Gen Con 2016 Review, Part 1

For the second year in a row, we packed ourselves up and headed to GenCon, the happiest . . . I mean . . . the Best Four Days in Gaming!  We had some adventures along the way, which we attempted to chronicle below.  Join us as we recap our adventure through a few states!


The Crazy Drive In

From where we drive, it’s best if we don’t go through Chicago.  (Really, it’s best for everyone not to go through Chicago, but I digress.)  So we head through Illinois and cut across to Indiana, where GenCon takes place.  But alas, this proved not to be much better. Between construction and a crazy 3-Semi accident, we actually got to our hotel about 2 hours later than we expected.  None-the-less, we had made it!  We weren’t going to let time ruin our fun!

Dinner – Tavern on South

After getting everything settled, we met our Con buddies Eric and Nichole, we had a great dinner at a fun place near the convention center called Tavern on South.  There we were able to hash out our plan for the weekend, eat, drink, and be merry.

Playing Food Chain Magnate (Part 1)

One of the best purchases for Ethan’s birthday this year was Food Chain Magnate, but the stipulation was that the first person we had to play it with was Eric (he makes the rules, and sometimes he forgets them).  Wednesday night before the best four days in gaming seemed as good as time as any to learn this monster!   Unfortunately, the setup took a bit long and by the time we got our first turn in, we were told the hall would be closing in about thirty minutes.  As a game that touts itself as being 2-4 hours for serious gamers, there was no way we were wrapping this up in the time we had.  So what are four gamers to do?  We took pictures of the board, wrapped things up, and headed to Eric and Nichole’s hotel!

Playing Food Chain Magnate (Part 2)

I’m not sure what kind of hotels our readers have stayed at, but if you’re anything like us or Eric and Nichole, we don’t have sprawling spaces to just lay out a behemoth of  a game.  But, a teacher, an engineer, and nurse and an auto-relocation specialist can sure come up with some ideas!  After reconfiguring all the furniture in Eric and Nichole’s hotel room living space furniture and setting up the entire game from some blurry photos, we were ready to re-begin!  Unfortunately, but this time, we were all starting to get a bit tired, so the game was really taking a toll on us.  We were able to finish thanks to the bank running out, and Ethan came in first place, more than doubling my second place score!  It was really a great game with little error margin and no luck involved, so it’ll be great to try it again with a BIT more sleep.


The Exhibit Hall

We started our Gen Con proper with possibly the most exciting event — the mad rush through the Exhibit Hall when it opens Thursday morning as everyone scrambles to buy all the hot new releases.  Well actually, backing up a bit, we started our Gen Con three hours before the doors to the Exhibit Hall opened so that we could be at the front of the line.  We met up with Eric a little after 7, and made our way to the main doors, where a small crowd had already begun forming.  We passed the time with some small games, and eventually it was time to get the party started.  Gen Con staff came out and saud a few words and rolled the giant dice, and after a few chants of “Do not run” and “Here we come”, we were allowed into the fray.  Unlike last year, we didn’t have too many super-high priority purchases, or at least we didn’t think so, and the ones that were very high on our wishlists (like London Dread for Amber) we had preordered.  So we actually were able to take things at a more leisurely pace rather than having to queue up for the hottest games (Cry Havoc and Seafall, which were sold out to VIGs before the doors even opened).  We started off at the AEG booth, where we purchased the latest Smash Up expansion, and were rewarded for our small purchase with the traditional giant AEG bag.  This thing is at least three feet tall, and would be invaluable for carrying our purchases for the rest of the day.  Not really wanting to brave the massive queues at places like Fantasy Flight or Asmodee, we instead headed over to Big Potato games, where we traded in the big potatoes we’d brought (a giant sweet potato for Amber and the largest regular potato we could find for Ethan) for a free copy of Mr. Lister’s Quiz Showdown and a $5 discount on Linkee, along with two plush potatoes.  The whole Big Potato experience, with the Potato Rater, the excitable British man (Den) demoing their games, and the plastic trumpet that he would play either jubilantly or dejectedly depending on how the potatoes ranked, was just too much fun.  We really hope that Big Potato is back again next year, but until then, you can check out all their party games at Target!  Next we headed over to Passport Games Studio to get a copy of the pure deduction game Salem, which we’re excited to try out at our next meetup.  We also picked up a copy of the microgame 3 Wishes, signed by the creator, since with the $5 off every $25 coupon Passport had, it was essentially free.  Then we did go to Grey Fox Games to pick up London Dread, which it’s good that we preordered, because when we got there, they only had about 3 copies left, yikes!  But we did get it, along with some free sleeves from Game Plus to protect it.  And for our last big purchase of Thursday morning, we found ourselves at Plaid Hat.  We chatted briefly with Jerry Hawthorne about his game Mice and Mystics — when we met him last Gen Con, we were still stuck on the notoriously difficult Chapter 9, but now we were able to say that we were past it, to which he responsed that we were almost ready for the expansion.  Oh, Jerry!  But then we picked up what we came for, Dead of Winter: The Long Night, the new standalone expansion.  While in line, we saw designer Isaac Vega being interviewed by Chaz Marler of the Dice Tower.  We had hoped to chat with Isaac as well, but he had walked away before we got a chance, rats!  Oh well, we still had a good first foray into the Exhibit Hall, without running into too many long lines or unbearable crowds of people.  But we still had only barely scratched the surface of what was in store in the 30 aisles and over 400 vendors.  The rest, though, will have to wait for another day, because now it’s time to drop our purchases off in Eric’s car (he drove in for the day for just that purchase) and rush off to our first “real” event of the Con!

Escape the Booth

After checking out a few vendors and some of our most-anticipated games, we headed over to the Thinkfun booth, where they were selling their two new Escape the Room games.  However, we weren’t there to check out their games, exactly, but we were there to Escape.  Escape the Booth, that is!  To demo their games without giving away too many spoilers, Thinkfun devised a giant version of their escape-room-in-a-box games.  We were paired up with four other guys and led into a small room, about 10×10.  Here we heard the beginning of the story of the Stargazer’s manor — we have arrived and need to find our way in and find the missing stargazer.  Three of the walls of the room had life-size puzzles to solve, and an answer solver to check what we’d come up with.  The first two puzzles were relatively easy, but the third one had us stumped for quite a while.  In the end, we got it figured out and made it out of the booth with a time of 17:04, not quite the best time of the day.  It was fun, but we wondered if we perhaps suffered from too-many-cooks syndrome with the last puzzle.  We’re still interested in the Escape Room games from Thinkfun, but if we ever were to get them would probably limit the number of players.

 Bedpans and Broomsticks

So, Bedpans and Broomsticks is a game that we actually own, but have never played.  The reason for that is that the rules are admittedly pretty poorly written and somewhat daunting to figure out.  So, we were excited to see this event because we figured it’d be a way to learn this game so that we can play it more at home.  Unfortunately, what we didn’t notice was the part of the event description where it said, “Experience Required: Some (You’ve played it a bit and understand the basics)”.  So when we arrived, we found the table and the three other people that would be playing with us.  What we didn’t find was a copy of the game or someone to teach it.  Eventually, about 5 minutes later, one of the Mayfair staffers brought over a copy of the game and then started to walk away.  We asked if someone was going to teach the game, but he responded in the negative.  So it looked like we were on our own, but decided to make the best of the situation.  One of the other players took it upon herself to go through the rules, and we stumbled through the game together, constantly referring back to the rules, for what small bit of instruction they provided.  The game didn’t end up being actually that complicated, but the combination of poorly written rules and seemingly extra components were frustrating, to say the least.  Four of us took on the role of elderly people trying to escape from the nursing home, while the other player was the staff, preventing the elders from escaping.  I can’t even remember who won, aside from the fact that it wasn’t either of us, but we did (sort of) figure out how to play Bedpans and Broomsticks and can do it at home or with our gaming group now!

Sushi Making (Amber)

Sushi is one of my favorite foods and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn how it rolls (ha!).  I went solo to this event, and got to sit next to a really nice couple from Kentucky who wanted to learn a bit more about one of their favorite foods as well.  We were able to make three kinds of rolls: a California roll, a veggie roll, and a spicy tuna roll.  I found that sushi making was a bit easier than I expected!  The Sushi Guys (that’s what their group is called) made the rice for us, which helped cut down on the time a bit.  I have a bit of practice in the kitchen, so julienning the vegetables was a fairly easy task for me.  One of the toughest parts of making the sushi was that the rice was so darn sticky!  I found that I had to run to the bathroom a few times to grab paper towels and get my hands all cleaned off.  I can understand why making beautiful complicated sushi rolls takes a lot of practice, because even though my rolls were pretty good, I had some trouble on my edges.  Overall, this was a great workshop to get away from the grind of tough strategy games and the vendor hall, and would say it’s definitely worth taking a class like this!

Liar’s Dice (Ethan)

While Amber was busy learning how to make delicious sushi, I was busy with some gaming and learning of my own! First up, I entered the Liar’s Dice tournament to test my bluffing skills against 5 strangers. I have played Liar’s Dice before on Board Game Arena online, but have never played in person, so I was interested to see how it differed. Besides the transition from digital implementation to the real world, there were also some rules differences from what I was used to. In any game I had played before, whenever you were incorrect (either in a bluff or calling someone else out), you lost just one of your five dice. However, here you lost the difference by which you were wrong. So, for instance if you said there were 10 fives, and someone called you on it and there were actually 7, you would lose three dice instead of just one. So you can imagine how this would make for a more tense game, but it also made it a lot quicker than I would have expected. In the first round, the young woman to my left lost three dice on an incorrect challenge, and several rounds later I lost four of my own with a wildly incorrect lie. My chances of advancing any further in the tourney ended shortly thereafter, and the game pretty quickly neared its conclusion after three others were eliminated, leaving only two guys against each other. As I remember it, one had only one die left, while the other had two, then it was one to one, and finally one of the guys lost his last die and the round was over. It was good fun, even though my time in the game was cut short.

Board Game Media Do’s and Dont’s (Ethan)

Next, I headed over to one of the hotels adjoining the convention center to attend a panel on podcasting and videocasting by Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower, Rodney Smith of Watch It Played, and Jamie Keagy of the Secret Cabal. The three experts bestowed a variety of lessons, from how to best determine your format to networking and building your brand. For the second half of the panel, the guys took questions from the audience. I didn’t have any of my own, but I think the most memorable was when Rodney, when answering a question on how to deal with negative people or trolls, said that one of his rules for Watch It Played was something along of the lines of: “There is another person on the other side of the screen, and you don’t know what their situation is, so kindness it the best approach.” I really thought that response in particular stood out, especially since most people would likely deal with trolls by ignoring or blocking them, but since Rodney makes a point to always respond to comments and interact with people, that approach would have gone against that. Even though I took copious notes and will try to take to heart all the lessons learned at this panel, I think that one will really stick with me and be the one to emulate.

Klask (Ethan)

I rounded out my solo time by playing Klask, which is basically what would happen if you shrunk down air hockey to tabletop size and added magnets.  In this game, each player controls their paddle via a magnetic wand under the board, and they are trying to knock a small yellow ball in their opponent’s goal.  However, there are also three small magnets placed on the center line, and if a player ever has two or more stuck to their paddle, their opponent gets a point and the next round begins.  Likewise, if a player loses control of their paddle, either by flinging it to the opponent’s side of the board (there is a divider in the middle, so your magnet can’t go past the halfway point) or by sinking it in your own goal, you also give your opponent a point.  I was understandably pretty bad at this game, but it seems like something that with enough practice, one could get good at.  In any event, I had a lot of fun, and would recommend Klask if you’re looking for something heavy on dexterity, or a fun little diversion


Last year, one of the highlights of the trip for me was to see burlesque dancing.  This 18+ show is a sort of comedy/routine show that includes some striptease.  While this can be a fun event overall, what makes burlesque especially fun during GenCon is the nerdy routines they come up with.  So on Thursday, Ethan, Nichole and I packed ourselves up and headed to the Glitter Guild burlesque show, a troupe based out of Chicago.  We got to see Burlesque routines based off of Speed Racer, Wonder Woman, Batman and his female nemeses, and even Pathfinder’s cleric Kyra!  While this is a pretty sexy event, it’s also hilarious and wonderful to see people of different shapes and sizes entertaining crowds and being comfortable with their nerdy selves, both naked and clothed.

We Lost Eric

Now comes to the part of our story that gets a little bit sad.  After burlesque, we planned on meeting up with Eric and hashing out some of our new games.  Problem is, we couldn’t find him!  Turns out, we was in a great little hidey-hole room enjoying some games of his own, and that when he says he’s where we played games on Wednesday, he obviously meant Wednesday of last Gen Con!  So after an hour and a half of searching, we decided we had enough adventure for one day, we decided to call it a night.

So that was what went down for the first day and a half of Gen Con, but the fun was just getting started!  Tune back in later this week to read about our Friday, Saturday, and Sunday!

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