When I go to a convention it helps to have a strategy to help me make the most of my time. After Origins, Gen Con is the first convention of the ‘convention season’ where several hundred games will debut to the public for demo or release. Currently on Board Game Geek, there are over 600 titles posted to the Gen Con preview, the most comprehensive convention game list. Of these titles, I’ve narrowed it down to 45 games I really want to play while I’m there. I know each demo will take roughly an hour but as I factor in navigating the show floor, meetings, lunch, bathroom breaks and various distractions because I will naturally geek out along the way I’m obviously going to run out of time. Attendees will be rushing to booths that have very limited quantities of games, trying to get the games they are most excited about, but won’t be available again for months. It’s easy to grab things without playing them, in an attempt to manage time. So, I needed to re-evaluate my expectations. From my list of 45, I’ve narrowed it down to 10 games that have piqued my interest – games that will be for sale, that could be bought at the booth (if I make it there early enough). They all sound exceptional on paper, but I’m really interested to try them out before they come home with me.
10) Warsaw: City of Ruins, Filip Miłuński / Publisher: North Star Games / Cost: $50
Warsaw is a tile laying game, where players act as architects, building up various parts of the city of Warsaw, while competing with time, and the historic destruction that impacted many generations. Warsaw was originally released in 2016, as Capital, and North Star has retooled the name for printing and distribution in the US. On paper, this theme of building and rebuilding seems to fit very well with Warsaw’s history, and pays tribute to the rich architectural diversity the city has seen. I’ll be looking to see if the tiles and presentation follow through. The bar is set pretty high with our city building favorite, Between Two Cities.
Railroad Ink is a roll and write game from the designers of Dragon Castle. Here, each player will work to connect exits around their own 7×7 grid by selecting symbols rolled on a community pool of dice. The game will be released in two forms, each with its own thematically unique advanced or variant rules options. The games contain dry erase boards and markers, a great option to cut down waste often generated by roll and write games. With its railroad theme, I’ll be looking to see this pattern building game holds up to the pick up and delivery counterpart in Steamrollers.
8) Tiny Epic Zombies, Scott Almes / Publisher: Gamelyn Games / Cost: $30
Oh no! Another zombie game. As much as I want to leave it at that, production value, gameplay and excellent marketing have kept me intrigued. Gamelyn Games’ latest Tiny Epic game releases at Gen Con and I really want to play it. Featuring a variable mapping system similar to Tiny Epic Quest, players will scour a mall looking for gear, survivors, and an escape plan while hordes of zombies creep in. You can play completely cooperatively, cooperatively with one person playing the zombies, or competitively, fighting amongst yourselves and the zombies. I’ll be looking for a game that emphasizes exploration and pushing your advantages to strategize escape over one that devolves into dice chucking and zombie fighting only.
7) Space Park, Henry Audubon / Publisher: Keymaster Games / Cost: $35
Traveling and exploring bears is a common thread for almost every person I know; collecting tokens to remember our experiences by. It’s hard to believe that traveling to space would be any different. In Space Park, you will travel around a board comprised of postcard-sized tiles that are interchangeable with every set up, collecting crystals and badges to earn Explorer Points. Similar to other Keymaster Games product, the artwork, by Brian Edward Miller, is exceptional. I’ll be looking to see how this game strikes the balance between being a beautiful gateway game and keeping more experienced people coming back for more.
6) Root, Cole Wehrle / Publisher: Leder Games / Cost: $60
Root is Leder Games’ most successful Kickstarter to date, and the newest asymmetric game to release from the publishing house that brings us Vast, the Crystal Caverns and soon, Vast, the Mysterious Manor. Asymmetry is no stranger to this company and thematically, while fantasy may have been a safe place to build a brand around design, Root gives a contemporary spin to Mice and Mystics. While still in the fantasy genre, Root appears to be the beginning of many different possibilities for Leder Games. I was excited when I backed it, and that excitement hasn’t dissipated. I’ll be looking to see how player aids reduce both set up time and learning time, which is a notably big hill to climb when playing Vast.
5) Nyctophobia, Catherine Stippell / Publisher: Pandasaurus Games / Cost: $40
Similar to my preferences with zombies, the horror genre is not appealing to me. However, you can’t help but be drawn into trying a game one time when someone tells you players will be blindfolded (or in this case, wearing blackout glasses) during the game. I’ve played this game in prototype, and am completely sold on the experience. In prototype, there was a considerable amount of care given to provide a tactile experience as opposed to a visual one. I’ll be looking to see how, in final form, Pandasaurus has navigated the balance between selling a game that appeals to both people who can see and people who cannot.
4) Wendake, Danilo Sabia / Publisher: Renegade Game Studios / Cost: $65
Wendake is an action selection and area control game based on the culture of the Wyandot People, or Huron Nation. The game takes place over seven rounds, each representing a year in the 7-Years-War between the French and English, but gameplay revolves around various Wyandot Tribes, each with their own unique abilities. At the beginning of the rulebook, we read that the war has very little to do with gameplay other than the round counter. This game immediately reminds me of Lewis and Clark and Puerto Rico; both focusing on a period of European colonization and both falling short of being thoughtfully representative of cultural diversity. There’s an amount of social responsibility the designer has to be aware of. I’ll be looking to see how the game play is impacted by the time period, and how the artwork and components reflect the rich heritage they represent.
3) Symphony No. 9, Frank Liu and Hung-Yang Shen / Publisher: Moaideas Game Design / Cost: $42
Symphony No. 9 gives us a taste of the business of classical music, a theme quite unique to tabletop gaming. During the game, you will play a patron of the arts, putting money towards the creation of beautiful works and also betting on musicians’ careers and future. If you’ve ever watched the Amazon Prime show, Mozart in the Jungle, you’ll know this sense of ownership of the arts among those wealthy enough to participate, hits closer to home than many may like to admit, which makes the mechanisms in this game seemingly perfect. I’ll be looking to see if there’s enough tension in this game’s wagering system to hold my attention until the end.
2) Pantone, the Game, Scott Rogers / Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment / Cost: $30
Pantone’s game concept really excites me. In this game, you’ll use color swatches to help people guess the character you’re trying to represent. The fewer swatches you use, the better. Pantone’s color system is designed to universalize color language both digitally and in print. In the game, we’ll challenge our understanding of color and its importance in recognizing some fun pop culture references like Oscar the Grouch or Superman. I’ll be looking for this game to offer gameplay beyond the the character cards provided in the box, as they are finite and may eventually run dry.
1) Speakeasy Blues, Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews / Publisher: Artana / Cost: $60
Kickstarted back in November of 2017, it was funded by a relatively small number of backers, ringing in at 493. But if you look through Gen Con hotness and anticipation lists, you will be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t include Speakeasy Blues. This is a dice drafting, action selection game with game turns designed to feel free flowing and continuous. Pacing is important in bars and night clubs, especially the illegal ones represented in this game. Balancing keeping the drinks flowing and the police at bay seems to be key in this game. I’ll be looking to see how icons are used to reduce language dependency in the game and if the quality of components and engaging gameplay are worth the price point. Also releasing at Gen Con from this designer duo is the card game, Before the Earth Explodes, from Green Couch Games.