Written by guest contributor Brian Roe
I spent most of Friday at Gen Con 2014 searching for vintage Citadel Miniatures from the late 1980s and early 90s. This was the era that I really got into collecting and painting war game miniatures. I spent some time in the auction room and was disappointed but not really surprised to lose bidding for a box of plastic Citadel Space Dwarves minis. But it was somewhat peaceful and nostalgic to spend the afternoon seeing various pieces of the gaming past finding new homes.
My visit on Friday was cut a bit short so I knew I’d have to squeeze a lot of stuff into Saturday. So I decided on an overall plan of attack to visit the Entrepreneurs Avenue area of Gen Con, the somewhat dingy gaming ghetto of the dealers room where start-up companies are sequestered into a tight little grid. I decided to primarily check out board games since this is what I tend to play most of the time.
Modern board games are nothing like the dim-witted “roll and move” games of your childhood. Inspired by a still popular line of “Euro Games” including the eternal favorite Settlers of Catan, board games have evolved into densely complex experiences that can take hours to complete and require hundreds of pieces and cards to play. But the overall appeal remains pretty much the same between all board games, they are self-contained and everything you need to play is kept in one box. This makes them far more likely to be played by busy gamers since there is little to no pre-game preparation. And once the rules are learned and the game played a few times for practice, even very complex games can be played quickly and enjoyably.
So I walked through Entrepreneurs Avenue, looked at the games that caught my eye and talked to the folks who made them. Everyone was friendly and eager to talk about their projects, even if their spiel and ballyhoo was sometimes lacking. But I’m more interested in craft and heart than I am in slickness so there was still plenty of interesting stuff to check out. Here are some of my favorites.
In Legacy: Gears of Time by Floodgate Games you play an Antiquitect, an operator of The Ancient Machine. You need to make sure that human technology develops in a prescribe manner so you must time travel to keep things on course. Whimsical, steampunky artwork and clever card-based gameplay help make L:GoT both complex and fun. This is one of those games that seems simple at first but actually requires a good amount of thought and planning.
Alien Uprising by Mr. B Games is a cooperative game where players control the crewman of a crashed starship as they attempt to repair their ship while simultaneously defending themselves against attacking Zothren aliens. The overall quality of this game is evident with a nicely illustrated board and well sculpted miniatures. It’s always great to see a new co-op game since they can keep overly competitive players in check and give the whole group a great sense of achievement when the final goal has been won.
Folklore: The Affliction by Twin Fire Productions is a gothic horror game that drips with atmosphere and mood. Characters scour the countryside looking to find and destroy various forms of supernatural horrors known as Afflictions. There seem to be many levels of character development and gameplay, something more akin to true role-playing than other board games. Folklore reminded me strongly of Hammer horror films which of course makes it awesome.
Destination: Neptune from Griggling Games presents space exploration in an optimistic and positive light, something that is often not the case with other sci-fi board games. Instead of constant “man versus alien” warfare players in Destination Neptune play through four generations of colonists in an attempt to build commercial interest within the Solar System. This is a resource management game with fun design, the little wooden rockets are great, and an educational and upbeat tone.
Space Junk by Lamp Light Games is a zany exercise in junk collection, spaceship modification, and reality TV. I was impressed by the great character concepts and overall presentation. And besides the fact that it shares the same name as a DEVO song it looks like a blast.
And to keep with the theme of games with song titles we have What’s He Building In There? which I like to think of as Tom Waits’s favorite board game. You play a mad scientist in 1800s London who’s just trying to build the perfect doomsday device while constantly being dogged by overzealous Scotland Yard detectives. You’ll have to be clever while hiring henchmen and forming your escape plan to make the most of your Evil Doctorate’s worth of training.
And finally Titans Tactics by Imbalanced Games is a fast but tactical game that can be played in less than half an hour and features a variety of cool character archetypes that will be familiar to any fan of geek media. Dragons, angels, pirates, monsters, and undead battle to gain power for each player’s titan. This looks to be a great lunch break game or one to play before everybody arrives for game night.
Then only problem with being a board game lover at Gen Con is one of being spoiled for choice. And although there were plenty of major releases by larger companies, I still find myself drawn to games made by a few people using a lot of heart and a lot of work. Like independent filmmaking, independent board games can be just as slick and well produced as more expensive productions, funding via Kickstarter has been a huge help in this way, but they often contain more cleverness and greater willingness to take risks. If you want to find cool, new ideas than take the time to check out some of these companies out and see what they’ve got to offer.