Gen Con 2016 is finally in the books and what a week it was. From the games, to the events, to the atmosphere of the convention in general, it truly was “the best four days in gaming”. We begin our annual Gen Con recap by talking about the games. And then later in the week we will discuss our thoughts on the convention in general. But let’s get started by talking about the new game releases at Gen Con 2016
Gen Con 2016 Games
Favorite Game I Bought:
Tony – Cry Havoc (Portal): If you would have asked me this question after Thursday night, it would probably have been a different game because our first play was a bit of a disaster, having got a ton of rules wrong. However, after getting some clarifications from Portal, we tried Cry Havoc again and I LOVED it. This quick playing, asymmetrical, area-control war game hit all the right marks for me. Each faction felt very different, and the game play was really unique. I actually wanted to play it again right away.
Alex (and Stephanie) – Mystic Vale (AEG): A unique take on a deckbuilding game, Mystic Vale is the first using a ‘card-crafting’ mechanic, giving players the power to stack different powers and abilities on the cards in their deck. I had the opportunity to demo this with the designer, John D. Clair, and it hit me in my sweet spot of games that are quick to get into, but have some strategy and depth in the decision-making. The quality of the cards are great, and the artwork is absolutely beautiful. This hit the table every night we were at Gen Con, and I foresee Mystic Vale being a popular game in my house and with my gaming group. I’m looking forward to more expansions and games using this type of mechanic.
Andrew – Order of the Gilded Compass (Grey Fox Games): This game kind of flew under the radar for me most of the convention. I had heard some rumblings about it, but it certainly wasn’t making a huge splash. I had some time to kill Sunday before heading home and stopped by Grey Fox for a demo. And I’m very glad I did. The game is a dice placement game with various locations that can be different during setup for additional replayability. It plays up to 5 players, and we played the full game in a 4-player demo in about 40 minutes. Looking forward to getting more plays of this game.
Jeff Petersen (and Brian Biewer) – Potion Explosion (CMoN): I was looking for a good family game that was not too childish, and this fits the bill. Potion Explosion emulates the Candy Crush feel with marbles and includes strategic elements with choices of potions and timing of their use. I had a great time playing with fellow gamers at the con and then again on the day of my return with the family.
Walt – Hit Z Road (Space Cowboys/Asmodee): Martin Wallace is more well-known for heavy strategy and/or train games, but this year he debuted two games at Gen Con that are much more family friendly: Via Nebula (which is my runner-up for Favorite Game), and Hit Z Road, a quick, cool dice chucker with an auction mechanic. Even though it’s a lighter game, it’s still a tough one to beat. I hadn’t heard about this game at all prior to Gen Con, but after seeing a demo, I was hooked, and decided to buy it.
Heather – I have to pick just one?! Impossible. Favorites included Potion Explosion (CMoN), Mystic Vale (AEG), Ice Cool (Brain Games) and Junk Art (Pretzel Games). To be fair, I think all these games were already purchased before I got to the Con late on Friday, but I’m glad Tony snapped them up to add to our game library before my arrival. (Thanks Tony!) I’m looking forward to introducing my non-gamer friends to almost all of these!
Brian Winters – Adventure Land (HABA): While HABA is typically known for little kid games – within the last year they branched out and made some for older kids and old kids like me. Adventure Land is a fun, well-developed, and light tactical game. It’s not a deep thinker but by far it’s no stinker.
Sarah – Onitama (Arcane Wonders): I hate demoing games at Gen Con because it makes me nervous when strangers watch me while I am learning a new game. That being said, the instructions for the demo took approximately one minute, I completely understood the game, and I beat Brian. Onitama is simple and elegant. It also has a high replay value due to the number of move cards included in the game.
What Game I Wish I Could Have Bought:
Tony – Giant Rhino Hero (HABA Games): This year we made our annual pilgrimage to the HABA booth to request them to sell Giant Rhino Hero here in the States. It’s somewhat available in Japan, but really expensive to try to import. However, word from the big-wigs at HABA USA is that they are finally considering releasing it here in the future. Fingers crossed!
Alex (and Stephanie, Tyler) – Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle (USAopoly): While not breaking new ground with mechanics; the theme, cooperative nature, and deckbuilding of Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle makes this an insta-buy for me. I love the fact that as the game progresses, your character levels up and gains powers as they go through Year 1 to Year 7. There was no way, however, I was going to brave the onslaught of people attempting to get the limited daily copies at the opening of the exhibit hall. Fortunately, I have it on good authority that this game will be released in September, just in time for my birthday!
Andrew – The Last Friday (Ares Games): While I was able to get most of the games I wanted this year, I did miss out on The Last Friday. I really like the horror-movie theme of the game and would like to give it a try at some point. Unfortunately copies were limited and because hidden movement games are hit and miss for me, I didn’t prioritize running to Ares each morning to try to snag one of the few copies at the convention.
Jeff Petersen – Ice Cool (Brain Games): It was sold out early, and was in the back of the hall. I will learn to start back there one of these years. I like to bring one dexterity game home to play with the family. It is a fun game of chase with the flicking of penguins.
Brian Biewer – Above and Below Kickstarter Edition (Red Raven Games) – I wanted to buy this for my daughter as she LOVED the base game. I passed on it on Friday, but decided to get it Saturday…and it was sold out. Above and Below is also sold out online as of the time of this writing, excluding price gouging Amazon/Ebay/BGG Marketplace offers. I do not need this game THAT badly…
Walt – Inis (Matagot/Asmodee): By the time I sat down for a demo of this on Friday afternoon, I was told that the small number of copies they had were sold out, and it wasn’t known if they were going to be getting any more. People kept comparing this to Kemet and Cyclades, which, as those who know me can attest, are the types of games that are not in my wheelhouse. However, there was just something about this Celtic-themed area control and card drafting game that won me over as soon as I started playing it. Very cool mechanics and card powers, and gorgeous component artwork. I’ve added this one to the top of my list of games to buy (after my wallet gets a much needed break!)
Heather – Lotus (Renegade Game Studios): After hearing about Lotus, it sounded really neat and the artwork on the box looked beautiful. Unfortunately they sold out before I even got to Gen Con! Thankfully Walt was able to snag a copy and we played on Saturday night. It was a great game and it’s no wonder why it went so fast. I love how the players are creating different flowers with their cards and that it’s friendly to both gamers and non-gamers. This game is definitely on my buy list.
Brian Winters – Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (Z-Man Games): Sadly, I got to watch Tony, Alex, Heather, and Steph play this one and we just ran out of time to do another. I love all things mythos, but Z-Man, like many other publishers sold out Saturday morning. I now need to wait until this hits retail in September.
Sarah – Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails (Days of Wonder): I really like Ticket to Ride and the addition of boats looked interesting; unfortunately it was sold out by the time I got to Asmodee’s booth on Saturday.
Favorite Unreleased Game:
Tony (and Brian Winters, Jeff Petersen, Tyler) – Adrenaline – (CGE): We had a chance to demo the prototype of Adrenaline and loved it. It was a fast paced game based on a first person shooter style deathmatch. Made by a company most known for complex eurogames, Adrenaline actually has a bit of a euro feel to it as there are no dice, low luck, and the most victory points wins.
Alex – Sagrada (Floodgate Games): A game of dice-drafting and placement, Sagrada has you placing dice to create a stained-glass window. Following stringent rules for placement, with different scoring conditions and special powers each game, Sagrada is a Kickstarter that I am looking forward to backing, based on my play of the game at Gen Con.
Andrew – Star Wars: Destiny (Fantasy Flight Games): While I may have told myself I’m never playing a collectible game again…Star Wars: Destiny may change all that. I was able to play through a few rounds of demo games and I’m excited to see more. The gameplay is straightforward and of course it’s always fun to play with characters from the Star Wars universe. I liked it much more than any of the sets I’ve played from Dice Masters. The result of the dice roll itself really controls the game in Dice Masters, but I felt like I had plenty of ways to mitigate a bad roll here. Coming this November, I’m sure I’ll be looking for a way to organize a few hundred dice for this game.
Brian Biewer – Arkham Horror LCG (Fantasy Flight Games): Arkham Horror/Cthulhu theme? Check. Cooperative LCG. Check? Pre-ordered at Coolstuff already? Check!
Walt – 4 Gods (Ludically/Asmodee): Yep, I spent a lot of time at the Asmodee juggernaut of booth(s). All I knew about this game before the con was that it was designed by the designer of Archipelago, but this title is very different. Two words: real-time Carcassonne! Ok, it’s a little more than that, but not much more. Players are drawing tiles with different landscape features and trying to fit them into a central framed grid on the table, working from the outside in, and claiming areas with their minis when they can – and they’re doing this all at the same time. It was frantic, but a lot of fun. P.S.: Alex, I liked Sagrada too!
Stephanie – Pathfinder Adventure Card Came – Mummy’s Mask (Paizo): If you go back to previous year’s recaps, you will note that I am a huge fan of the PACG. Early on Thursday, I was able to get into a demo. Since they don’t even have a release date yet, there wasn’t a full set to peek through. Paizo introduced at least two new characters (Spiritualist, Slayer), new types of Blessings mechanics, “triggered” traps, and more I can’t remember. I appreciate how each version of the PACG brings something new and just doesn’t repeat the same mechanics with a new story. I will have this in my hands as soon as it is released.
Most Surprising Game:
Tony – Get Rich Quick (FoxMind Games): I stopped by the FoxMind booth to chat with them and they told me about their new game Get Rich Quick. To be honest, if I were just walking by, I would have dismissed this game immediately. It has all the look of your typical mass-market game. However, that was apparently on purpose as this is FoxMind’s gateway game for their fans to transition them from easy, mass-appeal games to more hobby-style games. Under the clever layer some familiar graphic design is actually a euro game with simultaneous action selection and a worker placement mechanic.
Alex (and Heather) – Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (Z-Man): I feel the Cthulhu mythos has reached its saturation point in board game design, so I did not have a great interest in what I thought was a reskin of Pandemic, one of the greatest games ever produced. How wrong I was! Not a simple re-theming, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu uses some of the traditional Pandemic mechanics while adding some interesting variations on others and adding some completely new ideas. This game was a pleasant surprise to play, and I’m looking forward to picking up a copy!
Andrew – Sakura Arms (BakaFire Party): When I heard that there was going to be more of an international presence at Gen Con I was excited to take a look at what types of games were being developed outside of America and Europe. I was headed to the NECO booth, planning to demo Iki. They weren’t running a demo at that time, but BakaFire was there demoing his newest game, Sakura Arms. The game is 2-person duel where players manage the distance between themselves and their own resources. Cards are used to attack, but only work at certain distances. There is also a deck-building element. Each player chooses two Megami, each of which has 11 cards. You choose 10 cards from the 22 available to play with. Its beautifully produced and a great, quick playing game. Sakura Arms was available in Japanese with printed English rules and paste-ups and I’m excited to get it sleeved and playable.
Jeff Petersen (and Tyler) – Codenames: Pictures (CGE) – I have not enjoyed my plays of Codenames. I am one of the worst clue givers in the history of the game. Almost all of my clues have a one after the word. I was not looking forward to Codenames: Pictures, but surprise it was fun and much easier for me and am I guessing for families to play.
Brian Biewer – Bloodborne (CMoN) – I bought this because I love Eric Lang games and I love Bloodborne. I figured I would be able to play it once with my family and then rely on friends to play any other time due to my family typically not liking aggressive games. My entire family enjoyed the game. It is not as confrontational as I thought it would be and the decisions that need to be made, especially around when to retreat to bank your blood, were more engaging than I thought they would be. I REALLY liked this game!
Walt – Game of Thrones: Hand of the King (Fantasy Flight Games): What’s most surprising about this choice is that I’m actually picking a Fantasy Flight game! I wasn’t prepared to like yet another GoT-themed game, but this smart puzzly card game is actually light on theme. There is a grid of cards on the table depicting all our favorite GoT characters, and players are selecting them to place in front of them, following some strict selection rules. Rule the largest number of Houses at the end of the game to win! The bonus cards players can acquire do add some nice thematic touches to the game (the Khal Drogo card lets you immediately take the Daenerys card, of course). All in all, a fun, thinky game that even non GoT fans can enjoy.
Brian Winters – Mystic Vale (AEG). I’m not much of a deck building guy but it won me over from the start. It’s innovative “card crafting” makes the game much more deep and thinky than most deck building games I’ve ever played. Instead of grabbing a card for your deck, you have over twelve choices (if can afford them) to build and improve your base cards. Mystic Vale was a welcome surprise and this was one of the first deck builders I truly enjoyed playing. I have to say I think other designers will try to emulate the “card crafting” element and I won’t blame them one bit. It’s pretty slick and cool once you first see it in play.
Sarah – Stockpile (Nauvoo Games): I am not a fan of the stock market. Booorrrriiinnnggg. Then my husband, a CPA, made me demo Stockpile. We bought it approximately four seconds after the demo was completed. This game was surprisingly fun, especially given the theme. The demo was engaging and the designers were both genuinely nice guys.
Most Disappointing Game:
Tony – Codenames Pictures (CGE): While I’ve always enjoyed Codenames, I’ve never been one of the people who thought it was an amazing game. It was fun, but nothing I reach for regularly. I was hoping that Codenames: Pictures would add some excitement to the game for me. But it actually didn’t play any different from Codenames, and if anything, it was a bit duller and easier. I can’t see a reason why someone would ever need to own both.
Alex (and Tyler) – Star Trek Ascendency (Gale Force Nine): It is well-known that I am a sucker for all things Trek, so I was looking forward to checking this out. I had heard good things from friends who had a chance to have a more-involved demo about the creation of the galactic map and the various powers of the different races. However, finding out Star Trek Ascendency was three-player-only (before expansion) and took at least 3 hours to play will leave this title off my table and on my shelf 99% of the time. Disappointing!
Andrew – Potion Explosion (Cool Mini or Not): I knew that Potion Explosion probably wasn’t a game for me, but I was excited to try it nonetheless because the coolness factor is off the charts. I was able to play through a couple of games and it really just missed the mark entirely. First some of the marbles that came with the copy I played were in bad shape. Misshaped and dented to the point that one really wouldn’t go into the cardboard dispenser without a push. The dispenser itself took a lot of work to put together and needed a few taps occasionally to get all the marbles to come out. Not sure if those issues are widespread or just a bad copy, but production issues aside I just didn’t have much fun playing it. Just never felt like I really had any interesting decisions to make.
Jeff Petersen – Costa Rica (Mayfair Games): I didn’t make time to sit down at many demos in the dealer hall and I am sure I could have found a few games that were really disappointing. But Costa Rica was the worse new release gameplay that I had at Gen Con. I wanted to like it, but the randomness really hurt our play. I had the worse luck in pulling tiles and the game was over. Too much luck and not enough strategy even for a kid’s game.
Brian Biewer (and Sarah) – Aquarium (Z-Man Games) – I really want a good aquarium building game. This was not it. Aquarium was a bidding/set collection game. The aquarium theme was tacked on. It really could have been about ANYTHING. I MIGHT have liked it more had I not had my mind set on finally playing an aquarium building game.
Stephanie: Star Wars Rebellion (Fantasty Flight Games): Star Wars? Check. Fantasy Flight quality components? Check. Overly complicated rules? Um, yeah. Overly long demo where the demoer talked too much and we played too little? Yup. I don’t know if it was the overly complicated rules or the way in which the demoer was explaining the game, but I was literally falling asleep during this demo. On paper, Star Wars: Rebellion was perfect for me. Totally fell flat.
Brian Winters – I can’t say any new games really disappointed me. I did play Flip City for the first, and maybe the last time, but I really didn’t have any lemons aside from that one time.
That about wraps up Part 1 of our Gen Con recap. In part two, we discuss the convention at large. What about you? What games were your favorite from the show? Which ones fell flat for you? Let us know in the comments below.