GEN CON returns? GEN CON returns! It’s the best four days of gaming, and unfortunately, I’ll be missing it again for the second year in a row. Bradly and Bryan will be there, and we will hopefully get a recap of their adventures this week with the rest of the krewe from Lafayette.
But if you are on your way, or just curious about what is being sold and what games are being demoed, here’s our annual installment of the games to TRY and BUY at GEN CON 2022! Shout out, as always, to W. Eric Smith of BoardGameGeek who compiles an excellent list each year. Of course, the work comes in winnowing that list of 500+ games to a reasonable 25 or so to check out.
Don’t forget, if you prefer audio, you can hear me and Dan Patriss of The Geek All Stars dish on over 50 games that you can check out in Indy this year:
Now, onto the lists.
Some games just aren’t ready for retail but are still advanced enough to get a good demo set up and played at the various retailer booths. Here’s our top games to try at the convention.
11. Anunnaki: Dawn of the Gods (Cranio Creations, Booth 815 Asmodee)
The Italian design krewe are always on the top of our lists each year of game designers to check out. We want to know what they have cookin’ up for this year’s convention season. You already know Cranio Creations’ reputation for putting out high quality, meaty euros: We’re talking Barrage and Newton and Lorezno Il Magnifico, and of course, last year’s entry, Golem. What we know about Annunaki is that it is a euro take on a 4X game with very little luck, and that’s pretty exciting stuff. For more information, check out the Kickstarter for the project here, where you can learn more about the game before you tap that credit card.
10. 3000 Scoundrels (Unexpected Games, Booth 815 Asmodee)
We really enjoyed Corey Knieczka’s first game from his new imprint, Unexpected Games. Corey seems to be going for games with new and interesting settings, and The Initiative pulled that off very well. The package itself was complete with a backstory comic, lots of intrigue, and an interesting puzzle. 3000 Scoundrels, his newest game, has a cool box cover and an intriguing premise. It’s got a Wild West setting but instead of playing the typical ‘lone hero’, it looks like you can play lots of different rival leaders at the same time using your a poker playing mechanic.
This one goes on the list for three reasons: Bruno Cathala and Théo Rivière have a track record for making good small box, short games; it’s got cool artwork on the cards in the form of origami, and it’s got a great pun for the name. Plus, I get the impression from the little we know about the game that it has a Sushi Go meets Silver feel, two games I love. I speak a tiny little bit of French, but not enough to completely understand Bruno Cathala’s excellent how to play video. I wish I could tell you more, but the quick play and artwork would have been enough for me to try this one out.
8 Autobahn (Alley Cat Games, 2768)
Fabio Lopiano designs always intrigue me, and Autobahn hits all the right notes. It’s got the driest of dry euro themes — you’re the government supervisor in charge of building German roads, for pete’s sake — but watching Monique and Naveen’s Kickstarter playthrough gave me some Concordia hand management vibes. Combining anything Concordia with a dry euro designed by Lopiano equals a must play for me.
7 Endless Winter: Paleoamericans (Fantasia Games, Booth 815 Asmodee)
It’s a cheat to include, since I’ve already played Endless Winter twice on TTS, but I will gladly cheat. Based on these online plays, I think it’s Stan Kordonskiy’s best, and that’s saying a lot considering his ludography. It’s in the same vein of deckbuilding+ games that have been all the rage lately, games like Lost Ruins of Arnak and Dune: Imperium. Endless Winter feels much more of a deck builder than the other two games as I recall, and has an interesting, quirky, puzzly scoring mechanic. Plus, The Mico art!
6 Mission Control: Critical Orbit (Th3rd World Studios, Booth 151)
I grew up in the “new” NASA generation, when school kids were fascinated by the Space Shuttle and giant telescopes and advances in rocketry, even while staying immersed in the moonshot program. Mission Control: Critical Orbit, from a publisher I am not familiar, is a cooperative game that veers away from the “explore space, conquer stuff” games and focuses instead on the men and women at ground control that made the missions happen. That’s a twist I could get behind.
The gang at Nauvoo Games is back, with a simultaneous action game about inventors making robots. What stood out for me in wanting to demo this game is that players choose actions simultaneously, and have to choose the power that will be assigned to the action. The more powerful, the better right? Not exactly, as the publisher’s description promises that choosing more powerful actions can benefit your opponents. That’s a cool tweak to mitigating power creep, and I want to see how this works in action.
4 Maui (Plan B Games, Booth 2239)
My family loves playing all the “four letter” abstracts from Plan B / Next Move Games: Azul, Reef, Beez, we’ve played them all. They are typically known for a relatively short playing time, toy-like pieces, and puzzles that appeal to gamers and younger family members alike. Maui is the next in that line, and this time the toy factor seems to be sea shell pieces and colorful towels on a dream like beach. If it’s half as good as Azul and Reef, it will be worth not only a demo but an add to the collection.
3 First in Flight (Artana, Booth 1249 Genius Games)
I’ve been fascinated by the history of flight for as long as I can remember. Maybe it goes back to reading a biography of the Wright Brothers in middle school that led to a book report, or just my fascination with space travel and sci-fi. But, seeing that the team of Ben Rossett and Matthew O’Malley have combined a Kitty Hawk type setting and energy with deck building and push your luck elements is very intriguing. I came close to backing this on Kickstarter, and if I were at GEN CON, I would want to see what the fuss is all about, just for the setting alone.
2 Fit to Print (Flatout Games, Booth 2853)
Three things made Fit To Print jump out at me: I love newspapers, I loved introducing Tiny Towns to new gamers who like spatial puzzles, and Ian O’Toole art. That’s a combo that is hard to beat. Peter McPherson returns with another woodland-town themed game, this time about publishing a newspaper. If that were all I knew about the game, nothing more, I would still have this on my list of must play games.
1 Clank! Catacombs (Dire Wolf Games, Booth 2545)
But the number one game for me by far to check out would have been Clank! Catacombs by far. Clank! is still one of my most favorite, most played games over the last five years, and I love when they come out with new maps. But Clank! is essentially a dungeon dive, and it takes some of the thrill out if you can see the whole map together. The Clank! team heard our unspoken thoughts and will put out a version that includes dungeon tiles that you have to reveal and explore, essentially creating a unique map every time you play. If we can combine the Clank! Adventuring Party modules with the Catacombs tiles, this might be Clank! Perfection.
11 Dice Theme Park (Alley Cat Games, Booth 2768)
I love the idea of theme park games, but I have not yet foundt he perfect one. Steam Park is aweomse but stressful, Meeple Land was puzzly but a litle too mathy, Imagineers had no spark. Tenpenny Parks probably has come the closest, but the attraction park is the weakest element of this top tier game. Dice Theme Park, from Daryl Andrews and Adrian Ademescu, looks intriguing. It’s lower on my list, because if I were there, it would probably be a try-before-I-buy, only beccause I have no history with any of the Dice Something games from Alley Cat Games.
10 Adventure Games: The Gloom City File (KOSMOS, Booth 2455)
I loved choose your own adventure books as a kid, and I enjoy games that have some version of that mechanic in their game. KOSMOS has a series called Adventure GAmes, which are in essence choose your own adventure books on a board with characters. The Gloom City File is the next iteration, and if I am reading the description right, seems to have a shorter play time but still with the same core designers. They are not expensive, and a good solo game even for gamers like me who don’t really like to solo much.
9 Decktective: You Can’t Cheat Death (dV Giochi, Booth 2105
There are so many of these exit room style games, but Decktective series stands out because it is not really an exit room game. For any fans of 60 minute police procedurals on TV, Decktective puts you in the game as dectectives jointly working to solve a mystery. Each of you knows a little about the crime, but the conceit of the game is the race to get the pertinent facts. The game does htis by limiting the information you can share swith other people. This is essentially a card game, like the Unlock series, but we’ve also liked the way the cards form a diorama that gives you a sense of what happened at the crime scene.
8 Holly Jolly (25th Century Games, Booth 1457)
Who doesn’t want a snappy little Christmas themed game in the stocking? Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchbeck teamed up with 25th Century Games to release a game that veers away from their tried-and-true disappointingly mathy card game series to make something the entire family can enjoy. We love playing little box card games at holiday gatherings. Holly Jolly looks like a good addition to the yuletide rotation.
7 Switch & Signal (KOSMOS< Booth 2455)
I’ve started with the basics (games like Ticket To Ride and Spike), and moved up to cube rails now as I explore the world of train games. Switch & Signal is designer David Thompson’s take on a train game, and was originally released in Europe from what I understand a couple of years ago, but KOSMOS is just bringing to American shores now. The twist is that it’s the only coop train game that I know, and it looks pretty family friendly, enough that it was on the recommended Spiel des Jahres list last year.
6 Village Rails (Osprey Games, Booth 2744)
I’ll throw in one more train game here and then move on. Village Rails is Dunstan and Gilbert’s contribution to train games, and is a new release from Osprey Games. Tiny box? Check. Vintage train art? Check. Cards and spatial scoring like Walking In Burano and Sprawlowpolis? Check Check. I watched a couple of videos from Tom Vasel and the Pear People and color me intrigued.
5 Green Team Wins (cool little party game from 25th?)
Medium is one of my all time favorite party games, and one that I’ve been able to introduce to gamers of all experience levels. Here comes another entry from one of the designers that, like most party games, probably can be better explained with a quick play rather than a hundred of words. Green Team Wins is a new party game from 25th Century Games. The game play is in the title, and reminds me of those summer camp games we used to play. Everyone starts on the wrong team, but by answering a series of questions, the people in the majority join the Green Team and get points for staying on the team. Simple, fast, and something perfect for family get togethers.
4 Rear Window (Funko Games, Booth 1811)
I’m taking a lot of heat in the Gumbo for comparing this game on The Geek Allstars (“Shadows Over Hitchcock”) to the classic Shadows Over Camelot, a game I will play anytime, anywhere, with anyone. I have never played Rear Window, but anytime a game features a “there might be a traitor, but it’s not guaranteed” mechanic, that tweak is always going to remind me of Shadows. But that’s pretty much where the similarity seems to end — Rear Window is another in a long line of Prospero Hall / Funko IP games, this one based on that classic Jimmy Stewart / Hitchcok movie. Gather your friends, it’s time to figure out if a murder is taking place in your apartment building!
3 Turing Machine ( Le Scorpion Masque, booth 2109 Hachette Games)
I’ve been eyeing Turing Machine since I’ve seen pictures on social media about how much this game’s production fits the theme of the game. My bet is that it is more powerful than my friend’s Sinclair 1000 that he bought for $100 from a Timex TV ad in the 80s. The game really does look like an early version of a computer! My only disappointment from Dice Tower East was that someone was running demos of Turing Machine there and didn’t get a chance to watch. I’m getting the vibes of a cross between Decrypto and Cryptid where you question the computer instead of other players to figure out the secret code.
2 The Diamond Swap (Oink Games, Booth 2135)
Since I discovered Oink Games’ line up of palm-sized games, I usually make a point to see what they have brought over to America for this convention season. It is usually a new game and a bunch of new-games-to-us. I narrowed down the list to two games that interested me — The Diamond Swap and Town 66. Diamond Swap has a familiar premise. The players are trying to sniff out which one of them is a ‘traitor’ in this case a burgular trying to sneak real diamonds out from under the nose of security guards by replacing one of the diamonds on the table with a ‘fake’ during a ten second ‘blackout’. Just that description alone brings to mind longer classic games like Deception: Murder In Hong Kong but with a visual puzzle element, because all of the diamonds have tiny differences.
1 The Guild of Merchant Explorers (AEG, booth 801)
My final game is another ‘cheat’. SneauxBunny and I played this game at Dice Tower East and immediately picked up a copy. We’ve played it three or four times already. Brett Gilbert and Matthew Dunston have another classic on their hands. Imagine a roll and write where you never roll and you certainly don’t write. Instead, the Queen has asked us to explore forgotten realms of the kingdom. We use a small deck that tells us what land to explore and spread out our cubes searching for money, treasure, towers, and cities. If we can cover an entire land mass, we get to establish an outpost — which is critical because at the end of each age, we wipe the board of everything except our established village outposts. It’s a perfect one hour wonder!
There are a few games that are not on the list, only because we have owned and/or played these a bunch as they have been out a while but making their convention debut at GEN CON:
Tenpenny Parks (Thunderworks Games, Booth 2806)
We love amusement parks, and always on the lookout for the next great Theme Park Designer game. Designer Nate Linhart has put together a thematic theme park builder with a diabolical economic engine that is imminently replayable. It’s gonna make our list of top ten games of 2022 for sure. Go try it and tell me I’m wrong, I dare you.
Studies in Sorcery: Divination (Weird Giraffe Games, Booth 2766)
It’s my favorite Weird Giraffe Game, an engine builder with a Harry Potter “learn your spells” feel. I don’t have the expansion, but Jay taught it to me at BGG Con and I liked what it added to the game, so I would have picked this up.
Gutenberg (Portal Games, Booth 937)
I’ve been championing Gutenberg since BGG Con 2021 and for good reasons. It has a setting I love, plus every part of the mechanics makes thematic sense. It’s super easy to teach, with a board that practically teaches itself like in Smartphone Inc. Plus, yu can add the bonus special powers to ramp up the fun, and I cannot imagine anyone would not want to play with the toy factor of the gears that give you special powers if you puzzle out their sequences. Two thumbs up!
Power Plants (Kids Table Board Games, Booth 2008)
Adam Daulton’s newest game, this time with the ubiquitous gardening theme. But Adam’s take on gardening is wizards making a garden with powerful plants, which I have watched him develop on social media and on his blog. And if I understand the concept correctly, there’s a juicy decision to be made — expand your tableau with a powerful action, or activate the plants already in your garden with weaker but multiplied actions. Can’t wait to try this one.
Long Shot: The Dice Game (Perplext, Booth 836)
Dave in the Gumbo already owns this one, and it’s been a big hit. Kind of a smash between Camel Up and Downforce, but with a horse racing theme that really shines. Every game we have played has come down to the last dice rolls, and I love how this game captures that tension.
THE WRAP UP:
So that’s our look at the games you should try and buy at GEN CON 2022. Let me know what you pick up in the comments below or on social media. I’m going to have live vicariously through all of you this year!
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ from Board Game Gumbo