Matt Carlson: GenCon 2011 Photo Report

I love my family, but really, did they need to schedule a family reunion the weekend of GenCon?  Ah, well, I managed to squeak in a single day at this year’s GenCon down in Indianapolis before I had to hop into my car and drive my family to meet the rest of them.  On the plus side, I even got to try out a new game purchase or two while at the reunion.  But enough about my family burdens, lets take a look at what I could find in a single day’s searching of the convention.  What follows is pretty much a list of games (alphabetical by publisher) I was able to observe at the convention.  As usual, I hope to write up a bit longer exposition over at GamingWithChildren.com some time in the next week or so.  I promise to post a link in the comments below when that appears.  It will cover a subset of some of these games, but with just a bit more substance.  For now, sit back and enjoy the photo tour where you don’t even have to do any walking or bump into anyone carrying a Styrofoam sword.

Academy Games

Academy Games.Strike of the Eagle.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 053 (Small)

As always, Uwe Eickert was near the Mayfair booth showing off his high production wargames.  His newest game on the “block” is Strike of the Eagle, a reworking of The Eagle and the Star – a wargame that uses blocks to preserve a bit of fog of war.  There was a great little contest/demo of the game on BGG that showed off the gameplay that is a mix of hidden orders, hidden unit information, and non-random battle resolution.  I think it will be quite a hit.  Uwe was also showing off some of his redone maps for his Conflict of Heroes line of wargames, and the new more-realistic design is quite pleasing.  I’m only sad I missed Uwe’s musical debut, captured on camera by Dale Yu on his earlier post of photos.

AEG

AEG.Ninja.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 007 (Small)

AEG had all their card games on hand, distributing expansions to Thunderstone and Nightfall.  Expect Nightfall:Blood Country (more of a rural theme) around October and Thunderstone: Heart of Doom later this year.  Heart of Doom is a big change as it adds in a “big boss” monster to fight at the end of the dungeon.  AEG is also talking up “big things” for Thunderstone in 2012.  Ninja:Legend of the Scorpion Clan (shown above) is a new  board game for 2-4 players.  In a 2 player game (what I viewed) players control either the guards or the ninja attempting to steal an item.  (3 and 4 player games include a traitor side as well.) The guards begin the game positioned around the board and they remain fixed, unless they manage to “hear” the ninja pass close by.  The ninja scouts throughout the palace trying to find a hidden item.  The faster they move, the more they can explore, but faster movement also makes more noise and allows the guards to react.  The Ninja starts with a fixed hand of cards, while the Guard player draws more cards as time wears on.  The Ninja wins if they escape with the item, while the Guard is simply trying to find the Ninja and catch them.  Looks to be a nice two player take on a sort of Scotland Yard style of play.

Asmodee

Asmodee.Takenoko.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 050 (Small)

I stopped by a retailer and bought the requisite 7 Wonders Leader expansion, as I didn’t yet have it, but also passed through the Asmodee booth to check out what else was on hand.  I was drawn to this prototype (not final artwork or figures) of Takenoko.  Players take on the role of gardeners and try to set up a pleasing arrangement of bamboo trees for pandas.  The game is played by placing hexagonal tiles, placing irrigation to said tiles, or planting trees on the tiles, or having one’s panda eat the bamboo/trees.  On a turn, a player will roll dice for a general, global effect and then choose two actions to execute.  Players draw secret objective cards from one of three decks and then try to meet them to score points.  One deck gives points for certain hexagon tile arrangements, another gives points for planting the right trees, and the third deck grants points for eating certain combinations of trees.  The game looks to be a moderately light strategy game but I got to see the expected player tokens and think that the cute little farmers, pandas, and trees will go a long way towards attracting lightweight gamers to try out this game.  It should be out at Essen for European gamers, but then take until a March or April timeframe to appear in US stores.

Fantasy Flight Games

As usual, Fantasy Flight Games had a HUGE number of games that were releasing at GenCon.  Most of them will be available in stores a few weeks from now.  A few of the games due a bit farther out include a new, cooperative Star Wars card game, the revised version of A Game of Thrones, and the co-op dice game, Elder Sign.

FFG.Star Wars.The Card Game   creator.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 004 (Small)

Star Wars: The Card Game demoed by designer Corey Konieczka

In Star Wars: The Card Game, players can use one of four prebuilt faction decks (Operatives, Military, Tech/Droids/ or Rogue) and team up with a friend to try to defeat a set of mission cards (typically 3 or 4 missions).  Players place ships on the board that serve as resources (tap them to play other cards) and also protect one’s home base (untapped ships fight off invading ships from the Empire…)  Players place operative cards on the table and then use their skills to try to complete the topmost mission card.  If the mission is not completed in the requisite amount of time, the mission ends and the next card begins.  However, “bad things happen” at the start of the next mission if players failed on the previous one.  To win, simply complete the final mission card.  However, players can lose in several ways, such as failing the final mission or losing both their home bases (a player is eliminated if they lose their home base.)  (*My understanding is that the game will be released and supported by frequent sets of non-randomized cards containing new player cards as well as new missions, etc…)

FFG.Elder Sign  creator.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 005 (Small)

Elder Sign, explained by Kevin Wilson (at left)

Arkham Horror is a wonderfully thematic cooperative exploration game, however it can take a long time to set up and longer to play.  Elder Sign is Kevin Wilson’s attempt to get the essence of that gameplay down into an accessible, short playing time that takes up much less table space.  One to eight players are exploring locations at a museum attempting to complete a set of tasks at each location. As time wears on monsters begin to pop out and bother them to make matters worse.  The museum is laid out as a set of cards, including the entrance where players can rest and heal.  By moving to a card, a player can then roll dice to attempt to complete a task by rolling the requisite symbols displayed on the location card.  Complete the task and earn possible rewards, fail and “bad things happen” – lose health, items, etc…  Players can roll the dice a few times, setting some aside, but need to make sure they don’t roll specific unwanted symbols (like the terror symbol) depending on the card.  Once the first task is completed on a card, the player can then take the remaining dice and try to roll the second (or later) tasks.  Players have items and spells that help with completion, giving extra dice to roll (common dice have mostly good sides, while the unique item dice roll better and have no terror symbols).  To complete the game, the players must defeat the ancient one for that game.  There are 8 Ancient ones (the same ones found in Arkham Horror), each with a special effect on the game play.  Players select from the same 16 Characters in Arkham Horror, each with strengths and weaknesses.  With solo play, and gameplay that goes well with up to 6 players (7 and 8 players get a little “tight”), I’m looking forward to looking at this game more closely when it releases later this fall.

FFG.A Game of Thrones.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 002 (Small)

A Game of Thrones – preproduction of revised edition

Due out sometime in Q4 2011, the revised edition of A Game of Thrones will be on hand this holiday season to take advantage of the publicity of the TV series.  The new edition is primarily a combination of the base game and all the released expansions, with new artwork and a few minor tweaks here and there.  I’ve not played the original but am aware it is supposed to be a pretty good war/economic game with strong diplomatic interactions.  The expansions supposedly balance the game out a bit better and tighten up a few issues, so it is nice to have an opportunity to get everything in one box.

FFG.Arcana Revised.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 047 (Small)

Arcana, newly revised edition

The first of several deckbuilding games FFG had on hand, Arcana is somewhat of a deckbuilding game, but players are purchasing cards off of four central decks.  The top card of each deck is put up for auction and then players bid on the cards they want.

FFG.Bloodbowl Team Manager.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 003 (Small)

Blood Bowl: Team Manager

Released at GenCon, Blood Bowl: Team Manager is probably the highest profile deckbuilding game FFG has at the moment.  Based in the fantasy-world football setting of the Blood Bowl miniatures game, Team Manager is a bit like the card game BattleLine or Schotten-Totten only with decks players construct throughout the game.  Each round, one “match” card per player is placed in the center of the table.  Players take turns placing their cards onto one side of each match, although only one player can be on each of the two sides.  Just being present at a match wins players rewards, while greater rewards go to the player with the highest value(s) present when all placement ends.  Rewards include things like the ability to recruit new players (from a global or private themed deck), new team abilities (again from a common or private pool), or recruiting fans which serve as the games’ victory points.  Of course, this is Blood Bowl football so many of the cards placed have additional effects that mess with other cards present (including some cards that “cheat” and hope they don’t get caught).  After several rounds of play, a larger, more important final round occurs where the largest dole out of fans occurs.  However, winning the final match isn’t a guaranteed win.  The game has six different factions available and should be in stores “soon”.

FFG.Deadwood.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 046 (Small)

I didn’t get much information on Deadwood, but it is a railroad/wild west themed game where players acquire locations to get more resources and thus even more locations.  Conflict between players are resolved with dice.  Did I mention the western theme?

FFG.Gears of War.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 049 (Small)

Gears of War – an exploration/combat co-op game

Gears of War is a very popular and very non-kid friendly video game on consoles.  It is also an upcoming boardgame from Fantasy Flight.  It is a cooperative dungeon crawl (1-4 players) in the Gears of War setting, think of it as Doom or Descent but without one player opposing the others.  Players use a variety of weapons and characters to try to beat the game which is run by an AI deck.  While there is no player elimination, the game is rumored to be quite brutal.

FFG.Hey thats my fish.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 048 (Small)

Hey, That’s My Fish – done in a $12 MSRP size

If you haven’t heard, FFG is rereleasing Hey, That’s My Fish in a new “non-deluxe” version.  This looked like to be quite a nice little setup and could even be considered a pocket game (if you have big pockets).  At a $12 price point, it should be well positioned for family gaming when the holiday season arrives.

FFG.Rune Age.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 044 (Small)

Rune Age – deckbuilding with a theme/event deck

The FFG deckbuilding game in which I have the most interest, Rune Age is a deckbuilding game with different winning conditions each time you play.  As in some deckbuilding games, players have a selection of private (4 or 5) and public (6 or so) cards from which to “buy”, but rather than a standard end game Rune Age is played with a specific scenario each time.  There are four scenarios in the base game, each with their own event deck (which is “stacked” into several stages).  A new card is drawn each round, giving each scenario much more of an overarching theme.  The wider theme, of course, being set in the FFG Runebound setting.  The scenarios vary quite a bit, with one of the four actually a cooperative game.  Of course, if that’s not your cup of tea, I’m assured there are even rules for player vs player “combat” in the game.  While I haven’t seen the game in detail, it looks to be a strong enough departure from most deckbuilding games to make me very interested in giving it a go.

FFG.The Adventurers.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 045 (Small)

The Adventurers: Pyramid of Horus

If you saw The Adventurers from AEG a couple years back, you’ll be familiar witht his next game in the series from FFG.  Players delve into the Pyramid of Horus to find the “loot” and make it back out without being crushed by the (very cool looking) giant stone blocks.  As a family game, it should go over well with that crowd having a nice push your luck component, plenty of plastic to ooh and aah over, and fairly straightforward rules.

GenCon in General

Not associated with any specific publisher, there were plenty of things going on at GenCon outside the main dealer hall.

Boardgame HQ.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 061 (Small)

The boardgaming "event" area - NOT the open boardgaming area (which was in a nice large room over by registration)

In an attempt to get the open boardgaming up to par with the excellent setup at Origins, GenCon now has a very large open gaming area that contains some publisher reserved tables but many, many open tables for players to check a game out of the library and play to their hearts content.  Gamers can buy a pass for either the daytime or the evening period (which goes much later than most other events) and are then able to check out boardgames from the library and play.  Obviously with only one day to attend, I wasn’t able to take advantage of it.  In fact, I didn’t even go visit as I had confused the “Boardgame HQ” area with the “Game Library” area (they were both the same place/thing in previous years…).

GenCon.Life Sized RoboRally.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 058 (Small)

Something I walked past and had to take a photo… a near life-sized game of RoboRally played in one of the hallways of the building.  There are quite a number of extra-large sized games that are set up and played around the convention center throughout the weekend.  I had to take a photo of this one, since my wife is a huge RoboRally fan.

Hasbro

Hasbro.Battleship Galaxies.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 069 (Small)

Hasbro did not have a booth this year, but they were present and threw a big bash promoting the new Battleship Galaxies on Thursday evening.  It included some nice hors d’oeuvres, a raffle, and even designer Craig Van Ness in attendance.  I was finally able to look over the game in detail (and even got in a game at my family reunion later) and so far it seems to be a worthy successor to Heroscape.  Players are given a budget of 10 energy per turn and use that to activate ships (move and usually fire) and launch new ships.  When attacking a ship, two dice are rolled displaying a letter and number (a throwback to Battleship) which are then checked against a spaceship grid diagram.  Damage is accessed first against shields (blue pegs) and then start to add hull damage (red pegs).  When a ship runs out of hull it is eliminated.  However, if you get a ship’s shield down and roll the precise weak-spot number even the largest ship can be destroyed in a single shot.  The ship models are very nice, and serve to pull in gamers and non-gamers alike.  While the game only has a few dozen models present (including duplicates of fighters) each ship type comes with cards that represent three versions of that ship (normal, seasoned, and veteran) to keep things interesting.  (As an aside, the $65 price point might sound a bit high, but I’ve had several people remark on the quality of the space ship pieces – so you are getting your money’s worth.)  The game is played via scenarios which include available ships (and their “level”) as well as which event cards each player uses to create an event deck.  Event cards may be actual events or they can be ship upgrades, weapons, or pilots that can be played during the game.  The game comes with 5 set missions but I’m sure most fans of the game will have no problems starting to design more.  I found the game quite scalable, as some things (like event cards) can be easily added or subtracted from the game to make it more playable for younger or less experienced players.

LEGO

I thought I had heard about all the upcoming and present LEGO games but was pleasantly surprised to hear about LEGO Champion.

LEGO Champion.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 021 (Small)

LEGO Champion is a new game that takes some of that Creationary game play and makes a LEGO party game targeted right at families.  Players take turns at various competitions involving basic LEGO bricks such as Code Breaker, LEGO Stacking (players take turns stacking by adding a LEGO configuration consisting of one more brick than the previous piece added to the tower), speed building, brick throwing, and even a sort of bluffing game that sounds just a bit like Liar’s Dice.  I didn’t go over the rules in detail but with LEGO’s popularity and what seems to be a strong party game basis this could be at least as much of a hit as Creationary.

LEGO Heroica.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 022 (Small)

LEGO Heroica was on hand, of course.  See Dale’s earlier report if you want to see a photo of the giant setup they had on display.  If you aren’t familiar with it, Heroica is a line of four LEGO boardgames based loosely on dungeon exploration.  Players take turns walking around a building/dungeon/fortress, gather weapons, try to defeat monsters, and hope to get the most treasure.  Not really enough of a game to make adult boardgamers happy, this is more for the younger set, but seems to be hitting it off well with that target audience.

Mattel

Mattel was back with their booth full of card games and other dexterity games.  This year two new games stood out, Angry Birds and Mind Flex Duel.

Mattel.Angry Birds.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 057 (Small)

Angry Birds is exactly what you think a boardgame would be about the popular iPhone game.  Set up some pigs on a bunch of plastic wooden beams and then launch little bird figures at them using an included slingshot.  Not a lot of strategy here, but plenty of fun with cute little plastic pieces to be had.

Mattel.Mindflex Duel.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 056 (Small)

Even the demo guy is wondering if “anyone is home”

Playing games with only your mind is back, and now you can include a fair bit of smack talk as two people can hook their minds into this game (you wear a little headband with metal disks that touch your skin).  The game does actually measure brainwaves so players have to “think” hard to cause the game to rev its little fan, lifting a little ball into the air.  The game can be played solo, cooperatively, or against another opponent.  I didn’t get the price point, but expect it to be up there with a pretty high end boardgame.

Mayfair Games

Mayfair was hopping once again with a booth full of demos and the demo-playing public, however these little guys caught my eye.

Mayfair.Catan Plushies.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 010 (Small)

Yes, the next Settlers expansion is actually a bunch of stuffed resources.  (And you thought Beanie Babies were bad.)  They are more than just stuffed animals, as they’re supposed to add to your game.  Players keep track of settlements and cities on each land type.  When a player has placed their settlement adjacent to three production centers (cities count double) they can grab the appropriate plushie doll.  Thus, if you have a city and a settlement around the same forest, you could grab the wooden plushie.  The dolls are worth 1 VP and are kept next to you since, like the longest road, they can be snatched away if you fall behind in the resource wars.  With the extra VP present, Settlers games should increase in length by a couple more VPs.

Mayfair open gaming.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 066 (Small)

Mayfair had a fairly large play area adjacent to the exhibit hall, set up with some of their larger-than-normal games as well as a few normal-sized ones.

Mayfair.Family Fun Area.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 051 (Small)

I can’t mention Mayfair without once again giving props to what looks like a most excellent Family Fun Pavilion once again this year.  It always had kids (and hopefully parents) running amok doing crafts or playing various games…  a nice little oasis of family-friendliness in the main exhibit hall.

North Star Games

NorthStar.Crappy Birthday.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 052 (Small)

The guys at North Star Games were showing off their games including the new Crappy Birthday.  I was really underwhelmed with the game until I saw it played.  Players pass cards with bad gifts to one player who then selects which gift they want the least.  This seems like a fairly boring rip-off of Apples to Apples until I got a glance at the cards.  The cards are huge square things with excellent photos of some really crappy gifts.  What is going to make this game are the crazy gifts people can give one another.  I’m now in the camp that think this game is quite fun.  However, I will keep a slight reservation that I suspect it to be one of those games that will wear thin if played too much.  Most of the humor and fun are in the cards and once they’re all known and familiar the game may lose quite a bit of its luster.  Even so, I think it’s a great party game for quite a number of plays.

Plaid Hat Games

Plaid Hat Games was showing off Dungeon Run and the large Summoner Wars Master Set.

Plaid Hat.Dungeon Run.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 011 (Small)

Dungeon Run is a build as you go sort of dungeon exploration game where players need to cooperate to get to and defeat a boss, but then all bets are off as everyone tries to steal the stone and escape.  There are chances to level up one’s character during a run (kill two monsters and you can level up to select a new skill card and gain a +1 to an ability).  The game plays 2-4 players (more with 2 copies of the game) and has 8 different characters with their own skill decks from which to select.  There’s even a variant for those who want to try the game solo.  It should be out in a  September/October time frame.

Rio Grande Games

Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to play a game in the Rio Grande gaming room this year, although I did sneak a nice chunk of Gouda cheese, chatted with some of the demo/helper people, helped explain a Dominion: Intrigue card setup, and watched some of 20th Century.

RGG.20th Century.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 062 (Small)

20th Century looks to be a economic type game where players manage their area, worrying about resources, anti-resources (pollution) as well as connectivity between their city/tile setup.  It was interesting enough to make me want to give it a go, so I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a copy.  If you’ve been to GenCon and haven’t yet spent time in the RGG room, you’re missing out on one of the friendliest and pleasant gaming opportunities at the convention.

Sandstorm Productions

As a member of the press, I got on an email list from the folks at Sandstorm Productions and they convinced me to stop by their booth to check out their wares.

Sandstorm.Fishing Frenzy.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 029 (Small)

Sandstorm has a big lineup of large kids games including Penguin Bowling (complete with hockey stick, puck, and penguin themed pins), Dizzy Darts (lawn darts with things that spin like Samaras as they fall down through the air), Funny Face Yard Pool (croquet in a lawn pool table with plastic walls), and Fishing Frenzy (shown above with rods, velcro fish, and even a reel for reeling back in the fish.)  All are certified safe for 3+ years (not an easy thing these days) and run about $20.  I took a copy of Penguin Bowling with me to the family reunion and it was a big hit with the younger folks, although I suspect the preteens were somewhat jealous as well.  Unfortunately, the biggest hit was using the hockey stick as a makeshift “shooty-gun” but it seemed to survive unharmed.

Sandstorm.Cambria  Eric Vogel.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 031 (Small)

What made the visit to Sandstorm worthwhile were a couple of nice little strategy games, designed by Eric B. Vogel (shown above with Cambria.)  Due out in September, Cambria is a little area majority game where 3 to 5 players roll two dice and choose one for their move.  The game board has a map of cities labeled two to six with the same number of roads leading off of them.  Players choose one die and place a cube next to a city of the same number.  When a city is fully surrounded, it is scored and a numbered token (worth the city’s number) is rewarded to the player who has the most cubes surrounding it.  For 5 and 6 point cities, there are also second place tokens worth 3 and 4 points respectively.  Finally, if a “1” is rolled, a player can kick out a single cube and also “store” a roll for future use (if you don’t like either of your dice on a future turn.)  Since players only have a few cubes, it is important to make the best use of them possible.  If you run out, you can start moving them around (if, for example, they’re on a route between two already claimed cities) but they are definitely limited.  The game plays in about 20 minutes, and even has a double-sided game board to add some variety.  With a small box footprint (and one of those extremely sturdy boxes), Cambria would also make a fairly decent portable game.

Sandstorm.Hibernia   Eric Vogel.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 032 (Small)

The second Vogel game is actually a rerelease of Hibernia.  If Cambria is the “essence” of a euro-game, Hibernia could be considered the “essence” of a wargame.  Up to four players war over a four color game board, placing pieces on adjacent territories.  On one’s turn, a die is rolled and players may put down cubes into an adjacent area matching the color of the die.  They must place the same number of cubes as adjacent territories they have adjacent.  (Thus, you must place two cubes if you own two adjacent territories.)  Players also have a “free” color each turn where they can “attack” an adjacent territory of any color.  Cubes placed in enemy areas are eliminated on a one to one basis and placed in a “dead” pool.  Any player may forgo one of their actions on a turn to claim all their dead cubes back, but all the other players will then receive half of their dead cubes back.  Perhaps the most unique aspect of the game is the scoring track.  Rather than track total areas controlled, players attempt to move around the outer score track by holding the requisite colored countries.  In most cases, owning one of each of the four colors on a turn will provide a player with a four space advancement.  However, the scoring track occasionally has duplicate colors (two blues in a row, etc…) forcing players to attack and hold multiple copies of a single color in a turn – not easy since colors are rarely near each other and player cubes are fairly limited.  To add in a touch of luck to the game, the die rolled may sometimes come up black (granting a second “player choice” color to attack) or purple.  Purple dice don’t grant an attack, but are worth the equivalent of any missing color country when it is time for a player to score on the scoring track.  Another small box game with a quick playing time, the new version of Hibernia should be out at the end of September.

Sandstorm.Impossible Machine.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 030 (Small)

Sandstorm also has a line of lightweight card games.  Shown above is The Impossible Machine.  Players are attempting to create a sort of Rube Goldberg device by playing from their individual (color coded) deck of cards.  As cards appear, players try to “continue” the chain by matching symbols between cards (right symbol to left symbol).  Some cards even “split” the machine into two parallel routes.  The game goes until the achievement is met or the machine catches up to the players.  At the game end, the player with the most played cards wins.  It looks to be sort of a Uno-type strategy where managing current and upcoming symbols is useful but not always possible.  The best thing going for the game is its theme and pretty fun looking sketches of crazy machine parts on each of the cards.  Don’t look for a deep game here but there might be something here for more casual gamers.

Sandstorm.Nuts.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 033 (Small)

The final game I was shown at the booth was Nuts!  This is a typical play a card, draw a card type game where players are trying to gather the most points in Nuts! cards.  At the start of each turn, a player gains a Nut card (worth 1 to 5 points) off the top of the deck and adds it to their pile.  They then play a card from their hand, and draw a new one from the draw pile (separate from the Nut pile).  Typical cards cause other players to lose a turn, lose Nuts, steal Nuts, or gain extra Nuts.  As one might expect, the game relies HEAVILY on puns about Nuts for its theme and humor.  If grabbing someone else’s nuts sounds like a good time to you, or you know someone in the target audience for this kind of humor, feel free to check the game out.  As a strategic gamer, I felt the one game I played had very few exciting decisions to be made (my poor opponent just never drew decent cards) and I’ll probably take a pass on further plays.

Tasty Minstrel Games

I was excited to drop by Tasty Minstrel Games, since I had not yet met the folks there, and I had recently reviewed Seth Jaffee’s iPad game, Brain Freeze.  I got to say hi and check out his new game, Eminent Domain.

Tasty Minstrel.Eminent Domain   designer.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 043 (Small)

Seth Jaffee, designer of Eminent Domain

Yes, Eminent Domain was being sold at GenCon, and all the kickstarters were “on the verge” of being shipped I think.  I didn’t get to play through a demo but I plan to give it a decent full review in the near future.  If you’re unfamiliar with the basics, it is a deckbuilding game where players use role cards in their decks to execute actions.  When you execute a role, you gain more cards of that type.   Since actions can become more powerful if you play similar actions from your hand, specializing in particular actions will eventually make you better at it.  It looks to have some good possibilities and the production values seemed pretty darn good for a new, independent company.  Stay tuned to Opinionated Gamers for a full review in the coming weeks.

Tasty Minstrel.Martian Dice.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 042 (Small)

A small bonus to me at the booth, I was introduced to Martian Dice.  Players take on the role of aliens trying to abduct Earth’s leaders, but we’re not sure who the leaders are.  The goal is to collect humans, chickens, and cows without running afoul of the army.  The game is a set of dice with symbols for humans, chickens, cows, tanks (army), and UFO lasers.  Play the game like Yahtzee or To Court the King, setting aside a set of one type of dice for each roll.  Tanks must always be set aside, and each of the abductees can only be set aside once (UFO Lasers can be set aside multiple times in a game).  At the end of the rolling, a player must have more Lasers than Tanks showing, and can then score their abductees.  One point for each abducted die, plus a bonus 3 points if you have one of each type (for further analysis by your scientists presumably.)  It’s a quick moving game, the dice are nifty black ones with colored symbols and it comes in a handy little travel-easy cylinder.  It went over well with the teens at my family reunion, although my can didn’t contain any rules (or they were lost right away somehow?)  The basic rules are on the outside cardboard of the package, which I hadn’t taken along (thankfully they’re also up on the BGG.)  As far as dice-based travel games this isn’t a deep game but meets the criteria of easy to play, attractive pieces, and a smidge of push your luck gameplay to make it worth considering.

The Game Crafter

I had intended to swing by The Game Crafter booth to check out a couple of games by Matt Worden, but he wasn’t around when I came by on Thursday.  However, I did get to check in with the Game Crafter crew, who specialize in producing games in cooperation with designers.  Basically they’re serving as a game production hub for designers to publish and show off their games.  While visiting the booth I was drawn again and again to one particular title….  Farmageddon.

The Game Crafter.Farmageddon.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 065 (Small)

It may be the midwesterner in me, but this card game loosely based around crazy happenings in the dust bowl of Oklahoma hit a sweet spot for theme.  I’m a sucker for farming games so I waded through this one to see what it was made of.  Players play crop cards on one of three communal fields and then try to harvest them by collecting compost (creatued by more crop cards).  Meanwhile the crops in the field can be beat up or destroyed by various effects and acts of nature.  Meanwhile, there are also Farmer Cards whihch allow players to basically mess with each other.  Players start with 2 Farmer Cards but can buy more at the end of each turn.  It’s not going to turn any heads with deep strategy, but I really enjoy the style of artwork and the theme so am going to give it a go with some of the more lightweight gaming groups which I attend.

Wizkids

After a few lean years of boardgaming releases, WizKids is back on the map with a number of new titles this year.

Wizkids.Quarriors.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 027 (Small)

Perhaps their most highly visible release is Quarriors, a mix of dice and deck construction to make a dice (pool) construction game.  Players use (roll) their basic dice to gain resources which can be used to buy more powerful dice.  Those dice will eventually be rolled and can become monsters which attack other players dice.  If your dice survive until the start of your next turn, you earn points.  There are 130 dice contained the game’s very creatively packaged collector’s tin.  There are 15 types of “advanced” dice and each of those have different powers in the game, depending on the card drawn for that die type at the beginning of the game.  Only 10 advanced die types are used per game, so that leaves plenty of variability in the basic game tin to explore.  Upon opening, I appreciated the handy dice bags and the many colorful dice (I need to keep them away from my dice loving 2 year old).  They are slightly smaller than I expected, but it makes sense (both from a price point as well as “fit in the bag” point of view.)  If you want more details, check out Dale Yu’s review posted early last week.

Wizkids.Star Trek Expeditions.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 028 (Small)

Another game I was anxious to see was Star Trek: Expeditions.  It is a cooperative Star Trek game where players take on the role of the main officers attempting to placate the various powers and issues going on at a given planet before disruptive aliens arrive and all heck breaks loose.  The game is one of management of many limited resources, of which time may be the trickiest one of all.  I didn’t get a deep look at it yet but hope to run a full review in a few weeks.  Technically, it came out early this year, but I’ve yet to have a chance to look it over.

Wizkids.Star Trek Fleet Captains.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 013 (Small)

The big-name Star Trek game was Star Trek: Fleet Captains, where two players go head to head with little Trek space ship figurines complete with standard WizKids “click” base dials showing different levels of damage (white, yellow, and red alert) and thus modifying ships’ stats as they take damage.  The game is one of exploring a tile hex grid to control locations by building outposts, colonies, and starbases in order to gain victory points.  Of course, just blowing the other guys’ ships out of the water also grants victory points.  The game seems moderately complex, close to the border of miniatures rules with things like cloaking, sensors, weapon systems, and paying energy for things.  Game setup can vary, but a standard setup is a 5 x 5 grid of hexes played to a cap of 10 victory points.  The VP value also determines the max size of a player’s fleet at any time, so players can replace lost ships but don’t generally launch new ones unless they’ve just lost one.  At a $100 price point, the game isn’t going to be for everyone, but people who like the Trek license, spaceships, or tactical combat games will need to give it a look-see.

Wizards of the Coast

Each year, I meet with the folks at Wizards of the Coast to see what is new and coming down the pike.  Usually, most of the time is spent talking about new and upcoming role-playing materials, but lately boardgaming has become more and more a part of the mix.

WotC.Neverwinter.Booth.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 037 (Small)

The giant Neverwinter castle booth

This fall kicks off the season of Neverwinter at Wizards.  All sorts of things are in the works including a new hardcover campaign book (for players and DMs) out later this month, a new season of Encounters (a drop-in-and-play session held at game stores each Wednesday evening where newcomers can try out Dungeons and Dragons for an hour) based around Neverwinter, new fiction books about Neverwinter, the upcoming Atari MMORPG called Neverwinter on the PC later this year, and even a Neverwinter themed D&D type game appearing up on Facebook in the near future.  All this Neverwinter is fine and good, but what about boardgames?

WotC.Drizzt Boardgame.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 059 (Small)

Well, the new Dungeons and Dragons Boardgame entitled: The Legend of Drizzt Boardgame was on hand and playable up in the main D&D ballroom area.  Releasing October 18th, it features new monsters and scenarios (compatible with Ashardalon and Ravenloft) as well as new heroes.   Rather than generic heroes this time out, players play as well known characters from the Drizzt series of stories including Wulfgar, Regis, Bruneor, and even the battlerager, Athrogate.  In addition, boardgaming was a topic of conversation at the product seminar held later that week.  It was announced that the Dungeon of Dread boardgame is no longer scheduled to be released as it just wasn’t at a level of quality they were hoping for.  However, a new game was announced – Lords of Waterdeep – which is a Euro-style game set in the famous city of Waterdeep.  Players recruit adventures, put plans into motion, and backstab each other in order to win the game.  One final gaming-related note, D&D Miniatures will be coming back again.  They’ll be sold in non-random packs and will also be useable in a new tactical game (that _doesn’t_ use dice.)  The minis will be activated/used via a set of cards so there will be some randomness to the game but the emphasis will be on tactics.

Wyrd Miniatures

I came across some local gamer friends who were quite excited about a new release from Wyrd Miniatures, who produce a steampunk themed minis game entitled Malifaux.  The new game was called Puppet Wars and was a more lightweight game, based around the “dolls” created by one of the characters in the more complex game.

Wyrd Miniatures.Puppet Wars.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 064 (Small)

In Puppet Wars, players take on a “Master” puppet in a sort of Toy Story setting gone Goth.  Players use cards as resources to make attacks or defend based on stats on the puppet character cards.  The goal of the game is to eliminate the opposing master.  In addition to the special powers and abilities of a Master, players can also bring into play subservient minion figures.  The game sells as a (non-randomized) starter box with two Masters, and an expansion box with two other Masters (in addition to other puppets).  While Puppet Wars is still a somewhat dark theme (it reminded me somewhat of the movie 9), it tries to accommodate a much broader age range than the sometimes more risqué or darker themed Malifaux.

Z-Man Games

Zev seems to have hit the jackpot with licensed titles this year.  Two, in particular, caught my eye:  Guards, Guards (set in Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy universe) and The Walking Dead (set in the world of Kirkmann’s graphic novel of the same name.)Z-man.Guards, Guards.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 035 (Small)

Guards, Guards (an excellent book, by the way) is now also a boardgame for 2 to 6 players.  Taking on the role of one of four guild factions, each player is attempting to capture five of the eight escaped major spells from the Unseen University library.  Players use volunteer cards (of three types), items, scrolls, and money to try to either capture a spell or simply mess with the other players.  Dragons also can appear in the game and can be quite troublesome for those unprepared (you can even call them if you wish.)  While I’m sure the game won’t be quite as good as reading a Pratchett novel, just being set in the right universe is enough to make me highly interested in this game when it comes out.

Z-man.Walking Dead.GenCon.2011 2011-08-03 036 (Small)

I don’t read too many graphic novels, but I’m familiar with much of Kirkmann’s work.  Kirkmann’s The Walking Dead is a game for 1 to 6 players set near a zombie-infested area surrounding Atlanta.  Players need to defeat various challenges to survive and may even cooperate with each other as they do so, but beware of leaning too much on others as they can leave you high and dry at any time.  My understanding is that the game has many tie-ins to the written story, but tries to keep things different enough so that players who haven’t read the book will not be at a disadvantage.

And with that, I will bring my yearly epic report on GenCon to a close.  I hope I was able to provide at least a bit of information that was new to you.  Feel free to add in your favorites (least favorites?) at the convention in the comments below.  Hopefully next year I’ll have more time at the Con and will be able to work in a bit more actual gaming.

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About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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14 Responses to Matt Carlson: GenCon 2011 Photo Report

  1. Frank Conradie says:

    Terrific report Matt! One inaccuracy of note though: I think it’s “Uwe” Eickert.

  2. Matt J Carlson says:

    @Frank – Fixed… thanks for the catch… you’re right.

  3. huzonfirst says:

    Great report, Matt! I can only imagine how long this would have been if you’d spent MORE than one day there! :-)

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      I didn’t get many details from some of the biggies (more Z-Man stuff, RGG, Mayfair, Eagle Games, etc…) and would have tried to meet up with them, but if I had more time I probably would have simply played more games! :)

  4. Another fix: it’s “Dungeon Run” not “Dungeon Runners”.

    Great report – esp. for only being there one day!

  5. Hey Matt — Glad you liked the theme of Farmageddon! I hope you like the game as well. I grew up in Texas and went to college in Oklahoma, so the farming theme was an easy choice for me. (I designed Farmageddon, by the way). Great site!

  6. Seth Jaffee says:

    Nice write up, and great pics! Thanks for the EmDo and Martian Dice mentions, and if your copy was missing the rules sheet then I apologize for that! All the ones I’ve opened have had it.

    Now, to find that Brain Freeze review (I don’t think I’ve seen it!)

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      Well with a 2 year old around, I can’t be sure of anything but it was easy to get the rules off the BGG. The brain freeze review was last week under the iboardgaming report…

  7. Lee Fisher says:

    Nice report and long for a day!!
    AEG Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan isn’t two player though. It is 2-4 and 3 and 4 seem best as you have 3 sides, the samurai guards, the ninja and the traitor, all having different secret stuff and goals.

    (And saying Blood bowl Team Manager will be in stores “very” soon seems a bit of a stretch) ;)

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      Thanks for the Ninja catch, the demo I saw of Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan only had 2 players and didn’t see anywhere for additional players to “fit in”… the 2 players I spoke to playing didn’t mention a traitor… I edited in some things to clarify it…

      As for Blood Bowl… “soon” is what I was told by the guy demoing it… of course this was early the first day of the convention so he may have been wrong (but seemed relatively secure in it..) I’ll change the wording to just “soon”…. how’s that? :)

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