I hesitate to say that this was the BEST Gencon ever, largely due to the fact that I have so many great memories from the past 6 years that this would be akin to asking me to choose which kid was my favorite. However I feel that this year highlighted all of the things that make Gencon so great to me. The following are some of those highlights along with some undoubtedly superfluous commentary. And so not necessarily in any particular order I submit the following.
1) Factory, Food, and Friends
First and foremost I would be remarkably remiss if I failed to express the massive debt of gratitude that I owe to a great and gracious group of friends without whom I would have been unable to attend. They were generous enough to allow me to stay in their hotel and I thank them. We arrived in Indy on Wednesday about mid afternoon, checked into our hotel go situated in our room smoothly. We stayed at the downtown Marriot and I must say this is the second year that we have had this hotel and they do a great job. We then moseyed down and picked up our badges at will call. By the time we met back up we decided it was time for our traditional (if you can call doing something twice a tradition) pre Gencon meal. Our destination the always fabulous Old Spaghetti Factory. There is just something about great food and good friends that makes for a great way to ramp into four days of immersion in all things gaming.
2) Late gaming with friends
There were 5 of us in my group all with different interests and goals that we wished to accomplish over the course of the con so for the majority of the time we split the party but later in to the evenings on the first several nights we met up and played games together, ones we had brought with us on Wednesday and newly acquired purchases on subsequent nights. I had a great time playing games with these fabulous friends and it was a great way to close out an evening.
3) Con games
A convention is a great place to try large or unusual games or formats. This year I decided to try Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger game. I was only able to obtain tickets for three of the eight slots but we still had a good time and coming out of the event allowed me rib a friend for having collapsed a temple on my head for the rest of the weekend.
4) BGG hot games room
We had all gotten tickets to the hot games room and while there were only ever three of us in at any one time I feel that it was a ticket well worth purchased. I think that BGG did an excellent job. The one drawback is that they didn’t have anyone teaching games so you had to spend some of your time learning the game you were interested in trying but this would be easily circumnavigated by planning ahead and demoing what you want to play in the exhibit hall before heading in the Hyatt’s direction. Thursday night we played Bunny Kingdom. This was easily my biggest disappointment of the con. I had been looking forward to this game for a while. The art is really good and I like the drafting mechanism but the board feels small and by the end of the game cluttered and chaotic. On Friday morning we returned to try Ex Libris. This game did not disappoint. Cool theme, great components, fun interactive game play. The only downside was that this is one we had to learn so in our timeframe we were only able to play half a game. Enough to know I liked it though.
5) Retrospective panel
On Friday I attended one of the many retrospective panels put together by Gencon, looking at the history and some specifics of 50 years of Gencon. The panel I attended was entitled Invasion of the Meeples and was a discussion of the rise of board games at Gencon over the past dozen years or so. As an avid board gamer this was the panel that seemed most interesting to me though I suspect that most of them would have been interesting just based on the quality of the one that I attended. The panel consisted of Larry Roznai (Mayfair games),Marc Miller (Games Designer Workshop), Mike Gray (Milton Bradley-TSR- Milton Bradley),Christian Peterson (Fantasy Flight, ANA),Eric Lang (CMON), and moderated by Peter Adkison (WOTC). I spent 90 minutes spellbound by interesting stories by the panelists on how they first started gaming followed by tales of their beginnings in the industry, we were then regaled by anecdotes of Gencons past. Finally they were tasked with answering the question of why board games have become so popular. Amongst the panelists there many fascinating and thoughtful answers but the one that resonated most with me was supplied by, if memory serves me, Mike Gray who’s one word answer was “family”. My paraphrase of his explanation is that board gaming more than many other hobbies and in a world of increasing electronic connection but decreasing actual connection is a community, a Family if you will, that provides social stimulus through the act of sitting across the table from others and interacting within the framework of the rules of the agreed upon game. And I believe that at least for me that Gencon is the example of this just on a large scale, tens of thousands of people converge on Indianapolis from all walks of life and backgrounds all with the same plan view and play board games. Feels like home or a Family reunion to me.
6) Exhibition expanse
I like the exhibition hall, yes it’s crowded but I enjoy this part of Gencon. Every year one of my goals is to make at least one complete sweep of the hall, a task which has become increasingly difficult as the hall has swollen to 30 isles. This year it took until Saturday afternoon before I, with my list of item I desired to at least accrue some information on, was able to finish. There is much in the hall that holds little to no interest to me from dead CCG’s to kilts but I like that no matter how many times I go back I am always catching a glimpse of something that I missed on a previous perambulation. I also enjoy the many opportunities for demos and greatly appreciate those individuals- primarily volunteers – who give up con time to share new games with throngs of people in less than ideal circumstances. I was able to demo almost everything on my list over the course of the four days and in some cases (The Quest for El Dorado- Spynet ) even play complete games.
I don’t know if it was the layout changes or the expansion onto the field level of Lucas oil Stadium but I felt like despite this being the largest attended Gencon that the expected massive congestion never materialized. I believe that this is a testament to how well the con is planned and the unceasing hard work of the staff and volunteers. I am sure there were a few rough edges but I didn’t see them plus 60,000 ATENDEES!!
8) Prototypes, people, personalities, and Petrichor
Saturday was the culmination of several of my favorite things about Gencon. First Prototypes. I had the opportunity to play or demo several games throughout the day that were still being tested or were several month from completing the printing process including CGE’s Pulsar 2849 and Asmadi’s Phoenix Syndicate but the highlight of Gencon for me was my 7 pm event of an upcoming game called Petrichor. This many of my favorite things about Gencon. 1. A chance to try a game before it is available. 2. A great game with an interesting/different theme. 3. Meeting some of the personalities in the industry. Co-designer David Turczi ran the event and it was great to have him offer tips, tell stories of the process of making a board game a reality, and show off some of the upcoming art (one of the games strong points),and to realize once more that these designers are just like the rest of us just really in love with board games. 4. People. As much as I enjoy playing games with my friends what may be my favorite thing is playing games with new people. Playing Petrichor with me was a pair of individuals one from New York and one from Arizona who deigned to spend a portion of the rest of the evening with me all because of a common interest in board games we chatted and played games for 5 hours. All of this made this the highlight of my con.
In closing several things that strike me about Gencon 1. There is something for everyone. You like miniature games- check tables upon tables- RPG? the entire Sangamon Ballroom was something like 150 tables always full day or night. Films, anime, cosplay, costume ball! Yup, yup, yes, definitely .There are author panels for readers. On and on. Tens of thousands of events. Something related to gaming you are interested in yes they have that. 2. Art. They have an entire segment of the exhibit hall dedicated to artists. Art is one of the things that make a great game pop and many of these artists have booths at Gencon. As usual I make a pass through this section on Sunday afternoon a wonderful way to close out a great weekend.
Signed THE GORILLA