The Board Games of Gen Con 2019 That Need To Be On Your Radar
Gen Con 2019 took place in Indianapolis over the weekend. There were tons of great games to see, but here are 15 (+10 extra) games to put on your radar.
Gen Con is one of the largest annual gatherings of board gamers that takes places in Indianapolis every August. The 2019 version of the show just wrapped up over the weekend, and the number of games on display was staggering. There were countless games and expansions released at the show, several heavy-hitting publishers teased big, new games, and quite a few upcoming tabletop games received extensive demos.
Putting together a completely comprehensive preview would be a daunting undertaking. Instead, I’ve collected 15 games that I think should be on most people’s radar. To give some perspective, my shortlist for this list was 42 games; and I know I didn’t see everything. Gen Con 2019 was a spectacle and these are some of the hottest games of the convention.
Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
Abomination is a worker placement game where you’re trying to create a monster out of decomposing body parts. The game takes place twenty years after Dr. Frankenstein’s death, and his monster is sponsoring a competition to create a companion for the wretched creature. It’s a clever concept with a great mechanic in the form of the decomposing body parts. In games like Lords of Waterdeep, once you gain a resource, it’s good forever. In Abomination, your resource cubes deteriorate over time, forcing you to work quickly if you want to build the best monster. If you’re a fan of Eurogames with a great theme, this is one to watch.
Arkham Horror: Final Hour
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror line has been a tabletop mainstay for many years. Since the publisher remade the 1987 classic in 2005, they’ve been pumping out content from the line like mad. Last year, they released the third edition of Arkham Horror. We also have Arkham Horror: The Card Game, the app-driven Mansions of Madness, Elder Sign, and several other games in the franchise. Now, the publisher has released Final Hour, which takes much of the same cooperative gameplay players love in traditional Arkham Horror and distills it down to a quick, 60-minute adventure. I’ve never been too big into the Arkham Horror games, but seeing one that only takes an hour to play (as opposed to four) has me interested.
Publisher: Pearl Games
Black Angel looks…complicated. That’s not a bad thing, it just means that I’ll probably always just admire this from a distance. My board gaming group is more on the casual side and, while I think Black Angel looks incredible, it just might be too much for them. That being said, a player that’s looking for something on the crunchier side should give this game a look. Black Angel sees you playing as different ship AIs abroad the titular intergalactic frigate. It’s a bit of a sci-fi reworking of Sebastien Dujardin’s Troyes and I think it’s going to very popular amongst many gamer groups.
Publisher: Chip Theory Games
Cloudspire attempts to instill a bit of that MOBA flavor into board gaming. We’ve seen other games (Rum & Bones or Guards of Atlantis) try to incorporate it as well, but Cloudspire looks like it might be doing it best. The game seems incredibly replayable. Each player starts with a different race that comes with their own unique units and heroes. You can also bid for new mercenaries to shore up any weaknesses that your original collection has. Add in the fully modular board, and you have a game that should feel different almost every time you play. I also really dig that they’ve included both solo and cooperative scenarios, as it will make it an easier sell for groups that don’t love competitive gameplay.
Horrified is a fully cooperative game set in the classic Universal Monsters universe. The obvious comparison is a game like Pandemic; however, there are a few key changes from that game. Horrified has you and a few friends going around a game board trying to stop different monsters. Whether it’s Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Dracula, The Mummy, or any of the others, each monster is completely unique. So, where in Pandemic you did the exact same thing to cure each disease, Horrified has unique mechanics for each monster. It looks easy-to-learn and puts an interesting twist on Pandemic-like games. It’s also available at Target, making this an easy recommendation for anyone, especially if you’re looking to get into the hobby.
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
When CGE’s Letter Jam was first explained to me, I almost immediately wrote it off as kind of boring. However, then I watched a game being played and was instantly reminded not to judge a book by its cover. Letter Jam is a word game that uses mechanics from games like Hanabi. In front of you are a few cards with different letters on them. You can’t see them, but the people you’re playing with can. Looking at other player’s letters, you have to spell a word that will help them guess what letters they have. If you have a group that loves word games, this is a must-play. It’s also one of the two games that I instantly picked up after seeing.
Machi Koro Legacy
Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
Speaking of insta-buys, Machi Koro Legacy was the first game I picked up simply because of how often Machi Koro is played in my house. My wife absolutely loves the base game. We played it nightly for weeks when we first purchased it and it still gets heavy play in our rotation today. So, I had to pick this up for her. The city-building, dice game is incredibly fun with several different approaches to winning. I’m interested to see what the game does with its legacy aspects. It seems that when the game ends, you’ll have a somewhat unique version of Machi Koro to play. So, unlike the other legacy games we’ve enjoyed, it looks like this will continue to be played well after we finish the campaign.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
FFG’s other big release at the con (sorry KeyForge: Worlds Collide), Marvel Champions is the latest Living Card Game (LCG) from one of the biggest publishers in the business. LCGs have done incredibly well for Fantasy Flight over the years and, with an IP as big as Marvel, it looks like Champions will continue that trend. The base game includes five heroes (Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and She-Hulk) and has you battling against a few heavy-hitters from the Marvel Universe.
Of course, with this being an LCG, the base set is only the beginning. They will be making tons of new packs for you to buy if the game takes your fancy. I struggle to keep up with LCGs, but there’s no denying their popularity. Fortunately, Marvel Champions includes everything you need to play in the base game. You’re not forced to pick up multiple base sets to play with your friends as other FFG LCGs have done in the past.
Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game
Publisher: IDW Games
For the most part, I’ve tried to stick to games that were either available at the con or will be soon in this write up. That said, the new Metal Gear Solid game just looks too good to not include here. This cooperative game follows the story of the first Metal Gear Solid. You can play as either Solid Snake, Meryl, Otacon, or Gray Fox. Each character has a unique skill set that you’ll need to utilize as you sneak your way through each mission.
The art, as expected, looks amazing and the way the game handles classic MGS gameplay seems pretty fun. They’ve tried to emulate the chaos that happens when guards go on alert and, after watching the demo, I think they did an admirable job of translating. We should know more in the coming months, but the few things I did see left me satisfied at where the game is going.
Obscurio takes the popular Mysterium game and adds a hidden traitor to change things up immensely. Like in Mysterium, your group is guided by a player who can’t speak. Instead, they are sending you visions in the form of beautifully-illustrated cards. However, Obscurio mixes in a hidden traitor who is trying to throw all the other players off. It seems like a small change, but I really felt like it takes the game to another level. If you’re looking for a game to play with the whole family, I would whole-heartedly recommend Obscurio. It’s easy-to-learn and so much fun to play.
Return to Dark Tower
Publisher: Restoration Games
This is another game that’s not quite ready for the limelight, but I still want to quickly point it out. Return to Dark Tower is a “sequel” to the 1981 Dark Tower board game from Milton Bradley. The original game included different electronic elements, making it very difficult to find a working copy these days. We don’t know a ton about the new version, but the team behind it is a who’s who of board game developers.
Noah Cohen (Betrayal Legacy) and Justin D. Jacobson (Downforce) join two of my favorite designers in Rob Daviau (Pandemic Legacy) and Issac Childres (Gloomhaven) for this one. Truthfully, if Childres’ name is on the box, I’m going to pick it up. Gloomhaven is my favorite game of all time and I have yet to be disappointed by a Childres release. Return to Dark Tower won’t be out until next year, but it’s one you need to watch closely.
If there’s one thing I noticed in checking out all the Gen Con 2019 coverage this year, it’s that everyone is trying to jump onto the roll & write genre craze. I already own two of the more popular ones (Railroad Ink and Welcome To…), so I probably won’t pick up Sushi Roll; however, I think it looks super fun. This is a dice-based version of the best-selling card game and it has some fun innovations. In Sushi Go, you’re trying to build the best hand of sushi you possibly can to score points. At the end of each turn, you simply pass your hand of cards to the player next to after choosing which sushi you want to keep. Everything is static.
In Sushi Roll, after you choose which sushi dice you’re keeping, you put the extra dice on the conveyor belt and pass it around. However, instead of keeping the original dice roll, you get to roll again each time you get a new conveyor belt. This makes the game feel much more dynamic and helps it stand out from its card-based brethren.
Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One
Publisher: Mondo Games, Restoration Games
This was first described to me as a reimagining of Star Wars: Epic Duels. That game was basically my childhood, so I was interested from the jump. Unmatched is an asymmetrical miniature fighting game for up to four players. It takes the tactical fighting game and distills it down to its essence. This makes it much easier to pick up than some of the other tactics games. If you’re someone who wants a hardcore strategy game, this probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re looking for an easier-to-learn, fun take on the genre, this looks like it will be right up your alley.
Publisher: Frosted Games, Capstone Games, Pegasus Spiele
Watergate is another game I will probably always enjoy from afar. That doesn’t mean you have to though! This is a two-player game where one player takes on the role of the Nixon administration and the other is The Washington Post. The Nixon player is trying to stay in office until the game’s end, while the Post player wants to prove the connections between Nixon and Watergate. It looks to play a lot like the popular two-player game Twilight Struggle, which is a game I’ve always wanted to play, but never got the chance to. If you have a friend who’s into strategic, tug-of-war style games, this needs to be on your radar.
As always, CMON’s production quality is unmatched. Their miniatures are always top-of-the-line and Zombicide: Invader is no different. This game takes the long-running Zombicide franchise to space. If you’ve played a Zombicide game before, you know the drill for this cooperative game. If you haven’t, just know that you’re in for a pretty good time slaying Zom…Xenos. It plays a bit like a board game version of XCOM, with you and your squad gearing up to fight an alien threat. I’ve drifted in and out of the Zombicide craze, but every release I’ve touched has been very high quality. I would expect the same here.
Honorable Mention Quick-Hitters
Ankh: Gods of Egypt
Eric M. Lang’s next game in the style of Blood Rage and Rising Sun. It won’t be out for a while, but I’m incredibly intrigued.
Publisher: Catan Studio, KOSMOS
A remake of a hard-to-find 1999 game with great-looking components and a fun theme.
Cyberpunk 2077 – Afterlife: The Card Game
Another Eric M. Lang project. We don’t know much, but you can’t ignore this developer and IP pairing.
Edge of Darkness
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
The third Card Crafting Game from AEG that incorporates elements of deckbuilding and work placement; my two favorite genres.
Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North
Publisher: Portal Games
I love Imperial Settlers and this is the next game in that line. Sign me up.
Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon
Listen, when Bruno Cathala has a new game, you need to pay attention. I’m not too hot on the theme, but I’m keeping an eye on this one.
Publisher: Keymaster Games
Looks like Tokaido set in the National Parks? Could be a peaceful, fun game for the whole family.
Reavers of Midgard
Publisher: Arrakis Games, Corax Games, Grey Fox Games
Champions of Midgard is one of the better worker placement games on the market. Reavers of Midgard is its heavy Euro cousin. Might not be my cup of tea, but people seem to love it.
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
This was described to me as Diablo: The Board Game. Subscribed.
The King’s Dilemma
Publisher: HeidelBAR Games, Horrible Games
A narrative-heavy legacy game where you play as houses vying for the throne. Sounds like my favorite parts of Game of Thrones in a board game.
Obviously, these are far from the only great games released and announced at Gen Con 2019. As mentioned above, my shortlist is about twice as long as this list (even including the honorable mentions). That’s great news as it says to me that the board game industry only continues to improve. Here’s hoping Gen Con 2020 is as exciting as this one was.