Ox-Con 2015 - The Experience

My resolution for 2014 was to pack out my Expedit IKEA shelf with as many games as possible, hoping to fill the entire thing up by the end of the year and I 95% achieved that even though I do have to start trading some games out either due to time or because they weren't all that and a bag of chips.

For 2015 my resolution is to attend more conventions this year or gaming events. They don't have to be specifically only about board games, they can mix it about a bit. As a result I will be assisting Games Quest at various Insomnia events this year, attending the UK Games Expo as before and fingers crossed I'll be making a visit to Essen as well. That's not including any general board gaming gatherings though and OxCon is an example of that. 

So What Is OxCon?

Put simply, it's a gathering of gamers in Oxford for a weekend to play games and participate in some ultra-friendly tournaments for certain games. In this case we had Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan to enjoy of which I joined in the latter as I had a desire to get that played some more with new people. No Seafarer's or Fisherman of Catan variants unfortunately, but hey you can't have everything. 

It's hosted at the Mitre pub in the city centre in the upstairs function room. Being Oxford it's a pretty location, though the lighting seems to be as old as the building itself causing issues with regards to being able to see what was going on in the games played. It made photo taking rather difficult also. Just because the building was made in the Dark Ages doesn't mean the interior has to be reminiscent of the same period!

"Had some fun with the rockets - love this game, but sadly I didn't finish well"

The players however were a diverse mix from students to the elderly and even spanning different countries. Being Oxford this is no surprise as students will come from all over the world to study so it was a nice change to play with some USA born girls at one point. I remember being particularly shocked to witness someone in their 60's plus playing Magic The Gathering - not something I've seen before. Even the game selection was a good mix with many bringing their own titles - we're not talking a games library here, but certainly enough to fill the days.

Transportation and accommodation isn't difficult to sort out either. Though be warned, for Oxford categorically hates the car as a means of transport. The city centre is plastered with double yellow lines and is pretty much solely owned by buses and taxis. Not worry though, there are several Park and Ride sites on the outskirts which have cheap all-day parking and a direct bus route to the Mitre pub. Simply pick some cheap rooms on the outskirts as well like Premier Inn in my case and you're sorted. Getting a room in the city centre is just expensive.

Trying Out Some Different Games

Catan, Ghost Stories (we p'owned a victory, hell yeah!) and Innovation got some play over the weekend, but predominantly this was a time to try out some new games. Unfortunately for the most part, this resulted in some pretty bad games coming to the surface.

Starting on a positive note, we have Scotland Yard, a fairly old game of pure deduction in which several cops are trying to locate the whereabouts of Mr X on a London map. We had a recent edition of the game where the locations matched current times. The cops have a limited number of means to travel by taxis, buses and tube stations but Mr X can choose anything on his turn and the cops only know which transport he took. Playing a cop is fine, but the best part was playing Mr X. It was great fun making the others run in circles, hiding my routes and at times it was immensely tense when they were closing on my position. However I persevered and took the victory. Two good fun games of this one, but I don't tend to keep many deduction games personally and playing a cop in this one is far less exciting than playing Mr X. Puts me off wanting to try Letters from Whitechapel as it looks pretty much the same.

"Look how it blends with the table - the asthetics in this game are so dull"

Now on to bad games. Firstly a game that I've had mates rave about sometimes and that's Betrayal on House On The Hill. I like the Arkham Horror franchise a lot and I like a good horror game, but this one had eluded me for a while because I was skeptical about the lack of decent production quality and the fact that the game was very random and broken. Well after playing this game and even when I ended up as the traitor (remember I love being the bad guy) I still think this is a broken mess. Cards can either beef you up to silly levels or screw you over completely just like that - in fact I had one card that took 4 damage off me in one hit because my character was a weak physical one and after that I could do next to nothing - and once I turned traitor, I had zero means to hurt the opponents other than Voodoo dolls so I just say there bored out of my head desperate for the game to end. Essentially all you did in this game was run around rooms triggering random events then eventually one person turns and then you run around some more...........whoooo!! Making crack jokes could only help me so much. Ugh, never want to play this game again unless I've plenty of alcohol before hand and it's Halloween.

And then finally on to a game which isn't as dull, but still nothing special either. Mai-Star by AEG is another light card game in their ever-growing micro game range, but this one also failed to grab my interest. There's little to no variation in the game other than some highly unbalanced player abilities which are dealt out at random every round. You've got to get rid of all the cards in your hand by playing them down as guests (it's got a Geisha Japanese theme), which also trigger off abilities on the cards. Except the big issue is that you have three colours for the characters and the SAME cards appear in each colour so there's barely any variation. You've no control over what cards you can end up with and you may end up simply drawing cards you can't play and getting left behind. I didn't expect much when I saw it, but at least my misery was short lived. 

"Don't worry about the theme, it's non-existant here anyway"

The Settlers of Catan Tour.......Sorry Let's Get It Right.......THE CATAN TOURNAMENT!

The Settlers of Catan tournament was the highlight for Sunday. 3 games played back to back with a variation of players on each one. Very enjoyable characters throughout which suits the game as the trading phase is very dependent on the group. However some players really need to accept that "No Means No" as some turns took far too long because of very stingy trading or people just desperate to get that last resource. A particular treat was that each table had a different version of Catan on it. I'm used to the current 4th edition, but here we had the previous editions also and even an odd German version too. I'd still stick with the 4th, but a couple of nice looking games here, one of which I swear used actual photos for the tiles (might have been the German one). 

It was a fun time, even though clearly some people were taking it a bit seriously for a tournament with no actual big prize at the end. I lucked out on my die rolls though and struggled to convince the newer players of who the current leader was, as I could spot their tactics a mile away, but they couldn't. As a result I had a lot of undue robbery and attention directed at me and not the actual leaders. I came 3rd in two games both due to having my longest road nicked on the last turn, which has put me off that 2 point tile completely! Game 3 however I had the biggest wood harvest known to man and the trading port to go with it - once that was in place my engine took off and nothing was out of my reaches to build. The game was still close though meaning I had to win on the turn I did, otherwise I would be conceding the game. So a win and two failures didn't do my final ranking any good, but it was still good fun playing a game which I still think is a classic in the board game world.

"Can't beat a good old classic!"


Overall I had a good time - the hosts were friendly and there was a good selection of games to try. I got a bit unlucky it seems with the choices I made, but that's always going to happen at some conventions. The Catan tournament was good fun and allowed me to play against a variety of opponents while enjoying an old classic.

Transport and accomodation was easy to sort out, though not knowing Oxford I wasn't sure where to get a decent meal out and Oxford is pretty expensive so you might struggle for food without some discount card somewhere. Also the lighting was a bit of an issue not being able to see the games being played very well.

But it wasn't outstanding either. I would call it a "meh" convention. Not great, but not bad either. Would I pay for accomodation and transport again to go next year. . . . . maybe, as it's not that far away, but it's a lot to pay if you're not having a blast. But I have another year to work that out and compare it to other conventions as I go along. It's early days yet.