Since I live in Chicago this post will review 2 things: The Polar Vortex 2019 board game convention outside of Chicago Jan 25-27, and the Polar Vortex 2019 weather event, happening right now in Chicago, Jan 30-31.
Talk about the Weather
Less to discuss here so let’s get this out of the way: Yeah it’s cold but it’s not as bad as the news makes it out to be. Historically speaking, I’m proud of the way that Chicago never shuts down for cold or snow, so I’m actually a little disappointed that my office closed both Wednesday and Thursday, January 30-31, due to the cold. Yeah, it’s colder than Antarctica (it really is) and about as cold as the planet starts out in Terraforming Mars but I’ve set foot outside a couple of times today, to start my car. It’s not that bad. Mainly, we have the technology to deal with it. I’m wearing my warmest items, my warmest coat, hat and scarf, even though my warmest coat and warmest hat are both pretty lousy looking. And, with these warm items, I’ve been fine. Now, my 10-minute walk to the L-stop, and 10-minute walk from the L-stop to my office, would have been rough, but I really doubt I’d be getting any real frostbite. Once you’re inside, you’re fine. As it is, I’ve spent the day at home with my wife and 6-month-old daughter and it has been nice, so I’m not complaining. But, it’s not so bad like you hear on TV. You stay inside, you’re fine. You bundle up and go outside, you’re fine.
That’s the truth about Chicago weather. It’s not as bad as it’s cracked up to be, in my opinion, and I’ve spent 5 years in California and 5 years in New Jersey, so I’ve known some milder climates. You stay indoors. You bundle up. It’s not like winter in New Jersey is a picnic. Even winter in California isn’t exactly a time to spend outdoors as it’s cold and wet. Most Chicago winters, there are 3-5 days where you’re like, wtf why do I live here? Either because there’s so much snow, or because it’s so cold (but not both since if it’s really so cold, it doesn’t snow). But it’s only 3-5 days, not all winter, not even a month of winter. These 2 Mars temperature days are just 2 of our 3-5 wtf days for this winter. No big deal.
Talk about the Convention
I’m used to GenCon, which overloaded with events and activities, but I’ve learned that Game Cons can come in a lot of shapes and sizes, all of which have the potential to be fun. Mainly, games are fun, and people who play games are generally cool. This was a relatively small convention, all in one room, albeit a very large room. This would be just a slice of one of the game halls at GenCon, but it was well organized and had some fun little events, like a silent auction of games for charity plus a raffle for some games, and other events along those lines. The Warhammer and D&D groups I saw looked very organized as well. But, the open gaming was terrific and worth the short trip from the city.
3 different groups of people welcomed me to play games with them, teaching me games that they knew and I didn’t. And, in this case, 3 different groups of people were willing to demo my game for nothing in return. Basically, when people are playing games, they’re nice. And, that was and is the best thing about finding the board game community.
Polar Vortex Convention is held at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, in the DuPage County, about 20 miles outside of Chicago. I grew up about 15 minutes away but hadn’t been to COD in 20 or more years. I was quite impressed, it has grown and the facilities are quite nice. It took me some time to find out where exactly at the school the convention was and when I figured it out, I had to get back in my car and drive to a different parking lot altogether.
But there were also plenty of other games being played.
Cosmic Run Regeneration Mini-Review
Cosmic Run Regeneration by Steve Finn is a press-your-luck dice rolling game set in space. It’s a bit like Yahtzee in that you roll, and can decide what you’re going to “go for”. There are a lot of mini-races going on for the 6 different planets, and you need to progress in all of them if you want to maximize your points, but also want to win at least one of those races. There’s a lot to balance but very little time to balance it. The planets you race for “close” fairly quickly and the game concludes after you’ve gone just a handful of dice-throwing rounds.
Mechanically, like Yahtzee, you throw 5 dice every turn, and you get 3 total rolls where you can keep or reroll whichever dice you want. You can use them to progress on the path of one or more planets. You can also use them to buy what I would call “focus crystals” or to buy special cards, all of which generally give you ways to influence the dice rolls, e.g. re-roll or add/subtract 1 or set the dice to whatever, etc. If you progress on your path towards a planet far enough to reach that planet, that will “close” the planet. Also, meteor cards are played every turn. There are some “misses,” but most involve a meteor hitting 1 of the 6 planets. Once a planet is hit 3 times, it is also closed (destroyed). When a planet closes, each ship scores (or loses) points, and removed from the board. So it’s a race against time as well as a race against the other players. Once all 6 planets close — and it’s probably after 5-7 turns in a 4-player game — the game is over.
This game is a quick, fun dice fest. Rolling dice is fun. Pressing your luck is fun. Space is fun. It is nothing genius and nothing I’d run out to buy, but I’d definitely play it again.
Glass Road Mini-Review
Glass Road is a game by Uwe Rosenberg, of Agricola, Caverna, and A Feast for Odin fame. Like those, it is a struggle of a puzzle to manage. Unlike those, it isn’t worker placement. Rather, there’s a very unique system of choosing specialists and playing them over 3 turns. Every player has the same 15 specialists, and chooses 5 in secret every round. Then, over 3 rounds, each player puts out a specialist in front of him/her. Each specialist can do 2 things, but here’s the key to the game: If another player has that same specialist as 1 of his 5, but not the one currently face down in front him/her, then s/he must reveal that specialist. If that happens, both/all players with that revealed specialist may use either 1 of the 2 specialist abilities. However, if nobody “follows” that specialist, then the lone specialist can do both things on his card. Starting with the first player, the specialists are revealed and their role is executed. So, ideally, you want to be playing cards that nobody else has, OR play them at the same time that somebody else plays them, so you both get maximum value out of it. But, you also want cards that other players will play, as 2 of your 5 so you can play them too, gain a benefit, and weaken your opponent’s benefit. It may not make sense exactly until you play the game, but that’s how you can your various resources like sand and water, and move them up the wheel. You also build buildings into your play area, and clear forest for space and wood.
The game then has a very clever resource-balancing mechanism. You want brick and glass, but you only get them when all of the other 5 resources are moved. So you’re always slowed by your weakest resource and can’t just get by on a couple of strong ones. When you’ve got everything moving, you move your wheels, which grants you glass and brick. You can use glass, brick and/or other resources to buy buildings, which can provide advantages in gathering resources, or points at the end of the game, or both. You can also use the glass and brick at the end of the game directly to score points.
Well, anyways, it’s a little bit less of a struggle than the typical UR game, and it moved along at a pretty swift pace. I would definitely be up to play this again, but it’s not like I really need a game about glass making in my life. The most interesting part is balancing the resources and moving the wheels, but those aren’t enough to make me go out and buy the game or anything.
What should be abundantly clear at this point is that I’ve got a pretty high bar for games, but that stated, Azul is as good as advertised.
What’s so great about Azul is the look and feel of it. It’s pretty. It also feels great, not just in terms of game feel but in terms of the actual physical feeling of these tiles. Placing them and sliding them and clacking them all feel really satisfying. Also satisfying is the way your tile mosaic thing comes together. It’s pretty and you want to show it off. Building your tile wall is enough do something ability for me, and it’s just such a pretty and fun game that it has a lot of appeal for a lot of different types of groups.
Azul uses a unique drafting mechanic. There are these “plates” of 4 tiles each. You can draft any plate. When you do, you take all the tiles of a matching type — so if there are 3 red tiles and a blue, you can take all 3 red, which would be a nice get. Then the remaining tiles — blue in this example, fall back into the common pile. The common pile can be bought at any time by anyone. When they buy, they take all tiles of a single pattern, whatever number it may be. They also lose a point, but also get to draft first next turn, an advantage.
Then, the arrangement of your tiles generates points. You get more points for placing tiles adjacent to each other in rows and columns, and even more when you complete rows and columns, and more still if you can fill all tiles of a single pattern. It’s a bit like Sagrada in that it’s a point-salad puzzle that you’re trying to maximize against the other players, while being able to draft for the things you need in order to do that. Like Sagrada, Azul is a really pleasing game and one that I’d play anytime, anywhere, with any group. I might even have to add to my collection because it’s just tops in look and feel.
Finally I got some play test of Cage Match! in, and by “some” I mean 3, with 3 different groups of people. All went well. None were quite “let’s play again” but I’ve been doing this long enough to know if people are having fun or not, and all 3 groups had fun, and I got some great feedback.