Gen Con Wrap-Up: What GeekDads Enjoyed Most in 2018

GeekDads at Gen Con
John Booth, Dave Banks, Gerry Tolbert, James Floyd Kelly, and Jonathan H. Liu after our Gaming with GeekDad event at Gen Con.

James Floyd Kelly

Gen Con 2018 has come and gone. As usual, those of us who were able to attend have been asked to put down some of our thoughts on the “best four days of gaming,” and I’m happy to oblige. This was my fourth year attending Gen Con, and I went in this year with the intention of playing more games and finding the right ones to bring home to my family. In previous years, I focused too much on trying to arrange for review units and rushing from booth to booth to make the dozens of appointments I had scheduled ahead of time. This year… none of that. I went in with three scheduled events — two games and one documentary (more on these shortly) — and left the rest of the four days open for exploration of both the Exhibit Hall and the various gaming halls. Rather than exhaust myself by skipping meals and hauling loot all over the place, I took time this year to sit down and relax during my meals and take my purchases back to the hotel room at regular intervals. I also avoided late-night gaming past midnight; I know a lot of my fellow GeekDads enjoy those late night gaming sessions, but I’m an early to bed, early to rise guy and by sticking with my body’s schedule, I was able to participate in a few early morning gaming sessions and still get some good nights’ sleep.

Tiny Epic Mechs game in progress
Tiny Epic Mechs prototype. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

But enough of that… here are some of the things I did (some I enjoyed, some I did not) at Gen Con, in no particular order:

* I played over 20 sit-down games, many of them new but a few were games I already knew — these included Ravine and Tiny Epic Mechs (two prototypes Jonathan Liu brought), Sorcerer, Arkham Horror 3rd Edition, Troll (an Oink game Jonathan brought and now very hard to find), KeyForge (a full review coming!), Decrypto, Star Wars Destiny (new Starter Set), X-Wing 2.0, Mansions of Madness 2.0, Werewords, One Week Werewolf, Don’t Mess with Cthulhu, The Captain Is Dead: Lockdown, Kids on Bikes, and Splendor.

* I ran two Gaslands events for Osprey Games — the first was a 3-table Qualifier, with four players at each table. Osprey provided Hot Wheels cars and superglue, I 3D-printed dozens of tiny weapons (turrets, machine guns, etc.) and terrain, and we invited players to create their own two vehicles to run in the games. The winners from those three tables moved on to the Final where a trophy was awarded along with a lot of other prizes. Gaslands is one of my favorite games, and I loved being able to help Osprey run the event.

Gaslands

* I got to play the new one-off Arkham Horror: The Card Game, a Gen Con exclusive. Each player received a copy of the deck, and I’m looking forward to playing it again. My fellow investigators and I all lost… badly. (Losing often is the sign of a FUN game when it comes to Arkham Horror.)

* I attended the Wednesday night tease put on by Fantasy Flight Games where they announced a bunch of new products for some of my favorite games — Legion has Chewbacca and and the Wookie Warriors coming! — but it was Richard Garfield’s announcement for his new card game, KeyForge, that was the biggest surprise. I’m not a fan of Magic: The Gathering, so this new card game hits all the right buttons for me. Look for a complete review of the game coming soon — each attendee (and thanks to Dave Banks for the ticket!) got two decks, so my son and I can play at home. It’s cool. Very cool.

Star Wars Legion Chewbacca

* I got to attend the first viewing of Eye of the Beholder: The Art of D&D by my friend, Brian Stillman. Brian and his two partners interviewed dozens of D&D artists from the ’70s forward and created an outstanding documentary that also won Best Gen Con 2018 Documentary. Congrats to Brian and his partners. I was told they’ll be sending out Kickstarter backer awards in the near future… it’s definitely one to grab if you’re a fan of D&D artwork. Funny… sad… surprises all over. Well worth watching!

* I picked up the latest expansion to Giant Killer Robots — this is one I love playing and is somewhat popular here in Atlanta. This expansion consists of two new giant mechs, Salty and Sweet, and each of their three support robots. If you’re not familiar with GKR, it’s a giant mech game from WETA, the New Zealand-based special effects firm.

GKR

* Elder Dice — I got LOTS of compliments at some gaming events for my new dice. They have a unique look and color, and I’m certain I sent some more customers over to the Elder Dice booth. Sold individually, I ended up buying the “book” that contains a set of 9 dice — d100, d20, d12, d10, d8, d4, and 3x d6. I have the ‘red’ dice, which I find hard to stop staring at. You can also read Rory’s original review of Elder Dice here and even place a late pledge if you like.

* Roll4Initiative was showing off its new Diffusion dice, but what caught my eye were the 2D Dry-Erase Dungeon Tiles. I purchased a pack of the 5x 10″x10″ and 16x 5″x5″ gray dungeon theme. Dry-Erase markers come right off, but what surprised me was that so do Sharpies! It really did come out! They apparently fixed the tab system that interlocks the tiles and mine work great. Back in the DM chair, I’m going to be doing some occasional 2D sessions that don’t require lots of 3D terrain prep work, so these are going to come in handy. You can find more info here.

* Last year, I got to play a game of Frostgrave with its creator, Joe McCullough. It was Brian Stillman (the above documentary maker) and me VERSUS GeekDad John Booth and Joe. This year, it was me and Joe on a team (that’s me and Joe below… Joe on the left), with five treasures on the top pedestal of the miscellaneous terrain I shipped up for the event. I brought a Chronomancer and Joe brought an Enchanter. We thought we had the game in hand with two treasures captured and a third on its way off the board, but Brian and John gave us a run for our money, using some well-timed Teleport spells to catch up to us and almost… ALMOST… win the day. We took the third treasure (they had two) for the win, but it was a VERY close game. One of the most fun Frostgrave games I’ve played in a while.

Joe Frostgrave

All in all, I have to say this was my favorite Gen Con to date. I played more games than I’ve ever played over four days, and I also managed to get plenty of visiting time with my fellow GeekDads. Right now, I’m considering making Gen Con an every-other-year thing for me… this would allow me to visit some other conventions that I’ve wanted to attend. Time will tell.

I’ve got some more thorough game and product reviews coming up in the very near future, so stay tuned for those. To Gerry, Dave, Jonathan, and John… it was great to see all of you again, and I’m glad everyone made it home safely.


Gen Con Gaming with GeekDad event
Several games being played at our Gaming with GeekDad event: Before There Were Stars, Welcome To, Tiny Epic Mechs, My Little Scythe, and Pass the Pandas. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

John Booth

Before I talk about the games I played at this year’s Gen Con, I have to say that this year’s Gaming with GeekDad event was an incredible high point for me – and I didn’t even play anything. To explain: Although I’m a decent instructor with games I know well, I’m not the best at introducing more complex games, especially those I’ve only played once or twice. This year, once we’d gotten several tables rolling with larger, longer games, a family of four came in a few minutes after the event began: A mom, a dad, their three-year-old daughter, and their teenage nephew. Dave Banks started them off with Roll For It, and while they were playing, GeekDad Gerry Tolbert’s wife Sara gave me a quick introduction to Pass the Pandas, which was easy for me to learn and teach – and incorporated the perfect mix of quick play, a little luck, and a little competitive interference. Then I introduced them to XYZ Game Labs’ RobotLab – and they absolutely loved it. In turn, I loved talking with them and seeing them have such a great time as a family. They told us this was their first Gen Con, and that they’d been looking forward to the Gaming with GeekDad event more than anything, and everything about it just made my day.

Also, a large portion of the entire GeekDad/participant group stuck around afterward for a crazy giant round of sixteen-player Happy Salmon.

Some of my favorite hours at every Gen Con don’t start until probably 9 p.m., when the GeekDads and GeekMoms tend to get together and play games that are still new to many of us – until the sleep deprivation kicks in. This year, the two games I enjoyed most during these get-togethers were the myth-making storyteller Before There Were Stars (Smirk & Laughter Games) and Oink Games’ Startups. And thanks once again to James for arranging that Frostgrave session – I really do enjoy this miniatures skirmish game.

My seat at the table for Magpie Games’ Epyllion, which marked my first experience with an improv-fueled rules-light RPG. More in a forthcoming post. Photo: John Booth

Every year, I look forward to my RPG time at Gen Con, and I always aim to try at least a couple games for the first time. This year, I finally got to assume the role of a young drake in a roleplaying session of Magpie Games’ Epyllion and dipped a dipped a few toes into the hard science-fiction waters of Eclipse Phase. I also returned to the Ninth World for a ticketed Numenera adventure, and sat at the table for a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons one-shot run by friend of GeekDad Brian Stillman – and speaking of Brian…

Congratulations to him, Kelley Slagle, and Seth Polansky – because not only did they hit their goal of premiering Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons at Gen Con, they won the film contest’s Best Documentary award! Attending the movie’s premiere at this particular convention, with a bunch of D&D artists from different eras watching, and seeing them and the fans interact with each other was a critical hit for the ages.

And because I don’t want to be the one guy who doesn’t say it: Yes, all you fellow GeekDads and GeekMoms and excellent friends I see all too infrequently – you’re the best, and you’re the most important reasons I’ve made this trip six years running. (Well, you and Der Pretzel Wagen.)

Jonathan H. Liu

Despite having several schedule snafus (including entirely missing the Cardboard Quills panel that I was supposed to be on because I was off by an hour, for which I apologize profusely and expect to be reminded of frequently for a long time), I had a really great time at Gen Con this year, from meeting up with fellow GeekDad Jim Kelly at the airport until I grudgingly left Indianapolis behind on Sunday evening. (They were asking for volunteers to give up a seat and stay an extra night, and I must admit I was tempted!)

Playing Ravine at Gen Con
The GeekDad crew (top) managed to survive Ravine, though not before John Booth experienced all of the strange mushrooms; our guests at Gaming with GeekDad (bottom), did not fare as well, with only a lone survivor. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

One of my favorite things about Gen Con is getting to meet up with my fellow GeekDads, because we don’t generally get to see each other much. We had a slightly smaller group this year compared to last year, but we still had a good time. I love bringing a few favorite games to teach, and this year was no different. I got to show off prototypes of Ravine (delivering to backers soon), Sabotage (currently on Kickstarter), and Tiny Epic Mechs (coming to Kickstarter in September). I also brought Startups, a current favorite from Oink Games.

I also really enjoyed our Gaming with GeekDad event this year. Unlike previous years, we ran it during the day on Saturday (so I reluctantly left the exhibit hall) in the hopes that we’d have more families and kids joining us, and it worked. It was great to see a few kids mixed into the group this time, and we had a lot of fun with them. A special thanks to North Star Games, Gamewright, Fowers Games, Calliope Games, and Blue Orange Games for providing some games as giveaways for our event!

Speaking of Oink Games, I couldn’t help picking up a few new titles from their booth this year, though I have to admit that it may have been better to pick up Moneybags at the end of the day instead, because it’s filled with metal coins and I carried that tiny, heavy box around all day on Thursday. I got to play 3 of the 4 new titles, and was happy to fill in a bit more of my collection.

playing Before There Were Stars
Sara Tolbert and Dave Banks enjoy Gerry Tolbert’s tale about a princess horse and a small yellow bear. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

As Jim mentioned already, several of the GeekDads got together each evening after dinner to play games, usually with one or two friends who joined up with us. Instead of sticking with the gaming halls in the convention center, though, this year we branched out and tried a few locations, including the Grand Ballroom at the JW Marriott and Lucas Oil Stadium. Last year, when Gen Con expanded into the stadium, we stopped to check it out but didn’t stay to play games. This year we spent Friday evening there and had a fun time—there’s just something appealing about playing board games on a football field. One of my favorite games of the night was Before There Were Stars from Smirk & Laughter, a story-telling game that resulted in some really surprising twists and fun moments.

GameTrayz booth at Gen Con
Noah Adelman shows off his work at the GameTrayz booth. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Back in 2014, I picked Noah Adelman’s GameTrayz as one of my favorite things from Gen Con. I was blown away by the tray he designed forJamey Stegmaier’s Euphoria, and I was convinced that publishers should work with Noah to have his trays included in their game boxes right from the start. You can still buy GameTrayz add-ons for some games (now from the BoardGameGeek store!), but you’ll also find them included in games like Wasteland Express Delivery ServiceMy Little Scythe, and The Grimm Forest. GameTrayz has even made the leap into Target, in Megaland from Red Raven Games. I was particularly impressed by the trays for The Reckoners from Nauvoo Games, which aren’t just for storage but are the trackers and player boards for playing the games. And Noah has set a new bar for sliders, too—if you’re designing a game and you’re considering sliders, these are fantastic. I like to think I had a small role to play in encouraging some publishers to seek out GameTrayz back in 2014, and clearly Noah’s been working hard to build up GameTrayz into a success story.

Root, Horizons at Gen Con
Left: A long line awaits Patrick Leder (at right, in black shirt) to buy Root; Right: Levi Mote shows off a finished copy of Horizons. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

It’s always fun for me to see finished versions of games that I reviewed during their Kickstarter campaigns. My copy is usually a prototype, often hand-cut cardboard, substitute tokens, sometimes unfinished artwork (though that’s becoming less common). It’s especially gratifying when these games are well-received, because other people can finally share in the excitement I had. There were many, many Kickstarted games at Gen Con this year, but two in particular stood out to me: Root from Leder Games and Horizons from Daily Magic Games, both of which sold out their Gen Con inventory. I’ve been anticipating both of them myself, and am looking forward to playing them soon!

Dave Banks

I suspect I may sound a bit like a broken record, but the best things about Gen Con every year, for me, are the people. It’s seeing old friends, like the other GeekDads, fellow gaming enthusiasts, designers, and publishers, and meeting new people. There’s nothing like putting a face to someone who you’ve met online and hitting it off like old friends. But there are games too …

Electric football is making a comeback.

Like Jim Kelly, I decided to experience more of Gen Con this year. By cutting back on my time in the exhibit hall, I was able to play more games and see more of what Gen Con has to offer.

As an aside, Jonathan Liu and I were chatting the other day about what it would take to do everything Gen Con has to offer. Jonathan has often lamented that to visit with every vendor in the exhibit hall, he could only spend 3.3 minutes per booth. I wondered aloud, how much time would it take to experience everything in the Gen Con catalog? How long would we spend in Indianapolis? By removing duplicates and narrowing any sort of overly similar offerings, we figured that there are 15,331 hours worth of events. That’s 1 year and 9 months’ worth of fun, excitement, games, and more. Plus, that’s assuming you keep going 24 hours a day — at least you wouldn’t have to worry about housing! (Thanks to Jonathan for doing the math on this.)

Everything is about to go south in ‘Escape Plan.’

I think my highlight of this year’s Gen Con was sitting down and playing a full game of Escape Plan. Paul Grogan from Gaming Rules! was kind enough to teach me and a few others. It’s a heist game from Vital Lacerda that finishes up its Kickstarter funding today. We were all thieves on the run, everyone out for themselves, hoping to grab our portion of the loot and evade the cops while still escaping the city. There are a lot of moving pieces, but it was so much fun — and I came in dead last!

One of the other high points came first thing Thursday morning. Jonathan and I have a tradition of meeting with Ray Wehr from Calliope Games the very first thing at every Gen Con. Ray was one of the first people we met in tabletop publishing and it was around the time he had started his company. We love Ray and Calliope and traditions are good to have. Among the upcoming titles Ray shared with us was Ship Shape by Rob Daviau. It’s a pirate-themed bluffing game that also includes the drafting of tiles to build the layers of cargo on each player’s ship. It’s really clever and I can’t wait for it to become available later this year.

So much resin! The mammoth ancient one from CMON’s ‘Cthulhu: Death May Die.’

Jim Kelly and I attended the Fantasy Flight In-Flight report on Wednesday night. A lot of it was expected, but a new card game from Richard Garfield caught everyone by surprise. Keyforge, is expected in Q4 and, while Garfield danced around it, this game is what Magic used to be and what Garfield feels like a card game should be. Everyone who attended received two decks, so I look forward to learning the game.

Getting in a game of ‘Power Grid’ on the 50 yard line of an NFL stadium.

I loved playing Power Grid on the 50 yard line of Lucas Oil Stadium — they played the Super Bowl there! — and late nights playing games with friends and talking about upcoming titles and the new hotness and old favorites and all the people who came to our Gaming with GeekDad event. I especially enjoyed the honest creativity of Before There Were Stars with the GeekDad crew and the unapologetic silliness of Dude from North Star Games (sweet!). I loved it all … except having to say goodbye and go home. Oh well, Gen Con 2019 will return to Indianapolis on August 1-4. See you then!

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