New games I played at Who's Yer Con 2016

Who's Yer Con is an annual free gaming convention with a terrible website and a worse name. ("No, it's not Hoosier Con, it's WHO'S-YER-CON — W-H-O-apostrophe — wait, come back")

It's a fun weekend, though, and you can count on trying out new games through the game library, or enthusiasts looking to teach their favorite, or indie game developers giving demos. And did I mention it's free?

This year I tried out five new games, which fell neatly into two categories.

Action Phase Games

Action Phase Games had a little table in the hall. I'd played their Heroes Wanted board game once and remembered it taking twice as long to set up as it did to play. People were enjoying their new games enough to buy them, though; two of the three Action Phase games I ended up trying were copies friends had bought.

In Scoundrel Society, players rob a target's house. When the policeman card comes up towards the bottom of the deck, he arrests whichever player has accumulated the most suspicion points. That player automatically loses, and of the players who remain, whoever has the most loot wins.

In a sense, you win by being second, not first (though of course there isn't a perfect match between the value of an item and how much suspicion it confers). That's always a more suspenseful mechanic than a simple race to the top. It's also easy to teach and quick to play; I could totally see suggesting this as a quick game between longer ones.

In Kodama: The Tree Spirits, you play cards to build a tree. There are numerous different strategies for scoring points, based on the cards in your hand, and the art is just adorable. There's also a set of simpler strategy cards for younger kids. The scoring system forces you to diversify your tree to win, and the interactions between the cards seem like they'd give the game replayability (we played it twice, and different strategies did well in different run-throughs). In general, though, I don't care for board and card games that rely on physical dexterity - in this case, getting the right parts of the pictures on your cards to touch without knocking anything else out of place.

Ninja Camp is an even more kid-friendly game. You set out a grid of cards with moves like Jump and Block, and move your ninjas from card to card, picking them up and "learning" those moves. (In other words, once you've picked up a card, you can play it later from your hand.) Every player also has a different animal-themed special move that can be used once per game. The game ends when no legal moves are left. Lightweight and fun.

Since there were a couple of charming kid-friendly games available that could also be enjoyed by adults, all the kids in earshot were, of course, clamoring to play Pokemon Monopoly instead.

Old Memes

Let's get this out of the way: a doge was an elected Italian lord during the renaissance. (A doge's wife, Undertale fans, was a dogaressa.)

The Doge Ship is a worker placement game. Players buy materials and build sections of the ship. You'll also want to build barriers so you won't lose productivity when the water rises, and impress the Doge in return for scrolls that let you bid for extra points. Fun enough to play twice during the weekend, or again if someone else suggested it.

In Portal: The Uncooperative Board game, players compete to gain the most cake and — wait, come back!

Unenthusiastic as I was about hearing once more about the truth value of cake, I enjoyed the Portal board game a lot. I would actually suggest playing this one again.

Players send teams of test subjects racing through a lab to their deaths. Human test subjects are replaceable if incinerated, but cake is not, and whoever has the most cake on the board at the end of the game wins.

Since test subjects are disposable, and the game ends when someone runs out, counterintuitive strategies can be very successful. Our first game ended when the opponent massacred most of my test subjects with the turret, and I realized I was in the lead, pulled out all the stops, and got my last test subject killed by the turret too. All my dudes are dead! I win!

We played again with three players, and the game was noticeably less strategic and more chaotic — the lab changed so much from round to round that you couldn't plan ahead. I can only imagine how insane it'd be with the maximum four players. Portal was the one game I would actively suggest playing again if someone had it.

I didn't try any games that I liked well enough to buy, though, at least not until I've played them a few more times. As much as I enjoy gaming, I feel as though I'm approaching a saturation point where I own plenty of games with plenty of replayability, and a game needs to be not just fun, but a different kind of fun, to be worth investing the money and shelf space. Portal's non-random yet unpredictable pandemonium might fit the bill. We'll see if any of my friends bought that one, too.

Written on April 23, 2016