Okay, so this title is a bit of a farce, as I only played about 15 games while at Gen Con. I was only there Thursday and Friday, and there are some things I played and saw that I can’t discuss yet (ooooh, mystery!). I did play a few duds, but let’s not talk about these – let’s talk about the ten AWESOME things I got to check out while there. Every single one of these games was fantastic, so much so that it was hard to number this list, but here we go!
10. Nefarious (USAopoly)
I’m cheating on a few of these, as I played Nefarious ahead of the con (check out the review here). It looked like the game was getting a lot of buzz at the con though, and I know that some friends who played with me were eager to get their own copies. They had a really cool sign above the booth and seem very interested in investing in this game, which still strikes me as odd, but it’s cool to see USAopoly enter the strategy / hobby game market a bit more, instead of just being those people who make Telestrations and licensed versions of Monopoly. Fingers are crossed for that expansion DXV already has ready to go.
9. Discoveries (Asmodee / ludonaute)
I spent way too much time agonizing before the con about what to run for when the early access doors open. Mysterium? Blood Rage? Will Mission: Red Planet be there? And of course, after waiting over an hour for my press badge, the early access line was super long, and then there was already a huge line at the every booth when I got in. C’mon people, Gen Con is for gaming, not waiting in lines! So, I saw Anne-Cecile from ludonaute and sat down to play Discoveries, the new dice spinoff of Lewis & Clark. Designer Cedrick Chaboussit and artist Vincent Dutrait joined us as well, so this is was a truly awesome way to start the con. The game is gorgeous, from the artwork down to the warm, wooden dice that just felt great to roll. I’m a guy who chooses cards over dice 99 times out of 100, but despite that, I thought the game was pretty good. It has a smattering of engine-building, but you need to make sure you don’t waste all your time doing that instead of accruing points (think Dominion in that sense). You can do some pretty cool combos too, and the gameplay is pretty quick – we knocked it out in 45 minutes. I look forward to playing it more in the future.
8. Evolution (North Star Games)
I’m a bit late to the game on this one, but I finally got a chance to sit down and play this and was quite impressed. I’m not sure what took me so long – I love a good card combo game that plays in an hour, and this game hits all the right boxes for me. I don’t much care for the (admittedly quite professional) art, but the components, mechanisms, and theme all come together and this one really sings. I’m excited to dive into the Flight expansion. A rep from North Star also showed me a prototype of the upcoming Climate expansion, which has a climate track that can cause losses or gains of food and population and new cards will affect the track when they are used for food at the Watering Hole. A pretty clever idea, and a natural mechanism to add in a game about evolving animals. Look for that one on Kickstarter early next year. Until then, I’m eager to dig further into what we already have for Evolution. Expect a review of both Evolution and Flight in the near future.
7. Warehouse 51 (Passport Game Studios)
Warehouse 51 is a small, 30-minute auction game, which might make you think of things like For Sale, but this game also has a serious amount of bluffing, because each player knows that some different artifacts (which are being bid on) are counterfeit and won’t actually score at the end of the game. The artifacts also have cool special effects, the art is truly freaking incredible, and the theme is super cool. I was taken aback by just how good this game is, and I’m eager to play again. If you want to know more about this game, be sure to check out our recent interview with co-designer Sergio Halaban. Expect a review of this one too.
6. Abyss: Kraken (Asmodee / Bombyx)
Asmodee’s press event is always a highlight of Gen Con for me, and it was no different this time. One of the several games I got to try was the upcoming Kraken expansion for Abyss, complete with a ridiculously oversized Kraken mini that’s basically just a very large token. This expansion adds nebulis (think corruption from Lords of Waterdeep‘s Scoundrels of Skullport expansion), which are gained when you use Kraken allies that are wild cards. Nebulis are worth negative points, but can also be used as currency in limited amounts when you’re out of pearls, so you can sneakily pass them off to other players. The Krakens also disappear when used, which lets you do some sweet tricks when affiliating Allies. There are also some new Lords with cool abilities. The last addition is a push-your-luck Location that requires a separate deck of “loot”, and that aspect I thought was a little take-it-or-leave-it. I always felt Locations were a bit tacked-on to the game, and I’d rather keys just give you a bonus VP based on who does it first, or something simpler like that. Despite that complaint about the overall game, I’m so glad I played this. I haven’t touched Abyss in a while and it was on my for-trade list, but not only did this expansion add super cool stuff without making the game too complex, it also reinvigorated my love for the base game. Again, it’s those cool card combos and short playtime that just does it for me. I like how interactive this game is as well, in the ways that you affect how other players can grab Allies. I’m definitely reminded that it’s best with four, so I’d tell anyone who thought the game suffered at lower player counts to give it another shot with the full cohort. I can’t wait for this expansion to come around (Essen, I think).
5. Codenames (Czech Games Edition)
I’d already played Codenames a bunch before the con (review here), but I still stopped at the booth to teach my con-buddy the game. He’s a bit more of a serious gamer and not so into party games, but he fell in love with it just like everyone else I’ve taught it to (about ten people now). This game is just so cerebral, and there’s so much strategy involved. I think we as gamers have a very closed mind as to what the term “strategy” or “strategy game” means. We tend to think of it in terms of decision points with lots of potentially good options, but if you go by that, this “party game” goes even past Five Tribes in terms of the possibilities to think about. And yet, it’s so easy to teach to non-gamers, and as Chris (con-buddy and librarian) pointed out, this would be a great game for educators and librarians eager to promote literacy. One of the best games of the year, which actually isn’t saying much because this year has been absolutely great already, in my opinion.
4. City Mania (Asmodee / Days of Wonder)
City Mania is due out in February or March for the Nurenberg Toy Fair, but I was able to play a prototype (major thanks to Adrien Martinot and Frank Lefebvre of Days of Wonder!). I’m not sure what all to say, so if you want to know more about the gameplay, go check out this preview from the Dice Tower, so they can get in trouble instead of me. I will say that this game does sound cool before you play it, but it really does not click all the way until you sit down and play it. There’s so much to think about, even with the family game. They smartly kept the design simple in areas where it could have been really complex. For example, the tiles could have each had a different crazy ability, but they’re mostly simple effects and repeated ones. The scoring mechanisms aren’t particularly complex either. I didn’t see much of the advanced game, but the family game made my brain hurt plenty! I think after a few games it probably starts to feel a bit more natural, and this is a simpler game to grok than Five Tribes for sure, but it’s more of a middleweight family game, like Days of Wonder does so well. This is a really fantastic game, and I think it’s one that I expect to become a mainstay of the hobby. Not necessarily in the Top 50 of BoardGameGeek or something like that, but a game that continues to sell year after year, like Catan and Carcassonne. Looking forward to this one!
3. New York 1901 (Blue Orange Games)
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, as I didn’t play this one at the con either. I’ve been playing it a ton already, though, as it’s quite a fantastic family game (review here). I made sure to stop and check out the Blue Orange booth, and as far as I can tell their very limited copies (50/day) were selling out instantly. I picked up the promo, which has way more stuff than I expected (as many Bonus cards as in the base game!), so I’m looking forward to putting it through the paces. I never got a chance to meet Chenier La Salle as he was busy demoing the game for the whole con, but Vincent Dutrait got me a signed poster… which blew away from a sudden strong wind as I was leaving the con. :/ Still, it looks like Blue Orange’s foray into “family plus” gaming is starting off quite strong, and this game is so good that I can see it becoming a series of stand-alone games, expansion boxes, and so on. Chicago 1899, anyone? I’m eager to see where they head with this new line of games.
2. 7 Wonders: Duel (Asmodee / Repos Production)
7 Wonders is one of my favorite games of all time, perhaps even a contender for the top spot. That’s part of the reason I’ve always been a bit critical of the expansions (though I have them all anyway) – the base game is so perfect that I have very, very high standards for anything you add to it. So, it was with excitement and trepidation that I’ve closely followed the development of 7 Wonders: Duel. Another point of great excitement was that Bruno Cathala was co-designing this one. Bruno has really developed as a designer and made tons of progress – just look at how well Five Tribes and Abyss have done in the past year. For me though, a very little-known game by Bruno has a special place in my heart, and that’s Sobek. I’ve played it on yucata.de a bunch, and as a two-player game, it’s quite nasty but it absolutely shines as one of the best games I’ve ever played. And if you’ve played it, you’ll immediately see the connections to 7 Wonders: Duel – the science tokens work like the event tokens from Sobek, some cards are missing each round, and the game is designed around face-up and face-down cards. So I was more than a little eager to try this game out.
I’m happy to say that this game feels like 7 Wonders in the best way possible, but is totally its own beast. It’s full of chances for clever moves, tense decisions (those alternate victory conditions!!), and just flat-out fun. It’s quick, it’s dead simple if you know 7 Wonders, and it’s amazing. Now, every married gamer is looking for that next two-player couples game, and surely this one could be it, right!? I will say that this game feels a lot meaner than 7 Wonders, but most two-player games have a hard time avoiding that. From the get-go, I was trying hard to make my opponent have to pick cards that I knew would open up cards I really wanted, or keep from having particular resources, or get stuck having to discard a card for coins. There’s going to plenty of “aw crap, I just screwed up so bad” moments as you play, so I’m not sure it’s much of a couples game if you’re looking for a more friendly, Jaipur / Lost Cities type experience. I don’t care though. The game is awesome.
1. Mysterium (Asmodee / Libellud)
Mysterium was so popular that you had to sign up in advance for demos, and I signed up Thursday morning to play on Friday afternoon. They were letting bystanders play if people no-show, and in our case, there was an awkward situation where we had three no-shows but four very eager bystanders. After some hemming and hawing and the demo guy seeming very unsure of what to do, a light bulb went off and I piped up, “Hey, I’ve read the rules – can I be the ghost!?” He seemed pretty hesitant but eventually caved in. I was a terrible ghost and couldn’t even get everyone through the main part of the game in seven turns, but we went through the final round of the game anyway (and I did pretty well that time). The game is simultaneously much simpler than the rules made it sound and yet way more complex to think through during play, especially since the ghost can’t talk! The theme of this game is brilliant, the gameplay is totally immersive, and it can be as serious or as funny as you want it to be. Libellud has another Dixit-level hit on their hands here, I think (and by the way, nothing’s stopping you from using Dixit cards if you play so much that the dream cards begin to feel repetitive). It’s competitively priced, it’s gorgeous, it’s completely unique, and I can’t wait to play again. What an awesome way to finish out the convention.
That’s it for this year. What was your favorite game of the con? Let us know!