Oh, right, I probably need to get this one done, as well, so here we go.
So, probably the easiest way to talk about Gen Con is to talk day by day by day, but I’m honestly not convinced that’s a good look for the outlet, so I’m instead going to just post a recap of all the games I played in the order I remember playing them and some thoughts on the actual Con.
First off, you might be asking, what is Gen Con? Well, it’s a giant board game / tabletop / roleplaying / video game / anime / whatever you want convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, a city known for its … circular downtown. And something else, presumably. The Colts? Who knows. Every year, thousands (tens of thousands, really) of attendees arrive downtown to play games, talk about games, buy games, look at games, or occasionally have Steak and Shake.
On the board game reviewer side, Gen Con is a great place to take an early look at games that haven’t seen a wider US release, yet, and to get a few copies of games that will be making a splash either at Essen Spiel (an even larger convention in Essen, Germany) or on Kickstarter later this year / early next year. There are also plenty of already-released titles that you can try (and I’ve reviewed several of those, like Space Base or Fairy Tile, already). It’s also nice to catch up with friends that work in the industry or are content creators, themselves, who I don’t normally get to see because everyone doesn’t live in California for some reason.
So let’s talk about some of the games I’ve played, with pictures. The photos are taken from my Instagram, if you want to follow me there; they’re not quite as staged but they’re more frequent. If I’ve reviewed it, I’ll link to my review, and I’ll try to update this as I get to the games:
Megaland: So the first game of the con, for me (I arrived Tuesday, so that’s not entirely accurate) was Megaland, Red Raven’s Target-exclusive title. I brought it to Indy for a friend, and it’s a neat press-your-luck game of essentially guiding your video-game-esque character through levels until you’re either wealthy or dead (just like real life). I wouldn’t call it exceptionally deep, but I liked it quite a bit and want to play it again soon. Naturally, I got my own copy, but I haven’t had a chance to open it, yet.
The Shipwreck Arcana: Next up! I played this and Pasaraya in quick succession (forgot to take a photo of Pasaraya for this one but got one on the second game. This is really moving up fast towards my Top 15 — it’s a delightful co-op with some cool puzzle elements. The fact that I also got to play it with Isaac Childres and Ella (of Ella Loves Boardgames) was also quite fun; they’re both great.
Pasaraya: Like I said, I played this twice. I’d later play it with the fine folks from Draft Mechanic; ended up teaching it to a lot of people. I kind of think that might be the games that I bring to Gen Con next year (or just bring to cons where I buy games in general) — games that I’ve done reviews or previews for but they haven’t released widely, so I can give people more of an opportunity to try them out? That seems like fun. Pasaraya is really neat, though, as it’s the first deckbuilder I’ve seen where you actually have to spend your money (as in, you lose it). Weird that it took so long for that to really come up.
MetroX: One of my go-to travel games; it’s quick and simple to learn, but very challenging to play well. I keep seeing some alternate maps popping up here and there, and I’d love to see more versions of this coming for different cities (maybe even worldwide). All in all, it’s a delight to play and I’m hoping that this isn’t the last I’ve seen of this OKAZU brand title.
Right around here, I went to sleep and was up ridiculously early. The main rush is Wednesday morning, as people get ready to swarm the vendor hall to buy the hottest games of the con. I … don’t remember what they were, at this point. Maybe Newton / Railroad Ink, from CMON? Reef, from Next Move? Blue Lagoon / Scarabya, from Blue Orange Games? Something like that.
Welcome To…: Another great game, this managed to arrive just in time for me to stuff it in a bag for Gen Con. Should have a review up eventually, but in the meantime this is another MetroX / flip-and-fill style game from Blue Cocker and Deep Water Games, the latter of which is publishing this stateside. Being a 1950s housing developer is surprisingly entertaining, and Welcome To… is going to be a mainstay in my collection for a while.
Sprawlopolis: Again, in the interest of bringing games without a lot of copies publicly available so that friends could try them, I packed Sprawlopolis (and it didn’t take up much room). It’s since started arriving off Kickstarter for all sorts of people, and I’m excited to also get my copy in, eventually. I think I may honestly recommend to people to have at least part of your Kickstarter running through Gen Con (or some con where you can demo the game). People often want to buy a game after playing it, so, make it easy for them to do so?
That was Day One of Gen Con. Along the way I also picked up Overlight, Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Edition, Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition, Spirit Island: Branch and Claw, Space Park, Caper, Dinosaur Tea Party, Catch the Moon, Fortune City, Galaxy Wrestling Federation, and Dice Fishing: Roll and Catch! It was a pretty good day. I don’t think I have as explicit of a record of other days, so, whoops.
Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Edition: I got to learn this one from Suz Sheldon, easily one of my favorite people in board gaming, so I was over the moon. It’s … incredibly enjoyable, very easy to play, and engaging enough that I pretty much always want to play it. I’ve written up reviews for both Red and Blue Editions, so hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about it soon. There’s been some frustration because they’re functionally the same game, just with different mini-expansions packaged with them. While that’s true, I mostly bought both so I could also expand it out past 6 players, if I wanted to do so, and now I have that option as well. I really enjoy path-building games, so a game where you roll dice to build paths is super up my alley. Highly, highly recommend.
Tomatomato: One of the new Oink Games, I had high ambitions for this game to be silly and kind of weird. And boy howdy, was I not disappointed; it’s one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played. It’s a tongue-twister set collection game, so, jot that one down, where you try to say versions of “toh” “tohmato” “mahto” “mah” and “potato” as quickly as you can to try and take tiles with “tomato” on them to score points. Easily one of the most unique (and strangest) games I’ve played. Overwhelmingly recommend.
Dinosaur Tea Party: We wouldn’t be denied. Eventually we had to crack it open. And, like, the question is going to come up from a lot of people, so lemme just clear the air and say it’s kinda Guess Who with a few better rules and some great theming. And honestly that’s worth it, for me. We put on posh accents and pretend to be scandalized the whole game and it’s delightful. If you’re not willing to commit to the bit, though, then you probably won’t enjoy it as much as we have. If nothing else, the artwork is overwhelmingly good, which turned it from “maybe” to “must”, for me.
The second night was relatively uneventful. I think I just kind of went to sleep? I don’t do a lot in the way of parties, so I usually just stake out a location, play some games there with friends, and sleep around 1.
Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle: I mean, if you’re going to check out a game on just name alone, this isn’t a bad one. This is a two-player action programming game of stealing treasure from a villain’s floating fortress. Each round you make sets of Characters that you then play at once, and then they activate in player order. Not only is it super fun and neat, it also seems pretty easy to expand, which is also cool? Only got one play in at Gen Con, but hoping this isn’t the last I see of Professor Treasure’s villainous machinations.
Nyctophobia: I’ve been really excited about this for some time; probably one of my most anticipated games coming into Gen Con. The story of how it was made is compelling, the designer is up-and-coming, the whole thing is just very cool. Unfortunately due to a surprising snafu, Pandasaurus sold out of it on Day 1, meaning they didn’t have enough to fulfill preorders until the next day. So that was an entire saga. I finally got it to the table two days later, so, that was fun, but played it with a full group; it was interesting. I’d definitely like to play it again.
Bargain Quest: Another game that I got for the theme, so, wonderful. This one, which I reviewed a few weeks ago and just got picked up by Renegade Game Studios (which, awesome) is all about running a fantasy item shop and taking adventurers’ money in the hopes that they’ll survive long enough to become a repeat customer. It’s quick, silly, and a very neat concept, and I really can’t wait to see more from this game’s universe.
Catch the Moon: Sure, we still haven’t gotten the rules right, but this has probably been one of my favorite games of the convention. You need to reach the moon, but all you have is a stupid number of ladders. That’s fine, you reason, but you’re going to have to stack them in a way that’s distinctly confusing. Roll some dice, stack some ladders, stop making the moon cry; it’s all here. Every time I played it with someone for the first time, they immediately asked to play it again. It’s fantastic, and so simple.
Spell Smashers: We played this one too late at night, so my memory of it is super hazy. In my mind, I spelled words to fight monsters and bought some fancy potions and equipment. It was a lot of fun, but now writing it I’m surprised at how much of it I forgot. It’s not that it wasn’t memorable, it was definitely that it was 1AM. I’ll have more on this later, but I remember liking it! I do love word games.
Yeah after this I basically collapsed. Don’t play word games at night; they’re so thinky!
Newspeak: So I’ve done poorly at games before, but I demoed this game from ITB and got thoroughly ruined. It was awesome! It’s somewhere between Codenames and Avalon (stay with me); some players play as dissidents, who can only meet by speaking in code, and the others are moderators, working to crack the code and catch them. Honestly, it’s kind of wild! I don’t normally love team-based games that much anymore because I’ve gotten really weary of the social deduction genre (save for, like, three games), so I was really excited about this one! It’s very novel. I’ll have a preview up in time for their upcoming Kickstarter.
Illusion: People were talking an awful lot about The Mind and The Game but I didn’t see much buzz about this, which was kind of a bummer. Basically, you flip cards and have to place them in order of increasing values of one color, but it relies heavily on optical illusions to kinda make you think. It’s wild. Sure, it’s unplayable if you have any sort of altered color perception, which is also unfortunate, but the game itself makes for a solid (albeit quick) party game.
Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition: I just kind of wanted to bring up the Blue edition (even though for all of Gen Con I was just playing the base game; I only tried the first expansion on the flight back) as another fun game I played. I think I slightly prefer the art of the blue version to the red version — the red version is very intense and the blue is very relaxing, I feel.
Before There Were Stars: This was my last game of Gen Con! I bought it and told my friend if I liked it, I’d sell it to him and buy my own copy; if not, then I’d just sell it to him. It’s a storytelling game of creation mythos. You draft some dice to pick out constellations you see in the night sky and use those as anchors for your creation myth over time. It’s a super cool system, and you award appreciation points secretly to each player each round until the end of the game. And that’s what we had fun doing! The weird part was when we opened our bags and someone … won. That kind of turned us all off of the game; we would have liked to do what you do at the end, which is award a player a Moon token and tell them what you liked best about their story. I think a game like this inherently is made weird by competition; do I give my opponent fewer points because I think they’ll get more from others and I want to sandbag them? No, because that’s a weird priority to have in a storytelling game. The game creates those incentives, though, and I’d love to see a pointsless variant of the game that doesn’t rely on that, as I feel like it’s plenty fun on its own.
That was my last full day at the Con! I got up early and hit the show floor the next morning to wrap a few things up and say goodbye to some people. I did get in a few games, though.
Shadows: Amsterdam: Last game up at the con proper was this real-time Codenames game! I was really hoping they’d get in some early copies, but alas, it was not to be. You try to give your teammate pictorial clues in the hopes that they can move one or two spaces between safe points to collect evidence. If they land on the cops too many times, you lose. It’s a really neat, fast concept and I immediately went home and preordered it from my FLGS for release “sometime”, as far as they told me. I think it’s cool that Codenames and Dixit are very much in the DNA of this game; it’s nice seeing how people remix games and build something new off the foundation (and even Codenames, for instance, owes a lot structurally to Taboo and Battleship). I wonder what our next foundational games will be?
Palm Island: Last up in general (I played it on the plane) was Palm Island! This quick handheld deckbuilder surprised me! It’s definitely robust and interesting. I need to spend more time with it before I can write up a review, but I’m excited to do so. You hold the deck in your hand and turn cards to mark resources you hold (it’s a bit unwieldy, to be perfectly honest, but it works). You can then spend those to upgrade cards for better resources or end-game points. It’s a neat concept.
As for what my favorite Gen Con games were? Well, you’ll just have to wait for a review to find out. 🙂
What did you play at Gen Con this year? Any new favorites you’re looking forward to? Or what would you like to see me start reviewing? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!