The Best Board Games at Gen Con 2023
And Everything Else We Saw and Played, TooLead photo from the game Barcelona. All photos courtesy of the respective publishers. Games Lists board games
The biggest theme among new games at a record-breaking Gen Con this year was that everything old is new again.
Publishers seem to be going back to the well, whether it’s bringing over IP from movies or other media, or just publishing sequels or reboots of existing titles, more than they are bringing out completely original titles. It’s analogous to Hollywood’s own addiction to big IP properties, like the 87th movie in the MCU or a 12-episode origin story for Beedo, or their own habit of bringing back or rebooting existing properties, like Top Gun: Maverick, starring Tom Cruise, or the latest Mission: Impossible movie, starring Tom Cruise. These movies and shows aren’t all bad, and these games aren’t all bad—there were at least three games I saw at the show that are sequels to games I’ve loved and that I would thus like to purchase. I do worry about new ideas getting crowded out of the marketplace by publishers that feel, with some justification, that it’s easier to market a game with a hook than to do something entirely new. You’ll notice my list of the top 10 games I saw at Gen Con doesn’t include a single title that’s a brand extension or that contains IP from another medium. That wasn’t a deliberate choice, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence, either.
One other trend I noticed was that there were a lot of smaller and/or lighter weight games than I’m used to seeing, and more heavy, two-hour or more games, but I didn’t see many midweight games, the sort you might play with your whole family or with non-gamer friends and finish in 45 minutes or so. There were some, but that space of so-called “gateway” games or family games seemed to be sparser than in years past.
Anyway, here are my top 10 games among everything I saw, demoed, or played at the convention, which drew 70,000 unique visitors this year, along with a rundown of everything else I saw, organized by publisher.
1. Wandering Towers (Capstone)
I’d seen this game before, at PAX Unplugged in December, before it was picked up by Capstone for U.S. distribution and when it was still only available under its German name, Die wandelden Türme. This was one of the fastest-selling games of the con, as it’s about as perfect as a family game can get—it’s a little silly, a little strategic, very interactive, and generally fun. Players must get their wizard meeples all the way around the circular board to the last tower, with their potion bottles refilled. When a wizard is on a tower, you can pick up the tower and move it, with the wizard on it, and if the numbered card you played lets you land on a space with another player’s wizard, you can trap it under your tower and refill your potion as a reward. It’s very take-that, very tactile, and yet still gives you enough to think about that it’s truly a game for all ages.
2. Fit to Print (Flatout/Alderac)
I’ve been looking forward to this game for a year, and not just because it’s about a newspaper and I’m some variety of journalist. You’re publishing a newspaper in the woodlands, doing three editions, Friday through Sunday, with each day’s page a little bit bigger. Each day starts with a Galaxy Trucker-style free-for-all where players grab tiles from the pile in the center, with articles, photos, and ads. You can’t place two tiles of the same type next to each other, and each game has its own objectives for different scoring rules, but the most important thing is to try to fill your paper as entirely as you can—but you don’t grab tiles and place them, instead putting them on your “desk” for editing first. Then you can shout “Layout!” and start laying the tiles on your board. You can also skip the real-time aspect for turn-based, and it plays from 1 to 6 people. It’s the newest game from Peter McPherson (Wormholes, Tiny Towns), and will be shipping this fall.
3. 3 Ring Circus (Devir)
The newest game from Fabio Lopiano (Merv, Ragusa, Zapotec) is indeed set in the world of traveling circuses, moving around the northeast and midwestern United States. Players operate their own small shows, but Barnum & Bailey are on the circuit as well, and when they get to a major city, every player whose circus has performed there can gain victory points. On your turn, you can recruit new performers or buy animals for your show, or you can put on a performance in a town, small city, or major one, with differing rewards for each—the towns help you build, while the major cities are for fame and points. One of the game’s more novel mechanics is how you pay for cards—it’s based on the row where you place it on your board, and you pay the difference between that card and the one it’ll be adjacent to, rather than just its face value.
4. Barcelona (Board & Dice)
A fairly heavy worker-placement game from first-time designer Dani Garcia (from the city of the game’s title), Barcelona has players building out the city and its famous Sagrada Familia in the 1850s, a time when the Catalan city was suffocating inside its medieval walls. Engineer Ildefons Cerdà came up with a plan to grow the city, inventing the study of urbanization, and players will have to please him by ensuring there’s enough housing for the lower classes, even though building for the middle and upper classes is more rewarding. It has a ton of parts, and it’s a game where you’re trying to move tokens off your player board to the main board to unlock more rewards or actions, as well as a game that rewards—and requires—advance planning. Aside from the too-large number of ways to score points, it’s pretty great, and I think most of the rules are easy enough to grasp.
5. Tesseract (Smirk and Dagger)
A cooperative game with a showpiece at its center, the Tesseract of the game’s title, although our tiny brains can only see three of its dimensions—it’s a cube of 64 dice, and players must remove enough of those dice to fill out their board, collecting sets of three of the same color or face value, then moving one of them to the containment board, which has 24 spaces showing all six distinct die values in the game’s four colors. If you fill out that board before the last die is removed from the Tesseract or there are seven ‘breaches’, you’ve saved the universe. If not, everything collapses into a singularity and we die. No pressure.
6. Forest Shuffle (Lookout/Asmodee)
A midweight game that looks like it’ll be a lighter one, with a smaller box and cute forest animals on the cards, Forest Shuffle is a hand management game that brings in some of the card interaction of Fantasy Realms, as most of the things you play will score more points if you play certain other cards in your forest as well. You start by playing a tree, and then can play creature cards to that tree, tucking it halfway under on the left, right, top, or bottom. Each tree can take at least four such cards, and a few creature cards let you stack them for more points. You gain cards by taking two from the clearing, but once there’s a tenth card in the clearing, you… well, you clear it, and those cards are gone for good. There’s very little player interaction but a lot of thinking and some good randomness in how you plan for cards that may or may not appear. It’s the first game under Lookout’s Greenline label, made with zero plastic and with Forest Stewardship Council certified paper.
7. Redwood (Sit Down!)
Featuring what I think was the most clever new mechanic I saw at Gen Con this year, Redwood asks players to move around the large, round forest board and take the best pictures they can—but you have to actually estimate the proper distance from your photographer to whatever you’re trying to snap. The game comes with plastic tools to help you move the permitted distance and then, once you’ve gotten into position, show exactly what animals and other features are within your line of sight. It’s an Essen release and will be out to retail in October here as well, although there were copies for sale at Gen Con.
8. Big Top (Allplay)
A very intriguing game in a tiny box where players bid on circus performers, but every bid also can help you complete an objective on your existing cards for more points. The ringmaster starts the bidding in each round and takes the cash from the winner, so when you’re the ringmaster you usually don’t want to win the card you’ve put up for auction. If you bid any number on a card you’ve already won, you take a coin and cover that number’s space on the card; when you’ve covered all such spaces, you gain its bonus, either straight victory points or a variable game-end bonus. You also must end the game with at least one Star performer, or else you lose even if you had the most points! It’s the English reimplementation of the Japanese game Suroboruos, with a new theme as well. It retails for $20 and was one of the best values at the convention.
9. Distilled (Paverson Games)
From first-time designer Dave Beck, Distilled is a very detailed game of high spirits—the sort you drink, at least. Players will try to distill any of nine different spirits, most of which can vary from game to game, by gathering ingredients, barrels, and bottles, and, if they wish, aging them, with some spirits (like vodka, gin, and moonshine) available for sale in the same turn they’re distilled, while others (whiskey, brandy, and the glorious spirit of rum) require aging and can be worth more points the longer they sit in their barrels. It’s an economic game more than anything else, with some light resource management. I do think it’s a little too long, especially at higher player counts, and the mechanic where you distill—taking all of the sugar, water, and yeast cards you’ve gathered, shuffling them, and then removing top and bottom—introduces a lot of randomness. The attempt to make this game as authentic and accurate as possible is impressive and it looks amazing on the (very large) table.
10. The Fox Experiment (Pandasaurus)
The latest game from Wingspan designer Elizabeth Hargrave, The Fox Experiment is based on the actual, decades-long effort to domesticate wild foxes that began in a Soviet lab in Siberia. In the game, you’re drafting fox cards and mating them to try to improve the genetic stock over several generations, rolling dice to simulate the partial randomness of the process and then moving them around your cards to mark off desirable traits for more points. The pups you create then go to the board for drafting in the next round. After five rounds, players mark their progress and check their personal objectives. The game is a table hog, but the art and components look fantastic, and Hargrave’s commitment to scientific accuracy in her games is admirable.
Here are all the other games I saw in some fashion, even just checking out at an exhibitor’s booth, over the course of my four days in Indianapolis:
3WS: Charcuterie is a set collection game heading for Kickstarter soon, where players grab stacks of items to build their charcuterie boards and must place them in specific ways to score points, such as by placing cured meat tokens next to bread. The demo was unwieldy as there’s no grid or other guidance for placement and it becomes hard to tell what’s touching or next to what else. Mission Control: Critical Orbit is a timed cooperative game where one player is the commander of a spacecraft that’s been damaged by an explosion and up to three players are the flight controllers on Earth trying to save the ship, each with their own unique puzzle board. It plays in just 20 minutes and looks like it would appeal to fans of sudoku and similar puzzly games.
Alderac/Flatout: Alderac had a slew of new games at the con or coming soon, along with their announcement of an upcoming Kickstarter for the next game by Wingspan designer Elizabeth Hargrave, Undergrove, where players get to play as… trees! (I think Jarvis Cocker would approve.) It’s another game that melds interesting game play with scientific accuracy, here demonstrating the symbiotic relationship and rudimentary communication between trees and the various fungi that help them grow and thrive. It’ll be on Kickstarter in October.
Alderac’s upcoming titles include Let’s Go to Japan, which will hit retail in the first half of next year, a game that came from its designer’s thwarted attempt to go to that country and fulfill a lifelong dream, only to have the pandemic cancel his trip and lead Japan to close itself off to foreign tourists for two years. (He has since made the trip.) Players move between Tokyo and Kyoto over six ‘days’ and try to see as many sights and eat as many different foods as they can, while the game rewards efficiency in your movement. It was such a huge Kickstarter success that Alderac is planning a line of “Let’s Go to…” games. They also had several smaller titles, including the Tetris-inspired Number Drop; the pattern-matching Waffle Time, where your board is a square 5×5 waffle, something I can’t believe no game has done before; a new expansion for Smash Up!; and a new edition of Thunderstone Quest. Flatout Games, which distributes through Alderac, also had Point City, the sequel game to Point Salad, with a similar card drafting mechanic but new engine-building aspects; Deep Dive, a push-your-luck game where your penguins try to get food from deeper into the ocean; and a new Cascadia expansion, Landmarks, due out in Q4, that adds some new rules but also new scoring cards and habitat tiles. Flatout’s next Kickstarter title, Nocturne, will also launch in October. It’s a set collection and pattern-matching game with beautiful nighttime-themed art.
Allplay: Besides Big Top, Allplay had the Reiner Knizia tile-laying game Pollen, which actually has a similar look to Undergrove, with square tiles that have quarter-circle cutouts at each corner, although here those circles are filled by pollinators that help you score once they’re surrounded. It’s part of a completed Kickstarter bundle along with Big Top and the roll-and-write game Roll to the Top, which was also at the show. I’m especially curious to see the upcoming small-box game Sail, a reimplementation of a cooperative Japanese game called Hameln Cave, where two players play a series of tricks to move their ship through choppy waters while avoiding the Kraken. (They had a copy for media to see but didn’t have it at the booth.)
APE Games: Pampero is a heavy economic game about building the electric grid in Uruguay, as players work to fill contracts and achieve variable end-game goals over 15-18 turns. It’s from designer Julián Pombo, who co-designed 2021’s Mercado de Lisboa with Vital Lacerda. Chaos Cove is a Martin Wallace game that looks like a light family game with silly artwork, but it’s a worker placement game that promises a playing time of 45 minutes per player, with a cooperative aspect where players can all lose together but are otherwise competing to land the most points. It’s due out next year.
Arcane Wonders: World Wonders was one of the biggest games of the con, by hype and by sales, as it was long gone from the Arcane Wonders booth before Saturday morning. You’re buying polyomino roads and buildings, following ornate placement rules, to build out your city and try to claim some of the game’s wonders while also moving up three different tracks, where your lowest one is the only one that scores at game end. There are some elements of Hadara here, and the board looks a lot like Little Town’s or My City’s. I thought this was the biggest disappointment of the show; it’s overdesigned with way too many rules about what tiles can be placed where, and it’s too easy to end up without a legal move because roads and buildings are extremely limited in each round. Neotopia is a brightly colored game of tile placement and hand management as players try to build out a future city and match patterns. It has a Tigris & Euphrates-like scoring mechanism where you score three regions, your two highest ones plus triple the score of your lowest one.
Ares: Ensemble is a party game in the Apples to Apples vein, playing two to ten people, where there’s a row of cards that grows from 1 to 9 in length as the game goes on, and in each round there’s a new card from the deck where players must vote to say which card in the row most matches or reminds them of the new card. Ares also had a new printing of the 2008 economic/investment game The Rich and the Good, a commodities market game where players must also remember to donate to charities to keep their scores up.
Asmadi: Aegean Sea is the newest game from Carl Chudyk, co-designer of Glory to Rome and designer of Innovation, and is now going out to Kickstarter backers. It’s a highly interactive deck management game with a ton of text and long-term planning, as you might expect if you’ve ever played a Chudyk title, as players compete for control of five ‘islands’ between them. It plays 2-5 and takes about 20 minutes per player. Asmadi has a new Kickstarter up now for Innovation Ultimate, a deluxe edition of the game that includes the base and five expansions.
Asmodee: The big release for Asmodee at Gen Con was Ticket to Ride Legacy, a November release that takes one of the most popular games of all time and gives it the legacy treatment with a 12-game campaign that has players building out the map while the plays increase in length and complexity. Spellbook is a new game from designer Phil Walker-Harding where players pick up tokens to try to power up their spells, choosing which level among three to use for the remainder of the game, with two distinct win conditions either from powering up all spells or placing enough tokens on their Familiar track. It looks a good bit like Splendor on the table, but the game play isn’t similar at all. The Star Wars Unlimited trading card game is due out in 2024 but they had previews available; it’s a typical deckbuilder but where any card can function as a resource and your Leader (your most powerful card) can only come out once per match. Stranger Things: Upside Down finally gives the Netflix series the proper game treatment, with players playing two to four of the kids from the show as they fight both the creatures of the Upside Down and the reckless scientists at Hawkins Lab. It’s from designer Rob Daviau of Restoration Games. And the third Great Western Trail game, New Zealand, was also available, this time asking players to herd and sell sheep rather than the cows of the original game and the second one, Argentina.
Bézier: Scram is a team version of their game Silver, playing 2×2 or 3×3 (with a variant for 3 players), where every player starts with a set of five cards, two face-up and three face-down, and the team that has the lowest total of all card values (face up or down) at game-end wins.
Blue Orange: Next Station: Tokyo, the sequel to the Spiel-nominated 2022 game Next Station: London, sold out quickly at Gen Con; it’s another flip-and-write game, this time adding a penalty if you don’t visit all stations in the central zone, with higher bonuses for multi-route stops further from the center. Mech a Dream has worker placement, resource management, and some light engine-building features in a game where the theme is giving robots the ability to dream, which I have to say I don’t think I’m in favor of.
Bombyx: Bombyx had a trio of small-box games, starting with the hit Sea Salt & Paper, which has eye-catching origami art on its cards. The deck has all sorts of cards that score in different ways—in sets, in isolation, with specific other cards, and so on—so you’re a bit at the mercy of the shuffle, but it’s a light and fun play if you can cope with the randomness. Elawa is a resource-management game where you’re trying to match the resources you claim with the requirements on the cards you have; after a couple of plays this hasn’t clicked for me. Their upcoming release is Knarr, a set collection game with an engine-building component and a couple of different paths to victory, with a Viking theme, where you draft cards of adventurers to trade with new outposts or gain reputation points. It’s due out this fall.
Buffalo Games/Gamewright: Forbidden Jungle is the fourth game in the series of cooperative games from Pandemic designer Matt Leacock, set on the moon where the rocket the players used to escape Forbidden Sky have landed—but venomous spidery creatures are on this moon and would definitely like you to leave. It plays two to five and has similar mechanics to all other games in the series, including tiles that disappear (like Forbidden Island) and the need to collect specific artifacts to allow the players to escape. Starry Night Sky is the newest game from Emma Larkins (Abandon All Artichokes), a light game where players move their telescopes around the board to place and match stars in constellations, which are complete when their two to four stars are filled with tokens. Players score as they place those tokens and get larger bonuses at game end if any of their objective cards, which contain two constellations each, are filled. It’s easier to do that with three or four players. Sushi Go! Spin Some for Dim Sum is yet another brand extension, this time with a rotating board from which players take dim sum cards to try to score points in various ways, although I don’t think it matches the original Sushi Go! title. Penny Black is a little sleeper title, a light, 20-minute game about stamp collecting with tile placement and set collection mechanics and some very appealing art work.
Capstone: Now listen to us good, and listen well: Joan of Arc is the flip-and-write version of the great but crunchy Euro game Orléans, where players draft follower tiles, taking their actions and marking things off on your personal scoresheets, but once any player reaches a particular objective, it’s closed off to everyone else, making this much more interactive than your typical flip- or roll-and-write game. After one or two plays you’ll know how Joan of Arc felt. Age of Innovation is a reimplementation of Terra Mystica, which I think is one of the most overrated games ever, so this was definitely not for me, especially not with a listed play time of 40 to 200 (!) minutes. I’d rather play 2022’s Terra Nova, a streamlined and way more enjoyable twist on Terra Mystica that I think is also far easier to teach.
Czech Games: Kutna Hora is a heavy economic game coming out at Essen where players are mining silver in the Czech town of the game’s title and helping build it up, with a variable setup, action selection cards, a shared mechanic of building the city’s cathedral (like in Architects of the West Kingdom), and a billion game parts. It’s an impressive presence but a major table hog. They also had the Lost Ruins of Arnak expansion, The Missing Expedition, which includes a six-chapter campaign for solo players or a two-player co-op experience.
Dire Wolf: Wild Tiled West has a big two-layer board where players buy tiles to place on their personal boards, covering resources to gain them while earning points for filling areas or rustling groups of cows, but the tiles you can claim are limited by the rolls of six dice for each round. It looks fantastic, although I’m not sure how I’d feel about how restricted your tile choices are.
DV Giochi: Bonsai is a lovely, light hex-placement game where players try to build out their bonsai trees using hexes that show wood, leaves, flowers, or fruit, and must abide by the placement rules for each type, although that’s pretty easy to follow. You gain hex tiles by drafting cards from the central market, and if your tree matches any of the goal tiles on the table, you can claim it for points. Some cards give you the power to ‘cultivate’ (place) more hex tiles per turn, while other cards increase your tile storage limit. It’s a little reminiscent of Kodama, but more streamlined.
Foxmind: Foxmind brought a pair of cute cooperative games for younger players to Gen Con, Cinderella for ages four and up and Hansel & Gretel for ages 6 and up, both new English editions of games that have been out in Europe for a few years. They also had a brand-new edition of the 2012 game Chocoly, a very simple tile-laying game where players try to create the largest areas of their specific color of chocolate.
Funforge: I’m very excited for Tokaido Duo, a two-player reimagining of the great game Tokaido, which plays two to five but is definitely better at four or five because more spaces are available for players. Duo has players moving three meeples, a pilgrim, a merchant, and an artist, along three separate intertwining paths on the main board, earning points in different fashions through each. It’s due out in October. Funforge published Namiji, designer Antoine Bauza’s sequel to Tokaido, last year, and had the Aquamarine expansion for it this year.
Hachette: Hachette’s family of brands had a slew of titles at Gen Con, including the family co-op game Miller Zoo, which I recently reviewed and liked quite a bit. Rauha is a Nidavellir-like game of card drafting with somewhat complex scoring, although I have found it really grows with multiple plays as you understand the need both for balance and for giving up on one goal to achieve another. You’re playing cards with various symbols and, in most cases, actions on them to your 3×3 board, overlaying them if you wish, and activating the active row or column. If you get a row or column of three matching symbols, you gain control of that god, earning points or crystals, and when the round marker reaches each of the four corners of your board, you activate all cards that have a spore placed on them. I’m a fan. In the Footsteps of Darwin is a very light tile-drafting game where players will select 12 tiles from the main board, trying to match colors or animal symbols to complete rows or columns, fulfill objectives, or gain compasses for more points. It really has nothing to do with its theme, but it’s a fun game for family play. Nautilus Island is a set collection game from the designers of Rauha, where players compete to explore the board, which is in the shape of a wrecked submarine, drafting cards to build sets for the most points. CDSK is a Trivial Pursuit-like where you hear the subject of the question and must say how confident you are in your knowledge of the topic on a scale from 1 to 10, then answering a question of that difficulty level. Romi Rami is a twist on gin rummy, which I will forever think of as a game for old people, this time adding a card market rather than just a discard pile, as well as contracts for players to complete with their hands. Their biggest seller was Sky Team, which was demoed last year, a two-player game where players act as pilot and co-pilot to try to land their plane in turbulence or at different airports, placing their dice in secret before taking actions. The line to buy the game was easily two hours long, and of course it sold out before midday Saturday.
Hot Banana: Steam Up: A Feast of Dim Sum is a set collection game where players compete to take different dim sum items from a rotating tray of stacked bamboo steamers, but may only take from the quadrant facing them, using an action or special cards to rotate it to both claim something they want or to move something away from their opponents. There just isn’t much more to it than that and you end up cycling through the same very simple set of actions—move and take, move and take—without much strategy.
KOSMOS: My Island is the sequel to My City, another legacy game from Reiner Knizia, a little crunchier with more of a story to it, but very similar mechanics of tile placement. Inside Job is a cooperative trick-taking game like in The Crew, but with one player playing the traitor and secretly working against the team. Lord of the Rings: Adventure to Mount Doom is a dice-rolling cooperative game where players share control of all characters, with the color of the dice rolled determining which characters get to move on each turn. KOSMOS is also bringing back Knizia’s 2004 two-player title Ingenious, which has been out of print for several years and underwent a dispute over the rights to the name, and shares his Tigris & Euphrates scoring concept where you only score your lowest color (among six).
Last Night: Horticulture is a cute flip-and-write where you choose at the start of each game how you’ll score each of the plants you’ll write into your garden, allowing for very different scores across players in each game. Galaxy Rush is a two-player card-drafting and engine-building game where you’ll draft 24 cards in total across four rounds, with some cards functioning as resources while others grant you points. Both sold out by Sunday morning.
North Star: Inheritors is a Lost Cities-like game in a tiny box, with some added routes to gain victory points. You play cards to your tableau by color, in strict number order, gaining points both for the cards themselves and bonuses you may claim as the game goes on, such as one for being the first to place cards 1-2-3 in any color. There are also action cards that give you additional powers and make the game a little more interactive. Eila and Something Shiny is a solo, story-based game with a big resource management element, although the demos involved cooperative play as well.
Oink Games: Oink had a few new titles at Gen Con but by far the most interesting to me was Tiger & Dragon, the first English edition of the 2021 Japanese title where players ‘fight’ using numbered tiles from 1 through 8, where a tile’s value is also its frequency in the game—so there’s just a single 1 tile but eight 8’s. You must match the tile the last player played, or else they win the attack for one point and get to play a second tile. The first player to play all their tiles wins the round and scores points based on the last tile they played. It’s based loosely on a 19th century Japanese game called Goita, a partnership game with the same attack/defense concept.
Pandasaurus: Emerge was Pandasaurus’s other big hit from the show, a dice-rolling and placement game where players try to fulfill various goal cards, with the familiar theme of players looking to find new species on an undiscovered island. (If humanity hadn’t discovered all the islands in the world already, I’m pretty sure board game designers would have finished the job by now.) After Us is a card-drafting and resource management game with a neat little mechanic where you play your four cards in each round and try to match up the half-rectangles at their edges, gaining resources only if you can complete the rectangles on adjacent cards. It’s a multiplayer solitaire game, however, meaning there’s little player interaction. Beacon Patrol is a light, cooperative, map-building game with some charming artwork. Unrest is an upcoming two-player, asymmetrical game where one player plays as the rebels and the other as the Empire, with the rebel player playing cards to the table to try to “liberate” three of five locations. It’s due out in December. And there’s also a new version of the out-of-print game CuBirds, featuring adorable art in a light game of hand management and set collection.
Renegade: Renegade has new editions of two of the greatest games in board game history, Acquire and Diplomacy, with Acquire long in need of a fresh coat of paint. (I still have my teal box copy from the 1980s, which has certainly seen some wear.) They also had The Search for Lost Species, the sequel to my #1 game of 2020, The Search for Planet X, this time asking players to search for six lost species rather than just the one planet. The game contains no plastic components and was designed in partnership with biodiversity activist group Re:wild. Scholars of the South Tigris is the eighth game in designer Shem Phillips’ series that began with 2015’s Raiders of the North Sea, this one another co-design with S.J. McDonald and again featuring art from Mihajlo Dimitrievski. It looks like the heaviest game yet in the series.
Rock Manor: Seas of Havoc is a midweight worker placement and deck management game set on the high seas, with players as privateers and a combat phase that pits players directly against each other, using the power of the cards in their decks. Maximum Apocalypse: Wasted Wilds is the next game in the Maximum Apocalypse series, another cooperative, rogue-like game set in a post-apocalyptic future (which I assume means it’s set around 2029). It has a modular board that changes with every play and unique decks for each player character. (Full disclosure: Rock Manor owner Mike Gnade is a friend, and our kids go to school together.)
Sit Down: Magic Maze Tower is an upcoming game that takes the Magic Maze concept and brings it to an 8”x8” box, where the game is actually played in the box itself on any of what will be 100+ puzzle sheets. You’re still trying to get your four characters out of the building, but here have to work backwards to find the optimal set of moves, using each of the characters’ unique abilities to move them around obstacles. Maps of Misterra, due out at Essen in October, has players working as cartographers, charting a new land… but the kings who hired you will never see the island, so who cares if maybe your map isn’t all that accurate? There’s some area control and end-game objective scoring as well. And in 2024’s Open Season, players take on the role of the monsters in a dungeon that’s been invaded by a party of adventurers, chaining actions on cards to take your revenge on the interlopers.
Starling Games: Everdell Farshore is a new, standalone game in the same setting, with stunning art from Jacqui Davis, with extremely similar mechanics to those of the original. It ditches the tech tree of the first Everdell game, adds some new scoring opportunities, and adds a sailing mechanic for more points, but I’m not sure that it offers enough to justify getting it if, like me, you own and love the first Everdell.
Stronghold Games: Stronghold picked up Applejack, a midweight Uwe Rosenberg game that’s neither a big worker-placement title (like his Agricola) nor a polyomino game (like his Patchwork), which I played and liked quite a bit at PAX Unplugged last year. They also had the fourth game in the Clever series, Clever 4ever, and a new kids’ version of That’s Pretty Clever! as well.
Synapses: Pyramido looks like Kingdomino meets Akropolis, a competitive domino tile-laying game where players will build four levels of the pyramid and try to extend patterns while blocking opponents from doing so. Tanuki is a light take-that card game with cute art but some cutthroat game play, where every card either goes to your garden as a character or to the discard pile after you resolve its effect. It’s due out in March. They’re putting out a tenth anniversary edition of the medium-heavy Euro game Bruxelles 1893, a worker placement title with a strong economic element. They’ve also got a big reissue coming up next year, with an announcement due in late September.
TerreDice: Bark Avenue was another huge hit at Gen Con, at least judging by the number of people I saw walking the halls with a copy tucked under an arm. It’s a route management, pickup-and-delivery game where players are dogwalkers trying to earn the most money by being efficient, combining different dogs on various routes while earning points for making the dogs happy, getting their pictures taken, and, uh, encouraging them to do their business. There are also objective cards and end-game bonuses. It’s one of the few true midweight games I saw at the con.
Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.