There’s a reason why they call Gen Con “the best four days in gaming”, and while last year could be called subdued, this year the event came back roaring! We saw a lot of cool stuff, and subsequently this is our biggest Best of Gen Con list to date, but it still doesn’t do justice to the weekend as a whole. In no particular order, we present our Best of Gen Con award winners:
Best little expansion– Ark Nova map pack 1
We loved Ark Nova here at Gaming Trend, and when Capstone Games announced a new set of player board maps just the week before Gen Con, we made it a point to hit their booth as soon as we could on Thursday. Map pack 1 contains two new asymmetrical advanced maps to build your zoos on with interesting new mechanics. The geographical zoo rewards placing animals from specific continents in matching areas, and the rescue station lets players essentially add animals to their zoo for free without using an enclosure or gaining appeal. This should tide us over until that aquariums expansion comes out…
Best gaming terrain– Dwarven Forge
This is not the first time we’ve awarded Dwarven Forge with a Best of Gen Con award, and if the quality of their work continues to get better every year it probably won’t be the last! These mighty masters of Dwarvenite had plenty to show off this time, with a massive build comprised of pieces from their last several campaigns, several glorious pieces from the Dice Reliquaries set, and of course, hyping up their upcoming Kickstarter campaign, Cities Untold! Truly, the legos of the gaming world, Dwarven Forge continues to bring lovingly sculpted and hand-painted awesomeness to every table it has the fortune to placed on!
Best game likely to cause quantum paradoxes– Cat in the Box
Ellis:Cat in the box is a wondrous little game. Bézier Games managed to take the classic trick-taking template and flip it on its head, then around, then sideways, then into barrel roll through the 8th dimension and back again through a wormhole, and it’s somehow still easy to learn. Like every trick-taking game, players must follow suit, suits being blue, green, yellow, and red. Red is trump. Here’s the catch, every card in Cat in the Box is black.
Players decide what color their card is when they play it. Once a blue 3 has been played, no one else can play a blue 3 for the rest of the round. Before playing, a player can decide they no longer have any cards in their hand of the matching color, say yellow, and play a different color. Upon doing so, that player cannot claim a card they play to be yellow for the rest of the round. At any point if a player cannot play any card from their hand, a paradox is created, the universe implodes, and the round immediately ends. Points are scored and a new round begins. And that’s mostly it! I think Cat in the Box speaks for itself. What a spectacular idea. Check out our full preview here.
Best deduction game– Turing Machine
Many deduction games offer unique puzzles and Turing Machine by Scorpion Masqué is no exception. In Turing Machine players will take on the challenge of a unique puzzle by attempting to figure out a specific three digit code that corresponds to the specific puzzle. To find this three digit code, players must hypothesize a code to deduce which numbers from one through five, of each color, are the correct numbers for the three digit code. There is only one number of each color(or shape for those that are colorblind) that is correct and forms the three digit code.
Players begin with their first hypothesis of numbers that will allow them to answer any of the questions available to them via the specific scenario. These answers will allow players to deduce further information and thus be able to find out the correct code for the scenario. Questions can ask things like “are there more odds than evens in the code.” In this case, if the hypothesized code has 2-3 odds and this question’s answer card is checked, it will show either a green checkmark or red x. These two answers will inform you that based on your hypothesis that yes the correct code has more odds than evens, or no it has less odds than evens. By asking up to three questions in a round players have the chance to deduce the code and the one to do so first is the winner of the game. Turing Machine has immense replayability, and can be incredibly fun, and for anyone who likes any sort of logic puzzles or games will enjoy this. Check out our full preview here.
Best card game– SolForge: Fusion
SolForge: Fusion has been ramping up for a while now and getting ready to realize its high aspirations and setting its sights on the TCG corner of the gaming industry. With that goal in sight Fusion has reached for the stars, and provided a unique, highly customizable, and insanely fun hybrid card game. In this way SolForge: Fusion has an ever changing tournament story narrative that will change as the game evolves. Justin Gary and Stoneblade Entertainment made available the very first alpha sets to the public at this year’s Gen Con, effectively launching the physical product to the public and getting decks in the hands of players who didn’t catch the Kickstarter a couple of years ago for the first time. Expect to hear more about this game as it starts to hit LGS’ everywhere, and keep an eye on Gaming Trend for a full review soon!
Best upcoming Kickstarter– Harrow County
Ellis:Harrow County from Off the Page Games, the publishers of Mind MGMT, is a 1v1 asymmetric strategy game with twists, turns, cube dropping, and even the possibility of a third player entering the battle. The winner is the first to reach seven points. Objectives vary based on each faction, such as rescuing villagers or destroying houses, but each rescue/destruction earns two points. Killing an enemy minion called a ‘haint’ in battle earns a point and ending the round with a character or haint on the center tile earns the respective player one point as well.
Each round involves three turns but each player has four actions to choose from, no repeats. Every decision I made felt immensely important, especially because my opponent was so tough!
Horror County has yet to launch on Kickstarter but the demo I played looked and felt polished and played like a finished game. I can’t wait to see the full fledged thing and it might just be my favorite two player board game. Check out our full preview here
Best game that improves on ideas from another game– Evergreen
Nick: I really wanted to like Photosynthesis, Blue Orange’s game of trees harvesting light and casting shadow on others, but there just wasn’t quite enough -game- there for me. Enter Horrible Guild’s Evergreen, which takes the entirety of Photosynthesis and makes it just one of the four ways that players score points..
Players are planting and creating lakes on their personal boards, interacting only through biome card drafting which simultaneously determines which biome you’ll be performing your actions in and adds a multiplier for large trees in a biome in the end game. Expect to hear more about Evergreen once it hits more tables later this year, and check out our full preview here.
Best new tech in tabletop gaming– GameBoard
We like to keep a sharp eye on the convergence between analog and digital experiences here at Gaming Trend, and GameBoard looks to set a new bar when it comes to adding a screen to your tabletop experience. With everything from support for multiple VTTs to support role-playing game experiences, to full-blown digital versions of board and card games that actually get rated on Board Game Geek, GameBoard doesn’t just aim to recreate experiences digitally, it seeks to -enhance- them. Add special bases to physical minis and watch the fog of war change on your maps to match the field of view. Got a hand of cards in a digital game that only you can see? Use your other hand as a ‘blade’ on the screen and your cards are revealed but only to you. Throw in remote play and tiling of screens and you’ve got the most versatile digital tabletop experience there is. GameBoard is still in beta but a library of games and VTTs is getting larger by the week. Expected shipping date is December of this year and you can reserve yours at their website.
Best game about corporate exploitation of resources– Skymines
If colonization of the moon, or an asteroid belt ever received a board game about it then that would definitely be Skymines by Alexander Pfister. In Skymines players take on the roles of private investors, investing in one of four different corporations that are settling the moon or asteroid belt depending on the side of the board you are playing on. As an investor you are trying to earn as many points/crypcoin as possible and ultimately be the best investor. Players will use cards to take actions and have to plan out in advance which cards they are playing in order to buy more cards, earn more crypcoin, earn more shares in companies, place outposts on the board, advance their individual research and helium 3 tracks, and ultimately have the most points at the end of seven rounds.
With many different modules, two sides of the main board, a campaign variant, and two sides of five different company tracks that you add to the main board Skymines adds a lot of variability and replayability to an already tried and true game that Skymines is actually a reimplementation of in the game Mombasa. Where Skymines shines and stands out above Mombasa is in everything else that it adds to the game and all of the different pieces and boards and the theme. With Skymines set to release in September of 2022 the game is set to be one of Pfister’s best to date. Check out our full preview here.
Best tires– BIGFOOT: Roll & Smash
Ellis: The first thing we see walking up to Bigfoot, is a giant monster-truck. Imagine my surprise when we learn that the monster-truck is the very first monster-truck ever! Fittingly named Bigfoot, this famous beast is the box art star of BIGFOOT: Roll and Smash, a monster-truck rally game from XYZ Game Labs. Similar to Roborally, players program their monster-truck’s movement before unleashing them in the pit. The sickest run earns the most style points.
Another feature which immediately caught my attention is Bigfoot’s dice, which are some of the coolest dice I’ve ever seen. They’re big ole’ rubber tires, and I instantly wanted to start playing with them like a 6-year-old. Speaking of 6-year-olds, Bigfoot features simplified alternate rules that are simultaneously compatible with the base rules, so a small child could see this game being played and join in on the fun without disrupting the gameplay at all. This kind of inclusionary consideration and design is exactly what I want to see in the board games industry, and it warms my heart. Overall, XYZ Game Labs is doing wonderful things with BIGFOOT: Roll and Smash and they gave us a memorable experience to boot.
Best merch– Rollacrit Retro Wizard T-shirt
Rollacrit once again showed up at Gen Con with several amazing offerings, and while we were very impressed with the official coin, the lovely coat of arms banner, and the various pins, it was the Retro Wizard Tee that stood out to us this year. The stylized tarot card design hearkens back to Gen Con’s past, and is a testament to how iconic some of that early art was. You can still purchase this shirt and other Gen Con 2022 merch at the Rollacrit site.
Best successor to an existing game– War of the Ring Card Game
Ellis: When I played the highly regarded board game War of the Ring, I had a great time of course, but I noted a few issues. The game was massive and took a long time to set up, learn, play, and tear down. Usual play time lasts somewhere from three to five hours! I also heard it didn’t play nearly as well with four players. Perhaps these minor flaws were the driving force behind the creation of War of the Ring Card Game.
From Ares Games, War of the Ring Card Game condenses the War of the Ring board game experience into one hour and opens it up to four players. During our demo, I could tell care was taken to maintain several key features of the game’s predecessor. Both sides had to split their attention between the ongoing war and the journey of the ring, and the game flow naturally followed the now classic linear narrative. Long story short, War of the Ring Card Game has real potential to compact its predecessor’s weight into a smaller chunk of time, making it much more accessible to a wider audience. Check out our full preview here.
Best game that cast a spell on us– Septima
Ellis:I’m a big fan of witches, so I knew I had to check out Septima as soon as I learned about it. From Mindclash Games, Septima is a strategic game of growing witch covens, brewing potions, enchanting townsfolk, and so much more. Each player leads their own coven in the aspiration of succeeding Septima, the high witch. Powerful magic is a must, but even benevolent magic draws the suspicion of townsfolk, and saving fellow witches from trials is just business.
Septima involves simultaneous action selection with a little twist. The more players that take the same action, the more powerful that action is, but if players abuse this mechanic, the ever suspicious townsfolk will start hunting witches for trials. Witches rescued from trials have unique personalities and abilities too. Septima looks like a fantastic realization of the witches theme, and I’m looking forward to enthralling some peasants. You can check out our full preview here.
Best roll & write game– Twilight Inscription
The announcement of this roll & write in May from Fantasy Flight Games set in the Twilight Imperium universe was met with puzzlement by many- it seemed inconceivable that the 4X behemoth could be condensed into something that could do it justice with a handful of dice and some dry erase sheets. Curiously, it looks like FF succeeded with Twilight Inscription and have unleashed what may be the most complex roll & write game to date. The player boards have all the aesthetic of the original game, and neon chalk markers and bright chonky dice give the game a table presence not seen in this genre. Oh, and did we mention it plays up to eight and has a solo mode to boot? Conquering the galaxy shouldn’t be this fun (or take so little time)! Stay tuned for a full review of the game soon!
Best game collection– the Stefan Feld City Collection
If you’ve been playing boardgames at some point during the last two decades, chances are you’ve either heard of or played any number of highly prolific German designer Stefan Feld’s boardgames- Carpe Diem, Castles of Burgundy, Trajan, Castles of Tuscany…just to name a few! Well, Queen Games and Stefan Feld have now teamed up to bring a whole new line of city-themed Eurostyles to the table- the Stefan Feld City Collection. Starting with four titles (Marrakesh, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and New York City), these medium-light to medium weight games are a combination of new titles and reimplementations of some out of print Feld classics, and we got some hands-on with a couple of them at Gen Con. New art and top-notch production values make for some great table presence, and Marrakesh made us realize how bad we needed wooden meeples wearing Fez’s!
Best solo game– Hoplomachus: Victorum
Ellis: One of Chip Theory’s up and coming games, Victorum, is “a love letter to solo games” and love letter it is indeed. Victorum enlists one player as a champion tasked with traveling the lands and slaying great evil. Imagine a series of turn based hexagonal battles with a little bit of Slay the Spire. A full game of Victorum can last six to eight hours, which is why Chip Theory implemented an easy save state. And of course, the production maintains the all around top tier Chip Theory standard. I’ve never seen such a massive solo project in the boardgame scene and I’m excited to see how it turns out. You can read our full preview here.
Best Gen Con Exclusive– Shadows in Genzacon 5E adventure
Every year Gen Con attendees receive a little coupon book that contains special deals, exclusives, or even free swag! Most years that includes things like a special Gen Con d6 from Crystal Caste, or 20% accessories at some booth or other. Rarely (if ever) is there a coupon for something as hefty as Gooey Cube’s half-inch thick 5E murder mystery adventure Shadows in Genzacon that they gave away for free with a minimum $30 purchase at their booth. Boasting two softbound books, maps, over 60 handouts, pre-gen characters, NPC portrait reference cards, item cards, and reward cards, Shadows in Genzacon isn’t like those free pamphlet adventures you find at your LGS, it is a full-featured adventure with the same kind of player and GM aids they include in their campaign sets. This limited edition Gen Con exclusive adventure sold for $40 on their site for a month after the convention for those who couldn’t make it to Indy this year. Also, do some of those NPCs look familiar?
Best game that made us want to go play in a sandbox and make pew-pew noises– Snapships
Mike:There’s something deeply primal about holding a toy spaceship in your hand, moving it through the air as if it is flying through space, and making laser blast sounds as you swoop down and attack another ship. Snapships takes that moment and blows it up into a full-fledged tactical miniatures combat game. Importantly, you actually build these ships from modular components, and the pieces you choose determines what your ship can actually do. There’s a shared space here with the video game Starlink, but Snapships looks better and isn’t constrained by software.
Best real-time filler game– Kites
Real-time board and card games can be a hard sell, especially the more complex they get. Floodgate’s latest small box game Kites has an intimidating amount of colored hourglass timers but the conceit that they are each kites that players are playing cards to keep aloft and the utter simplicity of the game makes this one of the more enjoyable real-time tabletop experiences we’ve had. It’s fun, colorful, and quick, the perfect kind of game to break up longer play sessions. Expect a review from us soon!
Best new game theme– Age of Comics
Ellis: Wondering upon Age of Comics: The Golden Years, from Lirius Games, Mike and I both thought to ourselves, “How has this concept not been a board game before?” Age of Comics is a worker placement game sketching players as comic book publishers amidst the comic golden age. Players must conjoin themes, concepts, and artists to manufacture the next hot comic, but they better hurry if they want to be original. Players who aren’t ahead of the game may be stuck publishing cheap ripoffs. Hilariously, each comic a player can produce features its own unique comic book tile as well as a slightly wrong ripoff version. Age of Comics looks like a great game and we’ll be patiently waiting for its release. Check out our full preview here.
Best game with a potential real-world application– Let’s go to Japan
Josh Wood did what any good game designer would do when a long awaited vacation to Japan was indefinitely postponed and he was faced with months of isolation due to the global pandemic- he designed a game about it. Let’s go to Japan is about planning a trip, maximizing the experience while keeping an eye on available resources. Bouncing between Tokyo and Kyoto, playing location cards and matching sets according to endgame goals before finally going on the trip and scoring points accordingly. The coolest part? Each card represents a real destination in Japan and you could conceivably use your game end-state as an actual itinerary if you wanted to! Here’s hoping AEG comes out with an app that allows you to record that itinerary with a snap of a camera!
Best expansion– Return to Dark Tower: Covenant
We got a chance to look at Restoration Games’ next expansion for Return to Dark Tower. The Covenant expansion adds four new heroes, eight monuments to eight grumpy gods, doom skulls, and much more! The monuments and the gods that demand them provide an interesting new focus to the game and promise of new tools and abilities to help vanquish the Tower’s evil. As a result of some of these additions, some narrative and mechanic hooks in the app will be changing, so expect a bit more variability in the content with this expansion.
Best appeal to childhood nostalgia– Bill Farmer and Jason Marsden for A Goofy Movie Game
Funko Games has been killing it with the classic franchises lately, and A Goofy Movie Game is aimed squarely at those 90s kids out there looking to share the classic animated feature with their children. To get folks at Gen Con excited about this new release, they invited Jason Marsden (Max Goof) and Bill Farmer (Goofy himself!) to their booth to sign copies of the game and more.
Best artwork– Flamecraft
Ellis: If Flamecraft weren’t made of cardboard I would grab it and squeeze it will all my might. This game is deadly cute. From Lucky Duck Games, Flamecraft envisions 1-5 players as dragon experts tasked with enticing dragons to populate local shops and attract pedestrians with their dragon magic.
Each dragon is unique, named, and cuter than a teddy bear. Flamecraft’s gameplay features heavy engine building flavors, but there’s only one engine and it’s communal. Note that Flamecraft is a competitive game. Players need only decide between two actions on their turn but what they do with each action can vary widely. Best of all, special types of dragons called fancy dragons act as secret score objectives and one of the fancy dragons is called Chonkers. I’m sold. Check out our preview here.
Best freebie– Pocket Paragons demo deck
While plenty of booths were handing out swag, Solis was giving away a fully- realized two-character promo version of their ultra-lightweight card game Pocket Paragons. Promos for a game I don’t own? Psssssh! How about a full game I can play right now- for free! Check out our full review of Pocket Paragons here.
Best prototype– Mistwind
Do you fancy yourself a fan of the game Ticket To Ride, but wish it was a little heavier of an experience? Well Mistwind might just be the game for you. Mistwind takes the core route-building mechanic of TTR and combines it with a simple yet nuanced action selection system, scratching an itch we never knew we had. Throw in meticulously designed flying whale miniatures and a non-traditional fantasy steampunk-y setting and we’re ready to sign up for the Kickstarter!
Best innovation in a miniatures game– Omicron Protocol
The market is quickly flooding with squad-based minis games, but cyberpunk-themed Omicron Protocol sets itself apart with two intriguing mechanics- luck and noise.
Luck is accrued when players have die results that they don’t use for an action, and can be spent later to adjust unfavorable rolls. Noise functions as an alternate action cost: instead of spending a resource to perform actions, models generate noise, which attracts aggressive “cyber-zombie” units that belong to a third party non-player faction. Whether you play competitively or cooperatively, these Cyber-Memetic Sociopaths (or CyMS) present a challenge that can drastically change the course of a game as each player takes turns steering them towards their opponents. Check out our full preview here.
Best new game in a long running series– Clank! Catacombs
Rob: What can be said about Clank! that keeps people playing it after all these years? A small scale dungeon crawler, with a boat load of deck building, and something about stealing some treasure and escaping before the big bad can get you as you flee. Clank! always seemed to have a minor issue of taking the first treasure and leaving, resulting in more of the game not getting explored or played. Catacombs the latest version of Clank! aims to change that narrative, albeit I am not sure anyone would actually admit that.
In Catacombs there are plenty of new aspects to the non legacy version of Clank! that are welcome additions. First is instead of having a laid out map of the dungeon, players actually get to put the dungeon together as they explore it further. This subsequently randomizes the treasures and rooms allowing for a greater replayability. Next the white cubes that get added that can attack all players at once when drawn instead of black cubes only attack certain players. Lastly are the cards from the whole new deck that change the layout of the dungeon based on rooms that players are currently in. With all of these additions Clank! Catacombs is sure to be one of the best in the Clank! series yet and I for one have become increasingly excited for its release. Check out our full preview.
Best game in a small box– SCOUT
Nick: Considering how hot trick-taking games are right now, it was only a matter of time before someone came out with their own take on another classic card game, in SCOUT’s case, 13. Players will be trying to empty their hands as quickly as possible by playing books and runs. The twists here are that cards have two numbers, like cardstock dominoes, and players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand- everything everyone plays has to be already grouped in their hand. When you play, your “show” has to beat the active show, but if you can’t (or don’t want to), you can instead opt to scout- taking a card from either end of the active show, and giving the person who played it a victory point. Rounds end when a player has emptied their hand or a show has made it around the table without being beat. Leftover cards are negative points, and once you’ve played rounds equal to the number of players, the game is over.
Best game we wish we could have walked out of the con with– Deal with the Devil
Ellis: Deal with the Devil from CGE cast a spell on Mike and I as soon as we saw it. It’s strange and weird in the best way possible. Ever heard of a euro game with hidden roles? Ever seen double decker player screens? Ever been visited by the Spanish inquisition?
In Deal with the Devil, four players, no more no less, secretly take on one of the four roles at the start of the game: devil, cultist, and two mortals. Depending on the roll players will start with little resources and a soul or lots of resources and no soul. Then, players do the euro game thing until the Spanish inquisition eventually arrives. Each inquisitor will demand to see a piece of each player’s soul and if they can’t meet their demand they suffer dire punishments. Better yet, players who are extra naughty will be assigned their own personal inquisitor. That’s just a few of many fun and interesting concepts we saw. Deal with the Devil blew me away several times from several fronts and I’ll be itching to get my hands on it as soon as possible. Check out our full preview here
Best food truck– Chef Dan’s
Nick: I’ve been pining for a crawfish boil or a decent po’boy since I moved from the gulf coast, so I’m not too proud to admit that I teared up a little when I tore into the crawfish po’boy from Chef Dan’s. Ellis can also testify to the quality and quantity of their vegan beans and rice. Here’s hoping they’ll be there next year.
Best place to stay for Gen Con– Hotel Meridian
One of the things you learn pretty quickly when going to Gen Con- location is EVERYTHING. The most coveted lodgings are the ones connected to the convention center by skywalk, and while Le Meridian is connected indirectly through the nearby mall, it was the proximity to the food truck alley and being right in the middle of some of the best restaurants in the area that made the hotel the best stay we’ve had in all the years we’ve gone. Throw in the small open gaming area on the 2nd floor and the gracious hospitality and we’re hoping to get just as lucky for next year’s housing lottery.
And there you have it! Gaming Trend’s Best of Gen Con 2022! Stay tuned to the site and our Youtube Channel for even more Gen Con coverage in the coming weeks!