The Game’s the Thing: Dicetower Con 2016
Well, I may not have made it to Realm Makers this year, or any other writing conference for that matter, but for the second year in a row, the Edwardson family made the trek to Orlando, Florida for Dicetower Con. And what a delight it was! If you haven’t been before the best way I know how to describe it is that it’s like having a birthday party over and over again for five days. I and my family played mountains of games. We played until board games came out our ears. We laughed. We cried. It was better than Cats.
If you’ve never been to Dicetower Con or something like it, the way it works is this. You are given a badge with which you can checkout one board game at a time from a library of over 1000 games and it’s open 24 hours a day. The library is located at one end of a giant convention ballroom in a nice resort hotel. This year it was at the Caribe Royale. You can also go into the hallways and side rooms to play your game if you’d like a little less noise. At the other end of the ball room game vendors are set up to demo and hawk their wares.
Around 1500 people attended this year, but it felt much smaller than that. We never had trouble finding a table where we could plop down and play a game and we even met some wonderful new friends in a Christian family from Texas who shared our love of board games as well. Meeting and talking to them was like bumping into old friends we never knew we had.
Between the five people in my family we played 48 different games in five days. And while almost all of them were wonderful, here are a few of my favorites.
The Big Book of Madness
This was probably my favorite game of the convention. It is a cooperative game in which you and your fellow players are students in a wizard academy and have done a very bad thing. You’ve opened the Big Book of Madness! Oh, you know you shouldn’t have, but you were just oh so curious and maybe a little too overconfident in your wizardry skills. You work together to defeat a series of monsters that are attempting to escape from the book while avoiding going mad in the process.
I loved this game because not only are you helping other players out, but you can, through “telepathy” get other players to help you out on your turn. So it has a great team-work aspect. Need some air magic to beat the next monster? Ask your friend, they might be able to help you if you’re fresh out. It’s wonderful, light fun and the fanciful artwork ensures that the only “madness” you’ll really experience is if you fail to win the game!
In a very similar vein to Big Book of Madness, Dungeon Fighter is another cooperative game with a fantasy theme. This time you are a bunch of “wannabe” heroes trying to escape a dungeon, earn your freedom, and prove yourself a legitimate hero all in one fell swoop.
The twist here is that to make your attacks, you have to toss your die onto a target and it has to bounce once first. And as if that were not enough, certain monsters require you to fight them with a handicap consisting such as taking one step away from the table, flicking the die off your nose, or even shooting with your eyes closed! It’s zany fun and, like Big Book of Madness has a very strong team element to it. No grandstanding here, you are rooting for your fellow adventures and when you or they hit the bullseye it’s definitely a stand up and cheer moment!
Switching gears and crossing genres, time periods, and just about everything else, we also loved a game called Inkognito. No, auto-correct, that is not a typo. That’s the way they spell it. Inkognito is a game of mystery and intrigue that, while it technically plays 2-4 players is really a 4 player game. The reason is that there are four spies or agents or whatever you want to call them traipsing about medieval Venice, Italy. Of course all of you are appropriately masked and disguised, but that makes it all the harder to accomplish your mission. You’re supposed to rendezvous with your partner, you see, but who is it? The skinny man in yellow? The tall one in green? Or the short one in red? If you don’t find out before the opposing spies your mission will be a failure!
The reason it works best at four players is that there are two sets of spies. You move around the board bumping into the other players and asking their questions. They have to answer you with one true detail and one or two false ones. Through trial and error you will eventually discover which player is your partner and then you’ll have to secretly work together to carry out your mission, all the while hopefully keeping the other team in the dark and throwing them off your scent. If it sounds like this should be a novel rather than a board game, well, maybe now you see why I’m so bedazzled by board games! This one was tense, but as with all of them, a wonderful experience.
Defenders of the Last Stand
Okay, I better cut down on the gushing or I’ll never get through all the games I want to talk about. This next one, Defenders of the Last Stand is also cooperative (noticing a theme here? I love cooperative games more than any other kind). This one has a post-apocalyptic theme, though. And boy does it. You’ll be scavenging for equipment, fighting off mutants and biker gangs, sabotaging oil rigs, and hunting for lost technology in this massive, sprawling game. This one was definitely the most rules-heavy, strategic game we played, but if you can get beyond that boy was it awesome. As a writer who has a little bit of an interest in post-apocalyptic and dystopian worlds, this one was an absolute blast. It was released at the convention so we were some of the first people in America to ever play it, which made it all the more special.
Probably the biggest hit with my kids was Smash Up. While this one is very easy to play, it is a little bit harder to describe. It is a card game in which you play numbered cards on one of three “bases” (also represented by cards). You try to play higher cards than your opponent. The one who plays the highest total value of cards gets more points than the others when that base scores.
Sounds sorta bland, but the fun comes from the fact that you “smash” together two factions to make your deck. Some of the decks we made were “Steampunk Wizards,” “Fairy Princesses,” “Kitty Ninjas,” “Robot Plants,” and “Ghost Pirates.” And the cards all have powers and special abilities that reflect their factions. It’s a crazy, back and forth game where everybody is kicking each other off bases, jumping from base to base, trying to get the upper hand. And there are like ten expansions to this one so the possible combinations probably run into the thousands. So much genre-busting fun!
As much as we loved all these other games, the one we actually bought and brought back home as a souvenir was Celestia. It, too, was released at the convention and the demo table where it was played was almost always full. It has gorgeous artwork and a light steampunk theme, but it’s really just a press your luck game where you try to ride an air ship as far as possible without crashing. The one who stays on longest usually wins, but you can kick people off or use a special jetpack card to land safely. The tension and drama in the game come from deciding when to get off and play it safe and when to try to go just one step more to the next port.
We got to play it with our new friends from Texas and it was just a delightful experience. We’ve already played it a couple of times since getting home and I think this has become a new Edwardson favorite.
The game must go on
Now that I’m back home and back to writing I certainly won’t be playing 50 games a week, but I do cherish the times I get to spend with my family around the table, making memories, plotting strategy or being silly. Board games at their best are somewhat like a shared story that we can all take part in together. They get us talking and help us stop, slow down, and unplug from this frenetic, fried circuit world and just enjoy the blessing of being together.
So how about you? Played any good games lately? Any games here you think you’d like to try or that you’ve already played and loved? Let me know in the comments below!