We wrapped up our fourth annual in-house tabletop tournament last week, and as you probably expected, it was loaded with all sorts of board game goodness.
So what went down?
Well, it was a 12-person two-week tournament with different games to play every round. With four competition days across two weeks, it was a virtual gauntlet of gaming to determine who is the best in the company.
One of the things I liked about the layout of the tournament was how there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors were first slotted into groups of three. Each group of three played two games, and the two winners (one from each game) from each trio moved on to the next round.
So to survive round 1, you had to win either Timeline or On the Dot.
In the first bracket, former champ Kevin and last year’s defending champ Nikki moved on. In the second bracket, yours truly was bested in On the Dot by newcomer Ryan AND in Timeline by perennial top contender Rick. In the third bracket, Gordon and Sam moved on in impressive fashion. And in the fourth bracket, former champ Jen and newcomer Laura each earned a spot in the next round.
So right away, all three former champs were in the running, along with some new blood and some tough competition with tabletop experience. This was shaping up to be one heck of a tournament.
Round 2 began the following Thursday, and this time around, competitors were slotted into groups of four. Each group of four played two games, and the two winners (one from each game) moved on to the next round.
So to survive round 2, you had to win either Noueni or Guillotine.
Guillotine is a card game for 2 to 5 players set during the French revolution. As the royals are marched to the guillotine in one big line, you play cards in order to switch the royals around so that the most valuable royals are beheaded on your turn, adding their scores to your pile. (You can also manipulate the hands of the other players by forcing them to give you cards or discard them.)
Played over three rounds, the player with the highest score (i.e. the most valuable royals beheaded) wins.
Noueni is a card game for 2 to 4 players that involves pattern-matching, color-based scoring, and cards that can either overlap or sit next to other cards. Your score is determined by how many of your scoring orbs are on the board at the end of the game.
Each card has two colored scoring orbs and a pattern of black lines emerging from them. Those lines are the connectors, and they determine how the cards are placed in the play area. Any card played must link up with the other cards on the board, whether there’s zero, one, two, or three connectors along that neighboring edge.
Noueni was a new experience for all of the players, though it is similar to Qwirkle, which the competitors had played before.
All of the players quickly took to Guillotine, deftly maneuvering valuable royals into their score piles. Noueni proved to be a tougher play experience, as many players devoted so much time to covering up the colored orbs of other players that they neglected to play simpler moves to add colored orbs to their own scores. Too much defense can be a bad thing if it hinders your offense.
In the end, four more players were eliminated from the field, including the first two tournament champions. After this colorful round of play, only Rick, Gordon, Laura, and returning champ Nikki remained.
Round 3 began the following Tuesday, and the remaining players were collected into one final group of four. But they would all play the same game, and the top two point-scorers would move on to the finals.
The game for round 3? Sheriff of Nottingham.
Sheriff of Nottingham is a card game that mixes strategy, resource management, and bluffing. The players collect cards with different goods to take to market — apples, chickens, bread, and cheese — as well as cards of contraband items (like spices, mead, and weapons). Each of these cards is worth points, and the contraband goods are worth more than the legal goods. Of course, the contraband goods are illegal, so if you’re caught bringing them to market, there’s a penalty.
And, unfortunately, in order to get your goods (legal or otherwise) to market, you have to get past the Sheriff.
For example, in a four-player game, let’s say the first player is the Sheriff. The other three players will each place up to five cards in their bag, then snap it shut, and declare what’s inside to the Sheriff. A player may be telling the truth about the contents of her bag, or she may be lying. The Sheriff can choose to either let a bag pass through unchecked or open and inspect the contents of any bag.
Anything that gets through the Sheriff goes into your market stand and is worth points at the end of the game. If the Sheriff chooses to check your bag, one of two things happens. If you were honest about what’s in the bag, the Sheriff pays you the value of those items. If you lied about the contents of your bag and the Sheriff catches you, you must pay him a penalty, and any contraband goods in the bag are seized.
Of course, you can always negotiate with the Sheriff before the bag is opened. Bribes (of coin, product, or favors) can be offer, and deals can be made.
Once the Sheriff has either let the players’ bags through or finished the inspections, everyone settles their goods in the marketplace, the next player takes over as Sheriff, and the cycle starts again.
The game ends after every player has been the Sheriff twice. Then the players count up the value of everything they’ve brought to market — including any contraband they’ve snuck through — as well as their coin piles. (Plus, there are bonus points to be gained if you brought the most of any product to market. For instance, the person who brought the most apples is King of Apples, and the person who brought the second-most is Queen of Apples. Both titles are worth points.)
Once starting coins and cards were allotted to each player (plus a few coins extra to encourage wheeling-and-dealing/bribery), the game commenced. In the end, only two of the four players at the table would be moving on to the finals. What combination of Nikki, Rick, Gordon, and Laura would face off for the championship?
As it turned out, a game all about duplicity can be won with transparency. In this cutthroat round, honesty reigned supreme as most players opted to avoid contraband and move only legal goods through the Sheriff to market. Rick, as the most suspicious Sheriff, ended up paying some hefty fines to players whose bags he checked.
(Personally, I probably would have cut a deal with one of the other players and promised to allow whatever they wanted through when I was Sheriff, in exchange for the same treatment from them. That way, you could move a LOT of valuable contraband one round, and play it safe the other rounds. But I am nefarious that way.)
After a tense game, the judges swooped in to count everyone’s haul, and the players stepped away from the table to enjoy some marvelous cookies and treats provided by the judges… and await their fate.
In the end, Nikki and Gordon had accumulated the top two scores, and they would be moving on to the finals.
Or would they? In the end, there was one more wrinkle!
It turns out that Laura had forgotten to empty her bag of goods in the last go-round, and with her additional contraband, she had outearned Gordon! Shock and heartbreak!
It would instead be Nikki and Laura in the finals.
Now, given that this was our fourth annual tournament, we’d finally amassed some proper stats and trivia regarding the event. You see, not only had no previous champion ever repeated as champion, but no previous champion had ever made it to the finals again!
So already, Nikki had set a new precedent as the only previous champion to return to the finals. Would she be our first repeat champion (back-to-back, even!) or would we have our fourth new champion in four years as the newcomer Laura ascended to the throne?
Let’s find out.
Unlike the previous rounds, this was a head-to-head match-up, winner-take-all. So, naturally, we made posters to hype the event like a prizefight.
And to survive round 4, the finalists would need some help from the audience, as they played a round of the card game Cult Following.
Cult Following is a card-based improvisation game, similar to Superfight, wherein you have to draw several cards that dictate what your cult is about, and then improvise your answers to various questions posed by the other players, who are potential recruits for your cult. Once the round of questions is over, the potential recruits vote on which of the cults they’d rather join, and the cult with the most recruits wins.
To make the task even more daunting, both players had to stand in front of the audience and plead their case.
Nikki’s cult centered around saving the planet from toxic waste (and yes, she did acknowledge the possibility that you might gain superpowers from said toxic waste). Laura’s cult centered around the magical ability to transform yourself into any animal you wished.
Although many potential recruits in the audience were wowed by this idea, I couldn’t get past the very real danger that you could end up as prey rather than simply enjoying life as an animal.
After answering questions from the audience about recruitment, rules, cult theme songs, and more, both competitors turned their backs to the audience so the audience members could vote for the cult of their choice.
Nikki made a valiant effort to retain her crown, but unfortunately, the cards were not in her favor, and more potential recruits opted for Laura’s were-cult. (Not me, though. I was a toxic avenger all the way.)
And thus, Laura dethroned the previous champion in impressive fashion to become the new tabletop tournament champion!
The traditional crown, scepter, and Game Night Gift Pack awaited the new champion, as did an enthusiastic round of applause and a well-earned chance to sit down after the fierce improvisational back-and-forth.
Alas, we must bring this marvelous recap to a close. With a new queen atop the tabletop throne, what will her reign be like? Peaceful? Warlike? Boastful? Quiet? Only time will tell.
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