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BGG.Spring Report I: Visiting the Charity Sale, Playing Spiel des Jahres, and Being the Boss

by W. Eric Martin

BGG.Spring took place on May 26-29, 2023, and with that show in the books, I thought I’d talk about games played and other happenings from the show.

To start, each year at BGG.Spring we have a charity sale with proceeds going to Café Momentum, an organization that has locations in Dallas, Nashville, and Pittsburgh. An overview:

Café Momentum is a nationally-recognized non-profit restaurant and training program that provides a paid internship for justice-involved youth. The internship includes 12-months of curriculum programming.

The interns work their way through all areas of the restaurant, learning legal employment, social skills, and life skills. Case management works to round out the ecosystem of support including financial education, parenting classes, educational assistance, and career exploration.

Case managers help the interns work through issues such as anger management, trauma recovery, fatherlessness, and abandonment. After the 12 months of curriculum, successful interns are able to graduate from the program and are placed in a job with one of our community partners. These young people, who the juvenile justice system has referred to as “throw-aways” are now employed, tax-paying, wholly contributing members of society.

Prior to BGG.Spring, we go through the BGG Library and cull (1) games that haven’t been checked out in several years or (2) duplicate copies of games that don’t see much use, then put them up for sale, with most games being $10 the first day, then discounted the second day, regardless of what those games are. Horus Heresy from 2010? $10! Coimbra from 2018? $10!

BGG owner Scott Alden also usually sells a few items from his personal collection, with these being priced individually. This year included Full Metal Planète for $100, Allerley Spielerey for $150 (bought by my friend and fellow Knizia addict Ken Shoda), and Catena for $40, bought by yours truly. In fact, you might recognize a theme among some of my acquisitions from BGG.Spring…

Anyway, the sale runs for two hours on Saturday, then two hours on Sunday, with prices dropping until everything goes. Here’s the sale just before opening, then freshly underway:

The sale raised $7,801 for Café Momentum, and Tracey Hull, Director of Development, told us that will cover the cost of DART bus passes for all program participants in Dallas, which will make it easier for them to get to the program, but also anywhere else they want or need to go in Dallas. (Hull said that 90% of the jobs in Dallas are on the north side of the city, while 60% of the residents live on the south side — which means they need the ability to travel to find more and better job opportunities.)

• As for what I played at BGG.Spring, so let’s look at the three 2023 Spiel des Jahres candidates. I’ve already played and covered Kasper Lapp‘s Fun Facts from Repos Production in December 2022, but I gave it another go with folks who hadn’t played…and the result was the same as before.

In each of the game’s eight rounds, you’re presented with a question that has a numerical answer (e.g., “From 0 to 100, how much do you like horror movies?”), then you’re challenged to place those answers in order from low to high without seeing what people wrote.

In our game, a couple of questions gave you something interesting to answer that could become a topic of conversation; a larger number of questions were uninteresting; and one question (“How many intimate relationships have you had that lasted longer than a year?”) drew an immediate “Nope!” from one of the players — and that reaction, even without an answer, made everyone uncomfortable, which is not what you want from a party game (unless that’s the goal of the game, of course). From this question and others, I think the game is aimed at a European audience that would (in general) be more comfortable sharing such details of their life, but even so a lot of the questions fell flat, giving us no incentive to play again.

Next Station: London from Matthew Dunstan and Blue Orange Games is a flip-and-write game, part of the *-and-write genre that largely exploded into being following the success of 2018’s Ganz schön clever.

In the game, each player has grid of stations on their board, as well as one of four different colored markers. Someone flips the top card of the deck, and you draw a straight line from the station that matches your marker to a station showing the symbol on the revealed card. Sometimes you can connect to any station you want, and occasionally you can branch the line. Once five pink cards have been revealed, you score that line — number of sectors entered multiplied by largest number of stations in a single sector, plus twice the number of times you’ve crossed the river — then shuffle the deck, get a marker you haven’t yet used, and start a new round.

After four rounds, you score bonuses for stations that have been reached by two or more lines as well as the number of starred stations you’ve reached.

As with many *-and-write games, Next Station: London is effectively a solitaire game. Our only interaction as players in the same game is to see how one another is scoring after a round, then…what? Make riskier moves for a bigger payout? Not really. You’re all getting the same cards in the same order. I imagine that you can plan better when deciding which station to add to a line, but in many cases I had only one option — although perhaps that was due to earlier poor planning.

I never felt like I was doing something clever — only incrementally gaining points bit by bit, then seeing who stacked them up better. The game had no arc, no rising tension, but felt flat from beginning to end. Keep in mind that I’ve played only once, but I’m indifferent as to whether I play again.

The game includes two expansions: one that provides scoring objectives that all players can achieve, and the other gives a special power to each marker, such as using a flipped card twice or branching an extra time. Those powers would give you a little more to do, being one element that’s unique to you (at least for the current round).

• The final SdJ nominee is Dorfromantik: The Board Game, a design by Michael Palm, Lukas Zach, and Pegasus Spiele that adopts the Dorfromantik video game for tabletop play.

The game consists of hexagonal task tiles and landscape tiles, along with task tokens valued 4, 5, and 6 and boxes of stuff that you will unlock over the course of many playings. To start, a player draws three task tiles one at a time, placing them into the tableau. Rivers and railroads must abut matching tiles, but a village or forest or wheat field can be cut off by something else — and often you want to do that because each time you reveal a task tile, you draw a task token of the matching type and place it on that tile.

A forest task gets a forest token, for example, and to complete that task, that forest needs to be as many tiles as the number on the token. If this happens, place the token aside for points, then draw a new task tile next turn. As long as you have three task tiles in play, you draw a landscape tile on your turn, and if you need to draw a landscape and can’t, the game ends — which means your challenge is to complete as many tasks as possible so that (1) you score more points and (2) you keep bringing more tiles into play, which probably helps you complete even more tasks.

BGG’s Candice Harris

At game’s end, you add up all the completed task tiles, score 1 point per tile for your longest river and longest railroad, and score 1 point per tile for closed areas that contain a flag. (Think cities in Carcassonne, which score as soon as they’re surrounded by walls.)

I played with my BGG News compatriot Candice Harris and a couple of other people, and we all wondered why we would want to play again. Dorfromantik: The Board Game is co-operative, but you have no hidden information or personal goal or unique powers, so the design is really a solitaire game with the actions divvied up among however many people are at the table. You can advise one another on where best to play a tile, but unless I have the tile deck memorized — and three landscape tiles are removed at random each game — your choices are probably just as good as mine, so why am I at this table?

As with Next Station: London, Dorfromantik: The Board Game felt like it had no arc. I guess the idea is that the task tiles sort of have a lottery feel, and you ideally flip one over, place it where you can immediately score it, then flip another task tile, thereby racking up points quickly — but we didn’t actually feel that during play.

At game’s end, you sum the points, then mark a certain number of spaces to advance up a branching path, unlocking boxes of new content when reach certain locations or achieve specific point totals. As you add new tiles, your scores will (probably) go higher, allowing you to hit new targets.

BGG’s Lincoln Damerst and Scott Alden

BGG owner Scott Alden really likes Dorfromantik: The Board Game and invited me to play again, sure that we had done something wrong in my first game. We had not.

I’ve never been a video game player, and I think Dorfromantik: The Board Game has more appeal to someone with that background, such as Scott, who worked in video game development before starting BGG. In this game and in many other games that can be played solitaire, you’re challenged to hit a certain score to level up, unlock new powers, then take on bigger challenges — and I have no interest in that. I almost never play solitaire games, and when I do, I rediscover why I almost never play solitaire games.

For a co-operative game, I want us all bringing something unique to the table, perhaps thanks to hidden info or player powers, so that together we can do something that wouldn’t be possible on our own.

• I’m bummed that all three 2023 Spiel des Jahres nominees are duds for me. Even if I’m down on one nominee, as was the case with Cascadia in 2022, I usually dig the other two, but not this year.

To end on a positive note, let’s talk about a game I played that I love — and no, not Mind Up! because I’ve already covered that game. Let’s instead talk about Big Boss, Wolfgang Kramer‘s 1994 take on Acquire that Funko Games is reprinting in a somewhat modified form in 2023.

Your goal in the game is to end up with more money than anyone else. Collectively you’re establishing and growing businesses on a linear track numbered 1-72. Each time you start or add to a business, you earn money equal to the current share price, money that you often immediately plow into buying 1-2 shares of active companies on the board. If you have enough money, you can place a tower in the company HQ that counts as three shares of that company’s stock.

When a block is placed that connects two companies, the larger one consumes the smaller one. Anyone owning shares in the smaller company is paid out, then the value of that company is added to the larger one.

Only three companies survived at game’s end

Thus, the two ways you earn money are (1) adding to a company and (2) having the value of your shares increase. Everyone starts with ten cards in hand from a deck that contains numbers 1-72, and you can buy more cards during play, whether face up from the market or face down from the deck.

As people play cards and buy shares, you get a sense of who expects which businesses to grow and where — although sometimes you can see this more explicitly thanks to the purchase of face-up cards. (This is a change from the original game in which all purchased cards came from the top of the deck, although you can play that way if you wish.) Sometimes you’re dealt a card or two that lies between two businesses, giving you a lever in deciding which one will survive — or whether a merger will never take place should you own shares in the smaller company. Your own share purchases will hint at what you’re hoping to do, so ideally you can time a tower purchase or merger at just the right time to profit best.

But even if you don’t own shares in a giant business, you can make up to $50 million just by placing a block in it, and since the share price can never rise over $50 million, you can sometimes make out better than those who do own shares.

I played Big Boss twice at BGG.Spring 2023 and loved it both times. I’ve played the original game ten times, and this new version is much the same, while being a little more forgiving in various ways. I plan to post a more detailed overview later, but in short I love how the game requires you to read others, make plans, gamble on the future, and react to changing fortunes. Everyone matters in determining the flow of the game and your actions shape what happens to everyone else, a trait I value in games.


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