I love elegantly designed games, and games with deep replay value. When I fall in love with a board game, it’s usually because it has simple mechanics, backed up with a rich and creative setting.
But mostly, I fall for games with a cool map.
While I was walking the floor at Gen Con 2019, I wandered into a packed booth where they’d set up several sample boards for the new Heroes of Land, Air & Sea game. Competing booths nearby had open areas with loud demo games underway, but the Gamelyn Games crew instead had simply set up a few mid-game boards, then walked away to allow attendees to gawk as long as they wished.
It worked. Readers, I gawked. This is a huge and beautiful 4X game (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate), with a 3D mapboard, gorgeous terrain, dynamic miniatures, and detailed accessories. It’s precisely the kind of colorful and deliciously intriguing play surface that brings gamers from far and wide just to ask, “What the heck is THIS??” Have a look at the set up below and see what you think.
As of today, May 9, Gen Con 2020 is still on. I find it very hard to believe the nation’s situation will change enough in the next 82 days that 60,000 gamers from around the world will feel perfectly relaxed gathering in halls in Indianapolis, packed together like attendees at a rock concert. I’m fairly certain that the powers that be will face reality in the next few weeks, and postpone or cancel the event this year. And if not, I can’t imagine it will be well attended — not nearly enough for it to break even, anyway.
That’s okay, though. I’m still unpacking from last year’s con, sifting through all the great games I picked up, and sorting through the many hundreds of pics I snapped as I wandered the Exhibit Hall. If Gen Con became a once-a-decade event it would still pay off handsomely for me, as I suspect it’ll take at least ten years to track down all the fascinating games I glimpsed during my arduous three-day walk through the giant Hall.
Today I want to take a look at Terrors of London, a competitive fantasy card game from Kolossal Games with a very cool Victorian horror theme. I only got a glance at it during my marathon trek through the Hall, but it stuck out. The component art was fantastic, and the premise — players are arcane Overlords assembling hordes of monsters and undead to secretly tussle for control of the smoke-shrouded city — appealed to me immediately. The whole thing has an Underworld vibe, and I can definitely see a leather-clad Kate Beckinsale fitting right in.
2019 feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it? One of my other roles is Programming Lead for Can*Con, Ottawa’s annual conference on science fiction, fantasy and horror literature. I’ve had the great fortune to sit down for one-on-one interviews with a few Guests of Honor, most recently a fabulous conversation with Charlie Jane Anders at Can*Con 2019.
Charlie Jane is the author of The City in the Middle of the Night (Tor, 2019), co-host of the Hugo-winning podcast Our Opinions Are Correct, and has contributed work to a variety of anthologies and collections. We get into her short fiction, her work with io9, her thoughts on genre and community, and more.
This was a blast, and I hope you enjoy it, too!
An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon has been published in On Spec, Pulp Literature, Electric Athenaeum, and elsewhere. His latest publications include his first comic, “True Balance,” available on Comixology and DriveThruComics, and a reprint of his short story “Rainclouds,” in A Dying Planetfrom Flame Tree Press. You can follow Brandon at brandoncrilly.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @B_Crilly.
When Disney Meets Mad Max: Aftermath: an Adventure Book Game by Plaid Hat Games
Gen Con 2020 is, as of this writing, still scheduled to take place July 30 – August 2, 2020. But now that other major events, such as the massive San Diego Comic Con have been canceled due to the threat of the coronavirus, I expect it won’t be long before Gen Con is canceled as well. I hope it isn’t, but frankly I think the only thing keeping it on the schedule at this point is blind optimism.
I’m enormously grateful I was able to attend Gen Con last year. It was terrific fun, for one thing, and incredibly eye-opening. I’ve been immersed in gaming culture since I started playing Avalon Hill games in high school, and I spend a lot of time keeping up with new releases and hanging out at the local Games Plus auction. But I had no idea –really, no freakin’ idea — of the true scale of this industry until I wandered the massive Exhibit Hall at Gen Con. Too large to take in in a single day, the Exhibit Hall (and all its various annexes, sub-rooms, and spillovers halls) is something that every game fan should experience once in their lives. It is jaw-dropping in both scale and diversity.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re standing in a packed stadium with tens of thousands of t-shirt-wearing gamers, and thousands of booths stretching in all directions. But once the wonder of it all starts to wear off, there are always games that stand out. One of those for me was Aftermath, by Plaid Hat Games. Copies were not available at the convention, but a quick internet search assured me it would be in production by October. I waited impatiently, and ordered one as soon as I could.
Covers by Niina Cord, Rachel Bostwick, and Nicole Grandinetti
It’s always a pleasure to discover an exciting series by an author from your home town, and that’s exactly what happened to me at Capricon 40 back in February. Capricon is a long-running and very friendly con here in Chicago, with imaginative programming and a great Dealers Room, and one of the highlights for me this year was the Bad Grammar Theater booth.
Bad Grammar is a local reading series, and their booth in the Dealer’s Room this year was manned by Chicago authors Brendan Detzner, R.J. Howell, Megan Mackie, and K.M. Herkes. I spent a lot of time chatting with that friendly bunch, and ended up taking quite a few of their books home with me. One of the most intriguing was Controlled Descent, the opening novel in K.M. Herkes’s Stories Of The Restoration series. When I asked her to describe it, what she said was both so punchy and original that I asked her to write it down for me, and she did.
I write broken heroes who achieve victory through cooperation. — K.M. Herkes
I can’t be the only one who finds that particular brand of heroism strongly appealing.
As you likely know the Halloween Association and Attractions show (HAA for you cool kids) is the grand kickoff of each year’s scare season. Usually held in March it is the only industry trade show of its kind in the world, gathering the entire haunt industry together to view and purchase new products from over four hundred exhibitors. It’s a place to see the hottest trends and get a peek at the latest in special effects, from small visuals perfect for a home haunt, all the way up to $15K ‘life size’ dragon animatronics. Normally this is an ‘industry only’ show requiring a tax ID number and other credentials to score a ticket. However, Black Gate photog Chris Z and I have been lucky enough to be invited to cover the HAA for the past 17 years and we look forward to it each and every time; along with the ability to give you a look behind the curtain of a $9B industry. Impressive when you consider that money comes from six weeks annually.
Unfortunately, the current zombie apocalypse caused the HAA, like everything else, to be cancelled for 2020. Postponing is not an option as the haunt industry gets after it early, to be ready for September / October. Holding the show over the summer would not allow enough time for orders to be placed and received before the start of the haunt season.
A couple weeks ago I was startled by a knock on my window. As curiosity got the best of me, I discovered a raven pecking at the glass with a note tied around its leg. My first thought was, “Winter is Coming.” My second thought was, “Evil Hogwarts?” Turns out the second was a lot closer, it was from Goth Chick. I unwrapped the little scroll and read the following….
Apparently to maintain her standing in the Goth community, she’s required to attend a “Get Back to Goth” retreat every time a darker shade of black is discovered. Who Knew? If it’s anything like her “Book Club” it’s just a lot of drinking, incense burning, soul devouring and complaining about pastels. But that’s a story for another article.
I attended Capricon, a friendly science fiction convention here in Chicago, last month. And as usual I spent much of my time wandering the Dealer’s Room, looking for bargains. As I often do I ended up at Greg Ketter’s Dreamhaven booth, where he had a bunch of discount paperbacks. (Yes, I needed a box to get back to my car.) But the most interesting purchase I made wasn’t a vintage Robert Silverberg or A.E. Van Vogt paperback, but a copy of The Best of Greg Egan, the new (and monstrously huge) retrospective collection from Subterranean Press.
I’ve read Egan almost exclusively at short length, and I’ve been very impressed (especially tales like “Reasons to be Cheerful,” the story of a man who slowly learns to reprogram his own personality after a near-fatal brain injury, which I read in Interzone), so this was a very easy decision to make. The collection has been well reviewed at Publishers Weekly (“Egan’s talent for creating well-drawn characters shines”), and Library Journal (“The author’s brand of hard sf is captivating, approachable, and not overly technical”), but the best review I’ve found is Russell Letson’s lengthy feature at Locus Online.
‘Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies’’ lies somewhere between a Borgesian fable and an old Galaxy-style comic inferno: a literalized metaphor worked out with science-fictional rigor, as an epistemological hobo tries to maintain some independence of mind as he navigates an urban landscape that has been fractured by ‘‘attractors’’ into competing ideological precincts. The physical environment of ‘‘Into Darkness’’ is one of Egan’s topological puzzles, an intruding wormhole through which the narrator moves to rescue people trapped by its alien geometry and physical laws. The story framework is a tense and effective physical adventure, while at the same time the narrator recognizes the metaphorical properties of the space he is traversing.
As massive as this book is (it weighs in at 731 pages), it’s a relative bargain, priced at $45 in hardcover.
I spent last weekend at Capricon 40, a long-running and very friendly science fiction convention here in Chicago with interesting panels, delightful readings, and a great Dealers Room. One of the highlights of the Dealers Room (besides the jewelry vendors, where I spent a small fortune on gifts for Alice to make up for missing Valentine’s Day) was the Bad Grammar Theater booth manned by Chicago authors Brendan Detzner, K.M. Herkes, R.J. Howell, and Megan Mackie. Bad Grammar is a reading series featuring local authors, and the books they had on display looked darn enticing. I ended up buying a whopping 8 titles at that booth alone.
Truthfully, I bought a lot of books at the convention — including an overflowing box from Greg Ketter of Dreamhaven Books — and I hope to cover the most interesting titles here over the next few weeks. But the one that leaped into my hands when I finally settled in my big green chair was The Finder of the Lucky Devil, the self-published novel by Megan Mackie, and the opening novel in her Lucky Devil series. It’s got an intriguing premise, and that beautiful cover doesn’t hurt any.
The Finder of the Lucky Devil is an urban fantasy… of sorts. Yes, it’s a fantasy. But it’s also set in a dystopian future Chicago ruled by corporations. I did my homework before digging in, and found it’s been well reviewed at Windy City Reviews and Good Reads, where it enjoys a rating of 4.08 and comments like “a fun read with some heart stopping moments… a fresh urban detective-style fantasy with wizards, fairies, corporate spies, shapeshifters, and even a mermaid dog stylist” (from Rebekah). Here’s a look at the back cover of Lucky Devil and its sequel The Saint of Liars, plus a snippet from one of my favorite reviews.
I’ve been slowly tracking down the board games that caught my eye at Gen Con last summer. (And to do that, they really had to be something. I wandered a gigantic Exhibit Hall filled with hundreds and hundreds of booths, thousands of new games, and tens of thousands of attendees, and it took three full days to do a complete circuit.) There was no time to investigate anything in real detail, so if it looked good I snapped a quick pic and moved on.
For the past few months I’ve been sifting through those photos, and three weeks ago I came across the one above, of one of the glass cases scattered around the exhibit floor. The first thing that caught my eye was the cute kid — he sure looks like he was having fun. But the second thing was the game in the case: Escape the Dark Castle. The custom dice and oversized cards looked interesting, but most intriguing of all was the cover art, reminiscent of the British Fighting Fantasy game books of the early 80s.
It didn’t take long to find out that Escape the Dark Castle was the debut release from Themeborne in the UK. It was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign in June 2017, and shipped more or less on time in 2018. Themeborne followed up with a second campaign to fund three expansion packs a year later. A little research uncovered some great reviews (at sites like Coop Board Games and Brawlin’ Brothers), but by then I’d already ordered a copy.