The Games of Gen Con, 2018: Part One

GEN CON, August 2-5 at the Indiana Convention Center
Setting new records for multi and single day badge sales, Gen Con continues to grow as the largest and longest-running gaming convention in North America. With over 60,000 visitors passing through the halls, hotels, convention center and the Indianapolis Colt’s Lucas Oil Stadium, there are almost as many ways to experience Gen Con as there are attendees. For our part, we traversed the Exhibitor Hall trying out as many new and new to us games as we could within the four days. Between this post and another to follow next week, here were some of our favorites.
Tokyo Washi Game Cats (
Utilizing beautifully illustrated Japanese Washi Tape, Cats is a fun and simple games of cats in search of fish in the city. Unrolling segments of what will become that game’s board, players take turns marking starting locations of fish and cats on the Washi Tape. Then players alternate turns of moving their cats in an effort to take their opponent’s fish. The first in a series, it will be exciting to see what other games might further utilize this unique medium.

Mountains of Madness (iello)
A towering and unearthly mountain looms before you and your only hope within may also be your sanity’s undoing. As an expedition isolated in the artic wastes, the unwelcoming environment is the least of concerns for the adventurers in Mountains of Madness. With increasingly challenging Eldritch investigations come increasingly confusing Lovecraftian madnesses. You’re only allowed to shout when you talk, you can’t speak unless first addressed by your in-game character’s name, you have to stroke the face of whomever you’re addressing. Mountains of Madness is just party game enough to satisfy most casual gamers and just heavy enough to still be fun for those looking for more from their games.

Western Legends (Kolossal Games)
An open sandbox game set in the sandy deserts of the Old West, Western Legends delves deep in its history so that you can relive your own! With a number of historical legendary characters to choose from, it’s up to you to play out the scenes that inspired these legends. Game play is driven by a multi-use deck of poker cards, that allow for players to fight, rob, drive cattle and, of course, play poker. Whether as a lawman, gambler, outlaw, bank robber, or gold prospector, there are multiple paths to fame and infamy. What will yours be?

Spring Meadow (Stronghold Games)
The last of Uwe Rosenberg’s trilogy of tile-placement puzzle games (which also includes Cottage Garden and Indian Summer), Spring Meadow plays through a seasonal thaw with a wintery player board for green grass tile pieces. In a Tetris like fashion, players take turn selecting different shaped tiles to fill up their meadow. Completed rows score from the bottom up at the end of each round with additional points awarded for not covering over the gopher holes. For a strictly puzzle-centered game, the theme works wonderfully and entertains as it perplexes.

A Tale of Pirates (Cranio Creations)
One of the cleverest games at Gen Con and one of my favorites too, A Tale of Pirates is a real-time cooperative game of high seas adventure. An impressive cardboard ship serves as the game’s board and 30-second sandtimers serve as the player’s pieces. To take an action, a player must flip their timer and put it in the corresponding area of the ship. Work together as a crew to time your actions and escape the narrows, sink the enemy fleet, or accomplish whichever mission is set before you!

Manhattan (Fox Mind Games)
Combining fun and colorful components with an easy to understand set of rules, Manhattan is a cutthroat game of skyscraper building in the city that never sleeps. Setting aside different height tower pieces for each round, players take turns building and stacking as they vie for control of buildings and boroughs. Originally released right before Settlers of Catan changed the entire landscape of modern gaming and sucked every bit of air from the room, hopefully this reissue of Manhattan will get more of the attention it deserves.

Tower of Madness (Smirk & Dagger)
Sister publishing companies Smirk & Dagger and Smirk & Laughter had a one-two punch with two of Gen Con’s best games this year. First, from the competitive line of games, Tower of Madness is the game that none of us knew we so desperately needed, Elder Sign meets Kerplunk. On their turns players roll for investigations, if they fail they’ll need to pull one of the thirty tentacles sticking out of the foot tall clock tower filled with marbles. Any marbles that fall deal physical and mental damage and also can wake Cthulhu. But don’t worry, if you take enough mental damage you’ll actually want that to happen. Be sure to check back next week for part two of the Games of Gen Con with Smirk & Laughter’s decidedly less horrific, Before There Were Stars.

Bee Lives: We Will Only Know Summer (Hit ‘Em With a Shoe)
For all of the advances that modern designers have made on new and old gaming mechanics, the most exciting thing about the board gaming renaissance that we’re experiencing is its variety of themes. Through a mix of worker placement and resource management game play, in Bee Lives players control a hive of bees expanding and preparing for the impending winter. Grow your hive, swarm to form a new one, compete for limited resources with yourself and others, constructing a society of bees is a lot of work… and fun!

Team Up! (Helvetiq)
Stacking boxes on a palette (presumably set in the Amazon-run futureworld that we’re all doomed to inhabit), Team Up! is a fun cooperative game of block stacking. Players take turns stacking by flipping through a deck that determines which block they need to use, be it by shape or color (each has a designated and colored “this side up” side). The only other rules are that blocks can’t be stacked over vacant spaces and stacking cannot mirror a previous move. Using colorful wooden blocks, I’ll never stop saying it, playing with blocks is fun. An alpha player might ruin the fun of this one by ordering everyone around, but you can either enforce a no talking rule or… not play with alpha gamers?

Grackles (Fireside)
A fun theme on top of a classic-feeling puzzley game, Grackles finds players lining up their shade of these iridescent birds along power lines. Taking an action a turn, players can lay a tile, claim an uninterrupted straight section of power line that starts and ends in their color, or perform one of a limited number of rotations on unlocked tiles. Easy to explain, there’s still a good deal of thinking to set up big plays while watching out for the big plays of others. An MSRP of $40 seems a little steep for such simple components (cardboard tiles and tiny checker-like tokens), but there’s still fun to be had here.

Circular Reasoning: The Well of Power (Breaking Games)
Navigating the revolving portals within a circular labyrinth, Circular Reasoning is another great abstract puzzle game with a classic feel to it. Players move their pieces within the labyrinth’s three chambers, while the portals between chambers rotate a number of times equal to the number of playing pieces in that chamber. Without any element of randomizing luck, the game becomes a next move projecting deduction for the quickest way to reach the center.

Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr (Hub Games)
If you haven’t been paying attention to board games for the last decade, a game like Holding On has to be completely foreign. In this game, players cooperatively play as the nursing staff providing care to terminally ill patient, Billy Kerr. All you know about him is that he is sixty years old and he has been given just days to live. Your efforts are divided between caring for his immediate health needs and trying to piece together foggy and clearer memories (beautifully illustrated with oil paintings) in an effort to reach a next of kin. Careful designed, beautiful illustrated and wholly provocative.

Fireworks (Renegade Games)
Fireworks is pretty over the top adorable. Players take on the role of apprentices looking to master the art of fireworks from their master, who is getting a little long in the whisker. “Whisker?” you ask. Oh yeah, you’re all cats. Mixing dexterity elements with a chucked die flipping over firework tiles from the night sky and then the tile-placement and pattern building that comes after, there’s enough game here to engage the adults and enough cartoon cats to engage the kids… or the kid in you.
And that’s Part One! Be sure to come back next week for Part Two of our wrap up of the games from the 2018 Gen Con.