There’s quite a few things you could say about Gen Con this year, but the one thing everyone can agree on was that it was the biggest it’s ever been. Over 70,000 people attended this year, just edging out the attendance of 2019. Gen Con is BACK with a vengeance! Thursday felt like a previous year’s Saturday in the exhibit hall, and vendors were running out of product to sell as early as Friday! Luckily, we had our biggest year to date as well, and saw so many amazing things we gave out a whopping 35 awards! Without further ado, and in no particular order, our Best of Gen Con 2023:
Best game to satisfy your vengeance- Queen by Midnight
It never feels good when that jerk sitting next to you decides to spend their entire turn delivering the coup de grace to your face. You played a good game, they just drew better cards. But this time you get to reveal that you’ve joined forces with another player. What’s the matter, neighbor? Can’t handle two versus one? Well, you should have thought about that before you decided to try and knock me out! Queen by Midnight is a dish best served on game night with friends and frenemies alike! Check out our preview here!
Best co-op game-Sky Team
“Alright co-pilot, we’re at 7000 feet and approaching Montreal fast! We’ve got 10 planes in the way we gotta clear out, put down those flaps, I’ve got the landing gear, make sure the engines are steady, quit pointing your wing towards the ground, and order me some coffee! We’re gonna need to work together closely and precisely if we want to have any chance of landing this thing in one piece. Oh, and one more thing. For the next twenty minutes, don’t talk to me. I’m concentrating…” Check out our preview here!
Best new theme – Luthier
Distilled by Paverson Games is a huge hit with us at GamingTrend, a game that blends its theme of crafting spirits with unique mechanics to provide an experience we just can’t get enough of. So when Dave Beck started hinting at their follow-up a few months back, we paid attention. Luthier looks to be another triumph of theme and mechanics, and we can’t wait to get some actual play time with it at PAX U later this year!
Best reason to wave a laser sword in the air- Magic Sword
Longtime readers of this site likely got their first exposure to the 80’s power anthem electronica trio known as Magic Sword by way of the Hotline Miami 2 soundtrack. Or maybe you first heard them on that first Thor Ragnarok trailer. Really, it doesn’t matter, as long as you -saw- them at Gen Con this year, rocking the main stage in a vast, carpeted room. It was as if someone yelled “wave your lightsaber in the air, like you just don’t care” and the whole room erupted in blue and red LEDs. Who needs a mosh pit, anyway?
Best paint line- Monument Hobbies’ Pro Acryl
The Pro Acryl line by Monument Hobbies has been around for a few years, but those who know, know- they are consistently the most vibrant, colorful, and downright creamy paints for the discerning hobbyist. Lately they have taken to expanding their line with The Signature series, mini sets based on popular artists and their go-to colors. At Gen Con they expanded this line to four sets, introducing the first satin and glass finish formulations Pro Acryl has seen. Stay tuned, we’re going to try to go deep with these paints in the near future.
Best game that makes you realize you don’t know that many 5 letter words- Fiction
Wordle never died, it just became a board game. Add in the fact that the LIEbrarian can’t be trusted and you will quickly be scratching your head and wondering why you didn’t pay more attention in school. Fiction is immediately familiar to fans of the popular NY Times game, Wordle, but the added Liebrarian twist turns it into a fantastic one vs many board game. Easy to take with you and easy to teach, we couldn’t get enough of Fiction at Gen Con… even if we were all terrible at it.
Best game that made me want to go outside and touch grass- Earth
From the trees to the terrain, the art and theme from Earth (the board game) makes me want to go out and explore Earth (the planet). Earth is a nature themed tableau builder where the active player chooses one of the four actions and the inactive players get the same action but at a weaker level. All players activate any abilities in their tableau based on the selected action from left to right then top to bottom. Earth is not just another board game, it’s a world of its own. With every card being unique, the combos you can create are truly out of this world. There are so many ways to score points, the sky’s the limit. Each time I play, I find myself gravitating back to it.
Best cow mayor in a game- Harvest
Farming games can be a little stuffy and dated. We’ve all traded sheep enough times that the prospect of doing it again but different may not be immediately appealing. But what if your farm was run by a rabbit? What if the mayor of your town was a cow? What if the tan and green farm sim world was beautifully illustrated in vibrant color by Tierra Connor? Harvest streamlines what you know about farming sim games into a much tighter and less mathy experience and it’s all crafted around gorgeous artwork and fun character design.
Best game about fungus that isn’t just about fungus- Undergrove
Elizabeth Hargrave seems to have a knack for making games with nontraditional themes that also end up being educational about the themes depicted (Wingspan, Fox Experiment, Mariposas). This time she’s teaming up with Mark Wootton and shining some light on the forest floor with Undergrove. Creating a game around the mycelium network that connects mushrooms on the forest floor to help plant new seedlings and nurture them into full trees…they had us at mushrooms!
Best villian in a game- The giant baby in Castles by the Sea
You sit down around the hearth at the end of a long day of work on the castle. Your princess smiles down from her tower while the guardsman keeps an eye on the pesky neighboring purple tribe. When suddenly you hear it… thump thump thump…. thump… the ground shakes as it approaches, your heart sinking as you know what is about to happen. It’s only been two rounds since the last time. Thump… thump thump… You hear a roar of… giggles… as the enormous baby reaches down for the princess and begins to knaw and crunch. If only it had been the dragon.
Castles by the Sea is a light, pattern, block placing game with adorable little Shorelings just trying to build a home by the sea. Players are building sand castles out of wooden blocks in order to satisfy the placement requirements for their Shorlings to score points, but like real sand castles, they aren’t built to last. The Shorlings are constantly being clobbered and their hard work destroyed by a revolving storm of hazards like the Giant Baby, a Dragon Kite, a Jumpy Dog, a Bouncing Ball, a gust of wind, and finally, a normal sized crab.
Best integrated theme- 3 Ring Circus
Games about the circus are not that common so 3 Ring Circus already stood out amongst the crowd at Gen Con. The colorful circus tents and wonderfully playful art were immediately eye-catching, but it wasn’t until we got a chance to chat with the designer, Fabio Lopiano, that I knew this game was truly special. In 3 Ring Circus the players are all building their own circus, which practically means slotting cards into a tableau, while trying to outperform their competitors as they travel across the country and try to attract the attention of the famous Barnum and Bailey 3 Ring Circus. The tableau is in three rows, representing the 3 rings of your own circus that gets filled out as you attract more talent and attractions. Players compete for show locations, hoping to attract neighboring towns to their show before anyone else can come in and perform. From building your own circus to the race for top talent and fame on the shared map, the theme is excellently integrated into the mechanics.
Best game worth losing sleep over- Lorcana
You know a game is good when it keeps you up late at night. But what about waking up early in order to wait in line for five hours just to get that game? GamingTrend did that for Lorcana. And while not quite as dedicated as the folks that lined up the night before (boss said we weren’t allowed to), we were still excited for the opportunity to get some cards and get some games in. Lorcana looked, by far, to be the most anticipated game of Gen Con. When a game appeals to players, collectors, and Disney fans alike, there is going to be a lot of demand. Check out our preview here!
Best excuse to cosplay at your table- Marvel Multiverse RPG
With the current TTRPG boom that’s happening, it’s heartwarming to see a new superhero game set in the Marvel Universe Multiverse. The core book came out a week or two before Gen Con and the product hinted at coming down the pipe- Spider-Verse, X-Men, Kang- should make MCU and comic fans alike very happy! Expect a review of the core rules from us soon.
Best adaptation from another source- Manifest Destiny
Off the Page Games has a very specific niche: adapting indie creator-owned comics into board games. Their first game based on Matt Kindt’s MIND MGMT captured that comic so well it was the first board game nominated for a Harvey award. Their second game, Harrow County (which is about to ship to backers of the Kickstarter), took the tree that is central to that story and incorporated it into the game and the box! Now comes Manifest Destiny, based on the comic about an alternate reality version of the Lewis & Clark expedition that encounters and vanquishes strange monsters. A cooperative survival game with a monster hunting twist, Off the Page has once again nailed the feel of the comic it based the game on.
Best sneak preview- Galactic Cruise
We had an opportunity to get a preview demo of Galactic Cruise from the designers themselves. Even with the prototype art and board layout we could immediately tell this game is going to be worth looking into.
In this crunchy euro, players are competing for the most points by planning and executing space vacations for wealthy patrons. Featuring a clever linked action system where almost every mechanic can be interconnected, multiple ways to adjust the board set up for replayability, and a worker placement mechanism that is rewarding even on turns where you just reclaim workers, Galactic Cruise is clever, crunchy, and fun. We can’t wait to see the finished product with Ian O’Toole’s signature style added to it. Check out our full preview here!
Best components- Kutná Hora: The City of Silver
Several of us here at GamingTrend love deluxe components; we swoon over metal coins, demand double, triple, heck, QUADRUPLE layer cardboard player boards, and don’t even get us started on minis! Despite all of that, based on what we saw at Gen Con this year, Kutná Hora’s components are going to be the wave of the future. Highly detailed without being too large, a nice firm surface and heft, the houses and miners and various other bits in the game look like wood, feel like plastic, and are sturdier than both. In fact, they are Made from 100% recycled and natural materials, certified with the PEFC seal. The manufacturing process is called Re-Wood, and don’t be surprised if you see a lot more games using the material in the years to come.
Best interview we wish could have lasted all day- Jeremy Crawford on D&D
Have you ever met someone that you realize you could blow through an entire afternoon just geeking out with? That you could just effortlessly chat for hours with? That you think of other things you wish you could have talked about with them after you parted ways? Our brief time spent with Jeremy Crawford at Gen Con could be described thus, during an interview that underscored his passion for both making and playing the game. Hopefully we get to do it again as we get closer to D&D’s fiftieth anniversary next year. You can see the whole interview here!
Best video game adaptation- Call of Duty: The Board Game
While video games and tabletop games share a common lineage, there have been several attempts to bring some of what made video games so hugely successful over to the table. Results have been mixed, but recent attempts have learned from their predecessors and the latest releases have elevated above just cashing in on popularity. Call of Duty: The Board Game turned out surprisingly faithful to the source material, the hidden movement mechanic alone bringing the tension of a proper COD deathmatch with it. The Kickstarter campaign may be over, but expect this one to heat up once it gets in player’s hands and on game store shelves! Check out our full preview here!
Best game lineup- Renegade’s classics reprint line (Diplomacy, Axis & Allies, Acquire, Robo Rally)
Between the Euro invasion of the 00s and the overall explosion of games we’ve seen in recent years, it’s easy to forget how different the board game landscape was in the years preceding them. With more emphasis on territorial control, player interaction (and conflict), and simple yet elegant rules that are easy to teach but difficult to master, games from the 70s, 80s, and 90s have suffered in recent years by going out of print or having licenses lapse. Thanks to Renegade Games, we’re seeing four classic masterpieces back in print with modern visuals and component design. Do these games still stand up to modern sensibilities? Stay tuned to GamingTrend for reviews to come!
Best comeback- Bag of Holding
Once upon a time, there was a trailblazer in the world of geek lifestyle, a purveyor and creator of fantastic things that every nerd and geek just had to have. They made a bag, a bag which was renowned for how perfect it was for everyone who ever chucked funny-sided dice, obsessed over cardboard, or needed someplace to stash a few comic books on the go. That bag is now coming back, and Rollacrit gathered up the finest minds who worked on that bag at ThinkGeek to make it even better. When is the Kickstarter campaign for this Bag of Holding you ask? Why, it just started today.
Best new version of a game- BOOoop.
It’s fair to say that if some of us at GamingTrend had spent any time with boop. when it came out last year, it likely may have ended up in our Best tabletop games of 2022 (You can check out our review here). That’s why it was a priority on day one of Gen Con to dash over to the Smirk & Dagger booth and nab a copy of the new variant, BOOoop. Yes, it is a halloween themed boop. With cute black and white spooky cats and kitten meeples in place of the original orange and gray. This isn’t just a reskin, however, there is one new type of cat that each side gets: ghosts. The mechanic is clever and the theme is even more adorable.
Best dice- Dispel Dice
The amount and variety of dice that are hitting the market these days can make it hard for dice hoarders collectors to settle on new sets to add to their collection, and the expansion of the market into higher-end offerings like precious stones, metal, and intricately crafted specialty dice has transformed it from a question of quantity into a statement of quality. Dispel Dice have taken creative dice design to a new level with their sharp edge iconic sets that feature colorful imagery under the surface, iridescent sets that shimmer and shine prismatically at every angle, and gorgeous liquid core that continue to move even after the die has landed on the table. And don’t get us started on the oversized d20 “chonks”!
So it turns out dice are the perfect canvas, who knew?
Best racing game- Joyride: Survival of the Fastest
Joyride. Noun. “A ride for enjoyment in a vehicle or aircraft.” Whoops, wrong one. “A fast and dangerous ride in a stolen vehicle.” Now we’re talking! Jump into your six-wheeled Humvee and put the pedal to the metal as you tear around the track in order to win this completely fair race. If you need to smash into the competition, throw down an oil slick, or launch a few rockets to make sure that it’s fair, then so be it! You know you’re the one that is supposed to win. That’s why it’s your picture up there in the rearview mirror! *wink* Check out our preview here!
Best independent film production- Zombie Orpheus Entertainment
It’s been emboldening to watch the perseverance of Zombie Orpheus in the past few years. Ready to film their fourth season of Journeyquest right before the pandemic struck, the team had to halt production completely and reorient their approach. Just having finished shooting footage, they were back in force at Gencon with a new short in their fantasy Strowlers series, with no sign of stopping now. I know of no one else who is as dedicated to viewing nerd-dom as something more than a subject of mockery or easy sales, and there is no doubt about the genuine enthusiasm everyone at Zombie Orpheus has for their craft.
Best event- Great Gooey Dungeon Gameshow
Gooeycube is renowned for their DM friendly adventure boxes set in the fantastic world of Zyathe’, but this year they brought something special to Gen Con- a gameshow?!?!? Featuring a gloriously expansive dungeon made up of Dungeon Forge terrain, special quest contestants from across the TTRPG sphere and Gooeycube fanbase, a ridiculous amount of prizes for attendees both physical and virtual, and a half-crazed host/DM that occasionally spins a wheel to decide a contestant’s character’s fate. It’s silly, it’s chaotic, and sometimes it doesn’t make much sense, but it was a blast for players and viewers alike, and we hope it comes back every year!
Best game to relax with a cup of tea- Penny Black
Sometimes you just want to relax and enjoy nice things. Penny Black is a light set collection game about collecting stamps featuring some of the nicest components we saw at the convention. The stamps are all a nice thick plastic with a 10/10 for clicks and clacks. The player boards are folding, dual layered stamp books, and it even comes with a real stamp for tracking the rounds. Board gamers love premium components and Penny Black is stuffed full. At home or at the local coffee shop, Penny Black is a great time. Simple actions… premium pieces… treat yourself, you deserve it.
Best children’s game that grownups want to play- Cranium Big Brain Detective
Can anyone say they didn’t enjoy a game of I Spy or Where’s Waldo or a Highlights Magazine at the dentist growing up? There’s just something about these types of games that is endlessly fun. A slight challenge, a quick reward, the self satisfaction of finding all 12 of those fish is a formula for success. Cranium Big Brain Detective features a huge piece of art with a great cast of cartoon characters and features to feast your roaming eyes upon. With challenge cards ranging from very easy to actually kind of puzzly and hard, this game isn’t just for kids. It’s silly, it’s mostly super easy, it’s a lot of fun.
Best behind the scenes rescue- PSi and Bridge Distribution
With record-breaking attendance this year at Gen Con, several vendors at the show found themselves in a previously unheard of situation by Friday: They were running out of games to sell! Before the con was even half over! What happened next was nothing short of a miracle, as PSI rallied their people to assemble twelve pallets of games for sixteen desperate for product vendor partners overnight, Bridge Distribution stepped up with a truck and a driver to bring it all to Indianapolis by the next morning. Booths were restocked by the time things got into full swing on Saturday… and in record time once again sold out! Just an amazing amount of coordination and cooperation by PSI and Bridge, we gamers can’t thank you both enough! Read more about it here!
Best local eatery- Bohdi Thai Bistro
Is Bohdi the best Thai restaurant in the world? Well we can’t say that for sure but it’s definitely the best one we’ve eaten at. With three generations of Thai women at the helm, every dish we had was phenomenal. Our lively team dinner descended into silence when the food arrived, the only remaining conversation going something like “mmm so good…… wow….. Have you tried the soup yet….%@&$ this is spicy.” I can guarantee our team will be back next year.
Best innovation- The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City
Among the myriad games that we saw at Gencon, one stood out as trying something truly new. Infinite Rabbit Holes has brought together the original pioneers of augmented reality games, those who created the I Love Bees and Why So Serious, with new technology to remake what an augmented reality experience can be. Transforming your home into a mystery and escape room, it’s clear that Panic in Gotham City is beginning to unlock the potential of what is sure to be a new landmark in storytelling. You can actually read our review of it here!
Best party- Ragnarock Rage Stage
While most socializing is done over some cardboard and dice at a convention like Gen Con, it’s nice sometimes to step away from that and go have a different kind of fun. This year the highlight for us on the party scene was the Ragnarok Rage Stage thrown by Hunter’s Entertainment, Rollacrit, Backerkit, and Voodoo IPA. The venue was part of the once vital trainstation that serviced downtown Indianapolis, the party sprawling through multiple rooms like a much tamer version of a scene in Eyes Wide Shut. The head of Darrington Press put on a fire show on the back deck (whips on fire are pretty cool). The best part, though, was when our Editor-in-Chief flexed his Rock Band singing skills and belted out Radiohead’s Creep with a live band (Karaoke is forever ruined for us). Who says nerds are boring?
Best tool for taking notes on all the awesome games we saw- Pens and More
The beautiful craftsmanship of the wares at the Pens and More booth were hard to miss. With so many games and game adjacent products to catch your eye, the materials and craftsmanship on display at Pens and More were second to none. From tiny watch pieces placed by hand into the barrel of the pen to bolt action steampunk designs, they had something on display for every interest. Everyone needs a good pen and you might as well look and feel awesome with a snazzy one.
Best evolution of a classic- Catan: Dawn of Humankind
If I had a dollar for every person I’ve met whose first experience with hobby board gaming was Settlers of Catan, I’d have….. At least $20, I don’t talk to that many people. You get the point though. Catan is a classic. Everyone has played it. Maybe you’ve played it so many times that you’ve moved on and haven’t looked back. Well you may want to look back. Dawn of Humankind takes the core of Catan, building settlements and rolling dice to generate resources, and then adds 2.4 million years of innovation, or at least like, a lot of innovation. Players will start out in Africa, the cradle of civilization, and have to develop their tribe to explore outward and discover new lands before the resources at home begin to dry up. You can actually check out our review of it here!
Best revival of TTRPG hope- Everyday Heroes
I thought I was done with everything 5e and its derivatives had to offer. Years ago I got tired of mechanisms I thought bland and ineffective. Never in a lifetime did I think that I would want to come back to, of all things, a D20 Modern reintegration. Everyday Heroes by Evil Genius turned that all around. It’s smart, it’s tactical, and it’s the kind of rebuild that makes 5e work, while stripping out the cruft and HP bloat that turned me away so long ago. The licensed tie-ins are far better thought out than I expected, the dueling system in Highlander coming across as particularly impressive. After all these years I can happily say I will be diving back in.
Best island oasis- The OP Booth
Amongst the crowds and noise of the Gen Con expo hall, The OP’s entire booth was an oasis of beauty and calm. That’s not to say there weren’t people excited to be there and demo games, because they had that too, but the layout provided more open space than most booths and the tiki huts and sunset sinking over the graphics for their new game, The Perfect Wave, provided an ideal place to chill. If hammocks had been provided, I may have never left.
Mike Dunn is the old man of Gaming Trend, having cut his teeth on Atari consoles and First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons back in the day. His involvement with Gaming Trend dates back to 2003, and he’s done everything from design and code to writing and managing. Now he has come full circle, with a rekindled passion for tabletop gaming and a recent debut as Dungeon Master (nearly forty years after he purchased the original DMG).
A life long video gamer, Mark caught the Tabletop itch in college and has been hooked ever since. Epic two player strategy games are his favorites but he enjoys pretty much everything on the tabletop, just no Werewolf please. When he gets a break from changing diapers and reading bedtime stories he can usually be found researching new games or day dreaming about maybe one day having time for a ttrpg. Some of Mark's favorite games are Star Wars: Rebellion, A Feast for Odin, and Nemesis.
John Farrell is a legal aid administrator, living in West Chester Pennsylvania. You can listen to him travel the weird west as Carrie A. Nation in the Joker's Wild podcast at: https://jokerswildpodcast.weebly.com/
Chris began tabletop gaming in college and quickly fell into the addictive world of cardboard. Beginning with D&D and Catan he became an enthusiast of all things gaming; analog or digital. Chris, now a recovering MtG player, loves connecting with people via gaming through RPGs, board games, and video games. A particular favorite is testing friendships through social deduction games.
Starting with the classic charm of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Mike ventured into the spell-slinging arenas of Magic: The Gathering. He later immersed himself in the strategy and storytelling of modern board games. His passion has taken him from digital realms to tactile tabletops, always in search of the next great game.