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A Fetish For Gaming

August 20th, 2012

One of the events I look forward to most each year is Gen Con Indy, when tens of thousands of board-, war-, card- and role-playing gaming enthusiasts descend on Indianapolis for four days of cardboard and plastic nirvana.

The original Gen Con (literally short for “Geneva Convention”) was held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I first attended in the late ’70s, soon after my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons and the cottage industries that game spawned. I went back sporadically over the years, but it wasn’t until the gathering moved to Indianapolis in 2003 that I made it an annual thing.

This year was the first time that I stayed for a second day. Previously, I’d been a Friday-only guest, taking advantage of the (relatively) smaller weekday crowd. The problem with that was that it meant that I rarely stepped outside the cavernous dealers’ hall, and had little opportunity to actually try out some of the new games on display.

I think two days was just about right. I was able to thoroughly cover the dealers’ hall and still have time for some demo games. Three days would’ve been too much; I was fried by Saturday evening.

Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that publishes the Magic: The Gathering card game as well as Dungeons & Dragons, made a good showing with its Drow*-themed booth, the centerpiece of which was a massive, life-sized statue of Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders. They also gave out some adorable papercraft models of Lolth.

There were Doctor Who fans galore this year. Nicholas Briggs, the uberfan-turned-radio drama producer who managed to get himself installed as the official voice of both the Daleks and the Cybermen, was on hand and using a modulating microphone to threaten passersby with extermination.

Cubicle 7 was demonstrating its new Doctor Who card game. It was, as friend Dave Lartigue and I feared, pretty much a numbers contest with a veneer of Who theming. The gal in the TARDIS dress was cute, though.**

When Gen Con Indy began, costumed geeks were thin on the ground. That’s changed. Nowadays, you can’t throw a 20-sided die without hitting an anime character. The parade of short-skirted, be-ribboned maids was challenged only by the ranks of the Steampunks. (“Steampunk” is an aesthetic based on a quasi-Victorian reality of steam-powered technology. Basically, it involves a lot of gears and corsets.***)

It occurred to me that Gen Con is now providing cover for fetishists. For the women, it seemed as if there’d been an open call for the sluttiest slut who ever slutted. Lots of flesh on display is what I’m saying. For the men, it was largely some combination of leather, top hats and creepy mustaches. (With the occasional cross-dressing superheroine.) When I left for dinner in downtown Indy, I passed a Steampunk couple with the man holding the woman on a leash.****

A couple of blocks away, there was a massive gathering of motorcyclists pointlessly roaring up and down Meridian Avenue. I think that they have more in common with the Gen Con crowd than might be assumed. Certainly, both parties demonstrate a love of leather and a need for exhibitionism.

Amongst the grown men dressed as Finn from Adventure Time, there were some impressive, creative costumes. The woman (or was it?) attired as one of Doctor Who‘s Clockwork Robots had its eerie, gliding movements down pat. And, of course, I was absolutely in love with this gal who came as Mothra.

Oh, I hear you saying, wasn’t this supposed to be about games? Sure, and I got to try out several of them. Dungeon Fighter was a highly-enjoyable dice fest in which the players cooperate to take down the usual assortment of subterranean monsters, except that they do it by attempting to bounce their dice into a large target. Some monsters and/or special attacks require one to toss a die underneath a leg or off the tip of one’s nose. Hilarity really did ensue.

X-Wing was basically the aerial combat miniatures game Wings of War with a Lucasfilm overlay, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I could certainly see myself getting it, especially if I found it for cheap. The problem is that the core set comes with only two TIE Fighters and a single X-Wing. Remember that movie scene where one X-Wing got in a dogfight with a couple of TIE Fighters? Me neither. If you want a second X-Wing, or perhaps even a Y-Wing, be prepared to throw down 15 bucks per ship. That said, the miniatures are high quality, and the forthcoming Millennium Falcon is a thing of beauty.

Relic really is nothing more than a Warhammer 40,000 reskinning of Talisman, which is itself more-or-less D&D Monopoly. I enjoyed it well enough, and may consider it when it hits shelves later this year. I am concerned, however, that it will go the same route as Talisman and its million, billion add-ons. (Though, given that while at Gen Con I bought expansion sets for both Ascension and Quarriors, I can’t really complain too much.)

I got to play a full session of Dungeon World, a rules-lite role-playing game that straddles a line between old-school D&D and freewheeling storytelling games. I participated in DW’s recent Kickstarter, and was eager to play it with an experienced game master. It was a lot of fun, kinda like improvisational theater with just enough rules crunch to keep me satisfied. The GM used a nifty set of geomorphic dice to design the dungeon on the fly, and I wound up buying a set for myself.

In addition to a crapton of dice, I walked away with two painted squads of Sisters of Battle for my Warhammer 40K army. I recently got back into that game, and realized that I didn’t have a hope of being competitive without at least a couple more units of armor-plated nuns. As I was dreaded the possibility of painting up another twenty metal miniatures covered in fiddly details, I was grateful to find these. They need a bit of touch-up work, but in general they’re painted about as well as I would do on my own. I also picked up a bunch of bits and bobs for some Warhammer modeling projects I’ll be working on.

My other big purchase was a copy of Star Trek Catan, a lightly-reskinned version of the ever-popular Settlers of Catan. On one hand, it’s about as pointless as the multitude of themed Monopoly sets. Aside from some character cards which grant players limited special abilities, it really is just Catan with starships instead of roads. On the other hand–and this was the hand that reached for my wallet–it’s Catan with starships instead of roads! And Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols was there to autograph the box! Ka-ching!

All in all, I had a great time at Gen Con Indy, spent more money than I should’ve, and came away feeling satiated. It’s less than a year until Gen Con 2013. Can’t wait!

*The Drow are a race of dark-skinned elves who live underground and are uniformly evil, with the notable exception of a few tortured outsiders who have entirely too many books written about them. Unfortunately, the combination of dark-skinned goth fantasy characters and costumed conventioneers tends to result in public displays of blackface.

**There was also a second girl in a TARDIS dress, accessorized with a blue lamp perched atop her head. And on my way out of the hall on Saturday evening, I briefly spotted one in a bump-covered Dalek dress, complete with tiny dome hat.

***Slap a couple of cogs on your corset. Boom! You’re steampunk!

****Because, I guess, the importation of steam-powered computers into Victorian society loosened England’s long history of cultural repression and turned London into a haven for BDSM enthusiasts? I’m just spitballin’ here. 

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