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Gen Con 50 Review

Another year, another Gen Con.

It’s funny really. Three years ago, I never thought I’d go to Gen Con. It was a big trip, hours away, and my kids were little.

This is now my third year attending, and I have a slightly different take on the biggest gaming event in North America.

It’s still big, but it’s also familiar – comfortable in a way that I didn’t expect it could be after my first year.

The Trip to Gen Con

This year was a bit different. After the last two years of taking the bus from Pittsburgh, and stressing about how much I could carry and how much I’d have to ship (and the cost associated), this year we drove.

Chris drove from New York to Pittsburgh, where we hung out for a couple days, before driving the rest of the way to Indianapolis.

And while I can’t say the drive is easy necessarily, there’s something far more relaxing about a straight shot through, the ability to stop wherever you want in Columbus or nearby, and not having to brave the bus stations of rural Ohio and West Virginia.

This year we arrived on Tuesday – a full day early so we could attend the Trade Day seminars, get our will call tickets, and check out the convention center. It also afforded us the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep before Thursday morning.

Day 0 of Gen Con 50

As is our Indianapolis custom, we started things off by hitting up Three Carrots, located in the City Market about 10 minutes from the convention center.

We then began the hike back to the hotels and the JW Marriott where the Trade Day seminars were being held:

While we couldn’t fully enjoy getting our badges a day early with no line (because of the 5am start on Thursday), it was nice and easy to get started

Of course, that didn’t mean no lines – we had some tickets on will call so we sat in the first line of the week for will call to open.

But not without snagging some sweet, sweet merch first. Somehow I’ve never picked anything up before – made sure to remedy that nice and quick

While our stealth checks failed and we couldn’t get into the exhibit hall, we could certainly take a peek in as they setup. It’s fascinating how much work it takes and how quickly it gets done to convert that giant room into hundreds of booths so fast.

I want to take a moment again to just remind everyone how awesome it is to be close to the con. This was our hotel window – quite literally only 3 minutes from the main entrance on S. Capital. Talk about hitting the (hotel) lottery.

And then back to the seminars! We hit up a few quick talks including Haba:

Renegade:

Games in teaching and libraries:

AEG’s new product announcements and updates for the next year:

Day 0 is a must. A slow, relaxing build up to the chaos that is the full con is a great way to start. Well worth the extra night in the hotel.

Day 1 of Gen Con 50

One of the perks of running BGA is that we are provided with press credentials for the con. One of the downsides of being press, however, is that you can’t get your badge early. While we were able to get ours on Wednesday, we still had to brave the 5am line in the convention center to get our tickets for early access to the vendor hall.

Since only a handful of tickets to do so are available for press, we didn’t take chances and hit that line bright and early. Fortunately, we met some awesome people, including Edward from Heavy Cardboard and Efka from No Pun Intended. This helped pass the time.

After the line to get in, we had about an hour inside the exhibitor hall before they let in everyone else. That time is invaluable for us to speak with publishers before they get inundated, see what games are hottest, and get through some of the longer lines that we probably wouldn’t have time for later in the week (FFG, CMON, and Asmodee in particular).

And of course, I couldn’t help but stand in the midst of the deluge when they let everyone in at 10am:

After the con was officially opened, we started perusing the hall, connecting in meetings, and checking out a handful of games. Affliction 1692 was recommended to us by a friend back in New Jersey so we sat down for a demo with its creator:

We did our best to get near the Renegade booth, but it was swamped pretty much every minute of every day. This was at around 11am on Thursday, after they had sold out of Scott Pilgrim, Ex Libris, and Clank! In! Space!

Another booth seeing a lot of activity was Capstone. Located in the back of the hall along the far wall, they were one of only a few hot spots for heavier gamers and we had a chance to check out The Climbers (review coming soon), and The Ruhr:

The cosplay doesn’t really kick into full gear until Saturday, but there were a few people out in force early:

And Bruno Cathala himself! Bruno was at his throne every day of the con to sign autographs and look royal with the recent Spiel des Jahr winner by his side. Blue Orange was hot all week anyways as they showcased Photosynthesis and had raffles for supersized versions of Kingdomino.

Another game that was fun to see in the wild was Petrichor, a recently kickstarted game about plantlife and the water cycle:

And Mattell showed up for the first time in six years, this time with Wizards Wanted (seen below is their supersized con-version):

Finally, to end the day, we hit up the Greater Than Games launch party. They held a few raffles, offered free food and drink, and showed off some of their new and upcoming games, including Legends of Sleepy Hollow – kickstarting soon – and the new Sentinels RPG:

As the sun set and our energy dwindled, we made the five minute trek back to the hotel and collapsed. Sunday gives it a run for its money, but the first day of Gen Con is about as exhausting as they come.

Day 2 of Gen Con 50

The second day of Gen Con is always an interesting one. The adrenaline rush of day one is gone. The promise of three more days is still there. The crowds aren’t quite as chaotic and massive as they will be on the weekend.

We had a fair number of meetings booked for Day 2 this year, but it was still a good time being able to get around a bit and demo some games. First up, though, was the Fantasy Flight Flight Report:

The big news this year was Star Wars Legion, and people were rightfully excited to see and hear more about the ground-combat miniatures game. I’m still reserving judgment, but it’s Star Wars, so of course I’ll be buying it.

After Fantasy Flight and some lunch, we headed to Lucas Oil Stadium. Last year, the con moved into the stadium, but only downstairs and in the convention spaces. This year, they got the whole dang thing and they took full advantage of it:

In the midst of the stadium was a recreation of the space in Geneva, Wisconsin where the first Gen Con was held. It was an incredible museum, showcasing original copies of Dungeons & Dragons, hand drawn maps and notes, and tons of other rare and interesting gaming history:

And just in case you forgot you were on a football field, there was a plaque in the museum at the 50 yard line. Chris got a bit carried away:

The arcade units were back this year too, lining the hall between the stadium and the convention center. They brought in a few more too so it wasn’t quite as sad as last time:

And then back to the exhibit hall! It really is difficult to describe just how big and sprawling the place is. It can take 15-20 minutes to walk from one end to the other, and it’s near impossible to see everything in a day, or even four days:

Outside the fracas of the exhibit hall, Rio Grande once again ran their open games room – free to play and with every one of their titles on display:

CGE had a similar room, with some fun games to experience, including a super-sized Adrenaline:

And both the Disney and Marvel version of Codenames available to demo:

We also got a chance to demo the new Munchkin CCG from Eric Lang and Kevin Wilson, which will release in February from Steve Jackson games (you can check out the initial review on Episode 131):

And there were more than a few big, heavy games on display for the solo gamers out there:

Day 3 of Gen Con 50

Saturday is a great day at Gen Con. It is historically the busiest, but this year it was about the same as the rest with the sell out and the 4-day pass distribution. More than anything, though, it gave us a chance to really get around the hall and check out the things we hadn’t yet seen or demoed.

We peeked into the video game room to start:

And then meandered through the event hall while waiting for the main room to open:

On the inside, we hit up CMON early to see if we could snag a table with one of their newest but the lines were long:

So we took pictures of some of their painted miniatures:

Giant Game of Thrones Catan was on display as well (I refuse to write the whole title, so it will be GoT Catan from here on out):

And the expansion for the Harry Potter Deck builder:

We got a chance to play King of the Creepies and Centipede at the IDW booth:

And once again marveled at how many resources Mattell has to throw at their booth:

Saturday is the big cosplay day, and while we were unfortunately out of the building at lunch at that time, we did snap a few:

Gale Force 9’s new Dr. Who game is looking mighty interesting:

And we got a chance to play Star Trek Ascendancy again, this time with the Borg expansion in play:

Dark is the Night with full sized miniatures looked very cool at the APE Games booth:

In what looks to be an instaback for me, Cerebria: The Inside World from Mindclash Games (Trickerion, Anachrony) was on display:

Pandemic Legacy Season 2 demos were being held in this hazmat tent. We have photos, but I’ll hold them for those who haven’t finished Season 1 yet (and yes, there are spoilers in that tent).

Dragonfire was a big release for Catalyst, and I’m hoping it fixes some of what I didn’t like about Shadowrun Crossfire.

Another look at the Wits & Wagers Vegas mat:

And Blurble! (which my son loves by the way):

Probably the one game I WISH had been for sale at Gen Con (even above the new FFG stuff) is Merlin, the new Stefan Feld game. I’m hoping someone brings it back from Essen and we’ll get another chance to play at Pax Unplugged:

We swung by the Dice Tower booth a few times, and marveled at the raffle tower they had setup:

Giant King of Tokyo – no con is complete with out it (with new characters!)

We got a chance to talk with Jamey Stegmaier from Stonemaier Games as well. I’m working my magic on the video clip so hopefully that will be up soon, but it was very cool to see Charterstone in all its glory:

And giant Santorini! Love this game:

Curt at the Smirk and Dagger booth showed off the new expansion for Cutthroat Caverns, as well as his newest game Paramedics Clear!

Day 4 at Gen Con

These cons go by faster every time we attend one. This year was no different. The last day tends to be a bit of a sprint for us – running around to finalize meetings, pick up review copies of games, and make sure we didn’t miss anything. Below you’ll find some of the remaining photos we took that morning and the games that we had a chance to sit down with:

The Palace of Mad King Ludwig, being taught by Ted Alspach:

Some Kingdom Death: Monster goodness:

Princess Jing, a new one coming from Matagot soon:

And the deluxe wooden version of River Dragons:

Heroes of Land, Air, and Sea, the big box game from Gamelyn Games:

Dragoon, with beautiful, full metal pieces:

The dragon add-on for Joan of Arc, a new Kickstarter coming soon from Monolith:

Hewns, a new modular board game coming to KS soon (and they gave out candy!)

The Dragon Ball Super card game released over the weekend too and had a decent presence:

It’s not new, but I always love seeing the Burgle Bros. tower at the Fowers booth:

At the same booth, Word Domination, a great new word game:

Vikings 878 was available for purchase – great take on the Birth of… series:

Academy Games also has a new game for Agents of Mayhem coming soon:

Dark Souls had a big presence as well with a nice lifesized knight:

Devir’s new Jules Verne novel turned board game, Michael Strogoff is looking fantastic:

One of the heaviest games we saw (by actual physical weight) was Brilliants:

And the followup coming soon, Divercity:

It was great to see the new Brass: Lancashire in the wild as well:

Dice Throne looks fantastic – great artwork and a clever card/dice mechanic – excited to get this one soon:

Red Raven Games had a new release as well with Klondike Rush:

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the giant “coin-operated” booth for Exploding Kittens and Bear vs. Baby:


We didn’t get nearly as much time at the CMON booths as we would have liked, but did spot copies of Zombicide: Green Horde and Council of 4 in the wild:

 

And now we’re back.

The aftermath of a con this big is always interesting. We’ll be reviewing the games we brought back and had a chance to play for weeks to come, and we’ll be bringing some exciting new developments to BGA throughout that time, so make sure to stay tuned.

Gen Con 50 was a massive, exciting experience – one of the best yet – and I’m eager to see if they can top it yet again next year.

  • Anthony

    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.

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