Gen Con 2017: The Best Games and More

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Gen Con 2017: The Best Games and More

This year’s Gen Con gaming convention was the 50th in the event’s history and set records, selling out of all badges before the event began and passing 200,000 in turnstile attendance. Over 600 new games were introduced at the convention, which is held in downtown Indianapolis, and I was there to see as many of them as I could. I’ve ranked the twenty best new titles I saw at the event, and below that go through other new games of note, starting with those that are already for sale or about to hit the market, on through those due by the start of 2018, and finishing with Kickstarters and reprints that also caught my eye. I also highlight some upcoming boardgame app releases from Asmodee Digital at the end.

The Top Ten

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1. Founders of Gloomhaven (Cephalophair Games): Gloomhaven itself has been one of the biggest game releases of the year, a lengthy legacy-style game that incorporates some boardgame elements in a dungeon crawl/miniatures game, but in my view isn’t truly a boardgame. Founders, however, is very much a Euro-style boardgame, set in the same universe as the first title with many shared thematic elements. In Founders, two to four players play different races fighting to build and control the growing city of Gloomhaven by laying tiles on the board to collect resources, deliver them to “prestige” buildings, and upgrade them to tier 2 and 3 resources, all for more points. The prestige buildings hit the board over the course of the game via a blind bidding process that involves all players. There’s also a solo mode. As you’d expect, the game looks phenomenal and developer Isaac Childres’ work on the mechanics is meticulous. The Kickstarter crossed $500K (the goal was just one-tenth of that) and the publisher expects delivery in January, with an MSRP of $70.

2. Cities of Splendor (Space Cowboys/Asmodee): Probably the most anticipated release of the con, Cities of Splendor contains four expansions for the runaway hit Splendor, each of which adds one twist to the base game. I demoed three of the four, and would say my favorite was the Trading Post, which gives players some additional abilities once they’ve met the criteria laid out on the new tiles, such as taking a gem every time you purchase a card from the table, or taking a third gem of any color when you use your power to take two of the same color gem on your turn. Strongholds lets you put tokens on cards to claim them and temporarily block others from buying them, possibly getting them with a bonus action later in the game; Cities replaces the noble tiles with high point value cities that you can take (either by gathering enough points, or hitting a combination of points and owned cards) to trigger end game; Orient expands the table to six cards per row rather than four, with some bonus cards that add special actions. Gen Con marked its official release and it should hit retailers in the next few weeks, with a suggested MSRP of $40.

3. Ancestree (Calliope Games): One of the new titles in Calliope’s Titans series, which invites some of gaming’s biggest designers to craft new light- to midweight titles, Ancestree comes from Eric M. Lang (Blood Rage, Arcane Academy, Arcadia Quest), and includes set-collection and tile-laying aspects, asking players to link tiles to create a family tree, with tiles in several colors and different connectors at their edges. You score for creating “lineages” in each color that connect across multiple levels of your family tree, and for “marriages” where you connect two tiles in the same row that each have half a heart symbol at their adjoining edges. There are three scoring rounds, with the points increasing each time, and because players will finish with 16 tiles in their trees the whole thing takes under a half an hour. The game will list at $30 and Calliope is now taking preorders, with delivery expected this fall.

4. Skyward (Rule & Make): This new title from Australian publisher Rule & Make is out now and has a novel mechanic for distributing cards to players—whoever is the Warden on a particular turn draws a fixed number of cards and splits them however s/he wants into stacks, one per player, for players to select in turn. Thus the game hinges on how well you can balance out the stacks, or even skew them to try to convince players to take certain ones and leave the cards you want in the last stack that comes to you as Warden. Players compete to build (“launch”) buildings into the sky for victory points. The artwork is superb and games play in 30-40 minutes. The MSRP is $25.

5. Epoch: The Awakening (Orange Nebula): Epoch hit its Kickstarter goal in 24 hours and ended up with over $200K in pledges, as the game promises to combine the strategic complexity of longer games into a one-hour package. Players are explorers who’ve washed up on a new island and must explore it hex by hex (like Catan, although the similarities end there) while using “influence” tokens to allow them to undertake most actions. The game includes 100 unique cards, so the mechanics are simple and turns are quick (under a minute per player) but each play should differ from previous ones. It’s due out in May with an MSRP of $80.

6. Hafid’s Grand Bazaar (Rather Dashing Games): Yes, it’s another trading game set in the near east, but Hafid’s has a big negotiation component on top of its set collection mechanic that makes this a much more social game than all of the others of its ilk, like adding Go fish to a multi-player Jaipur. Players work to collect goods in five different colors, with five different goods types (so, yes, that’s 25 in total), with different quantities of each good in the deck, so you have some rare and some common. You can score for sets of two or more of the same good, or one in each color, or one of each type. It’s due out September 20th with an MSRP $35.

7. Photosynthesis (Blue Orange): On the heels of their Spiel des Jahres-winning title Kingdomino, Blue Orange’s next big title was an instant hit at Gen Con, selling out with over 700 copies sold in the first five hours of the event. It’s an abstract game at heart but has a well-integrated theme as players plant seeds, grow their trees, and reap light rewards as the sun moves around the board in six different spots—meaning that the light it casts and the shadows the players’ trees throw will vary each time the sun moves. That means you can plant and grow trees to boost your own points and potentially block opponents’ trees from getting sunlight. It’s at retail now for $40 but most places are out of stock, with more due in about a month.

8. Whistle Stop (Bezier Games): The #1 game from Boardgamegeek’s buzz rankings of this year’s Gen Con, Whistle Stop is sorely lacking in fried green tomatoes, but does include trains and has players build out the board as they go, with elements of Wabash Cannonball, Tsuro and Steam. The game offers multiple paths to victory—you can race across the board to try to be the first to claim the big buildings at the other side, or focus more on pickup and delivery to accumulate points, and whatever you do you have to ensure you have enough coal to keep your trains moving. Despite the bright old-timey graphics, it’s a heavier strategy game than mass-market train titles like Ticket to Ride. Whistle Stop will retail for $60 and is hitting stores over the next few weeks.

9. Sentient (Renegade Games): Renegade also had a huge con for sales, with its title Ex Libris one of the fastest sellers and several other titles, including Sentient, flying out of the booth. Sentient is a set-collection game with a theme where you welcome our new robot overlords and try to claim them from the central market while also targeting certain bonus tokens that can multiply your returns; each player rolls five dice at the start of each round, but can manipulate the dice with the cards to try to make the two dice adjacent to each card trigger the card’s reward. (In other words, you can take a card and fail to score for it if you don’t get the dice right.) It got an early release at Gen Con, but is due out to retail in mid-September for an MSRP of $55.

10. Farlight (Game Salute): There’s a bit of Galaxy Trucker in this spaceship-building game, but players bid on component rather than making a mad simultaneous grab for them, and try to build ships capable of completing valuable missions found on the board that return victory points, with the points increasing as players work through the stacks of missions. Players must also balance their crew requirements and ensure they have enough energy to complete those missions, and can only add components with the correct card edges (with connectors), making early decisions critical as ships become larger and more unwieldy. It’s out to retail in September.


The best of the rest: Games available now/soon

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11. Summit (Inside Up Games): This just missed the top ten for me; I was impressed by the game’s versatility as a solo, competitive or cooperative game. You’re climbing and descending a forbidding mountain and must manage your oxygen and food to get to the top and back, placing tiles with different ropes that vary in allowed climbing speed. In the competitive game, you might try to block an opponent—but if you refuse to let an opponent climb past you, you lose “karma” points and can end up behind in the final tally. It’s steep at $75 but you do get a hefty box with nearly 200 cards and over 100 tiles.
12. The Quest for El Dorado (Ravensburger): Nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, this Reiner Knizia title is a race game played on a modular board, as players draw movement and action cards to traverse the jungle using machetes and canoes (oars) while hiring helpers to be the first to cross all six boards and reach the finish. Already out in Europe, it should hit retail outlets here in September at an MSRP of $33.

13. Ex Libris (Renegade): This was one of the hottest games at the con, selling out completely before the end of day two, with tremendous early buzz driving interest. Players try to assemble libraries of cards in front of them in three rows, but the cards of books need to be in alphabetical order. The base game has all players starting with the same board, but the full game gives each player a unique library and a “minion” token with a special ability. The art is goofy and makes it look more like a kids’ game than a midweight Euro.

14. Legend of the 5 Rings (Fantasy Flight): Another runaway hit, this Living Card Game ended up with several hundred players in the tournament Fantasy Flight held during the con. A two-player reimagining of a 1995 boardgame of the same name, Rings features spectacular artwork and entirely new mechanics and cards. Games take 45-90 minutes, depending on how evenly matched the players and their decks are. It’s out of stock in many places but out now at an MSRP of $40.

15. Century: Spice Road (Plan B): This first release from the new publisher created by the founder of Z-Man Games, Century: Spice Road is part one of a trilogy, a game with a serious Splendor vibe where you’re collecting spices to claim cards from a central market. The twist here is that some cards get you points, but others let you exchange spice tokens for others of more total value, so you have to balance buying early for points against adding workers to play the long game. With just one action per turn, it moves fairly quickly. Plan B also released a Gen Con-only version of the game called the Golen Edition that’s just a reskinning of the same mechanics. Spice Road is already out, with two more titles coming in the trilogy over the next two years.

16. Seikatsu (IDW): Featuring some stunning artwork, Seikatsu has players laying discs on a central board and evaluating them twice for scoring. You score points for matching the bird drawn on that disc to any tiles to which it’s adjacent, and when a row is full, you score for matching flowers on the same discs in that row (one point for each flower in the predominant color). The row is seen from your perspective, however, so each player is assembling rows unique to him/her. It’s out now, a bit dear at $40 given the short playing time and number of components.

17. Kerala (KOSMOS): A light family-strategy game with an Indian theme, as players build out tableaus of tiles in five different colors, but can only score for one contiguous area of each color, losing points for any tiles of that color outside the scored area. You have two elephant tokens and can only place a new tile next to one of them, and can only move a tile if you place a special tile that gives you that ability but no points. There are also five-point two-toned tiles that score if you connect those two colors. It’s quick, under 30 minutes, and out now for $40.

18. Entropy: Worlds Collide (Rule & Make): A competitive card game that first appeared in 2015 as Entropy with different artwork, Entropy: Worlds Collide has players competing to reassemble their own “realities” from the deck after a collision of parallel worlds has torn spacetime apart. The big hook here is that each player has the same six action cards, but if two players try to execute the same action, they cause a temporal clash and neither gets to undertake it. Rule & Make has also released an expansion, Echo of Time, with a narrative element that I am not allowed to talk about. Also, I don’t know what it is because I haven’t opened the box yet. It’s due out this fall. Rule & Make also announced a licensed Terminator 2 game called T2029 with a Kickstarter effort starting this September.

19. Wasteland Express Delivery Service (Pandasaurus): The winner for the most awkwardly-named game I actually saw at the show—there were probably others I missed—the game I’ll just call Wasteland Express is, as you’d expect, a post-apocalyptic pickup-and-delivery game where players will compete to fulfill contracts and upgrade their trucks in the meantime, with resources available at various stops changing each time someone visits them. It’s out now at $80 MSRP.

20. Fox in the Forest (Renegade): A very cute, clever trick-taking game for two that can be played in just a few minutes; the deck has three suits of cards from 1 to 11. The even-numbered cards are normal, but each odd number gives some special ability, like changing the trump suit. The scoring also discourages routs: If you take 7-9 tricks, you win, but if you take more than that, you’re “Greedy” and you lose. It’s out now at $15.


Out now and coming soon

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Unearth (Brotherwise): Players are digging up ruins by rolling dice and placing them on ruin cards, with the highest die on the card once the total reaches the card’s threshold; if your die isn’t the winner, you can still claim a stone, with six stones in certain combinations enough to get you a special tile for significant bonus points. The endgame didn’t work well, however, with the lead player collecting lots of action cards but lacking any opportunity to use them to preserve the victory. It’s out September first for an MSRP of $35.

Pirate 21 (Indie Boards & Cards): Blackjack with a social component and additional ways to win even if you don’t end up with 21 or the highest total, from the publisher behind one of our favorite family games, Kodama: The Tree Spirits.

Shark Island (Upper Deck): A semi-cooperative game, with one player playing the shark and the others the hunters, who, according to my sources, are going to need a bigger boat. It’s out this fall for $40.

The Ruhr (Capstone): Part two of the Coal Trilogy that started with last year’s Haspelknecht; the three games are all moderate to heavy Euros, increasing in complexity with each release. It retails for $60 and is already out.

Centipede (IDW): The first in IDW’s nostalgic series of 8-bit Atari games reimagined for the tabletop, Centipede is primarily a two-player game, one player playing the gnome and the other the centipede, with bugs and mushrooms galore. It’s due out September 27th for $40 MSRP.

Custom Heroes (Alderac): Another Card-Crafting System (CCS) game from Mystic Vale designer John D. Clair—whom, I must mention, is an avid Dodgers fan—Custom Heroes has players attempting to take tricks while also upgrading or altering their cards with the CCS’ signature plastic sleeves. It’s out now (8/22) for $30 MSRP.

Expanse (WizKids): An area control game where players work to gain influence by playing faction cards that apply to specific areas or events. I thought it looked overdesigned, with a lot of rules for the game style. It’s due out in September.

Cutthroat Kingdoms (Alderac): This game set in the Kingdom of Aurum has a Game of Thrones sort of feel as it pits 3 to 6 players against each other in a long game with high social interaction and a large deck of action cards, running 90-150 minutes for a full game. Players will make alliances, hire mercenaries, gain wealth, and eventually fight other players to end up on top. It’s out this month for $40.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms/Flames & Frost expansion (Daily Magic): Valeria is a Machi Koro-like cards-and-dice game, with better balance than Machi Koro has, and Daily Magic had both the 2016 base game and this new expansion, due out to retail in October for $30 MSRP, available.

Agra (Quined): A mammoth worker-placement and resource-management game set in India in 1572, with approximately a million pieces (I estimated) and a playing time of two-plus hours; definitely on the heavy side of Eurogames. It was available to demo at Gen Con but I haven’t found a firm release date for the US.

Lisboa (Eagle-Gryphon): A monster Euro-style economic game, Lisboa can take up to three hours to play, as players work to rebuild Lisbon, Portugal, on a game board that represents the real map of the city after the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of it. It’s out now with an MSRP of $100.

Brutal Kingdom (KOSMOS): A high-interaction card game of trying to do unto others before they do it on you. Players play cards from a deck of 20, with four in each player’s hand, to try to gain influence tokens and eliminate other players’ characters. The catch is that each color of influence token has a value determined by how many of those tokens are left unclaimed at game end—if all blue tokens are taken, then they are not worth any points at all. Out since June for $15.

Bemused (Devious Weasel): A 15-30 minute game for 4-6 players where you use cards to drive other players insane or even kill them—but even if a player is dead he’s not necessarily out of it. It’s out now for $25.

Anachrony (Mindclash): Released earlier this year and now back in stock (at least briefly), this highly complex worker-placement game gives players a slew of options but also limits some of their choices because of the scarcity of “exosuits” required to send workers into space. The game also has several phases, with a theme built around an asteroid hitting earth that also enabled humans to move back and forth in time. The MSRP is $65.

Crossfire (Plaid Hat/Asmodee): A social deduction game set in the Specter Ops universe where 5 to 10 players assume roles of agents or assassins and must suss out which player is the VIP they’re trying to protect or need to kill to win. It’s due out in September or October.

Dragon Island (R&R Games): A light-themed game with a lot going on, Dragon Island has players exploring an island by placing tiles, taking cubes and uncovering dragons they can tame or capture for points. I couldn’t quite reconcile the number of rules (up to 8 distinct actions per turn) with the theme. It’s due out soon for a $40 MSRP.

Viral (Arcane Wonders): The guts of this game are guts—the board shows the internal organs of a body (in highly cartoonish fashion) with defined pathways between them, and players get virus tokens they can use to infect different zones, scoring for zones they control or for prompting an immune system reaction that gives them points but removes all viruses from that organ. It plays two to five players in up to an hour. It hit retail this Wednesday at a $50 MSRP.

Spirit Island (Greater Than Games): This solo or cooperative game features a modular board where players build a “living island” (like Avatar) and portray different spirits fighting to protect the island against the Invaders, colonial forces that perhaps don’t have the island’s best interests at heart. It’s hitting stores now along with GTG’s miniatures-based horror game Fate of the Elder Gods, both at an $80 MSRP.


Later releases

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Moa (APE/Mighty Boards): A game from Martin Wallace without trains? Moa is set in New Zealand before settlers arrived, with birds standing in for all native species and various varmints representing the invading colonists. Players play the birds and fight for area control and to place leaders, but they can also “sell” an area to the invaders for a quick buck. It’s due out in December/January.

Exit: The Game (KOSMOS): The Kennerspiel winner for best complex or expert game has three new modules coming in November and four more next year for $15 apiece. It’s an “escape the room” puzzle game, so each module gets you one play and takes an hour or more.

Petrichor (APE/Mighty Boards): Another game with great artwork, Petrichor sets players as clouds and rewards them for growing crops at the right time, so there’s an area control element along with balancing actions to time the harvest correctly for maximum return. It’s due to backers in December.

Fallout (Fantasy Flight): Announced the week before Gen Con, Fallout is indeed a boardgame adaptation of the longrunning Bethesda videogame series, playable for one to four players on a modular board, similar to the company’s adaptation of Doom last winter. We’ll see just how S.P.E.C.I.A.L. you are now. It’s due out in Q4.

Civilization: A New Dawn (Fantasy Flight/Asmodee): This simplified version of the classic Sid Meier game, which was last updated in 2010, cuts the playing time in half while maintaining the theme and other core elements of the 4X series, which began as a videogame in 1991 from Microprose (RIP). It’s also at a lower price point of $50 and is due out in Q4.

Pandemic Legacy Season 2 (Z-Man/Asmodee): If you’re here, you probably know what this is. I haven’t finished season 1 yet, so I didn’t even peek at this version at the convention. It’s due out this fall.

Ticket to Ride France & The Old West (Days of Wonder/Asmodee): Designer Alan Moon announced a new double-sided expansion board to this essential game. The France board comprises almost entirely gray tracks; when you draw a card, you must lay a piece of track that assigns it a color—but someone else can then fill it. The tracks on the board cross over each other, so laying a track on one of them eliminates the other from play. On the Old West board, each player starts from a specific city and can build more cities as they go.

Majesty: For the Realm (Z-Man): This medieval-themed card game from Marc André, designer of Splendor, will be released at Essen in October. I didn’t demo it—there was one copy, in German, that I saw—but it’s notable simply because of André’s track record.

First Martians (Pegasus/Portal Games): From the designer of the game Robinson Crusoe, this game focuses on the mundane aspects of how the first colonists on Mars might have to manage things like repairing their life support systems while also exploring the planet. The game will have a companion app that allows the designer to add new scenarios and cards to the base game. It’s due out in October or November.

Palace of Mad King Ludwig (Bezier): A standalone sequel to the popular Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Palace makes game play more straightforward—every tile is the same shape and size. All players in Palace work on one building, rather than each player working on his/her own. It’s due out in October for $60.

Queendomino (Blue Orange): Also a standalone sequel, this one to the Spiel des Jahres-winning Kingdomino. Queendomino layers new levels on the former game’s basic mechanics, adding an economic aspect with a market that has single-square tiles for purchase (all tiles in Kingdomino are two squares), with players using knights to gain money, and a new terrain type called “construction” where players can place those new tiles. It plays on its own or can be added to Kingdomino for a longer, bigger game. It’ll be released at the Essen boardgame convention in October.

Sentinels of the Multiverse: Oblivaeon (Greater than Games): The final expansion to their popular Sentinels deckbuilding game will be out in Q4, along with the upcoming Sentinels RPG.


Kickstarter games—live or coming soon

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Total Recall (Overworld): This officially licensed game splits players into two factions, but you don’t know who’s on what side until you start aiming your weapon. It’s a deduction game, although I didn’t see that much of a social component. The Governator does not appear, sadly. It’s on Kickstarter now.

Detective: City of Angels (Van Ryder Games): Bringing a noir twist to Scotland Yard, Detective pits several investigating players against one criminal on the run in Los Angeles, and will hit Kickstarter this fall. Mr. X was unavailable for comment.

Cerebria (Mindclash): Another complex game from the publishers of Anachrony, although this looks a little less involved than the first title; it hits Kickstarter on September 12th.

Edge of Darkness (Alderac): Another game from Mystic Vale designer John Clair, this one in progress for years but available to demo at Gen Con, with a Kickstarter date still TBD.


Reprints and reissues

This year’s Gen Con also featured a number of older titles that had fallen out of print but are now back in new editions. Here’s a quick rundown of notable resurrections from the con:

Torres (IDW): Winner of the Spiel des Jahres in 2000, Torres is now back with some updated art in a $55 edition on the market already.

Stop Thief (Restoration): Restoration specializes in revisiting old classics, of which Stop Thief! is one—I owned and played this game as a kid. The toy phone that helped run the game will now be replaced by a free app, and the board has been streamlined as well. I was disappointed that I didn’t see Saul Teen among the suspects, though. Restoration is also bringing out Indulgence, which is an update of a game that’s seen several themes and titles, including Dragon Master; and Downforce, an auto-racing game that was previously released as Top Race in 1996 and Tempo in 1974.

Brass: Birmingham (Roxley): The epic economic game of industrial England will be back in print with new actions and new industry types. This reimplements the 2007 version called Brass: Lancashire while expanding it as well.

Pillars of the Earth (KOSMOS): The game is actually shorter than the book, but anyway, this 2006 title will be back in print in October along with a new second title in the series.

Troyes & Bruxelles (Asmodee): Both heavy Euros are back in production at a $60 price point and were on sale in the Asmodee store on the exhibit floor.


And finally…

Boardgame apps are booming too, with Asmodee Digital behind many of the best adaptations on the market, and they announced a number of new and upcoming releases, including some games they’ve licensed from other publishers. Look for app versions of Carcassonne (Android/Steam), Ticket to Ride: The First Journey (all platforms), Zombicide (all), Smash Up (all), Abalone (Steam), and Mille Bornes (all) in the next six months, with Scythe (Steam only), Terraforming Mars (all), Bananagrams (all) following in 2018.


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.

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