Time to head wholeheartedly into the meat of my 2017 convention experience. In rough alphabetical order by publisher, here are a few of the games that caught my eye enough to snap a few photos.
*As always standard disclaimers apply. After learning the gist of the rules for over 100 games in two days, I will most likely mess up a small rule here or there, misspell a title, or attribute an incorrect publisher. Please humor me. At least I’m fairly sure I have the right names associated with the right photos… The following are alphabetical by publisher.
Academy Games – 878: Vikings
Similar to 1775, 878: Vikings is a 2-4 player area control game. In a two team battle (Vikings vs England), England starts with control of most of the area and the Vikings swoop in to attack. Control the most cities to win. Similar to others in the series, players use cards to move and for special abilities. New to the game are leaders which allow for additional or special movement opportunities.
Academy Games – Teaching the Underground Railroad
One thing that caught my eye in the booth was a small paperback book advertising advice on how to use Freedom: The Underground Railroad (another title by Academy games) in the classroom. While playing the game is an obvious way to bring up historical events and issues, the book offers up several different chapters, each with an eye on the game from a different subject’s perspective. In addition to The Underground Railroad, a book is available for the 1775 Rebellion game, based on the American Revolution. While I have not read either book, as a teacher I am looking forward to reading their suggestions. I particularly appreciate the ideas put forth to use the two games other than History class.
AEG – Unicornus Knights
As usual, AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group) had a large presence at the show, with several new releases and a few previews. Unicornus Knights is a cooperative adventure where players are knights attempting to help the princess take back her kingdom. In this “princess management” game, players spend action points on their turn to move, collect resources, recruit armies, send resources to other players (via a troop trade), or draw a card. Each player character (there are 14) also has one special action. Meanwhile, enemy villains (several possibilities, with unique abilities) seek to block you (and the Princess’) way. The villains each have a “programmed” movement so it is known ahead of time, but the princess also moves and some effort may need to be done to make sure she doesn’t stubbornly go through the villains. Encountering a villain for the first time grants a Fate card which can grant good or ill results, possibly rewarding a hero with an ongoing ally. Get the princess to the emperor without her getting killed and you (cooperatively) win the game.
AEG – Edge of Darkness
Coming to a Q1 2018 kickstarter near you, Edge of Darknes is a… double sided card crafting worker placement cube tower monster fighting tableau drafting game with a communal discard deck. That really says it all. In detail, it is a game based off the Mystic Vale card-crafting system where you add powers to cards using transparent cards within card sleeves. The cards then eventually end up in a tableau for later drafting. In this game players can even use cards that you have created, however when they are played they go directly to your draw deck (rather than having to wait for them to appear from the discard deck.) You essentially get them sooner. Meanwhile, when you play cards you must add your color cubes to a cube tower such that they fall down onto a tableau of monsters. If a monster accumulates 7 cubes on it, it will then attack whichever player matches the majority of its cubes. Thankfully, you can head things off at the pass by choosing to preemptively attack a monster if you wish. Getting attacked lowers your defense, which is also worth victory points at the end of the game.
AEG – Cutthroat Kingdoms
Cutthroat Kingdoms is all about negotiation and anything is negociable. A bit of an area control game, players attempt to control locations in order to create gems (VPs) and collect money. Players play soldier cards on locations to gain the majority and claim that card’s power. Other players can play more soldiers in order to steal the location. However, players have a very limited number of soldiers although a few mercenaries can be bought. Partway through the game, players can decide to marry their offspring, making a permanent alliance but doubling the needed VP for a winning condition.
AEG – Custom Heroes
Custom Heroes yet another new card crafting game. Here the game is a trick-taking card game where you get to upgrade the cards in many different ways. Some upgrades alter a cards value (up,down, or outright change) and others create a special ability if you spend some of your limited resources. At the end of a round all the cards are reshuffled and re-dealt making each round different than the previous one.
AEG – Smash Up
Smash Up keeps soldiering on. The game revolves around area control using troop cards and action cards. Troops are played on central areas and when a troop limit is reached the area pays out points according to first, second, and possibly third place majorities. The hook here is that players create their own deck by choosing two different teams and shuffling them together. (I’m always partial to Robots + Bear Calvary.) The newest expansion, Big in Japan includes four factions that satirize Kaiju (big monsters), typical cute magic girls, Voltron/Power Rangers, and Pokemon. The expansion also features BIG cards that can even smash up the locations in the middle. The spring release will be That 70s expansion and will include truckers, disco dancers, kung foo fighters, and vigilantes (think Dirty Harry or Shaft.) Truckers move stuff around, Disco dancers are adaptable and are named after songs (Rainin Men…), and every card in the Kung Foo deck is named after lyrics in the song.
Other recent titles in the AEG lineup include expansions to their deckbuilding Trains game (Coastal Tides) and the bagbuilding Automobile (Racing Season.) Both expansions feature boards and mechanics specifically tuned to provide a better two player experience.
Asmodee – Sonar
I think almost everyone agrees that Captain Sonar is best with a full compliment of 8 players. As popular as the game is, it is often hard to get that many players together at once. In comes Sonar, a sort of sequel (called a family version) that can run with 2 or 4 people. Played very much like Captain Sonar, a team has only a captain and a radio operator so the focus is almost entirely on moving and trying to figure out the other’s position. Energy is gathered by moving but it can be spent on any particular action: sonar, going silent, firing a torpedo, etc… However, energy storage is limited to four so planning when and what to spend it on is going to be key. In order to make things slightly less hectic (for good or ill) the game is only played in turns, rather than the chaotic free for all that is the full Captain Sonar.
Asmodee – Cities of Splendor
Splendor has plenty of fans, and although I find it a bit dry I can see the attraction of a nice engine building game with great tactile pieces (the heavy poker chips.) Cities of Splendor brings in four new expansions to the game, each creating a new way to play the game. Cities replaces noble tiles and one must claim a city to win. Trading Posts add development cards as well as other point avenues. The Orient also add special powers through additional cards on the field. Strongholds give players a stronghold (surprise) which can be used to reserve a card for future use. Fans of Splendor should find plenty to keep them occupied and I am intrigued to see if the new development card options will spice up the game for me.
Asmodee – Crossfire
In a mix of One Night Werewolf and Ca$h n Gun$, players try to suss out each other’s character and allegiance and then have a no holds barred one-round gunfight to see who wins the day.
Asmodee – When I Dream
When I dream is a party game where one player has a single try to guess a word while other players continue to give one word hints. The trick, however, is that the guesser is blindfolded and only some of the players are trying to give good hints. At the start of each round players are given a card that tells them whether to help or hinder the guesser, with one player awarded the job of just keeping the good and bad guesses even for the round. It was fairly fun, although it seemed that it would have played a bit better with more people. Some roles have a harder time getting points, so for fewer players the role distribution is more random. I personally found it hard to figure out who was giving me bad clues as my particular game had two helpful and two hindering players. (The blindfolded player doesn’t even get to know which of their guesses were correct until the end.) Having more players tends to add more helpful players and I suspect may make discerning the bad guys a bit easier.
Bezier Games – Whistle Stop
Whistle Stop is a 2-5p train game where players are building up tracks from East to West across the board and, surprisingly, picking up resources and depositing them in towns as they go. Players start with a hand of three tiles and may place as many ast they wish or until they hit a stop (town.) Players use whistle resources to move and can use coal resources to buy and activate special abilities. Special abilities can be stolen when bought by other players, and they are worth points at the game end. When in a town, players spend resources to get points and buy stock options. As the trains and tracks cross the board (trains typically can’t move Eastward) the values of towns increases with towns on the far side of the board worth the most points.
Blue Orange Games – Photosynthesis
Another of the big hits of the convention was Photosynthesis over at the Blue Orange booth. One can see the attraction as the board is gorgeous as players attempt to place and grow larger and larger cardboard trees on the game board. Players vie for light points used to grow and add additional trees. As a sun token moves around the edge of the board, trees in its line of sight gain light points if they are not blocked by a larger tree in front. The rules could come off as a rather dry abstract but the pieces and theme of the game puts it over the edge such that I suspect many anti-abstract players will succomb to its alluring forest.
Catalyst Game Labs – Dragonfire
Using a similar game engine to Shadowrun Crossfire, Dragonfire is a scenario-based legacy card game within the Dungeons and Dragons universe. In a pretty common format, players play out their hand, interact with monsters (who may already be assigned to them), go shopping at the market, and then draw up their hand. Monsters are eliminated by satisfying specific symbols in order on the card (which could include giving oneself damage if I recall correctly.) As part of the theme, some cards may give bonuses when played by the appropriate character class with others may not even be usable unless specific character requirements are met. The Legacy part of the game comes in using character screens that are filled with stickers (representing new abilities) as they gain experience in the game. The base game contains 4 different character classes but has 12 screens so the game isn’t just one and done. The Heroes of the Sword Coast character expansion pack offers 32 new screens including new classes such as druids, bards, rangers, and warlocks. Scenarios can be played with “characters” of different levels as they are scaled by the average character level rather than a set difficulty. In the near future Shadows Over Dragonspear Castle will release with a new set of encounters, new market cards, and new item cards.
Cephalofair Games – Founders of Gloomhaven
Cephalofair is known for the popular Gloomhaven dungeon exploring game. Founders of Gloomhaven is (prototype photo above) is a full on eurogame based around an economic engine. Players build up a city on the board through placement of buildings. Game mechanics include tile laying, hand management, action selection, bidding, and the kitchen sink (no, not that last one.) Breaking slightly from many eurogames, it does push players to interact in order to earn some of the more higher-scoring resource production. Founders of Gloomhaven should be released early 2018.
Czech Games Edition – Codenames: Duet
Another big hit at the convention, Duet takes the word guessing party game, Codenames and turns it into a cooperative two player game. Players share a set of central cards and each have specific cards they need their opponents to guess. As before, you want to guess correctly and avoid the neutral or game ending cards. The spin here is that some cards may need to be guessed by one player, but avoided by the other… you only key off your opponent’s suggestions. I’m looking forward to the game as I can more easily play it with my kids at home. Special note, displayed on banners in the CGE room were advertisements for Codenames: Marvel and Codenames: Disney. Both will be coming out in roughly October and published by USAopoly.
CGE – That’s a Question
That’s a Question (in stores any week now) is a full on party game. One player selects a triangular card and chooses which way they want to use it. One side asks which would you choose, another which would you miss (if it didn’t exist), etc.. The active player then chooses two tiles from their hand as the possible answers and puts the question in front of a player. All players attempt to guess their answer with correct guesses advancing their token while the answer-er is advanced for each correct answer. The questioner advances for every incorrect guess. Players have a Nut token which is used up when they are asked a question, guaranteeing that no one player is asked all the questions.
CGE – Galaxy Trucker
I took a photo of what I was told was a new big box expansion for Galaxy Trucker (a third one, in addition to the first two big box ones included in the anniversary expansion.) Unfortunately, I apparently took a photo of the wrong box. My understanding (barring language barriers between the publishers and myself) is that there’s another (third) big box in the works. However, I do know that for those really into the Galaxy Trucker universe, Jason Holt has written a novel, Rocky Road, set within the Trucker universe.
CMON – Modern Art
I didn’t spend much time in the CMON booth, but I did take time to acknowledge the nice new Modern Art repint. The player screens were very nice and the large cards had a good solid feel.
CMON – Geikido Bot Battles
They also had a Gekido Bot Battles game that was nifty looking but I wasn’t able to return to get a good explanation.
Cryptozoic Entertainment – Master of Orion
Back in the day, I actually played more Master of Orion than I did Civilization on my computer. I was stoked (see how old I am) to see a boardgame release of this old favorite that should be released September 9th. The game is card based and consists of 8 rounds of play. On a turn a player gains resources, gains cubes based on their exertion level, and then takes actions. There are three (I think?) main tracks of economic development and your highest track sets your exertion level. Actions available to players include Construct (spend to play a card), Exploit (play a card for resources by discarding it), research (draw cards), trade (with the bank), produce Propaganda, or attack. Cards played go in front of a player in one of four slots (systems.) A system can hold up to five cards in it, but only the special ability of the top card is in effect. However, many cards are beefed up in power depending on what type and how many cards are below them. The game can end early in player elimination otherwise players add up their accumulated points, add their morale setting, and then add in any points from structures. I must admit it seems to have many similarities to Race for the Galaxy, but I’m hoping the set number of rounds and the three or so development tracks will bring in a fresh set of decisions to make.
Cryptozoic Entertainment – Attack on Titan
If you are not aware, Attack on Titan is a very popular Anime show based around a heavily fortified city/country under constant attack by huge lumbering human-like monsters. Most are stupid but the story begins with some showing exceptional intelligence. Attack on Titan the boardgame is based around players attacking a large Titan/monster. One must give props to the developer because the Titan figurine with its cool little ledges for figurines is mighty cool.
Days of Wonder – Ticket to Ride
Yep, time for another Ticket to Ride release. Germany is a new stand-alone re-implementation of Marklin with a slightly changed passenger delivery mechanic (where you score points for passengers collected when two cities are joined.) A new map is also in the pipe with a France side and an Old West side. France lets players choose which color routes go where, while Old West has players building out from a home city.
Fantasy Flight Games – Sid Meier’s Civilization: A New Dawn
One of the prototypes in the FFG area was a new boardgame take on Civilization. For two to four players, it looks to be an attempt to slim down past incarnations of Civ to give that same sort of explore/exploit/expand/exterminate feel but in a shorter time frame.
Floodgate Games – News@11
Floodgate will open up a Kickstarter on September 11th for the legacy party/storytelling game, News@11 (plays 2-11 or so people.) Players start with cards with blanks and add one word to their card, suggested by the other players. The Lead Anchor (active player) then hands out Segment cards such as weather, traffic, sports, etc… That player must then make up a story they are covering that includes all the words on their cards. The Anchor can then call on another player who may build on that story or go a new direction to get their card words used. After everyone has told a story a second round begins by giving all players another card and words are added to the new card. Stories this round must all include both cards’ words. A third round occurs by adding in a third card. The legacy part of the game comes in because words are written on the cards using permanant ink. There are 3 slots for words on each card so as the game gets played again and again cards will already start with one or more words that need to be included in stories in addition to any new words added that round. The game even makes space for players who are too shy to do any talking, they can play as the Producer and simply dole out the assignment cards.
Floodgate Games – Sagrada
There are a few really pretty games out there at GenCon this year, and Sagrada is in their company. Players roll and draft transparent colored dice to fill in a special grid on their player mat as if it were a stained glass window. Players can place dice in order to satisfy specific number values or colors. Dice must be added adjacent (direct or diagonal) to already added dice and no two adjacent (directly) die can be the same color or have the same number. Each game has three public scoring cards, which determine how points are decided at the end. There are also three tool cards per game that allow players to break a rule using their favor tokens.
Gale Force 9 – Star Trek Ascendancy
After a bit of delay, two new races have been released for last year’s Star Trek Ascendancy. The Ferengi Alliance and the Cardassian Union have been added to the Federation/Romulan/Klingon options in the base game. The game is a standard explore/exploit/exterminate game where players can focus on battle, production, and culture. Perhaps its most interesting feature is how the board slowly evolves through exploration of trade lanes such that planets can swing around if necessary until they are locked down through connections to three trade routes. The new Cardassian faction specializes in military strength and can gain culture through invading. However, their red resource production is limited such that they need a ship in orbit around any producing planet. This forces them to spread out their fleets. Of note, they have a special hunter/killer fleet that, although small, can fly in and create three automatic hits before normal combat occurs.
It comes as no surprise that the Ferengi Alliance is all about production and trade. Ferengi are proficient at using production in order to get culture, at a rate of 5 production per point of culture. One unique feature are Ferengi trade agreements. If they can get a ship in orbit around another player’s planets they (and the planet’s owner) both gain benefits. It is a two edged sword, do you take the increased income and let the Ferengi benefit as well, or do you kick them out of orbit?
The expansion of most interest to me is the upcoming Borg expansion in October. The Borg appear in the game controlled by a deck of command cards that govern their behavior (although they typically love to go after starbases when they can.) The Borg can be included via a special Delta Quadrant scenario or included through special system tiles, stacked lower in the deck so they don’t come out right away. Borg Cubes are powerful and start out with 9 attack dice, losing attack as they take hits in battle. However, as the Borg learn, each round of combat increases the difficulty of hitting their ship such that it is pretty much useless to attack more than a few rounds. If the Borg manage to assimilate an entire player’s side, they get to become the Borg as well. They get a Borg turn in addition to the Borg’s regular turn. Thus, as more players fall to the Borg the Borg gets more powerful. As the Borg can serve as a dummy player, use of the Borg expansion allows the game to play well with two or even one player. I’m particularly interested as I’m hoping to use the Borg as a way to play the game at least semi-cooperatively with my sons.”
Gale Force 9 – Dr. Who: Time of the Daleks
Time of the Daleks is a semicooperative game of Doctors vs the Daleks. Everyone plays a different Doctor and is trying to get their doctor to the center of the board to win. Meanwhile, if all the Dalek tokens are placed on the map or if the Daleks make it to Gallifrey, everyone loses. It is a die rolling game based around a maximum pool of 8 dice. However, the dice come in several colors so one can try to manipulate which colors they roll in order to better their chances. Players go to a location and then choose one or the other of the challenges (called dilemmas – indicating what must be rolled on the dice.) Once chosen an additional card is flipped over to reveal what is added to make the true cost of the task. Players set up their dice pool and then use all the powers they wish. Players can assist each other by spending their own resources. If a player fails a dilemma a Dalek appears and the challenge is harder to accomplish next time. If a player’s Doctor is eliminated, an interesting Regeneration mechanic kicks in. Every player swaps Doctors to the next one in line (if you’re at the end you go back to the first one.) This is not too bad of a penalty, however players are able to gather companions as they play and they are more powerful if they are paired with the correct Doctor. Thus, changing Doctors will often weaken your abilities. Oh, and there is a deck of Timey Wimey Cards… ‘nough said.
Greater Than Games – Lazer Ryderz
Greater Than Games is always on my radar since the early days of their hit, Sentinels of the Galaxy. The final expansion, OblivAeon, should be out by early 2018. This year, I was most looking forward to seeing Lazer Ryderz. I’m a huge Tron fan and Lazer Ryderz is an interesting take on the light cycle game. Players take on the role of a Lazer Ryder and drive around the table trying to run over crystal tokens in the center to claim ownership. As more are claimed, more are added to the board until one player collects as many as there are players. Players must choose a specific gear and can only adjust it up or down. One’s gear determines which path tokens they can place on the board (higher gears are longer length.) However, if you want to turn you have to use a die to roll matching or exceeding your current gear or you have to go straight instead. Rolling a 1 makes you spin out and you start over at gear 1 again. Like light cycles, players leave a trail behind them and if you run into a trail you crash and all of your trail (and the opponent’s trail up to the point of the crash) are removed from the board. This has several effects as a player also has a limited number of tiles so if you have a lot of trail on the board your movement is more limited. I love the game concept and its production as real effort was put into making it evoke the look and feel of the 80s arcade games.
Greater Than Games – Spirit Island
Spirit Island has seen some good buzz among the Opinionated Gamers. It is a co-op game so that means I at least want to give it a go. The theme of the game centers around players who are spirits on an island and they are trying to protect their native inhabitants by encroachment of settlers. The game AI is trying to build onto the land while the player spirits are chasing them off. The players win if all the invaders are eliminated or scared off the island. Scaring is a nice tactic as the more scared they are the faster they leave. Players lose if the island is completely blighted by the setters, if they run out of explore cards, or if any one spirit player is eliminated. A player’s turn consists of improvement (gaining resources, leveling up, or some of both), and then players all play cards simultaneously. Fast cards are then resolved, the invaders get a turn (flip over a card and do what it says), and then slow cards trigger their effect. There are eight different spirits in the game, all with unique powers and different stats. Four are fairly easy to play, two medium, and two rather complex, so gamers can choose the complexity they want.
Greater Than Games – Fate of the Elder Gods
Dale Yu recently put up his review of Fate of the Elder Gods so I won’t add too much here. Players are cultists trying to summon their personal favored deity. Players play cards to move their cultists around the board, leaving the played cards in those locations. Players also have spell cards that can trigger if they can get a cultist to land on a location that has a matching set of card resources. In a somewhat random mechanic, you can get cursed if you satisfy secret conditions which are tracked by your neighboring player. Earn 9 summoning points to win the game or if the gods are sealed off the player with the most points wins.
Greater Than Games – Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Kickstarting on October 17th, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow has players taking on the role of four residents in a cooperative campaign game. The campaign goes through as series of stories and is a mix of role playing and boardgaming, a bit like Mice and Mystics, combining action and exploration. Players move and act using an action pool and each have a special ability which can only be reused after one’s action pool has been emptied again. Combat is central to the game but not the only aspect.
That’s not anywhere near half the alphabet, but it’s about half the games I have to discuss. See you tomorrow for part 2, H to Z…