Combining a family trip with Gen Con is fun but exhausting, and I’m still making my way through my backlog of email, mail, notes, and photos. But here’s a quick (or maybe not-so-quick) look at Gen Con 2018 through the photos I took this year. As usual, I’ll start with Wednesday (August 1) when I arrived and go through the end of Thursday, the first full day of the convention.
Unlike most years, the airport did not have a big welcome mat at the bottom of the escalators, but there were plenty of people at the airport headed to Gen Con. I met up with fellow GeekDad Jim at the airport and we shared a ride downtown, where John and Brian had already gotten checked into our hotel room. We had plans to meet up for dinner with the other GeekDads, but a little time to kill, so we found a spot in the hotel dining area and played a game of Troll. It’s a title from Oink Games that I picked up at the store before my trip to see family, and had played with my siblings and nieces and nephews.
It’s become a tradition for the GeekDads in attendance (plus a roommate and a spouse) to have dinner together at least once, so we hit up the Rock Bottom Brewery on Wednesday evening for a nice, sit-down meal before things got really busy. I taught another game of Troll while we discussed plans for the weekend. Usually, this is the only real dinner I’ll have at Gen Con, though this year my fellow GeekDads roped me into actually sitting down and eating with them Friday and Saturday, too—I think it’s a record!
After dinner, we headed back to our hotel and played a few games in the lobby. First up: Ravine, a cooperative survival game that funded on Kickstarter last year and will be delivering to backers soon (provided the games don’t crash into a ravine). The GeekDad crew didn’t do too badly, though poor John ended up finding just about every type of weird mushroom in the deck as he foraged, leading to some pretty funny moments.
Next up was Tiny Epic Mechs, which I’ve been breaking out as much as possible. I was lucky enough to get a prototype that arrived shortly before my trip—it will be launching on Kickstarter on September 13. Gamelyn Games has upped the toy factor even more with this game, making power suits and a Mega Mech that the meeples fit inside, and then you can trick them out with weapons. The game itself is a programming-style game, which can lead to all sorts of chaos.
I didn’t get up too early on Thursday morning—aside from playing games the night before, I’d just flown to Indy from a family trip to California, where I’d been staying up too late already on West Coast time. But I did manage to get to the press badge line by about 8am, and was astounded to see that there was no line at all. Where was everyone? Usually, this line stays fairly long until a bit later, but maybe everyone showed up really early this year and I just missed the crowd.
Our first appointment was the Calliope Games booth. Dave Banks and I first met Ray Wehrs at PAX Prime (my first games convention as a GeekDad) way back in 2010—he was the first publisher we talked to there, and we’ve continued the tradition ever since. He showed us samples of the three upcoming Titan Series games.
Spymaster by Seth Johnson has you competing to complete missions, which will require various combinations of intelligence cards and getting to particular locations. You can collaborate with other spies and negotiate for how to divvy up the rewards.
Next up is Everyone Loves a Parade by Mike Mulvihill. Players will compete to create the most crowd-pleasing floats, manipulating the dice (which represent the crowd’s preferences) and drafting cards to assemble their floats. The prototype uses train meeples, but there will be several custom float meeples in the finished game.
Dave was particularly pleased with this card from Everyone Loves a Parade (used in determining turn order). “No Ability? I found my card!”
The one that Dave and I are particularly excited about, though, is Ship Shape, designed by Rob Daviau. It’s definitely a bit more of a puzzle; it uses stacked crate tiles that have holes in them so you can see through them. Players bid on turn order to take the crates and stack them on their own boards, trying to maximize gold and cannons, cover up rats, and not end up with too much contraband.
Finally, Calliope’s latest release is The Mansky Caper, which Dave reviewed when it was on Kickstarter. It’s a game about breaking into the boss’s house and cracking his safes, trying to get away with the most loot before triggering all those booby traps he’s set up everywhere. Designer Ken Franklin was dressed for the occasion. And that reminds me: to all you folks who dressed up in cosplay and walked around in high heels carrying huge props all day in a crowded convention hall and 90-degree heat outside, I admire your dedication to your craft. I wore T-shirts and shorts and sneakers every day, and it was still uncomfortable at times.
I already mentioned Root in our favorite things post—the Leder Games booth was mobbed the whole weekend with people lining up to pick up a copy of Root (along with the plushie raccoon vagabond and fancy enamel pins). At least until Saturday afternoon, when they totally sold out. Patrick Leder told me he calculated that his volunteers could make it home to the warehouse and back to Gen Con in about 16 hours in time for Sunday morning, but for some reason, they declined. I wrote it up back when it was on Kickstarter; my copy was waiting for me when I got back home, and I’m excited to break it out soon and see how the finished version turned out!
I love seeing games with unusual themes, which drew me to check out Bee Lives: We Will Only Know Summer. It’s a heavier Euro-style game about running a bee colony, trying to breed workers, store up honey, and defend your hive from enemies. Designer Matt Shoemaker is a librarian and beekeeper, so he brought his passions to creating this game, which hits Kickstarter on September 10.
Palm Island from Portal Dragon was Kickstarted earlier this year—it was sort of on my radar but I didn’t end up backing it. It’s a game for 1 or 2 players (the 2-player game is basically competing solitaire for the highest score), and what’s clever about it is the way that you play the entire game in the palm of your hand. You cycle through the deck several times, turning cards sideways to represent resources you’ve collected or turning them upside-down when you upgrade them to improve your available actions. There’s also an all-weather version that uses plastic cards and comes in a plastic case so that you can really play this anywhere—including if you get stuck on an island yourself.
Also at the Portal Dragon booth, designer Jon Mietling showed off a prototype of Planetoid, a game about mining for valuable minerals. The board has lots of little tiles that tip up when you poke the edge, letting you flip them over and reveal what’s hidden beneath. The trick is that when you drill in one spot and take a tile, you also reveal the four spaces adjacent to you, giving your opponents a little more information (and possibly helping them find better stuff).
An advanced mode uses the tech chart (seen at the bottom of the photo), allowing you to use your action points for more powerful actions, but also requiring repairs when things break down.
Strange Machine Games had a couple of Robotech titles on display, including Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1, a cooperative game about defending the Super Dimensional Fortress-1 from attacks, and it included this huge cardboard SDF-1 standee.
I also saw Robotech: Ace Pilot, a small dice-and-card game that includes a grid of tiles; each pilot has the ability to claim specific patterns of tiles, but you use dice to determine which pilot you have access to each turn.
Next up was an appointment with AEG, where I got a quick overview of several of their new and upcoming titles (though unfortunately some of my photos didn’t turn out great). Scorpius Freighter, coming in November, lets you take on the role of smugglers—er, I mean, freighter pilots—who are delivering goods across the Scorpius system. But, of course, there’s money to be made on side jobs, and not all of them are legal. The game uses a sort of rondel system, as you move one of three ships around its circuit, hoping to get your jobs done before the government cracks down.
The Captain Is Dead, the cooperative sci-fi game, gets another “episode” in Lockdown. You’ve repaired your jump drive and survived with your lives, but now the aliens have captured the crew and thrown you into a prison. It uses a similar structure to the first game, but now you have to hack into the alien systems to activate them and get your crew out. Each of the Captain Is Dead games is stand-alone, but fans of the first will recognize many of the characters, who have similar but not identical abilities in this episode.
One of AEG’s big new titles this year was War Chest, an abstract strategy game that includes some high-quality chips as playing pieces. Players build their starting armies, and then recruit pieces into a bag. You draw out pieces and play them to the board, trying to take control of several key locations on the board.
And in case you’re curious about more additional AEG news, they also have their Smash Up Bigger, Geekier Box out now, along with Istanbul Dice. Coming next year are the Smash Up World Tour, featuring factions from every continent, Tiny Towns, Monsters & Meeples, and a Space Base expansion. We’ll keep you posted!
Mattel was back this year, with a giant version of their cooperative game Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters. This year they released the Creepy Cellar expansion to the game, which adds on two rooms to the side of the board—you have to get the treasures and take them to the ghost king in the cellar because he’s locked the front doors, and then get out before all the haunts appear. You know, because the original game wasn’t hard enough already.
Floodgate Games has a couple of games coming to Kickstarter soon. First up is Bad Maps, a pirate-themed programming game. There are four minions on an island, trying to follow directions from multiple pirate captains (that’s you) and then digging for treasure. You’ll score points based on which minion is closest to the X—but the trick is that each player can play their movement programming cards on any of the four minions. And as the game progresses, more and more holes (and dirt walls) will appear on the board, interfering with programs. Bad Maps hits Kickstarter on September 5: watch for a review from Logan!
Also at the Floodgate booth was Sagrada Gigantesco, a giant version of Sagrada that was, alas, for display purposes only. The game came in a suitcase box, and the oversized stained-glass boards and dice were gorgeous. The 5-6 player expansion for Sagrada was on sale at Gen Con; I have a copy now and will be checking it out.
Bosk, designed by Daryl Andrews and Erica Bouyouris, will be coming to Kickstarter in November. It will feature art by Kwanchai Moriya, and involves trees, leaves, and squirrels. It’s an area control game in which you first plant your trees, then scatter leaves from those trees, trying to score points by getting trees in rows and columns and covering specific terrain types with your leaves.
USAopoly had a few more games based on popular properties. Fantastic Beasts: Perilous Pursuit lets you play as Newt Scamander and his compatriots, out to recapture all the escaped beasts and get them back into his suitcase. The custom dice are gorgeous, and players work together to track and neutralize the beasts before anyone is incapacitated.
Meanwhile, Quartz (see Dave’s review) gets a makeover in the Snow White version, where up to 7 dwarves try to snag valuable gems from a bag without ending up with the worthless obsidian. There are a few tweaks to the game from the original, but Disney fans may want to check it out.
Finally, there’s another Codenames game coming in October: Harry Potter! Like the other editions from USAopoly, it uses cards that have pictures on one side (featuring images from the films) and words on the other. The game uses the Codenames Duet rules, so it’s fully cooperative, with both teams working together to cover up all the right cards before time runs out.
Iello Games has gone digital… sort of. The 8Bit Box is a “first generation board game console,” and the packaging is perfectly designed for those of us who grew up browsing SNES cartridges at Electronics Boutique. The idea is that there are some common components, including the “game controllers,” which have dials for choosing or programming actions, and then you “plug in” a game to play. The base game comes with three titles, a sports game, a Pac-Man-inspired game, and a racing game with an F-Zero vibe.
Dinosaur Tea Party from Restoration Games is an updated version of Whosit?, with fabulous dinosaurs out to tea. You use a series of clues to determine who’s who: Are you wearing a hat? Do you have a pet? Can I see your teeth? GeekDad Logan just posted his review, in case you want a closer look.
In the background of the photo, you can see bits of the new track for Danger Circuit, the new Downforce expansion. It adds two new tracks and some new power cards to the mix.
I stopped by the B&B Games Studio booth because the artwork for Noises at Night caught my eye—alas, my only photo turned out too blurry to post, but you can check out the Kickstarter page (it funded earlier this year). It’s a light deduction game for kids with some adorable artwork.
B&B also had a couple of other titles on display. Destiny Aurora: Renegades is a massive sci-fi game that involves both dogfights in space and some planetside missions. You can see the two boards above representing those locations. I’m not sure if I’ll get a chance to try it out, but it definitely looks intriguing.
And for fans of Highlander (I’ll admit I’m not one), there’s Highlander: The Duel, a limited-edition, two-player card game in which, at the end, there is only one.
Finally, B&B Games showed me The Refuge, a “family-friendly” zombie race game, one of their older but most popular titles. It’s a fairly simple race game where you’re trying to get to from one side of the board to the other, but there are various spaces and effects that interfere with your progress. It’s zombie-themed but seems fairly lightly themed, so it’s not too intense for those who aren’t horror fans. (That said, my kids shy away from anything even remotely zombie-related, so… might be tricky for them.)
Horizons is another one I mentioned in our favorite things, as an example of a Kickstarted game in its finished form. I met designer Levi Mote back when he was promoting Ruse, and have since become good friends. I got to see Horizons a couple times in its development and wrote about the Kickstarter campaign, so it was great to see the reception it got at Gen Con. Daily Magic managed to air freight a limited number of copies to the show that had some slight damage to the plastic insert (they’re getting repackaged properly for shipping to backers now) and they sold out over the course of four days. I’m eagerly awaiting my copy now!
Sometimes the only picture you have of somebody at Gen Con isn’t very flattering because you caught them mid-sentence or mid-blink, so the best solution (as determined by my unscientific Twitter poll) is to add googly eyes. Deep Water Games made its first Gen Con appearance this year, with their titles from Emperor S4 like Hanamikoji, Round House, and Mystery of the Temples. They also had a limited number of Welcome To, a flip-and-fill game that sold out at Gen Con even after having more delivered to them mid-con.
Sovereign Skies is Deep Water Games’ first original title, designed by Aaron Wilson. It’s a sci-fi themed game about controlling various factions, with a bit of a tug-of-war aspect as you vie for supremacy on the different planets. You’ll be happy to know that, contrary to Nolan Nasser’s unboxing video, Sovereign Skies will not include a copy of Welcome To and seven pairs of socks.
I stopped by to meet with North Star Games and checked out their latest update to the Evolution video game. Unfortunately, they were having trouble with their internet connection at the time (like several booths I’d visited) so I couldn’t try out the multiplayer version, but it’s definitely looking sharp. There will also be a campaign mode when it releases, as well as some special built-in zoom features for when you play on your phone.
Also new to North Star Games was Most Wanted, a game about becoming the most notorious bandit in the wild west. You use simplified poker hands to compete with other players to rob the pony express, stagecoach, or the train, earning notoriety (or suffering the consequences if you lose). It’s a fun use of poker hands and everyone stays involved on most turns. Most Wanted will hit stores October 1.
They also had Dude, now available at Target (along with the follow-up More Dude). They’re in the same vein as Happy Salmon, where you try to find a match and get rid of your cards—except in this one, it’s everyone saying “dude” in different intonations and trying to find somebody who sounds like you. “Dude?” “Dude?” “Sweeeeeet.” Ridiculous and probably annoying when somebody is playing nearby, but ridiculously fun to play.
I heard that North Star was running some demos of Evolution: Oceans in the gaming halls, so I went out of my way to check it out because I love the original game so much and I’ve been eager to see what they’ve got in store. Oceans is a stand-alone game that uses a totally overhauled system, making turns a little more streamlined and simpler to learn. Your species have populations that will ebb and flow throughout the game, but if the population drops to zero then it goes extinct. Depending on which cards you take food from, you’ll also enable various global effects (shown above). Oceans will hit Kickstarter in February, and I’m really excited for it!
Dire Wolf Digital and Renegade Games released two new Clank! expansions this year, one for the original and one for Clank! In! Space!
Clank! In! Space! Apocalypse! is a boxed expansion that adds a few more modules for your map, and also introduces scheme cards for Lord Eradikus. As black cubes are pulled from the bag, they fill up the scheme cards, which will trigger negative consequences for all players unless you spend resources to remove them.
Clank! Expeditions: Gold and Silk is the first in the Expeditions line, a smaller, lower-cost expansion for the Clank! base game. It comes in a blister pack instead of a box, and includes a new map, some new meeples, and a sheet of punch-out tokens, but no new cards. The double-sided board has two different themes: one, a gold-mining operation for the Ruin Dwarven Mining Company (or Ruin DMC), and the other the lair of a Spider Queen, complete with a web store.
A couple of other new titles from Renegade included Spell Smashers and Wendake—expect reviews of those in the coming months from Dave Banks.
You know I love Magic Maze even though it stresses out my family and friends. Well, now there’s a Magic Maze Kids coming from Sit Down Games and Dude Games, which uses a series of tutorials to teach players how to problem solve before tackling the harder missions. It uses large boards, cute animal characters, and the biggest sand timer I’ve ever seen in a board game. Initial missions (seen at left) include getting a single character to the end of a non-branching path, and then progresses to moving a character out of the way for another one to get past, and so on. Missions (seen at right) use the back of the board and use cards to randomize each character’s goals.
While it’s designed for kids, I think there are many adults who might have benefited from running through the tutorials before diving into Magic Maze, too. I’m excited to try this one with my five-year-old (my only kid who wants to play Magic Maze with me.)
Also coming from Sit Down Games and Dude Games is a series of roll-and-write games called Penny Papers. Roll-and-write games seem to be on the rise, so this is great timing to capture that interest. There are three titles that come in increasing difficulty levels (as noted by the age recommendation on the boxes). They’re still simple enough for kids, and I like that you can start kids off with the simplest versions and then move up to the more complex versions if they want to get a little more thinky.
Quodd Heroes, which was funded on Kickstarter last year and is wrapping up production now, is a gorgeous looking game that uses cube-shaped miniatures. You program your character’s abilities—each face of the cube triggers a different sort of movement or action, and you move by rolling to a new face and then using the corresponding action, possibly starting a chain reaction.
I spoke with designer Ryan Iler, who explained that Quodd Heroes is sort of a sandbox board game. He has a host of different scenarios included in the rulebook, from races to quests to cooperative games, but he hopes that players will build their own scenarios using the many different boards and tokens included with the game.
Newspeak from Inside the Box Games is set in a dystopian world where the government uses AR to mask the depressing reality from their citizens. A resistance has formed, and they’re using coded messages to coordinate their meeting locations. The moderator listens in to the conversations, trying to figure out the code and catch the rebellion in the act.
Newspeak was originally on Kickstarter earlier this year, but was canceled so they could rework the project and make it a smaller, less expensive game. Expect it back on Kickstarter later. The core mechanic of the game seemed really intriguing, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for this one.
Another title from Inside the Box Games was Sub Terra, a cooperative game about getting out of underground tunnels. There are pitfalls and cave-ins and unspeakable horrors, and you have to use your limited actions to explore the tunnels and seek out the exit. I know this one had some struggles but it was delivered to backers earlier this year and seems to be getting a pretty good reception.
Dragon’s Breath from HABA Games won the Kinderspiel des Jahres (for kids’ games), so I thought it was worth checking out. It uses a stack of rings filled with gems. On each round, players take gem tiles representing which color gem they’ll claim for the round, and then a ring is removed, allowing gems to spill out onto the board. You claim the gems of your chosen color, and everything else gets swept into the center pits. At the end, the player with the most gems wins. It’s a simple, fun gimmick, but lifting the ring and letting gems spill out is more fun than you might expect.
Another new title from HABA is Iquazu, an area control game that features a moving waterfall. The “window” shows a rock face behind the waterfall, and shifts to the right each round, revealing more spaces as well as scoring effects for the current round. Players place colored gems on the various spaces to control sections of the rock face. It’s a beautiful game that looks like it could be a challenge to master.
Grand Gamers Guild and Kids Table BG had adjoining booths, so I got to say hello to the folks at both locations (and, uh, fail to take more photos). They had an early copy of Endeavor on display the first day, though when I went back to get a photo later they’d put it away… but it looks gorgeous. Kids Table BG also had finished copies of Haunt the House (complete with glow-in-the-dark accents!) and it’s also lovely.
GGG had a giant version of Pocket Ops to play, which begs the question… can you still call it Pocket Ops if it’s too big to fit in your pocket?
Finally, the photo you see above is a prototype of Artemis Project, an upcoming title from GGG. It’s expected to hit Kickstarter on September 12, and is about building an outpost colony on the frozen moon Europa. The game involves dice placement to gather resources, but also has an interesting track that gives you some bonuses if you get bumped off the resource collection spaces. Watch for a review of this one from Rob Huddleston when the Kickstarter launches.
And then that concluded the first day in the exhibit hall.
I met with Aron West of Elzra Games and chatted about an upcoming Catacombs title—I’ll have more for you when that launches, but it’s a non-flicking game in the Catacombs world. Stay tuned!
I met up with a few of the GeekDads for dinner, and then we headed back the convention center and found a table to play some games. I’d picked up a few more titles from Oink Games at their booth, so we broke out Flotsam Fight, a card game about rescuing valuable treasures from a sinking boat. (I think of it as a prequel to Deep Sea Adventure, because then we can go diving for the treasures that we lost.)
Next up was Zogen (also from Oink Games), a speed-based game with adorable microbes. You have to play cards that are only different by a single microbe, and also shout the name of the microbe: Sun, Moon, Cloud, or Mountain. Mess up, and you’ll end up with a bunch of cards back in your hand again.
I’d brought the prototype of Tim Fowers’ Sabotage, but not the large cardboard screen, so we made a makeshift screen out of a HABA bag and other boxes and signs. Gerry and I played as the spies, while Dave and Sara were the villains and tried to catch us. It was a close game, but the spies were victorious, hacking the doomsday devices and saving the world. You’re welcome.
For our last game of the night, we had a few other friends join in: Emma Larkins (whom I’d met at PAX last year) and Brian’s friend from the world of roller derby, Moe Cheezmo. I taught them Startups, another Oink Games favorite, and we had a great time competing over Hippo Powertech and Octo Coffee.
Finally, it was time to call it a night (or early morning, depending on your preference). Time to rest up for Day 2!