his boys. Another win!
Hanging around the library gave me the opportunity to help people decide on their next game. I saw a group of college kids who seemed interested in thematic, take that type games. Why not try out Clank! I said. They had never heard of it, so I was happy to teach them how to play.
All three of them were vaguely familiar with the deck building concept, having played a little Magic: The Gathering or Heartstone. After a quick five minute instruction, they were off and running. If you haven’t played it or heard of it, Clank! is a deck building, dungeon diving game that Ipreviously reviewed here. It has been a wildly popular release from Renegade Games, and has spawned two expansions and a separate stand alone game (Clank! In! Space!) which also has an expansion coming out.
I knew the theme would hook them in, and I knew the deck building mechanic would appeal to their past history as gamers. And I was right, this was a big hit in the group and I enjoyed watching them soak it up.
I also had time for a full game of my own. While in the library, a fellow gamer named Jimmy picked up Fate of the Elder Gods by Greater Than Games. I asked him if he needed help, and he said he'd love a teacher.
We grabbed another gamer named Belle and laid it out on the center table -- which generated lots of questions and oohs as we played. If you haven't seen or played Fate before, it is a highly thematic action selection game where players flip the typical Cthulhu storyline on its head: we play as Cultists trying to call down our Elder God before another cultist does, all while battling those pesky investigators. Fate was one of my top three games of 2017.
After a quick rules instruction, we settled down for a very fun, thematic game. Both players were really into the mythos as well as the mechanisms of Fate. Gaming. Is so much more fun when the players "get" the game.
After we finished, Jimmy and I talked favorite Cthulhu based games, and he told me a little about the milieu. Since my extent of Lovecraft knowledge comes from The Secret Cabal's radio plays, I was happy to learn more about the stories from him.
My only regret? When I was leaving the con later that afternoon, I spied a copy of Beast From Beyond on the shelves. I have yet to play the Beasts expansion, and that would have been cool to try out with Jimmy and Belle. Next time!
FREE TIME: SPACE BASE
My demos were done, my free time ranging around was over, and just as I was getting ready to pack it up to head back to Gulf Shores, I spied two gentlemen setting upSpace Base by John D. Clair,published this year byAEG. Steve saw my eyes light up, and motioned for me to join the game.
Dave, the teacher, is a demo rep for AEG, and his buddy “Navy” (as I called him) was not only a Navy veteran, but a pretty good board gamer to boot. We roped in one of their buddies, Brian, to join us as the fourth.
Space Base has been compared and contrasted to Machi Koro. I will tell you off the bat that I am not a fan of Machi Koro at all. I don’t like the base game, and didn’t find that the expansion I bought really added all that much to the game. All the reasons I didn’t like Machi Koro (too luck based, strategy seemed foredestined, and too little interest) have been solved in Space Base.
Players take turns drafting dice results (not dice) from their roll to upgrade their twelve space ships. The twist is that every dice roll benefits the other players too -- either the combined value of the two dice, or the individual two rolled die.
Even though I had only one play, I saw on our four boards so many different strategies bent on winning. I was playing to the middle -- sort of like I do inCan’t Stop-- while others were focusing more on outlier numbers, or improving their income base or engine building for victory points. The game was so tight -- we were all within a few points of each other -- and that tells me that there are multiple ways to win. Obviously, with only one play I am not ready to review this one, but let’s just say that my first impression was a great one. I shook their hands multiple times and thanked them profusely for teaching me this great little game.
What a happy coincidence it was to be on vacation just 50 miles away from this great little con. My wife loves the beach, and I love gaming, so making a pilgrimage to Orange Beach / Gulf Shores every Memorial Day will be even easier knowing that I can spend the Saturday of the weekend at a great regional con that has an awesome gaming component.
If you will be in the Mobile area during Memorial Day weekend, you ought to sign up for next year’s con. Come by the gaming room and say hi to me and Steve and Robert and the rest of the gang. There’s plenty of gaming down on the gulf coast...at least on Memorial Day weekend! Overall, I give a hearty two thumbs up to MobiCon for a very well put together convention, and their support of board gaming is to be admired.
Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!