GenCon 2017 is the biggest board game convention in the world, where tabletop nerds the world over gather to play games, eat, drink, cosplay and, most importantly, buy the newest, hottest titles and preview what’s up and coming.

For the first time the con was entirely sold out this year, which is indicative of the massive global board game boom happening right now. I followed the announcements and happenings fairly closely, and have picked my top five games from the event that have me foaming at the mouth. Since the NAG audience may not be seasoned board game veterans, I’ve kept the list to games that are both strategic and interesting but also not too intimidating – no day-long epics with 70 page rulebooks in this list.

Photosynthesis

Easily the most eye-catching game of the list, Photosynthesis has players sitting with a mass of oddly beautiful standee trees in front of them.

Don’t let that serene looking set up fool you though – this is a straight-up area control game, as players will fight to soak up the sun’s rays and cast their opponents’ trees into shadow.

You want your trees to be bigger and better than the pathetic shrubs other players are putting up. The game boasts a relatively simple ruleset with some tight gameplay, which means this could be one of those rare games that manages to satisfy hardcore gamers and families alike.

In a board gaming environment saturated with high fantasy, zombies and Cthulhu, a unique theme goes a long way in catching my interest.

Civilization: A New Dawn

I spoke about this game at length previously, but it was easily one of the games I was most excited to get more info from at the con. Unfortunately, I haven’t learnt a whole lot more than I already knew.

Early impressions are positive, but the demo table was prototype components and those lucky enough to have a go only got to play a couple of turns.

Still, what’s pulling me to this game is the possibility of having a full Civ experience in around 90 minutes, without the excessive rules bloat that usually comes with games of this scale.

The question, really, is if FFG will be able to deliver on their promise of making this feel like a genuine empire builder, rather than a watered down version that sacrifices gameplay for brevity.

These are technically prototype components, but they look great.

Whistle Stop

This didn’t have a whole lot of buzz going in, but this pick-up-and-deliver title from Bezier Games managed to generate a lot of day one hype and the game sold out quickly at the con.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a pick-up-and-deliver game is exactly what it sounds like – collect stuff from one point, get it to another point. It sounds boring, but it’s an age-old mechanic that can be used in a lot of interesting ways.

In the case of Whistle Stop, players will be placing down snaking route tiles which give them a myriad of options and pathways, all leading to different sets of things to deliver and destinations. It’s not just about getting from point A to B, it’s about what you pick up, what you do along the way and what you give up to get to the places you need to.

This game appears to occupy a great medium-weight space. The graphic design and feel of the game is unintimidating and approachable, but the decisions are crunchy enough to make this a more gamery experience than something like Ticket to Ride.

Players build the map out as the game goes on.

Summit

This is, without question, one of the meanest games you’ll ever play. Which is funny, since the game has a co-operative mode. But why would you bother with that?

In Summit, players are competing to make it to the top of [insert dangerous mountain here]. You’ll have to manage your food, oxygen, and karma.

Karma, you ask? Yup. If you’re on the path ahead of someone, you can choose to let them past you – or not, of course. You can make them stare at your tight ass all the way to their inevitable death on the side of this icy hellbeast. This does however affect your karma, which can be pretty important since if everyone dies on the mountain whoever was the nicest wins.

This game has gotten a lot of buzz from podcasters but little talk amongst players. I’m looking forward to this one getting a full retail release so I can murder someone with an ice pick and leave the body in a shallow, snowy grave.

It’s a long way to the top.

Ex Libris

Another unique theme (be the best librarian), you’d be forgiven to think this fantasy library simulator sounds a little dull.

The theme is carried well however by cutesy artwork and some entertaining book titles, which makes the whole thing not take itself too seriously. The hype on this one came heavy and fast, and copies of the game sold out in record time.

The game boasts variable player powers, a modular board and worker placement. What’s most interesting, however, is that this is a medium-weight euro that plays in 45 to 60 minutes. I’m a big fan of three-hour strategy epics like Terra Mystica, but getting a crunchy, thinky experience in under an hour is always great to have access to.

This gameplay experience is wrapped up in a pretty and original package, which alongside its short playtime makes this an easy pickup for a wide spectrum of gamers.

Whoever has the complete Twilight series loses immediately.

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