The Eleven: Favorites from Gen Con 2016

Gen Con 2016 has come and gone.  I had an idea of what I wanted to see this year, but I didn’t really have a plan, other than some booths I wanted to hit on Day One.  But with no planned events, I felt free to just wander around and take it all in.  And I had a great time.  So here are eleven of my favorite things from the convention, presented in rough chronological order (I’m not ranking them).

image by BGG user bpovis
image by BGG user bpovis

Agility is a game by Brent Povis that was published by Two Lanterns Games.  I got a demo of Morels from the designer when I was last at Gen Con in 2012, and that has morphed into one of my favorite games, so I definitely wanted to seek this out.  I got the demo directly from Brent again, and we played a game starting kind of in the middle of the action.  Agility is a game where you are training different dogs and trying to get them through three courses by spending treats.  The game features an action selection method where players play a number card and moving that number of spaces on the chart, taking the action where they land.  This could be to clear obstacles or to get new treats, or some various other abilities.

The game has a very unique theme, as Morels did.  Povis also seems to like games that move, using an action track here as opposed to the mushroom path in Morels.  I liked this game a lot, as I suspected I would.  I’d really like to give the full thing a try sometime.  I didn’t come home with a copy (I really didn’t buy much), but it’s on my list.

image by BGG user Mr Poulpe
image by BGG user Mr Poulpe

Via Nebula is a game from Martin Wallace and Space Cowboys.  I was walking through the Asmodee area on Day One, and I happened to see it being demoed by none other than Martin Wallace himself.  So I sidled up to the table, intending to be in the next group that got a demo.  Then I heard Wallace telling someone that he needed to run as soon as this was over, so I didn’t stick around.  I did come back to it later as it was being demoed by one of my friends who was working for FFG/Asmodee.

The game is sort of a pick-up-and-deliver game where you have to deliver goods to sites that you might construct buildings and score lots of points.  The board is covered with fog, except for a few places where resources will pop up and the construction sites.  You have to place meadow tiles to build the paths that everyone can then use to move goods.  After someone has constructed their fifth building, the player who has scored the most points wins.

I didn’t get many full games when demoing at Gen Con, but this one, I did.  It’s a pretty quick and easy game that really owes a lot to train games in its design.  It’s essentially a train game without trains.  It’s a beautiful game, plays really well, and definitely one of my favorites from the Con.

Vlaada Chvátil at Gen Con 2016
Vlaada Chvátil at Gen Con 2016

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I’m a complete Vlaada Chvátil fanboy.  Well, there he was, big as life in the Czech Games room showing off CGE apps.  He demonstrated the Through the Ages app for me, and seemed pleased that I had never played the game before (I have played the first edition in sort of a truncated play in a coffee shop, and to me, that doesn’t count).  He showed me the tutorial, apologizing several times that it wasn’t quite finished.  The tutorial was very good at showing how to play, and even featured some of that trademark Vlaada wit.  I won’t spoil it, but there’s at least one joke in there that he seemed very happy that I appreciated.  The app looks very good already, and I’m looking forward to it being finished.  But to me, the highlight here was that I got to meet Vlaada Chvátil.

image by BGG user GreenM
image by BGG user GreenM

Vast: The Crystal Caverns is a game by David Somerville and Patrick Leder that is published by Leder Games.  I wrote about this in one of my random Gen Con previews, and as soon as I read the description, I knew I wanted to see it.  In fact, when the hall opened on Day Two and most people ran for the Harry Potter game, I went straight to the Leder Games booth for the first demo of the day.

Vast is an asymmetrical dungeon crawl.  One player is the knight whose sole purpose is to delve into the cave and kill the dragon.  One player controls the goblins, residents of the cave whose sole purpose is to kill the knight.  One player is the dragon, slumbering for a century and now wanting to wake up and escape from the cave.  One player is the thief, sneaking around the cave and trying to steal treasure.  And the final player is the cave itself, trying to expand to the point that it can collapse on all the other players.

Each role plays out completely differently – this isn’t an asymmetrical game where everyone follows the same turn sequence, everyone does completely different stuff on their own turn. This is the fascinating part of the game to me.  My demo was only one round, but that was enough to make me want to play more.

image by BGG user Floodgate
image by BGG user Floodgate

Sagrada is a game by Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews that will be published by Floodgate Games.  This is a game I saw in the Gen Con preview, but didn’t really look too deeply into it because I saw it was a future Kickstarter game.  But, there was an empty table as I was walking by the Floodgate booth, so I gave it a shot.

The game is about building stained glass windows out of dice.  In each of the ten rounds, players take turns rolling the dice (one more than double the number of players), then do a snake draft to choose two dice.  So the first player gets the first and last picks, while the last player gets the middle two picks.  You then put them into your design, trying to match patterns on your card as well as fulfill public and secret goals.  In the end, the player with the most points wins.

The game is quite colorful thanks to the translucent dice that are used, and I really enjoy the novel theme of building stained glass windows.  The game itself was kind of a puzzle game with low interaction, and a darn good one at that.  I look forward to seeing the Kickstarter, which I think should be going live in September.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Junk Art is a game from designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, published by Pretzel Games.  It’s a stacking games where players are placing pieces of different shapes on a base, which in itself is like a lot of different stacking games.  What makes the game different is that there are twelve different ways to play in the box.  At the start of the game, you’ll choose three different variants for your world tour.  There’s speed games, drafting games, The player with the most fans after those three rounds is the winner.

The demo at Gen Con was with giant Junk Art, which was a lot of fun to play.  I got the demo from designer Jay Cormier, and got to talk for a little while with Sen-Foong Lim as the next demo started.  The game itself was pretty fun and does enough that is different from other stacking games that I’d definitely recommend you check it out.

image by BGG user IngredientX
image by BGG user IngredientX

The Networks is a game by Gil Hova and Formal Ferret Games.  This was my last demo on Day Two, and it was one I had heard a lot about coming into the convention.  The game didn’t disappoint.

This is a game about building up your TV network to get the most viewers.  On your turn, you can land an ad (which gets you money), hire a star (which costs you money), develop a show (which may need an ad and/or a star attached to it), or take another special card.  At the end of the round, your ads make you money (and your shows cost you money), and you also gain fans based on the season of the shows and possibly their time slots.  We only played through two rounds in our demo and I’m not sure how long the game actually is, but the player with the most fans at the end is the winner.

This is a very fun game.  The mechanics are very tight and simple to pick up, and the theme is very well done.  The shows, stars, and art style crack me up.  Great game.

image from First Exposure Playtest Hall, Gen Con Day Three
Eco-Schism at Gen Con 2016

I didn’t sign up for any events at Gen Con, other than the worship service Sunday morning.  But on Saturday morning, I decided to drop by the First Exposure Playtest Hall to see what that was all about.  I got a free standby ticket, and after all the ticketed people picked where they wanted to play, I grabbed the first option I saw that looked interesting to me.  It happened to be Eco-Schism, a game by Tangent Artists, a webcomic company that is starting to dip their toes into game design.  They said I could talk about it, so here goes.

This game is essentially about building the food chain from the ground up.  There are two biomes, each with a pyramid structure – plants on the bottom, then herbivores/omnivores, then carnivores/omnivores, then the alpha predator on top.  Players are working together to build the food chain, but they are trying to be the best.  On your turn, you can play one organism and one action card.  Plants are all single cards, but animals are combined by adding a front half (which determines warm- or cold-bloodedness and what they eat) to a back half (which determines size and points).  All front and back halves are based on real animals, and half of the fun in the game is combining them together to get a Jackrabbicoon or a Rhinosaurus Rex.  Once all cards have been drawn, the player who has scored the most points gets the win.

Obviously, this game is still in the early stages of development.  But it was a very fun experience, especially in seeing the designer’s enthusiasm about the project.  We gave some feedback, but all four of us had a good time with it.  I’m eager to see how it comes out, but I’m also REALLY glad I decided to stop into the playtest hall.  It was just an overall great experience, and if I ever make it back to Gen Con, I’ll definitely be doing that again.  Probably with a ticket.

That wasn’t the only playtest I had that day.  That night, I got to play Magic Potion, a prototype by Alan Ernstein (designer of games like Inca Empire and Alan’s Adventureland).  This game was much further along – Alan said it was nearly ready for publication – and it was a good one.  I won’t say much about it because we may be seeing it released within the next year.  But I have to say, my playtest experience overall was definitely a highlight of the show.

image by BGG user jonritter
image by BGG user jonritter

Dragoon is a game by Jake Given, Zach Given, and Jonathan Ritter-Roderick that was published by Lay Waste Games.  It’s a game of dragons.  Each player controls a dragon who loves treasure, but doesn’t love people.  So, on your turn, you can move around the board and enter villages/cities, either destroying them or letting them stand so you can collect more treasure as the game continues.  You can fight with other dragons, play cards, and generally cause mayhem.  It’s a points game, and after the round where one or more players cross a certain point threshold, the game ends and a winner is determined.

Most games are on this list because I love the way they play.  That’s not the case here.  The game is fine, it really is.  There’s just a lot of dice rolling to determine outcomes, as well as devastating card effects that can really screw you up, a mechanism that never sits well with me.  It is, at its core, a take-that game with shinies.  But that’s the reason it IS on this list – the shinies.  The dragons, dragon nests, treasure tokens, and dice are all METAL.  The board is cloth, the scoreboard is cloth, but there are metal bits in the game and they are super cool.  I put them right up there with the best components I saw at the con, and that’s why this game is on the list.  It’s not a game for me, but something I’m really glad I saw.

image by BGG user evilone
image by BGG user evilone

The Dragon & Flagon is the latest game from Stronghold Games and the Engelstein Family – Geoff, Brian, and Sydney.  Stronghold demos were all full when I walked by throughout the con, but I finally got in on this one on Day Four.  It’s a barroom brawl game – players are all trying to get the most renown by beating up on everyone else and getting the Dragon Flagon, a mystical drink that provides wondrous abilities.

In each round, the players who are participating must plan their actions.  At least their first two actions will be planned (three if they are stunned).  These actions are chosen from a deck (there’s no shuffling, you just choose).  Then they will do them in turn order, with each action taking a certain amount of time.  When time runs out, the player who has amassed the most reputation points is the winner.

We played an eight-player game, which was super chaotic.  But it was fun.  I love programmed action games, and this offered something different – you’re not preplanning all of your actions, then doing all of them; you’re preplanning your actions, doing one, then planning another knowing full well that your last action is not going to work like you hoped.  It also has a time track, so I’m all in.  The bits are really nice (which you expect from a Stronghold production).  It’s a great game, glad I got to try it.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

My final demo of Gen Con was Captain Sonar.  This game, from Matagot and designers Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier, is all about two teams of submarine operators trying to hunt each other down and blow each other out of the water.  One player on each team is the captain, responsible for moving the ship.  Another player is the first mate, responsible for charging each of the systems.  Another player is the engineer, responsible for tracking and resolving the breakdowns which happen with every move.  And the final member of the team is the radio operator, who listens to the opposing captain and tries to deduce where they are using a transparency.  The first team to inflict four damage on the opposing sub is the winner.

In our game, I was the radio operator.  This is a really tough job when you’re in a noisy convention hall.  But, after a few false leads, I was able to zero in on the opponents.  We caught them and blew them up, leading to much high fiving.  It was a VERY fun game, definitely one of my favorites from the con.  It’s like Battleship, except with movement and more than just random guessing.  There’s actual deduction involved here.  It’s a fantastic game, and I look forward to playing again.

Of course, that’s just some of my experiences from Gen Con.  Here’s a rapid-fire rundown

  • Android Mainframe – Abstract game in the Android universe.  Interesting enough, but not terribly exciting.
  • Mystic Vale – Card crafting game.  Really cool concept, not a thrilling game.
  • Colony – An Essen release from Bézier Games.  It’s a dice allocation game, and I liked it a lot.  Ours did come down to a final die roll – I managed to score four extra points by rolling a six at the right time.
  • Dreamwell – Very pretty, trippy game.
  • Bears – Dice push-your-luck game.  Not interesting at all.
  • Beyond Baker Street – Sherlock Holmes Hanabi.  Fun game.
  • Sabotile – A friend of mine and his buddies designed this, and I finally got to play a demo.  It’s a cool game with some cool pieces, though a little too much take that for me.
  • The Ninth World – Prototype form only.  They call it a skill building game.  I liked it.
  • Foodfighters – Got an explanation of this from designer/artist Josh Cappel.  Looked like a fun fighting game for kids.  There are some really awesome removable stickers they’re using to make it more customizable.
  • Oceanos – A new drafting game by Antoine Bauza.  Very light, but enjoyable.
  • Trekking the National Parks – Got an explanation of this.  I love the concept, and it looks like something the same weight as Ticket to Ride.
  • Giant Pandemic – I watched this being played on a tarp.  The players all had costumes matching their roles.  Entertaining.
  • Cry Havoc – Got a demo of the hotness from designer Grant Rodiek.  It’s a very good game, just not really my style.
  • New Bedford – I was looking forward to trying this, and was kind of disappointed.  It felt too limited, and it moved way too fast.
  • Slap .45 – Speedy Old West game.  Fun for what it was.
  • Retreat to Darkmoor – Minions running away from the hero.  A friend of mine compared it to Get Bit, and I can see that.  More to this one than that, though.
  • Arcane Academy – Brief demo.  I would’ve liked to play more, it was pretty good.
  • Lotus – A pretty flower building game.
  • Tesla vs. Edison – This was one of my last Day Four demos.  I think my brain was a little too fried to get my head around it.

And that’s it.  It was a great Gen Con, I got to meet some great people, and I played a LOT of great games.  Thanks for reading!



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