If you’ve been around the board game hobby any longer than a Kickstarter Early Bird pledge, you know that CMON (Cool Mini Or Not) is synonymous with huge, gorgeous, eye-popping blockbusters. Blood Rage. Rising Sun. Arcadia Quest. Zombicide. These games have raised millions of dollars and have hordes of devoted fans.
CMON showcases their newest offerings each year at the CMON Expo. Held in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia, this Expo is the place where you can demo ‘til you drop, and make a new friend along the way. In this recap, we (Justin Gibbons and Philip Chen) hope to give you a taste of what CMON Expo was like, as well as share about the games we played.
Justin: I find it wildly ironic that not only did I go to my first CMON Expo this year, but that I’m writing this recap. I was the guy who used to be an internet troll about CMON products online. I hadn’t played too many of their games, but I had a bias because I grew up playing crunchy cube-pushing Euros. Then I started actually playing some of their games at other conventions, and I saw that my perceptions were off. I quickly realized they had way more variety in their catalog than just combat games with minis. Now I own a number of their games and was truly looking forward to this Expo. How things have changed!
Phil: My CMON heart was won, like many, with Eric Lang and the release of Blood Rage. Since then I have explored more of their titles and more and more seem to make their way onto my shelf. I haven’t been behind CMON 100% of the time but I’ve been very impressed with many of their recent releases and was eager to try the latest and greatest. Not to mention a chance to meet Eric Lang isn’t a bad consolation!
Games We Played
Phil: I had a busy weekend of gaming, just as I’d hoped. I ended up demoing eight CMON games including 13 Clues, A Song of Ice & Fire, Blood Rage, Council of 4, Dragon Castle, Lorenzo Il Magnifico: Houses of Renaissance Expansion, The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire, and Zombicide: Green Horde. I didn’t get the chance to demo Richard the Lionheart, however, I watched some folks play a game. I played in a beginners Dragon Castle tournament (losing I might add). I also played full games of a number of CMON titles from the library: Council of 4, Dojo Kun, Dragon Castle, Rum & Bones: Second Tide!, and Ta-Da! I also managed to squeeze in plays of six non-CMON games. Wow, I’m exhausted just listing that out!
Justin: As for me, I demoed Way of the Panda, Council of 4, Bloodborne: The Card Game: Hunter’s Nightmare Expansion, Potion Explosion: The Fifth Ingredient Expansion, Zombicide Green Horde, Lorenzo Il Magnifico: Houses of Renaissance Expansion, and Arcadia Quest: Riders. I got in full playthroughs of Richard the Lionheart, Gizmos, 13 Clues, Dragon Castle, and Rising Sun. I was also able to check out some CMON products from the Library in the after-hours and played full games of Meeple War and B-Seiged.
What We Liked about the Expo
Justin: I really enjoyed the size of this Expo. It’s actually way smaller than many people would imagine. I don’t know the official attendance numbers, but it is a very easy convention to navigate. There’s really just one main room with about 20 demo tables of games, plus some space for folks painting minis and some tables for tournaments and free play.
Because it’s small, it’s also very easy to meet some of your favorite gaming celebrities. You can even sign up to play games with them, and although players are drawn randomly, you have a very high chance of getting to play a game with someone you’d love to meet! I was fortunate enough to play Rising Sun with Jeremy Salinas of Man vs Meeple. He crushed us, by the way.
Phil: The Expo was more than I could have hoped for! As Justin mentioned, the size was small, which I found to be a huge plus. Not only did it cut down on the crowds and lines, it meant it was easy to run into designers and Youtube personalities. The entire thing was very focused on gameplay; both demos of new, upcoming games and plays of games from the library. I also got to meet Eric Lang.
What Games We Liked
Phil: The top games for me were Council of 4 and Dragon Castle. I’ve been trying to expand my game library to better bridge beginners to a more medium weight game. Both of these games fit well into that “gateway plus” area. Both were preordered before I left the Expo. I also really enjoyed my play of Dojo Kun. That game went fairly well under the radar for me but I loved the idea of managing a dojo and training your fighters through worker placement actions, then bringing your fighters to the tournament, leveraging dice rolls and wagering on each round.
Justin: Yeah, I ended up going home and ordering Dojo Kun based on your description! I’ve had a chance to play it since and it is one of the most unique worker placement games I’ve played! As for me, I really enjoyed Council of 4 as well. I love that it has familiar set-collecting mechanics (like Ticket to Ride) and route-building, and blends them very well. I had never played Arcadia Quest before the Expo, and I had way more fun than I anticipated playing Arcadia Quest: Riders.
I also really enjoyed Way of the Panda. It’s another route-building game with some worker placement mechanics. Some of the scoring and building mechanics take a minute to wrap your head around, but it can be a very thinky game. Finally, Gizmos was a prototype but was a simple, fun engine builder. I’d keep my eye on that one, it may be the next “Potion Explosion.”
What Surprised Us
Phil: One game was the biggest surprise for me. I had not anticipated even trying the tabletop miniature wargame A Song of Ice & Fire. I’ve never played a tactical war game and I’ve never watched Game of Thrones (I know). I was in between demos and my group of friends was interested so I sat in for a demo. Wow was it fun! The team on team scenario was especially exciting as you have friends to strategize with. The second big surprise for me was the swag bag. All I can say is WOW! CMON really went above and beyond. For a convention with such a low fee to entry I was flabbergasted. Not only did we receive two big box games (one not yet released) we got a whole pile of promos for various games from Lorenzo Il Magnifico to Zombicide.
Justin: I totally agree on the Swag Bag. I had Way of the Panda on my personal “watch list” before going to the Expo, so I was happy that they threw it in the Swag Bag for free! I am jealous that you were able to play a Song of Ice & Fire. I wanted to play it but the tables were full the entire weekend.
The biggest surprise for me was Richard the Lionheart. I heard quite a few people say things like “the theme just didn’t look interesting to me.” Admittedly the box is just a medieval knight looking dude on the cover, so you might think some kind of tactical war game. It’s not! It’s a team-oriented worker placement game themed around the Robin Hood lore. Every player has a character that they play, such as Robin Hood or Sheriff of Nottingham, that is either for or against Richard the First. Each team is trying to race their marker to the end of certain tracks first and have their team declared the winner. But only the person with the most points on the winning team can win the game overall! It felt similar to Martin Wallace’s A Study in Emerald but was much more streamlined and fun. We had quite a few shouting and yelling moments during the game!
The gaming Library was the final surprise to me. I had heard they had a game checkout library but assumed it was just going to be CMON games. It wasn’t! It was actually a decent-sized gaming library filled with all genres of games from many publishers. During the after-Expo hours, many players stayed in the gaming area until midnight playing games they had purchased during the Expo or playing games from the Library.
It’s safe to say that the CMON Expo was a hit for both of us. And with the number of games that CMON releases every year, it’s safe to assume that when we go back next year we will have many more exciting games to check out!