This game is something else! I saw many fun games at Gen Con but Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr from Hub Games pairs gameplay with a meaningful experience, such as I haven’t seen before.

At the basic level, Holding On is a cooperative worker-placement game, where the players manage hospital staff as they work with heart-attack patient Billy Kerr.

At a deeper level, though, gameplay presents the opportunity to learn something about modern medical care. Each game round represents 1 day and consists of three work shifts. During each shift, the players have to decide between allocating resources to physical care, addressing Billy’s direct medical needs, and palliative care, making him more comfortable and establishing a closer, trusting relationship with him.

But that’s not what this game is really about. What Holding On is about is the troubled life of Billy Kerr. And that is revealed, slowly, through 10 scenarios, during which the players are able to help the patient recover memories of his earlier life. Partial-memory cards with limited text and hazy images can be replaced with clarifying overlays if the right choices in care are made. And while I wouldn’t (in fact, can’t) spoil the whole story, I can reveal that Billy’s history is a complex one involving The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The story, I’m told, is based on real facts and paints an honest picture of a complex character.

The game, then, promises to give players a lot to think about.

Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr should be available at Essen Spiel for $40.

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Gen Con 2018—USAopoly

Recent releases from USAopoly include Samurai Jack Back to the Past ($35), based on the animated series, Thanos Rising ($50), a Marvel comics cooperative dice game, and Blank Slate ($25), a family-friendly fill-in-the-blank party game.

Coming next month is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Gemstone Mining Game ($35). Based on Quartz, the push-your-luck game of collecting crystals from Passport Game Studios, this Disney version works with up to seven players, each as one of the dwarfs.

In October, USAopoly ships Harry Potter Codenames ($25), with art from the films and gameplay similar to Codenames Duet but multiplayer.

Later in the fall, we’ll see Fantastic Beasts Perilous Pursuits ($30), a cooperative dice game where the goal is to put the beasts back in the suitcase.

While it wasn’t on display at the show, I was told there would be another expansion for the Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle deck-building game sometime in 2019.

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Gen Con 2018—Gigamic

What I really want is the giant-sized Pylos but Gigamic’s new games look fun too.

Kaosmos ($30, due at retail this fall) is a space-themed reimplementation of Mad City (with was published by Mayfair). Not to be confused with Chaosmos from Mirror Box Games, this title is a real-time tile-laying game, where players assemble individual galaxies of nine planet tiles and score points based on contiguous zones of same-colored planets. Additional points are awarded for the length of asteroid paths the players manage to keep uninterrupted in each of their galaxies.

Squadro ($35, fall) is a simple-looking abstract where players race to get their four pieces back and forth across the board. The twist is that if one player’s piece blocks the path of another’s, the so-called blocked piece jumps ahead and the blocking piece is sent back to the start.

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Gen Con 2018—Calliope Games

The next three games in Calliope’s Titan Series games are due later this year.

Everyone Loves a Parade ($25) has players designing parade floats to match the styles and decoration preferences of the crowds. Card play also allows manipulation of the crowds and position in the parade for turn order.

In Spy Master ($30), players control teams of agents, sending them on various missions around the world. To complete a mission and claim its victory points requires playing cards to move agents in to position and to collect specified types of intelligence (surveillance, blueprints, dossiers, or espionage). Each round, the current Spymaster divides available cards for the other players to choose.

Intriguing enough, that’s just the basic game. According to my source at Calliope, not once mentioned explicitly in the rules, there are also instructions for an advanced game hidden and hinted at somewhere in the Spy Master box.

Ship Shape ($30) is a kind of three-dimensional puzzle game in which the players attempt to smuggle the most valuable contraband in the holds of their sailing ships. They bid on crates that are stacked tiles with different gaps. During the bidding process, these gaps provide the players with limited information about upcoming crates. After the auction, they can try to stack these crates to maximize contraband value.

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Gen Con 2018—Show & Tile

Show & Tile from Jellybean Games is a picture-making party game, where instead instead of drawing pictures by hand, players create their images using tangram pieces. The idea, of course, is to guess other players’ words from their pictures and to have them guess your word from yours.

Show & Tile should reach retail within a month priced at $25. Jellybean also has a $5 promo pack of extra word cards in four specific categories: world, jobs, sci-fi & fantasy, and adjectives.

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Gen Con 2018—Monsterpocalypse

Ten years ago, Monsterpocalypse was a prepainted collectible line. Now it’s being relaunched by Privateer Press as a traditional unpainted, non-collectible miniatures game.

Gameplay is about eliminating your opponent’s giant monsters. Each side gets one large monster figure and a number of smaller units, such as tanks, airplanes, or little monsters. A turn can be taken as either a monster turn or a unit turn. Units are spawned to the board by spending white dice. And in addition to attacking an opponent’s monster, units can also be used to occupy buildings, thereby granting power-ups to a player’s own monster.

At Gen Con, there were two versions of a $50 starter box, each with one monster, five units, dice, card stock apartment buildings, and a paper battle map. Blisters with five additional units were priced at $20-25.

The new Monsterpocalypse is scheduled to hit retail next month. Look for more monsters and building types, the latter of which will provide different kinds of power-ups.

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The winner of the 2017 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming is Gen Con. Not only is the award totally deserved because Gen Con is a fantastically fun convention, but it’s also not so surprising that it was awarded this particular year, the show’s 50th.

Running this weekend in Indianapolis, Gen Con for the first time completely sold out of badges this year. And I hear that after just one day, so have several of the most anticipated new games.

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Four-day badges for Gen Con’s 50th anniversary event (August 17-20 in Indianapolis) have sold out. Individual-day passes are still available but are also expected to sell out shortly. Gen Con has already decided not to sell additional day-passes on-site and instead will use the hall registration space to speed up the will-call line.

For those who do have passes and perhaps consider the crowds and chaos a geeky-romantic venue, Gen Con has an official wedding planner and has set aside times (with corresponding event IDs) for vow-renewal ceremonies and actual weddings.

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The Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming’s shortlist was announced this afternoon. The nominees are:

  • The Beast, a single-player unsettling erotic game of imagining you are having sex with the Beast by Aleksandra Sontowska and Kamil Węgrzynowicz
  • End of the Line, a LARP set in the World of Darkness’ Vampire setting, a “cross-pollination [of Nordic and traditional LARPing styles] proved rejuvenating for the twenty-five year old system” by Bjarke Pedersen, Juhana Pettersson and Martin Elricsson
  • Gen Con, a gaming convention in its 50th year
  • Gloomhaven, a legacy-style miniature boardgame with roleplaying influences by Issac Chidress
  • The Romance Trilogy, a series of roleplaying games and a freeform LARP by Emily Care Boss
  • Terraforming Mars, a long scope boardgame about making Mars habitable by Jacob Fryxelius

Diana Jones AwardThe award ceremony is considered the unofficial kickoff to Gen Con Indy, with the lucite pyramid trophy handed out during a gaming industry-only event the Wednesday night before Gen Con Indy officially begins. Past winners include Geek & Sundry’s Tabletop web series, Jason Morningstar’s Fiasco roleplaying game, and Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion deckbuilding card game

The award, named for the still-readable part of the burnt Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game logo encased in the pyramid, was originally awarded to Peter Adkinson in 2001. The Diana Jones Award trophy is returned each year to the DJA Committee for the next award ceremony. This is the fifteenth year for the award ceremony.

The trophy itself is a lucite pyramid mounted on a wooden base, created to “commemorate the expiration of [TSR UK’s] licence to publish the Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game and the subsequent destruction of all unsold copies of the game.” Within the pyramid are burnt pieces of the last copy of TSR UK’s Indiana Jones RPG logo and game elements, including the infamous Nazi™ cardboard tokens. The DJA site claims the award was liberated from the TSR Hobbies office by “forces unnamed” before winding up in the hands of the Diana Jones Award Committee.

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Gen Con continues to grow, expanding out of the Indiana Convention Center into the Lucas Oil Stadium, using the entire 92,000 square foot football field area for exhibits and game play space. Although unique attendees were down slightly last year when the convention began use of the football stadium, the number of daily attendees increased with more attendees present on multiple days. The 50th anniversary of the convention will see it expanded to the entire field level and two exhibit halls in the stadium. Located on the field will be an “homage construction” approximate-scale replica of the Lake Geneva Horticultural Hall where the first Gen Con took place.

The convention space will use more than 750,000 square feet of the ICC, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the connector space. “It’s the most space ever booked for an Indianapolis connection,” writes the Indianapolis Business Journal. The financial impact of the convention on the city for last year’s convention was between $71 and $72 million dollars, according to Visit Indy, the city’s tourism board. With the increased space and the 50th anniversary celebration, the number of attendees and economical impact on the city is expected to grow.

Gen Con 2017 will be held in August, from the 17th to the 20th.

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