Justin's Gen Con Highlights

This blog post was originally posted by me on Games in the Maine blog on August 17, 2018

For over 50 years Gen Con has been running in North America and the timing and popularity of the event brings board game publishers from all across the world together and used as a launching pad to release their hot new games in time for Christmas. For a lot of games, this is the first opportunity for the general public to get their hands on these games before they even go through distribution across the world and onto retail shelves.

From August 1st to 5th, 2018, I got to experience my first Gen Con first-hand, and while there were over 600 brand new games launched at Gen Con, and so much to see and do, I want to use this opportunity to highlight just some of the games that really took my fancy, and if you’re thinking of getting a brand new game for someone for Christmas, this is a good place to start!


Reef by Next Move Games

  • Publisher: Next Move Games
  • Release Date: Late August/Early September
  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Recommended Ages: 8+
  • RRP: $65

Reef was one of the games I was most looking forward to checking out prior to attending Gen Con, and I was not disappointed. Hot off the heels of their Spiel des Jahres award-winning game Azul, Next Move Games have published another beautifully aesthetic pattern-building game, this one about building a colourful coral reef.

The simplicity of the gameplay is a simple affair, draw a card from the face-up array of cards, or play a card from your hand, where you will build your reef with the coral shown on the card, and then score points for the patterns present in your reef.

The premise is simple enough, but the real strategy is thinking moves ahead and collecting the right cards to be played in the right order and at the right time, but also paying attention to other players reefs and making sure that they don’t take the cards that are going to score them big points.

Forbidden Sky

  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Release Date: Late August/Early September
  • Players: 2 - 5
  • Recommended Ages: 10+
  • RRP: $60

Forbidden Sky is the third game in the Forbidden game series by game designer Matt Leacock. This was the “must have” game for majority of the attendees at Gen Con, but with limited quantities for sale each day, many of the con goers sadly missed out.

Forbidden Sky is a cooperative game where players are exploring a floating platform in the sky, a rocket sits upon a launch pad and players must work together to build a working electrical circuit that powers up the battery operated rocket ship and get off the platform in the sky.

But the game is working against them, with high winds blowing the players around and lighting striking the platform, the players are working against the clock to survive long enough to get the rocket working and get to the rocket before it launches without them!

Detective - A Modern Crime Board Game

  • Publisher: Portal Games
  • Release Date: Late September/Early October
  • Players: 1 - 5
  • Recommended Ages: 16+
  • RRP: $80

I like to describe Detective as like CSI the board game, players are playing as investigators solving different cases that as you play through them, and depending how you solve each case, you will begin to see a narrative forming between the cases.

The part about the game that really excites me is that players have to use every resource available to them in order to solve the mystery, such as using Google Maps or Wikipedia as just some examples of some tools players will need to utilize in order to solve each case.

How you reach the solution and solve each mystery is completely unique to how each team works together and literally thinks outside the box. The game recommends that you give yourself a few hours to work on each case, so if you’re looking for something unique for your game nights with your friends or family, this game will be absolutely perfect.

Dragon Tower (Drachenturm)

  • Publisher: HABA
  • Release Date: Late August/Early September
  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Recommended Ages: 4+
  • RRP: $75

Dragon Tower is about rescuing a princess from a tower, held captive by a dragon and is played in two distinctive parts. The first part is where you are building a scaffolding up to the top of the tower, this is done as a memory game, flipping tiles to find the right colours to add support to the scaffolding, but you have to remember where the dragon tiles are because if you draw a dragon tile you have less time to rescue the princess in the second part of the game.

Once the scaffolding is complete, the dragon starts reeling in the string attached to the rock holding up the scaffolding. Players have to work together to push the princess out of the tower and down the scaffolding and to her carriage and away to safety before the dragon pulls the scaffolding down, and depending on how many dragon tiles were flipped in the first part of the game depends on how long you have to save the princess.

Dragon Tower is marvellous kids game that is great for teamwork skills, memory and colour discerning as well as fine motor skills… And even for the big kids it’s still just a fun game to play (I had so much fun this with a group of other adults my age), and really shows that HABA is a great publisher for family games.

Bob Ross: Happy Little Accidents

  • Publisher: Big G Entertainment
  • Release Date: October
  • Players: 3 - 6
  • Recommended Ages: 8+
  • RRP: $40

Bob Ross: Happy Little Accidents is a party game where everyone draws little shapes and squiggles on a piece of paper and then they’re all shuffled and flipped upside down in the middle of the table. Then everyone takes one of the pieces of paper and using a cue from a card, everyone has to then draw that object incorporating the squiggles and shapes into the drawing. Players then award points to other players for their creative work.

This game really encapsulates the quote the game is named for, “We don't make mistakes; we just have happy accidents,” and some of the ways people can turn weird shapes into whatever it is they’re drawing into the most hilarious and fun experience.

I feel like for Australian audiences this game should be called “Mr Squiggle the party game”.

Before There Were Stars…

  • Publisher: Smirk & Laughter
  • Release Date: Late August/Early September
  • Players 3 - 6
  • Recommended Ages: 10+
  • RRP: $65

Imagine you’re sitting by the campfire and your elders points to the sky and tells you the story of how your people were formed from the constellations in the sky - Before There Were Stars is a storytelling game that puts you in the role as one of those elders telling these stories. First you roll the dice, which forms your night sky and then you create constellations from what you roll, these constellations create foundations for you to weave your creation story “In the beginning…”

After each chapter you secretly vote with different value stars on your favourite moments from everyone’s story so far and as you move onto the next chapter you add more constellations, but you have to incorporate previous constellations into your story. And the end you tally up your voting stars and whoever has the most points “wins”.

But the game isn’t about winning, it’s about telling a great story and the way it encourages you to tell better stories each time you play is really creative and rewarding. This game fell through the cracks in the game announcements but it became one of the many games that you couldn’t go far without seeing a group playing this game somewhere.

KeyForge: Call of the Archons

  • Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
  • Release Date: October
  • Players: 2
  • Recommended Ages: 14+
  • RRP: Starter Set - $70, Archon Decks - $16

Created by legendary game designer Richard Garfield (Magic the Gathering, King of Tokyo), KeyForge is a new, innovative deck-building/collectable card game, except that there is no deck-building or card collecting/trading, because every deck you buy can’t be altered and is completely unique and different. Fantasy Flight Games say that in the first set of KeyForge, that there are over 104 quadrillion possible decks.

Apart from playing with a unique deck, another feature the game has is a very streamlined gameplay, without card costs to play or activate them, the game allows the player to dictate what house faction of their deck they’ll activate on their turn and only those cards can be used that turn, giving players a level of tactical control but must strategise what faction to use at the right time in the game.

This also means that players are more free to focus on how they move towards achieving victory - collecting enough Æmber to forge six keys - but if you focus too much on collecting Æmber you leave your allies undefended against your rival, so finding the strategic balance is paramount to victory.


Everdell by Starling Games

  • Publisher: Starling Games
  • Release Date: Late October/Early November
  • Players: 1 - 4
  • Recommended Ages: 10+
  • RRP: $100

Everdell is a cosmetically gorgeous game, every time I saw a group play this game, with the beautiful 3D tree protruding from the game board that functions also as the holder of the deck of cards in the trees trunk, my heart fluttered and I swoon just seeing this game set up on a table, it is stunningly beautiful. And the “berries” that you collect are also squishy and just a lovely tactile element to this already aesthetically pleasing game.

But cosmetics asides it’s actually a really fun game too! It is pretty easy game to pick up but has a lot of depth and intricacies to explore, so it would work well for gamers or families looking for something with a little more strategy or depth of play than your regular casual strategy game.

In Everdell you’re building your own woodland village and you spend your turn sending workers out to collect resources in order to build your city and prepare for the next season, but as your village grows so to does the combos and abilities of each element of your village which will help boost your resource collecting and point building.


Root by Leder Games

  • Publisher: Leder Games
  • Release Date: September
  • Players: 2 - 4
  • Recommended Ages: 10+
  • RRP: $100

I’m going to preface this summary by saying that despite its cute artwork and its recommended ages, that this is not a family/gateway game, this is a heavy strategy game, and those that have played a few strategy games will get a lot from this game, but those who only play a few light strategy games may struggle getting their heads around this game.

Root is a really interesting game because depending on what role you play in the game, you’re playing a completely different game with different rules to follow, and different goal to win the game. There are four different roles you can play as and each play in different ways to suit different play styles and strategies, but while you each have your own separate objectives with your own gameplay, each role has current and ongoing effects that will impact other players in their endeavour to win the game.

Those who play a few heavy strategy games may be familiar with the concept of “asymmetric gameplay”, which lends itself to games where each player either has different objectives and/or implores different strategies in order to win, but Root is the only game that I can think of where each role you play is its own game in itself and you really need to play all four roles individually and repeatedly in order to fully understand and appreciate the intricacies, gameplay and strategy of each role.

Honourable Mentions

Sometimes there are new games that are launched from new publishers that haven’t quite got the attention of local Australian distributors, or games that have a licensed product attached to them and often they’re hard to get licenses to sell in Australia. These are some of my highlights from Gen Con that are unknown whether or not they’ll make it to Australia, at least not before Christmas 2018.

Spirits of the Wild

Spirits of the Wild by Mattel Games

  • Publisher: Mattel Games
  • Players: 2
  • Recommended Ages: 10+

Spirits of the Wild took me really by surprise, Mattel launched this game as a new title adding to their range of small box 2-player strategy games. This was probably one of my favourites from Gen Con, and just an absolute joy to play.

This beautiful game gets players collecting different coloured stones to appeal to six different spirit animals on their board which are after different sets of stones. The game only takes about 15-20 mins to play and it’s just absolutely gorgeous and the tactile quality of collecting the stones is really just a whole pleasant experience. Currently the local distributors for Mattel games don't have this on their order lists, so hopefully we'll see this game in Australian retail shelves in time for Christmas.


Villainous by Wonder Forge

  • Publisher: Wonder Forge
  • Players: 2 - 6
  • Recommended Ages: 10+

Villainous is a strategy game where you play as a Disney villain and try to achieve your goal that is unique to your character, add cronies and items to help fight off the “heroes” in an attempt to achieve victory. This is probably one of my favourite games from Gen Con, it’s one of those games that introduces new gamers to new strategy game mechanics, has enough depth to keep even the most heavy strategy gamer interested, but is simple enough that even those without much gaming experience can jump right in. Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that we will see this game being released in Australia due to licensing issues, but I’m keeping my eyes and eyes out for any news and updates on any changes on this.

Jurassic Park: Danger!

Jurassic Park: Danger! by Ravensburger

  • Publisher: Ravensburger
  • Players: 2 - 5
  • Recommended Ages: 10+

Jurassic Park: Danger also suffers the same issues that Villainous has, in that we may not see this game in Australia due to licensing issues, which is a real shame for Jurassic Park fans because this one is a real quality game. One player controls the T-Rex, Velociraptor and Dilophosaurus, while the other players play as the characters of the original Jurassic Park movie, as they work together to get the park back online, achieve their own character goals, and escape the island.

Hail Hydra

Hail Hydra by Spin Master

  • Publisher: Spin Master
  • Players: 5 - 8
  • Recommended Ages: 14+

Hail Hydra is another game that is unknown whether it will come to Australia, possibly also due to licensing issues. But if you like the idea of playing as Marvel superheroes defending New York City against the Red Skull and his band of supervillains, but secretly among your Team S.H.I.E.L.D. are hidden Hydra agents working against the team, and it’s up to the team to not only defend the city, but to work out who the Hydra agents are.

For fans of social deduction games, this is a little more involved than you will find with most games, with character and villain abilities, but it has first-time rules to ease you in. If you can wrangle up a group of 5 players or more to play this, then you’ll be in for a treat

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