The first day of Gen Con 2016 is in the history books, and below I discuss four games that impressed me on the first day, but I want to first offer some general thoughts on the convention and what is hot so far.
The convention seems more crowded than I recall from last year. The competition for demos of certain games was fierce. Additionally, I don’t know that there is a stand out game or two like there was last year (when I’d say that Codenames and Mysterium took the convention by storm), although I think there are several high quality releases. I’ve been impressed by quite a few games so far.
The GeekBuzz list still has extremely low vote totals, so there isn’t a good metric to gauge what’s hot at the convention yet. If you’re willing to take my anecdotal evidence from my conversations with attendees throughout the day, the ten most discussed games seem to be (in order): Seafall, Codenames: Pictures, Cry Havok, Terraforming Mars, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, the Harry Potter deck-builder (which I admit had flown under my radar), Captain Sonar, Scythe, The Last Friday, and Islebound.
I need to gather more information on what has sold out, but here’s what I know so far: Seafall seems to have sold all copies for the convention before the doors opened to general attendees. I knew somebody who waited two hours, was first through the doors, and got to the Plaid Hat booth ASAP, only to see the game sold out on her arrival. I went to pick up a different game, and five minutes after the convention opened, I walked past the Plaid Hat booth and saw quite a few annoyed attendees. Cry Havok also sold out all convention copies before the doors opened, although that game was available for preorder, so quite a few copies still made it into general circulation. The Last Friday sold out their allotment for the day, but they’ve split their stock among the various days. I heard that Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu was selling really well and was probably going to sell out soon (if it hasn’t already).
Here are four games that impressed me on the first day. These are all first impressions: in the case of America, I got in a partial play (although I think it was good enough for me to judge the mechanics since I know the game system so well). Codenames: Pictures and The Last Friday are based on one play, and Beyond Baker Street is based on two plays.
Designers: Ted Alspach and Friedemann Friese
Dale wrote a review a few weeks ago, but I didn’t get to play it until today. Given Dale’s full review, I’ll dispense with the rules explanation.
I think it is the best game using the Fauna and Terra game system. The cards seemed more fun, although maybe that’s because they’re more salient to me as an American. But even better, there’s also a clever new mechanic where players can earn points by guessing that their opponents either aren’t exact or aren’t adjacent.
I’m a huge fan of this game system. If you disliked Terra or Fauna, would you like America? I doubt it. But if you like those two games, this is certainly worth checking out, as it is one of the best trivia games out there.
My Initial OG Rating: I love it!
Beyond Baker Street
Designers: Robin Lees & Steve Mackenzie
I was told that Beyond Baker Street uses a similar mechanic to Hanabi — one of my all-time favorite games — so I was eager to try it. The rumors were true: the game is quite similar to Hanabi, so much so that Antoine Bauza arguably should have been credited for inspiring the game.
But in the end, Beyond Baker Street is a different game, one that is a bit more thematic with a bit more chrome.
Each player has outward-facing cards, just like in Hanabi, and players must cooperatively give clues and play down cards to accomplish certain objectives.
On a player’s turn, he can:
- Assist. This means giving information to another player about their “evidence cards” (i.e. the cards in their hand), telling them one clue of all cards in their hand that share the same icon (i.e. suit) or number. This results in going down a space on the Holmes track, which is basically the limit on the number of clues in the game.
- Play an “evidence card” onto one of the three “leads.” This is the central goal of the game: there are three stacks in the middle of the game board, one each for motive, opportunity, and suspect. You need to play enough evidence cards of the matching suit in the lead to exactly equal the number on the lead.
- Place a confirm marker on the completed investigate stack. This is the goal of the game: players win if they to get confirm markers on all three leads, plus have exactly 20 points on the “Investigation” track (more on that below). If successful, the players gain a space back on the Holmes track.
- Play a card face up on the “Impossible,” which is the stack of discarded cards. Each “case” has a different maximum of cards that can be in this stack, so players have to monitor what they’re putting there. But you have to put some cards there, since it is how you earn points on the investigate track (since you get points equal to the value of the discarded card).
- Discard the lead card from one of the “Lead” stacks and put any completed evidence cards back in the draw pile.
The rules are more thematic than I portray above, but that’s the essence of the game. Basically, it is Hanabi, but you also have a limit on cards you can discard, but you have to discard enough to get to exactly 20 points on the investigate track to win.
What I describe above is the basic game: after the first play, you work in “character” cards that slightly modify the rules of the game. This does make it considerably more fun.
I’m eager to try this a few more times. I’ve enjoyed my plays. In the end, if you like Hanabi, you might like this, but if you didn’t like Hanabi, I doubt this will be for you. Will this replace Hanabi for me? Time will tell, although I doubt it. But I’ll pull it out for my family and other Hanabi enthusiasts, and I know this will get some table time in the near future.
My Initial OG Rating: I like it.
Designer: Vlaada Chvatil
Czech Games Edition
Codenames: Pictures is a worthy successor to its Spiel des Jahres-winning parent. In some ways the game seems more challenging, because you have to hone in on what your teammates will see in the image, not necessarily what you see. Put differently, rather than just making word associations, you have to take the pictures, convert them to words in your mind, and then hope that comes through in translation when your teammates see the images. The pictures are well designed, as they intentionally feature a mashup of several different elements. Gameplay per turn seemed slower here than in Codenames, but maybe that’s just because me and my group have played Codenames 75+ times at this point. The smaller grid does accelerate the game quite a bit (it is a 4×5), though, so the game overall isn’t longer.
I love Codenames: Pictures already, and I think this will have a spot on my shelf for a long time. One variant I’m eager to try: mixing Codenames and Codenames: Pictures. A couple we played with tonight highly recommended it.
My Initial OG Rating: I love it!
Gen Con Promo: CGE is distributing the above-pictured bonus tiles with alternative artwork with Gen Con purchases.
The Last Friday
Designers: Antonio Ferrara, Sebastiano Fiorillo
This game does fit nicely in the Scotland Yard and Letters from Whitechapel genre. While it won’t replace the streamlined classic that is Scotland Yard, if I can get a copy of The Last Friday, Letters from Whitechapel is leaving my collection.
This iteration, which seems to be themed after Friday the Thirteen (even if they won’t say that), puts a few clever twists on the genre. Depending on which of four “chapters” you play, the game’s goals can shift, creating highly variable gameplay. The murderer sometimes chases the campers, but sometimes they chase him. The game is tense like the game that came before it, and unlike Scotland Yard or Letters from Whitechapel, I don’t see this title often veering into frustration.
My Initial OG Rating: I love it!