Gen Con Crowds

The “Very Best Stuff We Saw at Gen Con” Post

Geek Culture Places Tabletop Games Videogames

First, some numbers. It was another record setting year for Gen Con. There were nearly 15% more attendees this year with unique attendance at 56,614 and total turnstile attendance for the four days of 184,699. There were over 370 exhibitors and more than 14,000 events. The attendance has more than doubled in the past five years. Its size is remarkable.

And with a con that big and with so many things to do, it’s impossible to see and do everything … not to say we didn’t try! So, with five GeekDads (Jonathan Liu, John Booth, Matt Forbeck, David Faith, and me) wandering the floors and hallways of the Indianapolis Convention Center, we did manage to take in a lot. While we surely missed more than we saw, we want to share with you all of the things that we liked the best. We’ll be bringing you lots of reviews of games and related things in the days and weeks to come, but in the meantime, here’s some of the really neat things we saw at Gen Con.

World of Yo-Ho

The convergence of digital and cardboard seems to be the big thing these days, as seen with Golem Arcana and Fantasy Flight’s XCOM game. But the upcoming World of Yo-Ho had more buzz about it than just about any other upcoming game at the show. The game, which will Kickstart this October and be released next spring, allows up to four players to turn their smartphones into the playing pieces of the game. As players move their phones across the huge map, the phone replicates the islands and other features of the map beneath. But it’s not all smooth sailing. Storms pop up and sea monsters appear, not to mention sea battles when two phones draw close to one another. It’s a pirate’s life in World of Yo-Ho as you move from port to port and plunder your opponents. (DB)

Stonehaven Miniatures Pop-Up Terrain

Fresh off an amazingly successful campaign that exceeded their goal by more than 1000%, Stonehaven Miniatures showed off their pop-up terrain at Gen Con. For the role player without the room for boxes and boxes of buildings, housing, and terrain, this solution from Stonehaven Miniatures is a blessing from Fharlanghn. These wonderfully illustrated and detailed tiles easily fold up and can be stored in a fraction of the space of typical terrain. There is a DIY element to these — you still have to make some cuts and glue some pieces together, but if you want to get in on these tiles, you can still order via their PayPal page. (DB)


Playdek Tournament System

With titles like Ascension, Lords of Waterdeep, Nightfall, Agricola, Fluxx, Summoner Wars, and more, Playdek is one of the premier developers of phone and tablets ports of great tabletop games, which makes this bit of news out of Gen Con all the more exciting.

During the four day con, Playdek announced a new online play system for their digital games. The system, which begins with the Summoner Wars app, features a tournament system complete with lots of customizable features. The system premiered with a Summoner Wars tournament where players competed and were able to test drive the system.

Among the features included are a customizable profile, push notifications, real-time in-game chat for both friends and groups, and cross-platform connectivity. Look for the system to roll out cross other games in the future, plus the ability to create and host your own tournaments. (DB)

Image by Mayfair Games, used with permission.
Image by Mayfair Games, used with permission.

Cones of Dunshire

There was nothing more meta- this weekend than the charity event Saturday night, celebrating Cones of Dunshire, the fictional game made real by the people at Mayfair Games. Cones of Dunshire was invented for the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation and pokes fun of the intricacies of many Euro games and brain-burning strategy games. If you’re not familiar with the game or the series, check out this video. The Cones of Dunshire has made several appearances in the series, but it wasn’t until Saturday that this fake game that was made up for a television show, but made real by a legit game company for a horde of gamers and introduced on a taped recording by Adam Scott as the character of Ben Wyatt, really made a difference. Sure, everyone had a good laugh and more than a bit of fun. But the experience, which auctioned off a couple of dozen players’ spots to raise money for the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana’s BackSack program and provides weekend food to children at-risk for hunger, allowed Mayfair to donate a check for $20,000. That’s a meta-type of fun that everyone can get behind. (DB)

Gen Con Crowds

The Attendees, Exhibitors, Volunteers, & Staff

Anytime you get 56,000 people in the same area and going long hours without sleep, there are bound to be some personal problems. There’s lots of bumping into others and people shuffling along who are preventing you from getting across the convention center for your game session at the top of the hour … but no one complained. On the contrary, everyone was exceedingly polite, apologizing at every opportunity and helping out by holding doors or assisting another gamer, with his arms full, who had dropped something. It’s one of those experiences that makes you feel good about people and happy that we all share this hobby together. Whether it was turning in valuable lost items to the Gen Con office or a staff employee sharing some laughs with the crowd waiting to get into the exhibition hall or just smiling and sharing a kind word with a stranger, it’s the people who make Gen Con a great experience as much as it is the games. (DB)

Gaming at Gen Con
Playing Good Cop Bad Cop with new friends Brian, Shane, Chris, and Ryan. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I’ll second Dave’s comment, which also echoes what I said last year: the best part of Gen Con, for me, is the people. I love getting the chance to meet face-to-face all of the publishers and designers that I normally only see on Twitter and email. Many of them I got to meet for the first time, and several others I only see once or twice a year. It’s a rare chance to see a few of the other GeekDads in person, and to make new friends, too. I even got to meet a few people who backed Emperor’s New Clothes, which was a fun surprise.

And for one more example about meeting people, I’ll share this one. My kids love the Doubleclicks, and their favorite song is “TableTop Games.” (Yep, I’m proud of that.) And their favorite moment in the video is at about 2:35, when Paul Petersen enthusiastically points at the cover of Smash Up. So when I actually got to meet Paul Petersen and told him this story, he happily obliged:

Paul Petersen & Jonathan Liu
So this happened. Photo: Dave Banks

My kids were thrilled. (JL)

True Dungeon

True Dungeon was a highlight for all of us—so much so that it gets its own post. (JL)


All of Those Wonderfully Clever and Geeky T-Shirts

T-shirts are a wardrobe staple of geeks and, thankfully, there is a seemingly never-ending supply of them. Whether promoting your favorite band (Rush and Iron Maiden were well represented) or your tabletop gaming blog or something related to Star Wars (no exaggeration, I saw about 40 of these over the course of the con), the geeky t-shirt is ubiquitous. Some are clever, some are smart or ironic or funny, and some are all of the above. Still, more bring a smile to the face than those that don’t. I turned to Jonathan Liu at one point on Saturday and remarked that one could create a photo blog based on con t-shirts alone. I’d bookmark it. At any rate, for me, seeing all the geeky and fun t-shirts was one of the fun, high points of Gen Con. (DB)

Game Trayz Euphoria
Game Trayz for Euphoria keeps everything sorted and in place. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Game Trayz

Ok, it’s hard to explain why a plastic insert for a game box is so exciting, but Game Trayz were one of my favorite things at the show. I guess I’m just the sort of guy who appreciates a good organization system. I mentioned Game Trayz back in July, but Gen Con was the first time I got to see one up close.

Designed by Noah Adelman, Game Trayz have a couple of purposes: they keep your game bits sorted in the box so you don’t need all those plastic baggies and rubber bands. They make setup a breeze, and the resource trays even come in two separate parts so you can put half on each side of the board so people don’t have to reach across the table to get more bricks or ore. Finally, the trays come with a lid that holds everything in place, whether you store your games on their edges or somebody picks up the box to look at the description on the bottom. (Try doing that with Small World or Lords of Waterdeep.)

Currently Adelman has Game Trayz for Terra Mystica and Euphoria, but I encouraged several publishers at Gen Con to go check out the trays, because I’d love to see every game box come with an insert that shows so much consideration for how the game is stored and played. (JL)

Machi Koro
Playing a game of Machi Koro with Dave Banks and John Booth after convention hours. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Machi Koro

As usual, I spent much more time at Gen Con running around the exhibit hall and talking to people than actually playing games, so my list of games to choose from is fairly small—plus several of those were unpublished prototypes so I can’t write about most of those yet.

Of the games I actually played, Machi Koro was a delightful surprise. It’s a little presumptuous (the box calls it the Japanese game that’s “sweeping the world”), but it was fun. It’s a pretty quick card and dice game, sort of building up your city so that you can finish off four landmarks before the other players. Expect a review soon, though copies were limited and the official release date is the end of this month. (JL)

Can you have too many dice? I think not.
John’s new dice bag, oversized polyhedrals, and a couple Gen Con freebies.


Pretty sure I’m not alone in this, but since being re-introduced to D&D a few years ago, I get such a kick out of picking up new dice. They’ve become not just part of my game-playing, but little souvenirs and memory triggers, too, since I have generally only added dice to my (relatively small) collection when I’m visiting a convention, or playing in a local game store.

And when it comes to dice, if you can’t find the ones you’re looking for at Gen Con, then those dice just don’t exist in this ‘verse.

With my recent fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set purchase, I needed a new dice bag, and Gen Con was the perfect place to find one. I also bought a set of oversized dice, a CritSuccess d20 spinner ring as a surprise for my wife, and added a couple free d6s courtesy of Crystal Caste (which provides an official Gen Con die every year) and Stonehaven Miniatures. (JB)

Gaming After Hours

Gen Con’s non-stop nature remains one of the reasons I love it so much. That picture above that Jonathan took when we were playing Machi Koro? If memory serves, it was well past midnight, and we were far from the only people hanging out and playing games in that hotel lobby.

While the exhibitor’s floor at Gen Con closes every evening, several of the massive open gaming halls stay open so you can meet up for late-night Lords of Waterdeep or Lewis and Clark. And after-hours gaming at the hotels or the convention center can mean a chance to cross paths with the game designers themselves, since most of them tend to be busy during the day. We had one of the Wizards of the Coast creators stop by our table as we were playing his game at last year’s Gen Con, and this year, we wound up playing some nifty as-yet-unreleased games, simply because we were in the hall late, and Jonathan happened to see a few game designers he knew. (JB)

Pathfinder ACG app
A screenshot from the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game app demo. (May not be final.) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game App

I already mentioned this yesterday, but one of the things I was most excited about (speaking of mashing up digital and analog games) was the preview of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game app. It’s been my favorite game since last year’s Gen Con, and I’m excited for the possibilities that an app will open up. Now I’ll be able to form a party with friends who aren’t local. It’ll be a while yet before the app is ready … which gives me time to get started on Skull & Shackles. (JL)

According to GeekDad David Faith…

The best parts of Gen Con are the unexpected gaming discoveries. I’m primarily an RPG gamer and with every RPG system in the world under one roof I make it a point to try out new systems, settings, and game masters. Oftentimes my best gaming experiences are with games I’d never previously heard of. For instance, on Friday night I decided, on a whim, to try out “Masters of Umdaar,” an RPG set in a fallen world of savage warriors, cyborg insects, and merciless warlords that bills itself as homage to retro sci-fi classics like John Carter of Mars and Flash Gordon. The GM, Dave Joria, masterfully wove an interactive tale of comedic high adventure as our band of barbarians and aliens escaped from captivity, battled mutant dinosaurs in an arena, and overthrew an evil spider king. Joria is a bard, and he used the ultra-simple FATE gaming system just enough to inject an element of randomness without letting mechanics get in the way. He brought out the best in the party and we were soon spouting Connery-esque one-liners, describing absurdly cinematic action sequences, and laughing till our sides hurt. It was like being in one of the best episodes of one of my favorite science fiction / fantasy shows, e.g. something scripted by Joss Whedon. And this was a game I got into on generic tickets after five minutes of flipping through the program. That’s the kind of experience that makes Gen Con live up to its billing as the best four days in gaming. (DF)

Thanks again to Gen Con for providing press badges!

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2 thoughts on “The “Very Best Stuff We Saw at Gen Con” Post

  1. First of all, you talked about the people. My favorite part of Gen Con has always been the access you have to the developers of stuff you love. Last year I met the man who created Eberron, as well as shaking the hand of the man who created the Forgotten Realms. This year I learned how to play the new D&D edition directly from the developers of the game, then proceeded to play it with a member of the Wizards team. It was a thrill to meet them, and a lot of fun to see them experience this game they’d spent so much time on with people that really and truly enjoyed it.

    Also, you mentioned the kindness of people at Gen Con. Last year, my younger brother (with whom I’ve gone the last several years) dropped his Nintendo 3DS at Gen Con. He still doesn’t know where, or how long it was gone, but as soon as he realized we went straight to the Gen Con lost and found, where – to our surprise – someone had turned in the $200 device that they could have easily pocketed. After asking him what his Nintendo Network ID was and what game was in the slot, they handed it over.

    We’ve lived in Central Indiana all our lives, and are used to the idea of “Hoosier Hospitality” – but this was above and beyond. I was blown away.

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed your time in Indianapolis! Hope you had a chance to see more of the city than just the con.

    1. Thanks for the comment, David! As for the man who created Eberron, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Keith Baker because he also lives here in Portland—you may notice he’s the one holding the Viper’s Pit sign in our True Dungeon write-up. 🙂

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