As usual, Gen Con 2016 was a blindingly beautiful blur of exciting new games with new unique themes and mechanics. Here are the nine best new games I saw.
If you liked The Grizzled, you’re going to love Kreo. In this cooperative game, players take on the role of the mythical Greek Titans. Everyone is working together to try to create a planet that can sustain life. To start, the deck will be evenly split among all of the players. There are three different kinds of cards: colored element cards, which are the building blocks of the nature cards; nature cards, which are how you build the planet; and then red cards, which are all negative effects.
The nature cards all build on each other. So you can play the atmosphere card with no requirements, but if you haven’t played and completed the atmosphere card, you can’t play the wind or river card. The third tier cards have two level two card requirements in order to be built. Each nature card will then have required element cards that you will need to play to complete the card. If you play a nature card before its previous requirements have been built, it will either get discarded or you can use it as colored element card.
What makes this game really difficult is that players cannot talk about what they have in their hands. Also, players have to choose their cards at the same time, but then reveal one by one in order. So if the person before you played a blue element card to complete a nature card, and then you play a blue element card, but there’s no where for it to go, it gets discarded. But don’t despair, there is a mechanic that helps. You have energy tokens that you can use to either show another player a card, trade a card with another player, or trade a card with the discard pile. These are essential if you want to win the game, but energy is limited, and you won’t have a lot of it. So you will have to use it sparingly.
There are only six of each color of the element cards. So if you make too many mistakes, it becomes literally impossible to win the game. Add to that the red cards, which cannot be played on the first round or the last round of the game. These cards all have negative effects, which will often cause you to discard cards on incomplete nature cards.
I love this game so much. It is incredibly hard, the mechanics are really interesting, and it is so much fun. It’s also nerve wracking! The game is simple enough to explain to everyone, but the strategy can be very complex. Also, if you think the game is too easy (which holy goodness why would you think that?) there are rules to up the difficulty.
Kreo retails for $25, takes about 30 minutes to play, is for 3-6 players and has a planned release of September.
Vast: The Crystal Caverns
I had no idea Vast even existed until I got to Gen Con, but I’m so happy that I sat down at the booth to demo this game. Vast is a completely asymmetric game where every player is pitted against the other in an incredibly unique way. There are five different roles, the Dragon, the Knight, the Goblins, the Cave, and the Thief.
Each role has their own win conditions and their own mechanics. The Dragon wants to wake up and escape the cave. How does the ancient slumbering beast wake up? By eating Goblins, of course, and stealing treasure to help wake up.
The Goblins want to kill the Knight, who is kicking around in their cave. They have hordes that spawn on the board near the adventuring heroine, and will attempt to move around to get into position to attack the Knight.
The Knight’s goal is to find and kill the slumbering Dragon. She has sidequests to complete to gain powers and she’ll also be opening treasures for cool new weapons and abilities. She’ll also have to defend herself from the hordes of goblins.
The Thief’s goal is to steal and stash six treasures of Dragon Gem tokens. The Thief has a lot of different mechanics to get the treasure. They can loot, pickpocket, pick locks, and backstab. They’ll also be able to move around the cave in a way that other players will not be able to by climbing.
The Cave’s goal is to build the cave and then collapse it and kill everyone. The player controlling the Cave is the one actually placing the tiles that the other characters move around on. The tiles can spawn treasures, hordes and other exciting things. So the Cave will need to be strategic about helping and hurting the other players, because he or she will want the game to last long enough for them to be able to collapse the cave, but they won’t want the other players to be able to complete their goals and win.
Each role is much more in-depth than what I am describing. They have a plethora of different mechanics and abilities to play around with. The game is incredibly fun to play and offers a ton of replayability. While we were there, we chatted with the designers of the game, and they helped us out with the rules, which was awesome. They also said that the Knight character is based on the designer’s daughter, which immediately made me so happy. I was already excited by the demo, but I was thrilled when I saw that the Knight character was a woman. And not a woman dressed skimpily, but one dressed in armor that would actually protect her in battle. Yay representation!
Vast is for 1-5 players, takes about an hour to an hour and a half to play and costs $60. There are still some copies on their website, if you check out their store.
Mansions of Madness
Mansions of Madness Second Edition is a reworking of the original game, Mansions of Madness. Besides having new beautiful board pieces and components, what sets this game apart is the truly awesome app that goes along with the game.
One of my big complaints about complicated games is that keeping track of everything is a pain. The app beautifully handles all of the fiddly bits of the game, like keeping track of the damage that you’ve done to monsters, where you may have set something on fire, and so on. More than that, the app actually narrates the story of each scenario to you. It helps set the mood and it truly adds depth to an already great game.
This fully cooperative Cthulhu-themed board game is all about exploring a mansion filled with horror. You and your team are trying to figure out exactly what is going on in the terrifying manor. You’ll have to try to hold onto your sanity as you search for clues and try to stop the terrible things that are terrorizing the town.
The moment you enter the mansion, you’ll be faced with choices. Do you open the door and investigate that horrible screaming you’re hearing? Or do you check out the pile of papers that might give you some clues as to what’s going on? Or maybe you should just set a fire, just in case, because you can set fires in this game! Or you could decide to barricade the door that would open to that horrible screaming.
The options the game gives you are fabulous, and it’s all taken care of by the app. The app definitely makes the game much more fun and sets the mood wonderfully. The component quality is through the roof as well. The monsters figures are beautiful and they even have their own bases to sit on that you can slide their info cards into. The art is fabulous as well.
If you already own the first edition of Mansions of Madness, you can actually combine the games so that you have more variability and choices in map tiles, characters and monsters. The second edition comes with a conversion kit that will smooth out the rules between the games, and the app will take care of combining your first edition with the second edition.
The Mansions of Madness is for 1-5 players, costs $99.95, and lasts around 2-3 hours. It is currently out of stock on Fantasy Flight’s website, but you might be able to find it at different retailers.
4 Gods is a competitive, real-time tile-placement game. The conceit of the game is that everyone is a different god that is trying to have the most influence over the world, and the one with the most wins.
All of the tiles are two sided, and show different terrain on them. Players will be creating the board inside a frame. In order to lay a tile, you will need to have two sides of the tile touching either another tile or the frame. So the first tile you put down will have to be at the corner of the board. Each tile has at least two terrain types on it, mountains, water, forest, and plains. In order to lay down a tile, you not only have to have it touching something else on two sides, but the terrain must match exactly on each of the sides it touches.
Players can only ever have two tiles in their hands. If they feel like they cannot play the tiles, they can put them in front of them in their discard section, which holds 10 tiles. At any time, any other player can take a tile from any other player’s discard pile. The only time you can draw more tiles from the bag is if your hands are free.
At some point in the game, you’ll also be choosing a god to worship and then placing followers to gain influence for that god. The influence scores similarly to Carcasonne, in as much you count up the amount of tiles the terrain stretches across unbroken and whoever has the most followers in that terrain type gets the points.
Players can also put down an epic city marker and put a prophet down on the space, which will score them points at the end of the game. But if another player can find a tile that will fit in that spot, they can destroy the city, and then they will gain those points at the end of the game.
There’s a bit more to the game, but that’s the general idea. I love the fact that it is real-time, because it definitely puts a sense of urgency into everything that I was doing. It was a scramble to try to get tiles down, because you can only place followers on the tiles that you personally put down. I didn’t grab many tiles from other people’s discard pile, but I feel like I should have! The game is super quick, super fun, has great replayability, and there are definitely some deep strategies that can go into it.
4 Gods holds 2-4 players, takes about 15-30 minutes, and costs $49.99. The game isn’t quite out yet, but is scheduled to come out later this year.
Beyond Baker Street
If you like Hanabi, you’re going to love this game. Beyond Baker Street is a Sherlock-themed investigation game, where the investigators are trying to beat Holmes to solving the case. Like Hanabi, you have a hand of cards that you cannot see, but the rest of your team knows what they are. You can give people clues by either telling them the numbers or the colors of the cards.
In the middle there are suspect, motive and opportunity cards. Each of those cards has a color and a number on them. Together your team must play cards of the same color to exactly equal the number on those cards. Once the cards add up to the number, then you can use an action to confirm the suspect, motive or opportunity card.
When you give a player a clue, Holmes moves a spot closer to solving the case on his investigation track. When you confirm one of the cards in the center, you get to move Holmes backwards on the track. Once you confirm all three center cards, if Holmes hasn’t solved the case yet, you win!
But there’s a catch. The investigators must play cards into an impossible deck to move their track up to 20. If they haven’t moved their track up to 20 and they confirm all three cards, they lose.
Each case is different, with its own difficulty level. In these different cases, Holmes will start closer or farther away from solving the case. There will also be varying card limits to how many cards you can play into the impossible deck. Any card you play over the limit causes Sherlock to move one step closer to solving the case. If you want to up the difficulty even further, there are different character cards that you can play that can make the game even harder.
The game is definitely difficult and will challenge players to work together to try to make the most efficient moves possible to solve the case. There were multiple games where we got to a point that it was pretty much impossible for us to win, simply because we didn’t have enough clues to give each other, or that we didn’t have the cards we needed to confirm the different cards in the center.
Beyond Baker street takes about 20 minutes to play, is designed for 2-4 players, and retails for $29.99. The game is out now, and you can grab a copy here.
Killer Snails: Assassins of the Sea
Honestly, this game had me at Killer Snails: Assassins of the Sea. The competitive deck-building game revolves around killer snails, which are actually based on real creatures, the cone snails! While cone snails can be deadly to fish and people alike, their peptide toxins can help make medicine for humans.
Each player will have a hand of cards and a draw pile containing snail cards, predator cards, prey cards, and instants like ocean waves or tsunamis. The whole goal is to feed your snails so they produce the peptides you need. There will be a river of cards that snails can prey upon and a market place where players will be able to buy cards.
The round will end when the players use up all of the cards in their hands. If you have not used a card to feed your snails that round, they will go into hibernation. If you don’t feed them for another round, they will die. So feeding your snails is super important. But snails can only feed on specific prey types. All of your snails are played face up in front of you, so another player could attempt to sabotage your attempt to feed your snails by playing a card that wipes away the prey from the middle.
There will be three groups of three peptides that make up the hidden cabal of cures that you need to solve. Players can attempt to solve the cabals at any time on their turn. They must submit at least three peptides to attempt to solve the cabal. The first person to correctly figure out the three different peptide cabals wins.
I absolutely love the theme of the game. It was actually created in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, so everything in the game is based off of science, which is exciting. The art on the cards was actually created using real shells from the Museum’s collection. It’s a quick little deck-builder game with a fun, unique theme, so I definitely recommend you check it out.
Killer Snails is for 2-4 players, takes about 30 minutes and you can pre-order it here for $24.99.
Secret Hitler, which is brought to you by the Cards Against Humanity Team, is a hidden identity game that pits two political parties against each other, the Liberals and the Fascists. Oh and someone is Secret Hitler. Only the fascists know who the other fascists are, and they know who Hitler is. But Hitler doesn’t know who the other fascists are and the liberals don’t know who anyone else is.
The fascists and Hitler win if they are able to pass three fascists policies and then get Hitler elected chancellor. They can also win by passing five fascist policies. The liberals are trying to get five liberal policies passed so that they can prevent WWII and win the game. Or they could win by killing Hitler.
The way passing policies works is that one player starts as the president. The president then selects a chancellor. Everyone votes on whether or not that team should be elected into office. If a simple majority says yes, it goes through. If the vote is a tie or the majority reject the vote, it fails and the presidency moves to the next person. If an election fails three times in a row, the top policy is randomly put into effect, which could be bad or good for your team.
Once a team is elected, the president will draw the top three policy tiles, discard one of them face down, and give the other two to the chancellor. The chancellor must then pick which to enact and which to discard. While the elected pair are picking, they cannot talk or make any kind of indication about what tiles they have gotten. Once they have played them, then they can talk about what they received, though whether they are telling the truth is debatable.
Sometimes when fascist policies are enacted there are special powers that the president receives, such as getting to look at the loyalty card of another player or selecting the next president out of turn order. So it might be to the liberals benefit to pass some fascist policies. Also, the policy deck is stacked against the liberals. There are only six liberal policies and there are 11 fascist policies. So if you are a fascist and you get two liberal policies, trashing one of them can help you win the game.
There are a ton of different strategies you can employ to attempt to win the game, regardless of which side you are on. It’s definitely a great hidden role game with its own unique elements. The production value of the game is also amazing. The board is beautiful, with metallic accents, and the president and chancellor placards are wood. It’s a great value and a ton of fun.
It takes about 30-45 minutes to play, maybe more depending on how much you argue, is for 5-10 players, and was priced at $30 at Gen Con. The game isn’t available yet, but you can sign up on their website to be notified when the game is available for purchase.
Last Friday is based on all of those slasher summer camp horror movies, like Friday the 13th, where there is a maniac that is trying to kill all of the campers and counselors. So one person plays the maniac and the others play the campers.
The maniac’s job is to stay hidden and kill all of the campers. The other players will never know exactly where the maniac is on the board, unless they are murdered, or force him or her to reveal themselves. The campers are trying to gather supplies, get to safety, and eventually kill the psychopath.
The game is divided up into four different chapters, with different goals for each chapter. For instance if the players are able to kill the maniac in one of the chapters, he could come back from the dead in the next. Each player will only control one camper per chapter. If that camper dies, then the player is out for the rest of the chapter, but will then get a new character to continue playing.
I was only able to demo the first chapter, which involves the campers running around and picking up supplies before trying to get to safety in a locked cabin. The maniac is trying to kill off the campers before they reach the cabins, but even if they lock themselves inside, the maniac can attempt to axe their way into the cabin and murder them all. Campers have abilities that will help them survive, like sprinting.
I’m not sure exactly how the other chapters play out, but it did look like a promising game. The theme really came through in both the art and the mechanics of the game. It was unique, nerve-wracking and looked like it would be a ton of fun to play.
You can play Last Friday with 2-6 people, it takes about 30-120 minutes to play, and will retail for around $49.99. It should be out sometime this month or next month.
Captain Sonar was completely on my radar (see what I did there?!) when I went to Gen Con. I was so excited about the game that I didn’t even demo it before I bought it, and I am not disappointed. Captain Sonar is basically like Battleship, except that each side is made up of a team of people that all have their own unique job and it’s all in real time.
The commander of the ship is controlling where the submarine moves. They have to call out the cardinal directions of where the sub is moving so that everyone playing the game can hear. They are tracking their progress on a map that is identical to the map the other team has. The maps have island or other masses that the captain has to maneuver around. Like that old game Snake, the captain cannot cross their own path. If they have no other move options, they will have to surface and reveal which quadrant they are in.
This entire time the radio operator of each team is listening to the enemy captains, tracking their movement and trying to determine exactly where they are. As they track movement, they will move the clear overlay they have around the map to try to see where it makes sense for the enemy sub to be. Once they figure it out, they tell their team’s captain, who will then try to hit the other sub with a torpedo or detonate a mine close to them.
The game gets complicated because as the captain moves the ship around, the engineer has to track the wear on the ship. Each quadrant of the ship has their own symbols that affect whether or not the sub can activate a power like going silent, dropping a mine, or shooting a torpedo. When the captain calls out a direction, the engineer has to cross off one of those symbols. If even one is crossed off, that power cannot be used. If all of the symbols that are connected in a line are marked off, then you can repair all of them. So there is definitely a lot of strategy that goes into the engineer’s job. The other way to repair is that if the captain surfaces the submarine, everything on the ship is repaired.
As for the first mate, they are in charge of charging up the ship’s systems. Every time the captain calls out a move, they can put a tick mark on the different systems’ tracks. Once they are full, they must communicate that to the captain. Of course, even though they are powered up, if the engineer has that system marked off on their board, the captain will not be able to use that system.
One team wins after they have completely destroyed the other team’s subs.
The game is so ridiculously fun. It’s a jumble of people talking to each other, while trying to figure out what the other team is doing. It’s frantic and fantastic. Though I will say I think the game is the best at 6 or 8 players. Less than that and you’ll have people doing multiple jobs, which is really hard to do and is less fun.
Captain Sonar is for 2-8 players, takes about 30 minutes to play, and sells for $49.99.