The best four days in gaming are almost upon us. At most recent count, there will be over 400 new games (including expansions) at GenCon. That includes games that released in the last few weeks, games that are available early at GenCon but won’t be for sale elsewhere for weeks or a month, and games that are available for demo at GenCon (and will either be released, or go on Kickstarter, in the coming months). That can be an overwhelming number, and certainly no one – no matter how dedicated – could possibly check out all of these games in one weekend. So here are the ten that I’m most looking forward to, and maybe you’ll want to check them out too.
Note: I’m skipping H.E.A.D. Hunters (available for demo at GenCon) on this list because we just did a whole episode about that, and maybe someone else should get some spotlight. On a related note, Scythe isn’t an anticipated GenCon game for me because I got a copy a few weeks ago, and our next episode (191) will include a review (hopefully released before I depart for GenCon). But you should still probably check it out.
Well, enough with the notes …
#10: Codenames: Pictures (CGE)/Valley of the Kings: Last Rites (Alderac) – You might wonder why these two games, which don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, are sharing this spot. Well, in our recent GenCon preview episode (190), these were #9 and #10. I expect them both to be amazing games, so they’re on the list. But the reason I can say that I not only anticipate, but expect, them to be amazing games is that they’re iterations on existing games (Codenames and the prior two Valley of the Kings Games). I’ve added a new game that was announced since we recorded Episode 190, so now these two stand-alone versions get to share a spot. Codenames is a wordy party game, where two players are giving one-word clues to their teammates, to enable them to identify that team’s words in an array – but only that team’s words. Great geeky party game. Codenames: Pictures is the same thing, but there are pictures in the array instead of words. Valley of the Kings is a small deck-building game, where the players add cards to their decks from a crumbling pyramid of options, but must at some point start ‘entombing’ those cards (removing them from their decks) in order to score points – he who dies with the most toys, wins. Last Rites is the third game in the series. Both should be on early sale at GenCon.
#9: Via Nebula (Space Cowboys) – Space Cowboys has produced some of the best games in the last two years (Splendor in 2014 and T.I.M.E. Stories in 2015), and designer Martin Wallace has an extensive pedigree, helping vault this lightweight Euro-style game into the top ten. The players in Via Nebula are guilds seeking to rebuild Nebula Valley after a long war. They must clear the mists, tame the land and then (because this is a Euro after all) collect resources and use them to complete contracts for abilities and points. Plus the artwork is delightful.
#8: Mansions of Madness (Fantasy Flight) – Here we have the new entry on my list, forcing the collapse of two games into entry #10. You might think this is a bit odd, because this Second Edition of Mansions of Madness is only a second edition, not a brand new game. Why isn’t this one relegated to the bottom of the top 10 for lack of sufficient excitement? Well, it’s because the app integration is a pretty big difference. Mansions of Madness is a Cthulhu Mythos game, with the players exploring the eldritch mysteries of the eponymous mansion. In the past, however, one player always had to be the mansion, setting up the map, revealing secrets, moving any foes, etc. In the Second Edition, all of that is handled by the map, letting everyone play together as the investigators. And that’s pretty cool. Mansions of Madness will be available for demo at GenCon.
#7: Gloomhaven (Cephalofair) – Gloomhaven is a fully co-operative dungeon crawl, and if that’s all it was, then it wouldn’t be on this list. But Gloomhaven has a couple of things going for it. There are a lot of dice-chucking dungeon-crawl styles games on the market these days (often with gorgeous miniatures), but Gloomhaven has a card-driven combat system. More significantly (for purpose of this list, at least), Gloomhaven makes use of the ‘legacy’ game space, where the players actions in one game session have an effect on what happens in later game sessions. Not only can the characters ‘level up’ and be more powerful in later games (a limited sort of legacy mechanic that is becoming a lot more common these days), but there are also broader decisions that the characters must make that will affect the parameters of future play.
#6: Star Trek: Ascendancy (Gale Force Nine) – I love Star Trek. I love sprawling civ-building games (although I must admit I find myself lacking the time to play them that much). So Ascendancy, being released during the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek, hits a lot of the right buttons. Plus look at all those miniatures. Each player in Ascendancy will take the helm of one of the Next Generation era’s great civilizations (Federation, Klingon, Romulan) and try to advance their civilization to a Cultural Ascendancy through exploration, scientific advancement, and industry … or, you know, just conquer everyone else. Star Trek Ascendancy will be available for sale for the first time at GenCon. If you preorder from GF9’s website, you get some miniatures for things like Starbases. If you get one of the first printing, you also get some bonus exploration cards based on the original series). In addition to having the base game on sale, there will be demos with the Cardassian expansion (a Ferengi expansion is also on the way).
#5: The Ninth World: A Skillbuilding Game for Numenera (Lone Shark) – For those who don’t follow the roleplaying game side of things, the rise of Numenera (and the Cypher System) is one of the biggest developments in recent years. The Ninth World brings that Numera sense of the weird and wonderful over to the board/card game side of the house. A blend of Euro-style and deck-building mechanics focused on character advancement, the players in the Ninth World explore and adventure in various regions, trying to outdo each other or trying to protect their mutual home base, depending on whether the game is being played in competitive or co-op mode. The Ninth World will be available for demos at GenCon.
#4: Legendary Encounters: Firefly (Upper Deck) – The first Legendary Encounters, based on the Alien franchise, did a stupendous job of capturing the feel of various set-pieces of the movies, within the context of a co-operative deck-building game. But, while I like Alien, it isn’t something I get overly excited for. Firefly, on the other hand, can send me to the moon. So the prospect of getting some great, thematic scenarios for a universe I love? Plus you might notice from this list that I like deck-building games. It’s a match made in heaven. Legendary Encounters Firefly should be available for purchase at GenCon.
#3 Tyrants of the Underdark (Gale Force Nine) – Speaking of deck-building games and franchises I’m fond of, Tyrants of the Underdark has both as well, which makes Gale Force Nine the only publisher to manage to put two games on this list. Pulling from the Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons & Dragons, Tyrants of the Underark pits the players against each other as noble Drow houses, vying for power through any means necessary. Players will hone their decks while spreading out to control the Underdark, ruthlessly assassinating any foe who might stand in their way of a few more control points.
#2 Pursuit of Happiness (Stronghold) – For a hobby gaming enthusiast, The Game of Life is not going to generate any excitement. But there’s a really great theme to that game, and one that you don’t really see much on designer games – take a person from childhood until death, making decisions about how to live life. Pursuit of Happiness, however, does exactly that, like Life except with mechanics a serious gamer can love, instead of roll-and-move. In particular, The Pursuit of Happiness is a worker placement game, where the ‘workers’ are time, and each turn is a stage of life. The characters can pursue work, romance, family, and extracurricular activities, trying to maximize their accomplishments in the chosen field. Healthy options might be worth less points now, but could buy the player a couple of extra turns. Pursuit of Happiness should be available for early purchase at GenCon.
#1 SeaFall (Plaid Hat) – In the section on Gloomhaven, a few slots lower on this list, I talked about legacy-style games. Well, that word “legacy” was first used in Risk: Legacy, designed by Rob Daviau and Chris Dupius. And the absolutely fantastic Pandemic Legacy (best game of 2015, IMHO) was designed by Rob Daviau, based on the original Pandemic mechanics by Matt Leacock. SeaFall is designed by, you guessed it, Rob Daviau. SeaFall is designed from the ground up as a legacy game, by the game who kind of created the legacy style game. So this isn’t just a legacy game, it’s sort of the legacy game. And I am pumped to get it to the table. It will be on early sale at GenCon, and you can bet I’ll be scrambling to get one.