Matt Carlson: Virtual GenCon 2020 – Publishers N to Z

My notes from GenCon 2014…

It’s big, it’s back, and it’s the final column of our not-at-GenCon but lets pretend we are anyway run-down of publishers and their games.  I have only scratched the surface of what is or would have been out there, but I hope you find some things new and even possibly something of interest.  If you missed the first two, be sure to hop back and those round-ups as well.  As before, I’m trying to substitute my annual GenCon crawl by checking in with some personal contacts supplemented with a bit of web surfing.  Thankfully, we here at OpinionatedGamers eschew video productions so you can’t tell if I am writing these with my pants on or not!  It’s old-school text-only (well, and a few pictures) from here on out.  Long live the written word!  I’ve dug up plenty of newish-game goodness so I’ve broken my post into three parts in roughly alphabetical order by publisher.  Full disclaimer today, I only say we’re going from N to Z, but I really don’t have any publishers after “W”.  If you’re a publisher that starts with “X” or “V” let me know.  (“Z” would just be far too easy.)  At this point, I’m going to concede that any errors in dates, times, or misspellings are the result of my building madness after having made it thus far.  Don’t go blaming the publishers.  

(Special note: If, for you, the play’s the thing then there are quite a few publisher-sponsored  Tabletop Simulator versions of upcoming games that you can play for free right now!)  

Today’s focus: Publishers N to Z

Northstar Games

Oceans is a sequel to the well-received game of Evolution.  As before, players are trying to establish a foothold in the squid-eat-squid world of the animal kingdom.  However, the game takes things in a slightly different direction.  The game evolves over two halves of the game.  In the first half, players acquire cards to build up their own ocean ecosystem.  Here, there are only 12 base cards to be used (but in many synergistic combinations) in order to keep the permutations (and learning curve) in check.  The second half of the game has players playing from a large deck of The Deep cards to muck with the ocean’s ecosystem, hopefully changing things for the better for their ecosystem while mucking it up for everyone else.  The effect is to make the game less of an attack/defend style of Evolution and make it more of an engine building experience that needs to be subtly retuned over time to adjust to the changing environment.  To keep things fresh (no one wants stale seafood) there are also two randomly chosen scenario cards that kick in and out through the game, to be sure there’s not always one winning strategy.  The game has been well received and there will be an expansion coming in the semi-near future.

The Quacks of Quedlinburg expansions
The Herb Witches expansion to the game is already out, which provides the pieces for a fifth player as well as three new content options.  There are new books for the various ingredients as well as entirely new ingredients.  A big pumpkin boosts you along six spaces while a Fool’s Herb changes its value each time it’s drawn.  The second option is the inclusion of an overflow bowl so that players can keep drawing even after their pot is full.  Powers in the bowl don’t activate but they do still score points.  The third option is the Herb Witches themselves.  There are three of them.  They each grant a one-time-per-game-per-witch power like receiving-bonus-chips, increased-buying-power, or getting-points-based-on-what-hasn’t-been-drawn-from-the-bag.  Unused witch powers are worth 2VP at the end of the game. Good news for Quacks fans, there will be another expansion coming out later this year.

Taverns of Tiefenthal
Taverns of Tiefenthal has been out for a while now.  It has players trying to build the most awesome tavern through a combination of deckbuilding and dice placement.  You can expand your tavern in various ways, attempting to attract lure nobles inside.  Players have to balance their cash reserves as well as make sure they can keep passing out the beer. Players choose dice while also developing their personal deck of action cards.  The game has five different modules to add (or subtract), which can let players adjust the complexity of the game.

Paint the Roses
Paint the Roses is a cooperative deduction game for 2-5 players where players are trying to “garden like the wind” (my quote) to stay ahead of the Queen of Hearts and avoid getting their heads chopped off.  Everyone has a card and players take turns placing tiles into a shared garden in an effort to clue the other players in on the card in the active player’s hand and hopefully get some insight into the other players’ cards.. Correctly guessing another player’s card advances the team along the path, staying ahead of the Queen.  Finish the garden without losing your head and you win the game.  Look for it sometime after the new Quacks expansion is released. (Hopefully the whole “chopping off heads” thing is figurative and not literal, as that would greatly reduce the replay value of the game…)

Pandasaurus Games

Sonora is a “flick and write” game where players try to get their discs to land on different sections of the game board in order to score points in the respective area on their scorepads.  (See an OpinionatedGamers’s quick take of the game here)  Players get 5 discs and take turns shooting them into the four available quadrants on the board.  Quadrants score in different ways, typically by getting dics to stop on top of special sections.  Of course, there’s the obligatory central hole which serves as a wildcard. The scorepad isn’t simply filled out with point values.  Instead, they are often filled with branching paths or interconnected locations which mean you’re not always flicking for the exact same thing.  Bumping other players around is encouraged, but they get to re-flick them entirely if you hit them completely off the board.

Beginning with a 3×3 block of cubes, players take turns sticking their blocks onto the cube in order to cover up their opponents’ colors.  A player adds one cube and then get to “grow” it by adding an additional two cubes in a straight line – bending around corners if needed.  They then get to “plant a flag” which makes one particular block immune from coverage until their next turn – hopefully blocking out a particular juicy move for one’s opponent.  After all blocks are placed, blocks score based on the number of exposed sides. (So almost buried blocks would score 1 and a completely exposed block scores 5.)  In the two player variant, each player gets two colors and at the start secretly chooses which one they will use for scoring.

Scorpion Masqué

Flash 8
Flash 8 is a speed game based on those old sliding-tile puzzles.  Two to four players slide their tablet grid around in order to match the color combinations shown on the center of the play area.  When someone matches a card, they claim it and continue on.  When all the cards have been claimed, the game ends – the most cards wins!  A handicap mechanism can be used to make it more family friendly.  There’s a solo version where you try to match a group of cards, but your board gets messed up with each card claimed – ending in the possibility of making some of the cards impossible to claim.  The game should already be out in stores.

Mia London and the Case of the 625 Scoundrels
This is a kids memory game based around one of those old multi-part flip-books that let you flip heads/bodies/legs to create a funny person or animal.  Here, players are required to figure out a special combination of hat, glasses, moustaches, and bowtie (think composite police sketch.)  One player takes a stack of hat cards and lays out four of them in a row.  They then start to cover them up with more hat cards.  Once the deck is finished, players secretly mark in their flip-book which hat out of the group that they only saw one time!  Next, players go through the deck of glasses, but only 3 at a time.  Moustaches are in rows of two, and the bowties end by going through the deck one single card at a time.  Once everyone has done their final selections, the creations are revealed and points are scored for each successful guess.  Ties are broken by those who correctly guessed the harder features.  The game should be out in August.

Master Word
Coming in September 220, Master Word is a co-op deduction game where one Guide player is helping the other Seeker players to find the (you guessed it) Master Word from one initial hint.  Starting with the hint, players each put a clue on a notecard, lining them up in a row.  The Guide then indicates the number of clues in the row that are “on the right track.”  If you rinse and repeat seven times without guessing the Master Word, you lose.  The big twist, if anyone ever writes down the Master Word itself on their clue card – everyone loses!

Zombie Teenz Evolution
Zombie Kidz Evolution was a Legacy game aimed at kids or families with young kids.  Players moved their characters around the school board and tried to keep the zombies in check.  Winning games and completing certain missions (like playing a 2 player game, etc…) unlocked envelopes that add to the game (often giving a character a special power.)  October 2020 will see the release of the sequel, Zombie Teenz Evolution.  It has a slightly different, more advanced set of rules that preserves the simplicity and speed of the first game.  The game will evolve over successive plays and once again there will be Missions to accomplish to unlock more content.  While the games are not exactly the same, the characters are!  So you can use your Kidz to play in your Teenz games and vice-versa.  Look for it October 2020.

Stonemaier Games


Pendulum is a real-time strategy game, so players must make their choices based on a set of common timers that manage when and what actions any player can take. Only the four Council Phases interrupt the game flow.  Players manage their workers and resources, taking actions to build up a bit of an engine in order to move themselves along the three victory tracks (military, culture, & popularity.)  The timers in the game govern which set of actions will become active next.  Each specific timer in the game governs two sections of actions.  Workers cannot be added or removed from a section containing a timer.  While the timer is in the opposite section, players may add or remove any workers in that section.  Then, when the timer is flipped, players may spend the appropriate resources and slide their worker onto the associated action spot and take that action.  They are then stuck (because the timer is there) until the timer is flipped the next time.  For example:  Place a worker down on an area without a timer.  The timer flips over onto that area so the player can take its action, but can’t retrieve their worker until the timer flips away again.  The game board is double-sided one side for 1-3 players and the other for 4-5 players. There are 10 different player setups (each of five player player mats have a basic and advanced side, along with four unique “stratagem” cards) so not everyone will be trying to accomplish the exact same thing.  The game ends after the fourth council is called.  If anyone completed all three victory tracks and claimed a Legendary Achievement, they win the game.  Otherwise, victory is settled by victory points. The game should be out in August 2020.  


WWE: Headlock, Paper, Scissors
Players take on the roles of wrestlers fighting it out in the ring.  A small board layout has spots for each character to move forward along a board and then physically move up a little 3-level ladder.  During gameplay, each player chooses a move and then in rock-scissors-paper style, they are all revealed simultaneously.  Players can choose one of four hand motions (showboat, throw, hold, or strike) and target an individual player.  Everyone’s chosen actions are resolved, moving the characters forward or back along the board and possibly earning popularity points.  Players take on the roles of one of twelve actual wrestlers (past and present) and every wrestler has their own “Signature Technique” which is a unique hand motion (not one of the basic four.)  The first player to earn 25 popularity or 20 popularity and a place on the ladder wins the game.

The Great Cake Escape
The Great Cake Escape consists of a large central 3 layered cake with small spacers between each layer.  Every player is assigned a set of 11 prison breakout pieces.  They vary in size and shape.  Some are small, like the trowel or knife, while others are large, like the shovel or chainsaw.  The players (convicts) take turns shoving their cardboard tokens into the cake so that they are hidden, often pushing other items back out of the cake which removes them from the game.  At the end of the game, there is an inspection where the most visible item on each level (each item has markings you count to see how “visible” it is) is removed.  All the other pieces are considered to successfully be “in” the cake, even if they are only partially inside.  Players add together the points for their “hidden” pieces and subtract points for any pieces removed during cake inspection.  High score is the winner.  (Is it just me or are cake-based games becoming a fad?  Should I blame the pandemic baking fad?)

No cows to see here, you’re a stamp collector trying to trade animal stamps with your opponents.  Three to six players begin with a hand of three cards, and then draw one to start their turn.  They then add one card to their “album” and execute its special ability.  Most special abilities trigger trading, stealing, or otherwise messing with another player’s cards, albums, or the set of animals in the middle of the game board.  The idea is to collect sets of five of the same animal or one of each of the nine possible animals in the game.  Notably, there’s even a team variant (2 or 3 teams) where everyone on your team has to reach a victory condition to win the game.

El Maestro
El Maestro is a party game where one person tries to draw something in midair.  Their teammates then attempt to follow the gestures and copy the drawing down onto their notepad.  Once the drawing is done, players attempt to guess just what the Maestro was drawing.

Meeple Towers
In Meeple Towers, players use action cards (contracts) to build a communal building and place their meeples in the tower. Each player has the same set of seven action cards, each card providing two options to use.  The actions are used to place meeples, place supports (to build the next level), and place a new level tile.  Players can choose to play one of their unplayed action cards, or forfeit their turn and take all used cards back into their hand.  When new levels are built, they score points for the active player and points for anyone owning one of the supports underneath.  In addition, if the new level is built over the head of someone’s meeple.  That player gets to draw a random bonus point token of the appropriate type. At game end, players score additional points for meeples (higher is better) and points for any bonus tokens collected.  Ties go to the player with the highest meeple.

Last-Second Quest
In Last-Second Quest, a central Quest Card is flipped up displaying a particular set of items that are required and a set that is forbidden.  Players then quickly dig through the common pile of (double sided and various shaped) item tokens in the center of the play area to find items.  The items must be placed into the grid of a player’s chest-shaped playmat, with no overlapping items.  When one player finishes completely filling up their grid, they claim a “Ready to Go” card.  Play stops when all but one player has claimed a card.  Players then examine their storage mat.  Forbidden items are removed and required items score points.  Any two empty squares score -1 point, and Ready to Go cards score according to the order they were claimed.  Highest score wins the round.  After the first win, a player flips over their particular adventurer’s card to gain a small penalty.  When they win a second time they gain a bonus ability (but keep the penalty.)  Winning three rounds wins the game.

Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade
Nostalgia will loom large for some of us when we play this pinball themes roll and write game.  Each player has their own pinball area and associated scorecard to form the shape of a specific pinball table (there are 4 types in the game box, everyone uses the same one.)  Players place a ball token on their pinball table and then the two dice are rolled.  Players choose one of the dice and then use that to move their ball around on their personal table.  “Hitting” specific features allows a player to fill in boxes on their scorecard.  In the meantime, some features trigger additional effects like flippers or triggering a multiball situation.  Players continue moving their balls around according to the dice rolled until everyone has lost their balls (some may lose their balls before others…)  After three rounds of players playing with their balls, the game ends and points are totalled up to declare the winner.  The game should be out in September.

<Note, this image is listed as not final…>

Seastead is a two player game based on exploring a post-apocalyptic ocean world.  Players take turns either diving or building a building.  Diving allows one to draw a card granting resources.  The cards show two options, the resource option a player does not pick goes to their opponent.  To construct a building, a player spends the resources and then places the building on one of the four central flotilla areas.  Effects are triggered based on the type of building built, as well as the location built upon.  Players may open up new scoring opportunities at the end of the game, gain an ongoing benefit (like a specialist card), or create ships.  It is cheaper to build on a place with a ship (yours or the opponents) but if you build on an opponent’s ship they also gain a resource.  Overall, the game is a balance of doing what you want to score points, while trying not to give your opponent too many favorable benefits. Many of the game’s bits (tiles, specialists, building paths…) are selected from a pool of possible options, so the game is different each time it is played.  The game should be out in October 2020.

WWE Cage Battle
A dice-flicking game, WWE Cage Battle has players drafting a “team” of custom dice (based on WWE superstars) which are then used to flick at their opponent’s dice in a cage match.  Score points by bouncing them around or even knocking them out of the ring.  The game can be played for total points or a straight-up elimination fight.  It should be out in October.

Sidereal Confluence: Remastered
Sidereal Confluence is an economic engine game that relies heavily on players trading with one another.  Two to nine players are assigned one of the 9 different asymmetrical races, along with its own deck of cards representing current and future technologies.  Some races have additional cards for the unique features of their race.  Cards represent a race’s economy and specify specific inputs and outputs that consume and create goods, colonies, and ships.  These are set up so that it is impossible for any one race to supply itself with everything it needs.  Each game round begins with a trading phase, where pretty much any type of resource can be traded (you can even lend out your technology.)  One trading ends, all players simultaneously “run” their economy to generate resources and develop new technologies (which also scores points.)  At the end of this phase, technologies are then shared with everyone.  They can also be upgraded when combined with other technologie cards.  The goal of the game is to gain the most victory points, typically earned through researching technologies, conversion of resources to goods, and selling off one’s goods as points at the end of the game.  Expect this new version to be available sometime this year.


Wizards of the Coast

Betrayal at Mystery Mansion
The Betrayal series continues to branch out into new areas (Legacy, Baldur’s Gate.) This time around it is making what I must concede is a perfect fit, putting players in an episode of Scooby-Doo!  Betrayal at Mystery Mansion has players exploring one of  25 haunts based on the movies and TV episodes.  Scooby, Shaggy, and friend explore the set of all new locations until the “Monster” appears and is assigned to one of the players.  The rest of the gang tries to capture the monster to pull off its mask to reveal it was Mr. Wickles the whole time!! (And, no, it’s not compatible with previous games.  Shame on you for trying to put poor Scooby face to face with real dark curses, actual death and destruction, and the occasional cauldrons of blood…)

D&D Adventure Begins
Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Begins is a new entry into the D&D line of games.  Here, 2-4 players cooperatively explore a dungeon made up of four large-ish interlocking tiles.  Each of the four player characters can be customized before the game begins.  Each character archetype has four possible special abilities along with two choices for their attack powers.  The attack power cards are double-sided so that they can level up over the course of the game.  Players begin at the start of the first tile and then move along spaces in the tile, drawing cards as they go.  These cards are either a monster for the active player to fight, or sometimes a different activity.  (Here’s where it can get a bit weird.  One example I saw had the active player judging while the other players were to get up and “perform a dance of their people” with the winner awarded a small bonus.)  When the players have made it through the end of one of the four tiles, a mini-boss encounter is triggered where players can combine efforts to defeat it.  At the end of the fourth tile lies the big bad boss, ready for an epic fight.  Defeat it to win.  The game contains four different adventure setups, each with their own tile-ending mini-bosses and unique big-bad guy at the end.  Look for it in October 2020.

z-Gamelyn Games*

*Apologies to Gamelyn Games for renaming their company to make it fit in alphabetically.  They kindly responded to my request for information but I made a Tiny Epic Mistake and it got lost in my inbox.  I found it in time to make today’s cut.

Tiny Epic Dinosaurs 

All those folks who wanted to open up their own dinosaur ranch now have their chance.  It’s got a bit of the farming mechanic with a strong amount of worker placement.  Harvesting comes first, but then the main phase of the game lies in worker placement.  Players can buy new dinos, improve their farms, or research new dinos (or other technologies.)  Not all dinos are the same so ranches need to be sure they meet the required habitat for their little dinolings.  Finally, the workers don’t need to be fed (they feed themselves at home one presumes) but the dinos sure do.  Make sure you keep enough food around or they’ll run off and cause mayhem and destruction.  (Clever girl!)  Fed dinos are happy dinos, so you just might find another dino in the pen when you come back the next day.  The game is being shipped to backers at the moment and should be in retailers on September 4th.

Tiny Epic Pirates 

Gamelyn’s recent crowdfunded project is Tiny Epic Pirates. The pirate theme jumps right out at you as the helm on each player’s private ship-card serves as a rondel of 6 actions (their order is randomized for each player.)  Actions include getting and selling goods, adding crew, attacking, searching (the map), or buying treasures (bury 3 to win!)  Players move their ship around the board made of a 4×4 card grid.  Every player has a captain and crew, each with different abilities.  Crew grant bonuses in battle (see the dice on the top of the card) but also can be used in some worker-placement mechanisms to gain small bonuses during a turn.  One key mechanic are the bonus actions listed for each crewmember.  If timed correctly, these bonus actions can key off each other in order to produce a particularly effective turn.  Winning ship battles will improve one’s ship over time, gaining immediate and ongoing benefits (like movement and combat ability.)  Due out in March, but late-pledges on the Kickstarter are still going on.


And that’s all folks!  Comment below if you liked it!  Go comment on one of Dale’s posts if you didn’t. (Don’t tell him I sent you.)

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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