GenCon 2014 Battle Damage Assessment

GenCon Wrap-Up

Another GenCon is behind me and now I look back with my totally biased summary of the convention. The memories of the unwashed masses are fading already.  You may disagree with my opinions voiced below, but they are my opinions, so don’t try and convince me differently.


Wizkids Acts Like Douchbags:

All right, I admit it, I’m a Star Trek Attack Wing junkie.  I like the system.  So I was geared to buy any Con exclusives and stock up on the ships that we didn’t arrive in my local game store.  On Friday I arrived at their booth and immediately was confronted by a booth-flunkie barking out, “You need to clear this area – we are going to run demos.”  There was nobody lined up for demos, but he did manage to act like a complete jerk.  Game on!

So we moved into a more orderly line according to the booth-Nazi.  I got up there and told them I wanted the cloaked ship exclusive for the con and I wanted to purchase the USS Enterprise from the movies (I have been waiting for this to replay the Battle of the Mutara Nebula).  I was told:  “We sold out all of our cloaked ships an hour ago (it was noon – what the hell?) and, “We don’t carry any of their store products – only convention exclusives. If you want our normal products, you will have to go to a retailer.”  Um, seriously?  Every vendor there was selling the same products that you can buy in stores.  We come to conventions to play games and buy products.  In fairness, I was less than cordial.  “You’re kidding right?” I’m pretty sure I chuckled at the booth-dude. “No sir.”  “Okay, I did opt to purchase the ONLY Star Trek Attack Wing offering they still had in stock – Deep Space Nine.  It was $100, and I will point out that they are offering it to the retail chain in another three months.  Then they hit me with obnoxious club number two – “Cash only.”  I remembered last year they struggled with credit cards, so WizKid’s idiotic solution to this was to go to cash only.  I forked over the money and asked for a receipt.  “Sorry, we don’t do that.” What the hell? The temptation to call the IRS was growing by the minute.

On top of that – at a seemingly random time, the WizKid’s rep announced, “We need this line to disperse.  We need to run demos.  Everyone will need to clear out.”  There was no line of people waiting to demo their games – but a line of paying customers that they ordered away.  WizKids actually found  a whole new way to tinkle on their patrons who wanted nothing more than to hand them money.

In short, WizKids managed to irritate me as a customer on a whole new level my first 20 minutes into GenCon.  At 1:30pm they ordered us out of the area so they could conduct demos on their new D&D Attack Wing game – which they were not selling at the convention.  I was interested in purchasing it – the demo was actually good – but after the way their horribly managed booth was run, I’m holding out. The crew running WizKids booth were oozing with contempt of their customers.

For the record, the next morning, they sold out of the convention exclusive cloaked ship packs by 10:48am.  They threw together a horribly managed ad hoc line system of trying to line people up outside of the exhibit hall.  Piazo did this very well.  WizKids did it only to bring people in and tell them they were out of things.  Who wants to come to a convention to stand in line for products you don’t have?

The short version of this is WizKids managed to piss off its customer community with a horribly run GenCon booth.  Way to go WizKids. Maybe next year you can top things off by setting several gamers on fire.


Palladium Lowers the Bar:

For those of you not tracking the Robotech Tactics debacle at Palladium Games, here’s the short version.  They ran a KickStarter for a miniatures game and ran into the exact same problems that almost every other company encounters in doing miniatures.  They countered these issues with horrible communications and denials that they are missing dates (they are simply moving back delivery dates…duh.)  Then before GenCon they announced that they had the product, but would not be delivering to their Kickstarter participants until after the Con. At the same time they announced they would be selling the game to the public at GenCon.

In an effort to pour kerosene on an already raging bonfire of hatred and distrust, Palladium announced an online vote to see if they would bring the product to GenCon – and that if you didn’t vote, they would count it as a “Yes” vote.  Stalin would have been proud.

Well, I wanted to see the final product, maybe buy it.  What I found was two empty demo tables and a stack of order forms.  Apparently Palladium’s shipping container was hung up in customs.  Gee, no surprise there – every KickStarter seems to encounter this.  Palladium’s “strategy” at the convention was to get you to pay them for a game they didn’t have and had missed countless (okay five) dates on delivering on – and they would ship it to you someday-ish, maybe.  I didn’t have to fight any crowds.  In fact, it was like a tomb there. The few fans that Palladium had not pissed off found out they couldn’t add to their armies, because there was no new noticeable convention product, which managed to drive them to the ranks of the “Let’s Burn Palladium!” crowd.  The SCA crowd was trying to sell pitchforks and torches to the agitated and fading fan-base that Palladium has managed defile at every turn.

The only good thing about Palladium’s public relations move is that people were more irritated at them than at WizKids (though it was a close race in my mind.)


Catalyst Sells Out of Crossfire:

The long-anticipated Shadowrun Card Game released at the convention and sold out in a day – forcing them to have a restock.  I tried the demo, and bear in mind I don’t like card games, but it was pretty good.  Shadowrun is starting to seduce me after all of these years.  Damn you Shadowrun!


Infinity Sells Out of Its Starter Set Operation Icestorm:

The Infinity skirmish game has some neat minis.  They released a boxed starter set and it sold out in two days.  I was shocked.  At $120, it was pricy for some thin cardboard buildings, a map, and 14 miniatures.  They had a $140 convention special which included some additional stuff, but ran out by noon on day one of the convention exclusives.

Unfortunately when they ran out of product – they only had rules books which, the booth guy pointed out, were going to be obsoleted by a new version.  This was not the best way to sell product.  By Saturday the booth seemed all but abandoned.  I had no idea that Infinity was so popular.


Monte Cook releases The Strange:

This is one of those kick-yourself-in-the-pants scenarios.  Twice I wanted to take part in Mr. Cook’s Kickstarters, both times I flinched and ended up buying the game later.  Shame on me.  The game looked pretty cool so I bought it and am wading into it.  The only downside to his booth was that they didn’t have some quick demos of the game system.  I love the little demos – it helps solidify questions you might have with the rules.

I’ll review The Strange later – I promise.  I need to read it – then play a bit with the rules.


All Quiet on the Martian Front:

I DID buy into this game on KickStarter – and I love it.  I sat through one of the big demos of the game and really enjoyed the game play.  The double-movement and initiative systems are rocking.  The game I sat in on was brutal.  The Martian tripods inflicted a lot of initial damage…but suddenly the US started bringing down the iron-rain (shrapnel).  The entire Martian left flank was devastated when a very close cluster of tripods came under bombardment.  One in the middle exploded, trigging two more tripods to blow, each inflicting damage on the remaining tripod.  In a quick turn, the entire left flank was one tripod.



View from the Martian right flank.  

On the right flank, the Martian’s rushed forward but some gallant (and eventually dead) Mark II steam tanks charged forward and blew up one of their assault tripods – and left a scout tripod moving at the whim of the US player due to damage.  Their drones were mowed down.  In a non-demo game, if you took out the Scout, the drones would have been crippled, but they were ignoring that rule, “Because too many people concentrated fire on the Scout.”  Well duh, that’s why it is a rule.

The US took a beating too.  Lots of fried tanks, burned under Martian heat rays.  They lost two of their US command posts too – which seemed to actually improve the US die rolls (go figure).

On the exhibit hall floor, I spoke with Ernie from Alien Dungeon about my “concerns” about product being sold at GenCon that we hadn’t gotten yet as KickStarter purchasers.  He was very professional about it and listened to what I had to say, so we’re cool.  We talked about the future of the IP (Intellectual Property) and I was impressed with the vision.


KickStarter Mania:

EVERYBODY has a KickStarter coming for something.  Some are reboots of games, others are just new games.  I can see that this is going to be an ongoing problem in the gaming industry.  Why?  Because I counted at least a dozen companies that had KickStarter’s coming soon (most in October).  I get it, crowd-funding has been good to some in the industry.  I think these companies are going to pummel each other senseless.

A good example is DreamPod 9 talking about a new edition of Heavy Gear.  They had a tiny booth with only miniatures and a draft edition of the next set of rules.  They were pushing to do a KickStarter to publish a new rules set.  I worry about this thinking – because it could be a do-or-die with some of these companies.

Some surprises…

Reaper Miniatures didn’t have a booth.  They were at the annual Paint and Take, but were not on the showroom floor.  It’s fascinating to see if this was a strategy or a mistake.  I hope it’s not a trend with companies.

Ares Games ran the same special they did last year, buy two get one free – of anything.  By and large this was the best deal at the con that I came across.

I played the official D&D tournament to test-fly the new rules.  They were actually pretty good.  The Advantages and Disadvantages helped me on my game session.  Turns out I can play pretty good.  I’m usually the GM so it is fun to play.

I’m done with Zombie Games.  Every company is spitting out zombie games hoping to be the next Zombiecide.  So I’m done with them.  Well, except Smirk and Dagger had a new game of a zombies in high school.  I got a few minutes of the demo…and damn it, I want to give them some money.

I capped of the convention by playing in the BattleTech Game – Masters and Minions.  I was an alleged “Master” though from my dice rolling, you’d never guess it.  James Miller was my partner.  I was embarrassed at how he had memorized the charts to the game.  I had good ‘Mechs and a good strategy, but we got waxed by James Bixby and his “crew of doom.”

Death From AbovePainted in Central Michigan University colors – this was my pair of ‘Mechs prior to battle.



My BattleMaster got pummeled from across the map on move three.  I mean it was bent over and “mechanized.”  I managed to stagger the ‘Mech to its feet, only to suffer two massive head hits that turned my MechWarrior into a slimy puddle of goo splattered on the fragments of the cockpit that flew across the field of battle.  I may have talked smack in the game – but James Bixby delivered it at the end of a hot PPC barrel.

No problemo – I had my Pillager perched on a hilltop at the edge of the map.  I scored a few hits, but mostly I fired gauss rounds at trees, hillsides, the ground…everything but at the enemy.  The few hits I had were good though.  Colonel Miller did the real damage.  He appointed me in charge of “Talking Smack.”  You play to your strengths.  At one point three of the enemy ‘Mechs were knocked down, unconscious MechWarriors everywhere as far as the eye could see.

They say you can’t fight the math in BattleTech.  Well, math made me her bitch.

Except for this one guy.  He went for the gold.  Death from Above.  At the edge of the map, if he succeeded, he would have knocked my pristine Pillager off the map for a devastating kill.  It wasn’t an easy roll.  I hit him mid-air.  Two punches on the way down tore off his ‘Mech’s leg.  He landed right on top of me…and made the roll!

If you are going to get killed in a BattleTech tournament, it needs to be by Death from Above.



GenCon was great fun.  I momentarily met Wil Wheaton (he bumped into me at a booth) and had a blast.  The game industry is evolving, which is pretty cool.  Companies need to remember that your customers are actually important.  The days of “oh, they’ll spend their money with us regardless of how we treat them,” are over.

2 thoughts on “GenCon 2014 Battle Damage Assessment

  1. great review of the event. As an Aussie BTech fan, we get zip coverage down here and our local gaming club is swamped by Gamesworkshop loving noobs (W40K & FoW). I am glad to see BTech is still pumping out the hits, literally for yourself, and hope to get a bit more of a revival going in the great Southern land…

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