I have returned from the trials and tribulations of GenCon determined to bring you the highly coveted Cephalofair Awards. This is the second annual ceremony for GenCon and the competition was…actually, it wasn’t really as fierce as last year. First of all, I had less time to spend playing games and perusing the convention hall. Also I think pretty much everyone can agree that the crop of new games (i.e. not expansions or re-releases) was pretty underwhelming this year.
Still, the show must go on, so I’ll do my best to now distribute some awards in the most arbitrary way possible.
Best Game I’m not Sure is Actually a Game
I went into the convention with a strong desire to check out News@11, partly because I was interested in how this story-telling game handled scoring and declaring a winner at the end. It turns out, though, that there are no points are winners. Players act like newscasters telling silly stories for a while and then the game is over. I mean, even Fiasco, however superfluous the designation, has a winner in the end, so this complete lack of competition threw me for a loop. I think it was the right choice, though, because then everyone can stay focused on telling the most entertaining stories about Donald Trump-endorsed Laffy Taffy underwear that protects people’s nipples from being bitten by rabid ferrets. Yeah, that happened.
Best Dice Game
I have previously declared on Twitter that, after a horrific encounter with the completely random and pointless Nations: The Dice Game, I should probably just avoid all games with “The Dice Game” as a subtitle. While Discoveries (much like Roll for the Galaxy) doesn’t explicitly have the subtitle “The Dice Game,” it is still very much Lewis & Clark: The Dice Game in theme and execution. Needless to say, I was wary. The game turned out to be surprisingly good, though, with some very cool interaction among players involving a shared dice pool. Now if only the guy running the demo hadn’t referred to Native Americans as “Indians” about a hundred times during the explanation…
Best Game Ruined by Dice
And while we’re on the subject of dice, I really wish Above and Below had gone in some different direction in that regard. I really wanted to like the game and its combination of story-telling and worker placement, but I just couldn’t get over the randomness of the exploration. Any time your efficiency in a worker placement game is determined by a random die roll, you can count me out.
Worst Game Released 6 Years Ago
Speaking of, holy crap, why does everyone love Carson City so much? Yes, much like Above and Below, there are a lot of neat ideas in play, but when I can lose massive amounts of points because of a random dice roll-off with another player, I just don’t get the appeal. I want strategy to be the deciding factor in a game, not luck. The inclusion of dice turned the tension of player order in most worker placement games into a complete non-issue in Carson City. If you had all the guns (or were luckier than me), you could take whatever spot on the board you wanted, strategy be damned. I didn’t get it.
Best Game Released 6 Years Ago
Oh, hey, but you know what was a good game published 6 years ago? At the Gates of Loyang. I ended up playing both this and Carson City on the same night – both for the first time – and there was a clear winner here. The time resolved elements of harvesting your crops and selling them to customers made for some really great moments of planning that really payed off when executed properly. It did end up being a bit of multi-player solitaire, but maybe that’s just something I’m cool with. The game reminded me a lot of Forge War, and that’s never a bad thing.
Most Elusive Game
Can anyone explain to me where Broom Service was? Maybe I just can’t read a map, but when I went to where Ravensburger Games was designated on the map, all I found was Steve Jackson Games. I wandered that event hall up and down and couldn’t find anywhere where one could buy or play that game. Did I miss something? Oh well.
Most Elusive Game (Runner Up)
Okay, so New Bedford was very clearly in the Dice Hate Me Games booth, but apparently the designer was the only one who could demo it, and every time I walked by there, he appeared to be missing. Admittedly, I wasn’t able to walk by there that much because of my limited schedule, but still, I wish I could have played the game.
Most Played Game
You know what game I did play a lot, though? Gloomhaven. Yeah. I went into the con with 5 demos scheduled, but I advertised that people could contact me to schedule other demos throughout the weekend. I totally underestimated the response I would get. I ended up demoing the game a total of about 15 times. Everyone who played it seemed to really enjoy it, and it never got boring for me either. Yay!
Most Improved Logo
Since my wife stole the sweet tote bag I got from Floodgate Games last year, I was hoping to get another sweet one this year when I stopped by to check out Vault Wars and pick up News@11. I was a little disappointed in the color choice, which was a darker blue, but they did sport a brand new, snazzy logo that did indeed look more like a floodgate and less like one of those swinging pendulum blades from an Edgar Allen Poe story.
Best Room at the Con
I unfortunately didn’t get to spend much time there because of my schedule, but Stonemaier Games definitely had the best room in the place – a second floor room in the hotel across the street from the convention center surrounded on three sides with windows. It was pretty sweet, and I was a little jealous, having to do all my demos in the giant, noisy, artificially lit event hall.
Most Unhelpful Convention Team
Before we get to the big awards of the year, I do have to throw out one more negative acknowledgement. I really wanted to try out Mottainai from Asmadi Games. After finding their booth in the exhibit hall, I saw many, games on demo tables that I didn’t care about and no Mottainai. I was told that I had to go to the Asmadi room to get a demo, which seemed silly, but okay. In the Asmadi room, however, there were no demos, only a couple boxes that people could break out and try to learn on their own. There were lots of Asmadi workers milling around doing nothing, but the explanation I got was that they were too tired to show me how to play the game. I understand that the demos slots are normally ticketed, but if you aren’t doing anything else, and I really want to try out the game, why can’t you help me out?
Highlight of the Con
I think this will come as no surprise that once again the Secret Cabal Meetup picks up this award. There are just so many cool people hanging out and having a good time, it’s like the perfect con experience. It’s just great to interact with the people you listen to every other week (not only the Secret Cabal, but also Blue Peg, Pink Peg, who also have a big presence at the event) on a personal level. Totally rad.
Best Game of the Con
It may also come as no surprise that my favorite game at the convention was also everyone else’s: Codenames. It is pretty much the ideal party game – very much thought-driven, but also highly interactive and entertaining. It’s like a convoluted word association test for a large group of people and yes, that turns out to be a lot of fun.
Well, thus ends our awards ceremony. Maybe I’ll be back with an Essen edition if I can make any heads or tails of the convention while I’m there. Otherwise, I’ll see you next convention season for more arbitrary designations!