OrcaCon 2023 Retrospective

OrcaCon is a convention held in Bellevue, Washington in January every year. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go last year and the two years before that…well, something happened. I’m not really sure what.

I went to my first OrcaCon in January 2020 and then everything went to hell so I wasn’t able to make it back again until this year.

I just got back on Sunday and thought I would give you a report of what happened and how it was.

I did mention the 2020 OrcaCon in my post about convention experiences, so you know I had a blast then.

Did I have a blast this weekend?

Well, except for the rain, it was actually pretty good!

The drive down to Bellevue from Vancouver on Friday morning was beautiful (cloudy and spitting rain when I left but by the time I had crossed the border, the sun was out) and I got down there just before Noon.

The rain started just when I got to Bellevue. It was ok the rest of the weekend, raining off and on (but never too badly when I went out to the parking lot for the food trucks) but the drive home on Sunday was hideous with rain.

My voice was a bit hoarse from singling along with the music I had been listening to on the way down, which made teaching a game first thing a bit rough!

But I persevered.

You don’t want to know about the drive, though.

You want to know about the games!

So let’s take a look.

First, if it’s a new to me game (there were 5!), I’m not going to go into great detail about the game play. That will be in my “New to Me – January” post in early February. I’ll describe it, of course, but not much more than that.

After checking in and heading down to the game room, I wandered around and while there were a bunch of people playing, it wasn’t hugely busy yet.

Everybody at the tables was either already in a game (I saw a bunch of plays of Ark Nova during the weekend but always they had either already started or they weren’t looking for players) or they were looking for players in a game I had no interest in.

As I learned I should have done at the 2020 OrcaCon, I just grabbed a game from the library and set it up, putting up the sign saying I’m looking for 2 players.

(As an aside, it’s amazing that they operate on the honour system at OrcaCon. You just show somebody at the table the game you are taking and then bring it back when you’re done. No checking out games, no ID required, though you would obviously have to have your badge on. It was wonderful!).

I grabbed Gizmos from the library because I had forgotten how much I love that game. It was on my Top 25 games played in 2019 but it fell off in 2022 because I hadn’t played it in so long.

I have been playing some online games on Boardgame Arena and remembered why I love it.

A very nice couple, Ben and Andrea, stopped by and said they would be interested.

And they were! Not only that, but we played twice, with me winning the first game and Andrea winning the second game. Both games were over in about an hour, which is always great.

Gizmos is an engine-building game where you are using energy that you pick up from the marble feeder to build gizmos to your tableau.

Step right up and claim your energy!

As you build more, your actions will become even better, as these gizmos will improve the actions you take, whether picking energy, building other gizmos, filing away the plans for gizmos because you can’t afford them, or researching gizmos.

Yes, there are a lot of gizmos.

I talked about the game when I first played it in 2018, so you can find more information there.

Next, we’ll get into a series of games called “Way Longer Than They Should Have Been.”

The first in the series is a deckbuilding game called Core Worlds.

One caveat to that, though. Deckbuilders, to me, should take about an hour at most (except for those deckbuilders with other things, like Clank in Space and Tyrants of the Underdark).

So my feeling was based on that.

I see from the BGG page that its time is actually listed as 60-120 minutes, so it’s apparently expected to take a bit longer than many deckbuilders.

But not almost 3 hours!!!!

Anyway, that’s beside the point.

This was a new to me game and I’ve been eyeing it during various game store sales but never actually pulling the trigger to pick it up.

Core Worlds is a deckbuilder of sorts where you are acquiring spacecraft, infantry units, and technologies to invade a number of planets, working your way inward to the “core worlds.”

You’re going to be playing units to your display and then using them to invade these worlds, where they go into your discard pile and will eventually come back to be used again.

The game was fun and the four guys I played with (none of whom I had ever met) were incredibly nice and fun to play with.

After a dinner break, I caught up with Sean from Thing12 Games, a guy I met at the last OrcaCon and also at Dice Tower West in 2020.

Sean is great, and his friends that he was with were awesome to play with. They welcomed me to their group and I spent most of the weekend hanging out with them.

Or at least all of Saturday.

It was still Friday night, though, and we were trying to decide what to play.

I’m not sure who suggested it (I think it was Sean), but we decided to play Great Western Trail: Argentina

Readers of this blog know I’m a fan of Great Western Trail, even though it burns my brain a bit. I haven’t played with the 2nd Edition yet.

GWT: Argentina is a new version of the game, though. It takes place in Argentina (duh) and a New Zealand version of the game will be coming out sometime in 2023.

(I also tagged the wrong game company in my tweet about playing this since I had forgotten that Eggertspiele had taken the rights back from Stronghold Games. Whoops!)

Here’s entry #2 in the “Way Longer Than They Should Have Been” category, as there’s no way it should really take 4 hours and 42 minutes to play this.

That being said, we were having a blast, even if we started around 9:15 pm and ended around 2:45 am.

Yeah, my body kind of regretted doing that, though the rest of me was happy to!

Anyway, Great Western Trail: Argentina is about moving cattle to market in Argentina.

Fans of the original know a lot about the gameplay to this one, but Argentina adds some interesting new mechanics.

Another kind of worker you can hire is a farmer when you cross their path on the board (if you don’t hire them, or at least help them with their fields, then you have to pay them money just like the hazards on the board in the original game).

Another difference is that you are taking the cattle to ships that will then go to one of three European ports.

I won’t go into too much more, saving it for February, I have to say that I really liked this one, and maybe better than the original.

Maybe that’s because I felt like I had more of a handle on what I needed to do, so it’s a personal thing.

I lost by 2 points at the end of all that, but it was still a satisfying game and I would love to play it again.

I finally got to bed (after a little unwinding in the hotel room) around 3:30 am…and was promptly up at 7:30!

Saturday was a bit less chaotic, mainly because I was hanging around with Sean and friends all day.

I also actually managed to get some lunch! Even if it was at 3:00 pm.

Anyway, we started the day with a game Sean designed and Thing 12 publishes, called The Seals of Cthulhu.

This is a 2-player bluffing and bidding game between Ancient One cultists and Investigators trying to stop the Cultists from ending the world.

You’re going to be bidding influence from both your own people (cultists/investigators) as well as face-up cards you’ve already won, trying to get as much power as possible. Each card is worth a certain amount of power.

If you have both pieces of an artifact, you will be able to use its ability, and each player is playing a character that also has an ability.

It was an interesting game, though I do have to say that bidding and bluffing (you definitely have to bluff since you are putting up a hidden card for auction) games aren’t really my forte.

Still, it was neat to play, and even neater to play with the designer.

After that, it was time for the third entry in the “Way Longer Than They Should Have Been” category, though this one wasn’t quite as egregious.

I always enjoy a crunchy Vital Lacerda game, even though they all break my brain.

My first play of On Mars had gone very well a few years ago (right before all the fun started!), but I definitely did need to relearn it.

This time we played with 4 players (my first play was at 3 players) and it took just over 4 hours. According to BGG, it’s more of a 90-minute to 3 hour game.

(I hope everybody realizes that I am saying this in good fun. I enjoyed all three of these games, but I wasn’t expecting the length and it did affect things like when to get lunch/dinner and, more importantly, when to go to sleep!)

Anyway, I did enjoy my first play and had always wanted to play it again.

When it was on offer, I jumped at the chance!

On Mars is completely different than Terraforming Mars and hurts the head a lot more (but in a good way).

You are still trying to colonize Mars, but it’s a lot more in-depth and close rather than building a huge civilization all over the planet.

You’re getting technologies, building habitats to be able to bring more workers to Mars, and building infrastructure to help you gain resources.

I love the “one side of the board is you in orbit and one is you on Mars, and you can only take the actions that are on your side of the board” aspect of the game. You can, of course, hitch a ride on the shuttle that moves back and forth, but you have to decide what you want to do and whether your ride will have left by the time you want to do it.

It’s really crunchy, but as I said in my February 2020 New to Me post (which is why I’m not going to go into great detail here), the mechanisms are more straightforward than the usual Lacerda.

It’s just stringing them together that gives you a headache.

I didn’t do too badly, coming in 3rd by only 9 points from the leader (first and second were one point apart…how exciting!).

Because of the unexpected length of the game, I had grabbed lunch during it (and what do you know…it wasn’t my turn yet when I came back).

So it was on to figuring out what to play next!

I had brought Charioteer down because I thought I might be able to get a good group of players together for it. I suggested it to Sean and while we couldn’t get a full complement of six players, we did rope a third person in to have a 3-player game of it.

Readers of last week’s post know that we played it totally wrong the first time at our usual game group!

So it was nice to actually play it right this time.

I explained basically how it plays in that post, so I won’t go into it too much here.

I do have to say that three players wasn’t as fun as six players (even playing it right!). There’s not as much chaos.

But it was still a fun game.

And it ended on a photo finish!

Sean with the pink chariot was on the inside track while my green was on the outside. Since we ended up in the same space, the inside track wins.

I would have needed one more movement point to get ahead of him.

That’s why you run the race!

Nice attack, but not very helpful in the corners!

I just couldn’t get the Corner Turn move cards when I needed them, wasting valuable time in the corners.

A lighter game than usual from GMT, and one of our players said he wasn’t a huge fan as it was pretty random, but overall I liked it.

After that, Sean’s daughter came around and we did a 4-player game of Calico.

This is a tile-laying quilt and cat game that came out before Cascadia (both from Flatout Games and Alderac) but which I had never played.

You are essentially drafting quilt tiles to form patterns on your quilt. You get points for getting coloured tiles next to each other, goal tiles that you need to surround with the appropriate types of tiles, and then there are cats that are attracted to certain patterns on your quilt.

They’ll come to lay on it!

I’m not usually good with these types of spatial games. Maybe I was tired so not thinking clearly, but I almost won!

We actually tied, but he attracted more cats than I did.

(There’s a digital version of the game coming from Monster Couch, just so you know)

We continued our small group of players (the others were playing longer games and ours had been shorter) with 3-player Cat in the Box

I fell in love with this when I played it at SHUX and I had to get a copy.

I brought it down with me and it was the second (and last) of my games that got played!

Not too bad.

This quantum trick-taking game is still out of this world.

As I mentioned in my New to Me October post, this is a game where the cards don’t have any suits until you state what suit they are.

But you could end up causing a paradox when you have to play a blue 3 and blue 3 has already been played!

Ryan caused two paradoxes in the three rounds (meaning you lose a point for each trick he took), but managed to score enough in the 3rd round to bring his total up to 0.

I do think this game shines with 4-5 players (I’ve played with 4 and it was a lot of fun).

With three players, since you only play 3 rounds, it almost feels like it’s over just as it’s getting started.

Still a fun time, but something to keep in mind.

Sean then brought out a game I had never played before, though I had heard interesting things about it. The Bloody Inn.

The Bloody Inn is a game where you play innkeepers who are trying to make money by, well, killing their customers.

Customers show up to stay at your inn and you can bribe them to help you, play them from your hand to help you either kill a guest or bury a guest’s body that you’ve previously killed.

With only two actions a round, that can be tough if there are policemen staying at the inn, since there will be an investigation at that point. If you have any unburied bodies…well, it sucks to be you.

But at least you don’t go to prison! You just have to pay them off.

One already buried under the Mechanic’s annex, another one waiting for burial

You only get the money for them once they’re buried and you have to build annexes to your inn in order to house all of these graves.

This was a fun game. I wasn’t expecting much, and while it’s not outstanding, there were a lot of laughs along with all that blood.

Our final game of the night, which I thought would be done by Midnight so I could go to bed but wasn’t actually finished until 12:30, was Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition.

Yes, my #6 game played of the year last year gets played early in 2023!

I was the Mining Guild because I was dealt a bunch of building cards. My steel production went through the roof!

Sadly, it did not pay off as the new guy won by 9 points.

Still rock solid game. I had trouble getting any VP cards, which was my downfall.

And I managed to get to bed early!

Wait, 1:00 am is early, isn’t it?

Anyway, Sunday morning dawned bright and early and I was planning leaving around Noon for the 3-hour drive home.

But I wanted to get at least one game in, and I hadn’t had a chance to play anything with Daniel from Board Game Feast.

I found him waiting for some friends so we decided to play a quick 2-player game from the game library.

One of the suggestions was a cute little game called Yukon Salon.

In the game, you are hair stylists in the Yukon and your only customers are lumberjacks and bears.

You’re bringing in customers (why the bears sit in the chair and wait for some human hair styles rather than ripping your face off, I don’t know) and then putting a nice hairdo (on the bears) or new beard (on the lumberjacks) using style cards.

I think that picture speaks for itself.

It’s a cute game, definitely not for 2 players I don’t think. Too few customers and just kind of weird game play.

It did only take 12 minutes, so there is that.

Even with that, it was great to sit and chat with Daniel for a while about games, life in Vancouver, game media, all that kind of thing.

Great guy and give his channel a watch!

I thought I was going to end my con like I started it: grabbing a game from the library and seeing if anybody would come play.

Then I happened upon a couple setting up their copy of Wingspan.

One of my favourite games and one I haven’t played on the table since Dice Tower West.

They were looking for 2 players, but another one never showed up so it was just the three of us.

They had the Oceania and the new Asia expansion as well!

My first time playing with those.

The new Oceania player boards, using the wild Nectar food, actually worked out really well.

We didn’t play any of the new modes from Asia, so for us this expansion was just “more cards!”

And some of them are pretty cool.

Some of them add a “push your luck” element, where you are drawing cards and if the total is a certain size or below, you get to tuck all of them. But if you go over that amount, they all get discarded.

Those cards with endgame scoring were a nice change as well.

I had two bonus cards that I was easily able to achieve: have at least 8 cards in my hand and have at least 7 birds that can live in multiple habitats.

The problem was that the birds I played, for the most part, didn’t really have any activation powers.

So my engine kind of sputtered.

Overall, the game was great. I came in second, but far behind the leader.

It was great fun and they were great people to play with.

It was now Noon so time to take my leave.

OrcaCon is a great con and I can’t wait to go back next year.

Wait, maybe I shouldn’t say that.

Last time I said that, there was a worldwide pandemic.

Would it stave that off if I said that OrcaCon sucked and every minute was torture? I don’t want to ever go back?


Tough. I guess we may have to deal with another pandemic, because I can’t lie like that.

So until next January…

Thanks for all the great memories.

10 Comments on “OrcaCon 2023 Retrospective

  1. Great to see you go out and have fun! Guess we’re finally putting the pandemic behind us.
    And looks like there were great games, too – both among those which I’ve played (Wingspan!) and those which I haven’t (The Bloody Inn!).

    Liked by 3 people

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