Gen Con 2011…A (way belated) Recap

It was hard to contain my excitement in the weeks leading up to Gen Con. Though my preferences for board and quick card games make me much more a casual gamer than a hobbyist, I’ve always enjoyed the idea of hobby gaming. Thankfully, this convention has more than enough of both.
Unfortunately, a personal tragedy the night before it was to start limited my ability to spend the kind of time I wanted at the convention but I did still manage to accomplish most of what I wanted and got to demo a lot of really great stuff.

Given my limited time, I didn’t get much chance to focus on the amazing costumes (photos of those are everywhere) and so chose to focus on what a lot of people don’t…the games themselves. Gen Con is where many game creators will go to debut their new projects and, in some cases, how they fare here can make or break smaller companies. No pressure though.

Cosplayers with ocarinas? Yup.

I will take a minute to drop in that there’s more than just games and costumes…there’s a whole culture, including music. Myself and my girlfriend were lucky enough to meet up with Daniel and the Lion, a band I first became aware of through a promo session they did with one of my photographic heroes, David E. Jackson. They gave each of us a CD (which is fantastic, btw) and talked to us for a while. Supremely nice guys, but that’s just part of the culture of this convention. They’re all gamers, hiding Magic: The Gathering references in their songs and, in fact, challenging people to pickup games of Magic at their table on Entertainer’s Row. Each band member was wearing a crown and all you had to do to earn the crown was win a match. I’m not sure, but I believe they all left with crowns intact. To further their nerd cred, the tour van’s license plate reads “VAN LOL”.

This table costs more than my vehicle.

Everything is so game-centric that there’s even a company called Geek Chic that makes furniture specifically designed for gaming. We’re not talking poker tables here, either. We’re talking hand-crafted hardwood tables that break down to contain large scale miniature battles, everything you could ever need for D&D sessions, or even board and card gaming. It’s absolutely amazing quality…but be prepared to pay for it.

Destroyer Ship, Leviathans from Catalyst Game Labs

I did make it through almost everything I hoped to try this year, from the new miniature-based aerial combat game Leviathans (Catalyst Game Labs) to the independently-published card game Quack In The Box (“The Fun Game of Medical Malpractice!” from Don Gusano Games).

For fans of casual, quick-play card games, Steve Jackson Games is slated to release new editions of its popular Munchkin series soon, including Conan The Barbarian and another based on popular webcomic Axe Cop. One of the booth reps also clued me in to the fact that Steve himself is hard at work on three potential expansions to Zombie Dice, one of my favorite games ever…so I’m eagerly awaiting that for next year.

As for some of what I ne of the highlights for me was a brand new card game called Food Fight (Cryptozoic Entertainment). 2-6 players are using food troops such as Big Bad Bacon, General Chicken, and Kaboom Ka-Bob to win various battles like The Battle of Spaghettisburg and Push at Hamburger Hill. Once the armies are set, the battlefields are revealed, and each player decides whether he’s going to fight for Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner, it essentially plays like War. Each troop has assigned “yumminess points” that serve as the face value. Other cards can modify those points and change the rules in many ways, but it’s essentially a high-card wins type game. It gets very heated very quickly when Instant cards get chained but the whole game can usually be played in a half hour or so.

Unfortunately, not all the games worked as hoped. I was disappointed when I finally got to try Monsterpocalypse from Privateer Press. It was a lot of fun to play the demo but it’s entirely too complex to be able to get a pickup game going with friends. That one definitely falls under the “hobby gaming” title. That’s fine, as it’s something I’d like to get more involved in, but really need to find the time to dedicate and other people with whom I can play. Bummer.

If it’s 10 feet tall, is it still a mini?

Privateer has another miniature based game called Warmachine that seemed much more accessible than Monsterpocalypse, at least with the quickstart rules as used in the demo. It’s a two-player miniature-based wargame. Each player has his warcaster, who controls warjacks (think Mechwarrior, steampunk-style). The object of each skirmish is to destroy the other player’s warcaster. There are massive tournaments for these sorts of games with huge money and community prestige for the winners. If I can find the time to devote to learning strategy, this may be something I could get into. A pretty good 35 point army (smallest generally used in competition) can be had for under $100. There are games of Warmachine (and its cousin Hordes) going regularly in the area.

In all, I ended up demoing 14 different games and picking up four; the aforementioned Food Fight and Quack In The Box as well as Square Shooters (basically, a deck of cards on dice) and a very interesting card game called Psi-Duel from Travesty Games that I feel the need to discuss for a minute.

Psi-Duel works somewhat like Magic: The Gathering in that you are both defending and attacking against your opponent. The twist is that you have no idea what you’re actually attacking. The game is set up as a duel between two psychics. Each player has two lines of defense. If you can penetrate both lines of defense, you begin attacking the player himself. Very basically, this game is SO FUCKING COOL. Unlike Magic, it isn’t a collectible game; the entire game is contained on 72 cards (two 36 card decks).

In all, it was a good year despite issues that prevented me from getting to spend as much time as I wanted.
If you’re interested in finding out more about gaming, be it casual or hobby, check out some of the local gaming stores like Indy Gamerz (Greenwood), Game Preserve (Castleton, Greenwood, Lafayette, and Bloomington), and Saltire Games (Pendleton Pike) or check out what’s going on at the Arsenal Game Room.

The rest of the gaming photos from Gen Con 2011 can be found here.