ManorCon 2015 - Part One

A bit late off the bat I admit, but this is the start of me keeping true to my News Year Resolution to attend more gaming conventions from now on. The UK Games Expo is good fun, but it's only once a year and most of it is usually spent buying, selling or trading/browsing as opposed to playing games solidly. OxCon earlier in January was OK, but a very small fish in comparison to many others. So I had to find other events to indulge myself with and last weekend the chosen event was ManorCon 2015 at the University of Leicester.

Lasting from Friday afternoon till Monday afternoon this is longer than most, though unfortunately due to a job getting in the way I could only manage Friday afternoon until Sunday evening (I know, tragedy right?) However none of that time was wasted and the event was very enjoyable with a friendly demeanour across all of the gamers never before seen from experience. So what is it like and what games got played? Well that's the point of this article, to answer those questions. Normally I reflect on these on the podcast and I will still give a shout-out overview at the start of the next episode to the event, but in August as some who watch my Twitter/Facebook pages will be aware, August is reserved for a big double bill anniversary special in which I'll be giving my Top 50 Games Of All Time! As a result, there won't be time to give my usual first impressions, etc so consider this article a replacement as I was fortunate enough to tick off many games on my "try-out" list.

Event: - ManorCon 2015
Location: - University of Leicester, UK.
Date: - 17th-20th July
Known For: An emphasis on playing games with only a minor element of buy/sell/trading.

The Experience

The event takes place in the John Foster Hall within the University. Several open gaming rooms are available with canteen facilities and a bar that runs till the early morning hours with a good selection of drinks available and very lovely barmaids. . . . . what?? The prices are very reasonable although hot drinks could be cheaper so maybe bring your own tea bags!

Residents get to sleep in the university dorm rooms which are kept very clean and tidy with fully functioning shower equipment and fresh towels. For £35 a night it was a bargain really considering you can pay up to twice that amount for a posh room at other conventions and yet you don't really gain anything extra when you think about it. When it comes to a gaming convention, the room is merely a place to sleep, shower and dump your games, that's it. It was a bit warm in the rooms, but it's the middle of July and it's one of the most humid months I've encountered so what do you expect? Dress light and have cold showers basically.

Some special tournaments are run including a large scale Diplomacy event, but I've now tended to avoid such things with the exception of Netrunner. A large pop quiz is held on one evening as a good way to unwind after a day of gaming and a small 2nd Hand Bring & Buy sale runs briefly which unlike the Expo does not require you to queue for half a day to submit your games for processing or to gain entry. However the flip side of that is that with only a couple hundred people present at the convention, there isn't as big a selection of games to pick from and you get to see a lot of real garbage turn up. I managed to sell a couple of mine which paid for a new purchase as you'll see later, but I couldn't find anything bar an overpriced Kemet and a £5 copy of the old Civilization board game (the one that takes most of a day to play) which annoyingly someone grabbed before I found it otherwise I'd have bought it just to at least try it. It's very efficiently run though and everyone loves a bargain.

Milestone Games set up a retail store at the convention with a good selection of games to purchase at a 15% discount for convention attendees. Although despite this discount the prices still at best match what other cheaper online stores can manage, though you do have the advantage of not having to deal with postage charges and there were some unique titles present.

The crux of ManorCon however is playing games solidly. There is plenty of space available even on the Saturday to play games though if you're expecting to play something that's a big table hog you may want to grab one of the big tables in the smaller rooms early and make it your first game of the day. The time you spend browsing games for sale is minimal meaning you have lots of time to indulge in games old and new. There isn't a system in place for those looking for gamers, but to be honest it's not really needed in a convention of this size as I discovered. I got out Fantasy Flight Games version of Tigris and Euphrates, stood the box up for all to see and before I'd even got the pieces out of the box, two players asked if they could join and I had myself a quality 3 player game. I really must get round to ordering a stand up banner with my blog logo on it though to publicise the blog a bit more while also give off the message that I'm looking for fellow gamers to join me.

Tigris, Sentinels of the Multiverse, 7 Wonders and Fairy Tale got played which were already familiar to me, but for once I actually played more games for the first time than ever before - as I can't fit them all in my next podcast, you're going to get them all here in one go!

Imperial - Don't Play It Like A War Game!

I have to admit I had my doubts about Imperial when it was described to me as "a game set in the 2nd World War where you buy treasury bonds in each country to earn the most money by the end of the game. Do not think of it as a war game, but an economy game". So basically despite giving us the power to invade other countries and take over areas on a map, I have to force myself not to lose sight of the overall objective of money generation. Uh oh, this is sounding like an 18xx game! But it's in the BGG Top 100, how bad can it be. . . oh wait Power Grid exists!

However despite struggling with what was the best course of action to do in the game, I was helped out by the owner and this helped me to get into it more. I expected it to be as dull and tedious as an 18XX game, but instead this revealed many gaming elements that are of interest to me. Granted I'm not a fan of the economic genre, but this one proved to be a lot more engaging than envisaged. The twist here is that because multiple people can be shareholders of a country as it's developing on the map there is a lot of player interaction with advice being given and almost semi-co-operative teamwork. Of course you know that they just want money at the end of the day, but as only the majority holder controls all the armies and factories and decides on the best investment strategy, you're keen to get involved with what's happening. And of course time it right and you can buy more bonds and sieze control for yourself putting you in the driving seat.

Even though it's not a war game, you still get to partake in some area control and conflict with other players, but there are no dice involved and luck is kept to a minimum. And even though the theme isn't inherently funny, there was plenty of mockery to be thrown around particularly at one player who siezed control of France only for it to be butchered the next turn. We all kept making comments about how France was a tempting deal for us just to wind him up and his eventual takeover of my already decent Germany treasury resulted in many amusing comments from me of how this marked the end for Germany as we know it- enough to get a handshake from the player involved!

I came joint last, but the scores for the most part were very close although I have concerns that there is a runaway leader issue. We played the original version with some rule tweaks from the subsequent Imperial 2030 release so I will have to keep a lookout for that version which is regarded to be a better game as this was an unexpected pleasure to play.

Ka-Blooey - Bombing In Progress

Moving on to the Playtesting Corner we have Ka-Blooey, a game designed and self-published by Stuart Garside aka District 31 on Twitter. This is a light "take-that" card game where players will place bombs on each other, defuse threats to themselves and play all sorts of cards with multiple abilities with the ultimate aim of blowing up all 3 bases of each opponent while keeping their own intact. The winner is the last man standing.

The game is currently still in the testing stage and as such not all artwork and graphical design was complete and some rules were being changed based on feedback. It is meant to be taken lightly as a quick, chaotic filler with plenty of raised voices at other players for screwing them over and all things considered it does the job fine. It was a learning game so it took longer than normal, but I can see this one being played pretty quickly once you've had a game or two. Don't even think of playing it if you aren't comfortable with being the target however as there's a lot of screwage from the cards.

Following the game we were able to give some very constructive feedback which we will hope will improve the game prior to its release in the future. If you think this game might interest you, get in touch with Stu to find out more.

Through The Ages 4th Edition - An Apt Description For The Time Length

Hold on, what 4th edition I hear you cry? Well following the success that this game has had with die-hard civilization game lovers a new edition is currently being developed by Czech Games Editions. And this time I mean a proper new edition, not just simply a new print run like the 3rd edition was. This one is still in prototype stage and features some rule changes and streamlining from previous versions.

I didn't get a chance to try this at the Expo, so I jumped on this opportunity to have a 2 player duel with a fellow gamer under the guidance of Paul Grogan from the Gaming Rules podcast. I had previously attempted to learn the 3rd edition myself from the rule book but this proved incredibly difficult and tedious that I never really finished it. Heavy games like this need a good teacher and thankfully that's what I got.

In terms of changes, a few rules like I said have been tweaked but the biggest change is the artwork across the cards and player boards which much to my joy has undergone a complete overhaul and improved vastly. The previous editions looked so bland it was a wonder that anyone looked at it and actually felt like diving in, but here, it looks a lot prettier even in prototype stage. OK it's not going to win awards and it still has lots of tracks and cubes to push around, but it's a welcome change.

The game itself I throughly enjoyed, being a fan of civilization board games myself. It's long, oh god is it long, I lost track of how many hours we were playing for and this was late at night as well, but it's very engaging and through repeated plays you can get the time length down as 3 veteran players from previous editions proved to us by taking far less time than we did. Developing your civilization with new leaders, buildings and military units is great fun and it's surprisingly how varied it can get. I became a huge warmonger with a thing for knight calvary right up to the last age, while my opponent opted for a band of holy religious warriors led by Joan of Arc. Unfortunately for him, once Joan of Arc died and I stole his only chance to upgrade his mines (tee hee hee), his defences rapdily fell apart allowing me to take full advantage. Though it was amusing how eventually he managed to build a couple of fighter jets out of bronze. . .

I've got high hopes for this and with the Beta online, it's getting so much feedback from players and statistics that balancing changes are being made all the time to make it more fine tuned. Keep an eye on this one even if you've never played the game, although be warned, this is a game solely for those who enjoy a heavy, meaty Euro civilization game.

Part Two Coming Soon This Week.................