Friday, August 7, 2015

Gencon 2015 Review

I just made it back from Gencon.  It took awhile to recover, to be honest.  I spent a day wondering if I caught the infamous "con crud."  It turned out to just be the half-week spent getting around four hours of sleep a night.  After a day of rest, I could start catching up on for-really-real work and only now can catch up on the great fun of last week.  I wanted to take some time to consider the highlights of my trip.

1.  The dealer room

Oh... the dealer room.  Gencon is reporting something around 61.5 thousand attendees for this year.  Of course this sets a new record.  For some reason, the dealer room seemed more navigable than I had experienced in past years.  I did most of my shopping on Thursday, which may be part of it.  However, it seemed that the flow of traffic has changed as several specific publishers have changed how they handle lines -- particularly the large draws like Fantasy Flight, Paizo, and Asmodee.  The result may have been longer lines at these publishers.  I know I heard a lot of complaints about the long wait at the Fantasy Flight booth but it seemed to have made it easier for everyone else.

I was able to make it around to a variety of publishers that interested me.  Within an hour or so, I made it to Pinnacle (Savage Worlds), Arc Dreams (Delta Green), Pelgrane (Night's Black Agents, etc. in the Gumshoe system), and several others.  I ended up taking advantage of a great buy-three-get-one-free sale at Pelgrane to get the Dreamhounds of Paris campaign (and accompanying prop book), Eso-terrorists, an Eso-terrorist supplement and Night's Black Agents.  I will get back to Night's Black Agents later.

Of course, a highlight of the dealer room was the Monte Cook booth.  I did not have much to buy there.  I have all of the Strange books and most of the Numenera ones.  I did pick up the limited roll-up dice bag.  Most of all, it was great to talk to people at the booth.  They do a fantastic job of staffing the booth with knowledgeable and personable volunteers along with the staff of MCG itself.  The key writers and creators were there most of the times I stopped by.  Maybe the best part was seeing a demo table set up for their forthcoming childrens' game No Thank You, Evil.

The dealer room is always great but it is less relevant to me given my Kickstarter addiction.  I got a ton of material shipped to me the weeks just before Gencon.  I did not want to pick up new material at Gencon if I could avoid it (I flew home without a checked bag.  Winning!!!).  This makes the new material in the dealer room less new in some sense.  It will be interesting to see if Kickstarter forces a shift in how gaming companies handle the dealer room.

2.  Actually playing games

My ability to actually play games has shifted over time. Last year I ran four games (which I count as playing) but it limited in the diversity of games I got a chance to play.  I limited my commitments to run games so that I could see more seminars (something I enjoy a great deal and missed last year) and play games that are new to me.

I initially feared that I would not get many games in.  I was away from the internet (yes, it is possible -- especially when traveling out of the country) and did not submit my wishlist for about 2 hours after the start time.  As a result, I did not get any of the games I put at the top of my list.  I came simply hoping to get lucky with generic tickets, demos, etc.  That turned out to be the case.

I got into an informal game on Wednesday night of Dungeon Crawl Classics run by James Walls.  The game consisted of a large number of zero-level adventures.  It had some of the feel of the classic (1st Ed DnD) tournament modules.  There is a fuller write up on James' site.  My dice tower and right hand make a cameo in a photo.

The next day was the start of the actual convention.  I was surprised to find that Peterson Entertainment (the makers of Cthulhu Wars) was taking names to run demos of some of the games.  I was able to get myself and my travel partners (friends with whom I played DnD in junior high school -- like in the late 80s.  Seriously, I am feeling old) into a demo of Gods War.  This is a new board game with a similar core rule set of Cthulhu Wars but in the classic RPG setting of Glorantha (like the one which won the Diana Jones Award the previous night).  The game was a lot of fun.  Our 2 hour time slot only let us get through half the game; though this was largely because we had to learn the game as we played.  I look forward to the kickstarter anticipated early next year.  I also got to see some of the expansion pieces for Cthulhu Wars that I am eagerly awaiting.

It was not until Saturday that I got into another game.  One of my travel partners discovered a Nights' Black Agents game that would only take generic tickets -- no reserved slots.  This was our chance.  The three of us committed to getting to the game early to see if one or more of us could sneak into the game with generics.  It turned out that this was an error in the schedule.  There was a game scheduled.  It was support to take reservations but did not.  Everyone else got scared off by this error.  We were the only three people to show up -- and all of the other sessions sold out long ago.  This was the first time we had all played together since college and we had a blast.  I feel even more strongly now that the Gumshoe system is similar enough to the Cypher system to allow for easy translation of mechanics and material from one game to the other.  I recommend everyone check this out if they have a chance.

These experience offer an important lesson.  You can arrive at Gencon without any game slot reservations and get a lot of gaming in.  I got several games in.  I could have demoed the upcoming Conan game from Monolith Games (did I mention I have a Kickstarter problem) but I wanted to get to a seminar.  One of my travel partners arrived with no reservations and had like 40 hours of gamings.  That is not a typo.  He rode the con app hard to get into games that openned up and had lots of luck.  Gencon will offer the fun you want if you plan for it.

I was also able to run the most recent convention module for The Strange:  Mastadon.  I don't want to spoil much since this will eventually come out as a fractal.  I can say that all of the players seemed to enjoy themselves.  We had a wide range of experience with The Strange but people got up to speed quickly.  The players completely short-circuited the final combat encounter -- but it was fun and inventive so I ignored a small rule that could have derailed them.  There was a limit for a power in the book but not on their sheet.  I thought it would be disappointing to the player who waited to use a power not realizing the limitation (since he was new to the game and, again, the limit was only discussed in book -- not on the description on the sheet).  They had fun planning around the strategy so I just let it roll.  I have not had a moment's regret with this decision.  I always prioritize fun over rule -- particularly in con games.

3.  Social Events

The last set of events I wanted to cover were the social events of the convention.  Of course, the entire trip was social to me in some regard.  This was the first time that I and my two travel partners had been together for gaming in decades.

This is also the opportunity I have to meet up with gamer friends from across the country.  In particular, I got to catch up with the various people who work on the CypherCast Network.  The second issue just came out (you can get it here) and we had lots to discuss.  The best event in this regard was the Monte Cook Games fan gathering following the Ennies.  Given the success of The Strange at the Ennies, the party had a lot of energy.  It always great to hear what people are doing with The Strange across the country -- and the world.

I may come back with a review of the panels, but this is already too long.  In short, Gencon was great.  I strongly encourage anyway with the time and money to attend to do so.

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