It’s July and the summer is halfway over! The heat in Phoenix is getting to be unbearable (112 degree days, anyone?), and one way to combat the heat is by staying inside and playing board games. During the last week of June, my two friends flew to Phoenix to visit my friend and me so that we could host this year’s Friendship Con! I look forward to this week every year so that I can disconnect from work and just hang out and play games with friends for five days!
We kicked off gaming with QE! This has been my go-to short-ish game of late. The game is just bonkers because it’s essentially no-limit betting! Nations are secretly bidding on industry tokens, which are worth VPs and other points for set collection purposes, and the winner is the one with the most VPs. But if you’re the person who bid the most during the game, you’re immediately ineligible to win, despite possibly having the most VPs. It also has an element of hidden information because only the starting bidder on each turn can see everyone’s bid.
We then played a game of Container. I can never quite wrap my head around this economic simulation game, in which you’re building factories, producing goods, selling goods, storing goods, auctioning off goods and storing them on your island, but I always have a good time playing it! The trick is that you can’t really do any single of these things from your port (except build factories and produce goods), but instead they have to come from other player’s supply chains and warehouses. I also enjoy the auction element of this game: bidding on ships that get to the island, ships that you don’t always completely full of goods. The final score is also calculated based on a personalized secret objective card where goods are worth different points, but the goods that you have the most of are removed from scoring.
Wingspan was next. From its superb components (don’t you just want to chomp on those eggs like they’re filled with chocolate?) and engine-building game play, Wingspan never disappoints. And while I haven’t deluxified my game (other than a giant 3D printed bird that I use as the first-player marker), the game just feels so lux and fun to play with. There’s also something super satisfying about the combos and activating your birds, while learning all about them. I also enjoy that as the rounds progress, you’re left with fewer real actions, yet with the birds you have laid out in your tableau, it feels like you’re doing even more with each turn.
We decided to continue the nature theme with a game of Cascadia. This puzzly tile-laying drafting game is always such a delight to play, even if the player to your right keeps taking your salmon tokens! It was one of the top 10 games I played in 2021, and every game is slightly different based on the random animal goals that are selected for each game. It’s gorgeous and easy to teach, and I can’t stop recommending this game to people!
We then took a quick break for dinner. I cooked a giant pot of chicken adobo. Yay! I’ve been trying to learn more Filipino recipes, so I’m glad everyone enjoyed this dish. We ate this over rice and had plenty for leftovers the next day.
After dinner, we busted out Hello Kitty Monopoly. There is something super Boss Lady about asking your husband and three male gamer friends to play this adorable version of Monopoly, which actually ended up being really cut-throat because we played with the real rules. None of this Free Parking cash collection nonsense. I remarked during the game that its second half felt like the wheeling and dealing chaos of Sidereal Confluence, because we needed to make those monopolies to start bleeding our opponents dry. I loved the metal Hello Kitty character tokens, but for those who aren’t familiar with Sanrio, it was a little difficult to figure which piece was yours. Overall, the game was intense and it did eventually end (not like those games during childhood where everyone just got bored because it went on too long), but I was disappointed that I was never able to buy Hello Kitty’s Hotel (aka Boardwalk).
Thursday was our D&D day. My friend has worked so hard at painting minis of our individual characters and setting up a game for us as DM. He also gave us sparkly dice to play with! My character was a monk tiefling named Sevi Olum, and she kicked so much butt!
Our group was Earth’s last hope against an alien invasion, and we worked hard to complete some adventures in a tavern, cave and the sinewy tendrils of a giant eyeball. Ewww! Despite my aversion to eyeballs in general (and not being familiar with too many D&D campaigns), I had a good time with my friends!
We ended our Friday with Just One. Last year, we played a lot of Just One, and I was especially amused that a lot of our inside jokes carried over from those games. It’s truly one of the best party games I’ve ever encountered, and it plays up to seven people.
We started Friday morning by playing Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition, but changed it up by adding the Prophecy of Kings expansion. Since we had never played this expansion before, we dealt out three characters from the expansion to each person and chose one to play. This expansion adds mech leaders with some special abilities. I chose the Naaz-Rokha Alliance, which basically looked like space cats with monkey aliens on their backs.
Our game lasted about 7 hours, which is quite speedy! The game randomly ended though during Agenda, which gave one player 1 VP to put him at 10! We all got thrown off by the agenda card, but the game was close anyway between him and another guy.
After dinner, we played Battlestar Galactica, one of my absolute favorite games ever! I will only play the base game and with 5P, so we enlisted our friend to come over to run the game. I can’t tell you how much I love this game: the paranoia, the semi-cooperativeness, and the fear of secretly being activated halfway in sleeper phase to become a cylon. It’s always such a great experience, no matter if you win or lose, and especially if I get to play as Helo (which I did!). Unfortunately, us humans did not win this time!
We ended Friday night with a 3P game of Dune: Imperium. I’ve been enjoying this worker-placement deck builder the most I play it and wish that more games have this combination of mechanisms. The Lost Ruins of Arnak is the only other game that feels similar to this one! Are there other deck builder worker placements that you can think of?
We started Saturday with Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile. I love, love the adorable artwork and quality components of this game but honestly, something about the chaos of a game in which you need to hang on to your win condition until the start of the next round drives me bonkers. I do enjoy the exploration of the action spaces of the game and moving around the board, but I’ve come to accept that Oath is just not for me. And that’s totally fine! We like what we like!
I then taught a game of Project L. If you want to learn more about Project L, check out my latest segment on The Five By Episode 123. Project L is a neat engine-builder puzzle where you’re using Tetris pieces to complete cards with puzzles on it for VPs and/or more puzzle pieces. The more cards you solve, the more pieces you’ll have to tackle even bigger puzzles that are worth more points.
I then learned how to play Tranquility, a cooperative card game where you work together by putting a card down so that cards fall in ascending order — in silence! This was such a neat yet mildly stressful game because you have to figure out which cards you need to save in your hand to play, or which ones you can discard. If you discard the wrong cards, you and everyone else will get backed into a corner in the display and will be unable to complete the objective. What a fun filler! We actually played this twice because we did badly the first go-around, and we won in our second game!
Next, we played Shipwreck Arcana, a deduction and logic game in which players are trying to figure out which fates (numbered chits 1-7) are in your hand while placing drawn fates onto logic cards that can help others figure out which fates are in your hand. I liked the dedication aspect of this game, which reminds me of those logic puzzles growing up.
After that, we played Long Shot: The Dice Game. This roll-and-write captures the chaos and excitement of a day at the races. Horses move along the track with each dice roll, and players can choose to bet on horses, buy horses, or collect bonuses. It’s seriously a lot of fun, and even though it’s not your turn, you’re still highly invested in how the race is going and making decisions to win the most money.
For dinner, we ordered some Korean corn dogs for dinner from Two Hands, since these things aren’t readily available on the East Coast. Behold!
The last game of the night was Alea Iacta Est, a dice worker placement game. I honestly hadn’t heard of this game before, and, despite its goofy 2000s Roman art, I really enjoyed this! Alea Iacta Est is Latin for “The Die is Cast,” and players are using their dice to conquer new provinces and recruit patricians for those provinces. I also thought it was hilarious that unused dice end up in the latrina.
Saturday night was the last night we were all together gaming. One guy had to fly back home on Sunday, while the fourth guy was flying back on Monday. Here we are very chipper after long days of gaming!
We began Sunday with a quick 2P game of The Field of the Cloth of Gold. It’s incredibly tense, and the passive-aggressive gift-gifting is just so amusing to me! The game plays in about 20 minutes, and it’s perfect to bust out when you have a small pocket of time.
My friend who was still in town and I did some thrifting looking for board game deals and books at various second-hand stores throughout the Valley. My big scores for the day were Pipeline, Kraftwagen and Star Cartel. I’m very excited to try out Pipeline next game day!
My friend also wanted to try Sonoran hot dogs, something of a specialty here in Arizona. A Sonoran hot dog is a hot dog that is wrapped in bacon and grilled, topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, and a variety of additional condiments, often including mayonnaise, mustard, and jalapeño salsa.
After that, we drove to my friend’s house to play Alien Frontiers, another dice worker-placement game! It’s a game of resource management and planetary development, where you roll your dice and place them on various action spots on the board. You can unlock new technologies as you control locations on the planet as well as by gaining technology cards. This was the first time I had played this game, and I actually won! But I think I got some practice the night before from learning Alea Iacta Est. Apparently, manipulating dice pips to take action spots is my jam!
In true Friendship Con fashion, we then played a game of Glory to Rome, with Imperium rules, and our game was so ruthless! I built the forum, which required me to have every type of card in my clientele for a victory, and my alleged friend kept preventing me from doing that. Good times though!
And lastly, the final game of Friendship Con was another play of Dune Imperium. It was really nice ending our convention with a game I’m very familiar with.
And just like that, five days came and went so quickly! Thanks for making it all the way down here. I played a total of 20 games, sprinkled in with endless snacks, mostly home-cooked meals, and lots of catching up with my dear friends. Last year’s Friendship Con was in Atlanta, and I hope they had as great of a time coming out here to the Valley of the Sun as I did going there in 2021. And with that, we sail into the second half of summer, hoping the weather will cool down, even just a wee bit. Like seriously, I will gladly take 105 degrees here in Phoenix. What are some of your summer plans?