Matt Carlson: GenCon 2013 – The Kitchen Sink

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the focus on boardgaming by our particular interest group, GenCon has a very broad range of events present.  In fact, by my estimation, GenCon is an even bigger RPG (role playing game) convention than a boardgame one.  Companies bringing RPGs and boardgames to an electronic medium are also out in force.  Here is my report on all the above (plus a few random encounters, and some kid’s games I came across for good measure.)  As with all my reports this year, take everything with a grain of salt, as I may have written the wrong thing down or just remembered something incorrectly.  Any misinformation is my fault!

BGG GeekBuzz


Boardgamegeek had a booth this year and was trying out the GeekBuzz idea first rolled out at Essen on a new convention location.  You can see the results here, with Dungeon Roll taking top honors, followed by Lost Legends, and then Firefly.  I can’t help but wonder if Dungeon Roll’s “largest” (most backers) boardgame Kickstarter may have helped them get a good buzz at the show.  (Of course, that probably is what the GeekBuzz is all about….)  If you like watching videos of games (I prefer reading, as it’s much faster), there should be piles of them coming out as I saw plenty of interviews going on at the convention.  If you look carefully at the photo, you’ll see a discussion of Rio Grande Games going on.

E&M Labs


It was hard to avoid these guys as there were folks all over the convention wearing hats from their cool little wooden connectors called Skallops.  I dropped by the booth at first just to see the wares available, but stayed and chatted with the designer (on left) once I realized he was also the guy who a) ran a Kickstarter for cheap wooden trebuchets to be sold cheaply to schools for education and b) went to Caltech (of which I am also an alum.)  I had touched base with him moons ago over the trebuchet thing and it was surprising to see him at GenCon.


In addition to generic Skallops connectors being used to join cards together (and who doesn’t have plenty of those), there are specific kits available with connectors and colored paper so that kids (and adults) can construct specific figures – dinosaurs, birds, planes, etc…

Mayfair’s Kid’s Play Area


There were many booths with kid-friendly games to play at the convention this year, but Mayfair’s annual sponsorship of a kid-specific area loaded with boardgames, crafts, and a healthy dose of beanbags always takes the cake.  Above is a photo of just a corner of the area (in order to avoid photos of the little ones) complete with border tables and a selection of the games and toys available.



I’m unfamiliar with Zvezda, but they were present with a pair of upcoming kid’s games based on the Cars and Planes movie franchises.  Both are designed around models of the cars/planes with a starter set containing two plastic models that need to be snapped together and stickers applied.  The Cars: Cool Twists Starter Game Set (out in October) is a race using a die for movement, with various bonuses that can be picked up on the track as the cars go by.  Each individual car has strengths and weaknesses (how tough they are, how fast they go, how quickly they recover).  While two cars is a starter set, the game easily scales with (surprise) more cars that can be added through individual car expansion model/packs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlanes: High Voltage has airplanes racing between a series of cones using a card for units of measurement.  Planes can go slowly by using blue maneuvers (steps using a card turned sizeways) and fast red maneuvers (using a card lengthwise.)  The goal is to pass through the red and blue cones moving the appropriate speed.  Each plane has its own maneuver card witch displays how many steps that plane takes for each given maneuver (planes may not even have all the same maneuvers selections on their card.)  At the end of the race, a winner is declared based both on place of finishing as well as any negative penalties earned during the race.



Iello had one game targeted at the family/younger set.  In The Three Little Pigs, players attempt to build their houses, while trying to avoid the wrath of the wolf.  In a cute little move, the wolf comes into play via a spinner that requires players to “blow” on it in order to determine who suffers the wolf’s wrath.

G33k & Co.


As I passed by this table, I observed an enthusiastic lady surrounded by a crowd of almost as enthusiastic little kids playing what looks to be a role playing game.  It was, in fact, a role playing game.  The SurReal Mother Geek is an RPG is designed for kids ages 4-7 and is extremely flexible, keeping things simple for the youngsters and adding in additional features as kids near the 7 mark.  (Listened in while the kids “took out” some Orcs with Nerf guns who had invaded their favorite kickball field.  The short game book has rules as well as several suggested scenarios (kickball one, a bully in school, a steampunk skyship) that fit well with the young theme.  A second RPG designed for 7-14 year olds has many of the same rules but adds a bit of complexity by introducing equipment that can be purchased as well as a bit of character growth.  The entire system tops off with a full-fledged adult RPG entitled Kalijor.  This system, comparable in complexity with many others in the field is a bit cross-genre, incorporating aspects of both high fantasy as well as slightly more science fiction universe.  The two are blended as the “real” part of the game is a futuristic sci-fi setting with a primary communication method that uses a virtual reality system simulating a high fantasy setting.  Thus you get two settings in one – (You got your Sci-Fi in my Fantasy RPG!)

Posthuman Studios


One of the few RPGs for which I was able to spare a little time for investigation was the sci-fi themed Eclipse Phase.  The tag line sums it up fairly well “The roleplaying game of transhuman conspiracy and horror.”  While I would normally pass by the title as a bit too dark, and plenty of supplements were on the dark side, there seemed to be room for a “high science fiction” sort of game if that’s what one wanted.  As one can assume, the game is set in space and has plenty of character options for cyborgs, bio-improvements, and the like.  The main rulebook is fairly inexpensive and contains everything needed to play.  However, a second book, Transhuman, brings far more detail and options to the character development process.  One quirk I heard with a smile was the option for random character generation (along with background) through a career path – there’s even a chance your character could die before its creation is finished!  It reminded me (with a smile) of the old Traveller options for character creation that had a similar situation.  Creating a character could end up being a little storytelling experience in itself.


Pathfinder.Mythic adventures

In addition to its adventure card game, Paizo had several new (and newish) items on sale for their paper and pencil Pathfinder RPG.  Mythic Adventures is a hardcover rulebook full of optional rules to take the Pathfinder system and “kick it up a notch.”  New options and powers grant characters stronger abilities for those looking for a more over-the-top, epic type game.  To be fair, the book presents options and examples of mythic monsters as well.  The book doesn’t try to ramp up the power level of the game so much as make it a bit more iconic and memorable.  Meanwhile, the reception has been very positive for a recently released large-ish (64 page) adventure module entitled Dragon’s Demand (and includes a large pull out poster map).   It takes characters from level 1 to 7 and offers a bit more “crunch” to the adventure when compared to their standard, shorter modules.  What I appreciate the most about the module is the accompanying resources for GM’s with more money than time.  A deck of cards is available to help display and identify important items and non-player characters in the adventure, and in a new feature, the cards also include the various quests they may be granted during the game.  Hopefully that will be of use for those gamers who game infrequently enough that they tend to lose track of what they’re doing or where they’re heading.  There is also a set of “print and play” paper minis for the adventure for sale for those who haven’t sunk far too much money into miniatures.  Speaking of miniatures, Paizo’s line of (randomized in the box) minis has also been doing well, with each “set” released based around one of their large “adventure path” campaigns.  The next set (well, one upcoming soon) will break from that tradition and offer a pile of minis that are selected from a broad selection of favorite Paizo-unique monsters as well as more minis that are often needed in larger numbers (goblins, orcs, etc…)  With the success of the Dragon’s Demand module, another one is following in its wake. Wardens of the Reborn Forge will be a similar size, but be for characters of a slightly higher level.  The adventure will occur in a completely different location than much of traditional Pathfinder stuff, go so far as to include guns and some other non-fantasy elements.  The final bit of Paizo news relates to their Kickstarter-funded MMO, Pathfinder Online.  It is progressing along (apparently there are a number of YouTube videos showing it off) and seems to have a bit more player-developed open world feel than many traditional MMOs. The game takes some of the style of play seen in the Paizo Kingmaker (or more recently Ultimate Campaign Guide) for players to develop small settlements into large kingdoms.  One promising sign for the game, the people in charge of the game’s economy are ex-Eve folks.  (Eve Online is arguably the largest MMO economy around, possibly due to the very hands-off approach of the developers, such that the game reflects very real economic forces.  There is even a thriving exchange rate to real dollars from the virtual currency.)

Fantasy Flight Games


New RPG gamers, or those wanting to get back into the hobby may want to take a look at the Edge of the Empire Beginner game.  The box contains everything needed for gamers to get up and running with FFG’s newest Star Wars RPG (dice, starter books, etc…)  Premade characters can go through an included 1st scenario (somewhat on rails) and then progress into the included second book with some expanded rules.  Since the premade characters are booklets instead of just a sheet of paper, leveling up a premade character is as easy as turning the page to see the characters new statistics.  Once the players (and GM) make it through the included adventures, there is yet another one available for free download online.  Of course, once you’ve conquered the starter box, you’ll probably want to move on to the (totally compatible, of course) Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rules and (possibly) the many available supplements.

Fat Dragon Games


Fat Dragon Games specializes in electronic files for terrain, buildings, and tokens that can be printed out and then constructed into 3D models.  I’ve seen their work before, as I have the plans for a cool castle-themed GM screen that includes a built-in dice tower.  However, walking by the booth I was struck at the very cool “dungeon bits” they had thrown into their paper dungeon model.  While I might not have the patience to put together a large dungeon setting like above, I might be willing to put in some time to add a bit of their dungeon dressing to my next underground setting.  As it’s all print-and-play (well, and build) stuff, one can simply create as many barrels or tables as one wants, without worrying about buying a bunch of plastic.

Wizards of the Coast


Unlike Dale, I was able to attend the big press-only Dungeons and Dragons Sundering event prior to an open gala evening party in a constructed ballroom of Baldur’s Gate.   The theme of the press event was around this year’s ongoing theme of The Sundering – where the Forgotten Realms setting will have a large revamp (through wars, epic battles of gods, world shaking events, etc… etc…) from its current incarnation.  In my completely uninformed opinion, it seems to be headed towards a style and setting of the Forgotten Realms similar to one of about 5 or 6 years ago, before the last realms-shattering revamp that strongly changed the Forgotten Realms world.  Players interested in checking out the ongoing process of The Sundering can play through weekly game store play sessions in the series Murder at Baldur’s Gate (also available as an adventure book.)  More details about The Sundering will appear in a series of novels coming out throughout the year.


A D&D Themed souvenir shop set up for the big party.

Among the announcements was the ending of the open playtest of “D&D Next”.  In mid-September the last playtest packet will be sent out to players in mid-September.  After that, the developers will be working on fine tuning the system by doing closed playtests on specific areas.  The plan is to release the new version in 2014 (traditionally, that would be around GenCon 2014.)

The release of the Lords of Waterdeep expansion Scoundrels of Skullport was still being celebrated (and it should now be available.)  Along with the expansion was news of Playdeck bringing the title to iOS some time in 2013.  After speaking with them, it looks like things are on track for an early 2014 release for the iOS expansion as well.  Perhaps even more importantly, Playdeck now seems to be the iOS developer of choice for the Wizards of the Coast brand, so expect to see a number of titles some time in the unspecified future.  (My own personal predictions would include Dungeon Command due to its similarity to Summoner Wars, and I’d love to see things done with the somewhat languishing Avalon Hill line…. Nexus Ops – probably not since FFG now sells it – or Vegas Showdown anyone?)


Yep, D&D has gone “Lego compatible” with a line of Kre-O minifigurines (termed Kre-ons in the presentations.)  There were a number of iconic figures shown, including Drizzt and his panther, Wulfgar (above), and orcs of various types (see below).


D&D is also going digital in several ways.   As I mentioned in my RPG Interruption, D&D Online and Neverwinter MMO are both going strong with an expansion to Neverwinter (Fury of the Feywild) coming even as I type this up.  I was informed that Neverwinter now has about 2,000,000 registered players (at least that’s what I wrote in my notes, although that seems somewhat high…)

Finally, D&D is also coming to the casual crowd through a free to play Android and iOS title, Arena of War.  This is one of those community games where you can adventure with friends’ characters even if they’re not online.  The gameplay is not just clicking a button, but is still pretty simple.  One “pulls back” a character and launches them across the field of battle to attack in a sort of semi-turn based battle.  The further back you pull, the farther someone launches.  For example, ranged attackers should only be pulled a little bit since you want them to fire but not move far.  Characters will go on quests and explore dungeons in order to find “prizes” such as new feats or powers for their character.  I was particularly impressed that the server will be cross-platform, kudos for them for bringing iOS and Android fans together!

Evanced Games


Froggy Phonics

More  iOS titles I encountered were a trio of kid-learning titles in the Evanced Games booth.  Froggy Phonics has kids from K-2nd grade using a frog to hop around the screen, trying to find words that match the displayed phonic symbol (sm, in the example above.)  That’s Baloney is a trivia game for 2nd-6th graders that features questions from diverse fields such as math, language arts, social studies, and science.  Questions take the form of either yes or now answers.  Finally, Tic Tac Bananas is a 2 player word recognition game.  Get the question correct and you get to place a piece on the tic tac toe grid.

Incandescent Workshop


Artemis is a group starship simulator played on computers (Android and iOS versions are also available and supposedly cross-compatible).  Think several people (3 to 6) all on their networked computers each pretending to be a station on the starship Enterprise.  Artemis was at the show, and they were announcing the release of Artemis 2.0.  If you have even MORE people interested in playing this fairly involved game, you can now pit up to four (if I recall correctly) groups (of 3-6) against each other in direct team vs team starship combat.  Currently, 2.0 is only available for Windows computers.



Goko was present with its new CEO and a new attitude.  Gone is the very poorly received (HTML 5 I believe?) Dominion engine, and in with a new native app for iOS (in process with Apple as you read this).  Shown above is the game running on some sort of Windows 8 mega-tablet running in 4 player mode.  Note that cards aren’t trying to be hidden as the assumption is that families will play together and helping younger players out may be seen as a very positive selling point.  I was happy to hear that all the implementations (online PC, iOS, etc…) will use the same severs and thus any purchases previously made for expansions, etc… should carry over to new devices.  The tablet version of the game will include pass and play versions (not the all around the table version shown above).  I was also able to see a running version of Race for the Galaxy.  It looked pretty decent, with hidden cards (basically reveal them by putting your hand on the screen in front of them) and will be 2 player playable on the same tablet.  I have high hopes that the companies new direction will result in better results than have been seen so far.



There are a bajillion online/virtual card games out there but Hex is the first one of which I’m aware that is attempting to be a massively multiplayer online game – complete with dungeon raids and the whole shebang.  After completing a hugely successful kickstarter a few months back, Cryptozoic was showing off the present state of the game.  Players pick a champion with some special powers (and equipment can be acquired over time) and take a deck of cards and journey into the game’s world.  Players don’t have a physical avatar to run around, it’s more of a click a destination to move, but there are cities and towns around that give out the standard quests in dungeons and the like.  The game has both a PvE (player vs environment) and a PvP (player vs player) side to the game.  The PvP aspect is similar to most video card games, but care is taken to keep it “seperate” from most of the PvE aspects so as to not force PvP fans to have to play the PvE game of exploration, etc… if they only want to play competitively.  There will be cosmetic prizes to be won (prettier cards) that can be shown off, but nothing involving the game.  On the other side of things, PvE play – where players go through storylines – can use the PvP cards as well as a wealth of other specific PvE cards that can be found or traded.   In addition to solo play, the online PvE experience also includes group “raids” of up to 3 people using their decks together to defeat a more powerful NPC card deck.  (Players can even use 2 people in a raid to do it in “hardcore” mode.)  The dungeons and quests are supposed to be very diverse in theme, with some of them almost puzzles in nature rather than slugfests.  A deckbuilding aspect was one example, and one is even supposed to be a sort of Werewolf game with the players interviewing village members in order to suss out the likely suspects.  The expectation is that gold earned within the online game will be “valuable” and useful for purchasing additional cards, dealing in the auction house, obtaining special foil version of the virtual cards, and other awards.  I seem to recall being told Cryptozoic has even hired a professional economist to work on the game to make sure the gold economy is stable.

Whatever the heck you want to call this…


In addition to all the gamers (board and other) attending the convention there are plenty of people who find it a great excuse to drag out their fantasy/sci-fi/just darn strange costume and show it off.  Saturday is always a big day, as there is a fashion parade and (I think) a costume contest as well.  The photo above was taken primarily as I have far too many students at school who are big fans of the Dr. Who TV show.  One of my favorites of the convention was a group of about 7-9 people who were steampunk versions of the GhostBusters – complete with villains and even some poor soul wearing a giant inflatable marshmallow man costume (they could only take slow baby steps while going down the hallway.)  Yes, in hindsight I’m an idiot for failing to get a good photo, but you can check one out here.


Thus ends my photo tour of the convention.  Hopefully you found the rare gem that made the reading (and viewing) my articles all worthwhile.  It’s time for us to part, perhaps we will see each other next year!  In the spirit of my previous RPG column poll, I thought I’d add one below for additional feedback.  ;)

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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4 Responses to Matt Carlson: GenCon 2013 – The Kitchen Sink

  1. David Brain says:

    “If you like watching videos of games (I prefer reading, as it’s much faster),”
    This x 1000.
    I have rarely seen anything on these sort of videos that wouldn’t be improved by being in print. And that’s without passing comment on things like editing and sound quality…

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      I’m always jealous of “press” people wandering taking videos of everything at conventions, etc… The worst examples are simply sticking a microphone in someone’s face and letting them ramble… no editing at all. As someone who just wrote up far too much stuff this week it seems almost like cheating… ;) (Not looking at you, Eric… ;)

  2. Dan Blum says:

    Hasbro Avalon Hill just reprinted Vegas Showdown last year.

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      Yes, they did. I had forgotten that until reminded at the Convention. However, my point above is that it would be nice to have an iOS version. (That was what I was listing… good WotC games for an iOS port.)

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