Matt Carlson: Gen Con 2018 – Parties and Kids

It’s Indianapolis, and 60,000 people have come and gone, which must mean GenCon 2018 is finally over.  Once again, I had the privilege to prowl the aisles in search of hidden gems (or the obvious ones that I somehow miss.)  As a gamer with children (and a writer for I have a special place in my heart for games I can play with my kids.  This year I’m also lumping in Party games to the mix for this post. Many Kid’s games would work as a party game, and vice versa.  The following are some of the titles that grabbed my attention as I cruised the dealer hall. Some of the “official” kid’s games are not going to hold the attention of an adult, but a surprising number work well for a quick-playing game for grown-ups.  The idea of a Party Game is fairly nebulous so I’m including games that have relatively simple rules, and work well with large groups (8 or more.)

Disclaimer:  Any misspellings or mistakes (content or otherwise) are my own.  I humbly apologize in advance for any I make, think of correcting my mistakes in the comments below as a bonus game I’m providing for you.  Games are listed alphabetically by publisher or publisher line.

Academy Games

Academy Games had several shelves full of kids games in their booth at the show.  If I wrote things down correctly, I believe Academy Games will be selling HUCH! Brand titles in the US under the Appletree brand name.  There are a few in the logicus solo puzzle line as well as games. Tic Tac Moo and Mango Tango caught my eye. In Tic Tac Moo, players alternate placing animals on the board to fill up either a red or blue area.  However, if you make a match of three-in-a-row of the same animal, you can claim them as a set.  Either fill up a 3×3 grid of your color, or claim 12 sets of animals for a win.

Mango Tango is a solo puzzle game that teaches kids algebra.  If I have things written down right, the game consists of a plastic see-saw board with locations where one can put cute little toucans.  A puzzle card shows a starting setup and players need to figure out where to place the birds so that the equation balances. It claims to work well with kids as young as five.  The english line of games should be selling in September.


Bezier Games

With the success of One Night Ultimate Werewolf and its sequel, Bezier games has gone back to the recipe and produced One Night Ultimate Supervillains (On Kickstarter right now!).  Moving away from the lycanthropic theme and towards the world of Superheroes (complete with cartoony art) the game is a bit more family friendly.  You aren’t killing anyone anymore, just capturing them. The planned accompanying app for the game will also be more beginner friendly, giving out more detailed advice for new players to the genre.  

If you can’t bear to give up your Werewolf theme, Bezier has also jumped on the Legacy bandwagon with Ultimate Werewolf Legacy. Obviously, players will not have the same role from game to game, but decisions made during the game will affect future ones.  The moderator will have a (very cool looking) diary which serves as the log of past events and changes to the game. Roles will be revealed and disappear, artifacts can be found and lost, all depending on the decisions of the players and the outcome of the game.  This includes decisions for the group outside of regular game play, such as electing a mayor. The legacy portion of the game should last through 16 games of 60 minutes each. Look for the game to appear in September.


Czech Games Edition

Although they put out some fine eurogames, Czech Games Edition has been putting out more and more party games of late.  Trapwords and Pictomania are the two newest. Trapwords has one player providing clues to their team in an attempt for them to guess a single word.  Meanwhile, the other team has looked at the clue word and secretly written down a list of “trap” words the clue giver must NOT say.  If the word is guessed before any of the secret trap words are used (also limited either by a timer or by 5 guesses), the team can move their marker further along the dungeon track.  As a team’s marker is moved farther into the dungeon, the opposing team is allowed to choose more “trap” words. As a catch-up mechanism, the first player to arrive on a tile is given a “curse” to hinder their attempt.  These add to the number of trap words, force players to play with their eyes shut, or other mildly silly options. The final tile has an (optional) monster which provides a stronger curse while players attempt to go for the win.

Pictomania could be seen as real-time, simultaneous Pictionary.  A list of words is presented to the group and each player is given a unique row and column to determine their word.  Players then rush to draw their word. When they complete their drawing, they may start guessing their opponents words.  Players also going more points if they quit guessing (you don’t have to guess on all of them) sooner than others. When the round ends, players dole out points to their opponents who have made correct guesses, with more points going to those that made their guesses first.  However, any points not passed out (due to incorrect guesses or players not even wanting to guess) are counted as penalties, so one can’t just sit back and draw nonsense. Players who like to be sticklers can use a variant where wrong guesses are penalized (rather than just ignored.)


Deepwater Games

I was waiting for the doors to open on Saturday when I saw a group trying to find “180 people to participate in our game.”  They were looking for players of Welcome to…, a roll and write style game (but with cards) where players are attempting to create the best suburbia possible.  Players start with a sheet of paper displaying three rows of houses along palm tree lined streets. Three decks of cards are in a central tableau and, after players name their towns, a card is turned over from each deck.  The top card of each deck has a number (1 to 15 in numbers approaching a bell curve) and the front of the card below displays a symbol. Every player will pick one of the three numbers and write it on any house on their sheet.  However, numbers on each row must go from low to high and not contain any duplicates. After writing down a number, players can use the special power indicated on the symbol below. These grant abilities (such as modifying the number or allowing duplicates) or victory points (through creating fences, marking down sets, etc…)  There are also three overarching goals for the game (chosen from several) which grant points if players can created fenced-in sections of street to match the patterns on the cards. In a nice touch, the top corner of each numbered card also displays the symbol on the other side, so while you won’t know the number, you will know the special powers available on the next flip.  In my short play, I found the game to flow quickly and I found it fun, although the scoring may be a bit complex for a non-gamer. The street date for the game is September 19th.


Dude Games

Magic Maze Kids is a lighter-weight version of the real-time puzzle game, Magic Maze.  Like its older sibling, Magic Maze Kids have players trying to move pawns around a central board.  However, each player can only move a pawn in one direction (I may be able to move any pawn upwards, where you can only move pawns to the left.)  Players must coordinate in order to get the pawns where they need to go. Magic Maze Kids is like a tutorial mode found in a videogame. It has a large board that offers up several mazes consisting of more and more difficult challenges.  To make things easier, players may also speak in the Kids version. Once the front of the board challenges have been completed, players can flip the board over for the “full” game where tasks are now randomized, players must be silent, and a timer is used.



Winner of this year’s Kinderspiel des Jahres is Dragon’s Breath from HABA.  It was completely sold out at the convention, so I didn’t even get a chance to take a photo.  The game consists of a very spiffy looking column of ice in the middle, filled with gems. Each person chooses a color, and then one player lifts up the topmost outer ring of the pillar, causing gems to fall down onto the game board, some disappearing into the holes in the board.  Players then claim any gems of their chosen color that remain on the board. The privilege of first choice of gem color is then passed to the next player and the game resumes. Rinse and repeat until all the rings have been removed.

The Active Kids line of HABA games try to get kids moving around while they play.  In Rhino Hero: Active Kids, the current player places a marble (slime ball) on the cape of their flying rhinoceros figure.  They then hold the figure in their hand and try to race around the table without letting any of the marbles drop.  Meanwhile, the other players are rolling and rerolling a set of three dice in an attempt to make three “boom” symbols before the running player can return to their seat.


Horrible Games

Railroad Ink was the only game I played to completion at the convention, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Four dice are rolled, displaying routes consisting of roads, railroad tracks, and the occasional station (joining the two.)  Players must draw the routes showing on the dice onto squares on their personal dry-erase grid. Players attempt to link specific locations on the edge of the board, fill in squares in the middle of the board, make long, continuous paths of roads and tracks, and try not to leave any mismatches or dangling ends.  The dice are rolled seven times (for 28 tiles) and then the game is scored. Note, there are six special tiles (printed at the top of your player board), three of which can be used during the game. They are quite helpful as they all connect all four side of the tile. The game comes in Red and Blue versions. Each version has two pairs of colored dice that form an expansion.  These two dice are added to the four base dice and have a bonus scoring mode. The blue expansion has lakes or rivers with player trying to build large or long ones respectively. The red expansion are more game changing. One has a lava lake slowly encroaching on your networks, whereas a meteor expansion destroys one tile but then provides points for linking to the destroyed square (your people are supposedly mining it for minerals.)   Each game has enough for six players, so if you buy both you have enough to play with twelve (and have five different ways to play.) The handy player references even display every possible die face in the basic game, so it can be used to track the faces rolled on the dice even if they aren’t readily observed (ie. you could relax around a living room with your cards, and just have one person roll and call out the upturned faces.)



Show and Tile is a sort of simultaneous Pictionary using tangram tiles.  Each player selects a word off a provided card. Players then have a limited time to use their tiles to construct an image so that other players can guess the word.  However, players only have tiles comprised of triangles and parallelograms, no curves to be seen. Once images are created, players guess the words of their opponents’ boards.  A correct guess is worth one point and two points are awarded if at least one opponent guesses your creation. Players can earn one bonus point if they successfully use one of the “harder” words on their card.



Kosmos’ Word Slam is back in a family edition.  Word Slam Family once again has players using a set of word cards in order to describe a topic to one’s team.  The clue cards are slightly easier to guess (there’s only one difficulty) and are separated into specific topics, so the guessing team at least knows what sort of theme they’re looking for.  The game does not come with a rack to hold the cards, but the top and bottom of the box are set up to serve that function. This serves to make the game cheaper, but also more portable. Word Slam Family is coming out some time this month.



Ghost Fightin Treasure Hunters still sees regular play at my home, so the new Creepy Cellar Expansion was high on my list of things to find.  The expansion adds a new section to the house and increases the difficulty in several ways.  There are now 12 treasures to be located, and they each provide a curse when found, making their transportation more difficult.  They need to be taken to the cellar (not out of the house) in order to put the Ghost King trapped in the house to rest. Treasures brought to the cellar provide a “reward” (it could be good or bad.)  Finally, there are jinxed items to make the players’ lives more miserable. The Ghost King was a promotional item at last years convention, and its inclusion (although slightly changed) will make it more widely available.


North Star Games

With the notable exception of the excellent Evolution, North Star Games might more correctly be called Party Star Games.  This year is no exception. The silly game in a zippered animal line is expanded this year by Funky Chicken and the Monster Match Game.  Funky Chicken is similar to Happy Salmon in that players make a strange gesture in order to find an opponent with a matching card.  If they both perform the move they discard their card and go on, hoping to be the first to work through their deck. These are a bit more physical than Salmon – bumping hips, doing a dosido, etc..  

The Monster Match Game has players rolling two dice and then looking for cards that match the description provided by the dice.  One die determines the monster part (eyes, arms, legs) and the other the number (0 to 5.) Find a match to claim a card.  Points are determined by the number of doughnuts on the card. If I recall correctly, each player claims one card before the dice are rolled again, so finding a card with more doughnuts is better than finding a matching card first.

Like Funky Chicken, Dude and More Dude are card matching games, but instead of goofy actions, players simply say the word “dude” to each other.  In Dude, cards have the word “dude” on them, using different fonts.  Players say the word “dude” repeatedly in whatever accent they feel is best.  If two players think their cards match, they say “sweet” and show their cards.  If they match the players score a point. Mismatches are set aside. Play continues until one player finishes their deck and points are calculated.  In More Dude, the cards describe an accent, like “Pirate Dude” but the game is the same.  Of course, you’re free to mix and match the two together.


Stonemaier Games

My Little Scythe would be my surprise game of the show.  If you had told me ahead of time that there would be a kid-focused Scythe spin-off I would have assumed you were joking, but hoping you were right.  My Little Scythe is indeed a scaled-down, friendlier game of Scythe, appropriate for younger kids. Much of the heart of Scythe is still intact, players are trying to move around, gain resources, create spells, power-ups and other things.  However, now you are making pies, and are heavily incentivised for assisting the other players. The game now has two (not three) little mechas exploring the world to attempt quests. When found, players can choose a path: choosing a “nice” result which will benefit themself and someone else, a “mean” result that will take advantage of another player, and a “no thanks” option if neither appeal to you.  The goal of the game is to achieve four of the eight possible trophies awarded for meeting specific conditions. Mean vs nice behaviour has consequences as there is a mean/nice track, and if you are too far into mean territory your trophies no longer count. Rather than simply a Scythe themed kid’s game, the hope and intent is that the game has enough similarities to its bigger sibling that it will serve as a stepping stone for younger players to move up to the full game.



New this past summer, Kung-Fu Zoo has been getting plenty of play at my house.  It is a dice flicking game set in arena formed by the game box insert.  There is a raised edge suitable for balancing dice before flicking, and a hole in each corner.  Players take turns flicking their dice at each other to either score points or eliminate each other (two game modes.)  Each set of four dice are decorated in an animal pattern, showing sides, head, tail, and feet. Of course, the face-up sides of the dice matter.  In elimination matches, the goal is to knock opponents’ dice down the holes or hit them so they land feet-up, making them ineligible for re-flicking.  Score matches give each face a value. Scores are calculated at the end of a round, when all dice have been flicked into the ring. The four types of animals each have one special action which adds to the flavor of the game, but do not really give a large benefit.


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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