Tom Vasel, the founder of a many boardgamers’ favorite video and podcast network The Dice Tower, recently complained about the “cult of future” in one of his videos. This is referring to the community focusing on boardgames coming out in months (if not years), instead of worrying about what’s out now. Even if plenty of games are released weekly, it’s hard to deny the appeal of following a game’s launch. This is what makes huge videogame conventions like PAX successful, where people will dress to the max in $900 Master Chief costumes to see a two-minute trailer.
In any case, I had the opportunity to attend the first Penny Arcade Expo in Texas. Widely known as PAX, the expo is known for selling tickets out in minutes at the Boston and Seattle location. I came back with some knowledge of some new games coming out in the next year. Even if it makes me a part of the cult of the future, below, in no particular order, is a list of the five coolest games I saw at PAX South.
1. Bring Your Own Book
Release Date: October 2015
There is nothing mechanically new about Bring Your Own Book. It can play like either Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity depending on the group, but the fact that the game can play well at an awkward family reunion AND in fart-joke-loving teenager’s dirty bedroom is what gives it potential to be the next big party game. It’s a simple game that works like this: The judge of the round grabs a card that has a subject like “name of a craft beer“ or “subtitle for an overly dramatic war videogame.” Then, the other players open the book they brought with them and try to find a word, sentence or paragraph that matches the prompt.
This game can definitely push a lot of reps since there are literally millions of books that can be put to your disposal. I saw plenty of people at PAX laughing hysterically while going through the demo, and even if it isn’t some complex Euro thing, it’s fun—and isn’t that what gaming is all about? Bring Your Own Book can be found on Kickstarter here, although it looks like they met their pledge goal quickly after the page went live.
2. The Shadow Over Westminster
Release Date: TBA
I could make a joke about how H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on boardgaming is as big as zombies are on videogaming, but if you walk into any boardgame store you’ll see shelves dedicated to both zombies and Cthulhu alike. Although The Shadow Over Westminster never uses Cthulhu or Lovecraft by name, the influence is obvious—but that shouldn’t cause you to erase this boardgame off your list. The designer’s goal for the game was to create a co-operative story-based gaming experience without making it a long chore. The result was a game that mainly uses the mechanic of deckbuiding, but with a catch. Since you can see the back of cards, you can plan a strategy ahead of time by having an idea about what’s coming next. The players play agents trying to secretly battle the “terrible darkness” called the Cataclysm and save the world without ever letting the general public know what happened.
There’s a board where each player will move their miniatures around to tackle whatever challenge they see fit—although cooperation is essential to success. The Shadow Over Westminster will include 12 different Cataclysms (read as mysteries) to solve, which should bring additional reply value to the deckbuilder-adventure hybrid. The art is a little off-putting at times, with unappealing text over busy images, but hopefully it will be improved by launch. The Shadow Over Westminster was successfully funded on Kickstarter back in June and is expected to launch soon. If you missed out on the Kickstarter and are interested in preordering, you can do so at the Zenion Games store.
3. The Siblings Trouble
Release Date: December 2015
I’m a sucker for a good story, and story is what the cooperative, card-driven roleplaying game The Siblings Trouble is all about. “The Siblings Trouble is about that nostalgia for childhood, adventures in the backyard and mysteries in the attic,” said Eduardo Baraf, the lead designer of The Siblings Trouble. The game would fit in as a great filler to any social boardgame or roleplaying group since it plays in about 30 minutes and requires very little setup. The four characters are named Danger, Adventure, Mischief and Mayhem, which may already get an image in your head of the different stories that will be told at locations like hillside cave and abandoned junkyard. Stacks of cards are built with a boss, a path and an encounter, and the table will work together to tell the story that comes to their mind when the image on a card is shown.
Depth is something that this game doesn’t have, so don’t except to be coming up with deep strategies to defeat bosses like the handsome troll. Like many roll playing games, the player going through an encounter will roll for either a successful or failed encounter, which will in turn be determined by the player what that means. Players are welcome to give a compliment to an enemy and walk on by on a successful roll if they have a sudden case of empathy for lonely trolls in caves. Look out for a Kickstarter for The Siblings Trouble in early April, with an expected delivery by late December.
4. Wizard Dodgeball
Release Date: December 2015 (if funded)
Relive your favorite high school memories with the light tactical two-player game Wizard Dodgeball. The game is finding itself on Kickstarter for the second time after fixing many of the complaints from reviewers of the original print and play version, such as a confusing rulebook and having to spend too much time managing the board. The first thing you’ll notice about the game is that the theme is wonderful and already looks retail ready—it was the best looking new game I saw at PAX South. Players begin by selecting wizards (players on their team) either randomly or through a draft, and the dodgeballs are placed in the center of the gridded game board just like a real game of dodgeball.
Like any war game or tactical videogame like Final Fantasy Tactics each character has a different range of standard moves—attack, dodge, cast, resist, move and magic. Different sets of dice (based on your attack range) are used as the primary battle mechanic, but only against the opponent—if you want to cast a helpful spell to a teammate, no roll is required. The war/sports hybrid is playable in about 30 minutes and looks to be a solid addition to any strategic boardgamer’s shelf. The designer made sure to listen to reviewers with an open mind and changes like colored dice that match the cards associating with them are the little things that make gamers happy in a world overrun with confusing rulebooks. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out their Kickstarter here.
Release date: TBD
Giant boats like the RMS Lusitania seem like a no-brainer when it comes to theming boardgames that rely on a story. A lot of stuff happens on boats—romance, escaping life for days or weeks, pure disaster, and the list goes on. The Gilded Age cooperative adventure game Conduct finally answers my calls to play a game based around a giant boat. Players will work together to travel through the Lusitania and will find story-changing events, monsters and even a hidden traitor element e.g. Shadows Over Camelot. The players have a choice of several story packs to choose from—where each pack will focus on a different supernatural menace, as well as going through different parts of the ship. To give an example, the awful boiler room from the previous game you played might not be involved in a different story pack.
Players will have a unique deck that assists them in their cooperative journey, which brings diversity to the table as each character plays dramatically different. Dice will be rolled to test the success or failure of plot points, but working together as a team is necessary to stand a chance at making it out of the Lusitania alive. As with any boardgame with a hidden traitor, it can get pretty cutthroat at times, so it may not be the best game for your friend that is known to be particularly salty. The art in the game is beautiful and I’m excited to play a game themed during the Gilded Age. Check out their Twitter page for updates and watch out for this whenever it is released.
Jay Egger works in digital media in Austin, Texas and writes whenever he gets the chance. You can catch him playing boardgames while drinking fancy beer. His Twitter handle is @jayeggr.