Every time I go to a convention, I promise myself I’m gonna write about everything I saw. And every time I get home, a bit overwhelmed, I cover 2-3 games, and then move onto the next thing.
So this time, I’ll write all it all up right now the bus ride home! But first…
The Non-Games part of the Event
This is a very small event compared to something PAX Unplugged. At its heart, Granite Games Summit is a bunch of folks in a hotel ballroom playing board games for four days straight.
It also has a very cozy feeling compared to other conventions I’ve gone to. The whole thing was very low-key, with plenty of of families and children. In terms of lodging, the Doubletree by Hilton is perfectly average. Still nicer than my apartment. For food, there’s enough stuff within walking or driving distance to be fine as well, but nothing special.
There’s very much an air of trust to the whole thing. One draw of the event is that attendees can bring their own board game collections to be borrowed from. And beyond that, the event organizers also provide an entire game library.
Overall, this is a low-intensity event, offering a chance to play a large number of games without buying them yourself. I don’t think anyone comes to an event like this for any reason other than to play board games. So let’s talk about those games!
The Playtests and Prototypes
Given that none of these games are out yet, I don’t want to say too much about them, and I won’t be saying anything I didn’t already say to the designers’ faces. Still, I spent a fair amount of time on them, so I’d like to talk about them a bit.
Cubism by Resonym
A very fun deck builder. The designer is a friend of mine. Still in the tweaking stages, but if you see it at another event, I highly encourage you to try it out. It has a very clever twist on resource generation that I’m not sure I should spoil here?
Cypher Sessions is a beat-the-leader matching game about writing rap. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t have too much fun with it. I said as much in my feedback to the designer. I’d play it again if someone wanted to, but I don’t have any huge amount of interest in it. But it’s still in development, so maybe it will end up great!
The Armory is a set collection buying game about trying assemble collections of weapons and armor. It’s in the early stages, but its core concept does feel fun. There were some lulls and weirdnesses, and the game itself doesn’t quite feel ready for prime time, but I’d be interested to see where it ends up.
A quick note: If you’re the dev of one of these games, and would like me to update this article to link to your twitter or blog, please just send me a message on Twitter.
The Fully Released Games
Here are the fully released games I played. So no punches pulled. I’ll be giving my quick thoughts, and ultimately, answering a single question: Would I play it again?
Dice Forge is a game about Forging Dice. There are customizable dice that you can snap the sides off of, and snap back on. It’s a heavily produced affair where your goal is ultimately to Get The Most Victory Points, by customizing your dice, and using the resources they generate to buy cards that give you victory points and abilities.
Would I play it again? Yes. I generally enjoyed it, and I’d be curious to try different strategies if I got a rematch.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
Hogwarts Battle is deckbuilder with the Harry Potter license. I’ll talk about the game in a moment. First though, I would like to note two things unrelated to gameplay that drove me a bit nuts.
First off, it feels like every other name and item in the game has a trademark symbol on it, to the point of ridiculousness. In addition, all the game’s art has a tone of “on-file style guide movie images.”
The end result is that the whole thing has the artistic feeling of licensed children’s valentines from Hallmark, and a tone of tackiness. Someone in the chain of command had a decision to make: was it more important that players be immersed in defending Hogwarts from its villains, or that they know that, should J.K. Rowling’s estate ever wish to make a Peter Pettigrew themed vacuum cleaner, they own the rights to do so. They chose the latter.
Editor’s note: You know, because Peter Pettigrew sucks.
Which is unfortunate, because this game doesn’t feel like it wants to be a cheap tie-in product. Whoever designed it seemed to really give some thought to the characters and items. One small standout function for me was that both Draco Malfoy and Lucius Malfoy have a similar effect, with the elder Malfoy being more powerful. The effect itself is “Not really doing anything bad on their own, but making bad things that happen worse.”
Which at least to me was a pretty good way to encapsulate those characters!
That said, this is not the strongest deckbuilder I’ve ever played, or even the best one I played this weekend. The game has 7 scenarios, all of which are additive as far as I can tell, and I played through 1-3 without being challenged. The lack of any deck-thinning mechanics or way to clear the row of items you can buy to add to your deck can quickly lead to a feeling of bloat with no mechanical remedy.
Would I play it again? Yes, BUT only to beat the game on the hardest difficulty, and see if it gets any more interesting/addresses any of the problems with the deck building elements.
This also would probably be a decent game to play with non-board gaming Harry Potter fans, or maybe your family.
Editor’s note: playing this game at a convention’s library is the best way to play it! You get to try it without giving JKR any more money.
KeyForge is yet another card game from Richard Garfield. I have to assume it was built around the question of “How can we remove deck-building, landscrew, and collecting cards, but still sell you blind box packs?” And thus was born the Unique Deck Game. Each deck is randomly generated in advance for you, and cannot be changed.
Snark aside, I generally like KeyForge. Did it disrupt the big 3? No. Do I only have the game because it’s mostly dead, and I bought a booster box of decks from a discounts bin for $40, when its MSRP is supposed to be about $120? Yes. It makes novel attempts to solve a bunch of problems in the card game space, even if they don’t all succeed.
Would I play it again? Yes. I find KeyForge entertaining, and the unconstructed nature lends to a lower power level than a lot of constructed TCGs. I might get bored at some point, but it hasn’t happened yet.
A Feast for Odin
Feast for Odin is a worker placement game about populating a Tetris grid. Is that an oversimplification? Yes. But this game took 30 minutes to sort components, 30 minutes to explain the rules, and 3 and half hours to play. Whatever I write here will be an oversimplification.
I would like to make a few quick observations, though. If games are art, and art is subjective, then I subject that I would like to never again be subjected to A Feast for Odin. The game has an 8.2 on Board Game Geek, a number would now be infinitesimally lower if I added my own rating. I found the game to be long, tedious, and I struggled to spot interesting mechanical interactions and failed to be engrossed the game’s theming.
This probably says more about me than A Feast for Odin, but it was my experience.
Would I play it again? No. I would rather do my taxes. It wouldn’t be more fun, but it would be shorter, and at the end at least my taxes would be finished.
Fun Fact: A Feast for Odin is a Euro-game, following the traditional Euro-game model of “Everyone should score about the same number of points at the end, despite the winner having a clearly better position.” I scored 30 points. Both my opponents scored OVER 90, and one of them had also never played before. I am very bad at this game.
Clank is the better deckbuilder I played this weekend. It’s still not great, but it does do some interesting things. The goal is to get into a dungeon, get loot, and get out. This is compounded slightly by fact that you need to do it without getting burnt to a crisp by the dragon living in the dungeon.
There are really three systems in Clank. There’s the deck builder, where the unique conceit is that you must play every single card in your hand each turn. There’s the board that you move around on. And there’s the Clank bag.
Some cards in your deck will generate clank tokens. These get added to the bag, and whenever various cards show up in the games buy row, the dragon attacks. You pull out a certain number of tokens from the bag, and take damage based on whose color they were. Things get more dangerous as players pick up the loot, giving the whole thing a feel of escalating tension.
Would I play it again? Yes. Each component of Clank is “just okay,” but as a whole, it feels like a much stronger game. Apparently the spinoffs also address issues with the game’s pacing.
Spirit Island is a co-op settler construction game. Oh I’m sorry, I mispelled that. It’s a co-op settler destruction game. This game also took 3 hours to play, though the setup time was much faster.
I enjoyed Spirit Island far more than A Feast for Odin. At least part of this is due to the theming being far more interesting. “Drive out the invading settlers as a powerful nature spirit” excites me more than “Acquire a cow.”
That said, given that both my teammates had played before, I don’t know exactly how impactful I was to the group. There was also a lot of time just spent resolving various effects, as opposed to using my various powers.
Would I play it again? Yes. I liked Spirit Island, and I’d be curious play some of the more complex spirits, and the ones with different playstyles. It was fun!
Granite Games Summit 2023 was a good time, and I’d attend a Granite Games Summit again. I do think this is an event best attended as some sort of group, or if you’re already local to try to keep the costs for a hotel/travel down.
The other benefit to attending with friends/family is that you already have a playgroup for most things, and can hopefully find people fill out slots should you need them.
That said, this is a very focused event. It’s about playing board games for up to 4 days straight in a reasonable hotel in New Hampshire, and not doing much else. If that sounds fantastic, awesome. Go follow the convention’s account on Twitter, so you can find out when to buy tickets for next year (they sell out very fast).
Alternately, if you’re looking for more stuff to read about board games, why not check out my PAX Unplugged Writeups? I wrote about some Indie TCGs, board games adapted from video games, and some other stuff.