Gen Con Recap 2019

Well, another Gen Con is on the books! This year was our fourth time experiencing “the best four days in gaming.” After being strictly Gen Can’t last year, this year’s Con did not disappoint! This Con, we experienced both the familiar and the new, and I kept a mini-journal of each day’s experiences to be able to recap them in detail. So without further ado, let’s jump into our Gen Con Recap 2019!

Day 0 (Wednesday)

While the tagline is “the best four days in gaming,” there is still fun to be found even the day before the convention officially starts! For many attendees, Wednesday evening involves waiting in the Will Call line for an hour or more. Being savvy, seasoned Gen Con vets, we had our tickets and badges mailed to us ahead of time. This meant we could enjoy a ticketed event Wednesday evening after getting into town and having dinner. We took the opportunity to play Dread, a unique RPG we’ve played once before at a different convention. Dread is a diceless RPG; whenever players need to make a check or try to succeed at a prompt, they must pull one or more blocks from a Jenga tower. The number of blocks removed is determined by the GM based on the effort your character puts into the action. As the game progresses, the tower becomes more precarious, and if you knock it over, your character dies or suffers a debilitating injury. The point of the game is to build up a sense of Dread among the players as the game progresses, eventually leading to everyone’s demise (or perhaps leaving a lone survivor). Our game was zombie-themed and began with our characters, who had all gone to the hospital for one reason or another, being captured and sedated, waking up three weeks later strapped to hospital beds and hooked up to IVs. Eventually, we were able to free ourselves but then were set upon by a wave of the undead. We fought our way out but lost a character in the process. After some exploration, which included the high school student crawling through the vents, we found a way out. While trying to escape, my character, an older man, was lost trying to push through a horde of zombies, being transported on a hospital bed and using an IV stand as a lance. The remaining survivors made it to a boiler room but were attacked again there. In the end, only the high school kid was able to make it to freedom but faced a world forever changed. Dread and the hosting group Mrs. Kraken was a ton of fun; if you ever have an opportunity to give it a try, I highly recommend it!

Afterward, we headed back to our hotel and enjoyed some gaming with friends. We were staying in the same hotel as three other couples, so after some creative borrowing of chairs from other rooms, we were able to crowd into one suite for a few games of Belratti and Just One. You can’t have Gen Con without games!

Day 1 (Thursday)

On Thursday, Gen Con started in earnest! The big draw of Day 1 is the vendor hall opening for the first time and everyone rushing (but NOT running) to purchase all of the new games for sale. There weren’t many high priority items on our list this year; we already had the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook, and a friend was picking us up Century: Golem Edition — Eastern Mountains.  This allowed us to take a somewhat more leisurely pace around the hall. We picked up our other must-haves, mostly new expansions and smaller games, but didn’t get a chance to try out any of the other games we were interested in yet. We planned on having Saturday as a demo day though, so that wasn’t too big of a deal. The only real disappointment we faced was Mystery House (a game we were interested in but not a must-have) sold out about three people ahead of us at the Asmodee booth. Aside from that, we got everything we were looking for!

After the morning’s shopping spree, we had a few games scheduled. First, we wanted to play a quick game of FUSE for fun and potential prizes. I was surprised the game’s facilitator wasn’t aware of the rule regarding unused dice and discarding previously placed dice, so he must’ve been playing on easy mode already! We just had a two-player game, and weren’t able to complete all of our cards within the 10-minute timeframe, though we did come close! It was just refreshing to get a quick game in of something we already knew. I usually like to do a tournament or two at Gen Con, but there weren’t any that interested me and fit into our schedule. Afterward, we headed over to the Lucas Oil Stadium, where Gen Con has expanded gaming to for the past few years, to play a demo of an upcoming game, Lawyer Up! Lawyer Up is a two-player asymmetric game where one player is the defense, and the other is the prosecution, arguing over a court case. Each player has a hand of argument and evidence cards and plays them via matching symbols on witnesses to sway the jury to their side. The case we played was pretty standard (Murder Case), but it sounds like there will be expansions which add different mechanisms, such as the Witch Trial. While we played slightly incorrectly (not properly distributing evidence cards between us), it was a fun game; I’ll be looking forward to its eventual release!

Our next event was an Epic Multiplayer scenario of Arkham Horror: The Card Game. While typically the game plays 1-4 players, in this instance we had 44 players divided into individual groups of 4. The scenario was called The Blob Who Ate Everything and focused on all the groups working together to take out the titular boss, who started with 660 health and no way to directly damage it. We, fortunately, were paired with a couple of good players and did very well at surviving, investigating, and eventually dealing some damage to the big boss. Some groups perished, and we came very close to the 3-hour time limit (and in fact may have exceeded it, but the event organizers said we had “one minute to go”), but as a whole, everyone triumphed! We each received a copy of the scenario for participating, as well as playmats, posters, and an oversized Blob card for winning. It was a ton of fun, and with a few copies of the scenario, we can bring it back to our gaming group and play with a more manageable number of players.

To cap off our first day of Gen Con, we went to what is always a highlight of our convention experience, Nerdlesque Burlesque with the Glitter Guild! As you could surmise from the name, this burlesque show features performers in a variety of costumes from all areas of nerdy fandoms. It’s not unusual to see sci-fi, anime, gaming, or even more niche themes represented in the performances. While we don’t always get all of the references, it’s still a fun, sexy time! This year had my favorite performance of all shows we’ve seen in four years of attendance. Hot on the heels of the titular board game, one of the performers was dressed (and eventually undressed) as Trogdor, from Homestar Runner. The costume was something I never expected to see in a burlesque show (as it is a 16-year-old Flash animation), but the best part was the act incorporated elements from the new game, such as turning around the cottages to “burninate” them, and the flame helmet for the peasant.  I could go on and on about Trogdor, who stripped down (starting with her consummate V’s) to reveal a wrestling mask, shiny boots, and don boxing gloves to become Strong Bad, but the whole show was ridiculously awesome. Other acts included an acrobatic Kirk and Spock, Team Rocket and Pikachu, and a They Live-themed horror subliminal messaging act. If you ever get the chance to see a nerdlesque show and don’t mind a bit of risque fun, you should check it out!

Day 2 (Friday)

Friday was a bit of a lighter day for us. After a few Lyft false starts, we eventually made it back to the convention in time to play a massive game of Welcome To… with 48 players! The fun of roll/flip-and-writes is how they’re able to accommodate as many players as you have paper and pens for, but it’s not often you get the chance to play with more than 8 or so at a given meetup. So it was neat to see the cards on a projector, having everyone work on their neighborhoods, and try to beat the score of 47 other players. After the first game, we got to play again on the Halloween neighborhood, which adds ghosts and candy corn you can collect from some houses for bonuses. The second game was ended rather quickly, so scores were pretty low, but it seemed like everyone had fun playing. I know we did!

We didn’t have a lot of time before our next event, so we attempted to hit up a food truck for lunch. After waiting 20 minutes and not moving up in the line, we just had to grab some pizza because it was quick and easy. Then, we were off to test our sanity with Call of Cthulhu. We first played this RPG at GameHole Con in Madison, WI last year with You Too Can Cthulhu. This group creates atmosphere in their games by adding props, audiovisual elements, and other things to ratchet up the suspense and horror. In this scenario, we were patients and doctors in a recently closed asylum. My character was a young woman, diagnosed as schizophrenic, who could (actually) hear the dead. It was a ton of fun, even though I may have kind of accidentally invoked a ritual that released an elder god into the world that devoured everyone’s souls. Oops!

After succumbing to madness, we met a couple of friends for some quick games. We learned and were about to try out Roll for Adventure, a new Kosmos game, but got kicked out of our table, and rather than having to set the game up again, decided to give it a pass. Instead, we played Mr. Face, a new small-box game we purchased the previous day from the Japanese publisher Oink Games. This game has a toy factor to it, as on your turn you draw a card with a phrase on it (such as “That looks yummy” or “I won!”) and then use a variety of shapes to make a face that matches it. Other players submit phrase they think match the look you created, once the cards are mixed up, everyone has to guess which card was your prompt. The scoring is a bit Dixit-like, and overall, it was a neat little experience. It’s certainly portable, though it does require a bit of table space to make the faces and to lay out cards.

Next, we headed to Renegade Game Studios’ session of announcements for upcoming games. There are a lot of games to look forward to, such as Aquicorn Cove, Gates of Delirium (the one I’m most excited for!), the Scott Pilgrim miniatures game, and Vampire: the Masquerade deckbuilding game. Probably the highlight of the event, though, was getting to see the first-ever unboxing of Clank! Legacy with Mandi Hutchinson up close and personal. We got to handle the box and some of the components (though of course none of the secret legacy stuff), and it was an excellent opportunity!

We capped the night off with “family dinner” with our friends at a nice steakhouse, because even at Gen Con you need to eat real food sometimes. The loud and rowdy bachelor party next to ours somewhat marred our experience, but it was mildly amusing to see the waiter and maître d’ address them multiple times. Of course, after finally getting our steaks, nothing else really seemed to matter. Whether you’re at Gen Con, other conventions, or large events, don’t forget to take some time away to relax, have a nice meal with friends, and unwind!

Day 3 (Saturday)

We chose not to schedule any events for Saturday morning and early afternoon to give ourselves more time to browse the vendor hall. Saturday is the busiest day of the Con, so it was hard to see everything there is to do. We did still get to try out a few games and experience others vicariously through watching others play. One we got to try was Legends of Sleepy Hollow, a campaign game based around the titular story. In this game, players must fight evil monsters and complete various missions through (I believe) 10 different scenarios. In the first one, we had to search through rooms of a library to find notes to decode while being attacked by living stumps and pumpkin-headed monsters. Each character has several actions tokens, used to do a basic attack, rest, do environmental actions (such as picking up pages in our scenario), or use personal effects. 

Once you’ve used all your action tokens, you reset, which gives you the ability to use your unique actions again. When monsters attack you, however, you gain fear tokens to use as action tokens, making it take longer before you can reset your actions. Combat was neat, each character has a specific range and base damage they could deal, and may add more with their weapon or individual actions. Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a pretty neat game, and we’ll have to check out the full version once it’s released next year!

We also got to try out one of the big releases of the Con, Mental Blocks from Pandasaurus. The demo version had much larger blocks than the regular game, which were a lot of fun! In this game, each player receives a card with a different view of a structure (front, back, or side). Then, working together with the other players, they need to figure out how to recreate the whole structure from the square, rectangle, and triangle-shaped blocks of different colors available to them. Each player also gets a restriction card, making constructing more difficult. Examples of these cards are only being able to touch white blocks or not being able to speak. Once everyone thinks they have it right, there is an answer card they can look at to verify. As someone who likes spatial puzzle games, I had a feeling I would be interested in this one. After playing it and experiencing how the restriction cards changed up gameplay, it was a must-buy!

Our Saturday schedule was light this year because we had plans to see our favorite podcast crew, the Glass Cannon Podcast, live! The GCP is an actual play Pathfinder podcast, and this was our second live show with them after seeing them in Chicago this winter. The show was so entertaining (and we’d expect no less), but the best part was we got VIP passes to hang out with the crew after the show. Unfortunately, due to the show running a bit long and us needing to head back to the Con afterward, we only had about a half-hour to see the cast. But, that gave us enough time to talk to all 5 of the guys once, and Amber got the case to her new dice set signed. Probably best of all was two of the guys recognized Amber from Twitter and were just as excited to meet her as she was to meet them! We want to go to another live show in the future, and hopefully will be able to spend more time with the crew next time!

We capped off the night by heading back to the Con for the last Pathfinder Society scenario for the first edition of the game. Per the event description, this was meant to be a deadly and dangerous mission where character death was expected. Unfortunately, the table GM told us he didn’t like killing characters and gave us several hints throughout the scenario that made it a bit easier on us.  That said, we still had a fun time, and even though I was starting to fall asleep near the end (it was past midnight after three nights with little sleep). I enjoyed playing my first ever society character for what may be the last time. Because even though we didn’t die, there’s a new Pathfinder system in town that we may be migrating to!

Day 4 (Sunday)

On Sunday the show came to a close, and though we were all feeling the weariness of 4 days and nights of gaming with little sleep, we were excited about one final push. In the morning, we got to try out the new Second Edition of Pathfinder! After being inundated in the first edition for a few years (up to and including the previous night), it was refreshing to try something familiar but also new. Pathfinder 2E has a lot of changes, including getting 3 actions each combat round, new feats limited to each class, different skill progression, etc. Playing the game, it seemed really streamlined. It helped that our GM was pretty familiar with the system and had already run the scenario several times, making a more welcoming atmosphere at the table.  We were playing with pre-generated level 5 characters, so we can’t wait to create our characters from scratch to fully explore the system!

We finished off the convention with a little more browsing through the hall and some last-minute purchases. Amber got to meet Rodney Smith of Watch it Played, which has been her goal for several Gen Cons now. After all that, we finally bid farewell to Indy and headed home. It was a great Gen Con as always, and we’ll hopefully get to do it again next year!  If you get a chance to go to Gen Con (or any convention), take a chance to try new things. Take in a show (like nerdlesque or a favorite content creator’s live show), play something you wouldn’t normally get to play (such as a 40+ player game), and check out some great new games. But most importantly, have fun!

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