We attended PAX 2017 the beginning of this month. Since then, we've looked at all the games we saw on the expo floor and compiled a short list of our favorites:
Someone Has Died
If you've ever thought about crashing a will arbitration, this game is for you. Who died? What is your relationship with the deceased? And who are you? All these are answered by the cards you draw, and you must weave a compelling story if you intend to be the recipient of a sizeable chunk of money. Shortly after PAX, Someone Has Died went on Kickstarter and handily reached 200% funding. There's still a couple weeks to put in a pledge if the concept is interesting to you, so we recommend dropping a few bucks to get a pre-order in! Full disclosure, Mike immediately put down his own money for a copy.
We do have a soft spot for the improvisational party games in the line of Aye, Dark Overlord and others. Someone Has Died walks a fine line between giving the player a lot of information to work with but also allowing them to create whole layers of stories on their own. How much fun you get out of this game is very dependent on how far you're willing to go with your story. The cards are specific, quirky, and open up lots of possibilities.
Phantom Doctrine follows similar mechanics to XCOM and other games of the genre, but it separates itself by its realistic setting. Instead of being set in the future with humans vs. aliens, it is set during the Cold War and revolves more around espionage. Players can plant operatives within enemy facilities, capture enemy operatives, brainwash them to become double agents, and more - but the catch is that the enemy can also do this to you! We found it a fresh take on the genre, particularly given the (relatively) contemporary setting instead of the usual fantasy or futuristic ones. Unfortunately it's still a year out before release so we'll see after next year's PAX if we can't point you to a download page.
Two out of the three of us are musicians, so we're always looking for good music games. Most of the time, what people call "music games" are really "rhythm games." Not knocking the concept - we love games like Crypt of the Necrodancer - but the two ideas are very different. Wandersong looks like a true music game, as both Loom and Ocarina of Time (yes, you heard it here first) are. You play a bard who uses their sweet voice to save the world and solve people's personal problems. It takes a moment to learn how to fluidly create melodies using a game controller, but afterward you have complete control of two whole chromatic octaves. Don't be afraid if you're not a musician, though! The game is designed to be possible to understand if you have no training or ear for music. There are different difficulty modes as well, so that those who maybe struggle with real-life music can get a handle on the concept. Look for this one in early 2018.
Children of Zodiarcs
We noticed a trend of digitalized card and board games at PAX this year. By that we don't simply mean digital versions of tabletop games, but video games whose mechanics are meant to mimic a tabletop experience, with character cards and dice rolling. Next on our list is Children of Zodiarcs, a turn-based tactics deckbuilding RPG. You customize a deck for each of your characters, which in turn determines the attacks and abilities you have available to you in combat. You also roll dice which can modify the strength of the card played, heal your characters, let them draw new cards, and so on. There's a mix of player strategy and randomness that makes each playthrough a bit different. At PAX there just isn't enough time to fully explore every single game, and we weren't able to see as much of the story mode in Children of Zodiarcs as we would have liked, but the mechanics sold us on the concept immediately.
Return of the Obra Dinn
This game comes courtesy of Lucas Pope, creator of Papers, Please. And once again, he's designed a game with a unique concept, something that seems on first glance to be a mundane objective, but ends up hiding a complex and rich story. Your objective on the Obra Dinn? Go through your journal, identify the sketches of each shipmate, then write down how they died. The end. In order to do that, however, you must find their corpses on board, use your magic compass, go back in time, and witness the moment of death. You must piece through fragmented memories, all out of order, and get to the truth of what happened on the ship. We love the idea so much we had to stop ourselves playing too long at the booth so we wouldn't spoil the final experience. It's not quite ready for release and doesn't have a set date, but we're hoping to see it early next year.
Here's another improvisational party game. Cult Following is a game where you draw several cards, and using multiple prompts, piece together your very own cult. Other players are the followers, and they ask questions of your cult and others, along the lines of "what's your darkest secret" or "why do bad things happen to good people." Your job is to create a convincing mythos surrounding your cult and convince all the followers yours is the best. There's no limit to how crazy or sane your cult can be.
Best of all, you can buy this one right now on Amazon!