GoPlayListen: HandyCon 6 2019 - List and proud
My trip to HandyCon 6 was my first: a three-day board game convention held biannually at The Holiday Inn, just outside Maidenhead.
Unfortunately, we booked too late to get to stay at the main hotel, instead staying at a Premier Inn nearer the town centre – a 20-30 minute walk from the venue.
This was a weird one for me in terms of games played – in a good way. I got a lot of games to the table I like but don’t play often; or liked on a single play and hadn’t played since. I managed to play 20 different games over the weekend, most of which get a mention below. Then I’ll talk a little about the con itself.
Top HandyCon 6 game experiences
The reason for going, of course, is to sit in a room with friends old and new and play games. So these are the games, also old and new, I most enjoyed at the con.
The Gallerist: My first Lacerda, and I feared the worst as we waded through the umpteenth rule (thanks Alex!) – but wow. It’s worker placement with only eight different actions. The complexity comes from managing resources and playing the market, increasing the value of your gallery’s investments. While thinky it largely makes thematic sense – and is gorgeous too. But I’ll need to play again before I forget everything – which, with luck, may be soon!
Caylus: There was a new version at the con, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at it. I’m happy with the original, thanks – still one of the best worker placement games around. It was new-ish to Alex and Tom, which made for a weird game. Neither made many buildings that gave extra cubes, so we were resource poor throughout. But it was close, tense and as fascinating as ever.
Yokohama: Another worker placement game. Sensing a pattern? Played with Keith and Clare (as, it seems, always) and Tom – who hadn’t played and was very last. I tried, as usual, to rush the end game – but got found out and slipped into a close third about 10 behind the winner. I love how it’s a genuine mix of strategy and tactics: Istanbul on steroids, if steroids were a good thing.
Whistle Stop: My second play of this didn’t disappoint. It’s what happens when you cross a train game with a route-building tile-placement game such as Tsuro. Place tiles, collect resources, deliver them, get shares etc. But within a clever tile placement system that can affect many of the 10-16 trains in play. I got gazumped in all four share majorities so ended up coming last – but it was still great fun. We all tried something a bit different, but it was still very close at the end.
Rome – City of Marble: This game had totally passed me by, but I’m glad Tom brought and taught it to us. It has a real classic German euro feel: largely abstract, light on rules/components but high on consequences – especially in terms of what you leave other players. Think Five Tribes interaction, but with way less going on. But the decision-making space has just as much consequence. In fact having played both over the weekend, I enjoyed this far more.
Other games of note (or not)
The two new-to-me games that didn’t make the list were Architects of the West Kingdom and Colors of Kasane.
Architects… suffers from a game trait I hate: where a ‘take that’ mechanism targets the player who has the most of something arbitrary you want, not the person doing best/you want revenge on. For me, that’s just bad design.
Colors… is a pretty Japanese card game, but there isn’t enough control to make it anything other than a bit of a pointless luck fest. There simply weren’t many real decisions to make, unless we were playing it wrong (the rulebook was really awful).
I also want to mention For Sale, Sarkophag, Parade, 5 Colors and Just One – all fantastic filler game experiences enjoyed over the weekend. It’s rarely a filler game’s lot to make this kind of list. But whenever we had too many people/not enough time there were some fantastic little card games we could turn to. And we also had a good game of Pioneer Days, in which Alex looked hosed right up until he sped ahead and won because we didn’t tank his rather fragile engine. Noobs…
Top HandyCon 6 things
HandyCon 6 was really well run. The check-in process was smooth (and digital – ooh, get them!). And there were loads of friendly, easy-to-spot, orange-shirted volunteers around if you needed anything all weekend. The con also went the extra mile in terms of inclusion, with gender neutral toilets and a ‘preferred pronoun’ section on the name badges; plus a few ‘accessibility priority’ tables near doorways in the main room.
There were soft drink and beer vouchers available (making beer just £3 a pint, which is pretty good ‘down south’ in a hotel) – and the beer was good. There was also a con food menu with table service. Plus, the usual extras such as demo/prototype games, staffed bring-and-buy and competitions/tournaments. I even got to do some judging in the game design tournament, which was a fun (if nerve-wracking) experience.
Top things to improve
I really enjoyed my weekend at HandyCon. But while I know no con is perfect, these issues really stood out. And while two are on a similar theme, they’re key to what makes a con work. Namely, sitting down and playing some games.
Go eco: The level of waste was bad. Many I spoke to were upset with the paper and plastic wasted throughout the weekend. There was a sea (pun intended) of plastic cups apparently just for the con. I asked if I could have a glass in the main bar, but was told they were “trying to get rid of” the non-reusable plastics by the end of the weekend. Food was often brought to tables in plastic boxes, which were sometimes in paper bags – not on, you know, a plate?
Spacing/isles: While I understand wanting to get as many in as possible, the main room was uncomfortably cramped. I lost count of the times someone backed their chair into me, or clocked me with a bag. The overcrowding often meant no room for bags under tables, so they ended up in aisles – creating trip hazards for some and direct issues for anyone with physical accessibility issues. I really felt for Aj from Able Table Gaming, for example, who had to ask a lot of people to move bags so she could get by.
Chairs: Presumably as a direct consequence, or a perceived need to have a chair for everyone attending, there was a big excess of chairs. To cram in as many spaces as possible, they’d pushed (four-to-six?) tables together in each row. With inadequate room to get between rows anyway, and nowhere to put bags, people spread out. Spare chairs became game shelves/side tables, or just got in the way. I doubt any row was ever fully seated. So they could’ve just taken a table/four chairs out of every row and given us some breathing room.
HandyCon-clusions (ho ho)
I know this is ending things on a down note, but please scroll back up and read all the positive stuff too. In the main, HandyCon is friendly, good fun and well run. It is only on its sixth event, and has grown fast. So I’m sure my misgivings will be addressed by the management team. And perhaps the hotel is at fault, rather than the con.
I certainly hope to go back to HandyCon another time – especially if these issues are addressed (or if I’m invited/can get in the hotel proper). But for now, HandyCon will be on my reserve list for weekends away, rather than the ‘definitely’ list alongside Essen, AireCon, SorCon and of course LoBsterCon (sorry Tom!). Speaking of which, I’d better get going on that Essen wishlist…