The Games of Gen Con 2018
As you walk through the convention hall at Gen Con, moving from demo to demo and panel to panel, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the advertisements everywhere, trying to catch your attention for the latest big game. Usually, there are one or two big new games that just seem to overwhelm the convention, often tied into big properties.
This year, the big new game at Gen Con wasn’t new. Not really. Pathfinder has long had a strong, even overwhelming, presence at Gen Con, so the promotion of the release of the Pathfinder Playtest this year felt pretty natural. Next year, we can anticipate the big release to be the Pathfinder Second Edition RPG, but for now the playtesting has begun.
I’ll cover the details of the Pathfinder Playtest in more depth in the upcoming weeks and months. I played two Pathfinder Society sessions of the playtest, at levels 1 and 5, so got a fair idea of how the bones of the new system operates. Fortunately, you don’t have to, because the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook along with all other materials needed for play are available for free download at the Paizo website.
These downloads include the Doomsday Dawn campaign, a series of 7 adventures ranging from levels 1 to 17. These adventures aren’t all played with the same group of characters, although the core group of characters created for the level 1 adventure are re-used every couple of adventures at higher levels, so they’re really the “heroes” of the campaign. There are also three Pathfinder Society scenarios built for the playtest, to teach and test various elements of the game. And, of course, the Rulebook contains everything that a Gamemaster needs to create an original homebrew adventure or campaign for their group, to test out the rules in ways of their own devising.
But Pathfinder Playtest was certainly not the only roleplaying game to make a splash at GenCon this year. Renegade Games Studio had two releases that looked promising. Kids on Bikes (Renegade, Amazon) is a rules-light roleplaying game where you play a group of everyday people in a small town where curious things happen and you have to figure out how to work together to face them, or how to run away fast enough. It has some thematic similarities to Tales from the Loop, and if you thought that game sounded fun but weren’t sure about roleplaying in the 1980’s or if you wanted more horror than science fiction, then Kids on Bikes may be more what you’re looking for. Overlight (Renegade) is a fantasy setting of a world that has been broken into shards, and the Skyborn are those born who can manipulate the powers of this world, the Overlight, to achieve heroic ambitions. Both games are slated for a September release.
And, of course, Paizo themselves had a release for their space fantasy roleplaying game Starfinder, the Starfinder Armory (Paizo, Amazon). This new supplement provides extensive additions to the equipment options in Starfinder, including nearly a dozen pages of weapon tables at the front of the book, plus various types of armor, magical and technological items, and even class variants that make extensive use of the new equipment.
If you haven’t yet gotten a chance to play Starfinder, then the new announcement of the Starfinder Beginner Box might be up your alley. It’s slated for a spring 2019 release and will provide streamlined rules, an adventure, pregenerated characters, character and monster pawns, maps, and other resources needed to start playing immediately.
But roleplaying games can be time consuming to plan and run, and there are a variety of options for those who want the feel of a roleplaying game without all of the actual roleplaying.
An upcoming board game, Vault of Dragons from Gale Force Nine, is an official Dungeons & Dragons licensed board game that seems to be thematically tied in with the upcoming Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure due out in September. A rumor is spreading through Waterdeep about a secret vault full of gold and other riches, and the players represent different groups scouring the city to try to find it before their rivals. As you play, you send your followers to seek out rumors or engage with your adversaries, moving through the deeper levels of the city and even into the Undermountain to eventually find the treasure hoard or die trying. Vault of Dragons is currently available for pre-order through August for $50.
There are also some card games out that capture the feel of playing one of your favorite fantasy roleplaying games. The well-established Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is one such option, and Paizo will be revamping that game in the coming year to make it more affordable for new players to jump in, with a single core game box that will be built up with expansions, instead of the repeated base sets. Watch for more news on that as we get closer to the release.
Similarly, the card game Dragonfire (Catalyst, Amazon), by Catalyst Game Labs, is the Dungeons & Dragons-themed deck-building game, where are a variety of adventurers can fight villains and monsters, while learning skills and spells to grow in power. This game released at Gen Con last year, but this year saw the release of the campaign expansion Moonshae Storms (Amazon), the Heroes of the Wild character pack (Amazon) featuring wilderness themed heroes and new races like Lizardfolk, Aasimar, and Kenku, and the adventure packs A Corruption in Calimshan, Ravaging the Sword Coast, and Sword Mountains Crypt. This is a challenging cooperative game, but one thing that’s nice about it is that even if you do not completely win a scenario of Dragonfire, your character accumulates experience so that you can grow in power and ability, eventually becoming adept enough to beat the scenario and move along to the next adventure in the campaign.
If science fiction is more your thing, there are a variety of options available as well.
Modiphius Entertainment released Star Trek Adventures last year, and it received the 2018 Ennie for Best Rules. Since then, they’ve released the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook and the Command Division Sourcebook, and there’s an Operations Division Sourcebook slated for later in the year. Also on the Star Trek horizon are two upcoming expansions for Gale Force Nine’s Star Trek: Ascendancy board game, featuring the factions of the Vulcan High Command (Amazon) and the Andorian Empire (Amazon). They didn’t have these for sale at the convention, and it looks like they’ll come out right at the end of the year, but I was told that the Vulcan High Command will focus on a form of gameplay where they place Ambassadors in contact with other factions, attempting to manipulate things to their advantage. This strikes me as potentially similar to the mechanic of the Ferengi faction, where Ferengi traders are able to benefit other players and themselves, amazing vast amounts of resources while never engaging in open conflict with the other empires. The Andorians, meanwhile, will likely be just a militant species bent on fighting and dominating all the inferior alien races with skin colors that aren’t their preferred shade of blue.
For fans of that other science fiction series, Star Wars games exist in a variety of forms, but the one that captured my attention this year was Star Wars: Legion (Fantasy Flight, Amazon). This miniatures battle game was announced last Gen Con and released earlier this year, but this was my first opportunity to play a demo of it. I’m a fan of the fantasy miniature battle game Warmachine, so I know how involved these battle games can get. I’ll confess that I was very hesitant about Legion. The guy running our demo seemed to get bogged down in these details of play and turn order, mentioning mechanics and terms without fully explaining them, and I was sure that this was going to be a painful game to get through. Then, once we started playing, everything about the game flowed in a very intuitive way. The game is objective-based, so it doesn’t drag on as you’re trying to chase down the last living storm trooper.
Maybe you’re into something that’s more than meets the eye … and if that’s the case, then the new Transformers Trading Card Game is probably a game that you’ve been waiting over thirty years for, even if you didn’t know it. You play a group of two or three Autobots or Decepticons that are doing battle against each other in this new card game from Wizards of the Coast. The artwork is based on the classic cartoon, as opposed to some of the less-fan-loved artistic choices in more recent years. Each turn, players may play Action cards or Upgrade cards to trigger certain effects, and the mechanic for resolving attacks and defense also involves flipping cards over from your deck as a randomized element. Initial starter boxes comes in either Autobot or Decepticon varieties, and you can then buy booster packs that provide new Transformers and Action or Upgrade cards, to build and customize your deck. I, for one, just can’t pass up on playing this game until I’m able to create an all-Dinobot lineup.
Speaking of 1980’s nostalgia, the 1986 film Big Trouble in Little China seems to have a somewhat inexplicable resurgence lately. Last year, Upper Deck came out with the Big Trouble in Little China deck-building game (Amazon) as part of their Legendary line (this year, the Legendary line was expanded to include an X-Files deck-building game), and this year the company Everything Epic had a Big Trouble in Little China: The Game (Everything Epic, Amazon) available for sale … and then for pre-order, since they sold out of their stock. The game has a price point of $99.95, but you get a lot of game for your money. I watched a demo played out, and even though it was only a couple of rounds, everyone was clearly enjoying themselves and instantly engaged with the game, and the number of enemy minis on the board with them suggested that they were definitely in some big trouble. The players move through the various locations of the film, trying to complete quests and stop the bad guys. One interesting feature is that when you die, you seem to immediately come back … but you’ve gone to one of the various hells from Chinese mythology, and you get a Hell card that gives you a penalty related to the punishment you have received. I don’t know that this would be one of those games you’d play often, but if you get the right group of gamers together, it would be a ton of fun.
Finally, if you like games of any fantasy or sci-fi genre, it’s very likely that one of the Tiny Epic games from Gamelyn Games will be of interest to you. I’ve played their Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn, Amazon) before. It really captures the feeling of a massive star empire-building game, like Star Trek: Ascendancy, but on a much more manageable scale and in only about an hour of game play. My wife, who does not have the gaming stamina for some of my more epic games, loves to play Tiny Epic Galaxies. I knew they had a Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn, Amazon), but I had no idea of the tower-defense-like game Tiny Epic Defenders (Gamelyn, Amazon) or the adventurous Tiny Epic Quest (Gamelyn, Amazon), let alone games like Tiny Epic Mechs and Tiny Epic Zombies. (Yes, those are meeples wearing a mech suit and power armor in Tiny Epic Mechs and a meeple with a chainsaw in Tiny Epic Zombies. You’re welcome.) No matter what type of epic game you’re in the mood for, this series of games seems like it’s good to have on hand.
These are, of course, by no means all of the great games that got introduced at Gen Con … in fact, they aren’t even all of the great games that I was personally introduced to at Gen Con! But it’s a good starting point …
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