After a bit of a hiatus from convention travel, the BGQ crew was back in full force at Gen Con 2022 this year. Pre-pandemic, Gen Con was drawing in close to 70,000 attendees. Last year, it’s first year back, saw a “mere” 35,000 gamers. This year though, over 50,000 eager shoppers descended upon Indianapolis to enjoy the “Best Four Days of Gaming.” It was great to be back in the familiar confines of the ICC, talking with publishers, demoing games, and just immersing ourselves into nothing but tabletop gaming for a few days.
So with that in mind, we are still here to talk about the games. The BGQ Crew each had their own favorite games they bought, they wish they could have bought, and just other titles we want to speak about. So read on fellow gamers as we talk all things gaming at Gen Con!
Favorite Game We Bought:
Jon: This is a particularly easy one this year. Twilight Inscription (from Fantasy Flight Games), hands-down, took the crown for me and I’m sure more than a few others. It was the best of the (4… I flew so space was a premium) games I bought (or played) and has been far and away my favorite game at the convention. I never played the big brother due to time requirements and a lack of fellow players, but luckily this version is much more approachable. The two hour play time (+30-50% for a teach) is fairly reasonable for the after-hall social festivities and is really not limited by its player count (1-8), so anyone interested could participate.
Alex & Andrew & Spencer: Planet Unknown from Adam’s Apple Games gets my nod for our favorite game of Gen Con 2022. It is well-documented that I am a sucker for all things polyominoes, and Planet Unknown delivers an engaging game with a fun theme. The table presence of the game is top notch, as the central turntable and bright components grabbed the attention of almost everyone who passed by while we played. Our copy is en route, as they sold out their stock at the convention, and we cannot wait to play it again!
Andrew hopping in to add… I’m not normally a sucker for all things polyominoes. But yet I really love the tracks in Planet Unknown and the variety of ways to score points. And it really plays just as well at six players as it does two since everything is essentially simultaneous. Was very glad to score a copy of it at the convention.
Spencer Planet Unknown did not appeal to me from the rumblings I heard throughout the year, but after seeing the fancy deluxe components, I was down to try it. This game is not in my usual wheelhouse, but ticks a lot of boxes. The tile selection reminded me of the Tiny Towns calling mechanism. It gives me the same feeling of playing what’s given to me until it’s my turn to have full control. It’s smooth and quick even with six players and you get constantly rewarded with fun stuff as you move up those tracks.
Tony: Vengeance: Roll and Fight from Mighty Boards. I was tempted to also go with Planet Unknown as well, which was a ton of fun, but I’m going with a surprise hit for me. While the roll-and-write game is based on the original Vengeance game, it definitely is a bit more streamlined. I really enjoyed how it was able to take that core game and condense it down into about a half hour experience. It features a clever dice-rolling mechanic, along with a solid upgrade system that will have you making your way through a gang’s den trying to take out the big bad boss that originally wronged you. I enjoyed it so much that I even went back the next day and bought the Volume 2 box so I can have all the extra characters, bosses and maps to play!
Jacob: Cat in the Box from Bezier Games. Bezier took the pulse of the gaming world and decided to combine two of the most popular developments in the hobby. Trick-taking is back, baby! Also, Cats! You could easily construct a game night built exclusively around trick-taking games, or an entirely different night around cat-themed games. Cat in the Box might just be the best game on either night. Modeled and themed after the experiment known as “Schrödinger’s Cat,” players essentially play cards to win (or not win) tricks by declaring what color (read: suit) the cat is observed as being. The thing is all of the cards are black. You get to decide when you’ve “run out of blue cards” so that you can win the trick with the trump color. The other wrinkle is each card can only be played once (there’s only one of each number and color combination in the deck, obviously!), so once someone has decided a 7-card of theirs is blue, that 7-card in your hand clearly must be a different color. It’s a delightful game that should please computer-brains and casual gamers alike.
Brian B: My favorite is also Planet Unknown, but I would rather discuss my very close second, The Guild of Merchant Explorers by AEG. One to four players can explore one of four kingdoms in this flip and place cubes game (™). While the start of the game is pretty basic, once you pick your era power that, by the way, is usable in all future eras, the gameplay really begins to shine. In addition, I really enjoyed the mechanism of establishing villages to spearhead future expeditions (all explorers are removed from the map between eras). If you enjoy roll/flip and write type games, or love games with variable powers, I would recommend at least trying this game out.
Jason: Deep Sea Adventure may be my favorite push-your-luck game. Naturally, I had to see what treasure the expansion brought to the experience. It’s a single die, replacing one of the standard die for the game. Instead of rolling threes, you get either a multiplier of three that is added to your other die, or you move a number of spaces equal to the number of submariners in front of you. When your turns become so precious, having the chance to roll even bigger really encourages you to test your luck. I still drowned many times, but it added some excitement that’s going to please fans.
Chris: For those of you in the audience who haven’t had the pleasure to meet me there’s two things you should know: 1) I’m very cheap and 2) I don’t like to spend money. As such, I had a hard budget of $0 for the con and a similar one for shipping games back to my home. While I would have loved to buy everything I played (and even more things that I didn’t get to play), I had to be smart about what I could fit into my luggage. So I’m going to go with Marvel Remix here, the small box card game that’s a slightly revamped version of Fantasy Realms. I demoed a full game and then impulse bought it as soon as it got restocked that afternoon. It even came with a promo and I’m a sucker for those. (That’s probably the third thing you need to know about me.)
Brian W: Jacob was nice enough to teach a group of BGQers Scout by Oink Games. This unique ladder climbing game has you flip your hand to show which numbered sequence is best (either consecutive numbers or sets). What may feel frustrating is that you cannot rearrange the cards in your hand once you look at them and decide which side of the cards you want to play. Scout allows one of the three actions to play each turn: show, scout, or scout and show. The game pace is fast at times but very thinky. I was rather surprised when I purchased my own copy that Scout was a Spiel des Jahres nominee for 2022. While I didn’t win the first game, or second, or even third, I still enjoyed it and I see Scout as part of my collection for a long while.
Favorite Game We Couldn’t/Didn’t Buy:
Jon: I’m going to give this one to Village Rails from Osprey Games. The small box size and flexible player count (1-4) piqued my interest (see above) while we were walking around the dealer hall. When the NJ contingent was able to nab a playthrough at the Hot Games Room, I knew it would scratch the rail-building itch for me. Unfortunately, although shipped, like many other games this year, it was still on a boat. I did jump on the preorder as it is due stateside and ready for fulfillment in September.
Alex: My Father’s Work was a title that we kept on wistfully checking out the box and components at the Renegade Games booth, so we snuck in a play in the BGG Hot Games Room and fell in love with it. While the game mechanics themselves are basic, our enjoyment stemmed from the engaging story, and seeing how our decisions affected the outcome of the tale. We were not able to snag a copy of this at the convention, but my birthday is coming up soon, so I’m hoping to have this title waiting for me when I discover the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
Andrew: I played a quick demo game of 3000 Scoundrels at the Unexpected Games booth and I’m intrigued to see the full game. I love the idea of transparent cards overlaying others to create unique combinations. The demo game only gave me a small taste of how scoring works and bluffing others at the table, but I’m excited to get my hands on the finished game.
Tony: Up until Saturday, I would have said Planet Unknown, but then I got a chance to demo the War of the Ring Card Game from Ares Games. This was my game of the con, and I would have played it half a dozen times at the convention if I could have. Robert Di Meglio, part of Ares’ Games production team, did a fantastic job of teaching and playing against us during the game. The game does an excellent job of not only distilling the War of the Ring board game down to a quicker playing card game, but also still follows the theme of the books. Sides will be competing over battlegrounds and paths cards each round using armies and characters from The Lord of the Rings. Players will need to decide where to commit their characters and armies, because usually once they are played, they are gone for the game. And true to the books, the free people have an advantage early in the game, while once they get to Mordor, the shadow player definitely has an edge. Our game came down to basically the last card played, and Roberto won by a single point. I’m very eager to try this one again in the fall/winter when it’s released.
Jacob: Sea Salt & Paper by Bombyx. This was a total surprise. I was walking idly through the expo hall aisles when I saw the Bombyx sign and a couple of Frenchmen speaking animatedly to each other. I saw some beautiful artwork on a small deck of cards, and upon closer inspection, saw the game was designed by the one-and-only Bruno Cathala (along with Théo Rivière). Bruno is obviously responsible for some of the most celebrated games in the hobby, and his small-format games are an underappreciated element of his oeuvre. So I sat down and was taught this tiny card game, which includes elements of set-collection and tableau-building, not unlike Sushi Go, but with a light push-your-luck piece thrown in, allowing players to wager that they’ll have more points at the end of the round by standing pat and allowing their opponents one more turn. The art features photographs of actual origami creations depicting octopi, crabs, fish, sailers, boats, and mermaids. It was a simple game, but one that fits into your pocket and is perfect for a picnic, a diner booth, an airport terminal floor, or any other impromptu gaming location. It’s set to release in Europe later this year, with the US to follow.
Brian B: Hands down it was Oathsworn from Shadowborne Games. I love cooperative dungeon crawler/boss battlers, but was unable to back Oathsworn during its Kickstarter campaign. I made sure I was there first thing Thursday morning to try the demo. I was there again at opening on Friday to add my email to their limited list of available copies that would be shipped after all KS copies are fulfilled. Jamie Jolly has created something special. The combat is unique (dice and/or cards, you choose!) and brutal. Your abilities have multiple uses, as well as cooldowns that cascade previously used cards that cycle cards back into your hand. The lore and world-building appear to be top-notch. Did I mention there are minis? Yeah, there are many cool and interesting minis as well. I hope Jaime and team hurry up and finish fulfillment so I can get my copy ASAP!
Chris: Piggybacking my response to the first entry, the correct answer to this question is “all of them.” I’m already anxious to grab a copy of Nightmare Productions (I’m the site’s movie person remember?) and despite being terrible at trick-taking games I think Cat in the Box will make it into my collection at some point. (And I didn’t even play Twisted Fables but am sure I’ll blind-buy that one pretty soon.) If I’m forced to pick just one game I wish I could have bought it’s Twilight Inscription, the Twilight Imperium flip and roll and write that takes an eight-hour negotiation game and turns it into a breezy three-hour experience. Okay… it’s not breezy and there were many times when my head was spinning, but it’s a game that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since we finished playing. (I came in a distant last place for those interested. Also of note: it took Brian Biewer nearly as long to wipe down his player boards as it had taken us to play, which was almost as much fun to mock as the game was to play.) This is not a game I normally play and no one I play with at home will like this game, but I’m definitely still going to get it when it hits retail. I’m really glad Jon and the aforementioned Biewer forced me to try it out.
Brian W: Some of the BGQers hit the BGG hot games room on Friday afternoon and as a joke I picked up Bag of Chips for the group to play. Well, the joke was on me after the third game of this hand management, push your luck, and filler game. It was very thinking and mathy especially when you’re trying to see what types of chips come out to try to determine what your final score could be against the cards in your hand. It has a nice end-game mechanic where you split the last three cards of your hand to score positively and ideally not at all. Overall, we had a blast and on the drive back to Chicagoland I really regretted not picking up a copy.
Spencer: My wife and I tried three very different two-player skirmish board games. We have been in the market to replace Warhammer Underworlds which suffers from bloat and a FOMO driven release schedule. Namely, we played Super Fantasy Brawl (my second favorite), Aristeia (her second favorite), and Ascension Tactics. As you may have guessed, Ascension was the real winner for both of us. This game takes my preferred form of deck builder (random market) and adds some tactical positioning and combat via standees on a board with area majority scoring, environmental obstacles, and treasure tokens. While I was concerned the combo of a deck builder and skirmish would bog down the experience, they actually struck a great balance. We played a full game, saw a small portion of the cards available, and were really impressed with the variety of cool and powerful cards available. Hopefully, we’ll be reviewing this one soon.
Other Noteworthy Games
Jon: I did not mean to demo Z-Man’s latest reskin of Love Letter, Jabba’s Palace. I was passing by and saw the majority of a round during a traffic jam pretty early on in the convention. I thought it looked like Love Letter, but the card “powers” were different and the cards were suited. I lurked a second too long on the card reference resulting in a fantastic playthrough from a fellow New Jerseyan and Scarlet Knight and an immediate buy for me. I never cared much for Love Letter, but truth be told, I had a similar purchasing experience back in 2015 with the Hobbit version.
Brian W: Played a quick game with Jon and Collin and same as Jon—never been a big Love Letter fan but the theme and agenda cards made Jabba’s Palace more interesting to me. The family and I have played it (possibly too) many times since Gencon, so definitely a surprising purchase and fun game that came out of nowhere.
Alex: It is rare that I will buy a game without playing it first, but all the buzz around Ark Nova from Capstone Games got the better of me. Honestly, it was not the best experience to play, but it was likely due to us first playing on Saturday evening, being tired, and having already learned the rules to lots of games within 72 hours. I’m looking forward to giving this one another shot. Unexpectedly, I really enjoyed Nightmare Productions from Trick or Treat Studios, a Knizia re-skin that was plenty of fun.
Andrew: First Rat was my surprise hit for sure. I was looking at a copy at the Pegasus Spiele booth and was just casually reading the back of the box when they told me it was the last copy for the convention. So, FOMO being what it is, I just purchased it and figured I’d find out later if that was a mistake. But the rats building rockets to the moon theme is adorable. And the game is driven by very light rules but with some thinky decisions.
Tony: Twisted Fables from Dimension Games was a random purchase that I really enjoyed. Walking by the booth, I was intrigued by the concept of fairy tale characters from lore fighting it out in a deck builder meets street fighter style of gameplay. Our first game featured a gun-wielding red riding hood up against snow white. Players will be using attack, defense, and movement cards to battle their opponent, with each character featuring their own unique skill deck. This means that each character has their own play style based on their lore and plays differently from others. While I’m eager to dive deeper into this one, we all really enjoyed it at the convention.
Tony: Scout from Oink Games was taught to me one night at the convention and I went straight out and bought it the next day. This is not a new game by any stretch, in fact, Dylan reviewed it last year, but it was new to me. While I don’t buy a ton of trick-taking games (although Scout is a ladder-climbing game), the unique mechanics in Scout were definitely inspired. You have a hand of numbered cards like normal, but you aren’t allowed to rearrange the cards. That means that the order they are dealt is what you have to play with. This creates a lot of situations where you’ll want to try and play cards from the middle of your hand to get a pair of numbers to slide together, allowing you to play them as a set. Trick-taking fans definitely need to try this one out.
Tony: Marvel Champions: Mutant Genesis – On Thursday, Fantasy Flight Games set up a demo for us of their upcoming X-Men Marvel Champions expansion. Unfortunately, they only had the two X-men decks that came with the box (the other two characters didn’t arrive in time), so we had Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Spider-man, and Captain Marvel take on Sabertooth. Overall it was a fun, but challenging game. Sabertooth’s ability is to heal a boost card’s value every time he activates against a character during the villain phase. It definitely will force players to change their play style as hitting him for a couple of points here and there ended up being pointless. You need big hits against him and lots of it. But for fans of the X-Men, all three of the new characters we previewed definitely felt on theme from the comic book source material.
Jacob: To piggy-back off Tony’s note on Scout, Oink Games had me firmly eating out of their palm all convention long. I hit their booth twice and picked up two games each visit, including the aforementioned Scout, as well as Tricks and the Phantom (an excellent little deduction game ideal for 4 players), Startups (a set-collection game where you are trying to have the largest set or it’ll cost you), and Fake Artist Goes to New York (a social-deduction/limited info drawing game where one person has no clue what they’re supposed to be drawing). My only previous exposure to Oink was their biggest hit, Deep Sea Adventure (a clever little push your luck game), which I like and many of my friends love. When a friend showed me Scout a few weeks prior to GenCon, I knew I had to own it. Also, someone should fact-check me on this, but Scout may be the Japanese publisher’s first nomination for the Spiel des Jahres. If they continue to put out good-to-great games that can fit in a purse or fanny pack (or European carryall), I’m excited to line my shelf with Oink’s adorable little boxes.
Brian B: If I hadn’t played Oathsworn, Twilight Inscription would have been the game I could not buy that I wish I had. If you liked Hadrian’s Wall or the idea of a complicated roll and write with interaction, you should look into Twilight Inscription. I cannot wait for its retail release!
Brian B: Andrew was nice enough to teach me Nidavellir Thursday night. Friday I was at Hachette Boardgame’s booth buying both Nidavellir and its expansion, Thingvellir. If you like quick, thinky auction games that include set collection, I highly recommend this game!
Brian B: Not to be outdone with buying games that were …gasp…not released in 2022, I discovered I REALLY liked Cartographers two days before Gen Con. Needless to say, I bought the entire bundle Thursday at the Thunderworks booth. Yes, this game was released in 2019. It is also one of the best flip and writes I have played.
Jason: Cat in the Box. It’s inspired by quantum mechanics and employs betting, a tension I didn’t realize elevated my enjoyment of the game. The way tricks are resolved, much less the way you can play them can be quite mind-bending. All the cards in the deck are colorless and aren’t assigned a suit until you decide what it will be upon playing it. Players mark which card and suit has been played on a community board. Should play come back around to you and you aren’t able to play a card to a suit, you can declare that you no longer have cards of that suit, opting to play off suit. If you do that, however, you can no longer play cards of that suit for the rest of the hand, making it tough to decide when to make this decision, much less win your desired number of tricks before the hand ends. It’s an interesting game and one worth trying out if you’re into trick taking.
Jason: Evergreen was another I passed by walking around Saturday. My first thought was, that looks like advanced Photosynthesis. Turns out, it kind of is, coming from the same designer, who wanted to build out his original idea for the game to present it here. Introduced into this game is card drafting, card markets influenced by this drafting, engine building, and individual player boards. I didn’t have a chance to peruse the rulebook or do a quick demo, but I’ll be looking for future chances to see how it settles by comparison of its original seed.
Chris: I really would have liked to try Andrew’s FOMO purchase of First Rat, but of course he wouldn’t let me join in any of his rodent games, so I had to awkwardly watch from the sidelines. He did relay the rules to me, though, so that was nice-ish of him. I’m going against type for this one and going to highlight Marvel Zombies: A Zombicide Game. This is not my type of game and I’ve never even tried the original Zombicide, but my best friend is a big fan of the franchise so I grabbed a demo slot just so he could try it and got roped into playing. And… it was pretty fun. About what I expected, maybe, but still fun. I had a similar experience with Zombicide: Gear Up, the upcoming flip and write. I liked these games even though I didn’t expect to and might even be convinced to pick up a copy of the latter.
Spencer: I love a good large group game, and I haven’t been able to play many of the ones that have come out since 2020. To my delight, there have been a plethora of standout releases in this category. I enjoyed my demos of Soundbox, Green Team Wins, and Rear Window. Will be seeking those out in the near future. I picked up Monstdrawsity, Long Shot The Dice Game, and So Clover. I’ve played them a few times and can’t wait to try them with friends and family at home.
Other Musings on Gen Con 2022
Jon: I haven’t been to GenCon since 2019 for reasons that we’re all probably too familiar with at this point and in fact, for those same reasons, my gaming dropped rather precipitously. Yet, for all of our convention traffic jams, limited release inventories, and crowded elevators, I am still surprised by how small of a community we truly are in this small world. It was great to see those of you that could make it and those of you that couldn’t make it or for whom this just wasn’t the right year or right circumstances, hopefully, we’ll catch you next time or online. I was surprised twice during the convention by new friends that were from my hometown and our overlap of orbits in acquaintances and friends yet having never met before. Likewise, seeing old friends (in 3D!) from several different time zones and playing new and old games together (literally at the same time) is always the biggest of highlights. I say it every year and I should stop being surprised, but this year in particular, it was so nice to see you.
Alex: This year, we had absolutely no plan whatsoever. We wandered the dealer hall, played demos, talked with designers, played a load of games, and it was wonderful. We loved the booths that had demo staff wearing mics and speakers, and we hated the giant carts and wagons people were pulling around. For us, though, the best part of Gen Con is always reconnecting with old friends, bringing new ones into the circle, and making memories.
Andrew: I was very glad to have Gen Con this year be much closer to “normal”. I attended last year and, while grateful we had something to go to… this year felt like Gen Con was back. Mostly that was thanks to the large contingent of BGQ writers and friends near and far gathered in the open gaming area of the JW Marriott. The dealer hall was great and I loved checking out the new hotness, but each day I left progressively earlier to just go play games. So if anyone tells you Gen Con is a game-buying convention and not a game-playing one, just know it doesn’t have to be that way.
Tony: I loved how drama free (from my perspective) the convention was. People were considerate, welcoming, and just happy to be back at Gen Con. In the dealer hall, there were no issues with people wearing masks (and doing so properly). Considering how things have gone the past few years, that was a breath of fresh air.
Brian B: This was the first year I was really able to have meetings with designers and publishers wearing my BGQ hat instead of shopping and demoing games. I had some amazing conversations with people from Shadowborne Games, Chip Theory Games, and Incredible Dreams. It was interesting to hear their trials and tribulations of the last few years, where the companies are at today, and what the future holds.
P.S. I cannot wait to see what Chip Theory has in store with their next release related to Elder Scrolls!
Jason: Like many of you, this was my first trek back to a convention. It felt different for various reasons, but it was nice to just walk around and see what was coming out, even if I wasn’t on a purchasing binge. But more than that, it was just good to sit down with friends and play some games. For me, that’s the heart of why I like board games to begin with.
Chris: I’m something of an intentional antagonist around BGQ Headquarters. I needle my fellow staff mates constantly and am definitely the most annoying person on the team. (Join our Discord if you don’t believe me. I’m the worst.) But without question, the best part of the con was getting to sit down and actually game with the assembled crew. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my time on the convention floor. Scoping out upcoming games (I got to see Stefan Feld’s City Collection in person!) and getting roped into demos by overeager indie publishers was fun in its own right, but gaming until 3 a.m. isn’t something I get to do all that much these days and so that was absolutely the best part. (Although I’m still in physical pain after BGQ’s intense games of Jungle Speed, which escalate to chaotic laughter—and violence—very quickly. I’m told it’s something of a rite of passage.) Overall, I’m basically echoing everything the rest of the crew has already said. Unsurprisingly—and like most things—it’s the people who make these events shine and my first GenCon experience was no exception.
Brian W: I think the only thing that surprised me was to see how Indy old favorite haunts are now gone in the downtown area. Maybe I shouldn’t be because of the pandemic but being back in Indy for Gencon made it all feel normal again. It was a sad reminder to see some of our favorites missing like: Granite City, Rock Bottom, or a BGQ all-time favorite Tammy’s International Pizza. While the former are chain restaurants, the latter was not. Tammy was a small independent businesswoman with amazing food and personality to boot. I hope in time with a return to normalcy and conventions coming back that new businesses come back to fill some of the gaps or old ones like Tammy’s can make a comeback.
Spencer: Simply put, it was great to be back at Gencon. I felt like most people were safe and considerate which is a nice change of pace from some conferences I’ve attended this year. I met a few more folks from BGQ. Most of them are great to game with (except for that Arizona guy. He kept complaining about red tiles). Finally, I played three of my favorite games ever, namely Wonderland’s War (a newer favorite), Pax Pamir, and Tiefe Taschen. I am fulfilled and happy until the next con.