Gen Con approaches! As part of our prep every year, we like to pour over the list of games via the annual mega preview list that BoardGameGeek meticulously generates. The Best Four Days In Gaming boasts hundreds of exhibitor booths and almost as many games to show off. Needless to say, there is no shortage of appealing titles to check out. It’s almost impossible to not find something that will catch your attention; every style of gaming is represented somewhere in its cavernous halls. From indie prototypes to AAA hotness, war games to party games, Gen Con has you covered.
Of course, looking at a game and seeing it in action are two wildly different things. Sometimes the real thing doesn’t quite line up to your expectations. Sometimes it exceeds them. The only way to really know is to experience that game for yourself. So that’s what we’re going to do here.
There are dozens of games that have piqued our interest this year, but what Erin and Ryan have done is narrow that list down to five of their absolute Must See Games at the convention. Then we’ll report back after the convention to gauge how their choices lived up to their excitement.
They also opted to exempt two of the most hyped games from their selections going in to the convention, being SeaFall and Cry Havoc, to help set the spotlight on other games. If there are any marquee games for this year’s convention, it’s them, so they need no help from us.
Plus, narrowing their choices down to five was hard enough. Trying to drop that down to three probably would have caused physical pain.
And without further ado, these are their picks, in no particular order.
Honorable Mentions: Arcane Academy, Potion Explosion, Fate Of the Elder Gods
Bezier Games | 1-4 Players | 45-60 Min
Colony is the kind of game I’m trying to build up more of in our collection. It’s billed as the third title in Bezier’s city-building trilogy alongside Suburbia and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. And I’m quite alright with that. These are a genre that myself, Erin, and many of our friends all particularly enjoy. Both Suburbia and Castles are well-liked here, and so I’m really curious to see what the next iteration from Bezier is.
In Colony, players are trying to build and upgrade different structures in their fledgling, well, colony, and so careful resource management is needed. The twist in this game is that it uses a dice-as-resources mechanic that causes your resources to dwindle or change over time. It strikes me as perhaps a bit more lightweight than the other two titles, but the blending of dice manipulation and interesting card interactions as a result of what you build really strikes a chord with me.
UTSUROI | 2-4 Players | 60-90 Min
One of my favorite things about Nippon is that it takes the familiar theme of industrialization and thematically sets it in Japan – a country whose industrialization was just as rapid and impacting as ours. IKI strives to do this same flavor transposition with the action selection / resource management genre.
IKI takes place in ancient Edo (aka Tokyo). In this game, players are artisans and shopkeepers trying to help the townspeople while raising their own standing in the process. The game has numerous ways for you to do this, but the catch is that you simply don’t have the time to focus on everything. Hard choices have to be made on how you want to proceed, and it’s all done against a very thematic backdrop. I love discovering the different strategic angles in games, and this one seems to have plenty to choose from. The more I learn about IKI, the more I want to see how it functions up close and personal.
Cephalofair Games | 1-4 Players | 60-120 Min
I generally don’t get super excited about dungeon crawling games, but now and then one comes along to make me stop and investigate. Gloomhaven is one of those games. Gloomhaven touts itself as a tactical card-driven co-op fighting game where players wind through legacy-style scenarios. Each of those things by themselves could be enough to find an audience. All together though? That I have to see.
In Gloomhaven, players are a group of mercenaries trying to defend the town from an impending nearby threat. To do that, each person is an adventurer with the skills to fight off the scenario’s foes. What’s more, the outcome of these scenarios are poised to have real implications on the game, such as opening up new locations to venture to – or losing them entirely. The whole thing sounds ambitious and is more than a passing nod to classic RPGs and adventure games. I’m really interested in seeing how much deeper it goes.
Stronghold Games | 1-4 Players | 90-120 Min
Of all the games on this list, Terraforming Mars should surprise you the least. The game has been hyped up in recent months due to it being released by Stronghold Games, who have a knack both for marketing and for backing that up with quality product. Many out there are excited about this game for that alone. I, however, have had my eyes on this title before it even signed with Stronghold, back when it was a then-overlooked title at Essen 2015. I remarked at one point that it looked interesting both mechanically and thematically, and had I the chance to go to Essen, it would have been on my short list to check out. Now I have that chance.
In this aptly-named game, each player controls a big corporation who have teamed up to, well, terraform Mars. How you decide to contribute to that process though is the crux of the game. Over the course of the game you will choose from a staggering number of improvement projects and invest in them, each of which will benefit you in different ways when completed. From its inception Terraforming Mars has struck me as a very solid game of resource management and strategic planning, which is my personal wheelhouse. So, yeah, I’m quite eager to see where this one goes.
Star Trek Ascendancy
Gale Force Nine | 3 Players | 90-180 Min
Star Trek. 4x. That’s all you really need to know.
Star Trek has been one of those licenses that’s had difficulty finding a publisher to fully encapsulate all the source material has to offer. Many have tried, but few have engaged fans of the franchise to go boldly back to it with regularity. It is my hope that Ascendancy changes that. Star Trek turns 50 this year with truck loads of content to work with, from the groundbreaking Original Series through the adventures of Voyager. The IP spans decades, its story spans centuries, and it’s one of the most fleshed out universes ever conceived.
Star Trek Ascendancy appears to be on the path to give us that truly immersive game experience. With both nacelles firmly in the 4x mold, 3 players command and control one of the major factions. Your mission is to guide the growth and expansion of your civilization by exploring new territory, manufacturing ships and bases, researching technology, and, of course, interacting with one another. With options both for diplomacy and combat, the game puts you in charge of how you want your faction to develop while being heavily steeped in Star Trek flavor. I can’t wait for our away mission to Gen Con so I can investigate it more, but if plays half as good as it sounds, this very well may be the Star Trek game people have been waiting for.
Honorable Mentions: Codenames: Pictures, Peak Oil, London Dread
Vast: The Crystal Caverns
Leder Games | 1-5 Players | 75 Min
I’m intrigued by the complete asymmetry of Vast. Each player takes on a different role in the story of a dungeon crawl – so one player is a knight, one is a dragon, one is a goblin horde, and the last is the cavern itself. I’m excited to see how this plays, and to see how different types of players gravitate toward one role or another. It’s taking a very familiar genre and twisting it a bit. Also, as a big fan of the horror and mystery genres, I like the idea of the setting itself being a character – a creation with agency and a stake in the story.
Bring Your Own Book
Gamewright | 3-8 Players | 20-60 Min
A PARTY GAME ABOUT BOOKS! This might be just about the only party game I ever stand a chance in. Seriously, this looks so clever and fun, and it’s a great excuse to merge two of my favorite things. Admittedly, this game isn’t going to be great if you don’t find pleasure in searching through the pages of your favorite book…but that’s not a problem for me.
Red Raven Games | 2-4 Players | 60-120 Min
I’m drooling over the art for Islebound. From what I’ve seen, it’s a game that rewards experimentation and creating effective combinations, and provides plenty of paths to victory. It that’s true, I’m in. Also, you know, there are sea monsters.
Cool Mini Or Not | 2-4 Players | 30-60 Min
Potion Explosion caught my eye awhile ago, which isn’t a surprise because it’s basically designed to be eye-catching. I love that it’s puzzle-y and set collection-y (and there are a lot of set collection games on offer this year). Also, I need to talk about how neat it looks with the marble components. On a mechanical level, though, I think the idea of building sets in this way is pretty unique in board games, though it reminds me a little of a Match Three style video game.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Artipia Games / Stronghold Games | 1-4 Players | 60-90 Min
Hello, The Sims Board Game. Or maybe Kudos: The Board Game (does anyone remember that game?). For real, though, I love life simulation games, but I’ve never seen one in board game form. Not effectively, at least. I’m so curious to see how that works, though I’ll admit to not knowing much about the mechanics of the game.
You can discuss this article and more on our social media! Let us know what games interest you at Gen Con 2016!
Also, if you are attending Gen Con, be sure to check out www.indiecavalcade.com and follow #IndieCavalcade for our comprehensive list of indie games and where to find them