PaneraCon IX Recap – The one that came down to the wire
On June 29th, 2013, a small fledgling gaming convention was created in a miasma of carbs and chits at a Panera Bread location halfway between Cleveland and Columbus. What started as a group of three friends spending the day playing games has now, over the past year, become …. four friends spending the day playing games. Click through to hear about Star Realms, Lost Legacy: The Starship, Potato Man, Caverna, Las Vegas Boulevard, Port Royal, and Florenza The Card Game!
Unfortunately, founding member Eric Leath (@LeathsOfGrass) was unable to attend this month’s PaneraCon. However, fellow founding member, Tiffany Bahnsen (@IneptGamer), her frienemesis Ed, and my coworker Aaron DeBerry (@Aaron_DeBerry) were in attendance. My contributions to the day included Lost Legacy: The Starship, Say Bye To The Villains, Seventh Hero, Istanbul, Florenza: The Card Game, Las Vegas, Abluxxen, Impulse, Valley of the Kings, and Star Realms. I was first to arrive, and had to do some table stalking to ensure we got our ceremonial table. I may have to start calling ahead and asking them to reserve the table for us, maybe with some fancy velvet rope or something. This being the ninth time we’ve done this, we’re starting to become known by the Panera staff. “How are the games going? You’re the group that meets once a month where some of you are from cleveland and others from columbus, right?” said one manager as I purchased a cinnamon crunch scone. DON’T JUDGE ME! THEY TASTE GOOD! AND YOU NEED TO CARB LOAD FOR A MENTAL MARATHON LIKE PLAYING…oh who am I kidding 😛
Tiffany and Ed arrived next, and the first game of the day was a 2 player battle of Star Realms by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle from White Wizard Games. I taught Ed how to play, and then proceeded to smash him. I only play Star Realms on Android a bajillion times a day. Both Ed and Tiffany seemed to enjoy the game. I love it because it’s fast, it’s fun, and the faction chaining can lead to some crazy combos. I’m still not a fan of the Authority cards, but I still love the game regardless.
Aaron arrived and we got into our next game of the day, Lost Legacy: The Starship by Seiji Kanai and Hayato Kisaragi from AEG. This one wasn’t as big of a hit as it was at the last GameNight I held. While Ed took to it like a fish takes to water and seemed almost precognizant of where that starship was going to be, Tiffany struggled a bit, not being the biggest fan of deduction games. We played it a couple times, but it didn’t really seem to take off (get it, starship! take off! HA!) with the gang.
Next up was Potato Man by Günter Burkhardt and Wolfgang A. Lehmann from Zoch Verlag (can ya tell it’s a german game?!) As is the norm with PaneraCon’s past, a game was purchased immediately after playing it. In this case, I purchased Potato Man. This is a sweet little trick taking game which has stealthily become one of the more prominent game types in my collection. In this game, there are four suits (blue, green, yellow, and red) and each suit has a particular range of values and points awarded for taking tricks using that suit. One of the catches is, only one card of a given suit can be played during a trick. High card wins, with some exceptions, namely among them being Evil Potato wins every trick unless a Super Potato is played, in which good triumphs over evil. Each suit has a stack of VP cards with 1-4 VP’s on them and with images of varying qualities of potato sacks on them, naturally. As soon as one color’s stack is depleted, the fancy gold potato sacks, worth 5 points, are now available to win for the suit that just ran out of regular VP cards. It’s simple but there are some honest to goodness significant choices to be made.
Next up was Caverna: The Cave Farmers by Uwe Rosenberg from Lookout Games. Ohh, Caverna. *sigh* This one was rough for me. Not because it’s a bad game at all. It feels like Agricola 2.0 or Agricola: The Next Generation (which is ironic considering there’s cave people in this one). No, it was rough for me because I’ve let my Euro game brain muscles become weak and atrophied. I’ve got some really killer Euro games in my collection. Games like Bora Bora, Egizia, Keyflower, Le Havre, and Princes of Florence. But as of late, due to an influx of new gamers attending GameNight and my recent addiction to collecting smaller, lighter games, I just haven’t gotten a Euro to the table in a very long time. And it showed once we got into Caverna. I couldn’t come up with a strategy, I felt like as every time my turn came around, I had little to any clue what I wanted to accomplish, let alone looking ahead. All in all, it was a good game that ended up leaving me feeling like I’d just walked a 5k. Exhausted but pleased with the mental exercise I’d just completed.
So, after the marathon that was Caverna, we thought “Hey, let’s give the new expansion to Las Vegas a try”. Las Vegas is one of the few 10’s in my collection. I will always play it, and try to keep it with me as often as I can. When Tiffany mentioned to me that an expansion was coming out (Las Vegas Boulevard by Rüdiger Dorn from alea) I immediately threw digital money at her and asked her to order me a copy. Las Vegas Boulevard is a bunch of little modules that you can add to the base game that bring some fairly significant twists to the original formula. Naturally, since it was our first time with the expansion, we carefully picked out a few modules that seemed easiest to grasp. NOT!! We threw ’em all in!! Purple kicker dice! Bigger double dice! Bonus cards! Action cards! Slot Machine! Rainbow wild bills! $100,000 bills! Oh my! Perhaps that wasn’t the smartest choice after just completing Caverna. All in All, Las Vegas Boulevard in some ways radically changes how you play the game but it still feels like you’re playing Las Vegas. I don’t know if I’ll play with all of the expansions going forward or if I’ll pick and choose. But it definitely breathes some new life into one of my all-time favorite games!
By this point in the day, Aaron had tapped out and called it a night. He was probably the smart one. Not because of the next game, Port Royal by Alexander Pfister from Pegasus Spiele, but what would follow. Port Royal is an awesome little press your luck game. Cards are dual purpose, representing money when face down and ships, people, expeditions, or tax increases when face up. The basic mechanism of the game is the active player is flipping over cards one by one. If at any time two ships of the same color appear, the active player’s turn ends immediately and play goes to the next player. If the active player chooses to stop, he can either hire a person for the coin value on the card, or take a ship card to earn the amount of money on the card. Each other player then can pay the active player one coin to get the chance to hire/take a card of their own. People can help you fight off ships, earn more money, get more cards, or complete expeditions, which net you big victory points. Tax increases punish the rich and reward the weakest (fewest VP) or strongest (most swords from pirates, etc). I am not very good at push your luck games, generally. I push it too far, too often. And this game makes it easy for me to push it. But it’s such a solid little game that I can’t wait to get to the table again!
The end of the night arrived. Wise choices were not necessarily made. We played Florenza: The Card Game by Stefano Groppi from Placentia Games. This game is deceptive. All it is, is a bunch of cards. I carried it around in my backpack in a ziplock bag during Origins, thinking I’d get the chance to get a quick game of it. This game is heavier than it appears. I should’ve just said “Nah, we probably shouldn’t get this one out now, let’s play Abluxxen or something lighter”. Instead I started setting it up. Deck after deck, card after card were placed on the table. By the time we started playing it was 8:30. Panera closes at 9:30. I launched into a foggy rules explanation, which led to a sprint of gameplay. We finished the game just at closing, but I don’t think we were left in a very good state as a result. I think the game is awesome, and I’m glad I bought it on a whim thanks to Rahdo’s Run Through of it. This one probably should’ve been played in Caverna’s time slot. I think Ed and Tiffany got a raw deal by not getting the chance to get familiarized with all the moving parts. Hopefully it didn’t leave them with a bad impression.
We packed up, parted ways, and headed home mentally spent but in a good way. Spending close to 10 hours playing seven unique and distinct games with friends is one of the luxuries of life I’m most thankful for. I can’t wait to see what we get into in September at the next PaneraCon, after we take August off for GenCon. Next time, though, we will only play light games at the end of PaneraCon. I think we all learned our lesson this time!