This past weekend, we donned our most comfortable hiking boots, double-checked our gaming wish list, and jumped headlong into the self-proclaimed “best four days of gaming”: the annual Gen Con tabletop gaming convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year’s 50th anniversary show was extra special: the turnstile for an estimated 60,000 con-goers hit a record 209,000, and for the first year ever, the con sold out well before its doors opened on Thursday.
With approximately 500 exhibitors, over 19,000 event tickets, and entire convention halls and stadiums filled to the brim with board games, role-playing games, miniature games, and everything in between, there’s a lot going on at Gen Con. of it, but we’ve skipped sleep, meals, and general mental wellbeing to bring you what we see as the best of the show.
Below are the 20 board games we think you should be on the lookout for going into the last few months of the year (cube-pushing Eurogame fans will want to listen again at the end of October when we see the giant Spieltage fair in Essen, visit Germany). Most of the games below will be out in the coming weeks and months, but due to the vagaries inherent in board game releases, exact dates are hard to pin down. Your best bet is to go to your local store, boardgameprices.com or Amazon and pre-order anything that catches your eye. And if you missed it, be sure to check out our huge photo gallery from the show.
Andrew Fischer & Nathan Hajek, Fantasy Flight Games, 1-4 players, 120-180 min, age 14+
This year’s Gen Con seemed less on par with super-hyped games than in years past, but there was one demo area that was constantly overrun with eager spectators: Fantasy Flight’s precipitation tables. No one loves the Fallout series more than we do, but many people love it just as much, and we were all excited to see how the new board game, based on Fallout 3 and 4would work in action.
While we still have questions about how the scenarios will play out in the full game, it’s looking really good. A short demo revealed a game that absolutely captures the spirit of the source material, with exploration, branching storylines, sidequests, VATS-inspired combat, and leveling all represented. Players travel around a board made of hexes, provoke encounters, ally with (or reject) the various factions of the Wasteland, and battle mutated devils to complete missions, gain loot, level up, and gain the most influence to get to win the game. Choose your own Adventure-style narrative beats and a ‘go ahead – walk in any direction’ attitude – puts the emphasis of the series on player choice.
We can’t wait to dig in when the full game comes out later this year.
Eric Lang, CMON, 3-5 players, 90-120 minutes, age 13+
Arguably the best looking game at Gen Con 2017, Rising Sun is the latest big-box strategy game from prolific designer Eric Lang. On the surface, the game bears a striking resemblance to Lang’s last CMON outing, 2015’s seething anger, not just in its board and great miniatures, but in the broad strokes of its gameplay. Territorial control, tense combat and asymmetric player powers are all returning.
But instead of controlling Vikings fighting for a place in Valhalla, this time we’re in feudal Japan where clans compete for dominance over different regions on a central board. And instead of seething anger, the emphasis here is on covert action selection and negotiation between players. The game’s strong focus on politically driven interaction with players is most evident in the formalized alliances you can form with other players – and of course the formalized break of those alliances at the perfect time. A cool, secret bidding combat system that in some ways reminds me of the excellent combat of crying havoc injects some fun mind games into the procedure.
Beautiful, very interactive and possibly friendly ruined in the best of ways, Rising Sun is at the top of our most wanted list.
Peter Wichmann, Z-Man Games, 1-4 players, 20 min, age 8+
NMBR 9 capitalizes on the current trend in board games from Tetris-like spatial puzzles, but this time we’re going upwards. In NMBR 9, players stack flat, number-shaped tiles on top of each other to score points. The higher the level at which you play a song, the more points you score. If you lay a foundation – play tiles directly on the table – you get nothing, while each next level acts as a multiplier (if you play a 7 on the next level you get 7 points (7×1); on the next you get 14 , etc.).
While it sounds easy on paper, some simple restrictions—you can’t overhang empty space, and you must cover part of two previously posted songs—will leave you scratching your head with each placement. Clumsy shapes get in the way and force difficult compromises. Are you building your base to ensure better options for future tiles, or are you trying to match that nice big number on a high level?
It’s so simple that you can teach it to your non-gaming friends in minutes, and it’s fun enough that gamers of any skill level can enjoy it. The maximum playing time of 20 minutes makes it a perfect fill. Strongly recommended.
Adam McIver, Renegade Game Studios, 1-4 players, 45 min, age 12+
There’s always that one Gen Con release. It doesn’t have the support of a huge license or a well-known designer. But everywhere you go, people don’t talk about it. This year it was game Ex Libris. The hype for Ex Libris reached such a fever pitch before the scam even started that it was folly to get a demo in the publisher’s constantly flooded demo booth for much of the weekend. However, we managed to play a full game of it, and we can report that it is indeed quite good.
Despite its rather dry-sounding name, Ex Libris sports a charming, whimsical theme. Players are hobbyist book collectors in a gnome village, competing for the most impressive personal libraries to capture the city’s newly created (and highly coveted) ‘Grand Librarian’ rank. To do this, they send assistants to an ever-changing set of unique location tiles to collect shelf maps for their libraries. Each card contains several books with quirky names, and you need to make sure you put your library together in alphabetical order (much easier said than done, actually).
There are some requirements to scoring endgames – you want a good variety of books, but you also want to focus on certain types, and please keep the “forbidden books” to a minimum – so you should always have a handful of competing books keep concerns in mind. Puzzle, fun and surprisingly fast to play, Ex Libris is one you should keep an eye out for.