Although I only made it to Gen Con for a day and a half this year, that was still time to play about fifteen new games – including a few that maybe aren’t on your radar. I also gave a presentation at this year’s Trade Day about the board games class I did last semester at Trine University, and I felt that it went very well despite some A/V snafus. It was great to see some familiar faces, however briefly, and to get some solid gaming in. Here’s some quick thoughts on the games I played:
King of New York: This game was pretty good, but I wasn’t as mind-blown as I was hoping and expecting to be. It’s King of Tokyo with a few changes that do add some more options but also some fiddliness. The board gets pretty cluttered and doesn’t look especially nice. If you like one game, you’ll like the other; this is more complex, but not by much. I’ll still buy it and play it and maybe even put King of Tokyo farther back on the shelf, but it didn’t have the wow factor that I thought it would.
Friday the 13th: I also spent some time at the IELLO booth talking with Christian Lemay, the one-man operation known as Le Scorpion Masque (IELLO distributes their stuff in the U.S.). Friday the 13th is another remake of Reiner Knizia’s Poison / Baker’s Dozen, except with really, really cute black kitties. I hadn’t played the game before and really had a great time in our six-player game. I think this will be great for helping my nephew do quick addition in his head, and it’s a really fun game to boot. Why square cards, though?
Think Again!: This is Le Scorpion Masque’s other recent release, a party game by Bruno Cathala (that man is everywhere) and Ludovic Maublanc. You’re asked a trivia question, then shown an icon that tells you to blurt out the -right- or -wrong- answer in the same category. The first answer given is the only one that matters: you either lose a point or gain a point depending on if you gave an appropriate response. This game was rather funny, because of its surprising difficulty, and because of how creative and funny you can be when giving a wrong answer.
Abyss: One of Asmodee’s nine or ten (!) new releases at Gen Con, this game had a lot of buzz due to the astounding artwork. Expect a full review soon, but this is a very good, medium-light family Euro with an irrelevant-but-astounding theme and presentation. It’s exactly my kind of game, and I really enjoyed it even with two players.
Ca$h ‘n Gun$ 2.0: I have not played the original game, but I really enjoyed this one and thought the streamlined mechanics (compared to what I understand about the old ones) definitely worked in the game’s favor. The demoers had us in an out in under 30 minutes and we had a blast the whole time. A great game for people who like games that walk the line between party and strategy games, like Mascarade or The Resistance.
Black Fleet: I was able to play this back home with some friends, and really enjoyed the game. It’s a simple family game with lots of attacking (although it didn’t feel particularly cruel, as the punishments didn’t seem so bad, but the rewards were great) and lots of cool special powers – not to mention the gorgeous board and pieces. It does kind of suck that it’s only for 3-4 players, though. This feels like the family-game version of “Eurotrash” games that have come out in recent years like Cyclades and Kemet – lots of attacking and interaction, but also lots of clever Euro-inspired mechanisms.
Lords of Xidit: This is an update of Himalaya, set in the universe of Seasons, though the games play nothing alike. This game relies heavily on programming (similar to Robo Rally), which is a mechanic I kind of hate, because I suck at it so much. There’s a lot of moving parts to this one, and updating the upcoming threats and recruitment tiles is kind of confusing. It’s not a bad game, it just seems like a lot of work for little payoff. I need to play the game some more to be sure of my opinion. Just like all the other Asmodee releases though, it’s gorgeous, and proves that you can have amazing little miniatures in a relatively inexpensive game ($60 MSRP). Lords of Waterdeep, why you gotta have cubes?
I also got to go to the Asmodee press event, which was a bit different from last year. To get everyone through, we spent only 10-20 minutes at each table, which meant several games were shown to me as prototypes, I was told the rules, and then I moved on. Trying to imagine the games without playing them made my brain melt by the end of it. I’m guessing not enough people got to play everything last year, but I wonder if a better solution would be to have each press outlet be assigned (based on their known tastes) a particular game or two, then have them spend a few hours with those and do full previews. They’d get better coverage and we’d get a better taste for the game… though I’m sure that approach has its own difficulties. Anyway, here’s three games that really had me excited:
Elysium: Apparently just hearing the rules can be enough to get you pumped about a game. This is the next Space Cowboys release after Splendor and Black Fleet (which are both awesome), and it’s meant to be more of a gamer’s game. The designers are Matthew Dunstan (the under-appreciated Relic Runners) and Brett J. Gilbert (the also under-appreciated Divinare). The base idea of the game is that it’s an open card-drafting game, and you have to balance using card’s special powers against setting them aside to score points (and losing the power). The coolest mechanic in the game is that rather than paying costs for cards, each card has some colors on it, and when you draft a card, you must “sacrifice” one of the four colors, meaning that you may longer draft cards containing that color this round. This should make some interesting back-and-forth of trying to outwit your opponents, trying to decide when to reveal to them that you aren’t going to draft that card they’re afraid you’ll take. Sounds like some difficult decision making already. There was more to it than that, but that was the central mechanism that got me excited. And I love card games. And I also love Space Cowboys. Wishlisted! The game was still in prototype form, but should be out in 2015.
Oh! One more thing to prove how awesome the Space Cowboys are: there are eight different decks in the game representing different gods, and they hired a different artist for each one. They make truly classy components.
Nations: the Dice Game: I like Nations, but it’s a little long for what it is and I think most of the time I’d rather play 7 Wonders. We were able to play one round of the dice game version, and it seemed to take all the cool, unique things about Nations and distill them into a much shorter game (still four rounds, and one round took maybe 10 minutes). However, I don’t like the name. I think Desperadoes of Dice Town proved you can have a name that invokes the original but still makes the game sound like it stands on its own. They should just call it “Dice Nations” using the same font as Nations. No idea when this one is coming out (it was a prototype).
Colt Express: I actually got to play a full game of this the following day. This is the next release from ludonaute (Lewis & Clark, SOS Titanic, The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet) and was in final form. This is another programming game (I guess it’s in the air) about robbing a train while shooting and punching the other robbers. However, the programming leaves you some choices to make when your turn in the “program” comes up, and therefore it didn’t feel as easy to completely ruin a turn as in other programming games. It may have just been the jovial French people I played it with, but I had a lot of fun with this game – and the game is played on a 3D train to boot, which looks awesome. They also included cool cactus stands to put near the train that are completely unnecessary, just because they fit on the punchboard. Three cheers for component quality! This game should be out this fall, and I was told it should be for $40 MSRP.
Wakanda: I was able to play some games with Brandan Parsons of Blue Orange Games, and he had a European copy of this game with him. During the game, you have to balance making the totem poles more attractive against finding the right time to claim the poles, which give you ways to score, but not necessarily with that totem pole. It’s an insanely tense game, one which I lost quite horribly, twice. Really looking forward to this game and hope it sees a wide U.S. release.
The Boss: Brendan also taught us this small European release which may or may not make it to the states. It was essentially a streamlined Divinare, as it had that same idea of slowly revealing information while trying to score points (by betting on certain locations instead of moving a dial). I think it was a much better game than Divinare, although it wasn’t the be-all, end-all.
Quilt Show: I tried this new Rio Grande release because a friend was considering buying it for his mother who often quilts. The game was basically a bad ripoff of Ticket to Ride, although instead of having a board you used the cards to buy tiles to make the quilts. However, there was a lot of drawing off the top due to the fact that there was no way to wipe either tableau, and it seemed like you hardly interacted with your opponents. Not a game I’d recommend. It’s a cool theme, but I think it can be done with a lighter, quicker game that would probably be more fun.
Chimera: The last thing I did at the con was demo Chimera while chatting with the designer, Ralph Anderson. This is essentially a Tichu variant strictly for 3 players, and it works very well. It took only a few hands for us to click with the game (but we’d all played Tichu) and there were definitely some interesting aspects to the differences. However, I feel like all the different types of runs are completely unnecessary. I’m always for more streamlined games, and this didn’t seem especially better than, say, Clubs (which I really like). Hardcore Tichu players who think Clubs is child’s play will probably eat this up, though.
That’s it for me this year – but we’ll have lots of reviews of Gen Con releases coming up soon, so stay tuned!