I’ve always done my own thing at Gen Con. Most board games media/journalists, you know, actually cover the convention. I could have pitched articles to Polygon or IGN, but I didn’t.
Back in 2017 or 2018 Geek & Sundry was seeking all kinds of content from the team of freelancers attending the convention. I declined. I just don’t want to spend time in the hotel room writing, devoid of sleep while turning something I adore into something I loathe.
I do some media stuff of course, as you’ll see on this list. But mostly, my cadre of rabble-rousers hook up with distant friends and we play games. It’s time away, with all that is holy in gaming fluttering through our orbit. Sometimes you have to pull in a random person or two for a game of Captain Sonar. Sometimes you spot someone who is “board game famous”, and your buddy demands a selfie with them. Sometimes you play a game with a rando whose general uncouthness warrants contempt. All sorts can be found wandering those halls and the streets beyond.
Here are 10 things, that absolutely occurred at Gen Con 2022.
1. Old Games
Starting off strong with a clear indication of how this is going to go. We bring a bunch of games to Gen Con. Old ones. We play those more than the new ones. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Condottiere was my most played game of the weekend. Across three plays, hearts were twisted and faces were punched. I won the first, and then succumbed to attrition in the two that followed. Words were exchanged and next year there will be a trophy that will metaphorically rep our suffering and triumph. Tyler is the current reigning champion.
One game which surprised others was Magical Athlete. We just played this once, but it was superb. I lost terribly, but that didn’t suppress my joy. The best moment was the table convincing the owner of the Ranger to forego their automatic four spaces of movement to roll the die, hoping for a five or six to win the whole game. Of course, they rolled a three and another player snatched victory.
Secret Hitler is always a must. We had a nice sized group for this, and it was as agonizing as it was glorious. I was a liberal in both sessions, winning the first by fighting to steer the table, and losing the second due to total confusion.
I’m still very pleased with Indie Boards & Cards Fingers Guns at High Noon. Why has no one talked about this 2019 game? It’s dumb, but it’s funny and quite memorable. You play this game with a large group and at least one person there will go and buy it the next day.
We still haven’t legally won at Regicide. We thought we won last year, but after consulting with the judges, I realized our level of communication was too high to count it. I’m honorable like that. Still a damn fine game.
I made it off the island in Hellapagos. I can take no credit, for Jason was the hero. After Aaron and Tyler furiously negotiated over sharing a bullet and a gun, Jason pulled another revolver out of his trousers and shot Tyler. He didn’t realize Tyler had a metal sheet, however, deflecting the .45 caliber round harmlessly into the sand.
Jason didn’t care, he fired again. Then he had Tyler’s bullet.
Next was Aaron. Boom. Although he didn’t die either, immediately rising from death rattle thanks to a voodoo doll in his back pocket. Jason had none of it, firing again without prejudice.
As I was trying to figure out how Jason was able to finagle every single bullet on the island, he calmly offered to guide myself and the other remaining player to safety. Sure, why not?
Scape Goat, another IB&C game, was a surprise. It’s difficult to do something unique and effectual in the social deduction realm. This does it though. It would make an excellent Blade Runner game as you’re trying to either peg someone as the scapegoat, or sus out whether everyone is actually gunning for you. I could totally picture it with an origami unicorn as a useless first player token.
Pax Pamir 2nd Edition is still a stunner. I was absolutely wrecked, losing five discs and three cards in one volley. My ribs still hurt.
We played a three-player game of Merchants & Marauders in a little over 90 minutes. It was fantastic. This is still, without a doubt, the best sandbox adventure title available.
There were some other oldies. Keep reading.
2. Steamforged Games
I met with the two co-founders of Steamforged Games, CEO Rich Loxam and COO Matthew Hart, and they were very pleasant chaps. When my PR contact at the company asked if I wanted to have a quick meeting at the convention, I hesitated and eventually affirmed. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Steamforged is an interesting company. They’ve deservedly received much criticism and I certainly do not hold all of their games in high esteem. But they’ve produced some really solid designs. If you ignore the first release which had some component and presentation issues, the Resident Evil series is actually a pretty slick little set of dungeon crawlers. Their Epic Encounters and Animal Adventures lines are fantastic for their audiences. And Godtear is one of the best skirmish games in print.
They had some very interesting things to say. I’m currently deciding what I’m going to do with the conversation in terms of whether it warrants an article and where I will publish it.
Why didn’t anyone make me play this sooner. Not exactly an old or a new one as it arrived in 2020 and won the Kennerspiel des Jahres, but this savage little brute is a wonderful survival game with an intriguing prehistoric setting. I love the central exploration mechanic, where you choose between three cards based solely on an artistic impression found on the card back. Does your tribe need food? Best head to the meadow as opposed to the mountaintop or that creepy cave with two beady eyes staring you down.
It successfully condenses so many of the excellent bits found in Robinson Crusoe, offering continual surprise and reincorporating the general sense of your surroundings. How it leans into memory, cooperation, and conquering monstrous challenges really is gratifying. Fabulous game.
4. Long Shot: The Dice Game
We played this at the convention, that’s not the story. What’s noteworthy is that so did everyone else. It seemed like everywhere I turned I came across another table playing this game. This occurred both in the Indianapolis Convention Center as well as the surrounding hotels. It’s great and it deserves the time. If you haven’t read my review yet, you can find it here.
5. IV Games
My gaming brother from another mother, Aaron, spent a lot of money at Gen Con. This isn’t the norm, but he fell hard for publisher IV Games.
First we played Mythic Mischief, their newest title. It’s an odd abstract with asymmetric special powers. It didn’t really work for me at four players, despite liking the concept of two-on-two team play. It was extraordinarily slow with a lot of analysis. There was constant futzing with cubes to track powers, which felt overly cumbersome for what was accomplished. Maybe I will play it again someday and give it a chance with a count of two participants.
So I went into Moonrakers with trepidation. This combination of deck-building and negotiation proved entertaining, however. It landed sure-footed on the negotiation aspect, leaning into player interaction and providing some drama to heighten play.
But it still wasn’t quite there.
The deck-building doesn’t feel particularly satisfying. Your deck only grows in power if you pursue a strategy focused on allies, even then, the bulk of the cards you gain are identical to what you started with and just massage the odds of what you’ll pull. It needs a stronger mechanical curve – not merely a social one. I was waiting for it to become unhinged as the experience certainly could have supported that, but it felt safer than it needed to. I did enjoy the game though; I simply wanted it to be a little more special or noteworthy.
Finally, Veiled Fate was the best of the bunch. This unique game of shared demigod pieces was given excellent treatment in the written form by Dan Thurot. I secretly wish I had Dan’s writing ability, so go and read his review and pretend I wrote it. Really. I’d appreciate the effort in lying to yourself.
6. Cosmic Odyssey
New Cosmic Encounter expansion? Holla.
We played a rousing session utilizing only new aliens. There were some doozies. I can’t recall the name, but I was able to replace one of the main player’s conflict cards with one from my hand, effectively stealing theirs. Wild stuff, as we’ve come to expect.
I can’t offer any real thoughtful analysis on this expansion, but I can affirm that this is still one of the best games around and it never lets me down.
7. 3000 Scoundrels
From the perspective of 37-year-old Charlie Theel who has been playing hobby games since the late 90s, meeting Corey Konieczka and getting a private demo of his upcoming 3000 Scoundrels was one of the brightest moments of the convention.
Look, even I’m entitled to fanboy a little. Gears of War, StarCraft, Battlestar Galactica, Middle Earth Quest, and so on. These are some of the best games put out at the absolute height of this hobby.
Still, lest you question my integrity and value as a critic, it does not shield Corey’s design work from criticism.
I don’t know what to think of 3000 Scoundrels. I didn’t actually play the game, and I’d of course need more time with it to really make some kind of assessment. There were elements that intrigued me. I think the Mystic Vale-esque card crafting utilized here is very promising. Instead of modifying cards during play, you do it prior to the session to provide a random assortment of scoundrels to recruit – hence the title.
There are some interesting social elements to the system, including some bluffing and calling each other out. I’m not sure that taken as a whole, there’s anything exactly like it. I’m keen to play it eventually, particularly because I was such a fan of Unexpected Games’ debut release, The Initiative.
8. Hatchette Games
Hatchette was undoubtedly one of the stars of the show. They are a publishing company that consolidates and promotes releases from a large swathe of smaller entities. Such as Scorpion Masque, the Quebec outfit responsible for Decrypto, and now Turing Machine.
Turing Machine is interesting. It took my sleep deprived brain awhile to compile the code it was writing, but I ultimately figured it out. And it’s quite clever. I’m not sure I’m really interested in returning to it over and over again, as it’s a bit of a gimmick in its process, but there is definitely a very neat and singular puzzle game there.
While I squeezed in two full plays of Turing, I was only able to demo several other upcoming Hatchette releases. The Linkto series stood out as an interesting co-operative trivia game, although I stumbled a bit at first answering nine for the number of pins in bowling. It was the last day of the convention, and I was running on fumes. And I corrected my answer a second or two later.
What I liked about this game was how I envision it seamlessly fitting into my time with casual board gamers. I play a lot of Wits & Wagers and Just One with family members, and often lesser trivia games come down to someone resigning themselves to just reading questions while we ignore the rules and blurt out answers. Linkto skips past the annoying structure and allows us to work together.
Galileo Project is the spiritual successor to Ganymede. It has a somewhat interesting action system and a couple of mechanisms that appeared novel, although it ultimately seems to be the type of mid-weight modern Euro design that I’m not overly enamored with.
Ole Guacamole is an upcoming pleasant word game, but I was ultimately most entranced by Flashback: Zombie Kidz. It takes the wonderful cast of the hit family-weight legacy game Zombie Kidz, and it implements a Time Story-ish exploration format with wonderful bits of narrative elucidated through observing various characters’ perspectives. Yeah, it’s odd to describe in text but it appeared to be something with great potential, and I am eager to play it with Lila, my eight-year-old, when it eventually releases. I was also told they would be coming out with a more adult title in the future utilizing the same system. Could be grand.
9. Blood on the Clocktower
I have a copy of Blood on the Clocktower and I’m going to review it. I need a lot more time with it. But I thought Gen Con would be a fantastic opportunity for a first date. I was given help from a couple of wonderful folks from the content studio Off Meta. Adam and Hayley are Fabled Storytellers – that means they’re not employees of the company but they’re basically ordained experts – and they graciously gave up their time to teach me and my crew this bonkers social deduction game.
Look, Quinns from Shut Up Sit Down may be right. This game is absolutely a force.
I played in three sessions. The first was likely the best as we were accompanied by some skilled players, including Max and Doolin from Tablenauts. I learned a great deal in that first play which I put to use in the two subsequent encounters. I will say that I ran the table in the final game, killing nearly the entire 12-person group as the Imp and fooling all of ’em. It was late, however, and I was ready to either perish or go to sleep.
I have so much to say about this game. But I need to think on it and play it much more.
10. People, not Games
The last thing I want to talk about is the most important.
It’s easy to get lost in all of the buzz around the latest releases. Gen Con, on the surface, is taken with consumption. After playing these shiny titles we sit around and talk about them. We tear off more and more shrink-wrap and we lose more and more sleep.
But none of that really matters.
As I sat at the table playing my third game of Condottiere in as many days, I was smiling and laughing. The best games facilitate a shared experience that enhances your interaction and humanity with the people you play with.
When I think back on Gen Con 2022, I won’t remember what new releases came out, but I will remember Aaron nearly falling out of his chair, buckled over by laughter when recounting a particular incident from earlier in the day. I will remember standing the entirety of a game of Cat in the Box, hoping I don’t trigger a paradox for the third time, drawing much deserved mockery. And I will remember how dark it was until the lightbulb above my head repeatedly exploded through the intricate discourse of a four-hour block of Blood on the Clocktower.
Gen Con 2022 started with the tackling of new releases, a veritable stampede of wild horses ready to be broken, but it ended with hugs and a dogged counting down of days until August 2023.
Some games discussed in this article were complementary copies for review provided by the publisher.