In one week (slightly less, since this isn’t posting in the morning) hordes of gamers will rush the Exhibit Hall at the 50th Anniversary edition of Gen Con (the convention is sold out, so if this is somehow the first time you’re hearing about The Best Four Days In Gaming, you are out of luck) hoping to buy the new hotness. We already did our Gen Con preview podcast, where Jay, Mike, and I talked about our top ten most anticipated games at Gen Con this year. But I realized that quite a few of those games are only available to demo, and maybe that didn’t quite capture the consumerist rush that is the Thursday morning opening of the Gen Con Exhibit Hall. So here are my top ten new games you can actually buy at Gen Con this year (I’ll even include booth numbers, if you need to know where to sprint towards on Thursday morning). Note that a game is not “new” if you could buy it at your friendly local game store right now, but still counts if it is currently available only to Kickstarter backers.
10. First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet (Portal Games, Booth 1850) – Based on the mechanical framework of the popular Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, First Martians takes the players off of the island and into space as settlers on Mars. A variety of scenarios, including a campaign mode, are available as the players in this fully cooperative game try to establish and maintain their colony, while exploring the dusty surface. Players will build and upgrade facilities, while dealing with or surviving problems such as mechanical breakdowns, dust storms, and resource shortages. One of the most nifty features of Robinson Crusoe was returning events – during an early occurrence, the players would have the option of facing a problem immediately, or shuffling the card into a different deck where it might come back to haunt them later. In First Martins, this process is taken over by an app, so now when you hear that strange clanking sound from your Martian rover, you never really know what or when the consequence might be (if any) for pressing on instead of stopping and inspecting the vehicle.
9. This War of Mine: The Board Game (Galakta, Booth 237) – Based on the app game of the same name, the cooperative game This War of Mine is a bit less optimistic than First Martians, as the players attempt to survive as civilians in a modern city under siege (e.g., the Siege of Sarajevo). Each day, the players must decide what steps they will take towards survival – defend their shelter, venture out for supplies, repair broken necessities, scrounge for food, or respond to the plethora of unique situations presented in the game’s script book (or the free companion app, if it’s too much work to flip those pages). The choices that the characters make today not only affect the future in obvious ways (e.g., we found food, so we have food tomorrow), but can also have an impact in unpredictable ways that may come back to haunt (or reward) them.
8. Master of Orion: Conquest (Catalyst Game Labs, Booth 1611) – Let me note in advance that it’s possible I’m leading you horribly astray here, because the information on this one is almost nonexistent. But BGG says its for sale, and they usually know what they’re talking about. This is on the list because it’s Master of Orion and I had a lot of fun back in high school playing that game (and MoO 2), and with the example of Star Realms it shouldn’t be that hard to make a two-player deck-building game. Each player in Master of Orion: Conquest (one of whom is humans, one of whom is the shape-changing Darloks) is trying to expand their own production by colonizing new planets, then taking the fight to the other player, winning when the opposing home world is destroyed.
7. Mountains of Madness (IELLO, Booth 249) – Since my favorite game of 2016 was Mansions of Madness, it may sound a bit hypocritical when I say that there are too many Cthulhu games out there these days. You’re an army of cultists and horrors battling other such armies or you’re a cult trying to summon your Great Old One first or it’s a random cube pusher (or maybe even a really good cube pusher) that’s re-themed with pain and madness instead of wood or diseases. I’m not sure how much these really embody Lovecraftian horror, but they sure do have the name “Cthulhu” in the title. But when the flavor and story aspect of it is executed really well, the story of investigators learning things that no one should know while trying to save the world can be a really good one. Mountains of Madness falls more on the latter side of things – it’s based on the Lovecraft book of the same name, and the players in this (yet another) cooperative game are exploring the Antarctic, where they will (of course) find things no one was meant to find. The team tries to find artifacts and learn secrets, while surviving and while dealing with the effects of their crumbling sanity, as the game imposes secret restrictions on the players as the madness consumes them.
6. Codenames: Duet (CGE, Room 232) – Codenames was the best new party game in recent years, and continues to spawn new versions (including Disney and Marvel versions being demoed at Gen Con), but the one being sold for the first time at Gen Con 50 is Codenames Duet, a two-player cooperative version of the popular word game. Just like in every Codenames game, there will be a board of cards, with players giving one word clues that will enable other players to identify “friendly” cards (while avoiding ‘you lose’ cards), with a tension between not stretching enough with the clues (and going to slowly while hitting easy clues) and stretching too much (leading others astray, and possibly into the assassin). Traditional Codenames is played with two teams racing to identify all of their cards, but Codenames Duet has the two players working together, but with different information.
5. Lazer Ryderz (Greater Than Games, Booth 1343) – Recapture some 80s vibe in general, and Tron in particular, with this lightcycle racing game. Each racer is attempting to collect three prisms in order to charge the portal to their next destination (there are some dexterity elements involved in the game because of the method of placement of the prisms). Racers must decide how much to push their luck, since the faster they go the less control they have, increasing the chances they they fail to take that turn well enough and crash into another racer’s barrier. Reminiscent of the flight path system (that has variously powered Wings of War, the X-Wing Miniatures Game, and various Attack Wing games), punchboard pieces are used to maneuver the racers (and no pre-measuring allowed, so expect collisions!). And for extra 80s nostalgia, the box is shaped like a VHS tape (maybe there will be a limited edition Beta tape version someday).
4. Star Trek Adventures (Modiphius Entertainment, Booth 2461) – After more than a decade without a Star Trek roleplaying game (since the end of the Decipher iteration in about 2005), Star Trek Adventures is bringing Trek back in Indianapolis next week (Modiphius has a whole stack of supplement and accessories ready to launch in the near future, but I think only the core book might be available at Gen Con). Built on a significant reworking of Modiphius’s 2d20 system, Star Trek Adventures excels at feeling like Star Trek, instead of a generic science fiction setting or a new title slapped onto an existing system. With graphic design that really pulls off that Next Generation PADD feel, Star Trek Adventures covers the Trek universe from Enterprise through Voyager, although it is (appropriately, to my mind) focused exclusively on Starfleet (well, at least until all of those supplements come out). If you want to learn more, you can find my full review here.
3. Legendary: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Upper Deck Entertainment, Booth 1205) – Starting with the original Marvel version, the Legendary series of deck-building games has expanded to include a variety of licensed properties and the Encounters version (where the setups are specifically designed to replicate certain plots from the property, rather than aiming for endless variety). The latest of these is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer version (is uses images from the show, so no worries about repeating that terrible art fiasco from last year’s Legendary Encounters Firefly). I’m just going to assume that if you don’t know and like Buffy, there’s no real reason for you to get this game, and move on to what sorts of Buffy-ness it contains. The players recruit heroes (represented by a set of 14 or so cards, such as Faith’s “Want, Take, Have”) into their deck, fight a selection of monsters, and try to thwart the Big Bad and their evil Scheme. The heroes can be Slayers (Buffy, Faith), Scoobies (Xander, Willow), Supernatural (Angel, Oz, Spike), Initiative (really just Riley, but also the basic fight card in starting decks), and Watchers (Giles and the starting recruit card). The Big Bads are kind of obvious, really – The Master, the First, the Mayor. That’s all standard Legendary fare. The main thing Buffy adds in is the Light/Dark track. By default the Big Bad will make something bad happen every time the Dark caps out, and by default a player will get a Courage token when the Light caps out. But a variety of cards will advance the Light or the Dark, or will have different effects depending on whether it is Light or Dark.
2. Starfinder Roleplaying Game (Paizo, Booth 103) – It’s the science fiction version of one of the best tabletop roleplaying games ever. It’s a must-buy if you’re into that sort of thing. After decades of iteration, massive sales, and untold playtesting (as D&D 3E, then D&D3.5, then Pathfinder), the d20 system underpinning Paizo’s Pathfinder is probably the most finely-honed mechanical system in the history of roleplaying games. So it should come as no surprise that Starfinder, the science fiction version of that setting, is a masterpiece of tight mechanical design. But Paizo isn’t just about the mechanics – there was a world of Golarian before there was a Pathfinder RPG, after all – which is good because the question of whether Paizo can generate long-term success will probably be answered by how hooked they can get fans on the world (non-licensed scifi RPGs don’t have nearly the same rate of long-term survival as their fantasy counterparts). We won’t know that until we get a full helping of setting information through later supplements, but the initial look at the Pact Worlds, their inhabitants, and their surroundings lays out a very good framework.
1. Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game (Fantasy Flight Games, Booth 809) – For 20 years, Legend of the Five Rings (frequently referred to as L5R) was, after Magic: the Gathering, the most successful CCG that stood on its own merits – no splashy science fiction license and no cross-promoting anime TV series. It didn’t get there just on gameplay, but also on compelling narrative storytelling, allowing the players of the game to affect what happened in the Japanese/Asian fantasy flavored world of Rokugan. The samurai drama became popular enough that in the last iteration of the Oriental Adventures campaign setting, Dungeons & Dragons threw over the original setting (Kara-Tur) in favor of Rokugan. And, of course, seven years ago some folks started a podcast and website that was, at the time, all about L5R. In 2015, shortly after Gen Con, hobby gaming behemoth Fantasy Flight bought Legend of the Five Rings lock, stock, and barrel. This year, at Gen Con 50, we get to see the fruits of that acquisition with the launch of FFG’s first L5R game, in their popular Living Card Game (LCG) format. Featuring a rebooted iteration of Rokugan and new, modern gameplay, the L5R LCG is getting the biggest launch weekend ever from Fantasy Flight. This kicks off with the 700-person Kiku Matsuri tournament on Thursday (which, despite that mammoth player count, I still couldn’t get a ticket to), plus another high-level tournament on Friday/Saturday, and a casual event on Sunday. Although FFG will not be replicating the same sort of storyline interaction that the CCG had (probably for the best, given how out of hand it eventually got), but they have already announced an extensive Organized Play system for L5R, which continues to reward the clan loyalty that has always been an important part of L5R fandom. There will be a rush on these on Thursday morning, even with copies set aside for the Kiku Matsuri participants. And it’s my #1 game to buy at Gen Con 50.