Game masters unite

Competition: Players make their moves at the World Boardgaming Championships held in Baltimore County.

August 03, 2002|By Ben Piven | Ben Piven,SUN STAFF

As she glances surreptitiously to her left, Rebecca Hebner attempts to devise a winning strategy in this three-player contest of Tyranno Ex: A Game of Evolution.

Her two opponents, Robert Eastman of Las Vegas and Wendy DeMarco of Cinaminson, N.J., sense the unshakable confidence of the 14-year-old Colorado gaming champion in their midst.

Rebecca claims modestly that Tyranno Ex is not the one she plays best and does not foresee reaching the semifinals in the tournament for this particular game, which challenges each player to create a favorable natural environment for his dinosaur.

It is just one of 100 games being played by about 1,200 at this year's World Boardgaming Championships, a six-day convention that runs until tomorrow at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore County.

This year marks the 10th time that board game enthusiasts have convened there.

Most of the attendees are college-educated males between the ages of 30 and 50, said Don Greenwood, president of the Boardgame Players Association, which sponsors the event. A champion in each category will be named.

"Most people here grew up with board games as their first love, so to speak. This is the last place on the planet for them to enjoy their love," said Greenwood, who added that at least half of the board-gamers travel more than 500 miles to attend.

The championships allow board game fans to indulge in esoteric games that are typically available for purchase only online and in specialty stores.

Risk, a multiplayer war game, is the only featured game widely known to the public.

Despite her humble attitude, Rebecca won four tournaments at last year's World Boardgaming Championships.

"I had a lot of luck last time. I would love to win a lot more this year, but I doubt if I'll win many, if any at all," Rebecca said.

Last year, she was victorious in Ivanhoe, Greed, Monsters Ravage America and Titan: The Arena. This year, Rebecca came in second in Titan: The Arena.

Ivanhoe is a card game that involves medieval fighting among knights, squires, and maidens in a king's court, according to its Web site. The first player to win four jousting tournaments becomes the victor.

Greed, its Web site said, is a dice game that pits avarice against strategy. Players must accumulate 5,000 points to win.

In Titan: The Arena, dragons, trolls, and hydras duke it out as corresponding strength cards determine their overall success in each round. The weakest creature is eliminated after the end of every round, its Web site said.

"Being a board game enthusiast involves both intellectual and competitive challenges," Rebecca said. Though none of her close friends share her interest in board games, her parents have urged her to establish a club at her high school, where she will be a 10th-grader in the fall.

Rebecca comes East annually during the summer to visit her grandparents in Potomac and to spend time with an aunt and uncle who introduced her to board games six years ago.

"All the people here are very friendly, helpful, and willing to teach you something about the games," said Rebecca, whose favorite team game is Monsters Ravage America. In that family strategy game, each player controls a monster and a branch of the U.S. armed forces. The goal is to become King of the Giant Monsters and destroy American cities.

Minneapolis resident Mike Backstrom enjoys Settlers of Catan and History of the World.

Settlers entails groups of imperialists attempting to dominate the uncharted wilderness of a remote island, its Web site said. Combining luck and skill, the game allows development of settlements based on rolling the dice and picking the right locations.

Rising nations and declining powers face off in History of the World, according to its Web site, a military conquest game that includes seven historical armies and 698 detailed playing pieces.

"Board games have been my hobby for about 10 years, and they allow me to interact with other people," Backstrom said.

In addition to attending the annual Hunt Valley series, 52-year-old Backstrom usually goes to tournaments in Milwaukee and Columbus, Ohio.

Ewan McNay, a 31-year-old Briton who lives in Belgium, made the trans-Atlantic voyage just for six days of board games.

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