Every year, gamers of all types—role-players, video game fans, board gamers, Magic players, live-action role-players (LARPers), historical gamers, and many more—convene for Gen Con. The gigantic general gaming convention is now held annually in Indianapolis, where it drew more than 30,000 attendees in 2011. Thousands of events went on over this year’s four-day Gen Con weekend, from August 16 to 19, with companies demoing new games and selling old ones, hosting massive tournaments, and sponsoring seminars, screenings, and workshops running throughout the weekend.
There was far too much to take in: a massive dealers’ room and even more massive exhibitors’ hall for playtesting and competition; a costume contest; live musical entertainment; rooms full of classic video games; massive Magic-card towers and a huge dragon woven out of balloons, both to be destroyed for charity; and the popular True Dungeon, a live-action role-playing experience that shuttles teams of players through a gigantic interactive dungeon full of puzzles, traps, and battles.
Since we couldn’t come close to being everywhere, we tried to assemble a bigger picture by asking attendees a simple question on Sunday afternoon: “In one minute or less, what game did you enjoy most this weekend, and why?” And we started with author, blogger, and actor Wil Wheaton.
I only got to play two games at Gen Con this year, but both were fantastic. First, I did Fiasco with four of my favorite friends, using a play-set based on Stand By Me called “The Body” that two of them wrote for me as a birthday present. I also did True Dungeon with a bunch of my friends, including authors John Scalzi and Pat Rothfuss. We wrecked that dungeon, solving all the puzzles and sending the dracolich (born from the dragon Smoak, who I one-shotted in 2010) into the Void, and saving the world. I’m not going to lie: It feels pretty awesome to be 2-0 against a motherfucking dragon!
I had the most fun at the Apples To Apples gaming party. They had music, they had food, they had dancing. There were seven people at a table, with 15 or 20 tables. So you’d play at a table, and if you wanted to move to another table, you did. You played two times matches, and then the seven people with the most green cards played for a final match, for a trophy. The whole process took about two hours.
Cards Vs. Zombies. It was a really fun way to add something to your downtime between games at the con. Players get a green armband and three Nerf-dart picture cards as ammo. If a zombie comes up to a human, you can give them a dart card and stun them for 10 minutes. But if you’re out of cards and a zombie gets you, you get turned into a zombie [by turning the green cloth armband into a headband]. Zombies can collect dart cards and cash them in at the booth to upgrade and become more powerful zombies. And humans who run out of ammo can go back to the booth to refill any time they want. My fiancée and I were walking around here as humans, just scared out of our wits. She said “You’ve got to pay attention, you’ve got to pay attention!” and I said “I’m looking, I’m looking!” and then a guy came up from behind us and turned us both. It was really sad. When you’re a human and you’re walking down the hall looking over your shoulder, totally paranoid, not sure if there are any green headbands wandering around, it’s a lot of fun.
I enjoyed Are You A Werewolf? from Looney Labs the most. It’s my favorite game—it’s really psychological. It’s easier to get big groups to play at cons, and it’s a lot of fun to try to figure out who the werewolf is. Unless you’re the werewolf yourself. I hate being the werewolf, because I always get so nervous, my teeth chatter. I know it’s my tell, but I can’t stop myself. I was a villager all weekend, and I love playing a villager.
I did a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP Friday night and Saturday. It was so much fun. It’s the second year in a row I’ve done it, and I’ve never been disappointed. It’s so much politicking, and deals going everywhere, and honestly, it gets so intense at points, I just have to sit back against a wall and go “Whhoooooof, okay. This is what’s going on.” And then I go back into the fray. It puts me in a different mindframe, because I know I’m a manipulative person, but nowhere near as bad as I am in that game. I will use every tool I have, and if it’s a person, then it’s a person.
I played the Pajaggle game. It’s an injected-molded plastic game where you’re trying to fit pieces into a board. It was different. I play a lot of card games, but this was more of a head-to-head competition. They have a whole bunch of variations where you can do it as a party-type game, or combine a variety of boards for different kinds of play. Or in this case, I just tried to beat the timed high score.
Tiffany Johnson, Mark Johnson, Chris Johnson
We Didn’t Playtest This At All. It’s the most amazing little card game ever. The only goal is to win, and the only rule is “If you lose, you lose, and if you win, you win.” Cards will say things like “You can’t say ‘them,’ ‘they,’ or ‘those,’” or “You can’t point at anything or anyone,” and if you do, you lose. It’s very random. And there’s a card called The End that just says “All players lose.” It’s just a really hilarious game, really entertaining, and it’s only $15.
Legend Of The Five Rings, 4th Edition, and the D&D 5th Edition playtest. I’m deeply obsessed with Japan and all things related there, so Legend Of The Five Rings is a natural, and with [the crowdsourcing feedback system on] D&D 5, I’m helping shape the direction of a company’s flagship project.
Hannah and Rose
It was The Forgotten LARP, a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP run by a guy named Dan. Great game. There was a lot of plot going on, really dynamic characters, a very helpful storyteller who could really answer your questions. It seemed like it was extremely player-driven. Even though there was a central plot, it was still left up to the players to decide what kind of direction to take things in, rather than someone just telling their own story all the way through.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm! Amazing! It has all my favorite things: anime and explosions. And terrific graphics! I’m sorry, I’m a Naruto nerd. I know all 12 hand signs. [Runs through them quickly with his hands.] I can literally do tiger-ox-monkey-snake-rat-dog-hare-boar-ram-horse-bird-dragon. And yes, I am wearing a kilt. I was talked into it.
The Leverage RPG from Margaret Weis Productions. For people who don’t know the show, it’s Ocean’s Eleven: The RPG. Players create glib, sexy criminals stealing from people worse than they are. The crew was brought together by the founder of a New Age religion who married a Tom Cruise/Madonna surrogate, who turned it into a Scientology-style money grab. Their son has cancer, and getting him treatment goes against the tenets of her version of things, so he hires the crew to force her out of the company during a big convention/retirement concert. The game makes flashbacks and retroactive continuity part of the experience, so everyone at the table can be just as surprised at the end of a twisty, turny heist flick.
Timeline, where you have five cards in front of you with different inventions on them, and you have to put them on a timeline, guessing what year they were invented. Then you flip them over to see whether you got it right. If you didn’t, you have to draw another card. And the first person to get rid of all their cards wins. It was interesting. It got your brain working a little bit, but it was still light enough and fast enough that you didn’t have to feel like “Oh my gosh, I have no idea.”
Penny and Greg
Survive. It’s an old game from 1981 that was re-released by Stronghold Games a few years back. Each player has a set of people on an island that is slowly sinking, and you’ve got to get them on boats and get them off the island and to the safety of other islands before the volcano explodes, killing anybody who’s left. More importantly, you have to deal with sea dragons, sharks, and whales that will attack you and eat your boat.
I really enjoyed playing the new Star Wars RPG. I got to demo it, and it was easy to pick up. My boyfriend got to play a whole session with a bunch of his friends, and he was really excited. We got the demo book, and he’s going to run a session for us in a bit. The mechanics are different, because you aren’t using 20-sided dice, it’s dice that have pictures, like, “This one means it’s a success, and this one means it’s a failure.” And it all forms a narrative based on the number of dice you have, like “This one’s harder because you’re running upstairs in the rain, so you have to throw in more dice.” So you don’t have to feel like the DM hates your character and is saying “No, you can’t do that because I don’t feel like it today.” Everybody kind of forms a contract going into a challenge with what dice you’re using and how difficult it’s going to be. So when you succeed, you feel really good about it, and when you don’t, you move on with your life, and you’re okay, and you don’t strangle anyone.
(Photo of Survive: Faustulus at BoardGameGeek.)