Gen Con Day Four: Concluding Thoughts
With Gen Con 2016 now behind us, I wanted to offer my concluding thoughts on the convention, put together my anecdotal list of the top 20 hottest games, and offer thoughts on a few more games I played.
From my vantage point, there wasn’t a standout game of the convention. If pressed to pick, I’d go with Codenames: Pictures, Cry Havok, or Seafall. Codenames: Pictures was piled high and selling well, and it has deservedly topped the Geekbuzz list. Seafall was arguably the most anticipated game of the convention, and certainly one of the most talked about games on the floor, but the publisher just didn’t have enough copies on hand for it to keep up the pre-convention anticipation. I didn’t talk to very many people who had actually played it, which might explain why it has fallen to #6 on the Geekbuzz list. Nonetheless, Seafall will probably go down as one of the more notable games of the year once it starts shipping. Cry Havok was also widely talked about, and I heard great things from a few groups that played it, but it also sold out before the doors opened.
Based on my observations and talking to people in various lines each morning and throughout the day, I’d say these were the 20 hottest games of the convention for hobbyists (in alphabetical order): America, Captain Sonar; Codenames: Pictures; Covert; Cry Havok; the Harry Potter deckbuilder; Hit Z Road; Islebound; Junk Art; Lotus; Mansions of Madness (Second Edition); Mystic Vale; Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu; Seafall; Scythe; Terraforming Mars; The Last Friday; Ticket to Ride Rails & Sails; Vikings on Board; and Villa Nebula. I’ve not named games that were available for playing but weren’t yet released, like Colony, or games that were released several months ago, like Imhotep.
So what was the big theme of this year’s convention? First, this seems to have been the convention of reprints, re-themes, sequels, and other extensions of intellectual property. Of the Top 20 games above, at least five would fall into this category.
In terms of the convention itself, I enjoyed Gen Con more this year than I did last year. I thought there was a great crop of games that came out in 2016, and I brought more games home this year than I previously had. But being that this was my second time there, I also took more time to attend events, a category in which Gen Con excels over every other convention.
And what does Gen Con tell us about what’s ahead? From my vantage point, not much. I’m really looking forward to W. Eric Martin’s Spiel 2016 preview, because even after talking to dozens of publishers at Gen Con, I still don’t know much about what is coming out at Essen.
Ice Cool was mentioned by a few attendees as being a fun little game. It sold out the first day, and was high on the Geekbuzz list, so I stopped by for a quick round. Ice Cool is a flicking dexterity game played over as many rounds as they are players. Each round, one player is called the “Catcher,” and his aim is to catch the other penguins by touching them. The other penguins try to go through three doors that have fish on them, collecting the fish and earning points from cards. The winner will be the one with the most points on their fish cards at the end of the several rounds.
Like most dexterity games, Ice Cool is extremely simple, yet it can be laugh-out-loud fun. The penguin pieces are well designed, and they’re actually more interesting to flick than components in other games, as they wobble around, can travel in curves, and can jump the walls. They’re really cool, and they generally cause chaos. The play area is actually sizeable, but the boxes all stack to fit in the main box when packing the game away under what they call the “box in a box” concept.
I’m not a big fan of dexterity games, but this one was respectable. Junk Art was my favorite dexterity game of the convention, but I’d be willing to play Ice Cool.
My Initial OG Rating: Between “Neutral.” and “I like it.”
Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails
Ticket to Ride Rails & Sails features two new maps: “The World” and “The Great Lakes.” I have not yet had the chance to play “The Great Lakes,” so I’m focusing solely on “The World” here.
The big change from past Ticket to Ride games is the addition of a second type of route: not only will players be building railways, they’ll also be building routes for ships. There are cards for each type of route, so players need to balance collecting the two when completing their tickets.
Everybody starts with 3 Train Cards and 7 Ship cards. Once they pick their tickets (they take 5 and must keep at least 3), they decide which pieces they’ll have in the game. Everybody gets 25 trains and 50 ships, but they can only keep 60 pieces! Players can use their turn to exchange pieces in the middle of the game, but they lose one point for each piece exchanged.
There are six cards face-up from which players can pick their travel cards. The Train Cards and Ship Cards are kept separate, and when a player takes a face-up card, he replaces it with a new card from the deck of his choice. (If there are ever three or more Wild Cards, the display is still replaced, using three cards from each deck.)
To complete routes, players pay either the corresponding Train Cards or Ship Cards. Some rough terrain makes a “Pair” space, which requires two train cards to claim.
Another change are the addition of “Tour Tickets”: these show multiple cities in a particular order. If a player completes the cities in the specified order, he gets the larger number on the bottom left of the card, but if they are completed not in the specified order, he gets the smaller number. If he fails to complete the card, he loses the number on the bottom right.
Lastly, the game adds Harbors, which can only be built in cities with the port symbol. To build a harbor, a player must play two Train Cards and Two Ship cards, all of which must be the same color and have a harbor symbol. A wild can replace any of these cards. Points are awarded if the player has a harbor with completed tickets into it. Players start with 3 Harbors, and they don’t have to build them, but they lose four points at the end of the game if they don’t.
Game end is triggered when one player has six pieces or fewer, and at that point, everybody gets one more turn. The player with the most points wins.
I love this version of Ticket to Ride. It is more strategic than most other maps, and it is a version of Ticket to Ride that gamers would appreciate for its depth. I wouldn’t start a new gamer with this map, but if you love Ticket to Ride, I think you’ll love the tension present in Rails & Sails. The game is still easy to learn, but this offers a bit more of a challenge than past games in the Ticket to Ride line.
My Initial OG Rating: “I love it!”
Seems like several in this crowd missed the glorious Scythe. Of all the games I watched played, reviewed, and commented on, Scythe was the big hit (for me) of GenCon – and the only one I would (at this point) pluck down my money to own. Still keeping my eye on Cry Havoc, TtR: Rails & Sails, and SeaFall. But none currently comes close to the fascination of Scythe.