This year, for the very first time, I got to go to GenCon. This is an annual gaming convention held in Indianapolis, IN that is the biggest purely gaming convention in the United States. It’s not just for board and card gamers, however – RPGs, LARPs, and video games are all very well represented. It’s basically a giant celebration of geek culture. However, unlike ComiCon (which has become more about geek culture in mass media over the years), GenCon is a gathering in celebration of games games games. This is my recap of my three days at the event.
First of all, if you checked the site over the weekend, you may have noticed that I added a Twitter feed widget over on the sidebar. That’s right, I’ve finally joined the 21st century and gotten a Twitter account. Beyond GenCon, I don’t know exactly how I’ll use it – probably will advertise new posts, possibly to talk about games I just played. I don’t know. But there it is, feel free to follow me if you like. On with the show!
My wife and I left on Thursday morning and made the three hour drive, mostly in a bad thunderstorm. Fortunately, it was not raining in Indy as we walked the half mile or so from the parking spot we finally found to the convention center. We met up with some friends we would be splitting a room with (Tim and Maureen), and prepared to enter the con. Right away, I spotted The Spiel guys (difficult to miss them in their meeple lab coats) and got my exclusive convention Spiel dice. Hooray!
We headed into the dealer hall, and headed straight for the Asmodee booth, stopping to appreciate The Sultan table on the way. The one game I wanted to get at GenCon was Seasons which was to be making its debut at GenCon. Unfortunately for me, and most people, Asmodee/Libellud either severely underestimated the demand or just plain didn’t have enough copies, but it sold out in the first hour of the hall being open, meaning I missed it by two hours. That was pretty bad – I was quite vexed.
We walked around to see a few more booths before our friends had to run off to a chainmail event, leaving my wife and I to have our first demo – AEG’s Smash Up. We were joined by two others, and we played a half of a game. First impressions were pretty good – we both enjoyed combining factions and trying to find combos. However, the demo only went to 8 points (instead of 15), and felt like it was over too quickly for us to get a real feel for the game.
Next, as we walked through the Fantasy Flight booth (amid demos of Descent 2, X-Wing, Merchant of Venus, etc.), we jumped in on a demo of Sky Traders. This is a kind of steampunk stock market game. I really didn’t care for it – the components were quite beautiful, but it really wasn’t for me. Maybe it would have been better with more time, but I’m just not interested in playing again.
We then stopped at the Game Salute booth, where Asmadi Games was demoing both Consquential and FlowerFall. I didn’t get a chance to try Consequential, but we did play FlowerFall. I thought it was pretty fun, but my wife wasn’t as impressed. It’s very chaotic, but I think that’s what makes it fun to play.
After stopping at a few fantasy literature and art booths, we found ourselves in the autograph area where Wil Wheaton was signing. The line was relatively short, so we got in it. We found out that meeting Wil and pictures were free, but autographs cost $25 a pop. My wife, being the awesome person that she is, asked if he would donate an autographed picture for her library. He donated two, saying that he owed a lot of who he is to a librarian that gave him a sci-fi book as a kid. We both got our picture taken with him. He’s a very nice guy, so I’ll plug for him – check out TableTop, his biweekly game show on YouTube. So far, he’s done shows about Small World, Settlers of Catan, Zombie Dice, Get Bit, Tsuro, Ticket to Ride, Munchkin, Castle Panic, Gloom, Fiasco, and Say Anything.
We wandered around for the rest of the time the dealer hall was open, ending up at the Z-Man booth where I bought a copy of Onirim, a 1-2 player cooperative game about dreams that I had heard good things about. We met up with our frustrated friends (their chainmail class had been cancelled), then went to the open game room (stopping to admire the giant RoboRally game going on), and spent the rest of the evening playing Alchemist (a game about making potions), Drakon (a light dungeon crawl about trying to collect treasure), and Metropolys (an auction based city-building game). We had fun with all three.
That was the end of our day. Tim and I had visions of staying up all night in the hotel lobby, but we only got through a game of Mystery Rummy: Jekyll and Hyde before deciding we needed to go to bed.
We got to the convention center about two hours before the dealer hall opened. My wife and Maureen sat down in the hall to play Smash Up with a couple other early arrivers, and Tim and I played Onirim. After an interrupted play (we were shooed away from the door by the staff so exhibitors could get in and out easier), we were able to finish out the game with a loss. It was interesting, though the theme was not as prevalent as I thought it might be. I still need to play with the expansions included in the box.
The Smash Up game also got interrupted to make way for exhibitors, so we stood around until the doors opened at 10. I headed straight for the Asmodee booth just in case they had gotten more copies of Seasons in overnight. They hadn’t, but we did grab a table for a demo. We all loved it, so it’s now even higher on my wishlist. We didn’t play a full game – they would have let us, but there were several people waiting and we wanted to see other things, so we stopped about halfway through the second year.
We found out that Richard Garfield himself was demoing King of Tokyo at the Iello booth, so we went over. We didn’t get to play with him, but he did explain the game and we saw it in play. Since I wouldn’t be buying Seasons, I bought a copy and got Garfield to sign it. So that’s my autograph for the convention.
After lunch at Steak n Shake, we went to get a demo of Mice & Mystics at the Plaid Hat booth. Though my wife and I didn’t actually get to play, we did like what we saw. There’s a very in-depth storytelling experience going on, and I think it’s going to be accessible to families. The components were gorgeous as well. The game wasn’t for sale at the con, but they were hopeful that it was be out soon. I had been by the booth the day before and gotten a “Hello, my name is Doug” sticker that confused everyone for the rest of the day (listen to the Plaid Hat Podcast to figure out the reference).
Next, we went to the Mayfair Games booth to see about doing some demos there. While looking for an empty table, we saw the 5th Street guys sitting at an empty table, so we went to demo both Castle Dash and Farmageddon. Castle Dash is about setting up your guys to try to steal your opponent’s treasure. It was fairly random, relying on die rolls to resolve combat and a dummy player that was a little too strong for us newbies (apparently the dummy player is only there with an odd number of players). Neither my wife or I really liked it. Farmageddon, however, was a fun harvesting game with lots of silly cards and a ton of good interaction. The designer, Grant Rodiek, was demoing next to us, and donated a copy of the game for my wife’s library. I think the teens will love it. I’ll be doing a review of the game soon, hopefully after another play.
The last demo we did for the day was Telestrations from USAopoly, which is not a new game, but we hadn’t played. It was fun and silly, and they didn’t even try to teach us the scoring. I think that was probably wise – I think Telestrations works best as an activity where no one really cares what happens.
We left after that to meet up with some friends for dinner and games. I got to play Loopin’ Louie, a fun and silly dexterity game about a plane that is dive-bombing chickens. The best part was playing with a two-year old who finally got the concept of pressing the lever to make the plane fly higher and looked at me to say, “This time, I win.” We also played Aye Dark Overlord (a storytelling game where you try to avoid withering looks), The Resistance (where my wife and I were the victorious spies), and my new copy of King of Tokyo. It was a good time, and we got to introduce two sets of friends to each other to form a new set of friends.
After crashing into bed that night, we got up the next morning for our last day at the con. We started out by going into the visitor’s area of True Dungeon. I’m a fan of the concept, but $38 a ticket seems a little much. I probably need to try it sometime, I just don’t want to pay that much.
We found a room and pulled out Tim and Maureen’s new copy of Smash Up. After being kicked out by an RPG that was there, we found some chairs and a table and sat down to play our first full game. I was Alien Dinosaurs, and I won on a final play of King Rex (a 7-power beast). It was fun, and I’m enjoying seeing the combinations. The Robots are annoying (if you aren’t the Robot character), but all of the factions seemed pretty unique. I’d like to try it out two-player sometime.
Tim and I hit the dealer hall after that, and went by the Arcane Wonders booth to check out Mage Wars. They were running their demos as an event, but we did get to see the game and find out a little about how it works. The most interesting thing to me is that, rather than building a deck of cards, you actually build a book and have access to every card in it throughout the game. I’ll have to read through the rules and hopefully check it out sometime soon.
After that, we went to the Two Lanterns booth to try out Morels. This is a two-player card game about collecting, cooking and selling mushrooms. It was pretty interesting and quick. I didn’t catch on right away, but it went well once I got it. I’d like to play some more. They were also selling some little hand-crafted sticks and pans for a little extra, though they were out at the con and were accepting special orders.
We met up with our wives at a T-shirt booth, then Tim and Maureen went off on their own while my wife and I ventured into the event hall to find our friend Brian, who was running X-Wing events for Fantasy Flight. We then walked through the dealer hall, stopping to get the pitch for Legacy: Gears of Time from Floodgate Games. It looked interesting enough (certainly better and easier to understand than Khronos), but we didn’t get to play and moved on.
Finally, we found ourselves in the Mayfair gaming area. After looking at all their giant games, we had lunch and waited for Tim and Maureen to join us for more games. We played Isla Dorada (a treasure seeking auction game that I enjoyed) and Biblios (a set collection auction game that I did NOT enjoy). We ended the con at the Rio Grande booth that, oddly, was run by a distributor rather than the company itself. We had been upset with them since we walked by and heard them hawking Dominion: Dark Ages at an inflated price because they were running out. However, my wife found a ding ‘n dent copy of Galaxy Trucker: The Big Expansion for $32 (down from $75 – we had seen it the previous day for $40), and bought it. Hooray!
That was it. We got in the car and drove home. It was a great time, and we’re looking forward to hopefully doing it again next year. If you’ve never been, I would definitely recommend it as an experience. I think we’ll try to sign up for a couple of events next time. Walking around the dealer hall was fun, but I think I was kind of over it by day three. It would be nice to divvy up the time a little more.
Thanks for reading!