Favorites of Gen Con 2016

I promised to share some of my favorite things from Gen Con 2016. Let’s jump right in!

  • Concert Against Humanity – I’ve played some Cards Against Humanity, and in fact, even took part in some of their playtesting at Gen Con. On a whim (which in this case technically means ‘in response to a compelling email from Gen Con) I decided to give the Concert Against Humanity a try. Phwadamn. It was amazing. Hours of music and comedy, a fun loot bag, and just a spectacular evening out. Jonathan Coulton, Paul & Storm, Patrick Rothfuss, Molly Lewis, Aparna Nancherla, and more performed. I would rate this as “Must Do” for me during future Gen Con visits.
  • BGG Hot Games Room – This was an oasis of joy and fun inside a larger oasis of joy, fun, and crowds. The deal here was that, for two hours per tickets, lots of publishers donated games with lots of buzz and you could show up here and play them. BGG did a great job of limited people in the room (so ideally you should reserve your spot through the event system) so you had table and chair space. Games were first come, first served, so you may not get the tippy top one on your list right away, but you could surely find something of interest. It was cool, quiet, and a great way to game in a more low-key environment and try out great new games. Some publishers even had staff or demo crews on hand to help out, but in most cases you were on your own to learn to play the game. Another “Must Do” for me, I’d likely schedule time here every afternoon.
  • Wyrmwood Gaming – I had seen Wyrmwood Gaming items featured in a number of Kickstarters recently and was very interested in some of their dice boxes. They looked beautiful, but I didn’t want to pull the trigger. They were too pricey for me to buy sight unseen. They had a large booth loaded with their items at the show, and it was wonderful to get hands on their items. They look better and are of higher quality than I could have imagined. Truly breathtaking items that should be seen and handled to be believed.
  • Codenames: Pictures and Czech Games Edition – Codenames: Pictures is a wonderful continuation of the excellent Codenames game. Our crew was pleasantly surprised by how different the game was with the pictures. The art is outstanding and hilarious and I would probably buy t-shirts with card art on them. Stegaroo! The pictures are interestingly complicated and I spent a lot of time wondering how so many details were crammed in to the simple, crisp drawings. I should also mention the amazing Broken Token Codenames organizer that lets you neatly fit both Codenames and Pictures in one of the original boxes.

    Codenames: Pictures
  • Deadfall/Pairs – I have been a big fan of Cheapass Games for years, and a fan of Pairs since it came out. Deadfall is another great variant on the Pairs game which incorporates a strong Liar’s Dice style of play with betting to the Pairs world. It is a beautiful deck as well, but the true magic is you can play it with your favorite Pairs deck.


There were many more things that drew my eye and were great fun to play, but these were the items that left the biggest impression on me. What did you see or hear about that caught your eye?

Gen Con Gaffes

I had a pretty great time at Gen Con 2016 as my previous post attests. However, it was not all sunshine and roses. Honestly, it pretty much was all sunshine and roses, but for my next trip, I will make some changes.

Let’s dive in!

  1. Shop less. My main takeaway here is that I spent some chunk of time in lines for stuff that I could easily have gotten later at the show or often within a month or two of the show ending. I have some completionist urges that covet exclusives and promo items, but that is an unhealthy part of my hobby that I don’t like to encourage in me. This is also heavily driven by my experience on Friday morning waiting to get in to the show. What started out as a nice, small, friendly crew of patient gamers got ugly as opening time neared. I was appalled and disgusted at the language, rudeness, and lack of manners demonstrated by my fellow attendees for a few short minutes right before and during the doors opening Friday morning. It’s cardboard people, settle down. For my own enjoyment, I’ll do a better job of removing myself from that situation.
  2. Don’t wait in the Will Call line, especially Wednesday night. I did not have anything to get at Will Call, but my four traveling companions did. Obviously I chose to hang out with them in the line, but it was pretty close to two hours (maybe more now that I reflect back) and it was pretty much unnecessary if folks had set up for anything other than Will Call. Also, the Will Call line was a fraction of the length Thursday morning and by lunch on Thursday looked to be pretty much gone. Also, friends don’t let friends Will Call.
  3. BoardGameGeek Hotness Room is rad! I will sign up for this more, and sign up in advance. It was a great way to try stuff out, and they had a spectacular selection of games.
  4. Stay over Sunday night. I get anxious about travel. I just do. So come Sunday, I kept watching the clock and thinking about leaving, and ended up being somewhat stressed and anxious to get on the road. I had already taken Monday off of work, so we really should have just stayed over Sunday night and enjoyed a fourth full day of Gen Con.

Did you go to Gen Con? Have you in the past? What would you do differently?

Gen Con 2016 Impressions

This year was my first attending Gen Con in Indianapolis. My expectations were pretty mild. I am not a big fan of crowds, and to be honest, I tend to prefer my smaller groups of close friends for gaming experiences, especially for tabletop RPGs. That being said, I was very excited to go, and expected to have a good time. My hope was to check an item off of the bucket list with a nice “Been there, done that.”

So how was it? It exceeded my expectations in every way, and I would make it an annual pilgrimage if I could. Plans to make that a reality are afoot!

Why was it so rad? Let’s do six sides of awesome!

  1. I went with a great group of friends. A big hats off to Scott, Kayne, Matt, and Bill. Four of us drove out and had an epic road trip. We played some Dear Leader during the drive and had a stop in Ohio for Skyline Chili and Graeter’s ice cream.  Is chili the best food for a road trip? Mebbe not, but if the shoe fits…
  2. We had a great hotel, though not one right by the convention center. We were close the airport, and the drive in was ten minutes and pretty much a straight shot with pretty much no traffic. We had a two bedroom suite with a third pullout bed, two bathrooms, and full kitchen. And free hot breakfast! And free internet! It was awesome! Oh, and our fifth person flew in and out, so that really helped with convenience for him.
  3. The food trucks! A whole slew of food trucks every lunch and dinner (they rotated in the afternoon) was an awesome way to get a quick bite to eat that was reasonably priced and typically great quality. There was also a really great coffee shop right next to where the food trucks were as well, Bee Coffee Roasters. There coffee was great (and essential to my functioning) and they were super cool.

    Just a bit of the decoration at the Ram brewery.
    Just a bit of the decoration at the Ram brewery.
  4. Which brings me to another point. Indianapolis really opened their doors to Gen Con. I’d read comments like this, but I really saw it in action. I really felt welcomed and wanted and valued every where I went. Great experiences from one restaurant to the next, to Uber drivers, hotel staff, convention center staff, everyone.
  5. The people were wonderful. Tens of thousands of gamers descended on Gen Con, and pretty much everyone I chatted with was awesome. I tend toward introversion, but I made a conscious effort to talk to people around me nearly all the time I was at Gen Con. It was a great decision because I met a ton of cool people doing rad things at an epic convention. I also spent a fair amount of time in lines, so what else are you going to do? Wednesday night, we stood in the will call line for a while. (I’ll write some more on this in my upcoming “things not to do” post) I ended up chatting the whole time with two fellows, and it was great. In hindsight, I wish I did a better job of writing down names or snapping pics of badges. One was from Tennessee and the other from Iowa and both had been to Gen Con multiple times before. They gave me great tips and we just had fun comparing stories, what gaming do we do, what we were looking forward to, and more. And this type of interaction repeated itself again, and again, and again. All show long, I reflected on a comment from my linemate from Iowa. He mentioned the opening remarks and how the host will say something like “welcome home” and how this reflected the camaraderie of the show. It struck me as quaint but unlikely to my virgin ears, but he was right. It felt like I was with friends the whole time I was there.

    A tiny sliver of the crowd waiting for the exhibit to open Thursday morning.
    A tiny sliver of the crowd waiting for the exhibit to open Thursday morning.
  6. It was huge! I was blown away. I go to trade shows pretty regularly for my job, and some big ones. Or so I thought. It was enormous. The whole convention center! And spilling over skyways to four or maybe five hotels connected! And to the stadium next door! I was walking about 9 miles a day while I was there and doing something from 8 AM until 1 or 2 in the morning pretty much every day.

I’ll do a couple more posts on Gen Con. Next I’ll cover a few things I would do differently going to future Gen Con events. After that, I’ll write up the really special stuff I saw or played while I was there.

A La Carte Review

Let’s review A La Carte!

Overview – A La Carte is primarily a lighter dexterity game for two to four players with a listed playing time of thirty minutes. It is recommended for ages 8 and up and both the theme and gameplay work well with children. The 2009 Fantasy Flight Games version of the game was used for this review.

Inside the Box – The components for A La Carte are excellent. As a dexterity game, you might expect that good quality and highly tactile components would add to the “feel” of the game, and that is certainly the case for pretty much everything found the box. From the cardboard stovetops with dials that you assemble to the plastic seasonings and their shakers to the metal cooking pans, the components are high quality and clearly “set the table” for a fun, engaging, and good-looking game experience.  All of the various Recipe and Coffee Cup tokens are easy to handle and the icons are clear and readable. The rulebook is short but clear with examples and illustrations. This game was easy to get on the table with a short, well-written rulebook, a small amount of component assembly, and about five minutes of set-up time.

Gameplay – In A La Carte, you play a chef trying to create perfect dishes. Each completed dish earns victory points and perfect dish earns a star. The game ends in one of two ways:

  1. A chef wins immediately upon finishing their third perfect dish.
  2. A chef prepares five dishes. The winner is determined by number of victory points.
  3. A chef cannot place a new dish in their pan. The winner is determined by the number of victory points.

Gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. First, you select your dish. Each dish token shows the temperature and condiments needed to prepare the dish. The dishes are also color-coded and loosely grouped by difficulty. You then have three actions each turn and can use them to add seasonings or heat your dish.

You season your dish by shaking a bottle filled with colored “chunks” of green, red, yellow, or black seasoning (herbs, paprika, lemon, or pepper respectively). Each shaker also has a few “chunks” of salt. One action can be used for one shake of a particular condiment bottle. The goal is to shake the correct number and type of condiments in to your pan, without overseasoning. A dish becomes overseasoned when it has three or more of the same condiment in the pan. Likewise, three or more salt will also overseason your dish.

You must also heat your dish to the correct temperature. You heat your stove by rolling a die, which will show you how much to change the temperature on your stove. Possible results also allow you to raise the temperature on everyone’s stove, raise your own stove your choice of 1 to 3 units, or get a Coffee Break.

Coffee Breaks are special actions, represented by tokens, that can make your mission to become the top chef easier or perhaps make the journey harder for your opponent chefs. And sometimes both. They may give you extra actions, allow you to switch stoves, add seasonings to another chef’s dish, or simply give you some victory points.

You can “complete” a dish by burning or overseasoning it, in which case it is thrown in the disposal. If the temperature and seasonings match the recipe exactly, you score a perfect dish star token and add the dish to your completed dish stack. You can successfully prepare the dish if you have the correct temperature and condiments along with a few extra condiments, so long as it is not overseasoned. In this case, you still add your dish to your completed stack. All of these empty your pan, and you can then choose a new dish. Your new dish must be of a different color than your successfully completed dishes, provided their are different colors available.

One final gameplay note regarding the Crepe! Everyone has a Crepe that they may choose to cook. In order to successfully cook the Crepe, you must heat your stove without burning the Crepe, but you must also flip the Crepe token to its opposite side with your pan. This can be nailed in the first attempt, or can tie up your pan for many turns.

Impressions – A La Carte when from sitting on the shelf in shrink-wrap to a regular on the gaming table, especially in family or party groups. Why? It is fun and funny. It looks fun and interesting. The theme is accessible and the game just exudes kitchen mayhem. This is in a large part due to the fantastic components. The stoves, pans, shakers, funny recipes with weird pictures all add up to a great looking and fun playing experience.

A La Carte is heavy in both dexterity and luck. Through no seeming fault of your own, you can get two salt crystals and no condiments of interest to come dropping out of the shaker with any given shake. Far more common is to shake and have nothing come out. Some players may find this to be frustrating, but we found the light theme and physical gameplay to simply make for fun and laughs. Likewise, the heating die is still more randomness, but if you burn your dish, then throw it in the disposal and grab another one. Players who dislike chance in their games or perhaps require a little more “gravitas” in a theme may not find A La Carte to their tastes.

Gamers looking for a fun game to play with groups across a range of ages and towards the lighter end of game experience should find A La Carte a good addition to their collection.

Roll of the Dice Rating – 8/10

  • Great theme supported by gameplay
  • Dexterity and luck elements make for light and fun atmosphere
  • Fantastic components take you in to the kitchen
  • Accessible to wide range of ages and gamer experience skill levels
  • High degree of chance may turn off some gamers
  • Dexterity elements may not appeal to everyone and could limit accesibility


Asmodee buys Days of Wonder

News came out this week of Asmodee acquiring Days of Wonder. It should be interesting to see what changes, if any, this heralds for the board game industry. Initial impressions seem that a combined Asmodee/DOW should strengthen Asmodee’s digital capabilities as well as expanding their footprint in North America. Conversely, DOW gets better access (maybe more seamless?) to the European market and a huge catalog of games.

What is harder to say is what this might have to offer gamers. I have spent a lot of time in my careers in industries that have undergone tremendous consolidation over the past several years. In fact, I would be surprised if there are many industries that haven’t. In general though, I have rarely felt that those consolidations trickled down to any real tangible benefit for me.

So I don’t think lower prices should be expected, and I would actually hope that wouldn’t accelerate the DOW publishing schedule. To me, DOW is the Blizzard of board games – slow, deliberate releases but they are always high quality. You could perhaps even extend the analogy further to a similar  emphasis on high quality production and mass market appeal, eschewing high-end geek only products. I like the DOW release schedule – it fits my buying and playing style.

If better logistics makes more Asmodee and more DOW games available to people on both sides of the Atlantic (and around the world), well, that is a clear win for the gamer. I think both the network and perhaps additional capital could help keep more games in print and available and distributed in a manner to get to more of us quicker.

It seem to me, the real meat of the deal though is the digital capability of DOW. Asmodee has to be salivating at the thought of getting access to that experience and know-how. As has been noted many times, DOW is very successful with their digital games (at least in no small part because the games they are based on are good) and that success drives board game sales. Conversely, I am sure I am not the only board gamer who started with the tabletop versions and since purchased the digital as well. Asmodee has a great catalog of print titles and I would expect we’ll start to see more of their offering on app stores soon.

It will take months to even see the beginnings of how this acquisition will impact the land of board games. It will be interesting to watch and see how it develops. Consolidation often takes place in bunches, too. Will we see a handful, or even a rush, of these over the next year? We could wait and see. In the meantime, I think I want to play Ticket to Ride

I first saw this news reported on boardgamegeek.com and VentureBeat has a nice article as well.

Troyes early impressions

Setting up Troyes
Setting up Troyes

We had a great time with our play of Troyes. There were a few rule misinterpretations during the game, but we sorted them out without much trouble. For example, in the first turn, when a player was out of dice in their quarter, they didn’t make any further plays. However, we quickly realized our error and corrected it in subsequent turns.

The game was very strong, and was surprisingly well recieved by the group. I say surprisingly because not all of us are Euro-gamers. The great art and the variety of actions quickly pulled us all in.

Upon some reflection, the theme does feel pasted on. However, that really didn’t detract from the look of the game nor the quality of the gameplay.

An exceptional positive is the depth to this game. As all brand new players, we started to see goals and plays. However, not being familiar with the event, activity, and character cards, the play should deepen quite a bit as players become more familiar with the game. Adding that element of deduction to the game as well as speculating on what activities or events may or may not come up offers tremendous potential to an already strong game.

Nearing the end!
Nearing the end!

Earth Reborn clean-up

We had a good time with our play through of Earth Reborn the other week, but upon completion, I had a big mess. I had a heap of counters and one cryptically compartmentalized vacuum tray in the box to figure it out.

The solution to these problems is always just a few clicks away at boardgamegeek.com and this was no exception. I found an outstanding guide to packing here:

Earth Reborn storage solution

That thread also had a link to a nice official file showing where the bits go in the tray. This took some geometric wrestling in my head to interpret, but once I “got it” things went back in the box pretty quickly.

Earth Reborn official vacuum tray “map”

All of that is really just preamble to my main point. It took me maybe 30 minutes to sort and place the different counters. It was a Sunday afternoon, my youngest was napping, and it was profoundly enjoyable. I find something quite therapeutic in carefully organizing a good board game and this was no exception.

Earth Reborn play session early impressions

Last evening, we did a play through of the first scenario of Earth Reborn. I was the “rules master” for this and did an adequate but not exceptional job of leading Adam and Denny through the basic rules and the first scenario.

Earth Reborn box cover image from boardgamegeek.com

The game was surprisingly well received, given that this is not the type of game either Denny or Adam would identify as in their wheelhouse. I think we are all quite excited about that though. Just a few games in, and this adventure has already given us exposure and playtime to games we may not have pulled off of the shelf otherwise.

The rule book and scenarios are explicitly laid out to guide you through learning the rules. In the first scenario, you employ the basic rules like turn order and actions. These are filled out with movement and close combat. That’s it. Given the amount of rules, I think this was an excellent decision and through the first scenario, everything was well laid out and accessible to first time players.

The bits were quite nice, though there were a ton of them. Punching and setting up the game took nearly as much time as playing the first scenario. It is also still sprawled over my table awaiting clean up and organization.

We’ll have some videos and a more thorough write up soon.

CabinCon break

We just completed our annual CabinCon, a four day festival of gaming in a cabin in the Pennsylvania mountains, this year by Raystown Lake.  It was a great chance to get some R&R, play some great games and enjoy the winter weather. Pat, Adam, Denny and I were joined by 10 others, many of whom you’ll meet over the next weeks and months.

We’ll be digging in to Dungeon Lords next week with Adam walking us through this game!


Dungeon Lords


A la carte Impressions

We just completed our play of A la carte, and it was delicious!

Sequence 01.Still001

Pat read the rules beforehand and walked Denny and I through. As we remarked when we opened up the game, the components are extremely high quality. In this case, the physical nature of the game really supports that. I don’t think the expense of the components is wasted; rather, it spices up the game nicely.

It took us just under an hour to finish our game, and I think  you could reasonably trim that time even further as you get comfortable with it. The rules were very well laid out, and Pat did a good job shepherding us along. This was a very easy game to get on the table, and I imagine it will continue to spend time there.