Matt Carlson: Gen Con 2021 – G, H, & I

More Gen Con 2021 coming your way. Only three letters today, but you’d be surprised how many publishers like “G”, “H.” I’ll say no more of that here. 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.

ebay was a big show sponsor. Why? They had a nice display case of trading cards on auction for thousands of dollars. It’s like a market speculation game, but one you don’t want to lose…

Games Workshop

Warhammer 40,000 lies pretty far out on the bell curve of my gaming preferences. I could enjoy the game, but it’s one of those things best enjoyed by a deep dive of time and money. I’m not quite willing to commit to either. However, Games Workshop is working on becoming more accessible with their newest miniatures entry, Kill Team. Kill Team has the flavor of Warhammer miniatures, but with a much more streamlined set of rules and combat. Measuring tape is out, now range is governed by simple templates. Combat is now a single roll of the dice, not an offense and then defense roll. It is even packaged with a beginner in mind. One “starter” set comes with two full teams of miniatures that just snap together and a set of terrain, a core rulebook, and a special rulebook to cover powers and abilities of the factions in the box. The minis are the same scale as standard Warhammer 40k and there is a compendium available that provides statistics to use the Kill Team minis in a 40k game. I have to admit that there is a generous amount of terrain (and minis) in the box. It isn’t one of those situations where a starter set doesn’t actually provide a “full game” until things are added on. On the other hand, it isn’t cheap. A full starter runs nearly $200 and a starter with less terrain runs closer to $150. Each box also includes a campaign of a series of missions that can be played between the two factions.

The Octarius starter set, which is nearly sold out, includes Death Korps of Krieg and Ork Kommandos. Releasing soon is the Chalnath starter including T’au Pathfinders and Adepta Sororitas Novitiates. The goal is to be releasing a new, stand alone, starter set every three months or so.


Gamewright was busy showing off two (somewhat) recently released titles, Happy City and Super MEGA Lucky Box. I was lucky enough to have some experience with Super MEGA Lucky Box. It is a roll and write title that has players filling in a tic-tac-toe board, scoring points and powers when completing a row or column. Players start with three boards, and then gain more over the course of three rounds. The row/column abilities consist of the obligatory “modify a roll” reward, chaining numbers to other cards, stars (points at end of round), and moon tokens (penalized for least and points for most at the end of the game.) I like the game’s simplicity. It is easy to explain and the chaining effects are straightforward enough to be easily grasped but rewarding enough to be particularly satisfying when pulling off a multi-chain turn. Starting with a few cards and then adding more cards later helps to keep options manageable throughout the game. This also lets players try to pick new cards that balance the remaining options on their unfinished cards. It plates up to 6 players (including a solo mode for best score) and runs about 20 minutes.

Happy City is an introductory level building game. Players are trying to create a city with a large population as well as a high level of “happiness.” Players purchase buildings that provide income, residences (for population), and of course happiness. Additional bonus buildings are available for a player that meet their criteria. Buildings come in three price ranges and players get to choose which stack from which to draw. The game has a nice bit of momentum to it, as income increases and thus bigger buildings can be purchased as the game advances. The game ends when one player has placed 10 buildings. Players score based on the residents multiplied by one’s happiness (hearts.) Every game there is also a set of bonus scoring cards that provide points for meeting specific criteria. The game boasts an “expert” option that uses more complex buildings and bonus scoring cards. While nice for younger or newer gamers, most will find it easy to play their first game even with the advanced cards.

Genius Games

I have to admit what drew me to the Genius Games booth was observing a game of Cytosis in the play hall. Within just a few minutes I was watching players placing workers to collect ATP, build Enzymes, and other very sciency things. As a 9th grade biology teacher, just the well drawn cell forming the board was enough to catch my eye. Over in the booth, I was walked through Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game. It is a dice placement game based around the cross-breeding of pea plants. Players use dice to create and adjust Punnett Squares (those 2×2 things that determine eye or hair color, etc…) in order to satisfy specific goals on their pea plant card, scoring points. Players can have two plant cards they are working on at the start, but can obtain a larger capacity through later upgrades. At the start of each of the 5 rounds, dice are rolled to establish which traits are available. These dice are drafted by the players with higher value dice getting first pick for a specific trait or lower values which are more flexible but pick later. Players then use their resources to change traits from dominant to recessive, buy stuff (tools, new plant cards, upgrades), and purchase items from the market. When buying in the market, each purchase drives the price up, with all items knocked down a single ranking at the end of each round. As mentioned, the game ends after five rounds. It is playable for 1-5 players and should last 45-90 minutes (depending on the number of players.)

Slightly lighter-weight is Power Failure, a 2-4 player game about building powerplants while trying to avoid pollution.  A turn consists of taking a card, playing a card, and then running one’s power plants.  Cards can be played as one of four types of powerplants: coal, gas, nuclear, and green energy.  Players can activate one type of plant on their turn (green energy is always free, but is variable in output) in order to produce enough power to claim a city card.  Players must spend the matching fuel in order to fire up their plants to generate power.  However, powering up coal or gas power plants also requires a player to successfully stack hexagonal “carbon tokens” to form a tower of CO2.  If nothing falls, bully for you – claim your city card and the game moves on.  However, if the CO2 stack falls, the active player loses their turn, and all players lose a card (as a sort of game timer.)  The game ends when there are no more city cards to power.  I played a bit of it and it was a fun little game, I enjoyed the opportunity to decide which kinds of power I wanted to pursue – harder to get but cleaner nuclear or just pump out the CO2 using coal, hoping someone else will knock over the tower.

Goliath Games

In my mind, I think of Goliath Games as a company that runs games based off of famous IP, with a smattering of others of their own making. On the famous IP side is a Harry Potter brand of the game Sequence. It’s the same make five in a row gameplay, with the card suits related to the four houses of Hogwarts. Face cards display the primary characters found within the novels.

Another IP based game is the Beavis & Butt-Head The Great Cornholio Game. Players are simply trying to rid their hands of cards by matching the first letter of cards in your hand with the letters on the corners of the cards in the middle. The Beavis & Butthead “flavor?” comes in on the words and phrases on the card and the need to occasionally yell out standard quotes from the show as part of the game.
Director’s Cut is a new charades-like party game (probably out by now) that has one player directing the other players through a scene. Players take turns as the director, trying to get the players to guess their card in less than 90 seconds. The director may only supply acting directions and can’t use dialogue (or rhyming, etc…) Players get points for guessing the answer, and when one director runs out of cards, the game ends and the player with the most points is declared the winner. The game comes with a cute little megaphone to help the director get into character

The card game There’s Been a Murder is a cooperative game of passing cards around with limited information. Players may not communicate about the two cards in their hand and take turns playing one of them at a time. Most allow players to take some sort of action, like looking at cards or trading cards around between players. The trading aspect is the most important as the goal of the game is to get someone to hold both the Inspector card and the Murderer card in the same hand. However, if a player holds both the murderer and the informant card at the same time, the team loses. Players also lose the game if the deck (of 24 or so cards) runs out.

On a roll with the whole murder theme, Goliath Games has a new line of games (or puzzles if you prefer) entitled Unsolved Case Files. The box contains a large packet of information for players to sift through as they try to solve a crime. There are witness statements, newspaper clippings, postal mail, autopsy reports, and other bits and pieces. Players attempt to figure out who and what happened. The game runs through a web site that will check players’ evidence without having to reveal the solution if a guess is incorrect. There is enough going on so the game has room for up to about 4 people to be occupied. The line starts with two different cases, Harmony Ashcroft and Jamie Banks, both available around a November timeframe.

Moving away from the morbid, we have Rainbow Pirates, a rummy-style card game for 2 to 5 players. Players are trying to collect a set of cards of the complete 7 color rainbow. Players make sets in a rummy style with straights and matches and play them onto the table in their “island.” As with rummy, players are trying to empty their hand of cards but here they also need to have at least 2 full rainbows to go out and end the game. The game also ends if the draw deck is depleted. Going out isn’t an automatic win, but does earn extra points. The variety in the game comes from the black-colored pirate cards. These give players special actions in which to attack other players, however each pirate has a weakness and a player can cancel that pirate with the appropriate colored card. Another twist in the game allows players to pick up sets from their island area in order to play one of those instead.

Gorilla Games

My relationship with Gorilla Games goes way back to the earliest days of GenCon in Indianapolis. Their Battlestations game predates many of the current crop of dungeon-crawl campaign games and is now in a 2nd Edition (out for a few years now.) Coming in at one to nine(!) players makes this the largest player count of any games of this type (that I know of.) Players take on roles piloting a starship across a map, using each character’s special powers. Upon boarding (or being boarded) the game transitions into a tactical map of a starship. Players’ starship is built with compartment tiles in several possible configurations. Players can customize their ship by picking tiles and formations with smaller (fewer tiles) ships trading maneuverability for (more tiles) strength. Acting like dungeon tiles, players use their characters (each has a equipment ability, species ability, and a special ability on the back of the card) to fight antagonists and perform various activities (via skill checks.) Characters can level up to gain a new power as well as bonus hit points and luck. Players can spend a luck point to reroll a die, which helps to balance out any large swings of the dice. An example scenario might have players maneuvering around a planet while they fly their ship on a hexagonal map, possibly dealing with damage or other emergencies en route. Once they encounter another ship, the game changes over to the tactical map of the ship (or enemy ship) where the game continues.

There is an Advanced Rulebook available which lists new enemies with new special powers as well as lots of new missions, including a few solo playable ones. The newest expansion (out last year) is Battlestations: The Starships. This adds in six new ships (one for each race) that can now “level up” in power. A few new rules, some ship minis, and of course, more missions.

Greenbrier Games

Greenbrier Games was showing off new expansions to their cooperative boardgame, Folklore. Playable by 1 to 5 players, it is billed as a role-playing game without a game master. It’s very story-oriented for a boardgame, complete with narratives to be read aloud at various points in the game. (The first chapter has links in the text back to the rules reference in order to help players learn the game.) Player actions early in the game have consequences, so “wasting time” helping that farmer before heading out on an adventure can come back to help or hinder the players. Combat-oriented scenarios in the game appear as two different types of encounters. The first is a traditional tactical minis-on-a-grid style combat while the second is a type of skirmish mode. These encounters (often what you’d get in a random encounter) are played without a map and are resolved much more quickly. Players move through the story using an overworld map, complete with options of travelling along roads or directly through the countryside. Events can be triggered during travel or within towns and change within a day/night cycle. One of the most intriguing bits of the game to me are the various characters available to play and their varied and branching options as they increase in power. The “Gentleman”, for example, can start out as an Investigator or a Pugilist to specialize in skills or combat. Later in the game, there are additional improvements those characters can earn, depending on the amount of “Lore” the players have earned. The Investigator earns more ways to mess around with search tokens while the Pugilist gains improved and new combat abilities. The game was released with one big expansion, Dark Tales, and a new large expansion appeared this year entitled Fall of the Spire. It has six new stories to play, including a few new game mechanisms. Focusing on the town of Kremel, it boasts new Town Event cards as well as more of the normal “stuff” like creatures, companions, monsters, items, etc.. There are four new characters, including the aforementioned Gentleman.

BarBEARian Battlegrounds: Tales of BarBEARia has 2 to 6 players vying to create the most heroic village. Players roll their dice and then simultaneously plan out their actions. All players openly roll their dice and then secretly assign them to roles behind their screen. Bears can be used to attack their neighbor (to the left or right), go off on an adventure, defend (from left of right), and earn resources (based on the die – honey, fate, or ore.) After placement, players reveal their choices. First, bears listed for adventure bid to gain a card and resources, possibly earning glory for having a majority. Next is the brawl phase as players attack their neighbors. The attacker earns 1 glory if they defeat their neighbor, but lose 1 glory if they fail. Next, bears gather up resources and finally, players may build. Cards can be purchased for use during one round (during the planning phase.) Specialists can be purchased which permanently upgrade one of a player’s action locations (like make attacking more effective.) Extra dice (more bears?) are also available for purchase, increasing the size of one’s village.

The expansion, BarBEARian Battlegrounds: Candy Horde adds a new resource, candy, and new cards to go with it. It also introduces bear heroes and The Horde. Players must now first cooperate to fight off enemy rampaging zombie bears before they square off against each other. To help with the fight, players can also recruit hero bears that are more powerful than the average bear.

Hachette Boardgames US

One of the more unique games I saw at GenCon was In the Palm of Your Hand. The idea is of a child creating a little scene in the hands of their grandfather. Played in teams of 2, one player plays the child, chooses one of their cards and places it face-down on the table. They then use the provided materials to create a little scene on their opponent’s palm, hopefully recreating or reflecting the image shown on the card. The other teams watch the scene get to place a card down in middle of the table. A second story happens using a new card and other teams adding a card and then the child then reveals their cards face-up, a couple extra cards are added to the table, and the grandfather opens their eyes. They must select which cards were from the scenes played by their grandchild. Points are scored for the owner of each card selected. The game intrigued me due to the crazy assortment of little pieces available for use. A pawn, a top, plastic dart from a dart gun, cloth, string, a cube, a ring… I could see some real opportunities for creativity.

Hub Games

My very first booth visit was Hub Games. Untold: Adventures Await is a boxed set of Rory’s Story Cubes with rules to turn it into a game. If you’re unaware, these are six-sided dice with all sorts of interesting icons on them (there are Batman versions, Doctor Who versions, etc..) Here, players choose cubes to serve as settings and locations and them begin a story. Using symbols on the dice to describe actions which are resolved by players playing reaction cards. These can then be modified by placing a story cube on top of them. Rather than a strict set of rules, the entire idea is that of creating a group story together using the dice and cards as a guide to the story progression as well as consequences.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kombo Clash is a mix of memory and a sort of “Bejeweled” style columns and rows game made of animal tiles. A central game area contains a 5×5 grid made of tiles. On their turn, players play tiles from their hand, attempting to form a combination of 3 or more orthogonally adjacent tiles of the same animal. The “Kombo” portion of the game comes from the animal tiles. Each animal has a special ability that can affect the layout of the game – moving and/or flipping tiles over, drawing extra tiles, etc… After a player finishes placing tiles, and the “Kombos” occur, any scoring is added up and then all scoring cards are flipped face down – thus the memory aspect of the game. It’s a 2 to 4 player game and should play at a pretty decent clip, about a 15 to 30 minute game

Adventure Mart is a lightweight deckbuilder where players sell their wares to plucky adventurers as they go off to seek their fortune. On a turn, a player may take one of thre actions. Hiring extra help gains special benefits but the help will have an ongoing cost. Adding fixtures to one’s shop also improves one’s abilities, but doesn’t require ongoing upkeep. A player can also solicit more customers. New customers are revealed and players make their sales pitch. The players bid with their ware (cards) to make a sale. The adventurers will purchase the highest quality goods first (marked with stars) and then work their way down to the lowest – if they still have the cash. Adventure Mart played 2 to 4 players, runs just under and hour, and should be available in retail in November.


Festive game of the show goes to Iello’s Catapult Feud. Here. players take turns playing cards to build up their own plastic wall while also trying to knock down their opponent’s wall. The goal is to knock off all five of the enemy soldiers. Players play cards that allow them to fire their catapult, put up additional bricks in their wall (that may have been knocked down), stand one of their soldiers back up, or for the more evil option one can steal opponent’s cards and even fire their own catapult back at their own wall! A fun little dexterity game with just enough rules to keep it under control while still keeping the fun.

The other Iello game I scoped out was Khôra: Rise of an Empire. This is a 2-4 player game played over 9 rounds where players are trying to build the “best” city as measured by victory points. Each player takes on the roll of a different city with unique abilities. Each round, players draft five politics cards (take one and pass the hand on) that they will play that round. There are three main types of cards. Yellow cards provide an instant effect when played. Purple cards have a permanent effect once played. Brown or red building cards score points at the end of the game, depending on whether (or how well) a player satisfies their end conditions or goals. Once cards are drafted, the round continues through 7 steps. First, an event card is revealed – which will trigger later. Next, players gain monies based on their location on the “Taxes Track.” Players then roll 2 dice and assign them to their action cards (all players have the same action cards.) Actions selected must be equal or lesser value than the number on the die. Players can pay citizens to bump up the value of their dice. Chosen actions are then resolved. Players are given an opportunity to spend monies and move up one column of the progress tracks. Finally, the event card is resolved. At the end of a round, players can gain an achievement which will add either 1 glory resource or 1 tax. A quick glance at the board will show there are a LOT of different “technology upgrades” to be had within the game, but a second glance shows that while they don’t seem expensive, it is very hard to accumulate many resources, so players need to plan ahead if there is a technology/advantage they really want to buy. As mentioned, the game goes 9 rounds and a victor is declared based on victory points scored. The game plays 2 to 4 players and a decently paced game should finish in around an hour and a half.

We’ve made it through the G’s but there’s still more to come, most significantly all those “M”s and “P”s. (Although the “W” is almost an article by itself.) Stay tuned for more adventures of “Dr. Carlson Goes to Gen Con 2021!”

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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