Gen Con is amazing, but it is not without its flaws, notably the crowds in 2015 and the general feeling of claustrophobia from too many people in too little space. The game rooms and ballrooms (like the giant hall used for board games) were acceptable, but the vendor hall on Sunday last year was a fiasco. We just avoided it completely after looking at the crowds.
This year is much improved! In fact, I got most of my shopping done on Sunday and honestly spent more money that I planned because you could move about without risking life and limb. Gen Con wisely moved True Dungeon and the anime/cosplay tracks to the Colts football stadium across the street from the Indiana Convention Center (ICC). This freed up more space for gaming space and allowed the vendor hall to expand. Most importantly, the aisles were significantly wider. It made a huge difference and I expect the vendors will report higher earnings because of it.
I made the trek to the stadium events using the underground walkway and it was a bit of a hike, but I think Gen Con made the right call. Though many games might gripe about the remote location, no one accidentally runs across “True Dungeon” and decides to play it. It is sold out instantly on ticket day and those player will cross rivers of fire to get their fix for the year. It is a “destination” game that does not need foot traffic. As for the anime/cosplayers moving to the stadium, costume contests and hentai dubbing events do not need prime ICC/hotel locations. Those fans will find their way just fine.
I stayed at the JW Marriot and was pleased with the choice. As usual, JW would not give us a roll-away bed so this year Haaldaar went with a freestanding hammock frame he modified to fit in a suitcase. This worked well and will be our solution going forward for sleeping three to a room.
Enough of logistics, on to the games!
We hopped aboard some Firefly class ships and went exploring the Verse. Things went well and the game ended with two players in a race to complete the objectives. However, it is clear to me that there is a massive luck element in the first couple of turns that significantly impacts the game. If you pull jobs that are nearby each other or take similar paths, you start with a huge advantage. Werlen pulled this set of cards in round one and went on to win the game. Still, it is a fun game and I will misbehave again.
Cthulhu Masters Tournament 2016
Yes, once again I signed up to lose my mind to the Great Old Ones. This event is an “every damn year event.” As in “I miss getting a ticket to the Cthulhu Masters Tournament every damn year!” 2016 was my year and I scored a ticket. The scenario was a submarine research mission to the deep ocean, hopefully to speak with whales using some high-tech gear. A previous expedition went missing, so of course they sent more people on the same mission! I showed up late and got the Maori intern that the other PCs treated like dirt. After the whales sent us to another planet and our submarine sank, we explored a bit and then ran afoul of the local Cthulhu cultists and then made a run for the first missions sub to escape. The sub only took three people, so we had to draw straws. I tried to cut back-stabbing deals with various members of the party and some native factions, but they all fell apart and I wound up left behind on another planet as a human sacrifice.
I decided early on to play my Maori grad student as a city boy with minimal knowledge of myth or magic. It was my feeble attempt to play against the “magic native” trope, if nothing else it was funny. People kept asking me about cults and magic and I stated repeatedly “I grew up in the suburbs.” Trope busting is such fun!
This was a tournament, so the players rated the top three players based on their RPG performance. High scorers went on to the next session. I did not advance (betraying the entire party tends to do that), but I was very annoyed to see that two of the three advancing players were married. They also had another person with them, so by voting for each other they packed the ballot box and easily advanced. That said, the event was well run, had multiple DMs and even props
Behold a friendly native!
The chairs were configured as the submarine, so we had to “enter” the sub and take various positions. It was a fun, creative game with a shaky voting mechanic. My itch satisfied, I can now move on from this event for next year.
Though TORG was a deeply flawed game, it holds a special place in my gaming history for a bonkers setting ( pulp villains took over Egypt and dinosaurs roamed North America) and using the card deck to randomize events. That said, the system was painful and unbalanced. I gave it up after a few modules and moved on. Ulisses Spiele bought the property and put out a new game. I played an early preview version so I will not comment on the system, but the bonkers is still there. We assembled a team of talking lizards, wizards and hi-tech fighters and invaded the Living Land that is most of North America. Think Jurassic Park with clerical, talking lizards. After much struggle we recovered an artifact and generally messed with the local lizards. One item did concern me in that the entire premise of the game is the heroes are “gifted” and can use tech in realms where it does not normally work. That said, using a gun in the Living Land requires rolls and the possibility of failure that disables your weapon. I assume it is in the system but was glossed over for convention play. I will explore this further and try to get a review copy when it comes out.
Playtest a New Board, Card, Role-Playing or Story Game Room
Gen Con is a great place to find the “next big thing” so I always make time to spend two hours in the Playtest room. You register at the front desk, get a queue number and then you are called up to choose which game you would like to play. It is mostly board games, but RPGs are in there as well. I suggest if you do this event show up 30 minutes before your slot and get a queue number, so you get first pick.
This year they added an interesting demographic requirement to some of the games. Specifically, some game designers wanted either a specific age, sex or skill level (hard core gamers only). Women were a favored group as designers are trying to broaden their appeal beyond neck beards. Bravo!
I got my number, picked an interesting-looking game and played.
Normally, I would provide a description of the game, its name and a website. Not this time, because I have a soul and refuse to crush dreams.
Sitting across the table from the game designer, seeing the effort and heart put into the game and realizing how much is riding on this game, their dream, changes my calculus.
The game was awful. It was a board game, but it was a mess of tired mechanics, endless dice rolling and simplistic strategy. The guy next to me fled so fast after it was over I did not even see him leave the table. I smiled, said thank you, and left.
An established game company in the marketplace is fair game for my wrath. If you sell a junk game and waste my money I will rhetorically nuke you from orbit with a smile on my face.
In good conscience, I cannot do this to an earnest startup game designer. Basic humanity aside, if I rain hell-fire upon this game and link to both the site and the game’s current name this post will likely appear on Google’s front page, possibly above the game manufacturer’s site! I have nine years and over 1000 posts of tightly focused, search engine optimized game content and a startup would need significant resources to overcome that advantage. Best case, it would take years for this post to drop from the front page. This is not bragging, it is a function of how search engines work. Time, links and content win every time.
So, I am granting a rare pardon from Trask. I truly hope the game designer keeps refining his efforts and the feedback from the convention helps.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer