Geekway to the West 2018 (Brandon Kempf)
Every year Geekway to the West rolls around, and every year I go in with some semblance of a plan of attack. Be it scheduling way too many games, or just a complete lack of any kind of scheduling. This year I went in a bit in between those. First off, I wasn’t working with a vendor this year, while I enjoyed my time in the Stronghold Booth on Thursday and Friday of last year, it really kind of threw a wrench in what I could do and ultimately what my family could do. So that was out. Secondly, I didn’t sign up for any events, wait I take that back I did sign up for Fancy Gaming as it was a wonderful time last year but we didn’t go because the event changed to a 21 and over event, and I’m not leaving Gabby and AB out of that, so we just didn’t do it either. I didn’t even do Battling Tops, which I kind of regret, but in a way was thankful that I didn’t go in there and have to beat Kathleen and steal her thunder. But enough about what I didn’t do, what was Geekway 2018?
First off, Geekway 2018 was a waiting game. Normally we are up there on Wednesday evening and ready to check in and get our badges first thing Thursday morning, but not this time. I ended up waiting for a package from Fed Ex until about 3 pm on Thursday and when it arrived we loaded up into the already packed and gassed car and headed to the Convention. What was so important that I had to wait to get? Well, that would be Giant Azul which I brought around with me to play and show off for the fine folks at Next Move Games. Apparently they had no representatives at Geekway for some reason, and I struck up a conversation with Mike Young and I agreed to show off their wonderful title Azul in giant form, but due to some shipping snafus we ended up not getting the package as early as we thought we would, but that’s okay, we had to stick around on Thursday morning anyway to attend Gabby’s 8th grade “graduation”.
When we got there, at about 5 pm or so, there was no line for getting registered so we wandered over to registration, got our badges and our free games and found Chris and John already playing a game of Ganz Schön Clever. We didn’t set up any games to play after they were done, instead we went and checked into our hotel, the Drury, which was wonderful, but just a bit too far away for walking and went to eat at Tucanos, a Brazilian Grill. So much meat. After dinner and hotel check in was done we headed back to the Convention Hall to do what we came here to do, game. Thursday evening was light, only three titles came out of the bags to be played. We started with a game of Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg which is a recent Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee and one that we needed to play. It’s a lightweight bag builder with some really fun push your luck moments. You are trying to create magical elixirs and in doing so you are pulling ingredients out of your bag, some of those ingredients are bad and can cause your potions to explode if you get enough of them in there. Absolutely loved this one right from the start and just like every great push your luck game proceeding it, it all comes down to the wire and someone is going to push just a bit too far. After that we played a bit of Karuba The Card Game while we waited for Kerensa to rejoin us so we could play some Hollywood Blockbuster, aka Traumfabrik. This one was a hit with the group, it’s a Knizia auction game, but it is a “zero sum” game, meaning that all the money that will ever be in the game is there from the start, it’s just passed around from buyer to everyone else every time a bid is won. In the game you are trying to build the best movies by buying directors, actors, special effects and so on. It’s really a wonderful game and deserves to be in print in a far prettier and more intuitive way than it currently is, but I understand the difficulty of printing games like this in North America, but good thing is, it really is language independent, so watch for those French and Spanish editions that are coming. We called it a night after that knowing that it was a long 4 days.
Friday we slept in like bosses. It’s weird, just a couple years ago there is no way I would have slept in past like 7 in the morning for a Geekway, I valued gaming time way too much. But as we have been going more often we’ve allowed ourselves more leeway and don’t rush the mornings too much anymore. We got packed up and we headed into St. Louis, that’s right, we didn’t even go straight to the Convention Hall to game, we headed into St. Louis to meet up with Jake and Danielle from Draft Mechanic and the guys from Mile High Game Guys to play some games, eat some food and drink some wonderful beer at Urban Chestnut. We played a handful of games of Coloretto and closed out the visit with a game of Bohnanza using a beautiful deck from Beth Sobel. It was a bit weird to be herb farmers instead of bean farmers, but fun just the same. As is customary with our lives, nothing can go perfectly to plan and when we left Urban Chestnut, Gabby left something behind, so we had to head back that direction after getting back to the hotel. Normally not a bad drive, we had to do this in the middle of a thunderstorm and in 5 o’clock traffic, so it took us awhile. We got back to the convention center and immediately set up a game of Azul using the giant version and played a round. After that, Kerensa headed off to the Battling Tops tournament, I wasn’t participating this year and Gabby was off having fun with her convention friends, so Chris, John and friend Thomas Chidester punched and played Luxor. This is the other Spiel des Jahres nominee (after The Mind & Azul), and the only one that we had not played, since it was kind of a surprise it was nominated. After playing it, I can see what the jury saw, but it really wasn’t all that exciting. It kind of feels like an old game, but not in that good way. You are adventurers trying to pilfer as much loot as you can from the Temple, but you don’t just grab everything, you have to make sets in order to score the most points. The catch with Luxor though is that it has a mechanism where you cannot move your hand of five cards and when you play a card from your hand for movement, you have to choose from the far right or far left of your hand. When you refresh after playing a card, the card goes into the middle of your hand, so it will work itself to one side or the other. It’s an interesting use of that mechanism in a mostly unexciting game. We followed that up with teaching Thomas some Ganz Schön Clever in which I finally won again. The argument about Ganz is whether or not it should be a Kennerspiel nominee or should it be a Spiel des Jahres nominee. I’m okay with this wonderful roll n write being a Kennerspiel nominee as it does have some actual strategic depth to it compared to other roll n writes, and it also has some weird things going on that may not make it easy to grasp for folks who the Spiel des Jahres award is targeting. We played one more game with Thomas and that was Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg and this time we played on the advanced side of the player boards. In Quacksalber you have a starting point where you place your drop in your cauldron, this is where you start each round placing your ingredients. You can move that forward by spending two rubies or just by earning bumps up throughout the game in various ways. The advanced side gives you a choice, do you bump up that drop or do you advance on the new track on your board which is going to reward you with a benefit each time you push forward. It adds a bit more decision space to your game and does really make a difference. We closed out our Friday evening with a refresher game of Queendomino which was chosen by AnnaBeth, but by the time we got to playing it, she decided she just wanted to watch so Chris, Kerensa, Gabby and I sat and played it while she helped me and her mother. After that, we all headed to our hotels to rest up for Saturday, which we were all hoping would be our big day of non-stop gaming, but come to find out, John had to leave for work in the morning due to some kind of programming emergency.
So Saturday was the trade table day, and I was under the thought that I needed to be there by 9 am. I had dropped off Gloomhaven the day before and we were pretty positive we’d be one of, if not the first pick. There was a lot of good stuff out there on the trade tables, but nothing like Gloomhaven. What I found out though was that the trades didn’t start till about 10:30, so I was just a bit early. But in the meantime while waiting, I had set up Giant Azul and was teaching folks and playing round after round. I still love playing Azul even after 30+ plays, it delivers each and every time. I just wish I was good at it, each and every time. Finally my text arrived that it was my turn to pick at the trade table, so I wandered over there and just grabbed the first thing that hit my fancy, Dinosaur Island. Not sure why I did it that way, probably was just more relief than anything that Gloomhaven would no longer be sitting on top of our shelves, judging me for my failure to get my family to play it. After picking up Dinosaur Island I went and finished out the game of Azul that was in process and packed up and waited for Chris to join me and pick up Gabby along the way. In the meantime, I taught Robert how to play Karuba The Card Game. Chris showed up with Gabby and she immediately found her friends again and abandoned me so Robert, Chris and I sat down to a fun game of Mini Rails. Mini Rails can best be described as a lightweight route building and stock manipulation game, and our three player game left me wanting to play it more. It took me a couple rounds to understand just what I was doing and my score reflected that, Chris immediately grokked it and ended up winning. It was finally that time in the convention for something with a bit more weight, and Chris was up for teaching Great Western Trail so that’s what we learned. I absolutely loved Great Western Trail we played with just the basic buildings and I managed to eek out a win by pushing my train as far as possible because Robert and Chris just kind of let me keep on going. This was an absolute gem of a game and I regret not having it in my collection, so if anyone wants to trade Great Western Trail for Mombasa just give me a shout! After that, I ran to the Drury to pick up Kerensa and AnnaBeth who were done relaxing in the hotel pool and room for the day and we ran back to the Convention Hall and played something that had not been played in 2275 days (yup, I kept track), A Game of Thrones, 2nd Edition. This took us a bit to get up and running as I had zero recollection on most of it, and I know Kerensa needed that same refresher. Robert seemed to recall everything a lot better than we did though. I was the Baratheons, and Kerensa was the Tyrells and I tried my best to get her to work with me so we could cut everyone off from the south and we could just fight it out there, but after 3 rounds, that abruptly ended with her stabbing me not only in the back, but the next round she just stabbed me right in the face. Meanwhile the Greyjoys were mowing over the Starks and the Lannisters and it was too late for me to do anything by the time I noticed and the game ended 8 rounds in with a Greyjoy victory. I need to get this back to the table again soon so I don’t have to feel that lost when I play it. Ultimately it’s a pretty simple game, but there are so many other things going on during the game that you have to be aware and to be aware, you have to know what’s going on gameplay wise, or else you will run out of brain space, at least that’s what I felt like. We broke up after that and headed our separate ways for dinner and to us, regardless of the location, it wouldn’t be a Geekway without a trip to Fuzzy’s Tacos in Westport, so that’s where we went. Always enjoy the food there, but this time we had the unfortunate pleasure of being seated near a table of bridesmaids out celebrating a bit too much and we got to see someone expel their dinner and drinks all over the place. I was expecting a total barf-o-rama but everyone in the place held it together pretty well, I still feel sorry for that lady who had her jacket ruined. Blech.
Returning to the Convention Center, Chris wrapped up a game of Power Grid First Sparks and I broke out Azul for a couple of folks who had never played and had a good time, although I don’t think that Anna will ever play that game with Vince ever again, man that was mean, I can’t believe he did that. Kerensa and AB were set up near us playing some Coconuts and breaking in Kerensa’s newly acquired refurbished copy of Battling Tops. We wrapped up our gaming for Geekway with a couple rounds of Ultimate Werewolf with Chris moderating and doing a fine job of trying to wrangle the teenagers in the room. Then we finished up with 2 rounds of WitchHunt which will now be a staple for us. WitchHunt plays a lot like Ultimate Werewolf, but there are a couple pretty substantial differences. One, everyone has a role that allows them some kind of secret ability. No more of this, I’m just a villager. Two, even after you are dead, you remain in the game as a spirit, either an Angel if you are a Villager, or a Demon if you are part of the Witches Coven, Angels can save someone who is possibly going to be killed and the Demons can temporarily swap allegiances between a Villager and the Witches. It’s absolutely a wonderful change that keeps everyone more involved in the game, even when dead. But the difficult thing about WitchHunt is the moderating, there is so much going on here compared to Ultimate Werewolf that you need an app, which is available on the Level 99 Website, and you need a moderator who knows the game, inside and out, and we were lucky enough to find that in Willie Watson who saw our pleas on the Geekway Slack and saved us from ourselves. Willie not only knew the game, but he loved the game, and it showed. He told stories, he gave us helpful advice and just was an absolute joy to be around. So while I recommend WitchHunt to anyone who likes social deduction games, be warned, you need to find a Willie Watson to be your Moderator. With that, it was 3 in the morning and we were all tired, except AnnaBeth for some reason, this was the only evening that we didn’t have to carry her out to the car. We headed back to the hotel and fell asleep, hoping to wake up in time for the Flea Market.
Sunday morning rolls around and we have to fight to get out of bed, but what do you expect, we didn’t get to sleep till well after 3 in the morning. Everything packed in the car we head back to the Convention Center to check out the Flea Market which was being held in the Grand Ballroom, so there was plenty of room to move around. I’m not a big Flea Market person, but I did want to check out everything and see if I could find any deals on games that I absolutely needed to pick up, but I didn’t. I almost picked up that copy of Fast Flowing Forest Fellers and Wacky Wacky West but I held off. AnnaBeth picked up a Nickelodeon themed Scene It which was kind of funny and Kerensa bought some dice from the kids who were raising money their band trip. I think Chris walked out with Ra the Dice Game. After the Flea Market we said our goodbyes to folks and headed to PF Changs for one more meal in St. Charles before we headed home on that long boring I-70 drive home. It’s not that long, it’s only like a 2 hour trip, it just always feels longer to me after a Geekway to the West.
Every year Geekway to the West is different for us and this year was no different. I played a lot more games than I did the previous year, 14 different titles in 25 plays, so it felt more like a Geekway to me than last year did. I was kind of disappointed last year, but that had nothing to do with the event, it was with me and how we planned and what we did. I had even told myself that this year was probably going to be my final Big Geekway and that I’d just go to Mini in January and would be fine. But after this year, I don’t think that’s the case, I think I want to come back again in 2019 and play more games and meet more people. 2020 sees Geekway to the West move to June, so there are even more opportunities for folks to come join us since this will be well after school is out so it looks like I am on the hook for that one as well, Lord willing. Every year that we go to Geekway one thing is constant, and that is the fact that it is probably the most well ran gaming first convention in the country. 3000+ people including vendors and their helpers attended this year and not once did I see or hear anyone complaining about anything having to do with how the convention is ran. This committee of folks who run Geekway know exactly what they are doing and the improve on it every year. I failed to even use the Geekway library this year, and I only checked out one Play and Win title the entire convention, that part just doesn’t appeal to me, but it does to many others, and if I had one complaint, and this is completely personal, it would be that Play and Win library. It has become the reason that so many folks show up. They check one out and then another just in hopes of walking out with a game at no cost, or at least, no cost outside the normal convention costs. It really keeps folks kind of isolated. You have the folks who come to play those Play and Wins and nothing else, and then you have the folks who are just there to play games and meet folks and it seems that sometimes those two groups don’t mix much, but maybe that’s just me. But kudos to the staff for giving out 750+ games to eager gamers, that is no small feat to pull off smoothly. Geekway has become like a second home, a 4 day vacation that we as a family look forward to every year. Every year the group of people we see grows and the group of people we continue to stay in touch with in between conventions grows. Geekway is much more than the games, the games are the facilitator, Geekway is about the people that you get to game with. The old, the new, it doesn’t matter, it’s all about meeting those folks across the table from you and sharing some fun moments and memories. So next year, let’s make a pact, let’s meet up again in St. Charles Missouri, and let’s play some games, make some new friends and make some more memories. And Lance, next year we play some games!