Reflections on Gen Con 2014: Expectations vs. Reality

Before Gen Con, we posted a list of some of the things we were most looking forward to at the con—but reality doesn’t always match our expectations. For me, the biggest difference is that I spent much more of my time talking to game designers and publishers and much less time actually playing the games I’d been excited about. It’s the same story as last year: I went in thinking I’d play a lot of games, but once I got there, I realized that what I love most is meeting all the people who make them. I can always play the games later, but I don’t often get the opportunity to hang out with these awesome people.

That said, here’s a quick follow-up on some of the things from our list from myself (JL), Dave Banks (DB), John Booth(JB), and Matt Forbeck (MF).

True Dungeon group photo
Our post-dungeon group photo.
From left to right: Jonathan Liu, John Booth (kneeling staying true to his dwarf character), Levi Mote, Sarah Sharp, Jenn Ellis, Keith Baker, David Faith, Dave Banks, Wendy, Paul. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

True Dungeon

We’ll have a full post about our True Dungeon experience, but the short answer is: it was awesome. Sadly, we didn’t all survive the trip through the Viper’s Pit, but we did manage to solve all the puzzles. (Last year, we ran out of time in the last room and everyone perished.) Stay tuned for more! (JL)

PathfinderACG-Radillo
I tried out Radillo, a half-elf wizard, in the new Skull & Shackles game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

I was so eager to try out the new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (Skull & Shackles) that I scheduled myself a session at 10am Thursday morning … right when the exhibit hall opens. Oops. But it was worth it. While everyone else was lining up and braving the crowds, I got to fight pirates. The new set has a lot of similarities to the Rise of the Runelords, but there are a few added mechanics, including ships, which carry your plunder and can help you move between locations.

The other piece of this was the Pathfinder Society Adventure Card Guild: my character survived the scenario, so my rewards are recorded in the system and I can hop into the second scenario at any guild location using my ID number. In this new system, you purchase a Class Deck that contains various cards for your character, and when you collect rewards between scenarios you get to add cards from the Class Deck into your character’s starting deck. Kind of a cool system, though most likely I’ll be playing through the scenarios with my regulars.

Oh, and the news that Obsidian will be developing an app version of the game? Icing on the cake! (JL)

P1080755The New Dungeons & Dragons

I played the new (fifth) edition of D&D for the first time on Saturday with my family. We signed up too late to get into one of the longer events, but the 1-hour Delve games turned out to be just about right for a family of seven featuring four 12-year-olds on the third day of the show.

The new version of the game feels a lot more like all the other editions of D&D than 4E, which modeled itself more on MMOs, producing a bit of an echo chamber around itself. It runs fast but gives the players plenty of things to do, and friends of mine who’ve written for it remarked that it’s incredibly easy to design for too. I’m hoping to launch a full-on campaign for my kids later this year. (MF)

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Numenera character sheet. Love the design.

Numenera

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My first time playing Numenera was also my first experience getting into one of the small-group ticketed Gen Con events, and I definitely see myself doing both again. In just about any other environment, the idea of purchasing a solo ticket and sitting down with a group of strangers for four hours would make me at least a little nervous. At Gen Con, though, the ubiquitous giddy feeling of “All Right, Let’s Play!” kept that from being an issue.

I’ll have more on the specifics of our Numenera adventure in another post, but I really enjoyed this small-group role-playing event (six players and a GM), and I’ll probably try to do more than one at future Gen Cons.

Tips I learned about the small-group events: When online event registration opens, these things fill up quickly. If there’s a limited-seat game you really want to play, put several time slots on your “wish list.” If you land a spot, you can schedule your other activities around it. And if you get more than one, you can put the tickets back into circulation. I had five Numenera sessions on my wish list, and only got seated in one. If you miss out, you can always purchase “generic” admission tickets and visit the game sessions you want to play: No-show seats get filled first-come, first-served. One of our players was a last-minute arrival, and I’m told that there are often a fair amount of open seats during the Saturday and Sunday morning slots. (JB)

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Firefly character sheet for River Tam. She can kill you with her brain.

Firefly

I also took part in a custom-written Firefly RPG adventure with a group of friends. We found ourselves a couch, table and chairs in one of the hotel common areas and saw the Serenity crew through what really did feel like it could have been a lost episode of the TV show.

Again, more thoughts on the game system in another post, but this really hits on another of the things I just love about Gen Con: Laying claim to some open space and just breaking out the dice and rulebooks and character sheets. People walk past, maybe steer over toward the table to see what you’re playing, smile, possibly ask a quick-but-not-rude question, and then let you get back to it. And this is happening all over the place. It’s just fantastic. (JB)

KONY

King of New York

Unfortunately for Iello, this game was held up in customs. They were able to bring a very few, small quantities in over the course of the weekend, resulting in mad dashes and long lines at their booth in hopes of getting a copy. I waited in line on Sunday morning and was lucky enough to get one. I’ve only played through a couple of times, but there seem to be improvements over King of Tokyo. I really look forward to spending more time with this game. (DB)

Die Fighter
My daughter tries her hand at piloting one of the new Die Fighters. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Space Cadets: Dice Duel – Die Fighter

I didn’t sit down to play a session of Die Fighter at the show—my voice was almost gone by early Day Two and I knew Dice Duel involves a lot of shouting, and I knew I’d have a review copy waiting for me at home. I’ve since played it, and it’s pretty awesome. You’ll definitely see a review of this one soon. (JL)

Golem ArcanaGolem Arcana

I didn’t get a chance to play Golem Arcana at Gen Con. The booth was always solidly packed, and since I backed the Kickstarter, I didn’t see the need to stand in line to check it out. I ran into the Weisman family at a VIG (Very Important Gamer) event that evening, sponsored by Calliope Games, and I heard that so many copies of the game had sold on the first day they were thinking of sending a truck to a warehouse in Nashville to grab more.

My eldest son Marty is playing with our set as I write this, and it looks great and plays well. I can’t wait to get some actual play time with it too.  (MF)

5Tribes

Five Tribes

The crowd was deep around the Days of Wonder tables as gamers lined up to try one of the big buzz games, Five Tribes. I never had the chance to try it, since the lines were long, but I heard a lot of good things from a few people who did get to play what people are calling “Days of Wonder’s first gamer’s game”. Nevertheless, I have a copy on the way and will be posting a full review in the coming weeks – can’t wait! (DB)

Lost Legacy: The Starship

Lost Legacy

Here’s another one I didn’t sit down to play, but I did hang out in the Five-Minute Fun section at AEG’s booth and watched several of their various small-box games in progress. I’m eager to try Lost Legacy still, but I was especially impressed with Seventh Hero, a blind drafting/bluffing game. I’m also hoping to try out David Short’s Cypher, another drafting-style microgame. (JL)

photo-mainThe Devil Walks in Salem

I wound up seeing The Devil Walks in Salem at a private showing for Kickstarter backers in Peter Adkison’s suite, a few hours before its public debut. Stars Trin Miller and Conner Marx joined us, along with sculptor Sandy Garrity, games historian Jon Peterson and his wife, and a number of other friends.

It’s Peter’s first effort after completing film school, which he decided to enter when he turned 50. It was inspired by a Fiasco session using a playset based on the Salem witch trials, and you can feel the roots to that at times. It’s a sharp, dark film with some great, chilling moments, and it makes me eager to see what film project Peter tackles next. (MF)

SMASHUP

Smash Up: The Big Geeky Box

This special quickly sold out at the show, but I got a chance to look at one before they were gone. It’s mostly an empty box with enough room for the base set and all the expansions, including some really nice full-color plastic dividers for keeping your factions separated. Also included in the box was the geek faction, featuring some of the friendly faces from everyone’s favorite tabletop gaming show. Rumor is that the Big Geeky Box will be making its way into game stores in the future. (DB)

Cones of Dunshire Ledgerman
The Ledgerman just keeps score. And he wears this hat. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Cones of Dunshire

We did stop by during the Cones of Dunshire charity event, which was set up outside near the food carts and drew a huge crowd. Unfortunately it was also shortly before our True Dungeon time slot so we weren’t able to stick around for very long, but I still love the fact that people actually played it. (What I saw was mostly preparation and rules explanations.) Watch for more coverage of the event soon. (JL)

DDTM---Main-Cast-Photo---webDark Dungeons

On Thursday night, my pal Ben Dobyns of the Dead Gentlemen and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment invited me to the premier of one of his latest projects: Dark Dungeons. It’s a film based on the 1980s Jack Chick comic-book screed against gaming of the same name, and it’s absolutely hilarious. The film plays the entire story as straight as a magic missile’s path (Are they straight? Who cares!), but that story is so ludicrous that you can’t help but laugh.

There’s a possibility that someone could be so tone deaf that they’d take the film seriously, but that small percentage of people isn’t ever going to change their minds about games anyhow. And if they want to buy lots of copies—for showing or burning—the producers would be happy to sell them as many as they like. (MF)

Pandemics

Pandemic: The Cure / Pandemic: Contagion

The Cure won’t be hitting stores for another couple of months, but I did buy a copy of Contagion. It came bagged in a biohazard bag and the components, with petri dishes, city cards, and a nice little cardboard setup for each player. I’ve only played one game, but it’s a great twist on the pandemic game: each player is a disease trying to take out a city’s population. Dibs on ebola! (DB)

DeadofWinter-WheatonDauch
Even Wil Wheaton wants a copy of Dead of Winter. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Dead of Winter

Well, Dead of Winter was definitely one of the hits of Gen Con, selling out in the first day and running packed demos every day after that. Since it’s a longer game, I didn’t sit down to play it in the exhibit hall (too much calling for my attention!) but I may yet pick up a copy for myself sometime. Sadly, I haven’t hosted two seasons of an award-winning board game show so Plaid Hat Games didn’t pack up one of their demo copies for me. I’ll work on that. (JL)

Ludwig

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

This game will be released around the time of the Essen Game Fair, but there was a single copy to be demoed at the Bezier Games booth. It was just a rough print & play version, not indicative of the final game, but it still looked pretty good and quite a bit of fun. What was most exciting was watching different players develop different approaches to solving the same problems. I’m eager to see what the finished game looks like. (DB)

Imperial Settlers

Imperial Settlers

Ignacy Trzewiczek tweeted that Imperial Settlers officially sold out in 26 minutes. I didn’t stand a chance. And, stupid me, I forgot to bring my copy of Board Games That Tell Stories to get an autograph. At least I did get to meet Trezwiczek and his wife, Merry, in person, though only briefly. Imperial Settlers remains on my wish list—I’ll have to track down a copy later. (JL)

Trains

Trains: Rising Sun

This was the game I was looking the most forward to but, due to a variety of circumstances, didn’t make Gen Con. AEG said, despite hopes it would be ready for Gen Con, the game would most likely be on shelves later this fall. (DB)

How about you? If you attended Gen Con, did the reality live up to your expectations?

For me personally, I think in the future I need to remember that once I’m at Gen Con, I’m much more inclined to run around and talk to people than I am to sit down and play games, so maybe I will adjust my expectations accordingly.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.