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Gen Con 2014: Asmodee Play Mania I — 7 Wonders: Babel, Mascarade Expansion and Nations: The Dice Game

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Asmodee
As it did at Gen Con 2013, publisher/distributor Asmodee hosted a "Play Mania" event off-site for the press to preview titles forthcoming in late 2014 and 2015. Since many of these titles are not being shown with complete art and since each game presenter typically spent only a few minutes on a game, keep in mind with these descriptions and images that the final games might differ from what you see and read below.

That said, let's start with what's probably the most final game in the room: 7 Wonders: Babel from Repos Production. I wrote up a first impression of 7W: Babel after playing a game on the prototype at Gen Con 2013, but strangely I forgot to post that until July 2014. In that post I mentioned a release date of early 2014, but that release date has continued to slip month by month, with Spiel 2014 in October now being the anticipated (and final!) release date.

Board Game: 7 Wonders: Babel
Why the delay? Because Repos — that is, Thomas Provoost and Cédric Caumont — takes forever to make things exactly the way it thinks they need to be made. If they feel the game isn't ready, they keep working on it until it is. The graphics first shown in mid-2013 have changed and changed and changed again, and even the graphics on display at Spielwarenmesse in February 2014 differ from those shown in April 2014, which differ from those today.

What's more, Provoost was pointing out all of the things that I might notice had changed since the last time, going into detail on particular card and tile powers and how they previously weren't working but now they do. With multiple expansions and one-off cards in the 7 Wonders world, they try to test every combination of elements to make sure that nothing surprises them later. (For details of the Babel gameplay, my write-up linked to above still holds.)

Board Game: 7 Wonders: Babel

The power on the Babel tile at bottom right, for example, was a power that Repos had previously considered for use on a 7 Wonders: Leaders card, that power being the ability to use the "chaining" abilities of your left and right neighbors. Problem was, though, that in a three-player game whoever got this one card could chain off everything on the table, and since you can't use this brokenness in a three-player game, then it's not printed at all. With the Babel tile, however, everyone has this ability as long as the tile is visible in the tower, and if you share brokenness with everyone, then you've unbroken the power and made it fair (except, of course, for the player who held this tile in the first place and probably avoided putting chainable cards in play in order to get an edge at the right moment). I'll leave an interpretation of the other tiles as an exercise for the reader.

Another small example: One Babel tile gave each player who lost a conflict resolution a -2 marker, thereby making conflict just a tad worse or possibly much worse depending on how long this tile remained in play — but a -2 token didn't interact well with a few other items in the game that affected negative military scoring because those items depict -1 tokens, and while at first they contemplated exactly how they would rule on such things or whether they would reprint cards to include in Babel, in the end they realized that they could just print the penalty as two -1 tokens and eliminate all questions. Phew! Small details that in hindsight seem obvious.

The Babel tile board holds four tiles on one side for games with more players and three on the other for games with fewer.

Board Game: 7 Wonders: Babel

The law cards have been altered as well in ways large and small, sometimes with powers specific to Babel itself, as with the bag on the brown card. Should you fulfill this law, then you receive a token that you can use in a future round to fulfill the law showing then with a card of any color and thereby avoid the punishment for that round. The resolution of these laws now takes place prior to the conflict resolution, which means that it's possible to have military strength be one of the rewards for fulfilling laws.

Board Game: Mascarade: Expansion
Okay, that's perhaps enough details about something you might already know. Another item coming from Repos is Mascarade Expansion, a slim tuckbox of thirteen new character cards for Bruno Faidutti's Mascarade with you pretty much throwing away the tuckbox and putting all the cards in the original box.

I've already mentioned a few times how much I love Jérémy Masson's art on this game, and while talking with Provoost about the tendency for French (and Belgian) games to be highly stylized with wondrous art, he said something along the lines of Well, why would we want to play games that don't look as good as they could? If you're going to spend time with a game, why not spend time with a beautiful game?

Board Game: Mascarade: Expansion

Board Game: Ca$h 'n Guns (Second Edition)
• The second edition of Ludovic Maublance's Ca$h 'n Guns debuted at Gen Con 2014, so it wasn't part of the Play Mania event, but I did catch artist John Kovalic on the convention floor playing with others and signing small prints for people to take home. In a brilliant bit of metagaming, Kovalic vowed that he wouldn't sign anything for those who killed him. Not a threat that can be made by most people at the gaming table...

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Board Game: Nations: The Dice Game
• Rustan Håkansson's Nations: The Dice Game from Lautapelit.fi was the oddball in the room, coming from a Swedish designer and Finnish publisher instead of from the Francophone region usually covered by Asmodee. The components shown are not from a production copy, although the dice are probably finalized.

The game lasts four rounds, and during that time you try to complete wonders and take other actions that score you points. Each player starts with five white dice showing gold, stone, book, food and "strength" (a sword), and twelve (of fifteen) round-specific tiles are laid out in rows for the current round. Players roll dice, then take turns rerolling (if you spend a reroll token), buying tiles (which cost gold or strength as shown on the tile with the cost being 1-3 of the particular icon depending on the row in which the tile is located), or building a wonder (by paying stone for a wonder tile previously purchased).

As you buy tiles and build wonders, you can upgrade to different colors of dice and receive tokens that provide you access to specific symbols each round. Books let you increase knowledge, and you score points each round based on how many players are behind you on the knowledge track. If you have enough food and strength symbols to match the totals shown for the round, you score additional points. Everything wraps up after four rounds, and a solitaire playing option is included.

Board Game: Nations: The Dice Game

Boy, do I take a long time to write these things! Gen Con 2014 is now over, and I'm in the airport waiting for my flight. More write-ups in the days ahead...
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