With the second day of Gen Con 2015 finished, here are three more quick reviews: Codenames; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; and Takenoko Chibis (Expansion). Just like with my reviews from the first day, these are merely first impressions.
Codenames by Vlaada Chvátil and Czech Games Edition (1 Play)
Codenames is doubtlessly one of the stars of Gen Con 2015: as I write this, it sits at #1 on the BGG Geekbuzz list. A couple of Opinionated Gamers discussed the prototype after the Gathering of Friends, giving the game positive reviews. I suspected the game would be decent, but I didn’t seek it out on the first day of the convention because it isn’t the sort of game that I’d typically enjoy: I’m often not a fan of word games. But when I played it yesterday, it struck me as an extremely clever, tense party game. Playing Codenames has been one of the convention highlights for me.
Two teams play around a 5 x 5 grid of 25 words. Each team has a “spymaster” who knows which words belong to his team, and on his team’s turn, he will offer a clue and the number of cards in the grid it applies to. For example, if two of the words were “drill” and “car,” the captain might say “oil two,” meaning the clue is “oil” and it can apply to two of the cards. The captain’s team must guess at least one clue, but they are free to guess the number of cards the clue applies to, plus one extra. However, if they inadvertently point to one of the cards belonging to their opponent, their turn ends. If they ever point to the “assassin” card, the game ends immediately.
The “assassin” element, in my opinion, is what makes the game, supplying most of the game’s tension. The game comes with an enormous stack of word cards, plus a large stack of game board configurations, so I expect significant replayability. The game plays quick and is easy to teach. This will be a hot game over the next several months at least, possibly longer.
Initial OG Rating: “I love it!”
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival by Christopher Chung and Renegade Game Studios and Foxtrot Games (1 Play)
I was wondering around the convention center when I saw a stunning game that looked like tile placement mixed with set collection. I asked for a demo, and I was immediately impressed by the game. Apparently others are impressed as well: according to the publisher, the game was released in April and is already on its third printing.
The game, which features beautiful artwork, is about decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns and competing to become the most honored artisan when the festival begins. The game is tile placement, much like Carcassonne or Cacao, but it is far more interactive: you get a card colored the same as the side placed facing you, but your opponents also get the cards colored the same as the side placed facing them. The cards, which come in seven different colors, can be traded in for victory points. There are a few other gameplay elements which can be seen at the publisher’s overview.
I loved the simplicity and interactivity of the game, as well as the originality. Gameplay is fast, and the three others plays I played with also bought copies. If this gets a wide German release, it could be in the running for a SdJ recommendation, possibly a nomination.
Initial OG Rating: “I like it.”, approaching “I love it!”
Takenoko: Chibis by Antoine Bauza and Matagot (2 Play)
I was really looking forward to the Takenoko: Chibi’s expansion, and it was the first game I bought at the convention. I admit that Takenoko offers nothing special other than the production value, but I’ve enjoyed my plays, and I’m a fan of Antoine Bauza.
I was hoping Chibis would add elements that would make the game more strategic, enhancing its depth. Unfortunately, the expansion has been a bit of a disappointment. Some expansions augment their base game very well, other harmlessly add a few new elements for fans of the base game, and others yet actually hurt the base game.
I think Chibis falls between those last two categories. The game adds a few new cards, some tiles with special powers, and a momma panda that can give birth to baby pandas. Some of those elements are really cool — having panda babies is a cute addition to an already cute game — but Takenoko already has a few clunky elements and there are now even more. I need a couple more plays to verify this next point, but I also expect the expansion makes the game go a fair bit longer, which is unappealing since the base game has always felt long to me for what it is.
Another part of Chibis that will anger the completionists out there: an Asmodee representative at Gen Con told me that they will “probably not” be doing a Chibis version for the Takenoko Collector’s Edition. That’s understandable: the production costs would likely be high, but nonetheless, I think there will be some upset collectors.
Initial OG Rating: Neutral
Concluding Thoughts for Day Two
I’ve now played about a dozen and a half of the new games at the convention, and I’m sticking with my assessment that this is the “filler filled” convention. The fillers and party games — Codenames, Tides of Time, Coup Rebellion G54, One Night Revolution — seem to be the big standouts for me. Eurogame pickings still seem to be slim, but Essen is only a couple of months away.