INDIANAPOLIS—If it’s early August, you can count on one thing: we’re gonna be in downtown Indianapolis with 70,000 other board gamers, forgoing sleep, food, and general wellbeing to play a truly ridiculous amount of new tabletop games at Gen Con, the self-described “Best Four Days in Gaming.” Gen Con is America’s largest and longest-running tabletop games convention. 2019 was the con’s 52nd year, bringing with it a record-breaking 538 exhibiting companies and a truly impressive 19,600 ticketed events. (If you want some sense of what that cardboard chaos looks like, our Gen Con 2019 image gallery is a good place to start.)
And then there are the games—more games than you could play in a lifetime, all being released at once. We sifted through the chaos to bring you a big list of games we think you should be paying attention to going into the last few months of the year. With such a massive amount of games on offer, we couldn’t get to everything we wanted to—your correspondent is just one man!—but we think our list has something for everyone on it. Roleplaying games were sadly outside the scope of this article, so be sure to check out our coverage of perhaps the most anticipated roleplaying title at this year’s Gen Con: Pathfinder. Developer Paizo debuted the game’s second edition at this year’s conference more than a decade after the beloved RPG debuted.
But back to our list—these games should largely be available soon. If a specific title catches your eye, make sure to check in with your favorite local or online game store in the near future for info on when they’ll be getting it in. And if you’re really one to plan out your play in advance, it’s never too early to consider it: next year’s Gen Con returns to Indy and runs July 30 through August 2, 2020.
Henry Audubon, Keymaster Games, 1-5 players, 40-60 min, age 9+
If Parks were a bad game, I’d still be tempted to recommend it based solely on the strength of its stunning presentation. Thankfully there’s no need for such silliness; the underlying game is also great.
Parks is a game about US national parks that’s a little like Tokaido, in that players all move along a path to pick up various rewards from each spot. But whereas Tokaido is a set-collection game, Parks focuses on resource management. The resources here are sunlight, water, trees, mountains, and wildlife—or, I guess, the memories of those things that you collect as you go along your travels. When you reach the end of the trail, you can “visit” a national park by trading in the correct resources and securing a beautifully illustrated card of the park (the thematic underpinnings get a little shaky here, but just go with it). You can also take pictures, fill your canteen up with water to get special actions, and pick up gear cards that give you ongoing bonuses.
The game features gorgeous art from the Fifty-Nine Park Print Series, and the rest of the components are equally handsome. An all-around lovely little game that could easily serve as a gateway game for newbies or a chill night-ender for seasoned gamers.
Pandemic: Rapid Response
Kane Klenko, Z-Man Games, 2-4 players, 20 minutes, age 8+
Do you love the panicked feeling you get trying to save humanity from a world-ending epidemic in Pandemic but wish the game was more hectic? Friend, have I got a game for you.
Pandemic: Rapid Response, a new Target-exclusive game, puts a “real-time” spin on the co-op classic, trading Pandemic’s globetrotting card collecting for frantic, desperate dice rolling. Players in Rapid Response are an elite team of scientists, doctors, and specialists traveling around the world in a specialized plane while cooking up cures to the diseases popping up in the world’s major cities. Each turn, players roll six dice—and can then reroll them Yahtzee-style—in order to generate resources that are used in the cures. Resources are then moved to the plane’s cargo hold and are ready to be dropped off in the cities around the board containing outbreak cards (assuming you can roll enough plane icons to get you to the desired location). Watch out, though, as generating resources also causes waste—create too much waste and you lose.
Of course, you’re doing all of this under the watchful eye of an always-depleting two-minute sand timer. Every time it runs out, you add an outbreak card and lose a time token. Lose all your time tokens, lose the game. Cure a city to get back a time token; cure all the affected cities to win. Pandemic is a cooperative game that’s notorious for its potential for “quarterbacking”—an alpha gamer telling everyone else what to do on their turns—and while that element could still be present here, the game’s fast pace makes it less of an issue. If you’re ready for a 20-minute panic attack, this is your game.
Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, & Alain Orban, Pearl Games, 60-120 minutes, age 12+
Well, we’ve gone and done it. Humanity’s reckless ravaging of Earth has reached its inevitable conclusion: a spent planet and the end of human habitability. But before we go, the nations of the world have gotten together one last time to load our genetic heritage on an intergalactic frigate and send it on its way to Spes, the planet most likely to sustain life for a new human civilization. Who’s crewing the ship on this long journey? You are, of course, and you’re an AI.
Black Angel is semi-cooperative in the sense that if you and your opponents succumb to the aliens attacking your ship and never make it to new-Earth, things will go badly for you. But every player is competing to prove that he or she is the most worthy AI to head up operations on the new planet (the other AIs will be summarily shut down). There are a ton of interlocking mechanics here; you’ll be going on missions, fending off attacking aliens, upgrading your technology, and grabbing end-game scoring opportunities.
The game bears some similarity to a game that two of the designers previously worked on, the well-loved medieval France sim Troyes. But man is Black Angel‘s theme cooler. The game was one of the most hyped-up of the con, and it’s the one I’m most looking forward to exploring in the coming months.
Marvel Champions: The Card Game
Michael Boggs, Nate French, & Caleb Grace, Fantasy Flight Games, 1-4 players
When I first heard that Fantasy Flight Games was releasing a new Marvel living card game (a somewhat wallet-friendlier collectible card game), I was instantly bored. But when I heard it was going to be a cooperative game, I knew I had to get a demo in. Co-op CCG-type games are few and far between, and the ones that FFG has released in the past (Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Arkham Horror: The Card Game) have been generally excellent and a nice change of pace from the countless two-player card battlers choking the market.
Marvel Champions seems to take inspiration from both of those earlier FFG games while injecting some Marvel thematic flair into the mix. The base game—which for the first time in an FFG LCG includes a complete set of cards—comes with five heroes (Spider-Man, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel) and three villains (Rhino, Klaw, and Ultron). Scenarios pair a villain with a deck of scheme cards, and you and your friends can pick from among the heroes to try to save the world yet again. The villains use their turns to advance their evil schemes and attack the players; the players, of course, use their turns to thwart the schemes and fight back through the usual card-game combo-rific antics. Once per turn, players can flip their character card between hero and alter-ego sides to gain access to different abilities, a cool little thematic and mechanical flourish.
The game looks like it might be a bit lighter than some of the other FFG card games we’re used to (understandable, given the broad appeal of the subject matter) but we’re hoping it will still be a fun, continuously updated co-op (or solo) romp.
Listing image by Aaron Zimmerman