It took me awhile to do a full write-up of my GenCon experience. I’m sure I’m missing several games & events, but this should be most everything I played or participated in while I was there.
The city of Indianapolis was very welcoming, with the local bars and restaurants putting up GenCon artwork and handing out special GenCon menus. The food and drink was great, although the lines for the food trucks outside the convention hall could get pretty atrocious. The hotels were walking distance and the convention center itself was very convenient, with tons of space for gamers to participate in scheduled events, or find rooms/tables to play the games they bought in the vendor hall. Like many, I wish the vendor hall was open for more hours, as we’re trying to cram as many events into the day as possible, but I can understand why that wouldn’t be popular with the vendors.
National Defense Simulation (India/Afghanistan)
This event actually took place on Wednesday before the official opening of the convention hall. This is as close to LARPing as I think I’ll get. The national defense simulation put about 40 people in a room and divided everyone into two sides and given a role with some information about your influence and your agenda. I ended up in India, as a Military commander of the western forces.
I thought this game was going to be a lot more structured than it was. If I played it again, I might have more fun. As it was, my goal was to pass additional military spending and have more autonomy over how funds were spent. During the first 1/3 of the game, I basically walked around and asked people who had political influence for money, wrote bills, had people sign them, and hoped they passed through an, unknown to me because it was never explained (my role had no political votes), political process.
In the end, most of the “events” that were happening turned out to be other people in the game deciding to cause havoc, and not actual planned events. I didn’t realize that the players were driving this simulation entirely until it was pretty late to do much about it, so I basically stood around asking people for favors and having basically no power.
Finally, the other military leaders (mostly ignored) all got together and agreed to overthrow the current regime, but by the time we turned this in to the moderators, they declared the game was almost over and that there was no time left to do that.
Overall Experience: 3/10
Coup is a game that isn’t actually available for purchase yet. It’s a simple little card game that incorporates bluffing and strategy to try and be the last player standing in the thick of politicians and assassins. Each player gets two secret identities from a pack of cards. There are 3 of each identity possible in the pack. Each player then takes on action on their turn, either taking a single coin, or using the power of one of their secret identities.
This is where things get interesting. Players can “bluff” what identities they have when they take their action, or when they use one of their identities to block another person’s action. If they are called on their bluff, then they either show the appropriate identity card or they lose one of their two cards. If they show the appropriate identity, the person calling their bluff loses one of their two cards, and the revealed card is replaced with a new random card.
The game is played until only one player is left standing. It’s quick, simple, and fun. It’s lacking a little bit in tactics that you’d expect from a traditional board game, but it simulates a political court with bargaining and bluffing, so it’s not really meant to be a resource management style game.
Overall Experience: 8/10
Flapjacks & Sasquatches
With a play time of 20-30 minutes, this is a lighthearted game that can be used to kill a little time between other activities and get some laughs along the way. There’s just enough dice rolling for the dice to drive moments of drama, and lots of ridiculous card combinations to enjoy.
You play lumberjacks trying to cut down the most trees. Each tree is worth some number of points between 4 and 12. As you draw random trees, random axes, and various debuffs for your opponents, you’re all rolling dice to see how fast you can chop your trees. Sometimes a player might play a sasquatch card, which can have more significant impacts on the game.
If one player gets ahead, they can expect to have their axe broken, get blisters, etc. to help bring them back to the pack a bit. This is a game you shouldn’t take too seriously, since there is plenty of luck involved, but it’s fun for a couple of quick rounds.
Overall Experience: 7/10
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (Avengers & Tranformers)
This was a game I got in on with a friend, and the premise was certainly fun. Several of the group were playing Transformers, and several others members of the Avengers. The Decepticons stole a piece of technology from Tony Stark who assembled the Avengers, and had a collision with the Autobots who were in pursuit.
We played the cortex version of the rules, and I ended up as Spiderman (the only character left). I actually own the rules for the game, so I was vaguely familiar with the mechanics, although I had never played.
In the end, the players were fun, the mash-up of transformers and marvel was well done, and the scenario was appropriately designed and felt like a good comic-story. I think the system feels a bit unwieldy as you have to construct a big die pool for every roll, and certain mechanical uses of heroic fate points ended up feeling a tad bit broken – but as a leisure way to spend a few hours and make some jokes about Spiderman trying to keep up with Thor and Optimus Prime, the system did an admirable job.
I’d actually like to play the game again – and maybe the more you get used to it, constructing that die pool becomes trivial.
Overall Experience: 7/10
Ticket to Ride
Somehow, I have never played ticket to ride. I sat down with two friends, and the three of us started learning the rules and playing. Much like settlers, which just never sounded fun until I played it, Ticket to Ride surprised me by being more interesting than I expected it to be. I think the game hinges on the tickets, which you get 2-3 of in the beginning of the game for bonus points if you complete the routes, and penalty points if you don’t. These drive each person’s strategy significantly during the game, and you can really ruin someone’s day by keeping an eye out for gaps in where they’re building and cutting them off.
Mechanically, each player is selecting colors of railroads from an existing visible pile, or if they don’t want one, selecting randomly from the top of the deck. You have to play sets of colors to build railroads around the board, and the board defines what color sets are required for each rail between cities.
The mechanics were quick and easy, and turns fly by quickly so you’re almost always engaged with the game. In the end, the game comes off a little bit simple, and with a little more luck that I’d like based on what railroad colors come out in the pool vs. what you need to build vs. whether your opponents tickets conflict with yours. Still, I can see the appeal, and I’d happily play again.
Overall Experience: 7/10
Shadows Over Camelot
This is a collaborative game I’ve been wanting to play for awhile. I tried playing it once at another convention, but the moderator for the game never showed up. Each player plays a knight of the round table and has some special mechanical ability that allows them to contribute to the group in a unique ways. Everyone is then given a secret loyalty card, and up to 1 player might be a traitor.
The game we played ended up not having a traitor, which is a rare occurrence with the number of players we had in the game. Still, there were times the game felt pretty tense as the board spawned more enemies and siege equipment around Camelot.
Overall, it felt a bit like the game used a lot of different subsystems for each quest (the grail quest, Excalibur, fighting off invading armies, challenging the black knight, etc.) that weren’t quite as interesting as I had hoped. Also, it was hard to see how the traitor character would really work well undercover, because the proper move often seemed pretty obvious after a single play through. Players could lie about what resources they held, so a traitor could withhold some resources, but it seemed like it would probably be more effective for the traitor to just be revealed and actively attack.
Too early to judge though, since we didn’t even have a traitor in the game we played. It seems like the game can’t possibly be well balanced between having 6 players and having 5 players and 1 active enemy.
Overall Experience: 6/10
I played Castle Panic with one other person at a demo station. The game can support quite a few people (8, I think) but it handled a 2-player game admirably well. This is basically a tower defense game turned into a board game. There is a tower with several walls in the middle of the board, and enemy orcs and trolls try to storm the castle. Players have cards that can hit monsters in certain zones around the castles, and they can freely talk about what resources they have and can even trade resources between each other.
This made the game feel a bit too easy, so the two of us kept our resources hidden, and traded cards on trust. Maybe we were just lucky with the timing of our monster draws, but we still essentially dominated the monsters on the board, keeping the board mostly clear at all times.
I think this game would probably be even more fun with extra players, and might be more difficult to resource plan with more players as well. Still, at the end of the day, I worry that this game has almost no actual tactical decision making, especially if you play with your hands face-up as the game suggests. It felt pretty fun and epic though for about an hour for the game I played though, so I’m still going to score it high even though I haven’t purchased the game (at least, not yet).
Overall Experience: 8/10
So, D&D doesn’t really have an official product to shill at GenCon, so they had a pretty small area (for D&D anyway) in the back of the exhibitors hall. They were running play tests of the new rules set all weekend, and they were running 16 tables, 4 swapping out every half hour. The first problem here was that this was not sufficient for GenCon. 24 people every half an hour doesn’t come close to covering the number of D&D players at GenCon, and so the line was basically a 2 hour wait at all times.
Furthermore, whether it was from stress or just plain attitude, the people in the marshaling line were rude. I’d try to ask them questions about better times to try and play, or about the characters available to pick to play – and rather than talk to me I was literally ignored. I’m standing 5 feet from someone, asking them questions, repeating myself to them multiple times, and after answering the first question turned to talk to another D&D employee and ignored as I repeated another question three times before just walking away.
We finally found a time where the line was shorter (or at least, so we thought) and so we got in line to wait. The 30 minutes they estimated for us turned into an hour and 15 minutes. During that time, I walked up to the table of pregen characters, with stacks of paper literally several feet high for each character, and tried to take a couple of them to look at in line, only to be informed by the game official there that I wasn’t allowed to take them. We also HAD to fill out D&D membership forms in order to participate in the play test.
Finally, we sat down at the table, and the GM was horrendous. He gave us a 10 minute summary of the rules of D&D, high-lighting advantage and disadvantage rules and the absence of skills, and then got started on an “adventure” that was so poorly designed as to be infuriating.
Our initial goal as so poorly communicated that none of us really understood what we were doing, but we wanted to adventure and only had 2 hours to do it, so we pressed on into a dungeon. The first room had a fear effect that simply made members of the party run away. After 10-15 minutes of dealing with fear, the actual room was filled with fog that prevent vision. All this did we cause us to spend another 10 minutes trying to search the room and figure out what the fog meant. Turns out it was just another way of causing us to move through the dungeon more slowly with no actual impact.
We moved further into the dungeon and encountered creatures with damage reduction, further ensuring we would encounter less and interact with D&D Next for even less time. Then, before that encounter was even finished, I just continued walking into the next room, with an arrow knocked to attack an enemy there. Instead, I triggered a cut scene with 10 minutes of exposition that ended up having the effect of teleporting us all onto a 20×20 ft tower top where we could not move and where we were already standing next to skeletons (who, of course have damage reduction against most of our parties pre-gen weapons). We kill the skeletons and are attacked by more damage-reduction demons flying off the tower (more damage reduction), which I suppose at least made us use ranged weapons.
Once dispatched, we were attacked by a dragon, who took down two of our party in it’s first round (including the two people I was there with). By this time, we had another event to go to, (we had warned our group that since we were starting late, we’d have to leave a bit early), and since two of the three of us were down already, we simply left that train wreck on the railroad tracks.
Overall Experience: 1/10
Dorks & Dungeons
Coming off the horrible D&D Next experience, we went to a comedy show from an improv group paying a light version of a fantasy RPG. Walking into the room, and seeing the setup of the improv actors around a gaming table, I admit I was concerned this was going to be as bad or worse than the D&D play test.
It’s hard to relay the timing and quality of the actors in this show, but I would actually go and see them if they toured any time. Audience member participation was good, and I was trying to find time to catch my breath sometimes from laughing during the show. Both the “players” of the game as well as the improv actors playing all of the NPCs and environments they interacted with did a fantastic job. Their wordpress site is here, and I encourage anyone in the area to check them out.
Maybe it was improved in comparison to the foul experience I had with D&D Next, but I would have guessed that a foul mood from D&D next would have made it harder for them to impress me. For me, this was the best event of GenCon.
Overall Experience: 10/10