Gen Con 2017

Gen Con 50 welcome sign at Indianapolis Airport

Thursday, August 24th

You’d be surprised how much exercise is involved in a convention about board games. I walked about 28 miles in the course of four days, mostly retracing my steps over and over again as I wandered Gen Con’s exhibit hall, tournament hall, and ancillary rooms. I spent (too much) money, cancelled two pre-orders, ate delicious food that’s bad for me, slept at a truck stop hotel (not recommended), and laughed a lot.

Crowds on the first day

It’s hard to classify any day of Gen Con as being more or less crazy than any other, they all have something crazy going on, but Thursday might be the most urgent. Many publishers release their new games at Gen Con and they can only bring so much due to shipping costs and booth space. That leads to games selling out very quickly, usually less than an hour after the exhibit hall opens to the general admission crowd. There’s a small group of VIGs (Very Important Gamers) that pay about six times as much as a normal pass and get access one hour earlier to the exhibit hall, among other perks. So with that knowledge, you have to rush to your favorite booth and hope what you want is there.

Line at Steamforged Games

Me? I rushed to the Steamforged Games booth to try and get the new Blacksmiths team for Guild Ball. However, I figured it’d be no problem and went through a door further from their booth. When I arrived at the booth, there was an enormous line which I hopped in. After forty five minutes an employee came to tell us that they were sold out of Blacksmiths.

HABA

HABA Booth

With that out of the way, I began to wander the show floor. I checked out some of the close booths, but made my way over to the HABA booth with my sons in mind. I was interested in picking up Rhino Hero Super Battle, but they had sold out of every copy they brought, so I was out of luck. However, I did pick up copies of Lumina and Tiny Park.

Lumina and Tiny Park by HABA

Lumina is a game about chasing fireflies and your goal is to catch five of them. You have a board with different paths and different backgrounds and around the board are face-down tiles. On your turn, you flip over a tile and can move to a matching spot on the board and can then flip over another tile to try and move again. You keep moving until you flip over a tile you can’t move to. When you move onto a spot with a firefly, you pick it up and then reveal a new firefly. My son enjoys memory games and adding routes to them certainly makes things interesting. However, the art is what sucked me in here, it’s gorgeous. I had been looking for Monza and saw it at the show, but ended up going for Lumina instead and I think we’ll be happier for it.

Tiny Park was on my watch list for Gen Con and given its $12 price point, it was a very easy purchase. It’s one of HABA’s smaller games, easy to take to restaurants. Your goal is to fill your individual gridded board with amusement park rides. On your turn you roll five dice up to three times and choose differently shaped tiles that have those rides and place them on your board. The pieces will remind you of Tetris pieces, but you can place them anywhere on your board. The first one to fill up their board wins. This was another game that sucked me in with art and theme as I’m a big fan of theme parks.

True Dungeon

True Dungeon placard and chips

When my group of friends decided to go to Gen Con, one of the things we wanted to do was True Dungeon as a group. The event lottery had other ideas so we ended up with a total of four tickets for the puzzle-oriented Moongate Maze.

If you haven’t done True Dungeon before, it’s a mashup of live action roleplaying, an escape room, and shuffle board. It’s good fun. However, I have a tip for anyone wanting to do True Dungeon: show up early. We showed up about 15 minutes before our session was supposed to start and we were the last folks in the room, which means we had last pick for classes and what was left were the memorization-heavy classes. These are fine, but they may not be what you want.

This year’s True Dungeon was disappointing compared to the one I did in 2014:

  • There were fewer rooms this year.
  • There was one GM that was having a bad day (which I didn’t help when I accidentally broke a plate due to part of the puzzle not working quite right)
  • I was stuck being the Bard which didn’t really jive with what I wanted

Most of this is due to us being late and having fewer class options and some of it is due to there being fewer puzzles and me breaking a plate. I’d chalk it up to it being a bad year and would do it again in a heartbeat. Just show up early, seriously.

Flamme Rouge Rollout Party

Flamme Rouge Rollout Party

I’ve played Flamme Rouge once before and really enjoyed it, so when I saw the release party available, I decided to go and play a round of Flamme Rouge. We sat down and then had the rules read to us and then started playing.

In previous plays, I was out ahead far too early and took too much exhaustion and this was often the result of getting higher cards than I wanted (or not realizing how low other people were playing). This time, I started out low and kept with the pack. I was at the head a few times and took my fair share of exhaustion cards, but not as many as last time. I managed to get both of my cyclists across the finish line for the win (though you only need one).

Then, it turned out, that if you won the game, you got to pack up the copy you played with and bring it home!

Ding & Dent Meetup

After winning a copy of Flamme Rouge, I set out to find the Ding & Dent Meetup. This is much harder than it sounds, as evidenced by my tweets that night. I eventually found them with a good amount of assistance from Raf and sat down for a few games of The Chameleon and Tiefe Taschen. Both were good games, but I decided to buy The Chameleon.

Really the highlight was getting to meet Raf and Charlie—they’re super nice guys. They’re really approachable. Have a question about a review or part of their podcast? Ask them and they’re happy to respond. Seriously, you should check out their podcast and follow them on Twitter.

Friday, August 25th

Friday started with another rush to the Steamforged Games booth, but this time I had success! I managed to pick up the Blacksmiths, along with a set of tokens, and an adorable Chibi version of Salt.

Guild Ball Blacksmith Guild, tokens, and Chibi Salt for Fisherman's Guild

FFG In-Flight Report

One of the highlights of going to Gen Con is Fantasy Flight Games’s In-Flight Report. This is where they talk about their various games, how well they’re doing roughly, and any new releases they haven’t announced yet.

This year, we were left wondering what would be new given how much they had announced before the show. We got the usual Star Wars X-Wing ships everyone expects and a little talk about the new Runewars Miniature Game factions. Nothing special. And then…

Star Wars: Legion in action

Star Wars: Legion was the big news this year. A miniature game of ground combat skirmishes set in the Star Wars universe. My friend’s wallet cried out in terror and was suddenly silenced. The game looked fantastic and looks like a culmination of what they’ve learned about Star Wars fans, miniature games, and rules systems. I didn’t get the chance to watch a play of it until Sunday, I’ll talk more about it then.

Alien Artifacts

Alien Artifacts prototype copy Image by Keith Leonard

I was signed up for a play of Alien Artifacts and wandered the event hall until I found my table. First, this wasn’t a demo put on by Portal Games which meant we were playing a print-and-play copy instead of an early production copy. That was fine, but less than ideal.

Anyways, the game. I don’t remember a ton about it. It was utterly forgettable. You have ships, technologies, and planets. You get resources. You use those resources to build ships, research technologies, and explore planets. Those ships, technologies, and planets do things once you’ve researched them. Earn points and win!

Seriously, skip this one.

MoonQuake Escape

MoonQuake Escape

Walking around, we got suckered into playing MoonQuake Escape a game about getting off of a planet first. The game has a lot of visual appeal with a four tiered board of spinning disks and a moon that rotates around the planet that you spin in order to determine the number of actions. The art is well done and cartoony and my sons would likely love it when they’re old enough.

However, at the moment I wouldn’t bother picking it up because it would never get played with my group of adults. Definitely worth checking out if you have 6-10 year olds.

Dungeons & Dragons Introduction to Adventure

One of the things I was looking forward to when I was setting up events was a D&D session. I don’t get to play RPGs often, basically never, so when I had a chance, I jumped on it.

Our party was comprised of seven adventurers: an herbalist, three wizards, one cleric, one paladin, and—myself—one rogue. Our DM asked us if we wanted anything in particular and when we said “something fun” she offered us a “dinosaur race”. Now, I haven’t played D&D a lot, but I don’t really remember seeing many “dinosaur races” in other fantasy worlds, so as a group we decided this sounded perfect.

Dinosaur Race during D&D 5E Adventure

It was a blast as we raced dinosaurs, cast spells that we weren’t really allowed to cast, and attempted to trip up the competing team.

My character—Simeon—was a mouthy little halfling who didn’t really plan and I believe I played my part quite well, waltzing in and out of places like I owned the joint without much concern for my well-being.

I’d like to play RPGs more, D&D among them, but given how much time I have to play games, I’m not sure it’ll happen often.

Dice Forge

My friend Tim brought Dice Forge from home and would toss it in the car in the morning in case we had time to play. On Friday we hung around the convention center and I got to play it twice.

Dice Forge is all about scoring points by buying cards that give you abilities and points, or cards that were just straight up points. You spend gold to buy new dice faces that you swap out on your dice.

How the Dice Forge dice work

This is an incredibly neat mechanic and one I hope to see later, however there wasn’t much else to the game. It feels like the first game of it’s type and it’s introducing the mechanic without making a compelling game. In some ways it’s like the Dominion of it’s mechanic. I enjoyed it and would buy something like it once my kids are older, but right now it wouldn’t see much play.

Kingdomino

Kingdomino in action Image by Jakub Niedźwiedź

Similar to Dice Forge, I wouldn’t buy Kingdomino unless my kids were the right age. It’s a pretty simple little game about building a kingdom using domino-like tiles with a very neat bidding mechanic. You draw as many tiles as there are players and leave them face down. Each tile has a number and you order the tiles from least to greatest and then you flip them face up. In random order for the first pick, each player chooses one. Then the next set of tiles is laid out in the same way, but this time you bid in order from lowest to highest from the previous set of tiles. Higher numbered tiles are usually worth more points, so you have a choice between getting high-scoring tiles and getting the first choice next round.

My friend Tim brings this one out to restaurants and I can see why. It’s a cheap, compact game that’s easy to teach and fast to play. What’s not to love?

Saturday August 26th

On Saturday, I had a few events scheduled: a quick session of Shadowrun, a tournament for The Godfather, and a game of Downforce. I skipped out on everything but Downforce and I’m glad I did.

Spirit Island

Spirit Island

I had heard a few things about Spirit Island and was interested in trying it. My interest had waned when I realized it was cooperative, but I decided to try it out all the same.

In the game, you’re island spirits with asymmetric powers trying to scare away colonialist powers from taking over your island. You have a beginning of turn action that lets you place your influence on different spaces of the board (some of which are better for some spirits versus others), get your played cards back into your hand, or gain some extra energy. Then you pick cards which cost varying amounts of energy and work with your teammate to figure out some synergy. You then reveal your cards and any fast cards occur. Then the game takes it’s turn by adding more explorers, towns, and cities, and attacking the natives. Following that, your slow cards occur.

There’s a lot to balance here and given the number of spirits, there are a lot of different combinations and options to see. When I first played, and even up to writing this, I was lukewarm on it, likely due to it being cooperative and some of the components being a little odd in my mind, but the more I think about it the more I’m interested in picking this one up.

Ex Libris

Ex Libris cards

Ex Libris was typically near the top of the hot games list and it had fantastic art that just drew you in. However, after demoing it, I’m not so keen on it any more. The goal in Ex Libris is to build and organize your library. That means collecting cards and playing them to your library in alphabetic order while having more cards that earn you more points and fewer that subtract points. That description is pretty reductionist, but that’s the gist. You use your workers to pick up and/or play cards to your library and that’s all I saw in the demo. Maybe there are more, but they wouldn’t rescue an otherwise boring game for me. This one is a pass.

Whistle Stop

Whistle Stop Image by Phoebe Wild

This was the game that sat perched atop the hotness list for the whole con. It sold out day one I think, and the demos were full. I watched part of the beginning of a game and got the gist of how it plays, but you’re better off reading the rules or watching a review to get the handle on it. In summary, it’s a tile placement game with some light pick-up-and-deliver elements to it. You pick things up and deliver them for points and occasionally resources to help you move. There are also some ways to convert things to earn you points, resources, or goods.

It’s definitely a neat looking game and one I’ll add to my wishlist, but I also realize that almost ever Bezier Games product I’ve owned leaves my collection at some point. I’m planning on giving this one a fair shake, but for now it’s a wishlist item, not a buy.

Downforce

I bought Downforce on the first day of the con, but I had a demo scheduled for Saturday and went over to try it out. I already had a gist on how to play after watching and reading several reviews, but there were bits and pieces I didn’t know (and for what it’s worth, my teacher got a few things wrong, but most of it right).

In Downforce, you’re trying to win by having the most winnings at the end of the game. You earn winnings by having your race car(s) finish sooner than the others, by bidding on what car you think will win the race, and by not bidding too much on the car you end up owning before the race. That’s the twist, you get at least one car, but you are paying for it. That cost is subtracted at the end of the game, so you want to bid as little as possible. Also, if you have more than one car, you now have almost double the expense as the other players and will have to figure out how to make up for that.

After that, it’s a matter of playing the various speed cards that have one or more car colors on it.

Cards in Downforce Image by JR Honeycutt

You go from top to bottom, moving the top car that many spaces, then the next, and so on. If there’s a wild, you can move any other car that many spaces. From there, it’s a matter of bidding on who you think will win, finishing the race, and totaling the amount you win.

This is a great game, it’s easily taught, and you can play it in roughly 30 minutes with a group that has played it once before. There is a lot more strategy than it sounds like because you can block other cars in the chokepoints and take the long way through the turns. Definitely worth playing or picking up.

Summit

Summit Image by Conor McGoey (the designer)

I had gotten a demo of Summit earlier in the day and it had been on my list since Man vs Meeple mentioned it in their Origins preview. In my initial demo, I was impressed by the art, the choice to play cooperatively or competitively, and how much you can be a jerk in the competitive game. Another quick summary: you’re climbing a mountain and dealing with the difficulties that come with it. You decide how much food and oxygen to bring with you and then start climbing. You place tiles on the board that are easier or harder or consume resources and the mountain throws everything it can at you. Meanwhile, if you’re playing competitively your friends are either helping you out and earning karma or screwing you over and losing a few points. You need to get to the top and back down to win.

It looked interesting and I enjoyed my demo, but walked away. I then went and played everything above. After my Downforce event, my friend came over and asked me if I had seen anything interesting today, and I just started rambling about Summit, how interested I was, how it played, and what it looked like. I realized then that I was going to buy it. I took my friend over, showed him the game, and asked a few questions about the Yeti expansion and purchased it all right there, I even got my box signed, much to the designer’s chagrin.

Sunday, August 27th

Photosynthesis

I watched a demo of this one on Saturday, and dismissed it as being an abstract and I already have enough abstracts for my collection. However, friends of mine were catching a demo and I had nothing else to do since the exhibit hall wasn’t open, so I tagged along hoping to get a spot. Well, I didn’t get to play, but I did get to watch most of the two rounds they played (three rounds is the normal length).

It is abstract, but the idea is unique and I haven’t seen many games with the theme of growing trees. Nor are most abstract games this beautiful.

Photosynthesis and player board

The sun rotates around the board and provides energy to the tree’s owner depending on whether it’s in another trees shadow or not. You turn take turns playing an action at a time and then the sun rotates.

On your turn you take an action by either taking a seed or tree from your board to your playable area (making them available for subsequent actions), growing something on the board, spreading seeds, or removing the tallest trees to earn points (the only way to earn points).

The player with the most points from sacrificing their tall trees wins.

Star Wars: Legion

Star Wars: Legion in action

We had heard a rumor that Fantasy Flight Games was planning on releasing a ground-based miniatures combat game for Star Wars at Gen Con and that rumor was spot on. We got to see a glimpse earlier during the In-Flight Report, but this was the first game I truly got to watch. My friend Tim and his son played this one and I watched and asked the demonstrator questions, trying to understand the game a bit better.

Really all you need to know is there is less measuring in this game than most miniatures games; all of your units will activate once per turn, but depending on the card you started the round with, you will not know the order of some of the units; they’ve made combat very simple compared to other miniatures games; and the miniatures looked absolutely fantastic.

I will almost certainly buy this one.

Crystal Clans

The last demo of the con goes to Crystal Clans, a game I wrote off as an also-ran of Summoner Wars, but there are some major changes between the two. The first change you’ll notice is that there are no dice in Crystal Clans. Combat is based on the group’s total combat plus whatever the top card has versus the defending unit’s defense. If you have enough attack that it’s greater than the defense, you destroy all of their units. I think the defender then attacks back, but I’m fuzzy on that part to be honest (give me a break, it was the last day of the con!).

The second thing I noticed was more clever: the turn structure is determined by how much you bring out on to the board and what you do. Instead of I-go-you-go, each action you do has a cost associated with it and the board has a track on the side where zero is in the middle and it counts up going in both directions.

Crystal Clans Image by Jerrod Warr

When you take an action you move the crystal that many spaces toward your opponent’s side. If the crystal is still on your side or in the middle blue spaces, you can take another action. So the game is all about taking efficient actions and not allowing your opponent to take big actions if possible.

I don’t have a ton of room for two player games, but this one may make it into my collection at some point.

Purchases

My goal going into this Con was to not spend too much. I’m pretty sure I failed, but on the bright side, I crossed a few games off my list saving me money in the future (at least that’s what I keep telling myself). Here’s the list of what I bought at the convention and afterwards:

Gen Con Purchases

I also won a copy of Flame Rouge, so it’s not a purchase.

My 2017 Gen Con haul!

Outside Con Purchases

So these are any purchase or pre-orders I made outside of the convention due to seeing the game or news about a game:

Wrap Up

Gen Con is always exhausting, expensive, and a whole lot of fun. You get to see the new games, meet new people, hang out with people you only know online, and spend time with the friends that came with you. You wait in a lot of lines, sometimes with nothing to show for it, but sometimes you walk out of an event with a new game or with the realization that you don’t like a game that you just knew you would.

For me, the biggest question I ask myself after trips like this is: was it worth it? And I can say it absolutely was. I had a blast and I look forward to going again.

Some recommendations:

  • Wear good shoes, walking 28 miles in four days is more than most people usually walk.
  • Get a good hotel room, seriously, don’t stay at the Motel 6 by the truck stop.
  • Try out as many demos as you can get away with, test everything out.
  • Schedule events, but realize that 1-3 a day is probably enough, especially if they’re multi-hour events.
  • Talk with the folks in line with you, we’re all nerds here.
  • Enjoy the food trucks, but walk a block or two away and have a nice sit down meal with little to no wait. And use OpenTable to reserve tables.
  • Save some time for playing games with your friends. If I have any regrets about this year’s Gen Con, it’s not playing enough games with my friends when we had the time.

Here’s hoping that I’ll be back for Gen Con 2018!