A week from today in Indianapolis, Indiana GenCon will open its doors for the 47th time. At least 50,000 gamers will gather at the largest convention of its kind, bringing together pen-and-paper RPGs, live action role-play and table top games of all sorts.
The past eight years that I've attended the convention have led to some incredible experiences. I've participated in a steampunk LARP. I've piloted a starship. I've pointed a foam shotgun at my friends from a penthouse rooftop. Late one evening the designer of Axis and Allies sat down next to me and asked me to teach him to play Memoir '44.
Aside from the friends I travel to visit with, the one thing that keeps me coming back to GenCon is the board games. Walking through the vendor floor I'm always blown away by the variety of experiences on display.
But some part of me, every year, goes to GenCon with the hope of finding the one board game that will appeal to someone in my life back home, the one board game that will help bring them into this hobby with me.
So today let me make an attempt to bring you into the world of board games with two of my personal favorites.
And let me also leave you with one board game industry storyline to follow through the coming year.
Board games are hard. You open this box and inside is a bunch of cardboard. Maybe you get some wood bits or nodules of plastic. And there's this painfully thin manual. And it all just sits there.
You have to find three or four other people, schedule the right night to get together.
It can be a real pain.
So if board games are a struggle, why not start your journey into the hobby with a board game that forces you to struggle together with other players?
In the dozen or so times I've played it I've only won twice.
Pandemic is a cooperative game set in a modern world where a series of plagues are slowly spreading across the globe. Players will take on the role of researchers, doctors and logistics specialists trying to create cures before it's too late.
What makes the game so exciting is the deck of cards that provides the game its engine. You never know if the next card you pull out of the deck will bring your carefully laid plans crashing down. The systems ask you to be strategic, but the engine forces you to be reactive. Pandemic is absolutely dripping with tension, and at the highest difficulty setting it's hard as nails.
In the dozen or so times I've played it I've only won twice.
But Pandemic isn't about winning. It's about the process. It's about the teamwork. It's about bonding over a small table with some friends and struggling to fit the game mechanics inside your heads all at the same time.
Like so many modern video games, there's even online video tutorials to help you learn to play. Better yet, the game is fun to play on your own so you can work the bugs out before you invite friends to sit down with you.
Pandemic will build you into a board gamer. Best of all, it's contagious and can help infect others with the craving for more.
Everyone knows Risk. You play it on a map of the world. You command armies that will march, like Caesar or Napoleon or Hitler, across the world and subjugate its people. The game of world domination has been around since the 1950s. Right now your mother has a copy sitting in the closet, right below an unloved copy of Monopoly.
But here's the thing. Risk takes too long. It's tedious. It's a grind.
Risk is dead. The new kid in town is Risk Legacy.
Legacy is unlike any other board game around. It is a new kind of animal, one that evolves over time. Instead of blue armies and yellow armies, the game has six distinct factions that will gain powers as well as a kind of personality as the game progresses.
The game board itself retains a kind of history. You will scar the land and make it your own.
Legacy is an experience. Opening the box you'll find envelopes that conceal additional cards and dividers that hide extra tokens. The rule book itself has blank sections, intended to be filled with new rules that are added to the game as you play.
Over the course of more than a dozen play sessions the game will blossom for you, becoming more complex as time goes on.
The game board itself retains a kind of history. You will scar the land and make it your own
But out of the box? You're looking at about a 30-to-45 minute experience. It's light. It's quick. It's instantly familiar to anyone who's ever played a board game as a child.
But it's something richer. It's addictive.
After cutting your teeth on Pandemic, after forming a small group of people who want to play with you again, Risk Legacy will cast your gaming group in stone. If Pandemic is the jab, Risk Legacy is the right hook. The knock out punch.
Between these two games you should have at least six months of board gaming ahead of you, maybe even more depending on how often you can get together to play.
And after the better part of a year you'll be ready to take the next step. And with luck, that next game will be ready for you.
In June the news leaked out that Matt Leacock, the designer of Pandemic, and Rob Daviau, the designer of Risk Legacy, had partnered up. Their project was to take the evolving mechanics of Legacy and apply them to the tense setting of Pandemic.
The news was like a bell going off, a dog whistle that only board game nerds could hear. We all kind of gasped for just a moment. Our universe flexed.
And then nothing. Radio silence. Just a Facebook announcement, almost grudgingly posted by the publisher Z-Man Games.
And we're still waiting for news. When will the game be available? How will it play? Will there be a Kickstarter? What about expansions?
You like video games more than the average person. Broaden your gaming world just a bit.
If you're here, reading the news on Polygon, you like video games more than the average person. You know the stories of the day. You have your favorite publishers, developers and genres.
All I'm asking is that you broaden your world just a little bit to include board games. That you make the effort. They are worth your time.
Go play some board games. Play these board games. Share them with your friends and family. And maybe follow Pandemic Legacy over the next year with me. Because when it comes out, it'll be quite a thing to see.
And if you're going to GenCon, maybe I'll see you there.