A couple of weekends back I attended (virtually) the inaugural Gen Con Spring Showcase. This online only Gen Con game convention was created to show off the new hotness in board games and RPGs.
In this article, I will be talking about what the Gen Con Spring Showcase is and why you should care about it, as well as highlight some of the games I’m excited to check out based on having attended this online convention.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What is the Gen Con Spring Showcase?
The Gen Con Spring Spring Showcase is a brand new online event, held in early spring that just started this year. The Gen Con organizers plan for this event to become a regular annual thing that happens every spring. This online convention was created to showcase some of the new games coming out.
I have a strong, unconfirmed, feeling that the actual goal of the Gen Con Spring Showcase will be to highlight the games that will be released at the actual physical GenCon game convention later in the year. I see this event as a way to get the buzz going not only for the games that are highlighted and the publishers that take part but also as a way to get people talking about Gen Con itself.
I got the feeling that this year, due to the fact that at the time of the Showcase we didn’t even know if there would be a physical Gen Con, this became more of an event for publishes to share their new hotness, whether it’s releasing at GenCon or not. It will be interesting to see if this changes next year.
So what exactly was GenCon Spring Showcase?
So far I’ve been calling it a convention and while that is accurate, it felt like more of a media event. One of the features of the event was a Gen Con Spring Showcase website that is still up. Part of that site included a big Product Showroom page, that somewhat recreates an exhibit hall. Interestingly this page was empty at the start of the con and slowly filled in as publishers presented their products over the weekend. This was done so as to not spoil any of the games being announced for the first time during the show.
All of these announcements, as well as game demos and other media meant to hype publishers’ games, were all done through a live stream on Gen Con’s Twitch channel. While the show is over, you can still watch all of these recorded streams on the Gen Con YouTube channel where they have created a Gen Con Spring Showcase 2021 playlist.
I attended a bunch of these live streams. Each was fifty minutes long and they were a good mix of publishers talking about and showing off their games and board game media doing a variety of things like actual plays, live unboxings and just talking about games they are hyped about. I appreciated the mix as it made it so that I didn’t feel like I was watching a weekend of advertisements, even if this is pretty much what the entire con boiled down to.
Along with these live streams, there was what’s now typical of these online cons: a Discord Server just for the event. On the Discord Server, you could actually demo a number of the games as well as meet up with other gamers and chat about everything going on. This server is now down and has been replaced by one for Gen Con Online which is hitting in exactly 175 days as I write this.
Overall I had a good time taking part in the Gen Con Spring Showcase. One thing that I really appreciated about this digital media event was the fact that most of the streamers were really good about taking questions in chat. This near-instant feedback and interactions is not something you would normally get at something like a keynote speech, which is the usual place new games are announced.
The one big complaint I had about The Gen Con Spring Showcase is that it was very much billed to be an event for publishers to show off the new hotness, the new games they are publishing in 2021. While some of the publishers did exactly this, a number of the events featured older games, one, in particular, that was published in 2017. In at least one case it was the publisher announcing a new printing, so I will cut them some slack but in other cases, I have no idea why I was hearing about games that are four years old.
It wasn’t until we discussed the showcase on episode 124 of the Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast – The New Hotness that I realized just how many of these games weren’t actually all that new or hot. I have to assume that this was mainly due to the fact that this was a brand new show and also because this was put together pretty quickly and publishers didn’t really have a lot of time to prepare for the show. I do hope that future Gen Con Spring Showcase conventions do stick closer to their proposed format.
What follows next is a list of the games that I personally am most excited about seeing and learning more about from The Gen Con Spring Showcase. As I just mentioned some of these games were just announced at the show for the first time, set to come out later in the year, a few others were officially published on the weekend of the event, but there are also some older games that got featured that I haven’t personally had the chance to try yet that I’m also excited about.
What were the hottest games of The Gen Con Spring Showcase?
This list of games is presented in the order they were featured during the 2021 Gen Con Spring Showcase. All of these games you should be able to either purchase or pre-order right now.
Note that despite being an event meant to showcase The New Hotness, some publishers chose to use their time to highlight some of their older games, so not everything on this list may be all that new.
In this unique deduction game, which can be played either competitively or cooperatively, three hooligans have sabotaged three of the rides at the theme park Lucky Llama Land. These crimes were committed over three days and each hooligan used a different set of tools in their sabotage.
Players use clue cards to try to figure out who sabotaged what ride, on what day, with what tool. The game box includes nine different combinations in the form of nine different cases to solve.
To play Sabotage at Lucky Llama Land you start by laying out the numerous clue cards, face down on the table between all of the players. Each card indicates which of the nine cases they apply to, how much information they provide and what type of clue they are. Players will be grabbing cards simultaneously, flipping them over and using the information on the card to try to solve the case. To help with this each player has a dry erase board for tracking what they have learned.
The actual clues come in a number of different forms. You will find things like eye witness reports, selfies taken at the park, ticket sales records, maintenance reports for various rides and more. The game also includes a map of the theme park which is often combined with the clues to give the players answers. There’s also a mirror used for comparing footprints.
In the competitive game, everyone is trying to solve the case on their own, each playing in real time with everyone grabbing clues and making notes all at once. When playing cooperatively, players work together picking one clue at a time and making observations together. In both cases, you can figure out a score based on how many clue cards and what values of cards were needed to solve the case.
I thought this looked like a brilliant new take on deduction games. I loved seeing all of the clue cards spread all over the table and the variety of different clue types. I’m really hoping The Key Sabotage at Lucky Lama Land is a game I get to check out soon.
Note a second The Key game was also announced at the show, The Key – Theft in Cliffrock Villa, but it was only mentioned in passing. No real details were given about this other deduction game. A third The Key game is also in the works.
This game is based on the popular The Batman Who Laughs comic book series which is a very dark, very adult, take on Batman where The Joker becomes The Bat and is known as The Batman Who Laughs.
I’ve personally not played any of the Rising games but watching the Hyper RPG team do a live unboxing as part of the Gen Con Spring Showcase is making me strongly think about picking this Batman-themed game up.
The main draw, for me, of The Batman Who Laughs Rising is the physicality, component quality and table presence. One of the main features of the game is a statuette of The Batman Who Laughs that I think would just be great to own as a knickknack to put on my game shelves. Added to this is a really sweet looking set of custom dice featuring the various symbols for DC superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.
Unfortunately, this live stream was just an Unboxing and I didn’t really get into how the game played, but it worked as something that makes me curious to learn more.
The Op – Hues and Cues – This is an example of one of the older games that were highlighted during the Spring Showcase. Though the fact that it’s older doesn’t stop me from being excited to try out Hues and Cues for myself. This game is based on a simple set of mechanics and I was happy to get to see them in action during the live demo that was done for The Showcase.
In Hues and Cues, one player draws a card with four different colours on it and picks one to be the target colour for that round. This player then gives a one-word clue to the other players. The board is a huge grid showing a full-colour spectrum. Each player places a token on a spot on this grid that they think matches the clue given. Then the clue giver may give out a new two-word clue and the other players can place a second token on a different spot on the board.
Once all players have placed their guesses, the active player places a cardboard square around the spot on the board that matches the colour they picked. Then all of the players score points based on where the tokens are in relation to this box.
Hues and Cues is a really brilliant piece of design work and is a game that I’m hoping to get a copy of this year.
Steamforged Games – Epic Encounters – The Gen Con Spring Showcase is the first time that Steamforged has crossed my radar, which is surprising. They make a number of board games based on popular licences most of which seem to come with some great looking miniatures. Games they are known for include Dark Souls The Board Game, Resident Evil 2 The Board Game, Pac-Man The Card Game and more. They are also the company behind Guild Ball. While I’ve heard of many of their games I’ve never played any of them.
One of the products they were showing off during the Gen Con Spring Showcase that really caught my attention was a new series of Epic Encounters. These are boxed sets for D&D 5e that include a number of fantastic-looking miniatures, a two-sided, gridded, battle map and a book of encounters spread over three tiers of play.
I thought $50 was a great price for twenty miniatures of this quality and a flip mat let alone the accompanying adventure.
Calliope Games – ShipShape – This was an example of a game where the publishers used the Gen Con Spring Showcase to announce a new printing. In addition to that, they also did an actual play over Tabletop Simulator. There was a lot of hype for ShipShape back when it first came out, which caused it to quickly go out of print. I remember being intrigued by the concept at the time.
ShipShape is a rather unique auction-driven drafting game. Each player starts with a board representing their ship’s hold through a three-by-three grid containing some rats. Each round players play cards to bid to draft hold tiles. These tiles are also three-by-three grids with many of the spots on the grid cut out of them so that when placed onto your hold you can see down into them showing parts of other hold tiles or the player boards. The non-hole parts of these tiles will feature gold, cannons and/or contraband in various values that always add up to eight. At the end of each round players will look down into their hold and get points based on what they can see, with each of the three resources scoring differently and any rats that can still be seen causing a loss in points.
This looks to be one of those games that are simple to teach but hard to master, which is a winning combination for me. This looks like a great gateway game and a game perfect for public play events.
Calliope Games – Ancestree – While I didn’t realize it at the time, Ancestree was actually the oldest game that was highlighted during the Gen Con Spring Showcase. Despite coming out in 2017 and being from one of the most well known designers in the board game industry, Eric Lang, I had never heard of Ancestree before the Showcase.
Ancestree is a tile drafting and tableau-building game about forming a family tree. Each round you will select one person tile to add to your growing family, either connecting below or above an existing tile to form a lineage or next to an existing tile to form a marriage. The thing is that not every tile can be connected in every way.
Each round players will get points based on how deep their lineages are, how many marriages they have and the number of people in each family vs. the players on their left and right (similar to army scoring in 7 Wonders).
This twenty-minute filler which features artwork by Lary Elmore really caught my eye.
IGDN – The IGDN, or Indie Game Developer Network, is a non-profit organization that helps independent publishers through all stages of game production.
During the Gen Con Spring Showcase, they showcased a bunch of great looking indie RPGs, like a new Part-Time Gods expansion called Infinite Sparks, a huge hardcover OSR book called The Maze, and a 1920s supers RPG where you play Gangsters who have superpowers called Capers.
The most interesting thing that I learned during the show was that the IDGN is branching out and broadening its definition of games to include forms of tabletop games other than RPGs, including miniature games and board games. One of the miniature games they featured was Gangs of the Undercity which looks like a Cyberpunk street-level version of the classic Games Workshop game Necromunda.
Renegade Game Studios – The Snallygaster Situation – Here we actually have a brand new game being announced for the first time. The Snallygaster Situation is a board game based on Renegade’s popular Kids on Bikes roleplaying game.
While this announcement didn’t really share a lot of information about the game, I’m a big fan of the kids on bikes genre in general and will be looking forward to more information on this board game set in that genre.
Renegade Game Studios – Gravwell Second Edition – Renegade’s presentation at the Showcase was rather long, showing off a number of new games. One other one I want to mention here is a new edition of Gravwell.
I was actually a playtester on this game. I’m a big fan of the original edition and was very impressed by the updates they are making to the game. This new edition adds the ability to play with six players, where you have ships going in both directions. In addition to having players trying to escape the Gravwell you concurrently have some players trying to get to the centre of it. That really messes with your head when trying to plan your moves. The other thing this new version of Gravwell adds is asymmetrical ship powers, and I love asymmetry in my games.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what the finished product looks like.
Upper Deck – Keepers of the Questar – This newly announced fantasy game is kind of like a two-player only competitive roleplaying game. In Keepers of the Questar, each player is running a dungeon crawl for the other player.
Players each have a screen in front of them and a map behind it where they place monsters, traps, treasure, a starting point, an exit, etc. This is the map the other player will be exploring. The general goal of each game is to use a party of adventurers to explore the map, find the Questar, and escape. The game also includes some other scenarios.
Each turn players get action points to move and explore, as they do so the other player will tell them what they encounter. Combat is dead simple. There are no random elements, just players guessing numbers. While Keepers of the Questar does include some story prompts, a big part of the game is meant to be improv storytelling.
This is a game I really want to check out. I love the idea of a competitive two-player RPG. I also really dig the look Upper Deck went with for this game. It reminds me of the 70s and 80s fantasy cartoons that I grew up with like Thundar, Blackstar and Masters of the Universe.
Goliath – Rule the Realm – Goliath Games are not known for their strategy games. Most of the games they publish are very toyetic and include classics like Pop the Pig, Gator Golf and Rattlesnake Jake. Due to this I really don’t know how much game there will be in Rule The Realm but it features something I’ve never seen before and that alone made it noteworthy.
Rule the Ream consists of a large plastic pegboard, on top of which you place a spiral-bound book with a number of different maps in it. The pegs stick out through the book. Players then used coloured elastics to play some form of area majority and/or enclosure game.
What I didn’t realize while attending the Spring Showcase is that this is actually a re-theme of an older game called Kauchuk.
While this isn’t a game I’m going to rush to pre-order I am eagerly awaiting some review from other board game media to see what they think.
Pandasaurus Games – Brew – Once I got over my disappointment with the fact that the game named Brew is not about making craft beer, I became really curious about this game announcement from Pandasaurus.
Brew is a fantasy-themed game where you play characters stuck in a world where there has been some sort of cataclysm and all the seasons are happening at once. You are trying to fix this problem by brewing potions using elements from the four seasons and the four elements.
Based on what I saw during The Showcase, Brew looks to be a dice-based worker placement game. What really stands out here is the artwork. Brew features a really striking cartoony animated style to its artwork that reminds me of many JRPGs. I’m looking forward to hearing more about Brew in the future.
What stuck out to me about The Loop was the overall aesthetic of the game and a rather interesting dicetower-like component that you drop cubes into. These cubes come out in a random spot on the board. There’s more to it than that though, the tower is designed so cubes will only come out onto three of the seven boards in the game and there are mechanics for players to turn the tower. These cubes represent what the villain is doing each round and the board represents what part of the timeline they are affecting.
On the player side, The Loop is a tableau-building programmed movement game where you will build a time loop of actions that you can run over and over again building on it each round. You also have the option to ditch your program and start a totally new one.
This reminded me a bit of Mechs vs Minions though this sounds like a more detailed programming system. I’m really intrigued by this one and looking to find out more.
Deep Water Games – MonsDRAWsity – This drawing-based party game was featured as part of an actual play to close out the Gen Con Spring Showcase. A number of the hosts from the various streams got together to play and seemed to have a great time.
For me, it wasn’t until seeing this game played that I paid any attention to MonsDRAWsity. I’m not usually one for party games and I’m even less fond of most drawing games.
In MonsDRAWsity one person takes a card from a deck full of cards with pictures of monsters on them. That player then has a very short amount of time to try to describe the monster to the other players while they just sit and listen. Once this first timer is up the game enters a drawing and question phase. Here the rest of the players attempt to draw the monster that the first player described and in order to do so they can also ask that player questions. Once a second timer runs out everyone reveals their monsters. There was some form of scoring system as well but the group playing pretty much tossed that out the window, which I’ve found is a common thing to do with many party games.
I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this game solely based on how much fun the hosts were having playing it. This looked like a party game that I would actually enjoy playing with my game group. My only worry about MonsDRAWsity is that you would eventually learn all of the monsters in the deck. I don’t know how many there are but I would think you would get to the point where could just say, “Remember the monster with a face for an eye? Yeah, draw that one.”
There you have a list of games I got excited for while attending the Gen Con Spring Showcase. Did you attend this online media event? If you did I would love to know which games caught your eye. You can let us know in the comments below.