There’s a lot to see at Gen Con every year, and it just keeps getting bigger. This year’s show had, according to Gen Con’s press release, nearly 70,000 unique visitors and 538 exhibitors, with more 4-day passes sold than ever before. And that’s not even counting all the people who attended the “pop-up” Gen Con activities at game stores around the US or those who created their own events for GenCan’t.
The GeekDads shared a hotel room and had dinner together on Wednesday evening before the official start of Gen Con, but then scattered in different directions during the show, going to meetings, checking out game demos, and talking to publishers both old and new. Here are some of our favorite things from this year’s show.
Jonathan H. Liu
Okay, so there’s my obligatory Gen Con haul. I picked up a lot of really cool games, and I’m already having a hard time deciding what to play next. But I have to confess: one of my favorite things that I brought home from Gen Con this year isn’t even a game. It’s that neon green dinosaur skull up in the top corner of the photo.
Not everyone knows, but HABA (which you may know from their bright yellow game boxes for young children) also sells toys. In fact, T. Caires, Games Manager at HABA USA, told me this year that something like 75% of HABA’s revenue actually comes from toys, not games. But the company has never brought any of its toys to Gen Con, and many of its tabletop fans (myself included) don’t really think of HABA as a toy company. This year, HABA brought a small selection of toys in addition to games, and the Baudino Sand Glove Dinosaur was one of them. It’s made of heavy-duty plastic, and has some Velcro straps at the hinge, so that you can slip it onto your hand and then *CLOMP* with it. I saw it at the booth, and decided I needed to buy one for
myself my kids. Totally worth the $15. (Note that it does not come with a sparkly pink crown—that’s for something else.)
Okay, with that out of the way, what about the games? As I mentioned in our Getting Excited post, I was looking forward to the two new Oink Games that I preordered: Tricks and the Phantom and Nine Tiles Panic. They did not disappoint. Tricks and the Phantom is a trick-taking game, but with some hidden information, deduction, and a little bit of bluffing. Nine Tiles Panic is a race to assemble your nine tiles into a 3×3 grid that satisfies three objective cards as quickly as possible. The one thing I forgot to pick up (and still regret): the submarine enamel pin from Deep Sea Adventure, one of my favorite games. This year Gen Con hosted a Pin Bazaar, so a lot of the publishers had enamel pins—some for sale, some as giveaways if you played a demo—and there were set times to meet and trade pins at Lucas Oil Stadium each day. I’m not a huge collector of enamel pins, but I did get quite a few. Alas, the submarine was not one of them!
I attended a Renegade Rally event on Friday evening, where Scott Gaeta ran through a slideshow of all of Renegade’s new and upcoming titles… and there were a LOT. I won’t get into all of them right now, but here are just a couple that excited me: Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated is a legacy-style version of their popular deck-building game. You all play as characters trying to earn a spot in Acquisitions Incorporated (from the Penny Arcade live-on-stage RPG), and as you make your way through the various scenarios, your character will level up and your starting deck changes. Even though I’m not hugely invested in the Acquisitions Inc. theme, I love Clank! and am excited to play a legacy version of it. There was an unboxing after the slideshow so we could see what comes in the box—though of course they didn’t open up the various envelopes or the Book of Secrets.
There’s also a Scott Pilgrim Miniatures the World game coming to Kickstarter this fall, designed by Erica Bouyouris (one of the co-designers of Bosk), and it looks like it’ll be a lot of fun. At the very least, it’ll have fully-painted miniatures of the characters from the comic book. And I got an early copy of ClipCut Parks, a new twist on roll-and-writes in which you actually snip out various elements from a grid to complete your parks. I’ve gotten to play a few times so far, and it’s fun—and requires a good bit of spatial awareness.
One of the games I can’t stop thinking about is Slip Strike from Junk Spirit Games, which isn’t even out yet. It’s a 2-player (expandable to 4-players) duel between teleporting time-travelers, and it’s very much about reading your opponent and figuring out what they’re going to do next. Simultaneous card selection, some cool-down periods before you get certain cards back, and some slick artwork really grabbed me. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that I managed to take down designer David Gerrard. It’ll be coming to Kickstarter in a couple of months, and I’ll be sure to remind you again.
Okay, I realize those are all games that you can’t even get yet, so here are just a few that are available now (or very soon) that I’m excited about. Herb Witches is an expansion to a personal favorite, The Quacks of Quedlinburg, and if you like that game then this is something to look forward to in September: it adds new recipe books, one new ingredient, a 5th player board, and the Herb Witches themselves, who can be hired for special effects once per game. Point Salad, one of AEG’s Big Game Night titles, is a cleverly designed game about collecting vegetables and scoring cards, in the hopes of having the most valuable salad at the end. It’s easy to teach, quick, and one of the games I took with me to Gen Con to share with my fellow GeekDads. ShipShape is from Calliope Games’ Titan Series, and involves stacking crate tiles in a way to maximize your score—it’s great for people who love puzzles.
These three are all lighter games, because I don’t often get a chance to play longer, heavier games during the con—so those will have to wait until the next few weeks as I work my way through my haul, so if you’re looking for those, stay tuned!
Finally, one more thing before I sign off and let the other GeekDads share their highlights of the show. As always, one of my favorite parts of Gen Con is getting to hang out with people that I only see about once a year. Most years, though, I come back from Gen Con with a lot of photos of games, and memories of the people I saw, but no pictures of them. So this year I made a concerted effort to get out of my comfort zone and take selfies with people. I posted them all in a huge thread on Twitter, and looking back through that and seeing so many faces brings me a lot of joy. I’ll be sharing more photos of games here on GeekDad, of course, but I’m glad I gave this a shot this year.
Going into my second Gen Con, I was both more and less prepared than last time. I had a better idea what to expect, and had arranged for lots of meetings with publishers so I wouldn’t have to semi-awkwardly stalk their booth waiting for an opening to let me slip in and try to talk to someone.
My first meeting was on Wednesday night, before things got started, with Ross from The OP. He talked to me about the company’s upcoming Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist game, which for some reason is coming out before Christmas, as well as the new Harry Potter dueling game. But the real treat was seeing the prototype for Talisman: Kingdom Hearts. I’ll admit to not even knowing what Kingdom Hearts was (sorry, I’m just not a video game person), but the game looks amazing, and the minis (which are just 3D printed at this point) are fantastic.
My highlight of Thursday was meeting with Ares Games. For those who don’t know, they are an Italian publisher that primarily makes painted miniature games. It’s been close to two years since I reviewed the prototype for Tripods and Triplanes, so I was very much looking forward to seeing the finished product, and it didn’t disappoint. I’ll be doing a full review soon, but in the meantime, just take a look at those gorgeous models.
Friday was my day of being booked solid, so it was a lot of running back and forth in the exhibit hall. (Note to self: try to schedule appointments next year that are closer to each other.) I had my first experience with meeting a fan of Re-Roll and got to see a wide variety of games. But the day’s highlight was the evening event with Ravensburger. I didn’t know what to expect there, but a tiny room with only four other members of the press wasn’t it at all. They showed us some upcoming products, including one I’m not allowed to even say the name of yet, took some feedback from us on what villains we’d like to see in future releases of Villainous and in future titles in their Summer Blockbuster series (which will be expanding next year with Back to the Future), and gave us a chance to just chat in a nice, intimate setting. Bonus: I learned the right way to pronounce the company’s name.
Saturday brought on our Gaming with GeekDad event, which was just incredible. I got to teach some of my favorite new games, including Stool Pigeon and Mapmaker, to some great fans of our site, as well as hang out for awhile on an NFL field. And seeing the faces of the family light up when they finished playing Villainous: Wicked to the Core and I was able to simply hand them the copy of the game to take home made all of the day’s exhaustion worthwhile.
Of course, along the way there was plenty of game playing, including actually beating Jonathan at a game twice.
Honestly, though, the really amazing take-away from the week was meeting all of the really great people. From the publishers and marketing folks to the other board game reviewers, I’m discovering that this is a truly fantastic community that I’m happy to be part of.
Next year, I’ll go a little more prepared, bring a lot more business cards and remember to take pictures of everything.
Oh, and I did have one major victory coming home: a suitcase packed full of games weighing precisely 50 pounds. Take that, United.
As much as I was looking forward to this year’s Gen Con, I just didn’t pace myself once I arrived and managed to sustain a slight injury because I didn’t listen to my doctor who told me to take it easy for a few months following surgery. For those of you who know Gen Con, you know how spread out it is (and how large), so by Friday I was hurting and having to take long breaks and miss out on a lot. So… before I start on my experiences, let me remind all you geek dads and moms out there to take care of yourself and listen to your doctor when he/she tells you not to over-exert. Okay, lecture over…
Arriving in Indy, my first smile was meeting up with Jonathan Liu at the airport. It was totally not planned, but he’d had a delay in his flight, so we ended up sharing a ride to the hotel (that involved some strange shortcuts through some parking lots). Dinner with the GeekDads is always enjoyable and a highlight of the 4 days. Once it’s done, you know you’re on to the “work” part of the con.
I only managed to get one scheduled game in (out of 10 wish list submissions), so I pretty much decided to try and play as many new boardgames as possible inside the Exhibit Hall in and around the Gaming with GeekDad event (Saturday) and my one scheduled RPG game (Monster of the Week). Unlike Jonathan, who writes down every game he plays, I just take a few notes of the ones that really stand out for me. I’ll be giving more in-depth reviews of many games in the coming months, but the ones that I really enjoyed were Menace Among Us (a social deduction game from Smirk & Dagger) and Final Hour (a brand new Arkham Horror boardgame); again, reviews will be coming soon.
In addition to playing lots of boardgames, I was on a mission to find tools that would be useful for me as a DM in my weekly Dungeons & Dragons game. Tokens, dice, miniatures… all these were picked up, but probably the most useful item I managed to snag is the box of Stat Trackers from Top Dog Games. The box has 317 monster stat sheets that look like bookmarks. Unlike the official Monster cards, these contain the entire description of the monster (whereas the Monster cards often say “refer to Monster Manual“). The cards are arranged in alphabetical order with a tab system in the box, and they also throw in a set of 50 Character Trackers and 50 blank Monster Trackers. Look for a more thorough review on these tools soon.
While at Gen Con, I’m also always on the lookout for RPG books; I tend to buy RPG books in PDF format for storing on my iPad, but when I find a game I really love (to play or to borrow its mechanics) I like to have a print copy of that rulebook. I’m quite fond of the Monster of the Week RPG right now, and I grabbed it in print form PLUS its “sister game” Dungeon World. Both games use the same dice and rule mechanics (using Playbooks and MOVES) and I’m completely sold and loving these two games. I did examine many more RPGs, but these were my only book purchases. FYI: I was going to buy the new Teenagers in Space (a spin-off of Kids on Bikes, a game that I LOVE), but I really wasn’t all that impressed. Very thin book, no dice with it (uses the same custom dice as KoB but different color scheme would have been nice), and just wasn’t into the setting as much as Kids on Bikes.
As for skirmish wargames (as opposed to wargames like Warhammer 40k that typically require large amounts of minis to play), I spotted a few, but the one that really grabbed me was a new one called Riot Quest from Privateer Press, the makers of the Warmachine and Monsterpocalypse skirmish wargames. Riot Quest has players fielding a group of between 5 and 10 miniatures in an retro-feel sci-fi arena combat game. I’m hoping my 12-year-old Fortnite fan son will like the game. I played a couple of demo games and really enjoyed the speed of it, the ease of play, and the fact that they will be releasing 3–4 new minis every month that will add to the current 10 available. The basic box comes with dice, tokens, and 5 minis for one player and was $50 at Gen Con (probably cheaper once it is released). Also, they had Wave 1 minis for sale—5 different minis for around $10–12 each. The detail on the minis is incredible (they are metal, too!) and I’m already painting them up in anticipation of playing it in a week or two (and writing up about it). Stay tuned.
I didn’t get to play as many games as I wanted on Saturday and Sunday… I was just worn out from all the walking and in some pain, so I had to really watch myself. That said, I did have fun and I did get to play some games with my fellow GeekDads (and I actually BEAT Jonathan Liu at a game that I’ll be reviewing soon called Fairy Season—that doesn’t happen very often).
All in all, a great experience… lots of boardgames brought home, lots of new stuff for my D&D game, and LOTS of minis to paint!
Role-playing games can be hit-or-miss at Gen Con—I mean, I always go in with a positive and excited attitude, but sometimes you just get a domineering player at the table, or an unenthusiastic gamemaster, and it just brings things down a few notches. But, man, did I get lucky this year with my three ticketed RPG sessions.
After the GeekDads’ traditionally fantastic late-night Wednesday gaming session, I found myself wondering what the heck I was thinking scheduling a 9 a.m. Thursday Dungeons & Dragons adventure—but I’m incredibly glad I did. Titled “Gristle for Grisal,” the game was run by Kobold Press, taking place in their Midgard setting, and populated in part by foes from Kobold’s own supplemental materials like the Creature Codex. (A silver 2019 ENnie winning book—and a great resource.) Our GM was fantastic, the one-shot adventure was nicely-paced, and we all had a blast.
That night, from 7 p.m. to shortly after midnight, I played a session of The Fantasy Trip—a 40-year-old Steve Jackson RPG(!) reprinted and reinvigorated for a new generation. I was completely new to the system, and it could not possibly have been easier to learn character creation, the game’s core die mechanic, and combat. Again, we had a tremendously fun and cooperative table of players, and a GM who not only provided amazing miniatures (some completely original sculpts!) and dungeon wonders but also intricate props.
My last ticketed RPG was Dusk City Outlaws, a game designed to be played as easily as you’d sit down for a few hours of a board game: no advanced preparation needed. Character creation is as easy as choosing three cards—one defining your role, one describing your membership in one of New Dunhaven’s crime factions, and one giving you a playable quirk that will have in-game consequences along the way. While there are dice to be rolled, there’s no board or miniatures—it’s truly in the theatre-of-the-mind vein, and encourages cinematic storytelling style as your team plans and executes a complex heist. Ideas and possibilities are literally whatever you can think up within the game’s setting, so no two teams will ever tell the same story. So easy to get into character, and tough for one person to dominate, because as any fan of heist movies knows, everybody has an important part to play.
So, outside my RPG hours, our Gaming with GeekDad event was also a highlight: I love that we have repeat attendees now—and I hope to see them again next year!
I spent much of the event gaming with a family of four, introducing them to, among other things, Steve Jackson Games’ new Deadly Doodles “draw-n-draw” offering. Everyone has an identical dry-erase dungeon map, and with each turn, uses drawn cards as a guide to create a path that will earn the highest score. You earn and lose points depending on how successful you are. (A full review will be coming soon.) It plays quick, is easy to learn, and suits family play well.
We played a few other games too, and every attendee got to go home with at least one generously-donated game.
Lastly, here’s a moment that I kind of feel encapsulates what I love about going to Gen Con and gaming with my fellow GeekDads and other friends. It’s Saturday night, and we’re all in the open gaming hall for our usual end-of-day/last night of the con general hangout and play whatever session. Rob Huddleston, Brian Stillman, and I had just wrapped up a game that we all agreed went on too long and slow, and Rob broke out his copy of Stool Pigeon for something a little lighter and quicker. Despite the long day and late hour, I think we played four rounds, because each time, one of us went, “Okay, wait—I almost had you that time: ONE MORE.”
Well, those are some of our favorites from Gen Con 2019! What caught your eye? What were some of your favorite moments? Share them with us in the comments!