Gen Con entrance

Gen Con 2019 Recap With Photos, Part 1

Events Gaming Places Tabletop Games
Gen Con entrance
The entrance to the Gen Con food truck/beer garden area, with the convention center in the background. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Every year at Gen Con, I make my way through the exhibit hall as much as possible, taking notes and photos of nearly everything I see, so that I can share those after I get back for those of you who weren’t able to go. Of course, with over 500 exhibitors (and nearly 70,000 people filling the aisles), there’s no guarantee that I’ll get to everything. In fact, I can guarantee you that I missed several booths, including some that were on my list. (Sorry!) Still, I came back with a whole lot of photos (some of them blurry) and some fun stories to tell. Let’s dive in!

(Note: I won’t repost all of my selfies in these recaps—if you’d like to see those, visit this thread on Twitter!)

Wednesday (Gen Con Day 0)

I arrived on Wednesday, July 31, a little later than planned because of a flight delay and then the construction on I-70, which affected a lot of people trying to get to downtown Indianapolis from the airport. That meant I missed an appointment with The OP (though Rob was fortunately able to go to that one). Although it’s technically the day before Gen Con, I had scheduled just a couple of things to get a head start on things.

Fortunately, I did have time to check my bags into the hotel, and make my next appointment with Good Games at their retail location. Good Games is an Australian publisher, and they opened up a retail store in Indianapolis just a couple blocks from the convention center a couple years ago.

Fluttering Souls
Fluttering Souls, a 2-player card-drafting game about collecting butterflies. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

At Good Games, I got to see three new titles. First up was Fluttering Souls by Joel Lewis, who taught me the game. The game uses randomized setup cards (seen at the top left), resulting in a layout that reminds me a little of pyramid solitaire games, with overlapping cards. Some are face-up, and some are face-down. Players take turns taking cards that aren’t covered, immediately revealing any face-down cards that are uncovered, and you’ll score points if you complete sets of butterflies. The trick is deciding whether to go for the easy butterflies that award a few points for just a pair, or whether to take a chance on higher-scoring butterflies that require larger sets. There’s also a Great Egg card, which the current owner can place in the space they just took a card, blocking the other player from taking cards—that added another layer of tactics that could really change up the results of the game.

Fairy Season
Fairy Season, a ladder-climbing trick-taking game with fairies and goblins. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Next up, I played a game of Fairy Season with Jaime Lawrence of Good Games and fellow GeekDad Jim Kelly. Players take turns adding to a pile of cards: you have to play a higher value of the same season, or any number of the next season—but once you hit winter, you can’t wrap around to spring again, so there’s a limit to how high the stack can grow. However, you can also play goblins to mess with things, traps, and royal fairies (who trump everything). In the end, the goal is to have the most fairies in your stash.

Unfair expansion cards
The Dinosaur faction in Unfair adds a little potential danger to your park. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Finally, I got a peek at the first expansion to Unfair, which I wrote about back in 2016 when it was on Kickstarter. It’s a game about building an amusement park (or “funfair”), while also messing with your competitors. There’s a lot of great humor in the theme of the game, which includes various factions that are mixed together for a different feel each time you play. The latest expansion adds Dinosaurs, Western, B-Movies, and Aliens, each contributing their own twist to the game. For instance, the Dinosaur faction allows you to upgrade attractions with dinosaurs—but if you don’t keep them under control, they’ll shut down the attractions.

GeekDad dinner at The Eagle
The GeekDads have dinner at The Eagle. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The GeekDads always try to sit down and have a meal together before things get really hectic. This year there were only four of us attending Gen Con (plus friend-of-GeekDad Brian Stillman), and we decided to try The Eagle, recommended to us as the best fried chicken in town. It was indeed tasty, though we overdid it a bit on the spoonbread (which was also delicious, but everything was quite filling). After dinner, I rushed back to the convention center for an appointment that turned out to be on Friday, and then headed over to another appointment, which also turned out to be on Friday. So that’s a good way to kick off Gen Con: by double-booking Friday night while thinking I was double-booking Wednesday.

Playing Point Salad
Collecting veggies to make the best Point Salad. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

With no other appointments, we decided to head back to the hotel and play some games! First we broke out Point Salad from AEG, a card-drafting game about building the pointiest salads. Each turn, you take either two vegetables or one scoring card from the market, until all of the cards have been claimed. Then you add up all of your scoring cards, which may award or penalize you for having certain combinations of veggies. The highest score wins! It’s a quick, clever game that I really enjoy.

Playing the Quacks of Quedlinburg
Making potions in The Quacks of Quedlinburg. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Next up: The Quacks of Quedlinburg from North Star Games, a bag-building press-your-luck game about mixing potions. I love the bag-building aspect (a little bit like deck-building), and the tension when deciding how many chips you can pull out of your bag before your pot explodes.

playing Cartographers
Mapping out the Queen’s lands in Cartographers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After that, we played Cartographers from Thunderworks Games. In this one, players draw polyomino shapes onto their maps based on the cards that were drawn, hoping to get particular arrangements of terrain types to match the Queen’s edicts for points. One thing that sets this game apart from other roll-and-write games is the ambush cards, which let you mess with your neighbor’s map! I laminated a few of my sheets and brought dry erase markers.

Playing Shards of Infinity
Mastering the Shards of Infinity. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

By this time, our numbers dwindled, so I got out Shards of Infinity from StoneBlade Entertainment. It’s a deck-building game that has some cool features like the ability to play some cards directly from the market, and you play until there’s only one player standing. Rob came really close to reaching 30 mastery (at which point success is nearly unstoppable), so we ganged up on him to take him out. Sorry, Rob.

Thursday (Gen Con Day 1)

Jonathan Liu and John Booth
Jonathan Liu and John Booth with our press badges!

After a restless night (who can sleep when you’re at GEN CON?), we got up and made our way over to the convention center to pick up our press badges. John and I were in the early batch, because we both had things scheduled at 9am. There wasn’t much of a line, so we had a little bit of time to kill. Good thing I brought some games with me!

Colorful Treasure
Colorful Treasure, a card game that involves a bit of memory and a bit of press-your-luck. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

We found a spot outside the exhibit hall (it hadn’t gotten really crowded yet), and we played a round of Colorful Treasure from POKI Design, a small card game I picked up on my trip to Taiwan this summer. You’re looking for sets of colored gems by flipping two cards each turn; you can also press your luck by flipping a third card, but if you ever flip over curses, you’re stuck with those instead of gems. It’s a pretty simple game, but has some clever twists to it. It’s not yet available in the US, but I’ll keep my eye out for news on this one.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf
As Brian says, he beat me at my own game. Photo: John Booth

Next up we played The Boy Who Cried Wolf, my own wallet game published by Button Shy. It’s a light bluffing game: you draw a card (sheep or wolf) and then decide whether to cry wolf. If you cry wolf, the other players have to decide whether to come help you or not, and then points are scored depending on who’s right and who’s wrong. Brian was very pleased to score a win over me at my own game, so we had to get a photo to memorialize the moment.

Tsuro: Phoenix Rising
An early production copy of Tsuro: Phoenix Rising. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

My first appointment of the day was with Calliope Games. Ever since PAX 2010 (my first gaming con as a GeekDad!), when I ran into Ray Wehrs at the start of the convention, it’s become a tradition to kick off the con with a visit to Calliope Games to see what’s new. Alas, this year Ray wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it, but I was able to check out the latest titles without him. First up was Tsuro: Phoenix Rising, which I’d written up during the Kickstarter campaign. This was an early production copy, but it wasn’t for sale yet—the Calliope team had gotten it just before Gen Con, and were making a final check to ensure all of the components are correct before starting on final production. The lanterns are now shaped like the illustrations, the phoenixes are now molded plastic with a lot of details, and the first player marker is a chunky acrylic dragon cut-out.

Everyone Loves a Parade
Everyone Loves a Parade. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I also got to see finished copies of the next three titles in the Titan Series. If you read our Gen Con recap last year, you’ll remember that Dave Banks and I got peeks at these last year when they were still in the prototype stage, so it was cool to see them all complete. I actually received my Kickstarter pledge for these shortly before Gen Con, so I’ve gotten to break out two of the three already. Everyone Loves a Parade by Mike Mulvihill is the only one I haven’t played yet, but it’s a dice-and-cards game about putting together a parade of floats that pleases the current crowds.

ShipShape, a stacking game that’ll puzzle you. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

ShipShape by Rob Daviau may be my favorite of this latest batch: it involves stacking up tiles that have cut-outs, and arranging them in a way on your player board that will score you the most points. There’s a little bit of chaos in bidding for the tiles themselves, and then the puzzle-like aspect of placing them so that the ideal numbers are showing through to the top.

SpyMaster. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Finally, SpyMaster by Seth Johnson is a game of espionage and completing missions. You use cards both to move agents around and to fulfill missions, once there’s the requisite number of spies in the right location. The catch, though, is that those cards are distributed in an “I cut, you choose” method each round, so you may not always get what you want.

Unfortunately, aside from the finished copies of the Titan games, there wasn’t anything new that I hadn’t seen before. Calliope has a couple of other titles they’re working on, but it’s too early to release more information about them, so we’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Flip Over Frog
Play a frog, and then flip over the tiles indicated. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Next I stopped by Hub Games, where I saw a somewhat familiar game: Flip Over Frog. I’d actually seen it while I was in Taiwan, but it was the Japanese version (which includes rabbits and kittens and fish). Hub’s version is all frogs (with the occasional snake), and they’re designed to look like poison dart frogs. It’s another game that is very easy to learn: you place a frog on an available space, and then flip over all the tiles that the arrows point at. That may create new spaces to place frogs, or it may reveal frogs that were previously hidden. The ultimate goal is to get the most of your own frogs face-up when the game ends.

MegaCity Oceania
MegaCity Oceania, set up and ready to go. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Hub’s big game this year is MegaCity Oceania, designed by Michael Fox and Jordan Draper. It’s a game about constructing buildings and towers to meet certain specifications, and then adding them to the expanding floating city. Unfortunately, I only got a photo of this starting setup, not the end game, when you would see all the wild constructions built on the hex tiles. This one will be released in September—there were a few available for those who had preordered. If I get my hands on a copy to review, you’ll see a lot more photos later!

Prisma Arena prototype
Prisma Arena (prototype), a kid-friendly arena battle game with some legacy-style elements. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Finally, I saw a prototype of Prisma Arena, an arena battle game by Rory O’Connor and John Fiore. The game was designed with kids in mind and may include stickers so that players can customize their characters—the goal is to let kids put themselves into the game. There are also powers to unlock as you play the game, though I didn’t get a lot of details about that yet. Looks cute, though, with a release planned for next year.

Battle of the Bards
David Gerrard shows off a finished copy of Battle of the Bards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Next stop: Junk Spirit Games! David Gerrard had a finished copy of Battle of the Bards, which you may remember from my Kickstarter Tabletop Alert in January—or even from the prototype seen at Gen Con last year. It’s now through production (and backers have been receiving their copies), and so it was on display at the con. Probably my favorite part is the enormous first player token: that’d be the lute in the foreground. Gerrard told me that it was originally going to be smaller—less than the width of the box—but he learned that it wouldn’t cost any extra to make it bigger, so now it’s nearly the length of the box instead. I also got a look at the custom guitar picks he ordered (for those who backed for the extras), and he said he had some really funny conversations when he called to order thousands of guitar picks for a board game.

Longships, Slip Strike
Two prototypes from Junk Spirit Games: Longships, a Viking-themed pick-up-and-deliver game that includes a packing puzzle; Slip Strike, a two-player duel between teleporting time travelers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There were two game prototypes at Junk Spirit Games, too. One is Longships, which Gerrard described as a “pick up and deliver game with Vikings,” where the “pick up” portion was actually a raid on a village. The game also includes a packing aspect, where you have to make everything fit into your longboat. I’m intrigued, though this is all I could see of the game so far. Watch for it to hit Kickstarter sometime in 2020.

The other prototype was Slip Strike, which I mentioned in our Gen Con Highlights post. It’s a 2-player duel game, coming to Kickstarter in a couple of months. Each player has a set of the same cards: you can move left or right, teleport to one of five locations, or use weapons to strike your own space, two adjacent spaces, or the two farther spaces. Each player programs their next two moves simultaneously, and then cards are revealed and resolved—if you manage to hit somebody, they can time travel and teleport away so they didn’t get hit, but then that teleport card is burned and out of the game. Add to that a cooldown on several of the cards before they can be reused, and it makes for a great cat-and-mouse game, figuring out where your opponent is going to be next (or where they’ll try to hit you). I’m really looking forward to this one.

Sub Terra II
A prototype of Sub Terra II, a cooperative tile-laying game from Inside the Box Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Inside the Box Games had a prototype of Sub Terra II, a followup to their cooperative tile-laying horror game. I still haven’t managed to play the original, but it was still fun to see the new spin on this one. In the first, you’ve fallen into an underground cave, where there are monsters creeping in the shadows, and you’re looking for the exit. In this one, you’ve been hired to bring back an artifact from this temple … which happens to be protected by guardians and lava. You’ll have to find the three keys, which are giant stones so you can only carry one at a time, and then get them to the inner chamber, and then grab the artifact and get out before the tunnels fill with lava. There are a lot of characters to choose from, each with their own unique abilities, and a hazard die that triggers things like cave-ins, bursts of lava, and guardians. Expect this to hit Kickstarter in October.

Cloudspire, a MOBA-inspired title from Chip Theory Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I hadn’t know about Chip Theory Game’s Cloudspire Kickstarter campaign last fall, but clearly a lot of people did: it raised over half a million dollars from over 4,000 backers, all of whom were apparently in line on Thursday to pick up their pledges. When I saw the game laid out on the demo tables, I assumed that this was the fancy convention display—you know, giant versions, extra playmats, the sort of thing that the publisher has made up especially to show off the game but doesn’t actually come in the box. Not so. Cloudspire, a tower-defense game inspired by MOBA videogames, comes with nice plastic chips for the player pieces and neoprene mats for all of the board pieces.

Cloudspire details
The player fortress mat, and a set of chips for the Heirs, a bird-like faction. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each player’s fortress is a neoprene mat that has cut-outs for dice (for upgrades), holes for pegs, and two circles that hold the tracker chips. It’s a pretty deluxe-looking game, and a lot of people were eager to get their hands on their copies. Many of them also had the miniatures add-on, which replaces some of the chips with plastic miniatures for when you build a spire. I was kind of amazed that people were wanting to carry around these two enormous boxes with them all day at Gen Con!

Sojourn, a single-player time travel game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Over at Wyvern Gaming, I checked out a one-player game called Sojourn. The story is that you’re a time traveler, but your time machine has malfunctioned and you need to collect four fragments before you run out of health or energy. You’ll spend energy to open new timelines, traveling among various historical events as you search for the fragments. Some events are riskier than others, so you’ll have to be careful when jumping through time.

Cthulhu Deck-building Game
The Cthulhu Deck-Building Game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Wyvern Gaming also had the Cthulhu Deck-Building Game, a cooperative game about taking down the Old Ones. There are two full sets available (each stand-alone but may be combined with each other), and each player has a character that gives them special abilities. Work together with your team to get the particular equipment or weapons that suit your characters the best.

Era: Medieval Age
Era: Medieval Age at the Plan B booth. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Era: Medieval Age is a new title designed by Matt Leacock (of Pandemic fame), published by Eggertspiel (and distributed here by Plan B Games). It’s a roll-and-build, where players gain resources based on die rolls and construct various buildings, but the neat thing is that you’re actually assembling little buildings on these plastic boards. (Alas, the base game doesn’t come with that gorgeous playmat.)

Colab prototype
Prototype figures for Colab, an upcoming game from Portal Dragon. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I stopped by the Portal Dragon booth—last year I’d seen a prototype of Planetoid, and ended up backing it on Kickstarter. The finished copy had arrived just before Gen Con and I saw that they had them for sale at the booth as well. This year, there was also this intriguing little display in the booth for Colab, which is (if I remember correctly) a dice-drafting game with a mad scientist theme. I think you’ve not been very successful, so you don’t have your own laboratories and have to work out of one of those co-working spaces: thus, Colab. There was some cool character artwork, and these adorable miniatures—I like the dice-holding minions. It may be hitting Kickstarter sometime early 2020.

Yoka games
Two titles from Yoka Games: War of the Three Kingdoms, and Chio Hero. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Yoka Games, a publisher from China, had two games on display. The first was War of the Three Kingdoms, a new version of San Guo Sha (“Three Kingdoms Kill”), which is a bit like a Chinese-themed version of Bang! I’m not sure what specifically has changed from the older version to this one, since it looked a little similar at least at first glance. Chio Hero is a battle game that involves playing cards to a 3×3 grid, and using them to activate particular attacks and abilities.

A pre-production copy of Deranged from Hobby World. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Hobby World is a Russian publisher—this was the first time they had a booth at Gen Con. Their games are usually licensed to various US publishers for distribution: for instance, Sunflower Valley was published by Playroom Entertainment in the US, and Viceroy was published by Mayday Games. At Gen Con, they’re mostly here to meet with publishers and distribution to try to find deals for their games. Their big title this year was Deranged, a semi-cooperative survival game. It has deck-building, hidden objectives, plastic miniatures, and scenarios. Also, it’s possible for a player to become one of the deranged, which turns them against the other players. It doesn’t currently have plans for distribution yet, but I was sent a review copy so I’ll be taking a look at it soon!

Architectura (with fancy playmat) from Hobby World/Arcane Wonders. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Architectura is another title from Hobby World: it’s a compact city-building game that uses some clever cards that rotate to indicate their current value. I actually got a prototype of it last year at Gen Con before there were definite plans, and this year it made its debut with Arcane Wonders. Now that it’s available in the US, I’ll work on a review of it!

Welkin and Incubation
Two titles at the Luma booth: Welkin from Ankama and Incubation from Synapses Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Luma Imports is a sort of distributor that represents several publishers including Holy Grail Games, Synapses Games, Super Meeple, and Ankama. They had a couple of different games on display at their booth, with many others for sale. Two that I got photos of were Welkin and IncubationWelkin is about buying and selling houses in a magical, floating neighborhood. There was a clever mechanism that used tokens on your dashboard to collect resources, which also filled up the board in center and affected the availability of resources. You purchased houses, then got resources to power them up, and then sold them (for profit, presumably).

Incubation was about raising baby dragons—or at least hatching them. There’s a little rotating disk that controlled where various elements were added to the board, and when you hatched an egg, you got to collect resources based on the type of egg you hatched.

Nouvelle France
Nouvelle France, coming to Kickstarter soon. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I peeked in at this booth and overheard a bit of explanation for two games from Jackbro, a French publisher—I think both of these games will be hitting Kickstarter in the near future. Nouvelle France is a building game where you’re using colored blocks to build on three different locations. It uses some curious “snowdrift” pieces to represent the snow piling up around the buildings.

Animalcatraz (prototype), an animal prison break. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The other title from Jackbro was Animalcatraz, an animal prison game. Your goal is to break out of jail—or, failing that, become the ruler of the prison. This one was definitely designed for adults, not kids, in case the bloody toothbrush shiv on the table didn’t tip you off already.

Color Monster
Color Monster from Devir Games, teaching young kids to talk about their emotions. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

At Devir Games, I played a cute cooperative game called Color Monster, which was designed to help kids talk about their feelings. You move the color monster around to the various different emotions, and then share what makes you feel that emotion. Then you try to put that color into the correct jar—if you’re right, you leave it there. If you get too many “messy” jars, then you have to scramble up the remaining empty jars again. The idea is that you can also ask kids to say what makes the monster feel a certain way, because sometimes kids have an easier time giving voice to a puppet when they have trouble talking about something themselves, and it also helps young kids learn what various names of emotions mean through examples. The game itself is fairly simple, but I liked the concept, and the components are lovely and oversized. (That’s an adult hand in the photo above.)

Project Genius games
Two titles from Project Genius: Deblockle and Chroma Cube. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I was drawn to the Project Genius booth by the colorful wooden blocks, and took a look at the two titles there. Deblockle is  a two-player abstract strategy game. Each face of the cubes has a different symbol on it representing an action. On your turn, you roll a cube one space so it turns to the next face, and then you use the action that’s now showing, which may involve moving it a certain number of spaces in a particular direction. The ultimate goal is to roll a cube so that it’s on the star face, while on a star space on the board.

Chroma Cube is a one-player logic puzzle. There are 12 colored cubes, and your goal is to figure out how to arrange them so that they fulfill all of the requirements shown on the puzzle cards. So you’ll get clues like “Purple is in the same column as Mint, which is in the same row as Orange.” Looks like fun for puzzle-lovers, as long as you’re not color blind.

Magnastorm from Feuerland Spiele. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Feuerland Spiele had two games on display at their booth. The first was Magnastorm, which was almost larger than the table they had for it. I watched a couple people getting a demo, and there was a lot going on, but it included some worker placement, which then affected subsequent actions. In the meantime, you’re also building these robot turtle labs on the planet and controlling different zones. (Okay, I’ll be honest: the little robot turtle miniatures is what really caught my eye at first. I want to play this game mostly so I can build robot turtles.)

Fuji, a cooperative dice game from Feuerland Spiele. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Also from Feuerland Spiele is Fuji, a cooperative dice game about escaping an erupting volcano. Players choose locations they’re hoping to run to based on their dice rolls, but in order to succeed, you must have the highest die roll for that location. Since there’s limited information sharing, players have to feel out whether they think each player has made a good decision before the dice are revealed, and you’re trying to get everyone to safe ground as the lava spreads. I got to play this later on Thursday evening, so you’ll see another photo at the end of this post.

Moon Base
Moon Base from Itten Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Moon Base is a 2-player game from Itten Games, a Japanese publisher. I had actually seen them at a board game festival in Taiwan, so it was fun to run into them again. Their games are all really lovely and include fun, strange components. Moon Base involves placing wooden rings onto craters on the moon, and then stacking on top of those rings, in an attempt to place your settlements. I love the way it looks at the end of the game, this big overlapping mess of rings and hexes. Watch for a review of this one soon!

Wakanda Forever
Wakanda Forever from Spin Master. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Spin Master had a couple of Marvel-related games. The first was Wakanda Forever, a dice game. Players rolled dice to collect vibranium, and then secretly bid on how much vibranium they would contribute to fight the string of villains that cropped up. If you defeat a villain, you also gain a special ability, and players also had the right to challenge the current Black Panther (also the first player) to become the next Black Panther.

Sinister Six
Sinister Six from Spin Master. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The other title from Spin Master was Sinister Six, where you get to play the role of the bad guys (of which there are actually 10)! You play through a series of heists, using cards to contribute needed skills for the heist, and splitting the loot based on how early you played. Of course, no bad guy heist would be complete without the sudden but inevitable betrayals, so you can also snipe the loot from your rivals—I mean, teammates. One fun feature is that each of the villains is represented by little plastic hand miniatures, so there were just a lot of tiny hands reaching up from the table.

Thunderworks Games booth
This is as close as I ever got to saying hi to Keith Matejka from Thunderworks Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I tried to stop by to say hello to Keith Matejka at the Thunderworks Games booth a couple times, but the place was just packed each time I was nearby. Cartographers, the flip-and-fill game set in the Roll Player universe, was a hit, and lots of people were there to pick it up. I also saw a display of Lockup, another game in the Roll Player universe about building up the strongest crew in the prison (though I failed to get a photo of it).

Prototype of Arkeis from Ankama. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Arkeis is an upcoming title from Ankama—this was a prototype that people were demoing during the convention. It’s a cooperative campaign game, with players exploring pyramids and following clues. Items and curses are stored in your backpack between games, so you carry them forward to your next play, and decisions you make will influence where the story goes. It’s planned for Kickstarter in November.

Isle of Cats prototype
Prototype of Isle of Cats from City of Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

City of Games had just wrapped a very successful Kickstarter campaign for Isle of Cats just before Gen Con, so there were prototypes available to see and demo, but it wasn’t for sale. It’s a card-drafting, polyomino-placement game about rescuing cats from an island (and also collecting treasure). First you draft cards, which can give you fish so that you can entice cats to your ship. Then you use fish to get the cats (represented by polyomino tiles) and place them onto your ship, following various placement rules, trying to place similar cats together but also cover up rats on your ship. It’s a clever-looking game with an amusing theme, and City of Games will be starting to work on production soon now that the campaign is over.

Prototype of Thrive from Adam’s Apple Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I visited Adam’s Apple Games and got to try out a prototype of Thrive, which Logan Giannini reviewed when it was on Kickstarter back in March. It’s a cool 2-player abstract strategy game where you build your pieces as you play, giving them the ability to move to new locations. I gave it a shot and lost pretty handily to Adam Rehberg, but had a lot of fun doing it.

Truck Off Roll-and-Write
The map for Truck Off Roll and Write. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Adam’s Apple Games is the publisher of Truck Off, a food truck game that I really enjoy. Now, there’s a Truck Off Roll and Write! Well, the finished game will come in a box, probably with its own dice and printed rulebook, but for Gen Con they had just the pad of paper and a link to the rules online. The various polyhedral dice represent different venues (just as in the original game), with different numbers of potential customers. Each round, one player rolls the dice, and then everyone gets to mark on their own sheet where they will drive their food truck. If you reach a venue, then you write down the value of the die. But there are also some fascinating things to consider with the way the dice are ordered on the track as well as their physical locations on the map, and bonuses you can earn for using specific dice.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell from Osprey Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I’m a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, the book by Susanna Clarke, and so I was really excited when I’d heard there was a board game coming based on the book. It’s published by Osprey Games, and it looks stunning (with artwork that’s inspired by the BBC series). Even better—I have a copy in hand, and will be working on a review of it.

Storm Hollow
Storm Hollow, now licensed by Crafty Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Storm Hollow, the RPG/board game hybrid that I helped edit, is getting a second life through Crafty Games, which has acquired the license (as well as the remaining stock) from Game Salute. The game had been in something of a limbo, but Crafty Games is making the remainder available for purchase on their website, and has plans to publish a retail edition, as well as more content in the future. As somebody who worked on this game for a long time, I’m excited to see it getting some more attention, and I’m really happy for my friends Angie Hickman Newnham and Julian Leiberan-Titus who designed it!

Mistborn: Siege of Luthadel
Mistborn: House War, with the Siege of Luthadel prototype. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Crafty Games is also the publisher of Mistborn: House War, based on the Brandon Sanderson series. They’ve been working on the expansion, Siege of Luthadel, for a while now, and they had a prototype available at their booth to demo. It has overlays that fit over the Mistborn board, and new types of problems for the houses to deal with. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one. Even though I still haven’t read the Mistborn books myself (I know, I know!), I enjoyed House War for the intense negotiation and occasional backstabbing involved.

Into the Black Forest
Into the Black Forest from Green Couch Games. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I said hello to Jason Kotarski at Green Couch Games, and got a look at the finished version of Into the Black Forest, which Michael Pistiolas reviewed last year when it was on Kickstarter. It’s a clever little card game and has lovely artwork, which was showcased nicely on the playmat, too.

AEG booth
AEG re-themed this area of their booth every day of the convention: Edge of Darkness, Tiny Towns, and Ecos. (I missed Saturday, which featured their Big Game Night titles.) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

AEG went all out this year with their demo area. They have a large booth area, with part devoted to demos and another section for sales. This year, a big chunk of the demo area was themed to match a particular game … and then they took it down and changed it out every evening! So on Thursday it was Edge of Darkness and all the tables were running that game. Friday was Tiny Towns. Saturday was their three Big Game Night titles. Sunday was Ecos: First Continent. It was pretty impressive walking by and seeing the booth makeover each day.

Edge of Darkness
Edge of Darkness from AEG. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

So, back to Edge of Darkness: this is another game by John D. Clair using the card-crafting system from Mystic Vale. It’s also set in the Mystic Vale universe, though this one takes place in the human part of the world, where monsters are attacking the cities. The cards here are double-sided: one side has the parts you use to build your cards, and the other side has monsters. There’s a cube tower that randomly distributes cubes into three different wells, which then determines when a monster attacks and who’s affected by it. It’s a big, sprawling game, but I’m fascinated by it and hope I get a chance to try it down the road. There will be another Kickstarter launching this fall for an expansion, so if you missed the original, you’ll get another opportunity to get in on it then. I was told that because of the expense, this is a game that isn’t likely to go to retail.

Atelier from AEG. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Another new title from AEG this year was Atelier: The Painter’s Studio, a game about creating masterpieces. You use dice as your assistants to run errands like fetching paint, and then use those to complete paintings, which then increase your reputation. One nice touch is that all of the masterpieces in the game are real paintings!

Dragonrealm, a followup to Dragonwood from Gamewright. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Gamewright had a couple new titles to show off this year. First up is Dragonrealm, a follow up to Dragonwood (which Rory Bristol reviewed back in 2016). In this version, you use combinations of cards to claim realms: “sneak” with a straight, “search” with matching numbers, and “storm” with a flush. I was told that this game increases the complexity a little bit over Dragonwood, but uses the same core mechanic, so fans of the first may be interested in giving this one a try.

Sushi Roll
Sushi Roll from Gamewright. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The ever-popular Sushi Go! also got a sequel: Sushi Roll, a dice game. Instead of drafting cards, players are drafting dice. I particularly liked the little conveyor belt boards used to pass the dice along to the next player.

Bee Lives
A finished copy of Bee Lives: We Will Only Know Summer. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

It’s always fun seeing finished copies of games. I wrote about Bee Lives: We Will Only Know Summer when it was on Kickstarter and have gotten a finished copy, but I figured it was worth showing off this image of how it turned out. I’ll have to give it another go and see if I can make it through without losing quite so many bees this time!

Rory O'Connor and Matt Shoemaker
Rory O’Connor (left) gets the rundown on Bee Lives from designer Matt Shoemaker. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I love it when game designers get excited about each other’s games, and I get to be a fly (or a bee?) on the wall. Rory O’Connor from Hub Games (designer of Rory’s Story Cubes, among other things) happened to swing by to check out Bee Lives while I was at the booth. (Sorry, Matt, the only photo I got of the two of you has your eyes closed.)

Oink Games booth
So many great, tiny games at the Oink Games booth! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

One of my favorite publishers is Oink Games: their games come in tiny packages but are packed with fun, and this year I preordered a couple of their new titles. I saw that Moneybags, which I bought last year at Gen Con, now comes in a double-wide box rather than a double-tall like mine. Nine Tiles Panic (one of the new ones I got) also comes in this double-wide format. It’s always tempting to just say “one of each!” at this booth, but even though they’re tiny, they can do a lot of damage to your wallet.

Almost-final copy of Mechanica from Resonym. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Just as the exhibit hall was closing down, I peeked in at the Resonym booth, where they had a few copies of Mechanica for demo. These are almost-final production copies: there are still a few more tweaks to be made, but they’re getting close! In case you missed my Kickstarter Tabletop AlertMechanica is a game about building your factory to efficiently manufacture robot vacuum cleaners. They just want to make the world a cleaner, tidier place! And they’re so helpful!

Mechanica robot miniatures
The robot on the left seems to be … angry? Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

While I was chatting with co-designer Mary Flanagan, she mentioned that at one point during the design process the team discovered that there’s Roomba slash fiction, so if you want something to keep you awake at night, there’s a rabbit hole for you to explore. Co-designer Max Seidman also showed off the latest models of the plastic robots, which have a little bump at the bottom so they sit in the factory puzzle pieces. They managed to convince their manufacturer to make just a few of the robots with angry eyebrows, so you can see that there are a few of them that are plotting our demise. How adorable!

Northgard: Uncharted Lands prototype
A prototype of Northgard: Uncharted Lands, a deck-building game with tile exploration. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Finally, I got to check out just a couple more games after the exhibit hall closed. I met with Jim Gaudin of Crowdfunding Agency, a company that helps designers and publishers manage their Kickstarter campaigns. I was meeting up to get a prototype of Reigns: The Council, a game inspired by the app, in which one player is the king and everyone else acts as the king’s advisors, making proposals that will affect the four pillars of society, in the hopes of accomplishing their secret objectives. Watch for a more in-depth review of that one when the Kickstarter launches (and a photo of the game on my last day).

I also got a peek at Northgard: Uncharted Lands, another game based on a digital game. This one involves deck-building and tile-laying, and you use the cards in your deck to place more tiles, move around, build on the tiles, and attack monsters. I haven’t played the videogame, but the board game looks pretty fun. It will also likely be coming to Kickstarter this fall.

After my final meeting, Rob and I grabbed dinner (where we happened to run into the Steve Jackson Games crew—thanks for sharing your table with us!), and then we decided to check out the Nerd Night event, which supports local charities. It’s held in the Union Station, which I always have trouble finding the entrance to, but we managed to find a free table and played a couple of games before we needed to go to bed.

My visit to Fuji did not end well. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Jessy Damon from Chix Can Game had a copy of Fuji, and since I’d seen it earlier that day, I was interested in giving it a shot. We discovered that it was pretty tricky, trying to gauge whether you had the best dice that matched a particular criteria, and how to best use our tools and powers so that everyone could run away from the lava. In the end, I got stuck in a far corner and Rob and Jessy made it to safety, as I watched the lava cut off my escape route. Next time!

Tricks and the Phantom
Playing Tricks and the Phantom from Oink Games with fellow GeekDad Rob Huddleston and Jessy Damon from Chix Can Game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

We also broke out one of my new Oink titles, Tricks and the Phantom. It’s a clever trick-taking game that only has 11 cards. You play your card face-down, and indicate what color it is with the token. Then, everyone tries to guess which card is the criminal (winning the trick). You get points for winning the trick as well as guessing the winner, but there are lots of interesting card interactions that can mix things up. Plus, the Phantom is the 1-value card (there are two copies, and I happened to get both of them in one draw), and you’re allowed to put any color you want on it when you play it, which makes things a bit more confusing. I got to play this a couple more times over the course of the weekend, and have really enjoyed it.

Well, that’s the end of Part 1! I’ve got a lot of photos to get through, but watch for Part 2 later this week!

Update: Here’s Part 2!

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1 thought on “Gen Con 2019 Recap With Photos, Part 1

  1. I was one of the presenters (not a company employee) for Hub Games at GenCon. I have some pictures that I took of finished cities if you would like any.

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