Gen Con is by far the largest convention I have ever attended. Massive vendor areas, huge variety of games and multiple venues kept me hopping the entire four days. Since there is so much I broke up my coverage into several posts over the next few days. Upcoming topics include my “True Dungeon” experience, the vendors, games we played and a post with my picks for the worst of Gen Con 2009. Rather than a travelogue, I hope to focus on the games and less on me. I am not interesting and you do not read my blog to hear about how cool I am because I got invitations to industry events or cavorted with notable game designers. I did neither at Gen Con. I go to GTS for that sort of thing. Gen Con is a gaming convention, so I gamed.
Today’s post covers the games I actually played and my thoughts on them. Additionally, Haaldaar attended with me, so he kindly agreed to include his thoughts on the various games we played together. Remember, these are not reviews, just play reports. I am considering reviewing some of these games at a later date. This is the first time I played any of these games, except where indicated. I am all about trying new games and Gen con is the place to do it.
Eclipse Phase is a brand new RPG from Catalyst Game Labs. It is a futuristic Sci-Fi world with body re-sleeving, high technology, transhumanism, and a destroyed earth left in our wake. Eclipse Phase uses a percentile system to adjudicate rules.
This game released at the show and sold out so fast I did not get a chance to actually look at the book. Happily, I did register for an introductory session and actually played it. I checked around the web today for other reports from Gen Con and chuckled when I realized most Gen Con news sources talked about “Eclipse Phase” a great deal, but never bothered to play it.
This science-fiction game takes place in the far future after the technological singularity. Humans can live forever using brain backups and body transplants. “Cortical Stacks” and “sleeves” was the game nomenclature. As an aside, this is also the same terminology from the Takeshi Kovacs novels and I thought Eclipse Phase owed a lot to that series of books. Though I give it credit for having a large and strange variety of PC race options, including a nanotechnological bug cloud, intelligent octopi and AI programs. And then it really starts to get strange…
The system was a straightforward percentile system for both skills and combat. Here is a scan of the pre-generated character I played.
Our adventure required the party to recover some “art” from an arms dealer. Turns out it is a WMD. Haaldaar, in a dramatic attack accidentally opened the Macguffin and killed the entire party. Happily, we were backed up on Cortical Stacks and raised in new bodies to adventure another day. The combat system worked well and the world is really odd and very transhuman. If you are a singularity fan or read a lot of Stross, you should feel right at home. I had fun, but would like to read the book before rendering a final judgment.
Haaldaar: I found Eclipse Phase fun to play, and the adventure we played was a good view of the game. For me, it felt like Cyberpunk extended to the entire solar system. I enjoyed the time playing, and the rules were simple and non-invasive to the roleplaying. My only complaint was that they had too many skills. Several situations arose were 2 or 3 skills could be used for the same task. While good in versatility, it would make it difficult to keep a character at the top of his game for certain abilities if he had to pay to upgrade 3 similar skills.
From a business point of view, there was lots of talk how Eclipse Phase sold out in minutes. Apparently Catalyst was only selling 25 books per day / 100 total books at the Con. 100 books at a con of 35,000 gamers? Nothing to report there except some gamers leaving broken-hearted. Several manufactures had issues getting their books from the printers, maybe Catalyst had the same problem. Either way, the success of this game is still to be determined.
Alpha Omega is a post-apocalyptic Earth RPG game from Mindstorm Labs.
This game came out last year, but this was my first game session. It is a post-apocalyptic setting that includes aliens that are the historical sources for angels and demon myths. Sadly, the angels and demons are at war and humans are right in the middle of it. Our mission was to protect a critical sewage treatment plant from attack. Yes, sewage treatment plant. Humor aside, we did some basic role-playing and then jumped into a combat. Combat and skill checks use a dice pool to determine success. I thought the setting interesting, but the dice mechanics were cumbersome and managing dice pools something of a chore. Even with my limited experience with this game, I think I shall pass on any Alpha Omega games.
I like their spin on the post-apocalyptic for the most part, though I did not care for the Angel/Demon aspect of this game. I found the rules overly complex and fairly clunky. Though, we did have a GM that was only so-so. When will companies realize that the GM’s that are out there for GenCon are basically their marketing arm? If they do nothing about DM quality control they are going to very publicly shoot themselves in the foot. That aside, the rule book is beautiful. I didn’t think that I would, but I did like the landscape layout. Also, their website is awesome.
Wings of War (WoW) is WWI or WWII plane combat a card game / historical miniatures game were players pre-plan maneuvers to try and line up their plane and shoot down their opponents. This Mega-Game of Wings of War was Hosted by the Northern Virginia Gamers (NOVAG).
WoW usually supports 2-4 players for the basic game. However, in this game, 53 pilots took to the air over France in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel.
I play Wings of War already, but the idea of a 60 plane mass battle was too good to pass up. It was the Germans versus the Allies in a battle with only one side the victor…the Germans! It was a bit tough at first to maneuver physically with 60 players, but some great shooting by the Germans thinned out the players and then it really got ugly.
The fortunes of war were cruel to the British. After three plus hours, the last British pilot fled the field after facing seven enemy planes. With three kills I took home third place and got this very nice silver promo plane. It was great fun and I am going to play again next year.
I have been into Wings of War for a few months now, and thought this Mega-Game was worthy of checking out at Gen Con. I was right, it was a lot of fun. There were more people that showed up than planned, so it didn’t run as smoothly as it could have. But hopefully they will get the kinks worked out for next year. My main complaint was the space. they set up tables in the “L” formation. The Allies on one side, the Germans on the other. There were just too many people packed around those little areas. They needed more table space, and better coordination to remove tables as there were less and less players. But all-in-all it was great fun! And my pilot, though he had a damaged engine in the second round, lived to tell the story.
RoboRally is a board game from Avalon Hill (aka WOTC aka Hasbro). You play the role of a supercomputer in a fully automated widget factory. These computers play a form of Race / BotWars with some of the factor robots. Basically, you pre-program five moves for your robot. And each turn, once of these moves is performed. It sounds easy. but it isn’t. It is very easy for your bot to be pushed, turned, and shot by other players or the board itself. And one slight deviation, and your pre-programmed moves deliver your robot to interesting locations.
As a first time player, I enjoyed Robo Rally, but I am not sure I would play regularly. I thought the sent back to start mechanic after death favored the early leaders and made “coming from behind” difficult. Repeated games may change my mind, but it was not my favorite board game.
I love this game, and have loved this game. The whole reason I played this at GenCon, was that WOTC was running a “If you win the game, you keep the board” event. Honestly, this game is really overpriced ($50 MSRP), so I wanted to try to win the game, since I can’t justify buying it. Well congratulations to me, I WON! Trask did horrible BTW. 🙂
Race for the Galaxy is a builder/victory points card game from Rio Grande games. The idea is similar to Puerto Rico where each person picks a “job” to do that round, and gets a bonus for it. You spend your resources (cards in hand) to find new worlds, build your military might, or arm your civilization with technological aids.
Ando Zane, a longtime friend is a huge fan of this game taught me how to play in an empty slot. Mechanically it bears more than a passing similarity to Puerto Rico, but there is more complexity and it is entirely card-based. Ando had a funny Gen Con 2009 story when he tried to talk rules with group of players he just met, only to discover one of the players was the game creator! Only at Gen Con. I enjoyed the game, but I am quite colorblind, so it was difficult for me to make out some of the card colors. Still, I will probably play again.
I found this game fun, fast paced, and easy to learn. I don’t think it was as similar to Puerto Rico as Trask. That was only in the job mechanic, and even that is different. One huge negative, and something I always get on game designers for is color choice. 8% of males are color blind, and that is a huge demographic. Please don’t pick green and brown to be a color we have to key on. It was difficult to play because of this, but I made it through.
Cutthroat Caverns is a card game from Smirk and Dagger Games. Each player chooses a dungeon delving character and joins a group pitted against 10 monsters. You have cards in your hand that you play that say how much damage you will do to the creature… and cards that screw your fellow party members. You have to work together to kill the creatures. But only enough so you are the one to land that death blow to get the fame.
Haaldaar and I entered the Cutthroat Cavern tournament for fortune and glory. This game is all about timing and knowing when to help the party and when to selfishly let them eat damage so you can steal the prestige for killing the monster. I made a miscalculation and wound up being the Wereboar trying to kill the party in the final encounter! I lost, but had a great time. This may be a regular game for me now.
As a fan of Munchkin, and seeing this on the FLGS shelf for months now, I was excited to try this out. Wow, I loved it. This was the gaming gem I found this GenCon. The game was fun, brilliantly designed, and easy to play. This might even replace most of my pick-up Munchkin games.
Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this post and more games we tore through at Gen Con 2009!
Trask, The Last Tyromancer