This was my first GenCon in several years after going something 5 straight years from 2009-2014 and it has really evolved into one of the best things on the planet. If you consider yourself a serious gamer and you’ve never gone, consider making the pilgrimage just once in your life. This year, we had in our crew a man named Paul from Lower Hutt, New Zealand. He had been conversing with fans of Star Wars Miniatures for years, and finally made the trip to Indianapolis via Chicago to meet everyone and play some competitive minis. He and I entered the Dealer Hall together upon opening, one of the more insane things I’ve ever seen. Of course, Paul not only wants to come back, he wants to bring friends.
Our group has gone from 5 men sharing a hotel room, up to 9 men sharing two hotel rooms. The 9 were myself and 3 other old hands in docmogs, timmerb and xcrudo. Later additions to the group who were new to going with me, but not new to GenCon, were The Cowboy Poet (always wants to play Dead of Winter), Televator (a talented competitive gamer) and Chris. New to GenCon were xcrudo’s brother John, and Paul from NZ. Our collective GenCon experience tends to be heavy on tournament play with a mix of demoing new games and playing favorites. We didn’t take home some of the championship hardware of some other years, but had some good showings and everyone had their moments of conquering a game.
Sooo many great games! I always wanted to get into one of those more large scale, experiential board games, and I finally got into one this year, which I’ll mention more below. But let’s get to the important stuff: The best games of the year, or years past that I’m just finding out about. Three great ones broke through for me.
For fans of Epic Duels, I think Adrenaline is the next great short format tactical combat game. You and your friends are basically going to run around a board and blast and kill each other, what more could you want? Each player controls a gun-toting pipe hitter in the style of a first person shooter video game like Halo or even Goldeneye.
You move around a game board and pick up colorful, transparent cubes of ammo to load into weapons like shotguns and railguns, represented by cards. Blast your enemies more than they blast you by reloading with the ammo, and using the right weapons at the right time. Win the game by spreading your damage most effectively and efficiently. It’s heavy on action, and the game does a great job making you fight in tight quarters, with enemies popping around corners and marking damage with interesting weapons. Unlike Halo or most board games, this is one of the few games I’ve ever played where getting killed is expected, and really no big deal. It can be a setback to winning, but you can still get killed once or even twice and win the game. You’re all going to get killed for the most part. I could see myself playing Adrenaline over and over again, for hours and hours, and not wanting to play much else. Except maybe these other two.
This is a great quick-format game that can go in a lot of directions, and captures an interest in the world’s evolution. Each player controls one or more animal species on earth during an early stage of earth’s evolution, represented by a small card. They will compete for plant food in a “pool” in the middle of the table, and play cards in front of them for traits. The species compete for food to survive and the one that stores the most food wins. Each species then evolves by growing in size and/or population and/or by adding various traits that help it survive. For example, you can make an animal intelligent or fast. Herbivores can evolve things to help them out-compete other species for food like a long neck, or store food like fatty tissue. They have to balance those with traits to help them fend off predators, such as size, or horns, or a defensive pack mentality, all the while trying to grow their population. Meanwhile, the predators evolve their own traits to better keep up with the herbivores and to out-compete other carnivores, and the game evolves from there, a competition for food among the animals. There are already many expansions for this. I only demoed it, so I don’t know how long it takes, but it struck me as fairly quick and very fun, plus with several expansions already out, speaking to its popularity. It’s also great for kids and families. Had some phone trouble so I couldn’t get a picture for ya.
Each player controls a bacteria that fights for control of a body, as a stack of cardboard chits fighting it out on a game board representing various sections of the body. Try to gain and maintain “dominance” in areas such as the brain, heart, and gastro-intestinal. Play cards at the right time to attack or absorb other bacteria, or to multiply or move, and navigate the body’s blood flow to spread to new areas. It’s sort of an intrigue game where you need to guess what your opponents are going to do as you fight for dominance of an organ group. Do you think you can maintain dominance of the heart, and spread to the brain? Or should you get on the move and take the stomach before the others push you out? The different moves you can make are interesting, but the most interesting part of the game is navigating the blood and organ system. I had continued camera issues but snagged this off Twitter.
Beyond those three, I really enjoyed Photosynthesis, where you compete with trees to take the most sunlight, DownForce, a slick car racing game, and Great Western Trail, where you try to make the most of your trips from Houston to Kansas City.
7Sins! and Indulgence were fun, we also tried out Dragonfire and played lots and lots of Terraforming Mars, plus of course, Coup and Secret Hitler. Towards the end, we even squeezed in a game of Firefly, which I got to play with 2 equally hardcore fans of the TV series in Tim and Paul. The highlight for me, though, was that I always wanted to play one of those large scale games you can only play at GenCon, and I finally got to in Powersail.
As a group of Dutch ships, we successfully sailed away from pirates, around the English fort, past the English blockade of ships and delivered the cargo to our destination.
I captained one of the two larger ships in our group of four, with the two smaller, faster ones carrying the cargo. The other large ship distracted the fort, and I was able to pinch an English boat against and island and wedge my ship between it and an even larger English gun boat.
The exchange of cannon fire decimated my hull and crew but the cargo boats sailed through successfully, so we achieved our goal. I even was able to pull my ship together, redistribute my crew, and sail to the safety of the Dutch port as the English got tied up with pirate ships.
These guys are some good gamers. I have to work harder to master these games if I’m going to go and compete at GenCon.
Runner-up – Star Wars Minis Championship – Docmogs, his third time reaching the championship final, his first time losing it in what was a bad matchup for his squad.
Champions – Star Wars Minis Team Tournament – Docmogs and timmerb. What’s new? These guys win Team Tournaments and Jedi Challenges all the time.
Finalists – Eclipse – Docmogs and Televator, who each won their first games. xcrudo and I got crushed and bounced in round one, in the same game with doc. The organizers have introduced a new mechanic this year, where you can bid on which species you want to control, which I thought was a nice add. Doc and Televator formed a strong alliance in the finals, but the other players countered with their own alliance, which proved superior.
Second place – Scythe – xcrudo, who won his first round game. Without the overpowered Russian faction, it was tough for xcrudo to do better than second place in the finals.
First Alternate Finalist – Agricola – timmerb, who finished first place, then second place, then third place in the three qualifier 4-player games he played, good enough to be the first alternate finalist. The first alternate typically makes the finals, but Tim had a conflict so he declined. He also commented that the best players of the game are really, really good.
Second Round – Puerto Rico – Roman. Almost not worth mentioning but hey, I won my first game, defeating 3 other players by a wide margin. I finished second place in the second game I played, but to advance to the finals, you need to win two games. Second place (overall) remains my highest finish.
The dealer hall was the craziest I’ve ever seen at GenCon, and probably one of the more insane things I’ve seen ever, in terms of the masses of people moving into and around a space. Going around Thursday, we might as well have been sardines swimming through a can. Pictures don’t really do it justice, not even this in-the-moment video really does:
The below were actually taken Sunday when things had calmed down, the earlier stuff was just masses of people so that you could see little else.
But the games were out and the games were good. I mean, in addition to all of those games I already mentioned, were all of these:
And these amazing, epic game sets:
And look, Epic Duels! This of the Smash Bros variety:
I met Atom, who created the set and has run the event for several years. I also met up with Sultan, a name familiar to Epic Duelers everywhere.
And here I am with Kevin Siembieda, author of the favorite games of my youth. He’s the handsome one, I’m the younger one.
Another great GenCon! See you next year!