The annual Gen Con gaming convention is in the books and, as usual, it was quite the ride. This year over 70,000 people descended upon Indianapolis to game, cosplay, and enjoy the “best four days of gaming”. And that’s probably what you are here for, the games. The BGQ staff was on hand to demo as many new games as we could. So here are some of our favorite and most surprising games from the show.
Favorite Game I Bought:
Tony and Brian W: Shobu. I haven’t played all the games I brought home from Gen Con yet, but so far, Shobu is a clear winner. This was Andrew’s sleeper hit from Origins this year and I can see why. The game is so simple, yet insanely addictive. Move a stone on one board, then move one on another board. During our evening gaming sessions, Shobu rarely left the table as players just took turns churning through it. Next gamer up!
Jon: Carpe Diem. Picking up a copy of Carpe Diem from Ravensberger only to find out 1) that Stefan Feld was signing them right behind me, and 2) there was no line! He was very gracious and even offered a photo. Did I play the game yet? No. Will it ever leave my collection? Absolutely not.
Stephanie: Wingspan. It didn’t release at Gen Con, but I was excited to finally get Wingspan. As a life-long bird lover (thanks, Dad!), the theme drew me right in. Gorgeous art, pretty components, and thoughtful gameplay. Even though it’s competitive, it’s still a mellow game. We’ve already made a house rule: every time you play a bird, you must read the flavor text about it. Otherwise, you have to coo like a bird and flap your arms like wings.
Alex: Letter Jam. Letter Jam from CGE takes this one by a n_se. Letter Jam combines deduction and wordplay with clever mechanics to bring the challenge to the players. With players knowing all letters except their own, the team gets the knowl_dg_ they need by smartly creating words from the v_s_ble letters and a little bit of intuition. After a single p_ay, I knew I had to own it, and I was not di_appo_nted.
Andrew: In Front of the Elevators. Letter Jam is definitely up there, but since Alex told you all about that one, I’ll go with In Front of the Elevators. This small card game from Saashi & Saashi was available in a limited quantity at the Meeple Source booth. It’s quite literally about lining your family up in front of elevators trying to make sure you get on. In Front of the Elevators is unique, fun, and quick playing game that has a pretty reasonable amount of emergent strategy.
Brian B: Raccoon Tycoon and Lockup. I do not know yet as I only bought two games (my lowest Gen Con haul ever), Racoon Tycoon and Lockup. The family really enjoyed Racoon Tycoon, but I think we will really enjoy Lockup as well.
Game I Wish I Could Have Bought:
Tony: Iron Forest. Ice Cool is one of my favorite dexterity games and publisher Brain Games appears to have taken this one to the next level… literally. Iron Forest is their newest flicking game and it has two levels! Iron Forest also introduces a scenario system that really ups the game here. Brain Games only had a demo on display, so I can’t wait to try out the final version of this one.
Stephanie: Everdell. On the first day, the pastoral art of Everdell caught my eye. The demo display in the dealer hall called to me. Then I played a friend’s copy and loved it. Worker placement, engine building, and cute woodland creatures: hits all my sweet spots. But our game collection is so massive already, I didn’t know if it would make it off the shelf often enough to warrant its purchase.
Andrew: Miyabi. The folks at HABA are continuing to put out Kinderspiele-winning titles. But their reach towards hobby gamers of all ages is growing as well. They were showing off the upcoming Miyabi designed by Michael Kiesling. Miyabi has players drafting polyomino-shaped tiles, each with one of six features on them. There is a row specific to that feature that must be maintained and you can only place in each column once every round. You not only fill your grid, but eventually build up and score points multiplied by the level, a la NMBR9. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one in the grown-up SdJ category next year.
Brian W: Watergate. I got to play this one with Brian B. in the BGG Hot Games Room and loved it. This two-player game pits the Nixon Administration vs the Washington Post. The NA player is trying to suppress the Watergate scandal while the WP is trying to expose it. I held off buying it because it was only a 2-player but after a nice long drive back to Chicagoland – I will be pre-ordering this one.
Brian B: Parks. I was not a big fan of Move from the Left Side of the Board to the Right Side… I mean Tokaido. Parks adds enough to the game to make it interesting, but it still is a relaxing experience. The art and the components are beautiful as well. They were selling out of their limited copies every day, but I will be looking to pick this up when it comes to retail.
Game that Surprised Me:
Tony: Bermuda Pirates. Family game publisher Fox Mind games are usually great for families, but don’t always leave me eager to play again right away. They broke that mold with the excellent Slide Blast, and their newest dexterity game Bermuda Pirates has a chance to do that as well. Players are moving boats around the ocean trying to collect gems, but there are secret magnets hidden under the board. If your boat moves across one, it will fling all the gems out of your boat. After playing with the demo, I’m eager to try this one again.
Stephanie: Parks. Friends had told me that Parks was like Tokaido, which although visually stunning, was a bore of a game. But after playing a friend’s copy, I was pleasantly surprised! Whereas Tokaido felt like a slog, I felt engaged throughout Parks. There were enough options in this worker placement / action selection game to keep you thinking throughout. And here I come again with my refrain: the art was gorgeous. Every park card revealed got ooh’s and ahh’s.
Alex: Silver. I am not particularly into the One Night Werewolf universe, so when prepping for Gen Con, Silver from Bezier Games did not make my must-see list. After hearing that there was an app version released to give a taste of gameplay, I figured it was a good way to kill some time in the airport, not realizing I would play the app version for practically the entire flight to Indianapolis. Glad I gave this one a spin – it was fantastic and a hit not only with me, but with all the people I taught to play over the weekend.
Andrew: Carnival of Monsters. Probably shouldn’t be surprised that Richard Garfield can make a good drafting game, but here we are. My buddy picked this up and we played it one evening and I can’t wait to get it back to the table. The cool thing about Carnival is that the hand you draft from contains a variety of card types. Monsters, lands that are needed to play monsters, staff that give special abilities, and end game goals that can give you some extra VP. You can select any card but have to pay a coin if you can’t play it. Lots of decisions to be made and lots of replayability.
Brian W: Amul. Andrew had mentioned before GenCon that he was bringing Amul and having us play it. I had not heard of it but this Lautapelit and Stronghold title was a ton of fun. It can accommodate up to 8 players and is a mix of card drafting and set collection. But my favorite mechanic was the hand management aspect which during the end game can only score cards on the table, and in your hand- but only if they have the appropriate icon. I think Amul is the gateway drafting game I have been looking for.
Brian B: Team3 and Tuki. Two dexterity games (mostly because I hate dexterity games) make the list for me. Team3 requires teamwork where one player can see what needs to be built but cannot use words to explain it, only gestures. A second teammate translates the gestures into instructions for the 3rd player, who needs to follow them but has to do it with their eyes closed. This is especially fun with two teams of three competing against each other. Tuki is a speed building game where a picture displaying three 1 x 5 pieces in different positions is revealed and players must match the picture using the same group of pieces. I rolled my eyes when it was described to me and asked to play again after my first game!
Jon: Aegean Sea. I was surprised to snag a copy of Carl Chudyk’s latest game, Aegean Sea, on the first day. This was really the only game I had my heart set on when I left for the con, but with only 100 (prototype) copies, I assumed that I was S.O.L. As a fan of the old “Chudyk Tuck,” I am really enjoying this implementation. The rules are a bit rough around the edges, numbered 1.0, and come with an errata, but I was assured that updates will be posted online as this continues its trek through development. Those of you who couldn’t pick up a copy will be happy to hear that it will be released as print and play before it is published with its art and a final ruleset.
Most Disappointing Game:
Tony and Alex, Brian B: Arkham Horror: Final Hour. When Fantasy Flight Games announced Arkham Horror: Final Hour during their In-Flight report, I was immediately intrigued. As a lover of all things Lovecraftian, I have followed most of FFG’s Cthulhu-themed games. They billed Final Hour as a game that can replicate the tension of the last few rounds of Eldritch Horror, yet a fraction of the playtime. In reality, the game felt like a mashup of The Mind and Clue, but not in a good way. Unfortunately, it was also really random, lacking player agency, and got repetitive really fast with a theme that felt pasted on.
Andrew: Obscurio. I like Mysterium pretty well, but it doesn’t make it to the table often. I’ve generally outgrown it. I was hopeful Obscurio would add some new life to the formula. Perhaps it’s because our demoer was just an expert level clue-giver, but it didn’t feel like the traitor role even had a chance. The Mysterium reprint is something I already prefer to play with the simplified rules of the Polish original and Obscurio is a giant leap in the wrong direction.
Brian W: FFG In-Flight Report. No games really were disappointing for me, but the Fantasy Flight In-Flight Report Wednesday night was a disappointment for what’s coming from them for the rest of 2019 and Q1 for 2020. Nothing coming down the pipe really excited me and, as Tony, Alex, and Brian B. found out, Arkham Horror: Final Hour doesn’t seem worth my time. Their big new release is a Marvel Champions: The Card Game LCG which seems like more hype than fun. The core set heroes were fine, but the villains included was an odd assortment with the fourth-coming expansions for Q1 2020 looking uninteresting.
Other Musings on Gen Con 2019
Tony: This felt like an odd year for me as there never really was an IT game I felt like I had to rush to get. Many games sold out early (Parks, Unmatched, Black Angel to name a few), but overall, I didn’t buy very many games compared to previous years. I have also noticed a large uptick in demos of future Kickstarters. Is Gen Con slowly turning into a Kickstarter preview show? On an unrelated note, my first game Startropolis never made it to Gen Con due to a screw up by the factory in China (they sent all expansions, no core games). So I was really bummed to not be able to see people playing my very first designed game.
Jon: Don’t set too many “Must Do’s” for yourself. Gen Con weekend is about relishing the hobby, playing games with friends, and maybe meeting new people. Even considering all of the acquisitions of the Con, my favorite moments were in the gaming hall of the J.W. Marriott playing games with the BGQ crew, some of the Drinking Meeples (check out their podcast), and Andrew’s local cadre.
Stephanie: Due to recent surgery, Alex had to experience Gen Con in a wheelchair to limit his walking. Every Gen Con and ICC employee we interacted with was gracious and extremely helpful. Sometimes, we asked for help, and other times assistance was offered without us even asking. We only got a glimpse of what it’s like for people with full-time disabilities, but at least we found out that the Con is accommodating.
Alex: Having to tour the dealer hall in a wheelchair this year made me realize that bar-height tables are not the best choice for accessibility. It was very difficult to hear booth workers and participate in demos at these high tables – not the easiest way to experience all the games Gen Con has to offer. Fortunately, this did not diminish my overall convention experience – it still maintains its reputation as the Best Four Days in Gaming. Also, shout-out to my fellow BGQ writer Andrew, who was the most popular person in the open gaming room – I felt like I was gaming with a real celebrity, with all the people coming up to him and saying hello. Way to be a pillar of the board game community!
Andrew: Sold out signs everywhere. Especially at the Asmodee-conglomerate Game Center. Black Angel. Mystery House. Quirky Circuits. Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein. MegaCity: Oceania. Pinnacle. Heck, even things like Res Arcana that has been in retail for quite awhile. Other booths weren’t immune: Silver, Letter Jam, Hats, Unmatched, The King’s Dilemma, Parks. Despite not having a stand-out hot title that everyone was aiming for, there was a distinct lack of inventory.
Brian W: Said this last year and I’m going to say it again. It’s worth your time and money to get event tickets for the BGG Hot Games Room. They have multiple copies of the current hotness at Gen Con and others from earlier in the year. I was able to play a number of games and decide if these were must-haves or meh. I was also able to talk to other gamers and get their impressions on games they had finished that I was not able to play. All in all another great time at the BGG Gen Con Hot Games Room.
Brian B: Please stop bringing “Here is My Entire Board Game Collection in a Backpack” backpacks into the exhibit hall. I get that it is convenient for you to carry your games. It is NOT convenient for every other attendee who you have unwillingly dragged into your game of Dodge My Backpack. The rows are too small and you are way too unaware.