Gone are the days when “game night” meant breaking out a few well-worn classics and watching dad cheat his way to victory. Today, fueled by millions of dollars in crowdsourced funds, thousands of new board, card, and dice games are released each year (there were 2,259 successful game projects on Kickstarter in 2015 alone). Don’t cry for Parcheesi, it’s already dead.
To help you figure out which of those thousands might actually be fun — as well as save you $60 and 8 hours reading an instruction manual (wait, do you recite the spell and then roll higher than 86?) — here are 10 of the best new titles from this month’s Gen Con gaming convention in Indianapolis.
Play Time: 30-60 minutes
Because not every kid gets into medical school, ensure yours has a Plan B by teaching them how to run the family bar! Saloon Tycoon is a tile-placement game where players compete to run the best damn
pet shop saloon in the Wild West. The cool twist: Tile cards stack up on wooden cubes, not just sideways, to create multi-tiered houses of ill repute. By adding rooms/amenities, completing tasks (claims), and attracting influential citizens to their watering hole (while avoiding outlaws), the winner is the owner with the best reputation. You know who would be good at this? Al Swearengen.
Saloon Tycoon ($50)
A more refined version of the game commonly known to your 16-month-old as “stack blocks,” the premise of Junk Art is to make art out of “junk,” which is really just 60 wooden pieces of various colors, shapes, and sizes. Build the tallest piece of art that doesn’t fall over by the time the game cards are all played, and you win. Think of it like reverse Jenga.
Play Time: 30 minutes
Junk Art ($70)
Ticket To Ride: Rails & Sails
If dominating the nation’s railroads wasn’t enough to feed your inner Vanderbilt, the latest addition to the popular Ticket to Ride series lets you rule the high seas as well. While the premise remains the same – earn points by building train networks between cities – Rides & Sails is played on a map of the world and includes ship pieces and routes across water. There’s also an added bonus for Midwesterners: Flip the board over and you can play a version entirely on the Great Lakes. Who’s Superior now?
Play Time: 60-120
Ticket To Ride: Rails & Sails ($68)
Bottom Of The 9th
Trying to make baseball more exciting by turning it into a board game, Bottom Of The 9th is a “fast-paced” (their words) dice-and-card game that pits pitcher against batter over the last three outs of the 9th inning. Players have names like Hannah Bearcait and Mully Nomah (Garciaparra?) and their baseball cards feature custom art and a vintage aesthetic. You can even play alone, just in case your kids are at Little League.
Play Time: 5-15 minutes
Bottom of the 9th ($20)
For kids who don’t mind taking a break from killing aliens online to kill aliens around the kitchen table, this sci-fi war game pits 4 factions against one another on a fictional planet. It’s asymmetric (so every player gets a different experience), entirely card-driven (so no pesky dice to roll off the table), and it comes with 54 miniature dudes that look like they could decimate Candyland.
Play Time: 90-120 minutes
Cry Havoc ($75)
Proving they do make wizard games that don’t involve running around with broomsticks between your legs, players strategically draw colored marbles (ingredients) from one of 5 chutes in order to create potions and score points. If marbles of the same color connect Candy Crush/Bejeweled-style, you get those ingredients too! Drink your potion and receive magical powers that may or may not involve an ability to be witty at cocktail parties.
Play Time: 30-45 minutes
Potion Explosion ($50 Pre-order for September)
Vast: The Crystal Caverns
Another one of those asymmetrical adventure games where everybody does their own thang (teamwork is so 1990s), Vast is unique in that each of the 5 characters (Knight, Goblin, Dragon, etc.) has a different path to victory — rather than trying to accomplish the same mission. One player even gets to be the actual cave in which the game takes place (yes, they play a big hole) and wins by collapsing on everybody. That’s heavy.
Play Time: 75 minutes
Vast: The Crystal Caverns ($65)
If one of your wishes is that game night ends early so you can get back to watching football/baseball/Stranger Things, break out this memory card game that only takes 3-5 minutes to play. The goal is simply to collect one wish card from each of 3 categories (one superpower, one gift, and one benefit to mankind) before your opponents do. If your cards total the most points, the genie will grant your wishes. Like dating Elizabeth Perkins circa 1986.
Time: 3-5 minutes
3 Wishes ($7)
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
Assuming you recently bought the new Harry Potter book for the kids and were, like, “WTF, I don’t have time for a table read with my 11-year-old,” here’s something else that news from Rowling & Co. This “cooperative deck-building” game (think Magic: The Gathering) brings everyone back to Hogwarts to defend the school from evil using spells, wizardry, and – if you’re playing as Harry and Hermione — weird sexual tension.
Time: 30-60 minutes
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle ($50)
The Networks is a strategy card game where players build competing TV networks and fight for stars, shows, and ad revenue. You develop the shows. You set the prime-time lineup. You make sure Big Brother finally gets canceled. The game’s played over the course of 5 rounds or “television seasons,” and the player whose network has the most viewers at the end wins. So … Netflix?
Time: 60-90 minutes
The Networks ($50)