While going through my photos for Gen Con, I struggle with two contradictory reactions: “Why didn’t I take more photos?” and “Why did I take so many photos?” There are things I saw that I didn’t capture on camera (or got really poor photos of), and yet even after narrowing down just to the things I really want to share with you, I still ended up with nearly 150 photos to caption and explain, not to mention the bits of tabletop news that doesn’t include photographs.
Day 3: Saturday
By Saturday I was definitely starting to drag a bit—my voice had started getting hoarse by Friday afternoon, though I did manage not to completely lose my voice. I’d stayed up pretty late each night, particularly since it took about 30 minutes to get back to the hotel once I’d extracted myself from the convention center. Still, I did manage to get to the exhibit hall shortly before 10am, when the doors opened, so I’d be ready to go.
My first stop was the Lone Shark Games booth, where I got to say a brief hello to Mike Selinker and Matt Forbeck, who were both at the booth to sign autographs. Apocrypha, Selinker’s new (and old) adventure card game, had just shipped to backers and was released the Wednesday before Gen Con, and Matt Forbeck did a chunk of the writing in the base game. There’s a convention promo card for the game called “Contract Poison” which Lone Shark will take to every convention they visit, and it has a big sheet of paper in the illustration for autographs. Depending on which of the 27 (yes, 27!) autographs is on it, the card can have different effects, so you really want to collect ’em all.
I’ve got my copy of Apocrypha waiting for me, and will definitely be digging into it a little more in the future, so stay tuned for that.
Gamelyn Games had its Tiny Epic line available, as well as some production samples of Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, which are certainly anything but tiny. I actually missed when the games were all laid out on the demo table, unfortunately, but I’m looking forward to seeing these hit tables once they’re delivered to backers. Tiny Epic Quest had also delivered to backers shortly before Gen Con, and was available at the booth. I know Gamelyn Games has a whole line-up of Tiny Epic games in development, so I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Wasteland Express Delivery Service
Another big game this year was Wasteland Express Delivery Service from Matt Riddle, Ben Pinchback, and Jonathan Gilmour, published by Pandasaurus Games. This one has been a couple years in development, and was published without going through Kickstarter. It’s a massive game, a pick-up-and-delivery game set in a post-apocalyptic world, with tons of cardboard chits and plastic truck miniatures that look straight out of Mad Max. As Riddle and Pinchback explained, Wasteland Express gives you some leeway in how you like to play: if you prefer more strategy, you can go after contracts and deliveries. If you like rolling dice and more random chance, you can head into battle.
Oh, and one detail that I was particularly pleased to see: box inserts from GameTrayz. When I first saw the prototype of Wasteland Express at a past Gen Con and saw all the bits, I said to Pandasaurus: “You know what you need for this game? A really good insert.” And I made sure they knew who Noah Adelman was, and made sure that Noah knew they needed him. So when I opened up that box and saw the glorious containers that help you keep track of all those bits, I was happy to know that maybe I contributed just a tiny amount to helping everyone enjoy the game just a little bit more.
Aside from Wasteland Express, Pandasaurus’s other new release at Gen Con was Red Scare, a hidden-role game with—wait for it—secret decoder glasses! Have fun accusing your friends of being Communist spies. They’re still working on the much-anticipated Dinosaur Island, which funded on Kickstarter earlier this year, and announced a new Scott Almes title: Coaster Park, in which you’ll build actual roller coaster tracks and send marbles through them. It’s releasing at Essen this year, and is available for preorder now! Pandasaurus seems to be doing well with a mix of Kickstarter-funded and traditionally-funded games.
Ian Zang – Constellations
While I was chatting at the Pandasaurus booth, I also met Ian Zang, who was working at the booth. His game, Constellations (which Dave Banks reviewed when it was on Kickstarter), is printed and on its way to the US now, soon to be sent out to backers. He had an early production copy—it’s always cool to see something go from an idea to reality!
I stopped by to say hello to the folks at Rather Dashing Games (publishers of Element) and took a look at their upcoming game Hafid’s Grand Bazaar. Arriving in stores on September 20, the game involves bidding for various caravans or for special abilities that let you manipulate the market. It’s a game in which negotiation is key, and almost anything in the game can be traded, and deals must be honored.
One of the best parts of attending a big convention like Gen Con is getting to meet the people who make the things that I love. One such person is Kwanchai Moriya, who has illustrated a ton of games (like the new edition of Catacombs). I love his distinctive cartoony style (also on display in Loop, Inc.), but I’m also excited for some of his new work on games like Flip Ships and Dinosaur Island. I caught him checking out Summit and got an opportunity to gush about his artwork in person.
Conor McGoey – Inside Up Games
And here I am with Conor McGoey of Inside Up Games, publisher of Summit (which just delivered to backers this summer) and the recently-funded Vault Assault. Summit was Conor’s first published game and his first Kickstarter campaign, and he’s very excited to have his game out in the world now. One of the secret stretch goals for backers was a Yeti expansion for his mountain-climbing game, and he had both of them on display at the booth during Gen Con. As with last year, Inside Up shared a booth with Gate Keeper Games.
John Wrot – Gate Keeper Games
And here’s John Wrot of Gate Keeper Games, selling his tower-defense game The King’s Armory, his fish-evolution game A.D.A.P.T., and Halfsies dice. Just before Gen Con, John posted some terrible news in a Kickstarter update: there was a house fire at his mother-in-law’s, where he and his wife were staying and prepping for the convention. Not only did the house suffer major damage, but Gate Keeper Games also lost a pile of their inventory to smoke and water damage. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the fire, but Gate Keeper Games took a pretty big hit. So if you’re in the market for some cool dice or games, you might consider spending some of your tabletop budget here.
Battlestations 2nd Edition
I walked up to the Gorilla Games booth to check out the new edition of Battlestations and to say hi to designer Jeff Siadek, but I didn’t see him at the booth… and then a gorilla in a yellow shirt and a captain’s hat standing next to the booth said hello. As Jeff said, since tabletop publishing is so dignified, he felt he had to kick it up a notch.
After the successful Kickstarter last year, Jeff’s been hard at work on the new edition of Battlestations, and it’s finally ready—and it’s a doozy. There are tons of miniatures, lots of double-sided cardboard ship tiles, all in the biggest box I brought home from Gen Con. There’s also a hardcover Advanced Rules book in case you want to dig even deeper into the game. I had a lot of fun playing the scenario that Jeff ran for the GeekDads last year at Gen Con, and am excited to try out some more, though I admit it’s a little daunting. I may have to work my way up to it.
Epoch: The Awakening
Marc Neidlinger of Orange Nebula, which just wrapped a successful Kickstarter campaign recently, was at Gen Con showing off a prototype of Epoch: The Awakening. Marc’s local to me but I wanted to be sure to see him out in the wild with his game, which is in the production process now.
And I just had to get a picture of this Moana cosplay, complete with Hei Hei the rooster! It’s good to know that Moana was able to take some time to enjoy games after restoring the heart of Te Fiti.
I Can’t Even With These Monsters
I checked in with Brad Talton Jr. over at the Level 99 Games booth, and he had two new titles (in addition to standbys like Pixel Tactics). The first was I Can’t Even With These Monsters, in which the player with the highest odd score wins. The various monster cards can increase or decrease scores, manipulate other monsters on the table, and so on. It looks like there’s a planned series of I Can’t Even titles that can be shuffled together. Chris Wickersham picked up a review copy of this one at the show.
The other new title isn’t out yet: Temporal Odyssey is a 1-vs-1 or 2-vs-2 game that Brad described as a little like Star Realms, but with a little deeper strategy. The theme, as you may expect from the title, involves time travel: you’re recruiting various heroes from throughout time, and you can even rewind time to prevent death, though that has its own consequences. It’s expected to be on Kickstarter mid-September.
Travis Worthington at Indie Boards & Cards showed me a few recent releases. Delve is a tile-laying game with a little bit of choose-your-path storytelling and battles. As you lay tiles down, you can place your delvers into the corridors and rooms; as soon as a corridor or room is complete, all the delvers present will battle for the loot. If you’re the only player present, then you have an encounter instead: another player will read the card and present you with two choices, which will have different results. I picked up a review copy and will be giving this a shot soon.
There was also a new edition of the cooperative deck-building game Aeon’s End. It has updated graphics and an upgrade to cardboard components but the gameplay itself is the same. One notable thing about this deck-building game is that you don’t shuffle—when you run out of cards, you just flip the discard pile over, so there are ways to set up your draws for the next time through.
Travis gave me a copy of Witching Hour, a small card game that involves hand management while you attack other players and defend yourself. You’ll have to play a set of matching numbers to attack, and the other player plays cards to defend—but then they have fewer cards in hand for their own turn. Looks like a quick game with some tough decisions.
Probably by favorite game at Indie Boards & Cards, though, was Beeeees! by Marcus Ross and Cara Heacock. Marcus was on hand to teach demos of this real-time dice-rolling game. There are stacks of flower tiles in the center, and each one requires three dice of specific values to claim. All the players roll their own dice simultaneously, trying to match dice to the flowers—in the cases of pairs or triples, you have to place all the dice at the same time. Once a tile has three dice on it, the player with the majority gets the tile, and if another player has a single die, they get a helper bee token (worth half a point).
As you claim tiles, you flip them over and place them into your hive, trying to match colors as much as possible because that’s how you’ll score points at the end. There are a few other twists, like the rainbow flowers which require a “bee line” of 1-2-3-4-5 to claim and killer bee dice faces that can claim a flower tile. I sat down to play a demo and won, and considered running over to try the Beeees! tournament that was going to happen shortly after, but I didn’t make it out of the exhibit hall in time.
I’m sad I missed the Kickstarter and picking up a copy at Gen Con (they sold out), but it’s definitely one to watch for if you like real-time games, rolling dice, and bee puns.
Brotherwise Games, which has published the Boss Monster series, broke away from its pixel-art aesthetic with Unearth, a dice-based set-collection game with isometric artwork that calls to mind Monument Valley, though without the Escher-esque impossibilities. Players use dice to claim ruins cards and pick up “stones,” which are placed in rings to build various monuments for scoring bonus or special effects. I’ve got a review copy and will report back on this one soon.
Chris O’Neal of Brotherwise Games also mentioned that they’ll be back on Kickstarter in November with a new game … details to come!
Mistborn: House War
Crafty Games had copies of Mistborn: House War to try out and a limited number for sale—they’ve started shipping the game out to Kickstarter backers, though a mix-up with some of the printed tokens means that they’ll have to print and ship some replacement parts later. (The game is playable, but the point tokens aren’t secret as they’re supposed to be.) The game looks sharp, though, and if you shelled out for the deluxe PennyGems, it looks even more amazing. If you missed the Kickstarter, you’ll be able to pick up a copy this winter after backer copies have been delivered.
Cerebria: The Inside World
Mindclash Games, which Kickstarted the post-apocalyptic time-travel game Anachrony last year, has an upcoming title called Cerebria: The Inside World. It’s a 2-vs-2 battle for dominance over a person’s psyche. Gloom and Bliss each work to sway the mind, represented by a large colorful board, with different regions susceptible to their influences. It’s like an Inside Out strategy game! Like Anachrony, Cerebria looks like a massive game with lots of moving parts, but I’m really excited to try it. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get a prototype in time to write it up for the Kickstarter in September!
Taiwan Boardgame Design
This year was the first time Taiwan Boardgame Design came to Gen Con, and it was cool to see a bunch of Taiwan-made games at their booth—they shared some space with APE Games. I snapped this photo of the games when nobody from TBD was present, and unfortunately by the time I connected with them on Sunday, there were only two titles that hadn’t sold out. But it was great to meet Smoox Chen, who told me that he’d actually read my article about board gaming in Taiwan! Next time I make a trip to Taiwan, I’ll have some more tabletop connections, and it’ll be exciting to see what has changed in the world of tabletop by then. I’ve got copies of Cheers and Wild West Shepherds to try out, so I’ll report back when I’ve gotten to try them. Meanwhile, I saw that Smoox was meeting with US publishers to get games to take back to Taiwan, to introduce gamers there to some new types of games.
John Coveyou from Genius Games was running demos of his cellular biology game Cytosis, which funded earlier this year and should be wrapping up production now. It’s a beautiful worker-placement game that’s based on actual biological processes, and won an award at the Stonemaier Design Day last year. I’m excited to give this one a try when it’s available this fall.
I stopped by Atlas Games on a tip from my friend Venetia to check out Cursed Court, which features art by the amazing Lee Moyer. I first met Lee back when he was working on The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, and he’s since become a regular at my game nights (while somehow still turning out incredible illustrations for games, books, posters, and more). It’s in production right now, more details to come. Atlas Games’ new release was Witches of the Revolution, a cooperative deck-building game about some hidden heroes of the Revolution, working behind the scenes to battle for freedom.
Feudum is a sprawling game by Mark Swanson that had a successful Kickstarter back in 2016, and also just wrapped another Kickstarter campaign for a solo variant during Gen Con. I stopped by the booth hoping to chat with Swanson but he was deep in the middle of a demo, so I watched for a little while and got a photo of the fantastic wooden pawns from the game. The artwork is by Justin Schultz, who hadn’t worked on a tabletop game before, and it’s definitely eye-catching and distinctive. At some point in the future I hope to try it out for myself, but I usually don’t play a lot of longer games during a convention because there’s so much to see.
Clue: The Golden Girls
Hey, I know there are some other Golden Girls fans out there—this title from USAopoly ranks pretty high on the nostalgia chart, right? You’re not solving a murder, but trying to track down who ate the last piece of cheesecake.
Search the house for clues—figure out who ate the last slice, where they ate it, and what they left behind. The game comes with little metal tokens like a rattan chair and Sophia’s purse. Clue: The Golden Girls is available directly from USAopoly for $40.
Sagrada from Floodgate Games was one of our GeekDad-Approved titles this year, and it was lovely to see it on display at Gen Con. It’s a game about assembling a stained glass window by drafting colored dice, and it’s a little bit like playing Sudoku, too.
Shadows of Brimstone
I spotted this oversized Guardian of Targa at the Flying Frog booth later in the weekend—I want one! (The versions you get are quite a bit smaller.) Also of note: the flyer on the table is for Dice Fest, a convention especially for Flying Frog’s fans. It was first announced in one of their Kickstarter updates, and will take place in Redmond, Washington, at the end of October. You can get early bird pricing ($30) until Thursday, August 31, and then regular price will be $40. It looks like a fun chance to dive deep into some of their titles, like playing a 16-player Trederran Trench War in Shadows of Brimstone, play on their big 3D terrain models, and meet the creators and artists.
Dave and I met with Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games to talk about his upcoming titles. One of the big topics was Charterstone, a legacy-style game. He’s kept it mostly under wraps so that it can be a surprise, so we got a quick peek at just a few elements of the game, which will involve some exploration of a world and putting stickers on a board, and some worker placement mechanics. I won’t say more than that, but it looks exciting and I think I may try it out with my family once it’s released in December. You can pre-order through retailers for $70, and there’s also an optional “Recharge Pack” for $30 that includes replacement parts for all of the items that are permanently altered during gameplay so that you can play through the campaign again. However, Jamey also noted that even if you finish the campaign, you can still continue playing the worker-placement game on the same board—yours just may be different from your friend’s copy.
Scythe: The Wind Gambit
The next Scythe expansion will also be out in December. The Wind Gambit adds airships, which stay airborne and can fly over any territory and cross rivers. Each game, you’ll draw two different tiles that will determine the special abilities that everyone’s airships share: one is a passive effect, and one is an aggressive effect. Yep, these are passive-aggressive airships. There are also resolution tiles that add a twist to the ending of the game. The Wind Gambit will retail for $25 and you can pre-order it from your favorite game retailer.
Yondu Mary Poppins
One more really fun cosplay: Mark Cashwell as Yondu Mary Poppins!
After wrapping up in the exhibit hall, we grabbed dinner at Granite City (where Smirk & Dagger again sponsored their own Gen Con version of the menu, including things like the Backstab Burger), and then found some free tables at the Hyatt to play games with the GeekDads and friends.
We started off with a game of Photosynthesis, and I did a bit better this time around. Gerry discovered that he didn’t like it as much and preferred playing something with some more random chance and a more exciting theme—perhaps especially because Sara was over at the next table setting up Wasteland Express.
I got to play a game of Delve with my friends Angie and Julian. Angie had a huge lead from the start, as she was completing small rooms and scoring them, while Julian and I had invested all our delvers in that ever-expanding blue room you see in the center. Like Carcassonne, you don’t score and get your delvers back until the room is completed, so then you can end up getting stuck if you’re not careful.
I also got to break out Unearth, which has some interesting ways to mess with the luck of the die roll, and has different rewards for rolling high and rolling low. Of course, if your luck is like Dave’s, you’ll just keep rolling right in the middle, which doesn’t do you much good. I’m excited to try this some more and see how the various monuments and ending cards work.
Our last game of the evening (after several of the other GeekDads had called it a night) was a small escape room game called Deckscape from dv Giochi. I’d stopped by the booth that day and gotten a short explanation, and dv Giochi gave me samples of the two Deckscape titles they have: Test Time and The Fate of London. Each one is a deck of medium-sized cards, and the game teaches you to play as you go. The cards include various puzzles to solve, with the solutions on the backs of the cards—after your team decides on a solution, you flip the card to see if you’re correct. If not, you get Xs on the score sheet, which will add to your time and decrease your score.
I really enjoyed Deckscape: Test Time, which has a time-travel storyline, and I’m excited to try The Fate of London with my family soon. Although you can’t play the same one more than once (because you’ll know the answers), you can put the cards back in order and give it to somebody else to try, because nothing gets destroyed during play. For $15, it’s a really great deal if you like escape room games.
GeekDads and Friends
This year we had a pretty good crowd: there were six GeekDad contributors in attendance, and several of our friends that we’ve spent a few Gen Cons with before. Since many of us were headed out at different times on Sunday, this was our last chance to have everyone in one place, and we took advantage of that to get a group photo.
I’d picked up several games (including the very heavy Battlestations, Summit, and Wasteland Express) on Saturday, and noticed when I was packing up that one of my bags already had a big tear from the game boxes. Gerry gave me his gigantic AEG bag (seriously—you could fit a couple kids in there), and I made it as far as the elevator at my hotel when one of the straps snapped. So my game haul managed to destroy two bags in one evening.
Day 4: Sunday
Sunday morning I got up to play my annual game of suitcase Tetris—made a little more challenging because this year I didn’t want to store my suitcases at the hotel while I went back to the convention center, because I’d have to backtrack to pick them up on the way to the airport. HUGE thanks to Gerry and Sara for letting me stash them in their van for the morning!
I’d checked one large suitcase with just bubble wrap in it, and the other large suitcase had my carry-on inside, so I un-nested those, and then nested as many games together as possible. This year’s stack didn’t shrink quite as much as last year’s—many of these boxes were just chock-full of components already, which is nice to see. I did manage to fit most of everything into my two large suitcases, leaving a little room in my carry-on for anything I picked up on Sunday.
And then we had to play car Tetris—John Booth was going to drive us all downtown, so the question was how to get everyone’s luggage into his car at the same time. Fortunately, Jim Kelly was headed straight to the airport and wasn’t riding with us, so we filled his space with suitcases and boxes.
I stopped by to see Looney Labs and got to see a sample of their upcoming Zendo box set. Zendo is one of their old pyramid games—it’s a sort of logic puzzle, where one person creates a rule and builds a little structure that demonstrates it, and then other players are trying to deduce the rule by building structures that fit the rule. The new version of Zendo still has the large-size pyramids, but now also includes triangular prisms and rectangular prisms as well: each one has an open base, allowing for some nesting while building the structures. The pyramids are a lot like the Looney Pyramids, but don’t have the “pip” markings on the side.
There’s a deck of cards included that will let you create the various rules for Zendo, and each card has a few options, allowing for a huge number of different combinations. Since some of the cards have two-part options, there are “decoy” spaces on the single-part cards so that the players can’t tell what card you’re using by seeing the clips on the back. Zendo is at the printer now, and should be arriving soon.
Then we got to see some of Looney Labs’ super-secret upcoming projects! I can’t tell you anything at all or show you pictures, but there are some fun things on the horizon, so stay tuned.
While passing by the Ravensburger booth, I couldn’t help stopping to play with the little plunger from Monster Flush. It’s a game about little monsters trying to go to the bathroom. You put a monster (with its little crystal poop) on a toilet, turn the dial, and see if the poop falls into the box, flushing away. If so, then you can use the plunger to pick up one of your tokens and see if you found any toilet paper. It’s a funny, silly game, and now I have a new profile picture.
I talked to the folks at Grand Gamers Guild and Kids Table Board Gaming, who were sharing a booth. Helaina Cappel from KTBG said that they’re starting a new imprint called Burnt Island Games, which will be joining up with GGG in January for Endeavor, a reprint of a 2009 exploration game that will have all new art by Josh Cappel, a double-sided board, and some gameplay tweaks.
Haunt the House
The other Kickstarter that the Cappels are working on is Haunt the House, a set collection game that pits players as the ghosts, trying to scare the ghost hunters out of a house (and collecting their gear). It’s scheduled to hit Kickstarter on October 10.
All too soon, it was time for me to call it a day and head to the airport.
The Indianapolis airport had set up three gaming areas throughout the airport—just a small area with two folding tables—so that gamers could continue gaming right up until it was time to board. I saw several people taking advantage of this space near my gate, and thought about setting up a game (since my flight was delayed), but then I ran into Ed Baraf from Pencil First Games and decided to sit and chat with him instead.
Pencil First Games
I’ve reviewed all of Pencil First’s tabletop titles, ever since Lift Off! in 2014, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the variety of games that they’ve published. Ed showed me a prototype of his next project, Sunset Over Water, which has the same team as the lovely Herbaceous. It’s about hiking into the wilderness and painting landscapes, and will feature artwork by Beth Sobel. I saw a few of the cards, and it’s hard to believe they’re paintings and not just photographs—they’re gorgeous.
The other upcoming game from Pencil First is Skulk Hollow, a 2-player asymmetric game: one player controls the clan of foxes, and the other controls the giant Guardian. The foxes will clamber on and around the behemoth, disabling its parts, while the giant tries to smash them and wreaks havoc. The art samples Ed showed me look terrific, but you’ll have to wait a while—it’s not Kickstarting until March or April 2018.
Gen Con Haul
I did eventually make it home, despite being rerouted on a different connection out of Las Vegas (while my luggage stayed on its original flight), and got everything unpacked and sorted out. Here’s my obligatory Gen Con haul photo—a couple of those titles were purchased for friends back home, but the rest will be making their way to a GeekDad review near you! After I’ve gotten some sleep…
Hope you enjoyed this look back at Gen Con 2017!