Monday, August 15, 2016

Gen Con 2016 Recap

I'll give this year's Gen Con, "The Best Four Days in Gaming™," a solid 'Good Time.' But, for me, it was also strange.

It didn't feel quite like Gen Cons of years past. It could have been that we were screwed by both the housing and event lotteries (luckily, we got housing sorted out). It could have been that this was the first year I actually Game Mastered a couple of roleplaying sessions (I've done so at other cons, just not THE Con). It could have been that I didn't do nearly the miniature painting I've done in previous years.
Will Call line out the door and around the block, but we get our own Grand Ballroom?
Most notably, attendance exploded again, but seminars weren't well attended—the prevailing theory is that gaming culture is more accepting and expanding, but there is now so much more to do, that some events suffer. Likewise, the exhibit hall was expanded by about a third, but several vendors seemed to be absent (or maybe I couldn't find them?).

Mmmmm... Ham, turkey, bacon,
cheese and wasabi on a pretzel bun...
Ten of us arrived in Indianapolis early Wednesday afternoon. After checking into the hotel and taking care of parking, we went to stand in the Will Call line to get our badges. In years past, the line wound its way through a half or three-quarters of the Indiana Convention Center. This year, we joined the line just outside the Northwest doors. (See the picture above, taken as we were returning to the hotel...)

To avoid the restaurant wait we had last year, we hit up the food trucks. I couldn't wait to get my hands on a Greedo sandwich from Der Pretzel Wagen!

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and staked out a game room. After checking with hotel management, we ended up with a whole Grand Ballroom to ourselves. Weird...

Shortly after, since I was running two sessions of Numenera for Monte Cook Games, I had to step out to attend the Volunteer Game Masters meeting. There I picked up my MCG shirt and badge holder, the adventure book containing the games we were running, and a nice Cypher System portfolio. Afterwards, there was a meet-and-greet with the designers and staff of Monte Cook Games. I didn't stay long as I wanted to get back to spending time with friends I hadn't seen in a while, so back to the Grand Ballroom I went.

By that time, Marty, Alex, and Jason from Play The Game Podcast joined us. Since there was a request to play Fiasco, Andy, the three Fiasco virgins (Brendan, DJ, and Shashank), and I secured a table and started the setup.  We all agreed to run Marty's and my playset, The Depot. I finally got a chance to try it outside of a playtesting capacity! I ended up the crime lord, Roscoe Biggins, of this frozen micro-community. DJ and Andy ended up as call girls, Betty Sue and "Diamond" Johnson, in my employ. Shashank was the town sheriff, Morgan Truman Wainwright, with a drug addiction - that I was providing for. And Brendan was the town deputy, Brant McGunter, who had some weird relationship with Diamond. Check out the wonderful mess we ended up with:
A picture is worth a thousand... oh, whatever.
Since I didn't have any speed painting to do yet, I thought I'd participate in the Exhibit Hall Opening Ceremonies, which is really just waiting for the doors to open and riding the waves of bodies surging into the hall. I made a bee line for the Infinity/Warsenal booth to pick up the Gen Con 2016 Bundle, which includes the Operation: Red Veil box set, Miyamoto Musashi (a beautiful two miniature set), and the Gen Con exclusive Unknown Ranger. While I was waiting in line, I couldn't take my eyes off Warsenal's Kum Garage. I ended up circling back and picking that up later.

At 1:00, I was able to fill a seat in the Impact! Miniatures Speed Painting event. I was hoping we'd paint an urban warrior or something, but we were given a Chibi Evil Fighter to paint. Chibi's not my thing, so my heart wasn't in it. Somewhere during that session, Mike arrived and acted as my own private heckler. Following that round, at 2:00,  Mike and I both secured seats for the Reaper Miniatures Speed paint. We were given Salim Ghadafar to paint—a really cool miniature with a lot of detail. I like what I did with it, but apparently I didn't have enough contrast.

Afterwards, Mike and I attempted another run at the hall. The one takeaway from that run was that we came across the Role 4 Initiative booth. They were selling decent quality, slightly larger, EASIER TO READ polyhedral dice at $3 a set with a buy-three-get-one-free deal. Mike jumped at the deal. If I wasn't already swimming in dice, I would have too.

We quickly stopped at the Serendipity Mobile Catering truck to pick up a Mac & Cheese Grilled Cheese with Truffle Fries and a side of crab cake. Yum!

After devouring dinner, Mike and I parted ways as I was heading to Evil Hat's State of the Hat panel, ran by Sean Nittner and Chris Hanrahan.
7 new books and 3 ENnie nominees! That's 10 products.
This will become important later.
As I had mentioned, event attendance was off. Previous years, the room was mostly full. This year, there were maybe seven of us in the audience. These were the tweets I sent during the panel:
  • Lenny Balsera is now Fate Line Developer for Evil Hat?!?
  • Kaiju Incorporated card game and RPG to be released at the same time. First half of next year?
  • Dresden Files Accelerated and Cooperative Card Game second half of next year?
  • A bunch of Fate Toolkits and Worlds of Adventure in the pipe.
If you are looking for a more complete list of topics covered, Sean Nittner posted his notes for that panel in the comments of this discussion:

At the beginning of the panel, they handed out some nice swag: Spirit of the Century patches and Fate bookmarks. At the end, Sean pulled an Oprah Winfrey and told us to check the back of the patches. Each patch had a number written on it. I was number 1! Sean then called us up in order and allowed us to pick and keep from the ten products (eleven if you count the Fate Dice). I chose War of Ashes - Fate of Agaptus as it's gorgeous and I didn't already own it. If you're keeping score, that also means a few items still went home with Chris and Sean.

From there, I ran back to the hotel to collect my thoughts and my Numenera gear to be ready to GM my first session of Skein of the Blackbone Bride for Monte Cook Games. It's important to note that in all my um-teen years of going to Gen Con, this was the first time I was running a role-playing game. I've game mastered games at other cons to varying success, but this is the Big League. Fortunately, all my prep work, including subjecting the regular Friday night gaming group to a Numenera side-track, paid off. I knew the adventure well, was able to keep pacing up, and the players completed the session with a win and with just a bit of time to spare. The game ended with applause! Definitely the highlight of the con for me!

After basking in the glow, I returned my gear back to the room and joined the rest of the crew back in the Grand Ballroom (no longer the only table there) to round out the evening with some quick games.

I ended up filling in for Chad as they were playing Entropy. Blurb from the website: "Entropy is a fast-paced competitive card game of risk and deception, combining simultaneous action selection mechanics with order resolution." It's a very pretty game, particularly when you can piece together all four of your fractured Realities, which I did, to win the game. Unfortunately, the ease of understanding the rules is mired in setting-specific jargon.

We finished out the night playing I Hate Zombies, created by Board Game Geek and published by Steve Jackson Games. Players alternate taking the role of zombie or survivor and the zombies take turns attacking the survivors. Combat is resolved with rock-paper-scissors! Each survivor card has a special ability perk that gives them a chance against the zombies, but, out of three games, the zombies never lost.

The next morning, I got up early to try to get into the 10:00 Painting with Angel Giraldez class as I was unable to score any of them during event registration. Unfortunately for me, all ticket-holders arrived.

So, I decided to return to the Exhibit hall to continue the crawl through the aisles. This year, Upper Deck Entertainment released their deck-building game, Legendary: Big Trouble in Little China. I did not check it out, but I couldn't pass up snapping a picture of the Pork Chop Express!
"Like I told my last wife, I said, 'Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it's all in the reflexes.'"

At 2:00, I headed back to the Miniature Hobby Events area as I had an actual Reaper Speed Painting ticket. We were given Vonsalay, the Half Orc Wizard to paint. Since she had a flowy gown on, I thought I'd try an experiment with translucency, and try to show a little leg through the gown. The experiment started out fine, but I guess I put too many 'glazes' on and the detail was lost. The judge gave it about a two second glance.

From there, it was off to Game Design 101 with Mike Pondsmith, of Cyberpunk 2020 and R. Talsorian Games fame and game designer (and DJ and comedian) Ryan Miller. I didn't get much out of the panel, but it was nice to see Mike Pondsmith back on the speaking circuit.

The early morning was getting to me, so I went back to the hotel for a quick nap before prepping myelf for my second session running Skein of the Blackbone Bride. This session didn't go as well as the first. The pacing wasn't as tight and the PCs had a rough time getting through the big boss battle at the end. I'm going to chalk it up to the following: I didn't read the players' frustration early enough, the adventure pits first tier PCs against seventh tier baddies (which I nerfed, but not enough), players may not have seen all the resources available on their character sheets, and the tactics were off. Live and learn, I guess.

After returning to the hotel, I popped back down to join the crew and play a quick round of Gloom. I forgot how delightfully dark the screw-your-neighbor card game is. Just before we finished it up, Brendan showed up with a new copy of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. It's a different, Lovecraftian take on traditional Pandemic, where you have to seal four gates while trying not to wake The Old Ones. At first, we found it to be too easy, however that was before we realized we weren't following ALL of the rules.

Saturday I slept in a little before resuming my "hall crawl". Then, at 1:00, I headed up to the Miniature Hobby Events area to take my Two Brush Blending class with Bryan Beck of Paladin Miniatures Studio. I've done two-brush blending before, but this helped me hone my skills—you want translucent paint, pull the blend from only the top edge, use a soft damp brush, and clean up the excess water and pigment.

Since the Monte Cook Games seminar was the same time as the class, I ran to their booth to find out what I missed. To my surprise, it was still going on! So, I hustled over to the Westin, was handed a T-shirt, playing card, and a magnet, and then sat down. My butt wasn't in the seat for longer than a minute before they thanked everybody for coming and ended the session. However, there was an excited murmur about a Kickstarter for a new game called the Invisible Sun and a mysterious black box. So I headed back to the booth to find out more.

Invisible Sun is MCG's new premium roleplaying game focused on storytelling. It's supposedly designed to take into account the current-day gamer's busy lifestyle in that it can handle short gaming sessions, missing players, and even includes a mobile app to handle some between-game mechanics.

Here's a bunch of relevant links:

When I got back to the booth, I saw folks lining up to have the card they received at the seminar stamped, and then they were handed a secret envelope with a seal and a "do not open until" date. Fortunately, I didn't lose my card in all the running about, so I presented it for a stamp and received my secret envelope:

The Kickstarter for Invisible Sun starts on the same date - August 15 - and I'm excited to see what's in the envelope.

The sunburst maze I created at the booth.
Since I was already in the exhibit hall, I decided to do some more wandering until dinner time. On my way out of the hall, I stopped at the FoxMind booth to demo their Maze Racers Game. I was huge into mazes as a kid and Maze Racers totally tapped into that side of me. I could play it solo just for the zen-like experience. When I found out they were offering it at a $25 Gen Con price, I ordered it immediately. As I was finishing up checking out, Brad called.

Brad already had a table at Mikado Japanese Restaurant, so I rushed out of the hall and met him there. The sushi was decent—definitely get the Seafood Puff, even though it probably goes against all Japanese cuisine. We had a nice long dinner and got to catch up on things—Brad was still excited about watching the U.S. Championship Klask Finals Tournament. He was so into it, he bought a set without even playing it!

Once we settled up the bill, we headed back to the Grand Ballroom to finish out the last night of gaming at Gen Con 2016. I was hoping to meet up with some of the CAGWIC friends to play Fiasco or Nights Black Agents or Call of Cthulhu, but that fell through.

We played a few quick rounds of Klask with Brad's new set. Rich ended up trouncing us all.

After seeing the Watch Ya' Mouth video, Brad decided he had to get that game for us to play at Gen Con. He says there are many different games available, but he picked up Watch Yo Mouth because they could ship it to him in time for the con. After some hemming and hawing about how sanitary the cheek spreaders are (yeah, cheek spreaders—Brad brought individual baggies for them and you just toss them in the dishwasher when you're done), we played. It is indeed hilarious to play. We ended up laughing ourselves hoarse! Unfortunately, once you've gone through the included cards, you know them all. They need some sort of webpage or app that generates thousands of phrases to try.

Once we recovered from Watch Yo Mouth, I wanted to keep up the pace with smaller quicker games, so Marty, Alex, Janson, and I played a round of Kittens in a Blender with the Expansion Pack I picked up from the Kickstarter.

We followed that up with Isle of Skye, a bidding and tile placement game similar to the Castles of Mad King Ludwig, but I found that there were too many facets to keep track of that late in the day.

We finished out the night with a few hands of Schrödinger’s Cats, a card game I backed on Kickstarter. It's a bluffing and deduction game, similar to Liar's Dice, with a cute mechanic where each player has a Cat Physicist Doctorate that changes up the rules a tad.

Last day. We packed up the cars, checked out of the hotel, and made one last run at the convention hall for last minute gifts. I finally decided to pick up a copy of the Cypher System Rulebook with a coupon I found on the Monte Cook Games Twitter Feed. I also finally found the Games and Gears booth. I really want these guys to knock it out of the park. I really do! I love the idea of brushes that store into the handles. Great for painting at conventions. Unfortunately, their quality wavers. I still picked up the Gen Con Collectors Brush Set MK3, as it contains the fine-tipped brushes I want from them. Unfortunately, I found clear tape on the brush ends to help maintain a snug fit into the handles and it's already scraping off.

Since I didn't make it to any of the Speed Painting Finals this year, the obligatory photo is replaced by one of our crew this year:
Back Row: Shashank, Jeremy, Jon, Adam, Chad, Brad, Pete, Chewing Lady
Front Row: DJ
Finally, here's a photo of my book haul from this year:
From left to right: The Sprawl (Powered by the Apocalypse)War of Ashes - Fate of AgaptusTorment: Tides of Numenera—The Explorer’s GuideCypher System Rulebook, the Gen Con 2016 Adventures booklet, Cypher System Portfolio

Next year, Gen Con. Next year.

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