GenCon 2018 Review: The Games

To remind you, last year was all about Adrenaline, Evolution and Viral and there were several great games this year, too, though I’m not sure if there are any I liked quite as much as the above.  I also found our group weirdly ill-prepared for some of the group sizes we had, lacking Glory to Rome for quicker 3-to-4 player games, and 7 Wonders for quicker 6-7 player games.  But it opened up time for new-to-us games and some will definitely stick!

Captain Sonar

I’m listing this first because we played it first.  I’m actually thrilled because I missed out on playing it last year but got to play it this year, and as the Captain, no less.

It’s good when a game is “the one where you”.  This is the one where you play the crew of the submarine.

This is most fun as an 8-player game.  It’s a duel between submarines, each with a 4-player crew, sort of Battleship on steroids.  As the Captain of our sub, I successfully led us to destroying the opposing sub!  The moment our first torpedo struck them was really exciting.  After that, both subs pretty much knew where the other was, but we had gotten the jump on them and this fact was irreversible.

I’d play this again if I find myself in a group of 8 players, but otherwise I wouldn’t be in a hurry to play it again.  It’s a very novel game the first time you play it, and I enjoy the team vs. team aspect, but I don’t think its replay-ability is very high.


The one where you make a stained glass window with dice, and the featured photo for this post.

This is an interesting dice drafting game.  It moves fairly quickly, and one thing about it, is that it’s very pretty.  It also lets you do something, which is build your stained glass window.  It uses translucent dice both for their values, but also to act as translucent stained glass pieces.  It really works!  Great game.


The one where you go around the board, train up mages and have them fight each other to get better spells.

This is a really interesting, somewhat abstract game involving magic.  You are competing magic users, but you don’t cast spells or wage wars in the traditional sense.  Rather, you have followers, and you leave them behind you.  You train them up to learn spells, then have them compete against each other to learn even better spells for you to cast.  Would definitely play this one again.

Yellow & Yangtze

The one where you try to control a Chinese kingdom of hexes.

Another really interesting game, even more abstract than Archmage.  You put tiles down for points, but after conflicts, the “nation” that you’re battling over can completely change in shape and size and vulnerability.  The way the map shifts and offers new opportunities is something you can sink your strategic teeth into.  Would play again for sure, probably again and again.

Blood on the Clocktower

The one like Werewolf only everyone has a specific role.

A few friends and I played this game, which is very similar to Werewolf or Mafia.  It wasn’t run very well, and I think it could use some tweaks, so it wasn’t a great experience for us.  A friend joked that, “If your friends are really sick of Werewolf, you could play this game.”  As in, we don’t ever play Werewolf except at GenCon, so nobody is sick enough of it to need something to replace it.

But when I thought about it, I actually think there’s something really good here.  Werewolf is fun the first time or two you play it.  It’s fun when you’re one of the werewolves.  It’s fun at GenCon.  After that, you realize it’s not that great.  You have no information to work with except for who dies, and who talks, and who doesn’t.  It’s really just a guessing game that in my experience, usually goes poorly for the village people.

Blood on the Clock Tower addresses all of that.  Some villagers are equipped with information.  Others are given incorrect information, but it still gets people talking.  Only the evil Imp does the killing but he doesn’t know who his minions are.  However, the minions know who the imp is, and know who the other minions are, and each has a special ability he can use to make things harder on the townspeople.

It could still use a bit of work, IMO.  In our game, I found it a little too easy for the townspeople to sort out the other townspeople.  You could literally go around the circle and have everyone just state his/her role, and we basically did that at one point, and the evildoers had little recourse.  So, it needs work, but I think it would be a worthy endeavor.  I guess I’ll try to find the game designer and let him know my thoughts (update: done).

Custom Heroes

The one where you slide cards into sleeves to upgrade them and then throw them down!

This actually ended up being our 6-player go-to.  It’s a trick-taking game, but you can change the values of the cards in your hand by sliding them into special sleeves.  You also have special trump cards you can play, but someone else can follow with his/her own trump card.  It’s a game of “oohs” and “aahs” and was a great time.  Will play this any time.

GKR Heavy Hitters

The one where you bash each other with mechs.

I’ve wanted to play this one since the Toy Fair and got a chance to demo it.  The components really couldn’t be any prettier, though I weirdly forgot to take a pic, so this is courtesy of bgg:

You get to control not only your “Heavy Hitter” mech, but a small team of 3 support vehicles including a scout, another smaller hitter, and a repair vehicle.  There are some interesting mechanics such as “tagging” buildings for points.

That stated, I was actually disappointed in this one.  In every mech game I’ve played, both in video games and in board games, the fun is in the different types of mech you control.  In Heavy Hitters, you don’t build or customize your mech, and they’re all the same except for the cards that you draw.  Perhaps this is addressed in the expansion, but I can only tell you about the base game, and the base game lacks this critical aspect of mech games.  It almost disregards the genre.  Next, as long as we’re throwing fancy mechs around, I’d be more into throwing fancy dice like D4s and D10s and the like, instead of typical spotted D6s (which I use in Cage Match, but mine is an intentionally simple game, this is not).  Finally, in our game, I found that once one mech starts taking damage, the other characters find it in their interest to concentrate on that player until he’s out of the game, and there’s really not much he can do to catch up anything, so one player in each game will likely end up with a NPE.  I’m glad I got to play it because knowing what I do, I’m going to pass on this one.

Slap Shot (1982)

The one where you build a hockey team.

One of the last games we played, late at night, when we needed a game for 7 players.  I broke out one of my all-time favorite games to a skeptical crowd, with the promise, “Every group I’ve ever played this with has liked it.”  One friend considered it a bold challenge.

Challenge met.  Another group loved the game.  We played the really old version with bad racial stereotypes rather than the new one from Columbia Games.  But seriously, this is a really fun game, and you don’t need to like hockey at all to enjoy it.  When a light-scoring bruiser named “Cheap Shot” is the MVP of the winning team, you know you’re having fun.

Plus, my picture is on the box, hiding in the back, if you look carefully…

Roman F

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