World Boardgaming Championships 2001 Diary
by Greg Nichols
Tuesday, June 26th
This was my first time attending this event which was formerly known as "Avalon Con" until Hasbro bought The Avalon Hill Gaming Company and the music died. This convention is put on by the Boardgame Players Association which was founded by Don Greenwood, a former Avalon Hill game designer. The event is held in Hunt Valley, Maryland and is usually in August but this year it was held in July.
My buddy Dave Richtmyer and I decided to do it up this year and actually stay at the convention's hotel and have a real gaming blow out. We also wanted to go for multiple days and get good and satiated. So on the morning of the 26th, we loaded up my recently leased 2001 Ford Taurus and headed out of Ann Arbor, MI for a 600 mile drive to Hunt Valley, MD.
The drive was great as we hummed along to music and sipped our favorite beverages (I was into a deep Fresca kick). Dave packed a terrific picnic lunch which we opened just inside the western Pennsylvania border as a mid-day treat. We found a fine spot in the shade overlooking a small park with baseball fields at one of the Rest Areas.
We arrived at the Marriot Hotel just past 6:00 pm. Check-in was botched a bit as they had run out of regular rooms but they quickly upgraded us to a nicer end of the hotel. After lugging in our stuff and unpacking, we took a quick cruise of the upper convention area and stopped and registered for the rest of the con. Our stomachs told us to halt so we headed down the road to Friendly's for a nice meal - read BIG burgers. We perused our convention booklets which were very nice and talked of plans for the following day.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and started a true "con crawl." Blissfully, we witnessed gamer after gamer rolling dice, slapping cards and pushing chits. The upper level open gaming area was very busy with folks playing all sorts of great stuff. The main ballroom is huge and gamers were everywhere to be seen. For the first night of a con (and a Tuesday!), it was a pretty good showing.
The crawl ended downstairs in Jay's Cafe where demos were going on and Rio Grande games were available for play. In fact, Jay Tummelson was moving this way and that showing people how to play a game and answering rules questions. Dave got involved in a conversation with the Tigers in the Mist demo guy and I slipped over to a table where Rio Grande's Wyatt Earp was being shown. I ended up in a game and had a lot of fun. Great little rummy variant with beautiful components. Soon Dave was back and jumped in for a game and also had a lot of fun. Then we switched over to another rummy game based on the Jack the Ripper murders. But by this time, I was so tired (so was Dave as he later confessed) that I was totally lost and could hardly follow the directions given by the fellow. We might have played one more Wyatt Earp game but by then it was 11:30 and we were both pooped after the long day's drive.
Wednesday, June 27th
The next morning, we were up and back at Friendly's for a decent breakfast to hold us over the long day of gaming ahead. Dave was off to GMT's Tigers in the Mist event while I headed over to GMT's Ivanhoe contest.
GMT's Ivanhoe is a fine card game that really shines with 5-6 players. I played several games from around 9 am until say 12:30pm. I did well in most games but never actually winning any of them (always the bridesmaid). I just missed the cut for the final game. Lo and behold, a 14 year old girl from Colorado, Rebecca Hebner, beat us all. She became a bit of a sensation at the 2001 WBC with her multiple victories in a several tournaments. She was a cute kid with a charming personality and was easy to lose too. In fact, all of my Ivanhoe gaming experiences were very positive and the two guys running the tourney (Scott Brooks and Lee Price) did a great job of moving everything along while also playing. There was time between games for bathroom breaks and lunch if needed. Jay's Cafe was my lunch venue where I enjoyed a VERY meaty sandwich.
After not being invited into the final Ivanhoe round, I sought out Dave and found him in the main ballroom deep into a Tigers of the Mist game. His opponent was a fellow from Great Britain who had a homemade, enlarged board. I wished him luck and then took off. Lots of things to see and I poked around in various rooms including the very tiny Dealer's room (maybe 4 vendors?). Later, Dave and I met up and headed down to the hotel pool for a relaxing dip and then out to dinner at a Chinese buffet (Great Fortune). Filled to the gills, we came back to the hotel and did a bit more con crawling until we dragged ourselves back to the room.
Thursday, June 28th
Dave was up early and got him some hotel breakfast food at a little eatery just down from our room while I lingered in bed. He left early to get to his Avalon Hill B-17 tournament. I had planned on playing in the Avalon Hill War at Sea tournament but once I spied the large crowd thumping on chess timers, I knew that wasn't for me. So I took off for a drive and ended up at Krispy Kreme donuts outlet. Ah, coffee and donuts. America's breakfast. I ended up buying a whole dozen of them and brought them back to the hotel so that Dave could enjoy them too.
I found Dave around lunch time just breaking out of his B-17 game after a 3 hour shift. He was famished and so we headed down to Jay's Cafe where he could get something. Well he didn't have enough time to stand in line as his break wasn't that long. So I bought the stuff for him and brought it back to his B-17 tourney room where I found him rolling dice with the other cardboard pilots.
After leaving Dave to the unfriendly skies of WW2, I went to seek out the Kremlin tournament that was coming up. I had missed Wednesday's early rounds but they were having multiple heats so I knew I could get into a game. I was the record breaking entrant to the tournament and was put into a four player affair headed by Tom McCorry, last year's champ. I was rusty as I hadn't played in a few years but I just love the game and that didn't matter to me. Tom is obviously a real expert at the game because he moved the game at a brisk pace (playing the board upside-down!). He ended up somehow winning with Nestor after we did everything we could to kill him off. I don't believe I've ever seen Nestor make it to the end of round 6 and wave at the May Day parade. It was an amazing feat. It was a good gaming experience with a talented (and lucky!) player. We were the first match done so I went around to some of the other games to see how they were progressing. They all seemed to be moving at a snail's pace and no one was past year 3! I bid all adieu and went to see if Dave was still flying.
Well B-17 was still going when I got there and the fellow Dave was flying against had to leave for another tournament and asked me if I would take over his side. What the heck. I'd never played B-17 so had no clue as to what I was doing and after about 15 minutes of play, I still really didn't know what was going on but there was a lot of dice rolling so it kept my wrist loose. This game is loaded with charts and some of them looked homemade as well. It was a game for me simply to find the correct chart to roll on! Finally, the missions were complete and Dave turned in his results.
Nearly across the hall from B-17 was Avalon Hill's Atlantic Storm which our gaming group had played many times. So Dave and I went in and threw our gaming hats into the ring. We each played one game and neither of us won. The experience though was not that good for either of us. In my game, some slickster from Columbus, Ohio liked to run things including some of the other sheepish players. I tried to work against him so that he wasn't always in on the point tricks but unfortunately, he found a real patsy in one guy and used him to win while giving the patsy second place points. It was a bit of gaming hell as I sat there and waited for it to be over. Dave had a decent group except for one loud and bothersome fellow. We both were happy that this tournament experience ended without bloodshed.
We headed back to our room and then to the hotel pool for another dip. Ah. Loved that pool. Dinner was at a nearby pizza place called Ledo's Pizza. This place served pan pizza on lunch trays! Baked and then slid onto one of these trays. It was delicious.
Back to our room and I broke out my copy of Avalon Hill's Wrasslin' game and read some of the rules to Dave and we tried to learn it a bit so we could participate in the tag team tournament that was coming up at 8pm. Well we weren't very prepared once we got there and pulled some pretty poor wrestlers in the draft. We ended up playing a couple of 11 year olds and got our butts kicked. It was humiliating and funny at the same time. The small room was packed with people and the gamer odor was a bit high. Plus, this game is a bit of a testosterone fest so there was some grandstanding and yelling by a few guys that made for a real circus atmosphere.
After humiliation, it was time to head out and check out some more stuff. GMT had some nice large map setups of For The People and the new Wilderness War. These 4 x 6 foot maps looked lovely from a pure visual standpoint but I'll go on record as saying that I wouldn't want to actually game on them. The map area is so big that you are scanning to line things up and have the same problem that I dislike about large scale computer wargames in that you are scrolling to see all of the battlefield. I think seeing the whole field in one take is best for seeing the avenues of attack and supply lines in a complicated game like these two. Several GMT personnel were around talking and playing. Some playtest versions of unreleased products were scattered about and we got into that stuff more the following day. I also slipped into a ballroom to see the start of Columbia's Napoleon tournament. There were maybe 6-8 games getting started when I stopped by. It was interesting to see some of the games had black Prussian blocks instead of gray which I own (I liked the black!). One fellow was very nice and we talked for a bit as he had already setup his British and Prussian blocks and was waiting on his opponent to complete his French setup which he was doing very slowly. This is one of my favorite games of all time as it is quick and has both operational and tactical levels combined. But I couldn't bring myself to compete in the tournament for fear that I would play some real toad who would forever taint my view of this wonderful game.
Later, we found ourselves in Jay's Cafe poking around and we peeked at a Avalon Hill's Pro Golf demo for a game to be played around 11:00pm but one look at the the pieces and a look at all the young girls and boys getting taking it in and we knew it wasn't for us. So we went over to the tables and soon we cracked open Rio Grande's Cartagena which is about 17th century pirates escaping from a fortress. Basically a race game and Dave and I played one game fairly quickly and then another fellow joined us and played a second game. Easy to learn and very teachable to young kids. Very light but at 10:30 at night, that isn't a bad thing. We also watched some of Rio Grande's Ghost Chase which was about a ghost (one player) being chased by ghost chasers (all the other players). It looked like they were having a good time with the game which is a cooperative game among the ghost chasers. Also viewed were the stunning Princes of Florence, Carcassonne and the very lovely Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, they were already deep into those games and way beyond teaching any newcomers. It was getting on midnight so we headed back to our room for a good night's sleep.
Friday, June 29th
This was our final full day at the convention and we headed out to the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) a few miles south for a nice big breakfast. Ah, pigs in a blanket with multiple syrup flavors. Pretty tasty. A restaurant that really turns back time when you walk into it.
Back to the hotel and another cruise of the con. A whole bunch of fellows playing Avalon Hill's Victory in the Pacific and using chess timers. I admit that these tournaments can bog down with slow play but chess timers seems extreme to me. Our games were timed at the Ivanhoe tournament but we had one hour to complete our game and if it wasn't done, it was called and you got points for where you were at that point in the game. I'm a bit of a slow player sometimes and this is a hobby for goodness sake. Ah well, to each his own.
We had some lunch back in our hotel room where it was nice and quiet and finished some food that we had laying around (teriyaki beef jerky, donuts, chips, soda, etc.). We rested and talked of some of our impressions of things that had transpired. We headed out again and down to Jay's Cafe to catch a demo of Avalon Hill's March Madness. A college basketball game, it has plenty of dice rolling and some neat little card play mechanics. We were both impressed with it and wished we could play (I recently picked up a copy on eBay). We went upstairs a bit later to where they were playing MM. They drafted teams and began playing. This game requires LOTS of dice rolls and many of the players had dice towers on the table to help with that (and supposedly create more randomness). Even saw a couple of ladies playing the game which was rare outside of the family or Eurogames.
After seeing some game play, we needed to game a bit ourselves so we found a nice open table downstairs and broke out GMT's Battle Line. This is a great little card game for two. Lots of interesting decisions and plays in less than an hour. First game, I grabbed a 3-in-a-row victory about mid-game. Dave of course wanted to even the score so we played another game and this one went down to literally the last card played and Dave got a best-of-9 victory. In the area were playing, was a large scale setup of Hasbro/AH's Battle Cry. Richard Borg was putting the finishing touches on an Antietam miniatures setup that looked just marvelous. I had to take some pictures of that. I met a fellow who had taken my BC reference sheet and created a bookmark with graphics on it and then laminated it. I was very impressed. I gave him my e-mail address so that he could send me a copy.
About this time, Dave ran into Rick Barber, a game map designer, who Dave had worked with on Clash of Arm's Summer Storm. SS is a complicated Gettysburg game that is quite beautiful and deep. Not my type of gaming but it has a strong following by those who love large, deep simulations. Rick is an affable fellow and was playing Summer Storm with a friend on a large, blowup map. Dinner time was approaching, so Dave asked Rick to join us and he said sure and we were off and back to Ledo's Pizza. We ate until we were about to burst from cheese and dough.
Returning to the hotel and parting from Rick, we moved over to the GMT playtest games. Richard Berg's Dillinger looked very good and had some interesting aspects but we needed at least 1 or 2 more players to get it up and going. Then we found Euroloo, another Berg design (but for 2 players) and decided to sit down and give it a go. Richard came by interjecting his usual wit and encouragement and Dave and I parsed out most of the rules. We were going fairly quickly with but a few questions. The game is a brilliant design emphasizing fast play but agonizing decisions. Cards are the main engine for movement and combat; no dice. It's all about outflanking and getting position on your opponent. It needed a bit more refinement in the rules but much of it worked very well. And the graphics were outstanding for a playtest piece. Good enough to sell on the DTP market. Only problem was that the game was right out in the open and people kept dropping by looking in and asking this and that. It was like gaming in a store front window. Not an optimal setting for learning and playing a game.
After exhausting ourselves on that, we wandered some more that evening looking in on several games. We spotted the Dune tournament players meeting in little groups discussing strategies and alliances. Great game as our gaming group had just recently discovered the joys of it. I would find it strange to play with and against strangers as the game has lots of "gaming intimacy" and requires personality judgment which would be difficult to learn quickly. The open gaming areas were humming with action. We spotted Richard Berg's Confederate Rails being played. Dixie/Gettysburg was spread out on a large table. Games of Mayfair's Settlers of Cataan, and GMT's Ivanhoe and Formula Motor Racing were spontaneously erupting all around. We ended the evening rather early (before 11) and went back to our room to pass out. Yeah, we're getting old.
Saturday, June 30th
Part of our trip plan was to stay at the hotel at least until mid-day before hitting the road. We weren't headed straight back to Ann Arbor but instead we're going to take a nice little side-trip to Canton, Ohio to visit the National Football League Hall of Fame and return home Sunday late afternoon.
One last breakfast at the nearby Friendly's, and then back to the hotel for just a bit more Con crawling. Lots of gamers up early and registering for the day. Weekends of course bring in the local crowds and many of the lighter games are scheduled for competition on that day. Some of my favorite games like We the People, Pacific Victory, and Battle Cry were scheduled for tournaments but unfortunately, our plans didn't permit entry into these tournaments. I looked in on these games and it was nice to see large crowds at the events. Battle Cry really brought in the gamers both old and young alike. I saw many game designers from GMT playing in this tournament. I also spotted several copies of a playaid that I had created and made available on our GLG web site dispersed throughout the tables.
Dave and I hit the Vendor Room and he picked up a deck of the latest GMT Down in Flames series installment (Zero!) while I found an inexpensive copy of Strat-o-matic's Hockey (92-93 season).
While waiting for our final bill, we made our WBC T-shirt purchase. Sort of a battleship gray with some gaming icons printed on the front along with Con name and year. Fairly attractive as such things go. Gamers were streaming into the registration area to pick up their championship plaques while we acquired our shirts. Nice looking plaques. I'm sure they'll look good up on the wall of some gamer's basement retreat.
With the hotel bill settled and the car loaded, two tired old gamers got into their car and headed back west. We left this fine convention with good memories of time well shared and spent.
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