LanceCon III: And the Games Roll On

There’s nothing quite like spending a Saturday playing nothing but board games. That’s what the guys in my gaming group did this weekend, starting around 10 a.m. on Saturday and playing through until nearly 2 a.m. Sunday.

We called this home-grown festival of gaming “LanceCon”, in honor of our friend Lance, who starts to get a little stir-crazy if we don’t take occasional breaks from role-playing games to play Settlers of Catan or some other board game. It was the third time we’d done this, and it was our most successful outing yet.

We averaged between seven and nine gamers at any given time, with people leaving and joining throughout the day. It was enough for us to be able to run two tables for most of the day, which in turn gave us a nice variety of games.

We started off the day with a game of Cities and Knights of Catan, which is an expansion to the classic Settlers of Catan. The game proved to be just as complicated as it was the first time we played it — this really isn’t a “pick up” sort of game like the original Settlers; its complexity means you really need to pay attention to what’s going on. The game adds all manner of special mechanics, including new “city improvements” flip-cards that allow you to build cathedrals, market places, and barracks, each of which provides certain bonuses within the game. It also introduces a new kind of resource — commodity cards — as well as knights, which are used to repel barbarians. Yeah, this is not the same Catan we all knew and loved. Don’t get me wrong — it’s still a fun game, but it’s not the sort of thing I’d play if my sole purpose was to relax and talk with my friends.

After that game was over, we had enough players to split into two tables, and ran side-by-side games of Risk 2210 (Amazon) and Risk Godstorm (Amazon). It was something we’d never done before, and it was fun to watch the tides of war ebbing and flowing between the two games.

By the time that game was over, our number had grown again, and we were up to something like nine players. That’s a bit much for the gaming room, so half of us departed for the dining room. The downstairs contingent played Munchkin (with its two sequels, Unnatural Axe and Clerical Errors shuffled into the deck) while the upstairs gamers undertook a cutthroat game of Illuminati. After Munchkin, we launched into a game of Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers (Amazon) while the other guys finished their game of Illuminati. My wife Sue joined us for Carcassonne, and ended up beating us all.

We rounded out the day playing a new game, a murder mystery called Mystery of the Abby (Amazon), in which players struggle to figure out who murdered a monk at an abbey, all while working within the confines of the monastery’s daily routine of masses and penances. Each player is given a “suspect” sheet containing a roster of two dozen monks. Each monk has certain physical characteristics — bearded or un-bearded, hooded or unhooded, fat or thin — and social characteristics (monkish order and their rank within that order). They are then dealt “suspect cards” from a deck containing all the monks save one which was removed (the murderer).

The goal is to use these cards to figure out who the murder was — this is done by asking other players questions about their suspects (done when you encounter them in rooms while exploring the abbey), searching other players’ cells for clues, and by exchanging suspect cards during each of the masses. It took us a little while to figure out the best strategies for the game, but once we did, the end game was a thrilling rush to beat the other guy to announcing the murderer. It was like Clue on steroids, and a hell of a lot of fun (despite the fact that we were all extremely tired by that point).

Meanwhile, those who didn’t join us for the Abby game took to the couch, where they watched the first three DVDs of Firefly (Amazon), a short-lived science fiction western by Joss Whedon (of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fame). That ended up hooking yet another player on the series (about half of us have seen Firefly already, and most loved it).

All in all, LanceCon III was a great success, though we did have some scheduling snafus. Unlike Nuke(em) Con, we didn’t have a set schedule for LanceCon. That burned us somewhat, as people arrived mid-game and had to stand/sit around for a while until the current round of games finished up. Next time around (we’re planning LanceCon IV for sometime this spring) we’re going to have a rough schedule that breaks the day up into 4 hour blocks. While we probably won’t decide on the games ahead of time, we will try and keep to that schedule. That way those who aren’t arriving until the afternoon or evening have a set time they can shoot for, and know that we’ll either be ready to start a new game, or will be in the process of winding up the last one.

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