Gen Con Wrap-Up: What GeekDads Enjoyed Most

The GeekDads and all our friends …

We have returned. We’ve kinda caught up on sleep. And we have lots of new games to play. So, in initiative order, here are the things that caught our eyes at Gen Con 50:

Dave Banks

Well, true to our “things we’re looking forward to” post, what I enjoyed the most was seeing designers and publishers and GeekDads and friends who I really only see once a year. The time went too quickly and I didn’t get to spend enough time with any of them, but it was still my favorite part of Gen Con.

Peter Adkinson took me on a tour of the “50th Anniversary of Gen Con” exhibit and I was blown away. I was told later that a lot of these things have been displayed at Gary Con before, but I’d never seen them and I really appreciated the opportunity to see so much gaming history.

In terms of games, my favorite that I played was Photosynthesis. It’s beautiful, it’s straight strategy, and a lot of fun. We played four player, which is probably like jumping in at expert level, but I’m interested to see how it plays at 2 and 3. (Look for a review from Jonathan Liu, soon.)

Clank! in Space
Clank! in Spaaaaaaaace! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I also really like Clank! In Space. We’re all big fans of Clank! around here and I liked the openness of this version’s map a little better. It’s a brutal game and we all died, but we had a blast anyway. We played just one round of Wasteland Express Delivery Service and I really enjoyed it. The Game Trayz (included) organization inserts make that game well worth the price.

I played a full game of Rising Sun during the charity event and absolutely loved it. Each clan has great powers—I can’t wait to try them all—and after that first game, I have about a half dozen different strategies I want to try in future games. I bought a copy of The Climbers and really enjoyed it. I’ve played a couple of games now and it’s pretty fantastic — part dexterity, part strategy, and just a little luck.

We played lots of games at our Game with GeekDad event. Everyone had a fun time.

Thanks to everyone who attended our “Gaming with GeekDad” events. We had a great time playing with everyone, especially the brave souls who donned brown afro wigs to play Bob Ross: Art of Chill. Thanks to Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules! and CGE ambassador and, also, the Smirk & Dagger demo team who came to help us teach games.

One of the more hyped games that I didn’t care for was Unearth. I feel that your game depends too much on luck and, if the dice aren’t kind to you, it’s a bit of a grind. The artwork seems too much like Monument Valley, as well. Other people in our group really enjoyed it. I’ll give it another shot sometime.

A challenge at Gen Con is that there is just far too much to see and do and not enough time to get around to it all. I think we, as GeekDads, did a bit of a better job spreading out to cover more this year. However, that still means we missed stuff. The games I was disappointed about not seeing were Spirit Island and Whistle Stop. I look forward to playing both soon. Still, the biggest miss for me was Ex Libris. The Renegade booth was overwhelmed until the game was sold out and there was always a crowd three deep around the table showing off this game. I really can’t wait to play it!

The façade of Horticultural Hall.

James Floyd Kelly

I entered the vendor area through a completely different set of doors this year. The very first place I ended up stopping was just a few booths in… the Magic Maze game booth. Played it. Bought it. From there, the first day was pretty much a blur. I spent the first few hours just exploring. Lines exploded at most of the big name booths (Fantasy Flight, Catalyst, etc.) so I skipped those areas and focused on the smaller booths. Second game I played (and bought!) was Paramedics: Clear! (I’ll be reviewing this one in more detail in a later post) and I got to spend some time with the game designer listening to him tell about the game’s development. He also offered to come by the Gaming with GeekDad event and teach the game… and he delivered!

Thursday was mostly looking for new games and surprises, but I knew I couldn’t avoid the bigger booths. Catalyst Game Labs set me up with the new Dragonfire Dungeons & Dragons card game (another game I’ll be reviewing in more detail soon) but also put me onto two new discoveries that I took for a spin — Master of Orion (2-player, or 4-player with two boxes) and Shadowrun: Zero Day (2-player). Both were pleasant surprises and I’ll be writing those up soon, too. I got to see the actual HUGE box for Battlestations 2nd Ed — poor Jonathan had to carry his copy home, but mine is being shipped to me.

Once again, I got to visit with Shelley at the ConQuest Journals booth — her Gen Con 50 journal was an absolute lifesaver for keeping notes on all the games I played, and fellow GeekDad John Booth also got a lot of mileage from his copy. Shelley was also very kind in allowing me to store my purchases at her booth so I didn’t have to carry them around all day. Getting to meet Frostgrave creator, Joseph McCullough, was another highlight. I love Frostgrave, and the crew of Osprey Games was out in force demoing a number of games and showing off the new Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago game that will release in October. (Joe also agreed to a 2v2 game of Frostgrave with me and two fellow GeekDads on Saturday night — a full writeup coming next week).

As someone who loves the history of our games, the recreation of the early Gen Con events at the Horticultural Hall was mind-blowing. There were too many things to see and not enough time to check them all out in detail. Plenty of Gygax and Arneson artifacts on display, and a solid reminder that our hobby has an amazing history that should never be forgotten. I hope Gen Con will consider keeping this event going and available for new attendees.

Looking back over the event, what did I see? Lots of games. Too many games to play. Too many games to carry home (or ship back). Thankfully, many that I saw and want will be available in retail stores soon.

Photosynthesis time lapse
A game of Photosynthesis at Gen Con. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

Chris Wickersham

With this being my first Gen Con, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I have attended industry conventions before: CES, NAB, RSA, etc., but it was difficult to imagine what the biggest four days in gaming might look like. Long story short, I was completely unprepared! I expected games, of course, but I didn’t expect the dazzling cosplay, the vast differences in the booths of established giants of the industry and fledgling startups trying to make a name for themselves, or the sheer number of people who were planning on sitting down and gaming throughout the night.

Standouts for me in the gaming realm would have to include Photosynthesis. The game grabbed my attention from Day 1 but I wasn’t sure I could take the plunge on a game about growing trees until I had a chance to play through it. By the time I got to sit down and realize how fun it was and how deep the strategy went, it was sold out. Talk about a huge bummer!

Mini Rails
Mini Rails from Moaideas. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Another area of excitement came from the the small Taiwanese publisher Moaideas Game Design. There was one game they brought called Tulip Bubble that grabbed nearly everyone who walked by with its beauty and simple but devilishly deep strategy. It sold out in the first day of the conference and I was left regretting my hesitation once again. Another game from them, Mini Rails, was also flying out of their booth and I was so immediately enthralled with it that I did pick up a copy and am anxious to try it out with my local gaming group as soon as possible. I love games that are simple to learn and take forever to master and it seems like this might be MGD’s specialty. They were sharing a booth with Tasty Minstrel Games and were considering a distribution deal, so watch for news of that in the future.

Finally, the last thing I wanted to share was my surprise at the quality of the artwork available at the conference. As I mentioned earlier, this was my first Gen Con and I was absolutely not expecting to come home with original artwork. And yet, packed carefully away in my extra suitcases with piles and piles of games were two fantastic pieces. The first was an original work by the self-styled, “Canvas Whisperer” Pui Che that drew my eye every time I walked by his booth. By the third pass I had to stop and talk to the artist about his process and motivation.

The second work was an illustrated book of Norse poetry. The artist who illustrated the book, Sam Flegal, was there and again offered his insight into the captivating process he used to complete his illustrations. I not only purchased a copy of his illustrated work but also a copy of a short text he wrote describing his artistic process.

While it seems spurious to talk at length about the artwork I brought home from Gen Con, I think it touches on part of what makes boardgaming so special to me. Many times my eyes are first drawn to a new game because of the artwork. The illustrations on the cards, the colors of the pieces and play surfaces, and the textures used in crafting the game often mean as much to me as the mechanics of the game itself. It’s a big part of the reason why a game about growing trees kept drawing me back to it and make me so eager to play it and finally own a copy. It goes without saying that the mechanics, the replayability, and the depth of games are critical to their success but I often forget myself just how important the artwork associated with a game is to it finding its way onto our constantly overfull shelves.

Gerry Tolbert on Throne of Games
Gerry sits on the Throne of Games at the Dized booth.

Gerry Tolbert

By far, spending time with so many friends and acquaintances playing games was my favorite part of Gen Con 50. I interviewed several people (from 3 continents) about upcoming projects and games, saw some pretty sweet new games and prototypes, and helped host the Gaming with GeekDad event. I can say without hesitation, this was my most relaxed, most social con experience and I can’t wait until next year.

Batman game
Batman from Monolith. Photo: Gerry Tolbert

As for games, my sleeper hit, which isn’t even technically available yet, is the forthcoming Batman game – from Monolith games – hitting Kickstarter in February 2018. I spoke with the game’s designer about the mechanics of the prototype and the over-emphasis on miniatures and visuals in a lot of Kickstarter campaigns, and I came away from that interview very excited about the concepts behind this game. For the physiology nerds in the crowd, much of the core mechanic in the game is based on the Krebs Cycle. The Krebs Cycle! Overall, I’m excited to play all the games I purchased and previewed, but more than anything, I miss spending hours at a time with the other GeekDad contributors playing all the games.

Kingdomino at Gen Con
Playing Kingdomino at our Game with GeekDad event. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Jonathan Liu

During Gen Con, I spend all of the exhibit hall hours walking around talking to publishers, and then play games into the night—but it does mean I don’t sit down and play a lot of demos in the exhibit hall, or else I run out of time to see everything. So that means all those sold-out games that got all the buzz don’t tend to be on my list, because I didn’t play them … yet.

One thing I really enjoyed was getting to share some of my favorites with my fellow GeekDads, since we don’t often get to play games together. I got to show them PhotosynthesisMagic Maze, Kingdomino, and Go Nuts for Donuts, four favorites that were making their Gen Con debuts this year. I also really enjoyed the Game with GeekDad event—I love teaching games, and so it was a blast to meet people and show them our favorites.

Gen Con Kickstarters
Left: Julian Leiberan-Titus and Angela Hickman Newnham with Storm Hollow (photo provided by Angela); top right: Battlestations; bottom right: Sagrada (photos by Jonathan H. Liu)

I love seeing games that I trumpeted during their Kickstarters on display in their beautiful, finished forms: ApocryphaMistborn: House WarBattlestationsBy Order of the QueenSagradaLeaders of EuphoriaSummitTruck OffTiny Epic Quest, the next three titles in Calliope’s Titan series, and, of course, the long-awaited Storm Hollow. There are probably many more, but it’s great to see these games finally out in the wild, so to speak, and to see other people getting to enjoy them.

And along those lines, I was also excited to see games that are coming to Kickstarter soon, like Rule & Make’s T2029, a game inspired by the future battle scenes in Terminator 2Cerebria from MindClash Games is about two factions, Gloom and Blisswho are trying to gain control of a person’s mind—it’s like Inside Out meets area control. IDW will be launching a Legend of Korra game about pro bending. There are, of course, several others in the pipeline, but you’ll just have to stay tuned for those!

As for the new releases this year, I haven’t actually gotten to play most of them myself yet—for me, that’s what happens after I get home! I’ve got a big stack of games to try out, and time will tell which ones turn out to be my favorites. There are a bunch that I’m excited to try out, and a few that sold out at the show that I’ll just have to wait a little longer before I can get a copy. I did manage to snag a copy of First Martians by Ignacy Trzewiczek, which was partially based on his brutal cooperative game Robinson Crusoe. I call dibs on being Mark Watney!

Finally, the thing that I love the most about Gen Con is simply getting to see all of these people in the gaming world in person. I interact with a lot of publishers, designers, artists, reviewers, and gamers online, but most of them don’t live here in Portland. Even when we don’t have a chance to do more than say hello and shake hands on the way to our individual appointments, I appreciate getting a chance to see them face-to-face, to meet people I admire and tell them so. To all of you who make this hobby amazing, thanks!

Go Nuts for Donuts at Gen Con
The GeekDads try Go Nuts for Donuts. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

John Booth

Man, there is nothing like Gen Con with a group like this. Always a high point of the year.

Echoing some earlier sentiments, I really enjoyed Go Nuts for Donuts, Paramedics: Clear!, and Kingdomino. Dungeons & Dragons: Rock Paper Wizard was another fun one that was easily learned, relatively quickly played, and fun with a group of four or five. I also played an upcoming game from the makers of RobotLabthis one a knitting-themed card game called Yarn Bomb. 

I wound up with fewer hours for role-playing games this year, partly because two of my scheduled sessions were only two hours instead of four, and partly because one of my sessions was cancelled. This year’s crop of RPGs included the forthcoming Sentinel Comics, based on the Sentinels of the Multiverse card game and leaning heavily on comic-book-style storytelling, and Star Wars: Age of Rebellion. Both were fun – very different systems, and I’ll write more in an upcoming post. I skipped the official D&D adventures this year to play in a game designed and run by our friend Brian Stillman – and it was simply fantastic. Made me want to get back behind the GM screen again.

In fact, that urge to create ties in with the other thing that really has me excited: MetaArcade‘s Tunnels & Trolls app and adventures are fully launched now, and the final versions have improved upon the demos we saw at last year’s Gen Con. But what really grabbed me was seeing a demo of the digital creation system that was used to build the games, because that’s the next stage: Releasing the tools for anyone to build these adventures. (And again: More in an upcoming post.)

We found fun!

I work. I play games. Sometimes I work at playing games.