I’ve lived in Indiana for the past eight years and in Indianapolis for the last three. I even lived near Milwaukee, the previous home of Gen Con before it (and I) moved to Indiana. Unsurprisingly I also love board games. But one thing that may come as a surprise is that up until this past weekend I had yet to attend Gen Con. It was literally following me around the country just begging me to come. Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally been able to check that one off the list. Thanks to the wonderful folks at Asmodee I was able to spend those four glorious days surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic board gamers gathered together to celebrate our hobby. It was an experience that far surpassed my expectations and one that I won’t soon forget. I was so excited that I even caved and finally joined the world of Twitter (@UpliftAndrew) to take it all in and share my own story. If you know me this was a pretty significant step considering that I’m pretty much a grumpy old hermit at heart when it comes to these new fangled social medias. So for those of you that didn’t get my play-by-play on Twitter (or want it in more than 140 characters at a time), here’s what the four best days in gaming had in store for me.
Made Possible By Asmodee
Origins was my first experience going to a large board game convention and my first time working for Asmodee. I talked at length about how great I thought they were shortly afterward. They asked me if I’d be interested in working for them again at Gen Con and since I live very close by I gave them my standard answer to just about everything, maybe. You see my wife is a doctor, we have a 2 year-old, and I’m a nanny so things aren’t super flexible for me. Fortunately we were able to work out an arrangement that would allow me to go for the exhibit hall hours Friday through Sunday along with a game night on Wednesday to learn all the latest and greatest Asmodee titles for demoing. I was very excited at this point, I would finally get the chance to experience this Gen Con thing everyone has been raving about. On top of that I would once again get to work with the friendliest group of people that I had met at Origins, the Asmodee crew.
Then out of the blue I got an email inviting me to the Asmodee Play Mania Event. That sounded pretty neat but it was scheduled for Thursday afternoon when I would be working. Out of curiosity I checked who else the invitation had been sent to. Woah. Eric Martin, Tom Vasel, Dale Yu, Rodney Smith, and many more big name reviewer types. What am I doing on this list? I should probably go! More arrangements were made and suddenly I added another day to my Gen Con itinerary.
The week of Gen Con finally arrived, here are the highlights.
Monday Night – Impatience and My Very First Twitter Tweet
I can hardly stand the excitement. I think a thought that I would have never believed I could think, what if I joined Twitter? All the rest of the iSlayTheDragon crew is on Twitter, maybe they’ll want to hear what I’m up to. So I start an experiment, I create a Race For The Galaxy inspired screen name (unfortunately AlienUpliftAndrew was too long) and start following people to see how long it takes for anyone to notice that I’m on Twitter. Sure enough I started to get some followers before I had even tweeted a single tweet. What a strange place. But man am I glad I took the plunge or else I would have missed out on GenCant and all the awesome (short) stories throughout Gen Con.
Wednesday Night – Meeting Up With The Asmodee Crew
I had read through the rules for some of Asmodee’s Gen Con releases (Abyss, Hyperborea, Lords of Xidit) but nothing beats actually sitting down and playing the games to prepare you for demoing. We met up in the hotel lobby where they were staying and I jumped right into a game of Lords of Xidit. Little did I know that I would go on to live and breathe that game for three straight days. We were part way through our game when Bruno Cathala sat down next to us to teach Abyss to another group. Great, I thought, I’ll be able to listen in and get some insight from the designer himself! Then he proceeded to teach the game… in French. Drat! Oh well, back to Lords of Xidit.
After our game ended I was inspired to try out Abyss for myself but this time with the English rules. We were only a couple turns into the game when someone mentioned that Maurizio Vergendo was going to be teaching Hyperborea. I verified that it would indeed be in English before breaking from our game to get an insightful overview from the head designer himself. I didn’t end up getting the chance to run the demo of Hyperborea at Gen Con but I’m glad I took the opportunity to learn it since I would eventually cave and pick up a copy for myself (spoiler, it’s awesome).
After the extensive overview of what would go on to become my favorite game of Gen Con I decided to call it a night. I missed out on a couple of games (Black Fleet. Madam Ching) but I’d end up being pretty busy with my Lords of Xidit teach-a-thon so no big loss there.
Thursday Afternoon – Asmodee Play Mania Event and Some Exciting Encounters
I arrived at the Indianapolis Colts Grille to check out the Play Mania Event not really knowing what to expect. They directed me to the Reggie Wayne room (yeah sports) where there were lots of exciting new games beckoning me. There was food there too but I don’t think I noticed it at first because of all those cool games. I sat down at the first table that I saw and was excited to find out that it had Ryu by Moonster games, a game that I had been following for quite some time but hadn’t heard anything about in a while. But there it was, set up and ready for me to try.
I couldn’t believe that I was getting an exclusive look at all these cool games. Well, I’m not going to go through the details on every single game right now, I’ve got plenty of previews and impressions planned for later this week but I am excited to say what happened next. I finished up my overview of Ryu and started making my way over to Nations: The Dice Game (another one that I was super excited to see) when I ran into someone who was looking for me. It was Charles Chevallier, designer of Abyss, Sultaniya, Guilds of Cadwallon, and many more games. I had recently done a review of Sultaniya and been active on BGG talking about how much I enjoyed it and he wanted to thank me for my support. I was amazed, as a reviewer it’s an absolute honor to get to meet a designer let alone have them interested in meeting you. We talked briefly and I didn’t want to occupy him for too long so I continued my quest to play Nations Dice. When I got to the table I was even more excited to be joined by Paul Dean and Matt Lees from Shut Up and Sit Down! I was literally just watching some of their hilarious videos the previous night (seriously, go watch some) and there they were sitting at the same table as me playing a board game. I may just end up buying Nations Dice based solely on the fact that I’m going to associate it with getting to play with them and it’ll make me happy. Once the demo was over I asked to tag along with them and I got to spend a good hour or so learning about and trying out exciting new games together.
I eventually decided to go off on my own and let them rejoin Quinns to talk about whatever cool European stuff it is they talk about. Fortunately my very next game ended up being the surprise hit of the event for me (Artificium) and helped me get over my loneliness. I demoed several more games and chatted with some of the Asmodee crew that I recognized from Origins before heading back home.
Friday – Lords Of Xidit Sells Out Thanks To Me, Right?
I show up Friday morning at a pretty packed entrance to the exhibit hall. I can only imagine how crowded things were right before the general opening. Once the exhibitors all poured in I made my way smack dab to the middle of the hall where Asmodee had a huge area for their demos. There were probably close to 20 tables all ready to have games set up to beckon excited gamers. I’ve mentioned how Asmodee had a really great presence at Origins and once again they succeeded in providing a great experience to attendees (though the waiting time was a bit longer due to the crowds). I set up a couple games of Abyss and then wandered over to Lords of Xidit. I was asked if I could demo it and I said yes. In that fateful moment we barely knew each other but we were meant to be together. I would spend the next three days introducing people to the beautiful world of Seasons as reimagined for Himalaya. Someone even described me as the Lord of Xidit and maybe, for one short weekend, I was. I heard later on in the day that we had sold out so I went ahead and claimed responsibility for it.
We got a break for lunch but before I knew it the day was through and the Exhibit Hall was closing up. Time to pack up the games and head back home to my family.
Saturday – Getting Some Signatures and Grabbing a Bite in the Abyss
Saturday began in the same way as Friday but this time around I spotted Charles and ran to get my copies of Sultaniya and Abyss for him to sign. He told me he would do an extra special signing and drew an impressive little sketch of a palace along with a nice note in my Sultaniya before moving on to Abyss (leaving room for Bruno of course). I’m so excited to have some mementos to remember Gen Con 2014 by! Hopefully he’ll have a new batch of games to sign by next year.
After taking great care to stash away my treasured games I went and set up Lords of Xidit and waited for the announcement that the exhibit hall was open for general attendance. The crowds poured in and we were quickly surrounded by thousands of gamers all wanting to play Lords of Xidit (I kid, we had some other good games to). I loved looking over to the games of Ca$h ‘n Gun$, seeing total strangers pointing foam guns at each other and yelling “Bonzi!” Or the look of anticipation on the face of gamers hoping to get in a demo of Abyss or Hyperborea or any number of other hot new Asmodee titles. The day flew by again and it was soon time for lunch. I headed for a midly disappointing and overpriced sandwich but was happy to find Charles eating at one of the nearby tables. I grabbed my food and went over to join him for lunch. He shared some of his experience with getting into game design after taking a long time off of gaming when he got married and had his children. He talked about working with Bruno and how Abyss went from concept to the beautiful game that it is now. It was a wonderful conversation and yet another memory that I will look back on fondly.
The rest of the afternoon flew by in a blur of rules and bits and cosplayers. I went over to Asmodee’s stack of games and debated for a while whether or not to get Hyperborea. I picked up the box and looked at it longingly. The beautiful artwork, the components shaking around inside, the hours of pure bliss that I would experience playing it – they all beckoned me. So in a moment of convention-excitement related weakness (of which I would have several more) I caved and got it. I’m absolutely glad that I did because it has become my current pick for the best game of Gen Con 2014.
Saturday Night – Gaming With Wolfie
With the day’s duties behind me I set off to find fellow Dragon Slayer, Wolfie, to play my first non-demo game of the convention. Since I had just purchased Hyperborea I was really excited to get it to the nearest table, open it up, and spread those beautiful bits all over the place. We decided to play it first and Wolfie would go on to put lots of his purple ladies on the board while I sacrificed my blue mages for points. He drew first blood by attacking me and it was in that moment that I knew I could never trust him again. Many cubes entered and left bags as we advanced our civilizations and sent our troops to explore the map. Blake used Wolfie for archery practice but when the bits settled and the score was tallied he came out on top.
Next up was Tragedy Looper, one of Wolfie’s newest and hottest games. I’ll save the details for our game round up but it started to get late and as we looped back through time to stop one tragedy after another we began to loose our will. Wolfie laughed menacingly to himself, “You will never win! You have no clue what’s going on! The night is mine!” And he was right, we lost horribly again and again. He packed up the game smugly and we turned in for the night at a modest 1 am. As I walked to the exit there were still hundreds of gamers happily playing late into the night. It was a surreal sight to behold. I love seeing so many people sharing in my passion for board games.
Sunday – Selling Out Lords of Xidit Again and Packing Up
The last day of Gen Con was upon us and I got a chance to wander around the exhibit hall before the crowds poured in and demanded my presence at the Asmodee booth. It was nice to be able to walk around while things were relatively peaceful. I didn’t get to actually play anything but it was fun to simply walk around and see all the games and sights that people had been raving about. Then back to the booth for one last day of demoing (and selling out Lords of Xidit again).
Four o’clock rolled around and the exhibit hall closed for the last time to a somber cheer. Gen Con was done and the hard work of cleaning and packing everything up was at hand. It took four hours and a team of nearly twenty of us to tear everything down, wrap it all up, and send it back to Asmodee headquarters. I said my final goodbyes to everyone on the team and thanked them for the amazing opportunity. It was bittersweet but I was happy to head home to my family for dinner.
Watch For More Exciting Gen Con Coverage All Week Long
Stay tuned for more stories and game impressions from our Gen Con experience. We’ll be posting shorter articles throughout the day so make sure to check back in often to hear what we thought about the latest games debuting at Gen Con along with some previews of games coming out later this year!