I’ve had about a week to recover from Gen Con and I’m still not quite caught up on sleep. But I do have a whole lot of photos and stories to share with you, so let’s dive in! Today’s post covers Wednesday afternoon (when I arrived) and Day 1 of Gen Con (August 17).
I always love seeing this big welcome mat from Gen Con in the Indianapolis airport—it’s at the bottom of the escalators as you head down to baggage claim. I headed down to pick up my two free checked bags: one large suitcase with my carry-on suitcase nested inside, and another large suitcase that was actually just full of bubble wrap. Because one of the most important things to pack for Gen Con is empty space to bring games back home!
I shared a cab downtown and stashed my suitcases in Dave Banks’ hotel room. This year was the first time none of our rooming group managed to get a good enough housing lottery number to score a downtown hotel, alas, but Dave was staying at the Hyatt Regency just across from the convention center so I was able to use his room as a nearby storage as needed. I met up with a couple of the other GeekDads and went over to the convention center to check out the Will Call line, where you can go to pick up your badges and event tickets.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how short the line was—in past years we’ve seen it extend all the way down the front hallway of the convention center, but as you can see from the photo above, at one point there was no appreciable line at all on Wednesday evening. I asked one of the staffers how they did it, and they said one thing that contributed to the short lines was that, because the con was totally sold out, they were able to switch many of the stations that normally sell badges and tickets to additional Will Call stations, roughly doubling the number of attendees they could serve at once. I still had to go over to a ticket station to buy a few more generic event tickets, but the lines there were pretty short, too.
Tiny Epic Galaxies
We found a free table on the second floor of the convention center and broke out our first game of the weekend: Tiny Epic Galaxies. Everyone learned an important lesson about making sure you develop some culture early in the game, or you’ll get left out of a lot of potential actions.
Once all the GeekDads in attendance had arrived, we had dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery, where we spent a little time discussing a game plan for the weekend and giving the newer folks a heads-up on what to expect.
After dinner, we went in search of a free table to play some games. We chanced upon a few hotel conference rooms and ballrooms where there were tables, but then were shooed out because the rooms were for specific scheduled events. Oops! But we did manage to find a free conference room that was totally empty, and settled in to play some games. I’d loaded up my QuiverTime case with some favorites.
Codenames: GeekDad Edition
First up: Codenames: GeekDad Edition. I’d made a stack of cards with geeky references on them ahead of time for our Game with GeekDad event, so we gave it a try. It does get a bit challenging when so many of the words pertain to gaming or Gen Con, so you have to narrow down your clues. Dave Banks had also made a special version of Spot It! featuring the logos from some of our favorite games, and we gave that a shot, too. It was also pretty challenging, because almost everything was words, so you have to scan and read very quickly.
Go Nuts for Donuts
I got a group of six started on Go Nuts for Donuts, one of my new favorites. (Seriously—you should check it out if you haven’t already.) This game of grabbing (and sometimes smashing) donuts takes about 2 minutes to teach, and always gets some big reactions while people play.
Three of us moved to the next table to play Kingdomino, another favorite (and this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner). I really love this tile-laying game—you’ll see it a few more times in my photos this weekend.
Deep Sea Adventure
Finally, before heading our separate ways back to our hotels, I broke out Deep Sea Adventure, one of Oink Games’ tiny boxes. It’s one of my go-to travel games because it plays up to 6 players, fits in my pocket, but has some great press-your-luck strategy.
We packed up and made our way to our hotels.
This is the first year ever that Gen Con has totally sold out. The 4-day passes have sold out in the past, but usually there are single-day badges still available. This year, though, it seems like everyone wanted to be here for the 50th anniversary. Gen Con reported a record-breaking turnstile attendance of 207,979 over the weekend, with about 60,000 unique attendees, 500 exhibitors, and over 19,000 ticketed events. Despite the record attendance, I didn’t feel that it felt more crowded than usual—I spent most of my time in the exhibit hall during the day and it felt like the usual amount of crowds there, and I actually didn’t have too much trouble getting lunch or dinner at nearby restaurants, either. Aside from our inability to get a downtown hotel room, it felt similar to previous weekends, so kudos to Gen Con for managing that many people!
We were able to get some early entry passes into the exhibit hall, so we got into the (still quite long) line for the 9am entry. Dave and I had an appointment with Calliope Games, but I spotted the Dude Games booth and told John and Jim that they really had to try Magic Maze, another favorite of mine. (I didn’t bring my copy with me because I was picking up another copy for a friend.) As Jim mentioned in our Gen Con wrap-up, he bought a copy after that demo.
Meanwhile, Dave and I went to Calliope Games, our traditional first stop. Back in 2010, when we first attended PAX Prime together (my first big gaming convention), the first person we talked to was Ray Wehrs at Calliope Games, because he was set up in a side room that we could visit before the main exhibit hall opened. Ever since then, we check in with Ray first to see what’s new. This year he had four games to show us: Dicey Peaks, and the next three titles in the Titan series.
Dicey Peaks was funded on Kickstarter earlier this year, and Ray had a production proof to show us. It’s a mountain-climbing, press-your-luck game by Scott Almes. Each turn you’ll roll dice and decide either to rest (to build up oxygen) or climb (which expends oxygen), but watch out for avalanches and the Yeti! The frosty dice turned out great, and the plastic climbers and oxygen tanks look fantastic, too. Watch for a review from Dave Banks—the game is shipping to backers, and will be in stores soon for $30.
Ancestree is one of the next Titan series games. It’s designed by Eric Lang, and it’s about building up your family tree over the course of three rounds. You’ll score for having multiple generations of the same family line, for marriages, and for gold coins on the tiles. I like the way that the tiles join up to form the trees. Leaves indicate where a tile can connect to the next generation, and hearts indicate potential marriages. Ancestree will also be shipping to backers soon and then will hit stores in Q4, with a price of $30.
Shutterbug by Mike Elliott is another title in the Titan series. You’re trying to capture mythical creatures on camera, using tip cards showing the creatures and various landscapes. Each person has a secret objective showing the prices that various tabloids will pay for photos of specific creatures, so you’ll have to figure out how best to get the photos you want and get them back to the city in time. It will also be delivering to Kickstarter backers soon, hitting store shelves in Q4 for $30.
The last game in the Titan series is Capital City by James Ernest. Trains carrying new settlers are arriving in Capital City, and players will bid to get priority on recruiting them. Purchase buildings, and then staff them with matching settlers to earn points and money. It looks like a great, quick-playing game. It’s delivering soon to backers, and expected in stores in Q4 for $20.
Calliope Games is right near one of the entrances to the exhibit hall, so we got to witness the annual Running of the Gamers. Shortly before 10am, we could hear a big roar go up outside as Gen Con announced the official start of the con. And then the doors open, and we watch as people and more people and more people flood into the halls.
My one regret is that I didn’t hit up the Renegade Games booth before everyone showed up, because Thursday was my only chance to get into the hall early, and they sold out of their stock of several games within an hour each morning.
Green Couch Games
On my way to my next appointment, I stopped by and said hello to Jason Kotarski at Green Couch Games, which publishes a lot of small-box games (many of which we’ve reviewed here). Their latest game, currently funded on Kickstarter and still knocking down stretch goals, is Before the Earth Explodes, a 2-player 4x card game. But don’t wait too long—the campaign ends tonight!
Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle: The Monster Book of Monsters
The cooperative deck-building game Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle gets an expansion this year: The Monster Book of Monsters. It’s out now for $30, and adds 4 new boxes of contents that can be mixed into the base game to add some new mechanics—you can either add them in after playing the entire 7 chapters of the base game, or mix them into the first few chapters. Luna Lovegood arrives as a new playable character, and there are also new character cards for the rest of the crew showing them aged up even further.
Various monsters show up as villains now, and some can be defeated with influence instead of attack. Detention slips are a new penalty that some events or villains can impose—they go into your deck and simply clog up your hand when you draw them. There are new encounters that need to be dealt with in addition to the villains. Finally, there’s a new “banish” mechanic that lets you weed your deck, something that many players felt was missing from the original.
Codenames: Disney Edition
USAopoly has two new versions of Codenames hitting stores in September: Disney and Marvel. Both versions feature square cards (like Codenames: Pictures), with images on one side and words on the other side. The words on the back always match the picture on the front, so you can play with pictures, words, or a combination of both.
The Disney version features images and characters from early Mickey and Minnie Mouse all the way up through Moana, so you get the whole span of Disney animation there. There are clue cards for both 5×5 and 4×4, so that you can make the game a little easier for younger kids.
Codenames: Marvel Edition
The Marvel edition features actual comic book art (shame on me for forgetting to get a snapshot of the cards themselves), and I have to say that it’s going to be one that die-hard Marvel fans are going to love. When I spread out a few of the cards, I only recognized a handful of characters. Of course, if you play with the image side, you can still use clues like “cowl” or “purple” or “lightning.” But flipping to the word side is going to be challenging for sure!
Naturally, the cover cards for the Marvel edition pit Hydra vs. S.H.I.E.L.D., and the assassin is Thanos. But this edition also throws in a new wrinkle: the “bystanders” are now Infinity Gems, and if all six show up on the board, Thanos destroys you all and everyone loses. I would guess it’s something that doesn’t happen too often, since I haven’t played many games where all six bystanders have been marked, but it’s a fun way to tweak the game for the Marvel version.
Super Mario Bros.: Power Up
USAopoly had a couple of Super Mario–themed games. Power Up is a little card game where you each get castle cards worth some number of coins, and then have to decide whether to swap them (sight unseen) with your neighbor. Then you can play power cards to affect other players or your own cards, and then collect the coins on your cards. It’s a quick, light game, and USAopoly has a few versions. The Super Mario version is a Target exclusive, a Supernatural version will be a Hot Topic exclusive, and there’s a Guardians of the Galaxy version that will be more widely available.
Super Mario: Level Up
Another Super Mario game, Level Up is a race to the top of a 3D board. Each player has a secret card showing which characters they’ll score for. You can move any of the characters on your turn, and when a character reaches the top, everyone votes Yes or No—it only takes one No to kick that character out of the game, but each player only has two No votes. As soon as any character gets a unanimous Yes vote, the game ends, and players score for the characters on their goal cards.
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31
Coming in November, The Thing: Infection at Oupost 31 puts you in the world of the horror movie, where one player starts as the imitation and the rest of the players are trying to survive long enough to escape. It’s for 4–8 players and will retail for $60. There are hidden roles and deduction, moving around in the outpost, battle, and collecting the necessary equipment to survive.
News @ 11
Over at Floodgate Games, there was an upcoming party game called News @ 11. It’s more of a fun social activity than a game, since there’s not a winner or loser, but it looks like fun nonetheless. Players get fill-in-the-blank cards (kind of like Mad Libs), and the Lead Anchor will call on them for specific news segments: the weather, sportsball, traffic, and so on. The Field Anchors have to improvise their stories while incorporating more and more of their topic cards into their stories. Expect this on Kickstarter in September.
AEG had several new and upcoming games on display at their booth, so I got a quick rundown from Todd Rowland. Unicornus Knights is a cooperative game about a headstrong princess who’s taking on the evil emperor. You play as various advisors and supporters, and you basically have to help clear the way and maneuver the princess, because she’s charging into battle, whether you’re ready or not.
Edge of Darkness
Edge of Darkness is an upcoming game from John D. Clair, the designer of Mystic Vale. It uses the same Card-Crafting System with transparent cards in sleeves, but this time the cards have a front and a back. You draft cards from the center, assemble them so that you can use them to battle monsters—but the backs of the cards give powers and abilities to the monsters, too!
The game also includes a cube tower—certain cards will go in the trays, and you drop cubes into the top to be scattered onto the cards. When a certain number of cubes accumulates on a card, it attacks—and the colors of the cubes indicates who gets attacked.
I didn’t get a chance to play this one yet, but I’m really excited to try it out down the road.
Cutthroat Kingdoms, coming in October, is a game about vying for control of a kingdom. You’ll fight over territories, jockey for power, and arrange politically expedient marriages between factions. One aspect of the game is that negotiations can include almost anything, and are binding—as long as there is some formal agreement. The game looks really sharp, with a fabric playing board included.
Another game that uses the Card-Crafting System is Custom Heroes, a ladder-style trick-taking game in which you can modify the values and effects of the cards as you play. I’ll have a little more about that one later, since we got to play it one evening.
Dice tower game
Finally, Todd gave us a sneak peek at a prototype for an upcoming dice tower game (yet to be named). It’s a massive modular dice tower—I think the model was about 2 feet tall, perhaps—with lots of little ledges where dice can get stuck. It’s a bidding/betting game, where you’re trying to predict who will have the highest value die based on what’s put into the top—but you’re never entirely sure what will actually come out through the bottom. This one’s still in development, but I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
I’ve already told you about Kingdomino, but I was really excited to hear the announcement of Queendomino, which will be released at Essen and is expected to hit stores in November (with a retail price of $30). There was one shrink-wrapped box at Gen Con, though I don’t know if it was an early production proof or just a box with some filler inside. However, I did get a little explanation of how it will work. It is, as you can see from the photo, a bigger box than Kingdomino, and the game itself is more complex, though it follows the same base gameplay.
There are new construction site locations which have no crowns on them—adding one of these to your kingdom lets you buy a building from the market, and each building has different abilities. There are also knights (which can be acquired through buildings)—you place a knight on a terrain to score that terrain immediately, giving you a quick bonus. There’s a dragon that can burn up buildings from the market, and a Queen who travels to the kingdom with the most towers—she gives a discount in the market, and also counts as a crown during the end-game scoring. I can see that there will be some strategy in balancing the special building abilities with building out terrains that score points.
You can combine Kingdomino with Queendomino to play with up to 6 players or you can play with 4 players and go up to 7×7 kingdoms. I can’t wait!
Santorini was a wildly popular Kickstarter-funded game from Roxley Games: it’s an abstract strategy with a Greek Gods theme, and you move your builders around and build up buildings, trying to get one of your builders up to the top level or trap the other team. It’s a very clever game, and sold out shortly after the Kickstarter copies were delivered, but Spin Master is now publishing a retail edition. At Gen Con, they had two giant copies to play—yours will be a little smaller. Expect a review of this one soon!
Dice Throne was funded on Kickstarter early this year by Mind Bottling Games, though I wasn’t able to review it at the time. It’s expecting to deliver to backers in November, and then will be back on Kickstarter for a standalone expansion in January. The game is a combat game with custom dice and abilities for each character, and some really fantastic artwork. I’m hoping to write a review for the Kickstarter, so stay tuned!
I stopped by HABA Games mostly because I really wanted to pick up a copy of Tiny Park, which had come highly recommended, but they were apparently out by the time I got there. It’ll be in stores soon, though, so I won’t have to wait too long. I did get to see a couple of their new games, though, including this impressive-looking Dragon Tower. The players are trying to work together to get various tokens out of the top of the tower; meanwhile, the dragon moves backward each round, and eventually pulls the string enough to collapse the tower.
Rhino Hero Super Battle
Rhino Hero has been a favorite at gaming conventions, attracting adult gamers to a booth that is known primarily for its kids’ games. This year there’s Rhino Hero Super Battle, which gets even more crazy with the multi-floor support cards, monkeys hanging from the cards, and more. It was, of course, sold out at Gen Con.
Asmodee had this setup for a giant Captain Sonar, the team-vs.-team game of submarines trying to chase each other down.
I stopped by the Greenbrier Games booth, and fellow GeekDad Mike LeSauvage wanted me to check out their promos for Zpocalypse 2, which he had reviewed. Here he is as one of the survivor cards! If you want somebody with some good smarts and speed and the ability to improvise a taser, you should look for Mike.
Champions of Hara
Greenbrier also had a big display of Champions of Hara, which will be headed to Kickstarter this week. I’d actually played a much earlier version of it back in 2015, before Greenbrier picked it up and did a lot of work polishing it up. It will now have some graphic design by Stephen Gibson of Grimslingers, too.
There were some samples of the miniatures for Champions of Hara on display as well. Watch for a Kickstarter review coming soon!
Here’s one that I was particularly excited about seeing at Gen Con: Storm Hollow. It was Kickstarted back in 2012, and GeekDad Erik Wecks wrote about it. I’d met the designers at a local convention and became good friends with them, eventually joining the Storm Hollow team as a copy editor. They created a massive amount of content, building out a storybook world and populating it with characters, landmarks, artifacts, and more. As a backer, I was excited when this 18-pound box finally arrived on my doorstep shortly before Gen Con. As an editor, I’m really proud of the work that went into making this game a reality. As a friend of Angie and Julian, I was happy to see them with a dedicated space at the Game Salute booth, complete with a huge Storm Hollow banner, and it was great to see people stopping by to check out the game throughout the weekend.
I always have to get at least one picture of Cardhalla. Over on one end of the convention center, there’s a taped-off area with boxes and boxes of cards provided so that people can build card houses and towers over the course of the weekend. At the end of the weekend, everyone is encouraged to throw spare change at Cardhalla, knocking down the towers, and all the change is collected and donated to charity.
JRPG: The Tabletop Adventure Game
I don’t have a picture of my own, but I stopped by the Fun to 11 booth and chatted with Luke Peterschmidt, who told me a little about JRPG: The Tabletop Adventure Game, designed by Paul Peterson. It’s a cooperative board game that is inspired by JRPG videogames like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. The game is played in 3 acts, and decisions you make will affect the rest of the story—kind of like a Legacy-style game, though you can then reset it and play another 3 acts, making different decisions and getting a new outcome. It’ll be on Kickstarter later this year, and I’m hoping I’ll get a prototype to try out, because it sounds really awesome.
QST board game subscription
Dave Banks and I met with Cory Jones of Cryptozoic to talk about his latest venture, the QST game subscription service. It’s on Kickstarter now, and Dave has more details here. Jones’ enthusiasm for the project was clear, and he was especially excited to bring in artists who haven’t worked in tabletop games before, so expect these games to have a unique look to them.
Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters
Mattel had a booth at Gen Con this year, and I’m happy to see them bringing some of their deeper games to the United States. One such title is Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters (with the rhyming German title Geister, Geister, Schatzsuchmeister!), which won the Kinderspiel des Jahres in 2014 but wasn’t released in the US until last year. They had a mini expansion pack available, which I picked up. I particularly liked the giant versions of the pawns they had on display at the booth.
Mattel’s big launch this year was Wizards Wanted, a game about building up a reputation as a great wizard by helping villages with their spellcasting needs. You’ll travel around the board, buy pixie dust (from the forest pixies, who have a really weird changing economy) and cast spells to earn cash and points. I played a demo on the giant 3D board, and enjoyed it (even though I lost badly). It’s for ages 10 and up, though I’d say it’s challenging enough for adults, too. Watch for a review from Chris Wickersham!
Escape Room in a Box
One more from Mattel—they’re getting into the escape room craze with their own Escape Room in a Box (not sure if that’s the final title), coming in November.
Tasty Minstrel Games had a new game by Seiji Kanai (designer of Love Letter) called Okey Dokey. It’s a cooperative card game with an animal orchestra playing music, and it’s harder than you might expect from its cute illustrations and theme. The goal is to get the 1 through 8 of each color onto the table, but you have to play cards in increasing order, with only two “reset” cards per color.
Tasty Minstrel Games
Tasty Minstrel Games had a couple of other announcements as well: Exodus Fleet (formerly known as Leaving Earth) is about, well, leaving Earth: put together your fleet to escape a dying planet. It’s expected to release at Essen this year. Downfall, a miniatures game by John D. Clair, is expected to hit Kickstarter in October, so hopefully we’ll hear more about that one soon, too.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game
I got precious few pictures of Renegade Games’ booth because it was always so packed with people, but I did manage to get this one (not so great) photo of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game, which sold out the first day. This deck-building game by Keith Baker is arriving in October, and puts you in the world of Scott Pilgrim. I played a very early prototype a while back, and am looking forward to seeing how it turned out!
Renegade Games had several other hot titles this year, but I’ll have more on those in on Day 2!
I was in the exhibit hall until closing (well, a little after closing, but don’t tell security) so that I could borrow a copy of Clank! In! Space! for our Game with GeekDad event. I had to promise to bring it back to the demo area the next day, but it gave us a chance to try it out.
Game with GeekDad
I had a quick dinner from a food truck, ran over to Dave’s hotel room to retrieve some games, and then returned to the convention center for our event. Alas, our event overlapped the They Might Be Giants concert, but we did have a great time nonetheless, with many people joining us for games.
Clank! In! Space!
One of the surprise announcements of Gen Con was Clank! In! Space!, which Renegade Games revealed on Wednesday morning. They had rationed out the supply over the course of the weekend, and sold out all of their copies early each day. We ran a couple of games of it at our Game with GeekDad event.
I’ll have a full review of it after it becomes more widely available in October, but I’ve got some initial impressions here. First, the board is much larger—it’s a modular spaceship, and the tiles are again double-sided. There’s a hyper-lift that can quickly transport you from one module to another, as well as warp pads that can teleport you (but only if you have a pass). All of the artifacts are in a command module, and you’ll have to gain access with a command code first, which makes the alien boss angrier; that means that before you’ve even picked up any artifacts, the boss attacks can get worse.
To score points, you’ll have to get back to the cargo bay (rather than above ground), and if you escape all the way you get a bonus 20 points—but each of the escape pods can only be used once, so you’ll have to find a new one if somebody beats you to it. The end-game is also slightly different, with each eliminated/escaped player triggering an attack with 4 cubes each turn.
The cards have a lot of fun sci-fi references on them, complete with fun flavor text, and you’ll be pleased to note that Monkeybot is still around. One added feature is the faction cards: there are three factions, and some cards will give bonuses if you play another card matching a particular faction. It allows for some interesting combos if you’re careful with your deck-building.
Finally, there are some bounty hunter cubes on the last few spaces of the boss track. When the boss hits those levels, the bounty hunter cubes go in the Clank! space. Any time one is drawn, everyone takes a wound, and then the bounty hunter cube goes back. Late in the game, this can be pretty deadly.
I’ve only played once so far, but Clank! In! Space! seems a bit harder and more complex than the original—in my game, all four of us died on the ship! But I’m really excited to play it some more and see how it feels after repeated plays.
Bob Ross: The Art of Chill
Dave Banks brought his review copy of Bob Ross: The Art of Chill, along with wigs for the players to wear while painting their happy trees.
Speaking of happy trees, we ran a few games of Photosynthesis as well. Read my full review here.
Gerry Tolbert taught some attendees to play Okey Dokey, and even managed to win once.
One of Smirk & Dagger’s new games this year was Paramedics: Clear!, a fast-paced real-time game about saving lives. Players take progressively shorter turns, trading in cards for necessary treatments like meds, casts, and blood transfusions, to keep their patients stable enough until they’re safe to send home. When you’re learning the game, you’re just going to pay attention to your own patients because you don’t have time to think about anything else. But this is a Smirk & Dagger game, so you know it includes some backstabbing! You can mess up your opponents by sending them patients when they don’t have the right equipment to deal with them, or strategic use of the common cards to make it harder for them to get what they need. Expect a review of this one soon from Jim Kelly.
I got another game of Kingdomino, this time with Storm Hollow designer Julian Leiberan-Titus, GeekDad Gerry Tolbert, and his wife Sara Tolbert. Gerry wanted to find out if Sara was just really good at Kingdomino or if he was just really bad at it. Seems like it might be a little bit of both.
Not pictured: I also played Magic Maze, which was a whole lot of fun, and The Pyramid’s Deadline, another title from Oink Games that I’d brought with me. I taught some more folks to play Go Nuts for Donuts as well.
At the end of the day, we finally packed everything up to head back to our hotel. I stumbled on the sidewalk, and discovered that my shoes (which I don’t wear daily but have worn to Gen Con for a few years) were finally worn through—the sole had holes in it and was peeling back at the toe. Good thing I followed Dave’s advice this year and packed a spare pair of shoes, because I usually don’t!
Well, that’s the end of Day 1 of Gen Con 2017. Click here for Part 2!