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Illustrated Report from Gen Con 2012

Mary Prasad
United States
North Carolina
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Gen Con Indy was held at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, August 16-19, 2012. This marked the 45th anniversary of the nation's largest annual consumer hobby, fantasy/sci-fi, and adventure gaming convention, as well as its tenth anniversary in the city of Indianapolis. With record-breaking numbers, the convention recorded a turnstile attendance of 134,775, including more than 41,000 unique attendees. Show turnstile attendance rose more than 12% above last year's record of over 120,000. Gen Con will return to the Indianapolis Convention Center for next year's show, August 15-18, 2013.

Fun Facts: (taken from Ten Fun Facts and Figure from Gen Con Indy 2012)
• Gen Con raised more than $14,000 for the Stars Youth Foundation charity this year.
• Nearly 9,000 events were run as part of Gen Con Indy.
• Gen Con Indy hosted the first-ever World
Magic Cup with players from 71 different countries participating.
• Notable media guests of honor included Wil Wheaton, Nichelle Nichols, and Wes Bentley.
• Press attendance topped the record at over 500, including five television crews.
• There were over 300 exhibitors in the Exhibit Hall, premiering more than 45 games.
• The Gen Con Indy Facebook page topped more than 780,000 during the convention week.
Family Fun Pavilion

The Family Fun Pavilion has been running for six years. It is an area dedicated to family gaming for all ages and includes exhibits, demonstrations, activities and more. Some features: face painting, music and activities by Radio Disney, demonstrations from a list of exhibitors over the entire four days, craft events, and dress parades. Mayfair had many of its giant games in this area.

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Game Library

The game library is much improved since the last time I attended Gen Con (admittedly a number of years ago now), but it still has much room for improvement. There were hundreds of games to choose from but many were older; I would like to have seen more of the newest releases and maybe even some pre-releases. The way they do the ticketing is rather absurd: $4 for a daytime ticket (from opening time to 6 p.m.) and $6 for a nighttime ticket (6 p.m. to 3 a.m.). Admission was free on Sunday. Thus if you wanted to play in the room Thursday/Friday/Saturday, you would have had to pay $30. Compare this to the Origins Board Room ribbon (run by CABS) at $20 for five days and a library of over a thousand games, including many of the newest releases.

Pick-up Play Area

This is open gaming in the same location as the Game Library. I'm glad Gen Con finally added this – again it has been a number of years since I last attended – as it used to be impossible to find space to play a game you or a friend brought. Volunteers were even on hand to help you find a table, one where you wouldn't be asked to move in the middle of your game.

Food Trucks!

Yum! About twenty food trucks were on the renovated W. Georgia St., now a pedestrian walkway. (Well, except for the trucks down one side.) Tables and chairs were set up down the middle, although not quite enough for the Gen Con crowds. I got the feeling that this may have been a first for at least some of the trucks as well since many ran out of food. The lines at some trucks were very long and it took far too long to get the food out. For example, at one truck we waited 20 minutes to order, then another 25 to get the food. This is really unacceptable. The food that I had was excellent, though.

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Food trucks!

Media Guest of Honor, Wil Wheaton

Among this year's guests of honor was Wil Wheaton. As one of the most requested media personalities at Gen Con, Wil Wheaton is a film and television actor best known for his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also had roles in the films Stand by Me and Toy Soldiers. His latest role was playing a recurring character, Dr. Isaac Parrish, in SyFy's series Eureka. He has also played a number of smaller roles, including computer hacker Chaos on TNT's Leverage, and a slightly more evil version of himself on CBS's The Big Bang Theory. In Felicia Day's hit web series The Guild, he plays the Axis of Anarchy leader Fawkes. Recently he has been releasing board gaming web videos at Geek and Sundry, with the series titled TableTop. Episodes air every other Thursday. In 2009 he was named by Forbes as the 14th most influential web celebrity. Now if only I could get him to do one on Tichu...

First Exposure Playtest Hall

New this year: the First Exposure Playtest Hall. Those interested had to sign up for a (free) playtest slot and were asked to fill out a brief survey to be matched with games to fit their interests and experience. Dozens of game authors, designers, and publishers allowed hundreds of players to try out their possible future releases.

Geek Speed Dating

Geek Speed Dating was held at "The House", a bar in the basement of Union Station where some Gen Con events were held. I was told there were two events, one for ages 21-35 and one for 30+. Predictably there were many more males than females in attendance, despite the big discount for ladies (like $12 vs. $20). I had to chuckle at a quote from one guy who attended, regarding what the ladies thought: "The odds were good, but the goods were odd."

Of course there is a lot more going on at Gen Con than I have time to see or write about, including the blood drive, a balloon sculptor, a gypsy tarot reader, instant game show, The House, chair massages (this one I really wish I hadn't missed!), zombie walk, costuming workshops, Klingon Opera, Orc Stomp 5K run, teddy bear chain mail class, art show, anime, films, a haunted tour around the downtown, True Dungeon, console gaming, industry insider seminars and panels, live music, mascaraed ball, costume contest, writing seminars, auction, and spouse activities, including tours, knitting, crafts, scrapbooking, dancing (belly, country, burlesque fan, and even pole!), intro to hand and foot massage, chakra balancing, yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and Zumba.

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Balloon dragon, blown up over several days

Here is something I wish I had had time to try – a giant WORKING version of RobyRally. This was so cool! Somehow you give your commands to a guy at a central computer and the robots move accordingly. I watched some of them move. Mere words cannot fully describe this board game geek dream!

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Giant RoboRally

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Close-up, giant RoboRally

Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall is where I spent most of my time, talking to exhibitors, checking out new games, snatching up show specials (and maybe a few "dead CCGs"), and seeing what's new. Some notables include games on the iPad from Mattel (toys that work and interact with the iPad – super cool!), a new coffee table from Catan Table (still not yet on the website), $7 travel Carcassonne set (of which I bought two because the smaller meeples are too cute, not to mention the little tiles), T-shirts of every kind, giant versions of board games, glow in the dark dice (plus a new dice game, Chupacabara: Survive the Night), and big pretzels with nacho cheese (if you know me, this shouldn't surprise you).

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Close-up of Mattel interactive games for the iPad

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Mattel interactive games for the iPad

Mayfair Games

Once again, Mayfair Games went all-out for Gen Con. Convention goers got their first look at Star Trek: Catan, which was pre-released at the show. At one point, Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura from the original Star Trek series) was on hand at the Mayfair booth to sign games. Star Trek: Catan adds cards of the characters from the bridge crew of the series. Everyone starts with one of the characters. This card may be used to help its owner during the game as a one-time deal, or it may be flipped for one more use before trading it in for another character.

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Star Trek: Catan on a Catan Table

Mayfair staffed over fifty demo tables where attendees could learn new games and win ribbons for the Great Ribbon Quest (e.g. collect wood, wool, brick, stone, and wheat to turn in for Mayfair goodies). Mayfair brought over 25 giant games to Gen Con, including a huge Settles of America: Trails to Rails game, with a carpet map covering 216 square feet and wooden components weighing 137 pounds.

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Giant Settles of America: Trails to Rails

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Giant Settles of America: Trails to Rails, note the big dice (bottom L)

Urbania was pre-released at Gen Con, and the full release is planned for early September 2012. This is a city renewal game in which players take on the role of urban planners working on the redevelopment of a run down city. Players hire specialists and designers, submit plans, create blueprints, and construct buildings. As in many cities, there is a potential for corruption, but manage your projects well and you might just win the game.

Fun Fact: 95% of Mayfair products are made in the U.S.A.

The Gen Con pre-release A House Divided, which is available now, is a re-release of the original classic game themed on the American Civil War. Component quality was either improved or maintained.

Mayfair pre-released the Martin Wallace game Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant, due out mid-September 2012. This is an economic game in which players must balance investments in aeroplanes, customer service, and routes.

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Aeroplanes, new Martin Wallace game

Clash of Wills: Shiloh 1862 is an upcoming game in the Test of Fire series. From Mayfair's website: "It is near dawn on April 6th, 1862. The first major clash of arms in the western theater of the American Civil War is about to commence! You and your opponent each control one of the opposing armies. As the Confederate player, you open the battle with a devastating surprise attack on the Union camps around Shiloh church. If you can route the disorganized blue coats and take Pittsburg Landing before reinforcements arrives, you can deal a potentially fatal blow to the invading Yankees. As the Union player you must survive the initial onslaught and hold back the advancing rebels on the first day of battle. Then, the next day, you can deploy your full forces to crush this latest threat to the survival of the United States. Whose will prevails?" The next game planned in the series will be based on the battle of Chickamauga.

Fun Fact: During the 1890s, the Congress of the United States authorized the establishment of the first four national military parks: Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg. The first and largest of these (5,200 acres), and the one upon which the establishment and development of most other national military and historical parks was based, was authorized in 1890 at Chickamauga, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was officially dedicated in 1895. It owes its existence chiefly to the efforts of Generals Henry V. Boynton and Ferdinand Van Derveer, both veterans of the Union Army of the Cumberland, who saw the need for a federal park to preserve and commemorate these battlefields. Another early proponent and driving force behind the park's creation was Ohio General Henry M. Cist, who led the Chickamauga Memorial Society in 1888. Another former Union officer, Charles H. Grosvenor, was chairman of the park commission from 1910 until his death in 1917. (From Wikipedia.)

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Bob Carty, Mayfair Games

Stronghold Games

Pre-released at Gen Con, Crazy Creatures of Dr. Doom is a card game by Michael Schacht that comes in a nice colorful tin. The game is played over a number of rounds (as many as there are players). There are four "machines" or piles on which to play, each in a different color. The goal is to get rid of your hand of cards buy playing numbers in ascending or descending order, depending on what the corresponding colored machine card shows at the time, signaled by a plus or minus sign at the top of the card. (It is two-sided.) Playing the same number on a stack allows the player to either flip the machine card to its opposite side or give a card to an opponent. The full release is planned for the end of September 2012.

Little Devils is a trick-taking card game, also in a tin, released at Gen Con. Players try to avoid taking points (represented by 0 to 5 devil symbols on the cards). The person who plays the first card will not take the trick; the second person's card will determine whether the trick will go in ascending or descending order by playing above or below the first person's card. Cards become trump if played lower (ascending) or higher (descending) than the first card. Ideally players will try to play numbers between the first and second cards. Each hand is nine cards/tricks. The game ends when one player reaches 100 points; the player with the lowest score wins.

Two more Gen Con releases include expansions for Revolver, a two-player card game themed on the Wild West. Both add new mechanisms and cards for each side giving players the opportunity to customize their decks. Ambush on Gunshot Trail adds ambushes. Hunt the Man Down adds two new icons to the game, a new winning condition for the McReady player, and a new Prison location, from which the Colt player may decide to prison-break his cohort.

Milestones is scheduled for release mid-September 2012. This is the first "real Euro" for Stronghold Games. Designed by Stefan Dorra and Ralf zur Linde, Milestones features a personal rondel for each player that changes as the game progresses. The goal is to score the most points by building milestones, roads, houses, and marketplaces on the main board.

Due for an October 2012 release, Article 27: The UN Security Council Game, designed by Dan Baden, is a pure negotiation game based on two provisions: Each member of the security council gets one vote, and decisions of the security council must be unanimous. Each player will serve as Security General once during the game (twice in a three-player game), presiding over the current issue. Players score based on bribe money, points scored from proposal cards, and how well each fulfilled a secret agenda (card) received at the start of the game.

Crude: The Oil Game is the long awaited reincarnation of McMulti by James St. Laurent. This new version features an enhanced economic system, new artwork, and tweaked prices in the consumer market for gas and economy cards to be more balanced. A dice difference track was added so that the economy of the game would fluctuate more frequently (as was originally proposed by Tom Lehmann). Expected in October 2012.

Spiel 2012 releases include CO₂ by Vital Lacerda (the designer of Vinhos), Space Cadets by Geoffery Englestein, and the Core Worlds: Galactic Orders expansion.

Out of the Box Publishing

Snake Oil is a game based on the Old West snake oil salesmen (see Fun Fact). Players are inventors trying to sell their products to the current customer. Each player will get a chance to be the customer once before the game ends. Players are dealt six purple word cards, e.g. magnet, glitter, cape, wig, bicycle, cough, joy. One player (customer) selects a red customer card, e.g. lifeguard, baby sitter, spy, sports fan. The other players (inventors) each select two cards from their hands, putting the words together to create their invention, then pitch their sales one at a time. The customer chooses which he likes best and awards the red card to that inventor. When the game ends, the player with the most red customer cards wins. For example, if the customer is a Pirate, a player may select the purple cards Cannon and Gum. They might pitch a Gum Cannon that blows up a large bubble to shoot at a victim's ship, causing everything to stick in place, including the crew and their weapons. Winner of the Mensa Mind Games award for 2012.

Fun Fact: Al Waller, the President of Out of the Box, sent me this fun fact. They plan to include a version of this inside the game box:

Real snake oil was first introduced to the United States in the 1860s by Chinese laborers working on the Transcontinental Railroad. After hard physical labor they would rub sore muscles with an ointment made from water-snake oil and shared this ancient Chinese remedy with their American co-workers. Products containing water-snake oil are still used today by some herbalists and a recent study found it contained more omega-3 fatty acids than the highest form of fish oil.

In 1917, a sample of Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment was tested by the U.S. government and found to contain no actual snake oil. As a result of these swindlers making false product claims and using misleading labels, the phrase "snake oil salesman" was born! Today's snake oil salesmen are more likely to be seen as used cars salesmen and politicians.

We make no medical claims about the health benefits of the game Snake Oil. No snakes were harmed in the manufacture of this game!
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Al Waller and Max Osterhaus

North Star Games

Wits & Wager Family Deluxe Edition, a Kohl's store exclusive, features meeples with clothes! Check out the photo – if you look closely you can see that the meeples are all different shapes (specifically, look at the shapes of their heads). The red/orange meeple actually has a little cape on the back (Super Meeple!).

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Meeples with clothes!

Gary Games

Gary Games released Ascension: Immortal Heroes at Gen Con. It is both a stand-alone game as well as an expansion. It includes new mechanisms such as the "ongoing trophy", killed monsters that sit in front of you and have some continuing effect, and new Soul Gem cards, representing trapped souls of past heroes whose powers you may wield. This is the second and final set in the Storm of Souls story arc.

Now on Kickstarter, SolForge is a digital trading card game by Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering, and John Fiorillo and Justin Gary, creators of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer.

Plaid Hat Games

Plaid Hat Games was giving a preview of Mice and Mysics at Gen Con. It is a cooperative game in which players take on the roles of loyal subjects who have been turned into mice. They must try to escape the castle, rising to the challenges of their new sizes, e.g. rats, cockroaches, spiders, and even the castle's housecat, Brodie. The game features scenario "chapters" of a story that unfolds as it is played. It is an RPG dice-driven adventure for 1 to 4 players, due to be released September 20, 2012.

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You never know who you might meet walking around the Exhibit Hall: Michael Gray (R), Sr. Director Product Acquisition, Hasbro, and friend Jim McMahon (L)

Z-Man Games

Z-Man Games released two new titles at Gen Con, Atlantis Rising and Alcatraz: The Scapegoat. Atlantis Rising is a fully cooperative game in which players try to save as much of Atlantis as they can while gaining rewards along the way. The rewards come with risks though, and misfortunes abound, all the while Athenians are attacking. Build the cosmic gate and save what's left.

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Z-Man Games (Zev Shlasinger on R)

Alcatraz: The Scapegoat is a semi-cooperative game of conflicted loyalties. Players must work together to complete a six-part plan (mostly pick-up and delivery) but in the end one player will be the scapegoat to be left behind, or all will lose. In order to avoid being the scapegoat (and the only loser of the game), you must make yourself indispensible – doing what you must, not excluding backstabbing, stealing from, and blackmailing other players.

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Zev Shlasinger shows us his "good side"

Frank Branham was on hand to demonstrate his new game, Battle Beyond Space, in the Z-Man booth. It is a dice-free card-driven massive free-for-all space battle with 60 to 80 ships. Players have secret powers that vary, from one-time use to long-term effects. Cards are used to activate and move ships. Players gain points for destroying ships and occupying certain spaces on the board.

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Frank Branham (middle L) watches as a group plays his new Battle Beyond Space game

Albino Dragon

Laura and Tracy Hickman were showing a prototype of a Richard Borg game, Dragon’s Bard. The game is based on the book series, Tales of the Dragon's Bard. The first book, Eventide, was released in June 2012. The second book will be called Blackshore (unknown release date). Dragon's Bard is a suited card-based board game with powers in which players try to collect the most story tokens by traveling to locations in the Dragon's Bard world.

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Tracy (L) & Laura (R) Hickman showing Dragon's Bard

Days of Wonder

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Mark Kaufmann (L) & Sibylle Blumenfeld (R), Days of Wonder

Days of Wonder released the new Memoir '44 Equipment Pack, designed by Richard Borg, at Gen Con. This is a major expansion, with 186 plastic figures including 108 figures from four WWII nations (French Infantry, Finnish Ski Troops, Italian Artillery, and Polish Cavalry), 24 new pieces of artillery (including Flak-88s, Long Tom big guns, M7 Priests, and "Screaming Meemies" Nebelwerfers), new beach landing equipment, snipers, and lots of new armor, vehicle, and special weapon assists. The figures may be used with many of the existing Memoir '44 scenarios but are also heavily featured in the new eleven standard, two breakthrough, and four overlord scenarios that come with this expansion. A copy of the base game is necessary to play with this expansion. The latest feature is the addition of modular tanks, i.e. pieces pop in and out of the tanks to change the effects they will have on the game, usually giving some special ability.

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Richard Borg in conjunction with Days of Wonder ran a Memoir '44 tournament over in the board gaming demo area.

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Richard Borg (L), designer of Memoir ‘44

Eagle Games/Gryphon Games

Richard Borg strikes again! Cowtown (Gryphon Games) is due to be released in September 2012. It is a climbing card game played over four rounds in which players try to get rid of their cards by playing on stacks in the middle of the table. Special moves include a Horn-to-Tail sequence (multiple cards in numerical order) and a Stampede (multiple cards with the same number played on different stacks with the same lower number). Playing three cards in of either of the special moves earns a player one "scorecow". As long as you play cards of the matching color, you are safe, but playing at least one card of a different color – called a bullish play – means you must draw and discard the top card of the deck. If that card shows a bull's-eye, then you must draw a card. Playing a 10 on a stack closes that "barn", either earning you another turn or allowing you to pass one of your cards to an opponent. The round ends when one player runs out of cards or the deck runs out. The player with the fewest cards earns four scorecows, the player with the next fewest cards earns two scorecows, the rest of the players earn one scorecow, except for the player with the most cards who gets nothing. Whoever has the most scorecows at the end of four rounds wins.

Fleet is due to be released at the end of September 2012. It is a strategy card game with hand and resource management. Players acquire licenses, launch boats, and fish with the goal of obtaining the most victory points.

Blockers!: The Card Game, due out in September 2012, is a card game based on Kory Heath board game by the same name (which is based on the board game Uptown). Instead of playing on a 9x9 grid, players play on a 4x4 grid, with 16 victory cards in the spaces of the grid. Cards also form a frame around these victory cards, with rows labeled A-D and columns number 1-4; each quadrant is also labeled with a suit, spade, club, heart, and diamond. For example, the top right row marker has a spade and an "A" on it. There are also corner cards in the frame with the matching suit for that quadrant. On a turn, a player plays a card from her hand that specifies a row, column, or suit, and claims one victory card in that location. Kicker cards are jokers, and may be used to claim any card. After a player has claimed her first victory card, the next claimed victory card must match the color or shape on the last one claimed. Once all players have passed, the round ends and the empty spaces on the board are refilled. The game ends when the victory card deck is exhausted. The winner is the player with the most victory cards.

The new release of Cheeky Monkey (Gryphon Games) is due September/October 2012. This version comes in an adorable plush monkey that also functions as the game bag for drawing the animal poker chips. The new game features coaster-sized bonus tiles with animal descriptions on the backs.

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Cheeky Monkey comes between Sean Brown (L) and Keith Blume (R)

Another September 2012 Gryphon release is a box set of three classic Sid Sackson games: Sleuth, Monad, and Venture. Improvements for Sleuth include larger score sheets and the addition of text on the cards so players may more easily identify them, for example "Diamond Solitaires".

Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas is due around October/November 2012 from Gryphon. It features programmed movement with dice. Opponents' dice may force you to reroll one of your dice (rum barrel) or skip your die for that "bell" (anchor). From the game rules: "The ringing of a ship's bell is used to mark the passage of time at sea. Watches are normally divided into eight bells, but four bells constitutes a 'Half Watch' or 'Dog Watch', which is the duration of a single turn in Pirate Dice." After moving, cannons fire and damage is dealt to ships that have been hit. The game also includes finding treasure, stealing, ramming, and sometimes sinking.

New from Eagle Games is Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields, a standalone card game based in the Defenders world. It is played in teams: one-on-one, one-on-two, or two-on-two. One side represents the Dark Lord's invading army, the other represents the heroes defending the realm. Each player has a hand of cards (variable with the number of players) that are played on battlefield cards on the table. Battlefields each have a special power that the winner of that card may play as a reward. The first team to claim either three battlefields of the same color or five total battlefields is the winner.

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Kris Gould (L), Wattsalpoag Games, and Jonathan Franklin (R) showing A Fistful of Penguins

APE Games

APE Games did a pre-release of Rolling Freight at Origins 2012, but the full release was at Gen Con. It is a rail and ship route-building, cargo delivery game with a two-sided game board in which actions are performed using custom colored dice.

Kill the Overlord was pre-released at Gen Con, with an expected full release date in October 2012. The game is basically a hot potato passing game. Each player has a role, which changes from turn to turn. Each round, play continues until the Overlord dies. The players who survived then get to trade up their roles in rank order (high to low). The players who died get to rank up in the order that they died (first to last). The Overlord will always get the Slave (or lowest) role next. Players gain gold corresponding to their rank cards. If the Overlord player is the last to survive, he wins. Otherwise if the person who is Overlord has forty gold at the start of a turn, that player wins. The Japanese style anime artwork is really beautiful.

Twilight Creations

Twilight Creations released The Current Number of the Beast, a dice and card game in which players use their hand of cards to manipulate their dice with the goal of matching the current three digit number on the beast card. Some cards allow you to mess with your opponents or change out the beast.

Twilight Creations was running a special on Easter Island for $5 at Gen Con! It is an abstract strategy game with cool Moai pieces. I recommend checking this out, especially if it is on special.

Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)

Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) released Smash Up at Gen Con, which was one of the hits of the show. It is an interesting twist on a card game. Each player selects two pre-made twenty-card decks. Each deck represents some faction, i.e. they are theme decks. The factions have their own strengths, for example dinosaurs have big numbers, zombies bring cards back from the discard pile, and pirates move cards around. The goal is to gain the most points, mostly done through "smashing" bases. Bases are represented by base cards, each with their own attributes and abilities. An expansion is planned for winter and will likely include ghosts, plants, bear cavalry, and steam punks.

Three games are planned for a Spiel 2012 release. They will be part of the Tempest line of games. Tempest is a fictional city-state. Dominare is the first game in the Tempest line. It is an area control game. Areas are worth victory points. Wooden markers will be placed on a map of Tempest as the game progresses. Players begin by drafting agents (cards). Each agent is a unique person in Tempest, with unique abilities. Use your agents to build a conspiracy and spread your influence throughout the city, building a network of hidden power in hopes of gaining control of the most valuable areas. Part of the game will be to balance exposure (e.g. each agent has an exposure value). Events will target the player with the highest exposure; you will also lose more victory points if your exposure is high.

The goal of Courtier, the second game in the Tempest line, is to gain control of individuals in the court to successfully complete petitions, which are worth victory points. It is a card driven game; e.g. influence cards help players gain sway over courtiers, power cards allow players to manipulate the board.

The third game in the Tempest line is Mercante, themed around the merchants of Tempest. It is an economic game of contract fulfillment, bidding, and buying/selling goods. It has a supply and demand mechanism so timing is important. Each player begins the game with one warehouse and two agents. Agents are hired to do tasks, such as go to market, build warehouses, and look at shipments (i.e. card stacks). The goal of the game is to earn victory points (through senatorial favors), although players will need to accumulate "crowns" to finance their operations.

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The view from the JW Marriott Hotel where I stayed

Rio Grande Games

Rio Grande Games released Dominion: Dark Ages, the latest Dominion expansion. This is not a stand-alone game. It contains 500 cards, including 35 new Kingdom cards, new cards to replace the starting Estates (i.e. Shelters), cards to mess with other players (Ruins), and cards that can only be obtained through other cards. One of the central themes surrounds the Trash. There are cards that do something when trashed and cards that utilize the Trash in some way (e.g. the Graverobber allows a player to take a card from the trash costing 3 to 6 money). There are also cards that upgrade themselves and ways to upgrade other cards.

The Rio Grande Games reprint of Arctic Scavengers is expected during Q4 2012. It is a deck-building game that shares some of the mechanisms as Dominion, although it has its own unique differences. There are two decks in the middle of the table, the Junkyard, which contains some useful cards but also some junk, and the Contested Resources deck, which contains much more useful cards, such as tribes that may be worth a lot of "people". Players may also hire mercenaries (cards) with food and/or medicine. Players may search the Junkyard by digging (an action on many of the cards). Contested Resources may be fought over once during each player's turn, with the winner of the fight gaining the top card. The game ends when the Contested Resources deck has been exhausted. The winner is the player with the most tribe people in his deck.

Board Game: Roll to the South Pole
Roll to the South Pole is another new title from Rio Grande Games. It is basically a mountain climbing variant of the classic push-your-luck game Can’t Stop. I was able to play it at Gen Con, and even though I have Can't Stop, I wouldn't mind owning a copy of this as well. It is different enough to justify owning both. This game adds cubes that a player may use for help during her turn (e.g. dice reroll or switch the color of a die) and three different colors of dice from which a player may choose six in any combination. The selected dice will be the dice for her current turn, i.e., on her next turn she will be able to select another combination of six dice.

On a player's turn, she decides where she wants to go next on the board, as long as it is adjacent to her current position. Some spaces have pre-printed numbers, others have a token that may have to be flipped to display the numbers. The numbers have a color associated with them, corresponding to the dice colors. The player rolls whatever dice she has left and checks if she can move to that space. For example, the next space may have a black 6 and a blue 5; in order to move into that space, the total on the black dice must be 6 or higher and the total on the blue dice must be 5 or higher. At any point the player may decide to stop and put a base camp in that space, from which she will start next turn. If the player fails, she must fall back to her lower base camp and her turn is over. The goal of the game is to plant three flags in spaces in the upper part of the board by moving to them without falling. Of course there is a bit more to the game than I have explained here. The only thing I don't like about the game is the box art; those are some scary zombie-looking dogs.

Once again there was a Rio Grande Games room where gamers could try out the latest releases. Volunteers were on hand to explain games. This year there was a giant version of Power Grid: The First Sparks.

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Giant Power Grid: The First Sparks

StrataMax Games

Pandasaurus and StrataMax Games are planning to re-release Tammany Hall, which should be available by the end of September 2012.

I played Let's Take a Hike, a card game about hiking that includes hand management and some "take that" elements. I think it will appeal to families with kids. Some of the cards that affect all players (although not the person playing it if it was their action) include a Skunk, which makes everyone discard an item and pick up their hiking gear (played on the table in front of them), a Bear, which makes everyone discard their heaviest (usually best) item, and a Raccoon, which steals a random card from your hand.

Academy Games

Academy Games is releasing 1775: Rebellion in September 2012. This is the second game in its 1812 "Birth of America" series and uses the same basic mechanisms as 1812: The Invasion of Canada. The game also comes with an advanced scenario, "The Siege of Quebec".

Freedom: The Underground Railroad is planned to be on Kickstarter December 2012/January 2013 with a planned Q1 2013 release. It is a card-driven cooperative game, first available as a print-and-play game titled Conductor. Players need to strike the right balance between freeing slaves in the South and raising funds needed to allow the group to continue their abolitionist movement, but beware of the slave catchers!

Living Worlds Games

Living Worlds Games released Schlock Mercenary: Capital Offensive at Gen Con. The game is based on the web comic Schlock Mercenary, the comic space opera by Howard Tayler who also did the art for the game. It is a tactical shooter game played on a grid-based modular map. Players take on the roles of Tagon's Toughs and other characters from Schlock Mercenary, working to achieve scenario-specific goals. Future scenarios are planned. Miniatures should be released in the near future.

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Giant Serra Angel, from Magic: The Gathering, in the gaming hall

Fantasy Flight Games

Fantasy Flight Games pre-released its newest living card game, Android: Netrunner at the show. The full release is due mid-September 2012. The game is for two players and is based on the classic collectable card game (CCG) Netrunner. Richard Garfield, the designer of the original game, also helped design this version. It is set in the cyberpunk future of Android and Infiltration. It is still corporations vs. runners, but there are now four corporations and three different runners, each presenting a unique play style or focus. Copies of the same card are now limited to three. Since it is a living card game, monthly releases are planned. They will be sixty-card packs, including cards for all factions, although each pack may focus on one faction, MSRP $14.95.

Fun Fact: Android: Netrunner sold out in seven minutes at Gen Con 2012. A second shipment came in later, which sold out in half an hour.

From gallery of diceychic

Android: Netrunner, Fantasy Flight booth

The new Rune Age expansion Oath and Anvil pre-released at Gen Con 2012. It should hit stores mid-September 2012. This expansion adds two new scenarios, two new factions (dwarves and orcs), new units for each of the four existing factions, and mercenary cards that may be added to any faction.

Another pre-release, Ugg-Tect, is due out early September 2012. It is basically a re-release of Aargh! Tect with cleaned up rules and new art. I enjoyed playing the first version and am looking forward to this one. It is not a serious gamer game, but more of a fun, party-type game. By the way, it still comes with a (inflatable) club (what else would cave people use?) with which you may help "direct" your team.

Relic was also available as a pre-release, to become widely available in November 2012. This is a Warhammer 40K version of Talisman. The level-up system has been changed; each character levels-up differently. There are also three threat decks versus one adventure deck in the original game. The color of the character's space determines from which deck a card should be drawn. There are five scenarios (game endings) in the base game, with different game effects for each scenario.

The long-awaited Merchant of Venus reprint will be released in early November 2012. This is a co-production between Stronghold Games and Fantasy Flight. Changes include a double-sided board, two rulebooks, and lowered player count (1-4 instead of the original 1-6). One side of the board is the classic Richard Hamblen board with new art. The second side of the board is a new design by Rob Kouba, in the spirit of the original.


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Stefan Brunell, Asmodee

Seasons was another show favorite and a pre-release from Libellud that's distributed by Asmodee. The full release is expected in Q3/Q4 2012. As the name implies, the circular board represents four seasons going around the outside edge. Each season is affiliated with a different color. A cube marks the current time of the year. The game is played over three years. Before the game really begins, there is a card draft, after which each player will have nine cards. These will be divided into three sets of three cards, one set to play in each of the different years.

Rounds begin by rolling dice corresponding to the color of the location of the cube marker. Players then, in turn, choose one die each. One die will remain (there is one more than the number of players) – the number of dots on that die will determine how many spaces the marker will move at the end of the round. This is important since seasons may change, and the year might end. Next players activate their selected die (usually allowing them to gain energy, gain victory points, draw cards, exchange energy for victory points, etc.) and perform actions (such as drawing cards, playing cards, and activating card actions). The goal of the game is to try to gain the most victory points through the clever use of dice and cards, with consideration of the seasons/years. Try the online version free at Board Game Arena.

From gallery of diceychic

Seasons, the new game from Libellud

Asmodee was also showing Libertalia, a pirate game – and as such is can be a rather cut-throat experience (especially with three players). It is a card-based game where players each control a pirate captain fighting over the same booty, and sometimes even the same crew (the scum!). There is a lot of player interaction (to put it kindly).

From pirates, we move on to zombies... City of Horror, due for a Spiel 2012 release from Repos Production, is a game of survival. Each player has their own team of characters, with differing abilities. Characters may move to various limited-capacity locations, which they may barricade and try to scavenge for items. The game includes negotiation, and when zombies overwhelm a location, a vote takes place – how democratic!

Asmodee plans to release the Eclipse expansion, Rise of the Ancients by the end of 2012. The expansion features three new player boards with four new alien species and introduces several new additions to the base game, including rare technologies, developments, alliances, ancient homeworlds, and warp portals. The game also includes pieces to play up to nine players. The modular design allows players to pick and choose how many and which additions to use.

Two other releases planned for distribution by Asmodee include Lady Alice, a bluffing/deduction game for release at Spiel 2012, and the fourth board for Formula DBaltimore & India – for October 2012.

Two Lanterns Games

This small game company (a lovely husband and wife team) was showing Morels, a two-player card game released at Origins 2012. Players "hike" through the woods looking for mushrooms to cook – this is basically a rolling line of cards. Players much manage their hands of cards and try to collect the most valuable mushrooms, then cook them in a pan – maybe with butter or cider if the set is large enough. But watch out for poisonous mushrooms!

Coffee Haus and Japanime Games

I spoke with Eric Price, the president of several lines of games, including Cardhaus Games, Japanime Games, Coffee Haus Games, and Player's Choice (game accessories). Cardhaus Games has been around about twelve years, Japanime about two years, and Coffee Haus about six months. The latter sells European game imports and relicensed games. Vanuatu, originally a French release, was released in English at Gen Con under the Coffee Haus line. It is an economic game with a "take that" element. Players take turns choosing the actions they would like to perform that round. The catch is that you must have a majority in an action space in order to perform that action. Sometimes this means a player may have to wait until other players remove their tokens (by playing their actions); other times a player may not be able to play the action at all that round.

Thus one strategy is to block other players, for example, in the space for fishing. This may have a chain reaction of not allowing the player to sell fish if he had decided to do this as well; the second action depends on the completion of the first and since it was blocked, the second action may not be performed. In Vanuatu tradition, one of the actions is to draw in the sand (see fun fact). Another interesting aspect of the game is the currency mechanism. Money is tight in Vanuatu. When a player reaches ten vatus, the vatus automatically transform into 5 prosperity points, leaving the player is poor.

Fun Fact: Sand drawing in Vanuatu is an extensive means of communication among the members of about eighty different language groups living in the Vanuatu islands of the South Pacific. Master sand drawers must possess both a strong knowledge of graphic patterns as well as an understanding of their significance. These drawings are recognized by USESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

From the Japanime Games line, Kanzume Goddess is due to be released at Spiel 2012. Talk about an international game: the designer is Chinese, the art is Japanese, and the theme is Greek vs. Norse gods. It is a deck-building game in which each god has its own special powers that its controlling player may draw upon. Players will purchase cards from the central pool, using them to purchase more cards, do battle with other player, draw more cards, and protect themselves from damage. The last player standing (i.e. with energy left) is the winner.

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Eric Price and his dream date

Queen Games

Escape: The Curse of the Temple should be out by the end of October 2012. It is a cooperative game in which players must escape from a cursed temple. Urbanization, a city-planning game about the development of a rural area from the beginning of the industrial revolution to modern times, is also planned for an October 2012 release. Locomotive Werks, a reprint of the Winsome Games original, is due out by the end of November 2012.

One last tidbit and a photo for the guys...

At the airport, on our way home, my husband and I met Luke Laurie, who was also on his way back from Gen Con. After talking for a few minutes we found out that he is a game designer (as well as a teacher and family man). He gave us a copy of his game, Stones of Fate, to try and was kind enough to show the two of us how to play. It is a fairly simple strategy card game. It begins with a grid of cards, which are turned face down. (Players will initially see the cards during set-up.) Each player has her own glass "stones" to mark her moves.

During a player's turn, she may peek at a card, flip a card, or place a stone. The stones are played on the edges of cards, but only one between cards in the grid, which will apply to both sides. When a card is flipped, the edge markings are checked to see if anyone will win the card. Some cards will award points; some cards will have actions. The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the game. I thought it was a clever little game that may need a little tweaking (e.g., resizing the grid according to the number of players to ensure enough tension). I look forward to playing it again with more than two players. [Note: Luke emailed me that he updated the rules since we played; they are posted at the site linked above.]

Sorry ladies, no photo for us – see the segment on Geek Speed Dating if you have any questions.

From gallery of diceychic

A photo for the guys
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