Gen Con 2011 Report Part 1

Gen Con 2011 is over and I survived!  Normally it takes nearly a week for me to pull my life back together and get this post up, but I am strangely energized. Perhaps it was my decision to limit my backpack’s weight to an absolute bare minimum. Nothing like strained shoulders to sap the strength. Other than an iPad, a few office supplies and some snacks, my pack contained only air. This fact, combined with an investment in some higher-quality walking sandals that did not come from Payless, I fared better than previous years physically.  It made for a much more pleasant gaming experience all around.

Speaking of games, this post is all about  what I played. Subsequent posts will discuss purchases and some interesting announcements at the show so stay tuned for further updates.  Today is all about the games.

We, that is Stuart, Werlen and your humble narrator flew in to Indy and hit the ground running with a privately arranged slot of “Legends of Arcanis” aka “Living Arcanis” using the new Paradigm Games rules set.  Both slots were up to the usual (excellent) writing quality of all Arcanis plot “hard point” modules. Hard point modules directly impact the main storyline, all the other modules (soft points) are side missions. Only my second time playing this system and it grew on me a bit. I had a great time.  Well worth checking out.

Thursday brought another round of Arcanis in the morning and a four-hour Diplomacy slot to introduce the game to Stu. He had never played before and was instantly hooked. The combination of minimal rules, strategic thinking and negotiation still pushes this game far beyond any existing board game. Though slow, I honestly believe “Diplomacy” the best board game in the world.  Euro-philes may claim Catan, but I feel it is a pale pretender to “Diplomacy’s”  negotiating throne with its use of dice.  Traditionalists cling to chess as the best ever, but with both player’s having perfect knowledge of the board, chess degenerates to a math problem. Diplomacy is all about how well you can get another human being to do what you want with the power of your words. Winning this game is the best rush ever! I have power over my fellow-man! Ha! A ha ha ha….err..yes moving on.

I gave the “Star Wars: Sparks” living game a run with the adventure “A Tale of Two Hutts.” This one was rough. GM seemed unprepared and one of the other players clearly suffered from some mental defect. This is not an exaggeration, he literally had some issue that put him on a different plane of existence from the rest of humanity . Additionally, the room was screaming loud and the module extremely complex. Did I mention the GM’s soft voice? A clear leader for worst slot of the convention until supplanted by a one-hour of hell on Saturday, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Friday lead me to an RPG and “Jack Brimstone,” a spell-slinging superhero in “Champions.” I did not realize until later that “Blackwyrm Publishing” (Oops. Event was actually run by Infinite Imagination, Inc, sorry guys!) ran the event. Amazing is the only word for this slot. The module was well-written, the tone perfect for a supers game, DMs on the ball (both of them, which worked very well) and some of the best players I ever played with at a convention. Seriously, best convention RPG game in years and I nearly shed a tear when I was invited back for the second part of the story on Sunday and had to pass due to my flight home. I shall return next year!

“Fantasy Flight” had a large presence at the con and I partook of the “Space Hulk: Death Angel” card game. A team of marines work their way through a space hulk killing gene stealers. Game rules made interesting use of shifting card stacks and allowed the players to all contribute in this cooperative game. We won by just a thread after taking heavy losses. “Death Angel” is fun, but the mechanics include total player elimination. I always question the wisdom of a “your out of the game mechanic” in a game designed to play with other people. Nothing is worse than losing all your marines in the first turn and killing an hour while everyone else plays. As I said, fun but not on my purchase list.

Friday wrapped up with a run of “Deadwood.” “Deadwood” is a western-themed game of gunfighter’s wresting control of a small town away from one another before the railroad arrives and brings civilization. A very-quick game with some fun “I shot you dead in the casino” mechanics. Not really a heavy game and honestly not really challenging enough to interest me. A fun time-killer, but little beyond that.

After sleeping late to kill some jet-lag, Saturday opened with some Shadowrunning skullduggery in Seattle. Also a well-run table with some clever players. Rules were something of a challenge as it was my first run with the new rules, but it went well. Only downside was our careful planning accidentally broke the module. Apparently astral projection is so ubiquitous in the game that the entire module premised we would use it to scout our target. Happily and sadly, our mage did some long-distance recon and did not set off the sensors, which meant we walked through most of the module with minimal combat. Great in the real-world, but a bit dull in an RPG. Next time we should strive to set off more alarms.


A quick break energized us for the most anticipated event of the convention. We planned around it, purchased special badges in advance for in-game benefits  and paid relatively big bucks to attend ($24.00. Ok, not big bucks, but it is a recession). You may think of this as my review of Terrorwerks.




It resembles “True Dungeon” in that it is an elaborate haunted house, but Terrorwerks uses air-soft guns for combat. Players receive a badge with a role and then have to complete a mission. In our case it was clearing a facility of zombies and killing computer virus with an upload. So far, I am happy. My party consists of 18 people, including Werlen as a bodyguard, myself as a tech and Stu as a corporate VP. The rest were medics and marines with various specializations.  There is just one tiny problem.

Terrorwerks sucks worse than a black hole.


It is uniformly a waste of money. “True Dungeon” is worth a run, just once to say you did it and have a bit of fun. Terrorwerks is not fun, not at all. Let me elaborate.

After a quick briefing and task assignment (find the secret plans for the VP, protect the VP for the bodyguard and upload the anti-virus for myself) we entered the maze. I quickly discovered that my weapon was empty, as was the VP’s pistol. Ignoring this I quickly spotted a terminal and started reading some in-game information to help us later in the maze. Took about five minutes. I discovered that there was a dangerous drone up ahead and the name of a dead man we needed to find to open a locked door.

At the same time, the marine detachment ran through the maze, killed the drone, blew open the doors and got to the core before I could barely open my mouth with the information. I felt so very useful. Annoyed, I took my anti-virus to the mainframe room and tried to upload it. The anti-virus is a round metal tube about 4 inches in diameter and 18 inches long. I reached the core and started looking how to insert the anti-virus.  I am very good with electronics and there is a port that is nearly the same size as the anti-virus tube. After fumbling with it for a couple of minutes, the NPC marine commander informed me there is a cable and I needed to find it. Sure enough, there is a headphone jack at the bottom of the anti-virus and the front of the mainframe had a plug.  It is solely my fault I did not figure out this puzzle, but in my defense it was so dark I did not see the plug on the mainframe. It looked more like a button. A quick call got the cable search underway and whipped out my empty gun to help defend myself as we search. Remembering I got an empty gun, I had an NPC refill it. That was helpful until I realized my weapon jammed after three shots. The VP was also issued a useless weapon.  The fun just never ends!

We acquired the cable moments later and I plugged it up. I pressed the button and the anti-virus prop lit up for a moment and then died. An NPC eventually got it working and the game ended with us running out the way we came in. There was no reason to run. We had so many people in that maze that  they quickly ran out of target NPCs.  I strolled into the start area and celebrated our “victory.”

The game lasted, in total 1 hour, with about 15 minutes of play time. Maybe.

Our pre-purchased badges provided no benefit I could see. I saw only glimpses of dangerous NPCs as they fell in a hail of marine bullets, so the extra hit points meant nothing.  There were too many people running the maze. This would be amazing with six players, but 18? It was not a maze run, it was an NPC slaughter.  Props were of low quality and the non-functioning, empty weapons really annoyed me.  Overall, an expensive and pointless exercise. Easily my worst event of the entire convention.

Here is a suggestion: Make is a shooting gallery, charge $5.00 to shoot some targets. What Terrorwerks is now is just not worth the price of admission.


The report continues tomorrow!


Trask, The Last Tyromancer







Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

9 thoughts on “Gen Con 2011 Report Part 1

  • August 9, 2011 at 8:05 am

    You weren’t by chance in a Thursday night Diplomacy game where Italy finished with a fleet in England and Turkey was nearly wiped out…?

  • August 9, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Glad you enjoyed the Arcanis adventures… though not official as of yet, we have some big plans for events at GenCon next year!

  • August 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Wow your review of TW was a complete 180 from the experience I had. The players we went in with were a good fit and overall the experience was I’d say an 85 out of 100. There were a few bits of confusion, but nothing that was a determent to the experience.

    I’m very much looking for the next time at Origins or GenCon.

  • August 12, 2011 at 5:08 am

    Hey Trask! I was one of the GMs in the Champions game. While we did hand out BlackWyrm cards (they were amusing!), we are actually from a group called Infinite Imaginations. We run a lot of RPGs and LARPs at GenCon every year. Hope to see you next year!

  • August 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

    “‘Death Angel’ is fun, but the mechanics include total player elimination. I always question the wisdom of a ‘your out of the game mechanic’ in a game designed to play with other people. Nothing is worse than losing all your marines in the first turn and killing an hour while everyone else plays.”

    “Though slow, I honestly believe ‘Diplomacy’ the best board game in the world. ”

    So “nothing is worse than losing all your marines in the first turn and killing an hour while everyone else plays”, but being eliminated from Diplomacy and killing 3-5 hours while everyone else plays makes for “the best board game in the world”?
    I think you may have stumbled across why “Euro-philes may claim Catan” (which I don’t think is true, many Euro-philes leave Settlers behind as a gateway game and move on to other Euros: Caylus, Agricola, Peurto Rico, etc.), “Traditionalists cling to chess as the best ever, but with both player’s having perfect knowledge of the board, chess degenerates to a math problem” (first of all there are more iterations/variables in chess than are solvable without the use of a supercomputer, and most supercomputers, even with good instructions fail to beat the best players; second, again many would argue that the proper title here is “Go”).

    • August 15, 2011 at 11:29 am

      Excellent point! I need to clarify my addled thoughts. Death Angel is a 90 minute or less card game where you can be eliminated in the first or second turn with some bad luck.

      Diplomacy is a brutal strategic game where your inability to influence other human beings is the only way to fail. Though elimination is possible, it is less capricious than the card game.

      As to chess vs. Diplomacy, I offer this observation: the fact a computer can play chess and win, even occasionally, indicates the game is a math problem, otherwise the computer could not play it at all. There are no Turing-capable computers yet.


  • August 23, 2011 at 6:42 am

    Which shadowrun game were you in? Curious if it was the game I ran… I know that most of my players on the first day were fairly new to the rules.

    • August 23, 2011 at 8:02 am

      We were in the Saturday at Noon run of “Moving Day.”

  • August 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Sadly, it wasn’t me then.

    I Ran 2 games Thurs, 2 games Fri, and only 1 game Sat… which wasn’t at noon 🙂

    Maybe next year I’ll get you as a player though!

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