I recently had the most-excellent opportunity to attend a three-day board game event in Estonia.   The official name of the event was “Talvine Lauamängulaager 2016,” (which I am given to understand means “Winter Boardgame Camp 2016”).  For the purposes of this summary, though, I think I’ll just call it “EstCONia.”

EstCONia took place from January 15-17, 2016.  It is organized by game publisher Brain Games.  Basically, it’s a three-day (in the Easter sense of the word) gathering of gamers that occurs semi-annually.  This one took place in the small town of Jõulumäe, Estonia.  For those who have never heard of this place, which should be almost everyone who reads this, here are some maps to help:Joulumae 1

Joulumae 2Since it was somewhat of an unusual opportunity for an American gamer to attend this small, local event, I thought I would take a moment and record my thoughts about the event.  I didn’t take many pictures, so I will steal shamelessly from my friends in this discussion!

Overall Program:

EstCONia has really no structured program.  It is basically 100 or so gamers who show up and play.  Everyone brings a few games (myself included) which are all put in a game library, and people just form groups and play and play and play.

The event was at a kind of ski lodge, and lodging and food were included in the registration price.  My friends Ilja and Alina from  Würfel Reviews registered me.  They told me registration was free, but I suspect this may have been an “Estonian Special Truth” (a.k.a. a lie) so I am not sure how much the price was.

EstCONia began with no fanfare and ended with no ceremony.  People just showed up, started gaming, and then went home at the end.  There were no announcements or tournaments (as far as I could tell).  Just four open gaming rooms and plenty of people to play.

My Experience:

The first day we arrived at around 7:00 p.m., and I played non-stop until approximately 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.  Then after about three hours of sleep, plus breakfast and a shower, I played from 10:30 a.m. Saturday until 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, then again from about 10:30 a.m. Sunday until approximately 2:00 on Sunday.  This means I got very little sleep, and I even had a bet with one of my friends that I would outlast him — he was unaware how stubborn I am about such things!

belfort

That is a lot of games!  In total, I played the following games:

  • Belfort (with expansion) x1
  • Jungle Ascent x1
  • Stellar Conflict x1
  • Burgle Bros. x2
  • Antarctica x1
  • Codenames x6
  • Beasty Bar x2
  • Tiny Epic Galaxies x1
  • Trickerion x1
  • Traders of Osaka x1
  • Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization x1
  • The Grizzled x2
  • Mission: Red Planet x1
  • Bunny Bunny Moose Moose x1
  • Isle of Skye x1
  • Panamax x1

This was a nice mix of games.  Most were very enjoyable, with the exception of Jungle Ascent which was horrid.

Jungle AscentThe stand out for me was Burgle Bros., which I brought from the USA.  It was fantastic, and I look forward to trying it again. 

Other than these, I saw numerous games being played by other groups.  Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization seemed to get a lot of table time.  There was great enthusiasm about that one:I also noticed two different tables playing XCom at the same the same time.  Isle of Skye got a bit of use too, as did Exploding Kittens.  I saw Mice & Mystics, Archipelago, and Time Stories being played, and there were many other games running at the same time that just may not have noticed.  There were also some Estonian games that I didn’t recognize.

Everyone was very friendly, and groups mixed seamlessly.  Unlike American conventions, at EstCONia, people never made a big deal about adding to a group or splitting one.  And although I played with the same group of 5 other people most of the time, it was in varying combinations as games were chosen, played, and put away.

burgle

Impressions:

My overall impressions of EstCONia were very positive.  The fact that there was no official program was quite nice: the event was all about the games.  No one stood up on tables to shout an announcement, no one interrupted us to promote a Kickstarter, to announce a tournament, or to force some unwanted interaction.  This was a great plus!

antarctica

My impression of the people was also very positive!  Everyone was extremely friendly.  It really felt more like a gathering of friends than an event.  Everyone seemed to know each other, but no one was cliquey.  I was an obvious outsider, but no one really made me feel like one.  If you wanted to play, there was always someone to play with you, even just a two-player game!  Everyone was talkative and welcoming.

No one complained or was unfriendly.  Some people had alcohol there, but no one over-consumed or became obnoxious.  People used good manners with food at the gaming table, and I never really worried that my precious games would be abused.  Everyone was respectful and very, very welcoming.

panamax

I was also very impressed by the English-level of these people.  Estonia has two main languages: Estonian and Russian.  Yet almost everyone at EstCONia spoke excellent English at a very high level.  I never really had a problem communicating with anyone, and everyone spoke English while playing with me and did so without complaining.  The high level of English was most apparent in Codenames, where these non-native speakers were easily able to grasp secondary and tertiary meanings of words, idioms, and other subtleties that I would have found difficult in any of my secondary languages.  I was super impressed by this!

codenames

The weather was horrible, but then again, it’s near the north pole and in wintertime, so what could I expect!  It’s hard to fault EstCONia for that.

stellar conflict

Really, I can’t say enough positive about EstCONia!  Everyone was so wonderful that it makes me want to go back and visit it again either next year in winter or maybe attend their summer version.

Now, since Estonia is far away and difficult to get to, I have a hard time recommending EstCONia to my American friends.  However, for me, it was absolutely worth the trip!  I met some great people and had a fantastic time, and I would gladly go again!

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