Feature

GenCon

The Games Gen Con People Play

Attendees of a gigantic games convention share their favorites from a weekend of play.

By Tasha Robinson • August 23, 2012

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.

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!

Myki Tsuchiyama

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.

Brian Hacker

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.

Deanna

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.

Robert Montano

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.

Cody Martin
Pajaggle

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.

Jeph Lewis

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.

Michael
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm

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.

Rob Wieland

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.

Kalen Jones

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

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.

Cassandra

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.)

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  • Oxperiment

    Gen Con. I remember when I was a kid and I would see advertisements of it in the back of comic books at my local game stores. Some of the older people who played tabletop in a converted garage in the back of the shop would tell the occasional story about going. Many of them thought it had gotten too large, too commercial, but… reading all of these accounts, isn’t size and generality the point? If it’s the General Gaming Convention, everything goes! Play any game, even if it’s Apples to Apples while looking out for Zombie green headbands. It’s great to read some accounts of a con by people who just seem happy to go and, well, play.

    • The_Misanthrope

       All those old folks are full of shit.  I mean, yes, GenCon has grown from a small inclusive affair to an everything-for-everybody whizbang, but plenty of smaller-to-middling cons have sprung up in its wake.  Just find one you like and make it your new thing.  GenCon will do just fine without you.

      At least you could argue GenCon retained its soul, even while trying to appeal to everyone, unlike SDCC, which everyone seems to agree has become a hype machine for whatever niche-geek mass-media product is in the pipeline.  [Disclaimer:  I've never been, but I've heard this complaint a lot.]

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         Yeah, the impression I get from this write-up of Gen-Con is thoroughly different from, say, TVDW’s write-up of SDCC for the AVClub. Gen-Con seems like it’s grown to suit the needs of a wide variety of potential attendees (from casual Apples to Apples players to hardcore Vampire the Masquerade LARPer super-nerds), whereas SDCC seems to have both grown and changed its focus so that it is more geared towards big pop-culture media ‘events’ and less toward weird nichey comic-bookey stuff that mostly persists in the periphery. SDCC seems to produce more anecdotes about shenanigans at panels, whereas GenCon produces anecdotes about things like being attacked by zombies or having a 2-0 record against an evil dragon.

        Not having been to either, either, I could be totally mistaken, though.

        • Oxperiment

           That difference in the quality of anecdotes is just what I was going for, Girard. Not to derail too far from Gen Con, but like the comments that @The_Misanthrope:disqus made, it seems like there’s a massive difference between the evolution of Gen Con and SDCC.

          In a way, I guess I can now pass for a person who says, “I remember when…” when it comes to SDCC. Not really that far back, but as late as 2005 it still seemed like the show was more about the floor than about panels. It’s the only time I’ve been, but there was a casual enough atmosphere that I was able to play and defeat the whole Penny Arcade crew at Lumines in between their signings.

          If Gen Con is still more focused on playing games than on exhibition, then it’s still got the stuff. It doesn’t matter if there’s 30,000 attendees and a great many of them are more on the ‘casual’ side. The bigger problem with a large con is expanding past the point where people come for the same show. I read from more than a few authors/illustrators this year that there was actually _less_ floor traffic at SDCC this year because some fans were showing up for just a panel or two and then taking off. If you’re headed to a con and willing to pay for the passes, it’s worth the time to explore some of the smaller parts of the exposition. Take in the homebrew games and the artist alley, because there’s a better chance you’ll actually feel like a participant and not a spectator who paid $300 to see Robert Downey Jr. drink bottled water for 30 minutes.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/tasha-robinson,6/ TashaRobinson

          I haven’t been to SDCC largely because of the stories coming out of it about four-hour lines, but then, I didn’t go to GenCon for years because my friends kept going and coming back bitching about all the good events being sold out. What I didn’t realize going in, and looking at the hundreds of sold-out events on the website, some with high price tags, is that it’s possible to just go and playtest things at dealer booths and in the exhibition hall, and not sign up for things in advance, and not be bound to the schedule that creates. In other words, it’s possible to just go play whatever strikes your fancy and have fun with small groups and try new things and meet new people without booking anything months in advance or paying through the nose for it. I wonder if the same is true of SDCC; I’ve certainly gotten the impression it isn’t, but I was wrong about GenCon too.

      • http://twitter.com/heckyeahkylep Kyle Pinion

        In SDCC’s defense, beyond the tv stuff, the comics panels are still terriffic (other than Marvel’s). Image, DC, Dark Horse all had killer panels where you could interact with your favorite creator pretty intimately. Marvel’s suffered because they concentrate their SDCC output on movies, and hold off till NYCC for their comic stuff (geography I guess).

        GenCon sounds fun, too bad its in Indianapolis.

        • http://twitter.com/robowieland Robert Wieland

           I haven’t gone to Gen Con with event tickets for years. I want to play stuff there at the show, and usually I’ll skip out of events I have tickets for anyway (happened again this year)

    • Ben Johnson

      I’d also add that, if you want your GenCon experience to be totally focused on one tiny little subgroup that plays one game, it can be–it doesn’t have to be huge and general if one doesn’t want it to be.  The first time I went, it was so I could play a tabletop miniatures game I’m obsessed w/ for four straight days, so it kinda felt like I was at a 50-person convention that happened to be taking place next to, and only vaguely connected to, the 30K-person convention.  On subsequent trips, I’ve branched out to other stuff, and discovered lots of other great games, although my focus is still on that one game, since GenCon is where the national championship is held.  Didn’t get to go this year, but plan to next year–it is a ton of fun.

  • http://twitter.com/Triphibian Gus Mastrapa

    I haven’t been in years, but the con really seemed to accomodate all types. There was lots of the light gaming we’re talking about, but there were also national tournaments for CCGs and some really, really dedicated people playing extremely complicated war games in the board game room. It really did feel like an all things to all people kind of con. Besides, if you want exclusive and small like GenCon used to be you just have to weasel you way into A Gathering of Friends.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      What is this “gathering of friends” of which you speak? Seriously, sometimes I wish I lived in some podunk town so that the people I know wouldn’t deem it necessary to have their social lives revolve the consumption of overpriced alcohol in poorly-lit locales with loud music. Getting enough folks together for a casual board game or card game night seems nigh impossible.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        I am always trying to convince my friends to play a tabletop game or something instead of either going to a bar or playing an online game at our respective residences. We can still drink, except it’s cheaper! plus no obnoxious people! Guys come on!

        • The_Misanthrope

           The flip side is that they will stop going out to bars as much once they get weighed down…err, I mean *blessed* by a spouse and children, but then they will have little time to spare outside of family commitments.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I imagine at that point our entire lives will take place on the internet.

          I did manage to get a game of Settlers of Catan going this weekend. I need to get some games that can be played with only two people. It’s much easier to convince just one other person to try out a new game.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           If you friends are already dorky enough to regularly do on-line gaming, you’ve got a bit of a head start. I can’t imagine most of my geographically proximal friends going in for any sort of gaming, and if I were to spring some arcane (or even fairly common) board game on them  as a suggestion for an evening, they’d think I’d lost my mind.

        • Monkeylint

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus My gaming group started off around 2000 in grad school, and we’ve been running campaigns on and off since. But with the addition of two more babies to our circle this year, we’ve finally reached the point where we can’t reliably field enough players. So we’re going to experiment with one of those online systems like Roll20, because otherwise, this is the end.

        • boardgameguy

          boardgamegeek.com hosts regional forums for people to coordinate game nights in different locations if you are looking to connect with other like minded folk.  i’ve also found that getting a few nice two player games and spending time with the spouse makes for a nice night.  i’d recommend lost cities (the card game), lord of the rings: the confrontation, hive, or mr. jack.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          @boardgameguy:disqus I use BGG to check out games that I think look interesting and enter to win contests, but I don’t think the people on there are really my scene. I’ve been looking at coop games to play with my SO and lighter stuff like Carcassonne. I really want to try Twilight Struggle, but I’ll save that for later.
          My buddies aren’t opposed to board games, it’s just super difficult to get them to try new things. Especially complex games that can last a more than an hour.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/tasha-robinson,6/ TashaRobinson

        I don’t know where you live, but have you tried meetup.com, or looked for a local gaming store? Between all the game-focused meetup groups and all the open-gaming nights and events at the two Chicago board-game stores I know about, I could literally be playing board/card/strategy games every night of the week with one group or another, if I ever had those nights free.

  • The_Misanthrope

    I keep thinking I should go to one of these big gaming cons one of these years, either GenCon or one of the local ones.  Admittedly, I do tend to have a lot of fun at these sorts of events for the first day, but soon thereafter my general antipathy towards large crowds starts to get to me and I just want to hole up somewhere by myself.

    Still, I can never try enough interesting and new game.  Leverage sounds like a blast; I usually enjoy games with a focus on narrative, even if it’s a bland one like Life.  And a good palate-cleanser game–as in Cards vs. Zombies or We Didn’t Playtest This Game–is always fun. 

    I am in awe of the production that goes into something like True Dungeon, but it is hard to disguise the fact that–like most action-focused LARPs–it feels a bit silly.  Maybe in the right mindset it comes alive, but the artifice makes it hard to become truly immersed.   There’s a reason these kinds of experiences are best as an imagined space (as in pen-and-paper RPGs) or in virtual space (as in video games).

    Then again, it may have to do with the fact that my child-like sense of wonder was smothered back when I got my first real job.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Oh, you’re such a Misanthrope!

      • The_Misanthrope

         *cue sitcom musical sting*

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    We Didn’t Playtest This Game sounds like a lot of fun. It also sounds a bit like a codified version of 1000 Blank White Cards, a game that I’ve always wanted to try. I have trouble getting into the more “hardcore” board games or card games, but casual party games like these are perfect for me. Have any of you guys tried either of them? If so, what did you think?

    • wordsampersand

      I’ve played We Didn’t Playtest This a few times, and it’s a lot of fun.  It reminds me a lot of Fluxx, but actually good.  
      (I haven’t played the other one you mentioned, so I can’t compare it.)

    • boardgameguy

      Ra is a nice mix of strategy and luck which feels light but can be as complicated as you choose.  It has a nice “push your luck” mechanic

    • TreeRol

      My group went on a 1KBWC kick a few months ago. It truly does turn into some kind of weird group performance art when played correctly. And it’s true that nobody (nobody!) remembers who wins, but we DO remember whose cards get voted into the next game.

      It’s fun, but it requires everyone to buy in or else it simply won’t work. If you have a group that seems like they’d be into it, you should absolutely play.

  • LoveWaffle

    Look at that, it’s Hwil Hweaton

  • Monkeylint

    D&D 4th Edition was the worst thing to happen to RPGers since we got stuffed in a locker. Glad to see they’re chucking it.

    • The Guilty Party

       Could we not, please?

    • evanwaters

       Yeah, actually balancing the classes was such a horrible idea. Stupid jock fighters shoulda been smart enough to learn spells if they wanted to be competent.

      (Seriously, 4e was awesome and fuck you.)

  • http://twitter.com/heckyeahkylep Kyle Pinion

    A Game of Thrones (board game), Battlestar Galactica, and 7 Wonders are probably the three most fun games that my play group always goes back to.

    Biggest dissapointment that should have been awesome? Android :-(

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

      Android IS awesome, but you need the right group for it. Like… a carefully-selected team of people who WANT to make it awesome. It’s not a game for anyone, as much as I love it.

      • http://twitter.com/heckyeahkylep Kyle Pinion

        I just feel like it’s a game that’s trying to do too much. You have the evidence collecting element, the puzzle element, the storytelling side, etc…
        I tried to play it 2 player one time just to get through an entire game, it still took us around 3-4 hours just between the two of us (we were still learning to be fair), and we never finished.

        My other big time gaming friend hates the final reveal mechanic, as he prefers a more concrete answer on who the killer is, but I’m okay with how it reveals itself. My bigger problem is that I feel like the story-line cards have an incredibly limited shelf life once you finally get through them all.

        I love the theme, and I’m glad Fantasy Flight has made two other (very good) games in that universe, I just think the core game maybe could have been pared down a little bit. It’s like a auteur director who fired his editor :-)

        • http://twitter.com/marlowespade Chris Holly

           My group found that the game really clicked once we realized it’s not a mystery/deduction game – it’s just a theme-rich points-gettin’ game with a healthy dose of “screw your neighbor”.

          The mechanics do seem a bit fidgety the first couple of times out, but once we came to terms with the fact that it’s a points race, we were able to really enjoy the stories at the character level.

    • Alkaron

      What’s the potential for hard feelings with A Game of Thrones? And how complex is it, relatively speaking? It sounds really interesting to me, but I’m not sure I want to spend an hour learning to play a game that’ll make all my friends hate each other by the end of the night.

      • http://twitter.com/heckyeahkylep Kyle Pinion

        It just depends on how sore a loser any of your friends are. If everybody can just have a good time and not get too worked up about it, it’s a phenomenal game. We just got the Dance with Dragons expansion, and that thing is a blood bath, and we ally up and turn on each on a dime, it’s great fun :-) so long as nobody stomps off after getting their ass handed to them.

    • DjangoZ

      We’ve played 7 wonders and it was fun, but it didn’t seem like it had legs for lots of playing. Are you doing something different? Expansion sets or something?

      • Alkaron

        IMHO, the main appeal of 7 Wonders is that it supports so many players at once while still finishing up in about an hour or so. Most games tend to top out at 5 players. Others support more players but either a) take forever to finish or b) don’t offer much opportunity for strategy. 7 Wonders manages all of the above, which is pretty special.

        That said, I don’t think it’s a great game—there’s a bit too much luck involved for my taste, since you have absolutely no control over who your neighbors are or what cards you’ll see during the draft. And it takes a while to figure out how to read cards. But it’s a good game to have in reserve in case you have more people at game night than you expected.

      • http://twitter.com/heckyeahkylep Kyle Pinion

        We are using the Leaders Expansion set, but even without it we still regularly play it (pretty much every time we get together, it’s like our warmup game).

        It has legs with us in that it’s interesting to learn strategy, which the game has alot of. Yes, luck is involved regarding which Guilds are in play, which wonder you’re dealt, and who you are sitting next to, etc…but its how your strategize to those random elements that allow the game to really be a blast. Will you concentrate on military? science? whatever the hell the blue cards are called? when do your wonders come into play? can you balance your gold enough to buy that last remaining resource you need from the guy next to you? and so on and so forth.

        I’ve been able to win the game using all kinds of different strategies, but those same strategies have not always panned out depending on what everyone else is doing. I can’t wait to play it with Cities.

        • DjangoZ

          Don’t get me wrong, we like playing it too. Just wondered how it holds up over many play sessions.

          I should add that we’re playing on Brettspielwelt with 3-4 folks. It’s probably different with a large group in person.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Oh oh! I’ve been eyeing the Battlestar Galactica game for a while now. I’ve never watched the show, but the game sounds phenomenal. How hard is it to learn? How long do typical games last? Recommend for people newish to heavier board games?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/tasha-robinson,6/ TashaRobinson

        I’ve only played it once; the guy who introduced it to us said “It takes about three hours to play. Four if people role-play.” Even knowing that, it was hard for us not to get into character, because the playable characters really are designed beautifully with the TV show in mind, with various quirks that make perfect sense.

        I didn’t think it was horrifically hard to learn, but there’s a lot going on, and it might be frustrating to an all-newbie group trying to parse it out. I’d put it about on a level with Shadows Over Camelot, if you’ve ever tried that — there’s the same sense of a whole lot of choices to be made. But it helps that it’s a collaborative game (which is just about all my group enjoys playing these days), so newbies or not, you’re all working together to beat the board rather than the more experienced players running roughshod over the less-experienced ones.

        • http://twitter.com/robowieland Robert Wieland

          I like it better than Shadows. Shadows is good, but it feels more like a collection of Arthurian themed minigames while in BSG Everything Matters. Plus we played it with someone who never watched the show and he liked the game so much he tore through the series on DVD.

        • Alex_Riviello

          I had a horrible experience with my first game with a group of people that, while Battlestar fans, weren’t into it, and it dragged.  

          But since then it’s become part of my regular rotation at game nights. Like most Fantasy Flight games the rulebooks is way too convoluted for its own good- it’s not that hard once at least someone at the table knows how to play. If you get together people who like to argue and try to read into their every sentence and expression, it’s a blast. The Peagasus expansion adds a lot too, including the ability to play as a revealed Cylon, which raises all kinds of new concerns (what’s her real motive?)

  • DjangoZ

    This was fun. A nice cross-section of what’s happening.

  • shouji694

     http://lnk.co/I3TTB

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    I visited Gen Con every summer I lived in Milwaukee.  In fact, the last year Milwaukee held the
    convention was one month before I moved to Minneapolis.  It’s entirely possible that concurrence
    artificially colored the event to make it seem much sadder and anemic than it
    really was, but it already felt as though everyone had moved on.

       An old childhood friend
    with whom I shared my formative D&D playing years was living in Chicago at
    the time.  Every year for the Con, he’d
    commute up from the city and I’d meet him at Milwaukee’s downtown Greyhound
    station; a truly Boschian hell-scape of cast offs, near-mutants and carb-thickened
    carnival expatriates.  To clarify, I say this
    not to judge, but as a simple acknowledgment that I have been to no other place
    in my lifetime where the wall separating this world from another, stranger
    dimension is thinner.  Gen Con itself is simple
    community theater; attempting in its earnest, amateur way what the old
    Milwaukee Greyhound station was for real.

       From the station, it
    was a short, two-block walk up to the convention, dotted with one or two proselytizing street
    ministers hoping to provide a counterbalance to the rampant Tiamat worship that must be occurring inside.

       In the four years I
    went, I never once played a single session of a game.  I didn’t have much interest in sitting down
    in one place for the entirety of the afternoon when there was so much to
    see.  I loved seeing tables and tables of
    war gaming.  Massive groups of people all
    hunched over tiny armies, each a hobbyist Ares, coordinating their own
    miniature genocides.

       I loved seeing a
    sports arena converted to a group of cubicles for role-playing session.  It felt like the ultimate subversion to see
    the takeover of a basketball court by a bunch of happily sedentary nerds.

       I loved walking the
    trade floor, where over the years I bought one Katana, one Conan-esque broad
    sword I have since given to a friend much more barbarian-worthy than
    myself, a German Road Warrior poster as
    well as a German poster for a Kung-Fu Spiderman movie.  Probably some other junk as well.

       I loved visiting
    the art gallery, where I met Tony DiTerlizzi, nervously showed him my very
    anemic sketchbook and bought two autographed prints.  Both of which I still need to frame.

       I loved aimlessly
    walking around and having a guy and his girlfriend, both in full
    post-apocalypse tire armor, come up to me and recognize me from the coffee shop
    where I worked.

       I can’t imagine I’ll
    ever make the trip to Indiana to visit, I’m just not that invested.  But it was a pretty awesome thing to have
    within city bus distance.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/tasha-robinson,6/ TashaRobinson

      This was my first GenCon, and I really wish I’d had more time to just wander around and take it in. I barely saw the dealer’s room, and didn’t make it to the art show at all. Next year!

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        The dealer’s floor is always a spectacle, but I don’t know if it beats chatting with Wil Weaton about gaming with Patrick Rothfuss.
           The KingKiller Chronicles may bear some pretty big marks of being a first effort, but it remains one of the most enjoyable fantasy series I’ve read in a great while.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/tasha-robinson,6/ TashaRobinson

          Yeah, I tried True Dungeon, and it was interesting, but I wish I’d run through it with Wil’s group. Also, I’d really like to see that Fiasco playset.

    • David Mitchard

      I’ve been going to GenCon for decades.  The nicest thing about a big convention is that you can sample the weirdness of other folks while having your own weirdness be perfectly acceptable.

      I go primarily for the Nascrag roleplaying tournament – which is light and goofy and enthusiastic.  But since I’m there I can dip my toe into the Board games or serious RPGs, or True Dungeon.  In other words, you can have your main course with any side dishes you can imagine.

  • Cornell_University

    I live here.  My boss got to go, so I had to mind the store.  The weekend was consumed entirely by errands (do you know how many shots kittens need?  it’s in the thousands.)  So no, I never got the chance to go.  Wait until spring, Bandini.

  • http://twitter.com/marlowespade Chris Holly

    I’ve always wanted to do a GenCon. I’m pretty lucky in that I’ve got a couple of friends whose chosen pastime is board games, so we manage to get in a game of Arkham Horror, Descent, Talisman, or Mansions of Madness in every couple of weeks. Great fun.

  • http://twitter.com/robowieland Robert Wieland

    Here’s a shameless plug/link to my wrap-up:

    http://mazecontroller.blogspot.com/2012/08/old-school-wrap-up-gen-con-2012.html
     
    This was my first show in a few years. I had a great experience, even if it saddened me when I realized Indy was a better fit for the show over my hometown of Milwaukee.

  • Pyrrhus_Crowned

    The biggest surprise for me this year at Gen Con was the Spartacus board game. I got in to Indy late Wednesday night and saw a hyped up, blood-soaked ad for Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery. I decided immediately that it looked like a fun diversion, at least for the length of an ironic demo. Plus, who can resist the allure of a free promo card?

    Much to my surprise, when I sat down at the demo table with three of my friends, the four of us were instantly engrossed in the arena battles and the intrigue. We ended up having such a blast that we bought the game as soon as we stood up from the table. It just happened that one of the four of us was celebrating a birthday, so the other three split the cost of the game and game it to him right away.

    I’ve played Spartacus two more times since that demo and I’m happy to say that the honeymoon isn’t over. It’s quick to learn, challenging to win, and filled with an enticing combination of political maneuvering and arena combat.