A Fun Weekend Gaming in Las Vegas

09 Nov 2010
Posted by jcfiala

About two months ago, my wife Tammy and I were thinking of taking a trip to Vegas to relax. We were interested in sometime in October, and were comparing this and that, when somehow we ran across NeonCon, a Las Vegas based gaming convention that in it's fifth or sixth year. We're both fond of games, so we happily decided to delay our plans to the first weekend of November and attend. After all, as we noted, if we didn't enjoy the con, we could always go gamble.

Our weekend plans were set in stone when we learned about the Settlers of Catan North American Championship Qualifier. Like a lot of people, Settlers of Catan was our first German boardgame, and one that we've enjoyed for years, both in it's original format all the way to the latest variants, such as the "Trails to Rails" game that came out recently. Our copy is so old it features photographs of fields and the like instead of the art that the current game boasts. We both made plans to play in the Championship, and I'm glad we did, although it did eat up most of our time.

The convention was held at the Tropicana, which we hadn't stayed at before, but we like staying at convention hotels when we can. We searched around and heard that they were renovating the hotel, and that the new rooms were supposed to be nice. Once we arrived, we discovered they were. The Tropicana's hotel room was really nice, and of the rooms I've stayed at in Vegas, only the Rio had a nicer room - and the Rio's rooms are a big part of that casino's draw, I think. The only minor problem we had, in fact, was that the door wouldn't shut closed unless you gave it a bit of a push, and they said they'd fix that when we checked out.

Sadly, the rest of the hotel didn't quite add up to that. The casino portion was crowded into a central area, because they were doing a lot of renovation to the casino floor, leaving them with only one casino pit of table games, and those were crowded in the lobby. Sadly, the cigarette smoke from all of these games gave Tammy a lot of trouble, although we were able to go back and forth between our rooms and the convention space on the Mezzanine floor, avoiding most of it. The food situation was iffy - we only saw two restaurants open at any time, and spent a fair amount of our food money across the street at the MGM Grand.

We arrived late Friday night, so we weren't able to really enjoy Neoncon until the next day, when we discovered that the Settlers event stretched across the whole day. I figured we'd see how far we could go, and we sat down and played. Out of the four games that day, I won one (although I came close a couple of times), Tammy won two, and another gentleman won all four games he played. Looking over all of the various games, both Tammy and I were told to come back the next day for the finals. Whew!

It wasn't all time spent bent over game boards. We also got to wander around the other gaming areas - there was a lot of interesting looking roleplaying going on, and the Exhibitor's room was crowded with Game stores, Game companies, artists, a writer, and even a couple of software companies, one with a virtual tabletop (www.d20pro.com) and another one with a system of tracking campaigns with various interrelated blog/wiki features (http://www.infrno.net).

Once we were done with our games for the day, Tammy and I took off for the MGM Grand for some gambling. First we tried to find the "CSI Experience" that was advertised on the building's light panels, which we found after what seemed like fifteen minutes of walking through room after room, finally finding it and then deciding that the price ($30) was higher than we were interested in paying. But we did manage to find the restaurant we wanted to eat at that night, Shibuya, as well as two more Starbucks. That located, we went back out into the casino, got replacement player's club cards, and then looked to play.

Being a cheapskate, I went off and found the cheapest video poker machine I could play, and settled down. Tammy wandered off after a while, but the crowds, high minimum bets, and smoke brought her back. I was doing well enough at the poker, and we didn't feel like eating yet, so she headed back to the Starbucks that was out of all of the smoke, while I finished losing a little more money. At the end of it all, I actually came out $10 above what I'd bet, so there's a little victory.

After that we went to Shibuya, and after a little talking decided to try their 'Fall Menu' and their Sake tasting. Expensive, but oh... so good. Edamame to start with as an appetizer, after which Tammy and I both had their Miso soup. Then she had the Rock Shrimp Tempura, which was fantastic, along with my Yellowtail Jalapeño Roll, which had the taste of Jalapeño without the heavy heat of the pepper. That was followed with an excellent Black Angus Beef Tenderloin for myself, and Tammy had Pineapple Miso Salmon alongside Shiro Miso Black Cod. And then we had a little coffee and Mochi ice creams.

It was really expensive, but both of us agreed it was some of the best food we've had in a long time - you really tasted the quality that we were getting with this money. If you're able to afford it, I wholeheartedly recommend trying it as well.

At that point it was a bit late, and we were both tired from concentrating all night, so we headed back to the room and unwound.

The next day was fun, if a little disappointing. The Catan finals were two tables of four players each, from which the two winners and the two top scorers would move on to the final table. My wife and I played hard, and manged to score both of these 'top scorer' slots for the last table, with me up against the gentleman who won all four games the previous day, who won this game as well. At this point a slight scheduling snafu moved us to the exhibitor / demo area, where we settled down to the final... which was hard, and fun, but which ended suddenly with the unbeaten man (whose name I obviously don't remember) going on to win the whole thing, having played six games of Settlers and not losing a single game. Some people say that Settlers of Catan is too random to play well, and to that I can only point to this man, who won six games in a row.

The tournament over, we wandered around, trying various demos and other board games before we needed to head off. Tammy played some Merchants of Venice and a Dungeon based game, and I got in some time on the World of Warcraft TCG, whose creators were there doing demos and small tourneys. After that, I also got some time in on Heroes of Graxia, and interesting new spin on deckbuilding games, and an odd bidding game based on postwar car manufacturing which I'd like to try again. (Ah, it's The Last of the Independents !)

And then we headed home.

It was a great show, and I picked up some cool stuff as well:

  • CthulhuTech Core Rulebook
    I've never been able to find this in Denver when I've been able to buy it - CthluhuTech was on sale at several places at the con, though!
  • FreeMarket
  • Action Castle, Space Station, and Spooky Manor Parsely games
    These were little fold-up sheets that describe a text adventure that you play between a GM (the Parser) and a player.
  • Farmers & Mercenaries by Maxwell Alexander Drake
    Tammy and I ran into Maxwell in a hallway, waiting for something to start, and chatted for a while. Not a game, this is the start of a fantasy Trilogy that he's writing. He had a booth at the con, and I suggested he might want to come to MileHiCon sometime.
  • Eclipse Phase Sunward: The Inner System
  • A Pathfinder group of mini-maps of ship plans
  • A deck of playing cards with Settlers of Catan Backs
  • A big purple 'paizo' d20

The last four items we got for free from "Con Bucks" that were handed out during the convention to players. It was a neat idea.

And the verdict: We both had a great time, and next time we may take a day off so we can attend the whole convention, which actually starts on Thursday night. Although next time I think I'll skip the Settlers and try out some of the fantastic roleplaying opportunities that I missed this time.