An Expected Journey (Gen Con 2022) – Part 1: Intro and Top Fives

Bradly’s back from GEN CON with a multi-part blog of some of the highlights of this year’s convention.

Like Smaug descending from the north on unsuspecting Erebor, tens of thousands of gamers traveled to Indianapolis in early August for Gencon 2022. Unlike the infamous firedrake, gold and jewels did not lure us there. We searched for different treasures: board games, tabletop games, and occasionally shiny dice. However, just as Smaug did not sit in the Lonely Mountain forever, so too must we gamers return home. Preferably with new board games to play!

Over the next few days, I will recount my adventures at Gencon this year, the 55th anniversary of ‘The Best Four Days in Gaming.’ My interests lie mostly in board gaming, so we will mainly be focusing on the newest games released at the convention, along with announcements and sneak previews of games to come. I will give my impression of the various games I tried, but always with the caveat that, for at least most of the time, my plays were simple demos. Trying a game for 15 to 20 minutes is very different from the multiple plays I would normally want before doing a full review.

Before we get to in-depth talks about the various games I tried, I wanted to give you a broader look at the best things I saw at Gencon. For this purpose, I have constructed two different Top 5 Lists: Top 5 Games to Buy at Gencon, and Top 5 Games to See/Play at Gencon. The basic difference between these lists, as you may have already surmised, is that the first list was available for purchase at the convention. These are games that are either available for purchase now or, in some cases, in the near future. The second list is for games coming out sometime in the future. Some of these games will be out soon to retail, some on Kickstarter, and perhaps some not even until next year.

Top 5 Games to Buy At Gencon 2022

The top three for this list were easy to decide on, since I bought all three. Which order to put them in was a bit harder to pick.

  • Northgard, published by Studio H Games

Although I know nothing of the video game Northgard is based on, it ticks several boxes that I generally like in board games. Players represent different clans with unique abilities or starting powers, play cards for actions with the option to upgrade their decks with more powerful cards, move units around the map to build and control territory, and have to compete with other players for those territories. It’s a Viking themed, deckbuilding, 4X, dudes on a map game; that’s a lot of mechanics that I strongly enjoy in one game. Doesn’t hurt that the art is drop dead gorgeous either.

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  • Crusaders: Divine Influence expansion, published by Renegade Games

I bought Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done in 2018 when Tasty Minstrel Games released it on the mistaken assumption that it was an area control, dudes on a map style game. Turns out it’s almost pure Euro, with a lovely mix of mancala and rondel mechanisms that I hadn’t seen in board gaming before. I immediately loved it, and it has crept quickly into my list of the top games that I own.

Then I heard about an expansion, Divine Influence, and I was very excited to get my hands on more content. Unfortunately, Tasty Minstrel Games went out of business, and although rumors circulated that the print run for Divine Influence was already done and floundering in a Chinese warehouse, it didn’t seem that the expansion would ever see the light of day. But in comes Renegade Games to the rescue, who picked up the entire print run of Divine Influence, along with reprinting the base game, and my dreams of more Crusaders content have finally come true!

This one is actually a bit of a cheat, because I pre-ordered it on Renegade Games’ website before I even knew it was going to be at Gencon. So while my copy of Divine Influence is now in my possession, having arrived safely while I was in Indianapolis, I actually didn’t buy this one at the convention. But it was there, and for sale, so I feel comfortable putting it on this list.

  • The Red Cathedral: Contractors expansion, published by Devir Games

I was introduced to The Red Cathedral fairly recently by a friend, as it was a game that went totally under my radar after its release in 2020. Personally I love small box games that play bigger than their footprint, and this is definitely a game in that category. Contractors is virtually the same size box as the original game and appears to have just about as much content as well. That’s almost unheard of for expansions, and I am thoroughly excited to get this one to the table.

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The Red Cathedral incorporates a lot of different mechanics, but all in a way that they work well together. There’s dice rolling, resource gathering and allocation, and even a little area control. There is so much going on that it is one of the few games that completely occupies my mind while playing. For others that might be overwhelming, but for me it is glorious!

  • The Guild of Merchant Explorers, published by AEG

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I didn’t buy The Guild of Merchant Explorers at Gencon, but only because I knew a friend had already purchased a copy that would be waiting for me when I returned. I actually got to try out the game at Gencon in 2021, and have been not so patiently awaiting my chance to play it again ever since. Since I got back from Indianapolis I’ve had a chance to play, and it was everything I remembered it to be.

The Guild of Merchant Explorers is, at its heart, a puzzle game. Five cards are drawn each round with denoted land masses that you can send your cubes, or explorers, to go and scout. If they fill in a specific region type (mountains, desert, or grasslands) they can build a city there. Cities are new trade points that you can start from on subsequent rounds, otherwise you have to begin again from your capital city. There are some special cards that players get access to that make the game play differently for each person, but the process of ‘figuring out’ the puzzle in this game is extremely rewarding. Add in variable objectives and different maps that you can play on and you’ll find yourself coming back to this one time and time again.

  • Twilight Inscription, published by Fantasy Flight Games

Twilight Inscription is the only game on this list that I do not currently have access to, and that’s for 2 basic reasons. For one, I did not feel like fighting my way to the booth to get one of the 40 copies they sold each day, and secondly I just don’t know if I need to own this game. I know that I enjoyed the demo I played much more than I thought I would, and that’s definitely something to consider. But at the end of the day I don’t know if Twilight Inscription would really see much more play in my gaming group than Twilight Imperium 4.

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First the good news: I think you could comfortably play this game with 5 or even 6 players in under 2 hours. There’s really not a lot of complicated things going on here; you just have 4 different boards of stuff to keep track of. I can easily say that this is a simpler game to grasp than something like Hadrian’s Wall (I’m actually looking now and BGG has Hadrian’s Wall as a less complex game than this, which I think is totally wrong).

For the most part, what you do on a turn is disconnected from what others are doing, for better or worse. That certainly speeds up the game, but I think most fans of TI4 will find that the game simply doesn’t recreate the grandness of the original game. You only really care what your opponents are doing when a War or Council card comes up, and there are far more Development cards than those two.

In true FFG fashion, I think there are a lot of expansions coming down the line for this game. The base version only includes 8 factions while Twilight Imperium 4 has something like two dozen. It would certainly be nice to have all those options in the game to increase replayability. I have also only played the game on the A side of each board, where they are all the same. If played on the B side each set of 4 boards is different, and that could certainly add in some interesting quirks.

Top 5 Games to See/Play At Gencon 2022

Now to change gears and take a look at some games that were available to demo, but not buy, at Gencon this year. Some of these were booth demos, while others were events that I attended. Every game on this list is something that I will be keeping a track of going forward, and even some I have already pre-ordered!

  • The Fox Experiment by Elizabeth Hargrave and Pandasaurus Games

I will be the first to admit that I was not the biggest fan of Wingspan. Although beautiful and possessing a fairly unique theme, I just didn’t find the mechanics to my liking. With the Fox Experiment, however, there is almost nothing I don’t like about this game.

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In the Fox Experiment you are recreating an old Russian study on the domestication of foxes. By selecting parents for your new pup, you ensure they inherit certain traits. Once those pups have matured they go back into the pool of grown foxes to choose from in the next round, and you won’t necessarily get back the same pup you bred in the round before.

I’ll have a more in-depth look at The Fox Experiment in the coming days, but it is a Euro that incorporates a lot of mechanics you’re used to in a way that feels nearly flawless. And while I do have a few concerns about one or two choices that were made, since the game is Kickstarter bound in September I’m sure there is still plenty of refinement to come.

  • The War Of the Rings: The Card Game published by Ares Games

As you may have suspected from the title of this series, I am a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan. And since I consider The War of the Rings to be the quintessential LoTR game, I was very excited to get my hands on the Card Game version. The game was only for demo and in prototype form, but it may say something that I have already pre-ordered this one. This is another one that I plan to do a more extensive review on.

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The War of the Ring: The Card Game is for 2 to 4 players. The demo provided at the convention was only for 4 players, with the Shadow split between the forces of Sauron and Saruman, and the Free Peoples comprising the Dunedain and Elves led by Aragorn together, with Frodo leading the Dwarves, Hobbits, Rohan, and Wizards.

So the bad news first, this did not feel like The War of the Ring to me. That game feels very grand in scope and completely open, where you are free to range from Mordor to the shores of Minhiriath if you choose to. The Card Game is much more focused on the exact cards that happen to be on the table at the time. If you have ever played The Lord of the Rings TCG from 2001, the game feels much more like it than War of the Ring. Which is good news, at least to me, because I absolutely loved that game. I am excited to see how the game plays at 2 players, and I hear they are even including scenarios that you can play.

  • 3000 Scoudrels, published by Unexpected Games

I had not heard of this game until just before the convention started. (Editor’s note: Ahem.) It’s designed by Corey Konieczka who did The Initiative in 2001, but also one of my favorite games of all time, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. I sat down for a demo of this knowing only that it used a similar sleeving mechanic that Mystic Vale uses.

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This game really impressed me, but not in anything it does that’s really wildly new. It’s another game that’s just solidly designed with mechanics that are both familiar and really well implemented. The only concern I have with this game is the same one I have with Mystic Vale, where sleeving cards is a part of the game, which means that unsleeving those cards is a part of the game as well. This is definitely one that I am cautiously optimistic for.

  • Furnace: Interbellum expansion, published by Hobby World / Arcane Wonders

Furnace was one of the standout games of 2020 for me, so I knew that I was likely going to be excited by this expansion. I only got to sit down for a short demo on this one, but everything I saw, I liked. One of my favorite aspects of Furnace was its simplicity, and this expansion does away with a little of that.

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This is definitely the “gamer” version of Furnace, and there are a lot of neat tricks you can now pull off in the game. Along with a few new capitalists to play as there are additional ways to convert resources and deliveries to fulfill, along with a new wheel bidding token that has a value equal to the amount of coal you spend.

  • Galileo Project, published by Sorry We Are French / Hachette

Ganymede, released in 2018, was a fairly lightweight game that I really enjoyed. It didn’t get much attention, and I haven’t heard much talk about it since. But coming sometime this year, hopefully, is a sequel called Galileo Project. Having a different designer, Galileo Project is an engine building game where you’re acquiring robots, characters, and technology to help you settle the satellites of Jupiter. There’s a bit of comboing involved, along with some public goals to try and acquire. I’m really liking the look of this one and hoping it’ll become another staple in my FLGS board game night bag.

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Well that’s it for this edition of the Expected Journey! Click here for our next installment where I give you an in-depth look at The Fox Experiment! And if you have any specific requests for games you were interested in at Gencon, leave them below.

– Bradly

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