The Crowded Table – Summer 2012 Pre-GenCon Edition
People always seem to regard summer as that lackadaisical time when they can kick back in a hammock with a strong margarita and relax with a good, long book. I don’t know about the rest of you, but with my busy summers, all I want to do is kick those same people out of their hammocks and steal their margaritas just for a moment’s break. This summer is no exception, as we’ve been traveling to and fro constantly from conventions and special gaming events in what seems like an endless procession of mid-week road trips. And I’m about to embark on another of those long side jaunts as I’ll soon be off to Indianapolis to the biggest North American show of the year – GenCon! Before I head out, however, I wanted to share some brief impressions of some games that have graced our crowded table in the past month or so and that you might want to seek out if you’re going to be at the Big Show. And even if you’re not going to be in Indy, you’ll probably want to search your FLGS – or beg them for a pre-order – for several titles below!
What do you get when you combine some of the more subtle, brain-tickling mechanics of Magic: The Gathering with just a pinch of – god forbid – Lost Cities and a smattering of good, old-fashioned geekdom? If you’re AEG, you certainly hope you’ve got a hit. And as far as I can tell from my plays of Smash Up, they’d better prepare for the inevitable onslaught of fanboys because Smash Up seems to be that hit in the making. On the surface, Smash Up appears to be just another card game trying so vary hard to tap into the collective psyche of the average geek. But after the first play, you’ll soon realize – as I quickly did – that Smash Up doesn’t pander, it simply facilitates play, and the more you play the more you want to play. Somehow, Smash Up manages to rekindle a bit of that simple innocence we all had when we first picked up a collectible card game and generated our first killer combo. The only exception is that, with Smash Up, we don’t have to buy booster packs in bulk and battle Mr. Suitcase in order to maintain that high; all we have to do is crack open the box, shuffle two totally awesome factions together, and get down and dirty.
Look for this little beauty at the AEG booth and I almost guarantee you’ll walk away with the box. Luckily, there’s lots of space inside to organize expansions, which I can also guarantee are well on their way. Look for a more in-depth review of Smash Up on Dice Hate Me after GenCon.
I first came across the somewhat-enigmatic Divinare at Origins this year, and I instantly fell in love with the theme and artwork. Unfortunately, I was unable to test out the gameplay. The mysterious game once again avoided tickling my pineal gland at the World Boardgaming Championships as I watched VivaJava designer T.C. Petty III weave his ethereal charms against three other would-be diviners. Finally, at the Celebration of Gaming at Labyrinth Games this past weekend, I was able to crack open Pandora’s box and sample the soothsaying inside, and I was not disappointed. Summarizing gameplay is a mindgame in itself; divining boards equal to the number of players are set out and a specified number of cards are dealt to each player, with the rest set aside, unknown. Players then take turns passing and playing cards that match the divining boards to move their tokens to a numbered spot that equals their guess for the number of total cards played there by the end of the round. Scoring is calculated based on how close each player’s guess came to the total – or how amazingly wrong they were. If it sounds confusing, it is – at first. But after the first round, it quickly becomes clear that Divinare is not filled with smoke and mirrors; the game is much more about careful hand management and information containment as it is with calculated guesswork. There’s also quite a bit of “screw you” possibilities, but it’s balanced nicely by quite a bit of “oh crud, I just screwed myself” moments, as well.
More than likely, Asmodée will have a copy of Divinare on display at GenCon; I would highly recommend taking a closer look. After my recent play at Labyrinth I bought the box and am looking forward to many more forays into the realm of the mystic.
Every year, the Spiel des Jahres is awarded to a certain game, and every year, thousands of detractors lament the judging mechanisms, the speculation and the final decision. This year, the SdJ went to Kingdom Builder, a very divisive, yet – in my humble opinion – deserving game that had a single cohort in close competition: Vegas. After playing Vegas, I’m here to tell all of you, dear readers, that Vegas was robbed. Let me repeat that: ROBBED. Vegas embodies every bit of the spirit of the Spiel des Jahres: Easy to learn, easy to play, and with a lifetime of replayability in order to create a modern classic. The concept is simple: Each round, a certain amount of money is dealt out to six different casinos. Players take turns rolling eight dice each turn and placing matching sets of dice on the casinos matching the number values on the dice. At the end of the turn, the player with the most dice on a casino wins the highest value there, the next player gets the next highest and so on. Easy? You bet. The subtle twist is that any players that have an equal number of dice on a casino get nothing. That’s right, nothing. What seemed a simple chore in tossing some dice just now became an exercise in short-term strategy and cut-throat backstabbing. Believe me, people, you won’t see it coming – but Vegas is delightfully evil, and unbelievably fulfilling.
Vegas doesn’t have North American distribution yet, so that means it won’t be officially represented at GenCon. But take it from me – if you see a vendor (or your FLGS) toting a copy of it, don’t hesitate to wrestle it from their grasp – you’ll thank me in the end.
Mars Needs Mechanics
I little over a year ago at the WBC, Monkey238 and I met and befriended a relatively-unknown game designer by the name of Benjamin Rosset. We instantly liked him and his designs, and shortly after the con, he sent us a couple of his works-in-progress. One of these designs was then known as The Market. We played it and instantly loved its unique economic structure and streamlined gameplay. Fast forward a year and that same game design has now been developed into the steampunk-themed Mars Needs Mechanics, soon to be released by Nevermore Games. So has the time been kind to the core of The Market? You bet your aether tubes! Not only has the beating heart that made The Market so wonderful remained intact, but the guys at Nevermore Games have added some fascinating bells and whistles that really make this machine hum. After our recent play at Labyrinth Games, I can safely say that Mars Needs Mechanics needs to be on everyone’s radar – or whatever steam-driven, electronic device that may serve a similar purpose.
Look for a demo of Mars Needs Mechanics with the designer, Benjamin Rosset, in open gaming and around the Game Salute booth – and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the Kickstarter launch on August 31!
For those of you dear readers that have been around since the very beginning of the blog, you’ll know that I don’t throw around the term “Game of the Year” very lightly – especially if I start talking about one of those games in contention before spring has even folded into summer. Well, I’m here to tell you that one of my early front-runners for Game of the Year will be available for demo at GenCon, and you’d be crazy not to try it out with the designers! Just for the record, Fleet is still one of the best games that I’ve played all year, and designers Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback are going to be at GenCon showing off their hot-off-the-presses final copies. Rumor has it that if you beat one of the designers at Fleet, your name will be sung about in rock ballads for centuries, so make sure you take a look at the demo schedule – or stop by the Eagle & Gryphon booth – for your chance at immortality!
List of must-see games (and ones to keep on your radar) not mentioned above:
The Great Heartland Hauling Co. (Play with the designer, Jason Kotarski!)
- The Crowded Table – Spring 2012 Edition
- The State of Games, Episode 13 – The One About GenCon and the WBC
- The Crowded Table: April/May Edition
- Origins 2012 Photo Recap – A Publisher’s Perspective
- The State of Games, Episode 27 – The Short One About PAX East 2012