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GenCon WrapUp - Nicholas

GenCon: The Best Four Days in Gaming

tl;dr: I spent Wednesday through Saturday at GenCon in Indianapolis with a friend of mine, scoping out new projects for EBG, as well as hunting down some of my personal favorite developers. I found more (by my count, over 100!) than I could possibly hope to cover in a single post, but I'm going to give you my top 15 games in random order that I saw, new and older, and then tell you all about my surprise developer of the con. Ready? Let's wrap up.

The Networks + Expansions - Formal Ferret Games

I first met Formal Ferret when I stumbled across a Kickstarter Campaign for their game called The Networks. The pitch seemed really great- Build a prime-time lineup of cheekily-named shows, and carry them through their lifetimes to syndication. I didn't back it because I was broke at the time, and I'm very sorry I didn't, because they've got a whole slate of expansions for it. After talking with them at their booth, they agreed to let EBG do a review of those new expansions, so I'm very excited to get that game to the table finally. Look for our review in early September.

Ship Shape - Calliope Games


Calliope Games' Titan series focuses big-name designers onto a single mechanic, and then has them build a whole game around it to teach new players how that mechanic works. For Ship Shape, that mechanic is Auction / Bidding, and the designer is Rob Daviau. Each player has a deck of bidding cards numbered 1-8, and each round you will use them to bid on pallets of goods you stash in your cargo hold back on your boat. The pallets have holes in them, though, so you'll only score what you can see from the top at the end of the round. It plays quick and has a very satisfying feel. 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - USAopoly

Quartz is one of my favorite games of all time, and it's actually the game I wrote a review on for my interview with EBG. USAopoly is introducing a reskin of Quartz themed to Snow White, and it's a perfect marriage. You take on the role of one of the dwarfs, and head off to the mines. This version introduces individual player objectives that will score more points at the end of the game, as well as a rework of the gems for up to 7 players. If you've never played Quartz, I highly recommend grabbing this title when it comes out.

Anachrony - Mindclash Games

I knew almost nothing about Anachrony going into GenCon, but stopping off at the Mindclash booth changed that in a big way. The first thing I noticed about the game were the components. Really slick looking miniatures dotted the table, and then my host at the booth started talking to me about worker placement with time travel and all my pleasure receptors started buzzing. It looks to be a bit of a space hog both on the shelf and on the table, but watching a couple rounds of people harvest resources and then send them back in time so their past selves could use them to build the very device used to get them there... well, I was in. The base game came out last year, but there's a new expansion which brings even more. Look for our review on this one in the not-too-distant future (or past).

Visitor In Blackwood Grove - Resonym

Resonym games brought out Visitor at Gencon this year, and it's currently a Target exclusive. For a measly $20, you get a nearly-infinitely replayable 2v1v1v1v1 abstract experience with a glow-in-the-dark box. A huge mess of object cards are used by the Visitor to try and get the Kid to figure out the "pass rule." If you've ever played Zendo, you get the idea. By showing the table which objects adhere to the invented rule, and which ones don't, the Visitor wants to make sure the kid can suss it out before the individual agents from the CIA or FBI do. The kid and Visitor win together, but each G-man is playing for themselves. It's lightning-fast and gorgeous.

Inoka - XYZ Game Labs

A simple and gorgeous take on Rock/Paper/Scissors that plays different at two than it does at 3-4. Combine two copies to play up to 8. Both game modes are satisfying and fun, even if they are primarily luck-based. The art is a huge draw, as Inoka takes place in a realm of imbued forest creatures, constantly at war with each other. I participated in the first-ever world championship at GenCon, and came back from being down 0-2 to lose in the fifth match of the first round. After our match, the lead developer pulled me aside to note that our way of playing had never been done in the thousands of playtest games. So, that felt cool. The Kickstarter has closed, but it's coming out for everyone soon.

Keyforge - Fantasy Flight Games


One of the hottest buzzes at GenCon was made when FFG announced Keyforge at their In-Flight report, and then proceeded to give everyone in attendance a deck of their own to try it out. The hook is that for $10, you get a one-of-a-kind deck that no one else will ever have. Each deck has it's own Archon with a unique name, and each card back in that deck is stamped with unique art, specific to that archon. I had a chance to play against lead designer Brad Andres from FFG, and while he was stomping all over me with his deck, he explained in great detail about how he couldn't talk at all about how they balance decks, but it was very likely that some would be good, and some would be less so, but it didn't matter, because you'll never ever find that deck anywhere else. Tournament possibilities abound here, and this game is certain to be as divisive as it is pretty. 

Clank! Expeditions Gold and Silk - Dire Wolf / Renegade

Announced literally the first day of Gencon with limited availability at the show, the first Expeditions title for the Clank! base game was very quickly added to my list of things to talk about. After meeting with Matt from Dire Wolf, I knew I had to pick this up. Adding a new two-sided board, great new meeples and some 50+ tokens, this is a must-grab for anyone who still gets Clank! to the table, which should be all of you. I was able to talk to Matt about my only complaint for this game: the lack of support for 5 or more players. He admitted that they hear that a lot, and they've messed with trying to make it work. The drawback here is downtime. With 5+ people playing out their hands, it's a long time before play circles back to you, which makes the game feel draggy. While sad, I agreed that I'd rather play a fun game with fewer friends than a boring one with more. Stay tuned for more announcements in the Clank! world, though, I'm assured there's more coming.

Decrypto - IELLO Games

For those of you who adore Codenames, but are looking for a new game with the same feel, stop right here. Decrypto pits two teams of up to four players each against each other trying to suss out three digit codes. Each round, one team member is the Encryptor, who draws a random code and then looks at the four words that only their team can see. Their job is to give clues to the correct order of words such that their team knows what the order is, but the other team can't group them together well enough to sort it out. I got this to the table my first night back from the con with my regular group, and we loved it. It's quick and just abstract enough to be really refreshing.

Iquazu - HABA


I stopped by the HABA booth to talk about games for my nearly-four-year-old, and was stopped short by Iquazu. My host here was equally amped for it, and it's easy to see why. The chest of colored gems is eye-catching, but the gameplay here looks just delightful. Players take turns dropping their colored gems into the rows of earth created by the shifting tides. As the rows fill up with water behind you and drain in front of you, scoring tokens are revealed, allowing you to draw cards, multiply your score, and place more gems. The water covering the board shifts and slides around providing a very cool tactile experience as things are covered and revealed, and the gameplay seems simple enough to play with kids of all ages. I wasn't able to pick this one up for myself at the Con, but if you can, nab it.

Mercado - Kosmos Games

As Tom from the Kosmos booth told me, "Fancy people like fancy things." In Mercado, each player has their own mag of gems that they will draw from and place on differing baubles across the table. Combs, mirrors, gold-inlaid musical instruments, they're all here. The really cool bit for me was the variable-position score tracker at the top of the photo above. There are several start positions on it, so each player can pick where they begin, in order to change the sequence of the bonuses they gain throughout. First one to complete a full lap will win, so the order becomes very important. The art felt very appropriate to the gameplay, and with a snappy 30 minute playtime, this feels like a very satisfying palate cleanser between more meaty dishes.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Champions - Playfusion


While I'm normally not a fan of CCGs, Playfusion's newest contribution to the hugely vast world of Warhammer brings some very spicy ingredients to the feast. Taking what they've learned from their existing IP, Lightseekers, Playfusion has doubled-down on their resourceless CCG setup, and it works wonders. Each deck is built with 4 champions of the same faction (no cross-faction play!) and four blessings. Each champion is looking to have four specific card types played in their lane, and then they grant you access to a random game-changing blessing effect. Units and champions take no damage, only the players, so it's both complicated and very simple. It cleans up a lot of the issues I had with Lightseekers, and after the preview event held on Wednesday, my friend and I played many games in the hotel. Play in person, or across the country with their game app, you can scan your cards to add to your digital collection, and each card is unique. This one might be dangerous for my wallet, but it's incredibly fun.

Everdell - Starling Games


Everdell was perhaps the surprise breakout game of the Con for me. I had seen it go through Kickstarter and make a ton of money, but the 3-D tree board seemed like a pain to set up and take down, and it seemed like just an admittedly gorgeous worker placement game. After seeing it in action at Gencon, I'm pleased to report just how wrong I was. There's levels of depth here with the changing of the seasons, and with player interaction that I hadn't noticed before. The game is still incredible to look at, but you don't really grasp just how pretty it is until you get it to the table. Starling is one of my personal favorite developers, with huge hits like Black Orchestra, Alien Frontiers, and King's Forge; as well as personal favorites like Planetarium, the Key series (Keyflower, Keyforge, etc.), and Farlight. I was told they have a brand-new IP coming this winter that they couldn't talk about at the Con yet. Needless to say, I'm ready for whatever they want to publish.

Root - Leder Games

For those of you who follow EBG and my reviews, you know I had a chance to preview Root way back in December of 2017, and despite my love for the artwork, I couldn't finish a game of it due to convoluted gameplay with a couple of the game's four factions. To Leder Games' credit, they took my feedback and that of many, many other people and quite literally burned those factions down and started over. What's left now was a runaway hit at GenCon. Selling out completely of the game and expansions by Saturday morning, Root has cemented Leder Games as king of asymmetrical game play. Their title Vast, and the upcoming sequel Vast: The Mysterious Manor both established and seek to continue this trend, respectively, and I can't wait to open my production copy of Root and get back to Kyle Ferrin's gorgeous art and really top-notch gameplay. I'll be updating my review of Root with the new systems as soon as I have a chance to get a few games in.

Railroad Rivals - Forbidden Games

With Raccoon Tycoon imminent, Forbidden games is not resting on their success and had two new titles to show at Gencon. The one they had for sale was my favorite game of the con. Railroad Rivals was basically handed out to anyone who demoed it- they gave out 100 copies a day. Combining route-building, drafting, auction, and tile-laying, this game has so many mechanics that it should either be overly complicated or a mess. It's neither, and succeeds so brilliantly that when my demo game ended with me losing quite badly, I desperately wanted to play again. If you can, pick up the Premium Edition of this one as it adds all-wood tiles and a couple extra pieces. Look for my in-depth review this fall.

BONUS! Surprise Developer of the con: Keymaster Games

One of our other reviewers asked me to stop by the Keymaster booth while I was at the con to check out a game called Caper. I'm not ashamed to admit I'd never heard of them, but as I'm a good co-worker, I stopped by. The booth was small, just a single table for demos, and on a corner of an aisle, so it only had two walls, both lined with tables and product. I was immediately drawn to the phenomenally gorgeous Space Park, but stayed for Caper (with bonus metal coins!!) and Campy Creatures. After talking personally with the designer of Space Park and hearing his easy, relaxed, but obviously fervent passion for his game, I was completely hooked on this house. I not-too-subtly hinted that I wanted their whole collection to review, but they were (rightfully) selling out. They handed me a copy of Campy Creatures just to get me to stop ogling at their booth, and EBG's review of that one is already on its way to the site. Do yourself a huge favor and make sure you're following these folks on social media, and have alerts set up for their slightest movement. 

Extra Bonus Not-a-game-but-keep-an-eye-out-for: Dized App

Really actually finally this time: Take a few seconds right now and download this app. Dized has a product on their hands that will seriously challenge the way we teach board games. Currently in early access with Blood Rage and Kingdomino, this app will walk you through interactive tutorials for games in its catalog. With 12 games set for the initial launch, the app also features end-game scoring helpers for some titles, and an interactive FAQ. Tap into the game you're currently playing, and hit the search button to look up errata, rule clarifications, what to do in the case of a tie, etc. The app is quick, very pretty, and incredibly useful. The current sales plan is dependent on the publisher, but the developers said that many games have a Kickstarter stretch goal to add Dized functionality, and that it's easy for publishers to include codes to unlock their game in the app when you buy a new copy. The app itself is always free, and no matter the pricing structure in the future, you'll always get to keep the 12 games it launches with. Crowdsourcing games that aren't under copywright protection (someone PLEASE teach me how to play Bridge), user-submitted questions directly to the developers, and additional in-game features are all on the menu.

About the Author:

Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
GenCon WrapUp - Nicholas GenCon WrapUp - Nicholas Reviewed by The Madjai on September 11, 2018 Rating: 5

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