Going Analog

Where video game industry veterans introduce great board games to video gamers

Gen Con 2019: The Non-Award Awards

When you need to know what's the best and worst of everything else around Gen Con...

Best of Gen Con 2019 was so last week. We’re now here to give you the real lowdown: What was unexpected? Which game could injure you? What’s the best escape-room game...for ants? Without further ado, here are the Crazy Ultra Prestigious Going Analog Gen Con 2019 Non-Award Awards from Going Analog's staff and contributors. (See our full disclosures at the end of this article.)

Shoe, editor-in-chief, Going Analog:

Best Booth: Plaid Hat

Plaid Hat’s booth stood out the most to us at Gen Con 2019 due to how thematic the publisher’s games are. Aftermath and Battlelands take place in a post-apocalyptic world where all humans have disappeared, and intelligent (and cute!) critters survive in hostile conditions. In Quirky Circuits, players program robots together to complete everyday household tasks. And then there’s Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein. You typically wouldn’t expect a heavy euro-style strategy game to be so theme-forward, but sheesh, Abomination kills it on that front. Mad scientists race to construct a living creature using whatever body parts they can scrounge up at the cemetary, from dead animals, or even from people they murder themselves. Creepy! And awesome.

Some of Plaid Hat's games may be darker than the others....

A Buzzworthy Game That Actually Gave Me a Buzz: Dead Man's Cabal

We said it before on our podcast: Dead Man’s Cabal is different. It laughs at you when you try to describe its gameplay. It mocks you when you try to pigeonhole it into an established genre. It doesn’t do anything like you’d expect. We’re always chasing that gamer’s high; we found what we needed in Dead Man’s Cabal.

Best Box Art (that may never be): Wonderland’s War

Wonderland’s War is a bag-building, area-control game that will be hitting Kickstarter later this year. The artwork is stunning throughout, but let’s talk about that box. What you see below is one potential idea, but publisher Skybound/Druid City is considering going with something that showcases more characters. Look, publisher Skybound/Druid City. It’s your game, and no matter what artwork you feature, the box will look great. But use this one.

Photo credit: James Hudson. You can tell from the "Redneck" pin.

Most Badass Video: Gods of Metal: Ragnarock

Here, just watch the damn thing (and make sure you have your sound cranked up):

Best Trend in Team-Building/Destroying: Building-Block Games (Mental Blocks, Team3, Tuki)

We wouldn’t fault you if you thought we’ve been playing a lot of toddler games lately. It seems every other new fave involves simple and colorful building blocks of some sort. They’re all tremendously fun -- and they’re all stressful as hell. When everyone is working well together, these games can be great for team-building. But what groups work together perfectly 100% of the time?

Mental Blocks needs all players to work together to build a common, shared structure, but everyone has different restrictions (can only touch triangle shapes, can’t talk, etc.). Even worse, someone may be a hidden traitor, subtly sabotaging the teamwork. It sounds so difficult, but it’s so rewarding when everyone wins.

Team3 has similar concept: Team up to build a structure with differently shaped blocks. But only the architect knows what the objective looks like, and they can’t speak, point, or touch anything. The supervisor also can’t touch anything and takes all the gestures from the architect and verbally guides the builder to create the structure. So why is the supervisor even needed? Because the builder has to keep their eyes closed the whole time. Brilliant.

Tuki isn’t cooperative like the two mentioned above, but it’s noteworthy due to its own take on the building-stuff genre. Players race to re-create images shown on cards, but they all seem to defy gravity. So everyone has access to a few white “snow” blocks that provide foundations, height, leverage, weight, and counterweight in order to achieve the right results. It’s a very original approach to the genre.

Game Most Likely to Cut You: Clip Cut Parks

This roll-and-cut game comes with literal scissors. You know, those sharp, double-bladed tools that come with a ton of rules about how you hand them over to someone or how fast you can travel on foot while holding them? Don’t worry, though. These kid-safe scissors shouldn’t be drawing any blood as long as everyone is careful with their intended purpose: to cut the right tiles out of paper to create the perfect city parks.

Just...take your time and pay full attention while playing Clip Cut Parks, OK?

Christina Hahost, Going Analog Podcast:

Game We're Most Excited About (even without a demo): Calico

Quilts. Buttons. Puzzles. Cats! This new game from Kevin Russ and Flatout Games will hit Kickstarter in the next few months. In it, players lay down hex pieces for a quilt, and if you make the right patterns, you'll be rewarded with buttons -- and cats! The elevator pitch got us super excited with the elegance of the design and potential depth of strategy as you try to maximize making patterns that will score you the most points. (And did we mention cats?)

Best Marketing Push: Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon

After getting demos in Iello’s booth, someone from the publisher’s team would encourage players to head over to BoardGameGeek’s (BGG) booth to upvote the game on that site’s Gen Con “hotness” list. Well, this concerted push from Iello worked. Ishtar, a new area-control game from designers Bruno Cathala and Evan Singh, reached #1 at one point during the show, which made more people want to check it out, which got more potential voters into the mix. All that momentum got a lot of people -- including us -- to buy the game before it sold out, too.

Best Sequel: Namiji

A sequel to Tokaido, Namiji reunites game designer Antoine Bauza with the artist Naïade for a beautiful sail around Japan in a fishing boat. Try your luck at shrimping and fishing, take in beautiful panoramas of sea life, and strategize when to enter the pontoons to claim the best scoring cards. It gave us the lovely, serene feeling of Tokaido but with more critical decision-making, more push-your-luck, and a fun puzzle element with fish collection.

A prototype of Namiji

Meanest _____-and-Write: Cartographers

Are you sick of roll-and-writes or flip-and-writes or write-and-writes? Good, neither are we. At first glance, Thunderworks Games’s new flip-and-write Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale looks fairly typical, as you flip a card and everyone then draws the indicated terrain on a map (that is based on the same universe as Roll Player), hoping to fulfill the queen’s demands. The twist that made us immediately buy the game: You may be ambushed by monsters, and guess who gets to draw those in to block your plans and give you negative points? Your neighbor! Hope you’ve been a good neighbor.

Game That Has So Much Math, They're Not Even Hiding It: Lovelace & Babbage

You've heard some people complain that certain board games "are too mathy" -- Artana's programming-themed game (Google Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage if you've never heard of them) from Scott Almes is literally all math. Plan out the correct arithmetic operations against opponents as time runs out, but try not to make any mental math mistakes, or you won't hit the numbers you're aiming for to get game-winning awards.

Artist You Couldn't Avoid If You Tried: Kwanchai Moriya

We loved the stylized, colorful art of the aforementioned Lovelace & Babbage -- oh, Kwanchai Moriya did the art? What about the autumnal look of Bosk or the futuristic Rebel Nox or the neon Dinosaur Island or the vivid new Tonari? ALL KWANCHAI MORIYA, ALL THE TIME. We saw so many new games with captivating art, and it seemed like he did them all. Seriously -- this guy’s been busy.

Amanda Farough, editor-in-chief, GameDaily.biz:

The Ever-Changing Booth Award: AEG

It's not very often that we run across a booth that's bold enough to keep changing not just the demo lineup but also the games being advertised all over on the banners and signage. The amount of planning and printing and prep work these changes must have taken is absolutely worth being recognized. 

The folks at AEG kept us guessing every single day at Gen Con, which in turn kept us coming back to see which new games they'd have on display. The tables were almost always full, but no one was cramped, and almost everyone was smiling. It was always a pleasure to roll through and see what AEG was up to.

The Game We Got The Last Copy Of And Would Have Battled To The Death To Get It: Hadara

It was almost a battle royale, but we were faster and escaped before anyone noticed we'd paid for the last one. We might have cackled mightily on our way out. (OK, we did.)

Worth fighting for

Best Demo Crew: Z-Man

There's an art to the tabletop demo at a convention, especially one as packed as Gen Con. It requires knowledge and approachability and a desire to connect with everyone who sits down with you at the table. We've attended a lot of bad demos over the years, especially in tabletop, but what we loved about the demos at the Z-Man Games booth is that the people running them genuinely enjoyed their jobs. They liked showing us the games and interacting with us about the show, our families, and even the games that we enjoyed playing beyond theirs. 

It's that level of connectedness that has us giving the demo crew at Z-Man a natural 20 -- keep up the good work.

Jess Yi, contributor, Going Analog:

Game Where You'll Most Likely Let Your Team Down: Metal Gear Solid

Based on the video game of the same name, Metal Gear Solid is a cooperative tactical-action game where Snake and the team work together to infiltrate bases, take out (or stay hidden from) enemy guards, and complete objectives.

Although we played a stripped-down "VR Training Mission," the game became more tense as the group progressed. The success of our mission came down to one of my dice rolls, and I failed. We all died or became prisoners, and it's all my fault. I may never recover.

True story

Most Stressful Game: Medium

Medium is a silly party game in which players take on the roles of psychics attempting to read each other's minds. A turn consists of two players each revealing a card that has a word on it. At the same time, both players need to say a word that connects the two words on their cards. Just like when you’re playing The Mind, you’ll either get into a psychic groove with your friends or, in our case, a devastating funk.

Meanest Game: Dragonscales

Players take on the role of baddies attempting to overthrow an even bigger baddie. Although there is a co-op element of achieving a common goal, the game is really about screwing over your opponents as you fight for the most victory points. So while a player may have one turn figured out, there are actions and cards that other players can use to reverse those plans. It's good, mean fun. 

Game We Bought Purely on Hype: Black Angel

A spiritual successor to Troyes, Black Angel is a Euro-style dice game set in a sci-fi world where mankind has extinguished all of Earth's resources. Players take on the role of competing AI on board an intergalactic frigate that's in search of a new home. This game was so ultra-hyped at Gen Con that it sold out the first day, and Asmodee air-shipped more copies to the show to meet demand. Without even playing a demo or having done much research, a couple of us picked up copies from the dwindling second pile at the Asmodee booth because...just because!

Joe Canalin, contributor, Going Analog:

Cutest Post-Apocalyptic Rodents Warriors: Aftermath/Battlelands

Aftermath is the new setting for a campaign-driven storybook game published by Plaid Hat, and Battlelands is a smaller card game set in the same universe. Humans have all mysteriously disappeared, and the remaining creatures of the world have evolved into beings that can talk and form societies. And because not even cute creatures are immune to human-like flaws, they end up warring with each other for resources.

What really drew us in was the clever weapon design suited for these diminutive warriors: a kitchen knife is a great sword, a fountain pen is refitted as a sniper rifle, a razor blade taped onto a handle becomes a makeshift glaive, and a hamster ball with spikes is a “Kill Ball.” We look forward to delving into this world in a few months!

Biggest Franchise Flex: Marvel

It’s been hard to ignore Marvel lately, with Avengers: Endgame finishing up a decade of its cinematic universe. Even at Gen Con, Marvel games felt like they were bigger than they’ve ever had been. Fantasy Flight came out swinging hard with the announcement of Marvel Champions, a co-op “living card game” (think collectible card game without the blind booster packs). At the same event, Atomic Mass announced Marvel: Crisis Protocol, a miniatures wargame. Spinmaster hit Gen Con with two new Marvel titles as well: Wakanda Forever, a competitive game in which the tribes of Wakanda are fighting over the mantle of Black Panther, and The Sinister Six, in which iconic Spider-Man villains try to work together, while still being villains and trying to ultimately come out on top in the end. The convention even featured reskins of existing games like Splendor: Marvel, which introduces the Infinity Stones as a win condition.

This was just one of many new Marvel games at the show.

Best Escape Room Game (For Ants): Mystery House: Adventures in a Box

Imagine the experience of going through a real-life escape room: exploring rooms, finding items, opening doors to other areas, unlocking secret entrances...all while solving numerous puzzles along the way. Mystery House: Adventures in a Box attempts to emulate all this through a shrunken down, physical representation of the locales to be investigated. 

The game comes with a flat box that you can insert cards into to form walls, doorways, and hallways. Through the help of a companion app, players use the identifiers on these cards to explore points of interest. (For example, if you see a desk on one of the cards, you can search it, and the app will tell you what you find.) As you progress, you’ll open new areas to explore, physically removing cards, so you can look deeper and into even more rooms to unlock more puzzles to solve.

It was an innovative way to re-create a three-dimensional escape-room setting in something that could fit on a small table.

Michael Leung, contributor, Going Analog:

[Editor's note: Upon further consideration, the author would like to rescind his original award for "Buyer's Remorse Game." We have removed that entry.]

Game Most Likely to Lead Us Down a (Unsuccessful) Life of Crime: Heist

Jess annoyingly calls Heist Team Bop It!,” though we find it difficult to correct him. The centerpiece of the game is an electronic vault that gives verbal instructions to the players: pass tools to each other, push certain buttons...just do what it tells you to do, and do it in under five minutes. If the team finishes in time and “cracks” the vault, it spits out little plastic gold bars everywhere. We don’t see Bop It! doing that!

Full disclosures: We received media copies of the following games from these publishers: Dead Man's Cabal (Pandasaurus), Aftermath (Plaid Hat), Tuki (Next Move)