Monday, September 15, 2014

The Best of One World - "HAL-CON Game Day"

In 2011 HAL-CON burst back onto the scene as the perfect replacement for my late, lamented Fleet Con. Unfortunately (or most fortunately depending how you look at it), the amazing guests the organizers keep securing has me looking at HAL-CON as an amazing sci-fi / fantasy convention first and a gaming event second. Here were my thoughts at the end of last year's festivities:
"A part of me wishes that HAL-CON could be split into two separate events: one just for workshops, Q&A's, autograph signings and costume contests and another for merchandise, board games and pre-registered RPG's. Maybe then my loyalties wouldn't feel quite so conflicted.

"For the sake of full disclosure, the HAL-CON organizers
do run a few separate, day-long table top gaming events during the year. Odin-willing, I hope to be in attendance for one or both of these things next year."  

I missed HAL-CON's dedicated gaming day in 2013 but I sure as hell wasn't going to miss it this year. Sooooo, way back on June 8'th I popped down to the Lord Nelson Hotel on the corner of Spring Garden and South Park in beautiful and historic downtown Halifax, dropped my ten bones and then proceeded to marinate in gamey goodness for about eight hours or so.

As soon as I walked into the convention hall I could see that the organizers had done things right. First off, the Board Room Game Cafe was on-hand to sell and demo games:

Next up the organizers had gone w-a-a-a-a-y above and beyond the call of duty by providing a massive library of free-to-check-out games:

Not too shabby, huh?

And then, to make the things absolutely perfect, there were plenty of fabric-cloaked gaming tables for folks to spread their gamey bitz out on.

The onset of Spring really puts a dent into the time I have available for my beloved hobby and it only gets worse during the Summer. Just look how long it took for me to write this friggin' entry!

So, prior to that morning, I'd been through a protracted and thoroughly lamentable dry spell for gaming. As a result, I got right down to brass tacks, challenging Andrew to a few games of Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men.


My Team:

Beast - Big Boy Blue
Colossus - Russian Bear
Cyclops - Slim
Gambit - Ace In The Hole
Professor X - Principal
Rogue - Anna Raven
Storm - 'Ro
Wolverine - Wildboy

Andrew's "Team":

Doctor Doom - Reed Richards' Rival
Doctor Octopus - Megalomaniac
Green Goblin - Goblin Lord
Loki - Trickster
Magneto - Former Comrade
Mystique - Unknown
Punisher - McRook
Venom - Eddie Brock

Basic Action Cards:
Power Bolt
Focus Power
Gearing Up

This was pretty much a Davecon re-match with me fielding an all X-Men team versus Andrew's schizophrenic assortment of random nuts, Villains and weirdos.

Keen to get our heavy hitters out, we both invested heavily in Basic Action Dice. By the end, we'd snapped up all three of the "Gearing Up" Dice as well as two-thirds of the "Focus Power" dice.

Andrew soon parleyed these energy boosters into a pretty daunting army including three Doc Ocks, three Punishers, two Venoms, two Mystiques, two Dooms, two Loki's and one very pissed-off Magneto.

In stark contrast, I invested in low-cost characters early on including several Storms and Gambits. I used my initiative to chip away at Andrew's Life total while patiently waiting for my Basic Action Dice to provide the juice required to pick up a Wolverine, a Rogue and a Professor X.

On more then one occasion Andrew failed to roll a Character level or just couldn't muster the Energy required to Field all of his toughest dudes. On the last turn of the game he was faced with the unenviable choice of Fielding Doc Ock or the Punisher. In the end, Frank Castle was left to stir in Reserve limbo.

Just like our previous battles, the concept of "defense" was fleeting at best. In other words, we spent most of the game just whaling the crap outta one another. Even though Andrew was down to only a few Life points and, by all accounts, should have been on a purely defensive footing, he still attacked with Doc Ock and kept Magneto back as a lone blocker. I was forced to let Otto through, who knocked me down to four Life. 

On my turn I rolled an obscene amount of dice, including a Wolverine, Professor X, a Sidekick and a very timely Focus Power die. On my subsequent attack, Andrew used Magneto and a Sidekick to block Rogue and Storm but Wolverine got through for six points of damage, giving me the win!


My Team:

Nick Fury - Mr. Anger
Captain America - Star-Spangled Avenger
Thor - Odinson
Iron Man - Playboy
Black Widow - Natural
Hulk - Anger Issues
Vibranium Shield - One Of A Kind

Andrew's Group of Misfits:

Gambit - Ace In The Hole
Doctor Doom - Reed Richards' Rival
Ghost Rider - Johnny Blaze
Doctor Strange - Sorcerer Supreme
Deadpool - Assassin
Colossus - Unstoppable
Wolverine - Wildboy
Thing - Ever Lovin' Blue-Eyed
Basic Action Cards:
Power Bolt
Focus Power
Gearing Up

We went downright apeshit on the Basic Action Dice this time out, cleaning out all of the "Power Bolt" and "Gearing Up" dice while leaving only one "Smash!" and "Focus Power" remaining.

This generic energy boost gave Andrew the opportunity to snap up two of his three Colossus dice. Solid move, too, considering that this version of Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin receives a free Spin Up at the end of every freakin' turn! Needless to say, this guy was a real pain in my попка for most of the game, eventually pounding me down to seven Life.

But Andrew still had a hard time dicing up what he needed. Even though he used a Yellow "Focus Power" result to Spin Wolverine up a Level everything else was a complete bust. Even after a re-roll, his Blue "Gearing Up" die just produced more useless Energy and, more importantly, he failed to conjure up Dr. Strange as a potential blocker.

In stark contrast my Avengers worked together like a dream team, go figure. First off, my very own "Gearing Up" result provided two more valuable dice. The resulting "Power Bolt" allowed me to blast Andrew right in the mush for two points of direct damage. Then, bolstered by "Mr. Anger's" ability to field Avengers for free, I proceeded to flood the attack zone with the Hulk, Black Widow and Thor. Even though they were all Level-One Characters this was more then enough to overwhelm Andrew's beleaguered defenses.

I'm a huge fan of this game, to the point where I recently hosted a local tournament. Right now I'm anxiously waiting for the new X-men expansion to arrive! 
Just days prior I'd procured Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small so Andrew was kind enough to join me in an inaugural run-through. 

In this tandem game of animal husbandry, participants take turns placing one of three workers on the board during the course of eight rounds. At first, they'll be looking to gather up the construction material required to house a veritable menagerie of creatures. Victory Points are earned from total animals, by reaching certain population benchmarks as well as from upgrading your buildings and expanding your Farm.

There are four simple steps to a game round:

(1) Refill all of the Action Spaces (as indicated by the red arrows).
(2) Players alternate back-and forth placing three Workers apiece.
(3) All of your Workers come back home.
(4) If you have at least a pair of animals of the same type housed together they knock hooves and make a baby.

Wanna ready the full rules almanac? Then feel free to unclickify the link right hur.

Color Selection:


Andrew went nuts and immediately started partitioning off his entire Farm Board. He then invested in a single pet Cow which he insisted on keeping in the bedroom of his Cottage. Hey, I'm not one to judge someone's lifestyle choices. Next up he procured a small herd of Sheep which he promptly set loose in a fenced-off two-segment Farm space to the north. As these guys started breeding like larger, considerably-more-vocal rabbits he was forced to drop three more Fence segments right next to his Cottage in order to house all of these randy, fluffy bastards. Unfortunately, that pretty much tapped out his initial allotment of Fences.

After pointing out that Buildings came with pre-built Fences, Andrew took heed and constructed a Stall which he eventually upgraded to an Open Stables. He added a couple of Horses to this newly-minted structure and almost immediately they started gettin' it on. This was fine for a few rounds but pretty soon Andrew began to run out of space for his horny equine family.

Just in the nick of time he dropped a Worker on the Expand space and scored a small windfall of additional Fence pieces, two of which he immediately used to corral his overflow Sheep population up north. Coupled with the timely erection (?) of a nearly Stables, Andrew created an enclosed one-segment Farm space to house his latest foal. 

The Stables themselves became the default home for a pair of Pigs, but this was more of an eleventh hour afterthought. His addition of a single Trough was another example of too little too late. In a last ditch effort to wring a few more Victory Points out of the game, Andrew snagged a Storage Building for two Wood and a single Reed. Not only did this give him two Veeps for his four leftover Wood but it also filled out the last space of his Farm Expansion board.

As for me, I became totally obsessed with gaining the three Wood, two Stone and one Reed required to upgrade my Cottage to a Half-Timbered House. Even though gave me five Victory Points it did absolutely nothing to improve my ability to house animals. I then proceeded to ignore my own advice by propping up Fences to the north which I used to accommodate some early-game Sheep.

I also acquired some Piggies before properly thinking things through. In order to reconcile their incessant strumping, I was forced to take a quick Expand Action in order to acquire more Fence pieces. Oblivious to the potential power of the Troughs, I ended up taking this same action two more times, resulting in a conspicuously desolate-looking farm.

But at least I now had the Fences required to let my Piggies *ahem* make bacon. I placed a two-segment Fenced-off pasture to the West on my newly-acquired Expansion board. Just when I thought I'd gotten a handle on things my Sheep dropped their fleece and started going at it. Immediately I kicked myself for enclosing a single Farm space with three Fences since this prompted the hasty demarcation of a similarly-claustrophobic single space to the north. Mercifully I had the foresight to close this in with a Stall which only required the use of one additional Fence segment.

Time was running out and I was starting to panic. I didn't even have any Horses or Cows yet! I placed one Horse in the Stall and then added a freebie on my next turn by hastily hammering a Shelter together with two Wood and one Stone. I finally had a pair of Horses, who immediately started using the Stall as their own personal love nest, knockin' out a coupla kids before the end of the game. Unfortunately it wouldn't be enough to net me any positive Victory Points.

My end game was just a mad scramble to try and accommodate a bleating tsunami of newborn Sheep. I fenced off another one-space pasture, finally filling up one of my three Expansion boards. The freakin' wooly bastards kept a-comin', forcing me to use four Fence segments to block off two measly Farm spaces. The end of the game was almost a merciful relief to me.


Total Animals







Open Stables (2) Storage Building (2) Stables (4) 
Half-Timbered House (5) and Shelter (1)




Some strategy tips to consider after that first game:
  1. Cows are rare and Horses even more so. As such you may want to snag one early and then construct an Open Stables or a Shelter. This will pair two of them up early while improving your infrastructure at the same time.
  2. Use the first few turns to collect all the resources needed to start accommodating critters A.S.A.P.
  3. Troughs are ridiculously valuable. Put one in every one of your farm spaces of you can. Like, super-seriously. 
  4. Try to avoid fencing off a single farm space since the max capacity for such a region (even with a Trough) is only four animals. 
  5. If you can manage it, fence off larger pastures consisting of multiple Farm spaces and then seed each spot with a Trough. For example a Fenced-off, two Farm space pasture with one Trough per square doubles the capacity (2 x 2 = 4) and then doubles it again (4 x 2 = 8). In other words, if I'd placed Troughs in each space of my two-Farm segment pastures I could have housed sixteen freakin' animals in each enclosure. Gadzooks!    
I'm always on the hunt for a good two-player game and since I'm already a big fan of Agricola, buying this one was a no-brainer for me. Sometimes dismissively referred to as as "Baby Agricola", this one is perfectly engineered for two. Less punishing and easier to teach then its famous fore-bearer, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small is a fantastic little worker placement game in its own right.

I loved it and so did Andrew. In fact, I think he rushed right out and bought it that same day or a coupla days later!

Next up Kris joined us for a quick hand of Dead Man's Draw.
Dead Man's Draw is a pirate-themed card game for two to four scurvy dogs. On their turn, players flip cards from the draw deck, hoping to chain together a variety of high-valued suits. In order to do this effectively, players need to leverage the card's special abilities in order to plunder the most booty.

Just like any other press-your-luck game you can keep flopping cards until you want to stop. However, as soon as you turn up a second card that matches a suit you've already drawn then you wash out and score no points. In the immortal words of Kenny Rog-ARRRRS a major part of the strategy is to "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em". 

The game's enduring appeal comes from the myriad of different powers inherent in the cards. Successful players will be the ones who can chain these together to great effect.

Here's a breakdown of the different cards and their respective abilities: 

Anchor – Even if you bust you get to keep all the cards played prior to the Anchor.

Cannon – Blow the bejesus out of one of your opponent's saved cards.

Chest – Combined with the Key you can raid the Discard Pile for an equal amount of cards, effectively doubling your haul.

Hook – Play one of your saved cards. This is a great set-up for a cool combo.

Key – See the Chest card above.

Kraken – Forces you to draw two more cards.

Map – Draw the top three cards from the Discard Pile and play any one you like

Mermaid – These are just high valued cards, typically marked 4-9. Yowza!

Oracle – Peek at the top card in the Draw Pile then play it or fold.

Sword – Plunder one of your opponent's saved cards and then play it as your own!

The game ends when the deck runs out of cards. Players add up the top value in each suit stack and the highest score wins!

Lookin' to get the full scuttlebutt on this fine game o' chance? Then click on the followin' link to reveal the full treasure map o' knowledge!  


Never one to embody patience, Andrew kept pushing his luck to ridiculous extremes, attempting to collect five or six cards in one turn. Even when he had a string of decent luck he'd often come under fire from Kris and I, losing his top-valued cards at Sword-point or under Cannon-fire.

By game's end he'd managed to represent almost every suit but most of his runs failed to crack the five-point mark. Mercifully a few last-minute Mermaids did salvage his score somewhat.

For some reason this game clicked with me right away. At one point I managed to co-ordinate the all-powerful Key / Chest combo for a healthy little windfall. I also tried to avoid busting by drawing no more then three or four cards.  The only time I'd risk more is if I managed to weigh Anchor, which nicely insulated anything I'd played prior.

I also put Swords to good use, stealing what I needed from both Kris and Andrew while gleefully using Hooks to re-play Oracles for a risk-free peek at my next card. Unfortunately, I ran afoul of some mandatory Kraken draws which resulted in premature bustage. Man, I hate when then happens.

Bringing a practiced eye to the game, Kris used Hooks to play several cards in tandem. Also, unlike Andrew and I, he really exploited the power of the Map, which allowed him to pull pretty much what he needed right from the Discard Pile. As a result, the highly-lucrative Key / Chest lottery he hit not long after felt more like a mike-drop and less like a fluke of luck.

Although he also suffered a Kraken-fueled bust, he typically kept himself insulated with a few strategic Anchor plays. After using a slew of Cannons and Swords to batter both Andrew and I into submission he closed out a solid effort by reeling in some highly-prized Mermaids.



Dead Man's Draw is a buy-on-sight game for me. Whatever retailer gets this on the shelf first is gonna have me shouting this in their faces. 

I loved, loved, loved this game.  From the whimsical art style to the Card Sharks-style game-play, this thing is easy to teach and compulsively playable. But what makes it truly remarkable is that you can use the card's special abilities to make your own luck.

Honestly, there's nothing more satisfying then using a Hook to drop one of your own Swords down to rob a Key from a rival and then use it crack open a Chest to double yer card take!  *Yarrrrr*, 'tis a fine play!

Until the game goes into wide distribution you can pick up a physical copy directly from Mayday Games or try out the fantastic iOS ap right here.   

Lastly we sank quite a bot of time into Café Melange.

Here's what Board Game Geek has to say about this obscure Euro-title:

"Café Melange takes players to Vienna in 1910, with prominent individuals such as Trotzky, Klimt and Freud meeting one another in the coffee bar "Central". The players work in the coffee bar and must use logic and deduction in order to place their guests next to these VIPs."

Confession time: sometimes a game's theme is so dry and dull that my attention span acts like a cross-armed neckless bouncer, refusing to unclip the velvet rope and allow the rules ingress to my oblivious brain. Such was the case with Café Melange.

We also borked up a couple of key rules so I'm not going to count this as an official play. That ain't such a bad thing since I came in dead last. What I will say is that the game's deduction mechanics felt rather unique and, as such, I'd actually be willing to try it again under better circumstances. Ideally while hooked up to a Redbull I.V. drip.

Clearly this was a sign that I was tapped out. I picked up a copy of Click Clack Lumberjack from The Board Room's vendor table and took my leave, feeling as if the day had been well-spent. 


HAL-CON Game Day is tailor-made for me. Granted the $10.00 entrance fee is a bit steep but I don't mind paying it since I know it's going towards a great local event. Once in, I've got plenty of table space, a vast library of games to test drive and a local retailer I patronize if I end up playing something that I really like. 

Honestly it's as if the organizers actually read my mind (or *GASP* my blogs?!?). No more divided loyalties: I'll spend HAL-CON proper checking out all of the panels and autograph session and get all of the card-floppin' and die-chuckin' outta my system on HAL-CON's dedicated Game Day. It's a win-win!


Wanna learn more about Marvel Dice Masters and / or Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small? Then click on the links below to get more info and help support this blog!

Additional photos courtesy of Kat Adams and Shawn Kehoe.

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