The Games of Gen Con, 2017: Part One

GEN CON, August 17-20 at the Indiana Convention Center
by David C. Obenour
Another Gen Con is in the books and my oh my, did Gen Con 50 deliver the goods! Sold out of four-day passes and every single day’s one-day passes, there is no bigger stage in North America for celebrating all that is gaming. For the huge crowds it drew, the convention sprawled out even further outside of the Indiana Convention Center and many gamers are now able to say that they’ve “played on Lucas Oil Field.”
While there are almost just as many ways to experience Gen Con as there were attendees this year, we were out in the Exhibitor Hall – demoing and hearing about every game we could. It was a banner year for games too so without further adieu, here is part one of our summary of the games of Gen Con!

Centipede (IDW)
Though I didn’t get a chance to demo this one, the good news here is that IDW now has the rights to a whole slew of Atari games. Without the help of modern gaming system graphics or, you know, more than one button, Atari games always worked within the confines of simplicity. That assured that the good ones, the ones that stuck in our collective memory (for reasons other than burying thousands of copies in the desert), actually had great game play. It will be exciting to see how that translates to gaming tables… and also to play around with pixilated gaming pieces.

Before the Earth Explodes (Green Couch Games)
Green Couch Games are masters of the immensely satisfying games in conveniently small boxes. Rocky Road ala Mode, Avalanche on Yeti Mountain, Wok on Fire and more all maximize smart and compact components that are still cool looking – very cool looking, even! Before the Earth Explodes is this indie developer’s latest offering and even in its prototype version, the promise is apparent. With a handful of action cards playing out with rock-paper-scissors simplicity, players attack, develop, and colonize their way to victory before, you guessed it, the Earth explodes. Go back it on Kickstarter now before it’s too late!

Maze Racers (Fox Mind)
Build a maze for your opponent and then race against him with the maze he built for you! There’s not a lot more to Maze Racers than that and really, there doesn’t need to be. The magnetized pieces are only limited by your imagination and making sure that a ball can fit through the twists and turns. It’s equally fun for kids and fun for adults with a few minutes to kill and a need for an adrenaline rush.

Mountaineers (Massif Games)
What’s a mountain climbing game without a mountain? With a three-dimensional pyramid-shaped game board, players mark their progress in Mountaineers vertically as they make their ascent. Trying to complete as many climbing routes as possible, players must compete against weather, each other and the changing faces of the mountain. While it’s definitely impressive looking, it’s hard to know more about Mountaineers without more than a 5-minute description of the short run game coming back soon with a new and improved version on Kickstarter. We’re excited to hear more!

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong (Grey Fox Games)
Deduction party games seem to be experiencing a lot of interest over the last few years and that’s a great thing. While a lot of party games are fun and funny at first, the veneer can wear thin after more than 10 or 20 minutes. Add in a slightly more thinky element, and you’ve got a game that you can still explain in minutes but spend much longer enjoying afterwards. For Deception, the player who is the murder secretly selects a clue and means card – known only to the player playing as the forensic scientist. That player then offers clues from a list of options to the detectives to help them finger the murdering amidst them. With more players the game adds the witness and accomplice roles, but the goal remains the same.

Nmbr9 (Z-Man Games)
If puzzles, Tetris and math aren’t your thing, it may be a good idea to move on to the next game (but Tetris is cool and you only need math at the end). For Nmbr9 players build up levels of oddly shaped tiles of numbers. Tiles on the first level are multiplied by zero, second by one, third by two, etc. However each tile must be placed without any gap beneath it and on top of at least two different tiles. The rules are simple, but the decisions are anything but. A large base of tiles allows for easier future placements, but too large of a base means you’re just wasting points. A different kind of head-scratcher from most other games out there, this one is as pretty as it is fun.

Princess Jing (Matagot)
It’s so exciting to see a game that not only has great components, but one that utilizes them in new and creative ways. A big box filled expensive miniatures is absolutely great, but a game like Princess Jing is greater still. Trying to escape the palace and the dreadful arranged marriage set by her father the king, the player playing as the princess must sneak from behind blinds to meet up with the one soldier loyal to her. The other player takes the role of the guards trying to catch the princess. Bluffing, misdirection, and coolest yet, mirrors, are all things to consider for Princess Jing.

Leaders Of Euphoria (Overworld Games)
The time of revolution is at hand, but which side of the new world order will you be on? Taking control of a group of followers and maybe even a leader, you have to determine the allegiances of your fellow players as you spy, shoot and steal your way to a place of power. During our demo there were two rounds where I was sure I was a goner, exposed for holding the leader card of the outnumbered faction. However, smart plays by my faction’s one supporting player and a good deal of luck not only got me out of these situations but actually turned the tables on our over confident opponent. There’s definitely a lot of luck in the cards you do or don’t have, but as a party game that tops out at half hour it’s a lot of fun regardless.

Truck Off (Adam’s Apple Games)
Niche cuisines. Special events. The sole food option at a corner gas station or your favorite brewery. In 2017, food trucks are almost everywhere, including in Adam’s Apple Games second offering, Truck Off (their first game being about that favorite brewery with Brewin’ USA). You control the truck as you compete for the most lucrative locations in your city. Die rolls determine crowd turn outs and while that concert may have seemed a lot more promising than the weekly farmer’s market – as in real life – bad luck can spoil even the best of planning. Playing up to six people, this is a step up from party game but still won’t take you more then a few minutes to explain.

End Of The Line (Fight in a Box)
While overly attacky games aren’t for every gaming group, there’s something to be said for the attacky game that makes no bones about what it is. Afterall, it’s hard to have sore feelings when the goal of the game is to be the last family left alive. Taking place after some horrible earth-ending event, players send out members of their family to gather supplies in lines for food, fuel, water and ammo. The first person in line gets double the supply, the last person in line gets none, and while your family’s dog can’t bring home supplies he can stop others from collecting. Event cards change each round’s conditions and action cards (with great nerdy references to apocalyptic lore and pop culture) can either really help you or really hurt them. Very clever and very fun!

Tulip Bubble (Moaideas Game Design)
Games can be a great way for not only making you aware of, but also making you deeply interested in something completely foreign and novel. Taking inspiration from the 1637 economic bubble in tulip investment, players play each other and the market to maximize profits before the inevitable fallout. For as modern as the age of tech bubbles seems, it’s fascinating to see that sort of wild speculation play out nearly four hundred years ago – and over tulip bulbs, no less! Moaideas wonderfully embody this theme for Tulip Bubble with beautifully matched artwork.

How To Rob A Bank (Big G Creative)
With a simple but ever-changing 3×3 grid of bank blueprint tiles serving as the game board, How to Rob a Bank pits a team of robber players against a single banker player. Action cards are dealt, then played face up, and after all players have played their action cards for that round, the deck is flipped and then the actions are taken. It’s an interesting mechanic as a way of knowing (if you remember) what your opponents next action will be – though not being sure how they will use it. Bags of money are grabbed, robbers are tackled, alarms are set off, and the escape car circles the block – all from out of a small box with simple but cool components!

Klondike Rush (Red Raven)
Competing to establish mining claims and then invest in the companies that back them, Klondike Rush is a game of bidding, set building, stock holding and chain creation. Venturing further out from base camp, more remote locations are more costly – unless you’re able to build a supply chain back with the same mining company’s claims! Each claim placed on the board replaces a resource token, used in secret objective set collection or rewardable evidence of the existence of the fabled Yeti. Theme is definitely secondary to the well-matched gaming mechanics here, but great art and components keep you out in the cold (which is a good thing).

Secrets of the Lost Station (Everything Epic)
Board games that venture to far into roleplaying territory are a bit of a risky proposition. For all of the art and components that a well-designed game can throw at you, imagination usually can go further. Instead of being hampered by what could be perceived as limitations, the best of these games adapt their board game mechanics in new ways to enrich group story telling. With a vast world and developed characters that both unfold as the game is played, Secrets of the Lost Station is locked and loaded for adventure. The sci-fi sequel to Secrets of the Lost Tomb, players can play through single scenarios or entire campaigns as randomly drawn tiles connected with a number of events, monsters, technology and more, reveal the story.  It’s up on Kickstarter now, so go check it out!