Board Gaming · Gen Con 2018

Gen Con 2018 Recap – Day Three & Wrap-Up

Saturday was my final day at Gen Con, as had been planned from the start. I would make my few purchases after my Lord of the Rings LCG event and hit the road, hoping to get home before my lovely wife was in bed. I had one thing initially scheduled for the day, but a chance meeting of Travis Hill on Friday night led to us planning to meet this morning to actually get to talk some and play his prototypes. What followed on Saturday, in just two meetings/events, made it easily the most memorable of days.

Day One Recap
Day Two Recap

Travis Hill, Low Player Count, Penny Rails, The Struggle is Real

In all honesty, Travis might have been the most genuine, humble, and awesome person I had the honor to meet over the course of the convention. He was on my list of people I really wanted to connect with, and he is even more awesome in person than I ever expected. If you want some excellent podcasting in your ears, go listen to the Low Player Count podcast. Seriously. It is the podcast that got me hooked on podcasts, and I haven’t missed an episode in quite some time.

Travis also helps in the community by working on rulebooks. A task most wouldn’t envy, but I certainly do. It is a necessary job he performs, and I loved hearing him talk a little about what he looks over as part of the rulebook editing and just how busy he is with that. It means more designers and publishers are taking the rulebook seriously, something that I, as someone who frequently reads rulebooks and teaches players from them, can genuinely appreciate. A year from now, I hope to be doing a fraction of the great work that Travis is providing with his editing of the rulebooks.

I’d like to say that his two games were the highlight of this hour of time, but that’d be a lie. The games were both excellent. I loved Penny Rails so much, and he was truly excited to hear that I didn’t already have a background in train games. I am 100% certain that I will be setting aside some money in the coming months to back Penny Rails when it hits Kickstarter (or, the open market if it goes straight to being sold), as I found it to be a really clever game and easy enough for a non-train gamer to understand how it played. The scoring was equally straightforward, at least with the way Travis explained it. And I have no doubt that his rulebook for the game will present it well.

Then I got to try his solo game, right now called The Struggle is Real. It was an interesting little deck manipulation game that I found to be a nice challenge. Once again, his interactions and his genuine excitement at watching his game unfold and hearing my thoughts as it went was the most memorable part. I wish Travis lived closer, as he is the sort of guy I would love to hang out with (gaming optional) all the time. I hope to continue to interact with him, to talk solo and 2-player games, to play more of his games as they progress in their designs, to learn some lessons on editing rulebooks that I can implement if the opportunity ever arises to help with that, and to talk coffee.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – The Wizard’s Quest Event, Caleb Grace, Fantasy Flight Games


By this point in the convention my social anxiety was finally hitting me in full force. I grabbed my quest pack and sat down at a table in the area, but not near any of the other amiable groups of people who were deep in conversation. I took my time and opened up the set, read the rules, and a Fantasy Flight guy let me know that if I needed some people to play with to let him know, as he could get me paired. After a long delay, I got up and went to find people to join and, ultimately, only made it to the other side of the table. Best decision I ever made, in hindsight.

It wasn’t too long after this that someone sat down across from me. I did a double take: Caleb Grace, long-time designer and developer for the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I was able to talk to him, breaking out of my shell because I knew I couldn’t waste this chance. And wow, what a fantastic guy! We talked about the digital card game (he was pleased to hear I tried and enjoyed it!). That led into the Limited Edition set that has the digital game and the 2-player set and he confirmed many players’ worst fears: right now, he knows of no plans to release that 2-player set outside of this bundle. So if you want these cards, or the quests, you need to jump on this limited edition offer. Thankfully, the digital game is really good so it should be worth the price in the long run.


We talked about the Saga series for the game, and I learned that he originally sat down and outlined the entire book series by chapters and used that to help map out the progression of quests and he wanted, back in 2012 when it started, for the game to be able to end with one group at the Black Gate while the other was (at the same time) trying to dunk the ring in Mount Doom. I haven’t made it there myself, but I understand he was successful in that. And, through all of the conversations with him, he kept emphasizing how much he loved the community of players and seeing their reactions to cards and sets. And that he loved what he was currently doing at conventions: sitting among the players.

And then the unthinkable happened: Caleb asked if I wanted to play against him. Gulp. Yes, of course. A surreal experience I never, in my wildest of Gen Con dreams, could have imagined.

For those not in the know, the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has been a completely cooperative gaming experience since its release in 2011. The Wizard’s Quest allows you to change it into a competitive mode, constructing the deck your opposing team of 1-2 players will work through while they do the same for you. In the competition, teams alternate going phase-by-phase through the quest. The first one to either finish, or the last one standing, will win.

I busted out my faithful Hobbit deck of Sam, Merry, and Pippin. He brought Cirdan the Shipwright, Arwen, and Caldara. And I ultimately lost the match, but not before one of the longest, and most intense, and most epic game I’ve ever played.


Because he is Caleb Grace, people took an interest in the game, and sometimes stopping to watch for a while. Everyone loved seeing the encounter deck hammer down on him, and early on his deck was bleeding allies while mine was building up a board state to progress. By the time I got to Stage 2, where a really strong enemy would attack early in every round, my Samwise Gamgee was able to defend the attack without a scratch (most of the time) and so I handled that area better. But the deck worked against me too, often inflating the number I needed to surpass by questing so that I would break even time and again. Ultimately, that was my demise. He was able to recover enough that he finished Stage 3 of the quest while I was still trying to regain enough control of the locations so I could start placing progress on the quest.

It will be a game of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game that I will never, ever forget.


And maybe, some day, I can get a chance to play with Caleb Grace once more. I love the game and the community, and I hope to do my small part moving forward to contribute by reviewing the expansions and writing about some of the decks I’ve tinkered with. I’ve been tempted a few times to just shift into a Lord of the Rings blog, and I’d jump at the chance to be more involved with the game.

Recap & Thoughts

So to close things out on the shortest post of the three, here are a few small lists:

Five People I Didn’t Meet But Wish I Had

  1. Trey Chambers, designer of Argent: The Consortium, Harvest, and Empyreal: Spells & Steam
  2. Paul Grogan, Gaming Rules!
  3. Christopher & Adam, Greater Than Games
  4. Jamey Stegmaier, Stonemaier Games
  5. Isaac Childress, Cephalofair Games (Okay, so I got to say hello as I was leaving, but I really would have liked to sit down and talk with him for a while and see Founders of Gloomhaven or the new Gloomhaven Expansion)

Five Games I Wanted to Try But Didn’t Get the Chance

  1. Empyreal: Spells & Steam by Level 99 Games
  2. Thunderstone Quest by Alderac Entertainment Group
  3. Founders of Gloomhaven by Cephalofair Games
  4. The Reckoners by Navuoo Games
  5. Everdell by Starling Games

Six Things I’d Do Differently for Gen Con 2019

  1.  Schedule fewer things from 10-6 each day – I had less than two hours on Thursday, three hours on Friday, and about an hour on Saturday that were able to be used in the main hall. I gained a little time on Friday with Mystic Vale being cancelled, but overall I had such little time to stop at booths, greet the publishers and designers, and demo games at the tables. Big mistake. I’d almost prefer to just have this time to roam the halls and schedule just the must-play things like the Lord of the Rings event.
  2. Schedule more things after 6:00 – I had an event planned on Thursday night and it was cancelled, leaving me wandering for a while. No event on Friday night also left me looking around and finding almost nothing that I could do without a long wait. This is the time to meet with people, sit down, and play some games. I failed horribly at this.
  3. Plan sooner, stay longer – My coming to Gen Con was a late decision, and I could only scrape together enough for gas, food, and hotel funds for a short time. My ability to eat for cheap allowed me to make a few small purchases, but honestly I’d rather arrive Wednesday night and head home Sunday afternoon.
  4. Volunteer at a booth or two – I wanted to do this, but my short stay and the daytime events meant I couldn’t swing it. I missed out on getting to know a few people better, teaching a game I love to others, and just having a good time without navigating huge crowds. Next time, I will definitely take a shift or two just to enhance that experience.
  5. Business cards – It hit me the week of Gen Con that having business cards would be a great idea. Thankfully, I wasn’t able to stop and greet a ton of people in the industry so I didn’t necessarily miss out this time. But next year, I want to be able to hand out some information as I am meeting with others in the industry.
  6. Backpack – I had bags that were good in size, but none of them had padded shoulder straps. So my con experience was one of great discomfort, navigating with bags I had to hold (and dig into my hands) or that would rub on my shoulders. Biggest mistake I made overall, and one I won’t repeat.

5 People I Would Consider Cosplaying

  1. Aragon, The Lord of the Rings
  2. Perrin Aybara, The Wheel of Time series
  3. Joel, The Last of Us
  4. Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly
  5. A Viking Warrior


Day One Recap
Day Two Recap

Board Gaming · Gen Con 2018 · Uncategorized

Gen Con 2018 Recap – Day Two

Friday marked my one and only full day at Gen Con, and I was determined to never leave the area throughout the day. I was successful in that task, although it was a painful and exhausting process. I still have the soreness and bruising to show for it, and this day taught me a LOT of lessons that I’ll use going forward if I return to Gen Con.

Day One Recap
Day Three Recap

Math Trade

I made a mistake in listing way too many items. Of those, I traded 12, plus a few other things I sold in the marketplace that I had to lug 3/4 of a mile to the trade location. Three bags of stuff. Boy, it was heavy. Then I walked about 1/2 a mile to the convention center and shuttled back to my car. It was a packed area, an in spite of the immense crowd it was relatively well run and I was able to make all my trades and head back out in under an hour. So I consider that a bonus, since I had to find about 24 different people.

Carla Kopp, Weird Giraffe Games

Carla was on my must-meet list and I specifically sought her out early after the Hall opened. It was great interacting with her, as she’s been really receptive to solitaire gaming and I helped provide some feedback during Stellar Leap’s testing that might have impacted its solo progression. The time was short, though, as she was the one manning her small section of a booth and I didn’t want to prevent her from making sales. It was incredible seeing the final product with Stellar Leap, though. Sadly, when I tried to get with her later she was teaching a game and I was at a point of exhaustion myself so I never made it back in to catch up more. Next time, I’ll be better prepared so that I’m not lugging around such cumbersome items and will be able to stay longer and move around better.

Carthago, Capstone Games

One of my top must-try games for the Convention was Carthago by Capstone Games. And as luck would have it, I was able to try it out with 2 players! The ships available in the ports, and the number of seats to purchase, both scale based on player count. There are also some dummy discs that go on the action selection space, essentially making certain actions cost a little more to use. This was every bit as fun as I anticipated, and after much debate on which Capstone title to bring home I settled on this one. I love the market of cards, and how they can be used for the actions depicted, the goods shown, or the value of money. Multi-use cards are the best, after all. You get 15 actions over the course of the game, promising a very tight experience. I played an Age, which was 5 of those actions, and played those poorly but still had fun and could see the incredible experiences that await us when we play this one. It’ll be hitting the table tonight, in fact, being the first game I punched and prepped after I got home from Gen Con.

Call to Adventure, Brotherwise Games

I wanted to sit down and demo this game, but never got the chance because there was always a crowd surrounding the table and they were always just starting in on the games. But I did take 15 minutes to observe as it was being played, so that I could at least report back some here.

The game looks like it will uphold the fun that it promises in the campaign. I didn’t see a single thing to deter me from how the game’s experience will be. I’m excited, as a fantasy genre fan, to hear that the Stormlight Archive is going to be an expansion for it in 2019. However…

I can’t picture this being a game my wife would want to play. I’ve tried and failed in the past with games that had any emphasis on storytelling, and while it is a side feature of it some of the appeal would be in actually coming up with stories after a game ends. This game is one I would love to pieces, but she would likely only play it when forced to do so. The runes looked like fun to cast, but she’d associate them too much with being dice.

So if I picked this up, it would probably be for solo play and to use with friends. Thankfully, I know a friend who is as big into Stormlight Archive as I am, so this might have to be something I pick up to play with him when that arrives in 2019. Watching this played confirmed everything I expected to see, which is a good thing for the game. If you’ve been on the fence for the game, I think you may be pleased with how this one turns out.

Mystic Vale: Havens event, Alderac Entertainment Group

The event was cancelled. This was something I discovered only after walked clear across the convention center to the corner of Hall A, rushing to beat the noon start time. I get that things happen to prevent an event from being able to be held. But this was one of two events I was super excited for, and my disappointment at hearing this was cancelled, only after getting to the table, was tremendous. I was told something about an offer to get sleeves instead, paying just shipping, but in my frustration I can’t be sure. Nor can I find my worthless ticket to the event. So I’m out $6, and still so very sad. I LOVE Mystic Vale, and they promised stuff to take home as part of the event. But the bright side was it bought me a little time.

Escape Plan, Eagle-Gryphon Games

This was another must-see game on my list after my glowing experience with the other Vital Lacerda games. Unfortunately, the game was only on display and not for actual playing. However, I was able to talk at length with Randal Lloyd, the Marketing Director for Eagle-Gryphon Games. He showed off the mechanisms in the game, and did a great job of explaining how the game will function. Like any Vital Lacerda game, the core action choices are simple but the interactions and ripples from those actions are what makes the game incredible. This is a “lighter” game design, but still quite a meaty, thinky game. The components looked incredible, and the game is going to have quite an impressive presence on the table. I love the premise of the game, having performed a heist as a group and you start playing at the point where it has become every thief for themselves in trying to avoid capture and escape the premise with as much loot as possible.

It has a modular board that is built by the players over the course of the game. There are 3 exit tiles, but only one of them will be revealed as the true exit. There are asymmetric player goals. You can influence and recruit the gangs to help distract the police, you can bribe the police, you can put on disguises, and so much more in your attempts to thrive. I am so sad this wasn’t playable, as I am seriously excited for this game after seeing it in person and hearing it explained. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to back this one on Kickstarter. It is going to be excellent, as every Lacerda game has already been.

Bosk, Floodgate Games

This one came by happenstance, as I knew a local gamer (Josh of the Board Boys Podcast…be sure to check their podcast out. It is FANTASTIC listening every 2 weeks, and they almost exclusively play games in the BGG Top 100 and give their thoughts after playing the game) would be at the Floodgate booth volunteering his time. He was showing off Bosk, which was very much in prototype form but looked pretty interesting. The game is played over two halves, with the first being placement of trees onto the board on the corner intersections of squares. Scoring happens based on majority in each vertical and horizontal row (so essentially every tree helps score on two lines).

After that it moves into the falling leaves phase, where the wind direction is dictating where the leaves fall, and players start off their 1-value trees and move up to the 4-value trees by playing a card to determine essentially how many leaves are placed down. So if I played a 4 card, I would get to make a path of 4 leaves on squares going in the direction of the wind. Each placement essentially has two options from the tree, and then from there three options. Let’s see if I can make a visual:

Wind ->>>

Placement beginning from the corner between the two 1’s on the grid below. The number with an * indicates the placement, the other numbers show the other placement options.

1 2 *4
*1 2 *3 4
*2 3 4

So as you could hopefully see, there are plenty of options to spread out from a single tree. The snag comes if you want to place on a space where someone else’s leaf already exists. It costs you an extra movement per leaf on that space, so to put yours on top of an existing leaf would be 2 of the movement. So on, going up. Only the topmost leaf, at the end of the game, will score points so there is room for some pretty aggressive play here. Finally, there is a squirrel card which lets you place a squirrel on any space without a squirrel. That secures the space for you, regardless of what is showing on the leaf pile, so it is a powerful one-time play.

This one was a fun little game, and I enjoyed the demo of it. It sounded simple at first, but I can see where some competition can jockey into the game for certain spaces, and how things can get very tight since all leaves are blowing in the same direction on a turn. I also like how the board shrinks based on player count, simply making the box a little smaller to play in with 2 but keeping everything else in tact. Photosynthesis failed to impress me, but this might be a much better tree-themed game to have in a collection. The game should be on Kickstarter late this year, and I can’t wait to see what this is going to look like when it is closer to that finished product.

Jason Tagmire, Button Shy Games

This man deserves a separate entry here, because I was able to chat with him a while as we walked to find a table to play on. As with everyone else, he turned out to be a really awesome guy to get to know, and it really pleased me to hear that he’s finding his niche market to be the 1-2 player count. Since that aligns so perfectly with my channel’s focus, I’m hoping to take a lot of looks at future Button Shy titles (and digging into their past catalog, too!) So titles like Ahead in the Clouds, Avignon: A Clash of Popes, Herotec, Pentaquark, That Snow Moon, and Twin Stars: Adventure Series all might be ones I’ll pick up in the future to play and add to the collection. And future titles, like Liberation and Penny Rails, will be must-buy games for me. The games themselves are good, but what really sold me on the company was talking to this guy for 20 minutes while we walked. I love his passion and dedication, and I can’t wait to watch Button Shy continue to grow and thrive in a market where everyone seems to want massive, miniature-filled games.

It might be time to kick around some 18-card game ideas soon…

Liberation, Button Shy Games

Have you played Star Wars: Rebellion? Meet the miniature version of that game, packed into 18 cards. Yes, it is possible. Yes, it is a lot of fun. It shouldn’t work, but it does and it delivers in spectacular fashion. He played as the Liberation, and I was tasked with finding his base. And, as it only fitting, I lost. On my last turn, I could attack one of two spaces. I chose wrong, as his base was on the planet I didn’t attack.

My other biggest regret was not having more time to play it again, but I was cutting it close to the next appointment. The art on here is great, and the only thing it truthfully might need would be a small player aid that defines some of the terms used as I had to look at the rules sheet quite a bit to make sure I was doing it right. But that would make this a 20-card game, which would go against the mold. I expect most people will need to do the same, though, for their first few plays. After that, I imagine it will be a lot better.

Circle the Wagons, Button Shy Games

I’ll keep this one brief. After talking a little about Sprawlopolis, which I enjoyed and reviewed, he asked if I have played Circle the Wagons. I hadn’t so he pulled it out and we played a quick round. Like, 5 minutes from overview to completion. Clever game, and takes the things I liked about Sprawlopolis and implemented them into a competitive format that I think my wife might like. He sent me home with a copy, and more thoughts on this will definitely follow in the future. If you liked Sprawlopolis, you’ll enjoy this as well.

Cardboard of the Rings Listener Event

My time here was cut to nothing by everything before and after this. Seriously, it was a 5 minute sprint across the hall to the area they were at so I could get my ticket for the Wizard’s Quest event on Saturday. But they still wanted me to get some swag if I had some generic tickets, so I gladly dropped $4 worth of those in for the most impressive item I took home. This box is the crown jewel in my Lord of the Rings LCG collection right now. I really wish I hadn’t booked so much stuff in this time slot so that I could have spent time there getting to know them all better.

Crusader Kings, Paradox Interactive

I felt fancy for these next two demos, as they were conducted in a private dining room at a restaurant a few minutes off-site from the Convention Center. It took a lot longer to walk there than I expected, but I was glad to arrive and find they hadn’t started without me. The game looked nice on the table, especially considering it wasn’t a final product or anything. It looked to be a bit of a table hog, but for a game with a Medieval theme and ambitious enough to try and capture a legacy across generations, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The theme is something that really appealed to me. I haven’t played the computer game this is based upon, but that doesn’t appear to be necessary for the enjoyment of the game. The map is small and tight, but the focus looks like it will be as much on family legacy as it is about conquest. Each round has players drafting cards from several decks, each one containing 1-2 action types. Each card also has an event that will trigger upon the use of the card, and not all of those events are good. And not all of them will target you. So you can see what areas the other players are drafting heavily into, and make a strategy around that. There is also a small bag-building element with tokens that have traits and are either good (green) or bad (red) traits to have. These tokens enter into play during combat, crusades, and even marriage. It promises to be an interesting approach, and this demo was definitely cut too short. It was enough, though, to raise my interest in the game a little more.

Europa Universalis, Paradox Interactive

The other half of the table had this game, and it had a very busy board with discs and cubes of four colored factions throughout. This one is further from completion, but we got a longer sample of this game (at least it felt that way). Right now this experience was hindered without any sort of player aid listing the possible actions, so we kept things pretty standard overall. We got to see some conflict resolve, and some rebels took foot in England. There were some marriages, some trading for funds, and many of us hired some infantry and cavalry in our armies and hired generals. This game was being explained as a historical-flavored Twilight Imperium or Eclipse experience. Having played neither of those, I cannot confirm nor deny the accuracy of that statement. However, I can see how this sets the stage for a long and interesting epic of warfare and influence. It is like Risk in a small sense, but far more interesting and with many more layers added to the game. I came in more interested in Crusader Kings, but I might be as interested in this one when it arrives in (hopefully) 2019 on Kickstarter.

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Asmodee Digital & Luke Walaszek, Fantasy Flight Interactive

I won’t keep it secret, nor keep it safe. This is what I wanted in a digital reimplementation of one of my favorite board games. It does so many things right, providing an entry point into the game for someone who has never played the LCG, while also offering some fun and fresh challenges and experiences for the veteran player. If you’ve played Hearthstone, or any of the other multitude of digital “CCG” games, you’ll find some similarities in here with marshaling troops onto the board and choosing who attacks what. You’ll also notice it does a back-and-forth action sequence between the player and Sauron. This is a great change for the digital format.

Some people may have wanted a straight port of the LCG into a digital model, but I don’t think that would have been the right move. It would have made things hard to follow on the screen, for one, as the game progressed. Furthermore, it would have offered very little to current players that they couldn’t already obtain with their collection or on the existing digital tabletop platforms. No, I think they made the right choice here.

This was HARD. I thought I was doing really well, and then things progressed and it all started to fall apart on me. Getting a challenge out of the demo was a reassuring moment.

Also, I got to talk to Luke quite a bit during the time for this and his enthusiasm for the game and getting it right was to be commended. I wasn’t sure, going in, if I would be interested at all in the digital version of the card game. After all, if I am going to be playing a game at home I would rather set up the physical product and sit down to play the game. However, I can see this being a game I could play when I have a limited window for relaxing, playing through a quick quest or two when I can’t set up and play something bigger on the table. I went from being not at all interested in shelling out $99 for the Limited Collector’s Edition, but now I am very tempted. It would get me early access to the game, unlock some Founder’s Packs, and get me a 2-player set that can only be obtained through this bundle.

Coming from someone who left computer and video games behind about 2 years ago, this speaks volumes about the game. It is good. Not quite the same as the game I’ve come to know and love, but it shares the right similarities and has the right differences to allow it to thrive harmoniously with the LCG.

Mario Sacchi, designer of Wendake

The final scheduled meeting of the day for me, and one I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t played any of Mario’s games, but I was very interested in Wendake due to the worker placement and the Native American theme. He was looking to meet interested reviewers, and that one game was enough to make me interested to meet him and discuss whatever he had in mind.

Let’s just say that I’m very, very glad I did.

He started by showing me an overview of the upcoming Wendake expansion which will add French and English forces that can be recruited as allies. It was really interesting, and I love the idea of bartering furs (a Native American resource) for firearms (from the allies).

But the star of the time together was a preview of a game he has coming in the future, which has a working title of Masamune. Worker placement. Recipe fulfillment. And the theme is that you are crafting swords in Feudal Japan. Yep, I can’t think of another game like it. And the most interesting part of the game involves a personal player board where you are placing the swords that you need to craft and how future actions will move them across and down the board to make them more valuable.

Since it is an early enough prototype I don’t want to spoil too much here, as a lot can change between now and its kickstarter. But it sounds like Cardboard Clash will get a copy to review prior to that Kickstarter launching, and so you should be very, very excited for this one. It is going to be a great, thinky game for a collection.

And I almost forgot to mention that Mario designs all of his games to play well with 1-2 players (apart from party games, etc.) so that is a huge win. I’m going to be working really hard to get my hands on Wendake in the future so I can get some plays of that in, and hopefully try out that expansion once it drops. Knowing that the game should deliver an excellent experience at our primary player counts is a huge benefit. I am honored he wanted to sit down with me and show me these two things, and I am looking forward to playing any of these types of games he wants to design.

Fantastiqa: Rival Realms, Eagle-Gryphon Games

The first time I stopped at the Eagle-Gryphon booth I made my first game purchase of the convention when I picked up this little 1-2 player game. I’ve been wanting to get Fantastiqa for quite some time now, and still want to get that in my collection. However, I couldn’t pass up this game based on the player count and the price. So when I found myself sitting alone later that evening, I popped this open and started to set it up while going through the rule book. A young boy who couldn’t have been older than 12, came up to investigate based on the box. He sat down and wanted to play. I explained I didn’t know how yet, but if he was willing we could learn together.

And so, after a short stint through the rules, we were off and playing. The gameplay on this one is simple in concept, but not necessarily so easy in execution for the players. You have three rows that will ultimately hold up to six cards each, making it so you’re trying to be the first to get down 18 cards on your side. There are some clever twists, though, in that you need each row to play in ascending order. There are cards numbered from 1-50 in the deck, each appearing once. Across those 50 cards, there are 5 different terrain types and your adventurer can explore a card only if you discard a card matching the terrain type they are moving onto. Those discarded cards go to a pile in front of your opponent, which they can draw from, meaning you need to consider if the card you spend is the one they might need. There are mountains blocking your path from row to row, so you need to make sure you consider how to adventure vertically since you cannot backtrack on the same turn. There are quest cards you can earn by fulfilling certain conditions. There are tokens to collect via adventuring for special abilities or to use in place of a terrain card. And you score more points by having the same terrain side-by-side and explored, adding another layer to consider for end game incentive.

Overall, I couldn’t be more delighted about my purchase of this game. It will likely sit alongside Hanamikoji as one of my favorite small-box thinky filler games in my collection. I can’t wait to try it solo, to teach my wife the game, and to add in some of the other elements that it recommended leaving out for the first play. There is plenty of decision space in a simple game, providing exactly what I hoped for in this box. The only real complaint so far is that this does require a fair amount of table space, which was in short supply at the Convention but should be no issue at all when at home. But it is likely not a game that travels well to a restaurant given the space it requires.

Day One Recap
Day Three Recap

Board Gaming · First Impressions · Gen Con 2018

Gen Con 2018 Recap – Day One

Whew, what a weekend at Gen Con. For those who don’t know, this was my first every convention. Yep, not just first Gen Con. Any convention ever. And I went in thinking I had an idea of what to expect, but there was probably nothing that could have fully prepared me for the experience that awaited me. I played only a fraction of the games I wanted to try, missed out on meeting a few of the people I really wanted to catch, and spent far more time in the evening walking around not knowing what to do once the Vendor Hall closed down. Without further ado, here is my recap for the first day, with posts on the other two days of attendance to follow.

Day Two Recap
Day Three Recap
Day One – Thursday

My day started off by driving 7 or so hours from central Iowa to Indianapolis. I wanted to be there before 2:00 to meet with some of the Level 99 Games crew, so I left long before the sun was up in the sky. After an uneventful trip, I went straight to where I parked and shuttled into the Convention Center where I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of things. After finding the Press Room to get my badge, I had about 20 minutes to make my way over to the Level 99 booth.

Chris Solis & Temporal Odyssey, Level 99 Games

First up was meeting Chris Solis, the designer of Temporal Odyssey. He turned out to be a really great guy (something that can be said of every single person to follow in this post) and was very open to playing a quick round of his latest game with me. I had played once before with a buddy of mine. so I knew the basics, but it was great to see his strategies taken and to pick his brain a few times about the importance of certain cards or decisions he made along the way. The game itself was as fun as I remembered, being a fast and furious competition between two time travelers. I pulled out some really fun cards, including a late Paladin (my favorite deck) that nearly won me the game. He managed to just barely finish me off a turn before I would have defeated him. This one is a game I am enjoying in my collection, and will be reviewing in the near future for sure. It plays out a little like a CCG duel, but with the ramp up for each side happening almost instantly. There have been times in both games I’ve played where I’ve been stunned at the sheer power of some of these cards, and that makes it fun and unpredictable as you play. There is a ton of room for this game to grow and expand, which is something I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing.

However, the best part was getting to know him a little and hearing about Terrene Odyssey (the “prequel” to this game) and how a lot of the characters and villains in that game appear on cards in Temporal Odyssey. Being a person who grew up playing JRPG games, the idea of each player forming a party of adventurers really appeals to me, and I’ll definitely be checking that one out. I made one key suggestion to Chris regarding Temporal Odyssey, and was very reassured to see him make note of the suggestion. He takes note of everything suggested by players, which is awesome to hear.

D. Brad Talton Jr., Level 99 Games

Unfortunately, my time with Brad was very short but in that span of time I got to know the man behind the mic in the Level 99 Podcast (highly recommended listening!). We talked BattleCON a little bit, as I have a fair amount of recent experience with it after reviewing Trials of the Indines and the BETA of BattleCON Online back in June. His biggest challenge, with BattleCON Online, was getting the right team in place for the project. My understanding is this is essentially 2.0 right now, as it sounds like there was previously an attempt to make it that didn’t succeed in reaching a final product. This time around has gone a lot better, and having played the online version I am very pleased with the product. There is going to be an Adventure Mode to the online game, which will enhance the experience available to players much like old fighting video games would have storyline experiences to progress through. Look for BattleCON Online to launch on August 10th (you can find it listed already on Steam!)

The final big Kickstarter for the physical game of BattleCON is coming around the end of August (tentative date of the 30th), and will have the box large enough to contain EVERYTHING for the game. Which is great, as I currently have three BattleCON boxes to fit on my shelf and I would really prefer to consolidate them into one box! One of the things I’m most excited for in the campaign will be the “social” goals, which will include things such as submitting fanart and fanfiction for the game. He confirmed it was still his intent to have that (I can’t recall all of the categories discussed a few podcast episodes ago), and I’m going to get to work on some fanfiction in the near future for this Kickstarter.

Finally we talked Exceed, and I asked him why he developed a very similar game when BattleCON already existed. He got to tell me a little about how the randomness of the deck opens the game to where it feels familiar to someone who might come into it with a CCG or LCG background, and makes it so you can have those moments where the right card comes at the right time for you. So while it may be similar in concept to BattleCON, having the players drawing from preconstructed decks of cards rather than having everything open information provides a very different experience.

Exceed Demo Game, Level 99 Games

Since they were demoing the Exceed game at the booth as well, I decided to take a swing at the game and see how it played out. I played as Lily, and was matched against the demonstrator who used Ulrik. Since I knew BattleCON, it made it fairly easy for him to explain the game and were were up and playing with very little downtime. I had to agree with Brad by the end, this game is very different from BattleCON. While the key concept is the game, its execution makes it a totally fresh gameplay experience. Not only with the drawing of cards, but how the turns play out and the ability to always be able to do a Wild Swing, allowing you to play a card from the top of your deck during a battle sequence. The EX attacks are also a nice addition, making it rewarding to play two of the same card on the same sequence for a boost.

While I didn’t end up purchasing anything Exceed for myself (yet), this is definitely one I could have in my collection even if I own everything BattleCON. I’ll be using these two demo decks to teach my friends who enjoyed the BattleCON game, and let them decide which of the two they prefer. Odds are, it will be both that remain in my collection. I’m so glad I got the chance to try the game.

Edward Uhler, Heavy Cardboard

The top of my must-meet list was Edward from Heavy Cardboard and so I sought him out as soon as I was done with my Level 99 Games time. He was demoing the new Teotihuacan: City of Gods coming from NSKN Games. I happened to catch him while the players were already going strong in the game, so he was willing to step aside for a few moments and just chat. I fanboyed a little, and picked up my Heavy Cardboard challenge coin from him in person. I love how he emphasized how important the integrity of his channel is, and how they distinguish between sponsored playthroughs (which is just that: them playing the game to show it to you) and reviews (which are never sponsored or paid for, just them giving the game its time in the spotlight).

He was personable and approachable, and commented on my HC shirt (and that of several others as they passed by the booth). He is as gracious and as humble as he always sounds on the podcast when I listen to them. I had hoped to make it back sometime to catch a demo of Teotihuacan, but never got that opportunity in the whirlwind of the convention. However, this meeting was everything I could have hoped for in a 5-minute greeting and I look forward to continuing to interact with them going forward. Seriously, check out their content. The podcast reviews are thoughtful and have convinced me to try several of my new favorites (notable: Lisboa & Ora et Labora), and their Teach & Playthroughs of games are my go-to source to learn the rules for a game.

Clay Ross, Capstone Games

I made my way to my other must-meet of the convention: Clay Ross. He’s been a huge supporter for my blog since last year, and I wanted to take the time to thank him for that and to let him know how much I appreciate the work he’s done. Honestly, I haven’t met a Capstone Games product I didn’t like, and I brought home a copy of Carthago (more on that in Day Two) to add into my collection. It was a really hard choice between that, the expansion for Haspelknecht, or Arkwright.

The latter game there was only in the debate after Clay specifically talked about that game and recommended I give it a play sometime soon. The prices at Capstone were all great, with games being individually stickered for pricing and showing the MSRP as well as the Gen Con pricing. As I found more and more booths selling their games at MSRP, I really came to appreciate his discounted pricing structure.

Unfortunately, just like Edward, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Clay as I would have liked. We got to talk about our love for Lignum and how great it is, as well as The Ruhr/The Ohio and its incredible depth. But it was great to meet him, and to mention how much I enjoy the Deep End Podcast (another must-subscribe. Don’t worry, they don’t produce shows on a regular basis. But they are always worth the wait for the discussion, the banter, and the laughter that comes from listening to an episode.

Firefly Adventures, Gale Force Nine

My first scheduled event at Gen Con at 4:00, and I was torn on whether or not to attend. Honestly, I wanted to go around the vendor hall and this was the first time I learned the hard way about booking things during the Vendor Hall hours. Still, I was excited to try this as a big Firefly fan and knowing my wife isn’t going to be interested in trying this cooperative game. We were playing with the Respectable Folk expansion, and did a scenario that I believe was the Garden Gala. The four of us were ready and eager to dive in, and the person who eventually came to help run it wasn’t the most personable guy. The rules overview was spotty, as we had a lot of questions as we went through the session.

It also didn’t help things that we discovered what we needed to with the very first investigation, which was done by the very first person to act. Then we had to spend several turns “treading water”, so to speak, while waiting for the group of people to disperse to their houses. Luckily for us, it got to a point where the guy we needed was literally the only one (besides the bartender) in the room so we were able to take him on without any complications. Mal shot him up with a shotgun, we retrieved Inara’s stolen items, and high-tailed it out of there before the other folk got to react to anything.

If that sounds like an incredibly boring sequence, you’re right. It was unexciting and left me feeling really unimpressed with the game. Granted, most of that was due to the immense luck we experienced. Another play of that same scenario might have resulted in a very different sequence that would have been more exciting. But ultimately I walked away disappointed and wishing I could regain that time spent at that table. Would I play it again? Sure. Will I buy it? Not without a much, much better experience or two with the game that can show me just how amazing the game can be.

Thunderstone Quest, Alderac Entertainment Group

Next came a long, long break to go check into my hotel, facetime my wife and son, eat, and head back to the convention center for more gaming. It was after 8 by the time I arrived, and I had previously purchased a ticket to attend the newest campaign for Hero Realms. However, that was cancelled a week before the convention so I didn’t know what to do next. I missed my chance to get in on the Stronghold Games event, and so I found myself wandering the Rio Grande room, the Czech Games room, and the Exhibit Hall and eventually sat down to watch two people playing Thunderstone Quest.

During my spectatorship, one of the volunteers came and sat next to me and started chatting. I mentioned I hadn’t played this yet, nor any of the Thunderstone line before. So I was given about a 15 minute rundown of the game and how it is played while watching these two play out the game in front of me. Needless to say, this sounds like a very unique entry into an arguably crowded deckbuilding genre. I wasn’t sure about Thunderstone Quest going into the convention, but I left this short session feeling determined to get a play in the next night if I could. Alas, it never worked out but I was able to get enough of a feel to know that this game is destined for my collection one day. The progressing through levels of the dungeon, and moving your figure from there to the market, all makes for a more hands-on visual than most deckbuilding games. It is almost like a dungeon crawl married to a deckbuilding game, which checks two pretty nice boxes for me.

More than anything, the kindness and enthusiasm of the volunteer convinced me that I wanted to give the game a serious look. Had she not sat there and interacted with me, I might have lurked for a few minutes and moved on without any impression on the game. If you’re not sure about whether or not to back it on Kickstarter, my initial reaction is that this is definitely going to be worth picking up if you like deckbuilders. I can’t promise there are no games like it out there, but it is definitely stronger in the integration than many of the staples.

Roll for the Galaxy, Rio Grande Games

Finally, after about 90 minutes of looking for an event or a game to play, I was able to gettin on Roll for the Galaxy in the Rio Grande room.

Race for the Galaxy is a Top 10 game for me. I love everything about that game, and I know some fans of Race have been converted into bigger fans of Roll. So I have always been curious, although I knew better than to buy it before playing because of the dice. And…

It was okay. I can see the differences, and the reasons why some people might come to prefer this over the card-based version. However, it failed to impress me. The cost to chance a die to what you want it to be is often too steep, and it can be really hard to build an efficient engine because you always need to generate more money to buy dice back into your cup for usage on the next turn. I’m glad I got to play it, but it cemented Race for the Galaxy into my collection. It was possibly the biggest disappointment for me at Gen Con, although Firefly Adventures is competing for that slot.

Day Two Recap
Day Three Recap