Another year and another Gencon has come and gone. Now distanced by some weeks from the excitement of new cardboard and shiny dice, the Krewe de Gumbo sits down to document their time at the best four days of gaming. Join one of our contributors, Bradly, as he recounts his travels through the cavernous halls of Gencon, fighting off Paizo goblins and Kingdom Death enthusiasts, to play all the games he traveled from the bayous of Louisiana to try out in Indianapolis.
Gencon 2019 is officially over and I’m not sure if I should be excited or disappointed about that. Every year I marvel at just how busy the convention seems to keep me and yet how much of it I seem to miss. But while I decide whether to be elated or sad on my return to the humidity of the south, let’s talk about the games I got to see at the convention this year and what I think about them. Now, clearly this is not all of the games available at Gencon; I don’t think a full month of the convention would let me get to all of them. However, if you’ve read our Preview of Gencon 2019 then you know which games I was looking forward to at the convention. I even fell short of completely that truncated list, but here’s what I did get to experience at the convention!
As with the Preview, these games are in no particular order.
The King’s Dilemma by Horrible Games
King’s Dilemma was a game that I knew I wanted to try at Gencon. It seemed like a game I would really enjoy, but with a $80 price tag I needed to know what I was getting into before dropping that kind of money. On the plus side this is an outstanding game; King’s Dilemma feels like a game with a traitor mechanic, like Battlestar Galactica or New Angeles, but it doesn’t actually have a traitor.
Each player is one of a number of noble houses who are all members of the King’s council. You will collectively resolve event cards, assigning a resource called power to either a Yes or No vote. The side with more power wins the vote, and then you resolve that event card (which will often either strengthen or weaken various aspects of the kingdom). Or you could abstain from the vote, in which case you earn some money as well as getting an equal portion of the power used on the last round’s vote.
King’s Dilemma creates this great tug of war between the players about how events are going to be resolved because players want different things. One player might want a particular aspect of the kingdom to be really weak, while another might want all of the different aspects of the kingdom to be relatively even. There’s various scoring aspects in the game, from who has the most money to leftover power, as well as completing objectives specific to each house.
Ultimately I really enjoy this game, but there is a big problem with it for me: it’s a campaign game with enough content for 15 scenarios. Each scenario you’re controlling the same house and slowly inching toward their overall objectives while controlling a new ‘head’ of the house each time. Which sounds amazing to me, but then I have to ask myself if I’m really going to get 5 people to play this game 15 times?
I think I would like this game less with fewer than 5 people playing and there doesn’t seem to be any mechanic to allow players to jump out and back into the game. If getting a consistent group together to play this game isn’t a concern for you then I can’t recommend it enough. But if you’re like me and are afraid your group is going to fall apart after 4 or 5 plays, maybe wait on it until other people can get through the entire campaign. At least that way you’ll know if the payoff at the end is worth it.
I enjoyed the single scenario I played at Gencon so even if you had to rotate players in and out to get through the 15 scenarios you’re still going to enjoy each individual play. The problem with rotating players is that you’re going to miss out on some of the overall aspects of the game and ultimately the person, or people, who play the most are going to be the only ones in contention for actually ‘winning’ at the end.
Court of the Dead by Project Raygun
Court of the Dead wasn’t available for demo at Gencon, but Project Raygun did have a copy set up for people to see all the glittery pieces before the Kickstarter gets delivered. One of the Krewe kickstarted Court of the Dead so it’s likely that we will have a full review of it at some point in the future. I was a little concerned about the quality of the miniatures based off of previous photos that I’ve seen but those concerns were alleviated by seeing them in person. The theme of this game really appeals to me and the components seem to be outstanding. When I know our group is already getting a game I tend to avoid any information on it until it gets delivered, but I’m glad I stopped by to take a look at this one.
Sanctum by CGE
Sanctum won’t be released by CGE until Essen but they had a demo set up in their room at Gencon. Play time is listed at 2 hours for a group of 4 to go through 6 Acts and end with a Final Boss encounter. For the demo at Gencon players only went through 3 Acts so the information I have on the game is rather limited. However, I really enjoyed what I was able to see in the demo. A quick shoutout to our demoer Daniel, who was clearly not teaching his first game of Sanctum; the man knew his stuff.
In Sanctum you’re playing as one of 4 classes; you may be the huntress, dancer, thief or slayer. Each character plays roughly the same with major differences coming from your selection of talents. So whereas the Slayer may unlock Berserk during play, giving them extra dice when attacking, the Thief might unlock an ability that gives them the chance to avoid damage.
Gameplay is very simple, with much of the complexity of the game coming from decisions you make for your character about which abilities to unlock and what items to equip. During a turn a player will decide to either Move, Fight, or Rest. Moving allows a player to advance one step forward of the furthest character on their act. So if you’re in Act 1 and one other player is in Act 1, you can move one step ahead of them. Essentially the move action includes several catch up mechanics like this one to prevent players from being left behind. After a player moves they will also taunt a single group of monsters present in the Act they moved to, even if that is the same act they were already in. A group of monsters may be one or several, but by taunting them you place the cards representing those monsters onto your player board.
Once players have monsters in front of them they may also choose the Fight action for their turn. The first thing players will do when fighting is flip over one of several tokens which will denote how many dice they roll in combat. Monsters are defeated by specific combinations of dice rolls that are printed on their monster cards. Damage is persistent, so if you Fight a monster and only roll 1 of the 2 dice needed to defeat them you would place a marker on the die value that you rolled, making it easier to defeat the monster on a later turn. Any monsters not defeated on your roll will strike you for a certain amount of damage as listed on the monster card which you can either block with defensive items or take as damage, however damage is negative victory points at the end of the game.
Lastly, players can choose to Rest as an action which allows them to recover their resources. Players have two resources available to them in Sanctum, Stamina(red) and Focus(blue). Stamina is used to activate armor when you take damage thereby negating that damage. Focus is used to activate equipped weapons and other items usually to modify dice rolls. You may, for instance, have a pair of gauntlets that you can place one Focus on to change any rolled die to a value of 4. That Focus token stays on those pair of gauntlets until you Rest on a later turn. This not only prevents you from using that ability again but also decreases the amount of Focus available to you in order to activate other items. There are also potions in the game that players can use before taking a Fight action to fully replenish either their Stamina or Focus; those potions can be bought with unwanted equipment.
When you take the Rest action you can also change your equipment. On the back of each monster card is a piece of equipment which can range from defensive armor to weapons, helms, boots, etc. When you rest you can take any of these equipment items you have accumulated and assign them to your character, assuming you have the necessary resources to do so.
How do you accumulate the resources to wear equipment? By defeating monsters, of course. Each monster you defeat will grant you a certain number, and color, of gems. Those gems are assigned to your character board in 4 rows, and by moving them upward to the top row you will have access to them for equipping items. However, removing all of the gems from the lower rows is also what unlocks your more powerful abilities. So you have to make a decision: do I move up gems on the upper rows in order to be able to equip more items and maybe unlock a lesser ability, or take the time to move gems from the lower rows so I can get that really powerful ability early on?
Even though I didn’t get to experience the Final Boss battle I did ask what it entailed. Essentially it’s one large combat that all players participate in; the more damage you inflict on the boss, the more points you score. Scoring points is how a final victor is determined so you obviously want to be as strong as possible when it comes to that Final Boss fight.
There’s a lot to like about Sanctum, not least of which is the theme. I’ve been playing ARPGs like Diablo for almost as long as I can remember, and CGE has a track record with Adrenaline of translating a video game theme into a good board game. That makes me hopeful that the final product will be more than just a gimmick. I am a little concerned, having not experienced the Final Boss fight, about how scoring is going to work. There is a lot of dice mitigation in Sanctum through equipment but combat is still based on dice rolls. That could lead to situations where a player runs away with a game through luck alone, but having played the game myself and being someone who strongly dislikes dice based combat, I don’t think it’s going to cause an issue (there is just so much mitigation built into the game). Personally I will have my eyes on this one at Essen and it would take a lot for this to not be an instant buy for me.
God of War: The Card Game from CMON
God of War: The Card Game was released by CMON at Gencon. I wasn’t able to find a seat for a demo but a friend of mine did, and I hovered over his shoulder as he played Kratos. When CMON released Bloodborne: The Card Game in 2016 at Gencon I bought it immediately and was ultimately disappointed with the game. For God of War I was much more hesitant, even after experiencing the demo, but my friend thoroughly enjoyed the game and ended up buying a copy that day. Our demoer, Mandy, was really great about not only showing us the game but also letting us get a peek at the other components in the box that we didn’t use for the demo.
GoW is a bit like a campaign game, in that a group of players (2-4) will go through a selection of missions. For the first mission you’ll have a random scenario, for mission 2 you’ll pick from 2 options, and the final mission will be one of three boss encounters. Whether you succeed at the mission or not you always advance to the next one, but you’ll have a disadvantage if you fail. The game can also be played solo but I don’t have any experience with that yet.
Each character in the game comes with their own 14 card deck which you’ll shuffle and draw 7 cards from to start the game. These seven cards have to last you through not only your own turn but also all of your allies. Additionally you draw one enemy card per ally turns plus one extra, so when playing with 4 players you end up drawing 5 total enemy activation cards. Suddenly those 7 cards don’t seem like quite enough, do they? So while you’ll likely be using all of your attacks cards on your turn you’ll also be holding onto any defense cards to prevent damage from enemy activations. Once all players have taken their turns and after resolving all enemy attacks you’ll discard any of your unplayed cards, so you really want to take full advantage of your hand.
Each player will decide what actions they want to take on their turn and then pass to the next player, but before that they’ll draw a single card from a stack to determine which enemies attack. Each enemy will activate on a specific rune which are marked on the cards. Ranged enemies attack the player furthest from their location while melee enemies will specifically show on their card which spaces they attack. Therefore each round consists of each player taking their turn then drawing a card for the enemies, before moving onto the next player. After that you will draw one additional enemy card and activate enemies as normal. After this final card each player can select one of the enemy attack cards to add to their own deck, placing it on top of their deck.
God of War introduces some interesting mechanics by having almost every card in the game being double-sided and flipping over at some point during a fight. So when you defeat an enemy you’ll flip over its’ encounter card, which may gain you some immediate benefit or alter the mechanics of the current fight. At certain times those cards may even flip back, signifying another monster of that type joining the fight. The most interesting use of this mechanic is during the boss fights when monsters may alter their attack patterns once flipped.
Having had time to play the game between Gencon and now I’m still not in love with it. While the flipping mechanic is very interesting I think the other mechanics of the game let it down. The random draw from a pile of cards has the same problem that plagues every other game that uses this same mechanic; namely bad luck. During one fight we drew the same rune on three consecutive cards, knocking out a player before they even had a turn. What I can say is that the game is a big step up from Bloodborne and that I am looking forward to playing it some more to see what additional mechanisms are used in the other boss fights. I really want to enjoy God of War: The Card Game from CMON but ultimately I think it’s one I’m going to play a bit and then set aside for more interesting fare.
DC Deckbuilding Game: Rebirth by Cryptozoic Entertainment
I have played a lot of the DC Deckbuiding game over the years. Although my interest in deckbuilding games in general has waned considerably in that time I’ve always come back to it because of its ease of play. The game is one of the more basic deckbuilders available, but when augmented by the Crisis expansions that make it fully cooperative it really shines. So when I heard that Cryptozoic would be relaunching the DC Deckbuilding line with additional mechanics from some of their other deckbuilders, and that it would be fully cooperative from the start, I knew I had to sit down for a demo. A big thank you to our demoer Ryan, who had one of the best mohawks I saw at the convention!
If you are familiar with the DC Deckbuilding game you will feel very comfortable playing Rebirth. At its core it still uses the same mechanics of its predecessor; use cards from your hand to fight enemies or buy cards to make your deck stronger. There is an added wrinkle with the addition of movement which allows players to transition from various locations. Some locations are purely a place to buy cards while others may give you special abilities. These locations are specific to the scenario you play, which is another mechanic new for Rebirth.
Every game of DC before Rebirth was just a random selection of cards; the supervillian was random, even the various Crisis cards were random. This gave the game a considerable amount of replay but some people prefer the order of a Scenario. Rebirth adds this feature by giving you 8 Scenario packs in the base game that will set up the game for a specific showdown between the heroes and some baddy. Locations can change based on the scenario and there is a new Threat Track in the game that changes certain basic rules of the game as you get further into a scenario.
Rebirth does a lot of what I love from the older DC Deckbuilding game; namely it really embraces the theme. The idea of the Flash riding around in the batmobile or Cyborg wielding one of the Green Lantern Corp rings is just something that appeals to me as a lapsed comic book nerd. However, Rebirth seems to be disjointed in that it’s fully cooperative but maintains the VP system of the original game, with the player accumulating the most VP during the game being named the ‘MVP.’
I can only imagine that they made this decision for one of two reasons (or maybe even both). First they may have wanted the cards from Rebirth to be compatible with the older versions of the game so that people could add them to their collections; this is probably a good idea and will allow them to sell Rebirth to those players just for that reason. The second may have something to do with the Organized Play system that they plan to implement for the game; perhaps it will reward the person who becomes the ‘MVP.’ While I can understand why this choice may have been made for these reasons it does make the game seem disjointed. It’s a cooperative game but you’re still trying to outscore your ‘teammates.’ This isn’t entirely uncommon but doesn’t feel thematic to the setting and somehow puts me off slightly from the game as a whole.
I enjoyed my demo of DC Deckbuilding: Rebirth but I don’t think I’ll be getting it, at least at first. Mostly this is because I have everything for the original game and ultimately think that the Crisis version of the original is superior to Rebirth. This may change in the future with expansions to Rebirth or even if the Organized Play for the game turns out to be really good. I do recommend the DC Deckbuilding game to people who enjoy deckbuilders in general and are looking for something a little lighter than Marvel: Legendary, or players wanting to play DC without all the commitment of the original and it’s massive amount of expansions. If you already have the DC Deckbuilding game with some of its expansions and are enjoying it I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Rebirth to you, but to someone new to the DC Deckbuilding game I would definitely suggest starting with Rebirth.
So that’s Part One of my look at all the games that I played at Gencon 2019. Part Two will be posted in a few days, with a look at Mezo, Hadara, Medium, and many more! If any of these look interesting to you don’t hesitate to drop me a line @BradlyBillingsl on twitter with specific questions or concerns. As always you can find more of BJ on Facebook and his live show Tuesdays at 8:30 PM CST. And if you ever find yourself in Cajun country and are looking for a friendly group to game with don’t forget about us at BoardGameGumbo.
Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!
— Bradly @BradlyBillingsl