Matt Carlson: Gen Con 2021 – A to C

This September, Gen Con was back in Indianapolis after taking a gap-year break.  (I’m not sure if it went to Europe or tried to find itself in Colorado, but it managed to find its way back…)  It was clearly smaller than before – it was starting to take over Lucas Oil Stadium as well, but this year it didn’t completely fill the exhibit hall.  Many of the “big names” took a breather from the convention, but there were still plenty of companies around to slack one’s thirst for information on new games coming down the pike.  I did my best to explore the back alleys to see if there might be something new to you, the reader, but like everyone else I also wanted to see the newest shinies that were getting lots of buzz.  My scribbling skills were put to the test again as I tried my best to take notes and learn how to play 20+ boardgames a day.  Without further ado, here’s the start of some of my explorations.  More to come later as time for writing permits.  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.


Whirling Witchcraft has players trying to fulfill spell recipes through drafting ingredients out of cauldrons that are passed around the board.  Players starting player board indicates their starting components and then are flipped over to reveal their (optional) special ability.  Each turn, players simultaneously play one recipe card from their hand onto the table and then use their current ingredients to power any (or all) of the spell cards they’ve played in front of them.  Spells typically output new spell components which are placed in a cauldron and passed to your right hand neighbor.  Then, pass your recipe cards to your left hand neighbor, draw a new card and start the next round.  Players have a limited amount of space for each type of ingredient, and the goal of the game is to pass more ingredients to your neighbor than they can store.  Any leftover ingredients back to you.  These leftovers are placed in your special Witch’s Circle, and the first player to get five ingredients in their circle wins the game.

TEN is a push your luck game designed around a deck of cards in four colors (suits) from 1 to 9 (with a few wild cards.)  On their turn, a player flips over cards until they choose to stop or they “bust” by revealing a total of 10 or more.  Special cards show pips on a 6 sided dice.  They count as negative numbers (and reduce your total when adding up to 10) however, when a player stops all the other players gain money equal to the number of negative pips.  If a wild card is drawn, the turn immediately pauses, and then players bid in auction to purchase the wildcard.  When a player “busts”, they gain 3 monies (as a consolation) and all their flipped cards go into a common pool where players can later purchase them.  The goal is for players to make the longest sequence of cards they can of each color (with a bonus point if they get all 1-9.)  The game ends when the deck runs out and points are scored.

In Sheepy Time, players are using a push your luck mechanism to move their dream sheep around in an attempt to generate 40 “winks” and keep their dreamer asleep.  Players choose one of two cards to move the sheep around a circular board, jumping a cute little fence after each revolution.  Over time, the spaces around the board are given powers that are triggered when landing on that space.  Sheep can keep travelling around the board as many times as they like, but can stop whenever they jump the fence.  One needs to stop at some point because some cards move a nightmare token when drawn.  If a nightmare catches your sheep you do not earn any points for that round.

Arcane Wonders

Picture Perfect is a deduction or logic puzzle game that is what you might get if all the players were simultaneously playing their own game of Clue (or Cluedo for those abroad.)  Players are given a set of 14 figures (nice little 2D standees) and a grid layout around a dining table which they then hide behind a screen.  Like those common logic puzzles, each of the 14 people have three desires.  These could be a desire to sit next to someone, at the left of someone else, not next to someone, etc…  The desires are listed on little cards and are put into envelopes in sets of 3 at the start of the game.  Meanwhile, most of the game has players trading these packets around and otherwise trying to figure out their contents. While the game is played, players are trying to arrange their figures on the grid on their hidden board.  When all the action is finished, players reveal their boards and score for each of their characters they have placed.  Characters not on the board obviously do not score any points.  Fulfilling all three of a character’s desires earns 6 points.  Two of them provides 3 points, and only fulfilling one condition earns 1 point.  However, if a player gets all three wrong, they lose 3 points.  During the game, if a player is feeling cocky they can put a x2 multiplier card into an envelop and double their points for that character.  It is easy for some conditions to be mutually exclusive, so it is a matter of players to optimize things as best they can.  An advanced mode of the game introduces table settings as a game resource and players can use them to bid for action cards that can be used to get information off of their opponents. An expansion to take the game up to 5 or 6 players should be out in November.

Furnace is a pretty standard engine builder game (literally and figuratively.)  Players bid on cards from a tableau using their chips valuing 1 through 4.  Once all bids are placed onto cards, the winning bid gains the card and its associated ability.  Those outbid gain resources instead, as indicated on the top of the card and multiplied by the number on their bidding token.  After the bidding phase, players then activate any cards they currently own using resources they have collected.  Cards provide abilities as well as points.  Cards each have one power and can be upgraded during the game to display a side with two powers.  After four rounds, points are scored and a winner is determined.  To change things up, players can be dealt a unique power at the start of the game.  Players can also play with a locked “production chain” which has players lock their newly gained cards into a chain that must be triggered in order on future turns.  The game goes from 2 to 4 players, and is expected to run about 30 to 60 minutes.

Onitama is a chess-like game where players use one of two hand cards to move their piece.  That card is then placed in the middle for one’s opponent to use at a later date.  The goal is to capture the opponent’s “Master” or move one’s own “Master” across the board.  Onitama: Light and Shadow is an expansion due out at the end of October.  It introduces the idea of hidden movement through the use of Ninja pawns.  There are two variants.  In one, it is a standard game except that both players have a ninja piece that can also be moved when a movement card is played.  There is a “Lantern” card that can be used to force the other player to declare whether the ninja is orthogonal to a specific space.  The second variation gives one player a standard set of pieces and the other only has their master and two ninjas.  

Air, Land, & Sea: Critters at War

Critters at War is a reimplementation of Air, Land, & Sea, ditching the WWII theme for a war fought by cuddly little animals.  Players alternate placing cards into three central areas representing Air, Land, and Sea.  Players have a hand of 6 cards from a central deck of three suits (Air, Land, or Sea.)  Each card has a number 1 to 6 and a special power (except 6 – whose special power is that 6 is big…) that can be used to mess with the game board.  Powers can only be played on the matching area, but any card can be flipped over and used as a generic “2”.  When players run out of cards, the majority winner of two of the three areas scores points.  However, the art of the game (similar to playing poker) is knowing when to give up.  You can “fold” in any round, and your opponent will score points based on how long it took you to decide to quit.  


Unfortunately, most of Ares’ boardgame-related items didn’t make it to the show.  However, there was still a bit of news to be had.  The new collector’s edition of The Battle of Five Armies has a few small new bits to it and they will be available separately to those with a previous printing of the game.  Kings of Middle Earth is an expansion to the War of the Ring.  It adds leaders (and kings) to both sides of the game which also bring along new powers to be used.  Look for it to be out before Christmas.  Finally, there is a new base game to the Sword & Sorcery line.  Sword & Sorcery: Ancient Chronicles is the start of the “second season” of the game.  For those unfamiliar, it is a “fully cooperative big box story adventure” sort of RPG-like game for 1-5 players.  There is no player elimination, instead players become a ghost soul until they can be resurrected later in the game.  The game contains 10 quests which can form a (branching) campaign or be played as one-off scenarios.  One-off sessions have heroes given a base level and amount of gold to spend before the session.   The new edition sports new heroes and monsters, of course all cross compatible with the first “season.”  Of note, Ancient Chronicles introduce familiars which are a new type of companion.  Of course, as with the first season, expect to see (possibly 3?)  “big box” expansions to regularly appear with another 8 to 10 scenarios each.

BE Games

Sometimes you just snap a photo as you pass by…  Drinks with Frenemies is a drinking game where people basically play cards to give another player (or all of them) a dare.  (speak only in a helium voice, the last person to say “choo choo” takes a drink, etc…) If you are the last person or don’t want to follow through with the dare, you take a drink.  Cards are placed either in one of two Group-rule locations that apply to everyone, or in one Frenemy-rule location that only applies to one player (until it is overwritten by a new Frenemy rule.)  Not my cup of tea… (or wait, did they mean it to be a  tea-drinking game?)

Bezier Games

In addition to the slightly less recent, Whistle Mountain, Bezier were showing off Maglev Metro along with the collector’s edition of Castles of Mad King Ludwig.  Maglev Metro is a pickup and deliver game with two twists.  First, the track tiles are transparent so they can easily overlap one another allowing for paths all over the board.  Second, once a person (or robot) is delivered, they are placed on a player mat and can provide points, bonuses, and/or new abilities.  Players also start the game with a set of special scoring cards pushing them towards unique strategies each game.

For those unfamiliar, Castles of Mad King Ludwig has players slowing building out a castle by placing room tiles.  One player set the prices for a set of rooms, the other players pay for the room they want, and score points when the rooms are placed.  Completing a room (filling in all the exits) scores extra points.  Then a new player sets prices.  The new Collector’s Edition has a larger board presence with new artwork, larger tiles, 3D miniatures (part of the New Towers Expansion), room for a 5th player, a couple more expansions, as well as some new king’s favor and bonus cards.  At the start, the large table provided seemed outsized, but later in the game it was clear the space was needed.

Capstone Games

Rorschach is a team party game based on the famous images of the same name.  Three word tiles and three image cards are placed face-up on the table.  One player then secretly uses three tokens to match each word card with one image.  Each team then places their tokens, hoping to correctly guess the matches.  A team will score one point for each correct match.

Riftforce (apologies for the press photo) is a 2p card game duel where players first draft generals (passing back and forth a hand of 7 cards each) to create a starting deck.  On a turn, a player can take one of three actions.  They can play 3 elements (all the same suite or all the same number) from their hand onto the central areas.  They can all be placed in the same slot or in 3 adjacent slots.  Alternatively, they can discard a card to activate up to three cards of the same element (suit) or number on the field.  Those cards then activate the ability of their general.  These typically move and/or damage the other player’s cards.  Finally, a player can “check and draw”.  This entails drawing up to a hand of 7 cards and then a scoring round occurs where they score points for any uncontested areas on the board.  Uncontested areas score 1 point and killing off another player’s card scores a point.  Games are played to 12 points. 

Cephalofair Games

Nothing particularly new at the Cephalofair booth unless you’re a comics or jigsaw puzzle fan.

Bits and pieces of Frosthaven were on display and a lucky few were giving the game a try on some nice 3D terrain.  

Czech Games Edition

As usual, CGE had their own room across from the exhibit hall.  Plenty of space to play and check out their games.  Of note, they had a very cool huge (I can’t really call it “life-sized”) setup for Galaxy Trucker where the tiles were were around a foot square, and the heads of the little alien guy tokens were about the size of a softball.

There’s a new edition of Galaxy Trucker out.  It’s in a smaller box, has a smaller price ($30 vs the old $60) and is revamped to be a better introduction to the game for family gamers.  A normal game is only 1 “flight” (doing all three is called a “transgalactic trek”.)  There is no longer a prize for the prettiest ship, instead players vie for titles – claimed by satisfying certain conditions.  As the game progresses it is harder to defend the title but it becomes worth more points.  One final, dangerous warning… there is no longer a limit to the cost of lost ship parts – so make sure you keep your ship in one piece!

Chip Theory Games

Currently listed for preorder and slated for an early Q1 2022 release, BurnCycle is a cooperative game of robots infiltrating an enemy human base.  One to four players (running around 45-60 minutes per player) band together to try and take back the robot world from the evil human overlords.  Each player’s robot (and a communal one) make their way through three levels of exploration to complete their mission (there are 32 different ones in the box.)  The heart of the game relies on creative use of the tools at hand.  Every round players chose a spot to begin on the BurnCycle and then move along that chain of action options.  Taking an action that matches the spot on the chain gives bonus effects.  Actions can be skipped or overruled but at a cost of limited resources.  Along the way, the players explore the board, activating switches, unlocking areas, avoiding guards, etc.. while also doing some “virtual” digital hacking which has additional effects on the exploration side.  Each player’s robot is unique and any unused robot can be flipped over to serve as the team’s shared robot.  The game’s timer follows the Threat Level of the game.  It rises as play progresses and players either fail to prevent losses or choose to spend Threat in order to improve their strategic position.  As is standard with Chip Theory, there’s lots of content options.  Three different enemy corporations each give their own layout, flavor, and overall vibe to the game – one is a warehouse/shipping company, another is a social media company, and the third is an energy company (able to mess around with the poor robots’ power.)  Ten different player robots means there’s also ten different team robots, etc, etc…  The game was up on kickstarter but it is still available for preorder on the company web site.

Other recent Chip Theory news are two expansions to the tower-defense game, CloudspireThe Uprising is a faction composed primarily of mercenary forces, which means their chips can also be simply shuffled into the mercenary deck when the faction is not in use.  Horizon’s Wrath features a faction on a pirate ship providing them (mechanics-wise) with a mobile fortress and the ability to raid other factions to steal their source (the primary resource in the game…)  They also feature a new way to upgrade tokens – through morale.

Despite the smaller overall size of the convention, I still almost filled up my notebook with information, so stay tuned for the rest of my discoveries coming soon to a blog near 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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