It was the event we had all been waiting for…Big Game Night had finally arrived. On Friday night of Gen Con weekend, hundreds of board gamers would unite for a sold-out evening from 8:00 pm to midnight of group tabletop gaming by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG). A couple days in, we could start to feel the wonderful exhaustion of all-day gaming and knew that we would need to get ready for the night. We spent most of the day using our Game Library pass with a brief meal from the Pronto Taco food truck and of course, another tour through Exhibit Hall and the Gen Con consignment shop. By late-afternoon we decided to have a solid meal at an organic restaurant just down the block and then take a short power nap back at the parking garage inside our car before returning for Big Game Night.
We made a good call taking a break and coming back early because as we made our way back to Lucas Oil Stadium, the red T-Shirts of AEG volunteers had already assembled with their hands directing participants through the stadium, down the hall, up the escalator, around the corner, and up another escalator to the early bird line of a somewhat secretive society of gamers attending the late night event. The doors were opened 30 minutes early and we presented our paper tickets for a wristband while following the mass of board gamers up another level to tables set up to play the Guild of Merchant Explorers.
Red shirt game masters waved their hands motioning for us to claim open spots and we found a place to sit at the “Steve table” where Steven from St. Louis (AEG) would be teaching the game to Steve from Indy along with Derek and I. We got to know “the Steves” a little as we waited for a fourth player to join until about 10-15 minutes later when Duncan from Milwaukee was added to our group. Duncan had tried waiting for his friends but they were running a little behind and he didn’t want to be late. With good reason, as it got closer to go-time, there was a snafu with the number of board games set up for the number of players looking for seats. AEG stumbled into some issues and had to postpone their order of events by starting the late-comers (or were they just-on-timers?) with a smaller card game called That Old Wallpaper instead of having us all play the Guild of Merchant Explorers at the same time. As the old mantra goes, “Early is on time, On time is late, and Late is unacceptable,” stated by Eric Jerome Dickey. “Better late than never” doesn’t always cut it.
Due to supply chain shipping issues, the game Ready Set Bet was changed last minute to a larger and more expensive game, The Guild of Merchant Explorers. Steven reviewed the rules at our individual game before moving on to the other groups of players in his section. Not knowing that this game would be taught at Big Game Night, Derek and I had already purchased the game before Gen Con and had played it together a few times at home. It is actually one of my favorite new games that we have recently acquired and I felt comfortable reteaching the mechanics as our new friends were learning the game while Steven was tied up helping other groups.
The game is based on the fictional kingdom of Tigomé where the Queen has sent brave adventurers to voyage to the corners of the land to update their maps and reconnect cities for improved trade routes. Explorers traverse over mountains, seas, deserts, and grasslands to collect capsized ships full of treasure, visit new villages, and climb the towers in the four corners of the land. In each era, a small deck of terrain cards are revealed one by one for players to place tiny cubes on connecting routes of their personal map player boards. Connecting areas of the board with established cities is awarded with coinage and better placement positions for the next round. While each card is revealed for the group one at a time, we place our actions simultaneously to connect routes and collect coins with a little added competition for completing our common objectives for bonus coins. Our first game took roughly 45-60 minutes to complete with our newbies scoring very well at first and second place.
The AEG agenda was for the entire event to move on at that time to a mega game of the Guild of Merchant Explorers before teaching Tiny Towns and finishing with That Old Wallpaper to round out the night. However, since AEG bonked on the number of copies available of Merchant Explorers, there were multiple groups that had started the night with the wallpaper card game and hadn’t learned Merchant Explorers yet. They couldn’t possibly be expected to compete in a mega game if they didn’t know how to play.
While the AEG volunteers were bringing those tables up to speed, our group had a little extra time on our hands so we decided to play Merchant Explorers again with a different map. There are four versions of the game with unique maps and additional elements to the game. We started with the Avenia map of the base game and flipped it to start over with the Aghon version. In the second game that we played, Steve and Duncan improved even more in their strategies with Steve dominating at $136 in Tigomén coins. I trailed their scores at 3rd place with $115. It was pretty special to be able to play this game with board gamers of their expertise who could really capitalize on its features and play at a competitive level.
By this time, the approximately 748 people in the stadium were ready to play the mega game of Merchant Explorers and we flipped our maps back to the Avenia board. The mega game had the unique atmosphere of a massive Bingo game with hundreds of slap-happy board gamers. Each terrain card was flipped by the announcer on the ground level of the stadium with the volunteers circulating the room holding larger-than-life sized playing cards for us to place our tiny squares. There was a feeling of unity and pure laughter in the air as we played the same game in unison with each other. In-between play, the announcer would raffle off prizes and we chatted with Steve and Duncan as we waited for the next card to be revealed. As two board game experts, we learned a lot about the other conventions held in the country and the esteemed Essen Spiel convention held each October in Essen, Germany. Steve lives in Indy and has been attending Gen Con for years so he shared a lot of tips for us on how to make the most of our time at Gen Con. Duncan also had some advice for us regarding the consignment shop and events that he has loved attending with his dad at Gen Con since he was in high school back when it was hosted in Wisconsin. They asked what kinds of games we liked and we swapped stories of our favorite board games with new suggestions to add to our bucket list. We shared over three hours together at a table with those two so it was a neat opportunity to make new friends and network over board games.
As always, time flies by when you’re having fun. We had played the Guild of Merchant Explorers three times through and there was only a half hour left until midnight. AEG ran out of time to teach us Tiny Towns but our game master, Steven, made an attempt to do a quick demo of That Old Wallpaper before we had to go. The Lucas Oil Stadium staff was locking up with a hard deadline at 12:00 am and we weren’t able to play a full game or get a gist of how that game worked. Instead, they ushered us down to the main level where we traded in our wristbands for bags of free merchandise. Derek and I both walked away with copies of The Guild of Merchant Explorers and That Old Wallpaper which far exceeded the value of our tickets. I thought I would be tired by that time of night but we left exhilarated in the pure joy of playing board games with a community of people who felt just as charmed as we did with the pastime. AEG’s Big Game Night was well worth it and we definitely hope to go again. Board gamers unite!