Saturday seemed to be the most crowded day yet, which is normal, but I was still able to get in plays of some solid games. Below are updates on what’s hot, what’s sold out, and a couple of fun pictures from around the convention. I also provide initial impressions on three games I played today.
I don’t have any changes to what I’d consider hot games, and I still don’t see a standout game. The Geekbuzz list seems to now have a good number of votes, but the list itself is starting to strike me as odd, because there are games on there that I haven’t heard any attendees talk much about. (I ask pretty much everybody I meet what games they’re enjoying.) I know this results from publishers asking people to go vote for their game: I’ve had a few publishers ask me to do this!
In terms of games sold out, I didn’t see Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails available for purchase anymore. Ice Cool, a dexterity game that has decent buzz, sold out on the first day. Beyond Baker Street is reportedly close to selling out. Otherwise, the usual suspects (The Last Friday, Oceanos, Vikings on Board, etc.) continue to sell their daily allotments at a rapid pace.
Below I offer initial impressions on three games that I played today. Before you think that somebody stole my identity for this blog post, yes, I actually found both a Zombie-themed and Cthulhu-themed game that I liked!
Pictures from Around the Convention
Gen Con has a lot of traditions, but two of my favorites (and two of the more widely noticed) are the balloon sculpture and Cardhalla.
The balloon sculpture this year was a dragon in front of a castle, along with what appears to be a balloon rendition of The Iron Throne.
Cardhalla was quite impressive this year, especially the tall structure in the middle. Attendees build it up until Saturday night at 10:30, at which time we gathered to throw pocket change at it in an attempt to destroy the structures. The thrown money is donated to charity.
Impressions of Hit Z Road, Oceanos, and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
Hit Z Road
Designer: Martin Wallace
I dislike the use of the zombie theme in games — honestly, I don’t get the entire zombie craze — but Martin Wallace is one of my favorite game designers, so I was happy to demo Hit Z Road today. And I was very impressed: Hit Z Road is one of my favorite games of the convention. Don’t let the theme and emphasis on dice rolling fool you: there are some strong elements of a Wallace-style Eurogame here. I’m not going over the rules in complete detail, but below is a quick overview.
The game is played over several rounds. Each round begins with an auction: players take turns bidding resources — the very resources they need to escape the zombies — in order to determine the order in which they choose a path past the zombie hoard. The auction is critical: with four players, there are four available paths. Each path has a varying number of resources that a player receives, a number of zombies to defeat, and/or a number of victory points to gain. The first player naturally gets top choice, which usually gives them an easier path (or, at a minimum, a path with more victory points or resources). The last player will get whatever is leftover (i.e. the hardest path or path with the fewest rewards).
As each player picks a path, he collects any resources for the first card on their path and fights zombies. There are three resources in the game — bullets, adrenaline, and gas. When players begins to fight zombies, they can first spend bullets to do a ranged attack, rolling two dice per bullet token used. The crosshairs equals a hit, and that many zombies are removed. The rest of the combat comes down to melee or escaping. For melee, players roll equal to the number of characters left on their team. Hits with the crosshairs symbol kills zombies, but the zombies can also kill the player’s characters with skulls, unless a player spends adrenaline to avoid it. A player can escape by spending two gas tokens, but this isn’t always the best route since the player doesn’t get the card, which sometimes have victory points.
The game is played over several rounds, with the cards having increasingly more zombies and increasingly fewer resources. Players can be eliminated if they can’t beat the zombies and don’t have adrenaline to save their characters. I saw that happen to two players in one game today: they were doing well but ran out of resources, succumbing to the hoard. This is classic Martin Wallace: careful planning is rewarded.
At the end of the game, bonus points are earned for the players having most of each resource.
The auction and tight resource management game make it unmistakably a Martin Wallace design. I enjoyed it, and I think this could appeal to both Eurogamers and those who prefer more thematic games. I didn’t think this would be a game I wanted from Gen Con 2016, but I enthusiastically bought a copy.
My Initial OG Rating: I love it!
Designer: Antoine Bauza
The first thing I noticed about Oceanos is the artwork. It is a stunningly beautiful game.
The second thing I noticed, after I was taught the rules, is that it is quite a different game than I was expecting. I had glanced at the rulebook, but I thought the drafting part of this game would be the main mechanic. That’s not the case: this is actually more of a press-your-luck game with a hint of engine building.
The game is played over three rounds of five turns, and the winner is the player with the most points at the end. Each turn, a player is given a number of cards — depending on how upgraded their ship is — and they pick one card to put in their card row. By the end of the game, each player will have three card rows in front of them, one for each round. After selecting their card, a player can take an extra card if they use a fuel token. They then give one card to the Expedition Captain (i.e. the dealer), who had not previously taken any cards for himself.
That’s the extent of the game’s drafting. The card you pick basically controls your points. You get points for the number of different fish in each row, and points for the number of adjacent corals in all three rows. The player with the most Kraken Eyes gets a points penalty at the end of each round, so those are to be avoided if possible. The crystals — if played before a base — allow a player to upgrade their ship. The treasure chests allow you to receive treasure tokens with points on them if your diver floats up past it at the end of the game.
Upgrading the ship gives you various abilities: extra cards during the draft, extra fuel (to keep more cards during a draft), more divers (to get more treasure chests), the ability to get more points for unique fish (you’re normally capped out at 2 points each for 3 unique fish), or just bonus points at the end of the round.
The game is a neat little package of different mechanics, and it plays well, but it just didn’t excite me. It is an objectively fine game, and I’d play it again, but it felt a bit too random — and a bit too lengthy — for what it is.
My Initial OG Rating: Between “Neutral.” And “I like it.”
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
Designer: Matt Leacock and Chuck D. Yager
When I heard they were making Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, I rolled my eyes. Pandemic was an amazing step forward in game design, and it is deserving of its high praise over the years, but why a Cthulhu-themed version?
I played it today, and I have to say, the theme works exceptionally well. Moreover, Reign of Cthulhu was different enough from Pandemic to feel fresh.
Pandemic was obviously a starting point for the design, and many of the mechanics are quite similar. There are numerous differences, but three stand out:
First, the goal is no longer to cure diseases, but rather to seal portals. In addition to having cultists (which replace the disease cubes) on the board, you can also have Shoggoths, which move closer to the portals — and pass through them — when certain events happen in gameplay.
Second, the Shoggoths moving through the portals — or the drawing of the Evil Stirs cards — triggers the awakening of an Old One. These cards either cause adverse events to occur or modify gameplay against the investigators. Cthulhu is the final Old One, and awakening him causes the players to lose.
Third, players now have sanity tokens, and certain in-game events can cause them to lose these or risk losing them with a dice roll. Insane investigators suffer certain ill effects.
In some ways, the game is less complex than its predecessor. The “clue” cards denote each of the four towns, not specific locations in them, making travel — and trading cards — much simpler. But Reign of Cthulhu is also slightly more complex, because you need to balance both the cultists and the Shoggoths, plus you need to track how the Old Ones change the game.
I really enjoyed it. Pandemic was the inspiration, so this was always going to be a great game. But this wasn’t just the pasting on of a popular theme: this is a well-designed tribute to Lovecraft. For fans of the mythos or fans of Pandemic, Reign of Cthulhu is worth checking out.
My Initial OG Rating: Between “I like it.” and “I love it!”