Normally this would be the perfect time for my GenCon 2020 board game preview. I would be packing my bags for the biggest four days in gaming, and I’d be dishing out the Top 7 games that I’d be looking forward to at this year’s convention.
Although GenCon is cancelled this year, the board game industry marches on! Games are still being announced and released, so there are titles to be excited about.
BoardGameGeek has added a helpful feature of upcoming releases to their homepage. It is super nice for people like me who try to stay on top of what’s coming down the pipeline. Plus, looking at board game promotional material is my prime method of decompressing.
Let’s dive into my list of Top 7 Most Anticipated Board Games!
New York Zoo: Capstone Games
First up is New York Zoo by acclaimed designer Uwe Rosenberg. It’s not slated to hit shelves until later this year, but it’s worth mentioning for several reasons.
Polyomino games are really big right now, so it’s important for designers to find a detail that sets their game apart from the rest. In the game, players are moving an elephant meeple around a track, allowing them to place a polyomino tile or grab an animal meeple. It’s a shared track that forces you to think about what action you want, but also how your choice is going to impact the other players.
The polyominos on the track continue to decrease in size as they are used. This is a clever way to ensure that, as players run into smaller space constraints, they are more likely to still have a choice in which action they wish to take.
Overall, I’m excited about the presentation of the game and to see how it plays with a full table. Plus, you get a BUNCH of cute animal meeples. I didn’t know I needed twenty penguin meeples before now.
Be sure to check out the preview video on BGG if you want some more information, since the actual BGG page is relatively sparse at the moment.
Fort: Leder Games
Next on the list is from a well-known publisher: Leder Games. They produced the award-winning wargame, Root, and they appear to have another hit on their hands with Fort, designed by Grant Rodiek.
In the game, players assume the roles of children who are building their own forts, collecting toys, and crushing pizza. There are some really fun ideas here, including following other players when they do actions on their turns.
I’ve seen a lot of chatter about Fort on Twitter recently, as reviewers are getting their hands on physical copies. Immediately, you’ll recognize the amazing art of Kyle Ferrin, which is totally on-brand for a game about the whimsy of being a kid. It just looks FUN!
Another mechanic I’m really interested in is the deck-shedding mechanism. If you aren’t using your cards, you risk losing them entirely. This is a nice take on a design theory of rewarding players for doing something that they want to do in the game. In this case, it’s playing cards. The reward for playing cards is that you don’t lose cards.
Kids might prefer a chocolate bar (and let’s be honest, so would I), but I like that the reward isn’t a benefit: it’s the lack of punishment.
Mariposas: Alderac Entertainment Group
You knew Mariposas would make this list! After designer Elizabeth Hargrave designed the widely-successful game Wingspan, the people were clamoring for her next hit!
Mariposas features another natural theme. Whereas Wingspan was all about birds, Mariposas focuses on the migratory pattern of the monarch butterflies from Mexico to North America and back again. Board games aside, it’s a really fascinating phenomenon, since the lifespan of a monarch is only between 2-6 weeks.
Players move butterflies across the board over the course of three seasons, gathering victory points at the end of each one. The game has a fantastic look, and the box practically jumps right off the shelf.
Last year’s GenCon featured one of my favorite games of the con, Point Salad, and so Mariposas is poised to be their hit of the year. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one!
Marvel Villainous: Ravensburger
Villainous is a game that features your favorite (and least favorite) villains from Disney movies. The core of the game has players digging through their decks to find their win conditions, which are unique to each villain.
The world continues to ride the wave of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and so we’re seeing a reskin of the original game with Marvel Villainous, published by Ravensburger and designed by Prospero Hall.
What I enjoy about the Villainous games is the abstract figurine that represents your villain. They’re creatively abstract enough to be artistic, but they’re also instantly recognizable. It seems like we’ll get the same with our favorite Marvel villains like Taskmaster and Hela too!
The other benefits to Villainous is that it’s available even in Big Box stores like Target. I’m an advocate for supporting your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS), but I acknowledge that putting board games in a more mainstream distribution channel is beneficial to the hobby at large. Slap the Marvel IP on it, and it’s bound to sell boatloads.
There are certainly people who don’t like the Disney theme of the original, so this might be the final straw that gets people to cave and give it a shot.
Fruit Picking: Korea Boardgames Co.
I always like to throw a curveball into my lists, and Fruit Picking is this entry’s selection. Designed by Jun-ichi Shinde, I was drawn in by the fun box art and the fruit theme. Then I learned about the gameplay and immediately wanted to try it.
The game features the same base mechanic as Mancala. For those of you who don’t know, Mancala has players picking up the contents of one bowl and placing the contents one-by-one into subsequent bowls. In Fruit Picking, players are moving seeds in order to create fruits. Ultimately, the goal is to collect sets of fruits.
Mancala may be my earliest board game exposure, and I haven’t even given it much thought in years. I believe a few versions of Mancala are considered ‘solved games’, meaning that there is an optimal sequence to ensure a specific outcome.
However, the set-collection elements and variability of Fruit Picking feature the base mechanic is a fresh new way. Which is good – I prefer it when my produce is fresh as opposed to rotten. Bananas are the main exception, because at least you can make some delicious banana bread if they sit in the fruit bowl too long.
Forgotten Waters: Plaid Hat Games
The penultimate game on this list is already released: it’s Forgotten Waters by Plaid Hat Games, designed by trio Mr. Bistro, J. Arthur Ellis, and Isaac Vega. It’s an adventure game with a pirate theme, that also features a companion app.
Normally, when it comes to board games, I’m against companion apps. If I need to download an application to play a board game, that’s a turn-off for me. An example of this would be X-COM, which helps create a randomized element to your game and the sequence of events that occur therein.
So what makes Forgotten Waters different?
First of all, the game itself seems to be more story-driven, where the narrative is supported by the mechanics in the game. The app helps to facilitate those different scenarios and prevents players from flipping through a massive rulebook in a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ fashion.
Secondly, I’m an avid tabletop RPG player. Games like Pathfinder, Starfinder, and Dungeons & Dragons are my jam. Forgotten Waters feels like it’ll scratch a similar itch, blurring the line between board games, roleplaying games, and digital games. The whole theme seems to really shine here, with the high-adventure elements turned all the way up to 10.
I’m willing to step out of my usual board game comfort zone to get this on the table. Plus, when else am I going to be able to try out my pirate voice. Eh, matey?!
Pendulum: Stonemaier Games
This game was only recently announced, and details are currently being divulged by Jamey. Pendulum (previously under the codename Sand) made my initial 2020 hype list. Designed by Travis P Jones, it’s one of the highest-rated games from a Stonemaier Games Design Day.
The thing I love about a Stonemaier game is that the production quality is going to be off the charts. Check out their track record with some of my favorites: Wingspan, Scythe, Viticulture, Tapestry. I’m expecting Pendulum to keep that bar high.
Pendulum is an asymmetric board game that features a series of sand timers. Player actions are completed in real-time, using specific timers depending on the actions being performed.
Real-time games have a lot more opportunity for being enjoyed by a niche audience. I remember the first time I played Captain Sonar and couldn’t really get into it. With the right group, however, they can really shine. Here at Nerds on Earth, Pendulum is reminiscent of a past Wizkids offering: Wartime. Will this be in a similar vein?
Time will tell!
My Most Anticipated Board Games
Even with the ripple effect of convention cancellations, board games continue to thrive. As it turns out, board games are great for reducing stress and provide another avenue for fun. Who would’ve thought?
I wish I could include even more games on this list for you to check out, but there’s bound to be something that you’ll enjoy. As I mentioned before, check out the list of upcoming releases on BGG to see what catches your eye. Targi expansion? Yes please!
Wishing you a summer filled with the joy of board gaming!