The Games of Gen Con 2019

So for all of the things I love about Gen Con, after the general camaraderie and spirit of it, what I love most is just playing games, games, games.  I played so many that it went by in a blur, and if I did’t take a picture then I pretty much forget about it, so the following is probably an incomplete list, but I’ll try to do each game justice.

Best in Show

I think I’ve posted about my 3 favorite games in 2017 but not so much 2018, because there weren’t 3 games that really broke through for me.  There definitely were 3 this year, and exactly 3.  I think I’ll do a top 3 Gen Con games every year from now on, let’s get right into it:

Tiny Towns (2019) by Peter McPherson, published by Alderac Entertainment Group

What I Like About Tiny Towns:  It’s 30-45 minutes, which is short, it plays up to 6 players, and it’s awesome.  Who doesn’t like building his or her own little town?  The space-point-management puzzle you’re presented with is fascinating, and it changes every game, as you try to squeeze the most points out of a game where you’re always painting yourself into a corner.  I did a bad job of taking photos of this game, but here’s the creator, Pete McPherson.

We probably played this game at Gen Con more than any other for all the reasons I mentioned.  I won some, I lost some.  I feel like literally everyone liked it, and what’s not to like?  Great game, and keep your eye out for Pete’s upcoming games.

The Quacks of Quedlinberg (2018) by Wolfgang Warsch, published by North Star Games

The expectations for this game couldn’t have been higher based on all the chatter about it.  The latest by Wolfgang Warsch, a push-your-luck bag builder, completely lived up to those expectations.  How often does that happen?

The “quacks” part refers to what you do:  You’re a quack doctor and snake oil salesman, brewing your latest potion.  You want to be the one with the highest scoring potion.  Every time you reach into your bag — bags are my favorite randomizing mechanic — you add some more brew to your potion.  The white, explosive liquid makes your brew look shiny and score points, but too much of it makes your brew explode, hence the push your luck element.  Do you reach for more potion, when the next white chip could make it explode?  It’s so satisfying when you gamble and win, and so bad when you lose.  As you score each round, you can purchase different potion additives, and build your bag, diluting your explosives.  I did not win this game (finished 2nd or maybe 3rd?) but it was a great experience, and when I saw others play, they also had a great experience.  I should have bought it, but it only goes up to 4 players without the expansion.  Still, I should have bought it.  Update: I bought it.

Unmatched by Rob Daviau and Justin Jacobson, published by Restoration Games

Unmatched will always be a major part of Gen Con 2019 for me, and we’ve already got a page set up, so you can check out everything about it there.  After Tiny Towns, it’s probably the game I played the most.  I went to pick up the base game and both expansions, and was able to see Rob Daviau again after we talked about Epic Duels, about a year and a half ago.  I got to meet Justin Jacobson, and a later point, I stopped by the booth, caught him in an otherwise quiet moment, and got a rules clarification that I needed.  My buddy Mark was one of the coordinators of the Unmatched Teach & Tournament, so he and his brother also played a lot and it came up in our group several times, though somehow Tim never played it.  I think I played with every deck at one point but I at least saw all 7 decks several times each.

Honorable Mention:

Kabuto Sumo (prototype) by Tony Miller

In a game world where everything is dudes battling on a hex map (my own game isn’t so different) or a deck builder, or an army against another army, this game stands out for its originality and uniqueness.

See the beetle pieces in blue and red?

By sliding disks onto the platform, you push the pile until you push the other guy’s beetle off, or he pushes yours off.  It’s like those arcade games with the pile of quarters.  Tony Miller’s game was being shopped to publishers at Gen Con, I don’t know which lucky publisher came away with it but be on the lookout (update: Board Game Tables is the lucky publisher  It’s spectacular as in, it’s a spectacle as well as a great game, might be the best I played.

Rest in Show

I’ll discuss these in the rough order in which I played them:

Gaslands (2017) by Glenn Ford and Mike Hutchinson

To say I’m into this subject matter is an understatement.  I’ve written the only complete FAQ for the Autoduel PC game.  I’m the owner of Road Blasters cars like these, why didn’t my friends tell me we’d play this so I could bring them?

Image result for road blaster matchbox

Our 8-player crash up derby wasn’t the best experience, but I had a positive impression of this game.  You can speed up, execute moves, and shoot at the other guys, what more could you want?  I think it could be a really fun team game, 3v3 or 4v4 and that sort of thing.  The key to the game is that the turns move pretty quickly once you figure out how it works, though our game didn’t involve much shooting.

Our game was a race of 8 cars bunched pretty close together.  In no time, most of them got into a pile up, then tried to free themselves.  One car kind of found himself sprung free from the rest, zipped through a hole in the crowd, and crossed the finish line before anyone else was close, or anyone else could get truly wrecked.  At least it didn’t take too long.

Wacky Races: The Board Game (2019) by Andre Chiarvesio and Fabio Tola, published by CMON Games

I used to be a fan of this show, so I had a good feel for the characters and had fairly high hopes for this game.  I won the one game I played but I wasn’t too impressed, not even as a light game to play with kids. It’s almost like Candyland, where you just move based on what cards you get and don’t have much control over it.  You see those different tiles above, each with its own color/pattern?  If you have that card in your hand, you can play it to move past that, otherwise you can’t unless you have a special ability that can help you (or something like that).

Each racer has his own vehicle, and the components for those vehicles are thick, unpainted monochrome plastic (I think this is a trend) and very nice.  Each racer all have 4 unique moves they can do, for example the Red Baron has some different flying moves that can give him a temporary advantage or help him get past a tight spot.  These variable player powers are all that keeps Wacky Races from being a total Candyland with no control whatsoever.

True Dungeon

True Dungeon isn’t really a game, it’s an experience, and it’s one I’d want to do every year at Gen Con, and from now on!

We formed a 9-person, Dungeons & Dragons like party.  You choose a character (I chose the Bard) and your team gets a bunch of items to start with.  You distribute the items in the most sensible way, giving heavier weapons and armor to the fighters, and ranged weapons to the ranged fighters, etc.

You are then literally immersed into a dungeon, where you go from room to room, each populated with actors and/or effects.  You take on either a puzzle, or combat.  There were some pretty interesting puzzles to solve, including an awesome one where you build a color bridge through the snow (hard to explain).  Combat was also interesting, utilizing a “shuffleboard” sort of board where you slide things, hoping to land on a high-numbered spot to do a lot of damage.  We did a puzzle where we had to figure out which bells to ring in which order.  Then combat vs. a Valkyrie, who was a great actress in a nice costume.  Then another puzzle with snow, which was probably the best room in the group.  Then combat vs. some undead guy who we couldn’t quite beat before time ran out.  Then another puzzle IIRC.

When we finally took on the dragon, we were granted a magic weapon, a Hammer of Thor to fight with.  We let our Dwarf Fighter throw the weapon.  He landed a critical hit on the dragon which instantly destroyed it, and we won without losing anyone to death.

Before I gush any further about it, I hear that the rooms that we did were the “greatest hits” from last year.  I also overheard some folks saying that the one they did this year was disappointing, the worst they’ve done.  I myself find it hard to believe they can make as many good and interesting puzzles as they need to, but the combat is fun enough that they don’t need to come up with too too many.  As a D&D fan, this is kind of what you always wanted D&D to be, a full on LARP with heavy D&D theme and complete with actors and live puzzles.  As stated earlier, I’d like to play every year from now on, and maybe even all 4 adventures every year.  It’s worth mentioning that it ain’t cheap, so combined iwth hearing others talking about their disappointment with this year’s adventure, proceed with caution.

War Chest (2018) by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson, published by Alderac Entertainment Group

I’ve heard a lot about this game and a guy was demo-ing it near my Terraforming Mars tournament, so I got a chance to sit down and play it.  It’s a very good game, one I’ll pass on buying, but I’d play it with a friend who was into it, no problems.  It would be fun to explore the different pieces.

It’s a bit like Chess, only the board is smaller and simpler and forces more direct conflict, with the pieces just a little less abstract and able to do just a little more.  The pieces of the 2 players are similar but a little different from each other, and they change from game to game.  The mechanics of each piece is generally pretty simple, and shown clearly on the card that comes with it; plus you only have a handful of different piece types to manage so it’s not at all overwhelming and is something a kid could understand and play well at.  One interesting mechanic is that if you, let’s say, have an archer on the board, and you use your turn to place another archer, you can either place a second archer or you can reinforce your first archer by playing the disk on top of the one on the board.  All pieces are removed with just one hit, but reinforcements add more hit points, which can be critical.  You mix archers with cavalry with infantry, each with its own abilities to move and attack, and try to outmaneuver your opponent to victory.  I’m not into abstract games but I’d play this one again.

I didn’t get a chance to play Isle of Cats but here’s a photo:

Honestly I have no idea what this is but it looks great:

Space Base by John D Clare, published by Alderac Entertainment Group (are they on fire or what?)

So this was a game I was highly interested in, after hearing a lot of good things, and I had a chance to finally play it.  It didn’t live up to expectations for me.  It’s a good game and I’d be fine to play it again, but it doesn’t break through as more than a roll & collect game with space theme, and doesn’t really scratch the space itch for me.  Still, it is an undoubtedly slick card game, and I do especially love the way the components work together.  As you can kind of see above, you dock your ships into positions on your board, which allows you to collect some combination of money, victory points and other effects when that number on the dice is rolled.  You can really get some cool strategies going, not something we did much of in our initial play.  I won this game, which I only mention because I didn’t really like the game that much and just want to qualify my opinion as having nothing to do with winning or losing.

Maskmen (2014) by Jun Sasaki and Taiki Shinzawa, published by Oink Games

Interesting little game that we stumbled upon, and I wanted to mention it.  This is one of those “get rid of all your cards” games with a wrestling theme.  We struggled a bit with the rules and played it incorrectly, but there’s sort of a neat element of first the wrestlers prove who is better than who and form sort of a totem pole, and then you get on with trying to rid yourself of cards.  I didn’t love it but I’d play it again.

10-Gallon Tank by David Smith, to be published by Winsmith Games

I kind of don’t know how I missed taking a photo of this beautiful prototype game by Winsmith Games.  It’s an I-cut-you-choose set collection game where you build your own fish tank.  There’s an interesting I-cut-you-choose mechanic, where the cards are all laid out in a 4 x 4 square, then you have to split the fish in a vertical pattern, like a split function in Microsoft Excel.  You can split vertically or horizontally, or both, but you make only one cut.  In a 4-player game, 3 players make a cut so that there are 4 piles, and then the players choose which pile of fish they want.  Some fish score more than others and some like to be grouped together, so it’s not as simple as making even cuts every time.  This will be a great one to play with kids or adults because it’s quick, simple, fun and so, so pretty.  Another friend even asked me, “what’s that very pretty game you guys were playing over there?”  That pretty game would be 10-Gallon Tank by Winsmith Games!  Keep your eye out for it.

Fire in the Library by Tony Miller and John Prather, published by Weird Giraffe Games

This game is pretty nifty, it’s like Quacks of Quedlinberg in that it’s a press-your-luck game where you reach into a bag.  This one isn’t a bag builder but it’s faster and it plays up to 6 players, so it’s a great filler for any number of players.

The library is burning down.  You reach into your bag and either pull out a book, which will score you points, or fire, which can end your turn.  As you pull the cubes from your bag, you place them on your player card.  The further you go on your turn, the more bravery points you score, but the bigger chance you will lose all the books you’ve collected.  Once you get into the dangerous range of your player card’s track, you can score a lot of points for bravery, but any fire cube you pull out will end your turn and all the books you’re carrying with it, as well as speed up the demise of the library.  Your turn can also result in your picking up tools to use later, for example the bucket, which lets you put out one fire cube, or the gloves (pictured above) which let you save a book that would otherwise burn.  The game’s strategy comes down to choosing the player turn cards, which determine which order you go in, how safe your card is, and how many points you can score through bravery, which is directly at odds with safety.  The game always comes down to when to play it safe vs. when to try to rack up points.  I was losing so I pushed my luck and it worked out for me, the lock box ultimately holding my margin of victory.  It’s a fun game I’d play any time.

Adrenaline: Team Play Expansion (2018)

I’ve written glowingly of Adrenaline in the past, the board game version of a first person shooter (FPS) video game that works pretty well to simulate it.  This is another game I messed up by not getting pictures of, and the new shooter they added is the coolest looking one!  Another welcome change is special abilities for each shooter, where they had been previously undifferentiated.  The team rules worked well enough that we had a good time playing it out.  As is typical, there’s a lot of damage thrown around in Adrenaline but when you get to the end of the game, the scores are all really close.  Our game came down to the tiebreaker, which went to the other team in this case.  I’m noticing almost every game of Adrenaline ends in a near tie.  It seems like for all your machinations, you and your opponent do almost the exact same damage to each other and it comes down to something small, like a first blood strike (in the base game) or in this case, a tiebreaker.

Cage Match! (2019) by John Lash and Geektopia Games

I don’t want to self-promote too heavily, but David from Winsmith Games mentioned Cage Match! in a tweeted response to this article and I’m kind of remiss not mentioning Cage Match! because we played it a lot.  Once I get the Terraforming Mars games started, I have 90-120 minutes of downtime before the games come to an end and I have to collect winner information, just need to hang around to answer questions.  So in one instance, I asked a husband of one of the TM players if he was up for a game.  I took a 3-4 games out of my bag, but he grabbed Cage Match! out of curiosity.  He mentioned he’s a MMA fans so without telling him anything about it, I suggested we play.  He had fun and asked to play again!  So I’ll take that.

I’m personally very pleased with how those Cage Match games played.  They are fast and easy enough to follow.  Even after many plays with different fighters and different opponents, there were no real tweaks I wanted to make to the game, which is saying something.

I feel like there were more games played!  But this is all I can remember for now.  I really wanted to try out We’re Doomed, a party game by Breaking Games, and High Rise by Gil Hova and Formal Ferret Games, but you can never do it all.

Let me know if you have any questions or what your own impressions of these games were!

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