Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
Now that I've had a few days to recover from the 20-hour days and binge drinking nights that are the Gen Con experience, I figured I should probably throw something up here about some of the new stuff I got to test drive at the convention. I flew back to Ohio on a red eye Monday night, slept away most of Tuesday (jet lag is a bitch) and set off Wednesday for the hallowed halls of Gen Con. The drive flew by, as it was a long overdue reunion with my best gaming buddies from Team Digression. After we got to the hotel, we dropped our stuff in the room and made a quick run to the local liquor store for the evening's entertainment.
The first official game of the convention for us was a run through Cutthroat Caverns. Aside from Dave and myself, no one else had ever played it. After a quick rules briefing and a few more beers, the beautiful backstabby goodness of the game commenced. In the end, we made it to the final boss with only three of us left standing. I managed to put myself into a pretty strong position to stall the others out and claim the winning kill...until new Team Digression recruit Devo accidentally downed one too many cocktails and handed Matt the win. At any rate, the game played out great and I think everyone had a good enough time that we will be very happy to revisit it in the future.
After we packed up Cutthroat, Matt brought out his Summoner Wars decks. He had been talking this game up for the better part of a year, so I was very eager to take it for a ride. I came away from the convention (after several plays beyond this first one) a total convert. At first glance the game seems too light to be anything special, but as I tried out a few different decks I became very intrigued with how uniquely each faction plays. For such a simple game, the depth of tactics is pretty impressive. Summoner Wars has flown to the top of my Must Buy list.
Thursday morning we leapt out of bed and hit the Con running. Well, I actually kind of just staggered, as the Jet Lag was still hitting me pretty hard and I never really went to sleep. Fortunately, the adrenalin rush of opening day kept me upright and alert for most of the afternoon. The first stop was Z-Man Games. Matt was absolutely dedicated to grabbing a copy of The Ares Project, about which he had been hearing a lot of positive buzz. Now I'm going to jump a little bit ahead here and talk about the game. We didn't actually grab a demo until Saturday, but we had vastly uneven experiences. Matt managed to sit down with Geoff Engelstein and learn most of the basic game. Dave and I however, just missed him. We got a guy that had just read the rules on the plane for something to do, without ever playing it. Now that's not a knock against him, he tried his damnedest to guide us through it...but to no avail. I think I managed to grasp at least the primary function of most of the mechanics, but still, I really have no idea how to actually play the game to its conclusion. Bad demo aside, it still seems like a pretty neat game once you puzzle it out. One thing that I can't dismiss though, it sure is ugly. The graphic design is a mess, the cards are too full of stats and arcane symbols to impress the game's theme upon you, and the whole package just feels like it was pulled through a worm hole from some grognard's closet circa 1983. Yuck.
The next stop was for another game I had never heard of, Mage Wars Arena. Our primary motivation was to swag a free t-shirt, but amazingly enough we found ourselves participating in a pretty enjoyable demo. The big gimmick of this title is that while it's a card game, you build your deck into a spellbook and are allowed to find and cast any spell that you want in any order that you need to. There's no blind card draw or resource issues to speak of. I had a few issues with the sheer volume of different status effects and the amount of hidden information (not because I dislike hidden info, but simply because it got to confusing to keep track of what was where!). But overall, it's a very intriguing concept and I am looking forward to seeing how the game does when it's released to a broader audience next year.
Next up was Star Trek Deck Building Game: The Next Generation. This was recommended to me by Dave, who had gotten a demo earlier in the year at Origins. I personally had already read through the rules PDF a few weeks before, so I had a feeling that I wasn't going to like it. The demo guy was bored and our fourth player was far more interested in surfing his i-phone porn hub than taking his turns. There's no question the bad demo made my impression of the game worse than it probably deserves, but nevertheless I just don't think the game does a very good job of representing the Star Trek universe. The characters are all there, but the game doesn't utilize them in a way that makes you feel like you're playing through an episode. I think it's a dud, but hardcore Trekkies might give it some love.
One Trek game I did enjoy was Star Trek: Fleet Captains, Wizkids new big box board game. This one supplied everything that Bandai's deck builder lacked. There was exploration, missions and ship to ship combat. It's all very abstracted, were not talking Star Fleet Battles here, but overall I think Wizkids has done a nice job of putting together a game that looks right at home in the Star Fleet Universe. The only drawback to the game is its incredibly cheap cardboard components. Both the hex tiles that make up the primary game board and the cards used to trigger missions are paper thin. It's a shame really, because to me the bad tiles are a deal breaker. There's no way I'm going to pay a hundred dollars for a game and have the board wear out in three months. The game's mechanics require you to manipulate both the tiles and cards quite a bit, so I think it's pretty inevitable that it's going to happen. Hopefully, I'm wrong.
We also spent quite a bit of time kicking around Fantasy Flight's booth for demos of Rune Age, Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game, Elder Sign and Star Wars: The Card Game. (That's us demoing Blood Bowl Team Manager in the still frame that's posted below the Aug 11th BGGNews Blog, for Fantasy Flight's Day 1 video.) Team Manager was a solid game. It did a pretty good job of distilling a long and complicated board game down into a quick and manageable card game. I'm not sure it has legs though...The consensus among Team Digression was that it would probably get old very quickly after ten or so plays. Matt also pointed out that realistically, the game was closer to Lost Cities than to its Blood Bowl namesake. It seems kind of crazy, but the more I think about it, the more I tend to agree. The game really boils down to just a battle for a majority presence at one of four locations, there's actually very little football going on. It was fun, but not exactly what I hoped it would be...
Rune Age on the other hand, was much better than I expected. So good in fact, the group left the Con with two copies! In many ways, Rune Age does a lot of the things that I've always wished Dominion could do. There is aggressive player interaction, direct combat and decks that can be built to achieve a specific goal. My only critique is the tiny card pool. There are only a couple of options for randomizing the available cards for a particular scenario, so it is possible that the game might become repetitive after a few plays. It seems a no-brainer to expand it, but Fantasy Flight has branded it a Silver Line game. Typically that's where Fantasy Flight puts their lighter, low cost, non-expandable titles. Maybe they've changed that branding, but if they don't expand this title, they are doing it a grave disservice. It's that good.
Elder Sign was pretty much what I expected. A push your luck dice matching game with a very thin Arkham Horror veneer. It was fun, but certainly not a replacement for the classic adventure game. I'd play it again, but it didn't catch my fancy enough to worry about picking it up any time soon. Again, this has been branded a Silver Line game...So I'm not sure if it's going to expand or not!
Last but not least was the new Star Wars card game. It's definitely going to appeal to fans of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. It plays a little differently, but shares enough to make learning it a breeze if you've played the LotR title. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a big hit...I know I'll be buying it when it finally releases next year. I also got a look at Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game. Wings of War with Twin Ion Engines and S-Foils? I think I've died and gone to heaven...
After we were done with Fantasy Flight, I swept through the Flying Frog Productions booth and picked up Invasion From Outer Space: Cloaked Martian Scouts. I haven't had a chance to play them yet, but I did upload a writeup and a couple of pictures.
I wanted to get a better look at Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game, but with everything else going on I just didn't have time. I have never left a Gen Con without picking up the Flying Frog pre-release, but I simply wasn't going to be comfortable dropping a hundred bucks on a blind buy. I'll just wait a bit and see what everyone else thinks about it.
Friday night was an evening with Navia Dratp. I relearned how to play, remembered how much fun it was...and also how much I suck at it. I guess I'm lucky I never hit the tournament scene on this one, because I never would have made it past the kiddie table. Matt on the other hand, is sort of a Navia savant. He hasn't played in three years and still managed to pound everyone's face who dared to play him. This was pretty much my cue to scoop out of his way and go play more Summoner Wars, a game I decidedly DON'T suck at.
Saturday night saw Team Digression sit down with Eagle Games for a run through Empires: Builder Expansion. Age of Empires III is an old favorite of ours, so we were very excited to see the long awaited expansion pack. The game itself was a tense as ever, interspersed with a few bouts of smack talk and a dejected Matt crying in his beer about the South American genocide at the hands of Dave and myself. On a more humorous note (I think), we had one extra non-Digression player at the table with us. He was a very nice gentleman who seemed to be a bit concerned when Dave and I continued to line up Matt's colonists and knock them down with the warfare box. "Why do you always kill the Missionaries first?" he asked. "Because they are the one's that ruin all the fun." I responded...He wasn't amused. A little later, we pretty much sent him running from the table when Dave declared "You know Matt, I don't know why you are such a rules manipulating bastard even when we are learning a new game. Did you come all the way to Gen Con just to get one over on me? That's why I'll gladly sleep with Jeff or with Devo, but I'll never get in bed with you!" Now obviously this isn't the Bored Gaymer blog and what Dave was referring to was the perpetual re-assignment of sleeping arrangements as we tried to find a way to fit four dudes onto two tiny beds. The look on our guest's face was priceless. Hopefully we didn't scar him too much, but he certainly didn't waste anytime getting the hell out of Dodge as soon as the game concluded. Good times.
The expansion itself was very interesting. It seemed to add a whole lot of extra colonists to the game. At first I thought that might weaken it, because the competition for prime spots is extremely tight and really drives the original game. The extra guys actually seemed to increase the tension though, as everyone had extra moves to play defensively and block off spaces. Before the expansion, that was a bit of a losing proposition since you needed every colonist available to focus on your strategy. Another neat addition were the 'Spoils of War', which pop up in the technology building tiles. These are free techs that provide a one time bonus and they do a nice job of making the technology box something to fight over, even when everyone is out of money. I want to play it a few more times, but I'm pretty sure this expansion is going to be a '10' and a permanent addition to my game.
Saturday also saw Team Digression take a swing at Plaid Hat Games new release Dungeon Run. It's too bad they didn't make the show with copies to sell, because I'm pretty sure they would have moved a boat load. I'd have to say it was the best of the new games I demoed. It's fast, simple and full of player interaction. It also looks like it's going to have lots of re-playability as well due to the large amount of special abilities each character can be built with. Expandability will also be fairly easy, so I am absolutely going to pick this up when it comes out. Plaid Hat did give away a couple of copies in a drawing, one of which was won by Devo, the newest member of Team Digression. Of course he's staying back east, so Sasquatch and I will have to wait until September...
Finally, Saturday night we learned two new Small Box Games, Irondale and Omen: A Reign of War. Irondale was alright, perhaps a little dry, but Omen was fantastic. The advanced draft mode makes for an excellent head-to-head card game. I hope the publisher has plans to expand it, because the ONLY weakness the game has is it's smallish pool of cards. We played a couple of times and I enjoyed every game.
Overall it was another great trip to Indy. I got to hang out with my dudes (whom I've sorely missed), play a bunch of new games and revisit some old favorites. The only thing I forgot to do was get my copy of Wilderness Survival out of storage and mail it back for the Yeti that make up the West Coast Arm of Team Digression . I guess I'll just have to go back next year!