Always changing, always amazing, Gen Con 2019 Review

Whenever I get back from Gen Con, it’s just so hard to try to explain to people who weren’t there what it’s all about, especially the people I work with every day.  I’ll do my best here.

What is consistent for everyone is the intensity of it.  There’s so much packed into 4 days, it’s like getting 10 days of intense experiences.  I try to spend as little time eating and sleeping as possible, and I love eating and sleeping.  I just want to game, game, game.  And, I do.

What sank in this year is how really different, and individualized an experience Gen Con holds for everyone who attends.  The intensity might be the only common thread.  Rob Daviau is there promoting his games and generating sales.  Tony Miller of the Breaking Into Board Games podcast is demo-ing Fire in the Library all day every day, working for sales, but also pitching another game and going through the ups and downs of it.  Some designers spent much of their weekends pitching games.  Others still spend most of the weekend role playing.  Tim in my crew generally spends the entire 4 days playing Star Wars Minis.  Other guys in my crew played in tournaments all weekend.  For some people, the Terraforming Mars tournament that I ran was the main event of the weekend, with everything else built around it.

For me, Gen Con is my happy place.  It’s my favorite thing of the year.  I feel like I’m doing my thing.

Wednesday

Wednesday night of Gen Con is my second happiest moment of the year, when all our friends meet each other and sit down to play games.  There were some additional logistical challenges this year that made this moment all the more rewarding.  By Wednesday night we were into some Gasland.  It was my first game, and had I known we were going to play, I’d have brought my armed-and-armored Roadblasters Matchbox cars.  That stated, I don’t know that an 8 player race is the best way to play the game, but I still had fun.  I’ll cover the games I played in another post.

Thursday

I started out by meeting Tim Virnig for breakfast, to meet a Twitter buddy who lives not too far away (Madison WI).  We put out the word to other Twitter buddies in case they wanted to join us, but many of them were already prepping in the Dealer Hall.

The happiest moment of my year is the opening crush of Thursday morning.  I don’t mind the crowd.  In fact, I love it.  Lots of happy people.  Friendly people.  My people.

First thing was to go to the Restoration Games booth to pick up my pre-order of Unmatched with the Robin Hood vs. Bigfoot expansion.  On the way there, I stopped in a very particular booth, to pitch a very particular game that uses a very particular license, so that’s all I’m really going to say about it.  They’re interested.  I need to get a mock up sell sheet to them next week, and if that goes well, I’ll follow with a prototype.  Wish me luck.

I got to Restoration, said hi to Rob Daviau and Justin Jacobson, and then .  Then I slowly made my way to the Weird Giraffes booth on the other side of the convention hall and got to look around along the way, where I met Tony demo-ing Fire in the Library.  I picked it up, along with Sarah Reed’s Oaxaca and my Kickstarter-backed Dreams of Tomorrow.  We saw a demo of Tiny Towns from the designer.

As mentioned, I’ll cover the games more in depth in another post, but Tiny Towns might be the best game I played all weekend, it’s at least top-3 and it’s basically a must-buy.  I met Rob from Coinflip Games demo-ing Shuffle Grand Prix, and I met Patrick Rauland, designer of Fry Thief.  Before I headed out to Lucas Oil Field to start the Terraforming Mars tournament, you know, Kingdom Death.

On to Terraforming Mars.  This was my second year running the tournament, and as far as I know, they are the only 2 Stronghold-sanctioned events.  The 64-person tournament sold out in under 30 minutes.  It was going to be in Hall A but they moved it to the Stadium Blue section, which worked out well enough since my buddies were playing Star Wars Miniatures nearby.  We kicked off the tournament with 16 participants.

Afterwards I’m out walking by the food trucks, and who do I see?  I get a picture.

Now, I’m short on details, but even by Thursday night, I had already seen so many dudes-on-a-hex-map battling with special abilities that my eyes started seeing hexes, like I’m a fly or something.  Seeing so many games helps put a game like Cage Match! in perspective, which I’ll elaborate upon in a bit.  I hit up Nerd Night, a charity even that brings a lot of game designers together, where they can have a drink, support charity, and actually play some games.  I played Tony’s prototype of Kabuto Sumo.

You know those things at the arcades, where you put in a quarter and try to push the other quarters off?  It’s like that, only it’s a direct competition game of it.  This was another top-3 game of the weekend for me.  It’s just so original and different.  Tony had a couple of companies interested, so keep an eye out for it.

Then I scooted over to a Stronghold Games event so I could play some roll and write games, and see Steven Buonocore sing Karaoke.

Back to nerd night for some Wacky Races.

I went back to the Stadium where my friends were running Star Wars Minis events.

We got a few other games in but I turned in early and got a good night’s sleep.

Friday

I didn’t realize that the Terraforming Mars tournament was in Stadium Blue for Thursday afternoon only, and was otherwise moved to Hall A, until I had gotten to Stadium Blue.  Of course, the 2 points are about as far apart as any 2 points at Gen Con, a good 15-minute walk.  Anyways, we got the tournament going with another 16 players.

I love when the planet gets really terraformed, and this is the most terraformed Mars I’ve ever seen:

Because there’s a $300 gift certificate involved, I haven’t personally played in the sanctioned Terraforming Mars tournaments that I ran.  I think this needs to change.  Even though I think it would look a little fishy if I somehow were to win it all, I think I need to go ahead and participate as a player.  TM is a top-3 all-time game for me (SWED and Puerto Rico are the other 2) and I didn’t actually get to play it all weekend as a result of this policy.  I’m really not that good at the game and am unlikely to advance past the qualifier, let alone win it all.  Anyways, maybe next year.  For this year, I instead spent much of my tournament time playing light games that I could easily break from.

I grabbed a husband of one of the players and pulled a few games out of my bag.  He was most interested in a MMA game he had never seen before.  I asked him if he was a fan of the sport and he said he was, and “I’m curious how they turned that into a board game!”

So we played Cage Match!  Then he asked to play again.  Only then did I tell him it was my game.  That’s good, but “where do I buy it?” would have been even better!  Still, I’ll take it.

Friday afternoon was another round of Terraforming Mars

@ProToFu, another Twitter buddy, met me in Hall A and we ran another game of Cage Match!, probably the only one out of 7-8 games where I wasn’t very happy with how it played.

I then caught most of the Ludology live podcast, and chatted with host Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games.  I asked him, how important is it that a designer stick with a particular genre of game, and then be known for that?  Cage Match! is a filler, so should I stick to doing more fillers and be known as the great filler designer?  Or, do more sports games or more fighting games, perhaps?  Gil has a range of games, from Wordsy, a word game, to the Networks, an unique game about running a TV station, to his most recent High Rise, an interesting resource balancing game.  Well, from my own point of view, Gil is doing pretty well as a game designer so I’d say you definitely can do a wide range of games, which is what I want to do.  Gil agrees, and thinks that designers who don’t might be limiting themselves.  So, keep in mind that when I get to Watering Hole, my next game, it is completely different than Cage Match! in theme, complexity, depth, length, player count and more.

Then I was off to meet my group for True Dungeon.  We brought 7 people to the party, and a husband-wife couple joined us for a total of 9.  True Dungeon is essentially live action Dungeons & Dragons, where you each play a role and outfit your character with weapons and armor and items, all in the form of poker chips with stickers on them.  I was the bard.  You go into a series of rooms, and each room holds either a combat challenge or a puzzle challenge.  Both types of challenges were excellent.  Combat is handled by playing a shuffle-board style game, where you place your poker chip weapon in a circular thing and slide it at a picture of the monster.  The monster has circular areas on it and hitting them does damage based on your weapon.  As the bard, I stood around singing songs, both in game play and in real life, Foo Fighters mostly.  The fight against the Valkyrie was great.  Even better was the snow puzzle — amazing.  Finally, we took on the dragon.  We were given Thor’s Hammer to give us a chance, and we let our Dwarf Fighter (the husband in the husband-wife couple) use it.  In his first shot, he struck a critical and turned the dragon to dust.  Victory!  Simply put, I think our group should play True Dungeon each and every year of Gen Con from now on, though I hear we experience a “greatest hits” from 2018 and that not all of the 4 new adventures this year were nearly as satisfying as the one we did.

Friday night, I was out of sync with my crew.  I turned in early the night before while they stayed up late gaming.  Turns out they’re human and I’m not the only one getting up early, so by Friday night, they needed their one good night of sleep while I was wide awake.  Fortunately, Dr. Deri Morgan had slept in and was up for some Tiny Towns and Unmatched.  Next year I’ll keep in mind that it’s better to sleep deprive on the same schedule as the others.

Saturday

Saturday is the big day in terms of Terraforming Mars, running from 9am to about 7pm, which is just as well, because the Dealer Hall is even more packed and insane than it is on the other days.  Saturday morning we played our final qualifier.

Because the tournament sold out so quickly, a bunch of people who wanted to get in, couldn’t get in, including some of my friends.  Yet, there were a bunch of no-shows at every time slot.  The good news is, there were also a lot of walk-ins and in the end, I think all but one of them got in (and that one that didn’t, his wife, another walk-in, got in and won and advanced to the semis so it worked out for them).  So, I think the people who most wanted to play got to play, including many of the people from last year’s tournament.

Saturday afternoon began the semi-finals.

This is when it gets really fun to run this tournament.  All the faces are familiar.  For many of them, they said it out loud that this was the main event of the weekend, and was the only thing really important to them.  I basically facilitated the Gen Con 2019 experience for a group of people, and I love that feeling.  On to the finals of Jay, Ryan, Kimmy and Colin.

Ryan had been part of the Saturday morning qualifier so at this point, I’ve spent all day with him.  He also turned out to be our new champion!

A year ago, there was a couple from South America — I think Peru — that were very spirited participants, and that makes it all worth it for me.  I let them keep a tournament copy of Terraforming Mars Prelude as a prize.  This year, there was Kimmy and her husband.  Kimmy was the spirited person, and after learning that she didn’t actually own a copy of the game, I let her keep a tournament copy as a prize.

Again, I got some light and quick games played during the day.  David from Winsmith Games came by and we played his prototype of 10-Gallon Tank.  This is a great game that I’m sure will have some success.  It’s “I Cut You Choose” and set collection, but the “cut” mechanism is simple, elegant, and strategic.  You’re collecting beautiful fish for a fish tank, so the collection part is good too.  It’s kind of feels like Sushi Go but it plays better and looks better.  Rob and I also played a rousing Cage Match!

That night, the crew was all well rested enough to play games late into the night.  It’s all a blur what we played, and when, so I’ll just cover it all in a games write-up.

Space Base

So, even though I broke out Cage Match! a fair number of times, I didn’t really aim to promote it or get feedback on it while at Gen Con, and I think that was a bit of a mistake.  Even just using the First Exposure Game Test hall would have been solid investment of time and money.  It probably means I couldn’t run my tournament, which I enjoy and which allowed me cover a lot of expenses, so I’m not certain that the opportunity was worth it, but I need to consider it next year.

I did get some valuable perspective on it.  While my game isn’t really dudes on a map, and doesn’t use hexes, it’s still dudes (or chicks) battling it out with special abilities.  It’s a great game for the theme.  Beyond that, though, it’s really just another game.  I’m not knocking the game, as I think it’s better than many in how fast it plays and the excitement of announcing your move, but in terms of it’s originality, it’s not Kabuto Sumo or anything, and in terms of it’s replay-ability, it’s not Tiny Towns.

Sunday

It used to be the day of the big Star Wars Minis finals, and I used to be able to get home as late as I wanted, so it used to be more of a full day of gaming and excitement for me.  Now, it’s mostly just a sad day.  Early in the morning, I need to clear the room, load up my car, and turn in all the event tickets I collected for my event.  By the time I get through all that and get to the Dealer Hall, it’s noon and booths are starting to pack up.  But there was still plenty to see.

 

I did get in a demo of the Quacks of Quedlinberg, one of the most-talked about games of 2019.

This game is awesome, the third of the 3 best games I played all weekend, and quite possibly the best.  It draws as many “oohs” and “aahs” and “dohs” as any game I’ve played — and I love that.  I’m sitting here typing this, not sure why I didn’t buy it, because none of my friends have it.

I then made sure that before leaving, I had seen each and every booth in the Dealer Hall, which I did.  Some got only a half-look, but I saw all of them.

What I didn’t get do was demo We’re Doomed! a fun-looking party game, perhaps social deduction, I don’t know since I didn’t get to play.  We also wanted to play both Dinosaur Island and Everdell, but they never made it to the table — Everdell especially is one I want to try out, and I already love Dinosaur Island.  I also wanted to try out Underwater Cities, but my crew didn’t play it until after I’d left on Sunday afternoon.  I wanted to get home to spend some time with my toddler before she went to sleep, such are life choices.  I didn’t get to meet Sultan, or my old friend Josh, or some other Twitter pals I wanted to meet up with.  Just too much to do and too little time to do it, like trying to pour a gallon of milk into a quart container without spilling, you can’t.  But you can see a lot of crazy costumes!

So my experiences were a mix of running a Terraforming Mars tournament, networking with Twitter pals, publishes and game designers, seeing and demo-ing what little I could in the Dealer Hall, and at least getting Cage Match! some exposure, capped off with nights of long gaming along with copious alcohol consumption.  I think it was the most experience-packed Gen Con I’ve been to, which is saying something.  I’m already starting to think about what I want next year’s experience to be.

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