Gen Con 2023 is in the books and what a convention it was. Over 70,000 attendees descended upon Indianapolis for the annual “Best Four Days of Gaming”. A large portion of the BGQ crew was on site for the convention and we’ve pulled out some of our highlights of the show.
The Gen Con Experience:
Brian B: Lorcana Con Gen Con 2023 was very unique, both compared to Gen Cons of the past as well as how I enjoyed it. I have attended Gen Con on and off since it was in Milwaukee. This was the most crowded I have ever felt in the exhibition hall. Thursday felt like a Saturday from previous years. I am glad Gen Con is growing, but it would be great if they would expand the Exhibition Hall’s footprint in the convention center. Also, Lorcana was the most in-demand product I have witnessed at Gen Con. Solid lines for four days. It was crazy!
I also purchased the least number of new games 1) because there were not many new releases that interested me and 2) I was more focused on gaming with my friends in the evenings. I really enjoyed not worrying about what games to buy and worrying more about what I would play. I think this will be my attitude for future Gen Cons that I attend.
Andrew: Gen Con seems to be fully back to the pre-Covid levels. Crowds were heavy and almost every publisher seemed to be selling out of all their new games. I will say there are a couple of good games I found but nothing that really stuck out as great. Especially the heavier eurogame space seemed to not have much to offer to attendees this year.
Tony: Speaking of crowds, it’s hard not to talk about the hot mess that was the Ravensburger line for Disney Lorcana on Thursday. There have been all kinds of stories, such as people lining up at 6am, only to lose their place in a mass of crowds when the doors opened. There were also stories of someone getting trapped behind a door until the crowds surged past, or a person in a wheelchair getting knocked over and stuck until the crowd dispersed. I’m sure there are a lot of similar stories. Thankfully, Gen Con wised up and set up a queuing system for Friday and beyond. However, word was that the few publishers who had booths near Ravensburger were not very happy as many attendees all but avoided that area not wanting to deal with the massive crowding in their booth.
The food trucks, however, were double-win this year. I was actually close to giving my Staff Pick award to a food truck I ate twice at (so close). This year though, they moved the trucks between the convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium. This not only provided more space, but also a separate eating area for people to sit. A solid move by Gen Con as the trucks were not only easier to get to, but it allowed for more vendors, shortening the overall lines.
Brandon: Welcome to your first Gen Con, Brandon! What a wonderful event. Not only did I get to meet all the Quest crew over the course of the week, but some of them even recognized me from my bio photo. Even with the increased attendance this year, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the crowd and everyone seemed to be polite and calm. I spent a couple of days wandering the aisles, seeking interesting new designs and finding some familiar faces within the crowd. One board game celeb sighting that I was happy to experience was Cole Werhle at the Leder Games booth. I almost handed him my staff pick award just for being such an intriguing designer—I had to talk myself down.
So many games to see. So many games to play. I’ve not played so much in a concentrated time before. And while new releases were in high demand, there was time to play some older hits as well. During an all-in epic mode session of Dune: Imperium, we had plenty of eyes on my custom play mat. I was able to meet new friends, connect with publishers and designers, and laugh with an incredible community. Can’t wait to return next year to attend more events and demos and make even more friends.
Alex: We had originally planned on skipping this year but were able to fly in for Friday night and Saturday. Being able to surprise the BGQ crew when we walked into the open gaming hall was worth keeping our journey a secret. As always, walking the dealer hall and seeing all the games and dice and toys is a thrill, but for us, it’s all about playing the hot new games with cool people. I do love the continued implementation of scheduled demos, and give a ton of credit to the volunteers who give their time to run and teach.
Jason: Overwhelmed but thankful. On the surface, these seem like incompatible feelings. But they are the two adjectives that come to my mind with this year’s experience. Overwhelmed in the sense that since I have been coming to Gen Con, there certainly felt like a large uptick in attendance. that’s great for business, for vendors, not having to ship games back at a loss, and for surrounding restaurants. But this uptick made for a more time-consuming stroll through the hall than I remember there being in years past. Personally, that made it difficult to see what everyone offered, but that is OK. Because I am thankful that when I wasn’t taking breaks or not in the hall, I was getting to spend time with friends, including at least one of our writers. it was a rejuvenating time to laugh, have fun and play some games.
Brian W: As others have mentioned, Gen Con is back and more crowded than ever post-pandemic. I like my Gen Con around 50k-ish to be blunt. The most unwelcomed change was the exceptionally long lines in the exhibit hall for promos more so than the limited game releases. While the latter is common and usually vendors cut off the lines after person 25-30, the former for the promos was not limited and made navigating the hall rather painful at times (yes this is aimed at you – Ravensburger and Spin Master). The most welcomed change was having all food trucks by Lucas Oil, as mentioned by Tony above.
Chris: This year’s Gen Con was a crowded, line-filled mess. I spent most of the time getting crashed into by people cosplaying obscure Disney characters (just who exactly is “Convention-bound Steamboat Willie”?) while they traversed the winding, never-ending Lorcana lines every day. As such, I didn’t spend too much time in the exhibition hall and hardly demoed anything, preferring to observe shorter demos and load up on games during open gaming.
Along the way, I dabbled in Art Nouveau architectural design with Brand (Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque), renewed a bitter rivalry with my arch-nemesis Andrew (fittingly playing Unmatched), successfully landed a plane—after successfully not landing one—with Tony (Sky Team), watched in hilarious horror as Brian Winters couldn’t reset climbers’ positions (Oh No, Volcano!), collected forest critters and fought Steph over linden trees (Forest Shuffle), drafted some origami creatures with Alex (Sea Salt & Paper), performed business mergers and acquisitions via faction combat with Brian Biewer (Dawn of Ulos), formed a dominant trick-taking team with Jason (Aurum), and hid some meeples with Jacob during his new favorite game (Wandering Towers). (Editor’s Note: The only BGQ staff member in attendance I didn’t game with this year was Spencer, but I bothered him enough during some of his other games that I feel like it counts.) I also made a fool of myself during multiple party games, laughed a whole lot, and hope I made others laugh even more. Until next year, Gen Con.
Spencer: Gen Con this year was pretty much back to pre-Covid levels of attendance, and you could really feel it. It was a bit more difficult to sit for demos or get involved in anything you didn’t sign up for a few days in advance. So, the discovery of great new games on the exhibit hall floor was minimal. That didn’t stop me from playing a ton of new releases at open gaming from about 6 PM to 2 AM every night. Naturally, I made a few purchases after trying games that my friends had already purchased. More on those in the next section.
Spellbook (Brian B.) – Another “gateway” game by Phil Walker-Harding, Spellbook is a game for 1-4 players in which you compete as wizards who are trying to conjure the most points…..sorry. The game includes three sets of 7 spells (replay value combined with setting difficulty), as well as 150 acrylic pieces (Materia), divided into three types of runes for all 7 types of Materia, with each type of Materia tied to its same colored spell. The actions are simple—use a spell or take an action across three phases of the day. Finally, there is a shared altar that holds Materia that is replenished at the end of each player’s turn as well as manipulated by the different spells. The feeling is similar to many of Phil’s other games—it is simple, easy to learn, and a blast to play.
Forest Shuffle (Brian Biewer, Alex, & Jason) – Tony recommended I try Forest Shuffle. Yay–cards that score points. Been there, done that. I’ll stick to Wingspan/Terraforming Mars/Ark Nova, thank you very much. Then I actually was roped into playing it. Man, am I glad I did. It is an interesting combination of a giant deck of cards (not all unique, unlike the games listed above) and set collection. Each tree can have animals and other organisms attached to the top, bottom, left, and right of the tree. Every card scores a different way—some based on having duplicates in your tableau, some by having different types of the same species, and others based strictly on points. The multitude of scoring paths, the great art, simple rules, and the random end game had me thinking “YAY! Cards that score points” by the end of my first play.
Dawn of Ulos (Andrew) – I picked this one up mostly because it plays 5 players (which is a player count I now often have) and it promised to be “economic”. Was able to play it twice at the convention and it more or less delivered. Both games are played in just around an hour and the various fantasy races are essentially stocks that can go up and down in value. But those stocks can also be spent on special abilities and occasionally they go to war with each other. It isn’t really far off from Acquire but with a lot more decision space for tile placement.
Builders High (Tony) – I always like to check out the small publisher booths as they don’t get the kind of exposure that the big ones do, so a lot of their titles fly under the radar. In the corner of the first row was the Hobby Japan booth, which had about 4-5 small box card games for sale. I love a good city-building game so I asked about Builder’s High. Buying it on a whim, I really enjoyed it. It’s a tableau-building game where you are racing to complete an objective and have no cards in your hand. The objectives usually require you to have X number of specific buildings in play. But one of the interesting wrinkles of the game is that buildings cost anywhere from 5-20+ coins to play. However, the money cards only come in denominations of 2, 5, and 10 (and you must pay exactly), so it requires you to do a little hand juggling to get the specific cards you need to build something. As an added bonus, each building you construct also provides you with a special power, such as free card draws or reduces costs for new construction. Overall, this one was a hidden gem.
Tiger and Dragon (Tony) – One of the hyped games from publisher Oink Games was Tiger and Dragon, a mahjong adjacent game where you are playing tiles from your hand to match a previously played tile. The tiles are numbered 1-8, with the number of tiles in the game equal to its number (so eight 8s, seven 7s, etc.). It sounded interesting on-premise, but after playing it… oof. The 4 of us gave it about 3-4 plays, and each of us read the rulebook to see if we were playing wrong. Spoiler alert: we weren’t. The game is just… not fun. Either you can match the tile in play, or you can’t and have to pass. So, there is a lot of luck based on the hand you are dealt. If you get the 1, and some 2s and 3s, you’ve basically got the win in the bag. None of us enjoyed any of our plays. Personally, I feel like there is a game here, but it needed more time in development to find it.
Sport Dice (Tony) – After a press meeting with publisher Foxmind Games, they gave us review copies (review coming soon) of their Sport Dice games. The basic premise is pretty simple. You and your opponent roll dice, whoever rolls the most of one type of symbol gets to resolve that action. I got to play both Football and Hockey at the convention and really enjoyed both. It’s a casual, beer and pretzels filler game, but it’s also quick to play and filled with a lot of tense moments. I also appreciated how each one plays just a little differently, for example, the hockey one has mostly symmetrical gameplay, while football has different dice for offense and defense—so they were on theme for the sport they were emulating.
Sunrise Lane (Brandon) – The good doctor Knizia returns with a reimplementation of an earlier release: Rondo (2012). With a fresh coat of paint and new components, Sunrise Lane was an unexpected release at the convention. We were able to get this to the table on the first evening. It’s easy to set up and teach and features fast play with points being scored nearly every turn (when cards are not drawn). It’s a breeze of a game with fast turns and just enough crunch to provide a feeling of accomplishment. And when all is said and done, the final board presence looks pretty nice with all the colorful stacks of buildings. This may get lost in the shuffle of new releases, but if you are a fan of Knizia games, I recommend checking this one out.
Sky Team (Chris) – I had very low expectations for this but got roped into playing when Tony and I had a gap in our play schedules. (Tony doesn’t like downtime; he’s like a child requiring constant stimulation.) I was pleasantly surprised by how thematic and interesting the game was (except the part about players not being able to talk…that doesn’t make any sense). It actually gave me vibes of the solo-only Under Falling Skies. With a whole bunch of variability in the box, this one has some pretty decent legs (landing gear?) for repeat plays.
Make the Difference (Chris) – There’s not too much to say about this small, Highlights Magazine-esque spot the difference drawing game except that I’m apparently remarkably good at it. Four decades on earth and I’ve finally found my calling.
Piñata Blast and That’s Not a Hat (Spencer) – Outside of the Lorcana madness, Ravensburger also had two new-ish party games at Gencon. You had to push past lines of Disney crazies and explain to security that you weren’t, in fact, there to cut in line just to get to the area of their booth where they had these. Piñata Blast is a real time dice rolling and card matching game. It’s going to be one that anyone can play (it’s language independent) and most will enjoy. Fast paced and simple. The piñata theme is on point, which stands out over two other piñata themed games I saw that weekend. You’re racing to get the best candy, while avoiding the spoiled ones.
That’s Not a Hat is a memory and bluffing game in which a bunch of object cards are being passed around. You need to be able to track where different object cards are going and what’s in front of you. Otherwise, you’ll have to tell a lie to the person you’re passing to and you won’t know if someone is lying to you. Spoiler alert: You won’t be able to track it all for long. It’s difficult as Hell. Some people will bounce off of this hard due to the memory element. As someone who lost several games in a row, I think it’s an absolute hoot!
Thunder Road Vendetta (Brian W) – I brought my Kickstarter copy for Chris and Andrew to play but was shocked how my euro loving, cube pushing peers enjoyed their multiple plays of this dice chucker, miniatures game of mayhem. It can be so random at times but I guess fun nevertheless even for serious gamers like them. This was the popular game for our group Wednesday night. Andrew and Chris liked it so much that each bought their own copy Thursday morning.
Gen Con 2023 Staff Picks
New this year is our BGQ Staff Pick awards. We wanted to highlight the best parts of Gen Con in a new way. So, our Staff Pick award has arrived. Each of our writers who attended the convention (9 in total) got a trophy to hand out to their favorite part of Gen Con. This could be a game, an event, a performer, or whatever they wanted. Being that most of us don’t have time for events, it’s not a surprise that each of our picks went to a board game this year. But that could change in future years. Here are our standouts from the show:
World Wonders (Brian B.) – This was my surprise game of the convention. World Wonders, published by Arcane Wonders, is a 1 to 5 player game in which you construct a city using polyomino tiles and wooden wonders. It is essentially multiplayer solitaire with interaction limited to drafting pieces your opponents may desire. It plays quickly, is easy to learn, but has more replay value than I expected (the game includes 21 unique monuments, some with multiple wooden pieces). If city building and polyomino tile laying are your jam, I would highly recommend you look into World Wonders.
Redwood (Andrew) – At a convention with a lot of ho-hum games Redwood stood out as the most unique. Players take the role of photographers trying to capture various flowers, trees, and wildlife in their pictures. You have a mini roaming the forest and you start your turn picking both a movement and camera lens template. The game really amounts to a lot of estimating how much you can capture as you try to collect sets and complete objectives. The retail game does have some real component issues—the cardboard animals slot into the board with small hexagonal pegs on them. Within your first game those pegs will almost completely get ripped off and stuck in the board. We did hear from the publisher there are wooden pieces that will be provided as replacements, although the timing as far as when is unclear.
Horror on the Orient Express (Tony) – I’m a big fan of games from Adam Kwapiński (Frostpunk, Nemesis), so I had high hopes for the board game adaptation of this classic Call of Cthulhu adventure. Thankfully, even in its early prototype form, it didn’t disappoint. In typical Kwapiński fashion, there is one way to win, and about 7 ways to lose. The goal of the game is for the players to figure out who the cultists are on the train and survive to the end of the journey. The game uses an action point system, with players able to take one major action on a turn, and 2 minor ones (that cost stamina). Players will be moving around the train, talking with passengers, fighting off monsters, and upgrading their abilities. The game has a lot of layers, but we never felt overwhelmed by its complexity. Keep an eye out for this one in 2024 when it hits Kickstarter, I have high hopes for it.
Wandering Towers (Jacob) – About halfway through day 1 of Gen Con, a couple of friends walked up to me while I was demoing some game I now can’t recall and said, “yeah we saw that wizard castle game, looked cool,” which immediately jogged my memory that I needed to check out the new Kiesling and Kramer joint, Wandering Towers. The design duo is responsible for some important games, both as a team and individually, but I have never experienced the joy I felt playing Wandering Towers with any of their other creations. This is a future classic, and my game of the con. The game couldn’t be more simple: Everyone’s wizards sit atop a series of stackable towers, each hoping to reach the one black keep. Each player has a certain number of empty potion flask tokens in front of them. Players play two cards out of their hand of three each turn, with each card performing some version of “move wizard x spaces” or “move tower x spaces”. If a tower covers any wizards, flip one potion token to its filled side. You can use those potions to “cast spells,” or perform additional special actions on your turn. As soon as a player drops their wizard into the black keep, it moves to another location. First player to get all their wizards in the keep and fill all their potions triggers the end of the game. I just explained all the rules. Towers is a magical mashup of three card monte and Camel Up, it’s delightful to play, and here’s the kicker: It plays 1-6 players, and it takes 30 minutes to play. A perfect gateway game? Nay, perhaps a perfect game.
Bruxelles 1893: Belle Epoque (Brandon) – With very few new releases on my radar, it was surprising to see that one of my highly sought games turned out to be a revision of a 2013 euro release that I’d never acquired. The new version significantly improves rules and board locations, and it also adds a new expansion. Not only that, but the new cover artwork is stunning. The Belle Epoque addition provides new restrictions and challenges players with maximizing their efficiency as well as timing their end game goals. After playing this a couple times during the convention (once with, once without the expansion), the classic euro decision space washed over me like a warm embrace. As this was my first Gen Con, the new version of Bruxelles provided a familiar feeling from within a stimulating new landscape. I hope this finds a retail release soon so others can finally get a chance to experience this design. A definite highlight and worthy of a staff award.
Sunrise Lane (Chris) – Technically these awards aren’t for our selections for Best Game of Gen Con. They can be for anything as was said earlier even stuff like food trucks were on the table. I decided to give my award to Sunrise Lane as “Best Surprise Release.” There are always a few things that pop up for sale unexpectedly at Gen Con and Sunrise Lane—a new version of Reiner Knizia’s decade-old Rondo—wasn’t announced as available for sale until right before the convention. It’s a lower midweight game with fun scoring and placement rules that feels like Ticket to Ride-plus. It was an impulse purchase for a few members of staff and everyone generally had a good time playing it. I could also have given Sunrise Lane the award for “Most Confounding Gen Con Promo” as buying it got you access to a single card that is shuffled into an enormous deck and yet, per its official rules, is incredibly overpowered. Gotta love promos.
Fractured Sky (Jason) – One game I got to demo and is in its late pledge stage was Fractured Sky from IV Studios. It was colorful and eye-catching. It uses blind bidding (and a little bluffing), tied in with some area control and resource management. Players are trying to have the most Starfall at the end of the game. Each round, one location publicly displays where a Starfall will be, but others are hidden. The game plays out in five rounds, with each round revealing Starfall locations equal to the round number. Being the first to a location lets you draw a card from a deck showing which location it will not be in, but you can also spend your resources to secretly look at locations they will be coming. We didn’t get to play through an entire game, but we got halfway through pretty quickly. It felt very accessible, had a great table presence, and plays up to 5. And most importantly, it was fun. It also has a solo deck if you are into that.
Sky Team (Brian W) – A post on social media a few days before Gen Con stated this game had the best table presence so that was a running joke for most BGQ staff leading up to the con. I knew nothing of this game aside from that comment. Tony plopped this down in front of us during open gaming and we played it twice and crashed the plane both times. Later that night, I played with Brian B. who found that Tony and I had only given ourselves 6 rounds instead of 7. Brian and I landed successfully. Go Team Brian! Honestly, I really enjoyed each game (even our crashes). It’s hard to find a 2-player co-op plus one that is so thematic. Especially when you throw-in silently assigning dice between the pilot and co-pilot to clear planes from your path, engage flaps, lower landing gear, and finally applying the brakes. Doing that all in the proper sequence and silently makes the game especially tense throughout. Overall, a great game of Gen Con but not solely for table presence. 🙂
Last Light (Spencer) – This was the best game I got to sit down and try out in the hall. It’s exactly what’s been advertised for the last couple of years. A full on 4X experience done quickly. It has exploration every time you visit a new map space. Exploitation as you build structures to mine for resources. Expansion as you take over territories. Extermination comes into play with dice combat which can wipe ships off of the board and includes super fun exploding dice. All of this in about 60 minutes. This is facilitated by a nifty simultaneous action selection card system. It’s a really enjoyable game with a ridiculous production (don’t ask about the price…), including unique ship minis, resin planets, and a center planet that lights up. My favorite feature is the rotating board, which allows for expeditious movement across the galaxy. Congrats to Roy for knocking his first design out of the park!