Until now, the board gaming I’ve done has been with my wife, a small group of good friends, or my family. I’ve taken card games to play a quick game in coffee shops and pubs, but apart from that most of my gaming has been at our (or a friend’s) home.
One of my main ambitions for this blog is to document my experiences as a board game newbie diving headfirst into board gaming culture. So when I heard about a local all-day board gaming event to celebrate International Tabletop Day 2017, I just had to go – and bring my wife along as my trusty sidekick. (She didn’t mind…she likes gaming too!). This was our first time at a publicly organised gaming event, so we didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, we weren’t disappointed and had a brilliant game-filled day!
When the day arrived, I was up, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to tackle the early train journey into Cardiff for the very start of the event. My wife, however, is not a natural early riser, so I had to lure her out of bed with a large mug of tea and the promise of lots of coffee once we got to the city centre.
About International Tabletop Day 2017
The event was organised by the Cardiff-based board games store Rules of Play, and took place the Angel Hotel between 10am-10pm. At a very reasonable £5 per person for 12 hours of organised gaming, it was a no brainer.
Fuelled by enthusiasm and (a lot of) caffeine, we managed to get to the Angel for the very start at 10am. There were a few other early starters like ourselves, but the venue was still pretty quiet, which gave us the chance to have a good nosy around the venue.
The event was spread out across the hotel, and included:
- Gaming spaces in the main hall and two smaller break out areas in the bar and the hotel foyer, where you could sit down with and crack out a game.
- A games library in the main hall – shelves and shelves of games that you could play, kindly provided by Rules of Play.
- Exhibitor tables, where you could meet developers (such as Arcane Wonders, Think Noodle, and Tinkerbot Games) and learn and play their games.
- The Rules of Play stall that sold a wide range of games.
- Learn-to-play events. Where exhibitors would introduce people to role-playing games.
The bar was very reasonable and alcohol, soft drinks and hot beverages were all much cheaper than we expected. There were also some dangerously good looking snacks tempting you from behind the bar (doughnuts, rocky road, cookies, sausage rolls, etc.).
We soon realised that it was the calm before the storm, and it wasn’t long until the rooms were filled with the sound of gaming, chatting and laughter.
There were couples, families and groups everywhere. Some were obviously experienced gamers, but others were clearly new to gaming and had come to try something new (just like us!). Everyone was having good day, this was really obvious – the room just gave off a positive vibe.
It was great that help was always at hand. There was a number of Rules of Play reps who were there to advise on your next game. There was also a real camaraderie among the gamers – twice our tabletop neighbours offered us advice when we were unboxing games they’d played before, and we were also invited to join others in a game.
Demo – Ghostel
Before I could decide what to game to grab from the library first, my eyes were drawn to a demo game on one of the developers’ tables: Ghostel, developed by Tinkerbot Games.
Not long after approaching Tinkerbot’s table, we found ourselves sat around the demo copy of Ghostel with Tony, one of the developers of the game. Tony explained that each of us would play disgruntled ghosts who had been peacefully residing in a long forgotten, empty hotel – that is until some inconsiderate human ‘fleshies’ decided to renovate the hotel and fill the rooms with their living guests. It was time to get our hotel back!
The game cycled between night and day phases. As night drew in, players rolled their terror dice to determine their ‘scare points’ for that night. We then took turns to levitate from room to room and petrify the unsuspecting guests, leaving our dice behind as a reminder of the how scared they felt. When daylight arrived, our ghosts retired from the rooms (we had to retrieve them whilst providing our best ‘wooooooo’ sound effects!). The guests who had been completely scared (i.e. the scare points on the dice was the same or higher than the character’s courage) fled the hotel, giving victory points to the ghosts who scared them. Any guest who were only momentarily spooked (i.e. the scare points were lower than the guest’s courage) calmed down during the day and continued to stay in the hotel – leading to the scare points on each die to be reduced. Meanwhile, any empty rooms were filled up as new guests checked in.
After a few rounds, our demo was over and I was declared the winner. We enjoyed Ghostel so much that we went back later to buy the full game, which came with a special card: ‘Connie’ the convention guest. We also picked up some trendy meeple earrings for my wife!
The other games
As we perused the games library, my eyes canned board game shelves jumping from box to box: Catan, Castles of Burgundy, Dominion, Jaipur, Splendor, Sushi Go, Takenoko, Tsuro and so many, many more. All games that I’ve read about and have wanted to play. We raided the shelf and, after an initial disappointing attempt at Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game, we spent the rest of the day playing some brilliant titles.
Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space:
As we were packing up Portal, a nearby group invited us to join them in a game of Escape. I had never heard of this game before, so had no idea what to expect. We were each secretly dealt a card that split us into two groups: aliens versus humans. The human objective was to try and sneak through the space station and make it to an escape pod. The alien objective was to hunt down their next meal – and human was on the menu! Both parties moved on a grid-like map using a hidden movement mechanic, meaning that each turn you would secretly note down your movement and (hopefully) no other players would know where you are. However, each turn you would draw a card that would determine whether your movement had made a noise, potentially revealing your location to every other human and alien alike. If an alien was clever enough to catch a human, that player then ‘respawned’ as an alien – not so good for the rest of the human players!
This was an exciting and tense game that takes a lot of focus – you have to listen carefully to the information the other players reveal about their location and try to track their movements. In a crowded room it was a little hard to concentrate on the other player movements, but despite this it was loads of fun – you still felt the ramping tension as the game went on!
Knowing my wife’s love of all things cute and Japanese, I had to get Takenoko on to the table. Players are appointed to look after the rare (and very hungry) giant panda bear and cultivate the emperor’s renowned bamboo gardens. In two-player mode, we competed to be the first player to achieve 9 objective cards. These cards were divided into three groups: 1) cultivating bamboo gardens arrangements (i.e. placing the tiles in certain formations) 2) growing the different coloured bamboo, and 3) letting the greedy panda eat the bamboo. At the end, the points on each completed objective card are counted up and the player with the most points wins.
As predicted, my wife loved the adorable panda and I think that this game was definitely one of the best games we played on the day. It had more depth to it than we originally suspected, and I think there is massive scope to strategise in the objectives you choose to complete. I’m interested to see what the gameplay is like with more players.
Tsuro is a tile placement game where players follow their own path. The goal of the game is be the only player remaining on the game board. At the start of the game, players place their player token anywhere on the edge of the board and take three tiles. Each tile is different and has four pathways marked out on it. On each turn the players place a pathway tile on the board, and their player piece will move along the path to the end. If the paths on the tile also affect a path that another player is following then they must move to end as well. If paths on the tiles lead you off the board then you are out.
There is loads of strategic potential for this game, and this came through in our games. I liked to try and stay in my own space on the board and build my own path. My wife, however, liked to get in close enough to be able to move my player piece with her tiles. She won every game…so her strategy seems to be the better one (so far)!
I’m unsure about Tsuro. it was enjoyable and it definitely has some good points with its simple rules, quick set up and easy to learn game play but I wasn’t sure how much table time I would give it at home. I think I tend to prefer games with more of a story theme to them (e.g. zombies apocalypse, curing diseases) and Tsuro doesn’t really have that. However, I’m really glad we tried Tsuro and I would like to try it out again with more than two players.
I love food. Mushrooms are food (or sometimes poison…but mainly food!). Fungi is a two-player card game where players have to collect yummy mushrooms and cook them in pans to earn delicious flavour points. Flavour points can be increased if you cook the mushrooms with cider or butter (yum!), and you need at least three types of the same mushroom to be able to cook them (and the pan to cook them in, of course!). All these items could be collected from a conveyor of cards in the middle of the table that made up ‘the forest’.
My wife picked up this game due to her penchant for card games, and her obsession with adding mushrooms to every meal. We enjoyed Fungi and I think it brought something new to the table that we hadn’t played before. It didn’t feel wasn’t your average set collection game.
If you have ever wanted to create your very own patchwork quilt then Patchwork might be the game for you. Players compete to build the best patchwork quilt on their quilt board, by purchasing from the collection of tetris-like fabric pieces on the table. The winner is the player who has the highest score at the end: This is determined by how complete the quilt is, how valuable the fabric pieces used are, and any buttons (the ‘coins’ of the game) left in a player’s reserve.
Although we really like the fact that this game was designed for two players (this is why we sought out this game in the first place), we were left a bit underwhelmed by it. There was limited tension or pressure in the game, and we felt that it was a bit lacking excitement and re-playability.
Castles of Burgundy:
This was the one BIG (read: long!) game we decided to play and was our last game of the day. Castles of Burgundy is about building the best settlements by collecting different types of tiles (buildings, farms, castles, boats, knowledge etc.) and building them on your player board to earn victory points. We hadn’t played this game before and found the rules slightly confusing at the start, but it was easy to pick up once we threw ourselves into the game. We did have to constantly double-check what the tiles meant in the rulebook, particularly for the building and knowledge tiles, as there are a lot of variations.
Overall, we found this game required A LOT of thought to determine what the best moves were, and perhaps it wasn’t the best game to leave until the very end of the day to play! That being said we both really enjoyed it and have wanted to play it again since, so I can imagine it joining our home collection at some point soon…
The End – The last dice had been rolled
With Castles of Burgundy completed and packed away, we finally had a chance notice that we were surrounded by empty seats: we had been so absorbed by Castles of Burgundy that we hadn’t realised it was 10pm and the room had emptied around us. There only a few other die-hard groups gaming until the very end.
With the final die rolled and last tile placed, it was official the end of International Tabletop 2017. It had truly been a fantastic celebration of all things board game. We had demoed Ghostel, tried out five new games, bought a game, collected some promo cards and drank a pint or two of cider. A day well spent.
- Great value for money: What else can you do for 12 hours for a £5 per person?
- Welcoming atmosphere: You will find someone to help you out with a game if you need it. Perfect for couples, families and groups, newbies and pros alike!
- Great game selection: Even at the busiest time there was still a great choice of games on the shelves – from well-known favourites to lesser known little gems.
- Gaming-focused day: The day really felt like it was about playing the games. Rules of play (and the other game stands) were never pushing the hard sell or making you feel obligated to buy things. The day was all about having fun with like-minded people.
- Too fast: Believe it or not…12 hours of gaming passes in a blink of an eye. And with so many games left to play it leaves you wanting more!
FINAL VERDICT: Bring on International Tabletop Day 2018… I know where I’ll be!