This past weekend was Winter War 36. Winter War is a small gaming convention in Chambana which I have been attending most years since back in the late 70s when it was run by the U of I wargaming club on campus. The U of I club folded up a long time ago, and Don and Sue McKinney have been running the convention for 20 years or so in regular private facilities. Since the demise of the Chancellor, they've been at the Hawthorn Suites in Champaign, so this year was pretty much the usual. There are enough events at the convention that all the function space at the hotel is totally full and there is very little space free for pick-up games and just hanging out, but there seem to be enough attendees to support the events and it works out fairly well.
My own experience was somewhat diminished by my own procrastination. I meant to run two events, but by the time I got around to submitting them, the whole schedule was full except for the Friday afternoon time slot. (There was probably space for more events on Sunday, but since I spend Sunday cleaning tiger cages, that wouldn't work for me.) Further, as it turned out, pretty much everyone who would be there for Friday afternoon procrastinated less than I and had already preregistered before I had my event in. So nobody ended up signing up, leaving me sitting around Friday afternoon. I did get to watch some other events, and I am now hoping to pick up a copy of Dominion (a very interesting looking card game with some nice mechanics whose only drawback that I could see is only allowing four players). After some of the shorter events had finished, I ended up with a pickup game of Vegas Showdown which I ran away with. I did, however, foist off my copy of Instant Millionaire on the loser. I had meant it as a booby prize for the loser in the event that no one signed up for. It's possibly the worst board game I've ever played, a Monopoly ripoff but so unbalanced that it's completely random, but going through the motions takes a long time and might sucker you into thinking that it was worth thinking about game decisions. Friday evening I played a round of Railroad Tycoon. I've played similar games and I think I'd looked at this one a long time ago, but I wasn't really familiar with it. I was too timid early on, taking on too little debt, and was not able to keep up with the expert players. I skipped a second round because I was already feeling sleep deprived and I had a long day coming up.
Saturday started out with the hot new board game everyone's talking about, Agricola. It's like Puerto Rico but more complicated. I came in third out of five, which I think was pretty good for never having played such a complex game, especially since it was played with an optional rule of drafting option cards rather than just having them dealt, and I did not have the experience to know which ones were best. After a quick barbecue sandwich from the on-site food stand, we had the annual used games auction. I had a lot of games in it, having decided that I wanted to get rid of all the games that I didn't expect to play. The Winter War auction style is pretty fast paced: the auctioneer holds up the game and starts counting up the price. Everyone who's interested in that price holds up their hand, putting it down when the price gets too high, until only one hand is left. Unfortunately, there were a huge number of games this year and the auctioneers were not quite efficient enough, spending a little too much time on patter, and they did not get through the whole pile. All of my games that came up sold, but I still got some back. It more than paid for the weekend, though. Saturday afternoon I played a recent board game called Antika. It shares the action rondel mechanic with Imperial, which I've played several times, and looks superficially similar, but it's more of a war game. There are several different methods for collecting victory points, and to win you generally need to pick up something in each category, because getting a lot of points in any category gets very hard. I was in a good position, but not quite perfect; I needed two points to win at the moment when the game was switching from mostly economic to wholly military; I had enough units that there were a whole lot of combinations. If I could win two battles on that turn, I would win, and after agonizing over it for a long time and getting some help from the game master, I realized there was a way to do it. Then I managed to squeak in enough time to hit the Sea Boat with TC for a nice conversation before my last event, "Euro Dice Grab Bag", with multiple games on offer that used dice in unusual ways. Kingsburg is a development game with an interesting mechanic: you use the dice you roll to buy spaces on the board each turn that give resources. Higher numbers get spaces with more resources, but use up more dice, and the lower total roll gets first pick. I managed to build a good selection of buildings and won. Then we finished up with a round of Yspahan, a game where dice rolled each turn determine what options will be available for players to pick. I had played once before and remembered how a couple of development options were critical to one of the strategies. I had also drawn a couple of cards early in the game which were useless at first but which I eventually was able to use to collect those development options and amass a huge (and game winning) score in the last round.
I recommend Winter War to anyone who's interested in playing a bunch of board games. Just be proactive and sign up early. Winter War also offers role-playing and miniatures events; I don't mean to disparage those in praising the board games; lots of people seem to be having a great time in those events too.