Another sign that things are starting to return to normal, or whatever counts as normal these days, is the non-virtual return of Board Game Geek Con
The annual tabletop game gathering launched by Scott Aldin's BoardGameGeek.com, the IMDB for board games, became one of the biggest conventions for the medium until the pandemic put a stop to in-person anything for a good two years. This year, the convention returned for a massive five-day schedule of demos, shows, panels and tournaments at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas for just about every game that comes in some kind of cardboard box or commemorative metal tin.
Sure, you can play just about any board, card or role-playing game on your computer and with special mods through virtual gatherings on Tabletopia
or Tabletop Simulator
. It's just that board games are one of those activities that just work so much better in the presence of other people.
You can drink in the noise of the room or the anticipated silences that ensue when someone rolls a seven in Settlers of Catan
You get to enjoy the look of surprise or dismay on your opponents' faces when you play a BANG!
card on someone who ran out of "MISSED!" cards.
You get to watch said opponent walk out of the room in disgust and vow to never be friends with you again when you steal their last canister of oxygen in Selfish
No game simulator can replicate those moments online. Board Game Geek Con has all that, and the added bonus of giving players access to some of the newest and most popular games. Here are some of the best of the best in a box from this year's long-awaited gathering.
1. Rear Window
Funko, the brand that makes those addictive and collectible Pop! dolls, has taken its uncanny ability to obtain a merchandising license for just about any beloved or cult movie and apply the characters and central story to board games. The company has had some big hits and major misses, but it really scored with this adaptation of one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest crime thrillers.
plays like the ghostly deduction game Mysterium,
but with a truly funny and sometimes sinister twist. Players separate into two sides: One player takes on the role of "The Director" and the rest as one of four tenants in a New York City apartment complex. The Director is trying to get the tenants to guess the motives and the occupants of four apartments by sharing scene cards that push them toward clues and a cooperative win. However, the Director may draw a "Murder" tile, which changes the game from cooperative to competitive.
One genre that's really picked up speed in board games recently is horror. We're over the unspoken rule that players shouldn't be encouraged to take on the role of bloodthirsty madmen whose modus operandi is just to rack up a high body count. ICE Makes has taken advantage of this new open door and run straight through it with an isometric game in which one side consists of survivors trying to escape a killer's wrath in an abandoned mansion, and the other is the killer whose only goal is to kill, kill, kill.
The board is separated into two sides with a cool mansion partition that also serves as a handy dice tower to keep players from accidentally straying over to the other team's side. The survivors have to find items like keys or a radio to help them escape the house. Meanwhile, the killer is moving around the house, and his presence is known only when he's sharing a room within stabbing distance of one of the survivors. The game also comes with different types of villains who have different powers that only get stronger as the game goes on. So, there's a real sense of urgency to work together and get the hell out before somebody meets the business end of a meat cleaver.
Sometimes during a board game night, you don't wanna play with anything that requires using at least 200 pieces and four hours just to set up. You just want something simple that's fun and challenging. That's where table flick games come into play, so to speak.
This soccer-themed game has been around for a couple of years but is just now starting to make its way to our side of the globe. Biñho
is table soccer or foosball but without those annoying paddles or the sounds of late night ESPN Classic blaring in your ear because you're stuck trying to entertain yourself in a sports bar. Players take turns taking free kicks into their opponents' side of the field with the hope of scoring a goal, but there are defensive pegs arranged in a "Plinko-esque" shape to make it a little harder. The interesting part is that fouls and penalties can cost you defensive pegs. Players can get yellow and red cards for infractions like accidentally touching the ball a second time after their kick, moving the board during a turn and placing anything but a kicking finger over the midfield line during a play.
4. Turing Machine
Number-guessing games sound like the most boring idea. We're not machines. If doing math for fun was fun, people would complain a lot less about having to do their own taxes or figuring out how to tip in a postpandemic economy, for Christ's sake. This number deduction game from Le Scorpion Masqué, however, gets very addictive and fun once you get the hang of the mechanics. It's a little like the word-guessing game Decrypto
. The first time you sit down and try to play it, your brain wants to jump out of your skull and leave the room until the concept just clicks into place and you can't stop playing it.
The goal is to guess a series of three numbers from 1 to 5 using special punch cards like the kind you'd see in one of those old-timey computers that would take up entire rooms. You guess by taking the special punch cards with your numbers and its place in the sequence, lining them up together and setting them against a grid of Xs and checks that correspond with a condition card revealing the secret sequence. The condition may consist of a series of many of a certain number, how many odd or even numbers or the greater than/less than value of certain numbers in the secret, three-digit number. The creators have somehow organized these grids so the punch cards match up with these conditions to reveal the correct or incorrect guesses and conditions using advanced calculus or algebra that would literally kill me. It just makes the whole game exciting and gripping, especially when you can figure out ways to eliminate or deduce the answer before your opponents.
5. Starship Captains
and board games seem like a natural fit. Both require an appreciation for STEM education and give you the chance to fulfill a fantasy of piloting a massive spacecraft through our uncharted universe. It's kind of bewildering that there isn't any massively popular Star Trek
game out there for those of us who enjoy both but don't feel the need to wear a screen-appropriate costume while we're enjoying them.
Czech Games created a fun, competitive space exploration game that's a mix of different genres like adventure, worker placement and press-your-luck games. Each player gets a star cruiser with four basic rooms that allow you to pilot the ship along routes randomized with location/mission or event cards, fire weapons on invading pirate ships, research new tech for your ship or crew, and repair damage to the ship. Just like on Star Trek
, you need to have the right crew member to do each job, so planning ahead for a matching crew member is crucial if you wanna stay ahead of your competition. The game gets more complex and fun as you trick out your craft by completing missions and adding new features and uses to your ride and posse.
6. Cat in the Box
Bézier Games is great at taking game concepts that we thought had reached their potential long ago, and infusing all sorts of new, fun ways to mess with them. The company turned the simple deduction game of Werewolf
into a massive universe of new roles with special agendas and genres. Now they've done the same for trick-taking games.
Cat in the Box
is a quantum-themed, points-based card game in which suits, or in this case colors, are assigned to numeric cards by the player until they can no longer be used. It's based, of course, on Erwin Schrödinger's famous, hypothetical thought experiment about endangering the lives of cats in a box — but the game eliminates the whole cat-killing part of the equation. Cat in a Box
another one of those fun games that you have to just jump into and play and trust that you'll understand it quickly enough to still have fun with it.
7. Heat: Pedal to the Metal
, a racing game brought back to the masses by Restoration Games, used to be the only car racing game that seemed worth our time. Days of Wonder has created something that's just as fun with some interesting ways of raising the stakes.
Heat: Pedal to the Metal
is all about getting your 1920s F1 race car around one of four tracks for a certain number of laps and being first across the finish line on the final one. Each racer draws cards from a deck to determine how focused and fast they are moving, which can be thrown wildly out of balance with "stress" cards that can cause the vehicle to speed or slow down depending on the card that comes after it. Then there are "heat" cards that act as a kind of currency to help you take a bigger edge on your opponents and can cause problems down the line if you spend them too close to the green flag.
8. Hand-to-Hand Wombat
Matthew Inman, the creator of the insanely great webcomic The Oatmeal
, has built a sizable board game empire with games such as Exploding Kittens,
now being developed with Mike Judge and Greg Daniels as a Netflix series. He's got a great mind for creating party games that don't feel like mere expansions or remods of the same four-party game genres circulating on board game store shelves. He's also got a sick and colorful sense of humor, which only makes his games even better — and it should be apparent since his first game is called Exploding Kittens
Inman’s latest party game triumph uses a mix of dexterity and deduction called Hand-to-Hand Wombat
. Players are given secret roles with opposing goals. One side gets rewarded for completing pyramid-shaped towers, and the other is rewarded for taking them down. It sounds easy until you learn that both sides have to complete their tasks with one hand covering their eyes. Each round, players vote a person out Werewolf
-style who they think is trying to sabotage the tower-building team's task or eliminate the other team's participants. So, it can get infectiously fun trying to suss out who is on your team and who isn't.
9. Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Annihilageddon 2 – Extreme Nacho Legends
This Cryptozoic Entertainment series does for deck-building games what MAD Magazine
did for so many movies. It's turns them on their head, exposes them for what they are and revels in all of its glorious perversity.
The Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards
series is a gruesome and gloriously violent fighting card game in which players take on the roles of hilariously crude characters like Kilgore Murderfist and Explosive Diarrheamancer and try to pound each other in the ground until nothing is left but patches of blood and gristle. The original form of the game had players create that heal and hurt with names that sound like chapters from an adult Roald Dahl novel. The artwork alone, basically a cross between Frank Frazetta and R. Crumb, is worth the price of admission. The Annihilageddon
series beefs up an already pulsing game concept by throwing all of its arsenal in one giant box as an insane deck-building card fighter that spills onto the table like the entrails from a horizontally sliced cadaver.
Wait, your mind's not blown yet. This one is the sequel to all of that.