I just barely made it to Gencon this year; with a series of financial, scheduling, and car-trouble setbacks, it was a close one. As it is, I was only able to go up Saturday – a busy and popular day for the con, for sure, but unfortunately also pretty late in the game to get my hands on any of the hot, new, and now sold-out games. Still, it was an adventure, and I definitely got to see some cool stuff, try some new games, and generally have a blast. Hit the jump for the highlights!
After landing early on Saturday to avoid waiting in lines to nab my tickets (it worked), and then hitting up the BGG Gencon Math Trade to pass on mine and Farmerlenny’s trades and collect our goodies (a highly recommended endeavor – what better way to use up the olds and get some new shines than a no-ship trade meetup!), it was in to the hall.
Gencon tip: If you can, nab one of the convention building lockers. It costs $1 to lock again every time you open it, but it is super convenient to have a place to store your boxes of games you obtain at the con. Alternately, have an easy-to-access storage place off campus to dump your games – it can be a huge pain to lug a big bag of boxes around all day. It may not seem heavy at first, but it will wear you out. In my case, my wife was meeting a friend so I dumped all my trade goodies in her car.
As always, the hall is big, bright, and filled with all sorts of flashy posters and game setups. If you’re not familiar with Gencon, the convention center is huge – it has one ENORMOUS room for the main dealer hall, where you can buy games and often try samplings of their latest and greatest. You can also find dice, RPG books, tools, miniatures, and more, t-shirts, costumes, computer software… the list goes on. Beyond the convention hall, there are dozens of rooms – other large halls filled with tables for scheduled game events, an auction hall, the RGG room (a room open to the public – you can get it and play most of their games for free, without even having a gencon badge), an anime room, a video game room, and much much more. And of course you have hundreds of people dressed up in costume, and many performing music around the halls.
My first target was the AEG table. Though copies of Smash-Up were long gone by the time I got there, they still had tables set up to try it out. I slipped in to a table and smashed away. After playing only half a game I can’t exactly review it, but I can say I did have quite the blast. It was fast, easy to learn (the AEG volunteer spent approximately 45 seconds explaining rules and off we went!), and with brilliant, colorful art. Each faction definitely had its own unique way of gaining an advantage, but it was all very focused. It wasn’t exactly built on a keyword system as much as Dominion; but the clarity of the cards and the keywords they used made it extremely easy to read a card and quickly understand how to use it, without having every detail explained to us beforehand. I had a lot of fun with my Ninja-Robots, who could sneakily assassinate other cards, disappear without a trace, and join together to create robots that were far more powerful than the sum of the parts. Woo!
Gencon tip: with so many attendees, it can be difficult to get into one of these try-before-you-buy games without buying event tickets to play in the event hall. Many publishers run abbreviated versions of their games to give more people a chance to play, but some run the full game. If the games are short, it may be worth it to just wait at a table for the current game to finish; but if they’re playing a full game, you might try asking the Volunteer running the game how long, approximately, the game will last, and let them know you’re interested in trying. That can put you first in line for the next round, while giving you a chance to wander the hall and see more, with a time limit to return. But if you come late, you could lose your spot! It’s always worth it to wait a few minutes to try a game; you could spend your whole weekend wandering the hall and never arrive somewhere at just the right time to start a game.
After Smash-Up, I visited Grant Rodiek, creator of Farmaggeddon. That dude is pretty cool, and he’s definitely one to watch. This guy could definitely be one of the big-name designers in the future. In the meantime, check out Farmageddon from 5th Street Games – it’s quick, fun to play, and the graphic design of the cards was done by yours truly! We’ll have a full review up in a few weeks).
Gencon tip: Conveniently, there is a mall/food court connected to Gencon through a series of indoor walkways. You have lots of tasty, convenient food choices all in one place – plus you get to enjoy the look of bewilderment on the faces of mall regulars who just don’t understand what has happened and why their mall is filled with a horde of fantastically-costumed geeks. But if the food court doesn’t hit the spot, no worries – you’re in the middle of a city and there are dozens of restaurants in close proximity to the convention center. And all the food trucks that are sure to be close by to catch some of the gencon crowd.
After lunch, I got a bit more action in. I watched a chunk of King of Tokyo; unfortunately I didn’t have the patience to stick around the whole game, but I was satisfied with what I saw, and picked up a copy. I didn’t want to have to wait til the next print run! I did, however, manage to sit in on a game of Battle Beyond Space. You may have seen me tweet about it before, but when I heard about this game I was really excited – from the description of it, it sounded exactly like a kind of game I wanted to design because it didn’t exist. But now I’m saved the trouble because someone invented BBS. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s an extremely simple space combat game. It’s grid-based, but each turn you essentially move one of your squadrons (in the direction they’re already facing), fire a certain number of spaces forward, then rotate the ships a limited number of turns. It’s pure vanilla space combat; entirely about arranging your fleets tactically. You don’t have to worry about managing resources, conquering planets, politics, dice, building new units, or anything else besides maneuvering your ships. Each player has 1 special power; no cards to make things crazy. You just move, shoot, and turn. In addition, your movement, range, and turn amount are all assigned to you, meaning you have only to decide which squadron to move – which should cut down a significant amount of AP. I enjoyed my play very much, though it ended early because the other guys in the demo decided to call it.
Gencon tip: Try to be courteous when playing games in the dealer hall, especially with strangers. We’re all just there to try the games out; no need to overanalyze every move you make. Just try to play quickly so the people you’re playing with don’t have to wait too long for their turns, and the game can clip along at a reasonable pace and finish so more people can get a chance to play. In my game of BBS an adjacent player was literally stepping through every possible move he could make, and analyzing what would happen for each move I might make in response. His buddies were helping him analyze, presumably because he was generally going after me… but that meant his turns took forever. You’re just trying games out, not competing in tournaments. You don’t have to make the optimal moves or anything else. In perhaps a twist of irony, despite this guy’s overanalysis I still decimated his fleets and destroyed one of his capital ships. Even though we called it early, he had about 5 fighters left (out of 18).
I managed to slip in to a game of Infiltration at the FFG booth, and I’m so glad I did. I was looking forward to the game ever since I heard about it; and since it came out I’ve heard mixed (although generally positive) reviews. While I can’t review the game since I only played it once, I can say that I had a BLAST. In case you weren’t aware, the players are cybercriminals that have broken into some corporation to steal valuable data. The board is a series of 12 cards, divided into 2 floors, with each card representing a room. Players simultaneously choose 1 of 4 actions (move forward 1 room, move backward 1 room, download data from the current room, interact with the current room) or an item card (which generally either allows 2 actions, or a special action like killing an NPC). In the meantime a counter is counting up to 99, representing how close the guards are to reaching and locking down the building. The goal is to collect as much data as possible and then exit the building before 99 is reached. It’s amazing how exciting and tense such simple mechanics can be. This is definitely Donald X.’s most thematic game, and it definitely belongs under the FFG umbrella. Anyways, we managed to knock our alarm level up really quickly, meaning that proximity meter was flying upwards to 99. I didn’t pull out a victory, but on the last turn – with the proximity meter at 98 – I injected Stims to run down the stairs and dive out the loading dock. As a bomb went off behind me. It was epic. This is one of the best new games I’ve played in a LONG time and I will definitely be getting my hands on a copy ASAP. It’s just too bad they were sold out at the show.
Gencon tip: looking for an older game, or just have a bit of extra spending cash? Check out the auction room. You don’t have to sit around all day bidding to get something cool. The auction room also has a “store” area where items that don’t sell in the auction, in addition to other items that just go straight to the auction store, are sold at rock-bottom prices. You can find a collection of older games, collector games, action figures, RPG books, DVDs, and other items on the cheap. You could spend a couple bucks on a classic, or just get a great deal on something you want. For example, I picked up a new-in-shrink Twilight Imperium expansion(Shattered Empire: MSRP $59.99) for $35. Last year, FarmerLenny picked up a used copy of Terra Prime for $8. Be sure to look around because occasionally multiple copies of the same game can be found, at different prices or different quality levels.
Unfortunately, one has only so much time in the day. In between games I definitely had some good times, and enjoyed wandering the dealer hall just looking at the cool trinkets, art, and crazy new games. But here are a few highlights:
Most Adorable Moment: Grank Rodiek teaching Farmageddon to a group of young kids. Trust me, it was adorable
Best Presentation: Fantasy Flight Games. Their production quality doesn’t stop with their games. Their booth was excellently organized, with areas clearly marked for each of their games, and their store area. Their booth is a lot more open that most, relieving a constant feeling of claustrophobia. Their tables had custom coverings acting as playmats for each of their games. Just, good luck trying an FFG game there; they run complete games, not shortened demos, even of their multi-hour-long games.
Best Game: INFILTRATION. Admittedly, I didn’t try every game there. But I tried most of the ones that caught my attention, and of these Infiltration was definitely my favorite.
Way-to-Go Award: The Sentinels of the Multiverse booth was so crowded all the time, I couldn’t even get in to chat with them. They’re doing pretty awesome for a little indy game company. Lets just hope they can start producing games without using Kickstarter.
So Close Award: While playing Battle Beyond Space, I noticed that our demo guy was chatting with the game’s designer! Unfortunately, he left before I could say hello and congratulate him for his delightful game.
Coincidence but not really: The guy who taught us Ascending Empires (our 2011 game of the year) last year at the Z-Man booth was the same guy who taught me Battle Beyond Space.
Best Musical Performance: Klingon folk music? Yes please.
Worst of Show: going it alone. Demos are less fun without a friend, and it’s hard to play Dominion (I wanted to try Dark Ages) without another player. Hopefully next year I’ll have a better schedule, and hopefully I’ll also be able to convince friends to spend their monies to come with me again.
Biggest Disappointment: WHY WAS EVERY GAME I WANTED SOLD OUT? Seriously, it’s pretty disappointing how much publishers underestimated their stock. I’m sure a lot of people missed out on purchases simply because it wasn’t available. It’s one thing if one or two games sell out, but I’m pretty sure at least 10 major games were just gone before Saturday even started.
Until next year, folks, keep on gamin’!