As a member of Meepletown, I demoed and got the “elevator pitch” on many games at Gen Con. I honestly can’t think of one that wasn’t in some way intriguing, but there were a few that particularly stood out as interesting, including one that no one else on staff got their hands on!
Draco Magi by Robert Burke (Cartoona, Battle for Souls) and Richard Launius (Arkham Horror, Dragon Rampage)
I was fortunate enough to get in a demo from designer Robert Burke. In Draco Magi, you are trying to win gems. Better yet, you are trying to win gems by battling with dragons! Players place dragons on one of three different battlefields in a manner that you feel is most advantageous to you and least advantageous to your opponent. Determining what is “most advantageous” and “least advantageous” is where the depth comes in. Each dragon can have a number of different factors including ranged attack, melee attack, defense, and bonuses that it gives to itself or other dragons on the same field. Depending on these different factors, you will draw from different decks in an attempt to attack and defend on a given battlefield. You go until someone wins the round, and the game continues until someone wins enough gems.
Learning game play seemed a little awkward at first. To be fair, I got lost and showed up to the demo late. The game actually seemed very simple to pick up once you just started playing through your turns. As easy as it is to just place dragons, choose battlefields, and evaluate attack values, this game has a lot of complexity. From what I played (one full round — probably about half to a third of a game) it seems like the game contains a nice balance of strategy and luck. I can’t rate the game without a few full playthroughs, but I can say that this appears to be a pretty solid two-player game, and it should appeal to anyone who likes Summoner Wars, Ascension, and the like. It’s worth noting that while I do tend toward more combat-oriented games, I do not love Summoner Wars but was duly intrigued by this game and would like to get my hands on it again.
Incredible Expeditions: Quest for Atlantis by Liz Spain, Independent first-time designer
When I was walking around the indie games area, I saw an amazing steampunk-styled booth with an interesting looking game. The booth looked so professional, the costumes so detailed, and the artwork so lovely that I honestly wondered if Gen Con didn’t mistakenly put a large publisher in the wrong section. I was intrigued, but the booth was consistently busy and there’s only so much wandering around a hall full of thousands of people that I can do without my head exploding, so I didn’t really get a good look at it.
On Saturday, it just so happened that a random stranger we shared a breakfast table with at our hotel’s crowded complimentary breakfast was the game designer’s husband. When he mentioned that he was a part of this booth, we started asking all kinds of questions, which he was more than happy to answer. When we revealed ourselves as press, he invited us by the booth later.
Unfortunately we did not have the time for a demo of the game, but they did show us some of the cards and the basic gist of the game. Between that and what I have read online, I am very excited and really hope to get a copy of this to play soon.
The general idea is that you are an expedition leader trying to venture out into unexplored seascapes and hopefully get to the lost city of Atlantis. To do this you have to hire crew, buy equipment, and so on. On your turn, you can either take a rest turn during which you replenish crew and buy gear, or you can take an encounter turn. During an encounter turn, you can encounter something in your current location, or you can venture forth to a new location. All of your resources (equipment, crew, etc.) has a few different values that you compare to the encounter cards to see if you “win” the encounter. It seems like they really tried to go for a deep gaming experience without it being fiddly or hard to understand. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on this game and try to get some plays in sometime soon. It’s hard to judge a game almost sight unseen and without an opinion from a trusted friend on it. However, if they put half of the kind of polish and attention to detail into their gameplay as they did into their card design, booth, and costumes, Incredible Expeditions promises to be impressive.
The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade by Anders and Olle Tyrland
The buzz on this game prior to GenCon was huge, and, from what I saw the hype was well deserved. We were fortunate enough to be able learn this game from the designers, and we were able to get a pretty good feel for how it went (we played about the first third and last third of a full game).
Kemble’s Cascade uses an ingenious design of trays and cards to simulate a 80’s side-scrolling shooter video game like Gradius. Turns are fairly simple, but you have plenty of options for what you can do. Players can choose to move and shoot or take a recharge turn where they can replenish energy, buy ship upgrades, etc. You can shoot at enemies, asteroids and even other players. This game manages to feel sufficiently “Ameritrash” while maintaining reasonable fairness and balance. I can’t believe how well they managed to translate the feel of a side scrolling shooter into a board game.
This has all the nostalgic fun of a classic video game without the infuriating setbacks that just made you want to throw your controller. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel too easy to win. If at some point it does get too easy or too hard, you can choose to change the difficulty, as the tracks you set up in the game are modular. Anders and Olle told us that they tried to look at everything in the game — from the pieces, to the track design, to the actions, to the balance mechanisms — through the lens of “what is right for the game”, and it absolutely shows. From what I saw, everything in this game contributes to making the experience fun and feeling like you’re actually playing those games back in the 80’s. I am really excited to play Kemble’s Cascade once we can get our hands on it, and I think it will probably be one of my new favorites.
Legacy: Gears of Time by Ben Harkins, independent designer and owner of Floodgate Games
On our last day at Gen Con, we happened to stumble upon a booth for a publisher we had never heard of: Floodgate Games. In talking to the staff, we learned that they are an independent publisher started by Ben Harkins that, so far, has only published his games. We were fortunate enough that Ben came back while we were still in the booth and was able to chat with us briefly about his games and his company.
From what he told me, I was very intrigued by Legacy: Gears of Time. Unfortunately, we did not have time for a demo, but he was able to show us some of the cards and the general gist of how the game works. You are trying to travel back in time to influence technology in your favor. This game has time travel mechanics and an expanding tech tree mechanic that make it look really interesting. It looks deep but not overly complicated and certainly very unique. Of course, I only have so much to base this on, but I really hope we can get more time with this game. I love games with unusual and new mechanics, and this certainly looks like it might fit the bill.
So, this is what I’m looking forward to playing over the next few months, in addition to a whole gaggle of other great games we picked up at Gen Con and, of course, some old favorites too.
This wraps up MeepleTown’s coverage of Gen Con 2014. Look for full reviews of the games released at Gen Con in the days and weeks to come!