“Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three.”
– Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
“Come with me and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…” My first GenCon was its last in Milwaukee. The year was 2002. My little brother and I flew in and met up with friends who had driven from St. Louis. The event was celebrating its 35th year, closing out its run in the Midwest Express Center, which was poorly equipped to handle the burgeoning size and scope of the Con. With no idea what to expect, we wanted to go to the convention just once in our lives. When we crossed the threshold of the dealer hall and gaming rooms, we stood agape at the grandeur of it all. Like pie-eyed children about to consume a crazed chocolatier’s confections. Nearly every year since we have returned to this world beyond our imaginations, for fun, frolic and friendship.
In Indianapolis, GenCon has become bigger and better than ever. When the Dealer Hall doors open promptly at 10:00 am every morning, there is a huge crowd impatiently waiting to rush in, see the sights and be dazzled by the magic of it all. Much of the wonder of the convention is manufactured by the largest of the gaming companies, who pull out all the stops, bells and whistles to show off their new games. With Part III of my GenCon preview series, I am turning all eyes on the larger game companies and how they plan to wow us once again.
Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) will send you home with some fun in a bag in the form of a trio of games in their new Tempest world setting; Courtier, Dominare and Mercante. An interesting approach to game design, (and one mastered by FFG), they are applying the same world setting to a whole line of different games, for consistency of character and flavor. The three games look more Euro than the company’s other lines, and focus on intrigue, strategy and planning versus open conflict. Their other big premier, Smash Up! mixes every nerd’s most awesomely favorite subjects, from ninjas to robots to pirates to dinosaurs to aliens, and shuffles them all together into a cohesive “shufflebuilding” game. Stop by their booth, and don’t miss their “Board Game Night Extravaganza” on Friday in their gaming area for an evening of events plus get some “legendary AEG swag!” You can demo all their games in the dealer hall, and undoubtedly will love one or more of them.
Ares Games, the current owner of the Wings of War line will have some of its newest WWI planes available, and will also be selling Aztlán, a game of conquest and civilization in the mythical world of the Aztecs. Maybe they will have some prototypes of their new game Sails of Glory, featuring, you guessed it, naval battles in the “Age of Sail.” They look better than the WizKids snap together version, (which was fun to play actually), but if Sails plays like Wings, and is near the same price point, it could be a solid game. Lovers of “what if?” scenarios will want to pick up War of the Ring: Lords of Middle Earth, which ponders how it would have gone down if the Keepers of the Elven Rings had donned the Rings of Power to challenge the might of the Dark Lord instead of wussing out and heading West, or what if the Balrog came top side for some Hobbiton ass-kickery? Epic stuff.
Asmodee will have a host of products it will be representing at the Con, not the least of which is the Cities expansion to 7 Wonders. This is on my “must buy” list. If you don’t have this game, you simply don’t know what you are missing. If I “parley”-ed better Français, I might have more to “rapportez” on an incredible looking game, Libertalia, by you guessed it, a French game maker Marabunta Games, a division of Asmodee. Gameplay is explained as “blind bidding with powers,” and promised to be a “gamers game.” The components look great and while I am not much of a pirate game person, I may just have to pick up a copy of this one.
Cryptozoic Entertainment have been busy farming up a ton of new material, from last year’s Food Fight, which may have an expansion to show off: Snack Attack!, to Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullfyre! (you have to admit a totally awesome game name)(plus: they will be hosting tournaments of the game all weekend), to a trio of huge offerings this year. First, they too have a weird post-apocalyptical Central American-esque entry called 3012, which takes place 1000 years after the Mayans apparently are right about the world ending. The art looks dynamite, and judging from their other games right now, this one will be a must see. They also jump into the big-brand superhero market with the DC Comics Deckbuilding Game. Looks promising, but I will remain skeptical until there is a Marvel expansion. They will also be racing in with Hot Rod Creeps, a fast paced race car game where each player crafts their own custom 20-card deck that will speed his hot rod around a “most devilish racetrack using puzzle-piece fittings and dozens of different track sections.” Sounds interesting, and heck, you are in Indy after all, makes sense to do some racing.
Days of Wonder always has a huge presence at the event. This year, they hit the beach with their Memoir ’44 Equipment Pack, a major expansion to the Memoir ’44 game system, with 180 new pieces and great expandability to all your WWII simulation games. I am sure they will have their huge catalogue of other games available from Ticket to Ride to Smallworld. Check them out.
The biggest footprint in the hall is usually under the boot of industry giant, Fantasy Flight Games. I have already chimed in on the “reimagining” of Netrunner, and now the rules are available at the FFG website so you can get ready to play in the Icebreaker Tourrnament on Saturday! They will also be releasing the Second Edition of Descent, an incredible dungeon crawl that has great replayability and mechanics. In their Warhammer line, they will release a new board game, Relic, where players run missions, defeat enemies, gain rewards and experience, and crush what lies beyond the Warp Rift. Previewed last year at the Con, they have ready to release their first Star Wars product, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game. I played it last year, and for the uber-SW fan, you are going to want to have this game. It plays similarly to Wings of War, but with some serious advances in technology, firepower and maneuvering. Duh!
I have got to make some time to see the folks at Flying Frog. I was next in line to demo a Last Night on Earth game a year or two ago, and just ran out of time. The games look great, are full of humor and I am told are great games to break out with friends. They add a number of expansions this year with Last Night on Earth: Timber Peak, an action-packed standalone game as well as expansion for Last Night on Earth, and A Touch of Evil: The Coast, which is only an expansion to the Touch of Evil line.
Ascension was the darling of the Con two years ago. A deck builder built by a former M:tG tour player with Gary Games, the game will see its fourth expansion release at this year’s event, Ascension: Immortal Heroes. If you play, make sure to stop by their booth and pick up some of the sets and promo cards they have on hand.
Already reviewed by our very own Pete Sellers, iello Games will release King of Tokyo, and a game I am jacked up about: Mythic Battles, set in ancient Greece, where Hades and the Underworld battles Athena and the top-siders. The art looks sexy and the setting is my kind of game.
As you might expect, a write up on the big game companies can get, well, big. So, look for Part IV in this series very soon as I wrap up with a preview of the rest of the big game companies and share some final thoughts. I will also suggest a plan of attack and make top picks for those of you that will be time challenged.
As always, let us know below if you have comments, suggestions or questions, and if you are coming to the Con, introduce yourself, we would love to meet our tens of readers in person!