Toward the end of each year, the tabletop gaming industry descends upon Dallas, Texas for one final convention: BoardGameGeek.Con. This eponymous gathering of board gaming’s leading community, BoardGameGeek.com, has grown into one of the industry’s most influential shows by virtue of both timing and clientele.
Positioned shortly after Germany’s massive Essen Spiel, BGG.CON showcases the hottest new games, and even provides convention staff to teach rules. For fans of Euro-style board games, this is a rare opportunity to play games that won’t see US distribution for months, or in some cases, much longer.
As for the attendees, BGG.CON’s 2,800 gamers may seem paltry up against the 60k+ of a Gen Con or PAX, but that 2,800 figure comprises top designers, reviewers, and the most active of BGG website users (don’t worry, the trolls stayed home). Publishers know that this convention holds outsize influence, and it shows: they’re all here too! Yet unlike other major cons, BGG.CON’s focus is on play, not sales. By weekend’s end, attendees will pass final judgement on the current year’s slate of games, seed the coming year’s releases with all-important buzz, and even get an early peek at far-future prototypes.
That being said, it’s time to brace your wallet, as this year’s crop is quite strong.
Codenames challenges players to hone the art of sounding clever but blaming their teammates when they can’t put the pieces together. It’s not your fault, they should have paid more attention to those high school vocabulary quizzes.
With 25 random words scattered across the table, the clue-giver on each Codenames team must utter only a single-word clue in an attempt to tie some number of words together. The clue-giver also shares the number they intended, and their team can attempt that number of guesses, but here’s the catch: only 8 of the 25 words will further the current team’s progress if guessed. Picking the wrong card may do nothing, benefit the opposing team, or even trigger an immediate loss for the current team.The concept seems simple enough once grasped, but the pressure comes on when teams begin competing to identify their 8 cards using as few clues as possible.
Following a limited release back at Gen Con and a sold-out first printing, Codenames has taken hold of gamers, responsible for many a late-night brain meltdown. It’s safe to say that convention-goers will be pulling out Codenames well beyond 2015. Publisher Czech Games Edition even ran a nightly LARP version of Codenames at BGG.CON, requiring players to act out their clues.
Codenames is back in stock and available both in stores and online, with stock updates posted to CGE social media.
7 Wonders: Duel
The original 7 Wonders has not let up since collecting a full slate of awards, following its release back in 2011. Several expansions have been well-received, but none have managed to fix the game’s most glaring flaw: the rules for two-player matches are pretty rough. As a result, here comes 7 Wonders: Duel, built solely to focus on the two-player experience.
Card drafting is out, and instead, each deck of cards is laid across the table in some form of pyramid shape. As players take cards, working their way from bottom to top, they’ll make cards on higher levels available. With a blend of face-up and face-down pyramid rows, players will tread carefully to not open up too great an opportunity for their opponents, adding a major element of strategy in climbing the pyramid.
There’s fresh blood in the credits as well, with prolific game creator Antoine Bauza collaborating with fellow tabletop superstar Bruno Cathala (hot off of Five Tribes and Abyss). These tag team champions have managed to craft an experience that stands on its own legs, while still feeling very much inspired by its source material.
7 Wonders: Duel was an Essen release staged for quick worldwide distribution, and landed in stores mid-November.
Legendary game designer Friedeman Friese (Power Grid, Friday) is at it again with his most high-concept title yet: 504. Inside this box, stuffed to the brim with components, are nine distinct game modules, any three of which can be combined to create a fully-functional and unique board game. If you can re-locate the portion of your brain you left in high school statistics class, you’ll recall 9 multiplied by 8 and 7 brings you to (all together now) 504!
The verdict on this one is going to be out for a long time. Even Friese himself hasn’t played all five hundred and four variations! But the buzz surrounding this title at BGG.CON was undeniably hot, and as that statistics teacher is likely to remind you, the law of averages dictates there should be at least a few gems tucked away in this box.
504 was sold in pre-release at BGG.CON, with an official wide release date of November 25th.
Play in The Gallerist goes down a few of the traditional Eurogame roads of worker placement and set collection, but the game has strong thematic ties in how you, as the operator of an art gallery, can both speculate on and influence the value of up-and-coming art. The production value is high as well, from the large tokens, to the tiny wooden easels, right down to the box itself, made to look like an unwrapped canvas.
BGG.CON was the perfect storm of success for the The Gallerist. Designer Vital Lacerda (Vinhos, Kanban, CO2) has established quite a name for himself among BGG.CON’s core demographic: fans of heavy Eurogames. The Gallerist also just happened to land in Kickstarter Backers’ mailboxes earlier this month, making it an easy choice when settling in for a more complex game that you might not usually have the time or proper group to play outside of the con. There is a lot going on in The Gallerist, and there was a lot of The Gallerist going on.
The Gallerist is available now, in most game stores and online.
Announced on the show floor of BGG.CON, Quadropolis is the next title from publisher Days of Wonder. Another entry into a crowded city-building genre, Quadropolis sells itself on the quality of its abstract puzzle gameplay, not its theme.
Players fill their city by taking tiles from a 5×5 grid market, requiring them to send one architect to do so. Each architect is limited in what grid positions they can purchase from, though, and those restrictions carry over to further limit where players can place these new tiles in their own city. Add in a bit of resource management, and you’ve got a puzzle complex enough that it will force you to plan several moves ahead, while also paying attention to the moves of others. Quadropolis never felt overwhelming, though, as the game-long puzzle was broken down into manageable, bite-sized decisions, giving it the makings of a very successful casual strategy game.
Another notable achievement for Quadropolis is that the two games included (normal and advanced modes) both feel distinct and complete, rather than one being a constricted or hastily-expanded version of the other. This plays well for Days of Wonder’s customer base, as the publisher is eager for another accessible hit in the vein of Ticket to Ride.
Previously seen in prototype form under the name City Mania, the newly-named Quadropolis was the first publicly-playable iteration of the game. It’s undergone a graphic design treatment in line with Days of Wonder’s typically lavish productions, and the choice for translucent plastic bits actually works quite well. Quadropolis is set for a worldwide release in March 2016.
Burgle Bros is a tower heist, pure and simple. The game takes place over three separate floors and puts a heavy emphasis on stealth tactics, while also giving each member of the heist crew their own effective specialty. The tower setup is randomized between each game, giving Burgle Bros more replay value than the average co-op, while the ability to hop between floors provides enough of a puzzle solving crunch that you’ll want to give it another shot.
The co-op hit of BGG.CON, Burgle Bros is another game that was seeing a ton of action throughout the show due to its status as a recently-delivered Kickstarter project. Gamers had their copies in tow, eager to get them to the table, and reception was positive across the board.
Self-published indie game designer Tim Fowers is now three-for-three following the successful Wok Star, and Paperback, so even non-backers took notice, making Burgle Bros one of several hot games to sell out on the show floor. For those not at BGG.CON, though, Burgle Bros is sold direct online, and is now in stock.
Tiny Epic Western
Worker placement and poker collide as players send their posse members to various spots across the table, but they may not hold those spots for long. Other posses can roll in with their six-shooters, proving that there is an endless well of puns for a game with bullet-shaped dice (the poker game even lasts six rounds!)
The poker element is what really makes the game shine. Each pair of destination spaces has a poker card between them, and players must assemble a three-card play using two cards from their hand and one neighboring card from the table. This turns Tiny Epic Western into a six-hand, simultaneous poker game that drives the larger strategy game. The choice to each player is which poker hands they feel are worth sitting in on.
In chatting with the staff at Gamelyn Games, it also came across that entrants in their Tiny Epic series are refined for two-player experience prior to scaling up to a four-player rules set. This is the reverse of most design paths, but explains some of the series’ success, given the rising demand for strong two-player games.
Gamelyn Games is on a roll with their Tiny Epic series (you mall recall Tiny Epic Galaxies from The Escapist’s Origins 2015 roundup) and Tiny Epic Western looks to only increase the quality of the franchise.
Tiny Epic Western is set to hit Kickstarter on January 11th, and publish later in 2016.
Food Chain Magnate
As it turns out, the restaurant business is no joke. When you spend 2+ hours riding the knife edge between success and failure, where one wrong move can tip you over, you gain a new appreciation for the foodservice industry. Or a renewed hatred for your friend who undercut you on hamburger production. I promise you will walk away with at least one of those two things.
The food theme doesn’t come through so much as Food Chain Magnate seems to very accurately emulate the experience of growing any small business. The map is hotly contested, but your performance is truly determined in the hiring, management, and training of your ever-growing staff. Each of the many positions you could hire for also comes with its own card, providing more space for Food Chain Magnate to display its awesome retro burger joint art aesthetic.
Food Chain Magnate comes from a family of intensely complex Euro-style games that you may never be afforded the opportunity to try unless you attend a show like BGG.CON. Published by Splotter Spellen, the game is unlikely to ever see North American distribution, but is available now for import at cost of a cool 100 Euro.
When game design guru Richard Garfield puts his name on a game, it is always worth a look. On the Garfield spectrum, Treasure Hunter falls right between lasagna and naps. I kid! I kid! Treasure Hunter looks much more like Garfield’s next King of Tokyo, as opposed to a new Robo Rally, Magic: The Gathering, or Netrunner.
Clearly aimed at the family market, Treasure Hunter leans heavily on a single game mechanism: the card draft. Players draft a hand of cards to compete in three different color-based challenges, but the blow of defeat can be softened when prizes are awarded to both the highest and lowest point totals for each color. Prizes are randomly determined, and are public knowledge, so the optimal strategies of aiming high or low will fluctuate from turn to turn, but this keeps any one player from falling too far behind.
In gradually ramping up the complexity of a card drafting game, Treasure Hunter feels like the missing link for families stuck between the excellent games Sushi Go! and 7 Wonders.
Treasure Hunter was available for sale as a pre-release at the Queen Games BGG.CON booth, but the publisher is staging a December North American release.
A pure abstract that will melt your brain, Dimension first presents an interesting stacking puzzle, then spurs mental chaos with the addition of a 60-second sand timer.
Equipped with 15 wooden spheres (three each of five colors), players rush to create a stack of up to 11 spheres before time runs out. While they’ll gain a point per sphere used, they’ll also have to give two points back for each violation of six randomly-drawn rules cards. These rules all relate to the position and quantity of spheres used, such as “must have exactly two black spheres,” “all blue spheres must be touching,” or “no spheres may be placed on top of green spheres.”
After a few plays, Dimension is the sort of game you’ll wind up buying simply so that you can play it further and have more opportunities to redeem yourself. This may or may not have happened to me.
Dimension was a 2014 Essen title that has only recently made its way to North America. It is now available in stores and online.
Shown in early prototype form at the Portal Games booth, Cry Havoc is the brainchild of up-and-coming designer Grant Rodiek (Farmageddon, Hocus). Cry Havoc is a card-driven wargame with asymmetric factions that aims to be a tabletop approximation of the real-time strategy video game genre. Put in simple terms, this looks to be a better version of a StarCraft board game than, well, StarCraft: The Board Game.
As of now, the game’s unique hook is its combat resolution. For each contested territory, players shift their forces across three smaller battles, the resolution of which affects other battles, armies, and the state of the board in different ways.
This sort of game has been attempted before, though, so Cry Havoc is treading the same ground upon which others have failed to deliver. However, with the strength of the demo at BGG.CON and the title’s connection to Portal Games (who have a stunning track record of high quality releases), this game is one you can get excited about.
Mombasa contains a unique gaming experience by combining an array of traditional Euro-game elements with a fresh take on deckbuilding. The majority of the game’s actions are card-driven, with a deck of additional powerful cards sold through a public market. The twist here is that each played card goes into one of three separate discard piles. At the end of each turn, players must decide which of their discard piles they wish to draw back in their hand.
Following Mombasa‘s Essen debut, publisher R&R Games had a BGG.CON booth stocked with pre-sale copies, and Mombasa was constantly in play. Thematically, Mombasa puts each player in command of a 19th-century trading company establishing its business in Africa. While this theme may understandably be a turn-off for some, the gameplay is solid.
Hype for breakout designer Alexander Pfister is also riding high, as he has now managed to put four games into BGG’s top 1000 rank in just over one year (Isle of Skye, Port Royal, and Broom Service).
R&R Games is positioning Mombasa for wide North American release in December.
Fury of Dracula
One of the harder demo tables to grab a seat at in the exhibitor hall was Fantasy Flight Games’ Fury of Dracula, the newly-released third edition of a beloved classic. Originally released back in 1987, Fury of Dracula is one of few games to effectively implement the concept of hidden movement (See: Scotland Yard, Mr. Jack), and is highly sought after for its reputation.
For this new edition, the staff at FFG stripped Fury of Dracula down before building it back up with a restructured combat system and a new mechanic that allows Dracula to cast misdirections. The artwork and graphic design has also been completely redone, making this re-release the definitive edition. Most gamers are simply happy to no longer pay eBay prices for this “grail game,” so a slate of positive changes is icing on the cake.
Fury of Dracula is available now at game stores, and direct from Fantasy Flight.