This time last year, when here in Wenlock we were just about to experience 18inches of snow, with drifts up to 3feet, and about to be cut off from the world for three days as the roads through the hills became un-passable – it would have appeared a little mad – a four-day con in a mountaineers lodge, right in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, In the middle of February!
Well, who would have guessed that when we arrived last Friday the sun would be shining and we’d all be in t-shirts!
Snodcon 2019 – the first time this little con has ever been run, and it was a considerable success. The organiser Mark, his wife, Donna, and the rest of his family did a superb job, and a great time was had by all – but more of that shortly.
The location was fantastic, with the lodge nestled part way up the side of a Welsh valley, offering panoramic views all-round.
The lodge itself, though a mountaineer’s retreat, offered pretty comfortable accommodation – as long as you were happy to sleep in a dorm with a few heavy snorers that is (you know who you were!).
There were plenty of tables set up for gaming and they were all pretty much in constant use, except when food was imminent of course. The wooden benches and plastic seats were a sure thing for a numb-bum and dead legs, but we had been pre-warned and most of us brought a cushion to sit on, so that was covered.
Mark had provided some nice welcoming touches – a Snodcon mug filled with sweets, some coconut wipes, and a hot water bottle (which proved un-necessary), laid out on each bed-space, along with a personalised note. It really is the little things like this that make these things special.
Donna did a wonderful job with the food, and there was plenty of it – the cooked breakfast was enough to last the whole day on, at least for me, and she made catering for twenty seem like a breeze – thank you Donna, a well fed gamer is a happy gamer!
Everyone was very friendly, and most knew each other from their gaming groups, so it wasn’t long before the banter got going, which is something I’ve missed since leaving the forces.
For me, it was a great experience to be able to play games I wouldn’t normally get the chance to play – long Euro games, party games, and high player count games – so it was an exciting and educating time, especially as the choice of games on offer was huge.
Talking of games, here’s a quick round up of the ones I played, or at least the ones I can remember!
Macao – Designed by Stephen Feld, this mid-weight Euro game proved a little gem. Poor Mark, the Snodcon organiser had only completed a few moves when he got called away to assist a newcomer, so I stepped in to take his place.
Learning the game was fairly straightforward, and I really liked the mechanism of cube placement respective to dice rolls. The cubes are placed according to the colour and number of your chosen dice around a ‘ships-wheel’, which has the numbers 1 to 6 printed around its circumference.
Each turn sees you selecting a card from the display to place upon your playing board, and then your wheel is rotated giving you a number of coloured cubes to use. These are used to activate cards on your player board, which in turn give you benefits, either on-going or game end ones.
Turns were relatively swift and cubes could alternatively be spent to advance your trading boat around a map, allowing you to spend resources, which can also be purchased using cubes, or to advance your counter along the initiative track.
I really enjoy this kind of game, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes Euro games that don’t bog down too much with intensive thought!
6 nimmt! – Just thinking about playing this makes me laugh – it kept appearing when there was time to fill between games or food. A Wolfgang Kramer game for 2-10 players, and on average I think we played with 7 or 8, 6 nimmt! is a card game that, whilst there is some strategy, creates a lot of laughs and much banter.
The idea is simple, don’t win cards, or if you have to, take the ones that score very little. The game starts with four face up cards in placed in the middle in ascending order, and a hand of 10 dealt to each player. Players then select a card from their hand to simultaneously reveal. The players’ cards are then placed, staring with the lowest value card, in the row that ends with the highest number that is below that cards number. If the card is the sixth card in the row the player then claims the other five cards of that row leaving their card to start a new row.
Each card has a number of bull’s heads on them that relates to how much that card scores. At the end of the game everyone counts up the number of bulls they have scored – lowest being the winner. There is a little more to it than that, but not much!
The game would normally be scored over a number of rounds, but we were just playing for laughs and to see if anyone could lose ‘big’, and then they became the centre of everyone’s barracking, until the next big loss!
A real fun game to play, one that I would imagine is equally at home being played with the family, as it is being played down the pub with your mates.
Insider – This is a hidden identity game where one person is the ‘Master’, one the ‘Insider’, and everyone else is a commoner. The idea is that, through the asking of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type questions, the commoners have to deduce the Master’s secret word. The insider tries to lead them in the right direction by also asking questions, but trying not to make it obvious that they are the insider.
At the end of the game, if the word was successfully guessed, then a vote is carried out to try and uncover who the insider actually was. If they get it right they win the game, if they don’t, then the laurels all go to the insider.
This was an okay game; it didn’t really bring anything new to the world of hidden identity games, and fell well short of titles such as The Resistance: Avalon. However, as an introductory game into this genre it does have some merit, especially in the family environment.
Codenames XL – This was actually the first time I’d ever played codenames, and I actually enjoyed the experience, though there were several people who showed a reluctance to want to play, and I can see why. The gameplay is especially simple to understand – the spymaster gives a one word clue and a number, which should lead their team’s agents into trying to guess which of the 25 words, set out in a grid, correspond to this clue. The number given is the amount of words that clue corresponds with.
With luck, the agents will guess correctly and gain a tile of their teams colour, but if the guessed word belongs to the apposing team, is a neutral word, then the appropriate colour tile is awarded to that word. However, there is also the dreaded assassin lurking in there somewhere, and if this word is guessed, then it’s ‘game over man!’
It is a good party game, but after several rounds it does become a little strained, and games start to feel a little ‘samey’. Being the spymaster is also quite a difficult task – trying to come up with one-word clues that link several words of their team’s colour – and you often get the feeling they aren’t enjoying things quite as much as the agents!
Empires: Age of Discovery – Designed by Glenn Drover and published by Eagle-Gryphon Games, this is another mid-weight Euro, this time incorporating the worker placement mechanism.
You are basically a colonial power discovering the new world of the Americas. By using worker placement you aim to gather capital building tiles to your player board, discover and colonise new regions, develop your economy, and kick the butts of anyone trying to beat you to it.
The game was actually surprisingly simple to learn, though there is definitely a good variance in winning strategies, as was indicated in the closeness of our final scores. Initial turns can be quite slow, as you have to try and utilise your limited resources for the best purpose, but once you’ve established a few buildings and other advantages, like trade goods, things start to speed up and it leads to a frantic charge to gain the limited worker placement areas.
I decided to only colonise a few regions, as opposed to spreading myself thin as some of the others did. I ended up getting a majority in the Caribbean, with lots and lots of builders there to boost the points up. I was then lucky enough (or skilful enough as I would have it!) to grab a building card that gave me bonus VP’s on all my builders. This resulted in the endgame scoring coming in for the top three at something like 91, 90, and 89, of which I was second – It was a good job that, un-noticed by the majority, I’d grabbed the building tile which read something like, ‘War in Europe – after end-game scoring the leader loses 10VP’s’, of course, it gave me no satisfaction at all in playing it!
Definitely a game I would love to play again, and at the maximum player count, where I felt it worked a treat.
Dominant Species – This is a game that had piqued my interest before, so I was pleased to be able to give it a go, alas, by the end of it I felt a little underwhelmed by the experience.
The idea here is to become… yes, you guessed it, the dominant species struggling for supremacy. The main mechanism is once again worker placement, combined with a bit of tile placement, area control, and card drafting.
Through the placement of your ‘workers’, you get to place cubes (species) of your animal type on the board, food for them to eat, or new tiles for them to spread their, in some cases, wings in. You can also compete with other species, adapt to be able to eat new food types, and a whole host of other things. You can also spread the incoming ice-age, by charging the glacier across a tile, wiping out the majority of species in the occupied area.
This is a game I really would like another shot at, as I found the plethora of placement choices a little overwhelming at first, especially as their titles don’t lend themselves to easily remembering what the actually do. This slowed things down, as I had to keep referring to the reference card to figure out where to place my workers. By the time it came around to activating them, I found I’d forgotten what my initial plan was and inevitably did something of no use to me at all – I put it down to having the memory of a goldfish!
I also felt the board was, well, boring, as too were the playing pieces and tiles – though we were using some nice upgraded pieces to represent initiative.
It’s a medium to heavy weight game, and I’d put that down to actually trying to remember what all the placements do rather than the actual gameplay – nail that and it may give a better experience.
Modern Art – This game created many a merry moment, mostly at my expense!
A Reiner Knizia game that involves auctioning paintings, collecting them, and then selling them to the bank at the end of each turn for a price determined by their popularity – The more of an artists paintings there are in circulation, the greater their worth.
There are a variety of different types of auction that take place – sealed bids, once around, and open auctions, to name a few. I really enjoyed playing the auctioneer and trying to squirm a few extra pounds out a player, especially when it was to my benefit.
I think though, and this is the excuse I’m sticking with, that I was starting to fade at this point in the evening and my brain had ceased to function properly. I seemed to be having problems with the simplest of things – stacking my money into the right denominations, and being able to work out the simplest of maths. This led to some hilarity as I was constantly finding I’d bid much more than I’d intended, or just plain old worked it out wrong. But, hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, whom can you laugh at?
The Mind – I’d been wanting to try this ever since I’d heard them talking about it on The Dice Tower Podcast last year. The concept is really simple – cards numbered 1 to 100 are shuffled, and starting at level one, each player is dealt 1 card. Then, and without any communication, the players have to lay their cards down in ascending order. At level two they are each dealt 2 cards, and so on – simples!
You do get a few lives, and a few shrikes, which allow you to stop play and everyone put down their lowest card – there is the chance to increase the number you have of these as you progress through the levels.
It sounds simple, but it’s far from it, and it does create some tense moments as you advance through the levels. We managed to beat level four in the half dozen or so games we played, and at one point one player was reduced to tears of laughter, though I can’t really recall why!
Is it a game? The jury is definitely out on that one, but it is an experience worth trying at least once, though it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. I though, will be investing in a copy to take down the pub.
No Thanks – Another simple card game. This one involves cards numbered 3 to 35, 9 are randomly removed and the rest shuffled and placed in the centre of the playing area. Each player receives a number of counters, and the top card is then revealed.
On your turn you can either play a counter on the card, or pick it up, along with the counters, and place it infant of you.
The cards score their face value, but if you have a run, then only the lowest card in the run counts. The player with the fewest points wins.
Problems start arising as you play counters on cards your supply obviously dwindles, so at some point you will have to pick up a card, ideally one with a lot of counters on it – at the end of play counters in your hand offset the points scored by the cards, so if your scoring big, you’ll need a whole handful of counters to counterbalance it.
A simple, family friendly game, which takes just a few minutes to play a round. It’s always a good laugh to see the same person getting stitched up, but don’t laugh too hard, as it’ll probably be you in the next round!
Battle Line – This is a two-player competitive card game, with the main mechanism based around that of Rummy – creating melds or sets, containing three cards of either; the same number, same suit, a run, running flush, or if nothing else, just the sum of the numbers.
The battlefield consists of 9 battles, and to win you must beat your opponent in either, any five battles, or three consecutive ones.
On your turn you play a troop card to any one of the battles, up to three of your cards in a battle, then draw either another troop card or a tactics card. You can also claim a battle if you can prove you are unbeatable at that point with the available troop cards.
This is actually quite a skilful little game, and an absolute delight to play. The tactics cards can prove quite powerful, but you can only play one more tactic card than your opponent. So, if you play one first, you have to wait for your opponent to play one before you can play another. This mechanism has a wonderful effect on the game, as once your opponent plays one you can, with the right tactics cards, control the timing of claiming battles to your advantage.
We only played 3 or 4 games but I would say it was one of my favourite games of the weekend, and for me, the gameplay outstrips 1066, Tears to Many Mothers in terms of simplicity, depth of strategy, and replayability. I just wish it had 1066’s artwork!
Fist of Dragonstones – A 45 minute filler game that starts off sedately but ends in a tight, give nothing away, bluffing game.
You simply have to score three points by trading in sets of your stones. You simultaneously all bid on cards, hoping to win their magical power, usually gaining you coloured stones from either the bank, or by stealing them of your opponents.
You then get to trade sets in for either one or two points. You bid for the cards using your restricted, but hidden, stash of coins – some of which you get to keep, whilst others dwindle away to the bank.
The game builds in tension as people start to trade in sets of stones, as once you traded in a set it then becomes possible for you to win the game with one more trade. The problem being that trading in stones leaves you trying hard to gain some back, and of course, everyone is out to stop you. This is where the bluffing comes in – get people to part with there cash early on in the round, and you just might get to steal the card you need right at the end – Oh, and you have to watch out for whoever holds the witch!
Did I mention the witch? Well, this is the very first card you get to bid on in every round. The winner of which gets a black token, and this basically nulls the round it gets played on. So, if you can convince someone you’re going big on a card and they play the witch to stop you… and of course, you bid nothing, well, that’s all part of the game – and it’s jolly good fun!
Mare Nostrum: Empires – Last, but not least, is this mid weight Euro game. Built around variable games mechanisms including area control, set collecting, and trading.
Players take control of a nation set around the Mediterranean Sea, each with their own special abilities. Then, by trade, culture, or military might, you need to expand your empire and win all the glory.
This was also one of my favourite games of the weekend. I found it really quick to learn, as I believe the others did, and the game soon turned to creating allegiances and vengeful attacks.
Everyone came together right at the end, trying to prevent one person from winning, but cunningly trying to disguise the fact that they were plotting their own way to victory.
The game has several ways in which it can be won, and right at the end we realised that most of us had almost achieved victory, for me this is a sign of good game balance, and makes the game exciting and tense, especially in the closing turns. There are various expansions available for the game, and I’d love to get to play it again with a few of them thrown in… roll on next year!
Unfortunately we never got the chance to sit down and play the RPG I’d been working on. Mark and his family were in constant demand, and whenever they had some free time I was in the middle of a game – that’s always a problem when some of the games take 6 hours!
But never mind; we plan to get together over the coming months and play it out, and once we’re done I’ll post it all on here. Maybe I can even convince them that RPG’s are for them, and it’ll become a regular event… who knows!
I did get out to do a bit of walking on the Sunday and take some great pictures, unfortunately the wind put paid to my adventures and I had to turn back. It was either that or risk get blown of the track down the very long and steep drop!
So, that was my Snodcon 2019, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Mark is keen to do it all again next year, and I for one will be well up for it – providing I don’t get snowed in that is!
That just leaves me to say a big thank you to everyone who took the time to teach me a new game; to everyone who shared a bit of banter, a laugh and a joke with me; and a massive thank you and well done to the organisers Mark, Donna and their very fine family… you should be proud of your achievement in running an event like this so smoothly…
THANK YOU ALL