The Games of Gen Con 2022

I’m late getting around to this post, but we’ve got a lot going on here at Geektopia Games:

  • Off the success of the board game, we are launching Fearsome Wilderness the Roleplaying Game, with the Kickstarter coming this week!  Sign up now get notified of the launch.
  • Fearsome Wilderness the Board Game is down to the final copies of the first print run.  If you still want to grab one, there are only 8 remaining as of this post:
  • The Orion-Cygnus Arm is shaping into an epic space odyssey.  Keep your eye out for the launch of our most ambitious board game some time next year.

As for Gen Con gaming, I wasn’t as blown away this year by new games as some past years, but one big reason for that is that we were hanging around my hotel near the convention center, but the guys had their games back at their hotel, miles away, so we ended up playing more of my games and fewer of theirs, so I was just exposed to fewer overall games.

Still, I typically highlight 3 games a year and there was no problem finding 3 new ones this year:

Pax Pamir (second edition)

This game by Cole Wherle and Wherlegig games one of the most interesting games of strategy and conquest that I’ve seen in some time.  The setting is Afghanistan, and there are army elements from the Russians, the British and the Afghans, but it’s difficult for any one group to gain dominance over the rest of the map.  It’s a tableau builder and in that sense nothing too out of the ordinary, but the cloth map is wonderful, I love the way you use simple game pieces in multiple ways, and it’s not just a game of strategy but of negotiation and diplomacy and just sort of riding the changing environment and seeing if you can just steer it over to your advantage.

In the end of our 5-player game, we had one faction ready to take control, but the player who could make it happen would only take second place so he wouldn’t do it.  But then another player was willing to accept second place and helped a different faction win, while the player who could have finished second ended up 4th or something.  You can’t just strategize and dominate your opponents; you need a coalition.

Ark Nova

This game, designed by Mathias Wigge and published by Feuerland Spiele, has been at or near the top of The Hotness on boardgamegeek for months now, so I had high expectations and they were completely met.  It’s a great strategy game with the fun theme of building a zoo, with many tried and true mechanics but also some interesting new twists.

A zoo could be light and fun or even whimsical and silly, but this game goes as hard as possible in the serious and scientific direction.  There are 2 tracks, one for income and one for conservation points, and they are at opposite ends of the track, like 2 trains headed for each other.  When they cross for any one player, that triggers the end game, a wonderful mechanic that reinforces the balance this game makes you strike between earning money as a zoo and furthering science and conservation efforts.

You build a tableau of cards, not just animals in your zoo but specialists and science projects.  You reach out to various countries to forge partnerships to make it easier to bring animals over and/or gain more points when you do.  Meanwhile, you’re also playing a tile laying game by trying to maximize the space you’ve got in your zoo, building exhibits but also special areas like a reptile house or bird house.

And of course, you get to collect and display all these fun animals from all over the world.  The game is well done that you’ll probably find yourself learning about animal species and their origins, as well as how zoos function and operate.

He stripped his teeth. He’s snappin’.

Super Slap Shot

I blogged about Slap Shot a few Gen Cons ago, but Matt brought it and some friends, and we had a legendary hockey night play out.

There are few games I’ve played more than the original Slap Shot (which was already a remake of Phantoms of the Ice) and I’ve introduced a lot of people to the game, whether it was back in high school when we’d play at lunch, or in business school when I brought it on a plane ride and then had everyone asking me to play it on the way back.  It’s just such a simple game, but there’s enough intrigue and strategy and surprises to keep everyone hooting and hollering.  So now here comes a fan version:

The original game has players 1-7, both forwards and defensemen, and in a game you simply flip cards off the top of your deck like in “war” with the higher number winning.  Of course there are wrinkles: Goalies, ranked 0-10, typically stop all goals unless goalies face each other, then the higher goalie scores.  There is one Superstar, with a * considered the highest number.  Most importantly, there are “bruiser” defensemen who injure players, rated 0-5.  The version we played also had late ’70s references like Puck Rogers, Slash Gordon and Chubby Checker.

The updated version lifts its players from Marvel or DC or Transformers or whatever licensed content it likes.  It uses the Advanced Rules included in the original game, where players can score on goalkeepers by rolling the dice (if tied, you can roll a 6, if the player is higher than the goalkeeper then a roll of 4-6; my friends and I used to tweak that to tied you roll a 6, one better a 5-6, two better a 4-6, etc.)  What I really like about it is that it uses 1-8 for defensemen and forwards, but then the forwards get some extra juice with a 9 Optimus Prime and a 12 Superman, but the defensemen do have a 6 bruiser.  The one thing I didn’t care for was the straight lift of characters like Spiderman and Superman.  So what, what’s the hockey connection?  At least the dated ’70s version had “Puck” or “Slash”.  Still I had a blast.  I won of course, surrounding my top-end players with enough terrible players that nobody wanted to trade with me, and getting some lucky die rolls.

Other games:

Pandemic: Contagion

If I was to highlight a fourth game, it’s this one, the only reason I hesitate is because it’s been out for a while now and is a small-ish game, so there’s only so big a deal I can make out of it (and it’s not something special to me like Slap Shot).  That stated, we love Pandemic and especially Rob Daviau & Matt Leacock’s Pandemic LegacyContagion is a great twist on Pandemic and is better than the original game, IMO, though nothing is as epic as Pandemic Legacy and they’re just very different games.  Pandemic is cooperative, Legacy is a cooperative campaign while Contagion is a competitive game where you are competing viruses, and it’s also relatively quick, I feel like our game took about an hour.

In that hour, there were plenty of strategic choices to make in how to best power up the virus to give yourself the best set of advantages, while balanced with enough time to exploit those advantages to earn points to win the game.  Pretty classic structure, but a nice disease feel to it, especially if you’re familiar with the prior games.

Fantastic Factories

We only played this once and we even had some misunderstanding of how certain cards were played, but for that short time I was nonetheless impressed and interested in playing again — and this is saying something because I have no problem handwaving away a game after one play when there are so many great games out there.  In fact, I’ve done as much to Space Base, and this one has some similarities to it in that you use cards to bet on certain dice rolls, which then earn you points.  This one stays a little lighter than Space Base, a bit easier to set up and take down if not as aesthetically pleasing.  You can sink your teeth into the strategic depth, but it has a bit of a whimsical, cartoony feel at the same time, as you compete to build the most efficient resource production chain to generate points and need a bit of the luck of the dice to help you beat your opponents.


Alas, I’ve struggled to identify exactly what game this is that we played.  You’d think with a tower that I imagine costs hundreds of dollars, it wouldn’t be that hard to find, but you would be wrong.  Anyhoo, Deri, Time and I demo’d this tactical combat miniatures game, and Deri and I are old veterans of Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game so we knew all the characters pretty well, and how to deploy them.  Despite not knowing the exact name of this game, I’m super impressed that they put this whole adventure together.  We didn’t even get to the tower and we were plenty occupied, but apparently you can open it up, go up the levels, and all of that.  I consider the adventure card game I referenced to be pretty great, and we had fun playing this demo as well.  I do have the figures already so this would be another application of them, but I already backed the Dark Tower Returns and I don’t currently have room for a second big tower game in my collection, but some day maybe.

Ascension: Tactics

Photo of the painted miniatures from GAMA 2020
courtesy of BGG

We are, or at least, were big fans of Ascension, the deck building classic, and what makes the game great is that the art and cards work together to create an interesting world that you want to further explore.  Well, this board game lets you explore that world in a different way, with a capture the flag sort of game being played on a field of battle.  We had a good time playing it, the rules were simple enough to get going and we had a strategy we were able to form and implement in a short time.  Still, part of the joy of the original Ascension was the simplicity of the card game and I think that’s getting lost here.  If a friend bought it, I’d play it, but there’s stuff I’d be more eager to get to the table.

Western Legends

I just want to say that I got some pushback on Facebook once for calling it the best sandbox game out there, but after playing it again, I totally stand by it.  I’ve played it a bunch of times now, and no 2 games have been alike and no one strategy has proven to be the best one, plus it does a great job of adding story and character to a board game.  I didn’t bring many games to Gen Con, but I brought this one, and we needed a game, so I took a bunch of friends through for the first time, and all in all it went really well.  I would say the entire group took to it, with Little Crudo pulling off a very sweet final turn to take the victory just before I would have done the same on my turn.  The difference between us, he won his big poker game, and that’s what it’s all about.  So if you like sandbox games or you like the western theme, you have to give Western Legends a try, it’s as good as there is for this type of game.

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