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The Big Con

August 20th, 2007

Last Friday my friend Brian and I attended Gen Con, a massive gaming convention held annually in Indianapolis. Gen Con, which turned 40 years old this year, began as a local affair up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (hence the name), which was not coincidentally also the birthplace of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Growing ever larger over the decades, it has moved to bigger and bigger locales, the most recent being its current home at the Indianapolis Convention Center.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I attend solely for access to the dealers’ room. And frankly, that’s all I have time for in one day. The last couple of years I’ve been threatening to stay overnight, and I’m thinking that next year I’ll have to do just that. Eight hours in the dealers’ room left me still scrambling around at the end, trying to quickly get in on a few game demonstrations before closing time.

It didn’t help that I spent way, way too much time in the Wizards of the Coast booth. Every year they play a game in which attendees get to roll a giant 20-sided die in hopes of winning free swag. The catch is that to win the bigger prizes, you need to participate in demos of their various games; you get +1 to your roll for each game checked off on your form. This year there were 13 in all, and it took forever to get through them, even though for the most part my participation was limited to wandering up to the table halfway through a session and allowing myself to be seen pretending to look interested. I did win something I actually wanted (a set of D&D Dungeon Tiles), but it took much too long.

Most of the day I wound up looking for deals and filling out my various miniatures collections: Heroclix, D&D, Star Wars, etc. I find that I usually spend most of my money on components rather than actual games: dice, minis, game aids and such. While most of the major game manufacturers are showing off their latest wares, I know that I can get that stuff at my local store; what I’m there for are the odd little bits and pieces that I never knew existed.

Gen Con is an opportunity to at least get a look at what’s new, or what’s coming soon. I did sit in (very briefly) for a demo of Fantasy Flight’s newest, Tannhauser, a horror board game set in one of those worlds where the Reich never fell. It certainly had flavor to spare, but the all-too-quick look at it I had didn’t give me much sense of the gameplay; their demo covered only the very basics of combat, which seemed awfully quick and deadly. (Apparently, there are mission-based scenarios which should be more involved, but we didn’t get into those.) Still, it was very pretty, as was their forthcoming Starcraft boardgame, which I will be hard pressed not to add to my collection.

I also sat in for half a round of Zombie Fluxx, which not only adds an undead overlay to their popular Fluxx card games, but appears to make some significant changes to play by adding “Creepers,” cards which you do not want (usually) but must play anyway, and even an “Ungoal” in which the zombies can win the game. It looked fun, and I’ll definitely pick it up when it’s released later this year.

As I wrote, I tend to buy few actual games at Gen Con, so I always make sure to pick up at least one. This year it was Infernal Contraption, a card game in which the players are goblins racing to assemble steampunk machines to attack their opponents. It was a bit of an impulse buy as I didn’t have time to properly demo it, but it has a lot of flavor and it looks entertaining.

Among the non-game items I bought was a DVD of The Call of Cthulhu, a faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous short story. I’m not usually into fan-made films, but this one employs a very clever conceit to get around the twin bugaboos of bad acting and cheap production values: it’s done in the style of a silent film from the 1920s, the decade in which the story was written. It makes good use of impressionistic sets and jerky stop-motion animation to sell the idea of the monstrous Cthulhu rising from his non-Euclidian angled island city of R’lyeh. It’s surprisingly effective, and manages to more or less tie together Lovecraft’s jumbled narrative.

I don’t have any amusing or annoying anecdotes from Gen Con. I had a good time, my back (mostly) held up, and I bought some cool stuff. Can’t wait for next year!

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