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

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 three 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 while Part Two can be found here.) 

Empires of the North by Portal Games

I don’t like Imperial Settlers as much as BJ (who really likes it) but I do enjoy it quite a bit and have almost all of the expansions. So when Portal announced a reimagining of the Imperial Settler game in Empires of the North I immediately knew I wanted to check it out. As with a lot of reimplementations being shown at GEN CON this year, Empires of the North is an attempt to bring the same feeling of Imperial Settlers to a wider audience. The game isn’t dumbed down, but it is simplified through cleaner mechanics and removing some of the unnecessary bulk of the original game to create something leaner while maintaining most of the appeal of Imperial Settlers.

Empires of the North retains a lot of the mechanics of Imperial Settlers while altering some to be relatively similar. You still have a deck of cards that are specific to your own faction, but gone are the generic cards. Augmenting the card play that Imperial Settler fans are familiar with is action selection as well as a raiding mechanic to gain resources or additional cards to add to your tableau. Resources are no longer generated each round and instead you have to activate specific fields by taking that particular action, but workers you use are simply set aside and return to your pool at the beginning of each round.

There’s a lot to like with the reimagining done with Empires of the North unless you are a diehard fan of the tableau building and thinkiness of Imperial Settlers. Empires does away with a lot of that elaborate juggling of resources to provide an experience that’s quicker and less complicated, but at least in my opinion on par with the original. Once Portal starts pumping out the expansions for Empires of the North (the first one has already been announced) I think it might quickly overshadow its older brother. Now I just have to find someone who’s looking to buy or trade me for my nearly complete copy of Imperial Settlers.

Mystery House: Adventures in a Box by Cranio Creations

Going into the first day of GEN CON there was really only one game that I absolutely wanted to get and it was Mystery House. I ended up not getting it (that Asmodee line is a mind killer) but I camped out the demo area until I could sit down with a copy of the game to try it out. Firstly you should know that I enjoy puzzle games in general, so if the idea of playing an Unlock or Exit game makes you uneasy you are not going to enjoy this game. For me, however, I absolutely loved it. My demoer, Sarah, was awesome with just a few tips to get me started but didn’t interfere even when I’m sure it looked like smoke was coming from my ears. I was able to complete the demo scenario with a generous 18 seconds to spare!

Mystery House isn’t just a puzzle game in a box, it’s a box that is a puzzle game. The box itself provides the foundation for the interactive puzzles that you will go through. By sliding cards into various grooves in the box itself you will create scenes that you’ll have to navigate to find your way deeper into the ‘house’ and ultimately solve whatever task you’ve been appointed. The game does require the use of an app which several years ago probably would have kept me away from it, but by this point I’ve become very accustomed to using them with various games.

The demo scenario would probably best be described as a hidden picture game, with the cards placed into the box having both obvious and slightly hidden items for you to find. Punch the number of the card into the app and tell it what you see in the room to find out if that reveals any hint cards or removes any of the cards in the box from play to reveal new ones.

I will definitely be buying a copy of this game soon, but again I’m a general fan of these types of games to begin with. Mystery House doesn’t necessarily do things better than Unlock and Exit but it provides a more interactive and ‘fun’ experience by being able to manipulate the box itself. As with many games of this type (Unlock, Exit, even Chronicles of Crime) player count can be a little challenging; I wouldn’t suggest more than 3 for any of these games just because of a lack of things to do. However if you enjoy puzzle games and are looking for a new one then Mystery House is definitely one you want to be checking out.

Dawnshade by Highborne Games

Otherwise known as the “worst box in existence” according to BJ, Dawnshade is a heavily narrative driven cooperative game with a lot of roleplaying and story elements. The designers specifically stated that they wanted to bring the story driven gameplay style of video games like Final Fantasy into a board game medium. It’s also not everyday that you get to sit down with the actual designers of a game for a demo.

For fans of dungeon crawlers or the more expansive RPG style games like Gloomhaven, Dawnshade will be pretty familiar. Highborne Games isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, just give it some new twists along with a break from the general trudge that games of this style can become. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Gloomhaven and most games of its ilk, but doing dungeons over and over with a brief pause for a story card or shopping expedition can be grinding.

Dawnshade hopes to alleviate this problem with some really entertaining side mechanisms that they’ve integrated into the game. One that I specifically enjoyed was when our group ran across a gambling town during our adventure. Highborne Games has gone the Chip Theory route and chosen to use poker chips to represent characters’ health and also status effects. When we stopped at the gambling den each player would take their character chip and flip it onto a separate game board; where it would land would determine what was won. Obviously flipping a poker chip onto a board isn’t a revolution in board gaming, but I really enjoyed the fact that Higborne is trying to play with the various components of their game in unusual ways. Another example is skill checks, which are done through dice rolls. However players roll their dice onto a board with various pluses and minuses depending on where the roll ends. So while you might roll a two it could be modified to as high as a four by having it land at a specific spot on the board. Highborne is using every part of the animal here; they are not limiting themselves to the basic uses of their components but are rather trying to use them in interesting ways, and I appreciate that a lot.

There is a lot to like about Dawnshade if you like these style of story driven games, but a lot of it is going to come down to the success of the story itself which I obviously can’t speak on. I will be keeping a close eye on the game when it launches on Kickstarter in January 2020. With a projected price of $89 there seems to be a lot of content and production here for the value and I highly recommend that you check it out when the Kickstarter launches.

Ni No Kuni II: The Board Game by Steamforged Games

Apparently this board game is based on a RPG video game? I had no idea, I just saw it on the BoardGameGeek preview list for GEN CON and really liked the way it looked. I wasn’t able to get a demo for it, but I did stop by and watch as some other people played.

Ni no Kuni II is a fully cooperative game where players are trying to collectively puzzle their way through the game. Each action you want to take, whether it’s building up your city or going out to hunt monsters, requires you to take other specific actions; you may need to collect the resources you need to build or travel to a quest to fight a monster, for instance. Players are trying to chain those actions together while using their resources as efficiently as possible in order to accomplish their goals.

Obviously I don’t have much information on this one after just watching it being played, but what I did see I liked. It definitely has a family weight feel to it so it may not be for fans of heavier games. However, for people trying to introduce younger or less experienced players to this style of game it had both the weight and theme that makes it ideal.

Era: Medieval Age by eggertspiele

Era was a game that I was excited to try out when I heard it would be at GEN CON. Very early Thursday morning, however, BJ triumphantly starting sending pictures of his copy. So I merely waited until later that night when we got together to play a game.

Era is a bit like Tiny Towns with Legos, but with some Roll for the Galaxy thrown in for good measure. Players are trying to score the most points by constructing their individual medieval cities. You can build farms, cottages, hospitals, universities and more. Each building gives you a specific bonus, from extra dice (workers) to roll each round, to dice mitigation, or simply extra victory points at the end of the game. Every building earns you some victory points and those points are doubled if the buildings end the game inside your walls which, of course, have to be built during the game as well.

Era really does invoke the puzzley aspects of Tiny Towns where you are trying to find the most optimal places to set your buildings. But instead of simply choosing a resource each round, or getting a random one from a deck of cards, you are rolling dice to produce resources. Dice are rolled behind a screen and can provide you with the various resources required to construct buildings, but they can also create disasters for your city. You can roll your dice up to three times every round but any dice that roll a disaster icon have to be locked in. If you end up rolling a single disaster icon you get hit with a fairly benign penalty, but two icons can seriously impact your play. Roll three disaster icons, however, and you force your opponents to place a desolation token on their board where they can no longer build for the rest of the game. It’s a really interesting push your luck mechanic where you sometimes want to keep rolling for more penalties in hopes of evading them completely.

I generally enjoy games like Tiny Towns but they aren’t my favorite style of game. I’m glad that there is a copy of Era in our group but I don’t know if I would have bought it myself had someone else not gotten it. Manipulating the 3D buildings is definitely satisfying if you’re like me and enjoy the ‘toy’ aspect of the buildings pieces. The only major problem I have with the game are the player boards themselves which are made of this odd colored yellow plastic that make it very difficult to actually read the iconography on the boards. Overall I recommend it to people who like lighter weight games and don’t mind hidden dice rolling (it’s an issue for some people) but maybe wait for a second printing to see if they redesign the player boards, or run out and get some cheap paints to drybrush them so they’re not so glaring.

Teburu Gaming System and Zombicide Evolution by Xplored and CMON

As someone who has dropped quite a bit of cash on CMON Kicksarters in the past I was both intrigued and concerned about the announcement of the Teburu system. App driven games have become all the rage so it didn’t really surprise me that CMON would be working on something like this, but they also have a bad habit of putting together Kickstarters that quickly bloat to outrageous prices. Having demoed the system I have to say that despite my hesitations it is probably one I’m going to back anyway when it launches late in the first quarter of 2020; I just hope the price doesn’t get ridiculous.

Teberu is not the game that CMON is launching, that’s actually Zombicide Evolution: Las Vegas. It’s a return to the present time for Zombicide instead of the more recent medieval and space settings. Otherwise the game is going to feel very familiar to fans of Zombicide with many of the mechanics of previous and current games finding their way into this one. What makes the game different is the integration of the electronic system which eliminates the need for quite a few of the game’s components. Player dashboards are eliminated and are instead available through the app with each player being able to see their own characters, and each others, through the interface. All of the cards common to Zombicide are no longer necessary either, as the app handles all of the randomness of loot distribution and zombie placement. It’s amazing how much of the bulk of the game is able to be trimmed away through the use of the system; anyone who’s played Imperial Assault or the new Mansions of Madness will know just how effective these apps can be in simplifying a game.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about the game itself so I’ll limit talking too much about it. At least in the demo I was provided it was very similar to the many games of Green Horde I’ve played. There are still the staple actions of move, attack and search just with an app to make it easier and quicker. What is interesting is that the app automates things like targeting and the use of additional actions. If your character has a free search action and you decide to search a room the app will automatically use the extra action instead of expending one of your basic ones or making you tell it to use that specific action.

One of the things I was really hoping for when I first heard of Teburu was backwards compatibility with older CMON titles, but we won’t be seeing that at launch. Zombicide: Las Vegas will come with 15 scenarios for the players to adventure through and, unlike previous Zombicide games, there will be character progression through the scenarios themselves; no more resetting for each mission. You can even take your progressed character and use them again if you decide to play the campaign again!

CMON has said that the system will launch late Q1 2020 and that the game itself will be delivered that same year. The price through Kickstarter for both the Teburu system and Zombicide: Las Vegas is supposed to be under $200, but I imagine that’s not going to include the plethora of add-ons that CMON likes to jam into their Kickstarters. As much as I am looking forward to the Kickstarter I am more excited for what this could mean going forward. Teburu is licensed with CMON for now but there is always the possibility of other companies utilizing it in the future. What Hearthstone did for CCGs this system could do for board gaming.

QE by BoardGameTables.com

I remember seeing QE back when it was on Kickstarter and thinking that the idea was very interesting. A bidding game where you can bid any amount of money you want but where the person who has bid the most at the end of the game is eliminated. Ultimately I decided not to back it on Kickstarter, but then GEN CON rolled around and BJ starts talking it up after having played with Alex Goldsmith from Grey Fox Games.

It took until the very last hour of the dealer hall being open before I decided to head over to the BoardGameTables.com booth and pick up a copy, but I’m glad that I did. QE ended up being the game of the convention for me if only for the ridiculousness of playing it. Let me say this first, this is not a game that a lot of people are going to enjoy. It’s essentially a set collection game where you acquire tiles through bidding. That seems simple enough until people start bidding 13 billion dollars for a 1 point tile.

That’s the insanity of QE, and if that doesn’t sound appealing to you then you should stay far away from this game. Personally I really enjoy it but I also like Ponzi Scheme, another game with a slightly outrageous theme. Ponzi Scheme is definitely more of a ‘game’ while QE is more like an ‘activity’ but they are both insanely entertaining.

So that’s it folks, all the games that I played at Gencon 2019, or at least most of them. There may have been a few games here or there that didn’t make it to the list, largely because I forgot to take pictures. 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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