Just returned from the Best Four Days in Gaming over the weekend…and I am exhausted! I love attending Gen Con! There is something simply magical about that event. The sheer size of it, the number of attendees, the great new games that are debuting, and the many oddities that you can only see there (I’m looking at you purveyor of chainmail bikini tops and the infamous Utilikilts!). But, that doesn’t mean I love everything about the experience. In this edition of our The Love/Hate Relationship, I will take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly about this amazing annual event that every gamer in the world, nay, the universe dreams of attending.
I have attended 6 out of the last 7 Gen Cons and that should tell you something about how I feel about the event. I love it, in case you couldn’t guess! There is so much about it that is right. First off, I want to talk about all of the hard work that goes into creating this 4 day experience for us gamers. There are literally thousands of volunteers that give their time to man booths, hand out badges, coupon books and give directions. These people are the real heroes of the gaming world and it is amazing to see so many of them willing to give of their time to make our experience a pleasant one. I witnessed a few volunteers help a mother who was having some trouble with her children. They didn’t have to got this extra mile but they willingly, and quickly I might add, helped her gather herself and her belongings as she had dropped a bag with some recent purchases in it that had exploded as she was hurrying on her way to an event or something. It was a sweet experience that I won’t forget but that shows the level of quality people that volunteer to make Gen Con happen. Bravo, I say! Bravo.
Let’s be honest though. I go to Gen Con every year for the new games. Publishers work really hard to try and have a majority of their annual releases ready for Gen Con, some make it and some don’t but there are a lot of new games offered. I always spend a few weeks before Gen Con looking on the internet for the newest games that are debuting and find that Board Game Geek has a great list of the games that are “supposed to” be there ready for demo and sale. Here is a link to the 2018 list: https://boardgamegeek.com/geekpreview/7/gen-con-2018-preview
After looking at that list on BGG, I carefully crafted my “want to demo list” and had 18 games on there. I knew that was a lot and that it would be a minor miracle if I was able to actually play that many in the 3 days that we were going to be there. But, it was a blast putting that list together and also talking about the various games on the list with Alexander and my brother-in-law Brum who attends with us each year.
In the end, I was unable to play all 18 of the games but I did get in plays of 7 of them along with about 5 or so other games. The following is a list of the new games that I was able to demo/play:
- Vault of Dragons from Gale Force Nine
- Battle of Britain from PSC Games
- Wings of Glory: Tripods & Triplanes from Ares Games
- Flashpoint: South China Sea from GMT Games
- Critical Mass: Raijin vs. Archon from Arcane Wonders
- Monsterpocalypse Miniatures Game from Privateer Press
- Arena Rex from Red Republic Games
- Solomon Kane from Mythic Games
- Starship Samurai from Plaid Hat Games
- Pathfinder 2.0 Roleplaying Game from Paizo
- Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1 from Strange Machine Games
While I was really glad to play the many games that I was able to on my list, there were some that I thought would be there but just weren’t available for demos. Two of these games were Aliens: A Cooperative Game from Gale Force Nine and Judge Dredd: Block War from A Game and a Curry. More on this later in the Hate part of the segment as this is one of my real pet peeves about publishers at Gen Con. All in all though, Gen Con is a fabulous way to get a look at a lot of games in just a few days.
Meeting Interesting People
One of things that I love most about a convention like Gen Con is meeting new and interesting people. From the gamers that we share table space with as we demo games, to certain designers and media personalities, there are lots of folks to meet and get to know….and I love that! We were fortunate enough to get a meeting with one of my favorite designers Harold Buchanan to get a preview of one of his upcoming games called Flashpoint: South China Sea from GMT Games.
How glorious it was to not only meet Harold, who designed my first COIN Series game in Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection, but to also play a game with him, and a new, unpublished game at that. He was such a down to earth guy who we immediately connected with and had a great time with for about an hour. My brother-in-law Brum also had a great conversation with Harold and really felt that he was a genuine guy.
I have found that the board gaming and wargaming hobby has some really great people. People who are kind, approachable, genuine and friendly. I have not had a bad interchange with any person in the hobby, with the exception of a few trolls on Social Media, and that is a pretty major thing I think.
We also had the chance to meet up with Jon Lonngren one of the designers of Fallen Land: A Post Apocalyptic Board Game from Fallen Dominion Studios at their booth, which was really hopping on a Thursday afternoon. Jon is larger than life and has a great and welcoming charisma about him. Although I have only communicated with him through email as we worked on a designer interview covering Fallen Land, he acted as if we had known each other our whole lives. Their game Fallen Land is a great narrative driven Ameritrashy dice fest that we really enjoyed playing a few months back and I saw lots of people there playing the game and also buying their merchandise. I plopped down my $10 gladly to pick up a copy of their new expansion Outriders Trading Post as it adds about 80 new cards. It was a true joy to meet this man and I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for him as he has worked really hard to make this game and promote it and they appeared to do very well at the show. I love to see the “little guy” do well and Fallen Dominion Studios is a true success story that haven’t written their whole tale yet. They have a few new expansions planned for the near future as well as a Kickstarter campaign to reprint the base game. I wish him and his company the best of luck!
We also were able to meet up with one of my favorite personalities on Social Media Travis Hill from the podcast Low Player Count. We run in some of the same circles with our game interests as we both like wargames, Eurogames, good solitaire games and simply good games. Travis was a joy to meet as he was really energetic (must have had a few coffees that morning before we met) and very interested in Alexander and I and our blog. We had some great conversation about many things including our experience thus far at Gen Con (this was his first trip by the way), our thoughts on the industry and gaming.
At the end, he even invited us to his upcoming private gaming get together called Trains and Chit. I was surprised and pleased with that as I guess we were becoming friends. Just another example of how great the gaming industry is and how real people are. We also met with a few other people, Rob Oren and the guys from Playdek (Joel and Gary), and it was a grand part of our experience. Thanks to all of those that we met for your time and for being who you really are! I don’t know that I would ever get a chance to meet such great people without a central gathering point like Gen Con. It is the vehicle by which I can meet people, develop a relationship and then see them again and again as I attend each year.
I am a Hoosier, born and raised, and I love Indiana! This is my home turf. I grew up in Columbus, Indiana, just 45 minutes south of Indianapolis, and I currently live on the west side of Indy in the growing suburb of Brownsburg. I tell you this because my opinion might be biased. But, I think that Indy is the perfect place for Gen Con. The city is clean, safe and there are a lot of great amenities located within blocks of the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. Plus we have sweet corn y’all! Sweet corn for days. We even have sweet corn on the shelves of the Dollar Tree!
No, the Indiana Convention Center doesn’t serve corn on the cob (it should though!) but it is a great facility. They have invested over the years in updates and upgrades and the areas used by the exhibitors and demos are just fantastically large and spacious rooms. There are plenty of bathrooms and they are clean (mostly) and not dangerous, except for one of them on the 2nd floor that has a coat hanger spear on the door set at belly button height that jabbed me in my right bicep and left me sore and pained for three days! The facility is also conveniently connected to many of the hotels via sky bridges so you don’t have to go out in the oppressive 95 degree heat with 95% humidity! I am glad that Gen Con will stay in Indy for at least the next several years. A great location, with great facilities and great amenities. The only problem that I hear about is the lack of housing and hotel options. But, for me, this is not a problem as I live 25 minutes from downtown. Maybe next year I should offer my house to attendees for lodging and gaming!
There are many fine restaurants within walking distance of the Indiana Convention Center. First off, there is the Circle Center Mall food court that has such delicacies as Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, Asian Chao (my personal favorite!), Cajun Grill (love me the Bourbon Chicken!), Dairy Queen, The Great Steak and Potato Company, amongst others. There also are fantastic sit down dining options that typ0ically aren’t over priced like Shula’s Steakhouse, Scotty’s, St. Elmo’s, Steak and Shake, The Weber Grill, Rock Bottom and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. We always feel fulfilled when we eat out during the day and never go hungry. Great choices within just a few blocks.
Well, after spouting off about all of the great things that Gen Con has to offer, there are a few things that I don’t like. I don’t like to use the word hate, but it goes with this post so I will be forced to use it.
There are lines everywhere at Gen Con. Lines to get badges, lines to get events, lines for the concessions, lines that form in the middle of aisles in the Exhibit Hall, and lines for getting in line. In fact, one day, I saw a long line forming and just got in the line because I said to myself, “if these people are going to stand in this 2 block long line, there must be something good at the end!”. That wasn’t the case and my soul was drained that day! But seriously, not much you can do about lines when there are over 70,000 people in the facility all at once, or at least it seems like that. It can be a challenge to even walk around quickly as lines are ever-present and you just have to learn to deal. If I am really truthful hear, the lines aren’t that bad. Yes you have to wait but talking to folks in line is always fun and you get to people watch as well. That can always be a joy! I also just ask myself why but know that there isn’t an answer forthcoming. That is simply part of the fun. One way to avoid some of the lines is to simply pay the $7.00 it takes to have your badge and tickets mailed to you before. I recommend this option and will be using it every time in the future as Gen Con is growing and will surely mean more lines.
Publishers Not Demoing New Upcoming Games
I mentioned this earlier but this is one of my biggest pet peeves about publishers. And before I go into my rant, I want to say that I know that plans change, unexpected things happen with schedules, and printing and shipping, and…..
But, when you have a new game coming out and that game is set to come out in the fall, why would not you have it at Gen Con to demo at a minimum? I am the type of gamer that can be very choosy with my dollar. I am not going to simply lay down $60.00 for your new game because The Dice Tower said I should. I want to touch a game, feel the quality of the components, play a few rounds, or an entire game to get a feel for the gameplay and strategy, before I make that purchase decision. To me not having your new game at Gen Con is like not having the newest Tickle Me Elmo for sale before Christmas! You are going to lose out on a bunch of sales, period. Losing out on sales may be ok if you are an industry giant but if you are a small or mid-sized publisher you have to have it ready to go on Christmas Eve!
Why do I have this burr in my saddle and why am I so salty over this? Well, there were at least 3 games on my aforementioned demo list that the publishers couldn’t be bothered to have for demo or purchase. These three games were Aliens: A Cooperative Board Game from Gale Force Nine, Judge Dredd: Block War from A Game and A Curry and Blitz Bowl from Games Workshop. I am genuinely interested in all three of them but didn’t see them or get a chance to play. With Aliens, they mentioned that they had some last minute changes to the game. Ok, that is fine, but still you could have had something there for me to take for a spin. Judge Dredd was another story. I went to the booth on 3 separate occasions and was told they would be demoing it later that afternoon, or tomorrow, or never. Oh well, a missed opportunity on their part. I would have loved that game and most likely spent $20 to own my own copy. But, no, no dice! With Blitz Bowl, they had other games they were demoing and I could only get a look at the fantastic drool worthy miniatures through the glass of the case they were stored in. Probably won’t ever play it and definitely won’t buy it because I didn’t play it. Please publishers, have your games out and ready to show off. I really want to buy them!
General Lack of Open Gaming Space
If there was truly one thing that I could change about Gen Con it would be the general lack of open tables to sit down and play a game at. I know that it is a business and that they are trying to make money so that they can continue to put these huge soirée on each year. But, this convention is about gaming. People bring games they want to play with friends. People spend their hard earned money on games at the convention. And just before leaving for the day, or the dead time when the Exhibitor Hall closes at 6:00pm, or when waiting in the dreaded lines, there just is no space to play a game. I see the brave people who sit on the ground, after it has been traipsed over by 30,000 pairs of dirty sneakers that day, in various yoga-esque positions that my inflexible body cannot even attempt, all to just play out of desperation. I just wish there was a small corner somewhere you could sit down at a nice table and play for an hour. But, there really isn’t much. We walked around for 30 minutes and found some unused tables in an obscure corner that we could sit at and demo a game (see above Flashpoint: South China Sea). I just think it would be a good thing to have some areas like this. Or maybe you could bring your own folding table and chairs and create your own space to game. Huh, that’s an idea!
The Glorious Smells of Gen Con (Tongue in Cheek)
For my final complaint, which will be embellished severely for comedic effect, I saved the best for last! I have a very sensitive olfactory system. My mother used to tell me it was because I had part Blood Hound in my family tree (my mother hailed from South Carolina and they love their hunting dogs!) but it is definitely a curse to me. It really serves no purpose. I have no desire to smell so well that I can tell your stink coming from a mile away. I really would rather not smell it at all. So, I would encourage everyone to keep in mind that there are those of us uber smellers out there and your odors offend me. Please shower. This is not hard. You simply stand under the hot, running water, and at least half of your BO will be washed away. If you so choose, you can grab soap and a wash cloth and make a half hearted attempt at moving it around on said body and you will remove even more of that odor. But the most important thing to remember is that Indy is hot and humid. You will be walking around a lot, sometimes in a great hurry as you are late for an event or they just announced more copies of that game you wanted to buy. You will also be carrying large packages along with your backpack or bag filled with drinks, snacks, dice, charger and cords, the valuable coupon book, etc. You will sweat and it is a biological certainty that there are strains of bacteria that love to live on that glistening sweat as they love the salts, electrolytes and other minerals that come out of your body with that sweat. Their byproduct is stink, and it can get bad if you don’t have deodorant on. It is a part of life that you must deal with, not only for your health, but out of courtesy for the poor saps like me that can smell your particular strain of bacteria and identify its genus and species. The smells of Gen Con….that is not how I choose to remember my experience. I have blocked that part out and will focus on what is great about it.
So please tell me your thoughts on what you both love and hate about Gen Con. It has both good and bad parts but definitely more good than bad and I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Here’s to Gen Con 2019, which is set to run August 1st-4th, 2019. May the next 356 days pass by quickly.
If you are interested, here is a link to the Gen Con 2018 Post Show Press Release: https://www.gencon.com/press/2018postshow