CONVENTION REPORT: Gencon 2007
At last weekend’s Gencon 2007 it was clear that almost no one is launching a game without a popular license attached. In a market defined by Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering it can often seem like those are the only two games left that crafted their own setting.
Upper Deck Entertainment is the poster child for the modern game company. Their strongest selling game is Yu-Gi-Oh, a game that they don’t even design on their own; they get most of their cards from the Japanese company that invented it. Their newest hot game is the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, which is, of course, based on the ludicrously popular computer game. I got a chance to demo it and the game mechanics seem to be one part Magic, one part Alderac Entertainment Group’s Warlord.
The marketing for this game is brilliant though; some fantastically rare cards unlock unique items in the computer games to show off to people there. In addition, every con attendee got a starter pack of the game when they checked-in for the weekend giving them access to potentially thousands of new customers. Even after the demo they gave me, my free pack remains unopened.
Also at the Upper Deck booth I got a chance to check out the Vs. card game, a game featuring heroes and villains from DC and Marvel comics. The demo decks were out of their recently released Hellboy set. This may have been a mistake because their booth was decked out in huge Alex Ross paintings of DC and Marvel characters. I was set to see Superman take on the Hulk, not Hellboy versus Rasputin.
The game uses a scaling resource system that is becoming increasingly standard in the industry, one more resource each turn almost regardless of what’s in your hand. So, having a character that cost the maximum amount you could spend in a turn was important. I knew the game was lost when on my sixth turn I had to settle for a second turn and fourth turn characters while my opponent got a massive sixth turn guy capable of dealing massive damage to my guys without any fear of retaliation. This seems to lend itself to a game that is all but over before any iconic characters could hit the field. This was a disappointment because any card game that could dedicate an entire set to the Green Lantern Corps and another to the Legion of Superheroes clearly knows what kind of comic game I want to play.
Wizkids’ Heroclix certainly avoids the problem of not being able to play the marquee characters. Being a miniatures game gives it an advantage in that once you show up to play you will play with exactly the pieces you want, rather than hoping to draw a certain card. Wizkids has also recently takes a step towards increased comic accuracy, a step they are more than happy to demonstrate. Starting with the recently released Avengers set all pieces now come with a card explaining who the characters are and what powers they have. Now, instead of having a hundred different characters with the “Toughness” power, Aquaman might have “Underwater Adaptation” while Black Panther would have “Vibranium Costume.” Same effect, in fact both would have “Toughness” in parentheses, but it lets them put a bit more flavor into the game.
Wizkids is also moving towards more comic flavor in their events. They just completed their “Coming of Galactus” event, in which players received a promotional “Herald of Galactus” figure in each of four preliminary events followed by a fifth week event in which they competed for a giant-sized Galactus figure. With the launch of the coming DC set Justice League they’ve announced that there will be a “Starro Attacks” event of the same format. Each week players will receive a Justice League member enslaved to Starro with a mini-starfish on their faces followed by playing for a large Starro piece in the last week.
A game I found particularly amusing was the 24 Trading Card Game. This game is intensely immersed in its license; players play with 24 card decks to reach 24 points. I was immediately disappointed to find out that none of the Dave Barry 24 clichés made it to the cards. There’s no establishing of perimeters or even shooting people in the thigh. The game is a lot more fun if you only play while speaking in gruff voices, the resource system is even denominated in time so if you can’t afford a card in your hand you can loudly declare “There just isn’t enough time.” The raw mechanics do have potential though. If the upcoming base set can give players a little more to do to each other while in the mission phase of their turn this game could be a real winner. As is it seems that raw stats win the day with an alarming frequency.
An exception to the license-mania present at the show was The Continuum. Not borrowing an existing universe the people at Seven Lights decided to create their own. The launch of the game is being preceded by a four issue comic miniseries that establishes their world. The premise for the game, what I could determine from the first three issues of the comic, is that a number of worlds from a multiverse collapse in on each other forming The Continuum. Players struggle to get control of this new world.
Gameplay in The Continuum is a hodgepodge of different gaming ideas. One part miniatures gaming, one part Axis and Allies, and one part online RPG. Players position units across differing terrain like in a miniatures game. Combat is handled like Axis and Allies although the die rolls that determine attrition are hidden from the players. In combat, players also pick a strategy, which gives them certain advantages or disadvantages in the die rolls. Units in battle gain experience and level up allowing for growing stats and customizable abilities. New units are purchased online through the site and come in packs, just like any other miniatures game.
After The Continuum launches the comics will continue to come out but they will change from establishing the setting to show how the players of the game are affecting it. General trends and tournament results will both be reflected in the overall narrative of the story allowing for player to affect the world in which they play. The Continuum was the game I saw at the show that I thought had the most potential and the one I’m most excited to get a chance to play.