Late summer is the time for barbecues, concerts in the park, and (most importantly) making the trek to downtown Indianapolis to play tabletop games with 60,000 other board game fanatics for four days straight. Gen Con—the biggest tabletop gaming convention in North America—is now in its 51st year, and it’s not slowing down. According to the organizers, this year’s show was once again an attendance record-breaker.
We played a truly obscene amount of games to sort through the noise and bring you this big list of 20 top titles. These games should be available soon; check with your favorite local or online game store for when they’ll be getting them in. (And be sure to check out our Gen Con image gallery if you missed it earlier this week.) Of course, with more than 600 new games from 520 game companies and 17,000 ticketed events on offer, we weren’t able to sample everything. We focused on board games; roleplaying games and miniature wargaming were sadly not in our purview. Nevertheless, we think there’s something here for everyone.
Emerson Matsuuchi, Next Move Games, 2-4 players, 30-45 minutes, age 8+
Reef is an inviting family-weight game filled with difficult choices.[/ars_img]Next Move Games hit gold with its Spiel des Jahres-winning family-weight abstract game Azul last year (we absolutely loved it), and the company may be set to continue that trend in 2018. Reef is a new game about stacking up chunky plastic coral reef pieces to score points—which is to say it’s an equally approachable abstract board game.
On your turn, you either take a card from the common display or play a card from your hand. If you play a card, you collect the colored pieces shown on the top of the card and place them anywhere on your board. You then score points if you’ve matched the pattern on the bottom of the card. Sounds easy, but you have to think several turns ahead in order to trigger scoring at the right time, and even further ahead to set yourself up for multiple good turns in a row.
You can teach the game in minutes, but the strategy required to wring the most points from your cards is surprisingly tricky, and pulling off a big move makes you feel like a genius. A new entry in the “easy enough for anyone to learn but interesting enough for seasoned gamers” category, Reef is easily one of my favorite games from the show.
Cole Wehrle, Leder Games, 2-4 players, 60-90 minutes, age 10+
Two years ago, Leder Games’ asymmetric dungeon crawler Vast was the sleeper hit of Gen Con. This year, the company is back (with more hype) to inject its trademark asymmetric gameplay into the wargame genre, this time working with designer Cole Wehrle.
In Root, you play one of four factions of cute little woodland creatures vying for control over a forest map. As in Vast, each faction in Root plays differently from the others, with different goals, win conditions, and mechanics, essentially making the game four games in one. Marquise de Cat’s faction, for instance, starts out with units all over the board, and its goal is to secure the kingdom by building buildings. The Woodland Alliance, on the other hand, starts with little presence on the board and must spread its influence throughout the forest while gaining sympathizers opposed to the Cats’ rule.
With so many different mechanics in one game, Root could end up being a tough one to teach, but the gorgeous artwork and intriguing premise have us eager to dig in further.
Arkham Horror (Third Edition)
Nikki Valens, Fantasy Flight Games, 1-6 players, 120-180 minutes, age 14+
If you think Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) is going to let a year go by without releasing a game set in the Lovecraft universe, you’re out of your mind. But this year’s offering marks a momentous occasion: we’re getting a brand-new edition of Arkham Horror, the big, messy granddaddy of all Cthulhu board games.
The third edition of the game (yes, FFG’s vaunted 2005 version was actually the game’s second edition) borrows liberally from a bunch of other FFG Cthulhu titles—most notably the “chaos bag” from the Arkham LCG and many of the mechanics from Eldritch Horror. A modular board and a Fallout–esque card narrative system round out the new features.
It seems to capture the intimate horror of the original game that was lost in the globetrotting Eldritch Horror, and it brings modern FFG design sensibilities to the original’s bloated and often confusing mechanics. If you’re sick of Cthulhu fun-house horror rides, this game will do nothing for you. But tons of people still love getting slapped around by tentacled elder gods, and those people will definitely want to keep a (mutated) eye on this one.
Flaminia Brasini Virginio Gigli, Eggertspiele, 2-4 players, 60-90 minutes, age 14+
As a big fan of Eurogames, I’m more interested in mechanics than components… but man are a lot of Eurogames drab. Coimbra understands that if you’re going to make a game’s theme inconsequential, you might as well make the production beautiful.
Coimbra’s explosion of color and fun art serve the theme of… like, becoming a powerful person in 16th-century Portugal? Or something? Doesn’t matter. What you’re really here for is the gameplay, which revolves around drafting dice and cards. Each die you draft determines a multitude of knock-on effects—what order you pick character cards in, how much they cost, what faction they can be from, and what resources you generate that round. In addition to giving you special powers, the character cards you pick determine in which of the game’s four “factions” you will gain reputation.
Every decision you make affects just about every other thing you can do in a round, so something as simple as picking a single die can be an excruciatingly difficult calculation (in a good way). Coimbra was definitely the most-hyped Euro at Gen Con, and there’s a good reason for that—it’s fantastic.
Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger
Prospero Hall, Z-Man Games, 1-99 players, 60 minutes, age 10+
With the recent trend of Choose Your Own Adventure-style adventuring finding its way into board games (see SeaFall and The 7th Continent for two recent examples), it was only a matter of time before we got an actual CYOA game.
We all know how this works: read a little passage of story, choose between two options, see what happens. Here, you’re reading cards made to look like the pages of the dog-eared books you remember grabbing from the library as a kid. House of Danger lightly gamifies the proceedings by adding die-roll skill checks, collectible items to help you in those skill checks, and a “danger meter” that ticks up when you fail.
The story is as page-turning and absurd as you remember, and you can play solo or bring a few friends along for the ride (though you’ll all only be playing one character). My group decided to make only terrible decisions, and we were rightly punished for our hubris. The box comes with five “chapters”; we’re told each takes about an hour to fully complete. It’s not going to change the gaming world, but for $25, this nostalgia bomb is an easy pickup.