5-7 Nov 1999, Birmingham
I attended last year's MidCon and enjoyed myself a lot. It is also the first convention to take place after the annual games fair at Essen and is a good place for early views of some of the new games from there. Consequently, I went again. Last time I had decided to stay at the hotel. However, the hotel had double-crossed us on the bookings and made many of us stay at another hotel some distance away. This year I couldn't afford to stay anyway, so I decided to drive there each day.
Being out of work did mean that I could drive up quite early on the Friday - before there were enough people to play games with in fact. Carol and Theo from SFC (the organisers) were late, so there wasn't much in the way of reception either. I spent some time wandering about the games rooms seeing how things were developing. Most of the contingent who were already there had come for the Diplomacy championships and there were already a number of copies set up in the big room and a few players having 'warm-up skirmishes'. Apart from a little checking over people's shoulders, I protected the more fragile parts of my brain by staying well clear.
Steadily, people I knew started to arrive, and I spent some time socialising. Carol Johnson eventually arrived at the front desk having just had a bit of a run-in with the hotel management who, despite their assurances after last year, had once again dumped many of the room bookings in order to free up rooms for higher paying last minute admissions.
Eventually there were enough people around who had imbibed the requisite amount of initial beverages to want to play something. I joined a group of five others to play that old standby, Take it Easy. We played three rounds, which was OK because I won that round to finish second overall, one point behind Timothy who had won the first round. Crikey!
Next up I managed to get myself in on a game of Andromeda, this year's new offering at Essen from Alan Moon. It is a board game of trading, tactics and chance based around the theme of setting up businesses on satellites above seven (or six and a half) exotic (and Andromedan) planets. The action is card driven and the chance elements keep it from getting too cerebral. I found the game rather strange: as though the different aspects didn't quite fit together properly. Yet at the same time, it was rather intriguing. I guess it's rather like a strange flavour that you're not quite sure whether you like or dislike. In any case, I was inspired enough to buy a copy - still wondering whether it was good or not. Strangely enough, I managed to come second again.
By now there were lots more people around, including Geoff from the club and Angela and David, who make it to most of the same conventions as I do. We were joined by Kevin Lee and started up a game of Nicht die Bohne, which is still my mission game - the game I am keen to get as many people hooked on as possible. We only managed to get the first of three rounds in, however, when it was announced that the general knowledge quiz would be starting in the room we were in. So we decided to abandon the game and form a quiz team with the same people. The quiz took a long time and was rather tough, but we managed to come sixth, which was about half-way down the list.
It was late then, so I drove home, made up for the lack of eating while I had been playing, and went to bed at about 2am.
Soggy from the club was planning to go up on Saturday with one or more of his kids and we had arranged beforehand that he would come and pick me up. He had said that he would come by at about 7:30am. Considering my bedtime, I had decided not to set the alarm, but to get up and get ready once he arrived, so as not to waste any possible sleep time. The only trouble with this plan was that Alex answered the door when Soggy came at the appointed hour, and he wasn't aware that I had come back the previous night. So he told Soggy that I was at Birmingham and Soggy assumed I had decided to stay at the hotel after all and went without me... Doh! I didn't realise this until I got up at about 8:30, thinking myself very clever for not getting up too early. When Alex saw me he did a double-take, asked what I was doing there and told me what had happened.
I had already arranged that I wouldn't have the car available, so it looked like I might end up stranded. As it turned out, I remembered Geoff was planning to go back as well - to spend the night, so he wouldn't be able to bring me back. A quick phone call determined that he hadn't gone yet - he would drop by and pick me up some time after 10:00. Drat - I could have had more time in bed!
When I eventually got there I started with my first game of Tonga Bonga. This had been one of those game that I had found difficult to get hold of, but had persisted because the description of the game play sounded good. I have to say that I enjoyed the game as much as I'd hoped I would. I can see that more serious gamers wouldn't be so keen though, as it has the look of a less serious game, with large and brightly coloured pieces, and the rules are pretty simple. It is one of those games, though, where you have to keep your eyes on what is going on in terms of board position, current wage rates, etc in order to get the drop on your opponents. It is chock full of interaction. Curiously enough, I came second again. Was this to be the trend of every game I managed to complete all weekend?
David and Angela had recently come back from their first visit to Essen (I've still to achieve mine) and so had managed to pick up loads of the new games. The first they introduced me to was Dolce Vita, a simple little card game where players use their points cards to try to 'bid' for luxuries each turn. If you get a repeat of the same luxury type, you have to return the first. This was another game where it was hard to determine how good it was - and whether there was a problem with the endgame. But there was also something enjoyable about it and I did end up buying it eventually.
I pursued my Stefan Dorra theme next, and introduced another of his games that I had not played before - MarraCash. This is a beautiful game of buying shops and getting customers in the city of Marrakech. I think there were a lot of strategic levels that we were only just beginning to touch on in a first game. I am really looking forward to playing it again, to explore its depths. And to break a trend, I actually finished in first place! As one of the other players (probably David) remarked: "Despite your excellent gameplan, you won!"
This was then followed with another new game from Essen - X.Net. This is a game themed on the Internet. Each player represents a web site provider, who can offer various types of content on their server - such as art, games, porn, nature, etc. These are represented by cards, which you can place into your server spaces in front of you. In the centre of the table six cards are laid out to represent current demand from web-users. If you are offering one of these services at the start of your turn, you earn points. During your turn you can make changes to your server and to the demand cards. You can also expand your operation to provide more services, accept more users, be more responsive, etc - so increasing your potential points score for future turns. The game is interesting enough, although working with computers turns me a little off games with that theme. The main problem is that it can take a long time - we probably spent about three hours on it. The drag factor really got high towards the end where everyone changed their emphasis from scoring points themselves to preventing others from scoring points. I had quite a lead and looked to be about to win something like an hour before the end. But the others successfully stopped me crossing the line until we were all very close to the victory. I believe it was Angela who won in the end, but it could have been anyone who first got the lucky break that prevented the player before from stopping them winning. I think most of us were just glad it had ended. I would advise you to play to a time limit rather than a winning score in order to prevent this happening to your games. Hopefully that should stop it from dragging.
We were then caught up by another quiz - the music quiz this time. I wasn't in a team but the other people I was about to play with were - I can't remember who they were except for Chris Boote. Anyway, I just sat by and checked rules, etc while the quiz was on. The main part of it was a tape of about a hundred music clips running from the 50's to the 90's. I couldn't help contributing to the team on some of these - particularly from the punk and late 70's periods. We didn't stand too much chance, though, with people like our own Mick Haytack in other teams.
Afterwards, Soggy was keen to get home, so off we went for another day. As part of the further intermingling of club members, I had been planning to give Jake a lift there on Sunday, but it turned out that he wasn't able to go. In his stead, I took Glen - a friend of Sally's. On arrival, I set Glen up into the last remaining space in a game of Scotland Yard with Angela and David. It's always important to leave new players with people who aren't going to give them a hard time.
Meanwhile I went and found enough players for a full game of Nicht die Bohne. They repaid me introducing them to such a good game by knocking me down to fourth place out of six.
To finish off the day, I had arranged a game of Chinatown, a game I had been hoping to play for a while. I have to thank the other players (Peter, Timothy and Glen) for waiting patiently for me to finish the other game and only occasionally coming over and threatening to give my place to someone else. This was definitely my game of the convention and went immediately to the top of my 'must buy' list. Make sure you check out the link above and put it on yours too. I also have to thank Pevans, whose game it was, for waiting for us to finish rather than insist he needed to get going home.
By the time we had finished, most others had gone or were winding down, so we said our goodbyes and headed off for home ourselves.
Once again, credit to all those who played with me: Paul Oakes, Alan Bennett, Timothy Hunt, John Harrington, Richard Beatty, Peter Card, Steve Bond, David Tittle, Geoff Challinger, David Blowers, Angela Caunce, Kevin Lee, Mark Stretch, Mark Sheihan, Mike Eggleton, Alan Harvey, Ron Bason, Iain Alexander, Kevin Rolph, Mark Young and Glen Hodgson. Thanks again folks.
Bye for now.