For a recap of every game Keith saw at Gen Con, click here.
I spent two days at Gen Con, the annual mecca for tabletop boardgaming held in Indianapolis at the city’s convention center, in my first-ever trip to the event, meeting with more than 30 publishers and playing or demoing at least that many games while I was there. Here are the top ten games that I played at the convention, and soon Paste will have a recap organized by publisher of everything else I saw that was worth noting, including recent and future releases. It’s a damn good time to be a boardgamer.
1. Agamemnon (Osprey Games)
An elegant abstract two-player game of area control that plays in 10-15 minutes, Agamemnon should be out officially by the end of this month. The two-sided board has hub-and-spoke maps on which the players try to build routes by placing their tokens on the hub spaces. There are three route types, scoring in different ways, and players can place tokens of varying strengths to build those routes, but also can sabotage their opponents by blocking routes or flipping two of the pieces on the spokes. It was my favorite among all the games I played at Gen Con, thanks to the simple rules, interactive element and strong replay value.
2. Colony (Bezier Games)
The newest title from the designer of Suburbia, Colony has some elements of Dominion and some of Machi Koro, as players roll dice to buy cards from the central market, then lay those cards in front of them (unlike Dominion, there’s no deckbuilding) to allow them to do more things on subsequent turns. The gimmick here is that dice values aren’t added together—you need specific combinations of dice to buy each card—so you need to buy “production” cards that generate dice with those values each turn to ensure you don’t get shut out.
3. SeaFall (Plaid Hat)
Legacy games, where the board “remembers” events from the last play and the players play a campaign over a “season” of multiple plays, are one of the biggest trends on boardgaming after the runaway success of Pandemic: Legacy last year. SeaFall will be one of the first legacy titles that’s not a spinoff of an existing game, and unlike Pandemic, SeaFall is competitive rather than cooperative. Designed by Rob Daviau, who also co-designed Pandemic: Legacy and Risk: Legacy, SeaFall pits players as mainland empires looking to explore the seas, discovering new islands, exploiting their resources, and fighting other players’ ships, all on a gorgeous board with high-quality components. The entire season of SeaFall should cover about 15 plays; the game had a limited release at Gen Con but will be out officially in September.
4. Bottom of the 9th (Greater Than Games)
I just got a quick demo of this baseball-themed game that tries to simulate the last few at bats of a baseball game. There are a lot of baseball boardgames on the market, some of which don’t get the details of the sport right, while others just use baseball as a theme but don’t bother making the sport integral to the play. The base game is out now for about $20, but there are expansions coming, including a clubhouse big box expansion that will add even more elements to the gameplay.
5. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu (Z-Man)
It’s Pandemic, but with several rules twists, enough that this isn’t just the same game with a new theme pasted on. Players are trying to close the four gates to hell, rather than curing four diseases, and players take on specific roles as in the regular game—but players can lose their sanity as the game goes on, and the Old Ones, which take place of Epidemic cards, have unique powers that will alter game play as well. It’s due out on September 2nd.
6. 7 Ronin (Grey Fox)
An asymmetrical two-player game with stunning art work, 7 Ronin pits one player as the eponymous samurai, protecting the village from the other player’s attacking horde of ninjas. The game’s been out in Poland for a few years but this is the first official release in the U.S. If the ninjas control enough of the areas of the town, that player wins; if the Ronin defeat the ninjas or hold the town through the end of the game’s eight rounds, that player wins. Players plan simultaneously so there’s little downtime and games take under a half an hour. It lists for $30 and should be out any day now.
7. 3 Wishes (Passport)
I’ve already played this five times with my family, since full games only take a few minutes. It’s a quick-moving card game along the lines of Love Letter and Coup, but here the gist is that everyone has imperfect information: You get three cards, but only get to look at one, and must expend further turns looking at your other cards … and other players can then peek at your cards and steal them, or just switch one of your cards with someone else’s. The deck size ranges from 12 for three players to 18 for five; one card is removed from each game at random, two sit in the center, and each player gets three. To win, you must have one card of each color and then have more points than any other player who has the same—but whoever ends the game with the Time Travel card loses automatically.
8. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (USAopoly)
The powerhouse Potter franchise has never really landed a hit in the boardgame space, but this cooperative deckbuilding game, which draws quite a bit on Dominion and Seasons, might change that. Players play as Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville, and there are seven decks within the set, one representing each year of school, with the first two serving more as teaching games. The box says it’s for ages eleven and up, but that’s a nod to the ages of the characters—I walked around the demo area and there were younger kids playing it without much trouble.
9. Sea of Clouds (iello)
Released earlier this summer, Sea of Clouds is a gateway-level pirate-themed game of card-drafting (the Winston mechanic, for Magic: The Gathering players) and set collection, with outstanding artwork and heavy use of rum … on the cards, that is. Distilled spirits not included. There’s plenty of interaction between players, fighting over the treasures everyone’s trying to collect. It lists at $30.
10. Saloon Tycoon (Van Ryder)
From the publishers of Hostage Negotiator, Saloon Tycoon has players building their saloons in the old west, not just building out but building up, stacking room cards on wooden cubes that players have to purchase as the game goes on. As you build, various citizens (good) and outlaws (not so good) come to visit your saloon, giving you points or putting up obstacles. I noticed many attendees stopping by the booth because they were drawn to the game’s stacking mechanic, and while the box says ages 12 and up I didn’t see anything a 10-year-old couldn’t handle.
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.