AireCon Or What I Did This Weekend …

So it happened and I am certainly feeling the after effects of two car journeys over 4 hours in length over the course of three days. But this slightly tired blogger made his way to the Saturday and Sunday of AireCon 4 and had a right royal time of it.

Before I begin, I think it is very important that I give out some thanks to all the people who made my time up there so enjoyable. Firstly my gratitude to the fine team behind AireCon who let me go there in the first place – Ben, Mark, Ric and Nabil. I would like to thank Mike B from Who Dares Rolls for being my convention Yoda. Also many thanks to Jay of Breacher 18 and Luke from the Broken Meeple for making me feel most welcome in their company. And just a general ‘huzzah’ to all to lovely people I met there – be they fans of gaming or exhibitors showing off their wares.

AireCon was held over two floors of the Harrogate International Centre – with the ground floor being devoted to the events and the top floor featuring the exhibitors, stalls and gaming library. The library was extensive (approximately 350 titles provided by Travelling Man) and I had more than enough opportunities to give some unknown titles a try. Very much enjoyed conquering celtic tribes in Inis and although I am not sure how I did, I somehow was able to come out the winner in Ponzi Scheme (games that I will need to talk about in more depth in future – definitely expect an Inis discussion).

The exhibitors section had a good variety of goods for sale – naturally lots and lots of games; but also accessories, art and candles inspired by Lovecraftian mythos courtesy of Eldritch Essences. The was a Bring and Buy section that was always busy and full of people looking for a bargain. My offer to buy Charlie from WDR a replacement copy of the Lost game from there was met with the derision it deserved …

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The part that really interested me from the exhibitors section were the display games – and I’m imagine that all of you are clamouring to hear my thoughts on them. Well –I will let you know about a few that I had a go at …

What you see here is The Football Game by The London Board Game Co. The designers, Simon and Mark, were happy to chat through their intention to put together a game that recreated the feeling of a football season, with easy to play mechanics but one that offered you plenty of tactical options. You roll dice each round to see which of your players score you points, then play cards to modify these points. There are also dice that mean your players may be effected by injuries; knocks and events. It’s all done very neatly.

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The artwork is a mixture of bobble head style football figures and the bright colours that one may remember from the old Roy of the Rovers style comic strips. There are plenty of references of football slang, terminology and popular culture, which clearly shows the love that the designers have for football as a sport. And the decision to concentrate on a season, rather than a game has paid off. Most clever of all was the way of winning – teams move up and down a table that is broken into descriptions rather than numbers eg. Relegation, Lower Table, Mid Table etc. Depending on the starting value of your team, you will gain more victory points for where you finish. A poor team that somehow finishes mid table, will score more points than a better team there. The game becomes less about who has the best team and who gets the best out of what they have – think of the points as board confidence or fan’s backing

The Football Game has already funded through Kickstarter and is due to land in April this year. It is one of my finds of the Con.

Four Elements is a dexterity game that the designer Robert told me started out with him and his friends flicking draught pieces and Jenga blocks at one another. The aim is to knock the opponent’s king piece off the table by flicking laser cut pieces of different designs at each other. Each element utilises different shapes and can be formed by players into a variety of different defensive patterns and set ups.

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It reminds me of the old Vikings and Barbarians game Crossbows and Catapults, but done in an abstract style. The pieces are big and bold – and there were plenty of children stood around the tables gleefully smashing bits of plastic into one another. The Kickstarter for this is due at the end of April.

Next I was able to take in Ominoes – an already released abstract strategy game by Yay Games that involves attempting to move dice around a grid and form blocks of matching symbols. The designer, Andrew Harman, took me through a game that was easy to pick up and also, as I found out, very easy to mess up when the board starts to get crowded. Match symbols is easy, but when you have to move a dice of the same symbol three spaces before you place it, it can become very tricky. You can also move your opponent’s dice and there are wild cards that let you mess with opponents or score points in all manner of various situations. All of this was too much for my befuddled mind and I got soundly beaten. However, Ominoes is an absolute delight.

Sub Terra from Inside The Box Board Games is a co-operative game that combines the tile exploration of Betrayal At House On the Hill and the player roles of Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, with a dash of survival horror thrown in for good measure. We all took the role of cavers that had become trapped in a system riddled with hazards and horrors lurking in the darkness. My geologist (selected on the basis that his beard was the best of all the illustrations) and his friends wandered around for a good while, negotiating gas pockets, floods and cave ins. These were all triggered by a deck of cards that represent both which hazard occurs this turn and also the length of time our cavers’ lamps will last (last card goes and the players lose).

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The system would appear to reward a safety first approach – players being able to check out the next room for an action before moving. However, players can also throw caution to the wind and jump straight into the unknown, which can end very badly. However, when the monsters spawn in the cave they will chase the players down, so any such care suddenly goes out of the window. The game does not have an absolute win/loss end game. Players are given an end score dependant on how many of them find the exit and make it out. Our group were unfortunately split up by the time the exit revealed itself – and the Scout and I decided our hides were worth more than the poor saps left in the caverns, stepping out into the lovely sunshine and a silver reward ranking in the process.

The game has been successfully funded via Kickstarter, but there are late backer options available. The game flows well, is paced almost perfectly and cranks up the tension to near fever pitch when the game comes to its end.

My next port of call was the frankly gorgeous looking Gloom Of Kilforth which the designer, Tristan Hall, was pleasant enough to run myself and Mike through. It is a fantasy quest card game with a Gothic edge that has been brought to life through the artwork of Ania Kryczkowska. I am susceptible to a little bit of good old fashioned questing and the art and design immediately drew me towards it.

Tearing my eyes away from the folder of pretty pictures, as I sat down I was pleased to find that there was a very solid game behind the beauty. As we struck out into the world to complete our individual hero’s sagas (a unique path chosen at the game start to determine how your character can win), we venture through forests, plains and mountains encountering many places and creatures as we went. Mike’s Vampire Rogue very quickly defeated a Hobgoblin, who appeared to be sat upon a treasure hall, before spending a lot of time looking for a hidden place of power (the Unseen Bridge was not just a clever name). My Elf Priest ended up chattering with a goodwife, finding a hidden shrine and finally being robbed all over the course of a single turn. As Mike completed the first part of his Saga with ease, Tristan explained more about the game.

The game can be played either competitively or co-operatively with players either facing their own unique adversary or a combined foe. Tristan has also built the system to ensure that no player runs away with the game but in a fashion that works it into the game as a tactical option, which felt seamless.

I’ll be honest; Gloom Of Kilforth utterly blew me away by how well-crafted it is. It has hit its Kickstarter targets, but there are late back options available.

War Of the 9 Realms was the offering from Wotan Games and took its cue from Viking mythology. Intrigued at the promise of mortals and Gods clashing over the world of Midgard and the fact that the game features twelve sided dice (which any serious dice fan will tell you are the best), I sat down with Mike to see what happened when a bunch of Vikings try to kick the seven bells out of one another.

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What actually happens is you get a nice hex based skirmish game with a unique units and abilities. To attack you roll a number of dice equal to your attack (and modified by whatever skills you may get or fate cards you use) and have to beat the defence value of the target. You score a wound for each multiple of that defence value you get – or for every 12 you roll. Beat the targets would value and they die. Kill the opponent’s leader and you win. Seems simple enough?

However, there is a nice system of action management alongside this game. You get a number of actions points each turn, which you use to move, attack and trigger other abilities. If you do not spend them all, any leftover can be used to counter attack against anyone that targets you.

Furthermore there exists a second way of winning – feeding the Ravens. Essentially this boils down to a battle of attrition – whereby ever wound is added to the Blood Cauldron track and once this maxes out, you can claim victory. This was the way I was able to beat Mike and as you can see by the picture, he’s overjoyed by it …

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The entire process took 20 minutes and was good, Valhalla inspired fun. We got to see some other parts from the finished game that would feature more warriors, various board and other factions that, but still maintaining the easy access that made the game a hit for me. It also promises a second play style, Epic which gave the factions unlockable abilities by spending Valour points. Lawrence, the designer, has stated that Epic play is also balanced against normal play – so players can tailor the game to their own skill levels. The game was on Kickstarter last year and unfortunately did not make its target, but Lawrence is planning to give it another go this year, and I for one, am hoping it succeeds.

My final game of the event was City Of Kings – another fantasy quest game that featured a world conquered by evil and a group of heroes breaking out from the last city to reclaim the world around it. This game was big – a large dual-sided tile map and unique player cards (approximately A4 size) upon which you track your experience, equipment and wounds. In addition there are numerous cards, tokens and other pieces that make this the behemoth it is.

In addition to exploration, the game also incorporates worker management, as each character has a wagon they can be sent out to harvest resources in newly uncovered mines, lumber mills and other locations. This leads to a resources management system as the workers ferry items back to the city, before using them to craft new items to help the heroes upon their quests. At times it felt like a board game version of Command and Conquer. There was a lot going on here and I’m still a little confused by how much was happening, but I was attracted to a lot of the little nuanced things that the game did. The morale system for example, that drops when a hero is defeated. If the heroes are beaten down one too many times, the morale hits zero and the game is over. Also the chance that when workers start gathering resources, they may cause too much noise and build up tokens in that increase the chance of something coming to take a look. The Kickstarter for this starts at the end of March 2017.

Regrettably that was the end of my AireCon adventure – my panel appearance was unfortunately cancelled (I guess no one wanted to see me. Excuse me I have something in my eye …). But that did not detract from what a cracking weekend I had and what a great experience it was to share with all the people at the Harrogate International Centre.

Here is to many more conventions in future and a return to AireCon 5 next year …

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