Gen Con 2016 Recap

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Another year, another of the best four days in gaming behind us. Gen Con 2016 was special for Board Gamers Anonymous, if only because it was our second year attending, and therefore the first time we had any idea what we were doing.

A hotel in walking distance, a clear sense of the size and scope of the convention center, and a keen understanding of how many events you can actually squeeze into a day – all helped us have a heck of a good time. Not that last year wasn’t a blast, but the first time you attend this behemoth of a con, it’s going to be a bit overwhelming.

For those that attended and those that couldn’t, here’s a quick rundown of the highlights of the show for us.

The First Day of Gen Con

If you plan on attending any con, especially Gen Con, get there early. Yes, you have to pay for the extra night at the hotel, but having that first day to get your badge and tickets, find a couple of good food spots, and get some games in before the cult of the new takes over, is huge.

Last year, I didn’t get into Indy until 11pm. This year, I made it at 4:30pm and the difference was striking. Time for dinner, hotel checkin, and some games at the Stonemaier Game night across from the convention center. Somehow I had not played Ra or Mysterium before, so I ticked a couple of good ones off my must-play list:

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This is a huge tip too. The convention center is the epicenter of the con. It is where new games, events, and the spectacle that is our hobby will be housed. But if you actually want to unwind and get some games in, look for gaming events in the hotels across the street. Stonemaier’s game room, the BGG Hot Games room, and several others were a welcome respite from the noise and glare of the convention halls.

Day 1 – 5:30am

If you attend Gen Con with a press pass, you can’t pick it up before Thursday morning. Combined with the opportunity to get an early access ticket if you’re one of the first 90 people in line, a lot of press people hit the morning line way too early, us among them.

It’s a good time to peruse coupon books and the program, fill up on water, and make sure you’re properly fed and hydrated pre-con. If you’re in the general line, get to the hall doors by 8am to ensure you’re one of the first in at 10am. Unless you’re not rushing for a game – in which case, get some sleep!

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The second of many lines awaited us after we obtained our passes for the day:

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If there was a theme of this Gen Con, it was Pokemon. Every booth that sold toys or stuffed animals was loaded with them, almost every attendee was catching them, and Drowsees ran rampant in the convention hall…

 

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And we were in!

There were certainly sell-outs this year. If you wanted Seafall, Harry Potter, Dragon & Flagon, or Terraforming Mars, they were gone or nearly gone by 10:30am on Thursday. It happens every year, but it’s still frustrating, and I get that.

On the plus side, though, a lot more games did not sell out. And those that did are hitting store shelves very soon, not in several months. Better yet, the space was opened up considerably this year. Gen Con gave another whole section to exhibitors and that meant more room for walking. The breathing room was much appreciated.

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Even after 10am when the general crowd was let in, there was plenty of room for walking around:

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One thing we did differently this year was to actually signup for and attend events. While the vast majority of our time was spent in the Exhibit Hall demoing and talking with publishers, we took a few breaks for things like True Dungeon:

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This was our first time participating while the other 7 people in our party had all done it before, so we were at a slight disadvantage, but the puzzles were incredibly well produced, the production values were high, and the sheer organization of Gen Con’s effort was mighty impressive. Will definitely be running this again in the future (and now we have tokens!)

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Next up was our shift at the Dice Tower booth. Thank you to everyone who came out and said hi. It was a lot of fun, and the much larger booth space this year was great. There was space for us to hang out, talk to people, take pictures, and even help with the Dice Tower booth sales when needed.

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Finally, to cap off a long first day, we hit one of the many ballrooms across from the convention center for Nerd Night’s charity raffle and auction to benefit The Pourhouse, this year’s charity partner. The event was packed and there were several auctions for big packages of games, including a signed copy of Seafall and Scythe. Thanks to J.R. Honeycutt and his team for once again putting on a fantastic event.

Other Fun Stuff We Did

After Thursday, no single day was as packed, but we still kept very busy and had quite a bit of fun exploring the hall and surrounding areas. Some highlights included:

The annual balloon sculpture, this year a black dragon standing guard over a castle:

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Walking the catwalks and looking down on everyone hoping to get a copy of Harry Potter first thing at 10am:

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Exploring the more creative booth designs. This year’s best booth definitely goes to Broken Token (sorry Upper Deck, BT’s dice tower was just too good):

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And of course, the annual upgrade to Cool Mini or Not’s giant miniature display:

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The Fantasy Flight In-Flight Report was an interesting chance to hear from the company bigwigs on their upcoming releases and new waves. Nothing terribly mind blowing, but I’m extremely excited for the Imperial Assault companion app coming next year!

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The cosplay! Always a big highlight of the show, it was as good as always this year. Chris has more photos and we posted to Facebook and Twitter all weekend, but here’s one in particular we were both very impressed with (that thing is easily 9 feet tall):

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And Santa Clause!

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Lots of signings as well, including Chris’s favorite artist, John Kovalic:

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The Games!

Over the next few weeks we’ll be reviewing all the games we had a chance to play, demo, and bring home with us. Look for reviews across all of our channels – including the podcast, here on the blog, and on YouTube (yup, we’re doing it!)

In the meantime, here are some highlights of the games that caught our eye during the show.

VR is a definite highlight in all forms of gaming of late, and board gaming companies are no stranger. Stoneblade showed us their new Ascension VR app and Boss Monster VR had a sizable line for demoing as well:

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Gameplay demos and walkthroughs are always a blast, even more so when you get to sit down with the designers. The Goonies Adventure Card Game was a surprisingly good time – looking forward to playing this one more in the near future:

 

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The big announcement out of Fantasy Flight this year was Rune Wars Miniatures, the new tabletop miniatures game coming in early 2017. Directly after the In-Flight report, they were demoing it in the hall – will be interesting to see what this turns into, a big departure for FFG:

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We got a chance to sit down and play a number of games that weren’t already on our radar, including Strife, a quick card game with some clever mechanics:

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And we got to salivate at new games that were just announced with frustratingly little information. Jumping to the top of my anticipation list for 2017 is Rising Sun from Eric Lang and Cool Mini or Not:

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And The Godfather, which continues to look fantastic:

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Another addition to this year’s agenda was actual gaming events. Last year we demoed close to 50 games, but didn’t actually sit down to play anything in full longer than an hour. We made a point to put at least a couple such games on this year’s agenda, including the newest from Cool Mini or Not, The Others: 7 Sins:

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As well as one of the most innovative games of the show, which frankly came out of nowhere for a lot of people who played it, Captain Sonar:

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The newest coming from Capstone Games this fall, Haspelknecht, which is a fantastic (if hard to pronounce) game about coal mining. Think Agricola with less stress, a shorter play time, and a tech tree. Very good:

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And the biggest one of all that we played, Star Trek: Ascendancy. We’ll have a full preview/overview of our play through on this one in our next episode, but it is certainly one of the more epic thematic games I’ve played in a long time:

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The Show in a Nutshell

Gen Con was a blast this year, and it comes down to the continued growth, ongoing maturity of the industry as a whole, and the boatload of cool stuff on display. When you can walk the hall and stumble on things like this, that you didn’t realize existed:

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Or play a game based on a theme that you’ve never even considered before (and movies you generally avoid):

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Suffice it to say, this was a convention to remember with a lot of interesting games, even if it didn’t seem like it might be before we headed out. Very much looking forward to sharing with you our reviews of those new games and already looking forward to next year’s big Year 50 celebration.

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About Author

Anthony lives and plays games in Pittsburgh, PA. A lover of complex strategy, two player war games, and area control, Anthony is always eager to try a new game, even if he's on rule-reading duty.