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Games Seen at Gen Con 2023: Havalandi, Hello Kitty, and More War of the Ring

by W. Eric Martin

Havalandi sailed into the BGG database in late July 2023 courtesy of German publisher Edition Spielwiese, and it caught my for two reasons:

1. Reiner Knizia is the game’s designer, and I’ve heard he’s pretty good.

2. That cover!

Aside from Lukas Siegmon doing a gorgeous job, with soft lines evoking an early morning balloon launch, my son was infatuated with hot air balloons when he was a toddler, and we watched tons of videos featuring them, in addition to attending launches, so the nostalgic haze of the artwork reminds me of those days.

(What’s more, one of those videos introduced me to the band Röyksopp courtesy of great editing that perfectly matched the first minute of the song “So Easy“. That video is no longer online, probably due to a copyright strike, but I still vibe to that song.)

Anyway, while at Gen Con 2023, I visited the booth of Pegasus Spiele, which manufactures and distributes titles for Edition Spielwiese, and they happened to have a mock-up copy on hand, so I took pics and got an overview of the gameplay. (Please note that all of this is from memory, so I might not be 100% accurate.)

To start, the 2-4 player game Havalandi is (sort of) a roll-and-move game. A cardboard hot air balloon starts the game at the top of a triangular hex area, and on a turn you roll the die, move the balloon the indicated number of spaces clockwise around the triangle, then place a token of your color on any empty hex in one of the two lines radiating from the balloon’s landing space. Alternatively, you can place a token adjacent to one of your tokens already in those lines as long as it’s placed in the same region.

The game board has four regions: yellow, green, red, and brown — but thematically they represent (I think) gravel, grass, hills, and mountains. (I happened to run into someone from Pegasus at the Indianapolis airport while writing this, and he said the cover and location is meant to represent the Cappadocia hot air balloon festival that takes place in the city of Nevşehir, Turkey, which is in the Cappadocia region. Someone on Twitter pointed out that the title “Havalandi” is a Turkish word that can be translated as “rose up (in the air)” or “took off”.)

When you make a group of three tokens within a region, you score 3 points; if you add a fourth token to this group (still within the same region), you score 4 points, and so on.

When you add a token to a group, you can launch the group — but only if at least one of the tokens is on gravel. When you launch a group, you flip all of the tokens to their balloon side, then score 4, 8, or 12 points depending on whether the group is in two, three, or four different regions. Once launched, these tokens can no longer be part of a group.

If you place a token next to a pagoda, you score points, and if you have a token next to all pagodas of a color, you earn a bonus. Two endgame scoring cards are revealed at random at the start of the game, and if you meet the condition on a card, you earn additional points. The game ends when all tokens have been placed, at which time the player with the most points is launched higher into the troposphere.

The game board is double-sided, with the A-side above featuring a gravel track that’s more difficult to reach than what’s on the B-side, but with larger grass, hill, and mountain regions in which to grow groups. Also, the pagodas are all a single color.

Havalandi will debut in separate German and English editions at SPIEL ’23 in October.

• In June 2023, Maestro Media announced a 2024 release date for The Smurfs: Hidden Village, but Maestro is bringing another iconic cartoon world to the tabletop in 2024, courtesy of Roberta Taylor‘s 2-4 player game Hello Kitty: Day at the Park. An overview:

Players take on the role of Hello Kitty, My Melody, Kuromi, and other characters to playfully compete for the most epic day of fun at the local park. They explore the park by laying tiles, ideally gaining items along the way that allow them to complete adventures, which they will document by taking selfies.

The game features a unique system to scale all parts of the game in difficulty for each individual player, even while the game is in progress, so kids can start with the simplest version to begin to explore the game’s mechanisms, then learn the more advanced gameplay when they feel ready.

Once all the tiles have been played, the end of the game is triggered, and the player who has gained the most points from their adventures wins!

Ares Games now expects War of the Ring: Kings of Middle-earth — the final expansion for War of the Ring from Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, and Francesco Nepitello — to be available in December 2023.

• But while that series is wrapping up, Ian Brody‘s War of the Ring: The Card Game will continue to grow. Publisher Ares Games sold out of its advance copies of War of the Ring: The Card Game – Against the Shadow at Gen Con 2023 ahead of this expansion’s September 2023 retail release, and it teased the future by announcing War of the Ring: The Card Game – Fire and Swords, which is currently due out in Q2 2024 and will contain, among other things, rules for games with up to six players.


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