Another year, another Gencon. And what would gencon be without the slew of recaps so those who couldn’t attend can hear about some of the great new games coming out that we tried and played and loved and hated.
This year as you saw we decided to approach our gencon coverage a little differently; rather than try to capture everything in a single recap post, we gave each game we tried a little love with its own preview article. The fact is, Gencon is massive, and it’s a place where many, many new games are unleashed upon the crowds.
Thanks to a mean old grouch called Time, we couldn’t experience every game at the show. But we took in a whole bunch, and as always there is a lot more to the show than just the games. So you’ve read about those; now its time for my overall perspective of the show, the hobby, and y’know what? Why it’s not all excitement, energy, and good times.
Andrew did write his own recap here, but he was working for Asmodee and did not have as much time to browse anything beyond that; so, without further ado, the official iSlaytheDragon gencon recap. (Stay tuned for contest details at the end!)
The Dealer Hall, the Gaming World
I always start my gencon experience with a walk through the whole hall. This year the dealer hall was even bigger than before with an entirely new area opened up for exhibitor booths. It took several hours to get through it all just walking through and looking at everything, not even stopping to play. Clearly Gencon, and our hobby, is growing. The official numbers prove this as well, with an overall attendance of something like 58,000.
I think what really struck me this year, though, was massive across-the-board quality. There was no real “standout game” from the convention. No publisher’s booth that really blew any others away. Just game after game of quality, fun titles. Kemble’s Cascade. XCOM. Lords of Xidit. Hyperborea. King of New York. Samurai Spirit. Imperial Settlers. The list goes on. One thing is certain; this is a great year for gaming.
There were definitely a lot of great booths to take in. Fantasy Flight’s was excellent as always, with big hanging signs to indicate where the tables for each game were, and their always-beautiful glass display case of upcoming games and expansions. Asmodee had a ton of tables. Smaller booths were open and eager for players to come try stuff out.
The most frustrating booth I dealt with was Flying Frog. They’re known for trashy, thematic, rules-heavy games. Apparently they decided to just demo their new game, Shadows of Brimstone, by letting groups play the whole thing. A couple of my friends – who I abandoned after staying too long watching the previous group play through a few rounds – spent 4 hours of their afternoon waiting for the demo to open up and then trying it themselves. Sheesh! Gencon’s dealer hall is about getting a taste of a lot of games – it’s not nice to hog time like that. A lot more people could have tried the game if they had only showed off a few rounds, and I got the point just by watching a round or two. Okay. Moving on.
Kickstarter vs. “Big” publisher
Another thing stood out to me about the games I’ve played; I’ve spent far too much time in the past few months playing mediocre games, many of them Kickstarter projects. I believe there is room in the hobby market for small, independent, or first time publishers; it’s just that very few of them get it ‘right.’ The “big” publishers in our industry (which, honestly, are pretty much comparable to indie publishers of many other industries) just have a lot more experience in finding great games, developing them to their fullest potential, and putting together graphic design and components to match. Not that every big-publisher game is perfect, but the experiences I had playing these fully-produced games from Asmodee, Z-Man, and Fantasy Flight were simply miles beyond most of the more independent games I’ve played recently. I’m sure many will disagree with me and I have a lot more to say on the subject of Kickstarter and tiny board game publishers which I’m saving for a separate article, but… there you have it.
The strangest thing about this year’s con is still Ortus Regni. I am just so confused by this game. I’ve heard no buzz about the game itself, I’ve seen or heard no one who has actually played it, but it’s name is everywhere. As far as I can tell it didn’t even have a kickstarter campaign. At the show it was difficult to find an Ortus Regni presence; there was none in the dealer hall. Eventually I stumbled past a room with an Ortus Regni sign, but didn’t have time to run in and check it out. Their marketing engine appears to be running in full force, but as far as actually being prevalent in the gaming community, or spreading the game via word of mouth from people who try it there seems to be very little going on. On the plus side, part of the Gencon SWAG were these nice canvas bags for holding games with a cover and a shoulder strap. They’re decked out with Ortus Regni art, but thanks to the no-text philosophy of the game, it’s just medieval-styled art, which makes it look less kitschy and more… well… cool. So thanks for that.
Each year I intend to try signing up for events; so far, I’ve never actually followed through. The idea of participating in a tournament has some draw for me, but when it comes down to it I’d generally much rather try the new games I just got, playing for free with my friends, then pay to get into another tournament. Gencon for me has always been about trying new games, or at least new-to-me games, and there are so many ways to access them.
As always, I stopped in the Auction room to check out the store; there wasn’t much for me this year, although I was tempted to buy a dragon play pillow for my 5-month-old daughter, because that’s what dads do. Being a parent is challenging but often very fun, and I can’t wait til she gets old enough to start playing games.
The Math Trade meetup is another thing I always make sure to participate in each year. It’s a great way to pawn off old games I don’t play anymore for new-to-me games I’ve always wanted to try. The meetup itself is a little hectic, but we’re getting better at it, and I highly encourage participation if you get the chance. More people, more games, means more trades. The meetup was also the only way I was able to pick up any games this year, so i’m glad I got in.
Cosplay is a highly prevalent element of the show. I’m always slightly tempted to dress up myself, but I have no talent for costuming and the prospect of walking through the dealer hall all day in heavier clothing is just… not appealling. Still, I enjoyed seeing many of the cosplayers there, from LEGO Batman (and other cast members of the LEGO movie) to Warcraft heroes to Anna and Elsa from Frozen, I’m always impressed by the dedication and talent that goes into making costumes.
A final aspect of the show worth mentioning – it’s always entertaining seeing the effect of all these geeks in their element on the “outside world.” Aside from the massive impact we have on Indianapolis’ economy (the food courts are getting more efficient every year), there’s also the shock and confusion of teenage mall-crawlers seeing their space enveloped by geeks. On saturday night there was also a Colts game (that’s a Football team… football is this sport people play… a sport is a thing that… well, never mind) so there were armies of geeks dressed up and decked out in makeup and an army of sports fans dressed up in costume and decked out in makeup, so that was entertaining.
An Honest Downside
We love writing about the hype and energy and excitement of Gencon, but at least for me it’s not all hype and happiness. Is it worth writing about the downside? I don’t know, but maybe someone else out there feels the same way I do and knowing you’re not alone, well maybe that’s helpful. Regardless, I’ve decided to just be honest and talk about the major downside of Gencon, at least for me.
Going to a huge convention filled with thousands of people is certainly exciting, but it’s also hugely draining. If you know me, you know I’m an introvert, compounded with shyness and a significant amount of social awkwardness. I always have trouble meeting up with people I don’t already know, especially if I’m not travelling with them. Anyways, that makes the huge crowds and high-energy atmosphere of the convention quite the burden on me. The result is that by the end of the show, I start to crash emotionally. I begin to look around at what others have accomplished in similar arenas to mind and I feel inadequate, useless, superfluous. Excitement of all the new quickly turns into a weight of impossibility. How can I possibly do enough? Does my voice even make a difference in this community? Why am I even doing this? Nothing hyperbolically catastrophic happened to me this year, but I still feel the weight of crushing defeat. I feel as if all of this, this thing I do, this website, hangs by a thread that could at any moment unravel.
In some ways I’m envious of the #GenCant crowd. Ya’all pulled together and made something entertaining happen out of nothing. You followed the rest of us from afar so you still heard about the newest and the latest, but you didn’t have to suffer the crowds or the post-con crash. I wasn’t even able to bring anything home for myself from Gencon, so I still suffered through the envy of watching others post on twitter their huge stacks of brand new games acquired at the show. I’m not saying that those people shouldn’t have bought games or shared their purchases on twitter; it’s cool to see what games were popular and look forward to what people will be talking about, so it’s got its purpose and I’ve done it myself when I had games to show for it. It can just be difficult; it’s easy to feel left out of this and many other things.
So why am I even writing about this part of it all? I’m not searching for your pity or your sympathy. I’m just trying to be real, I guess. It’s so easy to be on the internet and just talk about how great everything is. It’s easy to hide when you’re sad or frustrated or feeling discouraged because of how many small things that just add up. I’m assuming that some who read this will think I’m a whiner, but I’m not trying to complain or declare that some injustice happened to me. It’s just more truthful of me to say, hey, I had a good time at Gencon but it also brought these other sorts of things down on me.
I guess certain recent public events have got me thinking that if iSlaytheDragon has a community at all, I’d like it to be a safe one, an honest one. And trust starts from the top.
Now, for the Contest
We’ve done one every year, and I see no reason to stop now. We’re doing a giveaway including many games featured at Gencon. There will be a post up shortly with contest details, but to sneak a preview… we’re definitely giving away a copy of Battle at Kemble’s Cascade. But what’s a board game thingy without stretch goals, and our stretch goals will unlock some more awesome games. Games like Coin Age, Lords of Xidit, and XCOM: The Board Game.
In case it wasn’t clear; we’re not raising money, and the “stretch goals” aren’t any sort of funding level. But it will help to promote awareness of our site and our social media accounts. So go sign up, why don’tcha!
Thanks for sharing your experience–good and bad. That is the downside of Gen Con for sure.
I definitely empathize with your downside.
This was my first Gen Con, and I came away having enjoyed myself, but realizing that Gen Con can be so much more than what it was for me. I struggled in the Exhibit Hall not really knowing if I should wait around for a spot to open at a game I wanted to demo or if I should give up and try to find a different game to demo.
I was also really disappointed that I only came away with 1 Carcassonne expansion and three Queenies for Escape: Curse of the Temple. I have this thing called a budget, and I’m not willing to just buy a game that looks cool. I need to either a) have a well-respected recommendation from others who have played a game or b) have played the game myself. At Gen Con, it doesn’t really seem to work that way. If I want a copy of Dead of Winter, Panamax, or Five Tribes, I–well–you just can’t get a copy! That was very frustrating for me.
I’m also not good at randomly starting pickup games with other people, so I liked all my events because it helped me to actually play games with people. Next time around, I think I will have more fun, but there definitely were downsides to the Con.