Matt Carlson: Gencon 2013 in Photos

giant king of tokyo

Yes, GenCon has come and gone and I’m no longer visualizing dice whenever I close my eyes.  Due to a pile of press events on Thursday I managed to attend almost two and a half days this year (Thursday evening through Saturday.)  As someone who does not travel overseas to game expositions (nor does my gaming group), I typically do not see new titles until they arrive on US shores.  In fact, since GenCon is my primary gaming convention (I’m barely local), many of the games released in the previous years will be new to me.  Thus, expect to see mention of new games as well as “new-ish” games.  If you’re a member of the extreme cult of the new (looking at you, Dale) you may find mention of titles woefully out of date.  I guess you’ll just have to deal with it.  Last year’s coverage was of epic proportions, and this year’s threatened to do the same so I’ve broken the photo journal into three parts.  Today you’ll read about the many card and board games I viewed, with the exception of the deckbuilders (yes, they needed their own category) which will appear on Thursday.  Finally, on Friday we’ll take a look at everything else GenCon had to offer including kid’s games, role playing games, video games, and the odd, generally bizarre photo op.

Overall, there were a fair number of new and upcoming games to be viewed and I enjoy how more and more vendors are making an effort to provide gamers with opportunities to actually play the games while at GenCon.  The big names (Rio Grande, Mayfair, Fantasy Flight, Z-Man, etc…) have always had decent play areas but it is more and more common for the medium-sized publishing houses to have a few or more tables on which those passing by can game.  In Dale’s report, he mentioned the Firefly game selling out quickly as well as the Pathfinder Adventure game (a deckbuilder/RPG) – I was told by Paizo they had shop owners trying to pay $100 for a copy to then flip online to sell for much more.  Expansions to other popular games were hot as well, with the small stock of Smash-Up Cthulhu over at AEG also selling out within minutes of each day’s opening.  With that out of the way, here come the photos – with an attempt to place them in alphabetical order by publisher… feel free to jump down to those companies you like best.

Academy Games

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Uwe Eickert was demoing Freedom (with some copies advanced air shipped to GenCon), the cooperative strategy game  (for 1-4 players) he’s publishing based on the Underground Railroad.  The game plays over three “eras” represented by decks of cards with the first era bringing players into the game, the second really turning the screws, and the final era giving the players the hope that they just <might> make it.  It is supposed to be a sort of more intense Pandemic.  Freedom is getting considerable coverage outside normal gaming circles, due to its non-traditional theme.  So far, it appears Brian Mayer (the designer) has managed to walk the fine tightrope needed in order to present a game with such a controversial theme.  (Yes, a white German male is publishing a game about the abolitionist movement… but he has a pretty good game track record!)  In other news, the Conflict of Heroes: Solo Expansion release is immanent.  In this expansion, a player will follow specific events in a scenario (rather than simply compete for mission objectives) against what is reputed to be a fairly decent programmed opponent.

Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)

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 As mentioned, their new Cthulhu expansion to Smash-Up was a smash hit (apologies) and sold out quickly.  If I recall correctly there are about 4 new deck types, along with a new “madness” feature to cards which are detrimental effects one can play on opponents.  Trains (more on that deckbuilder Thursday) was present in force along with Maximum Throwdown.  In this dexterity card game, each player takes their deck of cards and proceeds to toss them onto the table.  A thrown card must (usually) land touching another card on the table.  What makes the game interesting is how cards have symbols on them.  At the start of your turn, any uncovered symbols still showing on your thrown cards either grant points or special powers.  This allows players to throw or draw extra cards, mess with other player’s decks, or even start a new card separate from the other piles.  I’ve played a few games with a review deck and found it a quick, fun game with a touch of strategy.  Because it is a head-to-head competitive game, it does suffer from a little bit of pick on the leader.  However, its short play time makes that far less of an issue.

Asmodee

Asmodee put together a little press gig on Thursday evening and was showing off a number of very hush-hush titles along with other recent ones.  I sat through a nice explanation of a fairly involved game entitled Time Stories.  (The art is in development, so no photos!)  It seemed to be a sort of RPG boardgame along the lines of Arabian Nights, although in this case you are actively (and cooperatively) trying to solve a complex puzzle in the past.  As time travellers, you have a limit on the amount of time you can spend in the past, which is the turn/action limiting mechanism.  Thankfully, since you have a time machine you can just go back again!  You will have lost all your equipment and have to find it again, but you are armed with the knowledge you gained.  The game sounds like it has the possibility to be an entire “system” of games with the option of morphing things into a competitive military game or other genres – the 3 character abilities would be changed for the different settings, of course – and there would be different characters as well.

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Asmodee was showing off the English edition of the Takenoko collector’s edition, complete with giant bamboo shoots and a big panda.  Panda fans, rejoice!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe partial-dexterity game, Rampage was being played in the dealer hall with great enthusiasm.  Here it looks like the game might be over as most of the buildings are gone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, we have Splendor.  I was allowed to take a photo of it but the rumor I hear was that we weren’t supposed to talk about it.  I’ve cleverly avoided the problem by failing to get an explanation of the game <sad face>.  (It was a time-limited thing, not that I wouldn’t have love to help you out…) So, enjoy the lovely photo of four players deep in thought playing some upcoming game.  Look it has cards!  I go the extra mile to get you information!

Bezier Games

Stopped by the Bezier Games booth and got a nice explanation about both the origin of the name and the logo itself.  (Go Bezier!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe new game on offer was Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition.  This is a sort of mafia/werewolf game with no player elimination, playable by far fewer people (3-12).  Instead, there are two factions of people dealing with a town with a werewolf problem.  Instead of eliminating players, the central group of 12 cards represent werewolves and innocent people.  One player faction is trying to eliminate/find all the guilty cards while the others oppose this.  Of course, it behooves players to keep their faction secret so they can better manipulate the outcomes.  Players (who each have special powers) take turns selecting roles from a central tableau.  Resource management comes into play as one can use the special ability of their power OR gain two voting cubes.  So, use the power of your card and you have fewer votes in the “lynching” rounds.  Another minor difference form werewolf the game, is that a win for the werewolves happens if they outnumber the villagers rather than just tie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile in the booth, I sat in on a game of suburbia with some of the expansion present.  I took over someone’s spot who had to leave suddenly.  While I can claim some ineptitude on my part due to my total inexperience with the game, I was glad to blame my poor performance on the person who left me in such a strange position.  (Note my woeful black token rows and rows behind the leading purple token.)  I enjoyed the “special” goals placed on top of each of the era building stacks, as well as the nifty city “border” cards which granted some nice abilities at a cost of limiting building area.  The expansion, suburbia inc, should be out in October in time for Essen.

Cheapass Games

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Deadwood – by Cheapass Games

A fan of Cheapass Games from way back (I liked the fact their games were cheap, go figure), I was glad to see them have a significant presence at GenCon this year.  The two most recent titles on display included Deadwood and Unexploded Cow.  Unsurprisingly, two of my favorite titles from long ago.Both titles have been improved to make the gamer experience more pleasant by streamlining rules where possible, and attempting to provide ways for players to manage risk.  For example, Deadwood now has a sort of “practice” option for aspiring actors to help improve their roll for a role.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnexploded cow has had the same treatment with city cards improved to reduce unavoidable harsh penalties and cash has become the only measure of score.  The plan is for the game to no longer cause a player to be “out of the running” in the early/mid game period.  After all, sometimes exploding cattle isn’t quite enough to hold one’s interest if they know they’re going to lose.

Conquistador Games

I had not heard of Conquistador Games before, but when I stumbled across them near the Academy Games booth I was instantly attracted to their game The New Science.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the game, 2-5 players take on the role of famous scientists of the 17 century, attempting to research, experiment, and finally publish their results in various scientific fields.  This is science, after all, so one only earns victory points by publishing.  To publish, a player first must do the research, then experiment (the only component with a die roll – it is experimentation after all).  Then an important decision occurs.  One can publish and thus score instant points, or they could then go on to the next level and start research there.  Publishing would be a no-brainer, except once a topic is published it is assumed that all the other players understand the ideas and can now start up that “track” from the published location.  As higher science levels are worth more victory points, it is sometimes worthwhile to forge ahead, skipping publishing in lower levels in order to be uncontested in some of the higher ones.  I particularly enjoyed how one can’t just research or publish willy-nilly.  Characters must also cultivate favor with various organizations (the government, etc…) before they are allowed to publish, etc…  The game comes with several different scientists with which to play (each one has different strengths) and a little expansion is available to add even more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheir other title (not yet for sale I believe, but soon) at the booth was Tomorrow.  Perhaps best seen as a non-cooperative reverse-Pandemic.  The earth is overpopulated and everyone is trying to kill off the population to make the earth more sustainable. Removing population tokens reduces the population track at the bottom of the board.  Reach the end of that track to get a winner.  The game has a hard 9 turn limit, reach that before the end and everyone loses.  Players have a hand of 5 action cards (espionage, military, bioweapons, cyber attack, and nukes) and secretly pick 2 to use each round.  A significant amount of diplomacy needs to occur.  For example, espionage can cancel out bioweapons only when bioweapons revealed, but not used.  So if you can dissuade someone to not use the bioweapons on you, you can pass on using your espionage.  However, you’ve now given up your chance to officially stop the bioweapons so your “friend” can then send it your way anyway!  Each turn an event card is played (there are 12 so each game will see 9 of the 12) and the card displays an event that occurs depending on the current threat level of the game.  (The population track has three rows, with each row signifying a different threat level – in general the later events are worse.)  At the transitions between the three eras (including the ending point) players can earn strategy cards based on how many neutral countries they currently hold.  Most strategy cards grant small point bonuses for the end of the game but  some have other special abilities.  To add yet more flavor to the game, each player is the leader of a specific country (China, US/Canada, Europe, etc…) each of which have a special power that can be used throughout the game.

Cryptozoic

Known more for their card games (at least by me), Cryptozoic has begun to make significant inroads into the broader boardgame field.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn one of the best PR moves in recent boardgamer history, Cryptozoic has managed to scoop up the failed kickstarter game, The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, and is bringing it to print.  What makes it a great move is that they are also going to provide a copy to all those people who prebought a copy via kickstarter.  In discussions with the head of Cryptozoic, he indicated Cryptozoic’s (there are 4 main partners) desire to preserve the reputation of Kickstarter and the hobby in general.  (“We take care of our own” was mentioned several times.)  Kickstarter provides a great service to allow designers (for good or ill) to directly connect their products to interested consumers, eliminating the need for the big publishers or distributors to decide what the public wants.  (Although, to be fair, I think publishers and distributors will more often than not be able greatly assist in a game’s development.)

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The other non-deckbuilder game being shown by Cryptozoic was the cooperative The Hobbit: Unexpected Journey.  I was strongly reminded of Knizia’s Lord of the Rings co-op game.  Rather than play dice, the players roll dice in order to tag specific locations and progress along a game board.  Several bonus resources are available to help complete the board, however the game consists of two boards and any saved resources carry over to the second.  Unused resources are also counted as “points” at the end of the game for purposes of evaluating the players’ performance.  Additional expansions (corresponding to the three Hobbit movies) are expected to add 2 boards each allowing players to continue on to an epic game of 6 continuous boards if desired.  I’m told the game is fairly easy at normal settings (although it can be played for points), but additional rules are present for gamers looking to up the challenge.

Days of Wonder
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Days of Wonder had their upcoming release (October 2013), Relic Runners on display.  As always, production values looked very high and the game seemed to be one of those family-approachable games with enough strategy to provide gamers with significant decisions throughout the game.  Players move their pawn around the board, visiting location which must then be explored to either gain special powers or grant a player a connection between nearby locations.  Once a location is completely depleted (each has 3 layers), a relic appears.  Player can then “ship” the relic along their placed paths for additional victory points.

Fantasy Flight

As usual, Fantasy Flight had a big presence at the convention, with preview demo games of things coming out later this fall as well as prereleases of games just about to be released.

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BattleLore – 2nd edition was on display.  It contains 92 figures from two armies.  There are no longer scenarios, instead each player gets a card representing half the board (along with a few objectives) and the two sides of the board are combined to make the play area.  Players still share a common command deck, but now players use their own side-specific lore deck – allowing more diversity of play between the two armies.   It should be out in December.

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A revised version of Diskwars was on display, which should be out by Christmas.  The new version isn’t compatible with older versions, although the play style seemed very similar to me.  There are 4 factions available with which to play, and a number of hero discs from which to choose.  Each side has two heroes and they combine to determine a sides’ hand size (typically 3 to 5 or so) and total recuit value.  Players use their cards, simultaneously revealing one at a time to determine both who goes first as well as what what special powers/abilities might occur. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFFG has reprinted Planet Steam, only with new artwork and a reasonable sized box.  There are still a few nifty little plastic tokens (for water tanks and other assorted items) and I thought the whole presentation looked rather nice.  For those unfamiliar with the game, it is an economic game with specific turn roles auctioned off at the start of each round.  The game has a steampunk theme and also has a heavy use of market forces for each of the several types of resources.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGearworld (out for a few months now) is a re-implementation of the older game, Borderlands.  Players move various resources around the board in a race to be the first to complete three skyworks.  While the game has an initial setup like Risk (place pieces on the board one by one) it seems to be much less combat oriented and more of a game with an economic/shipping focus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnly recently available in the US, Legends of Andor is a coop RPG style of title suitable for family level play.  The game boasts an extremely fast setup as players do not even need to reference the rulebook to begin play.  Cards provide with most of the setup details and the included scenarios (5 plus a make-your own) build up in complexity.  New to this English edition is a complete rulebook for those who prefer that learning method or want to use it as a reference during the game.

Gale Force 9

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the big games of the show, Firefly: the Game, was out in force – attracting gamers interested in its RPG-like shipping/exploration aspects as well as the many fans of the setting.  Players start out as a single character with a starship and must move around the board accumulating ship improvements, missions, and crews.  Missions reward players with cash and other materials to help them upgrade their abilities.  Throughout the game, players move by flipping over either Alliance or Reaver card decks, determined by which faction controls their current location.  The cards typically move the appropriate capitol ship one space, although one card will warp the ship right on top of you (with appropriate “really bad” things happening.)  The game has variable scenarios to determine victory.  Sometimes it is purely an economic game – players just try to get money, while other times players may try to accumulate a particular number of specific jobs, etc…  In a nice nod to the TV series, the current player marker is a cardboard stand-up of a dinosaur.

Game Salute / Chimera Hobby Shop

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChimera Hobby Shop was courting journalists by trying to give away copies of a poker-dice set.  The dice are “uniquely” set up so that most poker hands are able to be rolled.  (ie. one can roll 4 of a kind Aces or a royal flush of each suit, etc…)  While a sort of slot machine poker (roll dice to try to score “chips” based on the final poker result)  game is included in the pack, the publishers are holding a contest to try to encourage game designers to create new games using the dice.

Greater Than Games

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKnown for their Sentinels of the Multiverse cooperative superhero card game (NOT a deckbuilder), Greater Than Games was showing a prototype game of a new strategy title within the Sentinels setting entitled (for the moment) Sentinel Tactics. They’re hoping to have it for sale at next year’s GenCon.

IELLO

I wasn’t able to take a photo of the prototype copy, but Iello was able to show off the upcoming Steam Park game of steampunk amusement park building.  Players simultaneously roll dice, rerolling to get the values they want.  The first player to stop gains a bonus, while succeeding players get less of a bonus.  The last player standing simply gets to choose the faces of his last few dice.  Players then use the dice rolled to claim color coded rides (of 1,2, or 3 space sizes) to place on their personal park grid (which can be expanded during the game.)  Players gain resources(?)/points(?) by having visitors to their park.  These are gained by placing visitor tokens of a particular color into the common bag and then drawing out the same amount.  Visitors only come to your park if you have the appropriately colored rides, so one will obviously try to add the correct color of visitor tokens to the bag.  It looks to be a fun, quick game with one of the fastest “push your luck” mechanisms around (ex. how picky will you be with your die rolling…)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIello’s big title for the past year is King of Tokyo.  They were showing it off the boardgaming hall with many games played and this oversized one attracting some attention.  As Dale mentioned, expect to see a new expansion coming soon with two new monsters and associated mutation cards.  I <think> one of the new mechanics present will be some sort of disadvantage that monsters can put on each other.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhantom Society looks to be a fairly interesting 2-team deduction game where one team are the ghosts hiding in a mansion while the other players try to find them.  The board consists of two “layers” with the ghosts hiding underneath the top location tiles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGuardians’ Chronicles is an upcoming game involving Superheroes.  One player plays the villain side while the rest (1-3 more) play the superheros.  Players move about the map avoiding traps and engaging in combat in order to complete the scenario’s mission.  If the heroes win, they compare their victory points to determine and overall winner.

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Some of the heroes in Guardians’ Chronicles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZombie 15′ is one of those timed games requiring players to make quick decisions in order to survive over the course of the next 15 minutes.  A soundtrack provides zombie screams either every 40 or 60 seconds (depending on the scenario I believe) to warn players that trouble is coming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat may look like a deckbuilder, Titanium Wars, is actually a spaceship combat game.  Players build up their ships via real-time purchases, and then fight it out over the specific round’s planet.  Players interested in the planet activate a ship in turn order, doing damage to other players’ ships.  Players may withdraw from the fight at any time or keep fighting, absorbing damage.  The last player willing to fight captures the planet.  The next turn’s planet is always on display so players who would prefer to “save up” for the next combat can plan ahead and skip out on the current battle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHeroes of Normandie is Iello’s upcoming over-the-top heroic themed lightweight wargame.  With a sort of comic style, the game uses cardboard tokens (double-sized for tanks) to represent units with combat resolved using dice and modifiers printed right on the tokens.  The game includes 9 scenarios, more available online, and players can design their own.

Mayfair Games

As always, Mayfair had possibly the largest presence on the show floor, especially if one includes the Mayfair sponsored kid’s gaming area.  Many old and new titles were in circulation (including a new map for the Trek themed Settlers) and here are three that seemed of interest on the family side of things.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Zen Garden, players are given a secret mission pattern and then attempt to place tiles in the central area in that particular pattern in at least two locations.  Players earn bonus points if they manage to do so without using wildcard tiles as well as accomplishing it in the secret “color of choice” on their mission tile.  A fast game, one play results in something like 5 to 8 points or so, but it can be played over several rounds, adding scores as you go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADownfall of Pompeii has players first placing people into the city via a deck of cards.  Once the AD 79 card appears, people begin to show up in earnest but still must be placed within certain tile population limits.  Finally, a second AD 79 tile is drawn and the volcano erupts.  Then begins the second phase of the game as everyone scrambles to exit out of the city as quickly as possible.  Players can move some of their tokens, then spread a lava tile on the board (hopefully blocking other players but not yourself.)  Win by getting the most citizens safely out of the city.  I was a big fan of the 3D volcano for lost citizens, and the lightweight play style would probably serve me well in my more lightweight gaming circles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe final game I checked out was Road Rally USA.  This is a racing game where players draw from a personal deck and play cards to move their racing cars forward on the track.  “Slower” cards allow a player to draw more cards into their hand, while faster ones typically allow less.  Players score points for coming in first across checkered lines and the finsh, but there are also a number of points to be had along the way.  Players begin the game with two numbered cards corresponding to two numbered tokens on the board.  The cards are used to declare a scoring round, with the first place player gaining the most points.  However, if a car is on the exact numbered token when the scoring is called, they gain the token (worth 2 points at the end.)  Thus, the game isn’t simply won by the first player across the finish line.  Strategic play while leading midway through the race can also net a player significant points.

Privateer Press

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrivateer Press had a few boardgames along with their miniature (and new deckbuilder) game.  Level 7 [Omega Protocol] is a sci-fi sort of Descent game of player coop exploration against one other opponent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile, Bodger Mania is a trick-taking card game with a draft emphasis.  Players first draft their cards, removing two each time – one they keep and one placed in the middle to “vote” on trump for a particular round.  Once drafting is done, players then preset their hands for the four rounds of play.  Each round is won by trump first, and then the numbers closest to a particular number.  One is high card, another is low card, but the other two locations can go to a player closest to a middle number.  Points are gained according to the value on a particular location, and then another round is played.

Stronghold Games

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStronghold Games was showing off the “sequel” to Space Cadets in the form of Space Cadets: Dice Duel (note the co-designer sitting at the table at left drinking a soda).  In Dice Duel, players still attempt to control their space ship but now use dice and form a team competing against another space ship team.  While the game works for teams of 2 to 4 per side, I’m told its best with at least 3 per side (4 per side is fun, if a bit chaotic.)  The game proceeds at a “real time” pace with the action coming to half if anyone goes into warp, launches a torpedo, or attempts a tractor beam on the opposing ship.  Different scenarios can be played, but just trying to blow up the other ship is enough fun to satisfy most people.

Studio 9 Games

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHero vs Guardian is a (Kickstarted) asymmetric game where one player sets up a dungeon and 1-3 players attempt to knock it down.  The hero players set up a marching order for their team and progress through the face-down rooms.  Heros have various strengths to overcome obstacles and combat, so scouting ahead (to look at a room card) is always best if possible.  If a hero is ever defeated, the hero team must go back to town to recruit a new one, and the Guardian player gets additional resources with which to upgrade their dungeon.

Tasty Minstrel Games

Tasty Minstrel Games has a lot of expansions coming down the pipeline but their emphasis at the convention was the recently shipped Kickstarted game, Dungeon Roll.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was part of the kickstarter so have had my copy for a week or so and found it a fun game to play with my young son.  Players start the game with a character with special powers, and then roll a set of dice to determine their resources for the round.  Dungeon dice are then rolled, starting with a single die for level 1 of the dungeon.  Players must “use up” their hero dice to defeat monsters, unlock chests, and drink potions.  If too many dragon faces accumulate, the player must fight a Dragon (spending 3 different types of dice faces) but gain a treasure and an additional point.  Chests contain treasure, while potions bring back spent dice back onto any face.  At the end of a level (when all monster dice are taken care of and any dragon is fought) players can end the delve and score the current level of the dungeon – or they can continue deeper and face a reroll of monsters with one additional die (for one more level down.)  Fail to defeat a level completely and you score no points whatsoever.  Players become more powerful in their 2nd and 3rd attempt at the dungeon as their character can “level up” one time and the treasures collected can often help clear a tricky level.  (Save those treasures when you can, though as each one is worth a whole point!)  Dungeon roll is a fun little push your luck game of managing resources, and a bit of tactics in making the best of the rolls you get.

Included in the Tasty Minstrel upcoming expansions is the Belfort: Expansion expansion and Eminent Domain: Escalation.  Escalation brings a bit more military mindedness to the game, making use of all three sizes of ships.  The largest ship, a flagship, is worth points at the end of the game but also grants bonuses to combat.  It can even be sacrificed to immediately capture a planet.  New tech cards are present which can be taken over with military (if I recall correctly).  After that, the next Eminent Domain expansion will be Exotica.

Finally, we have Eminent Domain: Dice, a dice implementation of the Eminent Domain style of game.  A die has 6 sides, which conveniently corresponds to the 6 actions available in the game.  Players have their own set of dice they roll at the end of the turn and can use them to “follow” other players’ selected roles during the game.  Players can capture planets or settle even when following a role.  There is a “large” die players can use when it is their turn (you get to choose the face) to represent the role selection bonus.  Tokens in the middle represent either fighters or goods, which can then be converted to goods.  One game ending condition is the loss of the central pool of tokens (from fighter hording or a lot of goods being scored.)  The designer thinks trading is even more important in the dice version (although he begs to differ that it might be a weaker strategy in the original game.)   Players also have a 4×4 “tech board” of special powers.  Players can select one power from the bottom row granting an ongoing ability, and then are able to progress up the columns on any of the four specialist tracks.  Moving up a row grants an even more powerful ability, BUT players if an ability is used, the improvement is gone for good and must be re-researched.  As a fan of Eminent Domain, I look forward to checking out if this new, faster playing version keeps enough of the original game to make an even more concentrated experience.

Wizkids

As a purveyor of plastic minis, you might expect a lot of Wizkids games to have miniatures and you would be right.  The popular “deckbuilder” RPG exploration game, Mage Knight will see an expansion of a new character.  It is an Orc chaos shaman and its powers will be suitably chaotic – sometimes even able to raise the dead of defeated monsters and bring them with them to the next fight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWizkids has licensed the system from the Star Wars minis game made by FFG and brought it to the Star Trek license in Star Trek: Attack Wing.  There’s currently 3 factions available: Romulan, Federation, and Klingon, with an additional faction – the Dominion, available in expansions.  The game is sold in a starter pack and 8 expansion packs (consisting of a single ship plus various cards) are currently available.  More expansions should be coming along in October and again in December.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomewhat farther afield for Wizkids was the dice based train game, Trains and Stations.  Once I saw the dice, though I recognized their similarity to their dicebuilding line.  The game is dice and card driven with players rolling their dice to start their turn.  Usually the dice can be rerolled a bit, but any die showing a “locked” train symbol cannot. Trains (“locked or not) rolled on the dice can be used to complete a route on the board, immediately removed again, and scoring points or they can be left on a route to be completed later.  The danger is that other players can then finish the route, scoring it instead if they have more dice on the route.  Scoring a route grants points, but also a special ability granted by the two stations connected.  Bonuses include extra points, additional draws of power/ability cards, or even an extra “white” die to roll in the next round.   Other sides of the dice include money (used in various ways), bells, longhorns, and ore.  Rolling three of a kind of ore/longhorns/or bells allows a player to place a mine/ranch/or hotel on a city without that development.  They then score points whenever players make a connection to that city.  It looks like a fun little warmup game with a decent train theme that should play fairly quickly as a filler or starter for an evening or for family/casual gaming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA contender for the longest boardgame name (look it up anyone?), Wizkids is also putting out a Hobbit themed game entitled: The Hobbit: Journey to the Lonely Mountain Strategy Game lets up to 3 players take on the role of the darkness and play against a single player who is the beacon of light.  (Contrast this with most other games where there is only one “bad guy” and several “good guys”.)  The game uses the ever-present Wizkid dial-base figurines but the dials are not compatible with Wizkids other games.  (Compatible dials are included in the box and can be switched out.)  Shown in the photo, everyone has one or two figures to move around on the board (Gandalf moves in the bottom row, while Bilbo runs around in the top.)  Players lay control tokens on the top board to claim areas, often granting a bonus when different cards appear.  The “bad guys” do not have a a simultaneous win, so inter-party conflict can occur as each one tries to gain the most victory points before ending the game.

Worldspanner

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Several years ago, Worldspanner released a quest based exploration/combat game entitled Duel of Ages, primarily for the purpose of creating and claiming the intellectual property rights for the game’s setting.  Surprisingly, the game gained a large (for boardgames) following and multiple expansions followed, creating many many options for fans of the game.  After some time to regroup (and persistent bugging by certain fans), Worldspanner has just released an improved version of the game, Duel of Ages 2.  The new edition is somewhat streamlined in both the rule book (rules now span 12,000 words instead of 18,000) and in game play.  Most of the reduced rules were exceptions or special cases which are no longer needed.  Cards are now used to resolve challenges rather than using dice and a chart.  Each card essentially displays the appropriate “chart” making resolutions easier.  (The cards exactly duplicate dice results on the old chart, so die hards could still jerry-rig the dice back into the game.)  The game is not for everyone, but it is somewhat unique in that the game does not always fall to the player(s) with the best fighters.  Players set up in two teams of eight or so hero characters and then attempt to earn victory through combat as well as skill checks within quests.  As mentioned, fighting is not the end-all or be-all of the game, as Clara Barton (the founder of the U.S. Red Cross) is frequently a powerful character, if given the right equipment and encountering suitable challenges.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn addition to various abilities, heroes now also have two important attributes: Honor (how you treat allies) and Respect (how others perceive you.)  I believe these can change during the game, Respect is important in determining which team will be the “white” or “good” team.  Heroes also enter the game in order of their respect levels.  Thus one team with high respect characters may have several characters on the board while the other team only has one.  In any case, all the characters typically make it onto the board by the third round.  Fans of the game typically appreciate the diversity of characters available and this edition is no different.  There are 48 characters in the basic box, with 144 more in the Master Set expansion.  A fan has even developed an online tool so you can customize your own character (or put yourself into the game.)  As mentioned, it isn’t always about the fighting so even a somewhat less combat prone person like myself might turn out to be a handy character to have around.  While the base game holds its own in pure poundage of paper and cardboard in the box, the Master Set ups the ante considerably.  The “basic” set rulebook covers everything needed for play (so the Master Set doesn’t have a rulebook) but the expansion adds piles of everything else.  New characters, new boards, new equipement, etc…  The only new part of the game in the Master set is the introduction of henchmen.  Not a game for everyone, but gamers who like a bit of RPG like strategy / tactical gaming may just find (an extremly heavy – in pounds) game to like.

Z-Man

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Z-man always had a busy booth with several titles getting a good “look-see”.  I was able to watch Ignacy Trzewiczek guide some friends of mine through Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on Cursed Island.  This is a cooperative game where players strive to meet the victory conditions of a given scenario with very limited resources.  I liked the theme and it seemed to be a real nail-biter of a title as players strove to progress the story/scenario while simultaneously making sure there was food to feed their characters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlso on display was the new(ish) Pandemic: In the Lab expansion, although most players weren’t using it.  No surprise there, as most players at the convention were less experienced gamers and I’m sure the tables were most often used by players looking for a shorter game.

————–

And that, my friends is all (s)he wrote!  Stay tuned in a couple days (after I get more sleep) and I’ll let you know about all the wonderful deckbuilding games (12 and counting) recently out or coming down the pipeline to you!

Feel free to add comments below to note your thoughts on GenCon or just start a flame war about how poorly I described your favorite game.  Thanks for reading this far!

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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12 Responses to Matt Carlson: Gencon 2013 in Photos

  1. Alan How says:

    Great summary and pictures. Thanks. Great warm up for Essen when I can get hold of these games.

  2. Graham says:

    Very interesting, thanks. One small pedantic point; like many of your countrymen you seem to have difficulty distinguishing between North America and the world. Henry Dunant founded the Red Cross, for which he received the first Nobel Peace Prize. Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross some years later and following the example of most European countries.Very commendable of course, but not quite the same thing.

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      Thanks so much for the clarification. Being the lazy bum that I am, I did no investigative journalism to establish the validity of most of the things told to me during the convention… The designer may have told me “US Red Cross” and I just blipped over it, but I suspect not.

      (However, I do make it a point when I’m writing to at least _try_ to indicate most of my information will be relevant to the US side of things – even vs Canadian/North American, etc… While I’m hoping other countries will have readers checking things out, I won’t know nearly as much information on what will be going down there…)

  3. will sargent says:

    Fantastic overview of the show. Thanks so much for your efforts. Quick question: What would you say was the most original new ‘mechanic’ or ‘twist on an existing mechanic’ you saw in a game at the show this year?

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      That’s a tough question… there are a lot of reused and remixed mechanics out there. One thing I can come up with is the simultaneous speed-rolling die mechanic. It’s been done before but not so much with strategy games (usually more party-games.) It’s in Steam Park and Space Cadets: Dice Duel. Neither is yet released but should be coming out some time before GenCon rolls around next year. They both have the mechanism but there’s significantly more strategy/tactics (in my opinion) than has been seen in that type of game before.

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      OK, thought of another one. A deckbuilder with overtones of Risk: Legacy. Read my report on Thursday to see more details… :)

  4. will sargent says:

    thanks for that.

  5. rory says:

    Hello! I merely would like to give a huge thumbs upward for the fantastic info you’ve got here about this post. We are coming back to your blog for more soon.

  6. LibraryGamer says:

    Howdy! Thanks for mentioning Freedom: The Underground Railroad. Uwe is a great guy, but he was only the publisher on this one. He was a wonderful publisher to work with on my first game design. I am thrilled at the response the game has gotten thus far.

  7. The rules for Steam Park are now up, and they state that the person last in turn order gets three more rolls rather than getting to choose the faces of their dice. The “dirt” penalty for being last also seems significant. So being slow is now strictly worse, which I bet adds a lot of tension.

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