I went into Gencon thinking “this year I’m not buying anything new.” Queue the laugh-track.
Below are some of this year’s favorite finds of casual game (I also picked up a few new RPGs, but those take longer to process so I’ll start with the light board and card games). Many won’t be available through retailers for another few months, but if you didn’t get to Gencon you can read this and still maintain your game-hipster status.
In AEG’s Smash Up ($35, 2 to 4 players, 45 minutes) was probably the biggest word in card games at the con. The premise is that there are so many awesome forces trying to conquer the world that they need to team up, so you shuffle two factions together and try to capture important locations before the other groups do. The factions include pirates, dinosaurs, aliens, robots, ninjas, zombies, wizards and “tricksters” (the last seeming to be its own alliance of things like goblins, gnomes, and leprechauns). Because you could play a combination of any two factions, the variation of gameplay is vast. The rules are easy to learn and gameplay is fast as each player tries to load their forces onto locations and drive the other guys off.
If Smash Up has a flaw, it is the box that it comes in. When you first open it you might be worried that you’re missing something, because 176 cards in a container big enough to carry a bowler hat feels like someone forgot something. The good news is that there’s plenty of room for expansion, but it’s going to take A LOT of expansions to fill up those vast rows of empty deck slots. Why have a box like that? One theory is that it’s a standard manufacturing box size and it was all they could get. A more cynical friend of mine suggested that it was to seem bigger in order to justify boosting the price point to $35. Still, you play the cards, not the box, so I give the game a thumbs-up.
How can you resist a game with a name like that? Or turn down something that gives us cute, toddler-versions of Genghis Khan, Nero, and, yes, even Baby Hitler? No wonder Evil Baby Orphanage funded on Kickstarter with more than 100 grand.
In Evil Baby Orphanage ($20, 3+ players, 15-30 minutes) you take the role of a “time nanny” who is collecting all the worst people in history so that you can raise them right. This “prehabilitation” is infinitely more humane than the other options, but it also means you have to deal with a lot of mischief as the ill-mannered tykes attempt to bully, steal, babble, and carry on in ways innocently reminiscent of their future evils.
The drawback is that this game requires 3 players, which makes spontaneous games harder since humans tend to come in pairs. Because many of the mechanics involve sending your misbehaving wards to other orphanages of your choosing, A two-player game would end up just trading the same cards back and forth.
My favorite evil baby: DB Cooper, who takes all the toys and then disappears to the bottom of the draw pile. Sneaky little ankle-biter.
Exile Game Studio’s Deadfellas ($20, 2-6 players, 20 – 30 minutes) is the game of whackin’ mooks in the zombie mafia. Designed and illustrated by the same crew that brought you “Give me the Brain,” it’s worth going to the mattresses for this one.
Okay, full disclosure: I’m biased because I work for the company. In fact, I have my own card, Secchiano “The Machine” Torre. But running this game at Gencon showed me that its fast play, winsome artwork, and amusing game style makes it the most fun I’ve had ever had whacking mooks, zombie or otherwise.
Deadfellas will keep adults amused (especially if you put on funny Mafioso accents), and kids love it. In fact, we had a 9 year old boy learn how to play in 3 minutes and then he taught people how to play in the next demo.