Gen Con 2013 was full of regret, for the people I didn’t get to meet; full of joy, for the simple acts of kindness and generosity. Gen Con 2013 was full of work, with all my free time eaten up; full of play, when free time actually was free. It was an amazing show, and one that I nearly didn’t attend. Luckily, things feel together not exactly at the last minute, so there I was, in Indianapolis with the best weather I’ve experienced for the convention.

A convention full of regret.

There were so many people in attendance this year – 49,058, a growth of 20% from 2012 – that I didn’t see all the people I wanted to. 12 to Midnight‘s Preston DuBose, a person whom I have known for years and years through online connections and is a friend of several of my real-life friends, was to be there but, alas, timing. Will Hindmarch, a writer friend whom I had a great conversation with at PAX East ’12, was also there and I would have loved to chat with him again. Ross, a friend from a message forum/chat room I frequented back around the early 2000s was there on Saturday, but we never connected. John Stavropoulos (of NerdNYC) was up in the Games On Demand room, and I never got to the second floor of the convention center. So many more people that I wanted to meet, so few that I did.

And of course, there’s the Diana Jones Award ceremony where there are several people that I know, but this year, like every year, my nerves get the best of me and I find it hard to enter conversations with people. Here’s my insecurity secret: I know these people, but it almost always feels like they know each other better and are already enjoying conversations. But Gen Con is supposed to be like pre-school, right? “You like blue? I like blue, too! Let’s be friends!” It doesn’t help that in the past two years, I’ve gotten to the event just as the award is announced and everyone has been there for an hour already, drinking. Nor does it help that the new venue is louder than the previous one, so it’s a bit difficult to jump into a conversation. (“Excuse me, but did you said you like blue? I like blue, too! Let’s be friends!”) Nor did it help that I really couldn’t stay out too late this year because of prep work the next morning.

So my big regret is not meeting everyone, or meeting people too late in the convention, or having only a minute or two to chat. Hell, Adam Jury, who I’ve known (online) since he was about sixteen[1], I only saw for a moment before the hall opened on day one. My friend Seth Jaffee? Scant seconds during teardown.

Next year: better planning for meeting people. And I’ll roleplay like I’m an extrovert. That should help.

A convention full of joy.

There were so many people in attendance this year – 49,058, a growth of 20% from 2012 – that one couldn’t help but see awesome things happen around oneself. From the four-year-old daughter of a VIG[2] who was dressed up in awesome costumes (the 11th Doctor from Doctor Who on Thursday, Wonder Woman on Friday, and R2-D2 on Saturday), to the generosity of gamers at Mayfair Games’ Star Trek: Catan Warp Speed charity game, there were so many sights to behold that made me proud to be part of this hobby. I spoke to a gaming couple at that Catan thing – she dressed as Harley Quinn, he as the 4th Doctor. They each paid $100 to sit at a table, and neither one cared if they won. They just wanted to be a part of donating money to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central Indiana.[3]

My favorite moment from the convention? It’s hard to pin down, but I’ll say it was running a game for a group of friends who had moved apart and were reuniting for the convention. The one game I ran, that was the one game all five scheduled to play together.

There were so many families and couples attending. It’s great to see young gamers and women in this hobby that oftentimes seems so disproportionately 30+ male. So many people proudly wearing the GAYMER banner under their badge! Smiles around, people having fun, people enjoying this silly hobby with others! Hearing tales of how Indianapolis embraces Gen Con[4] – how could I feel something other than joy after this convention?

A convention of work.

In previous years, I worked the convention, by which I mean I went to various booths in the exhibit hall and tried to make contact with various companies to gain some freelance work. This year, I wasn’t going to attend mainly due to financial issues. However, Mayfair Games is a client of Pulp Gamer and they contracted us[5] to man a Bob and Angus Show booth in Mayfair’s giant block of boothspace. The Bob and Angus Show[6] is a puppet show that features two news sheep talking about things that happen in the world of Mayfair Games and quickly devolves into comedic chaos. At the show, my job was primarily puppet handler: I was the person that worked with the puppeteers, handing out cards and pins, and occasionally selling t-shirts.[7]

I also was the on-screen graphics guy for Mayfair’s Catan North American Championship on Sunday, which took up the majority of my Saturday night to prep for. So when I wasn’t at the booth being puppet handler, or manning a camera for other events, I was busy prepping graphics. Not that much free time, even in the evenings. But hey, the gig was entirely paid for (and the Mayfair booth had a lunch sandwich buffet), so I can’t complain too much, can I? Regardless, this year, I worked the convention; previous years, I “worked” the convention.

A convention of play.

Despite my entire convention time seemingly booked with work, I did manage to get some games in.[8]

Two absolute gaming highlights in the show: The first, the earlier-mentioned game for the group of friends. That was Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Edge of the Empire demo, where I ran the Free RPG Day adventure Shadows of a Black Sun[9]. I don’t make it a secret that I love Fantasy Flight Games: If my trip wasn’t paid for by Mayfair Games, I would have been running game after game for FFG. As it were, I was only able to run this one game session that turned out to be for a group of friends who hadn’t seen each other in person since last year. These guys were great! They wanted to know how the dice pools worked in the game and, while I ran them through the adventure using the quick start rules, I showed their GM some “behind the curtain” stuff. It was a pretty fun adventure, even though it didn’t feel Star Wars-y to me.[10]

The other absolute gaming highlight of the show was reconnecting with my friend Boyan Radakovich[11], and playing with/teaching Wil Wheaton one of my favorite games, Domaine[12]. Bo asked me if I wanted to play a game with Wil (who had just won the Diana Jones Award for Tabletop), and, oddly, I had a break where Wil was at the Tabletop game booth.

The Tabletop booth was in Hall E, one of the open/scheduled gaming halls. In the center of the booth was the table. The one from Tabletop. That table. Not two hours earlier, while puppet wrangling, I was at the Geek Chic booth with Stacey Gordon (the lead puppeteer for The Bob and Angus Show, also the puppeteer of Claire on the show), who was talking with Robert Gifford about running a business[13]. Part of the conversation went to the Tabletop table and how it’s just on loan/rented to Tabletop and sits on their showroom floor eleven months out of the year. Two hours later, Bo was telling me how the maroon color of that table isn’t standard, nor is having the logo on the table, but since Tabletop took off, Geek Chic has been getting requests for that color and that logo so their customers can get that table.

The game was great: Bo stuck around for the first few turns teaching the game; I helped out teaching the game after that with some ideas on strategies and rules clarifications. It really felt like I was back in Tucson, AZ, at Ides of Gaming or RinCon, teaching games to players. Teaching games is a thing that I love; getting people interested in new games is one of the joys I had back in the days of organizing the Tucson gaming scene. The game ended with me one turn away from sweeping the board: one of the players wound up extending to gain a monopoly on a mine just before I could close off a small domain and cede the vast expanse of the kingdom to my castle in the wilderness. But I didn’t care: we all had great fun.[14]

A few other games were played: King of Tokyo is a game I’ve wanted to try out last year; I played it on Sunday. Fun. King of Tokyo would be a must buy next year if I hadn’t seen Rampage at the Asmodee booth. Rampage was my game of the show, even though it isn’t available here in the US until November. I managed to get around a crowded demo (on yet another oversized board) at Asmodee’s booth. The first player took his turn. The second player started his. That was all I needed to see. I knew I was going to buy this game.

Here’s how the demo went: First player flicked a wooden disc, but didn’t touch a building made of wooden meeples and “floor” boards, so his monster could try to knock over the building by blowing on it. Dude leans over his monster marker and blows. Second player flicks his disk, contact with a building. Takes his monster marker, holds it above the five-story building and drops, knocking over the building. I didn’t need to know what happened next. I’m buying this game.

Anyway, King of Tokyo, pretty cool. Decent as a two-player game, but I can see how it would shine at 3 or 4 players. Lots of fun and even though I love dice games, I want to play a monster that knocks over stuff.

Other games: Android: Netrunner, with my slightly modified all tags, all the time NBN deck that was eaten for breakfast by Noise running Personal Workshop/Stimhack. The first part of Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on a Cursed Island, a coop game where you’re trying to survive after a shipwreck[15]. We played Robinson Crusoe only for a little while and on turn three it just clicked. It’s an amazing game with a theme I thought I didn’t think I’d want to play, but damn, it’s awesome.[16] A+++ WOULD PLAY AGAIN. I almost played Gravwell, which seemed to be a darling of the convention in a Gen Con that didn’t have any standout Big Game Of The Con. However, we would have been playing with just two players and, like King of Tokyo, Gravwell looks like the more players one has, the better the game would be. I also played Dominion: Guilds (with Dominion: Intrigue, my favored base set, using Guild’s “Choices” set up.) That playthrough tempts me want to pick up Guilds if I wanted another expansion to Dominion. However, we (that is, the wife and I) haven’t played Dominion in a while and I don’t think we’re really needing another expansion quite yet. Oh, and we (that is, David and I) played Las Vegas, a Ravensburger/alea game that’s a pure dice fest with some strategy and a surprisingly fun game.

So there we are: regret, joy, work, and play. All in the largest Gen Con yet. I can’t wait until next year.

  1. I think that’s right. It was over the ShadowRN mailing list and we probably argued about how FAB worked in astral space []
  2. Very Important Gamer, someone with a sort of upgraded attendee status that allows them early access to the exhibit hall, access to certain areas, preferred admission to various events. []
  3. Photo of laughably oversized check with Gen Con’s CEO, Mayfair’s president, and BB/BS of Central Indiana’s president: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151619721358155&set=a.10151618215553155.1073741829.50906818154&type=1 []
  4. Apparently, we’re the best tipping convention that comes to town, according to the wait staff in downtown Indy. Take that, Baptists. []
  5. I do some graphic work for Pulp Gamer and have a very very minor ownership share in the company. []
  6. http://thebobandangusshow.com []
  7. I was “the human” at the booth. The sheep referred to me as “camera monkey”. Great fun. []
  8. Although most of the games I played were on Sunday night, after the show officially ended. []
  9. FFG renamed that adventure Under a Black Sun for some reason that is above my paygrade. []
  10. It really felt more like a Shadowrun adventure with blasters and droids. To me, Star Wars means you go off-planet and there are starships and (normally) there’s a big civil war as a backdrop. This didn’t have any of that. Fun, yes. Star Wars? Debatable. []
  11. http://twitter.com/thegamesmith []
  12. Each year at Gen Con, if I play only one game, it’s Domaine by Mayfair Games. Each year before I would play one game on the oversized board and each year, I’d win. Completely undefeated at Big Board Domaine. Although I didn’t win this year, this wasn’t on the oversized board, so I’m keeping my 3-0 record. []
  13. Which was a great conversation to be privy to, but that’s a whole ‘nother series of blog posts. Also he shared a bit about what really goes on at Shark Tank. Here’s a hint: when watching, don’t pay attention to the investor that’s talking; pay attention to the others while that person is talking. Oh, and also if you want a Geek Chic table but think the price is too high? It’s not. It’s actually very cheap compared to what they could reasonably price their furniture at. You should get one now. Trust me. []
  14. Wil tweeted “Playing Domaine for the first time. I have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s damn fun.” You can see my right arm by the white pieces in the upper right of the photo here (Bo’s hands are in the upper left by the DJA): https://twitter.com/wilw/status/368447228974612480 []
  15. Robinson Crusoe contains multiple scenarios and enough cards, tokens, and counters to increase the replayability of the game that it’s worth it. []
  16. Also, Robinson Crusoe retails at $80 USD, so it better be damn awesome. []

One Comment

  • It’s a real shame we didn’t connect. Even worse–I must have gotten to the Diana Jones awards right around the time you did. It was dim, loud, and I knew practically no one but the Pinnacle friends I came with. I’d say it’s a great event for industry pros to reconnect with old friends but a difficult place to meet new people. I definitely felt like the country mouse visiting the city. Next time we’re going to have to plan better.

    I got to play two board games that were new to me: Lords of Waterdeep and Spartacus. Spartacus seemed to have a higher learning curve but got fun by the last few rounds. Lords of Waterdeep seemed easier to learn and was just plain fun.

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