Gen Con, the original, longest running, and best attended gaming convention in the world, took Indianapolis by storm August 4-7 with hundreds of games to demo and play (and more Pokémon Go lures and Drowzees than I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the Drowzee is the Pidgey/Rattata of Indy). This year’s convention featured more than 500 vendors, 60,000 people, and 16,000 events. Gen Con bills itself as “The Best Four Days in Gaming,” and it definitely lived up to its motto. Even the mayor of Indianapolis was excited, saying:
“Year after year, it’s gratifying to see Gen Con grow and expand and even better to have participants enjoying all Indianapolis has to offer during their stay. I know I join Gen Con leadership, Visit Indy staff, and the entire city of Indianapolis when I say that we are looking forward to next year’s Gen Con 50 celebration – we’re ready for the best Gen Con yet!”
A group of eight of us attended with high hopes. We came, we saw, we played. Over the course of the four days, I personally demoed and/or played more than 60 board games. And it was glorious. Hold onto your meeples, because over the next few days, I’m going to tell you about all the best games I saw, beginning with the best games for groups/game nights. Below are brief descriptions of my favorites from the con and links to more information from BoardGameGeek (a must-visit website for tabletop gamers). The games are in no particular order and typically take an hour or less to play, thus good for getting multiple games in during a game night. These are games for more casual players, although advanced players would also have fun with them. All of them are also $50 or less, so they won’t break the bank!
The Best Games for Groups/Game Nights from Gen Con 2016
Captain Sonar: 2-8 Players, 30-45 Minute Play Time, MSRP: $50, In Stores Now
Basically a more complicated version of Battleship. In this game, you and your friends control a submarine and are trying to locate the enemy sub (of the other team) and blow it up before they do the same to you. What’s cool about this game is that each person on the team holds a unique position/role on the ship, and it’s critical to work together in order to locate and sink the other ship before they sink you. The game is played in real time, and it ends up being chaos as both teams yell directions and system statuses, all while trying to listen to and keep track of what the other team is doing, all at the same time. It’s frantic, it’s crazy, it’s loud, and it’s super fun. I recommend playing with six or more, as when you play with less than six, team members have to take on multiple jobs, and it makes the game much more difficult and much less amusing. Perfect to bring to game night where you’ll have a big group.
Celestia: 2-6 Players, 20-30 Minute Play Time, MSRP: $30, In Stores Now
Celestia is a revamped version of Cloud 9, where you board an airship with a team of adventurers to explore the many cities of Celestia and recover its treasures along the way. This is a quick, push-your-luck game where the active player (the “Captain”) rolls “challenge” dice and must play the appropriate cards to overcome those challenges. Other players decide whether the captain will succeed, stating if they will abandon ship or stay along for the ride. Abandon ship, and you’ll remain stuck in that city, but able to plunder its treasure even if the ship crashes. Stay on the ship, and you risk going down with it. At the end of the game, the player with the most treasure wins. This is a very quick, fun, and well-made game, well worth the price. It comes with a 3D airship, and the artwork is gorgeous. A perfect game to play at the beginning of game night while waiting for people to show up.
Kreo: 3-6 Players, 20-30 Minute Play Time, MSRP: $25, End of September Release Date
This is the first fully-cooperative game on my list, and it’s probably the most difficult. In this game, players embody Titans working together to create the perfect planet. Each round consists of two phases: the “Divination” phase, where players decide which cards to play, and the “Creation” phase, where the cards are revealed in turn order and it’s determined if the cards are viable. Of course, there’s a catch: players cannot communicate with each other regarding their hands, so you have no idea what cards the other players will play. There’s also only one per deck of each “nature” card needed to actually build the planet, and only six of each “element” card needed to power up the nature cards before continuing to build. Oh, and I didn’t mention the “red” cards, all of which have negative effects and must be played at some point during the game. So yes, it’s extremely easy to lose. I like this game for game nights because it’s easy to explain and quick to learn, but the strategy is complex and the layers and difficulty of the game make it one that you’ll want to play over and over again until maybe, you finally win.
Lost in R’lyeh: 2-6 Players, 20-30 Minute Play Time, MSRP: $15, In Stores Now
This is a quick card game similar to UNO where the objective is to get rid of all the cards in your hand. Except in this game, you’re all trapped in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and trying to escape. As in all things with Cthulhu, no one truly wins; instead, the last player still holding cards at the end of the game doesn’t escape and becomes forever lost in R’lyeh. Just as in UNO, players play cards, then the next player must either match the number or play a number higher than the previous card. There are some “event” cards with elder signs on them that give you powers that can possibly change the game. You just keep playing cards until someone can’t, then that person picks up the stack. Once everyone but one person runs out of cards, the game ends. The artwork on the cards is absolutely stunning (done by Kelley Hensing), and this game is great for fans of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft, and/or quick card games. Another good one to start off game night while waiting for others.
Beyond Baker Street: 2-4 Players, 20-30 Minute Play Time, MSRP: $30, In Stores Now
In the second fully-cooperative game on this list, players are trying to outfox Sherlock Holmes himself by solving the mystery before he does. The game has a mechanic similar to Hanabi: the catch here is that players are not allowed to look at their own hands, but they’re able to see the hands of all the other players. The game comes with various scenarios and characters to play, and as in most co-op games, there are about a million ways to lose and only one way to win. Players must match exact numbers and symbols of suspects, motives, clues, and opportunities, but every time a clue is given, Sherlock gets closer to solving the case, and every time a card is discarded, negative effects take place. What’s cool about this one is that every game is different, and you can choose scenarios and characters based on the difficulty at which you want to play. This makes it great for game nights, as it’s adaptable to both casual gamers and more advanced gamers.
Love Letter Premium: 2-8 Players, 20-30 Minute Play Time, MSRP: $30, November Release Date
This is the same Love Letter game you know and love with a couple of enhancements. First, it allows you to play with more players, upping the ante to eight with the inclusion of an additional set of cards, including the Assassin card, which eliminates an opponent if that opponent forces you to reveal it, among others. Secondly, this souped-up version comes in a fancy velvet lined box with a magnetic closure and has nicer components, including large wooden hearts for players to claim; bigger, thicker, and nicer cards; and plastic card sleeves for said cards. The new rules dictate which cards to use based on player count. Many game night groups already know and love this game, so increasing the player count alone makes it worth it!
Wizards of the Wild: 2-4 Players, 30 Minute Play Time, MSRP: $25, In Stores Now
This game reminded me of Samurai Spirit, except it’s not cooperative. Players compete as animal wizards battling in the ultimate magic showdown. Each species has a special power, and each player has their own player mat. Each round, you draw an Acolyte, which sets up the terms for the round, and players roll custom dice to acquire spells, defeat challenges, and bribe Acolytes. In this fast-paced, engine building, card and dice game, the player with the most victory points at the end wins. It’s definitely best to try to string your spells together to compound your abilities. This is a quick game, but also includes strategy, as you do have to build a successful engine to win. Great for the middle of game night after you’ve finished a longer game and are waiting on others to play your next one.
Dwar7s Fall: 2-4 Players, 30-45 Minute Play Time, MSRP: $25, 2017 planned release date
Gamers who enjoy Munchkin should also enjoy this card laying and worker placement game where the theme is that your seven dwarves are preparing for the long winter to come, and you must build castles, stock enough food, and collect gems to survive. Each turn, players take three actions: placing a card tile, placing a dwarf, or moving a dwarf. The goal is to build your kingdom and complete goal cards, some of which are secret and some of which are public. Once a player completes three goals, the end game is triggered, any players who haven’t had a turn that round complete one last turn, and the game is scored. The player with the most points wins. Like Munchkin, this game can get mean, as players can place monsters and dwarves to mess with other players’ kingdoms and prevent opponents from completing goals. This is a good introduction to worker placement for players ready to move to the next level of gaming who are used to more casual games like Munchkin. Recommended for game nights, especially those with players in that difficult spot between casual and heavier games. They’re still playtesting this game, but the designer assures that it will be widely released some time next year. Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop was able to acquire a few copies to sell early, so contact them if you’re interested in scoring a copy.
Stay tuned for the next list: The Best Games for Solo and Two Players!