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Five of the best board games from Gen Con 2015

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Gen Con 2015, the best four days in gaming, was held this past weekend in Indianapolis, Indiana. Polygon was there working the vendor floor, trying to get hands on with as many new tabletop games as we could muster. Here are five of the best new games we played this year.

Codenames

Image: Czech Games Edition

A tiny little game from Vlaada Chvátil, the theme pits teams of spies against one another in a race to make contact with all of their agents in the field.

One red and one blue spymaster sit at the head of the table with a key, telling them where their agents are in the field. The field is composed of a grid of 25 codenames, innocuous words like "Apple" or "Green." Spymasters take turns trying to get their team to contact the correct agents, but their only way of communicating is by saying a single word and a number. The word is a clue, and the number is how many cards can be linked by that clue.

As an example, say that the blue spymaster wants to direct his team to contact agent Apple (also on the blue team) rather than agent Green (who happens to be a red spy). They might say "iPod, 1" as the clue, leading their team to contact Apple rather than Green. It's a tense experience, made frustrating by the fact that spymasters can only say one word per turn, cannot emote or use any kind of leading gestures to direct their team to the right agents. A poker face is required. It plays fast, and is a great interstitial game between meatier titles.

The game sold out quickly, and when more copies are available you'll find out about it on Czech Games Edition's Facebook page.

Gravwell

The bad news is you're slowly being pulled into a singularity. If you don't take action soon, your tiny spaceship will be crushed and pounded flat in various ways that are incomprehensible to the human mind.

The good news is, you're not alone.

In Gravwell, players use each other's mass to orchestrate complex slingshot maneuvers to propel themselves out of the gravity well of a massive singularity. Each round, players draft six cards that allow them to push or pull themselves in relation to other ships on the board. When played, cards go off in alphabetical order.

You may have wanted to use that nearby yellow ship to swing yourself four spaces towards the warp gate that leads to freedom, but when the yellow ship moves out of range you're stick with the red ship, a pivot point that instead pulls you closer to your doom.

The game plays quickly and chaotically, and could easily be modded to be competitive or cooperative given the skill and familiarity of the players at the table.

Tesla vs. Edison

Thomas Edison is in a pitched battle with Nikola Tesla to see who will be the first to wire up turn-of-the-century United States with power. Each has a competing technology, alternating current or direct current, which are not compatible with one another. The two sides race to keep their company's stock price high, while hiring on some of the best and brightest scientists the world has to offer to aid in the fight.

Tesla vs. Edison features numerous, simultaneous systems including an active stock market simulation. From the website: "There are four focuses in the game: claiming electric projects on the map, advancing up a tech tree, investing in public relations to improve public opinion of your company or the technologies it uses, and buying and selling stock on a dynamic market. You will need to pay attention to all of them but can win the game by specializing in just a specific one or two of your choice, or trying to build a more balanced company. The path you take is up to you."

The presentation of the game is marvellous, and all the pieces are of very high quality, and all the art is done by the same man who illustrated The New Science, which also comes highly recommended.

Mysterium

Charlie Hall/Polygon

In this hidden information game players at the table take the role of mediums who are capable of communicating with the dead. The gamemaster, who sits at the head of the table behind a screen, was killed 30 years ago to the day and the mediums are assembled to find the killer and allow the spirit to rest.

Sounds like a version of Clue, but here's the catch: The only way that the gamemaster has to communicate with the players at the table is through a series of bizarrely painted cards that represent dreams and visions. Working from a hand of seven cards behind the screen, the gamemaster has to communicate different things to each of up to six players at the table. At high player counts, that can be very challenging.

In the final moments of the game, players work together to pick the identity of the killer, the location of the murder and the weapon used. If they fail, they'll have to wait another year to contact the spirit again.

Demos of the game were almost as hard to come by as copies at this year's GenCon. The art is sure to appeal to anyone who is a fan of Dixit, but the potential to fail, as a group, after several hours of cooperative play may turn some people off.

Vault Wars

Vault Wars

When adventurers return from slaying the dragon, sometimes there's chests leftover that they're unable to open. So, they sell them to the innkeeper for a pittance. In Vault Wars a bunch of innkeepers get together and auction off the parcels of treasure one at a time. This wacky bidding game moves quickly, and benefits from a bit of showmanship at the table. You want your parcel to sell for as much as possible, because you end up keeping the money to use for the next auction.

Basically, the game is Storage Wars set in a fantasy universe, and that's pretty great.