Well, it’s the last day of Gen Con! Sunday of Gen Con is a strange time: it’s Family Day, so there are a lot of parents with younger kids. A lot of publishers have sold out of the hottest games, so although there may still be demos running, a lot of shelves are empty. People are traveling to get home, so the exhibit hall is less crowded than usual, but you’ll also see people dragging their luggage, making a few last stops before heading to the airport or loading up their vehicles.
This year, for the first time, I was not leaving Indianapolis on Sunday, so that gave me more flexibility: I was able to stay in the exhibit hall until it closed, and I also didn’t have to get everything packed up and checked out of the hotel room before heading to the convention center. (That’s always a pain, playing the elevator game when everyone is checking out with all of their luggage!) Instead, I was able to roughly arrange things in my suitcases to see how much space I had left, and then head to the exhibit hall without worrying about what time I needed to get back and find a ride to the airport.
For me, Sunday is a last chance to stop by and say hello to the publishers I haven’t seen yet—and there were a lot. Gen Con continues to grow, but our GeekDad team shrank, and Dave Banks left some pretty big shoes to fill. By Sunday morning, I had written down a list of about 20 publishers, people, or games I hadn’t seen yet, and that list wasn’t complete. Plus there are always some publishers who want me to check back on Sunday because if they have some remaining stock, they’ll send me home with a review copy of a particular game. Well, I checked out as many as I could and still missed a lot, but here’s how I fared!
First up: I had remembered on Saturday evening that Czech Games Edition (publishers of Codenames) doesn’t actually have a booth in the exhibit hall, but instead has a demo room upstairs. I’d heard about Letter Jam, their cooperative word game, but hadn’t gotten a chance to see it for myself yet. So I started off with a demo there (though it was also already sold out).
In Letter Jam, each player has a scrambled word made by their neighbor—but the trick is that you can’t see any of your own letters, and the goal is to figure out your word. In the demo, we used 4-letter words. Players give clues by spelling words using the letters that are visible to them, using the numbered chips to indicate the order of the letters in the word. Then, everyone tries to figure out what their own letters are, based on what they can see. It’s a clever game, and one I hope to try again soon.
Brain Games had a prototype of Iron Forest, an impressive followup to IceCool. Like its predecessor, Iron Forest is a dexterity flicking game where the nested box is connected together to create the playing surface. This time, though, it’s a double-decker board, with holes that allow the pieces to fall through, and a launching tube that sends your piece up onto the upper level. The prototype on display used a penguin piece from IceCool, but the finished game will have flickable mechs instead.
I got this little video clip of the launching tube in action:
Watch for Iron Forest on Kickstarter next year!
I ran into Jason and Justin Lee, the twin brothers behind Castor & Pollux Games. I’ve tried out a few of their prototypes in the past (including Hippos Love Sushi, which unfortunately did not fund), and I was excited to see that the prototype I had tried out as Zoo Break had gotten picked up by HABA, changed to a barnyard theme as Bauernhof Bande. Unfortunately it’s not available in the US yet, but it did get recommended for the Kinderspiel des Jahres, which is pretty great! Maybe it’ll make it to the US eventually.
I visited Kids Table Board Gaming, where Helaina Cappel was showing off a finished copy of Wreck Raiders. The little diver meeples turned out great! I also saw briefly (but, uh, failed to get a better photo) of the upcoming Fossilis, though you can see it in the background of the second photo above. It’s about digging at a fossil site (or moving some dirt around to cover up somebody else’s area!), and uses some chunky tiles for a 3D effect. Fossilis will be hitting Kickstarter in October.
I visited the dv Giochi booth, and saw that they had a few new versions of Deckscape, the single-deck escape room game. They also had two titles in the 3 Secrets line, which I hadn’t played before. It’s a cooperative mystery game, in which each card has a character who has 3 secrets to figure out, hinted at by the colored items in the illustration. Players have to ask the undercover agent “yes or no” questions to piece together the clues before the time runs out. I’ve gotten review copies of these and have tried a few out—they can be really tough, but fun to puzzle out!
Flatout Games (who also designed the delightful Point Salad from AEG) had a prototype of their upcoming Kickstarter game, Calico. It’s a tile-placement game where you’re assembling quilts, and you earn buttons by matching colors, cats by matching patterns, and some bonus points for fulfilling particular requirements.
Each cat has two preferred patterns, along with a number or layout of tiles before they’ll come sit on your quilt. I’ve got a prototype to try out, and it’s a bit brain-burny! The Kickstarter will launch in October.
Dude Games had two new titles that caught my eye. The first is Bad Bones, a tower defense game. You have a tower in the center of your board, and enemies will enter and try to damage it. As you fend off enemies, if they leave the sides of your board, they appear on your neighbor’s boards. While the game comes with four boards, you could combine multiple sets to play with as many players as you want, with the enemies traversing the entire line!
Gravity Superstar is a kids’ game about collecting stars, and it uses a clever way to manipulate the “gravity” for your character. Your meeple is oriented in a particular direction, and when you move, it will fall straight down (including wrapping to the other side of the board) until it lands on a platform, collecting stars along the way.
Your cards allow you to move in particular directions (and then fall), or rotate your meeple to change your personal gravity.
Tuesday Knight Games, makers of Two Rooms and a Boom, had a demo copy of Tooth or Bear, designed by Jennifer Abele. It’s a mostly-kid-friendly spin on Truth or Dare, with some adorable artwork for the cards. Tuesday Knight Games also won a few ENnies this year for their sci-fi horror RPG Mothership—congrats!
I peeked by the Mayday Games booth, and while I didn’t stay long, I did get this photo of Rescue Polar Bears, a cooperative game about rescuing polar bears as the ice melts. It has some really adorable bears, squeezed onto a boat!
Also from Mayday Games is Yummy Yummy Pancake, which actually comes with that frying pan. It’s a dexterity/memory game from Korea: one player flips the pancakes in the pan, and then challenges other players to identify face-down pancakes. If the other player is right, they get to take it, and if they’re wrong, the flipper gets to keep it.
Forbidden Games had finished copies of a few of their titles. Railroad Rivals is one that Rob Huddleston reviewed last year, and the finished version looks really impressive. Forbidden Games wants all of their games to have top-notch components and a nice table presence.
The other title from Forbidden Games was Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates!, which I reviewed when it was on Kickstarter. It combines deck-building with racing on a map and collecting resources. The finished game is pretty impressive, with an enormous board and impressive ships.
The plastic pirate ships are pretty fancy and look great, though I think the tracks will get a little crowded when they’re next to each other.
Back at the Brain Games booth, I took a look at Team3, a cooperative building game with a funny twist. Three players need to work together to build a structure shown on an instruction card (seen in the photo on the right). The trick is that the player who’s building can’t see, the player who has the instructions can’t speak, and the player in the middle can’t hear. So it’s all about figuring out how to communicate with each other with some absurd restrictions. There are two versions of Team3 (pink and green), each with their own building cards and mini-expansions.
Pigasus, also from Brain Games, is a silly speed-observation game with wacky animal hybrids. Each card shows an animal that has the body of one animal and the head (and coloration) of another. Cards are flipped onto the table one after another, and if you spot a match, then you grab the squeaky rubber pigasus. Two cards match if they’re the same two animals, but reversed: for instance, the gorilla with the pig head and the pig with the gorilla head seen at the bottom of the photo would form a match.
As I mentioned in Part 3, I kept zipping by the Smirk & Dagger booth looking for Curt, so this time through I saw Wooly Whammoth, a press-your-luck game about hunting mammoths. I brought a review copy of this one home with me, so I’ll be giving it a shot soon! (Still no Curt yet.)
I’d seen Papillon when it was on Kickstarter this spring, but then the campaign was suspended and relaunched and I missed it the second time around. It’s a tile-laying game about building a garden that attracts butterflies, and it uses some really fun 3D flowers and butterflies (with clips) as part of the game.
Sadly, the only photo I got of Periodic from Genius Games is this blurry one. It’s a game that actually uses the periodic table as the game board, which seems pretty cool. Genius Games has a focus on science-based titles, and they actually just acquired Artana Games, which has had a lot of games based on history and technology as well. If you like games that have an educational twist, this is a company to keep your eye on!
Pandasaurus Games had a hit with Mental Blocks, which sold out over the weekend. I got a chance to try a demo with the giant convention version seen above. The game includes foam blocks of different shapes and colors, and all the players are trying to build a particular structure together. Each player has a card that shows the structure from one particular side, or an isometric view that doesn’t show the colors, so you’re trying to figure out how all the different perspectives line up. (This is especially difficult because you may not all be arranged in the right order around the table for your perspectives to match up.) On top of that, each player also has a restriction: you may not be able to touch blue pieces, for instance, or you might not be able to talk at all. There’s also a variant with a hidden traitor who knows the answer, but is trying to prevent you from building the structure in time.
Another title from Pandasaurus Games that a lot of people have been talking about is Machi Koro Legacy. Yep, that family-friendly tableau building game is entering the legacy genre with a campaign that plays over the course of 10 games, with lots of secrets to unlock as you play. I’m curious how this will play out, and if fans of Machi Koro will go for the legacy-style gameplay.
Another popular title of the con was Medium from Greater Than Games. It’s a mind-melding game where two players have to come up with the same answer based on two clue cards they’ve played for each other. For instance, in the photo above, the clues are “game” and “window.” The players have a moment to think, and then blurt out an answer simultaneously: “Minecraft!” “Computer!” Uh-oh. That wasn’t a match. So then they try again, but this time their clues are the two words they said. You have three attempts to get it right, and you score fewer points the longer it takes to get the match.
I finally found the Leder Games booth! It was decorated with giant-sized meeples from Root, as well as some of the various structures from the game (like the roosts and the factories). By this time on Sunday, there wasn’t quite as much left at the booth, but there was a demo of Vast: The Mysterious Manor running. I had written about it when it was on Kickstarter, but I know the game has changed a bit since then, so I was really excited to get a review copy to try out! (So excited that I didn’t get a photo of it, apparently… but you’ll see more in my review, I promise!) It’s on its way to backers now, and will hit stores around Halloween. Meanwhile, designer Cole Wehrle is working on a new game, Saga, which will have a prototype coming to PAX Unplugged—alas, I won’t be there to see it!
Tasty Minstrel Games had a demo running of its deluxe version of Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done, a game with a somewhat controversial theme: you’re crusaders advancing across Europe, spreading the influence of your Order. The game uses a mancala/rondel mechanism, and the deluxe edition adds in some fancy bling like the metal coins.
I peeked in at Petersen Games, hoping to get a look at the finished Startropolis since I’d played the prototype. Alas, Sandy Petersen told me that there was a mix-up and the packages that arrived were entirely the add-on boxes, not the full game. Instead, I snapped these photos of The Tooth Fairy Game, a kids-game from the Larva Games line. It’s actually a collection of games that can be played with these cards and little bags of plastic teeth. It struck me as funny to see this up next to games like Cthulhu Wars and Evil High Priest, but take a look at the cover and you’ll agree that maybe this game is a good fit after all.
I’ll be honest: when I’d heard about GWAR vs. Time! before Gen Con, I had to go look up GWAR because I didn’t know what it was. Turns out it’s a heavy metal band with a huge following, and they also like games. GWAR vs. Time! is a deck-building game featuring people from the band and characters from their storyline, and it’s on Kickstarter for just a few more days. The game (and the Kickstarter video) aren’t really for kids, so it’s not the type of game I’ll probably cover in depth, but it’s still fun to see these seemingly different worlds crash together like this. GWAR actually made an appearance at the booth on Sunday, I’m told, and the booth staff had to work quickly to avoid getting the booth shut down by the fire marshal.
The game itself has two games in one, one for more experienced gamers and one that is designed for fans of GWAR who may not have played as many modern tabletop games. It’s expected to release in March after the Kickstarter is fulfilled.
AEG’s booth on Sunday was decorated for Ecos: First Continent, another game by the prolific John D. Clair. This one’s a game about shaping a continent—not really civilization-building, but more like terraforming. It’s a game where everyone plays simultaneously to their own tableau based on element tokens drawn from a bag. It’ll be arriving in stores in October.
Cryptozoic something of a reboot with DC Deck-Building Game: Rebirth. While it can be combined with previous games in the series, it adds some movement between locations and other new mechanics that set it apart. I was told that it would be a good starting point for players who have been curious about the DC Deck-Building Game but haven’t tried it yet.
Cryptozoic also had a deck-building game set in the Epic Spell Wars universe: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards of Annihilageddon. In case you’re not familiar with the original games, these are definitely not for kids, and are filled with heavy metal, over the top fantasy elements. I can’t even post the names of some of the cards that I saw in the game. It’s not really my style of game, but if you enjoyed the original and you like deck-building games, now you know.
Another new title from Cryptozoic this year is Spyfall: Time Travel, a new spin on Spyfall. (You can read Logan’s review of DC Spyfall here.) It’s a game in which one player is the spy and doesn’t know where everyone else is, and has to fake it, while everyone else is trying to figure out who’s the spy. This version adds new locations throughout history.
Daily Magic Games had finished copies of Thieves Den for demo. I love the artwork on this game, and the way that the various areas on the board are represented in the artwork. It’s a clever little card-drafting, worker-placement game, and I’m excited to get a finished copy soon!
IDW had a couple of games on display. The first was Tonari, a fishing-themed game that seems pretty easy to learn: on your turn, you move the boat one space and pick up the token there. The key is that you can’t move to an empty space, so you’re trying to pick up tokens that are valuable to you, while also steering your opponents toward a space where they may not get something they want. There’s also a curious scoring mechanism where your score is the total of yours and the player to your left, so you have to take that into account as well.
IDW also had a prototype of Metal Gear Solid, which is expected to arrive sometime later this year. The board game brings the video game to the tabletop, and has a lot of cool miniatures, a modular board, and more.
IDW opened up pre-orders for Metal Gear Solid earlier this year and Phase 1 is already closed, but you can sign up here to be notified when Phase 2 pre-orders are open.
And one more from IDW: Towers of Arkhanos. It’s a dice-drafting, tower-building game where you will end up stacking up coaster-sized tiles on top of the dice, trying to gain the most prestige points. I took this photo of a demo game, and they hadn’t gotten to the second floors yet, but the towers look pretty cool once they get stacked up.
Eagle-Gryphon Games hasn’t always had a booth at Gen Con, but this year they were there, with a couple of their games on display. One that I was particularly drawn to was On Mars, designed by Vital Lacerda and illustrated by Ian O’Toole—a team that has also done several other great games together.
On Mars is a hefty game for sure, both in terms of physical size and game complexity, but it looks pretty amazing. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to try it out any time soon, but it’s on my list (along with Escape Plan, another Lacerda-O’Toole collaboration).
I finally did catch Curt Covert at the Smirk & Dagger booth, now that I’d gotten a peek at most of the new titles. One I hadn’t looked at yet was the new edition of Cutthroat Caverns, which has all-new artwork and some really snazzy components. I reviewed the original way back in 2011—it was one of the first Smirk & Dagger titles I had played—and this update gives it a more modern look and feel.
The player boards and the encounter life tracker board are now dual-layered so that they hold the markers in place, and the artwork and graphic design has gotten a makeover. The game is a semi-cooperative dungeon crawl, where your “team” faces a series of monsters, but everyone wants to land the killing blow to get the glory. That results in a lot of jostling for position and interference, which can also lead to defeat if you’re all too busy messing with each other to kill off the monsters.
I stopped by Inside Up Games (another booth that had shifted locations, so I didn’t spot it earlier in the weekend) to say hi to Conor McGoey and get my annual bone-crushing hug. He had finished copies of Gorus Maximus, the gladiator-themed trick-taking game, as well as a prototype of 7 Souls, which recently funded on Kickstarter.
Alas, the exhibit hall was closing down by this point (Sundays are also a shorter day), so it was time to exit. And, with that, Gen Con was officially done!
With the end of the day and my final batch of games, I went back to the hotel room and played a little preliminary game of Suitcase Tetris, punching out some games to lighten the load, nesting smaller games into larger empty boxes, and (most importantly) weighing my suitcases to make sure they were all under the 50-pound limit. However, because I was sticking around and wanted to have some games to play for the evening, I didn’t seal everything up just yet.
After dinner, Rob (who was also staying until Monday) and I went out looking for a spot to play games and people to play with. Since the convention center was now closed, we tried a couple of the downtown hotels, and eventually found a table. I tweeted our location, and while we waited for a response, we sat down to play Moon Base from Itten Games. It’s a two-player game where you draft and then stack rings; the colors of the two supporting rings determines which color can be placed on top, and your goal is to have large open rings at the end of the round so you can place your hexagonal settlements to score points. It’s a really bizarre-looking game, but a lot of fun.
When we finished, we heard that there were some people headed to the JW Marriott for games. We hadn’t gone there all weekend because we were staying at a hotel in the opposite direction of the convention center this year, but we decided to give it a shot. As it turned out, it’s very sparsely populated on Sunday evening, but at least there were plenty of tables!
We broke out another Itten game, Here Comes the Dog. In this one, early humans are huddled by a giant fire, attempting to tame the wild dogs who hang around in the darkness. It’s a bit of a press-your-luck game: you need meat to tame the dogs, but if the fire goes out then you get attacked, and the more meat you’re carrying, the more dogs attack.
The little meeples are designed so that they can stand and pet a dog, which is adorable. But also, sometimes your people get knocked down during an attack, and when you rebuild the fire and collect yourselves, you notice that there are some people missing. Hmmm.
We met a couple from North Carolina, Kat and Ryan, who had just discovered Oink Games this year and had picked up a couple of them, so we joined them for a game of Startups, one of my favorites. It’s about investing in various companies and trying to get the majority stakeholder in them, and includes a little bit of bluffing and bidding.
Next up, we broke out Tricks and the Phantom again, and I really like the way it plays with four players. Trying to figure out who has the phantom, and also trying to figure out if you can actually win the trick, is a very cool puzzle.
We decided to try the prototype of Reigns: The Council, which is coming to Kickstarter next week. It’s based on the Reigns app, but has been turned into a multi-player game where one player is the king and the other players bring various proposals that will affect the four pillars of society. The prototype came with a sparkly pink crown for the king to wear.
The cards use artwork from the game, with lots of different characters, and each proposal can affect some fo the four pillars: the church, the population, the military, and the economy. Each of the advisor players has a secret goal about two of the pillars, and they’re hoping to pass proposals that will result in a particular state of the kingdom. There’s some funny storytelling aspects to the game, and we had a fun time with it.
We closed out the night with another round of Colorful Treasure, though we were all getting tired to the point that we couldn’t remember where anything was, which made this memory-based game a little bit harder. Kat and Ryan said this was their first Gen Con, and they were definitely planning to return!
And then I slept.
On Monday, I discovered that I was on the same flight back to Portland as a couple of my friends, so we made some plans to meet up for brunch and then hang out and play some games until it was time to leave for the airport. We were able to meet up with Elizabeth Hargrave and, after some scouting around, finally found a hotel lobby with a free table.
First, we played a round of my Emperor’s New Clothes, because T. and Jessy had never played it. (I did get a chance to play with Elizabeth back at the Stumptown Game Summit, and I think I’ll have her tweet about it printed out and framed.) In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a game that I funded on Kickstarter back in 2013 that plays with our perceptions of what makes a game work.
Next, we played In Front of the Elevators, which we decided (in honor of Gen Con) represented a family trying to get their luggage out of the hotel at check-out time, instead of the usual family visiting a mall theme. It works pretty well, other than the “cafe rule” where three people of the same type will leave to go to the cafe if they’re in the same line. I guess we decided those three just finally gave up and took the stairs.
Finally, we played the prototype of Miyabi from HABA. It’s a tile-placement game designed by Michael Kiesling, set for a release at Essen this year. Each player has their own garden board, and they draft tiles from a center market. On each turn, you draft a tile and then place it into your garden, and then score points. But there are, of course, some restrictions. Each of the garden features may only be placed in the corresponding row: so all of the koi ponds must be in the third row, and all of the rocks go in the bottom row.
The other restriction is that you can only use each column once per round: after you place a feature in a column, you stand the lantern meeple above that column, and so you can’t place any more features in that column this round. The scoring reminds me a little of NUMBER 9, where it’s the size of the tile multiplied by the level it’s on. Finally, there is some end game scoring for whoever has the most of each feature, so you don’t want to cover up too many features if you can help it. It’s a clever game with a puzzle aspect to it.
The Indianapolis airport sets up small gaming tables throughout during Gen Con so that travelers can sit and play games while they’re waiting for their flights. I caught Jaime Lawrence and Kim Brebach from Good Games playing Getaway Driver in the food court area! It’s a 2-player cat-and-mouse game with one player as the cops and the other as the getaway driver.
When we got to our gate, we had time for a quick round of Bubble Tea from Renegade Games before boarding. It’s a real-time game where you layer transparent cards to get a specific combination of ingredients to match the dice. The ingredients are adorable little animal-foods, and it’s another game that feels like a puzzle, but with some time pressure because you’re racing the other players.
My flight was fairly uneventful—I paid for wifi so I could tweet my huge threads of board games (which you’ve just seen, in more detail) and selfies (which you can find here, if you’re interested).
I’ll close this out with just two more photos. First, a shot of two of my three suitcases, packed to the brim with games! (I pack a bunch of bubble wrap with me on the way there to help pad the boxes, since 5 days worth of summer clothes isn’t nearly enough to spread across the suitcases.) Everything made it home safely, with no significant damage. Yay!
And, finally, my Gen Con haul, which I’ve shared before. For the record, here’s what you’re looking at (roughly from left to right, top to bottom:
- Tricks and the Phantom – Oink Games
- Clank! Expeditions: Temple of the Ape Lords – Renegade Games/Dire Wolf Studios
- Nine Tiles Panic – Oink Games
- Ton Ton – Happy Baobab
- Bubble Tea – Renegade Games
- Rhino Hero – HABA
- Wing Spirits – Big Cat Games
- Here Comes the Dog – Itten Games
- Village Pillage – Jellybean Games
- ArtSee – Renegade Games
- Moon Base – Itten Games
- Wreck Raiders – Kids Table BG
- The Captain Is Dead: Dangerous Planet – AEG
- Wooly Whammoth – Smirk & Dagger
- Meeple Party – 9th Level
- 3 Laws of Robotics – Floodgate Games
- 3 Secrets – dv Giochi
- 3 Secrets: Crime Time – dv Giochi
- Annecto Punch – Big Cat Games
- Flip Over Frog – Hub Games
- Undo: Cherry Blossom Festival – Pegasus Spiele
- Time Chase – Renegade Games
- Lanterns Dice – Renegade Games
- Mystic Market – Thinkfun
- ClipCut Parks – Renegade Games
- Astro Trash – The OP
- Reigns: The Council – Nerial
- Vast: Mysterious Manor – Leder Games
- Vast: Haunted Hallways – Leder Games
- HABA dinosaur skull – HABA
- Gorus Maximus – Inside Up Games
- Unfair Expansion – Good Games
- Funkoverse: Harry Potter 101 – Funko
- Mountains – HABA
- Funkoverse: Harry Potter 100 – Funko
- Unfair – Good Games
- Valley of the Kings Premium Edition – AEG
- Welcome To… expansions (Halloween, Winter Wonderland, Outbreak, Doomsday) – Deep Water Games
- Truck Off Roll and Write prototype – Adam’s Apple Games
- Burgle Bros 2 prototype – Tim Fowers Games
- … and then we died. – killjoy
A big thank you to all the publishers and designers I met with at Gen Con, and apologies to all of you that I missed! I wish Gen Con could last another day so I could get around to all of the booths, plus the demo rooms and gaming halls. There’s just so much to take in!
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed this journey through Gen Con with me, and stay tuned for reviews as I start making my way through these stacks!