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Con-tact Has Been Made

August 18th, 2013

If there’s one thing that I look forward to more than any other each year, it’s Gen Con, the massive board/war/card/role-playing gaming convention. I’ve attended every year since it moved to Indianapolis in 2003.

I used to go for a single day of the four-and-a-half day game-a-palooza, but the past couple of times I’ve stayed overnight so that I have time to get outside of the dealers’ room and actually see some games being played. I have a feeling that two days is about right for me; three would be too much. As it was, by the afternoon of the second day I became exhausted and cranky on the overcrowded convention floor. Even the Daleks were feeling beat…

If there was a theme this year, it was people not being ready to accommodate the rush. The first sign of this came with my arrival on Friday morning, when I learned that the convention had temporarily run out of lanyards for the all-important badges that permit access into the ticketed areas. The lanyards arrived later in the day, and con staff were passing them out to attendees on the floor of the dealers’ room.

There were big lines to purchase the new releases. Gale Force Nine’s Firefly board game was predictably hot. I never got a chance to play in a demo game, but I figure that this is one I’ll have ample opportunity to see in the future. The latest issue of Game Trade Magazine, which was being handed out for free, includes a miniature Firefly ship, and by the end of my visit I’d amassed a squadron of them.

The Fantasy Flight Games booth was frustrating. One literally could not enter the store without standing in a line that wrapped around the corner. It took until Saturday afternoon before it had died down enough for me to bother with it.

That said, Fantasy Flight also had the most impressive display of new and forthcoming releases, including a Warhammer Fantasy-themed relaunch of their old Diskwars rules system, and a streamlined 2nd edition of Battlelore which I suspect I’ll buy into when it hits stores.

They also had this:

Sweet Zombie Jesus, it’s a model of my favorite Star Wars starship, the Rebel Blockade Runner, scaled to fit in with the X-Wing miniatures game. It. Is. Gorgeous. There’s also a Rebel Transport, which is swell too.

Another retailer unable to cope was Stoneblade Entertainment, which offered a half-price coupon for their brand-new introductory version of the popular Ascension deckbuilding game, only to sell out on the first day. And the makers of Cards Against Humanity, a game which is not without reason nicknamed “Assholes to Assholes,” abandoned their booth after selling through their stock, leaving nothing behind but a trio of scrawled cards telling their would-be customers to fuck off. Classy.

As with many geek conventions, Gen Con is sort of a nerdery catch-all. Lots of “cosplayers” dressed as superheroes, warriors, steampunkers, anime characters and those inexplicable quasi-Victorian maids that inevitably show up. And, as is all too often the case these day, a fair number of people dressed as who-the-fuck-knows-what, including one that resembled an ambulatory wrap-around shower. One guy getting a lot of attention for the sheer weirdness of his choice was dressed as one of the technicians from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, complete with ball-shaped helmet.

And then there was Bob Ross, from The Joy of Painting

Several celebrities were on deck, including Peter Davison, the fifth actor to play Doctor Who, and former Star Trek: The Next Generation star Wil Wheaton. Wheaton has thoroughly rehabilitated his image since his days as despised kid genius Wesley Crusher, and now serves as de facto king of the gamer nerds. I never saw him, but I understand that he was involved in various charity fundraising games at the con.

I did get to say “hi” to Walter Koenig, best-known as Star Trek‘s Chekov, who was there to sign copies of Mayfair Games’ new Star Trek: Catan map pack. Oddly, he seemed to have missed a memo, as he was wearing a cap from competing space TV franchise Babylon 5.

Last year Mayfair had Nichelle Nichols signing copies of the Star Trek: Catan base game, so my hope is that they’ll eventually release enough of these that I’ll have the whole crew. Though Scotty will be a tough one.

I was able to participate in demos of several games. Daemon Dice is from the current makers of the former Wizards of the Coast game Dragon Dice. Each player rolls a set of 13 dice which represent the various body parts of their demonic warrior. I thought that it was too fiddly for what it was trying to accomplish, but I did pick up some of the giveaway dice; the “tentacle” die, featuring two “pluses,” two “minuses,” and two tentacles, will serve nicely for the specialty dice used in the role-playing games FUDGE and FATE.

Hegemonic is an upcoming space conquest game that was being promoted as less random than similar titles such as Eclipse and Twilight Imperium. I like Minion Games’ Manhattan Project a lot, but the half hour I spent learning the rules to Hegemonic suggested that, like Daemon Dice, it was unnecessarily fiddly for me.

Legacy: Gears of Time apparently has been out for a while, but I was unfamiliar with it. It involves manipulating history by introducing technologies, and it was something that I was left wanting to give a second look.

I was eager to see the aforementioned FATE RPG in action as run by someone familiar with its quirky system of rules. I attended a session of Games on Demand, which offered multiple small-press and off-the-wall role-playing games every two hours. It too was overwhelmed, and the system devised for dealing with the crush made it difficult to play a desired title. Which kinda flew in the face of “games on demand.”

However, I did manage to bull my way into a Saturday night session of FATE‘s pared-down Accelerated Edition. Unfortunately, I still don’t feel that I have a good idea of how the system works, as the scenario never allowed for a demonstration of combat, and there was little of the back-and-forth shuttling of “Fate Points” which is a core rules mechanic.

I left town after that, getting back to Champaign about midnight. Although I tend to comment on the negative things about the convention, I truly did have a good time and already am looking forward to next year!

Here are a few random sights from Gen Con 2013. First up is a balloon sculpture of the evil god Cthulhu; the winner of a charity auction was allowed to “slay” it.

This is a forthcoming set of Heroclix miniatures based upon the 1966 Batman TV show. It includes sculptures of such celebrity guest villains as Vincent Price as Egghead, Cliff Robertson as Shame, Roddy McDowell as the Bookworm, Victor Buono as King Tut, and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. I want these almost as much as I want that Blockade Runner.

Local businesses near the Indiana Convention Center got into the act. Here, Noodles goes full-out geek with decorations from Borderlands, Pathfinder and Doctor Who.


And now, a gallery of goodies I acquired at the show. This is Dungeon Roll, a spiffy little dice game in which you press-your-luck against an ever-increasing number of monsters. The treasure chest-shaped box is very appealing, but I’m afraid that the paper “hinge” isn’t going to last long. The game itself is a fun “filler” to play between more serious fare.

Here’s a better look at the Star Trek: Catan expansion, which includes scoring tracks and victory point chits. And, of course, mine has been pre-explored by Mr. Chekov!


This is TAU, which I bought because it was innovative and inexpensive. It’s a storytelling game occupying a realm similar to that of Once Upon a Time, except that each player’s “character” is defined by a series of cards which depict its attributes and abilities. These cards, which feature standard numbers and suits, are drafted in a trick-taking game prior to the main event. Then the referee describes a scenario which the players are meant to overcome, with the winner being the last one to die. I haven’t seen it played, but it’s a clever enough concept.

That said, I want to slap the person responsible for the naming and marketing of it. The nondescript name is supposed to reflect the game’s theme of everyone dying happily ever after, except that (according to Wikipedia, at least) the Greek letter Tau is used to represent life/resurrection; it’s Theta that represents death. That, plus the nearly featureless box art, help to disguise what seems like a pretty good idea.

This is Gravwell, from Cryptozoic. I’d read about this one on BoardGameGeek, and enjoyed the demo. It’s an abstract space game in which the players are trying to pilot their spaceships out of a singularity. They play a series of fuel cards to either pull towards or push away from the nearest opposing ship. The cards are selected secretly and played in order of the first letter of the name of the element that they represent. (There are 26 cards, naturally.) It’s the sort of game in which the order of play changes frequently and it’s easy to send one’s ship spiraling helplessly in the wrong direction. Fortunately, you have a one-time-per-round “emergency stop” card.

Next is Colossal Cave, a board game implementation of the original text-based adventure. You know, the sort of early computer game in which you’d type commands like “grab lantern” or “eat bear.” I haven’t tried it yet, so it’s possible that it will wind up an exercise in frustration in which players are endlessly opening up bottomless pits under each other. Still, I like the concept, and I love the graphics.

Here’s an assortment of random dice, coins, tokens and miniatures. That row of red dice includes allows me to generate ranges of numbers from 1/10 to 10/10; 1-2; 1-3; 1-5; 1-7; 1-14; 1-16; 1-18; and 1-22. Because you never know.

And finally, I leave you with a little fellow named Cubie…a plush Gelatinous Cube.

Apparently it was the winner of a contest called “Design a Game-Related Tchotchke that David Thiel Cannot Possibly Resist.”


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