Matt Carlson: Gen Con 2021 – S to W

The Gen Con 2021 boardgaming blog is over, it’s time to sit back and enjoy a cup of tea… Earl Grey, Hot, if you please. When write these up, I rip out pages of my notebook as I winnow down the publishers. As I write this, the notebook is getting pretty scraggly. No worries, next year will be a new notebook! For now, here’s what I’ve scavenged from the pages that have not yet been torn away…

If I’ve recorded any errors on dates, publishers, titles, (and spelling), I’m going to blame you for reading them.. Gotcha there, you didn’t expect that, did ya?…

Steeped Games

I have to hand it to Steeped Games for picking a theme and leaning into it hard. They primarily were showing off two games at the convention, Chai and Chai: Tea for 2. In Chai, players are tea merchants trying to brew the perfect tea to serve to customers. Over the course of five rounds players use actions to collect ingredients (additives) from a common pantry, buy ingredients at the market, and to reserve a customer for later fulfillment. Buying ingredients at the market has a nice spin. Adjacent copies of the same ingredient are purchased as a bundle, and unbought ingredients go down in price over time. At the end of a turn, a player may complete an order from their hand (reserved earlier) or from the common middle pool. Completing an order from one’s hand also grants a bonus action. Completing an order typically includes one or more additives (from the pantry), one or more flavors (from the market), and a base tea (rooibos, green, oolong, black or white tea.) Interestingly, each player specialized in one tea so often needs to “borrow” from a neighbor when fulfilling a customer order. The round ends after a specific number of orders are filled. Various pools of resources are reset and another round begins. After 5 rounds the game ends and points are scored for fulfilled orders and leftover mondey. The game plays “1 to 5” players and in games with three or more players there are bonuses for having the most orders fulfilled and the most diverse set of orders fulfilled.

Doubling-down on the tea theme, Chai: Tea for 2 was also shown at the convention. This 2-player (surprise) game revolves around using dice for worker placement along with a bit of tableau that serves as an engine-building mechanism. Players are running a tea processing plant, moving tea through the processes, finally placing them onto ships for points. There is a central board for your dice/workers and each player has their own “factory” board. Tea is moved through boxes on the board (bottom to top), scoring by loading them on ships when they reach the top. The 6 types of tea leaves move through the factory card on their own path. Each round players first choose a tile which grants new tea leaves as well as “action points” which are used to take more tea tokens or to move tea leaves upward in their factory – but never multiples of the same type of tea. Next, players roll all their dice and then place them on the action spaces. Choices include getting any tea token, taking cards, converting tea and moving it around in the factory, collecting sets of tea for points, filling up crates of tea (scoring them when full), moving or swapping cards around, flipping a card over, or choosing the first player token. The cards are of particular importance. When taking a card one can “plug it in” to a slot along the edge of one’s factory. This either gives a one-time bonus or is ongoing. If a one-time bonus, it is flipped over (and can be re-flipped with a future action.) Once all the action bidding is complete, players use leftover dice to bid for tea contracts to put at the top of their factory (to ship tea into.) These are a combination of runs and multiples of a kind. At the start of the game, players are given a character card (of 6 available) with an associated power for use during the game. Both the character cards and the main game board are two-sided with one side having a bit more complexity. The game has not yet been released although one can preorder a copy to appear around February 2022.


Long ago, someone came up with the the idea of building a game out of collectible trading cards, and Magic: the Gathering was born.  The game spread like wildfire and soon the market was filled with games using the same collectible card mechanic.  TSR, the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, took the logical next step over to dice and Dragon Dice was born.   Twenty six years later the game is still alive and kicking.  SFR took over the rights to the game and has continued to develop it over the years.  The dice and basic idea of the game remain the same, but the rules have had an overhaul or two (especially the magic rules.)   Two players build an army out of dice according to a point scale.  Each die is a specific unit which moves around the board as well as attack ord defend.  All dice have an identifying icon, which serves as a wildcard or special attack when rolled.  Players take turns rolling their dice and using actions shown (movement, melee & ranged attack, defense, magic, special abilities, etc…) in an attempt to capture two territories or eliminate the other players’ armies.  Armies are typically made out of a single race, indicated by a two-tone color of dice.  Most are six-sided and they come in various sizes.  Larger dice are worth more points and often have sides displaying more powerful or more unique abilities.  It’s a pretty quick game, running about a half-hour in total.  It’s still sold as a collectible game, with packs sold containing dice from a specific faction but there are also a couple starter sets each with dice and rules for two players to use.  

SFR also publishes another product, Daemon Dice.  It shares many similarities to Dragon Dice – the same designer and collectible nature, but attempts to be a bit more streamlined and easier to pick up and play.  Think “checkers” to the “chess” of Dragon Dice.  Here, players start the game with a set of 13 dice representing the body parts and items held by a daemon.  Players take turns rolling their dice, applying penalties to and defending from the other players’ dice.  Damage typically consists of stuns and wounds (loss of dice), and a player is eliminated if they no longer have any body parts to roll.

Studio H

Always willing to check out another cooperative game I was happy to listen to a walkthrough of Oltréé at the Studio H booth.  Based around a French role-playing game of the same name, players take on the roles of rangers pledged to protect a central fortress while completing a set of assignments.  The game comes with 8 characters from four possible classes.  Builders are good at building (surprise) new structures and repairing damaged ones.  Travelers and Fighters gather up resources and deal with incoming issues as they arise.  Wizards take on knowledge based tasks but also help to push the game along to its ending.  The board is broken into a central Fortress surrounded by locations.  Player’s characters tend to move about the outer locations when trying to defeat challenges while those staying in the fortress tend to provide resource gathering and building.  As befitting its role-playing roots, each game is very story-based and proceeds through the use of a Chronicle deck.  When cards are revealed and use a dice based mechanism to see where on outer area of the board they are placed.  Along the way, they will encounter Incidents (resolved individually) and face Events (a communal challenge.) Players can lose if the fortress is overrun, they run out of Renown, or fail to finish the Chronicle (consisting of a deck of cards.)  There are six independent stories (Chronicles) in the game.  One a short learning game and the others providing  a longer experience.  The longer stories have the possibility of outright winning or losing but can also result in a minor win or loss.  The game plays 2 to 4 players with the longer stories taking one to two hours to complete.


Wizkids was another publisher with loads of games to show at the convention, I had a nice run-down of some of the upcoming highlights for this year. First off was Turbo Sleuth. It is similar to a speed-matching game like Spot it! or Catch the Match. Three cards are laid out on the table and it is a race to find the suspect and the murder weapon and claim the answer token. The suspect is the character that appears the most times on all the cards combined (some cards may have the suspect picture more than once.) The murder weapon is the weapon that appears on all three cards (there’s only one copy per weapon per card.) Players have two cards which display all the characters and weapons. Once someone guesses the answer, they arrange their two cards to show their guess. They can then check the answer against an answer booklet. There are a few different “play modes” (which I think are mostly variations on the suspect/weapon rules.) The game goes up to 8 players and should finish in under 20 minutes or so.

Jinja is a gateway worker placement game for 2 to 5 people. Over the course of five rounds, players collect resources, build shrines, and capture territories in order to score the most points. Play starts with each player drawing 5 “Omikuji” goal cards and choosing 3 of them (you can get more later) which determines one way that players can acquire points at the end of the game. Players then take turns placing their workers onto the list of worker actions or directly onto one of the regions on the game map. Worker actions primarily consist of gaining resources (a few options provide the result of a die roll – so a bit of randomness there) while placing on the game map opens up options for additional resources and/or a bit of area control. Each round a Kitsune card is drawn which modifies the rules (typically for the better) for that round. Five are chosen at random each game, making each game different. At game end, players add to their score for any completed “Omikuji ” goals. The player with the most points wins.

Super-Skill Pinball is back with with Ramp it Up! This is a stand-alone sequel to the original game. It features the same roll-and-write gameplay where dice are rolled to determine the flow of the pinball. Players mark off locations for the ball and progress around the board trying to score stars directly or build up bonuses to score stars all at once. Ramp it Up! contains four new tables (game boards.) One could consider them a slight step up in complexity over some of the tables in the original game, implementing some things that just didn’t make the cut in the original game. In addition to new powers and combos, some of the stand out options include: tables that extend up into the “backglass” of the board accessed through a ramp, a table (Pin-Pals) that is designed for team play, and one table (Top Speed) set up for whenever one just wants a quick game. As with the previous game, it plays 2 to 4 players. Look for it to appear in November.

If you’re looking for a big-box game, cast your eye over to Clash of Cultures. This is a remastering of the original game from 2012. The gameplay is pretty much unaltered, but the rulebook has been completely rewritten and this new edition includes some of the hard to find promos and expansions for the game. Clash of Cultures is a typical 4X civilization building game complete with unique civilizations with unique leaders, etc… Of course, the game has been given the WizKids once-over. There are 350 minis in the game, including nice miniature buildings to represent your village. As you upgrade your village, you just slide/snap on the additions to the city on the game board. You can literally watch your city grow over time. As for the game, it is quite long, running 3 to 4 hours for up to 4 players. After its initial release, Clash of Cultures was well received by the crew at OpinionatedGamers. Several folks liked the open-endedness of the tech tree but the length of the game was a common concern. Thoughts on the combat in the game were mixed with praises to its implementation but some folks wished it was not such a necessary part of the game.

There are roll and write games, and (card) flip and write games, but now there’s a write and write game (maybe just a “write” game?) Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Scrawlers – Heroes of Undermountain (that’s a mouthful) has players scribbling on a dry-erase dungeon in an effort to “explore” the map and collect the most treasure. Players place their pen down at the start of the maze and then race in real-time to gather up as much loot as possible on the way to the big boss and its prize. It isn’t just solving a maze (in fact there are often multiple paths to the end,) the maze has “encounters” as well. When drawing through a room with monsters, they need to be scribbled out completely. Some rooms have numbered chests which must be connected in order. Other rooms have ancient runes (zigzags and boxy circles) which have to be carefully traced before moving on. Of course, there are scattered treasures and treasure chests along the way for the hearty explorer willing to take the detour. Players continue drawing until someone defeats the final boss and then scores are added. Killing the boss is worth some nice points, but that isn’t a guarantee of winning. Penalties can also apply if a player accidentally clips a wall or fails to complete all the activities in a room. Each player has a special power – most of which lets players skip or reduce the effort needed when encountering a specific obstacle. There are 10 different mazes in all, in increasing complexity. For example, later mazes might have locked doors where a player must first tag a key and then head back through the door. The game plays 2 to 4 players, and a quick game of three mazes should be doable in 10 to 15 minutes. The game was not out at Gen Con, but it should be available in October.

Greece Lightning is a fast-paced Greek Trireme racing game around a central whirlpool. Using some push-your-luck elements for movement. Players plot a course through a network of paths encountering obstacles and bonuses as they go around a circular board. A cornerstone feature of the game allows players to drop new pie-shaped “wedges” onto the board that then modify the racecourse. It runs 2 to 4 players and be under an hour to play. Look for it in October.

A mock-up of the game…

Bequest is a card drafting game along the lines of Sushi Go or 7 Wonders. Players are the minions of a deceased supervillain squabbling over the leftover estate. Using an I split – You Choose mechanism, players divide five cards into two piles and offer them to their neighbor. It is a set collection game with various point values and bonuses including negative cards. For example, collecting 3 “evidence” cards will smack a player with lots of minuses. The game works with 3 to 6 players and gives each henchman (player) a unique ability at the start. Watch for it to arrive in November.

From the back of the box…

In Zombie Princess and the Enchanted Maze, two to five players play as princesses attempting to race to the middle of a maze, grab their key, and escape back out. During the game, players build the maze itself by laying tiles, possibly creating zombies as they go. If a player is caught by a zombie in the maze, they turn into a zombie and continue on, now attacking the other players.

Somehow it seems apropos to end it all with a “Z” game. I had a great time at Gen Con, thanks to all the folks manning the booths as well as attendees being responsible about wearing masks. (If I could only get my high school students to wear theirs as faithfully.) If you missed the previous posts, go hop back and check them out. This is it for the boardgame reporting, although there will be one more follow-up on RPGs as well as a special bonus episode – you’ll have to keep your eye on this space for more info…

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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