Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Day Two

exhibit iconBright and early Saturday morning I headed down for day two.  Armed with my inferior back-up camera, I had a series of appointments to attend.  Sadly, this reduced the overall games examined, but had the advantage of a deeper discussion about each one.  As a bonus, I even set aside time in the early morning for a bit of gaming with friends – more on that tomorrow.

VG3 – Strife: Legacy of the Eternals

A hot tip from a friend sent me over to check out the small card game, Strife.  It is one of those perfect knowledge games in that both players have the same complete hand of 10 numbered cards.  (In fact, it is within the rules to ask your opponent what cards they have left, to avoid the burden of making sure to card count.)  Three face up locations (again, out of 10) are placed on the playing area and each is worth a number of victory points.  The first location in line is the only one in contention, so the other locations give a heads-up for what is coming down the pike.  Players simultaneously reveal a single card to attempt to capture the location.  As is common with such games, each card has a special battle ability that will affect the battle.  Things like moving the battle to new locations or changing which characters are in the battle.


As per his job, the demo guy made sure I beat him soundly… or I’m just awesome. I’ll go with the latter.

There are two aspects of the game that set the game apart.  My favorite lies in each card’s secondary ability.  Cards have a second ability that triggers when they’re on top of the discard pile.  Thus, during each battle there will be two special abilities triggered – one from the card in the battle and one from last turn’s discarded card.  In this way, it is possible to work together some nice card combinations, forgoing a specific battle in order to easily capture the following one with a particularly powerful combo.  The second mechanism is a “Fate Stone”.  The Fate Stone is simply a 10 sided die (placed showing 1) and the player with the die may use it to break any tie in a battle.  However, the fate stone is then advanced one number on the die and it is passed to the opponent.  At the end of the game, the player with the Fate Stone will gain bonus points equal to the number shown on the die.

Queen Games

Now that Queen games has started to distribute directly to the US, it has embraced our national motto of “Bigger is Better”.  Yes, the Queen booth was chock full of “Big Box This” and “Big Box That”.  No game is spared the expansion treatment (just take a gander at the many, many available promo expansions for sale at the booth.)  I saw “Big Box” Alhambra, Kingdom Builder, Escape: Curse of the Temple, even a box containing all the games with Alhambra in the name!  (Alhambra, Alhambra dice, etc…)  Among the giant boxes, there were some newer games (for which there were only a few promos available.)


Players attempt to accumulate treasure at the source and then progressively move it down the line to store it safely in the famous pirate town of Tortuga.


Mmmm… Pirates! Ranking just behind zombies for the theme of the decade.

Each player has the same 5 unique dice which, when rolled, provide them with action options.  Multiples of a symbol improve that particular action.  Players begin their haul of booty by pulling treasure from the treasure bag. It is then moved down each area of the board until it is finally placed into town.  Players can acquire upgrades, such as more ships in their fleet (for carrying more booty at once) or additional cannons (for attacking those ships.)  It looks like a decent family game that includes some opportunities for attacking one’s enemies.

Templar: The Secret Treasures

With board movement that vaguely reminded me of Clue, Templar is about getting treasure into the nice church, but then sucking up to the Abbot to make sure he notices your pious actions.


Why does the abbot leave all this treasure lying around? No wonder there were issues with the church.

Every player has a set of cards used for game actions.  They are played in a round and no player can use a card that is already showing in front of another player.  (Thus, the chance to try to briefly block out a player form performing their optimal action.)  Players acquire treasure out of a bag (again with the treasure bags, Queen?) and then place them onto the game board.  Once on the board, players need to maneuver the abbot into visiting that room in order to score points for their treasure.  Crafty players may piggy-back on this by putting some of their treasure in the same room and waiting for you to bring the abbot.  The player cards allow movement, placement of treasure of different values, moving the abbot, moving a “locked door” around the abbey, as well as one card that allows a player to pick up all their used ones.  Looks to be medium to light weight, with not too much direct player conflict, making it a good candidate for a family game night.

Cryptozoic Entertainment

I planned an interview with Cryptozoic, the land of the deckbuilder, and it did not disappoint.  Arguably their most popular line is the DC Comics Deck-building game.

DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Crisis Expansion

The newest “big deal” with the DC game is the Crisis Pack #1 (nothing is announced for further expansions, but I leave the exercise to the reader…)  Retailing around $20, the new expansion takes things up a notch.

DC crisis

Crisis Expansion… why would I buy something that makes my crisis bigger?

Sure, there are 6 new heroes (including Green Arrow, Robin, and Animal Man) and 35 new main deck cards, even a few “impossible mode” villains for good measure.  However, the Crisis Mode is what this expansion is all about.  Crisis Mode is a fully cooperative version of the game.  Players start with special Crisis Mode heroes that have powers designed to help each other out – such as discarding 3 cards to protect another hero from all damage.  Fifteen Crisis cards are shuffled into the main deck.  When they appear they provide an ongoing penalty or attack which persists until the players perform a specific task, such as all players discard a card, etc…   Oh, and did I mention that heroes aren’t allowed to take villain cards into their hands?  Defeated villains just go to a discard pile.   As a cooperative game fan, the expansion has caught my interest.

Other upcoming games in the DC line include Forever Evil – in which players get to play the side of the bad guys.  Expect lots of aggressive cards with the power to destroy other cards.  It will be a stand-alone title but could still be mixed with previous games.  In December there will be a 2 player stand alone DC edition pitting Batman against the Joker.  In this case, players will have three different primary hero/villain cards.  As they take damage (up to 3 hits), players will “upgrade” to the next card on the list, getting angrier and tougher as the game goes on.


A new Cryptozoic game at the con was the Naruto deck-builder.  It uses the DC style mechanics but adds in a Chakra effect.


Naruto… if they have all these nifty superpowers, why do they spend so much time just doing karate?

Each card has 4 unique sides and when 3 of the 4 unique types are played one can “power up” their hero to do something cool.  (I guess I zoned out there.)

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Chakra, it does a body good.

As with the cartoon, “Handsigns”cards will allow players to build up their chakra so they can do cool chakra things.  In an effort to clear up promotional card issues, the first run of the game will contain all the promos and subsequent runs will not.  As an aside, the game contains heroes selected by fans in an online poll, so you’re playing with the will of the masses.

Z-Man Games

The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade

As a teenager in the 80’s, I as a videogame fan before it became popular (insert ambivalent angst here.)  The Battle of Kemble’s Cascade attempts to recreate the popular downward scrolling space shooter, and to my mind, it does it quite well.

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Old school arcade, mixed with new school boardgaming. BYO Quarter.

Players have a board representing the parts and upgrades on their ship and a small avatar which is placed on the playing area consisting of five “stripes” of location squares.  The number of tiles in a stripe depends on the number of players, to keep ships confined.  Here’s where it gets nifty.  One can move one’s ship left and right and up and down on the board, but at the end of the round, all the stripes move down one notch with the bottom one removed from the board.  Thus the game “scrolls” downward and players need to be sure to stay ahead of that bottom row or be damaged when it scrolls down.  The scrolling lines are accomplished through a prebuilt deck of tiles.  The tiles are set up in waves (typically 3 or 4 lines) with a specific theme such as asteroids (to avoid), tunnels (restricting side-to-side movement), squadrons (lots of little ships), etc…  End your turn with anything that can shoot (including enemy players) within your 8 surrounding blocks and you will take damage (subtracted from your energy reserve.)   A typical game will go through 14 rows and then encounter a “boss”.

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The thing that will shortly kill my glorious ship. What did I ever do to it?  Oh, I killed all it’s little space children.

The game has 4 choices for a boss monster, all but one take up two entire rows (matching the images to popular classic arcade scrollers is left to the reader.)  As one might expect, these guys deal out huge damage in some columns, but less in others.  Each tile of the boss must be defeated to end the game (or players are forced off the bottom by the boss.)  In true arcade form, some of the bosses get angry when wounded and “flip” tiles to reveal even more problems.

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My ship in all its glory.

Along with ships and obstacles there are power-ups to be gained.  Resources, called Bellonium (look up the goddess of war), can be picked up on the map and then used to buy upgrades for one’s ship.  Shields, engines, generators (for healing), and, of course, weapons.  Four weapons available have their specialties: lasers, flamethrowers do tons of damage at close range, missiles can explode and damage surrounding tiles, and gamma weapons damage everything in a line -passing through all obstacles.  Winner is the player who collects the most glory.  Glory can be obtained in five ways.  Completing one’s own special mission, claiming one of the 4 showing achievements, fighting bosses, a few rare board tiles, and watching other players die.  Yes, watching others die.  If you are still on the board and alive when someone else kicks the bucket, you get points just so you can taunt them about their death.  Dying might not be such a bad thing, as you come back with a full load of energy.  Energy doesn’t just serve as health, it can also be used for extra movement or attacks – something experienced players will use to their advantage.  It may just be the arcade games talking, but this is another game high on my interest list.

Camel Up

Winner of this year’s coveted Spiel des Jahres, Camel Up is yet another betting and racing game… but with Camels!  Players roll the five colors of dice choosing which camel to move.  Players can make both long term bets (on the eventual winner or even the loser) but may also make some short term bets on who will be ahead at the end of a round.

camel up

I will not comment on the blue and yellow camels…

When a camel lands on another’s space (through moving forward or backward) it will be placed on top to make a camel stack.  If a camel at the bottom of a stack is moved, it will take along all camels above it.  To cap things off, each player has a single tile that can be placed once per round that modifies a square (making it push camels backwards, etc…)  Looks to play fast, and the ability to make shorter term bets helps it stand out from the many race betting games this year.


King of New York

The sequel to the popular King of Tokyo is finally here.  (Well, it will be at the end of September…)  Players familiar with Tokyo will be pleased at the similarities in the New York setting, however the game has been made just a bit more complex to add in more strategy for experienced Kings or other gamers.  The goal is once again to out-survive all the other monsters or accumulate the requisite number of victory points.

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When I am King, I think I will live somewhere other than New York.

As with its predecessor, six monster dice are rolled using up to two additional rerolls to provide a final result.  Claws do damage to monsters not in your area, hearts heal your monster, and lighting bolts provide energy for power cards.  Claw the monster in Manhattan and if they vacate you move in and gain a point.  Rather than only on or off the board locations, there are several non-Manhattan spaces.  Manhattan itself consists of three spaces, stay in the middle and each round you move up to better rewards: 1 VP for entering, 1 VP + 1 energy the next round, 2 VP + 1 energy the next, and the highest location awards 2 VP + 2 energy per round.

Of the 64 power cards in the game, most are completely new.  The new dice faces include stars, destruction, and “ouch” symbols.  Roll three stars and you gain 1 victory point and the Superstar goal card.  The owner of this card then gains 1 VP for every stars rolled thereafter.  For example, rolling 4 stars grants the card (possibly stolen from another monster), 1 VP, plus and extra VP for the 4th star.  Keep the card til your next turn and every star rolled is another point.  

The other new die symbols are the destruction and ouch symbols.  In each location, there are stacks of building discs… roll enough destruction to overcome the value on a disc and you gain victory points.  However, destroyed buildings flip over and reveal a military unit on the back side.  These can also be defeated for VPs but are stronger than buildings.  Roll an “ouch” symbol and all the armies in your district attack you.  Roll 2 symbols and they attack all monsters in your district.  Roll three ouch symbols and all units on the board attack monsters in their district.   Rolling 3 ouches also gives you the Statue of Liberty who “joins your side” after you have attacked all the other monsters.  The Statue is worth 3 extra VP as long as you hold onto her card.  I’m hoping the additional mechanisms will add a bit more freshness and strategy without costing too much in the ease or time of play.

The Hare and the Tortoise

The newest game in the family-friendly “book” series of games is The Hare and the Tortoise.  Unsurprisingly, it is a race game where players are assigned one of five animals and choose a second secret one (by playing one of their first cards) and then try to get their favorites to win the race.  Animals score 5/3/2 points for first, second, and third place.  Players take turns laying down animal cards from their hand in order to make the animals move.  Players may play 1-4 cards at a time of the same animal.  Cards are laid down until 8 cards are played or 4 cards are played of a specific animal.

My copy without the animals’ stickers attached… race your blobs down the pathway!

Once the round ends, the animals make their move around the tile-based board (where turns don’t matter but rivers do.)  Each animal moves differently from the others, and all animals move depending on the number of their cards that were played.  The hare moves fast, but if it’s ahead and gets 4 cards played it stops entirely.  The tortoise moves slowly, always moving 1 or 2 spaces.  The lamb can really move out, but it will stop (to drink) every time it comes to a river tile.  The fox moves 1 space per card, and the wolf moves just a bit slower.  However, the wolf has a howl symbol that can come up which freezes all the other animals in their tracks.  The game looks cute, and shouldn’t be too hard to play.  I’d have to play a few times to see how much strategy is available, but there are sufficient decisions to be made so that it would make a decent younger family game.  The game comes with several variants – one easier, and one for a “championship” round of 3 games. Oh, one last thing, there’s even a cute little cardboard victory stand you can build on which to place the winning animals.

Twin Tin Bots

Iello is now distributing the game in the US.  Very reminiscent of programming robots in RoboRally, you now have two robots to control on a hex grid and you can only make one modification to their program per turn.  The goal is to direct your robot(s) to pick up crystals and bring them back to your base.  Each robot has a set of 3 program slots that you can fill with directions (pick up, drop, go forward, etc…)

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Say it three times fast.

The trick lies in the fact that you can only adjust one slot at a time.  That means on your first turn only one robot will perform a single action.  Your second turn will have that robot perform the same action plus another, or the same action while the other robot performs one, etc…  This continues through the game so that soon you will have both robots repeating their same three instructions over and over while you can only gently change their programs to do your bidding.  Gems have different point values.  The 2 point gems will offer a special benefit like a new, more powerful program tile (move backwards, U-turn, go forward 2, etc…).  There are 4 point gems and when the first one is picked up it triggers the end game such that all the robots have a limited time to get back to their base and drop off anything they’re carrying.

Heroes of Normandie

I didn’t get to see the physical game (although I saw prototype art last year), partly because the game has already sold out several times.  It should be back in stock sometime in Q4.  A wargame (surprise) with somewhat French-esque cartoony art, it still packs in a fairly serious game.  The base game is set to be supported by a wealth of expansions.  A pack of D-Day scenarios ($40), a river terrain pack ($20), and extra units (in small and large boxes going for $14 to $50) all serve to let you know you can dump a wad of cash on this game.  I still haven’t given the game a good play through but hope to have a review up before the holiday season.

White Wizard Games – Star Realms

I was able to speak in passing with Robert Dougherty about Star Realms development.  It is now available on iOS, Android, Mac, and PC.  It is free with a $5 upgrade for additional content including online play.  However, one upgrade on any platform is sufficient to unlock the extra content on all devices (just go through the restore purchases option.)  As for the physical card game, it is performing well and will have a new set released this fall.  It will be released in four different 12-card packs (non-random).  Essentially mini-expansions they will retail at $5 and are used by simply shuffling them into the main deck.

Mayfair Games

Mayfair once again had a huge presence at the convention with plenty of demo tables in addition to its sponsorship of the family play area.  To make its domination of the exhibit hall complete, Mayfair now owns Lookout Games and had yet more space dedicated to showing off the Lookout label.

Bedpans and Broomsticks

Designed by Fredrick Morrison (the Nuns on the Run guy), 1 player takes on the role of the staff of a retirement home.  The rest of the players are residents trying to make a break out of the building to go to the park.  It is essentially a dice movement based chase game with a modular board.  Whenever a resident can see the edge of “outside” the staff player must add on another board rotated in any way they choose as long as the resident can still “see” the outside.

bedpans and broomsticks

The most potty-mouthed boardgame targeted at family play.

The doctor and nurse don’t appear until their station appears on the tiles, but once revealed they move faster than the residents (the nurse moving the fastest, of course.)  The residents also have one trick up their sleeve as they each get a decoy to move as well, as a way to throw the staff off their old-person scent.


Everybody gets to be a super villain in this comic book style game.  As super villains, to win you want to complete your special “Magnum Opus” (each player selects one from 3 drawn from the deck once they achieve sufficient villainy.)  On the way to greatness, players work in an almost role-playing manner, upgrading themselves as well as their minions.  Minions come in three flavors: your Right Hand Man, a Fighter, and your Specialist.

villainy (2)

Why do villains like little wooden cubes? Maybe they’re cubes OF POWER!

Since you are a super villain, your dastardly lair wouldn’t be complete without lots of switches and dials.  Villainy is ready for you, as the player board is full of actual dials used to track your improvements.

My villain dials.... muah, ha, ha, HA, HA! (Oh, did I say that out loud?)

My villain dials…. muah, ha, ha, HA, HA! (Oh, did I say that out loud?)

The game is supposed to play very quick, about 30 minutes per player.

Gold Ahoy

A lightweight and quick tile placement game for two players, each player places tiles on their 3×6 side of a 6×6 board.  Players are trying to connect their paths up to the locations of gold while preventing their opponent from doing the same.

gold ahoy

If they can see them from the boat, I should really bury my chests better next time.

CavernaThe Cave Farmers

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you might not have heard of this sequel of sorts to Agricola.  However, it has been very scarce in the supply chain so you may, like me, not had the chance to see it up close.  It is now in the midst of a third large print run and should me more widely available soon.

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Caverna – You got your Agricola in my MineCraft! Time to Diggy Diggy Hole

I was told that it held a lot of pieces, and that is no lie.  The briefest explanation of the game consists of an exterior “Agricola-like farm” area combined with an interior mining area that can be used to find gemstones and adventure.  This adds yet another source of victory points and I am told that this makes the game slightly less of a “do a little of everything to win” game found in Agricola.  Once again players start with a hand of improvements, etc… from which to select to make each game slightly different.  The game goes up to seven! players and will also have a solo play mode.


Another of those games for which I only had the briefest glimpse, Johari is a gem trading game.  Make of that what you will… look, it has a pretty blue box.  I took the picture so I feel obligated to post it.  Wouldn’t want to waste perfectly good film electrons. Not sure why you’re still even reading this paragraph… nor why I am writing it… lets move on here.


Not satisfied with your gems? Time to trade them away.

Mad City

I did get a good overview of Mad City.  It is one of the the games part of the FunFair line, designed to be playable by kids and newer gamers.  It is a timed tile laying game. Players start with a stack of 9 tiles and then race to put their 3×3 city together before the end of the time limit.

Mad City (1)

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad City

The first player done gets a bonus when they grab the central wooden tree, while the rest can use the rest of their time to beautify their city.  Players earn points for groups of adjacent like symbols, as well as points if they have the longest road.  The first player (with the tree) gains a bonus for their parks and lakes, which can be a considerable one – but they have therefore spent much less time on organizing the rest of their city.

Paizo – Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

After finishing off a year of expansions for the original Rise of the Runelords title (see my previous review), Paizo is now releasing the next title in the series – Skull and Shackles.  As with the original, the new edition is based off a six module long adventure for the Pathfinder role playing system.  Expect to now see each modular expansion (5 in all) for the game to be released monthly (rather than bimonthly for the previous game.)  For fans of the original, the new game is completely compatible with the first, with players able to use previous character classes in the new game.  There are new characters classes to use (variations of some of the previous iconic characters) for those who want to try something different from the previous game.

pathfinder skull and shackles

Pathfinder this, Pathfinder that, how many times can one company get lost?

As you might tell, Skull and Shackles focuses on very pirate themed adventures.  Perhaps the most interesting new mechanic is the addition of Ships.  The players will often have a ship at their disposal with the current player serving as its captain.  Players can hop on this ship and travel with the action player if needed.  Each ship (there are several in the game) also has a special ability (such as cannons) that keys off the blessing deck. Ships also occur as encounters and players can capture a ship in one game and then continue to use it as their new ship in later adventures.  A damaged ship will “flip” to the other side causing a loss of special powers or acquired booty.  Booty cards are the other new card type in the game.  Booty can be acquired during a game and is stored on the ship.  At the end of an encounter, booty cards are added into the reward cards for a successful mission.

pathfinder hero pack

The Bard class deck ready for travel.  How many types of Bard does one need? I think I’ll go with the “Beatbox” proficiency.

Outside of the new game, Paizo is kicking off an organized play setup for their card game.  Common in role-playing circles, organized play has players attend local games at specified times, using their own character deck.  Rewards and experience then carry over to later games, whether played at the same or different location.  To pull this off, Paizo is also offering Class Decks which contain all the cards one needs to progress all the way through the adventure.  Instead of choosing an available reward at the end of an adventure, a player can substitute a similar reward from their personal deck.  In this way, a player can have a long-term character deck without having to remove cards from a base game.  Each class deck (yes, one for each of the 7 original classes) contains the needed cards as well as four slightly different versions of that class (and yes, they do each have two possible specializations as well.)  Special organized play scenarios will be sent out to participating stores, while the cost is still unknown for gamers who want to play through the same scenarios at home.

Days of Wonder – Five Tribes

This fall’s entry from Days of Wonder is a bit deeper than some of their more recent games, but it still retains a comfortably achievable game explanation for introducing to friends and family.

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Five Tribes, although one might question how well a “tribe” of Viziers is going to get along…

The game consists of a board of tiles covered with five colors of meeples (the tribes).  Players grab all the meeples of one color on a specific tile and then distribute them Mancala-style as they step around on the board.  Meeples on the ending tile that match those those just moved are then removed and they grant a special power.  Each color of meeple specializes in a different benefit: viziers provide victory points, merchants grant resource cards, builders grant immediate points, assassins can kill other meeples on the board or those owned by other players, and elders interact with Djinns.  Djinns are cards with special powers that are perfect for those players who like to “do funky things” in their game.  In addition, the tiles have one of several different abilities that come into play throughout the game. Victory points can be found in several places.  In addition to viziers and builders, the resource cards gained from merchants can be worth big points – provided you have acquired enough different kinds of resources.  Players also vie for control of the tiles, placing their ownership camel on a tile whenever they are able to completely empty it (ie. ending on a tile matching the only color left on it.)  Coming out in September, it looks to be the standard attractive, well designed game expected from Days of Wonder.  With just a tad more depth than some previous titles, it has the interest of the more experienced gamers.

Greater Than Games – Sentinel Tactics: The Flame of Freedom

You already know that I like cooperative games, so it comes as no surprise that I own most of the Sentinels of the Galaxy titles as well as Greater Than Games new space co-op, Galactic Strike Force.  Their newest title pits a group of hero players directly against one or more enemy players.  True to its comic book style, the three main villains included in the game (Baron Blade, Citizen Dawn, and Omnitron) each have their own comic book included that is used to direct players through three linked scenarios for that villain.

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Sentinels Tactics… superheroes who have finally become fed up with each other!

As indicated in the title, this is a tactical game played on a hex grid overlaid on hexagonal tiles (the game comes with 8).  Players need to keep line of sight and  elevation in mind during combat.  Characters use a small deck of cards to direct their characters, with two cards from their deck in play at any one time.

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One can see Legacy’s mindset… lots of attacking makes up for just a little bit of aiming.

Combat is dice based, matching pairs similar to that found in Risk.  While the numbers can often be modified, each character has one or more auto-miss numbers.  One can see in the lower right of Legacy’s card that he rolls 3 dice and auto-misses on a two. Each hero (of the seven provided) has different specialties that come out in their hero card as well as their deck.  In addition to going up against a villain, scenarios are included for free form combat between the heroes.  Once everyone knows the rules, a game should be completed in about an hour.  No mean feat for a tactical superhero game.

Tune in next time

With that, my GenCon boardgame investigations were complete.  However, I did take some time off to try my hand at a few non-reporting activities.  Feel free to drop by the blog tomorrow to read all about what I did between learning new boardgames.

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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1 Response to Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Day Two

  1. We’ve played the DC Crisis expansion a few times… the co-op is very good but a bit long. The new heroes & cards are great. The new supervillians are good for Crisis (co-op) mode but not for regular play – at least in our opinion.

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