By Christopher Helton
Gen Con is all about the gaming. Each year people file into the exhibitor's hall looking for the hot new game, or to fill those holes in their gaming collections. A lot of people don't have gaming stores that are local enough to them, so Gen Con ends up becoming their local gaming store for the duration of "the best four days in gaming."
This is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive list, but these are some of the games that I think people should check out while at Gen Con. Get into some demos, or find some GMs running events and join a game. Then track down the publishers and get yourself a copy of these games. You'll thank me.
First off, let's talk about Numenera from Monte Cook Games. Numenera was launched via one of the most successful RPG Kickstarters ever, and Monte Cook Games comes to Gen Con this year with it, and a new game using the same system called The Strange. If Numenera doesn't end up sweeping the ENnies Awards this year, I will be shocked.
Numenera is a weird game, in all of the good ways. It is a science fantasy game set in a future version of the Earth that is perhaps billions of years from now. I think that fans of the work of Jack Kirby will find this game to be appealing. Within the game Numenera are the remains and debris of the technology of previous ages that have "washed up" onto the current time of the game, like driftwood washing up on beaches. None one really understand how most of the Numenera work, but they don't let that stop them.
Numenera uses an original system, streamlined and easy to play and make characters. Even if you aren't interested in the game itself, the system is worth checking out for these qualities. As the upcoming The Strange game will demonstrate, this system is usable for many different types of games, so if the genre of Numenera doesn't appeal to you, port the system into one that will. Much like with the 13th Age game, Numenera pushes system and genre into new directions for traditional tabletop RPGs. If you like games about exploration and discovery, check out Numenera.
Speaking of 13th Age, that is another one of the games to check out while at Gen Con, particularly if fantasy gaming is more your thing. Co-designed by Jonathan Tweet (who also worked on Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition with Monte Cook among so many other games) and Rob Heinsoo (who worked on Dungeons Dragons 4th edition), 13th Age pushes the d20/OGL rules that were the backbone of D&D 3rd edition into new and interesting directions. Much like Numenera, 13th Age is pushed in a direction where story is more important.
While designed by Tweet and Heinsoo's Fire Opal Media, 13th Age is published by Pelgrane Press. If you are interested in fantasy gaming and appreciate the work of a couple of the architects of the contemporary era of D&D you should check it out. There are a couple of interesting things to this game. One of them is what they call Icons in the game. Icons are NPCs that are important to the world, but instead of them being distant and aloof, characters can have relationships with these Icons that can impact the world and the ongoing story of your games. The other is the "unique thing" that each character has. Each and every character in 13th Age has one thing about them that makes them stand out from the rest of the world. I think that this is a great idea for making characters interesting.
If you prefer your gaming to be a bit more traditional, there is the new edition of Castles & Crusades from Troll Lord Games. I talked about these guys while their recent Kickstarter was running, but once I received a copy of their new Players Handbook I was suitable impressed. The art that had been black and white in previous editions has been upgraded to full color treatment due to the success of the Kickstarter.
Like 13th Age, Castles & Crusades builds from the foundation of the d20 system reference document to build a new system that looks back at the past of D&D while building something new and exciting. With Castles & Crusades the disparate mechanics of past editions of D&D (roll d20 for this, roll 2d6 for that, roll percentile dice for this) has been set aside for a unified mechanic that handles everything from saving throws to ability checks to combat. In fact, the mechanics of the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons seem to be taking a page from the Castles & Crusades playbook.
Mindjammer from Sarah Newton's Mindjammer Press is one of my favorite games of the year, and it will hopefully be a breakout game at Gen Con. A transhumanist science fiction game built using the popular Fate Core rules, Mindjammer sets the bar (and it sets it high) for third party Fate Core publishing. This game spins out of a previous game by Newton and Chris Birch, the Starblazer Adventures RPG based on the British comic magazine Starblazer. The first edition of Mindjammer was an original setting extrapolated from the art of Starblazer stories, and created by Newton. This new edition expands on the original supplement and breaks it free of any direct Starblazer influences.
The game has an excellent set of rules for creating your universes, while also outlining its own setting which blends many of the tropes of classic space opera and transhumanist science fiction. Don't like transhumanism? The rules are easily scalable and hackable to handle just about any sort of setting from noir-inspired Cyberpunk to pulpy space opera like Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, one thing that might scare people away (I know that it intimidated me when I got my copy of the game) is that Mindjammer is a big book. 400+ pages big. The thing is that the bulk of that page count is taken up with examples, explanations and sample builds that help you understand the rules and the setting, rather than the rules. If you aren't familiar with Fate Core, at its heart it is a fairly simple game. Mindjammer takes these core rules and turns them into a sexy hotrod that everyone wants to take for a ride.
Finally, we have Achtung! Cthulhu from Chris Birch and Modiphius Press. The Investigator's Guide and the Keeper's Guide are dual statted for Call of Cthulhu (one of my favorites games of all time) and Savage Worlds. If you are a fan of the fiction of Tim Powers or the Tales of Cthulhu comics, this will be a game for you. Set during World War II, Achtung! Cthulhu is about Allied Intelligence forces fighting an occult war against Nazi Germany. True, this is a common trope, but the game has some really interesting ideas and could easily be integrated with Pagan Publishing's Delta Green setting to game in the World War II era of that game.
Achtung! Chtulhu is also written from a British perspective, with rules for British, and other European countries, Intelligence and military forces during the war. Since most WWII gaming tends to be American-centric, it is good to see something being produced from the perspective of other Allied forces during the war. Achtung! Chtulhu is a great horror game, and if you are a fan of horror gaming you need to check this out.
I'm sure at this point someone is wondering why Dungeons & Dragons isn't on this list. I am guessing that the Players Handbook will be on everyone's must buy list (it certain is on mine) and doesn't need any help from me. These are the games that may not be as well known, or have the marketing juggernaut that Wizards of the Coast has behind it. They're all good games.
When you approach the publishers or designers at Gen Con about these games, be sure to mention that you heard about them here at Bleeding Cool.
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics.
Christopher has a crowdfunding page to help raise money to defray the costs for going to the Gen Con gaming convention and cover it for his Dorkland! blog and Bleeding Cool. Please click here to go to the page and help out.