Time to talk about boardgames. There are some interesting new ones coming down the pipe, but also a healthy dose of big-name nostalgia to be had. After a pandemic delay of two years, this year I was excited to bring my boys to their first Gen Con experience. What’s great for me, isn’t as great for my overall coverage. I guess it boils down to Hamilton-esque “cover less, enjoy more” and that sums up my convention nicely. On with the games!!! Below are my thoughts listed in alphabetical order by publisher…
Reality Shift Deluxe was the hit of the show for Academy Games, selling out fairly quickly leaving only the “standard” game behind. Reality Shift has 2 to 4 players racing around actual 3D cubes while those cubes rotate and shift around the play area. Each side of a cube is a 3×3 grid that contains racing paths entering and exiting on the sides. Each player has a racer that magnetically sticks to a cube so that they can drive on the top or the sides of any given cube. On a turn, players roll a die to move their racer and play a card to change up the game field or provide bonus movement. Cards are color coded to the faces on the cubes and allow a player to adjust the play area, depending on what’s shown on the card. This includes sliding a cube sideways, rotating it on its vertical axis, or “rolling” a cube onto its next side. If a player is “squished” by a cube, they will respawn at a location on their next turn. As there is only one exit point in the game, players may need to keep track of its location as it might well get buried under or between cubes as the game progresses. The deluxe edition at the show included previous expansions and had a couple special cube sides, but also had a cardboard play mat which served as a “default” base to the game so players didn’t always have to be on a cube and the cubes could move further apart. The original game had no board, so players were required to keep cubes “connected” to each other at all times. Players can combine the base game and the deluxe edition if they want a mega-racecourse.
Another big game at the show, and by big I mean big amounts of “stuff” is Stellaris Infinite Legacy. Stellaris is a popular 4X space strategy computer game. Academy Games have adapted the videogame into boardgame form. As with the computer game, 2-4 players explore the board, accumulate resources, create production, level up their technology, etc… To keep things moving, players make all their action decisions for a round, and then reveal them. As is typical for the genre, The legacy component comes into play as the game is meant to be played five or six times with player races (all unique) increasing in power from one game to the next. In a unique twist, the game scales with the level of each race. More advanced races (those who progressed in previous games) have more things stacked against them. Their game objectives may be harder, with their benefits possibly applying only to civilizations their strength or above. Era event cards tend to be harsher on higher level races, and the Crisis cards, where bad things enter the board and start wrecking havoc, tend to favor the older races over the younger ones. Due to the difficulty flexibility, players can drop in and out of the “campaign” between games without much disruption. In fact, if a player changes to a new civilization (either by choice, or having leveled them to the highest point) that civ will become a sort of NPC race appearing in subsequent plays. It has the name Legacy, but there are no permanent changes to cards or the board so there’s not any reason one couldn’t start a second series after the first playthrough. A single game is supposed to run around 2 hours, and people looking to play through the whole legacy series might be able to get it done in a single, very long, day. The game ran on Kickstarter and it looks like gamers can still get in on a late pledge level.
Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
AEG had a little press event to show off some of their newest games, I was able to play a few of them. My favorite is probably Ready, Set, Bet – a 1-8 p game of horseracing out in September that strongly reminds me of those carnival games where players watch the horses race across the back wall. The idea is that one player (or an app) controls which horses move by rolling 2 dice and the players use chips of various values to bet on the race results. Each horse moves spaces if their number is rolled. However, if a number comes up twice in a row, that horse gets a big bonus move depending on its number. (The 7 horse has no bonus.) Meanwhile, there is a large betting grid on the central board and players place bets in realtime on which horses will win, place, or show. The first player to place a bet on a horse will get better odds than players later to the party. In addition, the “best” bets also have penalties that apply if your bet does not pay off. Thus, it is a sort of reverse auction as players wait to see how the race develops but then also need to put down their bets before other players. I managed to win our quick game primarily by a lucky big bet on an unlikely horse to to show and only minimal penalties for poor bets. The game will mostly live or die by the entertainment provided by the die roller during the game. When paired with a fun little race-like commentary it was quite fun. The optional app will run games for you when no one wants to roll the dice. It will produce a random game, but will also have options of running a game with a pre-programmed commentary. Oh, I forgot that there is an option for the die roller to also participate. They can place special (non-exclusive) bets on horses before the start of the race, just to see how they do.
Shake that City (on Kickstarter in Q4) is a 1-4 player game of tile placement. Tiles are placed onto a 6×6 player board based on the pattern created from a fun little cube dispenser. One player used the cube dispenser to create a 3×3 grid of colored cubes in the middle of the table. They then choose one color of cubes and place corresponding tiles on their board in an exact match of the pattern (not even rotating.) Other players can then choose one of the other colors to add to their board. After each round of play, player boards are scored. There are five different colors of tiles and they all score differently. Streets give points if they are connected to the edge, parks give points if next to a house or factory, malls give more points when they are in the middle of the board, but also need to be connected to roads. Houses are 2 points per group, but zero if they touch a factory. Finally, factories are worth 1 point if they are adjacent to another factory or 2 points if they are adjacent to a road. The game board also has some ending score options based on what type and how many tiles are placed in specific columns or rows. Look for a Kickstarter in October 2022.
The popular Dead Reckoning card-crafting game is back with a new expansion. Letters of Marque is a SAGA style expansion which means it has a story arc where new content is slowly added to the game through successive games played. There is a second, separate part of the expansion – not connected to the SAGA bits, that introduces two new empire boards and a handful of other things like new upgrades, a new Explorer card for each deck, and a new resource called Prime Cargo. For those needing a brief description, Dead Reckoning is a 1-4 player game where players explore a map while customizing their ship and their crew – the crew being customized through a card-building mechanism where clear cards are added to sleeves to create a more powerful crew. Battles are resolved through a “cube tower” where not only the number of cubes appearing matters, but so does their final location. Thus, players may gain significant benefits even if they “lose” the battle. There is currently a Kickstarter for the expansion, ending around August 19th.
Let’s Go! To Japan was being shown in very preview form. No one got to play, but is is a two player game based on visiting Tokyo and Kyoto. Players pace activity cards into their weekly schedules trying to set up the most optimal visit. At the end of the game, players go through their entire trip day by day (card by card) to collect their points.
Alley Cat Games
Alley Cat Games was showing Dice Theme Park where players build a park and then draft sets of dice visitors off the monorail, who then explore their park, triggering effects as they move through the park. Players first pick an initiative card with an associated effect. Higher initiative tend to have less powerful effects. In turn order, players then draft (3?) dice from a monorail on the main board. Players can then buy new park locations, add ons to their park, extra energy (used later), or straight up victory points. The core mechanic is when players use their dice to “ride” their rides. Dice begin on a player’s entrance and movement points can be spent to move a die to an adjacent location, knocking down the pips on that die by one. These typically trigger actions depending on the location and the color of dice. Since players have limited movement, there will often be cases where a player runs out of movement before they run out of dice. Dice with values greater than one stick around in the park until the next round. After four (short game) or five (long game) rounds, the game ends. The game works with 1-4 players with the solo mode simply a challenge mode to set a high score. The game should be out this fall.
Maker of the classic War of the Ring game, Ares was showing off a new card game with the same asymmetric style of play of good vs evil. War of the Ring: The Card Game has 2 to 4 players taking on the roles of good and bad guys trying to win the war over Middle Earth. Players are given one of four premade, asymmetrical decks (2 shadow, 2 free peoples) and use them to fight over locations (path cards or battlegrounds) in the central board. These can help the Fellowship side or advance the side of evil. When cards are resolved, they provide military or fellowship points. The first side to be ahead by 10 points wins outright, otherwise scores are compared after the 9th path card is revealed. Play consists of playing one card from one’s hand and discarding another. Thus, every card “costs” a second one to play. This provides a nice decision point of what cards do I need now and which can I discard into my deck to use later. Players draw a set number of cards per round but can save up to 2 cards for the next round. Some cards are played directly to the middle while others are placed in a player’s reserves to provide an ongoing effect. The game should be available in November.
As befits the gaming behemoth that is Asmodee, there were plenty of games on display and loads of demo tables on which to play. First we took a look at a line of games based on Netflix IPs all of which are currently in WalMart and should show up in hobby stores by the end of August. Squid Game has two teams of players competing against each other in small little games in order to be the first team to win 6 games. Games come from the show like the marble guessing game, red light – green light, the glass bridge, and the cookie game. Each has fairly simple rules that mirror the show. The bridge and marble games are somewhat obvious, but the cookie game uses a mechanic where everyone has access to the basic shapes and move a marker around the shape according to a deck of cards that are slowly revealed. The circle only requires one card to finish but there’s only one circle card in the deck. Harder shapes need more cards but there are more of them in the deck.
Next up was Stranger Things: Attack of the Mind Flayer. This is a 4-10 player party game with hidden role/traitor mechanics. Players start as a sane hero or a someone possessed by the Mind Flayer. The possessed characters are trying to covert all the sane characters while the sane players are trying to avoid it. Play consists of drawing and then passing cards around the table either to help someone, remove them, or make them switch teams. If anyone is Sane at the end of the game, all the Sane players win.
As in the television series, Ozark has players trying to “money stash” (not money launder) their cash. This is done by controlling territories (which give money and abilities) and using cards in a trick-taking manner (the rules of which depend on the round.) Each value of card grants a particular ability (opportunity.) The winner of each trick gains bonuses but has to start the trick the next round. As the game progresses, more locations (from the show) are added to the mix so there are more territories for which to fight. Players all start as a faction from the show with slightly different special abilities – the flip side of their ability card gives new players a few hints on what aspect on which to focus.
The big (as in large) game in the booth was Endless Winter:Paleoamericans. 2-4 players (with a solo mode) are tribes, moving around and settling in a hexagonal world map. It’s a traditional euro-style game with worker placement, hand management, and card drafting. Players develop their faction on their faction boards in three primary areas: culture, war, and agriculture (production.) It was originally on Kickstarter and should show up in hobby stores sometime in Q4.
The hottest game (for me and several of my friends) at the convention was Twilight Inscription. This is an attempt to take the day-long game of Twilight Imperium and see if it can be reduced to a roll and write that plays in an hour or so while preserving the sort of story arc you would find in the original game. As with most roll and writes, a central pool of dice are rolled and then all players start to mark off things on their cards. In this case, players have FOUR rather involved cards with which to play. Each turn begins with flipping an event card that provides some scenario, like maybe an asteroid shows up, and then the resource dice are rolled and everyone resolves their actions at the same time. The winner will be the player with the most victory points at the end of the game (as opposed to player elimination or something.) The four player boards are double-sided and everyone begins the game as one of 24 different factions, meaning there are a lot of ways to vary the game.
Sometime in Q3, 3000 Scoundrels will launch. This 2-4 person game is set in an alternate history of the wild west where a mysterious stranger leaves alien technology behind and players squabble for it in order to take over the town. Players use standard poker cards (A through 6) to power up special abilities on their player mat. However, they are played face-down so one can bluff if they need a specific ability even if they don’t have that card. Other players can call the bluff (and reap the benefit/penalty) if they think someone is lying. Much of the game has players drafting character cards from the central play area that provide unique abilities. In what I like to think of as a “paper doll” mechanic, the central characters consist of a base card, which is then covered by a clear sleeve to combine it into a character unique to that game. Much of the game is trying to acquire synergistic cards. While a smaller footprint, it probably has about the same game-weight as Endless Winter.
The newest small-format Ticket to Ride is San Francisco. Another 2-4p game with the standard rules. The spin here are tourist tokens which can be claimed for victory points after completing adjacent routes.
Quacks & Co is a kid-friendly version of Quacks of Quedlinburg. Here players are simply racing to the end of a track on the central board. Players take turns drawing fruit out of their bag and feeding it to their donkey. Their donkey moves spaces according the number on the fruit, and then they gain the benefit of that particular fruit. For example, apples give gems unless a player lands on a spiral space, in which case they get two gems. Play goes around the table with players drawing tokens and moving their donkey. When a player draws three dream tokens, they put all their pieces back into their bag and can spend any gems they have on buying more fruit. Fruit abilities run the gamut of additional movement modes, putting fruit back in your bag, and things like messing with corn lets you roll a die and get a random bonus (for those of you who really like luck.) The main board has two sides (one is a longer path) and the fruit cards have two sides – one of which has slightly more complex actions.
The newest game at the Bezier booth was the deluxe version of Cat in the Box. It’s been out for awhile, but if you’re unfamiliar it is a trick-taking game where suit and value are determined separately. Players first predict how many tricks they will take and then play out the hand. The lead player places a card and declares its color, marking it on the central board. Other players must follow with cards that are declared yellow. However, a player can declare they’re out of yellow and thus play another color. The trick, of course, is that the game tracks how players are going and they may back themselves into a corner near the end of a hand, with nothing valid to play (because of their cards and colors they declared were out.) This causes a “paradox” which stops the hand and players score points. The paradox-causing player doesn’t just fail to score, they are also assigned penalty points. The game plays for 3-4 players and lasts a number of rounds equal to the player count.
Big Potato Games
Big Potato Games was showing off their pickup and deliver game, USPS:The Great American Mail Race. This 2-4 player game has players racing around the board using three types of transport cards to move their truck from location to location, picking up goods and trying to deliver them elsewhere. Transport cards vary in ability and options and are drafted from a small tableau. Players can “assist” other players by picking up any undelivered packages as they drive by. Player scores are kept on a special “stamp” certificate using a mail-iconic stamper. For festivity, all the cities on the board are silly names of real places, like Booger Hole and Elephant Butte. Keeping it classy, USPS!
Frosthaven production (an epic boardgame & world map legacy style game if you don’t already know) continues to move apace with no hard deadline set, although one could start hoping it might see the light of day by the end of the year. Once again the Cephalofair booth was showing off some extra-special looking Frosthaven gaming setups. One thing that caught my eye was the ad for Forteller, a group that does professional audio narration for games. I’ve used them with my playthrough of Jaws of the Lion and it added to the fun. I’m sure some groups will find reading their own lore/narration more fun and sometimes I felt the narration didn’t go with the style I expected. I considered it a “win’ overall. The production values were certainly acceptable.
Chip Theory Games
Burncycle, the cooperative cyberpunk mission game was back on the show floor with two new expansions. Burn Cycle has players controlling robots intent on infiltrating the base of operations of an evil anti-AI corporation while trying to avoid detection from the guards and other security measures. The meat of the game is the “burncycle” which is a set of actions randomly drawn from a deck. Players must use those actions, in that order, in order to try to accomplish their goals. Players can skip a card – but that essentially is an opportunity missed, or even spend valuable resources to ignore the given directions. This year’s expansions include everything you would expect: the Specialists Bots Pack includes 4 new robot players while the BioDefend Corporation provides a new corporation to tackle complete with bosses, missions, etc… to add even more variety to the game. As often is the case with popular crowdsourced games, the expansions and base game are sold out but should be available in early 2023.
While in the booth I couldn’t help but notice some of the “bling” available to Burncycle. They’ve produced a nice set of brass figurines for each robot as well as some of the enemy pieces.
There’s also a purely lore-driven “expansion” that contains no rules whatsoever but provides a wealth of background on the game setting. It includes fun stuff such as a cassette tape alongside a classic cassette player for those not wanting to cruise the local Goodwill store.
In a semi-risky move, Chip Theory is releasing its first 1 player only game, Hoplomachus: Victorium. This takes many of the aspects of the Hoplomachus arena game and places it into a single player ongoing campaign. Players start out as a hero and move their token around on a world map displaying encounters along the way. These can be anything from minor experiences like a sporting event or an opportunity card. The goal is to gather resources as one crosses the world map in order to prepare for a large showdown against the game’s end boss. Sporting events and battles are fought on one of the game’s 8 arena boards. Each arena provides a different feel to the combat through special rules and AI behavior. Sporting events have little consequences but losing a battle (especially against a mini-boss) is not fun. Players accumulate damage over the course of the game. They can skip an encounter and heal, but that means they don’t gain the benefit and skipping too many games starts to add “Bane” chips to the enemy token bag and you don’t want to see those come up. Boss fights are resolved with a big pool of (surprise) custom dice that determine boss movement, damage, and special abilities (like regeneration.) The difficulty level of the campaign can be adjusted by adding in more opportunities for a player to heal up between missions. The game should be out in Q4.
Coming to Gamefound in October, Tabriz is a worker-movement, contract fulfillment game. Players move along paths, up to 3 spaces, and perform the actions there. Many of these include gaining resources, selling resources, trading resources and/or upgrading them. Alley tiles provide benefits from a die roll and allow players to possibly push their luck. There are three types of dice, each providing more powerful effects than the previous one. Finally, some spaces allow a player to spend specific resources to claim the contract there and claim its special powers. There are three decks of contracts in the game. The commoner deck provides players with engine building options, the merchant deck has a variety of things, including providing money, and the final deck, the royals, are where players are getting victory points by spending the rarest materials. There is a bit of a skill tree in the game that players can advance through. This eventually provides more contracts to hold, faster movement along the board, etc.. At the end of a given round, players reset their workers and can cycle all the powers of contracts they’ve acquired in the game. The game goes from 1 to 5 players with the solo mode run by a dice-based AI.
Czech Games Edition
My first meeting of the convention was with CGE, going over three new games. The Galaxy Trucker expansion, Keep on Trucking, was of interest to me as I’m a huge fan of the base game. This expansion is for use with the recent revamp of the game and contains some things not seen in the previous edition. It is a modular expansion, where players can pick and choose what to add to their game, typically adding additional complexity and difficulty as a result. Most of the new content will be familiar to players of the original but a few things stand out like a new class of alien that can be customized after it is built or a furnace tile that can burn cargo in order to recharge a player’s batteries. It was available at Gen Con and should be in stores very soon.
Starship Captains has players managing a worker placement queue to build and run their ship while they interact with a central board to complete missions. These missions are randomized each game and could involve sending specific workers to a location to receive benefit and medals. There are three colors of workers. Red help your ship move, blue help with upgrading one’s tech, and yellow security forces work to take down pirates on the board. The uncolored grey workers can be used to repair ones ship or can be upgraded to another color. Color units can also be upgraded using medals, making them even more effective. There are also android units available which are one-off workers that disappear at the end of the round. One of the key gimmicks of the game lies in the worker queue. Players have a queue of workers in their ship that slide into a central area which represents the available active workers. At the end of a player’s turn, they slide all but three of their spent workers into their available worker pool. This means players use all but three of their workers each round. Players can then plan ahead and order their actions such that the colors they want for next turn will be available. Other aspects of the game include the presents of 3 factions which can be appeased with specific missions. Players gain extra abilities and/or points for increasing their faction standings. Players’ ships can be repaired which unlock slots for cards. These give new ship abilities and may even have new worker placement locations. These cards have icons on the sides and matching adjacent icons give even more benefit. Hopefully the game will be available at Essen and PAX Unplugged.
The “big” (as in size and length) game for CGE was Deal with the Devil. This is a 4 player only game as it relies heavily on player trading and interaction relying on an app to manage secret trading. The idea is that players are trying to collect resources and points through trading and one of their resources includes pieces of their souls. Players have hidden roles which determine what they want with souls. The devil player is trying to purchase as many souls as possible while mortals are trying to keep their three soul pieces if they can. The fourth player is a cultist who wants to sell of their soul, but can also purchase them if they wish. While mortals don’t want to sell their souls, they can fetch a very high price on the trade market and selling can be very lucrative – jumpstarting or pushing forward one’s economy. The game plays in five rounds and a typical round has players produce goods, draw cards, perform two cycles of trading, play actions, and then adjust player money and reputations. When playing cards, a player can choose to use the “evil” side or the “good” side of a card – which adjusts their influence on the board giving benefits or penalties. Trades are done through the use of an app. All players fill in a cardboard box with what they’re offering and these are shuffled and distributed. The receivers can then make an offer or pass with the results of the trade managed by the app. While trading is secret, there are two events that occur to mess up a player’s hidden role. On round 2 & 3 a Witch Trial is held where players may be forced to reveal just how many soul pieces they own, or pay a penalty. There is also an Inquisition in round 3 & 5, where players must pay off any debt they incurred and reveal their soul collection unless they spend special indulgence tokens earned previously in the game. At the end of the game, players compare scores, but first the devil player reveals all the souls they collected. The more souls collected by the devil, the worse the penalty for all the other players.
Have fun digesting all that, I’ll be back next time with more publisher, we might even get to the letter “L”!
For more Gen Con 2022 content, check out the following reports as they are published: