This weekend I went to Gen Con, the hugenormous gaming convention in Indianapolis. I flew into Champaign and rode there with Dave T., who was a veteran.
It was…it was somewhat overwhelming. Crowded, noisy, confusing (I’m not sure how they were able to compress the 8-dimensional structure that is the Indianapolis Convention Center on to a 2-dimensional surface for the map of it), it was often more than I could handle and I frequently migrated out into the hallways to find some semblance of quiet. It’s all relative, though, since the hallways were where “wacky” shenanigans were usually taking place.
Not having been before, I imagined it as Unity Games writ large, with a dealer’s room attached. That was not completely accurate, as playing games (other than in paid-for sessions) wasn’t easy to do. I had bought tickets for the pick-up-and-play room, but that seemed more like folks just playing the games they’d bought with their friends instead of a social thing. Even so, the amount of noise and crowd and chaos had me in full-on new person panic mode for most of the time.
This isn’t to say I didn’t have a good time. I liked wandering through the vendor’s hall, looking at stuff, demoing games, buying some, and often just watching people demoing games. I met up with some friends from online there, and even saw local pal TJ, who I hadn’t seen in ages but got to say hey to in a different time zone. I played some social games that normally I don’t really do too much of and had a good time.
And did I mention I bought some games?
Here’s a comprehensive list of what I played (P), demoed (D), bought (B), and otherwise there.
Imperial Settlers (B/P) – This was the game I was most eagerly awaiting. Designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek, it’s a sort of stripped-down and streamlined version of 51st State/The New Era, which I love. I had pre-ordered it and picked up my copy there. Played a two-player version with a guy I met there and we both really liked it. I especially liked that I had an engine going early and it looked like it would be a runaway victory for me, but then his kicked in and he zoomed past me. It’s got some great art design and is a lot of fun. It plays quicker than New Era, the theme is lighter and more readily graspable, and it’s far easier to teach and learn, so even though I prefer the more complex game this is a good one to have at hand.
The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade (B/P) – I grabbed this one first thing because I was afraid it would quickly sell out (I don’t think it did). It’s a board game based on a (nonexistent) shoot-em-up arcade game and looked completely new and different. It wasn’t on a lot of folks’ watch lists for the con, and I didn’t see it being demoed or played too much. Dave and I both bought it and we played his copy Sunday night after we got back. It’s good, and it’s neat, but I’m kind of on the fence. It just didn’t get as exciting as I hoped it would, and as I think it should have been for its theme. I’ll need to give it more plays.
Star Realms (B/P) – I’d heard a lot about this little deckbuilder game, but it’s been sold out everywhere. They had a booth at the con, so I bought it from them. It’s a lot of fun and packs a lot of play into a small box. The iOS app has finally been approved, and even though it’s kind of sketchy, I think this will get a lot of play.
Relic (P) – This was one of the game sessions I bought a ticket for in advance. It’s essentially a Warhammer 40k version of Talisman, an old 80s game I love. It’s very much like its predecessor except with some nice twists. I like Talisman, but it isn’t one that gets any play anymore, so this was a chance to revisit it and I was glad to do so. Unfortunately there isn’t much point in me buying Relic, as I already own Talisman and it never leaves the shelf.
Space Cadets Dice Duel (D) – I was hoping to demo something else at this booth (I don’t remember what) but ended up trying this instead. It’s one of those frenetic dice games with everyone rolling dice and yelling simultaneously and it didn’t do anything for me.
Pandemic: Contagion (P) – Z-Man is turning Pandemic into a big franchise and this is one of the spinoffs, a non-cooperative game in which you play the part of viruses. IT wasn’t bad, and I’d play again, but I didn’t see a need to own it. (Also, it came in a clear plastic bag that said “Biohazard” and come on, guys, most of us were going to fly home.)
Galactic Strike Force (P) – This game, by the guys who made Sentinels of the Multiverse, was kind of a hot mess, and it didn’t help that the representative teaching it to us was just kind of winging rules at us, so none of us knew what we were doing or what was going on.
The Witcher Adventure Game (D) – This almost counts as a play, since even though it was truncated, the rest of the game would have just been more of the same. The other game I registered for in advance, it was also by Ignacy Trzewiczek. Unfortunately it fell completely flat for me (and, I think, the other guys playing). Just a big, dull snoozer of a game, with very little going on that was interesting and most conflict being provided by a deck of “foul fate” cards spitting out garbage on all the players. It was still in beta, so maybe they’re going to pump it up, so the final version might be better. For instance, in the final version, players may not be attacked, as I was, by a “Rouge”.
Boy, is Fantasy Flight’s face red.
Funemployed! (P) – this is a social/party game, of the Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity type. One person is hiring for a job (Pirate, Psychic, Game Show Host) and the others have cards they have to incorporate into their interview. My shining moment involved a simultaneous play of the cards “moist” and “cougars”. It was a lot of fun and hilarious, but not the sort of game I look to play too often, so no buy for me.
Cypher (B, P) – AEG had a huge hit with Love Letter, so now “microgames” are all the rage. This is a new one from them, with a cyberpunk theme. I bought it not knowing anything about it because it was cheap and small (I was concerned about luggage space at this point). Dave and I played it and it’s not bad, but would probably work better with more people. Still, not sure I’d play it over other games of its type.
Equinox (D) – I wanted to demo Impulse by Asmadi, but to do so you had to pay to go to their demo area, which was bullshit. Instead, at their booth, they were demoing Equinox, which didn’t seem too interesting, and every time I saw people trying it out, no one was saying a word during it, which didn’t bode well for me. I eventually gave it a try and yeah, it’s just dull.
BraveRats/R (P, sort of B) – Speaking of Love Letter, its designer has funneled its success into getting pretty much everything else he’s ever done published. R is a two-player microgame of the same bent which is being published as BraveRats in the US. At their booth you could play BraveRats against them and, if you won, win a copy of R. I won, got a copy of R, and didn’t see the need to supplement it with the American version. It’s not too bad.
Draco Magi (D) – I’ve backed this on Kickstarter and should be getting my copy soon, but one booth had it for demos. I tried it out and while I was again not sure what I was accomplishing (once more, not a great teacher), I saw enough that I’m looking forward to getting my copy.
Battle Merchants (P) – Gil Hova is a designer I follow on Twitter, and Battle Merchants is a game he just got published through Minion Games and Kickstarter. He was a great guy and I was eager to try out his game. Guys, it’s really good, and I regret not getting a copy there (I was out of luggage space at this point) but I will be picking it up soon. It’s a game in which fantasy races are battling but you don’t care who beats who because you’re an arms merchant selling them all weapons. You can even arm both sides of the same battle with no problem. Dave and I played against Gil and both liked it (Dave bought a copy.) Check this one out. We also playtested another design of his, Prime Time. It’s still in progress and needs work, but there’s a lot of potential there.
Gil Hova and Battle Merchants
But Wait, There’s More! (P) – Another social/party game, this time you’re pitching products with spurious features. In our game we were in teams, and one person would start the pitch and then say, “but wait! there’s more!” and the other would take over. Neither one knew what the other was going to do. Again, a ton of fun, but I just don’t get the occasion to play these sorts of games. It is currently available for backing on Kickstarter.
Star Wars: Empire Vs. Rebellion (P) – Dave bought this one and neither of us had heard of it. Turns out it’s a re-do of CIA Vs. KGB, which is a game I already own and like. The rules are a touch different, but it’s still essentially the same game and looks nice. I’m happy with the version I already have, though.
Zeppelin Attack (P) – This is another one Dave bought. It’s a small deckbuilder with a sort of steampunk theme. It does some different stuff with the mechanism and the art was gorgeous. We had already left by the time I played this, but if we hadn’t I would have probably bought a copy myself.
Other transactions I made: Bought Boss Monster and Coup, neither of which I’ve played, because both were cheap and small. There was a good price on Eight-Minute Empires: Legends, which I have played, so I got a copy of that. In the math trade I picked up Thunderstone: Numenara, Ground Floor, and Lost Valley: The Yukon Gold Rush (I gave up Manhattan Project, Invaders, and Firefly). I also had bought Arctic Scavengers off someone in an auction.
I had a lot of fun at GenCon, but it was a bit too much for me in a lot of ways. I’m not sure I’m up for another trip, but I’m glad I tried it out.