Gencon playtest

Testing, Testing

Game designers flock to the Gen Con convention to show off their latest works-in-progress. We put 12 of them through their paces.

By Samantha Nelson and Tasha Robinson • August 28, 2013

The monolith of Gen Con just keeps growing. In 2012, the games convention attracted more than 41,000 attendees to Indianapolis for a four-day weekend, which was a record—at least until the 2013 Con was attended by 49,000 people earlier this month. Attendees come to play board games, video games, role-playing games, and family games. They dress up in elaborate game-inspired costumes; they run through live-action combat simulators. They build elaborate towers of Magic cards and knock them down with coins that get donated to charity.

And they examine games, toys, books, miniatures, dice, costumes, and tons of other paraphernalia in the immense dealers’ room. Some companies use the dealers’ room to playtest upcoming games to see whether they work in the field. There’s also the First Exposure Hall, which this year featured 55 different pre-release games, rotating through two-hour playtest slots from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the convention.

The First Exposure Hall is a popular stop for indie game designers, who shake out the kinks in their games and ask for feedback from playtesters. They also spread the word about their funding efforts: Virtually every game we tried at Gen Con was running a Kickstarter campaign or planning one in the near future. We played games that are just about to hit the market and games in the earliest stage of development that may not be released for a year or two, if ever. We tried simple games that could be played over and over in a two-hour slot, and complicated ones where a single timeslot was only enough time to muddle through a single round of combat. And we talked to the designers, who were usually on site, eagerly showing off their games and fielding questions. Here are the 12 that interested us most.

Double Feature

Double Feature

The gist: Come up with a film to match the elevator pitch.

How it’s played: John Kovalic earns a good bit of hero worship at Gen Con, as he’s illustrated dozens of games, including Apples To Apples and Ninja Versus Ninja, and his popular, long-running comic, Dork Tower, is a font of humor about games. This year, he was at the Cryptozoic booth demoing his recently released party game, ROFL!, but he took a break to show us something else he and a few friends have designed: Double Feature, a film-trivia card game with a simple but grabby conceit.

There are six decks: characters, props, scenes, production, themes and genres, and settings. Players flip up two cards and then race to come up with a film that unites them. “Characters” might be something specific like “a hit man” or a concept like “changes identity.” “Production” might be “not always in English” or “animated.” If the two cards were “a hitman” and “not entirely in English,” players might say “La Femme Nikita,” “The Professional,” or even “Kill Bill 2,” which has some scenes in Mandarin.

Whoever gets out a plausible answer first—and can defend it if necessary—earns a point. There are just a couple more rules—the two cards must be from different decks, and it’s legit to re-use films or name prequels or sequels, but not back-to-back—but mostly, it’s that simple. It’s a fast-paced, easy, addictive game for film fans, and it’s extremely flexible as a trivia game, since its tropes are broad enough to apply to any generation.

Release status: This was one of the few pre-release games at Gen Con without a Kickstarter planned, since it’s coming from an established company. Kovalic said, “Cryptozoic bought the game concept after a 10-minute presentation. Those are the kinds of meetings I love.” Double Feature’s release is tentatively scheduled for the second quarter of 2014. While the demo deck we played with solely features text layout, the final versions will have Kovalic’s art. [Tasha Robinson]

Mazaki No Fantaji

Mazaki No Fantaji

The gist: A fantastical role-playing game that welcomes variations on a theme.

How it’s played: A liberal, enthusiastic gamemaster is an absolute must for Mazaki No Fantaji, Anthropos Games’ collaborative storytelling game. Each encounter starts with a handful of themes and conditions, and players are invited to draw on them in order to do amazing things. The aesthetic is pure over-the-top combat anime: Players might describe themselves as breathing fire, bouncing rapidly off walls, or disappearing into shadow, and if they can justify it within their character paradigms and the battle’s established themes, they not only get away with it, they get a bonus for their dice rolls.

Other games use the “Describe something really cool and you’re more likely to succeed” idea, but Mazaki No Fantaji codifies it with a flexible system that encourages creativity. During each round, players can “make a move” by playing to a single theme or trait in order to gain tokens that can unlock tremendous powers. Alternately, they can “make an attack,” which can play to any number of themes and conditions on the table, or create new ones. The result is a freewheeling, over-the-top game of pretend, with everyone describing increasingly wild and dramatic feats, akin to a multiplayer version of Axe Cop. It’s up to the gamemaster to both encourage players’ imaginations and match them with equally colorful villain actions, but the system’s energetic tone helps.

Release status: A Kickstarter is currently running and wraps in early October. If funded, the game is scheduled for release in June next year, although the basic rules are already available for free download on Anthropos’ website. [TR]

Where Wolf?

Where Wolf?

The gist: Werewolf without the waiting.

How it’s played: The way Orkshop Games’ Joe White tells it, he enjoys playing Werewolf (the Mafia-style party game repackaged for a new generation by Looney Labs and Bezier Games, among others) but got frustrated by the way players are eliminated from the game and have to sit out, isolated from the fun. So he refitted another popular, been-around-forever party game, Pit, into a werewolf game with no eliminations. (“I could have gone with zombies,” he says, “but those are so overdone right now.”) Where Wolf? operates in trading rounds, during which each player tries to build a nine-of-a-kind hand of a resource useful for fending off a werewolf once the sun goes down: wolfsbane, dog food, pitchforks, torches, etc.

There are only nine of each suit—the dealer can easily scale the game between three and eight players by building a deck with one suit per player—so frantic trading is in order as each player tries to exchange unwanted resources for desired ones by offering blind trades of matching cards. Players shout what they’re offering—”One card!” “Three cards!” “Four cards!” and trade across the table with people making matching offers; meanwhile, everyone tries not to get stuck with the werewolf, the wild-card equivalent of the Old Maid. A trading round usually takes about 90 seconds. Whoever collects nine of a kind first (and howls like a wolf to end the round) gets points, and the dealer gets a chance to earn more by figuring out who has the Werewolf card. (The person who has it is docked points.) It’s a simple game but a fun, frenetic one, with players perpetually invited to feel that it doesn’t matter if this hand went badly; the next one will be better.

Release status: White had a fully finished sample deck for the game, with art by d20monkey’s Brian Patterson, but the rules were still a bit in flux—the cards also had point values, and he’s trying to decide whether to eliminate those, or use them in a variant. He also ended Gen Con with a drinking version of the game, which he said went “stunningly well, almost too well.” He’s planning on a mid-September Kickstarter, “with shipping by Christmas, crossing fingers.” [TR]

Fate Of The Norns: Immortals

Fate Of The Norns: Immortals

The gist: A Norse-themed game that tinkers with role-playing game tradition.

How it’s played: Andrew Valkauskas’ Norse-mythology RPG Fate Of The Norns has been around for decades in PDF form, but it’s experienced a resurgence after a successful 20th-anniversary Kickstarter. Now he’s expanding it further. In the core version, players are Vikings, fighting mythic battles and becoming mighty warriors. In the latest expansion, those characters can end their mortal growth by dying in glorious battle. Then, if fate and the dice approve, they’re carried to Valhalla to become epic-level supernaturals, honing their skills while waiting for the final battles of Ragnarok.

Fate Of The Norns has a unique, immensely complicated system, and trying to grasp this expansion as starting players was like launching a high-level Dungeons & Dragons game with a bunch of first-timers—in a two-hour playtesting slot, at that. But while the brief playtest blurred by, some things stood out, like the combat system based entirely on Norse runes.

The art of Fate Of The Norns is all stylish and striking, with a Nordic aesthetic and an autumnal color palate. Nothing about the game is standard or intuitive, from the character-creation system (which involves working your way outward on a grid from a central block, picking up skills as you go) to the battle tracking, with its flowing, mysterious, treelike grid. But its sheer artistry is appealing, and the setting is rich. It’s a break from standard RPGs and an attempt to grasp something different. Also, Immortals players get to experience ridiculous powers—for instance, by stomping around as a 21-foot giant whose footsteps cause earthquakes and stun enemies. It’s enjoyable both on a story level and on a wish-fulfillment level.

Release status: Valkauskas is currently running a sadly underfunded Kickstarter to produce Lego-esque terrain blocks for tactical games. Once that ends, the Immortals Kickstarter is scheduled for October. [TR]

Who’s Your Heavenly Father

Who's Your Heavenly Father

The gist: Players vie to please a god whose values are shrouded in mystery.

How it’s played: There is only one true god. But who is he, and what does he want from his followers? That’s the open question in Who’s Your Heavenly Father. At the beginning of the game, one card is removed from a deck of 10 possible deities, and each player gets to peek at one of the remaining “false gods.” Each god assigns different values to the game’s four attributes: justice, benevolence, selfishness, and xenophobia. If God is a cat, you’ll be rewarded for selfishness, while the divine version of Batman values justice above all else.

You play by drawing and playing cards, some of which let you reveal more false gods as you try to figure out what attributes you should pursue and which should be avoided. Most of the cards let players target each other with “moral dilemmas,” which include classic ethical questions like the trolley problem and common religious quandaries like whether to obey your faith’s dietary restrictions. There are also goofy scenarios, like one that asks how you react when an extraterrestrial shows up at your doorstep.

Stentor Danielson, the game’s developer, said that the structure of the game is locked in, but he’s working on punching up the humor in the moral dilemmas. He also wants to add more material to keep long games fresh and cull the dilemmas based on current events. One nice element of the game is that players determine when it ends, calling for Judgment Day when they feel like they’re in the lead, and preventing the all-too-common problem of slogging through turns when the outcome has already been determined.

Release status: Gen Con marked the first major playtesting for Who’s Your Heavenly Father, along with two other games Danielson and his partner Jasmine Davis are developing under the name Glittercats. While they’re still trying to figure out the best way to sell and market their products, they’re considering a Kickstarter in spring 2014. [Samantha Nelson]



The gist: Space-based tactical warfare with a rich story.

How it’s played: Ed and Adam Coles, a father-and-son team, designed eXnilo as a game to play themselves and with the rest of their family. But when they got the idea to bring it to Gen Con, they spent 45 days working on a sharp-looking version of two decks they’d been using. The play of this sci-fi themed trading card game will feel familiar to fans of Starcraft and other real-time strategy video games. Players have two decks, using one for random draws and card plays. Playing resource cards like the “supply depot” lets you produce one of the core building materials, such as metal or energy, which are in turn used to build production facilities. Once you have these, they can be activated to make units from a separate deck. The goal is to destroy the other player’s command station, and while you can ignore their units to go straight to the base, you’ll often need to attack them to keep them from blowing up your own stuff. Games are quick—one playthrough takes about 20 minutes with practiced players, though an imbalance in luck or skill can make things go even faster.

Story is important to the Coles, and they were excited to talk about their world, where humans living on the moon come into conflict with intergalactic liquid aliens and artificial intelligence acting on the last mandates of its long-dead creators. They imagine expansions to the base game moving the plot along and even determining story elements based on tournament outcomes.

Release status: The positive response at Gen Con was encouraging for the Coles, who are now seeking investors and trying to determine the cost of producing eXnilo. [SN]

What?!? Oh…

What?!? Oh…

The gist: Hell is other people, but you have to feign interest.

How it’s played: It’s hard to explain the appeal of What?!? Oh…, a card game about trying to avoid getting caught while you’re ignoring a partner during a boring conversation. Suffice to say that it’s a hypnotic, addictive game that operates at roughly the speed of Uno, with a lot of sly humor built in. Players flip random cards to establish an emotion (dejected, jubilant, and so forth), a setting (at the gym, on a roller coaster) and an opening remark. They continue the conversation by reading and tossing in face-down conversational cards. Some feature noncommittal responses like “Anything you say, honey,” or “Whatever.” Others are generic compliments, non sequiturs, or passive-aggressive accusations. (”This isn’t getting us anywhere.”) But some cards change the subject, and others are challenges, like “What did I just say?” Players win the round by throwing in a question that other players neglect to register and answer because they get caught up in their own side of the conversation.

Sharp players out to win could presumably hang onto their cards, ignore the flow, and just listen. But it’s necessary to cycle through the cards quickly to find the round-winning question cards, and fun to try to keep the conversation relevant and cogent, based on the cards in your hand. It’s a silly, quick game. The free print-and-play PDF that designer Chris Henderson set up on his website, linked above, gives a sense for the basics. What?!? Oh… can be played in about 15 minutes, but it’s easy to hit a rhythm and play over and over.

Release status: Henderson says the Kickstarter will be out in “about a month.” [TR]

Super Turbo Bit Crawl FX Alpha Xtreme

Super Turbo Bit Crawl FX Alpha Xtreme

The gist: Like a boss fight.

How it’s played: Inspired by 8-bit role-playing games, Super Turbo Bit Crawl FX Alpha Xtreme players explore a randomly generated dungeon to reach a final boss. The dungeon expands as players flip tiles each time they move into a new room. Splitting the party isn’t advisable, because once all the players have acted, a die roll determines where monsters pop up, and their power and numbers are determined by how many players are in the game, not how many are in place to fight them. Battles are simple, with players rolling their attack dice while someone rolls for the enemies’ defense. Each class is equipped with cool, though not particularly balanced, special powers that can change things up, whether it’s the paladin healing or the beastmaster granting extra turns.

When the tile representing the lair of the final boss is flipped, everyone is teleported there for the battle. But at the end, things tend to fall apart. In our playtest, table talk let us plan a way to kill a dragon by using special powers on her before she could even breathe fire. The developer running the game said he saw groups fail because they were obsessed with their final scores, rather than actually beating the boss, so they wouldn’t share buffs or items. But it’d be hard to lose this game if the players take even a mildly cooperative approach.

Release status: A Kickstarter is planned for January. [SN]

Thunderscape: The World Of Aden

Thunderscape: The World Of Aden

The gist: A strange, venerable RPG world returns in need of some tweaks.

How it’s played: Aden first appeared in the ’90s as the setting for a fantasy trilogy, two computer games, and two tabletop role-playing-game supplements, but it has been dormant since then. Kyoudai Games acquired the rights to the game this year, and is developing Thunderscape: The World Of Aden as a campaign setting for Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder RPG.

It’s definitely a fun world to play in, combining sword-and-sorcery with steampunk. The premise: A once-peaceful fantasy world has turned to machine-based magic. This desperate measure is an attempt to ward off the threat of the Darkfall, which has ripped apart nations and brought local horror stories to life. Thunderscape would be a good pickup for fans of the Eberron setting of Dungeons & Dragons, since it shares some of the same themes and bizarre campaign possibilities. For instance, our playtest included an elf that let spirits possess her, a rhino-person seer, a warrior with a bionic arm, and a gun-toting lizardman who tried to get an ice-breathing bear-monster out of a gnome’s library and back in its magical enclosure.

Even for those not interested in the setting, the book provides new classes, races, feats and monsters that can be incorporated into existing Pathfinder campaigns without eclipsing the core content. Unfortunately, they’re not all created equal. The entomancer seems like an underpowered bug-themed druid, while the steamwright, an engineer who makes items for the party, had to be reined in by interventions from the developers several times during Gen Con. The seer, who provides some clever party-support effects, like preventing enemies from sneak-attacking, got the mix right. The developers said they’d be taking suggestions seriously to tweak their rules, so the classes will hopefully be more balanced by the book’s release.

Release status: Thunderscape’s Kickstarter was fully funded in April—the Gen Con playtesting was actually an additional “stretch” goal. The book is expected to be released in October in hardcover and PDF form. [SN]

Sentinel Tactics

Sentinel Tactics

The gist: A superhero card game series gets head-to-head action.

How it’s played: For cooperative fun and sheer replayability, it’s hard to beat Sentinels Of The Multiverse, Greater Than Games’ successful superhero card game, in which players pick pre-built hero decks and take on one of many cleverly designed villain decks. After a series of popular, overfunded Kickstarters for Sentinels expansions, Greater Than Games is now branching out into new works—Galactic Strike Force was funded on Kickstarter in May, along with the latest Sentinels expansion/spin-off, Vengeance. Sentinels Tactics, a new spin-off that takes the game in an entirely new direction, was announced in August and is just now in the testing phase.

At a Gen Con booth with row upon row of play tables for Sentinels, co-designer Luther Hendricks was relegated to a lone table on the edge, showing off a handmade series of foamcore boards with little paper standees that represented existing Sentinels heroes divided into battling teams. Like the art, the rules are in flux, but the basic structure gives each character a movement, attack, and defense score, along with a small deck of powers. Players take turns stepping around the board, dealing with terrain, and making dice rolls to pound on each other. All the while, they’re accumulating (and using) extra attack and defense bonuses, and deciding which powers from their deck to keep active. The attack-and-defend setup is simple, repetitive, and a bit draggy—in a six-player game, an average turn involved one attacker, one defender, and four entirely uninvolved players patiently waiting for the game to get around them.

But Hendricks’ description of the eventual plans for the game were more exciting. Ultimately, he said, Sentinel Tactics should involve a variety of scenarios, where heroes face off against each other, or fight a player representing a villain (“A competitive scenario is one of the things people keep telling us they miss in Sentinels,” he said), or cooperatively fight an environmental scenario, like a malfunctioning monorail about to crash. At the moment, Tactics could use more polish and more variability, but the basics of the game suggest something entirely different from Sentinels, while drawing on a rich existing universe.

Release status: Hendricks said Tactics’ Kickstarter is due by the end of 2013, with the game release in early 2014. [TR]

Incredible Expeditions: Quest For Atlantis

The gist: A deck-building game that overwhelms players with choices.

How it’s played: Deck-building games like Dominion and Ascension are popular right now, and understandably so, since the framework is equally appealing to players (who can get a lot of variety and replay value out of even a basic set) and profit-minded designers (who can pump out expansions at a rate to rival Magic). Liz Spain’s first solo game, after a number of collaborative credits on Flying Frog games, crosses the deck-building system with resource management and exploration. Players venture into a Lovecraft-inspired steampunk world of horrors on their way to the recently discovered island of Atlantis. Up to five players start with an empty ship, a specific character who comes with a special power, some starting resources, and a limited but expandable deck of cards. They take turns going to market to buy better cards and hire crew members. When they’re ready, players set out for Atlantis, hitting dangerous encounters along the way (“Factory Of A Forgotten Age,” for instance, or “Desolate Plateau”) and struggling to muster the resources to keep going.

Quest For Atlantis’ primary downside is that individual turns can take a while, as players experience what Spain calls “analysis paralysis” while examining all their options and figuring out how to use their crew abilities and their supplies of money, heroism, and skullduggery. There are occasional opportunities for players to sabotage each other, or to be forced to help each other. But mostly, each player races to the finish line in isolation. The upside, though, is that the competition forces hard choices: Do you hang back to marshal resources and risk falling behind, or do you press ahead with an incomplete hand or limited crew? With a limited number of berths and few ways to dispose of non-optimal crew members, crew decisions are particularly crucial, but the overarching race encourages everyone to press forward, guaranteeing that a game can be played in a few hours. Gorgeous, sometimes funny art and a lot of variable options add to the impression that this is a carefully designed, smartly realized game with depth.

Release status: The initial Kickstarter is fully funded and heading into stretch goals, with some time left to run. The game release is planned for March 2014. Spain confirms that she’s already planning the next Incredible Expeditions game, which will be set in a completely different era and a different genre (still to be determined). She also says the final version of Quest For Atlantis will have alternate rules for cooperative play, which could alter the flow of play substantially. [TR]

Asgard’s Chosen

Asgard's Chosen

The gist: A complex, vicious fight for territory in a small realm.

How it’s played: Much as Quest For Atlantis does, Mayfair’s latest game from designer Morgan Dontanville combines game types for a complicated, deep experience. Asgard’s Chosen has less humor, though, and less forward momentum. This is a game that could easily take four hours to play, and players might well approach it with the gravity and focus of professional chess.

Players take turns claiming land on a small modular board where each controllable space has a land type: hills, lakes, scrub, bogs, and so on. Players who control a land type can also seize control of the relevant creatures who live there, essentially buying the animals for use in their deck. You can also control towns, which make it possible to buy items that offer combat bonuses. Eventually, everyone ends up fighting each other on the small board, grappling for the limited lands and taking dramatic actions to placate the Norse gods. Each god is represented by a card that grants favors, until victory conditions are met, which removes the god from the game and turns it into victory points.

There’s much more competition in Asgard’s Chosen than in Quest For Atlantis, as players fight over resources and placement, or sometimes fight just to please the gods. You have to keep your eye on the long game as opposed to a sprint for the finish line. Players must be prepared to settle in and build deep, diverse decks of creatures and control as many types of land as possible, while fending off competition. It’s sometimes frustrating, since there are many choices in play style and strategy, and all of them could be wrong based on the luck of the draw, but overall the game rewards careful patience and planning.

Release status: Asgard’s Chosen would be on the market now if not for a shortfall at the printer, which left Dontanville’s game without boxes. He expects to see it on shelves in September. [TR]

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87 Responses to “Testing, Testing”

  1. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    Whoa, Double Feature sounds awesome and totally up my alley. Boardgames!

    Also I live sort of near where Gencon is and am torn on wanting to revel in boardgame nerdiness and also not wanting to be around people who revel in boardgame nerdiness. 

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      You haven’t yet come to terms with that special nerd feeling of hating-yourself-but-maybe-others-a-bit-more?
         I think I can sum up my entire life by paraphrasing Groucho Marx: “I don’t want to belong to any club that I want to be a member of.”

      • PaganPoet says:

        Oh. But I baked you a cake to celebrate being officially invited to join the No Spacemonkeys Club tonight. I hope you didn’t take my attempts to destroy you too seriously. *slurps martini*

      • TashaRobinson says:

        How DOES one come to terms with that feeling? I’m still working on it. Also, I wasn’t invited to join the No Spacemonkeys Club, and I’m feeling left out.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          See, I’d play boardgames with some AV Club people, but have you looked at the boardgamegeek website? It’s like THE place for boardgames online and all the people there are so… eugh… 

          Also doesn’t help that the one time i went into a nerdstore looking to get a new game everyone was really weird and i didn’t know which ones were employees and also it smelled bad. They only had like four boardgames anyway!

        • udjibbom says:

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus back when i lived in madison, my ex-wife and i used to pick up weird boardgames at thrift stores and garage sales, sometimes just because it looked goofy – like some boardgame for adults in a pink box which was just called “The Drinking Game” if i remember right… anyhow, we regularily hung out with a dude who was huge into the whole boardgamegeek-culture, getting into nerd-competitions with other dorks about their collections… he got super-jealous when it turned out we had five or six boardgames that were apparently really rare and which would have given him a bunch of nerd-cred on this website. this is coming across like some kind of half-ass humblebrag but i just always thought it was funny that this dude got so invested in what a bunch of other nerds on the internet thought about his game collection.

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      Board games: board often not included.

      I’d say I like board games, but to be frank, learning a board game is usually my least favorite part of the experience. Learning half-a-dozen new games or so over one weekend isn’t exactly my idea of a great time, especially if it involved a convention hall filled with total strangers.

      • i and 1 says:

        I really enjoyed the write-up, but on top of everything you’re saying, some of these games just aren’t ready yet apparently.  Spending a couple hours in this room might be a “roll of the dice” in more ways than one.  I’d have to try it if I was there, but I have to think 6 or so would be tough, at least for me.

        Then I wonder what I’d even be doing there? Play a favorite game with strangers? I guess I imagine myself looking at a lot of cool artwork, people-watching, and maybe tuning in to what games have got some buzz, and which ones of those are my kind of thing. Of course you get to sit down for a while if you play something…

        • TashaRobinson says:

          For what it’s worth, I decided not to write up the games I played that were clearly still nowhere near ready for market. There were a couple of those, and they were dull and frustrating. So yes, the First Exposure hall is a gamble. But the payoff is trying something new and being able to direct people toward worthy projects in the phase where they most need support.

        • udjibbom says:

          i’ve gone to gen-con about a half-dozen times or so and having a group of multiple friends to roam the vendor halls with and meet up for game playing really made the experience worthwhile for me. playing marathon networked games of midimaze with friends, back in 1989 or so, was probably one of the most giddy, goofy-fun things i’ve done in the last 25 years or so.
          i have a friend who has attended more than 30 years running but i don’t love games that much – the last time i went, two years ago, i got together with a friend from 6th grade for lunch and then we met up with about half a dozen other guys to play D&D for about 10 hours in the lobby of a nearby hotel. [we even wore suits to make it classy!] it was a lot of fun, but i didn’t even go into the convention hall until the last couple hours of the last day.

      • boardgameguy says:

        Many cons also have open play rooms. So if you don’t want to learn new games, go with a group of friends or find a few people you like. You can then play the games you like with people you enjoy while having access to the show rooms and all the rest to see what is coming down the pike.

        I’ve only played a few demo games and my experience hasn’t been great, but the final versions end up being surprisingly cool after being balanced and tweaked.

    • SamPlays says:

      It’s interesting how people can revel in something that sparks their interest yet withdraw when other people are thrown into the mix. This is somewhat related and I’m only thinking about this because it’s a focus of my work right now. Not necessarily game-related but the concepts still apply.

      *pushes up glasses*

      Games are inherently competitive or cooperative and our performance is affected by the presence of others and/or criteria by which to evaluate performance. Generally speaking, when presented with a task, we’re able to determine whether or not we have the competencies to perform successfully. In other words, we are mostly self-aware of our efficacy at any given task. For example, I feel confident in my ability to ace Super Mario Bros. but I lack total confidence in my ability to properly cook a creme caramel. Furthermore, when presented with a task, people are generally concerned with performing well. We want to look good to ourselves and others. From this self-presentation view, the presence of others and/or performance standards increase our state of arousal. This could mean increased blood pressure, faster heart rate, engorged genitals, etc. If we have high self-efficacy, our performance increases during this state of arousal but if self-efficacy is low, performance is impaired. It’s basically the fine line between being challenged (high self-efficacy) and threatened (low self-efficacy) when we’re expected to perform in the public domain. In the case of playing board games with people who also revel in board game nerdiness, having little confidence in your ability to succeed may constitute a threat and you’re more likely to avoid the situation altogether.

      Conclusion 1: Never play games with people who are more skilled than you. 

      Corollary 1: Never make creme caramel for someone who is better than you at making creme caramel.

      Conclusion 2: Never play games that hold your performance to predetermined standards of success. 

      Corollary 2: Never make creme caramel. Ever. They’re fucking impossible.

      Another perspective, albeit related, is social categorization. To varying degrees, we categorize ourselves and others into social groupings. Group identification serves multiple roles. Sociobiology suggests there is a genetic disposition to behave differently towards members and non-members of our group(s). As with all things evolution-related, this behavior is motivated by the pursuit of inclusive genetic fitness. 

      Conclusion 3: Only sleep with people who are amendable to cooperative prosocial arrangements and possess desirable morphology.Corollary 3: Never sleep with board game nerds. Their gene pool is weak and partially sterile.

      Furthermore, social identification theories posit that group categorization fulfills intrinsic needs such as shared/equitable experience and outcomes, self-enhancement (increasing self-worth), self-validation (increasing certainty of your self-image) and optimizing distinctiveness (we want to feel included but want to remain as distinct individuals). It’s possible that you have conflicted feelings about playing with board game nerds because your personal interests are inhibited by the status and stereotypes associated with board game nerds. Furthermore, your desire to play board games with individuals similar to yourself is incompatible with your perception of those who share your interest. In other words, your motivation to be included is overwhelmed by your need to be socially distinct from board game nerds.

      Conclusion 4: Social groupings play a powerful role in dictating our sense of identity and subsequent behavior in the real world.

      Corollary 4: Board game nerds are an undesirable segment of the population and should be cordoned to a controlled environment for experimental testing and attrition management.

      • MintBerry_Crunch says:

        Right, got it. We need to bake nerds into créme caramels. 

        *Blinks slowly*

        Though really, I love the ways the unconscious and group/social dynamics works! The internet (well, world) would probably be a smidgen better if we realized how unwitting we are to social structures and our unconscious.

        • SamPlays says:

          My first experiment involves force feeding creme caramel to nerds paired with positive or negative performance feedback and then measuring the flaccidity of their erections. I’m co-authoring this study with Dr. Krieger from ISIS.

      • MintBerry_Crunch says:

        Wasn’t Krieger made out to be the Pita Predator? I’d keep an eye on those créme caramels. 

        (Unless that factors into the study.)

      • The_Helmaroc_King says:

        Well, I’m glad to see that someone around here can finish a thesis, but we didn’t necessarily mean to post it here.

        (Although the dynamics of the situation are actually quite interesting. I would also suggest that this might be a case of a benign or desirable trait that loses value as the number of people within a group with that trait increases, but that’s only supported if Fyodor’s usual social group has other board game nerds.)

        • SamPlays says:

          Thesis days are loooooong gone. It could be that Fyordor IS the board game nerd in his regular group, which may be constituted by a more diverse set of individual competencies. A well-rounded combination of people would include a pick-pocket, mechanic, security expert, con man, sniper, acrobat, and last but not least, board games nerd. The fact that GenCon is ONLY constituted by board games nerds might imply that task performance on heists will be severely diminished. Thus, his motivation could be a matter of accepting a more accomplished group.

      • sirslud says:

        I work in the AAA game space as a developer, and the numbers are very surprising. Take a game like CoD – 10 hours of single player, and a huge community of people who pump 100+ hours into it. Clearly, the multiplayer is where the value lies (in terms of replayability) for your hard earned 60$. But the percentage of buyers who actually spend 60$ on CoD or BF3 and then go online and play online? For all the reasons you state, it’s not above 20%. Even I get intimidated by certain MMORPG communities, and I’m a lifelong gamer and multiplayer enthusiast.

    • Uncle Roundy says:

      On first read I misunderstood the point of Double Feature and thought you were supposed to make up a pitch for a fake movie with the combined qualities on the cards drawn. Frankly I think that sounds a lot of fun as well, as it has that playing-the-judge quality that takes Apples to Apples from merely great to transcendent.

      • misterfilmgeek says:

        I did this too, thinking of the scene in The Player where Peter Gallagher makes up movie pitches from random newspaper articles.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        That’s what I thought then I looked over it again but it sounds like an awesome trivia/arguing game. But that first part where you make up a movie can sort of be seen in the semi-mainstream boardgame Balderdash. On each card in Balderdash it has a number of obscure words, people, movie titles, laws, and abbreviations. Players write out what they think the significane/meaning/plot/whatever depending on the category. 

        So you get an obscure movie title and make up a story for it and whoever’s is the most convincing gets a point. I think they are all real movies, but they are like REALLY obscure so your odds of knowing them is pretty low. The only one i ever actually knew the answer to was C.H.U.D. and that was in the abbreviations category.

        • udjibbom says:

           I have no idea what B.R.S. is actually an abbreviation for but I wrote down “Bros Row to Shows” once and wound up getting the most points, just because everyone thought it was so fuckin’ hilarious.
          this may have had something to do with the deplorable amounts of alcohol we were consuming…

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Seriously, this is some article. Nice work all around.

  2. Merve says:

    What?!? Oh… looks like it could be mighty fun, especially if you play it at a fast pace. I’ve been looking for more party games to bring to game nights, and this could fit the bill.

  3. AreisReising says:

    Is Liz Spain aware that she just used David Foster Wallace’s idea of the worst possible state of human emotion to describe her board game? I think I’ll pass.

  4. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Some of these sound kinda interesting.

    eXnilo has a cool sci-fi bent.

    Who’s Your Heavenly Father? could have some decent social play to it. It’s not clear from the article, but I assume there’s a game master involved, otherwise I don’t see how players can keep track of their scores with an unknown deity.

    Super Turbo Bit Crawl FX Alpha Xtreme sounds kinda interesting, although it sounds like, instead of a game master, all of the dungeon business is handled by random draws and dice rolls.

    Oddly enough, Where Wolf? sounds nearly identical to a game I first played tonight called Pit. The goal of the latter is to assemble a hand of nine like cards (representing commodities) by making blind trades for equal numbers of cards and each round ends when a player calls their hand of nine; first to get a certain number of points wins. There’s also a bull and a bear card that changes things up a little bit, although you’re punished if you lose a round when holding either.

    • pixburgher says:

      I’m struggling to understand if there’s any difference at all between Pit and Where Wolf?.  I haven’t played Pit since freshman year of college so I can’t say I remember the details of the game perfectly, but the description of Where Wolf? failed to provide a sense of there being anything new.

      I really love the sound of Who’s Your Heavenly Father although I hate that title.  Definitely the most interesting to me of the twelve, although Double Feature could be hella fun to play.  With my understanding of the gameplay, I don’t think a game master would be necessary for WYHF.  I gather that players collect points in the different attribute (justice, benevolence, selfishness, xenophobia) through gameplay. I would think players could keep track of these themselves.  Then when the game ends the players final score would be calculated according to the mystery god’s multiplier which I imagine could be along the lines of “Justice x 2, Benevolence x 1/2, Selfishniss x 0, Xenophobie x -1”

      • Samantha Nelson says:

        You are correct. You get chips indicating the different attributes and then apply the true god’s multipliers to them once he’s revealed. There aren’t even fractions.

      • TashaRobinson says:

        I’m not sure there is any real difference between Pit and Where Wolf except the branding — much as the various Werewolf games (also including games like “Do You Worship Cthulhu”) are just repackaging an existing party game.

      • udjibbom says:

        Who’s Your Heavenly Father has to be a play on that classic/creepy porn standby: “Who’s Your Daddy?”, right?
        assuming i have the refernece correctly slotted [not a pun!] i guess i can see why they chose the name but i think pixburhger is right: it’s not a great name.

  5. Calvin Holt says:

    As someone who’s been trying to design a board game for over a year, this was fun to read.

    More board game articles and write-ups would be neat too. I’d love to read about tabletop games from the Gamelogical slant.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      What are your thoughts about the process of designing a game?

      • Calvin Holt says:

        Cultivating fun is trickier than you’d expect. You need to think of a concept and build it quickly to test if it’s any fun. Building around a mechanic you haven’t tested is never something you want to do. Trial and error are your best friends. 

        More like cruel best friends, because the people who play your creations MUST MUST MUST be able to talk about everything they don’t like. You must be willing to hear that this thing you’ve built sucks and move on, taking that knowledge to your next idea.

        That’s why it’s best not to invest your time in an untested product. For my first board game, I spent a month designing over a hundred different cards. When I thought the game was “ready” for testing, it fell apart. It was rough, but I learned my lesson that day. (It’s easy to think that adding X, Y, and Z will improve your design, but usually it clutters it up that much more.)

        My advice to those who want to give board game design a try, in no helpful order:

        Iterate and playtest your game constantly. Find inspiration outside of games. Play to theme. Adding complexity doesn’t always equate to increased fun. Start simple. Defend your ideas. Never get emotionally attached to your design. Embrace critiques. *Have fun*.

    • boardgameguy says:

      I’d be curious to hear too, as I’ve been doing the same off and on for about a year. Did you start with a theme? A mechanic? A rule set?

      Being new to it, I figured I would start by mixing a few different mechanics that I’ve seen used well to create the feeling of something new. I also focused on having a small rule set that creates options for choice and am hoping (although this is tough) to find an appropriate theme where the available actions and decisions make thematic sense.

      Turns out, this isn’t easy. Let alone all the possible rule variants to play test. It’s a bear.

      • Calvin Holt says:

        I kept starting each new idea with one requisite: combat between players. Each new design approached combat differently, until I came to the realization that combat is a bitch and a half to design.

        Now that I’ve strayed away from it, it’s as if a tremendous weight has been lifted. My designs are simpler, and they’re easier to create and playtest. I love games with combat. Magic: the Gathering is like, my favorite game ever, but it’s important to know your limits.

        @ boardgameguy,

        What kind of mechanics are you employing? I believe that you can find a theme for your game, but it may be a bad idea to play into something that your game isn’t.

        I worry that compiling too many mechanics might be too much. I’ve read about first-time designers who want to make a deck-building, trading card game with modular boards. Those don’t end happily.

        • Cliffy73 says:

          Do you read Mark Rosewater’s column on the Magic website? He talks about game design within the context of Magic, but some of what he says is of more general applicability.

        • boardgameguy says:

          I’m attempting to mix a card based movement system (see: Cartagena) with individual secret goals (see: Ankh Morpork). Players chase other players around a board and have set locations to visit as well. So light deduction and hand management, hopefully played in 15 to 30 minutes. The current theme that seems like a best fit is around pickpockets, potentially at a pickpockets convention (I’m trying to match a light, not-so-serious theme for a light, not-so-serious game).

        • HobbesMkii says:

          Thanks to the genius of Disqus’ formatting in this version, you can’t reply directly after a certain depth (4 tiers).  You can mention another Disqus user using the “@” symbol and typing the user’s name (as you did with Cliffy, but the @ needs to be directly followed by their name) and selecting it from the dropdown menu that pops up. Incidentally, using the at sign as I did above was a nightmare the second I pressed the “Enter” key.
          Later versions allow you to reply directly, but they also come with downvotes, and who wants that crap?

  6. CNightwing says:

    Excellent article! There are usually so many things going on at GenCon that no one website manages to cover everything, even BGG. I had never heard of Fate of the Norns, despite being an RPG veteran, and it sounds pretty awesome.

    Coincidentally, I shall be attending Essen Spiel this year (if all goes to plan), and taking part in the Europe Masters boardgame championships with a local team we’ve hastily put together. I wonder if Gameological might like a report on the whole affair?

    • boardgameguy says:

      I would love to go to Essen and am wildly jealous you are going. Enjoy it and if nothing else, hijack a comment thread to share your thoughts. What game are you planning on competing in?

      • CNightwing says:

        So, they pick games that are relatively new so they haven’t been over-analysed, and we get sent training copies (pretty cool!). This year the list is: http://europemasters.eu/short-list-2012/

        • boardgameguy says:

          Keyflower is such a blast. I’ve heard some good things about Myrmes, too. My jealousy knows no bounds right now. How is your group going to decide who keeps what game? I’l also be curious to hear your thoughts on Ginkopolis when you get some plays in.

      • CNightwing says:

        Well, we’re all part of a local boardgame association so we’ll be leaving the games with their library, but if we win any further copies I guess we’ll see who likes what. We’re going to need to have weekly training sessions >:D

    • TreeRol says:

      I was just wondering why nobody from GS went to the World Boardgame Championships this year.

      I and a few people from my group will be going next year, and I’ll gladly hijack a thread to write it up.

      Seconded on a request for a report, and wondering what game(s) you’re going to play.

      • boardgameguy says:

        The one in Lancaster, PA? Yeah, that probably isn’t too far from NYC for a weekend. Expense it, Teti!

        • HobbesMkii says:

          Amish country. The Amish must play a lot of board games, no?

        • Effigy_Power says:

          I hear they are all busy with WoW. On a butter churn. With hand-made pieces.
          Actually that sounds on all accounts more fun than actual WoW.

        • boardgameguy says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus I bet you are right about the Amish. It would be nice if an Amish commenter could confirm this for us, but that’s probably hoping for a little much.
          @Effigy_Power:disqus If you like the Amish WoW, you should check out their barn and corn version of Antichamber

        • TreeRol says:

          I don’t know, @HobbesMkii:disqus, but I bet they’re awesome at Agricola.

      • CNightwing says:

        Will definitely report something, I posted a link to the game list above.

  7. Marozeph says:

    Great article, although it serves as a painful reminder that i haven’t played any board games in a long time – none of my friends are really much into gaming of any kind and my board-game-interested brother moved away years ago.
    Maybe i should find some board game club, but Spacemonkeys rule about clubs kinda applies for me too…

    • udjibbom says:

      i think most of us are on the same page with regard to playing games or just generally hanging out with people we don’t know… but i’d be curious to know if anyone else has tried using the internet for non videogame gaming? i have a small group of friends who all grew up in the same town; we’ve tried using google hangout and skype and things like that to talk shit to one another while logging onto yahoo card games or a couple web-based strategy games… it was fun, but it fell off after a couple months.
      we all played D&D together in high school and college and i’ve tried finding time to learn enough about websites like Roll20 to get a long-distance RPG-type game going but it hasn’t come together yet. if anyone has suggestions for making ideas like this work, feel free to share.

  8. The_Misanthrope says:

    So just how heretical is Who’s Your Heavenly Father, on a scale from 1 (stubbed your toe and yelled “Goddammit!” in church) to 5 (pissed in the baptismal font)?  It looks interesting but the hosts of our quasi-regular game night are somewhat religious (not annoying about it, but I don’t think they’d like an entire game that took pot shots at Christianity).

    • Samantha Nelson says:

      It’s not specifically anti-Christianity and maintains a pretty good humor about the whole thing. It just goofs on the notion of one religion being right at the exclusion of all others and people who will do pretty extreme things to defend their beliefs. I’d put it at a 2.5 at most.

  9. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I know it’s not board games, but I remember Samantha Nelson saying there was also some Pathfinder played this weekend? How was that?

    • Samantha Nelson says:

      Tragically most of the people who were supposed to play backed out so the only Pathfinder I got in was the new campaign setting mentioned here. But I’m looking forward to my regular Pathfinder game resuming next week even if we’re not all goblins.

      • udjibbom says:

        an all-goblin roleplaying campaign would be badass! i always thought a darkvision campaign where everyone played “monsters” would be fun but, since moving away from wisconsin, haven’t found a group interested in playing tabletop RPGs… although, to be honest, i’m no different from most of the other commentators who spoke earlier – i don’t want to play games with people i wouldn’t otherwise want to spend time with.

  10. TheMostPopularCommenter says:

    Board Games!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    I know I was!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Pyrrhus_Crowned says:

    Yay, Gen Con! My two favorite games that I demoed that weekend were City of Remnants from Plaid Hat Games and Seasons from Asmodee. Though, to be fair, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to play board games because I spent much of Friday and Saturday stomping around in StarCraft space marine armor. Here’s a picture, if you’re interested . . . https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/1150920_394591473975286_476626810_n.jpg

    • SamPlays says:

      Excellent costumes! I hope there was a prize.

      • Pyrrhus_Crowned says:

         Thank you! I didn’t want to brag, but since you brought it up . . . We competed in the costume contest on Saturday and won first place in the Professional category and Best in Show. Needless to say, we were pretty bowled over. :)

        • SamPlays says:

          The detail and overall quality is really impressive (I can only assume you or one of your cohorts has an arts college pedigree). Well deserved indeed!

    • Samantha Nelson says:

      Those costumes are excellent! Did your group see the Kerrigan running around solo? She was my favorite costume of the con.

      • Pyrrhus_Crowned says:

         Thanks! I didn’t see her in person, but I saw some pictures of her online after the con. I wish I’d known she was there. We could have had a meetup.

        • Samantha Nelson says:

          There should be some sort of network for costumers to connect with matching costumes at the con. I saw four girls dressed as four different Sailor Scouts and I desperately wanted to get them in a room together to pose for pictures.

  12. boardgameguy says:

    Seasons is fun. What is City of Remnants like?

  13. boardgameguy says:

    I’m happy to see some more board gaming coverage. The Sentinels spin off sounds especially appealing. I have yet to play the base game, but am hoping to trade for it soon.

    Asgard’s Chosen also sounds like it could be fun, if it doesn’t take 4 hours. The only four hour games I’m usually interested in playing are multi-player Mage Knight and…..maybe Arkham Horror or a war game here and there.

  14. billjonesink says:

     Very cool. Thanks for the heads up on these games. Bummed I missed Gen Con this year, but cool to see there are some fun games in the pipeline.

  15. Cloks says:

    I love Sentinels of the Multiverse but man do I feel like an ass when I play it. This’ll take a bit to explain, but I’ll attempt to do it as clearly as possible.

    Way back in January, I started hearing a lot about Sentinels. It was described repeatedly as both an incredibly fun game and a game with incredibly medicore artwork. It seemed like all the boardgame threads that I read about on my forum would periodically mention the game to the point where it stuck in my head as something that I had to get. There’s a boardgame convention in my town annually and this year I decided to go with one of my friends. There were a few games that I was looking for: another copy of Carcassone, the latest Dominion expansion and of course Sentinels of the Multiverse. After about half a day there, I finally found the booth where it was being sold. Not only was it a booth exclusively dedicated to Sentinels, it was one attended by two of the creators of the game. I was waiting in line for it with my friend and mentioned why I was interested in the game and bemoaned the fact that the art looked so bluh compared to the exciting gameplay. I purchased my copy from one of the creators and asked him to sign it, which he agreed to. It was only walking away that I realized the man who had signed my copy was a person I had just repeatedly insulted while in line. I’m not sure whether he heard me or not, but I felt pretty embarrassed for a little while.

    Sentinels has become one of the favorite games in my group of friends and whenever I open the box, I’m treated to a replay of that moment in my head.

    • boardgameguy says:

      Reactions like yours are why I want to play it so much. Although I’ve heard a lot of people enjoy the artwork. What’s the knock against it?

      • Cloks says:

        It’s really cheesy amateur stuff that has trouble staying on-model. It’s kind of DeviantArt level, but after a while you realize how much it fits the game.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        Yeah, the artwork is pretty bad, but I kept hearing the game was great, but SUSD recently put up their review of it and it sounds like the kind of game I’d hate.

  16. Grant Partridge says:

    iloveitiloveitiloveit. more board game coverage! please!

  17. Kale Ganann says:

    Isn’t “Double Feature” just “Cineplexity” with the categories on the cards?

    • John Kovalic says:

      Double Feature is what Cineplexity *should* have been. The big differences: fewer cards; far more open, less specific cards;  no category mixing allowed; no actor cards; no “Critique” cards. It’s a far more fluid game, with far fewer moments when it bogs down. So, related, yes. But a much, much better game. 

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