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Gen Con 2013 – Final Preparations and Thoughts on New Games

W. Eric Martin
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As is the case for every convention that I attend, for Gen Con 2013 – which takes place August 15-18 – I'm not so much ready for the convention but simply out of preparation time.

Starting Wednesday night, I'll be on site in Indianapolis, tweeting updates and news bites from the show and (ideally) posting round-ups on BGGN as well. For those posts, you can obviously find me in this space; for tweets, you can follow me on Twitter or search for "#gencon", which I and hundreds of others will be using to mark con-related posts.

You can also follow BGG's live game demos and interviews. As we've done at Spiel for the past few years, we've invited designers and publishers to join us in our booth to show off their designs, and we'll be livestreaming those demos as they happen, then posting the videos later on individual game pages. You can see the schedule for these demos in this thread. What's more, I'll be walking the convention floor with a camera and an assistant to record more demos and see what else I can discover.

Speaking of discoveries, the Gen Con 2013 Preview includes games that will debut at Gen Con 2013, be released shortly before the convention, or be available in demo/preview form. This Preview is not so much finished but rather (nearly) complete due to time disappearing from underneath me, like a cliff crumbling thanks to rising flood waters. I have a few last-minute additions still to make, due both to last-minute email and to finely-aged email that I just haven't processed yet, but for the most part it's done.

As for the games being shown at Gen Con 2013, I've played a few of them and since I also lack the time for proper video overviews, I thought I'd blat a few comments and see what you're looking forward to trying. User alan581 has compiled a GeekList of the "[geeklist=160602]25 most anticipated standalone games[/geeklist]" by skimming through the Preview I created, so that's one measure of interest. Mine's more personal, embodying my quirks and tastes. Here we go:

• Two Stefan Feld titles will be widely available at Gen Con 2013, with Bruges having first appeared in limited numbers at Origins 2013 and Rialto having hit U.S. retailers in early August.

Bruges is my favorite of the three Feld titles released so far in 2013 – Bora Bora, still awaiting mass release in the U.S., being the second favorite – due to the way it blends special powers, combos, and randomness. Each round you fill your hand to five cards, then play (typically) four of them; each card can be played for one of six actions, with five of the actions being the same on each card and the sixth specific to the person depicted on the card. Each card is one of five colors, and you know the color of the card when you draw it, thereby letting you plan to some degree to build canals, trade in the card for workers of the same color, or construct a colored house with workers you already have. After filling your hand, you roll five colored dice, with the die rolls giving everyone threat tokens (for high rolls), allowing you to buy prestige (for low rolls), and determining how much money you can get from a matching-colored card.

You can use the special power of a person only once the person is housed, so you need to get workers and build houses, while also managing your money flow, avoiding the long-term destruction from threat tokens, building canals and gaining prestige to earn bonuses, and otherwise juggling a half-dozen balls at once – all while playing only four cards each round. The trick is that people give you extra actions or boost the actions you otherwise take, but since you never know who you're going to draw and you can (usually) carry over only one card from round to round, each round is a fresh puzzle, with you reacting to the dice rolls and what you draw to figure out the best path forward, both long-term and for the current round.

I've played ten times with all player counts, and the game works great with all numbers. Players fight over majority bonuses, and with the range of person cards, you can huddle down to play your own game or stretch out across the table with attacks that hand out more threats or directly eliminate people and houses. Some folks have complained about the randomness of the card draws, never seeing a particular color over five rounds, for example, or drawing no endgame scoring cards while someone else lucks into a dozen VPs on the final round. Them's the breaks, says I. Managing that level of randomness and overcoming it is one of the challenges that I enjoy in games. I also appreciate that each game feels different due to one game throwing threat after threat at you while another starves you for cash while still another lets you create a canal-building engine and so on.

Rialto presents another side of Feld, avoiding the "point salad" nature of many of his designs in which you're presented with a buffet of action options and are free to fill your plate as you wish. Instead Rialto is an old-style efficiency Eurogame in which you're trying to squeeze majorities out on every card play in every round to pile up bonuses and squeak ahead of opponents.

Like Bruges, your hand mostly resets each round, but each non-joker card can be played only one way, so you're trying to judge what everyone else has and how they'll use the special powers of their buildings to get an edge on you in this phase or that. You want to claim majority bonuses by having dudes in the districts of Venice, and as with the card play, you don't want to win big; you want to win by the barest margin possible, as by doing so you'll be able to spend resources in other areas and pick up points that might otherwise go to an opponent.

I've played with two, four and five players, and the two-player game differs a lot from games with more players since you need only a single figure in an area to score points from it. (The player with the most dudes scores the full value of a district, the secondmost player scores half this value, the thirdmost player scores half that, etc.) Thus, if your opponent spends lots of resources to build up the value of a district, you can mooch off his work with little effort of your own. Games with more players don't work like this, of course, and they have the drawback of needing to shuffle the deck of tiny cards over and over again.

• Paolo Mori's Augustus lost the Spiel des Jahres award to Hanabi, but it's gone over well among most of my local players, with one group of us playing it five times in the same evening. As with Bruges, Augustus combines randomness with combos, with someone drawing tokens from a bag and all players covering corresponding spaces on their objective cards with their legionnaire tokens. Cover all the spaces on a card, and you get a bonus, some points, and a new card; choose your cards well at the beginning of the game or when drafting new ones, and you can create synergy that fuels you forward.

Players also compete in a mini-game of chicken when taking bonus cards. After you complete two objectives, you can take a bonus; take it, though, and you can't take another one later when you complete more objectives; don't take it, however, and you might find all of the higher valued bonuses in the hands of others, leaving you with nothing. The quick playtime and simultaneous actions, combined with the clever take on the familiar Bingo-like gameplay, are clear reasons why the SdJ jury chose Augustus in the first place.

• I haven't played Anthony Rubbo's Renaissance Man, but I'm looking forward to trying it out in the Rio Grande Games room since (1) I enjoyed Rubbo's Hey Waiter!, particularly the four-player team version, and (2) to tie in another Feld reference, Rubbo and I played Notre Dame five times in a row in the middle of the night at a convention years ago, and I appreciate his spirit of exploration, his willingness to dig into a game that way and not simply play it once and figure that he knows everything about it, the way that some reviewers do.

Asgard's Chosen is another one I'm interested in trying, partly due to its take on deck-building combined with deck-construction – as designer Morgan Dontanville details in a designer diary on BGGN – and partly due to late-night discussions with him about game design and other things. Designer diaries are one way to peek inside a designer's personality, to find out how a design embodies someone's philosophy toward games or life, and that's part of the reason I enjoy publishing them, whether or not I'm interested in the game being discussed.

• As I've tweeted, I have a 4-0 record in William Attia's Spyrium, with all games having three or four players, and while that might be swaying my opinion about the game, I think I can confidently state that Attia has hit a home run with this design.

Over six rounds, players use their workers to purchase buildings, collect money, use the power of characters in play, and obtain techniques. The economy is a model of tightness, consisting of only money and spyrium, with various buildings and a once-per-round special action allowing you to convert one for another or both of them for points. You struggle for money constantly, often needing to place workers at desirable locations simply so that you can pick up a worker and receive £1 for each worker still present at that location.

Like Bruges, each round in Spyrium is a new puzzle. You lay out nine cards in a 3x3 grid, then take turns placing workers between two cards. Whenever you feel like it, or when you run out of workers, you start picking them up, either taking money as I mentioned earlier or buying the building/technique or using the character. When to switch over from placing to picking up isn't always clear, though, as you often want to leave workers home in order to use buildings you've already acquired or hope to acquire that round.

In addition, you and everyone else will have 3-5 dudes on the board, along with the possibility of a special action (with a new one being available to each player once per round) as well as buildings that might be usable with or without a worker, so what do you do first? If you want to buy a building/technique or use a character, you have to pay £1 for each other worker next to it, in addition to the cost of the card, so do you wait and hope to get something cheaper at the risk of not getting it at all? Do you buy something for more than you think it's worth so that others can't buy both cards around the worker first and strand him there uselessly? You start running through dozens of possibilities in your head – picking him up gives me £5, and I can then buy that building but only if at least one other worker is removed to lower the cost, but I can delay by using that character which will give me enough points to take an extra worker, which I can use to activate this building for spyrium, with which I can then...

Again, you have only a few workers – starting with three, then acquiring more through buildings, a special action, or a VP threshold – but the possibilities of who to use when for what ties you into knots. Play well, though, and you'll leave your opponents with wasted opportunities, with them finding themselves £1 shy of what they need to use a character or forcing them to play one building over another as they can't afford to open new ground on which to build, thereby losing the points and ability of the old building.

•••

Okay, that's enough rambling for now. Time to add a bit more to the Preview, then get ready for five days on the road...
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