Let’s Talk About Some Recent Games

I just got back from GenCon, which means I played a ton of new games, and a ton of old games, and it’s been a while since I talked about games so I have a big backlog of game thoughts in general. Here we go!

Games I played/bought/saw at GenCon

This was the number one game I wanted to pick up at GenCon…and it sold out before the doors even opened on day one, so boo. No early SeaFall for me. It comes out in October-ish, so I’ll pick it up then.

Legendary Encounters: Firefly
Legendary is my favorite deck-builder game, by a mile, and though the base system is designed for Marvel superheroes, there are also four “Encounters” games that expand it into cool SF properties, all fully compatible with the base game and each other. First was the Alien and Predator, and now we have Firefly (and Big Trouble in Little China, I guess, but meh). Firefly is an amazing addition to the line: it really feels super Firefly-ish, in a deep and satisfying way, but it does so at the expense of some cross-compatibility, which is too bad. It’s still integratable with the other sets–you could toss out one of the crew and add in Spider-man, for example, and it would still work–but the transition isn’t as smooth as, say, playing through Aliens with the Avengers (or the Predators!) instead of Ripley and Hicks. Still, though, it’s an absolute blast, and probably my favorite of the Encounters games. Great stuff.
EDIT: Yes, the art in the game is awful. The art in ALL of the Encounters games is awful. I assume there’s a good reason to use original illustrations instead of movie stills, and I assume that reason is money, but the games are ugly because of it, and this is the ugliest. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, well, you’re missing out on a great game, but maybe Upper Deck will finally get the hint?

Legendary: Civil War
Yes, I got two Legendary games: it’s really good, dudes and ladies. Civil War works better for me than last year’s big Legendary release, presumably because I’m more familiar with the Civil War storyline than with Secret Wars, plus it has some really great new additions, like the pet sidekicks and the grievous wounds and similar fun stuff that you can shuffle into your base game. Plus we finally get Luke Cage as a playable character, so I can play the New Avengers and the Secret Avengers and all that good stuff. I can’t help but be disappointed overall, though, because this was supposed to be the expansion that gave us team-based head-to-head play, and it didn’t. Bah! That would have been so cool! Maybe they’ll get around to eventually? I don’t know? I’m super bummed, though.

Mansions of Madness Second Edition
I loved the first edition of Mansions of Madness, for about seven or eight plays, and then the balance problems became too obvious to ignore, and eventually the inconsistency in scenario design–and the gargantuan setup time–eventually killed it for me. I packed it away and haven’t played in five or six years, completely ignoring the two expansions. The Second Edition does away with the balance problem and the setup problem by replacing the evil mastermind player (or whatever it was called) with an app. The app runs the setup, the combat, the clues, the narrative, the whole thing. A lot of people are understably leery of this, but in practice it works really well: the games get started quickly, the story unfolds in a more fluid and mysterious way, and the scenarios are randomized in a way that maintains a consistent story while still making each play-through unique. Even better, a hard scenario just feels like a hard scenario, not an “unbalanced” one, because all of the humans are on the same team. It’s even fully compatible with all the first edition stuff you bought before, which is a nice touch. It’s entirely possible that the same inconsistency problems that plagued the first edition will pop up as we play it more (ie, some clues required you to run toward danger, and some required you to run away from it, with no clear way of knowing which was which), but I’m hoping that the intervening years and two expansions’ worth of experience have helped them solve that issue. I guess time will tell.

The Siege of Annuminas
The Lord of the Rings LCG is my favorite customizable card game these days, so I joined some friends to play through this new scenario and it KICKED OUR BUTTS. The Siege of Annuminas is an Epic scenario: you can play it with one group of 1-4 players, or you can play the Epic version with three groups of 1-4 players each, all working on different parts of the same goal. My group was tasked with defending the walls, and our most experienced player–my friend Alan Bahr–lost two characters literally in the first turn, and was out of the game completely on the second. If you haven’t played before, let me assure you: that’s not supposed to happen. This scenario is brutal, and even one misstep–even from a different team in a different part of the war–can destroy you. I love a challenge, though, and I look forward to finally beating this one into submission.

New Angeles
This was a newly announced game that Fantasy Flight was demoing, and is not yet for sale, but I got to play through several turns and I loved it. It’s based in the Android universe, like Netrunner, but it shifts the focus from hacking to megacorp negotiations. Each player takes the role of a massive company (I played my favorite, the blatantly evil Weyland), and then they have to work together to solve problems and improve the city of New Angeles, but always trying to do so in a way that helps your company more than anyone else. It’s an incredibly social game, structured such that everyone always has something to do and something to pay attention to and some meaningful way of influencing the outcome no matter whose turn it is. Good stuff, and a first day purchase when it gets released.

Black Orchestra
This is a Philip DuBarry design (one of my favorite designers) from Game Salute, and it’s a co-op about assassinating Hitler; it’s not released yet, and they didn’t even have demos running, but I got to look through the sample copy and it looks great. “The Black Orchestra” is the “Schwarze Kapelle,” which was the S.S. nickname for the actual historical group that tried to assassinate Hitler, and the players each play the role of one of these real people–the character cards include bios, and in a chilling historical detail every bio ends with either a suicide or an execution. This is not a light-hearted game, but it looks like a very tense and strategic one, with deep roots in historical research and accuracy. I’ll need to see some gameplay reviews once it finally comes out, but I have very high hopes.

Star Trek: Ascendancy
Another game I demo-ed, but in this case it was available for purchase and I chose not to buy it. It was actually an awesome space game, kind of 4X-ish, with some clever mechanics and some cool ideas and great bits, but it had the same problem I have with every Star Trek game: it just doesn’t feel like Star Trek. Star Trek is about exploration and problem-solving; it’s about ideas. Ascendancy is about combat, and I can get plenty of that in other properties. Someone please give me a good Star Trek game! Fleet Captains does the best so far, but even that’s a stretch. I guess this is what roleplaying games are for. Come to think of it, what I really want is an app-driven mystery game, a la Mansions of Madness, in the Star Trek universe. I would spend SO MUCH MONEY on that.

Dead of Winter: The Long Night
I love co-op games, and I especailly love co-op games with a traitor, and Dead of Winter basically rules that category in untouchable splendor. The new expansion (technically a stand-alone companion game) adds some awesome stuff to it, and I’m very excited to try it, but I haven’t actually gotten it on the table yet because Mansions of Madness keeps grabbing us. Soon.

My biggest expense of GenCon was my decision to update my four factions (plus my brother’s Menoth) to the third edition rules. I’ve basially been out of the game since my primary opponent Zach Hill passed away several months ago, and it became sad to try to play without him, but I figured it was time to move on and get back into it, which meant acquainting myself with all of the changes in Mark III. Overall, I like them a lot. My two main factions are Retribution (which is a POWERHOUSE under the new rules) and Khador (which got some weird rebalances but overall some very nice stuff). Most notable: Retribution can finally run multiple warjacks effectively, which allows our awesome ‘jacks to shine, and my personal favorite unit the Khadoran Man-o-Wars got the buffs they needed to become a viable threat. I also play Legion of Everblight (which made Proteus awesome!) and Circle Orboros (which got some weird nerfs but is now The Heavy Warbeast Faction), and overall I’m pretty happy. Now I just need to, you know, actually play.

Infinity: Corvus Belli
As much as I love Warmachine and Hordes, Infinity is hands-down the best skirmish game for tabletop miniatures, and I picked up the new Miyamoto Musashi model at GenCon. I’m excited to get him on the table with my Nomads. If you love minis games and you’re looking for a relatively cheap one, with a truly phenomenal ruleset, give Infinity a try.

Games I didn’t play or buy at GenCon, but I want to talk about them anyway

As long as we’re talking about minis games, I’ll point out that I didn’t buy any of the new X-Wing stuff. Most of it’s just ugly or boring, frankly, and the ships from the Rebels TV show don’t look like they belong in the same universe as the others. I like the Protectorate starfighter, and I might pick one up eventually, but I’ll wait until Wave 10, for the Quadjumper and the Upsilon shuttle. If I played competitively, I’m sure the new stuff would hold more interest, but as a casual player I’m content to stick with the stuff that looks cool and feels familiar–the stuff that feels like Star Wars, basically.

Sushi-Go and Sushi-Go Party
Sushi-Go is basically “7 Wonders Lite,” and in that niche it’s become a family favorite that I can play with my kids anytime and anywhere. There’s no setup time, it’s super portable, and it’s simultaneously deep and cute, in a way that everyone from my 4yo to my 14yo can play it with me, all in a big group, and all enjoy it at the same time. Sushi-Go Party looks awesome on the surface–more of the stuff you loved, only bigger and better!–but in practice it’s just a bunch of added hassle without a comensurate addition of fun. If we’re going to take the time to set up decks and choose card types and all of that nonsense, we’ll just play 7 Wonders.

Another play-with-the-kids game, Hoagie is actually super fun. It’s a card game where each player is trying to build a sandwich, but the other players keep rotting your ingredients. There’s not much else to say, except that this has become one of our go-to travel games.

Yes, I know, this one’s been out since LAST GenCon, but I didn’t get it until a month ago. I wish I’d listened to everybody and picked it up earlier, because it’s super fun. One player is a ghost, who gives the other players visions (giant cards with crazy art on them), trying to get them to correctly identify a murder suspect, a location, and a weapon. One fun thing I learned with this game: my 9yo’s brain works in exactly the same way mine does. I can give my other kids a bunch of super-obvious clues, and watch them stumble around like morons, but my 9yo can look at a bizarre, esoteric nonsense clue and instantly see what I need her to see. It’s kind of hilarious. Of course, my 14yo and 13yo are the same way with each other in Codenames, so it all evens out.

Shoot Your Friends
This game promises chaos, and delivers even more of it than you’re expecting. It’s a card game with no turns, played in real time, where you’re trying to build sets both for you and your opponents; a player who has a set can booth shoot and be shot, so sometimes you’ll want to build them up and sometimes you’ll want to destroy them to protect yourself. My 13yo and his friends freaking love this game, though they had to apply a bunch of house rules to help constrain the madness a little. Plus it comes with an awesome toy gun :)

Among Nobles
I kickstarted this game last year, and I love it, and I don’t think I’ve ever talked about it. Short version: I love it. Long version: it’s a bloodline game, which is one of my pet subgenres (ie, a game where you play not with one set of characters, but with successive generations of characters over time, building a giant family). Among Nobles is kind of loosely War of the Roses-based, though it’s fairly a-historical because the characters all show up out of order, based on how you draw them. You have children, and arrange marriages with other players’ children; each character has access to different actions (war, piety, intrigue, commerce, etc.), but you take actions based on couples, not individuals, so arranging ideal marriages with good action sets is key. It’s awesome.

Trash War
Another card game, and a really unique one at that. The players are in a junkyard, or possibly a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with junk–either way, there’s a a lot of junk–and they takes turns chucking it at each other. You have walls, and as junk builds up on them they collapse and fall over, but you can burn the trash away to help keep your walls standing. One clever touch is that there is no standard turn order: the first player throws trash at whoever she wants, and then that player throws trash at whoever he wants, and so on and so on, volleying the ball, so to speak. It’s a light filler, but a fun one.

TMNT DiceMasters
I managed to steer clear of this one (“collectible” and “deck-building” are two of my trigger words for dangerous obsession), but then they came out with a TMNT set and my resistance crumbled. I wish it worked better for multiplayer, but as a two-player strategy game I really like it. It’s dice rather than cards, so you’re not building a deck but a dice bag, but the little dice really do feel like superhero characters, and the game moves fast and has a lot of strategy. It’s like a mashup of Quarriors and Magic: The Gathering, which doesn’t sound like it would work but it totally does.

One more dice game. This one’s a little filler game I picked up for a family camp in Yellowstone, and it was a pretty big hit. You roll a bunch of Camp dice, which will be either bears or tents, and then you roll the Camper dice, which will be either shooting or running or sleeping. You can reroll your Camper dice as much as you want, and everyone matches up dice in a big free-for all, and the game ends when either all the tents or all the bears are matched up. You get the most points for sleepers in tents, but if the game ends and there are still bears roaming free, all the sleepers get eaten and lose points instead. It’s a humorously grisly theme with more depth than you expect, and we had a lot of fun with it.

This is but a tiny fraction of the game reviews I need to write, but this is already five pages long. Time to stop…for now….

One Response to “Let’s Talk About Some Recent Games”

  1. Sara says:

    I need to play more games. I’ve got a copy of Bring Your Own Book that’s burning a hole in my games shelf.

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