It’s here! It’s here! It’s finally (almost) here! GenCon, the self-proclaimed ‘Best Four Days in Gaming’ starts on August 1. Gamers from all over the world will be gathering in Indianapolis to play boatloads of amazing games, show off incredible cosplays, and share in this wonderful hobby.
I’ll be travelling there as a Nerds on Earth envoy, providing ‘boots-on-the-ground’ support and updates LIVE. Apparently there’s going to be convention-wide Wi-Fi this year, although with over 50,000 attendees I’m not convinced that it’ll be super reliable.
Either way, I’ll be busy exploring the floor on the hunt for the latest hotness in the world of gaming. Paizo’s release of Pathfinder 2E is already the talk of the town, but I should be able to tear myself away from that to check out some intriguing new board games.
Without further fanfare, here’s my Top 7 list of games I’ll be hunting down!
First up is Oceans, the next game in the Evolution series. If you’re unfamiliar with the original, Evolution is a game about adapting to ecosystems by developing traits and attributes that help you thrive and survive. Thrive and Survive…that should be a tagline or something.
This is a stand-alone game, meaning that you don’t need to have experience with anything else in the series. Unlike the first game, which was land-based, Oceans takes place in a more aquatic environment.
One of the biggest standouts in the Evolution series is the color; vibrant colors and gorgeous art are in high supply. The core gameplay is designed to be easily teachable, but the depth of strategy creates opportunities for many different paths to victory on your way to surviving one of the most diverse habitats on the planet.
Oceans is slated to be released for sale in 2020, but I’ll definitely be searching for a demo that I can DIVE into.
Under the premise that humans are forced to leave Earth and settle in another galaxy, Black Angel is a science fiction game where the players serve as the AI system contributing to the Black Angel frigate. By directing the robots and steering the ship through space, players will gain points that will eventually determine the winner.
The game mixes a steady blend of missions, placement actions, and dice rolling to keep players actively engaged towards ushering in humanity’s second age. It seems like there is quite a bit to keep track of, between the central computing hub, the frigate, and the individual player boards.
Again, I’m drawn to Black Angel by the presentation, although I haven’t seen any updated components since a prototype video was released on Board Game Geek. Lately, I’ve also been really digging the synthwave color palette present in the game, so that’s a huge plus in my book.
It seems like there should be slightly more information out about the game at this point, since it’s going to be for sale at GenCon this year. Nevertheless, Black Angel has me interested!
I just heard about this game within the past couple weeks and it’s been stuck in my mind ever since. Point Salad is a card-drafting game that plays in a half hour or less. Players are tasked with collecting veggies while also determining which combinations of veggies will grant them the most points.
The name is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the term describing end-game scoring where players tally up their points from a variety of sources to get their final score. Typically with these types of games, it’s sometimes difficult to tell who’s actually winning because the scores contain so many parameters.
Point Salad doesn’t fit that bill at all. This is a family-friendly game that serves up the most pristine veggies I’ve ever seen. It’s like something straight out of Stardew Valley!
I’m always on the lookout for good ‘filler’ games that travel well and play quickly. Having a game with a small footprint lends itself well to travelling, and Point Salad fulfills that requirement. It’s marked for sale, so keep your eyes like your carrots – peeled!
PARKS is a game of exploring the National Parks in the United States, using the art from the Fifty-Nine Parks project. Between an amazing insert, quality wood components, and a visually stunning theme, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get my hands on this game.
Players hike along the trail, weathering the elements and utilizing their canteens to capture the natural beauty all around them. After a long day of hiking, players share campfires to recharge their batteries before resuming their journey to the National Parks.
Although I won’t be purchasing a copy at GenCon, you can help support the National Park Service by picking up PARKS. An annual donation will be made each year based on gross retail revenue for the life of the product. That’s a win-win!
Lots of animal and nature themed games on my list this year! Next up is another game of survival, although this time players are assuming the roles of conservationists working to save a species. Endangered is the only cooperative game on my list, and my first impression compares it to a mashup between Pandemic: the Cure and Flatline. With 100% more animals.
Players roll dice and allocate the results to various action cards following placement rules. Once all of these are complete, Mother Nature takes over: animals procreate or die off if their numbers aren’t hearty enough. Will your efforts be enough to get the UN to pass your resolution and save the species?
Just like many cooperative games, Endangered offers unique player roles and actions. I’m especially interested in the dice rolling element because sometimes the randomness caused by dice can lead to swingy games. At the same time, dice are one of the reasons I love tabletop games like D&D, Pathfinder, and Starfinder. Dice cause tension and excitement!
This is another game that’s only going to be on the floor as a demo. How will you find it? Look for the beautiful tiger face that graces the front of the box!
The Artemis Project
Games like The Artemis Project and the aforementioned Black Angel are hoping to capitalize on the success of space-themed colonization games like Terraforming Mars and On Mars. Basically anything with Mars in the title has peaked the interest of gamers everywhere. The Red Planet is so hot right now!
Now, The Artemis Projectisn’t Mars-centric, but it takes place near another red planet: Jupiter. In the game, players are colonizing one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, by building survivable outposts under the surface. They’ll have to defend against hostile sea life, develop technologies, and explore the moon before they’ll be able to safely construct a sustainable structure on the surface.
Say that five times fast.
There’s supposedly a lot going on in this game: worker placement, dice rolling, set collection…the list goes on and on. Do these elements combine together to form a fun and cohesive package? I have absolutely no idea.
So why does The Artemis Project catch my attention? For one, I’m admittedly in the ‘Mars Fanboy Club’. Slap a space-theme on a game and I’m sure to at least give it more than a passing glance.
Secondly, I think the game board is cleverly designed to showcase the underwater and surface-level aspects of the colonization process. Everything feels distinctly sci-fi but still technologically realistic – I love it. I’m curious to see how the players interact on a new moon base.
I’m hoping there’s a demo out on the floor because I don’t know enough about the game to pass any reasonable judgement yet. For those of you with a deeper knowledge base than me, The Artemis Project will be for sale in the exhibition hall.
The Isle of Cats | Era: Medieval Age
I can never seem to put together a Top 7 list without cheating. In my defense, however, the two games I’m putting as the final entry seem similar enough that I couldn’t put one over the other. They’re sharing the spot!
First I’ll touch on The Isle of Cats. No, this isn’t Aoshima (a Japanese ‘Cat Island’), but players will be trying to rescue families of cats from the evil machinations of Lord Vesh. This puzzle game features set collection and tile placement elements as you literally put cats on a boat.
You need to check out the art on these cat tiles – they’re absolutely hysterical. It’s actually what drew me in to begin with! Can you imagine working on a dock when a galleon chock-full of cats rolls up to shore? What would you even do?!
The second game also features a version of polyominoes, except that players are building their own city. Era: Medieval Age puts players in the driver’s seat to create a prosperous medieval city while staving off the terrors of the time like fire and famine.
I love how the city elements nestle into the board and how you will literally see the city built before your very eyes. The buildings actually remind me of the structures from The Game of Life, but that’s neither here nor there.
In retrospect, both games aren’t really that similar other than the fact that you’re placing things on a board. I just couldn’t decide which one I’d rather mention, so I did both. You got me.
The Isle of Cats is only going to be available for demo, but if you feel so inclined, you’ll be able to purchase Era: Medieval Age at GenCon.
GenCon Preview – Final Thoughts
I’m beyond excited to be returning to GenCon this year. There’s so much to do and see that you can’t possibly experience it all. Especially the games – it’s unbelievable how many games are run, bought, showcased, and played at this massive convention.
If you ever have the chance to make it to Indy, I highly recommend it. Plan enough to provide yourself some direction, but leave plenty of space in your schedule for spontaneity. There are plenty of resources to help you prepare and feel safe at conventions.
Is it too early for me to start packing?!