My Annual 2016 Gen Con Survival Tips

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Stompy ‘Mech Time! 

Yes, it is that time of the year again – time for my unsolicited updated list of GenCon tips survival.  These are to be treated as tongue and cheek – intended with a hint of a sense of humor.  If you’re offended, well, suck it up…this was intended to be useful and hopefully funny.

#1:  Plan in advance.  Go online, figure out what you want to do.  DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets.  This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…”  Don’t be that guy.  Everybody hates that guy.

#2:  Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are.  Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks.  Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, phone charger, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – typical geek gamer survival gear.  Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals.  Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there.  Don’t over pack.  You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive.  Keep it simple, keep it light.  Pack what you need but remember, you’re not setting out to climb Mt. Everest (or Mt .Doom, your choice.)

#3:  Be prepared for the rush to the main hall when it opens.  Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a geek equivalent to the running of the bulls in Spain (albeit a little safer).  Don’t fight the masses, ride it in.  To answer your question now:  Yes, it’s that crowded every year.  You can’t get in without a badge, have it out and visible.  The Door Guards will stop you dead in your tracks, meaning you are subject to being trampled.  Also, nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.

#4:  Cosplay is part of the experience and is encouraged.  If you are going to do it, don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby.  Think it over.  No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.

#5:  If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.  She’s not going to go back to your hotel room with her because you’re taking her photo and you don’t need a photo to prove to your buddies back at the office that there were indeed females at the convention.  Okay, that last point – I may be wrong.

#6:  Bathe and use deodorant.  This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense.  Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it.  Look, you paid for a hotel room right?  Go back at some point and at least use the shower.  Foot powder, toothpaste, and clean clothing (a fresh set for every day) shouldn’t require mentioning – yet here I am doing it.  Why?  Because people don’t do it!

#7:  While you have no adult supervision and can do what you want, be respectful of others.  In other words, bringing your leftover Taco Bell burrito from dinner to that 8am gaming session and eating it during the set-up is just wrong.  You do know that their meat isn’t real meat, right?

#8:  For your meals eat outside of the convention center.  First, convention food sucks.  I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too.  It is something of a tradition to stand in line at the nearby Steak N Shake for 20 minutes at least once during the con for me, but that’s just me.  I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall.  They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.

Go only five blocks away and there are a lot of eating places.  Gamers hate leaving the convention site, even for an hour for food, so if you are willing to walk, downtown has a LOT of eating options and the further you walk, the smaller the crowds.

The Food Trucks are your best friends.   I only discovered where these vendors parked three years ago and found their offers to be a much better alternative to eating on-site at the con.  Let’s face it, everything is better than the food in the convention center.  While we’re on it…

#9:  Don’t frighten the locals.  Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money.  Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish.  Not cool dude.

#10:  While I totally appreciate Cosplayers, sometimes the costumes are confusing as all hell.  Don’t be insulted if people ask you, “who are you trying to be?”  Corollary:  Taking any other costume and tossing on a Deadpool mask is not as innovative as you like to think it is.  (We call these folks “Douce-pools”)

#11:  There is always someone that knows the rules better than you.  He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?)  Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G.  We get it, you read and memorized the rule book.  Stop ruining game play for everyone just to demonstrate your incredible powers of memorization…please.   We refer to these individuals as Rules Douches, or the more French- La Rules Douchebag.

#12:  Don’t just sit around.  Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon.  You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you?  The convention won’t come to you – you need to move.

#13:  Do some prep work if you are planning on buying some specific products.  Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day.  If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed.  The short version of this:  Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it.  If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out.  Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.

#14:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have an aroma (see Tip Six.)

#15:  Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep.  The convention is not designed as an endurance test.  You’ll need the energy.  All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.

#16:  Attend the auction.  You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value.  You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one.  It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.

#17:  Play the demo games.  Look, games cost money – a LOT of money.  I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash.  I recommend you do the same.  Try some things you’ve never played before.  Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.

#18:  Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally.  These guys work hard to produce your fun.  Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book.  We get it, you can read.  If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off.  If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful.  As a writer in the industry, I welcome comments from fans…but there is a limit to critique that I will endure, and I am not alone.  As a corollary – there is a limit to the number of things you want autographed.

#19:  Go early to the con.  Get out of bed and get to the convention early.  There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter.  I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish.  They are a tradition I am addicted to.

#20:  WIN.  Savor your victories.  Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy!  Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it.  Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win.

You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you?  Hell no!  In other words, have fun!

#21:  Don’t wear costumes that are designed to deliberately upset people, unless those people are politicians.  You can abuse them all you want – they deserve it.

#22:  Wear something other than a black tee shirt.  At GenCon, black tee shirts are like camouflaged ghillie suit for snipers.  Everyone is wearing a black tee shirt.  Someone someday will earn a PhD studying why gamers are drawn to black tee shirts.  In the meantime, I recommend wearing something else (something clean), in a color other than black.  Corollary:  Reading the hilarious tee shirts is one of the more phone things about the Con.

#23:  Don’t abuse your demo rights.  Okay, in the main showroom, the vendors often offer short demos on their products.  These are a major part of the experience.  Don’t abuse the privilege.  I saw one guy camped out a table last year for four hours.  There were a lot of people wanting to sit in, but this guy had decided to turn a demo into a full-fledged campaign.

#24:  Remember the GenCon food groups.  Caffeine, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Caffeine, Pointless Carbs.  Beef Jerky, while not a formal food group, is also permissible but please be discreet when eating it – no one looks cool tearing into a piece of jerky.  Yes, Caffeine is listed twice because it is important.

#25:  If you want to do free events plan on a wait or get there early.  A good example of this is the paint and take event Reaper puts on.  It’s cool to get a free mini you paint there, but everyone wants to do it and there’s usually a line.

#26:  If you want the Convention giveaways – go to those booths first thing when the doors open.  A lot of these vendors run out in the first 20 minutes.

#27:  Con-Crud – prepare for it.  Con Crud is not a variant of Pandemic – it’s the social plague that hits thousands when they return from GenCon on the following Monday.  Use hand sanitizer (you have to bring your own on this).  Load up on vitamins and other legal medications aimed at reducing colds, flu, or whatever it is that morphs into Con-Crud.

#28:  Meet the celebrities.  I’m not just talking about the “name” celebrities.  This is a chance for you to track down that favorite author or artist and shake their hand.  I make a point at every GenCon to network and meet people (and re-meet people I met years before).  Mingle and be social.

#29:  “Language” I’m noticing more and more kids at the Con which is great.  If you feel the need to curse, make sure only the adults are around.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!

#GenCon

Review of Mutant Year Zero RPG

Mutations, guns, yeah, I'm good...
Mutations, guns, yeah, I’m good…

I was at a Michcon or Origins in 1978 when TSR released Gamma World.  I remember being in the huddle as they cracked open the boxes to hand out the first edition copies.  It was a magical time in the gaming business, when you just handed companies your cash and were satisfied with almost everything that was produced.  I only ran one campaign of the game, but it was pretty good.  I jumped into the Morrow Project RPG as a result (which I will cover in a future blog) but the original Gamma World was pretty awesome.

I started looking for a replacement about two years ago.  I was tempted to purchase the original book, but I stupidly assumed that the RPG industry would have improved on the original Gamma World (futuristic post-apocalyptic) setting.  I liked Degenesis, but it was almost too much detail on the universe and factions.  The D20 version was good but felt a little dry for my tastes.  The current release that Wizards of the Coast did to Gamma World in the seventh edition was, well, horrific.

When I was at Gen Con this year I picked up Mutant Year Zero in hopes it might be my cure for planet-devastating, people-mutating, sci-fi combat.  Apparently this is a RPG that has been around since 1984 with a strong background in Sweden.  The artwork is comic-book style, I understand there is a comic book series that is part of the mythos for this.  I was intrigued enough to plop down the $35 for the hardcover core rules.

This is a RPG with an uber-story arc.  Players begin in Ark’s, survivalist communities barely able to survive after an apocalyptic war which has left mankind sterile and mutated.  The people of the Arks search “The Zone” surrounding them in search of material for survival and to find the mythical Eden.

Eden is the big story arc and I won’t ruin it for you.  It’s rare to see a RPG with this incorporated into it and I have to say, it’s a novel concept.  At the same time, the Path to Eden campaign is a relatively easy adventure module with a few flaws in it.  I wondered if the game was worth playing once you go through that campaign.

The artwork is good – comic style, very consistent.  It sets a dark and grim tone for the game.  The game mechanics are pretty solid, though I found a few rules which were sufficiently vague as to cause problems down the road.  Back in the day you could have these kinds of fuzzy rules, with the knowledge that the GM could administer rulings.  Now though, where gamers devour rules like tax accountants consume IRS court rulings, there are going to be some issues.

This is not a game with futuristic weapons. In fact, the few modern day weapons in the game are usually cobbled together from parts of a rusting 1974 Buick LeSabre.  No lasers here.  Just rust, rubble and ruin.

The game mechanics work.  The game favors playability over realism, which works in this kind of setting.  While I was told that I didn’t need the custom dice for the game, the rules are written for them, so you should buy the dice.  I grumble about this (Thanks FFG!) since this is now a disturbing trend in the industry.  If I need the damn dice, why not just sell them to me with the book?

My take – it is a good game.  If I opt to run it, I’m going to trash their universe background and do my own thing.  The whole quest for Eden mega-arc felt hollow and frankly, limiting.  Overall, I give this a 3.0 out of five stars.  Not a bad game, a bit pricy.  There’s enough here to allow a good GM to put together a nice campaign.  I am not hearing a lot of players picking this up and running it, so I’m curious to see if there are any tournaments at Gen Con next year.  If you look on their game forums for this, it gets very little traffic, which is foreboding.

Check out the web site for more info:  http://www.modiphius.com/mutant.html

Something tells me I’m going to have to purchase a Gamma World first edition in order to

Review of Skirmish Outbreak

It is time to start killing zombies
It is time to start killing zombies

When I’m at GenCon I always make a point to pick up some of the new games from new companies.  You never know when some new company might emerge as a big contender in the industry. So I purchased a copy of Radio Dishdash publishing’s premiere game – Skirmish Outbreak.    Plain and simple – this is a game where you kill zombies.  Let’s face it, that’s all we really want, right?

Skirmish Outbreak is a miniatures combat game with some role-playing elements toss in.  It’s got RPG feel, which is kind of neat.  In some respects, it targets where Zombicide starts.  Where Zombicide is limited to the board, Skirmish Outbreak allows you to come up with a lot of new environments to play in.  I playtested it using my Zombicide models, which worked just fine.

There are two types of Zombies in the game.  First are the Zeds, which are akin to Walkers.  Slow, moaning, Night of the Living Dead-ish.  Then there are Ragers, which come at you sprinting and frothing at the mouth.  Zed’s are slow moving targets.  Ragers are meat-torpedoes that come at you with the intent of killing or infecting you.

You form a Survivor Band in the game of different mixes of characters:  Civilian, Youth, Average Joe, Professional, and Elite.  These have skills which will help you.  You can enhance some of your characters with “packages” of capabilities such as The Hero, The Dictator, Doc, Zombie Hunter, Old and Wise, Bow Hunter, Unhinged (read:  “crazy”), Big and Strong, Not So Sweet, Gunslinger, Kung Fu Master, Don’t Go Down Easy, Stealthy, or Loner).  In these respects, building your band has a RPG feel to it which I liked.  Combining these with the types of characters, and you can really get some interesting combos.

In gameplay, you roll to get Action Points that you can spend on actions.  You can dump them into one character (Move, Aim, and Shoot for example) or spread them out.  It’s a nice mechanic and as the undead close in, can force some difficult decisions.

Combat is straight forward and relatively fast.  The key is the Spotting skill.  You have to be able to spot a zombie or another human in order to kill it.  In the open – it’s automatic.  Not so much so when there is impeding terrain.  In my playtest of the system I found that the zombies (run by a Zombie Controller or ZC) can get in pretty damned close if the ZC is crafty.  If you miss some spotting rolls you can find yourself dealing with the enemy at pretty close range.  The rules are set up as well so that different bands can not only fight the zombies, but themselves.  This presents some fun opportunities for convention events.

Like Zombicide, noise plays a factor.  It attracts zombies and can lead to the spawning of more zombies.

You don’t get a lot of variety of weapons in the game, but this isn’t a true RPG – so that’s cool.  The rules don’t handle explosions or full auto fire great – it’s more abstract, but that’s good because it keeps the games moving.

Missing were vehicle rules which is a little disappointing since some of the photos in the rulebook show vehicles.

Overall, the gameplay is pretty fluid without a lot of record keeping which is a big plus.  It’s all fun and games killing Zeds until one of the characters gets infected and becomes a Rager.  Things can go downhill pretty fast.  You don’t need a lot of space to play either, a 2×2 board with some terrain can suffice.

There are rules for solo play and morale too.  Morale is important because it can shatter your best-laid plans.  I suggest a rule to make a morale check when you see someone else fail a morale check.  This allows a cascade of fear and panic to erupt.  The rules really don’t provide for recovering morale, simply effects of morale.  While simple, there is a lot of possibilities for leaders to rally frightened zombie-killers here.  Maybe in future editions…

When I was at GenCon they had a whole line of miniatures for the game.  I didn’t check these out but it’s good that they have supported it with some minis.

The cost of the game is steep.  The 92 page softcover is $35.00 US.  The artwork, while expected, is not exceptional.  I would have preferred to have just the rules and a lower cost.  Line drawings of the dead just aren’t needed for a miniatures game.  Their PDF version is $15 which is a much better deal.

I give Skirmish Outbreak between 3.5 and 4 stars.  It would have been a solid four if not for the price.  While it isn’t a homerun product, the game is very solid and fast to play which is a strong plus.  None of us are clamoring for a Flames of War Zombie game.

Gen Con 2015 Battle Damage Assessment

Masters and Minions - with real Minions!
Masters and Minions – with real Minions!

It is that time again; time to recap Gen Con 2015 for the folks that attended and those that didn’t.  Overall, I had more fun at this Gen Con than any other, (with the exception of one in 2010 when there was an “incident” around my Clan Wolverine interpretations during a BattleTech seminar).

Here’s my take on what I saw and my twisted interpretations:

Thursday was madness.  The crowd was massive and the lines in the exhibit hall were, well, whacked.  It was kind of odd because the majority of companies weren’t really releasing new products.  There were some notable exceptions, but for the most part, there was no big “must have” for everyone.  That’s good, it spreads the wealth around with the game companies there.  Many of the big vendors had massive lines just to see what products they had.  On Saturday the crowds were so big to get into the hall that the Fire Marshal made people stand up out of fear of being trampled.  This was a pretty weak excuse.  Most gamers are not the trample-others kind of people.  It’s far too much effort.  Besides, who knows how many hit points the victims might have.

And while we’re on that subject, WizKids was not there.  No booth at all at the Con.  Not only that, they didn’t even have another vendor there with their current products.  I wanted a freaking USS Prometheus for Star Trek Attack Wing, released a month ago, and none were available at the convention.  Just when you thought they couldn’t find a new way to irritate and disregard their fan base; WizKids managed to come up with a new way to tinkle all over their fan base.

The rumor mill was cranking about the Games Workshop “booth,” which was really just a display case with Age of Sigmar minis in it.  There was one person working that booth.  If the rumors were true, the GW staff arrived and at customs said, “We’re going to work at Gen Con.”  The Customs folks, always flexible, asked, “So where are your Visas?”  Apparently they shipped them back to the UK.  Then again, such rumors are commonplace at Gen Con.

The crowd had more females and children than I have ever seen.  I’m curious how this impacted male shopping habits, if any.

Infinity released a boxed army set.  Last year they released a boxed set and sold out.  Not so much this year, at least not by Saturday evening.  Still, it is amazing to watch their painter at the booth painting up the minis.

Hawk Games, the Dropship Commander folks had a fantastic display of minis, very eye-catching.  Mantic Games had a great Martian diorama, with walkers ripping the roof off the White House.  Catalyst Games had some new releases too, which disappeared quickly.  I really wanted to pick up a copy of their new dragon game but they were gone by day two.

Another trend I saw was companies pitching Kickstarters.  Some of these, like Delta Green, promised a Kickstarter last year, and were saying the same line this year.  That makes me nervous – it would have been better to say nothing.

Some booths had started a weird trend of subletting their space for other vendors.  It was sometimes an awkward combination of products.  I’m not so sure this is a good idea – and I’m pretty sure the Gen Con police were not pleased either.

Palladium Games were discounting RoboTech Tactics by $30 which was as pretty good deal.  It’s good to see them making some effort to recover from last year’s debacle.  That – or they just have a lot of those games in the warehouse and are suffering under carrying costs.

I got to meet Jolly Blackburn of Knights of the Dinner Table fame.  I write for the comic now and then and it was good to associate a face with the name (at least on my part).

I played a lot of demos.  One I liked the mechanics of was Heavy Steam from Greenbriar.  I didn’t like the tactical board fighting (little tactics there) but the whole routing of steam through the big robots was a fun thing.  I was shocked at their level of discount…and they were tossing in (alleged) Kickstarter exclusives too; which would have really irritated me if I had backed the product.  This has become the norm with the companies that do Kickstarters now.  There is no such thing as an “exclusive.”

Heavy Steam Demo
Heavy Steam Demo

I played the prototype of the GhostBusters Board Game.  My take – ugh!  First, it’s based on the cartoon/comic books.  Second, the mechanics are not fun, at least not in this prototype.  And one more thing game companies, how about getting the scale of the minis right?  Proportionately this mutated form of Zombicide was more clumsy than entertaining.

Ares Games had their prototype WWI bombers from their successful Kickstarter at the show.  I got some photos of them – and let me say, I’m glad I bought into that crowd-funding offering.  They were awesome.  Ares did a great job of running demos too.

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In terms of BattleTech – this was an awesome convention.  The Battletech Interstellar Operations, Beta release, it was neat to get your hands on a copy of the book in Beta.  Every Mechhead wanted one…or two.  I made my annual pilgrimage to the MechPods and maintained a sense of honor in battle.  I met a lot of fans too.  Folks I only knew through Facebook showed up and we had some great conversations.

Oh, I also met with the editor to talk about three ideas for BattleTech novels.  I thought I’d made his head explode with one of the ideas.  There was evil laughter on both sides of the table.  When you are a writer, that is a good thing.  I will do a whole blog post on my return to writing BattleTech novels – so follow this blog if that’s your thing.

I capped off the convention Saturday with two other traditions.  One, playing D&D 5.0.  My buddies and I played and it was a lot of fun.  We had a good time, despite the pits, arson, attempted arson, bombing, and the soothing of a crazed maniac.

The second thing that capped off the con was BattleTech Minions vs. Masters.  I was one of the Masters (which was a stretch).  I had them paint my ‘Mechs as…drum roll…Captain America.  Loren had his UrbanMechs painted as Minions.  We did okay, much better than I did last year.  I was about to drop on one of the minions with my 100 ton Pillager, my victim laying face down immobile before me.  It was going to be glorious, until my Gauss Rifle blew up and turned my ‘Mech into confetti.  It didn’t matter, I had a lot of fun and played with some great guys.

You have to admit, that BattleMaster rocks!
You have to admit, that BattleMaster rocks!

So there you go, another Gen Con in the memory vault.  Next blog post – BattleTech…I’M BACK!!!

#GenCon

My Annual Updated List of GenCon Survival Tips

Time to get your game on!
Time to get your game on!

Yes, it is that time of the year again – time for my unsolicited updated list of GenCon tips survial.  These are to be treated as tongue and cheek – intended with a hint of a sense of humor.  If you’re offended, well, suck it up…this was intended to be useful and hopefully funny.  

#1:  Plan in advance.  Go online, figure out what you want to do.  DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets.  This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…”  Don’t be that guy.  Everybody hates that guy.

#2:  Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are.  Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks.  Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, phone charger, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – typical geek gamer survival gear.  Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals.  Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there.  Don’t over pack.  You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive.  Keep it simple, keep it light.  Pack what you need but remember, you’re not setting out to climb Mt. Everest (or Mt .Doom, your choice.)

#3:  Be prepared for the rush to the main hall when it opens.  Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a geek equivalent to the running of the bulls in Spain (albeit a little safer).  Don’t fight the masses, ride it in.  To answer your question now:  Yes, it’s that crowded every year.  You can’t get in without a badge, have it out and visible.  The Door Guards will stop you dead in your tracks, meaning you are subject to being trampled.  Also, nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.

#4:  Cosplay is part of the experience and is encouraged.  If you are going to do it, don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby.  Think it over.  No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.

#5:  If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.  Trust me, she’s not going to go back to your hotel room with her because you’re taking her photo and you don’t need a photo to prove to your buddies back at the office that there were indeed females at the convention.  Okay, that last point – I may be wrong.

#6:  Bathe and use deodorant.  This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense.  Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it.  Look, you paid for a hotel room right?  Go back at some point and at least use the shower.  Foot powder, toothpaste, and clean clothing shouldn’t require mentioning – yet here I am doing it.

#7:  While you have no adult supervision and can do what you want, be respectful of others.  In other words, bringing your leftover Taco Bell burrito from dinner to that 8am gaming session and eating it during the set up is just wrong.  You do know that their meat isn’t real meat, right?

#8:  For your meals eat outside of the convention center.  First, convention food sucks.  I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too.  It is something of a tradition to stand in line at the nearby Steak N Shake for 20 minutes at least once during the con for me, but that’s just me.  I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall.  They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.

Go only five blocks away and there are a lot of eating places.  Gamers hate leaving the convention site, even for an hour for food, so if you are willing to walk, downtown has a LOT of eating options and the further you walk, the smaller the crowds.

The Food Trucks are your best friends.   I only discovered where these vendors parked three years ago and found their offers to be a much better alternative to eating on-site at the con.  Let’s face it, everything is better than the food in the convention center.  While we’re on it…

#9:  Don’t frighten the locals.  Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money.  Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish.  Not cool dude.

#10:  While I totally appreciate Cosplayers, sometimes the costumes are confusing as all hell.  Don’t be insulted if people ask you, “who are you trying to be?”  Also, just putting on a Deadpool mask and any other costume is passé.

#11:  There is always someone that knows the rules better than you.  He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?)  Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G.  We get it, you read and memorized the rule book.  Stop ruining game play for everyone just to demonstrate your incredible powers of memorization…please.   We refer to these individuals as Rules Douches, or the more French- La Rules Douchebag.

#12:  Don’t just sit around.  Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon.  You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you?  The convention won’t come to you – you need to move.

#13:  Do some prep work if you are planning on buying some specific products.  Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day.  If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed.  The short version of this:  Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it.  If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out.  Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.

#14:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have an aroma (see Tip Six.)

#15:  Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep.  The convention is not designed as an endurance test.  You’ll need the energy.  All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.

#16:  Attend the auction.  You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value.  You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one.  It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.

#17:  Play the demo games.  Look, games cost money – a LOT of money.  I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash.  I recommend you do the same.  Try some things you’ve never played before.  Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.

#18:  Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally.  These guys work hard to produce your fun.  Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book.  We get it, you can read.  If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off.  If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful.  As a writer in the industry, I welcome comments from fans…but there is a limit to critique that I will endure, and I am not alone.  As a corollary – there is a limit to the number of things you want autographed.

#19:  Go early to the con.  Get out of bed and get to the convention early.  There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter.  I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish.  They are a tradition I am addicted to.

#20:  WIN.  Savor your victories.  Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy!  Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it.  Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win.

You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you?  Hell no!  In other words, have fun!

#21:  Don’t wear costumes that are designed to deliberately upset people, unless those people are politicians.  You can abuse them all you want – they deserve it.

#22:  Wear something other than a black tee shirt.  At GenCon, black tee shirts are like camouflaged ghillie suit for snipers .  Everyone is wearing a black tee shirt.  Someone someday will earn a PhD studying why gamers are drawn to black tee shirts.  In the meantime, I recommend wearing something else (something clean), in a color other than black.

#23:  Don’t abuse your demo rights.  Okay, in the main showroom, the vendors often offer short demos on their products.  These are a major part of the experience.  Don’t abuse the privilege.  I saw one guy camped out a table last year for four hours.  There were a lot of people wanting to sit in, but this guy had decided to turn a demo into a full-fledged campaign.

#24:  Remember the GenCon food groups.  Caffeine, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Caffeine, Pointless Carbs.  Beef Jerky, while not a formal food group, is also permissible but please be discreet when eating it – no one looks cool tearing into a piece of jerky.  Yes, Caffeine is listed twice because it is important.

#25:  If you want to do free events plan on a wait or get there early.  A good example of this is the paint and take event Reaper puts on.  It’s cool to get a free mini you paint there, but everyone wants to do it and there’s usually a line.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!

#GenCon

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.

AQOTMF2

 

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.

 

Summary:

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.

My Annual GenCon List of Survival Tips

 Gencon

It is that time of the year again, when thoughts turn to GenCon in August and days/nights of gaming fun.  And, as I do every year, here’s my updated list of tips for surviving the con.

Tip Number One:  Plan in advance.  Go online, figure out what you want to do.  DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets.  This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…”  Don’t be that guy.  Everybody hates that guy.

Tip Number Two:  Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are.  Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks.  (PS.  Beef Jerky is not a good public snack – no one looks good tearing off a piece of stinky meat.)  Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – survival gear.  Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals.  Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there.  Don’t over pack.  You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive.  Keep it simple, keep it light.  Sidebar:  Remember your Gen Con food groups – Diet Mountain Dew, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Pointless Carbs.

Tip Number Three:  Be prepared for the rush to the main hall.  Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a torrent of people rushing to get in.  Don’t fight it, ride it in.  Yes, it’s that crowded every year.  You can’t get in without a badge, have it out.  Nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.

Tip Number Four:  Don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby.  Think it over.  No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.

Tip Number Five:  If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.  Trust me, she’s not going to go back to your hotel room with her because you’re taking her photo and you don’t need a photo to prove to your buddies back at the office that there were indeed females at the convention.

Tip Number Six:  Bathe and use deodorant.  This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense.  Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it.  Look, you paid for a hotel room right?  Go back at some point and at least use the shower.

Tip Number Seven:  Taco Bell Burritos are not breakfast.  Frankly, I’m not sure that they even have meat in them.  You are what you eat – and in this case, that makes you “questionable.”  The smell of burritos in the morning is not the smell of victory, it’s the smell of desperation and despair.

Tip Number Eight:  Eat outside of the convention center.  First, convention food sucks.  I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too.  It is something of a tradition to stand in line at the nearby Steak N Shake for 20 minutes at least once during the con for me, but that’s just me.  I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall.  They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.

The Food Trucks are your best friends.   I only discovered where these vendors parked two years ago and found their offers to be a much better alternative to eating on-site at the con.  Let’s face it, everything is better than the food in the convention center.  While we’re on it…

Tip Number Nine:  Don’t frighten the locals.  Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money.  Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish.  Not cool dude. We’d like to be invited back next year.

Tip Number Ten:  If people have to guess at what your costume is, it sucks.  Take it off.  Go play D&D.

Tip Number Eleven:  There is always someone that knows the rules better than you.  He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?)  Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G.  We get it, you read and memorized the rule book.

Tip Number Twelve:  Don’t just sit around.  Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon.  You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you?

Tip Number Thirteen:  Do some prep work.  Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day.  If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed.  Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.

Tip Number Fourteen:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have an aroma (see Tip Six.)

Tip Number Fifteen:  Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep.  You’ll need the energy.  All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.

Tip Number Sixteen:  Attend the auction.  You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value.  You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one.  It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.

Tip Number Seventeen:  Play the demo games.  Look, games cost money – a LOT of money.  I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash.  I recommend you do the same.

Tip Number Eighteen:  Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally.  These guys work hard to produce your fun.  Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book.  We get it, you can read.  If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off.  If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful.

Tip Number Nineteen:  Go early.  Get out of bed and get to the convention early.  There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter.  I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish.

Tip Number Twenty:  WIN.  Savor your victories.  Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy!  Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it.  Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win.

You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you?  Hell no!  In other words, have fun!

Tip Number Twenty-One:  Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it.  If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out.

Tip Number Twenty-Two:  Don’t wear costumes that are creepy.  A 49 year old 300 lb. unshaven dude wearing a Sailor Moon costume is not creative – it’s an invitation to a Dateline Catch-a-Predator episode.

Tip Number Twenty-Three:  Try some things you’ve never played before.  Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.

Tip Number Twenty-Four:  Be mindful wandering around Indy during the Convention. Last year there was some big biker rally/event a few blocks from the Convention Center. I’m not sure that geeks and bikers are a good mix, though it did provide some wonderful photo ops.  The locals know about GenCon and love it.  Visitors, from any group, can sometime be taken aback when we arrive in town.

Tip Number Twenty-Five:  To add to tip number Twenty-Two – 300 lb Pricess Leia in the gold bikini. Good idea or bad idea? If you think about this more than two seconds – it’s a bad idea.

Tip Number Twenty-Six:  Wear something other than a black tee shirt.  At GenCon, black tee shirts are like camouflaged ghillie suit for snipers .  Everyone is wearing a black tee shirt.  Someone someday will earn a PhD studying why gamers are drawn to black tee shirts.  In the meantime, I recommend wearing something else (something clean), in a color other than black.

Tip Number Twenty-Six:  Don’t abuse your demo rights.  Okay, in the main showroom, the vendors often offer short demos on their products.  These are a major part of the experience.  Don’t abuse the privilege.  I saw one guy camped out a table last year for four hours.  There were a lot of people wanting to sit in, but this guy had decided to turn a demo into a full-fledged campaign.

Tip Number Twenty-Seven:  Don’t be a Rules-Douche.  There’s always somebody who memorizes every rule and looks for every potential loophole in the rule.  When the tournament is running, they are the ones that constantly force the people running the event to stop play, flip through the book, and making rulings — which the Rules-Douche then debates and questions.  We’ve all experienced these people.  Not content with ruining games in their hometowns, they come to GenCon to suck the life and the fun out of tournaments.

And while you may think you know the rules inside and out, there is always someone there that is better than you.  It’s not a contest, just reality.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!

Gen Con Wrap-UP

Image
Hanging with the Dungeon Bastard – discussing how much we like halfling bards as player characters

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.

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Ship ahoy!

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.

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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.

Annual Gen Con Survival Guide

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Gen Con is coming next month.  For those of you who are unaware of what this convention is all about, it basically is 36,000 science fiction/fantasy/military history fans descending on Indianapolis for four days of playing role playing, electronic, board and miniature games.  It is a geek-fest second only to San Diego ComicCon in terms of fun.

I go because I love it.  I enjoy meeting with publishers, playing games, meeting fans, almost all of it.  For several days I embrace my less-than-inner nerd.  If you love gaming and you’re not going – well, you’re missing something.

Attending Gen Con requires a strategy all on its own.  So, tongue firmly planted in my cheek, here’s my annual rendition of my Gen Con Survival Guide!

Tip Number One:  Plan in advance.  Go online, figure out what you want to do.  DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets.  This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…”  Don’t be that guy.  Everybody hates that guy.

Tip Number Two:  Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are.  Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks.  (PS.  Beef Jerky is not a good public snack – no one looks good tearing off a piece of stinky meat.)  Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – survival gear.  Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals.  Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there.  Don’t over pack.  You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive.  Keep it simple, keep it light.  Sidebar:  Remember your Gen Con food groups – Diet Mountain Dew, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Pointless Carbs.

Tip Number Three:  Be prepared for the rush to the main hall.  Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a torrent of people rushing to get in.  Don’t fight it, ride it in.  Yes, it’s that crowded every year.  You can’t get in without a badge, have it out.  Nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.

Tip Number Four:  Don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby.  Think it over.  No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.

Tip Number Five:  If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.  Trust me, she’s not going to go back to your hotel room with her because you’re taking her photo and you don’t need a photo to prove to your buddies back at the office that there were indeed females at the convention.

Tip Number Six:  Bathe and use deodorant.  This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense.  Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it.  Look, you paid for a hotel room right?  Go back at some point and at least use the shower.

Tip Number Seven:  Taco Bell Burritos are not breakfast.  Frankly, I’m not sure that they even have meat in them.  You are what you eat – and in this case, that makes you “questionable.”  The smell of burritos in the morning is not the smell of victory, it’s the smell of desperation and despair.

Tip Number Eight:  Eat outside of the convention center.  First, convention food sucks.  I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too.  It is something of a tradition to stand in line at the nearby Steak N Shake for 20 minutes at least once during the con for me, but that’s just me.  I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall.  They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.  While we’re on it…

Tip Number Nine:  Don’t frighten the locals.  Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money.  Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish.  Not cool dude. We’d like to be invited back next year.

Tip Number Ten:  If people have to guess at what your costume is, it sucks.  Take it off.  Go play D&D.

Tip Number Eleven:  There is always someone that knows the rules better than you.  He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?)  Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G.  We get it, you read and memorized the rule book.

Tip Number Twelve:  Don’t just sit around.  Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon.  You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you?

Tip Number Thirteen:  Do some prep work.  Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day.  If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed.  Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.

Tip Number Fourteen:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have an aroma (see Tip Six.)

Tip Number Fifteen:  Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep.  You’ll need the energy.  All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.

Tip Number Sixteen:  Attend the auction.  You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value.  You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one.  It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.

Tip Number Seventeen:  Play the demo games.  Look, games cost money – a LOT of money.  I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash.  I recommend you do the same.

Tip Number Eighteen:  Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally.  These guys work hard to produce your fun.  Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book.  We get it, you can read.  If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off.  If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful.

Tip Number Nineteen:  Go early.  Get out of bed and get to the convention early.  There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter.  I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish.

Tip Number Twenty:  WIN.  Savor your victories.  Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy!  Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it.  Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win.

You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you?  Hell no!  In other words, have fun!

Tip Number Twenty-One:  Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it.  If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out.

Tip Number Twenty-Two:  Don’t wear costumes that are creepy.  A 49 year old 300 lb. unshaven dude wearing a Sailor Moon costume is not creative – it’s an invitation to a Dateline Catch-a-Predator episode.

Tip Number Twenty-Three:  Try some things you’ve never played before.  Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!