A few weeks ago, on Aug. 28-Sept. 4, Consimworld held its annual convention in Tempe, and it was my first in-person convention since late 2019 because of the pandemic. My friends and I were going back and forth about attending something like this in person, and after attending the first day, we felt safe enough to attend during the week.
The convention was capped at 200 people, a group smaller than the usual amount, but in all honesty, even on the busiest day (the weekends), it did not feel like that many people were in attendance all at once. The convention kept the same space as previous years and tables were placed more spread apart. While masks were optional per Arizona rules, there were people masked up. I also didn’t mingle as much during the con and instead played with my usual groups. All these things helped calm my nerves about the whole situation, and I had such a great time gaming nonstop for many, many days.
Dan and I arrived bright and early on Saturday morning to game. And like by early, I mean around 10 a.m. I am not a morning person.
We started this day by playing Red Cathedral as a 2P. I really enjoyed this game — I think its resource wheel is such a great game mechanism — but the scoring for two players threw me for a loop. The person with the second majority for a cathedral tower only gets one-third of the points. I think I will stick to 3-4P for this game.
We then played what’s becoming to be our annual game of Maria. This 3P game based on the War of Austrian Succession is so good — and since we’ve been playing it every year, we’ve gotten much better at playing it.
Next up was a 3P game of Iberian Gauge. So this first game was such a learning experience, and we learned the hard way that the three people playing should not have started railroad companies far away from each other on the map! Our company stock prices were so low! Despite that — and the endless money exchanging that can bog down the game a bit — I already enjoy this game much better than its predecessor Irish Gauge.
We ended our day with Mexica, one of the meanest but most gorgeous games out there. Look at all those chonky, fun pyramids! *Making grabby hands gesture* This game is very cut-throat. Mean people will take over your district and block you from coming in. And by mean people, I mean me.
On Sunday, Dan taught us Cuba Libre, a game I actually own but had never got on table. This is one of the shortest COIN games, clocked in at 3 hours, and a smaller deck with four propaganda cards. For those unfamiliar, propaganda cards are shuffled into the deck at certain intervals, and when one of those cards comes up, the table checks if one faction has achieved their objective and wins the game. We lost so badly to Dan.
Next up was Underwater Cities. My gaming group and I have been playing this game a lot online and it was a little chaotic to play in real life after being used to the program doing everything for you. There are just so many bits and pieces! Nonetheless, I enjoyed this game and won for the first time ever.
I then played another game of The Field of the Cloth of Gold. Seriously, best filler game ever. Including the teach, this game is probably about 20 minutes long. Easy peasy, and yet so agonizing!
I ended the day with a game of Meltwater. And while I feel like I’ve played games where the game board is disappearing on you (i.e. Survive: Escape from Atlantis), the bleakness of this game is just so brutal. Humanity is dealing with the effects of nuclear fallout, and the only habitable place on earth is Antarctica, which is slowly being polluted with radiation. My people did not survive.
I started the day with an in-person demo from Dan, co-designer of In the Shadows. I enjoyed the card play of this game, which involves suits, initiatives and action points, and how certain outcomes are resolved through its own deck. I like that much better than rolling a die. This game is on GMT’s P500 as part of the company’s Lunchtime Games series, games that run about 20-60 minutes.
We then played Tigris and Euphrates. It’s my first time playing this Renier Knezia classic. We didn’t build many temples during the game, except for me, and that made a world of difference in my winning score. That said, I had no idea what I was doing the entire game. Beginner’s luck I guess, but would definitely play this again.
Monday nights are Consimworld’s welcome ceremony. I popped in for a minute to take this photo but didn’t want to spend too much time in a smaller room as it felt a little crowded to me. Nonetheless, the crowd was much smaller this year because of the attendance cap, for which I’m grateful for.
The last big game of the evening was Barrage. Dang, this game is so crunchy! I have only played it once two years ago at Consimworld 2019 (a prototype, no less!), but I knew back then that this brain-burner of a game would totally be up my alley. We played with the expansion, giving players asymmetrical powers. I love the game’s brutality, but also how everyone knows when all the water will flow so that you can plan accordingly.
We winded down the day with a game of Mandala. Along with The Field of the Cloth of Gold, Mandala is another recent favorite 2P game.
Players are placing cards into their fields or mountains, and when all the colors are represented, the mandala is scored. Part area control, hand management and set collection, Mandala is a tense abstract in which you get to choose how your set collections will score. Pretty neat, and it has a gorgeous cloth mat that accompanies the game.
During the course of the convention, Angola! was one of the games sitting on our table, which prompted a considerable number of people stopping by and commenting on the game. “This is such a good game!” they’d comment, which completely piqued my interest in getting it on table during the con, but we ended up scrambling to find a fourth player. At the 11th hour, like literally 9:59 a.m., we had found someone available to play at our 10 a.m. game. Success!
Angola! is probably one of the most unique wargames I’ve ever played — it’s played in teams and you pre-program your commands. Wuuut!! Two factions are backed from the U.S. (FNLA and UNITA), and the other two are backed by the Soviets (FAPLA and MPLA). It’s a neat element I have not encountered. Also, if more wargames were team-based, I can see people being less intimated to jump into these types of games.
At the start of each turn, players program their cards, which represent chit stacks on the board, including the card that’s a blank bluffing card, and one by one, each player plays a card and takes an action. As the game progresses, your hand of cards gets bigger while the win condition thresholds get lower for the different teams. There’s also a mechanism for if your team is falling behind: you’ll be able to draw random cards from the foreign aid deck for reinforcement.
Next up was Pax Pamir 2, my top game of 2019 . So sleek, so entrenched in history, and so approachable, one that I can see getting on table often once I get my copy. (Which I hope is soon from the Kickstarter late last year!)
The last game of the night was a four-player game of Iberian Gauge. Since this was a second play for most of us playing, we did make the error of starting too far away from each other. That combined with another player made our company stocks skyrocket, which made for a very different game than the last.
Thursday of the convention was my last day gaming. I had been looking forward to a game of Dominant Species: Marine all week. I had only played the original one time many years ago, but I remember really enjoying it but also getting crushed by the glaciers. Also, that game was very long. Marine, however, is a 4P game, instead of the original 6P, and this immensely helps with the playtime. Alas, there are no more cones in the game.
A big difference in this game is that each species doesn’t have base abilities; you get ability cards to choose at the start of the game that give you a special power. Also, when you put a pawn on an action location, it resolves immediately, instead of waiting for everyone to place their pawns and resolving the actions down the action board. Similar to the old game, once you take an action, you can’t take an action above where you’re just placed, unless you reset and take all your pawns back. I enjoyed the few times I had a special pawn (which is gained from when you dominate in an element), which unlocks special actions on the board only available to special pawns and can also bump regular pawns.
Lastly, I got to play Praga Caput Regni. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to play this game. Instant love! It’s a crunchy euro that adds a timing element. Players are working to improve New Prague City by building city walls, bridges, the cathedral or other civic projects. On your turn, you take an action that’s depicted on the Action Crane, which moves every turn. Sometimes the action costs money if it’s too early in the wheel, while other times, the action will give you VPs because nobody has taken that action in a while. Very clever! Plus, the king loves eggs. (Those are worth VPs at the end, too).
And that was Consimworld 2021! Thank you for making it down to the bottom of this post. I took extra days off after this convention so I could isolate and take a COVID-19 test, which came back negative, just to make sure I don’t get others sick. Overall, I had a great time. Everyone seemed respectful of keeping their distance, and the Tempe Mission Palms, where the convention was held made sure tables were spread out and that regular sanitizing occurred. Thanks Consimworld for having me! And hope to see you all there next year!