Despite a twelve hour car ride, no sleep, and running out of gas along the way, our staff are back in the Hudson Valley. Still, as I write this, they are tearing apart shrink wrap and furiously reading over the rules of board games they were able to get their hands on. From what I can tell, this year was a banner year for the fifty year old gaming convention, not just because they sold out of tickets, but by just how many people were buying new games. Indeed, Gen Con is an event that doesn't have just one attraction, but many; there's something to buy there for everyone. Games I haven't even heard of before this last weekend are now sitting on my shelf, just waiting to be played.
I still haven't had a chance to go myself, but my staff survived running out of gas on the way home to bring home their stories. Let me let them tell you in their own words:
This year Gen Con was very successful for me; I managed to get in a lot of quality time at the game booths i wanted to see and even got to meet some celebrities. Specifically, tabletop role-playing game luminaries like Sean Jaffe and the award winning Shoshana Kessock, and pro Magic: the Gathering player turned Eternal developer Luis Scott-Vargas. It was lovely spending time with all these dynamo creative types and joining them in the exploration of our nerdly hobbies.
The percentage of new games with beautiful art and design direction is higher than ever
There were several stand out games that i haven't talked about yet. Unearth is a beautiful game of exploration and pushing your luck that strikes a balance between gambling and resource management. Mountains of Madness was a riot of frenetic interplayer negotiation that emulated an intriguing loss of agency by giving the players themselves roleplaying stipulations based on madness. It felt a bit like an insane game of charades, except everyone could talk but not everything anyone said or did could be trusted. Clank! In! Space! had the distinction of being a very hot ticket item, selling out most days within a few hours. It combined deck building, one of my personal favorite mechanics, with a fast and deadly exploration of a hostile space ship.
Walking among the booths, seeing the expo hall filled to bursting with nerds of all shapes, sizes, and colors was a true delight. Going to Gen Con feels like being part of something bigger than yourself. I wasn't a single person in a big crowd, but instead felt more like a cell of a much larger beast.. one that eats dreams and poops games. There were a lot of offerings that didn't appeal to my personal taste, but there's something for everyone at Gen Con. The artistry of cosplay, the speed painting contests for miniatures, the varied and multifaceted design of the games themeselves; all of it came together to represent a combined total of a thousand lifetimes worth of art. Being among such creative forces was a very humbling experience.
Gen Con was an amazing experience that I’m excited to visit again in the future. It’s got a beautiful venue and wonderful people working there. The folks who attend are nice and friendly, and you can tell they’re all excited to be there, whether that’s for board games, LARP, anime, tabletop games, or anything else this convention has to offer.
Of course, you can always use spare collectible cards to create sculptures. That's an option too.
It’s impossible to talk about Gen Con without mentioning the great games that make it a stellar experience. Clank! In! Space! by Dire Wolf Digital was one of the most fun games I’ve played in a very long time, and considering it made the #1 spot on boardgamegeek.com, a lot of other folks think so too. It’s an exciting, highly replayable deckbuilder with great mechanics that make it immersive, exciting, and fun.
Sagrada by Floodgate Games, in contrast, is a dice drafting game that centers around creating a beautiful stained glass window. The mechanics are fun and engaging, but the game is still incredibly soothing to play, and I can easily see myself homebrewing a single player version to take advantage of it when I have no one else to play with. While Clank! In! Space! is energetic and fast-paced, Sagrada is slow and steady, giving you all the time you need to make a move and select your die.
My final winner of the convention would have to be Mountains of Madness by Iello Games. This game was incredibly fun and engaging, putting limits on the player with the madness cards and the tokens themselves creating the illusion of hallucinations that make the game feel like a fun challenge to overcome rather than a huge burden on playability. The flavor text is fun and engaging, the mechanics are smooth, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that you'll have a fun time playing it if you don’t hate the people playing with you.
A timer being added to the game really puts on the pressure
Overall, Gen Con was one of the most fun travel experiences I’ve had. Indianapolis is a great city, the convention itself was huge but not overcrowded, and every person we spoke to was incredibly kind as well as full of excitement about their games. If you haven’t been able to go to Gen Con before, I would strongly recommend it - and I say this as someone with a visual disability and general anxiety disorder. It was a great time and I didn’t feel shut out from activities going on at all.
A Convention Worth Driving To
It stands to reason that Gen Con is a bit of a drive or flight for most people. Yet every year, Indianapolis pulls in over 60,000 fans for a four day event. How? Why?
Gen Con was so large this year, they needed to cap the amount of tickets they sold. This year, the Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast had over 500 people show up for an after-event party, maxing out a local brewery. Even after days of playing board games, buying them, talking about them, thousands of convention goers spread out into the city to share their passion, playing even more games while eating and drinking. Anyone can play a video game by themselves. Any small group of friends can find their own living room to crack open a board game. When you get ten thousand gamers together in the same city, to celebrate what they enjoy? That isn't just every day; that's something magic, and worth a long, long drive to get to.