A little con in St. Louis, Missouri turned 11, and it did so in a big way. Perhaps it’s not even accurate to use “little” anymore as Geekway to the West smashed through all of its own numbers from years past. With this gathering Geekway has firmly placed its stamp of existence in the board gaming realm. I can’t think of a past year where I’ve seen more before and after buzz about the con on social media and even in dead tree form. Frankly, the biggest question that has to be on the minds of this con’s crew is whether to continue to grow, or decide on an optimum size.
This was my third year at Geekway, and easily my favorite. Not only because they put on their best con yet but this is the first year I actually got to hit it up every day. Add to that, the fact that I was finally able to bring my wife Sarah to Geekway and a number of good buddies showed up including Dave Ferguson, creator of The Great Debate, Topher, one of the contributors to this site, and my fellow blogger pal Toby Gee from Roll and Groove. I’ve enjoyed previous years a lot, because I enjoy gaming and have never had issues gaming with strangers, but there is something great about having a group of friends present. Also, it’s always good to have Sarah around in order to humble me. I’ve rarely seen someone pick up on the rules of a game faster than she, and thus she tends to beat me…a lot. I did get her good once though, more on that later!
I knew we were in for a good year when I noticed that Geekway sold out months ahead of time. In previous years there was always the option for people to walk up and get a day pass but that wasn’t to be the case this go around. 1300 badges were sold, over 100 badges were handed out to staff, volunteers, and guests, and even a handful of temporary badges were handed out to press and judges. One thing to note too, Geekway hands out a free board game to every paid attendee, well over 1400 games were handed out there alone. For those wondering, these weren’t simply packs of Uno Cards either (apologies to the Uno fans) these were full on Board Games. I received a copy of a game called Skyscrapers that I traded to another attendee for Privateer Press’ High Command. A few other attendee games I saw were Constantinople, King of Tokyo, Locke and Key: The Game, and many more.
One needs to consider the fact that the con’s library of games stands at just over 1500, so the 1400 given away at check in would already be an admirable number to bandy about. They don’t stop there however. Geekway holds daily door prizes, where they gave away 75 games, and then there’s the Play and Win games. I’m not certain how long Geekway has had a Play and Win category but I’ve never seen it handled with more finesse or scale than this year’s iteration of the event. In the past the Play and Win slips were placed inside the game box and if you were privy to what games fit the category you, the other players, and anyone who helps teach the game were able to place these signed slips back in the box to potentially be drawn as a winner of the game. This year the con team set aside an entire room for the Play and Win area, games were placed on tables for ready play and a large bookshelf held copies of the games for people to grab and play within the room or check out if they wished to wander. The slips were placed into already crafted bins labeled clearly on one side of the room. Easily the best set-up I’ve seen thus far and it truly made the Play and Win area the place to be. In fact I don’t think I played a single game that wasn’t designated as a Play and Win, and I played roughly 30+ unique games over those four days!
One stand out game grabbed my attention above all others, not to mention the majority of the Geekway attendees for that matter. The Polish game Tajemnicze Domostwo (Mysterious Mansion), or Mysterium as it will be named once it’s released in the States, was hands down the Bell of the Ball. This Play and Win was played over 200 times over the four days, easily the most played in the Play and Win category. The game is fantastic. One player takes on the role of a murder victim, now a ghost, communicating with the other players through symbolism within their dreams in order to whittle down a list of suspects, potential places, and murder weapons. If you call it “Better Clue” I wouldn’t argue with you. Take the fact that the gameplay is fun, unique, and co-operative and couple that with the intrigue of a game that isn’t even available in English yet and it’s easy to see the allure. I even got a chance to be the ghost once but, as Dave F. will tell you openly, I did not make for a good one. If you played the game at the con and were lucky enough to have English rules inside the box you can thank me for bringing it to the attention of the con staff by the way *winking face*.
I had a number of other stand out games at the con.
Lanterns was a game where I initially beat Toby, thus giving me the false impression I was actually good at the game, only to be proven wrong by Sarah multiple times. The mechanics are simple, if explained a bit poorly in the rulebook, match colored lanterns to gain them and be careful because every tile you lay down could help a competitor!
Scoville was a really cool resource collection game where you plant and harvest different peppers to fuel the ever-expanding pepper market! It was made cooler for me because I just walked in on Friday morning, sat down, and played with two strangers. I won that first game of Scoville, we were all three new to it, but the second time around I wasn’t so lucky as, once again, Sarah crushed me on her first time ever playing the game.
Camel Up! was a blast, I didn’t even care that I never won. Betting on those camels was a treat! It has a really fun mechanic where you roll and drop your dice from a pyramid. Attempting to get just one die out of that pyramid did take a bit finesse but it was still fun stuff, the stacking mechanism of the camels and how that changes their place in the race really shook thins up often. Never won a game of it but I did have the pleasure of witnessing Toby’s eldest daughter take us to task with her camel betting skills.
My biggest triumph of the Con though came when playing The Worst Game Ever (actual title). The main game-play is simple, roll a die and make a bet that it’ll roll higher than you guessed and then take that many tokens away from whoever you were targeting. As soon as someone loses all their tokens the game ends and the winner is the one with the most (barring the humorous “if there’s a tie” rule). The cards are what shake things up, and it is here that I discovered Sarah’s weakness! You see, every card changes the rules somehow, and many times in humorous ways. Sarah likes consistent rules, she’d tell you this herself. Anyway, I had a card in my hand through most of the game where you play it if someone is caught “mooching’ food or drink from someone else. There was none to be had but I remembered they were selling food in the hall. When I excused myself to use the restroom (honestly fearing there was a card out there that someone could use when i did so) I purchased a cookie on the way back. Long story short, Sarah soon took a bite and I used the mooching card, ending the game. It was fantastic!
There were a ton of activities I didn’t get the chance to join in on. Tournaments of local popularity like Crokinole and Battling Tops, or more widespread appeal with Settlers of Catan and King of Tokyo/New York. The latter gaining the victors free passes* to Gen Con (*Edit: The victors won an invitation to the Gen Con World Championships, not passes to Gen Con). There was a game design contest, which my good friend Toby was actually a guest judge for (I’m very envious of that fact but can’t say it wasn’t a well deserved nod to his board gaming cred). I’m sure he’ll be able to elaborate more on the contest in his post over at Roll and Groove. There was even a Guest of Honor I, sadly, never had the chance to meet. The one and only Zev Shlasinger, President of Z-Man Games!
Geekway to the West has some real potential to grow into a mighty con, I’m honestly wondering whether they will choose to do so. Their current venue can’t take much, if any, more, and I’m loathe to see it move because that would likely mean a move away from me, and into the city (St. Louis) to meet expanding space requirements. There is a part of me that wants nothing more than to see it grow to a size of behemoth proportions, just because it damn well deserves to! I only have a few complaints. First, the con takes place right in the prime of graduation ceremonies. I had to miss a good chunk of it last year, and narrowly missed it next year (yes I already checked). Lastly,…I didn’t win a single game from Play and Win or Door Prizes! I mean c’mon!.. Ok, that last one isn’t really fair because I guess I did win a game last year…but still! All joking aside I would suggest you get a jump on your badge next year because there is no telling if they intend to grow the con. It’s a lot of fun as is, and if it continues to garner the growth of popularity I’ve seen thus far and they decide to keep things small, you may start missing your chance to get in earlier and earlier!
Take care folks, and keep gaming! Also, just remember… Istanbul was Constantinople.