My Gen Con 2016 Wrap-Up and Notes

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It’s been three weeks since I departed Indianapolis and left Gen Con 2016 for Atlanta; I’m slowly but surely getting reviews done, playing (or re-playing) games for upcoming reviews, and reaching out to game devs and publishers I met during those four great days. I can’t speak for my fellow GeekDads who were there, but I’m betting many of them are in a similar situation, trying to get a grasp of everything they saw and played and all the people they sat down and spoke to (and/or played a game). I’ve got some more detailed reviews still to come, but before my memory fades too much, I wanted to sit down and write down as much as possible about my experiences this year at Gen Con. I’ve got a stack of business cards, brochures, and other handouts in front of me as well as a folder filled with photos–so let’s get started.

Wednesday Arrival

Many of the GeekDads choose to arrive on Wednesday to get one good afternoon/night of bonus gaming and visiting before the doors open on Thursday. I wasn’t the first GeekDad to arrive–that would be Rob Huddleston. Rob arrived to take part in the Gen Con Trade Day and sit in on sessions related to education. He was tucked away, however, and so I spent my first few hours in Indy having lunch and visiting with honorary GeekDad (until we can get him to join us), Brian Stillman. I met Brian last year via GeekDad John Booth, and we had a good visit as we listened in on all the text and Slack chatter from John, Jonathan Liu, and Dave Banks about flight delays and heavy traffic due to a major highway accident that had Dave arriving quite later than he wanted.

Rob finished up his Trade Day activities and we met up a few hours before our first scheduled activity–a demo game of Battlestations 2nd edition with the game’s creator, Jeff Siadek. Jonathan finally arrived and we all sat down with Jeff to check out his game. There are two parts to the gameplay–a macro ship-vs-ship combat element and a micro element involving crew miniatures and deck-focused movement and combat. It’s an incredibly complex game, with a massive rulebook, scenarios, campaign, and more cards, minis, and tiles than you can imagine. We had a good time playing it, and I’m glad I backed it on Kickstarter. (You can get a little more about the game in Jonathan Liu’s Gen Con 2016 in Photos post.)

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Battlestations, 2nd Edition

After Battlestations, we greeted another GeekDad arrival, John Booth, and headed to the food trucks for some dinner. Once everyone was fueled up, a few of us headed back inside for a game of Vast: The Crystal Caverns. You’ve probably heard the GeekDads (especially Jonathan Liu) rave about this game, and it definitely has earned that reputation. For my first game, I played the Knight. Dave Banks took on the role of the Goblins, while Rob was the Dragon, Jonathan was the Thief, and Dave’s son, Ian, played the Cave. I’ve since played it twice more (as the Cave and then the Goblins) and I’m now completely sold on it. Jonathan’s review of Vast is here, but let me add my 2-cents… it’s outstanding.

The night wrapped up with a game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms back at the hotel with Jonathan, Brian, Rob, and John. (I really enjoyed this little game, enough to purchase a copy once I arrived back home.) It was getting late, and a few of us wanted to get up early to grab our press badges so we could hit the early access line at 9am and get in an hour before the doors opened at 10am to the general public… so off to bed.

Thursday

Standing in line for the press badges, I got to meet Elijah from Meeple Mountain. One thing I really enjoy about Gen Con is meeting strangers and having a fairly good chance of discovering you enjoy many of the same interests. Throughout my four days in Indy, I collected business cards and traded email addresses with so many folks, and quite a few of those have turned into ongoing discussions!

The early access line moved fast, and I was inside the Exhibit Hall at 9:10… not bad! I wasn’t as overwhelmed as last year (my first visit to Gen Con), and I had a short list of a few booths I wished to visit before things got crazy. For two hours, I got to demo a handful of games that included Mansions of Madness (2nd edition with iPad support!), Star Realms (my review here), Hero Realms (review coming), Epic: The Card Game (review coming), and Clank.

One important stop for me was at the Goodman Games booth. Goodman Games gave me my first paid writing opportunity in the gaming industry in 2015 when it released the seventh book in its Fifth Edition Fantasy series that contained twelve mini adventures, five of them written by me. This time around, I was happy to see my newest Fifth Edition Fantasy adventure (#9 in the series), The Fallen Temple, for sale side-by-side with other Goodman products. This was a bucket list item for me–I’ve always wanted to have an adventure published, and a big thank you goes to Joseph Goodman and crew at Goodman Games for giving me the chance.

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My 5e Adventure, The Fallen Temple (middle) on sale.

At 11am, I got to check out a VR gaming platform called AltspaceVR that was running a demo of Brotherwise Games’ Boss Monster. My oldest son loves Boss Monster (and Boss Monster 2), and I got to meet with Christopher O’Neal of Brotherwise and Bruce Wooden, Head of Developer & Community Relations of AltspaceVR, Inc. AltspaceVR creates custom game rooms for game publishers, and as I put on the VR goggles and got an explanation of the controls for movement and interaction (using a small controller I held in my right hand), I moved into the Boss Monster playroom. Created to simulate a fantasy tavern, I looked around the room–dragon’s head mounted above the fireplace, stone walls, timber ceilings… incredible details. In the middle of the room was the Boss Monster play table. I could hear the other player’s voice in my ear and see his/her avatar on the opposite side of the table. As with the real BM game, I selected cards to play and place using the controller. The game’s rules are enforced via the programming, and the sound effects were fun as were the scans of the cards I was familiar with from playing BM with my son. When VR becomes affordable and more common, I can totally see people playing games with friends and strangers across the globe in these simulated environments, ending the need to always be looking for players for your favorite games.

After lunch, I spent a few hours browsing and playing–I picked up a copy of The Captain Is Dead after getting a chance to play a few rounds. I like the hectic nature of the game combined with its nods to the various jobs on a certain famous starship. They had a limited number of copies available for purchase at Gen Con, and I must admit the simple yet colorful artwork really caught my eye. (You can read Jonathan Liu’s reviews of The Captain Is Dead and its first expansion here and here.) There’s also an expansion (Episode III) called Lockdown that will be Kickstarted this fall.

At 1pm, I headed back to the hotel to drop off some games and pick up my game material for the 2-6pm game of Metamorphosis Alpha I was running for Goodman Games. I’ve written previously about how I got my start with role playing games when I dropped into a game of MA decades ago. I’ve got a very soft spot in my heart for MA, and when Goodman Games asked for volunteers to run adventures, I offered to run an original adventure called Expedition to Docking Bay G. My four players each got a folder containing a human character and a mutant character. Goodman Games threw in some swag for my players that included badge ribbons and dice, and I tossed in a homemade bookmark for them to remember the adventure. I got very good feedback from the players, so I’ll probably volunteer to do it again next year. By the way, Goodman Games has also reprinted the MA 1st edition rules; the book looks exactly the same as the original, but it’s been given a shiny metallic foil finish and a new Foreword by MA‘s creator, James M. Ward. Original copies of the MA rules can be pricey, but you can grab a reprint for only $9.99. If you’re into the history of RPGs like I am, this is a great resource and glimpse into old-school RPGing.

MA Reprint
Metamorphosis Alpha (original on left, reprint on right)

Speaking of old school RPGs, Goodman Games had two large cards printed up for fans to sign. The first was a big thank you card to James M. Ward to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Metamorphosis Alpha. The second card was another big thank you card for Robert Bledsaw Jr. in recognition of Judges Guild (founded by Bob Bledsaw, Sr. and Bill Owen) and its 40 years of gaming contributions. (I even got to meet and chat briefly with Mr. Bledsaw and got him to sign my Gen Con Gamer’s Journal.)

JudgesGuildCard    MACard

After finishing the MA adventure and some dinner (and GeekDad Preston Burt joining us), I joined my fellow GeekDads at the tables in the convention center for  the first ever “Gaming with GeekDad” event. The GeekDads gathered here with a bunch of new and old games. Two sessions were created–8-10pm and 10-midnight. Plenty of games were played and enjoyed, and I must give a big shout-out to Chris Jr. (CJ) who, along with his mom and dad, sat down with me to play Valeria: Card Kingdoms. CJ played his way and came out on top, winning the game in style. Next year, CJ… rematch, buddy.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms
Playing a game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms at Gaming with Geekdad. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

My Thursday came to an end with sore feet and a fading voice, but also with a big grin because there were still three days left!

Friday

Friday started… not as early. They don’t open the doors to the Exhibit Hall until 10am, so there was no real rush to get up and get moving. I had a 10am interview set up with Leonidas of Mythic Games to get a glimpse at the soon-to-be-Kickstarted Mythic Battles: Pantheon. I’ll be posting a more detailed review in October (when the Kickstarter goes live), but let me just say this–I’ve never seen miniatures as detailed as the ones I was shown during this meeting. Players take on the roles of a Greek god or goddess and recruit/draft other gods, heroes, monsters, and troops and then duke it out in a world where the gods battle to collect power (called Omphalos). Skirmish battles are supported but there will also be a campaign (possibly campaigns?). There were other things related to this game that I was shown but cannot talk about yet, but let me just share a few closeup photos to give you an idea about the quality of components for this game.

Mythics1 Mythics2 Mythics3 Mythics4

The rest of my afternoon was spent back in the Exhibit Hall. As a DM, I’m always looking for things to help me run my D&D games and/or make the sessions more enjoyable for my players. Gen Con 2016 didn’t disappoint there. I already wrote earlier about my visits at the Hirst Molds booth as well as meeting Tom of Fat Dragon Games and Bill of the Mystix Gaming System. While visiting with Tom, he gave me a sneak peek at some new modular 3D-printed terrain he’ll be Kickstarting on September 6, 2016–and yeah, it’s pretty slick and amazing. More details next month, I promise. And even though Fat Dragon Games’ 3D printed dungeon tiles are outstanding (I’ve been printing about two per day–yet another post I’ll be putting up in the very near future), I’m still finding plenty of opportunities for FDG’s papercraft products. Seeing two more examples of what can be done with FDG’s papercraft kits reminded me just how useful those kits are if you’ve got access to a color printer, scissors, and lots of glue. Below, the photo on the left shows a scene using the EZ-Dungeons: Caverns of Chaos kit. The one on the right is using the EZ-Dungeons: Deluxe Edition.

FatDragon1 FatDragon2

My boys at home are starting to enjoy a weekly dungeon crawl using the Adventure Maximus rules (with some of my own modifications), so I was on the lookout for something that could help me quickly and easily throw together a small adventure for them. I found a series of products by Inkwell Ideas that were perfect–the DungeonMorphs card packs and the Encounter decks (specifically, Encounter Deck #3). These little cards allow me to create a random dungeon layout fast so my boys get more game time.

I mentioned meeting all sorts of folks at Gen Con and getting to chat with them–while delivering a sandwich to Rob who was enjoying a word game in the convention hall, one of his fellow players told me about her husband and a new app he created to keep score while gaming. I checked it out, and I’m happy to give a mention to ScoreBit for iPhone and Android. It supports team and PvP as well as saving scores if you can’t finish a game in one sitting. Thanks, Djanedi, and it was nice to meet you!

ScoreBit

One of the items on my always-growing to do list is to create my own game master screen. But for now, I’m really enjoying The World’s Greatest Screen from Hammerdog Games. I purchased the landscape version (shorter so I can see over the screen and wider to steal more desktop space from my players) and have been enjoying it for my last two game sessions. It’s got four windowed panels for a total of eight pockets. I printed some suitable images for the Curse of Strahd sessions I’m running that go on the outside… some random tables on the inside along with a single 8.5 x 11 gridded sheet (downloaded for free at hammerdog.com) that can serve in a pinch when I need to draw a locale for a mini encounter.

ScreenFront   ScreenBack

One little booth near the back grabbed my attention fast–Dapper Devil was selling little plastic tokens/markers for all sorts of needs. I grabbed some Initiative markers (1-12) along with Flying, Invisible, Inspiration, and a few others. Inexpensive and very helpful… can’t beat that. They also sell game-centric drink coasters, miniature bases, magnets, dice, and character sheet sleeves. They’ll even create custom items for you.

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I imagine that a visit to Gen Con involves a dice purchase for many attendees, and I am no exception. I picked up some crazy cool looking dark gray marble with red numerals and my boys have both been asking for their own dice and specified colors. My oldest (9) got a mutant-green mix and the youngest (6) got a blue set with a darker blue speckle pattern that the photo doesn’t do justice. They were quite happy with my selections.

Dice
Dice for EVERYONE! (Blue for 6yr old, green for 9)

The afternoon was winding down, a few more demo games were played or watched, and then I joined fellow GeekDad John Booth over at MetaArcade’s booth to try out their new Tunnels & Trolls digital solo adventure. John Booth will be providing more details about MetaArcade and the digital game play in a later post. And just in case he doesn’t mention it, I played through the digital adventure and survived. Boom.

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Escaping the dungeon? Nothing to it.

Speaking of Tunnels & Trolls… I got to spend a few minutes chatting with Ken St. Andre. Tunnels & Trolls was one of those games that I heard about when I started playing D&D but could never find a copy. I got Ken to sign my reprint of the 1st edition rules he wrote back in 1975, and, while I was at it, I got him to sign the cover of my Gamer’s Journal along with Rick Loomis, the creator of the Nuclear War card game who also signed my copy of Nuclear War. Rick Loomis was responsible for carrying copies of Ken’s Tunnels & Trolls rulebook to Origins in 1975 which got the game noticed and licensed by Flying Buffalo. Flying Buffalo is (thankfully) still around and selling the latest version of T&T along with supplements and other collectibles. Also, all those who took the time to sit down and play MetaArcade’s digital game got a free print copy of a T&T solo adventured titled Grimtina’s Guard… signed by Ken St. Andre, creator of T&T.

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Flying Buffalo still making history.

Wrapping up Friday afternoon, the GeekDads headed over to a cocktail party hosted by Gen Con. A handful of game developers were on hand to show off their games and visit. I got to play two great games from Renegade Game Studios–Lotus and Covert. Even better, we got to play these games with their actual designers. We played a full game of Lotus, and I LOVED the gameplay. It’s definitely one I’ll be purchasing to play with my family. As for Covert… this cloak and dagger game is a must-buy for me, and I believe my fellow GeekDads who played were in agreement that it had some really unique aspects that made it stand out. (I believe both games will be covered in the near future on GeekDad.)

For most of Friday, I kept trading emails with Spin Masters who were hosting the Escape the Game event at Gen Con that I wrote about recently. The escape event allowed up to six people inside at once, but you can imagine how much fun it can be to try and get a time that works for six people. We finally were able to settle on a time that was 15 minutes AFTER the cocktail party ended… and we had to HUSTLE to get there on time. We escaped in record time, too.

HappyEscape
If no one else can help, and if you can find them….maybe you can hire The A-Team.

My Friday wasn’t over, however. I still had a 9-midnight D&D game to play with John Booth and Brian Stillman. We brought out level 4 characters and joined with some level 1s… our DM was great, too. He really got into character for some of his NPCs, and the entire event ended with a rooftop chase that was really fun. Everyone survived, too… I don’t get to play D&D often (I DM mostly) so it was fun, and getting to play side-by-side with Brian and John was icing on the cake.

DM TheAdventure

After the game, the GeekDads were still rolling, but I was done… back to the hotel room for a good night’s sleep.

Saturday

Saturday morning was a rough start. Everyone was saying that it’s the craziest day, and they were correct. When the doors opened at 10am, the crowds outside the doors were massive. Fortunately, I was heading in a different direction than the Exhibit Hall. I had an appointment to play Mutant Crawl Classics with its designer, Jim Wampler. Hosted by Goodman Games, Jim was running a non-stop tournament where when a player dies, the next player waiting in line  jumps in. During my wait, I saw two players sit down and stand up less than a few minutes later. Goodman Games likes to host what they call funnel games, where level 0 characters go in, but most don’t come out. Games are broken into rounds (sort of like chapters of a bigger adventure), and players receive a stamp when they survive a round or a different stamp should they die.

MCC is a brand new game that just had a great Kickstarter; it’s reminiscent of TSR’s Gamma World, if you’ve ever played that game. Players take on the roll of Seekers who can be pure blood human, mutants, or animal and plant hybrids. When I took my seat at the table, Jim pulled out a random sheet… I got a pure blood human. I successfully survived a round but died in the second round. It didn’t matter… it was 15 minutes or so of fun and I could have gotten back in line to play again but I had a lot on my Saturday agenda. It was great to meet Jim and get a sneak peek of the game I backed and hope to play next year. (And, of course, I’ll be writing up a review next year when the game book is in my hands.) I got him to sign my character sheet before heading out, and he gave me a huge grin and thanked me for playing. Made my day.

MutantCrawlClassics  MCCWampler

I headed back to the Exhibit Hall and planned on spending the rest of the afternoon playing games or at least watching them… wait times were very high for popular games, obviously. John Booth and I did have a chance to visit Wyvren Gaming (yes, that’s the correct spelling, and there’s a funny/cute story about it that one of the three company founders, Phil, shared with us). John will be reviewing Onami soon, and I will be reviewing Cthulhu: A Deck Building Game. Yes, the Cthulhu game is great… if you’re a fan of Lovecraft, the mood and artwork and gameplay will win you over. Stay tuned for a review next month.

While I was getting a demo game of Cthulhu: A Deck Building Game, the cards were being held in this really cool plastic holder. It turns out that the creator of this holder was one booth over, demoing and selling the Card Caddy. The product has done well, and a second Kickstarter raised the funds for the Card Caddy Double Decker. Check out the links and see the thing in action–it’s really cool how it protects the cards like a hard shell but separates to create holders for discard piles or draw piles. You can purchase Card Caddy products here.

CardCaddy2  CardCaddy

Saturday evening after a great meal together with some of my fellow GeekDads, we linked up for what is becoming a tradition–True Dungeon. I believe there will be a more detailed posting on our experiences with True Dungeon coming soon, but suffice to say… our band of adventurers didn’t fare so well. Once again, I took on the role of a wizard and had to put my memory skills to the test in order to toss fire dart and other spells at the monsters.

The evening finished up with some more games with the GeekDads in the convention center. I finally got to play a game of Captain Sonar (mixed feelings, but I think it will grow on me with some more playtime) and a highlight of the evening was getting to play the new Saloon Tycoon that Rob brought to the table.

And then… there was just one more day left.

Sunday and Departure

I had a late afternoon departure time, so there was time for one more visit to the Exhibit Hall on Sunday before lunch and then ride to the airport. This time, I went in to visit various booths related to terrain design and DM/character management. I found quite a few solutions that would work well for my gaming group, and a few others that would be very helpful to me (as DM) when it comes to organizing my gaming sessions. I wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with any of them, so below you’ll find some links and quick notes about what I was able to squeeze in:

  • Fantasy Grounds – The promise is less prep time for DMs and from what I saw of the software, I see a lot of possibilities. There are subscription options as well as one-time license purchases. (fantasygrounds.com)
  • Hero Lab – Character management software with a great looking option for tablets. The iPad character sheet was quite impressive; hovering your pointer over a spell name, for example, causes a bubble popup to appear with details of the spell that disappears when you move the pointer away. Character creation was amazingly fast, too. There’s a free trial for Windows and Mac, too. (getherolab.com)
  • 3D Virtual Tabletop – This one caught my eye with some interesting visuals–minis appear on screen ( tablet or phone) at scale with respect to other minis, and the view can be altered (top down or angled, for example). Minis can be labeled, and text and chat and dice rolling are supported. It looks promising–I’ll try to get a more detailed review up in the near future. (3dvtt.com)
  • Pro Fantasy Software – “Map Making for Gamers” and they aren’t kidding. I saw some amazing examples of what the software can create hanging on the booth, and I was most impressed with the ability to create orthogonal views for printing. If you’re looking for software to create high-level and detailed maps of regions or even continents, this appears to be your solution. (profantasy.com)
  • Worldographer – I reviewed this Kickstarter recently, but this special software will let you create hexagonal maps for your games, complete with special icon sets for locales, dangers, etc. (inkwellideas.com)

Before leaving downtown Indy, I had one last mad rush through the Exhibit Hall to see if anything jumped out at me. I picked up a couple Gamer Badges, spoke to the team behind an upcoming Kickstarter called H.E.A.D Hunters that looks very promising (reviewing soon), and got a demo of One Deck Dungeon (reviewing soon).

Back to the hotel, picked up my checked luggage, and then Rob and I shared a ride to the airport. Amazingly, the airport was calm and not crowded at all. I had a chance to sit down and look through my photos, read over some instruction manuals I’d set aside for the flight, and grab some food. My second visit to Gen Con was even crazier than the first, but I came (somewhat) prepared and took plenty of breaks, drank lots of water, washed my hands often (Avoided Con Crud! WOO HOO!), and just enjoyed the experience as much as possible.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Gen Con. I’ve already blocked the dates off–it’s a bit later in the month of August, and I was concerned it would interfere with my kids and school starting, but my wife knows how much I love Gen Con and seeing my fellow GeekDads… she’s telling me to go, so who am I to argue?

I must give big thanks to Jonathan and Dave for doing so much behind-the-scenes work in coordinating things like True Dungeon, the cocktail party, and Gaming with GeekDad… and I’m sure I forgot some. This is a fantastic group of friends, and I’m already looking forward to 2017.

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