Every Boardgame We Saw at Gen Con 2016Main Image: Islebound, from Red Raven Games Games Lists Gen Con 2016
Earlier today we published Keith Law’s list of the best boardgames he saw at Gen Con 2016. Here’s a bullet-pointed rundown of every other game Law saw at the convention, broken down by publisher. If you are a boardgame fanatic, here’s what you have to look forward to over the next several months.
Rio Grande: Tiffin is a great, quick game with a novel theme. Players are trying to complete the bike routes of tiffin delivery boys in Mumbai—tiffins are metal lunch boxes that keep food such as dal, curries and rice hot until they reach their destination—on central cards. Every time the players complete a route, it’s scored; whoever placed the most cubes on that route gets the biggest point bonus. Players draft cards that allow them to place 1 to 4 cubes, usually trying to match the card’s color to the route’s, although each card number has a second ability such as a 4 card also working as a wild 2. There’s also a “competitor” track: Certain cards trigger a neutral player’s turn, placing cubes on the current routes and potentially reducing players’ bonuses when those are completed. It’s out now for about $30. RG has also published the 836th expansion to Dominion, Empires.
Asmodee: Dream Home is a great gateway/family game, as players try to build out their dream homes, balancing both set collection and spatial arrangement, for ages 7 and up; it’s due out in Q4. Captain Sonar is a team-based game set up to pit two teams of four against each other in a kicked-up version of Battleship. 7 Wonders Duel, the two-player analogue to Antoine Bauza’s amazing 7 Wonders game, has a new expansion coming soon called Pantheon. Citadels, the 2000 Spiel des Jahres-nominated game from Bruno Faidutti, is getting an update with fresh artwork this fall. Ticket to Ride: The First Journey is a simplified version of their award-winning, best-selling Ticket to Ride series, with players just drawing cards from the deck, playing on a simpler map with larger text. Inis is a Celtic-themed game of area control involving conflict and card-sharing on a board that changes with every play. Legendary Inventors doesn’t have a release date yet, but is a complex game that offers multiple methods of scoring, none of which can be fully ignored, and a card-completion mechanism gives rewards rather than straight points to players who have the most cubes on those central cards.
iello: Beyond Sea of Clouds, iello also showed off some recent and upcoming expansions for their King of Tokyo/New York series, as well as the upcoming reissue of Reiner Knizia’s Schotten Totten, which most of you will know under the name Battle Line. Schotten Totten is the same game but with an entirely different theme, and the reissue has outstanding new artwork. Oceanos is an upcoming title from Antoine Bauza, aimed at family play, where the players compete to build submarines, finding new species in the water and sending out scuba divers to collect treasures. The artwork is a big selling point here as well, cartoonish and bright to appeal to younger players. iello also demoed Happy Pigs, an economic game released in March that plays more complex than the goofy artwork (square pigs!) might imply; there’s an upcoming expansion that allows players to raise penguins as well as pigs. (I asked if there was also an upcoming bacon expansion but it appears not.)
Stonemaier: Scythe was one of the hottest titles at GenCon, with copies selling out within minutes of the floor’s opening. I watched a live game for about 15 minutes, and I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen or played a more complex game. Scythe combines resource collection, worker placement, area control, and military conflict in a game that runs 2-2.5 hours and has a rulebook the size of a Russian novel. The sheer number of decisions involved in the game limits the audience, but if you like titles where one play takes up your entire game night, this is for you.
Red Raven: Islebound is yet another pirate-themed game—Sid Meier should get a dime from each of these games sold—where players compete for treasure and crew while exploring an archipelago of island tiles, using diplomats to establish friendly relations with towns on those tiles … or attacking them to take them over. This just missed my top ten list for the event.
Greater than Games: In addition to Bottom of the 9th, GTG showed off two new titles, New Bedford and its two-player micro-game spinoff Nantucket, both of which revolve around the whaling industry of 19th century New England. New Bedford is the traditional game for up to 4 players, a worker-placement game where players build out the town together, collecting food to send out ships for whales, running twelve rounds and up to 45 minutes or so. It includes a solitaire gameplay option as well. Nantucket is a $10 card-game version for two players using coins in place of most of the resources found in New Bedford. It seems tighter and more straightforward than many worker-placement games, a genre that unfortunately has encouraged the “more is more” design philosophy.
Capstone: This publisher specializes in porting medium to heavy complexity titles from Europe that might not be mainstream enough to find a U.S. publisher, and they showed two games at GenCon, the highly complex stock-market manipulation game Arkwright and the medium-high complexity Haspelknecht, a game of coal-mining and resource management that forces players to balance mining operations against the collection of “pit water,” which slows or stops their progress.
Great Northern Games: Council of Blackthorn plays to 2-6 players, competing to earn the favor of the king and not be the player beheaded at the end, so the stakes are somewhat high. (Guillotine not included.) Players try to move themselves up multiple tracks but can try to sabotage other players, and get to bluff with “poison” cards that serve to limit the chances of a runaway winner. There are multiple paths to victory but the rules themselves seemed fairly straightforward; a full game would take an hour to an hour and a half.
Queen Games: I’ll admit to a bit of bias for a game called Liguria, since my grandfather was born on the Ligurian coast and I still have many cousins there. It’s a complex strategy game involving economic and shipping elements as well as territorial control. The publisher pitches it as a “prequel” to the game Fresco, although the designers are different. Queen also had Mighty Monsters, a family-oriented game aimed more at kids, where players compete to fight their way up the boards to battle monster guards and then face off against their opponents. Both games are out now.
Geek Attitude: Not Alone is an asymmetrical game pitting one player as the Creature against all other players trying to survive as explorers (the Hunted) on the Creature’s home planet. The nature of the game allows up to six players on the explorer team. There are two tracks marking the game’s progress; if the Hunted hang around until the rescue team arrives (the end of the Rescue track), they win, but if the Assimilation counter reaches the end of that track, the Creature wins.
Z-Man Games: Beyond Baker Street pits the players against Sherlock Holmes in a cooperative game, where getting clue cards for your team pushes Holmes further down the track towards his victory condition (that is, your loss). It borrows from Hanabi where you don’t always know what your cards say but must work with other players to reveal your cards. It’s out now for $35 and plays 2-4. Aquarium is the first US edition of a game published in Europe in 2011, where players compete to buy fish to make the most valuable aquarium, playable for ages 8 and up but with a medium weight. Merchants & Marauders: Broadsides, a standalone title set in the M&M universe, is a two-player game where each player helms a ship and must balance resources between attacking their opponent and defending their own ship. Cosmic Evil, the latest expansion for the time-travel game Tragedy Looper, was on sale at GenCon and should be at retail by October.
Calliope: The Titan series, light games designed by famous boardgame designers, was on display, with Richard Garfield’s bee-themed game HiveMind, Jordan and Zach Weisman’s restaurant-management game Menu Masters, and Paul Peterson’s Running with the Bulls, all aimed at the family audience.
Mayfair: The publishers of Settlers of Catan didn’t have much new on display, but were showing off 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner Isle of Skye as well as previewing an upcoming release of the two-player Rivals for Catan Deluxe.
Indie: Grifters is a “handbuilding” game, a deckbuilder where your cards are always in play. Players are trying to steal money doing “jobs” or from other players; once you use one of your operatives, that card goes underground for a few turns before it becomes available again. The game was released at GenCon for $25 and plays 2-4. Kodama: The Tree Spirits came out earlier this year, with beautiful artwork on a card game where players grow their trees by placing the cards next to their trunk card and score points according to the arrangement, based on the locations of insects and flowers on the tree as it grows. It takes about ten minutes per player and plays 2-5; it lists for $30 but I’ve seen it online as low as $16.
Wyvern: Onami is a simple area-control game played on a 5×5 grid where players lay cards with numbers on each of their four sides. If you play a card adjacent to another card and your card’s number is higher than that on the adjacent card’s adjoining edge, you gain control of that card … and then can continue to flip control of further cards down the chain, based on how big your advantage was in that first comparison. It’s a back-and-forth game a little reminiscent of Othello but, since the board is smaller, it plays more quickly and doesn’t get quite as complex. The game should be delivered to Kickstarter backers in September and be available for retail shortly afterwards.
Alea/Ravensburger: The card game version of the outstanding boardgame Castles of Burgundy cards is now out, and Ravensburger expects to show the card game version of last year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Broom Service, this November.
Grail Games: The Reiner Knizia auction game Medici is finally getting a reissue, with updated artwork from the same artist behind Broom Service, and is due out to retail later this month.
Cheapass Games: Tak, which I’ll review here very soon, cleared $1.3 million in its Kickstarter, making it one of the top boardgame Kickstarters ever. They’re hoping to ship to backers in November and to have a wider retail release in early 2017. The published set will include a 6×6 board, which allows players to play on smaller boards as well. The reissue of 1996’s Kill Doctor Lucky (think Clue, but in reverse) and the new micro-games Deadfall and Before I Kill You, Mister Spy… are all out now.
Gamelyn Games: Tiny Epic Western, the fourth game in the Tiny Epic series, is scheduled to hit retail in Q4. The game combines poker with a worker-placement mechanic with an Old West theme. And yes, designer/owner Michael Coe is indeed (as one attendee asked him) “that guy from Urban Legends.”
Passport Games: In addition to 3 Wishes, Passport is bringing out Mythe, an import of a Japanese game where the players are mice pushing their luck to try to reclaim their cheese from the evil red dragon … who likes cheese, I guess. (I thought dragons were lactose intolerant, so they breathe fire when they consume dairy products.) It’s a light game for players 6 and up. Quartz is another push-your-luck title where the players are dwarves heading into a mine, grabbing gems from a bag while trying not to grab too much obsidian (worthless to dwarves, probably because they don’t want to see their reflections), released in English earlier this year. Passport has also brought out Salem, a logic-puzzle game where players try to figure out who is and isn’t a witch (hint: throw her into the bog); Simurgh, a dragon-breeding worker-placement game; and Titan Race, a dice-rolling/drafting game where players use dice to race their pieces on the board.
Osprey: In addition to Agamemnon, Osprey rescued the backers of the unfulfilled Kickstarter for a reissue of the two-player game Odin’s Ravens three years after the project’s founder, Seth Nemec, took backers’ money and disappeared. The Osprey version hit stores earlier this year for under $30.
Artana: There’s a new expansion coming soon for their massive stock-market game Tesla vs. Edison as well as an upcoming title from the same designer, Corrupted Kingdoms, where players compete to pass “evil” legislation that’s voted on by all players. They’ve also announced an upcoming legacy-game project called Chroncles: Origins that will run to five boxes if and when the entire project is completed.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.