The GenConmen, 2015: Day One
It’s that time of year again, the cusp of Augusthood, when summer keeps on being summer and gradually transitions into more summer. In faraway exotic Indianapolis, capital of the grand state of Iowa, a largely unknown gathering formerly known as the Generalissimo Convención (now commonly nativized to GenCon) has begun anew, a complex mating dance of exhibition halls, cardboard, and people dressed as their favorite fictional characters. It’s a fabulous but dangerous dance, and —
You know what? I’m done talking about the dance. Let me show you.
Some might be deterred by an enormous flight delay courtesy of Delta. Some. Not us. Rather, we took those four hours of sitting in the terminal as a challenge. Rather than letting the flight pass us by — for what is an airplane ride if not a metaphor for the course of all life itself? — we would instead play games. So many games that we would hopefully be sick of games by the time the game convention began.
Fortunately, we’d brought along a few candidates that managed to maintain their perch on our tray tables without losing too many components. Across three games, we only lost one red meeple (thanks Obama) from Deep Sea Adventure, which we managed to cajole our neighbors into joining. Then they won and we shunned them by sticking to two-player games like Longhorn and Eminent Domain: Microcosm. Whoever said that we couldn’t make games work on the airplane wasn’t expecting us. Nor were they expecting the couple playing an entire campaign of Dungeons & Dragons on the next aisle over.
WWE Superstar Showdown
As Thursday’s dawn broke upon us like ice water dashed across an exposed brain, we found ourselves stumbling into our first demo of the day, WWE Superstar Showdown, hosted by one of the most energetic volunteers I’ve ever met for anything — and I’ve talked to the volunteer tour guides at Mount Rushmore.
Coming from Gale Force 9, a company with a pedigree that includes gems like Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery, Homeland, and Firefly, WWE Superstar Showdown was a pleasant surprise, especially because I care about wrestling about as much as I care for tuberculosis. Players manhandle real-world genuine professional wrestlers, laying out three signature moves from their wrestler’s deck. Then the moves are revealed one by one, wrestlers maneuvering, bouncing off the ropes, setting up future attacks, and then loosing their trap like a coiled python, knotting their muscled thighs about their opponent’s throat, and praying to the capricious gods of wrestling that their prey has run out of block cards.
We only managed a few fights, but when our volunteer took a break from shouting “Kick his ass!” and “Bring the pain!” and “Yes! Yes! YES!” (which he assured me is a wrestling catchphrase), he told us that the game also allows entire evening-long programs, complete with multi-wrestler fights and upgrade cards that mold your wrestlers into hydraulic car-crushers.
1001 Space Odysseys
Burning high-quality octane after our experience with Wrestling Demo Man, we downgraded to fumes when we found ourselves in the middle of a beta test. For all I know, the game will eventually shape into something amazing, but in the meantime, mechanical malfunctions (since much of the game was played on a screen) and rules confusion (since we couldn’t figure out what triggered the endgame, leading us to play about 300% too long), we learned a major life lesson the hard way:
Never play someone’s game until they pinkie promise it’s ready.
We despaired for a moment, but relief came in the form of Ryan Laukat’s cherubic face and even prettier Artifacts, Inc., a game that cast us as explorers and artifact-hawkers during the first bit of the last century. Like many of Laukat’s games (City of Iron, Eight-Minute Empire), it does a whole lot with not much at all, whether having you buy trucks and diving suits or pawn a bunch of fossils for chump change because your opponents have already seen to it that all the natural history museums are stuffed to the brim with mismatched sets of old bones.
It was an interesting game, especially since there are so many ways to accumulate fame and fortune. Sell maps to museums or use them to find new dig sites. Outfit a sprawling crew of adventurers or hire support staff to make them more efficient. Search for rare statues or go diving in submerged ruins. It’s sort of like a worker placement game, though only one player goes at a time and then removes their workers before the next guy gets a go. This leads to some serious downtime, but we enjoyed the game anyway, plotting our future acquisitions and sales with great interest. Definitely one to consider if you’re already a fan of Laukat’s work.
Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn
It’s way too early to tell if the newest release from Plaid Hat Games is their best, but for now it definitely feels like their slickest. The art has received a noticeable bump in quality, the cardstock is bonkers sturdy and feels like you could knock over a polio victim with a good windup, and the gameplay… wow.
We’ve seen this setup about a hundred times before. Magic User meets Magic User, maybe on Magic Tinder. Magic User falls for Magic User.
Then Magic User tries to kill Magic User dead.
What sets Ashes apart from everyone else doing this act is just how hefty it feels. The voodoo character plays dirty tricks that feel genuinely dirty, filling her opponent’s battlefield with crummy soldiers that hurt their new best boss unless they get killed off first. The leader-of-men guy not only fills his side of the board with excellent soldiers, he steps in between them and killing blows to preserve their kickass abilities for future rounds, coming off as an actual, heyo, leader. Time and time again, it feels like a fresh and solid take on the wizard v. wizard genre.
Will it last? Who knows. But for now, I’m floored.
Shout-out time! With our scheduled appointments wrapped up, we made our way across the street to DFW Nerd Night, an event that’s doing great work channeling our hobby’s innate inclusiveness into a way to help out a bunch of charities that could use the boost. Tonight’s good cause was The Julian Center, a local organization with a goal to “permanently end the cycle of domestic violence in the families we serve.”
A Fake Artist Goes to New York
For whatever reason, nobody wanted to play this with us. “Hey, want to play a game?” I asked a couple of people who looked bored while waiting for the Nerd Night’s next round of charity raffles. “It’s like Spyfall mixed with art.”
“I don’t like art,” one of them replied. “And I didn’t like Spyfall either.”
“What about sexy art?” I asked. Then I might have struck sort of a sexy pose. Or something that in my head I thought might have looked a little sexy, maybe.
“Not sexy art either,” they said.
Geez. That’s sort of heavy.
It took no less than an hour, but we finally managed to trick a handful of people into joining us at our table. In the end, our efforts were well rewarded, because this game is hilarious. See, the idea is that everyone knows what they’re supposed to draw, but at the table is a single faker. A phony. A fraud. And as everyone draws the assigned image, one stroke at a time around the table, it’s the faker’s job to convincingly join in.
The results speak for themselves. An ostrich became an elephant, a pearl necklace became a dish (?), and a pizza became a version of Pinocchio from a parallel universe where Pablo Picasso murdered Walt Disney and assumed his identity.
And that was day one. Bring it on.