Saturday is usually the busiest day of Gen Con, when people who can’t attend during the week show up with a single-day pass. But it’s also my day with the fewest photos—because I checked out of the exhibit hall for a few hours for our Gaming with GeekDad event, at which point I was more focused on teaching games than taking pictures.
Without further ado, here’s my Jonathan’s-eye view of the day.
I always try to make a list of booths I want to visit at Gen Con, whether to check out a new release or just to say hello to somebody I know. Last year I managed to make a list and then sort it by booth number before writing it in my notebook, which was a lot handier than a random list of companies and booth numbers. This year, I used BoardGameGeek’s games preview list to check off games I was curious about, and was pleased to find that I could sort it by booth number as well.
But because of a family trip right before Gen Con, I didn’t actually copy all this down into my notebook until my layover on the way to Indianapolis. I also failed to account for the “just saying hello” portion of my usual list, because there were some companies that didn’t have specific new games that I checked … and I missed a lot.
As Dave pointed out in our Gen Con wrap-up, I did a little quick math and calculated that, with 560 vendors listed this year, if I spent all available exhibit hall hours in the exhibit hall, I’d have an average of 3.3 minutes per booth. Trip to the bathroom? That’s 2 or 3 booths. Go out to grab lunch? That’s at least 10 booths. Of course, not all of those are board game publishers, but it highlights the impossibility of seeing everything—and that’s just in the exhibit hall, not even counting all the events going on all the time at the rest of Gen Con. I think I did manage to visit just over 100 booths over the course of the weekend, and I did manage to check off most of the booths on my list, plus a good number that I’d forgotten to write down, but there’s still a lot that I missed. You could have spent all weekend at Gen Con and had a completely different experience!
Forbidden Sky, the third title in Matt Leacock’s cooperative series from Gamewright, had a long line of customers waiting for it. I stopped by the booth and watched as the staff cycled people through pretty efficiently, and the big stack of Forbidden Sky boxes rapidly dwindled. Later, when things were a little quieter, I stopped back by just to get a photo of the actual game itself. Check out that rocket ship!
Another new Gamewright title is Trash Pandas, a game about collecting yummy goodies from the trash can. It features adorable artwork from Kwanchai Moriya and uses press-your-luck dice-rolling. Watch for a review from me! (I keep saying “soon” but wow there are a lot of things to review!)
I tried to peek in at the Ravensburger booth, but it was totally swamped with people there to get a look at Villainous and Jurassic Park. Villainous seemed to be the big seller, though, and they had a tent set up for running demos of the game. Luckily for me, I secured a copy prior to Gen Con (here’s my review), so I could just gawk at the line and not stand in it. GeekMom Sophie Brown reviewed Jurassic Park, in case you’d like to know more about it.
At the Brain Games booth, I saw Pyramid of Pengqueen, a rethemed version of Fluch der Mumie (Curse of the Mummy), which uses a clever magnetic board. The explorers (now the penguins from Ice Cool) try to run around the map collecting treasures, while the mummy tries to catch them. The trick is that the penguins can see the mummy, but the mummy uses the other side of the board and doesn’t know exactly where anyone else is until they pick up a treasure. I’ll be working on a review of this one soon.
Pikoko is a trick-taking game with a twist: you can only see your opponents’ cards. The game uses peacock card holders, and you bid on how many tricks you think everyone will take, and then play cards for the player to your left. It’s a clever idea, and I’ll be working on a review of it.
Also new at Brain Games this year were Orc-Lympics, a little card game, and Ice Cool 2, a stand-alone sequel to Ice Cool that also allows you to combine the two games to create huge layouts with moving rooms.
Throughout the weekend I kept running into Adam Rehberg from Adam’s Apple Games at other booths in the exhibit hall, so I was surprised to find him at his own booth when I stopped by. (Maybe he’s perfected cloning technology? If so, I want in on that secret.) He shared that Truck Off will be available in Target in selected stores, which is always exciting news for a small publisher.
The new hotness for Adam’s Apple this year was Swordcrafters, the game about constructing cardboard swords. I reviewed the prototype, and was pleased to see the changes made to the finished product to make the swords a bit sturdier to handle. Careful picking up that box, though—it’s like a brick because of all the cardboard inside!
Over at Junk Spirit Games, I got to see the finished version of Tyler Sigman’s Crows, which turned out really nicely. The special tiles have spot UV gloss, giving them a nice shine, and the optional metal coins are fantastic. I’m excited to get my own copy of this tile-laying game.
Designer David Gerard is working on his next title, Battle of the Bards, a deck-building game that involves recruiting musicians to please different audiences. It’s a combination of deck-building and dice manipulation, so I’m curious to give it a try down the road. It’s currently planned for a Kickstarter in January, so stay tuned!
And then it was time to step out of the exhibit hall so I could get to our Gaming with GeekDad event. First I had to swing by the hotel to pick up games, and then walk over to the JW Marriott to find our room there. It was pretty warm outside and I was carrying a box of games, so I made the choice to take the various sky bridges and stay indoors. I think I made the right decision, but it also meant crossing the same street twice because of the way the various bridges connect. But I made it!
Dave gave a little introduction and then we got several games started at the different tables—My Little Scythe, Before There Were Stars, Welcome To, Tiny Epic Mechs, and Roll For It kicked off the event.
I kind of threw Jim Kelly into the deep end with Tiny Epic Mechs. He’d played once earlier in the weekend when I was teaching, but since I was hopping between Welcome To and My Little Scythe, I recruited him to get this one set up, and checked in from time to time. This game was pretty heavy on combat: the players started running into each other pretty early on, and continued to attack each other (sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purposes) quite a bit.
Meanwhile, after wrapping up Welcome To, we moved from suburbia to the unpredictable wilds of Ravine. This poor party of four only needed to survive for one week, but by five days into the trip things had gotten pretty terrible. One guy marched off into the woods for “one final hunt” … and never returned. Maybe the moose got him. One woman found she had nothing left to say and went silent, and another had an insatiable hunger … let’s just say the silent one was never heard from again. We did have a lone survivor, though perhaps she’ll never be able to tell everyone exactly what she had to do to make it through the week.
We ended our event with a huge round of Happy Salmon, and sent everyone home with prizes provided by North Star Games, Blue Orange Games, Gamewright, Fowers Games, and Calliope Games. Hope everyone had fun!
After our event, I met with Julia Klokova of Hobby World, who was kind enough to walk with me from our event as I made my circuitous route back to drop off games at the hotel and then headed back to the exhibit hall, so I could recapture some of that lost exhibit hall time. Hobby World is a Russian game publisher, and their games are distributed by various publishers here in the US: DC Spyfall and Bronze are both through Cryptozoic, Sunflower Valley will be through Ultra Pro, and The Golden Sails will be through Mayday Games. There are a number of games that don’t have US distributors yet, but Hobby World is working on those. I did get a prototype of Architectura, a card game about building a city that will have an Essen release, and I’ll also be receiving a copy of Bears & Bees, a cute game about bear scientists that’s also releasing at Essen. Unfortunately neither had a US distributor yet when I met with Julia, but fingers crossed they’ll make it to the US eventually!
Back in the exhibit hall, I came across the booth for Hewns, a sprawling game that caught my attention because of the numerous miniatures of wildly varying sizes. I stopped to find out more about it: the theme is about mining on an alien planet, trying to amass the most wealth, while also fighting off other players and alien creatures (who can also be hired to fight for you). What amazed me most about these miniatures, though, was that many of them are interactive. Each one has a slot that can hold ammo used for attacking—but some of these ammo slots are hidden inside the miniatures, with clever mechanisms that will dispense the ammo when the time comes for an attack. I also learned that you can fire the minerals you mine as ammunition—but then you are essentially burning up your victory points to attack.
This one is gearing up for a Kickstarter, and I imagine it’s not going to be a cheap one, but I’ll definitely want to keep my eye out for it. I don’t know how all the miniatures with moving parts will do in mass production, but I hope they’re able to pull it off.
I went by to check out what dv Giochi had on display. First, they have a new Deckscape title, Heist in Venice. I wrote about the first two Deckscape games last year: Test Time and Fate of London, so I was excited about the new one. I’ve got a copy of it and plan to play it with my family soon.
Another new title from dv Giochi is Catalyst, just released at Gen Con. Players are hiring people known as “catalysts,” who have the ability to access a new type of energy. It’s an engine-building game with some clever scoring tweaks that can change from game to game. It looks like a fairly simple one to learn, and has some great artwork.
Another new title (with a planned Essen release) was Minute Realms. I’m actually not sure if that’s “minute” as in time or “minute” as in tiny, but perhaps both are applicable. Minute Realms is a compact realm-building game that takes place over eight short rounds. I don’t often sit down and play demos during the exhibit hall hours (remember, 3.3 minutes per booth!) but this one looked quick enough to try, so I tried a two-player game. It has some interesting ways to get and build cards—everyone gets a new card each round and there are some dealt to a market, but on your turn you can trade for any card that hasn’t been built, including one that was dealt to another player. However, you might give them money in doing so. There are a lot of different card interactions, so you can decide how to build up your score, plus you have to watch out for invaders that can destroy buildings.
Van Ryder Games had a few new products this year. The Big Score was funded on Kickstarter earlier this year and made an appearance at Gen Con. It’s a heist-themed game, with some press-your-luck elements to it. Each round, everyone passes around a bag and decides whether to steal more or quit—but the bag also has a lot of police tokens in it. If enough police tokens are drawn, anyone who didn’t leave is busted. But if you leave too soon, you can’t get any more loot. It looked like a lot of fun, particularly trying to predict whether other players are still in or not.
The other big release from Van Ryder was their Graphic Novel Adventures, a set of comic books that you play through, kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure book but with a much bigger visual element. For instance, if your character could travel in a few different directions, then those directions are labeled with panel numbers in the illustration. There are five different stand-alone titles, each with a different story, and you use a character sheet to track your inventory and stats. I backed these on Kickstarter and just got my copies, so I’m excited to give them a shot soon.
Parry Gripp, known for earworms like “It’s Raining Tacos,” will soon have his name on a board game, too. Space Unicorn: Battle Over Cupcake Mountain, inspired by the song “Space Unicorn,” is a cooperative game about scaling Cupcake Mountain to take on the Big Bad at the top. On the way, you’ll build a rainbow bridge by inserting cards into the slots around the perimeter of the 3D cupcake. It’ll hit Kickstarter in late August—check out the website to sign up for updates.
Good Games Publishing was running demos of Unfair with the expansion (which just wrapped up on Kickstarter right after Gen Con). I reviewed the base game a couple of years ago—it’s about running a theme park (or “funfair”), and also running your competitors into the ground. The game uses themed sets of cards that introduce different play styles and effects; the expansion brings in Aliens, B-Movies, Dinosaurs, and Westerns. If you missed the Kickstarter, you can watch for this in stores early next year.
Good Games is following up the Unfair expansion with Guild Master, coming to Kickstarter on August 27. This game has you training up novices, completing contracts, and building up your guild. There’s a bit of simultaneous action selection and a bit of backstabbing (as I witnessed in a demo game that was running). I’m expecting a prototype of this one to try out, so keep an eye out for a review!
Master of Wills is a deck-building game that pits two factions against each other as they try to pull citizens to their side. Cards come into play in the center, and each faction tries to move them to recruits, then loyalists, then allies, where they are locked into place—but effects that draw people toward your faction might also drive others away. I didn’t sit down to try it but it looks interesting.
I met Vas Obeyesekere last year at PAX Prime when he was running demos of Direwild, a cooperative adventure game. It funded on Kickstarter and is now in production, with (fingers crossed) no major hiccups. Direwild was over at the Passport Games booth, and they’ll be distributing it after the Kickstarter campaign is fulfilled.
Passport’s new release this year was Fleecing Olympus, a game about taking control of Olympus (because, you know, Zeus has been at it for long enough). Use your deity’s abilities, plus dice and card powers, to take gems from other players—but the gems are hidden, so try to keep up!
Passport’s booth also hosted Rule & Make Games, who were running demos of Hand of Fate: Ordeals, a deck-building game based on the videogame of the same name, and there are cooperative and competitive play modes. I saw a prototype of it last year at Gen Con, and it’s now nearing fulfillment to Kickstarter backers.
Meromorph Games is the publisher of Norsaga and Shipwreck Arcana (both reviewed by Robin Brooks). I’d backed Shipwreck Arcana based on Robin’s review and really loved the artwork in it, and was glad to meet Matthew and Kevin Bishop, the two brothers behind the games.
They also showed me a prototype of a game some of the Meromorph team is currently working on, a simultaneous-action fighting game that’s currently untitled. It started life as Hardcoded and you can read a little bit about the development at that link, but they’re still working on the design. It will eventually make its way to Kickstarter but does not have a specific launch date set yet.
Breaking Games had a few new titles this year. Rise of Tribes had a successful Kickstarter campaign last year and has delivered to backers, and it made a big splash at Gen Con this year. It’s a civilization/exploration sort of game, but one of the key mechanics is the dice-sliding, where you use combination of dice to choose your actions, and the dice slide in and bump the oldest die out, affecting the ability and its benefits.
Another title from Breaking Games was Expancity, a city-building game that features stackable plastic buildings. I talked with Peter Vaughan, a game developer for Breaking Games, about the challenge of making these building pieces fit just right so that they’re easy to pull apart, but they don’t fall apart. I haven’t played the game yet, but I can confirm that the building pieces are top notch.
Restoration Games brought a pressed penny machine to Gen Con (though it arrived late). A friend of mine back home has a pressed penny collection and asked if I could grab a set for him. They had penny designs for Downforce, Fireball Island, and Dinosaur Tea Party. It was fun, but cranking out several pennies (particularly when I forgot to slide the coins in and then had to crank the thing all the way around to get back to the start) gave my arm a workout!
After supper with the GeekDad crew, I went back to the hotel to gather up some games to bring for our evening gaming, and decided to go ahead and do a bit of pre-planning for my Sunday morning Suitcase Tetris. I knew that I’d probably be out late, but would need to know exactly how much room I had left for Sunday. This year, because of that aforementioned family trip, I ended up coming to Gen Con with just a single roller suitcase and a duffel bag, instead of my usual suitcase-within-a-suitcase, so the stakes were high. I didn’t want to pack any games into my soft duffel bag, and I had already skipped a lot of larger games because I knew there wasn’t room. Time to punch out cardboard, flatten inserts, and nest away!
I ended up ditching the boxes for a couple of expansions like Clank!, Summit, and Sagrada, since I knew those components would fit into the base game boxes, but kept everything else. Kaosmos fit nicely into the box for Welcome To, which nested into the Kaosmos box. Jungli-La has a small-but-tall box, so I was able to squeeze a few more decks of cards into it. I made sure that everything I had so far actually fit into my suitcase, and then selected a few games for the evening.
For Saturday night, we decided to try the Grand Ballroom at the JW Marriott, where we heard there was more open gaming. Sure enough, we walked into a huge ballroom and easily found a space to set up. I think it explains why the ICC gaming halls were so sparse on previous nights—I usually manage to run into lots of people I know while gaming in the evening, but this year I think people were scattered across a lot more locations. That meant more room to play, but unfortunately meant I saw fewer people outside of the exhibit hall hours.
We started off with Sailing Toward Osiris from Daily Magic Games. I’d played before so I taught Gerry, Sara, and Dave. It was a close game, and competition for resources got pretty fierce at times.
Next up, we tried Jungli-La from Tasty Minstrel Games. You use dice to move along a path of cards and to collect resources; you can also hire cards from the path, which can improve your dice rolls but also shortens the path to the end for everyone. The game went a little longer than we expected, but I liked it overall. I’ll be working on a review of this one.
While we were playing, David Miller from Purple Pawn stopped by, looking for people to game with, so he joined in and taught us Nessos, a quick bluffing game from Iello. It reminded me a little bit of Kakerlaken Poker, because you pass a card and claim that it’s a particular value—but it might be Charon instead. Get stuck with three Charon cards, and you’re out of the game.
I also broke out another Oink Games purchase, Moneybags, which comes with metal coins. (I made the mistake of buying this early Thursday morning in the exhibit hall, and then carried it around in my backpack all day. It’s a lot heavier than it looks.) You’re stealing gold coins from each other’s bags, but you have to be careful or you can get challenged and eliminated. It’s a quick game with a little bit of bluffing and a whole lot of guessing how much somebody has based on how their coin bag sounds when they shake it.
We ended the night with Architectura, a prototype that I got from Hobby World. Each player has a set of the same building cards, and you fill in the streets and blocks of the city using your city cards. The trick is that cards will interact with each other as you play them, increasing or decreasing the values of adjacent buildings. I liked the various card interactions and figuring out where to put buildings for the best effect. This one doesn’t have a US distributor yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I find out!
By the time we wrapped up, it was nearing 3am, and it was time to call it a night. (Though gaming was still going strong in the ballroom.) One last day of Gen Con, coming up!