With a record setting attendance of 49,000 gamers – this Gen Con was one of the more fun ones held in recent years. Yes, there were some things that were kind of irritating and frustrating, but on the whole – this was a great convention. For the 2-3 of you that didn’t attend, I will give you my take on Gen Con, purely from an observers perspective.
First was the Convention on-boarding system. We arrived Thursday afternoon and was told they had run out of lanyards (actually just pieces of elastic this year) early in the AM. How do you run out of badge holders? We were back the next day and still none were to be had. Someone really screwed the pooch on this since you need to show your badge everywhere.
The badges themselves this year had printed on text. Cool. Except it rubbed off. Many people wrote their names in with Sharpees only to catch flak from the door-Nazi’s who questioned the badges. Again Gen Con management – your cutting corners here was ill-planned and executed. On top of this, Friday at 9AM, the computer system for event registration went down. An hour before the floor opens?
The main floor – my favorite part of the Con, was great. Some observations here. Fantasy Flight Games dominated the floor space with demo tables – which a full 20% were always empty. Fantasy Flight employed some weird (read “stupid”) system of having to get in line to get into their booth. They did this last year but set up the booth so you could see what was new, to see if it was worth getting in line in the first place. Not this year. The line was always 1-3 hours long to get into the booth where you might not buy anything! Who wants to kill that kind of time? People did though. Fantasy Flight would have been smarter, and richer, if they had simply added three more cash registers and let the gamers in! You didn’t see a lot of Fantasy Flight bags in the hands of gamers. Many voiced what I felt, “I’m not wasting my time in line here.” Way to piss of the gaming community guys. This isn’t some New York night club. We came to spend money.
Margaret Weis Productions rocked. Their pre-sale of the Firefly RPG set prior to Gen on was done perfectly. I purchased mine a week and a half before the Con, I walked up, got my copy, and got it autographed. Smooth, professional, and I even had the PDF version in my email box that night. Last year it took weeks to get to the PDF version of the Marvel RPG. They hit it out of the park this year.
Wizkids had a big release with Star Trek Attack Wing – replacing their marginal/questionable Heroclix version of starship combat. Star Trek Attack Wing uses the Fantasy-Flight X-Wing game engine and was actually one of the big purchases at the show. Wizkids booth however was a train wreck. They had a showcase of products, but none the purchasers could look over and no pricing. They had problems processing credit cards too. You had to form a line through the middle of their demo area to get the game, and it was a hot-mess at best.
Most of the booths were the same-old stuff. Some up and comers emerged and caught my eye. Last year I saw the launch of Mercs. This year they had a VERY active demo area. I played a mini-game and really liked the system. The problem for me was the entry costs. Shelling out $45-$50 for a box with six minis (which you needed two boxes to play) and then the core rules – well, it held me back. That, and the time it would take the paint the miniatures. But I heard a lot of people talking about it and that was good for this company. I may yet weaken on this game. Perhaps if I only order the rules book…
Likewise I took part in a demo of Infinity miniatures which looks as if they are riding the coat tails of Mercs. I picked up their quick start rules and flipped through it and, well, it was confusing. I tried to figure out some of the rules and they were just too overly complicated for me. Maybe the full game is much better.
Gale Force 9 showed up with a boatload of Dust miniatures – having rescued the North American marketing of this game when Fantasy Flight abandoned it a few weeks ago. They also had the new Firefly Board Game. I played two rounds of it and it simply wasn’t my kind of game. I think folks that like the series and love Euro-games however are going to be all over this puppy. I saw a lot of copies floating around and their demo tables were packed with people trying to get a glimpse of the game. Gale Force also had the NEW D&D adventure from Wizards of the Coast. I snagged a copy of this, despite my shift to Pathfinder, just to see how the Next version of D&D was going to look. So far, so good.
One of the biggest hits of the con was the new Pathfinder card game. I didn’t get a chance to play it but there was a lot of buzz about it and always a line waiting for a demo. That alone says something about the impact of Pathfinder on the fantasy RPG industry in the past few years.
Catalyst Games release of Shadowrun was the other big buzz of the convention. I usually don’t play RPG’s, but even I got sucked into a Shadowrun demo. Cyber-fantasy is back folks, in a big way. There were lines at Catalyst Game Labs booth which was good to see.
I also finally played The Duke from my buddies at Catalyst – albeit a giant version of The Duke (the game tiles were a foot and a half square.) My take from the demo – this is a very cool mainstream game product that deserves more buzz than it has received. This game isn’t about strategy, it’s about reaction. I was bummed that I forgot to score a copy at the Con.
Ares Sails of Glory was getting a lot of buzz – the demo table was surrounded most of the time two people deep with people wanting to see the ship models and the boxed set. I was a supporter of this on Kickstarter and all I can say is that the ship models were better than what I anticipated.
A game system I wanted to get into was Dropzone Commander. They had samples of miniatures there at the Con, but I kind of remember that from last year. They are promising at Dropzone Commander Starter Set and were taking advanced orders for it. I wish they had it at the convention – I might have parted with the money. I felt funny paying for a game that I couldn’t go and play. Placing orders for future products at a convention is not a great strategy. I’m geeked about this game but will wait until real product exists.
Cryptozoic brought a pre-release of the DC Heroes Card Building Game. I’m not a card game guy for the most part. This game is a favorite of my friends however and from what they said, the new release is going to be awesome.
One of the neater concepts I saw was the Rotted Capes RPG. In this one, superheroes have been bitten by zombies turning them into, well, super zombies. Neat idea. This is one of those games I know I’m going to pick up in the off-season just because the concept is so original.
In terms of playing – I actually played Dungeons & Dragons. The last time I was a player was Origins 1978 in Michigan when Gary Gygax hosted the session. Yeah, I’ve played with the master. (Kid, I have dice older than you…) It was a lot of fun – a nice, simple, well run game.
I played Leviathans as well. We went up against The Master and his son – Randall and Bryan Bills. We were as organized as a drunken fraternity panty raid. I took my destroyer in and slammed into one of the Italian Fleet. I was then pursued and confronted by some angry woman with a staff that claimed I had moved her Battleship into the path of a half-dozen torpedoes. For the record, I never touched her Battleship. Out of years of Gen Cons, this was the first bad temper experience I encountered.
My buddy Kevin and I played the GIGANTIC Star Trek Attack Wing game. Gigantic being not the number of players but the fact we were playing with the massive plastic ships about a foot long each. I commanded the Breen battle cruiser and all three of us ganged up on the Enterprise D. Playing with the big ships was fun – VERY fun. I hope they do this again next year and I hope there are more than four players.
We wrapped up Saturday night and caught Kick Ass 2 – capping off a perfect convention. Sure there were bumps along the way – but overall I got to play/test a lot of product. Gen Con rocked but is showing some signs of growing pains. Hopefully they’ll be resolved by next year.