Matt Carlson: Gencon 2019 (J-Z)

Another day, another GenCon report. Here’s the second half of my boardgame explorations. Hopefully you find something worth discovering! There are boardgames, dice, cards, and dice, (did I mention dice?) I assume at some point someone has coined it, but there were a fair share of YARRs (yet another roll & write) at the convention. As always, any errors on dates, publishers, titles, (and spelling) are mine alone. Don’t go blaming the poor publishers or their overworked booth helpers.

Jackbro

Appearing on Kickstarter on September 10th, Nouvelle-France is a 2 to 4 player game based around packing and stacking sets of 3D Tetris-like pieces. The pieces are made up of several colors and each color is assigned to a player. The goal is to place pieces such that your colors satisfy various criteria. The active player draws a card (adding to the available pieces) and then selects a piece to add to the board, connecting up larger groups of their color to score points. Three game mats are used all at the same time (giving many placement options), however these eventually become modified through three falling “snow” outlines that trigger a scoring and change up the available placements. Players also have three special actions that can be used once per phase of the game (there are three.) Players can double one placement, add more cards to the display (to give more choices), or to call out “halfsies” and get one half the score of the current placement. (The active player doesn’t lose any points, and only one player can use the “halfsies” card.)

Klask

Klask was showing off its main title, Klask (go figure!) It is a two player soccer-like game where players control wooden pieces on top of a board by moving around magnets underneath. Klask 4 is a new title this year. It is a 4 player version where each player is attempting to defend their own goal. When one player runs out of lives, the player with the most lives remaining wins the game. It should be available to the public around the end of September.

Kolossal Games

Another of those bling-heavy games, I stopped to snap a photo of Mezo. It’s a minis-heavy game of area control. There are the standard bits of piece-piece interaction, but the game tries to stand out in its asymmetry. Each side plays different and there are several possible winning conditions. Plays 2-4 players, expect a game to last a couple hours.

Kosmos

Roll for Adventure is a cooperative game where 2 to 4 players take turns rolling dice and placing sets onto the board. Dice are rolled and then all the dice of one value are placed, and then the rest are rerolled. The game board is made of four different sections, each having specific requirements to complete. Once a section is complete, the dice are removed and player are given a crystal. Collect 5 crystals to win the game. The four boards are double-sided so can be mixed and matched to change up the game.

A new type of entry in the Exit! series, is Adventure Games: Discover the Story. These are similar, but have a much stronger story element. Exploration is a larger part, where some locations have you refer back to other sources. Each player takes on the role of a specific character and could have different interactions with people in the game. There are two stories available in September, castle-ish The Dungeon, and the Stranger Things-ish Monochrome Inc.

Mattel

Mattel had the usual mix of lightweight licenses and, aside from the excellent giant display version of Ghost Fightin Treasure Hunters. I stopped for a quick game of Zombie Gotcha! Which is a simple game of drawing colored key cards to unlock one’s stack of colored doors. It takes two colored keys to unlock a door, and players can only hold on to three keys at a time. Players may draw one card from a facedown pile or draw two cards from the zombie hands. Many cards require players to draw an additional card from the zombie hands. Drawing cards from the hands triggers a timing mechanism such that sooner or later the hands reach out and “grab” the person trying to draw cards. It gives a nice jump to the drawing player. Not a lot of depth here, but definitely room for people who like to take a bit of risk. It’s all about the Zombie Hands toy, but fun for a game that is a bit lighter weight than Uno and fine for younger players.

Even before I checked out the booth I had to stop to snap a photo of Pictionary Air. The idea here is that someone uses a phone to video a player using a light pen to draw in the air. This can then appear as a picture on the tablet or use some technology to project the result on a monitor. Teams then try to guess the word based on glowing virtual symbols drawn.

For the solo puzzler, there is Blokus Puzzle which is a collection of 48 different puzzles that can be used in several ways. The standard snap-fit Blokus pieces are used to connect up various blocks, cover over displayed stars, or try to fill the board by avoiding the Xs. The game has a little tray to store the pieces for travel.

Mayday Games

Mayday Games is always a popular stop for me to check out if there are any new kid-friendly style games on offer. The new game this year is Yummy Yummy Pancake. The game comes with a frying pan and a bunch of plastic pancake tokens that have an ingredient on one side. Seven pancakes are placed face-up in the pan and everyone makes note of the ingredients. The active player then “flips” the pan, causing several of the pancakes to flip over. The active player then points to flipped pancakes and challenges the other players to guess which ingredient is on the other side. Correct guesses go to the guesser, incorrect are given to the active player. Whenever the active player wishes to stop forcing a guess, new pancakes are added (up to 7) and the pan is passed to the next player.

North Star Games

There were plenty of demo copies of The Quacks of Quedlinburg available for use, but the two newest games on hand were Wits and Wagers: It’s Vegas, Baby and Oceans. Oceans is a sequel to the popular Evolution, changed up a bit now that there are more than just two types of food. An entire food chain comes into play as players maneuver to take advantage of where resources are most plentiful. Look for the full release to come around Q1 of 2020.

Meanwhile, Wits and Wagers: It’s Vegas, Baby is a minor upgrade from the previous games. The trivia/betting game has all new questions requiring players to guess a numerical answer. All players then bet on each other’s guesses. What is new (aside from the questions) is the addition of a nice felt mat that also allows players to take a simple high/low 1:1 bet, and for those that complained, there are many more money chips in the box this time around. This uses the regular full betting (you can bet all you have) not the simpler Family version where you could only bet with your renewable chips. For now, it’s a Target exclusive.

Pandasaurus

Due to my son’s fascination with the game, Pandasaurus’ Machi Koro Legacy was on my short list to investigate. It plays like the base game, although there are no Purple cards to start. Players have three personal landmarks (the same for everyone) to build and a community landmark, to which all players can donate. After each game, there is a booklet to describe the results which then bring in new cards and rules changes. I believe I’m not spoiling anything by saying that some new cards will be double-sided and will change the course of future games depending on which side is used. (I do like how the demo people were not allowed to play the game so they wouldn’t know anything about the legacy part and accidentally spoil something.) While some game changes will be permanent over the course of the game, others can be changed around or reversed so that players have an operational game even when the legacy part is completed.

Passtally has players putting colored cubes on the four sides of a square and then attempting to connect them through the use of wide hexagonal tiles. The board starts out with straight connections up and down and then tiles are placed on top which begin to create new curves and straights. When a tile is placed to form a route between a player’s two edge markers, it scores points for each tile the route crosses on its way. Tiles laid on top of one another are worth more, so passing through a tile on the third layer would count for more points. Scoring is done through an adjusted scale, so passing through 4 to 6 tiles is worth 3 points while passing through 29 to 36 tiles is worth 8 points. The game ends when someone gets to 50 points or if there is no longer any legal placement (since the tiles are wider than they are tall, there are always some unused spaces created.)

Peaceable Kingdom

Perhaps the most played game in our house is Peaceable Kingdom’s Where’s Bear? Where players take turns hiding a bear under boxes and then give each other clues based on the images on the boxes. My youngest pulls it out all the time, as it’s probably the easiest game for her to understand. Thus, I have a soft spot for this company who specializes in kid-friendly games. Their new game was Sky Magic, a cooperative game where players attempt to rescue five mythical creatures from the center of a pentagonal board. Players roll the dice and then move the creatures along predetermined paths from cloud to cloud. However, if a cloud is rolled, entire sections of the map are blocked off or one of the five wedges are “flipped over.” The five sections are actually two different maps and folding a flap over like a book will change the path shown. If, after flipping, the creature is no longer on a cloud, it gets sent back to the middle of the board. If it ends up on a cloud even after turning the page, it gets to stay. Meanwhile the players have access to a few magic wands which can be used to prevent or reverse the effects of the cloud dice. Finally, there is a wand image on one side of the die which can cause players to lose one of their wands. They also serve as a timer and if 10 wands are lost the game ends. The box says 6+, but it could go a bit lower. Players take turns rolling and moving but all the creatures are available for anyone to move so a stray move here or there won’t necessarily be devastating.

Plan B Games

Sporting one of the hottest games at the show, Plan B Games was showing off the entirely overproduced Era: Medieval Age. A remake of sorts of the old Roll Through the Ages (of which I’m a fan) this game also has players rolling dice to accumulate resources (stone, wood, wheat, trade goods.) As before, wood and stone help build buildings, but now they’re actual plastic pieces plugged into one’s player board to form a city complete with buildings and walls. Buildings and walls can grant ongoing resources and provide for some endgame scoring. The game has four colors of dice that can be earned, each with a bit of a specialty. Yellow dice grant food (required to upkeep all your dice), blue provide goods and culture (points), white has resources and culture, and grey provides defense. There is also a bit of take-that going on whereby a player can steal resources from another (only at the end of a round, so spend it if you got it.)

On the other end of the spectrum, TUKI is a speed-building game where players race to put their pieces together to match the picture shown on the central card. The trick here is that the pictures are impossible to accomplish only using one’s colored pieces. Instead, players are given white “snow” pieces which do not count against the figure shown. Thus, players combine the snow pieces with the colored ones in order to match the central card. The game says 1-4 players, but since there are only 3 sets of pieces that means one player sits out each round. Combine two games to make a 6 person game.

Finally, we have 5211, a stock-market-esque game with funky card art. Player play out their cards during a round to try to play cards that match the majority color for that round. However, if too many of the same color card (3 + the number of players) are played, that color “busts” and the 2nd most common color is scored.

Portal Games

YARR!, Imperial Settlers Roll and Write has 1 to 4 players using a group roll to key off goods and buildings on their playmat. Three dice show the available goods while the other determines how many actions players may take that turn. Three resources (stone, wood, clay) can be used to build buildings or to check off progress along a resource track (worth points at the end.) Buildings add to the benefits of the roll or provide end-game scoring. One unique twist to the genre is four fields of goods on the paper, separated by bridges. By filling in squares to build a bridge, players may then spend an action to use one of the goods in the fields. Build 3 or 4 bridges and players have access to two or even three resources for a single action. Perhaps most significant development is a series of 48 different solo game sheets that simulate a single-player campaign with special rules and/or starting setups to each game.

Rio Grande Games

It is always a pleasure to visit the Rio Grande Room at GenCon, even though I missed out on any of the food runs. I had enough time to sit down and play through the new Race for the Galaxy based boardgame, New Frontiers. It has the same balance of settling planets, purchasing tech upgrades, producing goods, and shipping them for points. The active player chooses a role, gains a slight bonus, and then all the other players also take advantage of that role. Candidate planets to settle are still randomly obtained from a bag, but in this case they are drafted with the active player getting first choice. Rather than relying on the luck of the draw for technology, all the technology options are available from the start of the game. With most of the materials already on the board at the start, it keeps the complexity of the game down a little bit, especially on the 2nd or 3rd plays through the game. I enjoyed my play and could see getting it out for those edge cases where Race (or Roll) may be a bit more complex than needed. I could do without the ginormous colored plastic goods tokens, but I suppose they may make it more attractive to casual players by adding a bit of bling to the game. There is already an expansion in the works, Starry Rifts, which should show up in time for Essen.

Space Cowboys

Asmodee’s marketing gurus were able to catch the coattails of the recent Marvel movie franchise and will be offering up Splendor: Marvel, a retheming of the original. It looked to be almost all the same, except for two new aspects. The first person to collect three “Avenger Tokens” claims a tile worth three points. However, like Catan’s longest road, the tile can be claimed by another player if they are able to collect more tokens. The second item is a new Thanos tile that can be claimed if a player has one of each of the five types of gem. This takes a bit of work as the green gems are only found on the more expensive cards. Claiming the Thanos tile ends the game and final scores are tallied. Expect to see it around Q1 of 2020.

Space Cowboys had a new Unlock! title on display. Unlock! Heroic Adventures still contain cards and use a companion app, but now also come with a few more props, such as a booklet for the Wonderland story or a large poster for the Sherlock one. There is also some use of augmented reality in the game, I’m guessing in the third, computer-themed adventure.

Stonemaier Games

A wonderful display of Wingspan was on hand and catching the eye of many bystanders. I had not yet seen a physical copy of the game and must admit it has some nice pieces.

The City of Games

Vadoran Gardens has players drafting cards (showing a 3×3 grid of colors – blue, brown, green, and yellow) from a central tableau and then placing them into their own area by slightly overlapping a previous card so that they end up with a line of cards. The default play is to connect the rivers (blue) on cards to score more and more points, however the other colors can create bonus scoring options, so a river connection is not always the best play.

City of Kings, on the other hand, is a much deeper, cooperative adventure game. Two to four players choose one of six characters, who are then placed on a rectangular grid of tiles. Players explore the board by flipping over tiles and then do the typical fight creatures, go on quests, etc… Decisions are sometimes a bit puzzle-like in that players are trying to optimize all there resources and actions. The game has an overarching storyline, and it consists of several linked scenarios which can be played out in just under an hour. As can be seen in the photo, there are lots of cards and other bits to bring a diverse set of actions and unique player options to the mix.

The game getting the most attention at their booth was the upcoming (Q1 2020) Isle of Cats. Here, tragedy is befallen an island and the players have set out to save as many cats as possible. To do this, they acquire cats tiles in various Tetris-like poses and place them onto their ship. Players draft cards and then must pay out their fish tokens in order to play their cards. The various cards grant boots (lets a player goes first), baskets (needed to rescue cats – no one wants to try to move cats around by hand…), fish, etc… Blue cards are particularly important as they set up special scoring at game end, based on cat placement. Cats can grant special powers, so there is some chaining possible as the game progresses (such as purple cats which grant extra fish, etc..). At the end of the game, players lose points for any uncovered rats on their ship, or any rooms that are not completely filled. As mentioned, the little cat tiles were a big draw for a certain segment of the crowd, I swear I heard someone even go “Squee!”

University Games

Perfect for drawing people in on the GenCon floor, Heist: One Team One Mission (or just Heist) had a cool talking cube. Players take on one of four roles (Hacker, Explosives Expert, Money Man, or Lookout) and then cooperate to complete the “heist.” Players each start with a couple of orange plastic pieces representing tools of the trade, like gloves, flashlight, goggles, etc.. The central talking cube then gives directions to pass around the items, such as “give the goggles to the Hacker.” Sooner or later, the game will say “use the laptop” in which case whoever currently has the laptop must press a button on their side of the cube. If performed in time, the game will announce how much money was earned and the Money Man will set that much aside. As the game goes on directions speed up. Take too long over too many times and the game ends. A fun part of the game lies in the central cube. As players progress towards the endgame, the lid on the box starts to rise and if they get to the end without messing up the top pops up and little tiny bars of gold spill out. It is possible to win, but not collect the maximum amount of money, so there is a bit of gradation of success. I believe there were 3 levels of difficulty but our drop-in group managed to win (but not with the maximum score.) I would expect the lower levels to work well with a younger set.

USAopoly

Sporting grey and blue shirts with a prominent “The OP” logo, the folks in the USAopoly booth had several of their typical licensed-brand games at the show. Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game has one player trying to foil a group of cooperating thieves (the other players) over the course of three acts, following along with the movie. If you dropped by the booth at the right time you could even pick up a bar of Nestle Crunch, rebranded with a Die Hard wrapper.

Other licensees included Talisman: Kingdom Hearts as well as a version of their “Thanos: Rising” style game set in the Star Wars universe.

Of course, you aren’t allowed to buy Star Wars: Dark Side Rising inside the US.

On the topic of the “Rising” games, Harry Potter: Death Eater Rising is like the others except players don’t have to just defeat the outside villains, but the central Voldemort also has to be defeated to win. Expect it out this fall.

Another fall release is Toy Story: Obstacles and Adventures. This is a system similar to the Harry Potter deckbuilder with the same mild legacy overtones (additional card boxes are opened with repeated plays.) Players choose between Woody, Buzz, T-Rex, and Bo-Peep and then cooperate to overcome obstacles without losing all their health. Note, the game lists 2-5 players and while I listed only 4 characters, one might guess another appears in later boxes.

YARR! Dungeon Academy is a bit of a roll & write version of Boggle. A 4×4 grid of dice are shaken up and then players race to make a path in and out of the grid in less than a minute. Players “spend” one potion (red or blue) to pass through a small (red or blue) monster, and two potions to pass through a larger (red or blue) monster. Players start with some of each potion, but there are also potion icons on the dice that can be picked up if passed through. At the end of the time limit, players score one point for each monster collected and may then score one of the “quests” at the bottom of their sheet. (For example, a quest might be to give 1 pt for each large monster captured that round.) Next, players draft treasures with special abilities (or extra points) they can use during the next round of play. The player who finished first in the previous round gets first pick. Players reset their starting potions and start the next round, finishing the game after a few rounds. In the 2nd and 3rd round one die is replaced by a labyrinth die which limits the direction of travel, and the final (4th) round adds in a “big boss” die that players can challenge for extra points.

Van Ryder Games

If you’re unfamiliar with Van Ryder Games’ books, these are graphic novels that have a sort of “escape room” type puzzle structure where you pour over items and hints in the art in order to solve a mystery, escape, or whatever (there’s even a Western one where you build up a town.) Their newest releases: Mystery (superheroes), Pirates (two different ones), and Sherlock (two different ones) all have a slightly more family-friendly bent. Also on offer was Crusoe Crew which takes the graphic novel puzzle in a cooperative direction, providing four different books that are to be used together to solve the overarching puzzle.

Their other show title was Detective: City of Angels. Here, one player faces off against the rest as they try to solve the mystery. The game has a questioning system where players pass cards off to each other via a sleeve (so others can’t look on.) The game is based around specific scenarios, and 9 of them are in the box. The game plays 1 to 5 players. Scenarios can be played in a solo manner through the inclusion of a paragraph-style choose your path book and a sleuth/clue book. The Smoke & Mirrors expansion will come out on Kickstarter on December 16th. It will provide three or four new scenarios for play.

White Wizard Games
White Wizards Star Realms and Epic card games are still going strong. Star Realms is a space-combat based deckbuilder, while Epic is a CCG style card game that attempts to make every single card in the deck entirely overpowered. Epic Jungle is a new batch of cards that will go up on Kickstarter in August while an upcoming Epic Duels brings a new style of release. Epic Duels is everything needed to play a two player game. It is designed to be friendlier to play with fewer keywords and a more scripted style of play.

Wizkids

Surprisingly, Wizkids are ramped up their production of traditional boardgames, but were not in attendance with a booth or other room. However, I have managed to take a brief look at some of their recent and upcoming games of interest. Star Trek Conflick: InThe Neutral Zone is an amalgamation of dexterity-flicking game and a resource-based tactical game. Players shoot their pieces around the board collecting resources and/or building ships to smash into each other. With two factions (Federation and Klingon) the game goes from 2 to 4 players.

Europa Base Alpha has players using cards and dice to construct a base (out of Missile Silos, Communication Towers, etc…) on Europa. Cards can be used in four different ways, to either help with construction or annoy the other players. Players can use dice to push their luck in some cases. The game comes with a mini-expansion that includes “the unpredictable invader dice”!

In Nemo Rising: Robur the Conqueror is a cooperative big box game four 1 to 4 players set in the world in the book, Nemo Rising. Players take on one of four roles from the book and play through one of two scenarios, either Undersea Grotto where you work against the dangerous environment to get supplies or City in the Sky where you fight against Robur himself and his minions. It should be out in September.

Dire Wolf Digital

Originally a digital game company, the success of Clank! had Dire Wolf Digital branching out into boardaming. Its popular digital card game, Eternal (which I highly recommend for CCG fans) is making a transition into a tabletop game. Eternal: Chronicles of the Throne is a deckbuilder (not a CCG) with much of the digital game’s theme and some of its interesting mechanics. For example, “Warp” in the digital game allows players to play the card off the top of the deck. In the physical game, players have a few Warp tokens which are used to purchase cards directly into their hands. The heart of the game is a combat between players (up to 4) which has players using their cards for attack or defence. As enemy attacks activate at the end of one’s turn, players need to decide whether to use their cards to defend or to attack the other player at the end of their turn. Another intriguing mechanic is the Eternal Throne. Found at the bottom of the “more monies” card pile, when it reveals it changes the game. Some cards have additional powers that come into play once the throne is revealed. Thus, it allows players to rush to victory (ignore Throne abilities) or try to play a longer game (by getting Throne-related cards and trying to push through the monies deck.) Eternal: Chronicles of the Throne should be out in early September.

The other big item at the booth was the co-branding of Acquisitions Incorporated (an imaginary company created during public role-playing sessions of the popular Penny Arcade comic folks.) The main game, Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated, is a legacy version of Clank! set in the Aq. Inc. universe. Expect to play somewhere around 10 or more sessions of play, with the end result of a custom-version of the game suitable for further play.

There is also a Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated – Upper Management Pack which adds in figurines for each of the players accompanied by unique starting decks. The expansion can also be played with the base (vanilla) Clank! Game.

Wyvern Gaming

Short Order Hero is a mix of set collection with some take-that components. A tableau of recipe cards are laid out on the table and players try to collect ingredient cards to fulfill the recipes for points. On a turn, a player draws a card and then takes an action. Actions include drawing a second card, swapping out cards, put a “garnish” on a completed recipes, or cook (complete) a recipe. To cook a recipe, players play cards into a stack in front of them, topping it with the recipe card. However, additional cards can be added to a recipe later (by the “garnish” action.) Your opponents may add a hair, or a cockroach to your recipe while you might want to add on better garnishes of your own. First to a set number of points, wins the game.

If that isn’t enough of a GenCon boardgame fix, just wait another 360-odd days. In the meantime, spend your time enjoying some new games! The next few days will be dedicated to reports on RPGs, Digital games, and weird stuff I saw at the convention.

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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4 Responses to Matt Carlson: Gencon 2019 (J-Z)

  1. mischip says:

    Nice overview. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Matt Carlson: Gencon 2019 (J-Z) – Herman Watts

  3. Jacob says:

    Wonderful wrapup! Your pics with your efficient descriptions gave this article a journalistic feel.

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