If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are several thousand words about Gen Con. There were so many things that I saw over the weekend, and I only remember to take photos of a small portion of them. Here’s a photo recap of the first day (and a bit) of Gen Con through my camera lens.
We kicked off Gen Con on Wednesday evening (the night before it officially opened) with a game of Battlestations. I’ve seen the game around but had never played, and after the Kickstarter campaign this year we were all really curious to try it. Jeff Siadek set up a game for us and led us through a scenario where not only were we battling a hostile alien spaceship, but some of our own crew members were suspect and we had to root them out. It’s a fascinating game, with ships flying around in space, but also individuals running around within the ships. In the background, you can see the long, long line of people waiting to pick up their badges early.
After dinner, we sat down to play a game of Vast: The Crystal Caverns—I’ve been bragging about this game for months and the rest of the GeekDads were itching to try it out. Jim Kelly was the Knight, Dave Banks played as the Goblins, Rob Huddleston was the Dragon, Ian Banks was the Cave, and I played as the Thief. The Goblins pulled off a win, finishing off the Knight before the Cave was able to collapse on us all.
We met up with John Booth and Brian Stillman, who had gone to another event after dinner, and I taught them Valeria: Card Kingdoms in our hotel lobby. The restaurant was closed but had plenty of open tables where people were still playing games late into the evening, so we grabbed a spot and set it up. Everyone enjoyed it—enough so that you’ll see it in a couple more photos from later in the weekend.
Thursday morning we got in line for our press badges, and I ran into Vic Mitchell, the Costume Corpsman. He does “free-ish” on-site repairs for costumes, and was decked out with thread, sharpies, duct tape (of course), a glue gun, and who knows what else in those pockets and pouches. I love this idea! I saw a couple other people throughout the weekend with costume repair signs, but I think this was the most impressive outfit. (Also: just over Mitchell’s shoulder in the red T-shirt is Patrick Leder, co-designer of Vast!)
After picking up our press badges, we got in line for early access to the exhibit hall. Most days, the exhibit hall opens at 10am, but if you have an early access ticket, you can get in at 9am instead. We walked over to the entrance and followed the line of people, which extended along the east side of the convention hall, and down the hall, and down the hall … it ran the length of the convention hall and down the hallway connecting the ICC to Lucas Oil Stadium, to the point where we wondered how early we’d actually get in. Fortunately, though, once the doors opened they kept the lines moving pretty quickly, and I was pleasantly surprised.
My first stop on Thursday morning was the Calliope Games booth. Ever since my first PAX (in 2010), where Ray Wehrs was the first publisher we met with on the first day, Dave Banks and I have made it a tradition to visit Calliope first. This year, many of the Family Fun booths were moved to a different section of the exhibit hall, more front and center so that parents bringing their kids to Gen Con didn’t have to make their way all the way to the back corner of the hall—though the open gaming area was still in the same spot.
Wehrs had preproduction copies of the first three titles in the Titans series to show us: Menu Masters by Zach and Jordan Weisman, Hive Mind by Richard Garfield, and Running With the Bulls by Paul Peterson. Expect to hear a lot more about these titles later, but for now I’ll say this: they look great. I backed the project and I was really pleased to get a preview of the Titan titles. Although the games are very different from each other in gameplay, they share the Calliope Games traits of being easy to learn (very simple rulesheets) and having great artwork. Menu Masters involves buying ingredients from other stores in order to fill your menu, and there’s an interesting supply-and-demand aspect to it.
Hive Mind is a party game where you write down answers to non-trivia questions (for instance, “What did you do at the playground when you were 5?”), hoping to get the same answer as other players. Players who can’t figure out what other players are thinking will be unfit for the hive.
Running With the Bulls is a dice-based game, where your dice will travel from the top to the bottom of the board, selecting paths based on whether they’re odd or even (while getting chased by the bull dice). There are various ways to manipulate the dice, of course, hoping to get to the most desirable locations. The board for this one has a Where’s Waldo? feel to it (including some caricatures of Ray Wehrs and Paul Peterson).
Speaking of the running of the bulls, we had great seats for the annual running of the gamers. At 10am, when the exhibit hall doors were finally thrown open, there was a huge cheer and people started pouring in (and lots of exhibitors filming and photographing). It marked the official opening of Gen Con.
We got a peek at some other upcoming titles from Calliope (including some of the next wave of Titans), but I can’t tell you about those just yet, other than that we got some brief demos and they look like fun.
I stopped by the Game Salute booth to say hello to the folks there and see what they’d brought this year. Dann May’s PolyHero Dice made an appearance, as well as expansions for Sunrise City and King’s Forge. But I also got to get a glimpse of an early copy of Riftwalker (I can’t remember for sure if this was an advance production copy or a proof), a small card game set in the world of Storm Hollow. I helped proofread and edit the cards and rulebook for this, so I was pleased to see how it turned out, and look forward to getting my copy when they start shipping. (Update: The new set of PolyHero Dice, this time with a Wizard theme, is currently on Kickstarter!)
Catalyst Games had a lot of things on display, but the one that caught my attention in particular was the Valiant Universe Deck-Building Game. Now, I have to admit that I don’t actually know much about the Valiant Universe, except that I’d recently heard about Faith and read one issue, and spotted her on the cover. But I love deck-building games and seeing different ways they’re done. This game, which involves competing factions fighting for control of The Facility, is unique in that the stacks of cards get manipulated during the game—moved around, deactivated, and so forth. And there are miniatures of the superheroes!
A friend of mine asked me to stop by the Privateer Press booth to pick up a miniature for him because he couldn’t make it to Gen Con himself. This is what the line looked like on Thursday about midday. I said, never mind, will check back later. (It was much better later in the weekend, where I was able to walk right up, grab the mini, and pay for it with no wait—fortunately it wasn’t one of the more popular models that sold out early.)
At the IDW/Pandasaurus booth, I got a look at a couple of upcoming games. Starfall by Scott Almes is an astronomy-themed game where you’ll bid on various heavenly bodies to “discover” that section of the sky. You can spend your turn to reduce the cost of a tile, but then you can’t discover it that turn—so you may have just enabled somebody else to discover it. The other trick is that your total amount of currency is set, so if you spend a lot early on, you’ll just run out. I’m looking forward to this one, because I’ve enjoyed many of Scott Almes’ game designs and this one looks pretty fascinating. (And I still stand by what I said in my Loop, Inc. review: it really does seem that Almes has access to a time machine or something, because he has so many game designs. I think I talked to at least three publishers at Gen Con who have his games in the pipeline.)
Another game spotted at the IDW booth (sorry, no photo) was Wasteland Express Delivery Service, a game by Jon Gilmour, Ben Pinchback, and Matt Riddle. It’s a post-apocalyptic pick-up-and-deliver game, and looks like loads of crazy fun.
Here’s Jason Kotarski of Green Couch Games, showing off a bunch of his “great little games that make great big connections.” Green Couch has had several successful Kickstarters for games like Wok on Fire, JurassAttack, and Avalanche at Yeti Mountain, and he had all of them for sale in a little corner booth.
Way on the other side of the exhibit hall, I had an appointment with Brain Games, a little company from Latvia that I’d only learned of shortly before Gen Con. They had what turned out to be one of the hits of the con: Ice Cool, a flicking game with little penguins that wobble and spin and can pull off really wild moves. Expect a review of this one soon!
Another game by Brain Games was Game of Trains, in which you try to get your train cars into ascending numerical order by using the various abilities to swap and manipulate the cars. It looked like a pretty interesting logic puzzle sort of game, and I especially liked the artwork, which referenced a lot of pop culture and science fiction tropes. I didn’t pick up a copy of this one, but may need to check it out after I get caught up a little on my other Gen Con reviews.
Nearby was the booth for Gut Shot Games and its debut tabletop game, H.E.A.D. Hunters. The idea is that there are plastic figurines, and inside the head there are cards and components for playing a tabletop miniatures battle game. The figurines are the playing pieces themselves and the storage case and a toy you can display on your desk or bookshelf, which is a fun idea. Look for a Kickstarter campaign for this soon.
At Tim Fowers’ booth (where he had Burgle Bros. on display and some prototypes of Fugitive), we also met Jeff Beck, designer of Word Domination: Spelling Disaster, which launches on Kickstarter this week. It’s a very cool game that mixes spelling and area control and mad scientists, with artwork by Ryan Goldsberry. Watch for previews of this one on our site soon!
I visited the Good Games booth to pick up a copy of Monstrous, which I’d reviewed when it was back on Kickstarter. It’s a card-throwing game with Greek mythology theme, and they had a giant version at the booth (with big foam-core cards) that I somehow didn’t get a photo of. But I did get this photo of Unfair, a game about building amusement parks. You build attractions, upgrade them, and hire staff members. There are City Planning events that affect everyone—the first half of the game is “Funfair” and is generally good for everyone, and in the second half it’s “Unfair” and everything is horrible. Unfair is actually on Kickstarter now—I’ll have a more in-depth write-up soon, but go check it out!
At this point I had to stop by the hotel room and drop off some things because I was just carrying too much. A couple things seen above that I hadn’t mentioned yet: Dungeon Busters and Captain Carcass are both from Mayday Games (and my review of Captain Carcass is posted already). I snagged a Vast T-shirt (but didn’t get a photo of the booth). Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City (review here) is a Target-exclusive version of the game from IDW/Pandasaurus. Gamewright, publisher of Sushi Go Party! (review here), was at Gen Con for the first time this year. And Windfall is an upcoming game from V3G—I’ve got the card prototypes but not the rules yet.
I generally don’t sit down to play full games during the exhibit hall hours unless they’re really short games, because I’ve got so much to see, though I’m always a little bit sorry that I haven’t played Shadows of Brimstone at a convention when they’ve got these really fantastic sets. In the game, you visit the frontier town between scenarios to heal up, buy supplies, and so on—except that even this portion is a game in itself, where bad things can happen: the doctor might have just gotten run out of town, or you might find that the general store burned down before you got there. The Frontier Town expansion adds even more gameplay to this portion of the game. And stay tuned: Flying Frog had some major announcements to make about Shadows of Brimstone the next day.
Arcane Academy is an upcoming game from Th3rd World Studios, which is also responsible for the Finding Gossamyr comic book that inspired the game. It’s designed by Eric Lang and Kevin Wilson, and in the game, you’re competing to be the best students in the class, learning to cast spells. The game uses a tile-laying sort of puzzle to collect resources and activate abilities, where you have to form connections to other tiles on the board. I got a little overview at the convention, and it looks intriguing.
By the time I made it to the Plaid Hat Games booth, they were all out of Seafall, the latest Legacy-style game from Rob Daviau—not that I was surprised. Seafall was one of the hotly anticipated titles this year, and it sold out right away, though they still had demo copies at the booth. I got this photo but didn’t stay to watch too much—I feel like if it’s one that I’m eventually going to play, I want to avoid any potential spoilers before going into it.
Smirk & Dagger Games kept busy all weekend—their booth was usually full of people trying out games whenever I passed by, and I also saw them running tournaments in the evening near where the GeekDads were playing games. Dead Last is one of their new titles, all about being the last to die so you can collect the gold—but it’s not a hidden role game. You can start forming up teams any way you like, and communicate with each other however you want—but eventually you have to vote, and you do not want to be on the wrong side of that vote. I’ve got a copy of this one, though it’ll have to wait until I have a larger group at game night before I can give it a shot.
Playtable bills itself as the “world’s first board game console,” and although I was a little skeptical going into it, I admit that I found it promising. The thing is, there are a lot of similarities between the Playtable and another device I wrote about five years ago, the ePawn Arena. It can use RFID chips to track physical pawns or cards set down on the screen, it has touchscreen capabilities, and it connects to your phone so that you can do things like have a hand of cards on your phone, and then swipe them to the “table” to play them. However, one big thing that Playtable has going for it (besides being in San Francisco and therefore immersed in that particular tech community) is that they’ve been able to license board games from publishers already. As you can see above, they have a demo of The Game of 49 from Breaking Games; I know they were in talks with several other publishers as well—and everyone knows that content can make or break a console. Unfortunately it seems that ePawn may have been just a bit too early with their idea, though I’m not counting them out yet, either.
I’d seen Jeff Johnston and MoonQuake Escape at previous Gen Cons, but now it’s actually (almost) available! Gerry and Sara Tolbert hadn’t seen it before, so I told them it was worth checking out. Johnston has gotten a lot of practice with his patter, and it’s fantastic to see that his enthusiasm for showing it off has not diminished in the least. The game itself has a cool multi-level rotating board, with a floating moon-on-a-stick that indicates whose turn it is and acts as the spinner to replace a die roll. It’s truly something to see, and worth checking out when it hits the Breaking Games store.
Breaking Games (the publishing arm of Ad Magic) has been picking up a lot of Kickstarter-funded games, and had an even bigger presence in the exhibit hall than last year. Joking Hazard is an Apples to Apples–style party game where players compete to provide the last panel in a three-panel comic strip. The judge flips the top card of the deck for the first panel, plays a card from their hand for the second panel, and then everyone else submits a card to be the third panel. The game is from the creators of the Cyanide & Happiness webcomic and, like the comic, is funny and offensive and not for kids. It looks like Joking Hazard is shipping to backers soon, so I expect it will hit stores sometime after that.
I mentioned meeting Seiji Kanai in my list of lists. He’s the designer of Love Letter (among others) and was a special guest of AEG this year. Several of his games are incredibly small—Love Letter, Lost Legacy, and BraveRats are all microgames with a handful of cards total—so I asked him why he chose to create those, and what his inspirations were. What’s funny is that he himself played a lot of RPGs, and initially wanted to create an RPG but it was just too big. He also loved Magic: The Gathering but couldn’t create a CCG on his own, either. Finally, he found inspiration in another Japanese designer who had made a ¥500 game, and decided to try his hand at a 16-card game. Love Letter became a huge hit, with many different versions published worldwide. His newest game is Eight Epics (coming in October), a cooperative dice game about heroes saving the world from huge threats—expect a review of that later!
I also got to meet John D. Clair, designer of Mystic Vale, but somehow didn’t manage to get a photo with him. He said that he really embraced the “multiplayer solitaire” concept prevalent in deck-building, and purposely made the game more about crafting your own deck rather than interfering with other players. The expansion coming in October will add a little more direct player interaction and some new icons and abilities, and Edge of Darkness is another card-crafting game coming next year that will be more like a bigger Euro-style game.
Thursday evening we had our two Gaming With GeekDad events, one from 8 to 10, and one from 10 to midnight. We each brought some games—Dave Banks and Gerry Tolbert, who drove to Gen Con, had huge piles of games—plus some of the things we’d picked up during the first day. In the photo above, you can see games of Imhotep, Ice Cool, and Codenames Pictures underway.
I sat down with a dad who had brought his two kids to Gen Con, and we played a couple games: Deep Sea Adventure and Captain Carcass. As players rotated in and out for games, we would just pick whatever everyone was interested in. Games that I played myself but are not pictured were Sushi Go Party!, Baseball Highlights 2045, and Space Cadets: Dice Duel.
Dave Banks brought his copy of Captain Sonar, and ran a couple games of it. It’s a really fascinating game, where each player has a specific role and you have to be very attentive to what both teams are doing.
As mentioned in our “favorite things” post, Doctor Panic drew a huge crowd—particularly because Gerry provided scrubs for all the players to wear. The game is short but very intense.
Jim Kelly liked Valeria: Card Kingdoms enough from Wednesday night that he ran a game of it this evening.
At midnight, all the lights in the gaming hall automatically shut off. I think it has something to do with the timers and they aren’t set properly, or something, but I remember it happening last year as well. Until the lights came back on, we just got out our phones to use as flashlights and kept going. This year, it was particularly thematic, since I was in the middle of a game of Web of Spies, one of my own favorites that I brought with me.
Meanwhile, there was some more espionage going on next to us with a game of Codenames Pictures.
And before we packed up and headed back to our hotels, we (barely) remembered to get a group photo. The Gaming With GeekDad event was definitely one of my highlights this year. It was great to have some space reserved so that people knew in advance where to find us, and I always enjoy sharing some of my favorite games with new friends. I’m hoping we continue the tradition next year.
So, that’s Day One (and a half) of Gen Con 2016! Click here for Day 2!