Hal-Con is Atlantic Canada's largest sci-fi, fantasy and gaming convention. The event's first year, back in 2010, was a bit of a disaster since there were no open gaming tables provided for people to play at. Admittedly, a large part of this was due to the fact that the organizers vastly underestimated the huge turnout of tabletop gamers and the venue that year was just way too small.
But the organizers did a fantastic job incorporating our feedback and provided plenty of places to play at last year's event. In fact, our gaming posse was so impressed that we vowed to attend for two full days this year.
Hal-Con 2012 was held between October 26'th and the 28's at the World Trade and Convention Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Just prior to the event I had a peek at the convention map and was quite impressed that the organizers had allocated an entire floor of the convention hall to gaming. My enthusiasm quickly dampened, however, when I noticed that only five measly tables had been designated as "free play".
It's a damned good sight that one of our media pals managed to get in early, otherwise we might have been homeless for the day. In fact, even after securing a table, we still had to fight to retain our meager space (a struggle documented in greater detail right here).
After we locked down our home base I had a chance to poke around for a little bit. I started by video-capturing some of the incredible Warhammer displays as well as the massive assortment of board games hastily being set up all around me. By the time I was done, I'd seen people playing Zombiecide, Pandemic, Shadows over Camelot, Marvel Super Heroes, Agricola, Dust Tactics, Heroscape, Defenders of the Realm, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones: The Board Game, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Lord of the Rings Risk, HeroQuest, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Magic: The Gathering as well as a monster game of Europe and Pacific Axis & Allies. I was in heaven!
Role-playing was also represented with various iterations of D&D as well as Pathfinder. I was also bedazzled by the archive of precious Dungeons & Dragons swag assembled by the local RPG fellowship known as The Gelatinous Dudes:
Noticing my red-box t-shirt, the Dudes lured me into a skill-testing D&D trivia challenge for a chance to win a prize. I nailed the answer and filled out my ballot but I was so friggin' preoccupied with my own gaming that I never got a chance to go back again! Before I left, they wanted a snap of my t-shirt so I ran back to my table, grabbed my copy of the red box Players Manual and posed for a photo op.
Nope. Not geeky at all.
After that, I bombed through the vendor room, snagging a copy of the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game from Mike at Monsters Comic Lounge. Hooray for tax-in game deals!
After all of the preliminaries were over we finally got down to some serious gaming. While Sabina and I were at an autograph session, Andrew led a team of superheroes in several rousing games of Sentinels of the Multiverse: Enhanced Edition. Andrew, Mike and Chad got creamed in Game One, Andrew and Mike also lost Game Two, but the team of Andrew, Chad, Matt and Malcolm pulled out the win in Game Three.
After Sabina and I got back, Andrew took us through a match of Saboteur:
In a nutshell: players take on the role of dwarven miners looking for gold. At the start of the game, everyone is assigned a Dwarf Card which indicates if you're loyal or an asshole saboteur. These roles are kept concealed until the end of the game.
In order to set up the underground "mine" three Goal Cards and the Starting Card are laid out within seven widths of each other. One of the Goal Cards represents a precious vein of Gold, but since they're all placed face-down, no-one really knows which one of the three is the "mother lode".
Every turn players can either attach a Path Card to an already-played Path Card, play an Action Card in front of a someone, or pass. Naturally loyal players will try and link the Path Cards together in order to get to their Goals while saboteurs are trying their best to prevent this. Traitors have to be very subtle about their efforts at first since their jobs become considerably more difficult once their villainy is revealed.
This comes in the form of Action Cards which can be dropped on any player. They can either be used to paralyze an opponent by breaking their lanterns, picks or carts or help your effort by repairing your equipment of that of a loyal ally. Some Action Cards can also be used to peek at the face-down Goal Cards.
If one of the loyal dwarves manages to link a continuous string of Path Cards to the gold, the round ends. The "good guys" are declared the winner and they collect random cards representing a certain amount of gold. The round can also end if no-one reaches the vein. In this case, the saboteurs are declared victorious and are rewarded with a random allotment of treasure.
At the end of the third round, the game ends and the individual player with the largest gold stockpile is declared the winner!
I played a loyal dwarf in the first round of Game One, helping my compatriots go for the gold. Andrew began the game with some suspect card plays and thus outed himself pretty quickly. By the end of Round One, he was blatantly dropping dead-ends like they were hot.
Despite the challenges presented by multiple broken carts, the tried and true dwarven miners still managed to reach the nugget at the end of the rainbow.
Contrary to another dedicated Saboteur effort by Andrew in Round Two, the pure-of-heart dwarven fellowship once again managed to reach the finish line. He did seal off the second Goal Card quite expertly, however.
Although all of us honorable dwarves managed to hit a vein of gold in the Round Three (after first uncovering a crappy lump of coal), the now-duplicitous Sabina tried to collapse out mine. Although we were unable to reconnect things and reach the last Goal Card, we did feel a tad better after Sabina's lamp and cart both got trashed!
I ended up with four gold nugglets, Andrew and Sabina tied with three and Mike, who'd been noble and virtuous throughout all three rounds, pulled out the victory with five!
At face value, Saboteur may seem elementary but it's mechanics are actually fairly deep. I loved laying down cards in a mad rush, trying to chip our way towards the prize like an analog version of Dig Dug. Although potential Saboteurs have their work cut out for them, I love how they need to keep things on the down-low, lest they be buried early under an insurmountable avalanche of broken carts, lanterns and picks.
As a light n' easy, yet completely engaging, filler game, Saboteur easily scores four pips out of six!
Sabina, myself and Chad's son Malcolm also had a chance throw down in a quick round of Zombie Dice.
Towards the end of the game I went on a crazy streak, setting myself up with fifteen Brains before stopping. Sabina busted on her attempt to beat my score but Malcolm, curse his lucky hide, managed to eke out a tie!
I was fortunate enough to add three more Brains to my score during our single overtime round. Malcolm, on the other hand, pulled an early Yellow and Green shotgun blast, leaving all three Red dice still in the cup. Although he managed to conjure up one Green and one Red Brain he was still one short and had to roll again. With the odds stacked firmly against him, his final toss was one Green and one Yellow Brain accompanied by a Red shotgun blast!
With that, Malcolm had gone over the three-shotgun limit and I was declared the victor.
Me - 18
Malcolm - 15
Sabina - 7
Saboteur went over so well earlier that we decided to try it again, this time with more players. Chad, Matt, Mike, Sabina and I all waited anxiously as Andrew set up a new game.
Loyal Andrew only managed to finish the game with one sad little nugget. My sustained nobility certainly didn't translate into financial success and I only ended up with two gold. Although equally pristine, Mike finished up with a smashed cart and lamp as well as three gold collected from his earlier efforts.
Alternately evil Sabina, Matt and Chad did a fantastic job limiting the amount of successful delves. Chad shrugged off a slew of attacks on his equipment (?), repairing his lamp on the very last turn and netting himself four gold despite the handicaps. Sabina, though, turned out to be the ultimate champ, scoring five gold over the course of three rounds!
Because of our proximity to Halloween I also insisted that we play Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.
Last Night on Earth is a survival game in which stereotypical horror movie Heroes must endure an incessant onslaught of ravenous Zombies. A random assortment of modular board piece are used to generate a different town map every time and the variety of playable characters and different scenarios really helps to give the game its legs.
Andrew and I were the Zombie players while Mike played Father Joseph, Man of the Cloth and Bobby, the Sheriff's Son while Matt was Sheriff Anderson, Small Town Lawman and Johnny the High School Quarterback. After watching Night of the Living Dead recently, I really wanted to play the "Escape in the Truck" scenario. This required the heroes to locate two specific cards from the Item Deck (a can of Gasoline and the Keys) and then get back to the truck parked in the middle of the board.
Immediately Johnny and Billy started rummaging around in the High School as well as the attached Gym. Almost as quickly they retrieved the Gasoline, one of the two items required for victory!
Zombies of both stomach-churning shades swarmed the Junkyard, Gas Station and the Bank. Which was kinda pointless since no humans were hanging around over there!
Father Joseph popped into the Diner, recovering several valuable items and presumably an all-important slice of cherry pie.
Sheriff Anderson wandered off by himself to check out the Airplane Hanger. Although besieged by shamblers from a nearby spawn point as well as the Hospital, he put his Revolver to good use, dropping zeds with unerring accuracy every time his hand was forced.
Meanwhile, his son Bobby kept rummaging through the High School, leaving no textbook, protractor and bag of weed unturned. Although he was forced to contend with a pair of walkers, he also managed to fend them off with ludicrous ease.
Undaunted by the proximity of several shufflers, Johnny boldly rifled through the old Farmhouse and came away with several new combat effects that made him virtually invincible. Ergo, the zombies that attempted to assail him were equally ineffectual.
In fact, on the (very) rare occasion in which Andrew and I actually rolled a "5" or a "6" in combat, Mike and Matt easily countered with an equal or superior result. It didn't take long before the Heroes recovered the Keys and had re-united back at the Truck for the cake-walk win!
I won't sugar-coat this one: Andrew and I got shellacked. Our Zombies were totally flummoxed by Mike and Matt's incredible luck as well as our own complete and total lack thereof. In fact, the only time we even vaguely inconvenienced the Heroes was when Bobby got wounded for a single crappy point of damage:
Although Last Night on Earth, The Zombie Game is vastly superior to Zombies!!!, it still has a few rules anomalies which range from the ethereal (such as the difference between combat on the Human turn versus the Zombie turn) to the downright brain-dead (like the whole "zombies can walk through walls" bullshit). Then, when you factor in the impact of luck, you end up with a game that can sometimes be squishier then a zombie's melon.
Nevertheless I'm still dig this one. The graphic design is wildly original, the miniatures are cool, the map details are evocative and the cards are thematically flavorful. Although combat can sometimes be a bit clunky, the default "fend" result when weaponless Heroes win a melee actually makes sense. And when they do get weapons, each one of them feels fairly distinct. Indeed, blowing a Zombie away with a Revolver certainly feels different then multiple swings with the breakable Baseball Bat.
Last Night on Earth, The Zombie Game rates four pips outta six!
And with that, our first awesome day of epic gamery came to a close!
Join me again in a few days when:
- An old classic gets a new wrinkle but still manages to fuck me in the ear.
- A brand new game shoots right to the top of my want list.
- I ponder "Where do the Gelatinous Dudes get all of those wonderful toys?"
- Andrew finally gets some evidence that Magic: The Gathering doesn't suck.
- Our group botches the rules for a game so badly that spectators nearly call security on us.
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