The Games of Gen Con, 2017: Part Two

GEN CON, August 17-20 at the Indiana Convention Center
by David C. Obenour
After all of those great games from part one that has to be it, right? Wrong! With record-breaking crowds the game developers turned out too, bringing some of the best games out there with them. While normally a “Game of the Con” reveals itself, there were simply too many innovative, beautiful and downright fun games this year. If you think the 28 games from this post and the last were too many to list, know that I had more – and beyond that there were dozens I probably didn’t even notice as I weaved through the hall. Enough chatter, let’s get back to it!

Crows (Junk Spirit Games)
A reworking of Tyler Sigman’s 2010 release, Junk Spirit is bringing Crows back with new rules, new art and crow meeples! Based off of the original tile-placing game of crow collecting, players attempt to gather these magic birds to their magic totems. Add tiles to bridge the gap to your’s or add tiles to lure away from their’s, the game evolves as the board builds. Easy to explain, the decisions on your turn are anything but. This is definitely one to watch out for the upcoming Kickstarter on.

Feudum (Odd Bird)
The potential of Feudum seems immense. Easily the biggest game that I heard the shortest description of, it was infectious to witness the designer’s passion and knowledge for his game. Running through a list of mechanics that would perk the ears of the most discerning gamers, it was afterward that I asked “Cool, but thematically what are you doing?” that his eyes really lit up! Feudum offers an open world type of play as you lead your banished crew into new lands. Farm, fight, or politic your way to glory, there are a number of different ways to play and win – including a solo way to play with an expansion on Kickstarter now. With art and smart components to match, I’m excited to find out more!

Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes (Matagot)
Games live interesting lives on our shelves. One that might have at first found its way off and onto the table with enjoyable and simple rules might eventually leave our minds wandering to “wouldn’t it be cool if…” half-baked house rules. More often then not that rabbit hole leads back to a discovery of no, simple is best… but not always! Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes is a further explored version of the modern gaming classic, Carcassonne. Without becoming convoluted, Okanagan introduces resources, buildings replacing workers, rewards, actions intermixed with tiles, objective cards, and gold nuggets. A little more thinky and beautiful in its art and components than Carcassonne, Okanagan deserves to be on (and frequently off) your shelf.

Attack of the Kaiju (Wildfire)
There’s no denying the satisfaction of big monsters knocking down big buildings. We did it as kids as we knocked down building blocks, we flock to theaters to see it on big screens, and we play it on our gaming consoles and on our tables. Creation is fun, but so is destruction. Wildfire has tapped into our collective need to watch the world burn with this homage to classic black and white monster mayhem. Taking the role of different massive creatures, players smash their way through city blocks while evading military forces and each other – and with up to six players, this city definitely isn’t big enough for everyone. Wildfire also opted for cardboard stand-ups instead of plastic miniatures, making Attack of the Kaiju as affordable as it is fun.

Bob Ross: Art Of The Chill (Big G Creative)
In the 24 hour news-cycle, ever-connected to our cell phones, have to work two jobs, world we live in, Bob Ross is more relevant now then maybe ever. Master of the chillest show on PBS (a hotly – or chilly – contested honor), Bob Ross taught an entire generation to enjoy the relaxation of painting and not sweating the happy accidents. For this board game, players paint along with Bob, collecting sets of colors and tools to trade-in in a manner similar to Ticket to Ride. Three Bob paintings are worked through and at the end whoever reaches maximum chill first wins. Big G Creative also had an amazing Bob Ross cosplayer at Gen Con, so extra chill points on them for that.

Ancient Terrible Things (Pleasant Company Games)
Jungle exploration seems to be a popular theme rising up in board games currently and that’s a great thing for gamers. With awesome opportunities for Indiana Jones-fueled nostalgia, colorful jungle illustrations, ancient booby traps, mystery and maybe even magic, there’s lots of fun to hack your way through! For Pleasant Company’s exploration, Ancient Terrible Things is a nail-biting game of adventure Yahtzee. Players pick a location, attempt to score points through completing a task with a combination of dice, tokens and cards, but if they fail, they unleash – you guessed it – Ancient Terrible Things!

Visitor in Blackwood Grove (Resonym)
We all love Stranger Things, the X-Files, and E.T., right? Good, because now I can tell you that we all love Visitor in Blackwood Grove too. An alien ship has crash-landed in Blackwood Grove. Multiple agencies have arrived, all with their own agendas on why they want to be the first to make contact. So has a neighborhood kid, who wants nothing more than to help this strange visitor escape. With a shield in place, the alien player establishes a rule for what can and can’t get make it through. The rest of the players take turns playing item cards to try and determine what that rule is. The more items the kid gets through, the more he’s able to help. The more items the agents get through, the closer they are to figuring out and testing the rule. A great concept, beautifully executed, there’s a lot to like about Visitor in Blackwood Grove.

When I Dream (Repos Production)
It seems as if party games have made a welcomed transition from the very loose, self-driven guidelines that were working their way into the “rules” a few years back. While relying on the creativity of the players can work well, it can also be intimidating or too open-ended to make for an enjoyable game. It’s nice to see creativity encourage and focused with new games like Codewords, Mysterium and now When I Dream. With one player taking on the role of the dreamer, other players are given the secret roles of fairy, boogieman or sandman. The dreamer is blindfolded, an illustration with a word is flipped from the stack and the other players go around the circle, offering clues to the dreamer. The fairy wants to help the dreamer, the boogieman wants to hinder, and the sandman is interested in an equal balance of correct and incorrect guesses. After the timer expires, the dreamer recites the story of their dream, working in as many words they guessed as they can remember.

First Martians (Portal Games)
Designed by Robinson Crusoe’s Ignacy Trzewiczek, The First Martian is a dense game of planetary settlement and the many, many, many things that can go wrong. Manning the fragile space station on the face of a hostile planet, players must stay on top of farming, exploration, experiments, keeping all systems operational, and not wanting to strangle their one to three co-inhabitants. Different from Robinson Crusoe, The First Martians incorporates a follow-along app that mechanizes some of the more tricky game action influenced story-telling. Having not gotten a chance to play more than a few jerky turns as we learned the many rules its hard to tell exactly how well the app works. In many ways, this sort of analog and video game integration still feels in its infancy – similar to when board games provided video tapes to play along too – but there’s definitely potential for something great and innovative.

Batman: The Boardgame (Monolith Games)
Monolith Games’ Conan is incredible. While so many sword and sorcery board games fall short of their RPG counterparts, Conan has the code cracked. An automated enemy doesn’t work and neither does trying to shoehorn imaginative role play into the confines of balanced gaming mechanics. Adding in an enemy overlord for one verse many play is an easy fix, but Conan’s brilliance comes from its utilization of action point allowance on stamina and health. It feels like a board game, but if also feels epic when you decide to heft all of your efforts into a mighty Conan onslaught. Monolith is now bringing their game to Gothan’s streets for the upcoming Batman: The Boardgame. Big boxes of awesome miniatures aren’t always worth price of entry. This one almost certainly will be.

Orphans and Ashes (Blind Ferret Entertainment)
Walking by Blind Ferret’s booth, I couldn’t help but wonder if Orphans and Ashes was this game about… letting orphans burn in a smoldering orphanage? It turns out that’s not entirely right, but don’t feel relieved yet. Taken from the popular web comic Looking for Group, each character has their own mission – including two new ones just introduced in the expansion. Cale runs through the orphanage amassing children to save in his mighty arms (and physically on his game piece), Richard tries to harvest their souls before they’re consumed by fire, Sooba might want to eat or might want to save them (it depends), and Benny displays a certain ambivalence with more concern just to control them. With D6-determined movement and a tile placement game board, there are similarities to the gaming classic Zombies!!! Also similar to Zombies!!! it’s very enjoyable but maybe a little overly luck driven for how long it plays.

Dark is the Night (APE Games)
As the fire crackles late into the night, the hunter knows the beast has found her here in the dark woods. Clutching her crossbow with one hand, she reaches into her knapsack for a trap with the other – all while keeping a watchful eye on the tree line surrounding the campsite. Plunging you into such a tense and climactic moment, Dark is the Night is a great little two-player game. The board is a 3×3 grid with a fire in the middle. The hunter circles the fire, laying traps and bait to coax the monster out of hiding. The monster covertly moves outside of the grid, waiting for its moment to strike. Quick, fun and tense with great art – not a bad way to spend a few minutes!

Photosynthesis (Blue Orange Games)
Photosynthesis’ great art and components with a unique theme made it one of the hottest game of games of Gen Con. Playing as a group of trees encroaching into an open meadow, players compete for energy as the sun circles around the game board. With circling shadows from the moving sun, trees of the same size or larger block out the sunlight to the trees behind them. Players then use the energy they’re able to collect to grow their trees or cast off acorns. It’s a wonderfully creative concept with simple but thoughtful gaming mechanics.

Glux (Queen Games)
For all the pleasure that a heavy euro can bring with its rich theme and web of interlaced gaming mechanics, there is an appeal to the more classic style of board game. With just a grid serving as the game board, players take turns drawing and placing six sided die-faced tokens. Each token is placed orthagonally from any previous placed token, how ever many spaces away as indicated by the original token’s die face. Tokens can stack, but can never jump over other tokens to be placed. Areas of the board are shaded and players who build up the highest total token amounts within score points for first, second, and third place. A turn spent carefully deliberating your move and the possible moves of your opponents will take far longer than explaining the rules for Glux.