Recently I returned from the Best Four Days in Gaming, GenCon. In between roleplaying games of demon battling, cyberhacking, and union negotiating, I managed to fit in a fair number of board games. In no particular order, here’s some micro-reviews.
Before you get too excited about the prospect of hot takes on the latest GenCon releases, you should know that these are mostly games that I happened to play for the first time at this GenCon rather than new hotness. In other words, do not set expectations to Stun.
FIVE MINUTE DUNGEON
Fast-paced cooperative game that has players leveraging five unique decks to clear a dungeon in five minutes or less. Easy to learn and fast to play, great game to kick an evening off with. A lack of depth means it is not something I’d return to over and over, but then I feel that way about most cooperative board games.
A team game of providing clues to your teammates that help them guess words without providing so much information that your rivals can also guess them. This game rewards clever left brain thinking and I quite enjoyed it. However, it only shines if you play it with the perfect group of friends - a single bad cluegiver can ruin the game. As a result, I’m more likely to stick with Codenames instead of playing this.
A mostly solitaire game of building coral reefs by trying to make patterns. I only needed to look at another player’s board twice despite a few mechanics which try to promote interaction. That leaves me with just the puzzle in front of me, but it isn’t a terribly satisfying or difficult one. As a result, Reef is a completely unobjectionable but equally unmemorable game.
A lightweight, mostly themeless auction game for 3-5 players. Over ten rounds, you bid on cards with a color and a point value between -5 and 5. If you collect two cards of the same color, you lose both. This makes card values unpredictable for better and for worse. Not bad, but there are better auction games (see below).
DEEP SEA ADVENTURE
A fun push-your-luck game for 3-6 players about divers with a shared air supply who are diving for sunken treasure. The air runs out faster as divers carry more and more treasure, so you have to constantly watch your other players to make sure they don’t ruin your plans. Which they will anyway. A fast game you can fit in your pocket. It’s a great choice when I have too few people for Diamant or want a more thoughtful approach.
A FAKE ARTIST GOES TO NEW YORK
Fascinating game about drawing a shared picture with one catch – one person has no idea what they are drawing. Real artists try to guess who the fake is while the fake artist tries to not get caught or guess what they are drawing. It creates an interesting tension for all players since real artists can’t be too obvious in their work. This is the game that Spyfall wants to be and feels like it would be equally good for all player counts. Bonus points for being another ultra-tiny game you can put in your pocket.
THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY CARD GAME
A fine deckbuilder about raising dragons so that others can drink magic tea that can pass along your memories (read the book - it makes more sense). This is a pleasant game with an interesting push-your-luck model of spending cards that I haven’t seen in other deckbuilders. Aside from that and the adorable art, the remainder of this game is very generic. If you’re a fan of the source material then this is a very fine licensed game, but otherwise pass on this.
LOST CITIES: RIVALS
It’s Lost Cities as an auction game. On your turn you either draw a card and add it to a shared auction pile or begin an auction for that pile. This plays like a streamlined version of classic auction game Ra with an added twist of getting new cash reserves at several checkpoints in the game. This twist makes sure that you have interesting choices even when you’re cash poor. You’ll often have to decide between triggering small auctions (hoping to win them) and forcing larger pots (hoping to get your cash back sooner). Probably not my favorite auction game ever, but almost certainly my favorite one for under $20.
The core idea is admirable. Firefly Adventures tries to incorporate a variety of non-combat options into a traditional combat-centric miniatures game. The rules for this are simultaneously convoluted but also too simple. Non-combat characters will spend a lot of time thinking about their character’s “mode” or the specifics of initiative order so that they can finally… open a door. More action-oriented characters have to struggle against these added mechanics as well to play a fairly traditional combat game. Even Whedon fans should avoid.