Our Most Favorite Things About Gen Con, 2016 Edition

GeekDads at Gen Con
The GeekDads at Gen Con: Preston, Gerry, Rob, Jim, John, Jonathan, and Dave.

How is it possible for Gen Con to both feel too short and too long? Touted as The Best Four Days in Gaming™, Gen Con 2016 is now over, and there are seven extremely-tired-yet-smiling-big GeekDads who have a lot to share with you about their experiences in Indy. You’ll be seeing a lot of Gen Con posts in the upcoming weeks; before memories begin to fade, however, you can get a quick overview of some of their favorite experiences below.

When the attendance figures are released, I’m sure we are going to be able to say that, for an all-too-short weekend, Gen Con was something like the 10th largest city in Indiana. And does it ever feel like it! The convention really expanded this year, stretching its tendrils into the underdark of the Lucas Oil Stadium where the Colts play, every hotel and, well, pretty much every place that had a room, some tables, and chairs. There was an awful lot to see and do, so much so that no one person could experience much more than a tiny fraction of it. Still, GeekDad had a record-setting seven dads in Indianapolis this weekend. Here are the favorite things they were able to experience:

Dave Banks

While I think I fit into the “old pro” category these days (or, at least the grey in my beard makes me feel old), I still feel like a kid staring at the chimney on Christmas Eve when I roll into Indianapolis on Wednesday night. Even though I know a lot about most of the games I’m going to see, I still get a skip in my step when I turn a corner in the exhibit hall and see the actual box of a game I’m looking forward to. Many of the publishers and designers are friends now and I look forward to the opportunity to catch up. I’m pretty sure that I smile the entire time I’m at Gen Con. This year was no different. It was quite a bit bigger, but still lots of fun.

Menu Masters
Ray Wehrs of Calliope Games shows off a copy of Menu Masters. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Because so much of this is old hat, I think my favorite bits are the little surprises. Jonathan Liu and I have a long-standing tradition of stopping by Calliope Games to see Ray Wehr, the owner. Calliope has some great games, like Tsuro and Roll for It, but Ray wanted to talk about the pending release of the first “Titans of Gaming” titles, which were Kickstarted last year. The first three, Running with the Bulls by Paul Peterson, Hive Mind by Richard Garfield, and Menu Masters by Jordan and Zach Weisman, will be showing up on doorsteps very soon. I knew they were going to be good, but the production on these three games blew me away. They were gorgeous and fun to look at – the detail in Running with the Bulls will keep you occupied for quite a while – and, best of all, fun to play. If you backed the Titan Series, you’re going to be very happy. If you didn’t, keep an eye on your local game store. Each will be available for just $30.

Tatsu

Another bright moment was walking through the smaller booths in Entrepreneur’s Alley. I saw Hive sitting on a table, which is one of my favorite games. I love the chess-like strategy and the tactile experience of moving the Bakelite tiles around. I got to talking to the guys at the booth, Smart Zone Games, and learned that Hive‘s designer, John Yianni, has a new game on the way. Tatsu uses similar Bakelite tiles, but has a board. The pieces represent dragons and the movement is very similar to Backgammon. It was fun to to be surprised about a new game by a designer I like and even better because the game was pretty darn good. It’s really enjoyable and hopefully, I’ll be able to review that one soon.

GamewithGeekDad

GeekDad held its first official events this year. On Friday night, we invited people to come by and play games with us. We had unpublished prototypes, old standards, and some new hotness. There were a few spirited games of Captain Sonar that were fun to watch, as teams tried to sink the subs of their opposition. More deduction was on display with Codenames Pictures, which will get its own writeup, soon. But my favorite moment was when a big group played Doctor Panic. Gerry Tolbert had thought ahead and brought boxes of nitrile gloves, surgical gowns, and masks. Hilarity, as they say, ensued. We attracted quite the attention as people videoed the entire game.

DocPanic

We played a lot of Blood Rage this year. It’s a great game with amazing minis and a super theme. So, I think I yelled out loud when I was scrolling through Twitter and saw that Blood Rage‘s designer, Eric Lang (who won the Diana Jones Award in Indianapolis Wednesday night), announced he was about 95% done with the spiritual successor to Blood Rage. Rising Sun, set in feudal Japan, will be releasing in 2017. Not sold yet? Check out this tweet from Eric Lang. Yes. Please. Here’s my wallet, take what you want.

EricLang
Image: Cool Mini or Not

I realize I could probably go on and on with more and more special moments, but I ought to stop. But, before I do, I have one more! I was very proud of my 14-year-old son, who walked every step with me, without (much) complaint. He played all the games and had a great time. It was pretty special to share something I love so much with him. On the drive home, he began negotiating to see if he can go again next year. That’s pretty neat.

Ian Banks

This was my first big convention. I didn’t expect there to be so many people. I enjoyed being able to go behind the scenes with my dad, Mr. Liu, and the other GeekDads to talk to the creators of games and publishers. Getting to demo all the new and soon-to-be-released games was pretty neat.

I really like the Titan Series games at Calliope. I especially liked Menu Masters because the art was great and the worker placement created challenges and prioritizing your needs made the game very interesting. I also liked Vast, which we played with all the GeekDads on Wednesday night. I liked that all the different roles you could play were balanced, so everyone had an equal chance to win. I played as the cave and early tile draws affected my strategy later in the game. Otherwise, I think I might have won. Everyone we spoke to and played games with were really nice and it was pretty easy to find players when we needed an extra person. That’s not always an easy thing to do.

Overall, I had great time and really enjoyed Gen Con. I hope that I can come back next year, but next year’s late date might interfere with the beginning of school for me.

Jonathan Liu

I went to Gen Con this year with a huge list of things I wanted to see—but also with my new favorite game to share with the other GeekDads, Vast: The Crystal Caverns. They’ve been hearing about it for a month now, and so I was happy to finally share it with them and teach them how to play. It was also great to meet the designers (Patrick Leder and David Somerville) and the artist (Kyle Ferrin) in person, and gratifying to watch their wall of Vast boxes dwindle and vanish over the course of the weekend. It is perhaps a little unfair to say that one of my favorite games at Gen Con was one that I brought with me, but technically Vast was a Gen Con release, and it remains at the top of my list. (I even played it one more time on Monday after returning home.)

Vast Team
I caught up with the Vast Team, wearing my new favorite shirt: me, Patrick, Kyle, and Clayton.

As always, one of my favorite things is hanging out with the other GeekDads, since we don’t get to see each other often. I really enjoyed hosting the Game with GeekDad event, and I think I’d love to do even more of those next year (perhaps with a little more advance planning). As Dave mentioned, Captain Sonar and Doctor Panic were pretty big hits, but I also loved sharing a few of my less-flashy favorites like Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Web of Spies. I also broke out a new game: Sushi Go Party. It’s an expanded version of Sushi Go, and it’s fantastic—watch for a review soon. But whether we’re learning new games or playing old favorites or dying together in True Dungeon, it’s a blast getting to spend time with the GeekDads in person.

Covert - Kane Klenko
Designer Kane Klenko with his latest game, ‘Covert.’ Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I could go on and on about all the games I played and enjoyed (and I will, soon), but a couple of highlights that stood out. Covert is an upcoming spy-themed game by Kane Klenko, who also designed Fuse and Dead Men Tell No Tales. You move around Europe, picking up devices and getting to particular locations in order to fulfill missions, plus there’s a code-cracking option to unlock additional equipment.

Clank!
Clank!: explore, find treasure, and don’t get caught by the dragon. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Another really fun game that I got to try was Clank!, a deck-building game in which you’re exploring a castle and cave, collecting treasure. But there’s a dragon in the cave, and if you make him mad, he’ll attack. The more noise you’ve been making, the more likely you’ll get hurt. I really liked the way all of the mechanics fit together in this one, particularly the “clank!” penalty for when you made too much noise.

The one unfortunate thing is that Gen Con was so huge this year that even with all the time I spent in the exhibit hall, there’s still a very long list of games and publishers I didn’t see—either because they were sold out, or because I didn’t get to their booths in time, or I happened to stop by the booth right when they were out for lunch. Probably the list of games I missed could fill an entire weekend in itself. But for many of those, we’ll be following up afterward, and hopefully we’ll get to play some more of those eventually!

John Booth

I wrote last year about discovering that my annual struggle would be balancing free time for gaming with the GeekDads and exploring the exhibit hall with my ever-increasing desire to try new multi-hour role-playing games. Took me four Gen Cons, but this year, I actually managed to discover my scheduling limit: Disappointed as I was when my Saturday morning RPG Colonial Gothic was cancelled, it was also something of a relief after 20 hours of scheduled events on Thursday and Friday. Not complaining, of course: It’s a wonderful “struggle,” and as busy as Gen Con 2016 was, I loved every second of it.

I had good reason to feel like I was busier this year: I played a personal Gen Con record 21 unique games over three days – Sunday was for late-morning exhibit hall wandering before lunch and the drive home – and 18 of those were completely new to me. That kind of reflects this year’s Gen Con for me: Rather than one big tentpole memory that stands above the rest, I’ve come home with a great mix of moments that contributed to an overall tremendous five days.

As a big fan of Lords of Waterdeep, I was thrilled to land a spot playing the brand new game from its design team called Tyrants of the Underdark. Two games under my belt, and I can’t wait to play again. (A full review is forthcoming.)

Tyrants
Gale Force Nine’s Tyrants of the Underdark

I had a great visit to talk Munchkin with several of the minds behind the game that turned 15 this year – Steve Jackson, John Kovalic, Andrew Hackard, and Phil Reed – and celebrated with a tide of guest artist editions and expansions.

There was the time I happened upon some neat little pieces of art for my wife and daughter and wound up striking up a conversation with the artist – who turned out to be Jason Albin Thomas, and who, while we chatted, drew a personalized strange and melancholy cartoon that my daughter absolutely loves.

jasonalbinthomas

There was sitting with this guy who enthusiastically taught a few of us to play this game he was really excited about called New Bedford – and then learning he was Sentinels of the Multiverse designer Christopher Badell.

Sunday, I was sitting in an upper level hallway, overlooking the main corridor below, when I heard a wonderful ruckus coming from below. It was family day, so there were many more younger kids in attendance, and this ruckus sounded like a bunch of them having an absolute blast: They had been turned loose to storm and pop the giant balloon castle constructed over the previous three days, and the glee was just infectious as the laughter and screams and pops echoed through the hall.

balloons
Moments before, that small pile of balloons had been a castle the size of the blank space on the wall behind it.

I don’t want to overlook, of course, what other GeekDads have mentioned, but which I’m going to reiterate anyway: It’s difficult to capture how much fun it is sitting down at all times of the day (and well into the night) and just playing games with these friends I get to see too rarely – and meeting new ones along the way. (Particularly at our Game with GeekDad events – thanks again to everyone who joined us!)  From the “pressure” of playing the radio operator in Captain Sonar to relishing some gloriously absurd airplane-on-firearm combat in Web of Spies to the almost-literal slap-happiness of Happy Salmon to rolling the dice in three RPG adventures, Gen Con 2016 was once again just this side of too-good-to-be-true.

Gerry Tolbert

Being a seasoned veteran (Read: I went last year for the first time), I thought I knew exactly what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. After finally arriving in Indianapolis about 90 minutes after the exhibit hall opened, my wife Sara and I dove right in, cruising the aisles of publishers and game designers, looking for several must-have items, and scoping out the plethora of new games.

The weekend only got better from there. I was able to connect with several old friends and make many new ones. Sara and I typically play games with a small group a few times a year but often play games as a couple. Gen Con gave us the chance to play a ton of games with the other GeekDads, several fans of the site and a host of other gamers. The larger number of players made games like Doctor Panic and Captain Sonar more challenging, but also far more fun. And as Dave said, I spiced up the Doctor Panic party with some authentic medical garb, a plan that drew a bit of a crowd for our Gaming with GeekDad play session on Thursday night.

GeekDad crew playing Nightmarium, an upcoming Kickstarter. Photo by Gerry Tolbert
GeekDad crew playing Nightmarium, an upcoming Kickstarter. Photo by Gerry Tolbert

I had the opportunity to play test a forthcoming game from Justin Robert Young and John Teasdale – the designers of The Contender – and discuss game mechanics and design with game designer Chris Kirkman and Dan Patriss from The Geek All-Stars podcast.

Play testing Trashmasters, a forthcoming game from Justin Robert Young and John Teasdale
Play testing Trashmasters, a forthcoming game from Justin Robert Young and John Teasdale. Photo By Sara Tolbert

Going into the convention, I wasn’t honestly looking forward to any one specific game, but Legendary Encounters: Firefly, Legendary: Big Trouble in Little China, The Crow, and Covert really caught my eye. I’m also picking up a copy of Clank! once it’s finally available. I also have the opportunity to review Kumo, a beautiful game from French company Morning Players. We also picked up several games from HABA to play with our four year-old Ella. Gen Con has a Family Day event on the Sunday of the con, and we were able to bring Ella up from home, play some games, and see the newest educational and fun games from HABA, Peaceable Kingdom, and several other publishers. Being the last day, we were all a bit tired, but Ella had a blast seeing the cosplayers and decked-out booths.

Most of the Tolbert Clan at the Legendary booth. Photo by Jonathan Liu
Most of the Tolbert Clan at the Legendary booth. Photo by Jonathan Liu

While I’m slowly recuperating from the after-con letdown and catching up on all of the missed work, I can not wait to go back next year for more time with good friends and great games!

Rob Huddleston

As one of the Gen Con newbies, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Having heard about Gen Con from my fellow GeekDads, I went in with high expectations, and it not only met, but exceeded them.

As a teacher, I decided to go a day early and attend Trade Day, a day of sessions (and shockingly little gaming) devoted to educators, retailers and distributors. I learned quite a lot, and will be lobbying my school’s president to allow me to gamify our next all-staff meeting. I’ll let you all know how that turns out if I can talk him into it.

Vast
The GeekDads (and GeekSon) play a game of Vast. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

My real Gen Con experience began that afternoon when my fellow GeekDads arrived and the real gaming started. Jonathan Liu brought his copy of Vast, which I had backed on Kickstarter on his recommendation. While I played a lot more games over the weekend, I think Vast is the one I’m most excited to introduce to my family.

I’ve been to a lot of big conferences over the years and have always enjoyed the exhibition hall, but Gen Con was the first I’ve ever spent the time to knock out in a grid to make sure I didn’t miss a single booth. It was great meeting the designers behind a bunch of the games I’ve reviewed over the last year, including the folks from Drawlab Entertainment, who came all the way from Greece with their Legendary Metal Coins and a prototype for a new game that I hope to get to try out soon. I had a chance to sit down with Chris Birch from Modiphius, the publishers of the Matt Leacock’s Thunderbirds board game to chat about that, his upcoming Kung Fu Panda game, and an RPG set in a little universe called Star Trek. I’ll be posting that interview soon. I had a chance to meet Larry Lembcke, the designer of Foe Hunters, who was bubbling over with excitement about his two new games; and the team at Spartan Games, who demoed their Halo: Ground Control game, the follow-up to the very cool Halo: Fleet Battles system.

And of course there were the games. Too many to count, really. It was great to get to play Campaign Trail again, since that remains my favorite game of the year. I sat with two very nice women and played through Letter TycoonI played Founding Fathers, which the designer jokingly referred to as “the best game about the Constitutional Convention” (it is, as far as anyone can tell, the only game on the subject). And of course the Gaming with GeekDad event, which Dave already talked about above.

But perhaps the coolest part of the weekend was sitting in the giant gaming hall and looking out at the thousands of people who all took a weekend out of their lives and traveled, in some cases across continents, for the sole purpose of joining others in this wonderful hobby. Living in a city that lacks a really good game store and, as a result, a strong gaming community, it can often feel a bit lonely. But seeing so many people gathered in one place at one time just simply filled my heart with joy.

Preston Burt

Just as I was when I was first glancing at the Gen Con event schedule in the days before the convention, I was completely overwhelmed when I arrived at the convention center. Other than IAAPA (the amusement park industry trade show), this show definitely boasts the largest exhibit hall and gaming area of any convention I’ve ever attended. Add to that the thousands of game events, speaking seminars, film screenings, and more, I can honestly say I was supremely thankful to meet up with my fellow GeekDads who are seasoned Gen Con veterans to show me the ropes.

I was smart in only committing myself to a single scheduled event, a game of Flash Point: Fire Rescue that I had been wanting to play ever since meeting game designer Kevin Lanzing at the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo in Atlanta. Mostly, I found myself roaming the vendor hall to look at the new games just hitting the market and old games I hadn’t previously been aware of. I was excited to finally play a demonstration game of Lanterns in the Renegade booth as I had heard nothing but good things about this 2015 game. As I was playing, I was pleasantly surprised when I looked at the name badge of the demonstrator to learn that I was playing with none other than the game’s designer himself, Christopher Chung.

Being a videogame nut, I was thrilled to finally get a chance to play a rare 10-player stand up arcade game named Killer Queen in the Gen Con arcade. This cooperative, 5-person, team-based game completely lived up to the hype and had my teammates shouting in both agony and delight as we won or lost game after game. In the game, you play as an insect trying to win by one of three methods: gathering berries, riding a snail to victory, or obliterating the opponent’s queen with your own. If you ever get an opportunity to play one of the handful of examples on location in a public arcade, I highly recommend you do.

Having only met virtually before, I was more than excited to finally meet up with my fellow GeekDads and have an instant group of friends to play some late night board game sessions with. Whether we were play testing a yet-to-be-released title, rubbing elbows with game publishers, losing in dramatic fashion while playing True Dungeon, or hosting random GeekDad readers to play during our Gaming With GeekDad session, it was amazing to see so many people having fun and sharing their love of gaming with one another. This will definitely not be my last Gen Con.

James Floyd Kelly

Heading back for my second Gen Con, I was able to correct some mistakes I made last year as a rookie — this included registering early for a few games and talks as well as pre-ordering for a few games to pick up and taking lots of notes about things I was doing and seeing.

Gamer Journal
Gamer’s Journal with True Dungeon Token glued on cover… plus signatures.

I’ll start by referencing the Gamer’s Journal I used every day to document the booths visited and track my schedule and games played. On the cover, I managed to get some signatures, too, including Ken St. Andre (creator of Tunnels & Trolls), Frank Mentzer (TSR and D&D fame), and Bob Bledsaw Jr. (Judges Guild) — I missed Steve Jackson as well as author Margaret Weiss, who couldn’t escape a fan who wasn’t taking hints from the dozens of fans around him as he chatted her up for over 10 minutes. (Geeks — say hello, toss in a compliment or ask a question, get a signature, and let others have a chance!) I got a lot of mileage from that journal, and it kept me on track – you can read my original review here.

Fallen Temple and Bookmark
My new 5e adventure and bookmark for players of my Metamorphosis Alpha adventure.

As for events, I got to run a four-hour Metamorphosis Alpha adventure titled Expedition to Docking Bay G for four fans; making all the right decisions, they survived and saved thousands on board the starship Warden. Goodman Games provided plenty of swag for my players that was much appreciated, and I tossed in a custom bookmark for my players as well. I also had a first at Gen Con 2016 — I got to write a full D&D adventure for Goodman Games to fit in their Fifth Edition Fantasies adventure series. It’s called The Fallen Temple, and I got to sign copies for buyers at the booth for an hour on Friday. Definitely a bucket list item that now has a checkmark next to it.

My MCC character
My Mutant Crawl Classics character had 1hp. He lasted longer than I thought he would.

I also got to play a bit of Mutant Crawl Classics with Jim Wampler as the GM — there was a queue of players waiting, and when someone died, a new player cycled in. I lasted two rounds (many players didn’t make it through one round) before dying… fun stuff, and I can’t wait to get the actual game next year.

Hirst Molds
Bruce Hirst was onsite showing off 3D displays made from his molds.

Staying with RPGs, I got to meet Bruce Hirst of Hirst Arts Fantasy Architecture… aka, the guy who sells those amazing molds for making castles and dungeon terrain. He had some amazing 3D displays created for visitors to pick up and examine. I also got to meet Tom with Fat Dragon Games as well as Bill of the Mystix Mapping System; I’m a huge fan of both of their work, and I got to play with the Mystix system as well as get some teasers from Tom… stay tuned. I also got to see some software/apps related to character management and terrain design such as Campaign Cartographer 3 from ProFantasy, Fantasy Grounds fantasy RPG management software and apps, and a few more that I’ll be covering in follow-up posts in the near future.

As for games, I finally gave up around Friday trying to keep track of them all. Vast was awesome, and Captain Sonar was as fun as I imagined. Jonathan Liu introduced me to Valeria… loved it. I played (and enjoyed) Hero Realms and Star Realms and their sister game, Epic Card Game. Pandemic Cthulhu, Mansions of Madness 2nd edition (with app), and Cthulhu: Deck Building Game (review to come). Played a solo adventure app version of Tunnels & Trolls (and won/survived!) and enjoyed Saloon Tycoon (Rob H. will be reviewing soon).

The Unusual Suspects
One fun Friday evening event that I will be writing about in a more detailed post was the GeekDad team taking on Escape Room: The Game. With a 15-minute time limit, six of us put on the prison jumpers, were locked in the cell, and had to get out. We did it with 8.5 minutes left on the clock and set the record. Apparently someone beat the game Sunday morning with 10 minutes left, but I was told by a staffer who will remain anonymous that most of the staff who were watching (via multiple cameras in the room) believe the individual had advanced knowledge and that our team was still recognized as the fastest.

Walking, walking, walking. Sitting. Eating. Playing, playing, playing. Sleep a bit. Repeat. I got home exhausted, but would go back next month if given the chance. There’s a lot more to share, and I’ll do that in a separate post where I can share more details about games and such.

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James Floyd Kelly is a full-time writer. His latest three books are Digital Engineering with Minecraft, Tinkercad for Beginners and The Ultimate iPad. Learn more by visiting his website http://jamesfloydkelly.com