The GenConmen, 2017: Day Two
Day Two is when the fatigue sets in. Rules become more drawn out, the show floor starts to resemble a hive in the midst of total collapse, and existence becomes more questionable than usual. For instance, if we’re merely complex chemical computers with simulated free will, why did our holographic universe determine that we would spend so much time ambling through this earthly temple to all things cardboard? I wish I had an answer.
Anyway, we learned lots of great games today!
The lovely chemical computers at Plaid Hat Games were kind enough to show me their latest creation, Crystal Clans. At first glance it resembles the estimable Summoner Wars, what with its asymmetrical factions, bright hues, and sense of forward momentum. Here, though, rather than chasing down an opposing summoner, the goal is to control two of the field’s three fields of crystals, which will then let you purchase one of the four other crystals you need in order to win. “That’s a lot of crystals!” I bellowed in my that’s-a-lot-of-meatballs voice, which briefly silenced the crowd around me into an awkward milling.
There are a couple interesting things going on here, and maybe one or two concerns that I’d love to see dispelled. Foremost, the tempo is hugely interesting, with actions spent on one side spilling into their opponent’s pool and thus giving them more to do. It’s like riding a seesaw. A seesaw that veers wildly in either direction and lets you raise skeletal knights from beneath the sandbox.
At the same time, I wasn’t sure Crystal Clans seemed to sport the same potential for diverse gameplay that Summoner Wars displayed. Units are stacked into mobs that pool their attacks and defenses, but only the topmost unit uses their ability, and it’s a mighty shame to cover up those gorgeous illustrations. But hey, I’ve played it once, and I did enjoy it enough to look forward to another try sometime soon.
Okay. Here’s the thing. Bunny Kingdom is perfectly lovely. It’s a drafting game, and a through-and-through one at that. Players toss down some cards, pass their remaining hand, and immediately enact whatever was printed on the ones they kept. New buildings, new captured lands, treasures — everything comes at you fast, giving it this wonderful sense of immediate gratification.
That said, it’s far lighter than I’m accustomed to. Maybe it will reveal hidden depth with further plays. That’s entirely possible. But while it boasts immense potential as a gateway game, I’m not sure that the innate cuteness of its bunnies will be enough to keep me playing.
Leaders of Euphoria
Set in the same fictional society featured in Jamey Stegmaier’s Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, Leaders of Euphoria has nothing to do with electrocuting laborers into hauling extra doses of gas-drug down from the neighborhood drug dealer’s zeppelin. Instead, it’s about emulating social deduction game Good Cop Bad Cop so completely that I finally investigated enough to realize that they’re pretty much the same thing. And meant to be!
Which is both fine — Good Cop Bad Cop wasn’t necessarily a top-shelf example of its genre, but it wasn’t the cheap stuff either — and a bit disappointing. Each player has three loyalty cards, with their “side” being determined by whichever card they’re holding two of. It leads to last-minute reveals where someone’s layers are gradually peeled away to reveal the raw truth beneath. It also suffers from a huge reliance on randomly-pulled artifact cards. These are endowed with Euphoria’s winking humor, but they also make the proceedings feel a little less controlled than some other social deduction games. This could be considered a boon if played correctly, since there’s something nicely silly about swapping cards with someone else to suddenly change allegiance halfway through.
All in all, I’m torn. I want to love any game where it’s possible to give the local dystopia a big middle finger and become king of the wasteland instead. But… I don’t love it. That’s my in-depth critique after one play.
Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game
Speaking of middle fingers, this is the only thing in the world that could make me flip Bob Ross the bird.
Not only does Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game only scan if pronounced with a thick Eastern European accent, it’s also one of the least-chill games I’ve played during Gen Con 2017. It’s a game of matching colors and brushes to the spaces on a painting, scoring points for beating your friends and Bob himself. The problem is that Bob Ross is a stone cold bastard, racing you to finish the painting and thus stealing all your hard-earned points before you get a chance to score their bonus. Invariably, it’s one of those games where the market never has the art supplies you need, and when it does some other jerk will snap them up before you can nab them.
It features some nice art, at least. And the box shows Bob Ross, so there’s that.
One of the hottest games has been Ex Libris, a game about alphabetizing books in a gnomish library. I think. See, that’s all I know about it, because our demo started right before the dealer hall closed. Maybe one day I’ll get to play it, because I adore alphabetizing things.
No, I’m not being sarcastic. Really, I’m not. Alphabetizing was my first real talent.
Rhino Hero Super Battle
Oh my. My oh my.
Remember Rhino Hero, one of the greatest games of all time? Well, it’s now one item lower on the Greatest Games of All Time list, and it’s thanks to itself.
It’s not the sort of game you can take seriously. Where the original was about building a single swaying high-rise, Super Battle pits four different heroes against each other to climb to the highest level of an ever-developing megastructure. There are monkeys that must be suspended from the floors, dice fights between heroes that make about as much sense as Batman and Superman having the same mom (I think?), and a huge jiggling tower with tremendous table presence. It’s hilarious. It also sold out in short order.
Lastly, Cole Wehrle was kind enough to teach us John Company, his sprawling game of the rise and fall of the East India Company, which I understand was the baddie team in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean docudramas. Like his other titles, Pax Pamir and An Infamous Traffic, it’s a simulation first and foremost, and it even ports some of the latter game’s ironic sensibilities, all those ships and goods and governorships and adventures translating to diddly squat unless you can buy a fancy hat back home in London.
Unsurprisingly, it’s as deep as the Atlantic. By casting its players as the heads of enterprising families rather than as company men proper, it’s all about your personal fortunes versus the good of the company — and no, those two aren’t always intertwined.
We only learned the early game, wherein the Company acts like a big fat jerk with basically no repercussions, but we’re told the later game includes private firms chewing away at the bloated corpse of the East India Company while it sells loads of opium to stay afloat. Sounds great!
And that was day two. My feet are killing me.