And now onto the second half of our Gen Con experience!
With our high-priority purchases taken care of on Thursday, we headed back for our next foray into the vendor hall, prepared to take a much more orderly approach this time. We started at the far end of the hall (Aisle 3000) and snake our way through them, one by one. On Friday, we made it through about 8 or 9 aisles before our next event, and since the last few rows were longer than the others and had a lot of smaller companies rather than the larger publishers in the middle section, I’d say we covered over a third of the various booths in the hall. Some highlights: We found the game Brewin’ USA (which Amber had been interested in anyway), and after discovering it features some Wisconsin cities and craft beers, along with decent-looking gameplay, picked it up. We discovered that The Broken Token does not make an insert/card holder for Food Chain Magnate, which is something we decided we really needed after our first play of it. We tried out the upcoming Word Domination from Fowers Games, which was touted as a spiritual successor to Paperback — we’ll be looking for its upcoming Kickstarter! At the Dice Tower booth, we met almost all of the Dice Tower crew, except Tom, who already needed a vocal break from talking too much on Thursday. Near the end of our vendor hall time, we stopped by the Action Phase/Indie Boards and Cards booth, hoping to pick up a copy of the game Grifters, which we didn’t back on Kickstarter with the understanding that we’d be able to pick it up at Gen Con. Unfortunately, they were sold out, but they recommended that we head to the Indie Boards and Cards booth (since the two publishers merged only recently, they still had separate booths, but were selling games from both at each). Just our luck though, we made it to Indie Boards and Cards just as the last copy of Grifters was sold, so we’ll just have to look for it online when it’s available. Now worried about some games we didn’t think would sell out, we skipped a few rows to the Asmodee booth, hoping to get the expansions for Shakespeare and Five Tribes, which we didn’t think would be in short supply. To our chagrin, they were both sold out, with no sign of more becoming available later in the con. Since it was nearing the time for our next event, we took our leave of the hall, happy with our purchases but slightly saddened by what we were unable to buy.
World Championship Russian Roulette
This is a game we’ve been looking forward to ever since demoing it last year at Gen Con (and now are patiently awaiting the Kickstarter reward). At the surface, this is a pretty straightforward press your luck game, as the title might imply, but there is also a bluffing element and a bit of strategy to it. The premise, of course, is that each player controls one of the teams in the titular championship. Players have one bullet card and and six blank card, and each round they choose one card to “pocket”, meaning they can cheat by leaving the bullet card out of their gun. Then everyone uses a die to wager how many times they’re willing to “pull the trigger” (between 0 and 5) by drawing cards from their deck. At this point players can accuse each other of cheating if they think they pocketed their bullet card; otherwise players simultaneously draw as many cards as they’ve wagered, hoping not to draw a bullet card, which kills one of their team members and earns them no points for the round (players who survived the round earn a point for every card they drew, plus an additional one for surviving). There are action cards which make the game a bit more strategic in addition to the bluffing and press-your luck elements, and the winner is the first player to 15 points, or the last one standing. For this event, we played against a guy who had played before at Origins, and one guy who was completely new. We all did pretty well for the first few rounds, until everyone was pretty even around 11-13 points. At this point the game got intense, as the veteran player needed fewer points to win so was playing a bit less riskily. The rest of us had some catching up to do, so were making bigger wagers, but still didn’t want to accuse each other of cheating. In the end, the other three of us shot ourselves in the proverbial foot by having our characters shoot themselves in the head, letting the veteran player win. We still had fun though, and after playing the full game are even more excited for our Kickstarter copy!
One Night Ultimate World Championship
One Night is a game that our group knows and loves, which made us super interested in this tournament. Add in the fact that over 100 people were going to be broken up and playing the same games of werewolf and we were sold! As a little surprise, Eric Summerer (voice of the narrator on the app and Dice Tower Co-host) narrated the first round! It was definitely different playing the game with people we didn’t know; with a regular group, you may begin to learn tells and habits which may lead to better knowing who had what role. During an intermission, Ted Alspach gave us a sneak preview of One Night Ultimate Alien (Kickstarting soon) and allowed questions. We unfortunately had to leave the tournament early for our next event, but it was still a great experience.
One event that was a no-brainer for us was the annual Pathfinder Society game that kicks off the new season; over 1000 players and GMs work together to unlock mysteries and advance further into the adventure until we all complete the mission together. The Pathfinders are broken up into groups of six; since we only had a group of four, two other players joined our table. Unfortunately, while one of the players was very nice and fun to play with, the other player was not into the game and even was making snide comments under his breath which Eric could hear. One thing that’s tough about Pathfinder is that there are “correct” ways to play a character, but necessarily characteristics that need to be followed to a tee. Eric later told us that this unsavory fellow didn’t care for the way I (Amber) played my barbarian, especially disliking that I moved away from the group, was at times alone, and some of the choices that I made in general. This is a character I’ve played six or seven times now and have developed a pretty good understanding of why she does things; this is a part of pathfinder I really enjoy. My regular group knows how I play and let’s me deal with the consequences; this is not something that can be explain well or quickly to a stranger. While I was a bit bummed that he made those comments, no characters died, we had a good GM, we contributed to the adventure, and most importantly we had fun.
On Saturday morning, we picked up where we left off the previous day, and continued working our way up and down the aisles, and we made it almost the rest of the way through. Highlights for this session include: We stopped at the Board Game Geek booth, and found a card organizer for Food Chain Magnate, exactly what we were looking for! That may have been the best purchase of the day. We both spun the prize wheel at R&R games — Ethan got a dollar off any purchase, while Amber won a free game, Igor. At Smirk and Dagger, we got J’Accuse (which admittedly we were interested in just due to the title), and designer/owner Curt Covert showed us a fun little dice game, Sutakku, which we ended up buying as well. In addition, we learned how to play Nevermore, which is another game we own but haven’t tried out yet. The CoolStuffInc. booth was incredibly popular, so we couldn’t really get in and look around, but we did find the Labs expansion for Scoville, which is something we’d been looking for. While we weren’t really interested in the game at all, Legendary Big Trouble in Little China was the main focus of Upper Deck’s booth, complete with a mini-Chinatown and the actual cab of the Pork-Chop Express, which was really cool. Flying Frog, a publisher we really like, unfortunately didn;t have anything new of interest for us (it was all Shadows of Brimstone), so we gave them a pass. The end of our shopping day, though, again ended with disappointment, as we finally made our way to Ares Games to find that The Last Friday, which Amber was really interested in, had sold out. With as popular as it sounded like the game was, it probably sold out early Thursday, so we likely would have had to queue up there right out of the gate to get one, but nevertheless the rejection was a bit sad. On a happier note though, after both of our Saturday afternoon events were done, we headed back into the hall briefly to get to meet Chaz Marler from Pair of Dice Paradise at the Dice Tower booth. He was very nice and genuine, and very excited when we used the codewords he told us on Twitter to say when we saw him (“rutabaga” and “socket wrench”). I think one of the best parts of this Gen Con was getting to meet a lot more people that we watch, follow, and interact with online.
Smash Up Championship (Amber)
Smash Up us one of the biggest boxes in our collection (thanks to the Big Geeky Box) and I had zero interest in playing Onitama, so I figured I’d do ok in the Smash Up tournament. Boy was I wrong. One thing I really liked about this tournament was that we were able to choose from every available faction through a snake drafting system, where the first player picks first, second second and so one and the last person to pick gets the first pick in the second round. The first round I played two factions from the Obligatory Cthulu expansion, which makes use of a madness deck. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my engine going early enough and struggled through the round, getting 4th place in my pod. The second round I did a bit better, tying for second with Fairies and Mythic Greeks. Between rounds, while chatting with my competitors, someone suggested Mythic Greeks and Mad Scientists would be a good combination due to both their abilities to strengthen the minions. I tried this out in the third round, but lost to a bunch of dragons. I discovered during this tournament how important to know how the different factions worked together and a lot of different people had more information on this than I did. None-the-less it was a good experience.
While Amber was smashing up different factions, I was engaging in a much more zen type of battle. Specifically, I was playing in the Onitama tournament. I had only played Onitama twice before going into the tournament, but had won both games, so I had high hopes for myself. The format was the Swiss system, where the initial 32 or so participants would play 4 games, and then the top 8 with the best records would advance to the single-elimination quarterfinals. I managed to win the first three games, with my opponents getting tougher each time. Then, for the fourth match I was paired against another guy who was also undefeated, so I knew I was in for a challenge. Fortunately for me, he made a pretty reckless move that allowed me to capture his master, and move into the final 8. My opponent moved on as well with his 3-1 record, so he probably had wanted to try something interesting, knowing his spot was safe. As one of the top 8, I won a pack of Onitama cards with gold foil showing the character and movement, which I’m really excited about. If I advanced to the top 4, I would also win a copy of the game, but alas, I was bested in the quarterfinal round and my hopes of going all the way were dashed. I’m still very happy with my accomplishment, though, and the proud owner of the special Onitama cards, which I don’t believe you can get outside of special events like this one. Participating in tournaments is one of my favorite parts of Gen Con, and this is the best I’ve done at one to date.
After my fun (though fairly intense) time at the Onitama tournament, I decided to relax a bit, while still stimulating my mind with two great Kosmos games: Ubongo and Dimension. This was an event billed “Mastering the Art of Puzzles and Riddles”, which piqued my interest, but it turned out to really just be learning and playing these two games. Understandably so, the more popular game in the Kosmos area was this year’s Spiel nominee Imhotep, but there were still some exhibitors available to demo these two. I was joined by another couple, and along with the exhibitor, we sat down to learn and play Ubongo. This is a game about fitting shapes into a specific area as quickly as possible. This reminded me a lot of the weapons station in Space Cadets, so I’m sure it’s something our friend Jesse, who’s the weapons master, would love. Next up was Dimension, which I actually have played a few times before, but am always up for playing. I thought it was funny that the guy demoing the game was very careful to always call the round pieces in the game “orbs” or “spheres”, but had no problem referring to them as “balls” to his fellow exhibitor. This was funny to me because when we learned this game from Rob, he pointed out that the instructions are likewise very careful to never use the word “balls” to talk about the wooden balls. Oh well, que sera sera.
And for my final solo event of the con, I decided to try my hand and brain at the Set Competition. I had entered this event last year, and failed miserably, taking third place (out of four) during the preliminary round. I was determined to do better this year, but unfortunately that wasn’t in the cards. As opposed to several preliminary rounds leading to a separate final round on Sunday, this event was self-contained. Similar to Onitama, it consisted of a round-robin where all of the 12 competitors played in 3 different games against 2 different people each time. I knew I wasn’t going to be advancing to the finals after scoring the fewest sets in my first two rounds, but in the third round something amazing happened: all three players got exactly 9 sets, and we used all of the cards in the deck, which was in itself a rare occurrence. So even though I did abysmally and probably won’t be trying out my Set skills again next year, I at least got to have an interesting experience!
In our second night of Burlesque of this GenCon, we got to see D20 Burlesque perform their acts. This was the same troupe we saw last year at GenCon and we were really excited to see them again this year, but something was a bit off this time. They seemed to need to fill up more time and there were fewer acts. It was a bit disappointing because we had so much fun at their show last year, but after a bit of research we came to the assumption that they had someone that wasn’t able to come along, which lead to the difference from last year. But, we did get to see a really neat Portal burlesque, Daredevil, a “very serious” Batman routine, and a few we weren’t as familiar with. Still a fun show, I hope they are able to work out their kinks (in a manner of speaking) for next year.
Hungry Hungry Hippos World Championship
As our Sunday morning GenCon tradition, we packed up and headed to the Hungry Hungry Hippos tournament. And as per tradition, we were out in the first round. What’s nice about this tournament is not only is it a fun, light-hearted way to end GenCon, it’s also a nice tribute to Mary from Rogue Judges, who passed away early 2015. The tournament is broken up into children and adults, with the top 2 from each category advancing to the final four and winning one of the coveted trophies, adorned with a working hippo much like the ones we played with during the tournament.
For our last day at the con, we needed to finish up the last 6 or 7 rows that we hadn’t gotten to yet. Since we had been going from right to left previously, this time we switched it up and started at the first row and worked our way in the opposite direction to get to where we had left off the previous day. We saw Geek Chic’s super fancy tables and figured out what we’d do if ever we found ourselves with a spare $20,000. At Green Couch Games and Kids Table, we found a playmat for Wok on Fire, which we decided would be very useful for that game. We also found a cute little game called Foodfighters that we bought on a whim; if nothing else, it will make for a good prize for our Meetup group. I have long maintained that Asmadi Games makes games that are either somewhat complex or completely silly, with no real middle ground. Well, this time we picked up a couple from the silly end of the spectrum, Flower Fall and Save the Cupcake, and expect them to be as great as they sound. We saw a few other booths, but nothing else incredibly noteworthy. And we were able to see and walk the entirety of the vendor hall, which is no small feat!
Interview with Jamey Stegmaier
Stonemaier’s meeting space was in a fantastically lite room in a nearby hotel, which made the space super cheery. They had set up two different tables to allow each 30-minute time slot to allow for set up, so we were able to get comfy while Jamey finished listening to a game demo. We’ll be posting information from the interview coming soon, but overall the interview went really well! We were able to ask quite a few questions and even had Jamey help us with a bit of a prank for a friend that messed up the rules in Scythe. This interview with Jamey from Stonemaier Games really nailed down our respect for Jamey and Alan as designers, as well as people behind the games.
And with that, we bid adieu to Gen Con 2016. We will be back next year for the 50th anniversary, and are already looking forward to it!