Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Day One

exhibit iconSerendipitously, GenCon and I moved to Indiana at the same time.   Since then, I’ve managed to attend every year as my once-a-year delve into all things “current” boardgames.  This year is no different.  Thursday, after sending my middle child off on the bus to his first day of kindergarten, I rushed down to Indianapolis to join over 56,000 people participating in all sorts of gaming.   Saturday I returned for some additional gaming as well as  a host of gaming appointments.  Since GenCon is my primary gaming convention, I find many things of interest that may be old-hat to the hard core Essen/Origins/etc… convention-goer.  Pick and choose what you like, just Keep Calm and Read On.

Day One

Harebrained Schemes – Golem Arcana

Example smaller game with 4 tiles.

My first stop was at Harebrained Schemes to check out their combination electronic and miniature wargame, Goblen Arcana.  It uses a Bluetooth pen to read microdot technology on miniatures and the game tiles in order to keep track of everything happening during the game.  Thus, the tedium and fiddly bits are relegated to the computer (someone’s tablet) while the visual flair of wargame pieces remains.  Players each build their own army out of prepainted figures using a point-buy system, put them on the square-grid game board, tap on them with the pen to let the tablet know who and what goes where, and then the fun begins.

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A large show-off game at the booth with some custom terrain.

All kinds of tasks can be offloaded onto the tablet, not just distance calculations (between squares) and combat.  The tablet keeps track of all the details of one of the preset scenarios.  The game doesn’t even have a rulebook, using an example scenario to lead players through the basic points of the game.  Since a scenario is managed through the tablet, things can be done that aren’t possible in a typical wargame skirmish.  Players can encounter truly hidden information during the course of the game, interact with NPCs that pop up, encounter time-based events, and things of that ilk.  Many vs one battles can be raged against extra-large figurines (with possible AI for the big guys coming along in the future).  Finally, the stats for each battle fought is uploaded to a central server to keep track of statistics for the four main “sides” of the game universe – two warring factions and two mercenary.  Players will see how they affect the overall picture after the conclusion of their battle.  The main limiting factor, as I see it, will come down to cost.  A basic set runs $80 with additional figures available in pre-set packs of 3 for $35.  The plan is to release about 3-6 more figures each month.  Quite an investment, but comparable to the expense of similar miniature based games.

Rio Grande – Roll for the Galaxy

Between activities I took a stroll through the most excellent Rio Grande demo room.  The game that  most caught my eye was Roll for the Galaxy.

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Roll for the Galaxy in mid-game.

As one might expect, it is a dice-building version of the popular card game, Race for the Galaxy.  A dice-fan’s dream, it comes with 111 dice taking the place of most of the cards from its parent game.  One’s dice are rolled and one is used to choose the specific role action (explore – gain money or put worlds to settle in your queue, develop – install dice effect upgrades, settle – to gain producing worlds, produce -placed rolled dice on a planet, ship – convert produced dice to money or victory points.) Note that one can built multiple upgrades in a single turn, and that shipping occurs after production – contrary to Race for the Galaxy which has shipping, then production.

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A close up of the Roll for the Galaxy dice.

Each symbol on the dice are associated with a different phase of the game and whenever a die is used for some gain it is placed back in the common pool and must be repurchased.  (Dice that don’t get used for something return back to one’s own pool, able to be reused in later turns.)  The game continues until VPs are used up or someone reaches the maximum number of upgrades.

Fantasy Flight

X-Com

One of the hottest games of the show was X-Com over at the Fantasy Flight game area.  Coming out sometime in Q4, the game is a fully cooperative game for 1-4 players.  Based on the very popular X-Com computer franchise, the game seems to retain much of the theme.  The idea is that aliens are invading Earth, and the players are attempting to thwart the invasion over the long term.  This requires budgeting money for research and development (as alien technology is gained) as well as personnel and hardware.  All this while managing the social pressures of the various countries in the world.  The boardgame adds in tension through the use of a timed app that manages the pace of the game.

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X-Com layout – note tablet on far side of table

There are four different roles in every game (a two player game would have each player taking on two of the roles).  Each role has a significantly different play style.  The Central Officer keeps track of the real-time app as well as satellites to monitor the planet.  The Chief Scientist focuses on research and technology upgrades.  The Squad Leader manages troops on the ground, and the Commander handles the Air Force.

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Close up of the tablet app manned by the Central officer

The game uses the free app (eventually available on iOS, Android, and even a web page) in most aspects of the game. Starting with the game setup, the app will select the players’ starting country, what type of aliens will be invading, etc…  Thus most games will be slightly different even from the outset.  In a timed event, players discuss and collaborate to make their individual decisions.  The resolution of decisions and changing the status of the board occurs in an untimed phase.  Players can (and should) use less time in the early stages of the game in order to save up so they will have more time during later turns.  The app is more than just a bookkeeping device, able to run different scenarios but also respond and dynamically change the progression of the game.  The winning and losing conditions vary by scenario, which may have several possibilities for each.  As a boardgamer and fan of the computer game (the first, in 1994, was the best one!) as well as co-op games, I don’t mind mentioning that it is solidly on my radar.

Other recent and upcoming games on display included:

Descent: Manor of Ravens

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More tiles and a few creatures, an extra add-on includes the main monster figurine with just a few bonuses.

No surprise there, but FFG has another expansion to the evergreen Descent.  The small-box expansion, Manor of Ravens, focuses on indoor exploration.

Wizwar: Bestial Forces

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Love it or lump it, it’s WizWar.

FFG’s WizWar release has a new expansion: Bestial Forces.  It adds the ability for players to summon creatures into the arena and allows them to control them on one’s turn.

Star Wars: Empire vs Rebellion

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SW: Empire vs Rebellion – a two player bluffing card game

In in the 2 player Star Wars: Empire vs Rebellion, each player takes a side and its appropriate deck.  Players place their cards on the exposed mission card on the current turn in order to try to claim it.  Of course, missions and cards typically have special effects that must also be taken into account.  Player decks aren’t entirely fixed, as some character cards come in three types, allowing a choice of which ones to add to one’s deck.

The Last Banquet

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Got 24 friends? Invite them over for a game.

A somewhat unique game offering, The Last Banquet plays with 6 to 25 people.  It is one of those games where everyone sits in a circle and attempts to manipulate where people sit.  There are two sides and a king.  The game has six scenarios, and in one each side has a secret member who holds a weapon (an actual card secreted on their person) and the sides are attempting to place their member next to the king at the end of the round.  Players all have varying roles that can affect how movement takes place.  If a player with a weapon ends the round next to the king, that side wins.  If the King can survive three rounds (three “courses” of the meal), the king wins an individual victory.  Other scenarios include one where the players are attempting to figure out who among them is a ghost, etc…

Age of War

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Hey, it’s a dice game, it’s a Knizia game.. isn’t that enough to make your decision?

 

AEG

Seventh Hero

In Seventh Hero, players are attempting to collect a set of 6 unique cards out of 7 options.  Players have a hand of cards and place them on the table during play.  However, placing any duplicate card onto the table will destroy both cards.  Each turn, an action card is revealed and a player must try to play from their hand according to the action’s instructions.

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Seventh Hero – a lightweight card passing game

For example, a player may be forced to play a card of value 3-5, or an even numbered card, etc…  The player then places this card face down on the table to their left. (If one does not have a card meeting the requirements, a card is taken off the top of the deck and passed around face up.)  The receiving player may then flip the card, adding it to their tableau (potentially eliminating a card via a match) or may choose to pass the card on to their left.  If the card progresses all the way around the table, the original player must place it in their own tableau.  Be the first to get six of the seven possible numbers played in your tableau to win the game.

Doomtown Reloaded

In this reworking of the original card-poker Doomtown, 2 to 4 players fight it out to gain control of the town.  Note, that the game contains 4 unique factions usable for a 4 player game, but there are only two play mats included so it is easiest if only playing the game with two players with one faction each.  Each faction has their own theme, such as gaining money, or simply more chaos and risk.

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Early in the game, not many cards on the board.

All the cards in the game have a number and suit as in a standard deck of playing cards.  Players use their cards (and typically money) to place Deeds (the diamond suit) which provide income, Equipment cards to modify their own abilities (number of cards drawn, etc.. I believe), and People cards which both cost money to play and also require upkeep.  A fourth suit provides the action cards, which again must be paid for if they are played to the board.

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A close up of the game board… some gang members have moved towards the center.

The first player is decided by a simple comparison of poker hands drawn of each player’s deck.  The game then proceeds with each player starting with five people in their “posse” which can be brought into play and then moved around on the board (basically back row and middle on each side).  When people encounter each other a “shoot-out” occurs by drawing cards off one’s deck and comparing poker hands.  Some characters in a posse can increase the number of cards drawn while others may allow “cycling” of cards through a discard and redraw.  There is even occasional “cheating” that can occur (of course there are more than one of each card so a pair of Aces of Spades can occur.)  Deeds can provide control while posse members provide influence and the player who is first to gain more control than their opponent’s influence wins the game.

 Lost Legacy

The designer of Love Letter comes back with another series of games using a similar set of cards.  Lost Legacy comes in several styles – Lost Legacy: The Starship and Lost Legacy: Flying Garden.  There is even an upcoming third version.  Versions can be mixed between sets.

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While the game play is similar to Love Letter – draw a card, discard a card and use its effect, the overall goal is no longer to simply get the highest number card.  Instead, one of the cards (the “5”, I believe) is the Starship (or Flying Garden).  At the end of the game, players try to guess the location of the special card.  However, players get to guess the location in order of their last held card – lowest numbers first.  In this game, the low numbers are unique with the high numbers containing multiples.  One card is placed on the center of the table and players are dealt a single card each – drawing from the main pile as the game progresses.  Through card interaction, players have to slowly deduce where the Legacy card is located (either in a player’s hand or face down on the table.)  Powers allow players to add cards to the table, or even get two guesses at the end of the game provide some nice strategic choices.  My favorite is that the low number cards are arguably more powerful, but do you play them or save them for the end of the game so you get to guess first?

In other AEG news, I was finally able to pick up the recent Trains map pack.  Fans of the game, like myself, will be glad to hear there is a stand-alone (compatible) sequel in the works for September or October.  Trains: Rising Sun will include route cards which allow players to connect locations on the board as yet another way to earn victory points.

MayDay Games

Coconuts

Not an extremely new game, but I just had to grab a photo, was Coconuts (plus whatever Korean is written on the box.)

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Are they rubber coconuts, monkey poo, or just Milk Duds? You decide…

This is a fun little game where players use their plastic Monkey catapults to launch their little rubber coconuts into the central cup area.  Get a conconut in a cup and claim it for your own, eventually forming a 6 cup pyramid for the win.  Yes, you can launch them into other player’s cups – which is often the most enjoyable part of the game.  Fun for younger kids, but also a raucous good time.  (I played it at a mini-convention last winter and we were easily the loudest game in the room due to our laughing fits.)  The game comes with little “special power” cards, but I have to admit I’ve only used them once.  I vaguely remember them seeming to be not all that balanced, but then again, perhaps the players themselves aren’t all that balanced either.

Meteor

Meteor is a time-limited cooperative game for up to 5 players.  The game starts with a set of meteor cards in the center of the board and players are given only five minutes to destroy them all.  Players play rocket cards and then power them with one or more types of three resources so that they can be launched at and destroy the displayed meteors.

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Not available yet, but coming soon to Kickstarter…

In addition to rockets there are some special ability cards.  Some important ones even allow players to start discussion options among themselves.  Yes, at the game start players aren’t even allowed to talk.   Each game uses a small set out of a large number of  meteors, most with special abilities, giving the game plenty of variability.

Bling Bling Gemstone

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The ultimate in flashy, glittery boardgame goodness…

Essentially a pimped out Click Clack LumberJack (perhaps not the best mix of terms), Bling Bling Gemstone has shiny, transparent bits instead of the standard brown tree bits.  If you need a copy, it is a limited production and you’ll be best served by picking up a copy directly from Mayday Games.

Action Phase Games – Heroes Wanted 

After a successful Kickstarter, Action Phase Games was at the convention with a booth promoting their super-hero themed hand management game.

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One game board in all its glory… see the hybrid man on the right.

A very tongue-in-cheek game, the setup includes players randomly selecting a “top” and “bottom” half of a superhero to create a unique pair of names like “American Beard” and “Hobo Giant”.  Each hero half grants the player abilities – the top half provides a superpower while the bottom grants some sort of modifier.  The villain is constructed in a similar manner.  Players move around the board trying to capture the main villain, complete a “headline” – a modular goal granting victory points, or simply getting in each other’s way.  As I mentioned, it really is a tongue-in-cheek game.  Players may be forced to cry out their catch phrase whenever attacking, or similar silly possibilities.  At the end of the game additional victory points are awarded for the best or most of several categories.  Not for the serious minded, it looks like a good hootenanny for the right crowd.

HABA

As a parent of small kids, I made a point to stop by the HABA booth, I believe the firs time they’ve attended GenCon.  Known for their games focused on younger players and made with quality bits. The familiar yellow boxes are usually a good recommendation.

Pirates Blast

Taking the mechanism from the hilarious “The Black Pirate”, where players blow their ships around the board with a little bulb, Pirates blast puts a similar mechanism into a smaller, cheaper two player game.

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Squeeze that bulb and hit those ships!

Animal Upon Animal: Small and yet Great

Another title in the Animal Upon Animal series, this one is actually not that compatible with previous versions!

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Tiny pieces… it’s so cute!

This is due to their tiny size.  Perfect for vacations or dragging to the restaurant while you wait for your food.

Sewing!

No idea what these were called, but they were simply sturdy animal shapes with holes around the outside.  Kids would “sew” a piece of string in and out of the holes in the given pattern…  useful for developing those fine motor skills!

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Watch out lion! That croc is going to get you!

First Orchard

A very simple game for very young kids (2+).  I was instantly attracted to the very colorful fruit.

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Yum!

matt carlson

Can you guess which fruit were my favorite?


USAopoly – Bang: The Walking Dead

Known for taking popular games and mixing them with popular licenses, I was surprised to see USAopoly adding Bang! into its licencing mix.  They had Bang! – Halo up on their wall and Bang! – The Walking Dead out for play.

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I wonder if the shotgun is more powerful when mixed with zombies…

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Closeup of a player’s area.


Tasty Minstrel Games

Tasty Minstrel Games was showing off their ultra-cheap line of mini-games that went out on kickstarter last winter.  Each is available in a medium sized cardboard envelope and is priced accordingly.  Not in wide distribution, if you missed out on the kickstarters you can order them directly from TMG.

Burgoo

Players have a line of ingredient tokens they try to add to the “soup”.  If you have a matching ingredient on the end of your line, you can also add yours.  Breaking your line into several lines is a useful, but sometimes risky play.  The first player to get rid of all their ingredients wins.

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The envelopes with Burgoo being played in the background.

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us

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A tile laying game where matching adjacent symbols gains a player points.

Coin Age

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A very quick territory claiming game using coins. The playing area is about the size of a playing card.

AquaSphere

By this time I was wandering the convention with Dale and he wanted to oogle the new Stefan Feld game.  Located in the Tasty Minstrel demo room (since I believe they’re distributing it) I took a photo assuming it was important.

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Look at those pretty bits! The hexagon shape is a new number for the folks who gave us the five-sided Belfort.

Eminent Domain: Microcosm

While Dale finished checking out AquaSphere, I got in a quick game of the 2 player Eminent Domain: Microcosm.  In this case, quick means only 10 minutes.

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Smaller box, smaller number of cards, smaller length, but still a large fraction of the fun.

Players use their hand of cards to perform roles very similar to roles in Eminent Domain.  Starting the game with no cards at all, players draw a card on their turn (from a tableau of 3 cards) and then may play one from their hand (which could be the card drawn).  Played cards go into a discard pile, and can be picked up in its entirety as one’s turn.  Playing a card activates its shown role, which can be improved by simply displaying additional role symbols on cards in hand or on the table (via planets or technology).  Research simply grants a card showing a single symbol (and can be removed from another player to the central area or taken from the central area into one’s own area.)  Planets are automatically settled via colony cards, with better planets available with more symbols shown.  Warfare consists of attacking an opponents planet.  Success requires more warfare symbols than the planet’s defense rating.  Stolen planets are set aside as booty giving victory points but don’t provide other benefits.  The game ends when the draw deck is exhausted.  I was surprised at the amount of Eminent Domain theme that showed through the quick game.  Perhaps the mark of a good game, I felt it ended just when I really had my little empire on a roll.  The fact that I lost the game has absolutely no bearing on my desire to have gone on just one or two more turns!

Asmodee Party

Once again, Asmodee had a nice little party in a local pub to privately show off their upcoming games.  I attached myself to Dale as he made the rounds in an effort to bring a bit more class to our table.  Many (most?) of the games we saw were not published but will be distributed by Asmodee in the US.  It was a whirlwind of games explained so I apologize if I lack important information or have something incorrect.

Colt Express (Ludonaute)

What looks to be a fun little hidden action game, players control a meeple robber going up and down the train gathering money and gem tokens to recover the most cash.

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A cardboard train! Click to get a closeup of the gratuitous little cardboard cactus stand-ups.

Players can move around on the top of the train and below, fighting with each other when they are in view and in range.  The most valuable loot is at the front of the train but beware the Marshal piece who protects it and works his way back on the train.  Did I mention it has cute little cactus pieces with no practical purpose?

Room 25 (Matagot)

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Move those guys around, discover those tiles. Push someone into a deadly room if you don’t like them.

A game of programmed actions (2 at a time) on a tile based grid, Room 25 now has an expansion that provides colored miniatures (replacing the old white ones), two new characters, and an option to give each player special abilities.  A cooperative mode has been much improved including a helpful robot around.  Win the game by finding the key room and then getting to the escape room (room 25) alive.  The board doesn’t stay static, though.  various programmed cards can shift the rooms about if necessary.

Sun Tzu (Matagot)

I saw a pretty version of Sun Tzu, which I am told is a new version of Dynasties with a few new bits added in.  Since I don’t really know Dynasties, I sat an nodded my head a lot and smiled…

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Sun Tzu – a reworking of “Dynasties”… or did I already say that?

Korrigans  (Matagot)

I was much more interested in the family-friendly game, Korrigans.  Players are leprechauns that move around the board collecting little discs on the various fields.  Discs provide victory points or animal tokens, and a player gets to choose which disc to keep.  Animal tokens are important, however, as moving between fields requires a specific animal token.  Frogs go through water, birds can fly -between similar colored areas, etc…  If you collect the last disc in an area you get to claim the standing stone which grants a special power – indicated on its underside.

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The animal tokens are not used up so one typically only needs one of each type to get around.  However, when the last rainbow is found (basically a timing mechanism) the players rush to get their two leprechauns to the location of the pot of gold.  In this case, players can only use each animal token once.  If one collected two rabbits, for instance,  they could use two separate rabbit moves to help their leprechauns make it to the pot of gold safely.  Getting to the pot of gold awards quite a few points, but doesn’t quite clinch the win.  However, it is quite hard to pull off a win if you don’t get at least one leprechaun safely there.

Nations: the Dice Game (Lautapelit?)

A civilization game based on rolling symbols on dice.  Everyone rolls and then players take turns using up their die symbols until all players pass.  Players buy upgrades at a central tableau using gold or rock and will get to place it in their area.

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XXXX : The Dice game (Where XXXX is replaced by “Nations” in this case…)

Only 6 basic and two special types of upgrades can be kept at one time.  Upgrades provide extra ongoing symbols (including extra rerolls or resources or points) and even let you exchange one of your white dice for a colored die.  Each specialty has its own colored die (like yellow for food) which will have extra symbols on some sides of the die, making future rolls more productive.

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Close up on the symbols on the starting (white) dice.

At the end of a round, points may be scored for extra food or army symbols (depending on a revealed tile.)  The improvement tableau is cleared off and replaced with more impressive tiles and the cycle is repeated through a total of three rounds (I believe?)

Ryu (Moonster Games?)

I’m told Ryu means dragon, and in Ryu players race to collect the right resources in order to build their special dragon.

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Moving to a new hex tile within the ring that forms the game grants a player a new action that redistributes the available resource tokens.  Small resource cubes are kept behind ones’ screen and are used for building the dragon, but there are also round tokens that can be acquired and traded in for the colored resource cubes (sometimes drawn randomly from a bag.)  Each hexagon has its own power, such as a marketplace to trade cubes around.  When used, a tile is flipped upside down and is   Each player has a home planet hexagon which, when used, gives the owner and the user some benefit.  Of course, it is then flipped upside down again.  Once all but one tile is flipped over, the tiles reset (except for the last one flipped) and can be used again.  It looks to be somewhat of a lightweight game that reminds me a little of bidding and exchanging games like Fiji or Fist of Dragonstones (albeit with a lot more exchanging and a bit less bidding.)

End of Day 1

And that brings us to the end of my mega-rundown of day 1.  If the stars align right, and my kids aren’t too fussy, I’ll be back tomorrow with my day 2. 

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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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3 Responses to Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Day One

  1. First, thank you for a great write-up. Looking forward to day 2!

    Second, Pirates Blast (Haba) is a really nifty little two-player game… very portable and not just a shrunk-down version of the Kinderspiel-winning The Black Pirate. You can find my review at http://akapastorguy.blogspot.com/2009/08/mia-12-pirates-blast-der-schwarze-pirat.html.

    Third, I am REALLY looking forward to Eminent Domain: Microcosm. Thanks for the preview!

  2. Fourth, both Age of War and Star Wars: Empire vs Rebellion are reprints/re-themes of previous games:

    Age of War = Risk Express (which was never published in the U.S.)
    Empire vs Rebellion = Cold War: CIA vs KGB

  3. Matt J Carlson says:

    Sweet, I never got to try out Risk Express…

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