Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gen Con 2014: And Lo, there were Gamers as far as the eye could see...

On a day with leaden skies and the omnipresent threat of rain, we piled into the van* and drove up to Indianapolis for Gen Con 2014.

Having made the trek for several years now, I made sure we were prepped the night before.  Yeah, even though it was a day trip, I know the routine fairly well: someone will want a certain shirt to wear, and someone else will be trying to find their misplaced list of vendor spaces to check out.

And I will want a good night's sleep, so that I don't konk out on the way back home. Which isn't a good thing if you're the driver.

We met up with my brother-in-law**, got our badges, and headed inside to the big hall.


Unlike prior years, there wasn't anything in particular that I wanted to see. Unfortunately, I didn't take very many pics either, although there were a lot of cosplayers in attendance.  Among the better cosplay outfits were a couple in Black Cat and Spider-man outfits, a woman dressed up as the Ranger on the front of last year's program book, a pack of Timelords (primarily Tom Baker and Matt Smith), and a family dressed as (Adam West era) Batman, Supergirl, and a little Supergirl.  Sure, there were the pro cosplayers, such as the Rebels and Imperials near the Fantasy Flight Games booth, the Gandalf roaming around in the outer hallways, and the Wolverine cosplayer who picked a fight with Darth Vader***, but for every Soda Pop Minis woman who did an exacting job on her outfit there were about a dozen or so kids dressed up as superheroes and Star Wars characters.

The biggest cosplay laugh I had went to the guy who ran around in a scruffy t-shirt and jeans, holding out a cardboard sign "Will GM for Beer".  My wife and I applauded that one, and he took a bow.

The Mayfair Games' sponsored Training Grounds, where kids could play board games and put crafts together, was absolutely packed. Yes, this was Family Fun Day, but seeing a couple of hundred families happily playing whatever game was available was an awesome sight.

I tried to not take any pics of the kids, but instead
I focused on the sign itself. However, imagine about
200 kids and parents between me and that sign...

As is traditional, in the exhibit hall there were a lot of demo areas for you to try a game out for a few rounds to see if it was something you liked. I really really wanted to check out some of the new offerings from Fantasy Flight Games, such as Star Wars Armada and Star Wars Imperial Assault, but those tables were almost impossible to get to. My wife and I checked out a lot of the family oriented booths for deceptively simple games that play quick, and we found a few at the Maranda Games booth. One of the games I particularly liked was called Eternas, which is a twist on the old Connect Four game.

Eternas, from

Instead of a grid to work with, you're presented with pegs in a circle, and each player has a limited number of wooden beads to use. The pegs only allow up to four beads at a time, and there are no edges, but for the most part it plays like Connect Four. However, you can't play to a tie: once you run out of beads, on your next turn you must select a bead of your color from the top of a row and move it to another location. It's a subtle change, and one that makes the game a lot more cutthroat.

There were other games that I found interesting, such as Freedom, which is a cooperative game depicting the Underground Railroad. It had won numerous awards this year from The Dice Tower, yet I somehow missed any discussion of it. And if you thought that the Freedom is some sort of lighthearted board game, the cards and events will disabuse you of that notion.

Freedom: The Underground Railroad, by Academy Games.


Geek Chic always manages to make me cry a little whenever I stop by their booth.

This is from 2012's Gen Con, but it's still accurate.

That... is what they call The Sultan.  Do you see those wooden edges?  They fold down.  Like this:

The Sultan starts at $12,950 (US), and can go up to $16k (US).

This is one of those "If I win the lottery" items.


The main exhibit hall added an extra section this year, which allowed the overall exhibit space to grow by about 20-25%. And it was still packed.

That back section near the addition, which was filled with Kickstarter backed demos and products, was extremely hard to get through. However, whomever decided that the main card vendors should be there, next to the card playing area, should get a raise. I saw people go into the playing area, come out a while later, and go straight to the card vendors.

There are some very interesting games in the Kickstarter area that made it worthwhile to peruse, such as Clever.


Among the more traditional gaming companies, Paizo (the makers of Pathfinder) and Fantasy Flight (the makers of a ton of different board/card/RPGs) were running out of stock. Fantasy Flight had a sign at the entrance to their area so you could find out what was already sold out before you went in their space.  Both of these companies as well as Mayfair (the creators of Settlers of Catan, among other games) had lines so long they snaked around their entire areas.

A small portion of the Paizo booth. And my finger.
Another view of the Paizo booth. Five minutes after taking
this picture, the line for checkout (on the right) snaked
around the poster of Seoni and doubled back toward me.

Fantasy Flight Games' Report from Day 1 of Gen Con 2014

There were plenty of demo tables available for gaming companies such as Days of Wonder (makers of the Ticket to Ride family of games), Z-man (makers of Pandemic), and Queen games (which tend to be more hard core Eurogames, such as Alhambra and Aqua Romana).

RPG companies not named Paizo were well represented too.

While Fantasy Flight is more well known for their boardgames, they were well represented in the RPG area with the release of the beta of the third volume of their Star Wars RPG, Force and Destiny.**** This third volume covers the Jedi and the Sith in an environment around the events of the Original Trilogy, so any force users out there will be (for the most part) on the run from the Empire. This beta release was so popular that FFG sold out of it by Sunday, and players were queueing up to try out the game at their demo tables.

Pinnacle Entertainment had their Savage Worlds products out in abundance, as did Catalyst with their Shadowrun RPG, and the Shadows of Esteren team with their RPG. There were even some really old time RPGs, such as Flying Buffalo's Tunnels and Trolls and The Design Mechanism's version of Runequest.

But what about Wizards of the Coast and the 5th Edition of D&D?

"Gonna need a bigger boat," my ass.

WotC had an entirely separate hall to themselves this year, and it was packed with gamers trying out the new 5e. You could purchase the game there as well, but given the discounts via Amazon, there weren't as many people queueing up to purchase the new Player's Handbook right then and there.  However, there was a huge release party on Friday night outside of the convention center.


There seemed to be an increase in the LARP vendors this year, as opposed to other years. I'm sure someone probably got all huffy about the corsets for sale being too stereotypically feminine, but given the amount of steampunk cosplayers wearing them, the vendors were just giving the people what they wanted.


According to the press release after the con finished, there were 56k+ attendees this year, and Gen Con has doubled in size since 2009. Things seem to be building up toward the 50th Anniversary in 2017, but now the question becomes whether Gen Con can maintain its momentum while remaining a fun con to attend. I think they can, and seeing the crowds of families and kids enjoying themselves on Sunday gives me hope for the future.

If you're looking for more coverage of Gen Con, you can find plenty of pics at Zachary Houghton's RPG blog:

Gen Con Blog: Gen Con Eve
Zack's Gen Con Blog: Day 1
Zack's Gen Con Blog: Day 2
Zack's Gen Con Blog: Day 3
The Best of Gen Con 2014

The Roo Sack Gamers have a podcast of interviews of some of the vendors at Gen Con this year:

Side Hop 8: Gen Con 2014 Interviews*****

In addition to the first YouTube video listed above, Fantasy Flight Games have a production of each day at Gen Con. No, you won't find us in the video this year (unlike in some prior years), but they still capture a bit of the zaniness at Gen Con:

FFG at Gen Con - Day 01
FFG at Gen Con - Day 02
FFG at Gen Con - Day 03
FFG at Gen Con - Day 04

And finally Drive Thru Review has a playlist of various games that they'd demoed during Gen Con.

Gen Con 2014

*Without air conditioning, as it is on the fritz.

**Who also runs the actual play podcast Roo Sack Gamers (look to the right for the link). What is an actual play podcast? It's a podcast where a gaming group records their gaming sessions for post later. The Roo Sack Gamers --so named after the roo sack dice bag (don't ask)-- run RPGs that are on the more narrative end of the RPG spectrum, such as Burning Wheel, Dungeon World, etc, that could use a little attention. Why listen to an actual play podcast? Well, if you want to run or participate in an RPG but you're not quite sure how the game will play out, you can listen to an actual play podcast and get a feel for things.

***All in jest, and it would have made for an excellent pic but I came out of the exhibit hall just in time to see them leaving.

****From what I've been told off the record, there's a LucasFilm requirement for any release --beta or not-- to be done via print. I'm not entirely confident about whether this is truly the case, as I'd prefer more evidence, but the reality is that FFG had come out with a print version only for every beta release.

*****And yes, before you ask, the kids that were interviewed at the end of the podcast are the mini-Reds.

EtA: Forgot the Paizo pics.
EtA: The Roo Sack Gamers had to re-upload the podcast, so I had to fix my link.

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