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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Gen Con 2016

Another year of Gen Con has come and gone for us.  We've had some ups and downs this year, and for the first time, we will be splitting two separate topics and segments on a convention into two posts.  This means we have more that we can fit into our segments so to hopefully not overwhelm our readers, while still providing a plethora of short reviews.  This year a couple of events fell through for us, and we ended up demoing more games, which is great considering that 2016 has had some excellent games releasing!  This is all the more reason for us to provide an influx of games this year.  We've met some new gamers, caught up with some friends, played a lot of new games, and this year Claire and I decided to celebrate our 10 year anniversary at Gen Con!  As usual though, we will provide plenty of details to showcase our experience and some of the current hot games on the market.  After you've read over your favorite games on this segment, be sure to check out our second portion of this segment where we discuss some issues about Gen Con that really need to be addressed.
When a married couple is planning their 10 year anniversary, generally there's a lot of thought that goes into such a celebratory time.  We spent many hours discussing it, and talking about what our ideal trip would look like for celebrating our first decade of being together as a married couple.  We knew it would run right into Gen Con and we asked ourselves if we wanted something a little more personal and quiet away from all of those people, bumping shoulder to shoulder with them, and the continual moments of being on our feet surrounded by tabletop games.  It was a big decision, but we decided to stay local and go to Gen Con!  We couldn't have asked for a better location for a geeky couple that loves tabletop gaming. 

We knew there were a lot of changes that were being made this year for Gen Con, such as the expanding into Lucas Oil Stadium for True Dungeon.  This particular event was locked down with high security so even though I was a press member, I had to go through a few people before they would let me in for photos.  The reason behind this is due to information about the storyline and characters possibly getting out which could impact the event.  It's essentially a large-scale larp with puzzles that have to be solved in order to get out.  The remarkable amount of work and detail that goes into this event really speaks to how popular the event is.  Regardless of everything I saw, this photo is the only one I'm allowed to post.  

As far as some of the games we played this year, I had to pick and choose which ones I would add to the blog because we played a lot!  We first take a look at Trickerion: Legends of Illusion.  This is a 2 - 4 player competitive Euro-style strategy game set in a supernatural 19th century urban culture known as Magoria.  You and your fellow illusionists are trying to gain the most notoriety by competing against your rivals hosted by a legendary magician known as Dahlgaard.  This magician is seeking a successor worthy to attain a secret relic that he's held onto for a lifetime known as the Trickerion Stone, which is fabled to grant supernatural power to it's owner.  Through worker-placement in a simultaneous action-point system, illusionists and their team of helpers obtain components to increase complex magic tricks, and expand their team to setup performances.  Tricks are stored and prepared in the magicians workshop and the fame points and coins are what help you to progress further through the game.  The game provides 48 various tricks to be learned through the mechanical, spiritual, optical, and escape categories, with nearly 100 character abilities.  The setting of the game is pretty cool and reminds me of the film, The Illusionist.

I like the dark, 19th-century market setting and city landscape of Magoria.  The back story is pretty cool, and it does offer great theme.  However, I'm not so enthralled to pick it up immediately.  At first glance, the iconography really runs close together in this game more than most busy worker placement game boards.  The color scheme also tends to make everything blend in more which makes it a little more difficult for first time players.  After a couple of times of playing it all the way through, I think it would set in relatively easy for most gamers.  I definitely like it, it's a really good game but you have to have a game plan set and executed relatively quickly in this game because the 5 rounds will go a lot quicker than you think and then the game is already over.  With as strange as this will sound, I like the setting more than the theme in this game.  I love magic, but I don't really care about becoming a famous magician.  If you like this type of theme, I would certainly suggest it for your collection! 

Another game that made it's debut at Gen Con was Cry Havoc.  This was exciting because the game is not scheduled for release until September so the only people who could purchase this were attendees that had pre-ordered the game.  This 2 - 4 player card-driven, asymmetric, area-control game integrates a science fiction setting with unique mechanics.  Each player controls one of four factions with varying abilities and units. The game includes 54 custom miniatures, over 100 unique player cards with spectacular artwork!  The game plays in up to 5 rounds depending on how well everyone is playing the game it can go from 90 to 120 minutes. At the beginning of every turn the players will resolve an event and draw 4 cards to replenish their hands, taking one action at a time, the three primary steps per turn are Move, Recruit and Build. During the move phase the players will discard any number of cards from their hands which can allow for multiple actions per turn. Depending on what you play from your hand, you can advance through the objective tiles much faster giving you the upper hand on the board.  You could move 1 player 5 spaces, or 5 players one space, or another player 2 spaces and another 3 spaces so there are options in how you want to position and maneuver your men.  Recruiting helps you get more men to fight the war, and you can gain more depending on how many cards you choose to discard.  You add the units from your reserve to your HQ.  You can finally discard cards to gain build points to create structures.

There is a sort of deck-building mechanic that allows you to draw multiple cards, put them into your hand and put the remaining one on the bottom of the deck.  This can help you with managing resources and building tactics later in the game.  The tunneling system is pretty cool in this game, but I asked others about their overall impressions of the game and they all said it felt rather clunky which I can see that.  I feel some of the maneuver tactics free up some of those issues once you play the game more.  I had to play this game a couple of times at the convention before I began to get a better feel for it.  I know the pre-order price on this game is 75.00 with free shipping, but I just wouldn't want to sink that much into it off the bat.  However, if I were to give immense praise to this game, I feel I could do that on the theme alone.  I absolutely love this theme, it carries awesome artwork, great mechanisms during gameplay, and a large array of options for how to execute your actions per turn.  The units almost remind me of a cross between Crysis and Halo.  Such great integration for a new game that I could possibly see making it into my collection at some point.

A game that made it's debut at Origins was the fantasy themed game known as Mystic Vale.  Claire and I did not get a chance to play Mystic Vale while we were at Origins, but when we saw a lot more tables at Gen Con open with this game, we knew what had to be done.  In this story, centuries ago, a dying wicked king pleaded for help from the Druids of Gaia.  When the king died, he uttered a curse that desolated the Valley Of Life. This valley is sacred to the Druids and it is your job to help restore the valley to it's verdant beauty.  Mystic Vale introduces a new mechanic known as Card Crafting which is modifying your hand as you build it.  It has an element of deck-building, but you are performing it in sections by purchasing different cards using mana during the harvesting phase and adding a new element to your cards as long as the appropriate slots align.  You slide the cards down inside of a clear sleeve which is able to fit two more clear sleeves with pictures on three different levels.  This is what allows you to add more elements to your cards, but only as long as they do not overlap with existing elements.

Essentially you are pressing your luck as you draw cards but you cannot spoil more than three cards otherwise your field is ruined and you then have to discard your hand and draw again on your next turn.  The end goal of the game is to gain the most mana and purchase the highest valued cards or cleanse the land earning you the most victory points.  This game is very light, but the card crafting system is so cool and really adds a new innovative approach to hand-management.  I can play this game over and over again.  I love how quickly it flows.  As other players are performing their actions, you can actually prepare your field or path of cards ahead of time before your turn even begins, which is just awesome!  It really helps the flow of things.  There's more to this game when you really get into using your abilities, but I can tell you if you like card drafting mechanics and having the ability to actually modify and build your cards, you should try this one out.  After we demoed it, we waltzed right up to AEG's checkout line and picked up a copy of Mystic Vale!

Yet another game that made its debut at Gen Con this year was Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu.  Yes, everyone who has been following me on Instagram or other board game social media circles has at least heard of this new variation of Pandemic with a Cthulhu theme being mentioned!  I've made a big deal about this game once or twice so far.  Rather than curing diseases, you're banishing cultists.  You and your investigators work together to seal 4 gates to prevent the awakening of Cthulhu or the area being overrun by cultists or Shoggoths.  Failure means the unleashing of an age of madness.  Just like traditional Pandemic, it's a cooperative game with each player having a different type of ability to contribute to the gameplay.  My jaw hit the ground back when I first heard of this at the end of January.  I couldn't believe the fusion that was being performed here.  It was Cthulhu so it was obviously much darker with a twist of keeping out evil versus eradicating diseases.  I loved this concept and I never would have expected this to be done with a game like Pandemic.  So far, I've noticed a few mixed reviews about this game.  Claire is not as big of a Pandemic fan as I am.  Pandemic easily lands in my top 3 greatest games of all time, but this one is a little different the way it's executed.  It feels so much like traditional Pandemic because of similar mechanisms, but with a completely different universe.  I still love it, and while we didn't pick this one up at Gen Con, we've decided to wait and will pick it up later in October.   

Attention all wizards and witty witches!  This is your headmaster from the Horribilorum Sorcery Academy and it's time for your final exams!  Prove your superior knowledge of potion concocting by brewing the most complex and valuable potions!  Potion Explosion was another hot game this year at Gen Con and we were very glad we had a chance to play it!  In this game you work with four different colors of 20 marbles of each color that are randomly fed through a dispenser to then strategically pick and place in your vials to complete them and perform their abilities upon the other players.  The way this works, is to take one ingredient marble from the dispenser each turn, and make ingredients of the same color collide to make them explode (and to attain them as well).  The bigger the explosion, the faster you'll brew your potions.  Each potion recipe may need between 4 and 7 ingredients.  The ingredients are represented by the holes in the potion tiles.  You put the marbles of the correct color on your potion tiles then when all the holes have been filled with a marble of the corresponding color, the potion is completed.  Each potion is worth a certain number of points, which depends on the number of ingredients needed to complete it and the strength of the magical power it grants.  When a player completes 3 potions with the same power, or 5 potions with 5 different powers, they receive a skill token which is worth 4 points.  When the required number of skill tokens is attained, the final round is triggered and the player with the most tokens is the winner.  This is a really great game with lightweight mechanics, it's really fun taking the marbles from the dispenser and completing your vials of potion before other players around you.  Must be something with the integration of marbles…
It's absolutely awesome to have such a fun component like marbles finally integrated into modern tabletop games!  The theme is fun, you get to play with marbles and I would recommend this one to almost anyone!

The Networks was another absolute for me to try at Gen Con this year and it's a game that I think a lot of people will enjoy.  In The Networks, you and your opponents are new television networks, and you need new programming. For this, you’ll need Shows, Stars, and Ads.  Shows need Stars and Ads. Stars give you bonus viewers (points), and Ads give you extra money.  You’ll need everything you can get; you'll have a small amount of resources and time, and you must grab the latest hot show before your opponents.  And some Stars will give their best effort only if you put them on in the proper conditions. For example, some Stars only want to be put on dramas. Other Stars want to be the only Star on the show. And your Ads will give you the most money only if you put them on in the correct time slot.  Finally, Shows age and viewers lose interest, so you have to keep your line-up fresh by canceling shows and sending them into reruns.  Fortunately, you can get viewers from your reruns, and you'll get bonuses if you get a lot of shows of the same genre throughout the game.  If you need a special push, Network Cards can give you special powers — but will a Network Card be better than another action?  You'll have to make that call.  The player with the most viewers after five seasons wins!  This is a relatively easy game to play however I found myself needing to play it more than once to get a better feel for it.  It's designed to integrate a whimsical environment with an intermediate level of card drafting mechanics and I think a lot of people would enjoy this game!

Another game that debuted at Gen Con was the 2 - 5 player set collection game known as Menu Masters being published by Calliope Games.  It's a fine dining frenzy!  In Menu Masters, you are a world-class chef, brimming with ideas for the greatest menus ever crafted, but the only way to become the Menu Master is to beat the other chefs to Market Street for the freshest, most delicious ingredients!  You may choose to open a store to earn some money...or just grab your shopping basket and be the first in line at the market.  It's the only way to get the best selection!  But beware of the other chefs as they drive up demand and increase prices!  Earn your stars in this deliciously fun race to gourmet supremacy, proving you are the greatest of menu masters!  The quality of this game is really quite nice actually!  The artwork was very fun and really added to the enjoyment and theme of the game!  We were informed that this version was one of the final prototypes which was shocking!  The components as they are, are already well made, let alone making any more adjustments.  Apparently the player mats are going to be made into a thicker tile and the player pieces are supposed to be made into chef hats, and all for $30.00 which is amazing!  If all of this is accurate, we'll definitely be getting a copy of this game for ourselves when it releases in September.  We thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to any family as well.

A game that is a few years old, but still very popular and enjoyable is Takenoko published by Bombyx, Matagot and Asmodee.  After many years of disputes between China and Japan, the diplomatic relations of the two countries are finally seeking resolution.  The Chinese emperor gifts his Japanese counterpart with a sacred animal, the giant panda bear, a symbol of peace.  The Japanese Emperor has entrusted his court members (the players) with the task of caring for the animal by setting up his bamboo garden.  The players will cultivate the land plots, irrigate them and grow one of the three species of bamboo (Green, Yellow, and Pink) with the help of the imperial gardener. The player who most efficiently manages his land plots, growing the most bamboo, while feeding the delicate appetite of the panda, will win the game.  The game is very lightweight, and has great components, with a creative integration of cultural history.  The panda is adorable and is one of the games primary focal points which really adds to the enjoyment of the game.  Takenoko could be taught in 10 minutes and played in 30, it's not a difficult game, but it does integrate enough mechanisms that would be fun and beneficial for the whole family.

Wow!  What a year for board gaming, the great ones just kept on coming, and we only scraped the surface in this years post!  There were so many other debuting games that we wanted to play and review, but we didn't have time to play everything on our list.  It was really smart for the event to expand into Lucas Oil with the convention continually growing.  It's good to see a contingency plan to keep things flowing smoothly as the coming years will only continue to vastly expand the number of attendees.  Indianapolis is very lucky to have such a large event bringing in the vast culture and money that Indy needs.  I think this year's convention in some ways went exceedingly well compared to last year!  What can I say, Gen Con is the largest tabletop convention in the US, and that's really saying something awesome about the event being held in Indianapolis!  It's absolutely remarkable!  However, a convention of this magnitude is bound to have some imperfections here and there, and that is exactly what we want to address in our next segment.  It's great that it's growing, but with that comes other problems as well.  We hope you will read through the next segment and give your honest feedback in the comments section because there are issues that people should voice their concerns about.

Overall Meeple Ratings:
Trickerion: Legends of Illusion: 7.5/10

Cry Havoc: 8/10

Mystic Vale: 7.5/10

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu: 8/10

Potion Explosion: 7.5/10

The Networks: 7/10

Menu Masters: 7/10

Takenoko: 6.5/10

Have any thoughts or questions?  Leave a comment below.

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