Matt Carlson: GenCon 2015 Mega Rundown – Family Games

shear panic.croppedWelcome back for round 3 of 5.  Today is Family Game day. Frequently writing for as well as having several younger kids of my own, I’m always on the lookout for games that might work well for family play.  These often do double-duty for play with older but still beginning gamers since they are shorter and have fewer rules.  Family Games is a rather broad category, stretching from light eurogames down to games targeted at children.  Based on their complexity and opportunity for actual strategic decisions, the following games have been somewhat arbitrarily lumped into the Family Game category.

AEG Valley of Kings: Afterlife,  SmashUp: Munchkin,  More Love Letter

valley of kingsAEG also had the designer of Valley of Kings on hand to show off the new expansion,  Valley of the Kings:Afterlife.  The new expansion is stand alone, or can be mixed with the original.  Rather than make the game more complex, the expansion is designed to give the game more options.  There aren’t any new keywords introduced into the expansion, but it mixes up the options so fans will feel the expansion keeps the game fresh.  SmashUp Munchkin was on hand and, as one might expect, selling very well.  I don’t know what I was thinking but I first thought it was a SmashUp themed Munchkin – I don’t even know what that would look like – but it is Munchkin themed SmashUp.  I didn’t get a full rundown, but I saw deck themes along the common “classes” in Munchkin (Cleric, Thief, etc…)  It also looked like the decks emphasized a bit of “fighting” interactions as well.  If you love SmashUp and hate Munchkin I think you still need to get the game, but it might not be necessary if you love Munchkin and hate SmashUp.  AEG also had Love Letter versions themed with The Hobbit and Batman.  If you’re on the fence about Love Letter, they don’t stretch things too much further, but rabid Love Letter fans or fans of the two franchises should enjoy the games.
Asmodee      Doctor Panic, Colt Express: Horses and Stagecoach, The Little Prince: Rising to the Stars, Treasure Hunter

Once again this year Asmodee put on a nice private party to show off many of their new and upcoming games.  It was a chance to quickly play through several titles in succession to get a grip on the many titles releasing under the Asmodee brand.

Prototype components

Prototype components

The first game I encountered was Doctor Panic.  It was a cooperative dexterity game, played along with a soundtrack.  Players form teams and solve little puzzles and activities as the timer ticks off.  Many of the actions included using a pair of tweezers, such as threading a rope through holes in a card or passing objects between players.  Other puzzles included placing little bicolored pills in the correct orientation on a card, placing cards on the correct body location on a board, moving a pretend magnifying glass around on your body until it reaches the desired location (only described by the other player without using the actual name), and there were several more.  A team takes one card from each pile and shuffles them so the activities are done in a random order, with all teams working simultaneously.  The soundtrack is more than a timer, it may call for you to respirate a center heart pump (they’re hoping for an actual balloon thing) and it will sometimes ring the doctor’s “phone” requiring everyone to stop what they’re doing and do some silly thing, just to keep everyone on their toes.  My concern is the sheer volume of tasks to be done may let the game wear out its welcome, but I do appreciate a silly game from time to time so we’ll just have to see how it goes.

colt express expansionThe second game I scoped out was actually the Colt Express expansion Horses and Stagecoach.  Using more little cardboard figures, the game now has a horse that characters can hop on and off in order to more effectively travel up and down the train.  There is also a stagecoach that slowly is overtaken by the train (travels backwards.)  The coach is yet another place to visit, robbing passengers for money that hinders you a bit in the game but will score points at the end.  The coach also has a strongbox on the roof from which to steal.  However, taking the box will anger its guard who comes after everyone with a shotgun.  A new loot card, the whisky flask, doesn’t give points but does allow a player to play 2 cards or draw 3 cards instead of the normal amount.

petit princeI next played one of the new “Little Prince” games.  Little Prince: Rising to the Stars is kind of a race game where players gather items as they go along.  However, it is always the turn of the player who is furthest behind.  The game is a balance of going slow (and collecting more things as you go along since you’re landing on more squares) and going fast in order to collect the better items (some locations give you a choice of several different bonus tiles, some of which can be paired up for more bonus points.)  Movement is based on playing cards, with players starting with a limited amount.  Telescope spots allow drawing of more cards, while landing on another player lets you take one card from them and give them back another.  While the game is not too complex, I love the strategic decision making involved when a player has to balance going first for a benefit or going last for a different one.

treasure hunterFinally, I gave Treasure Hunter a spin.  Despite being horrid at the game it did seem to be a decent title.  (I claim I misunderstood a few key points, but I admit I probably still wouldn’t have come close to winning.)  The idea is that players draft cards of three colors, as well as a few other types of cards.  Once the drafting is complete, players play all their colored cards onto the three colored areas (you must play all your cards.)  After the cards are revealed, players can put down a few modifying cards to change what they’ve revealed.  Awards are then given to the high and low scores of that color, with some awards actually negative points.  After the colors are scored, the “trolls” attack.  Players with fewer dog card points than the strength of the trolls must pay coins (points) to the trolls.  The player with the strongest set of dog cards then collects the troll tiles (worth points) as well as any money on the troll tiles.  The game goes for five rounds and then the total VPs are added up.  Since the game relies on drafting mechanics, it is difficult to blame one’s performance purely on luck.  Since minimums and maximums are always in play, the drafting of cards relies both on what you take as well as what you don’t.
Blue Orange Battle Sheep, New York 1901

battlesheepBlue Orange was showing off a cute game with lots of cute sheep so I had to take a look.  Battle Sheep reminds me a bit of Hey, That’s My Fish.  Players begin with a stack of sheet tiles and move them around a set of hexagonal terrain tiles (arranged however the players wish.)  A player takes as many tiles as they prefer from their stack (leaving at least one behind) and move them one direction as far as they can until they “hit” something or the edge.  On their next turn they can move sheep tokens from either of their stacks.  This continues until no more sheep tokens have a viable move.  The winner is the player with the most hexagons under their control.

new york 1901New York 1901 seems to be high on many gamers interest list.  It is intended to be a gateway style game based around area control through tile placement.  Each player has four workers and 18 tetris-like building tiles, with 6 of each tile branded a copper, silver, or gold ranking.  Players draft a colored card from the tableau of four and then use them to claim similarly colored territories on the board.  When they have a large enough area claimed they may place one of their buildings on the site.  Silver and gold buildings (generally larger) must be at least partially built over copper and silver buildings respectively.  Players have three bonus action cards they can use during the game: refresh the card tableau, build twice in a turn, or (I think) take two cards.  I believe unused cards get you 1 point each at the end of the game.  The main amount of points are earned by building the largest (prestige), communal buildings (one maximum per player) as well as points earned from three cards that dictate how that game is scored.  There are five different scoring cards from which to select, making each game a little bit different.



Hasbro Scrabble Twist, Pie Face

Hasbro’s main concerns at the convention were the Wizards of the Coast things like Magic: the Gathering, and Dungeons and Dragons.  But while discussing the new MtG: Duel of the Planeswalkers, I was able to get some info on games from their other brands coming down the pipeline.  Scrabble Twist is an electronic form of Scrabble that has been combined with a sort of Hot Potato theme.  A player holds the unit, letters appear, and then that player has a limited time to punch in a word out of the letters, concluding by giving the unit a twist, and then passing it off to the next person in line.

From way out in left field is Pie Face.  Apparently this is a “thing” in Europe, going somewhat viral on YouTube with Scottish grandfather and grandson.  You take a physical little plastic hand in the middle and fill it with actual whipped cream.  Players take turns leaning their face into an upright loop, and then and ratcheting up the mechanism.  It is a total Russian Roulette situation with the pie flipping up into the player’s face at a randomized time….  I can definitely see this used in several party game situations.
Iello             Pingo Pingo, Welcome to the Dungeon

pingo pingoAt the Iello booth I first sat down to a game of Pingo Pingo.  Who can resist a game with little stand up cards and a plastic dart launching pirate pistol?  A bit like slapjack, players take turns flipping over their cards one at a time.  Some cards require a player to complete an action (shoot a target, run around the room touching both ends of the bridge, etc…) while others require players to be the first to slap down on the card.  Slap the attacking Pingo Tribe and you get to distribute the pile of cards to the other players.  Slap a Camp card and you get to steal two of the other player’s treasures, etc…  As one would expect, there are “fake” cards (a treasure card vs a treasure card with spiders on it for instance) around that will cause damage to a player when slapping them.   To make things more confusing, there is a soundtrack that calls out when Day changes over to Night and vice versa.  Many of the cards come in both day and night forms, so be sure to slap only the correct ones.  The soundtrack is also used as a “hot potato” penalty timer, doing damage to the active player.  Looks pretty goofy with a bit of running around that might also work for older gamers wanting a silly change as well.

dungeonMeanwhile, Welcome to the Dungeon is a more traditional boardgame.  One of four different heroes are chosen, and their power tiles are laid out in a tableau.  Players then take turns drawing a monster card from the deck (of 13).  A player may add it to the monster stack or discard it while also discarding a central tile from the tableau.  Players who remove a tile effectively bow out of that round, while players that add a card remain in play.  When the last player remains, they must use the central tiles to progress through the entire monster deck.  Make it through “alive” and gain a scroll.  If you’re defeated, take a wound.  Gain two wounds and you’re out of the game, and the first player to gain two scrolls wins.
Mayday Games        Viceroy

viceroyA slightly meatier game from the Mayday lineup was Viceroy (for 2-4p).  Over the course of 12 rounds, players attempt to earn the most influence by placing cards into a pyramid type structure.  It was one of the games early in my day so my rules recall is slightly sketchy.  The game has two phases, an auction phase and a building phase.  Each round players bid one of the four colored gems indicating which displayed card they would like.  If two players bid the same color gem they lose their gem and must bid again with that color (up to 3 times if they keep staying in.)  Cards not bought move up to the top of the tableau and can be selected the next time, and if players tie in bidding for that color they can each get one of the two cards in that color.  Note, you can pass in the bidding to collect 3 coins of any color from the bank (bonus colored tokens if you control “science” symbols.)  In the next phase, Development, players can then place up to 3 cards, pay their cost in colored tokens.  Note that some cards are Law cards which are free to place.   Cards on the bottom row cost one token and provide a weak instant or ongoing power.  Placing a card on the second row (atop two cards below) costs two colored tokens.  Cards in the third and fourth row cost 3 and 4 tokens respectively.  Any card can go on any row (provided there is a pyramid type structure to support it – the bottom row can be as wide as you wish), the cost is simply added up from all the colored symbols on the card from the bottom up to the top row of the card.

viceroy 2Placing a card on an upper row will also form a colored circle between it and the lower two cards.  If this circle is all the same color, you earn an extra colored token.  Play continues over 12 turns, and then victory points are assessed.  Points can be gained from sets of special tokens (science, magic, defense), solid color circles in one’s pyramid, and bonuses from other cards.
Passport Game Studios       Warehouse 51

warehouse 51Warehouse 51 is a 3-5 player game of collecting majorities of different colored cards (although one of each also scores points.)  Each color has a different number of cards, with the smaller colors worth more at the end of the game.  For each new card, there is a once-around auction. The winner pays their bid to the player on their left, chooses which color card is up for auction next, and the left player begins the bid. Some cards call for a secret auction instead.  In addition to their value (1-3), cards often have special abilities that can affect what goes on.  The final twist lies with counterfeit cards.  Players start the game aware of two or more cards that are “counterfeit.”  One known by the player on their left and one on the right, with 2 shared each in a 3 player game.  Counterfeit cards are removed at the end of the game without scoring.  The game ends after all cards have been sold and points are awarded to majority holders (1st and 2nd place) for each color.
Steve Jackson Games        Car Wars Card Game

car warsWalking by the Steve Jackson Games booth I spotted several people engaged in a Car Wars card game.  When I was a wee lad, I loved the game and still own most of the original rules.  Unfortunately, the card game only uses the Car Wars title as a theme rather than try to recreate any of the feel of the original.  Players have cars with defenses on various sides (right, left, front, back) and they take turns playing cards on each other representing attacks or defense.  Attack cards add up and when they exceed a car’s exterior armor, any additional damage goes to the driver who can withstand a few more hits.  Armor placement is important as each card typically attacks a specific side.  Cars can also bear special upgrades, such as anti-laser armor, etc…  Knocking out another car is 10 points while being the last one standing in a combat grants 20 points.  The game repeats itself until one player reaches 60 points.
Tactic  Touche’

toucheA simple game like Sequence, where players play cards to place tokens on the board.  The goal is to form lines or squares of four colored tokens.  When a line or square is formed, it is locked in and capped by black markers which no longer “count” as tokens of a player’s color.  The first team (or player) to get four groups scored wins the game.  Seems decent for a family game but I think there isn’t enough “interesting” enough here to attract me.
Thames & Kosmos Dimension

dimensionNot a particular fan of abstract games, I was pleased to see the elegantly colored Dimension to be more of a puzzler game (which I often enjoy.)  Players have a card filled with 15 spheres of five different colors.  On your card are seven holes in a hexagonal pattern (a central surrounded by six holes.)  Players flip up six cards that describe rules for stacking/constructing a pyramid out of your spheres.  These can range from “there must be more blue than white”, “any black must be touching a green”, or “you may not stack anything above a green.”  The 60 second timer is flipped and player try to build a structure containing as many spheres as possible while simultaneously satisfying all the listed constraints.  When the time is up, players add up 1 point per ball used and lose 2 points for any of the six conditions they fail.  If a player manages to completely satisfy all six conditions, and use all five colors they receive a bonus chip.  Play continues through six rounds and players add up their scores plus any points from their bonus chips.  Points go on a sliding scale, so if you end with no bonus chips you lose six points and if you end with six (succeeding each time) you get six bonus points.
USAopoly     Lift It Deluxe, Nefarious

lift itOne could not miss the goofy table set up in the USAopoly booth.  lift it by handLift It Deluxe displays a bunch of nice blocks full of holes.  Players flip over a card, and then have 40 seconds to use a little “crane” with a hook to build the structure displayed on the card.  Each piece in the right place is worth 1 point, and a bonus 4 points is awarded for completing the object (not very easy.)  Players move around a player board with their tokens, and some locations force the player to use the crane affixed to their forehead instead.  Alternatively, do what the demo players were doing and just do all of them off their head.  It looked like a fun dexterity game for a family game night where not everyone wants a lot of strategy to their game.

nefariousThe other game in the booth was the deeper Nefarious, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino if that makes a difference.  On the edge of a family game, it was just light enough to qualify for the category.  Players are evil geniuses trying to take over the world by constructing their inventions.  Inventions are worth points, and the first to 20 points wins.  Every turn, each player simultaneously chooses one of four actions.  Work provides more money, Research gives a bit of money and new invention cards, Invent allows a player to play an invent card (paying its cost in gold), and Espionage is a unique way of building up an income.  When playing Espionage, one puts a spy token on one of four squares representing the four actions.  When an adjacent player then chooses that action at a later date, you accumulate money equal to the number of spies you have placed.  To give variety to the game, two “twist” cards are chosen out of a possible 40 cards (did I mention designed by D.X.V.?).  These adjust how the game plays (preventing any income from the research stage, for example) and should mean players have room to adjust their strategies from game to game.  At 20-40 minutes for two to six players I think this has a potential to be a good choice for situations where I have five or six players, since actions are nearly simultaneous.

As we keep regressing through time, tomorrow we will take a look at Children’s Games, be sure to bring along your inner child…

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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