Gen Con 50

MeepleGamers had a very successful GenCon. We met with over 500 people, over five days that managed to be both very short and very long at the same time.  We have thought and thought on how best to compile the list of top ten games in show.  Should it include games that are not yet available?  Should it be games that are only now released?  Or is it a list of games from 2017?
 
After much pondering and careful consideration, the answer came to us.  This list is based on our interests alone, not what other outlets have deemed to be the best or what game received which awards.  Our two staffers that were at the Con, Kevin and Josh, have worked together to compile a list.  Together, they have chosen 10 games of which each has written about five.  Their list is presented here in alphabetical order, for no other reason than each of these games should survive on their own merits.  This will be followed up, by a #GenCon50 wrapup article in the next couple of days.
 
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Cobra Paw – Bananagrams

Josh – I am not a fan of most dexterity games, but, and this is a big BUT, Bananagrams has something that appeals to me. This is about quick thinking, and having fast hands. The idea is simple enough, roll two dice, grab the “domino” that has the same symbols as the dice. You can also steal one that has already been rolled. The game lasts 5 minutes, at most, for a playthrough. The best part though is that I can play this with my 5 year old, and she just gets it. We are also super fans of games we can play while camping, and this fits the bill nicely. I was reticent to put a filler on this list, but the charm of Cobra Paw won me over. Had it not been on this list, it was short-listed for honorable mentions, but no, this game makes this reviewer’s top ten games of show.

Cutthroat Kingdoms – AEG

Kevin – One of my favorite computer games is Crusader Kings 2.  It is a grand strategy of spreading your power and influence toward conquering surrounding territory and, perhaps, the known world.  What makes it unique in the genre, is that it is essentially a dynasty management simulator.  Many of my favorite aspects of that game are found here, in Cutthroat Kingdoms.  Cutthroat Kingdoms from AEG and designer Bryan Merlonghi is a game of negotiation, royal marriage alliances, mercenary armies, and territory control set against the backdrop of plague.  The game comes with a very nice playmat and has a wonderful art style.  In the game, players take the role of a leading lady or lord of one of the six noble houses of Aurum, the kingdom in which the game is set.  The game encourages, in fact it requires, embracing your role and negotiating for everything from military access to assassination plots to marriage alliances so be ready to wheel and deal with your friends.  The large number of cards in the box allow for a wide range of possibilities during gameplay and ensure replayability and variability in future plays.

Downforce – Restoration Games

Josh – What a strange relationship I have already formed with this game. I am just not a fan of racing games in general, but I love blocking mechanics. I am that guy at the table, if I am not winning, I love to make sure you won’t win either. Yes, I’m aware it is a jerk move, but the look of panic and frustration in other’s eyes is so worth that moment. Downforce is a followup to the same mechanic you have seen in other games since the 70’s (an interview soon to follow up this article will clear that up). I liked the artwork of the game, but it was still racing. I wanted to dislike it, I did. But, playing through and seeing how you have to move all cars on a card, it just sold me. The box has cars, a deck of cards, a play board, and a scratch pad (new ones can be downloaded on Restoration Games website should you use them all). It just doesn’t feel “meaty” to me, yet despite all my initial inclinations, it is now a go-to game, and will be on top shelf. Restoration Games has restored my belief that a racing game can be better than good, Downforce is great.

Dragon Island – R&R Games

Kevin – I am a big fan of Mike Fitzgerald.  Diamonds and Baseball Highlights 2045 are both amazing card games.  When I heard that he was pairing with R&R Games for a board game, I was certainly intrigued to see what he would do.  Dragon Island is a tile placement game where players are wizards sent to explore an unknown and uncharted island.  There are dragons which can be captured and tamed for various benefits, buildings players can build to aid them in their quests, and treasures to be found.  All of these things garner, among other benefits, fame points.  Fantasy themes are prevalent in gaming, but wizards capturing and taming dragons is one I haven’t seen.  The rules are a succinct two pages, making the game easily accessible, while the many options for tactical play give the game surprising depth.  I love tile placement games and this one adds some very interesting mechanisms into the genre.

Mini Rails – Moaideas

Kevin – I am always on the lookout for a game I haven’t really heard about in the lead-up to conventions.  This year, that game was Mini Rails from Moaideas and designer Mark Gerrits.  Mini Rails is a train game featuring building tracks and buying shares of the various railways.  These are not uncommon aspects in the genre of train games, but what is unusual is designer Mark Gerrits’ approach.  These types of games are traditionally lengthy affairs.  They have dedicated player bases, but I have always veered away.  With Mini Rails, the designer has streamlined the experience: there are two available actions and it plays in about an hour.  Players may only choose to build track or buy shares and they will do each in every game turn.  This distillation of mechanisms makes Mini Rails approachable, but even still I haven’t quite wrapped my head around how to do well at it though I am eager to learn.

Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes – Matagot

Josh – This game was soft released (for review purposes) at GenCon by Matagot, and available at Essen. It is a game that is highly influenced by the major previous tile games like Carcassonne, but that throws its own twists into it. Influence is similar to influence in other games, but each side of the tile has its play to the game. This very well could replace some previous tile laying games that gamers have in their collection. The art just makes me feel like we are playing in Canada, and it is thinky (MeepleGamers technical term) enough to hold my attention. Though I intended to limit myself to games that are out currently, I could not have walked away with a straight face if I did not include Okanagan.

Paramedics: Clear! – Smirk & Dagger

Kevin – Smirk & Dagger is synonymous with player interaction, primarily take-that.  Sometimes this is very direct, while others it is more subtle, but it is almost always fun.  When I heard their new title for Gen Con was a game where players were paramedics racing to save patients, I wanted to know more.  Paramedics: Clear! features an app timer that keeps the players on their toes as turns are a maximum of 60 seconds.  Players have an opportunity to select a patient for themselves and give one away, which is really as nasty as this one gets.  This is great because that timer is meaner than any player.  Feeling time slip away as you race to clear your board, saving your patients and earning points.  Players love the chance to be heroes, but rarely do they have to do so under a time crunch.  This game is tense and nerve-wracking and wow does it nail the theme.  The excitement from the frenetic pace is hard to beat.

Photosynthesis – Blue Orange Games

Josh – Photosynthesis by Hjalmar Hach is a game that focuses on light. It was one of the few games I saw that just completely sold like hotcakes. I am interested in seeing how it holds up after a few plays, but the idea is so interesting, that it sparks the imagination. MeepleGamers is eagerly awaiting review copies, in the meantime, we interviewed Hjalmar Hach, and Lorenzo Silva (Potion Explosion) about their new game, Dragon Castle. I felt it was necessary to include this in the list, just due to watching the line looking to buy it. Mr. Hach and Mr. Silva I think may have magic on their hands again next year with Dragon Castle. Hjalmar Hach has found something special in Photosynthesis.

Summit – InsideUp Games

Josh – InsideUp games, a relative newcomer to the scene took Summit to kickstarter and changed it’s art mid-stream. It could have died a slow painful death. Instead, it was art that made the game go from a tile laying mountain climbing game, to a game that your entire team’s survival can depend on the one wrong move that you didn’t even know you made, until it’s too late and your party has gone the way of the Donner party. Conor of InsideUp games, another Canadian in our list, is so excited about his own game, because he sees just how much tension can build in the game. Some have pegged the game as random, and I would agree, where that analysis ends, is that the randomness makes the game better, not worse. This feels like climbing a mountain should, scary, and any wrong move can send you screaming to the end of a 1000 foot drop. It plays single, Coop, and competitive, and does all not just well, but proficiently, which just makes the movement fun.  If you cannot find this game, contact InsideUp games, and reserve one. This game is MeepleGamers’ Game of Show.

Wizards Wanted – Mattel

Kevin – Anyone familiar with kids’ toys should be familiar with Mattel.  Over the past few years, Mattel has been steadily cultivating their presence in the hobby board game market, beyond their more traditional mass market titles.  They have quickly built a reputation for great games with amazing artistic style.  They even won the 2014 Kinderspiel des Jahres (German award for Kids’ Game of the Year) for their Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters.  This year, one of their new publications caught my eye with its whimsical fantasy art of wizards, mushrooms, and pixies.  Wizards Wanted looks great on the table, of course, Mattel’s giant 3-dimensional demo board didn’t hurt.  The kingdom has put out a call for Wizards and the game sees players answering that call, leading their nomadic wizards through the fields and valleys, vying to complete spell jobs.  These jobs provide magical experience and coins.  Wizards Wanted is a race to earn as much fame as possible and earn a spell license before the Royal Inspector arrives.  This game is great with younger players but has plenty to offer to more experienced gamers.  I can’t wait to see what else is coming from Mattel.

Honorable Mentions

These are games that caught our eye, but are in either limited release or are unreleased and have not yet hit major distribution channels.

Ascended Kings

Kevin – I love great components in games.  Top-notch art, high quality sculpts if a game has miniatures, and sturdy player boards are just a few things that can draw me to a game.  This is even better when it is a game that had previously eluded my knowledge.  Ascended Kings is a launch title for Incarnate Games who managed to get a shipment of advance copies to Gen Con, the game is expected in retail in Q1 of 2018 after it ships to Kickstarter backers.  This game looks incredible and Incarnate Games assembled a top tier team of talent.  The miniatures in the game look amazing and were sculpted by Andrew Martin who also worked on Steamforged Games’ Dark Souls.  The rulebook includes a preview of a graphic novel they had commissioned in the games’ universe for which they got noted team Renae de Liz and her husband Ray Dillon who have worked for Marvel, DC, IDW, and others.  I hope this game does very well for Incarnate Games because their passion and eye for quality should not go unrewarded and I can’t wait to see what else they make next.

Resident Evil 2

Kevin – I got the chance to interview Sherwin Matthews, a designer for Steamforged Games’ upcoming Resident Evil 2 board game, Kickstarting this fall.  The game is still in its early stages, but they are already off to a great start.  The prototype miniatures already look great.  The game is fully cooperative and really embraces the survival horror roots of the franchise.  Resource management, primarily that of bullet control, is a key feature to surviving the zombie onslaught.  This entry makes the honorable mentions because it is probably the upcoming game that I am most excited about, which is high praise given its competition.  I cannot wait for this game and I am I hope Steamforged are ready for another game that should draw even more video gamers to the tabletop.