Words by David C. Obenour
Gen Con | September 16-19, 2021 | Indiana Convention Center
Underneath the shadow of a second convention season during a global pandemic, Gen Con returned to the Indiana Convention Center with mandatory masks, more space, and a scaled back attendance. The intent, planning and messaging that organizers took in the lead up to this year’s delayed dates played out as gaming fans did what they do (or at least should do) best – followed the rules and played well with others.
With a notable few major publishers not in attendance, space was opened up in the exhibitor hall for new and smaller companies to participate. Old games, new games and old games delayed long enough in production that they were basically new games, here are some of the ones that caught our attention.
The Night Cage (Smirk & Dagger)
Waking to an inky blackness, your eyes focus on a single flickering candle. In The Night Cage, players look for keys in an ever-shifting labyrinth. With each movement new tiles are laid but old ones no longer in the light are removed. However, new tiles are taken from a stack that represents the melting wax of the candle – can you escape before plunging into complete darkness? Smirk & Dagger has had an impressive run of clever games and The Night Cage continues that while stretching into new and darker reaches.
Steam Up (Hot Banana Games)
Mixing set collecting and action management mechanics with brightly colored and sharply crafted components, Steam Up is a game of competitive dim sum dining. To start, each player picks a foodie character with their own unique and beneficial rules. Turns then play out as players choose two of the five available actions as fortune and fate cards change circumstances and a rotating gameboard dining table changes available options.
Never Going Home (Wet Ink Games)
The world is at war and its traumas and atrocities have torn open a rift for even more unspeakable horrors to spew forth. Set knee-deep in the muck of the First World War’s trenches, Never Going Home is an RPG setting that cycles through quick-to-create characters from a unit as illness, wounds and madness claim soldier after soldier. Dealing with evils both human and unhuman, it’s a rich setting for semi-historical storytelling so horrifying that it feels not of this world.
Horrified: American Monsters (Ravensburger)
After releasing their first Horrified game featuring monsters taken from a partnership with Universal Studios, Ravensburger returns to the franchise with American Monsters. While the gameplay remains much the same – think of a streamlined version of Arkham Horror – American Monsters introduces cryptids of folklore like Bigfoot, Mothman, Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil, the Banshee of the Badlands, and the Ozark Howler. They had limited copies available at the convention, which were quickly snatched up, and the game will hit retail in the coming months.
Décorum (Floodgate Games)
Announced at Gen Con, Décorum continues Floodgate’s impressive run of clever games with smart design. Cooperatively, though somewhat passive-aggressively, players work their way through the complications of living together. That’s what color you want to paint the room? You’re not seriously suggesting we have that lamp there, are you? It may sound stressful, but the gameplay is inspired – and maybe will make for some more constructive conversations in real life too.
Mind MGMT (Off the Pages Games)
Taken from the pages of Matt Kindt’s (who Kolossal also had there signing copies) graphic novel of the same name, Mind MGMT welcomes you into a world of psychic espionage. Utilizing gameplay mechanics of hidden movement and one-vs-many, a team of renegade agents play against the powerful syndicate. With original illustrations from Kindt smartly worked into the elements, designers further upped the stealth and subterfuge with hidden messages (decoded through a red lens) and an unfolding story told on the backside of the game board.
Crumbs (Tidbit Games)
One of the most fun parts to any gaming convention is seeing the reaches of creativity on what can constitute a game. Historical battles, abstract and colorful puzzles, and… as a species, hording crumbs thrown out at park? Absolutely! With a fun concept, components and mix of light and easy to understand gaming mechanics, Crumb is another wonderful example of the modern “anything goes” creativity of game designers.
Cosmic Frog (Devious Weasel Games)
With acid-drenched illustrations taken from the cover of some unreleased Yes album, Cosmic Frog pits two-mile tall intergalactic amphibians against each other in a contest of world regurgitation and rebirth. Navigating portals through other dimensions, the aether, and the shards of a world torn asunder, can you earn the First Ones’ favor without attracting the ire of the other immortals? And how many times are you going to have to flip over that Hawkwind album to find out?
Moonshine Empire (Barrel Aged Games)
If you’re going to make a fanboat miniature, I’m going to hear you out. For Moonshine Empire, pappy is retiring but not before one last wild night as he makes a game out of determining his successor. It’s up to you to dodge the law and watch out for gators as you get that shine to pappy’s loyal customers. Cleverly designed to intuitively explain the rules and with a surprisingly reasonable price tag for the unique assortment of fun miniatures, me oh, my oh, son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou.
Kabuto Sumo (Board Game Tables)
Dexterity games can be a mixed bag. Too reliant on skill and it’s not fun for new players and if you mess with the skill elements too much… well, what’s the point in being a dexterity game? Kabuto Sumo balances it out well with unique bug powers and pieces for a Coin Pusher vending style of play in a short game of king of the stump. Colorful, fun, simple, yet inventive, there’s enough game here for experienced and new players alike.
And that’s the first of the games that we played at this year’s Gen Con! Be sure to check back in next week for more coverage and head over to our gaming section to see all of our other interviews and features!