Welcome back to Day 4 of my Gen Con recap—the final day of the convention, when everyone’s dragging a little bit, the booths are looking a bit empty, but there are still plenty of folks (like yours truly) trying to cram as much into their last few hours before they disperse and go home.
Before I got started on Sunday morning, I wrapped up my Suitcase Tetris—it was much faster this year because I had less luggage, and I managed to fit almost everything into the roller suitcase, with clothes and soft stuff in the duffel bag I’d plan to check. (To reduce weight in my carry-on, I included some baggies of components with the clothes, keeping just things like cards, boards, and boxes in my carry-on that I didn’t want to get crushed. I had one more nested game box that wouldn’t fit, but it would go in my backpack for the flight, so I tucked that into my duffel bag for the day so it wouldn’t weight me down as I walked around the exhibit hall.
I lucked out in the elevator lottery—quite often on Sunday morning of Gen Con, I get stuck waiting for an elevator to get my suitcases down to the lobby, because everyone is checking out and taking luggage down. Not this time! The first elevator that arrived had room, and we made it down from the eighth floor with only stop. I checked out, left my luggage with the concierge, and headed to the exhibit hall, only slightly after the doors opened.
I swung back by the Cryptozoic booth because, although I’d tried Pantone and looked at Wallet previously, I had missed chatting with a few people there. Adam Sblendorio, Creative Director at Cryptozoic, told me about how difficult it was to get the Pantone license for the game. They’d been wanting to do a game with Pantone for some time, which is in itself a little amusing to me, because Pantone isn’t the first license I would think a game company would be clamoring for. Anyway, when designer Scott Rogers showed them his game, they felt it would be a great fit, and pitched it to Pantone. Apparently, getting Pantone to sign off on the game was quite involved—and that’s saying something, from a company that has licensed games with DC Comics, Portal, Attack on Titan, and other properties. It worked out in the end, though!
As I was walking past the AEG booth, I saw John D. Clair (designer of Mystic Vale) running a demo of a wild-looking prototype called Gunslingers, so I stopped to see what was going on. It looked like fortresses and bridges built out of Jenga pieces, covered in plastic miniatures and surrounded by a cardboard wall. But what really caught my attention was when one of the players picked up the plastic gun and fired it at the setup. What I thought was a rubber band gun turned out to be firing plastic cubes!
I didn’t get a full explanation of the game, but it’s a tactical combat game with some area control … and you can shoot cubes at your opponents. (Safety goggles are included.) It’s not clear if and when this will be published, but John said that AEG was encouraging him to try out something a bit off-the-wall, so I’ll be watching for more news on this in the future. Just don’t shoot your eye out, kid.
Catalyst Game Labs had a giant game of BattleTech set up along their booth, along with a giant mech statue in their booth. They had a new beginner box for sale for those interested in getting into the game.
In Catalyst’s display case, they had a few games that aren’t quite available yet. First up: Super Camelot, a game inspired by ye olde videogames of yore. I mean, you even get to attack bushes! Super Camelot is on Kickstarter now and only has a few days left, so take a peek if you like 16-bit adventure games.
Another upcoming game is Paiko, a 2-player abstract strategy game with some lovely art and a diamond-shaped box that will be sure to confound you when you’re shelving it. Each piece has its own movement and capture abilities, and your goal is to score 10 points by moving into the middle ground or your opponent’s home ground. I think this one will appeal to fans of The Duke, another abstract strategy title from Catalyst.
Shadowrun: Sprawl Ops was funded on Kickstarter earlier this year, and will be coming soon. Catalyst had this copy on display—it’s a worker placement game with a lot of dice-rolling, and has an optional cooperative mode expansion.
I didn’t spend as much time in the Blue Orange Games booth this year simply because I’d gotten their three big new titles ahead of Gen Con for review: I’ve already written up Kingdomino: Age of Giants and Blue Lagoon, and my copy of Scarabya arrived just before my trip, so I’ll be working on that later. I did at least swing by to admire this Kingdomino rug in the booth, though–I love it! But where’s the castle?
I mentioned Call to Adventure in Day 2—here’s another look at those runestones that you toss when resolving abilities. You pick a number of them, depending on what you’re doing, shake them up in your hand, and toss them onto the table and see how many symbols are face-up.
Back at the Smirk & Dagger booth, I got this selfie with a plush almond and cashew from Nut So Fast. They were apparently made by a fan, and they’re so cute!
At the Foxmind booth, I joined in a quick demo of Match Madness, a fast-paced puzzle game in which you’re trying to arrange five blocks to match the pattern on a card. Each of the blocks is two cubes and has different patterns on the faces—but the trick is that there are many shared faces among the blocks, so you have to turn and rotate and rearrange to match the card. The cards have different difficulty levels, and the expert cards are really challenging!
Manhattan is a city-building game, a reprint of the 1994 Spiel des Jahres winner with a colorful new facelift. Players play cards that determine where they can add floors to skyscrapers, with top floors determining who controls the building.
At the Cranio Creations booth, A Tale of Pirates caught my eye because of the large cardboard pirate ship. It’s a cooperative game in which player pieces are hourglasses, and you move around on the ship to take different actions—but you have to wait until your timer runs out. There are various missions, and it’s run by an app that also serves as the overall game timer. I love real-time games, even though they stress out most of my friends, so I’m hoping to try this out someday. Maybe after I make some new friends.
The Pegasus Spiele booth had a lot of games for young kids, so I stopped to listen as a couple of parents were getting suggestions on games for their young kids. I was also admiring a couple of games that were on display, including these two: Save the Treasure of Fairy Tales and Wizardry to the Power of Three. (I have to assume that something is lost in translation in the titles, though, because they sound a little clunky.)
I’d marked this booth down because of Gamer Over, a murder mystery game that takes place at a gaming convention. It looks to be a social deduction game—the murderer can lie, and everyone else is trying to piece together clues. I hadn’t realized it was a long game (2 to 3 hours) so I’m not sure it’s for me, but I’m still intrigued.
Talisman: Legendary Tales is set in the Talisman universe but looks to be a totally different game, with a bag-building element where each player has their own bag that they’ll draw tokens from. It’s a cooperative game about retrieving the five Talismans.
Aside from Villainous and Jurassic Park, the other big title from Ravensburger this year was The Rise of Queensdale, a legacy-style game with over 450 tokens, not to mention hundreds of cards, stickers, wooden bits, and more. You are building out your region of the board, replacing the blank hexes with building hexes as you go.
But what really caught my eye was the royal plunger, which is used to pull up the hex tiles that you’re building on. It reminded me of another game I saw last year at Gen Con that also included a little plunger: Monster Flush. Of course, because of the scale of the game, in Queensdale it looks like a giant plunger!
It looks like a fascinating game, though—I’m not sure I have time at the moment for a 20+ hour campaign, but it’s one I’ll keep in mind … for when I retire, maybe?
Starling Games, an imprint of Game Salute launched this year for their heavier games, had a few titles on display. I listened in on an explanation of Black Orchestra, a game about the plot to take down Hitler by any means necessary. Each player has their own board showing their level of involvement in the plot, from timid to motivated to reckless, as well as their suspicion level (and thus likelihood to get caught). It was originally published a couple of years ago, with a second edition funded last year and some new Conspirator Packs funded this year on Kickstarter. I’m not a huge fan of the board just because of how busy it looks with all that tiny text, but the gameplay did sound pretty interesting.
Everdell was Starling Games’ big release this year—it was Kickstarted successfully earlier this year and actually shipped to backers early. It looks gorgeous, too, with lovely illustrations of woodland creatures by Andrew Bosley and a large tree on one edge of the board. Designer James Wilson was on hand to talk about the game, so I chatted with him a little bit—it was his first published game design, and he was very happy with how it turned out.
John Wrot from Gate Keeper Gaming had asked me to stop by to check out a new dice tower concept… but the first thing I noticed was this little slice of wood. I guess you could use it as a coaster?
With ex-Groot out of the way, John showed me the Gemini Dice Tower, a set of wooden gaming components that snap together with embedded magnets. The dice tower itself is pretty compact and is nice and solid, and is made to look like the corner of a castle, with little crenellations at the top. John told me that a couple of things he really wanted out of a dice tower were portability, nice quality, and that it actually look like a tower.
But then the fun comes in with all of the “walls.” There are a bunch of different wall units to mix and match—two of them snap together to make a wall that’s just wide enough to hold a set of polyhedral dice across the top, like soldiers on a battlement. Opening up reveals different uses: you can see the dice trays above. Snap the walls between the towers, and you have a handy screen for the DM.
Other wall units include coasters, dice storage, components storage, and card trays. There’s also a unit (seen in the first photo) that has two columns of magnets on the outside: these are used to track initiative in an RPG. There will be small plates that you can write each character’s name on, and then snap them onto the front of the screen to display the initiative order. The inside of that wall has magnets that will hold a small whiteboard for the DM’s notes.
The Gemini Dice Tower will be hitting Kickstarter later this month, so stay tuned for more!
Level 99 Games has a new version of Noir, its hidden-role game, but with a new theme and some new play modes. “Killer vs. Inspector” is a 2-player version, which I’d played in its iOS app form way back in 2011. The new version includes “Buddy Cop” and “Dragnet” modes, along with a few other modes that were included in the 2012 edition. Each mode has its own “case file” for rules. And the theme in this version is based on Penny Arcade’s Automata comics story, featuring a robot cop.
Also at the Level 99 booth was Temporal Odyssey, a card battling game featuring time-travelers who are recruiting followers from different eras—but meddle too much and your timeline becomes unstable! I don’t play as many 1vs1 games, but I’m curious about this one because of the time travel theme.
Tuesday Knight Games, best known for Two Rooms and a Boom, had a smaller, sillier game on display this year: That’s Not Lemonade! It was funded on Kickstarter just last month, and should be on its way to backers this fall. It’s a press-your-luck game about drinking the most lemonade … without drinking anything that’s not lemonade. It has cute artwork and adorable tiny plastic red cups.
Sean McCoy of Tuesday Knight was telling me that many of their games aren’t too heavy in terms of gameplay, but because of the theme (assassinating a president, Russian roulette), they’re generally not appropriate for kids, even though they wouldn’t be too difficult for kids to learn. That’s Not Lemonade! is more kid-friendly (with some kid humor), and might be just the first in some more kid-appropriate titles from Tuesday Knight. We’ll see!
Holy Grail Games had two games on display at their booth, both headed to Kickstarter. First up is Rallyman: GT, a new edition of a racing game from 2009. I got a quick overview of the game, which uses dice in a press-your-luck system to plot out your route along a track that includes various hazards. You’ll spin out, take damage, make pit stops, and veer around curves to the finish line. Rallyman: GT uses a new set of rules, but you’ll also be able to play with the original rules too. Expect this one on Kickstarter in November; we’re hoping Rob Huddleston will have a prototype to review soon.
The other game on display had a truly impressive three-dimensional board: Titan is about a giant Ring City built around Titan. Players use drones to build pipes, extract resources, and install buildings. There’s a whole lot going on, for sure, but I’m always drawn to games with interesting components, and this board is definitely eye-catching. There’s a bit of a wait, though: Titan is expected to hit Kickstarter in June 2019.
I actually first saw a prototype of Museum back in 2016—Morning Players had it at the time, but then it had vanished from their lineup last year and I wasn’t sure what happened to it. Turns out it was Kickstarted at the end of 2017 by Holy Grail Games, and is published with Luma Games. In the game you are collecting artifacts to fill out the displays in your museum. I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to try this one out eventually, because I definitely intrigued when I first saw it a couple of years ago!
Luma Games also had another title that caught my attention, because I like tile-laying games. Gaia isn’t new, but I hadn’t heard of it before. You’re creating lands and trying to place your five meeples, but there are power cards that can change the tiles, drying out lands into deserts or turning them into swamps. It looks like a lovely little game.
At some point The City of Games started following me on Twitter and I followed back, but I hadn’t really taken a close look at their game, The City of Kings, until I visited their booth at Gen Con. The City of Kings is a huge cooperative adventure game with, as you can see, a whole lot of bits. It looks a little overwhelming, but you don’t always have this much stuff laid out all over the table.
The map itself is a series of tiles, with the city tile at the lower left (connected to a couple of trackers). When the game starts, the map is unknown, and you explore to reveal tiles to generate the world. Along the way, of course, you’ll encounter monsters, which will have randomly drawn modifiers that come in three difficulty levels. Your goal is to reach the Cloud Keep and defeat the Big Bad.
The add-on plastic miniatures are also fantastically detailed, and turned out very nicely. It does look like a formidable game, but one that I think my older kids would enjoy exploring.
Coffee Cake Gaming had a prototype for their first game Welcome to the Jungle, an upcoming title about becoming kingpins of the various turfs in the city. Think Zootopia, but rated PG-13. What really caught my eye were the animal character portraits, which are terrific. The game itself involves building up money and resources to take over various turfs, but you can challenge other players, which leads to a turf war for supremacy. I’ve got a prototype in hand and will be working on a review for the Kickstarter launch on September 18.
Soaring Rhino Games had a few titles on display—I hadn’t actually heard of Soaring Rhino before, but I was intrigued by all three titles. Shifting Realms is their first published game, funded last winter on Kickstarter and shipped to backers this summer. Each realm has its own set of rules—an end game condition, buildings that can be built, and actions that can be taken. When you play, you combine three of the five available realms, making one large board that then mixes together the rules for those realms.
The second title from Soaring Rhino is Pirate Tricks, a trick-taking game that has a couple of twists. There are various cards that will change up the rules from round to round, awarding extra points (or “Loons”) for certain combinations of cards or even penalizing certain tricks. But the big twist is that you bid on your hands. Each person gets dealt a certain number of cards, and then a number of hands are dealt out in the center (with some cards face-up and some cards face-down). Players bid Loons for the right to take a hand. The designers, brothers Jeff and Craig Van Ness, said that they grew up playing classic trick-taking games, but it’s always hard when you just get dealt a bad hand. Pirate Tricks gives you a chance to choose your hand—but at a cost! Pirate Tricks will be coming in November; watch for a review from Rob Huddleston!
Finally, Soaring Rhino is working on a game that celebrates the Woolly Mammoth Revival Project. Mammoth lets you take on the role of a mammoth herd, finding paths in Pleistocene Park and transforming the board into a colorful landscape. There are cooperative and competitive modes in this tile-laying game, and I loved the little figurines (currently 3D printed in the prototype) and the cover artwork. This one will be coming to Kickstarter on October 1—visit the website to sign up for updates.
Lucky Duck Games had a small booth that was always crowded whenever I walked past, so I finally caught them at a slow period on Sunday. Many were there to see Chronicles of Crime, an app-enabled mystery game that included cards that you could scan to investigate clues and even a VR element where one player would look around an environment to look for items of interest. They also had a copy of Fruit Ninja: Combo Party set up, a quick combo-building game that also had a Jungle Speed grab-the-totem aspect to it. I got a look at a prototype of Jetpack Joyride, the speedy tile-laying game that just wrapped up on Kickstarter right before Gen Con started.
One of their upcoming titles is Mutants: Genetic Gladiators, a deck-building game coming to Kickstarter in October. As you play mutants, they go onto your board (seen in the photo), and move either to the left or right of your board. You can breed mutants to combine cards into stronger cards for your deck. I may be getting a prototype of this one to try out, so watch for more later on.
And with that, it was time to head out—the exhibit hall closed at 4pm, and I needed to pick up my luggage and head to the airport. Remember when I said I set aside a game in my duffel bag so I wouldn’t have to carry it around in my backpack all day? Well, I didn’t. I had picked up a few small titles during my trip through the exhibit hall—nothing big, because I knew I didn’t have any more room, just what fit in my backpack … oh. I had to do some last-minute rearranging, but I did get everything to fit, and then made my way to the airport.
The games never stop, though! The airport has a few tables set up in various areas for continued gaming. I caught some players playing Tim Fowers’ Now Boarding, which seemed pretty appropriate, and chatted with a game designer who had been running demos of his soccer-based game, before grabbing some dinner and heading to my gate.
And that’s Gen Con 2018 as I saw it! I did manage to bring home a decent amount in my single suitcase, as seen above, and I’m excited that there are a few more titles headed my way soon, plus some titles that we’ve arranged for the other GeekDad writers who weren’t able to attend Gen Con. Watch for coverage soon of new titles, expansions, and a whole lot of Kickstarter games!
Thanks to Gen Con for providing a press pass.