There and Back Again: A GENCON Holiday (2019 Edition) Part Two

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 part two of his travels through the cavernous halls of Gencon, fighting off Paizo goblins and Kingdom Death enthusiasts, to play all the games he travelled from the bayous of Louisiana to try out in Indianapolis. (Part One can be found here.) 

Dragonscales by Arcane Wonders

I was very intrigued by both the theme and pedigree of Dragonscales. A bunch of villains have broken into a three-headed dragon’s lair and fight amongst themselves, as well as against the dragon itself, to be the one with the most loot. The fact that it was designed by Richard Launius definitely doesn’t hurt. I sat down for a demo with Sarra, who had one of the worst days rolling dice that I have seen in a long time.

Dragonscales is a fully competitive game where players are trying to score the most points by the time one of two events happen; either someone escapes the dragon’s lair or the dragon itself is defeated. Whichever happens first has a large impact on the game because you can score points for being the first to escape but also lose points if you are close to the exit when the dragon dies.

Each player takes on the role of one of the villains; I was playing the Spider Assassin (basically a Drider from Dungeons and Dragons, but I think they’d get in trouble using that term). Each character has their own unique deck of cards that can either help them or hurt their enemies. Players each also have a set of dice and each round begins with players rolling their dice behind their screens. You have the option of up to 2 rerolls but everytime you roll a Rage icon on a die it’s locked into place. Once everyone is finished rolling their dice all players reveal their rolls and start assigning their dice to various tracks on the main board according to the face of the die. When you place to one of these tracks you assign your dice to the leftmost spot but any player who assigns more dice than you to a particular track jumps ahead of you (in the case of ties, the second player assigns to the right thereby giving an advantage to placing first).

Now you resolve each track of the board, granting benefits to each player based on where they are on each track, or in the case of the Rage track having the dragon attack players. The various tracks on the board give players benefits like restoring health, drawing treasure cards, drawing from their personal decks, or moving. When moving players not only gain certain benefits from the location they travel to but can also start the long journey to the exit. Be the first person to escape the dragon’s lair and you’ll score extra points at the end of the game, but if the dragon dies before anyone escapes the person closest to the exit is branded a Coward and loses victory points. Many of the actions you take during the game will also earn you points, from attacking the dragon to collecting treasure.

Dragonscales is a game very much in the same vein of Clank, but instead of building a deck during the game you have a predetermined deck based on your character. Therefore the focus is taken off of the deckbuilding aspect of the game and shifted to the process of either escaping or defeating the dragon. Both tactics have their benefits and you may find yourself switching strategies in the middle of the game to account for other players’ actions.

Each character in Dragonscales feels different from the others through the use of their villainy decks. My Spider Assassin was very appropriately fond of poisoning her enemies as well as ensnaring them in spider webs that prevented them from moving on a turn. The skeletal summoner likes to raise the bones of creatures to act as allies, giving him special abilities and also allowing him to sacrifice those pawns for his dark schemes. While the asymmetry of the game seems to primarily be limited to these decks of cards they provided enough difference to add an interesting amount of flavor to the game.

Dragonscales will be available in September for the retail market and at a very reasonable price point for what you get. The overall production of the game is really top notch and I especially enjoy the art on the cards and player boards; the dragonscales themselves, which are basically a currency in the game, have a really satisfying weight and feel to them. As someone who has played a considerable amount of Clank I definitely think this is one I will pick up at some point.

Foundations of Rome by Arcane Wonders

I never did get to sit down for a demo of Foundations of Rome, something I am still regretting. The display and demo tables for the game were right in between the vendor hall and the main gaming hall and just the look of the game drew me to the area several times. Out of pure bad luck I never seemed to get there when a demo was starting, though.

Foundations of Rome uses a lot of the same mechanics as a tile laying game, so I think people who enjoy those types of game will like it as well. Instead of just laying down cardboard tiles, however, each player will begin with the same selection of 3D buildings, from Roman baths to the Senate itself. It’s your job to make sure that your buildings are placed at the best locations in Rome as denoted by a communal central board.

Each turn players will have the option to buy plots of land on the main board or, if they prefer, to abstain and generate some income. These plots of land are extremely important however because you can only build on land you own. Players can place any of their buildings out on land they control as long as they have all the land required; some buildings will require more than a single plot of land and some might require a plot of land in certain shapes.

Buildings may score you victory points or have other benefits. Some buildings may increase your population, giving you points each round, while others may generate income. Additionally there are bonuses for placing buildings next to other symbiotic buildings, like building the Senate next to a bathhouse. It doesn’t matter if one of these buildings doesn’t belong to you, you will still score extra points for placing your Bakery next to another player’s Tenement so that their citizens can buy fresh bread.

Ancient Rome is a theme that is very appealing to me so this is definitely a game for me to watch. It will be hitting Kickstarter in November and alot of my interest is going to come down to price point. Foundations of Rome will play up to 4 so that means 4 sets of buildings, each contained in their own Game Trayz style container. That alone is going to make the game very pricey, but the sculpts I saw at Gencon were very high quality so it may end up being worth the price. Arcane Wonders has already teased some of the expansions to the game, including one that has buildings based on mythology which is very enticing to me personally.

Medium by Greater Than Games

There are some games that seem silly on the surface but just click in the right environment. A lot of time these are the games that people end up referring to as ‘convention games.’ I don’t know how much I’ll end up liking Medium at our normal weekly game days, but for the duration of Gencon it was a lot of fun.

Medium is one of those games that people might seem surprised didn’t already exist because of just how simple it is. Essentially you play paired with the person to your left and right; any points you score are shared with your partner. Every round you will offer one clue to one of your partners who will respond with a clue. Then you’ll be offered a clue from your other partner and have to respond with a clue of your own.

Once there are two clues on the table the game begins. On the count of three you and your partner will say a word simultaneously. You are attempting to say the same word by picking something that either relates to both clues or is something in the middle of both clues. You and your partner get three tries to attempt to guess the same word but each time you fail the words change to what you had just said.

So let’s say your first two clues are Swamp and Athlete. A sane southerner would say Drew Brees whereas some complete fool (named BJ) might say something silly like Tigers. Now you have to find the medium between Tigers and Drew Brees. The quicker you get the right answer the more points you score. The timer for the game is the deck of clue cards where you’ll shuffle in three orb cards. When the last one is pulled you will play back to the starting player and then end the game. The player with the most points, totaling from both partners, is the winner.

Medium is a good party game but I would still rather play Just One. Considering the price point there isn’t much reason not to check it out if you like to have a couple party games around, though. If nothing else it will give you endless fuel to make fun of your friends (named BJ) about their idiotic word choices. (Editor’s note: You mean that guy who won the Strike Tournament and finished ahead of you in Medium?)

Planet Apocalypse by Peterson Games

I could not find a demo for Planet Apocalypse anywhere at Gencon. If you are interested in the game you will have to make do with my very unprofessional photos. From what I’ve seen this is definitely a game I could get into but the price point is massive with all of the expansions. Hopefully I can find someone local who backed this and get a chance to try it out.

 

War of the Three Kingdoms: The Card Game by S7 Games

Somehow I’ve lost the pictures I took of War of the Three Kingdoms so I’ve had to steal (editor’s note: read “borrow with proper attribution”) this one from Eric Martin on BoardGameGeek.

There were several games based on the Three Kingdoms era for display at Gencon this year. This is a theme I’m particularly interested in having grown up playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dynasty Warriors religiously. There were no demos for the game set up but Derek from S7 was able to give me a quick rundown on War of the Three Kingdoms: The Card Game.

War of the Three Kingdoms is a 1v1 skirmish style game much in the same vein as Legend of the 5 Rings. Players will craft a deck consisting of generals and soldiers and then pit their deck against an opponent. At the start of the game each player will randomly draw 7 cards from the top of their deck to create their ‘wall.’ The objective of the game is to break down an opponents’ wall through attacks and then launch a single final attack against the enemy commander.

A single copy of the game will include all three dynasties so there’s no nickel and diming to find your favorite Three Kingdoms era character. Additionally the different dynasties can be combined in order to facilitate your strategies; Guan Yu can fight alongside Lu Bu if that’s the deck you want to build. The game will also have console integration allowing players to compete electronically but I didn’t get a timetable for that function. The game itself will be released in November of 2019 and should be widely available. If you are a fan of the theme like me and are looking for another card based skirmish game, you should definitely keep an eye out for it.

Obscurio by Libellud

Every year it seems like Asmodee expands their booth at Gencon more and more. This year they were even selling games for companies like CMON so that they could focus purely on their demos. Ultimately I think that’s a good thing because companies like CMON won’t get bogged down with long sales lines, but it means that the line for Asmodee’s booth is gigantic. So when I tell you that I braved that monstrosity of a line immediately after demoing Obscurio you’ll understand just how much I enjoyed the game. A big shout out to Jose, our demoer, who seemed just as excited about the game as I was.

Obscurio’s tag line is ‘Mysterium with a traitor,’ and if you knew nothing else about the game that would really be enough. For me it breeches the gulf between Mysterium and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong; it has the traitor mechanic of Deception with the image deduction central to Mysterium that I enjoy so much. Deception can also get a bit morbid whereas Obscurio doesn’t, which makes it playable with a wider array of groups.

In Obscurio each player is a fledgling mage who has found themselves inside the library of a very powerful arcanist. You’re there for all of those juicy arcane secrets that the library may be holding, but little do you know that the mad magician who used to dwell there has trapped the library and doesn’t intend for any of you to leave. Luckily there is an enchanted grimoire in the library who’s more than happy to help you escape, but one of the players has been so tempted by the secrets of the library that they are trying to sabotage that escape.

Players are trying to correctly exit through a total of 6 doors and are given a choice of 6 doors each round. The players don’t know which door is the correct door but the grimoire does. The grimoire player will give the others clues to lead them to the right door but they can only do so through picture cards. Each round the grimoire will also have to contend with at least one trap, which might do something like allow the traitor to see the correct door or even cover up the clue pictures with a red filter.

I really enjoy both Mysterium and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, and ultimately Obscurio has replaced Mysterium for me. Deception I still plan to hang onto because the darker theme really plays well with certain groups of people, but when playing with family Obscurio will be my new goto deduction game. It really takes the best part of Mysterium (the object deduction) and incorporates a traitor mechanic that keeps the game interesting.

Hadara by Z-Man Games

Hadara was a game that I knew nothing about going into Gencon and was not on my list of games to check out. Early in the convention BJ sat down for a demo of Hadara and came back saying ‘7 Wonders Killer.’ Now I know BJ well enough not to believe his nonsense most of the time but he was pretty adamant about this one. 7 Wonders is probably my favorite card drafting game of all time so I had to go and at least check Hadara out.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Hadara a 7 Wonders killer but I at least understand the comparison. The game does a lot of things in the same way that 7 Wonders does but simplifies them to reach a broader audience. There’s no attacking of players or buying resources off of your neighbors in Hadara; instead the game is almost purely about the drafting of character cards to add to your tableau and what they give you.

Drafting in Hadara is done pretty ingeniously with a central wheel on the board that denotes what player is drafting from which pile. Therefore all players draft at the same time by drawing two cards from their respective pile, selecting one to keep (either to employ or sell) and placing the second into a discard; I don’t think that technically counts as ‘drafting’ but it does feel pretty similar. The wheel then rotates and players draft again until each player has drafted from each deck. Then there is a second round of drafting where players draft from the newly created discard piles until all cards there are gone. You can only draft the top card of each discard pile though, so you have to try and remember where that card you really wanted ended up.

The cards that players draft have a certain cost, sometimes provide end game points and almost always advance a player on at least one of four tracks; wealth, war, culture and food. Food is used to feed your people and Wealth is how you refill your coffers at the end of each round. Culture lets you build statues that not only provide end game points but also improves one of your tracks. Instead of letting you attack other players War allows you to conquer lands which can provide you with some extra money and some small additional benefits or you can forego the gold for extra benefits on the back of the tile.

As I said before Hadara seems to be trying to distill down the feel of playing 7 Wonders into something much more manageable, quicker and ultimately playable by a wider audience. As someone who enjoys the complexity of 7 Wonders it is definitely not a replacement of that game for me. But for people whose complaints about 7 Wonders include time of play and complexity, this is definitely one you want to check out. I know that at some point I will be getting a copy of this game for my sister who loves Splendor but who felt that 7 Wonders was just too heavy for her.

Mezo by Kolossal Games

 

I predicted that Mezo was going to be one of the big hits of Gencon. I figured that the next big game from Kolossal Games since Western Legends had to be big news. And yet, as the days of the convention went by I didn’t hear a lot about it. Finally on Saturday I found the time to sit down for a demo (albeit a rushed one because I had an event coming up) and I have to say, I kinda see why it wasn’t getting that much hype. My disinterest had nothing to do, however, with our demoer Brad, as he was incredibly good at explaining the various mechanisms of the game to us.

Mezo has such a great theme:  you play as one of a selection of Mayan gods, along with their followers. By moving warriors and priests into areas to take control of them, sometimes with the help of their God, you accumulate points and ultimately try to become the most revered God. The round structure for the game is fairly straightforward; each age begins with players selecting a special ability from their player board to affect them for that age and all subsequent ages. Then players deploy units to the board at specific regions; warriors, priests and champions. The Gods are placed next, but instead of being put into a specific region they occupy vertices that border several regions. Next you resolve combat in each region, scoring points or gaining special abilities, and then you finally have a cleanup phase.

There is really only one thing I actively disliked about Mezo, and that’s the design of the board. The Heroic Codex and Immortal Calender section of the board looks like a giant gold blob that’s extremely hard to read from across the table. The rest of the mechanics of the game felt familiar enough, if not too familiar, but also seemed to be slightly too finicky.

This is definitely a slow and methodical area control game and not one with wild swings, so it’s entirely possible that a short demo simply doesn’t represent the game well. By accumulating special powers through each age you slowly build up to a crescendo that can’t really be felt until age 3. For that reason this is definitely a game I want to play fully, but also one that I’m wary of because of my demo experience. Kolossal Games really impressed me with Western Legends last year so it’ll take a lot more than a disappointing demo to turn me off of their products altogether.

So that’s Part Two of my look at all the games that I played at Gencon 2019. Part Three will be posted in a few days, with a look at QE, ERA: Medieval Age, Dawnshade, 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

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