GEN CON for a Day

Gen Con’s not a convention I favor. Despite only living a few hours away, I’ve only been once, and I didn’t enjoy it too much. This year I gave it another shot, as I had some folks I wanted to stop and say hi to, and, as I said, it’s a short drive, so a trip up for Saturday doesn’t necessitate a hotel room, flight, or any of the higher ticket con expenses. I only planned to buy one game, Hats, but it was sold out.

Besides, my fortune from 2nd lunch on Friday said it would be thrilling.

When I’m travelling west from home these days, I try to see if I can visit Milktooth in Indianapolis for breakfast. The full service doesn’t start until 9, and in what I believe will be my three trips that direction this year (two of which have now past), that’s tough to schedule. I’ve made it twice between 7 and 8, and so pastries and coffee it is.

I’m not great at talking to strangers, including at conventions, but I’m getting better at inviting those walking by to play a game I’m setting up. One area I don’t struggle at, is asking strangers if I can have a treat when I see them with a box of donuts or a container of cookies, so I made an effort to return the years of favors, and walk around with a box of treats, determined to offer them to folks I know, but also anyone who asked, and situational strangers: the fellow whose job it is to mark the end of the line for the Asmodee store or the folks that I demo a game with.

One of the first game stops I made was The Dead Eye, an upcoming Kickstarter game from Pleasant Company Games. It’s a solo card game, with, well, 3D art that is stunning to see with the glasses and play.

I suppose you could mechanisticly refer to it as a deck-builder, though you don’t have that much agency in choosing what is added to your discard pile.

In the game you’re going on a quest of sorts, and the final game will have a campaign you progress through. Most of the cards have one of two resources on the top, with one generally being good, and the other bad, though I don’t remember their specific names. There is also a stack of 5 cards of each of these that form 2 piles of cards that will be the source of the cards that get added to your deck. Cards will typically be used for either the resource depicted at the top, or be activated for some effect.

For most of the game you’ll have cards rotating in and out of a center position, which will be activated once a certain number of either of the resources are present. While there is a card there, future cards you reveal from the deck can only be played for their resource, and once either of the resource requirements are met for the active card, the result happens. This can involve adding cards from the good or bad piles to your discard, “recycling” some of the resources used to activate the card (which adds them to the bottom of your deck), gaining VPs, obtaining equipment (in a not-ready-to-use state), etc.

If you need to flip over a card from the “bad” deck into your discard pile and you cannot, you have lost. Otherwise, there are a small number of story cards that you progress through for the current chapter in order to win.

I stopped by to check out Patchwork Doodle, well, because I was walking by. It hadn’t really been something I’d planned on.

Players each start with an unfortunately shaped 7-square polyomino, but from then out will generally each draw the same shape each turn. A pawn walks the circle of polyomino cards, based upon a die roll, and the players draw the shape of the card it lands on. Once the number of cards is down to 2, the players have a scoring round, refill, and continue. For the scorings, you’re looking to have the largest filled-in square area. There are a few special abilities available to you as well.

It was fine. I filled in all but one square of my grid without much trouble, so without any decisions on choosing the shape, and not much tension in placement, I think the coloring was the best part? It felt one or two rule questions off from being interesting, and I would’ve checked the rules to make sure the demoer hadn’t missed anything, but they weren’t in the box and I couldn’t find them online.

One of the games that was high on my list to check out was Team3. I love games with limited communication, though in a defined way, such as the games of Walter Obert: Tokyo Train or Aargh!Tect.

For 3 players, Team3 uses the one player can’t talk, one can’t see, and one player doesn’t have all the information approach to have players cooperatively, in a… Team of 3… build a polyomnical structure.

The player who can’t talk can see a pattern on a card, and must gesticulate to a second player, what the third player (who cannot see), should be building. The second player can talk and see, and attempts to convert the gestures into verbal building commands. The third player, fumbling in the dark with their eyes closed, feels for the pieces and tries to place in the correct orientation.

This was pretty fun, and comes in two varieties. The base game is the same in each, but they include different advanced variants. The green box allows for clue cards that while simpler, have the third player build 2 structures simultaneously. With the pink box, the structure gains a depth component and the structure is 3D.

I stopped to see my friend Travis this morning with my roaming box of pastries, and got a copy of his SPOON CON. It’s this card. The rules are on the back, and this won’t be the last time we talk about feelings and mental health and wellness in this post.

It’s both a solo and convention wide LARP based upon spoon theory, about tracking how you gain and lose energy throughout the convention. It encourages you to eat, relax, and whatnot when you’re low, and to help empower and uplift others when you’re full. If someone causes you to add spoons, maybe have them add them to the card for you. Both solo and con-wide, simultaneously. This photo wasn’t from when I picked up the card, but when I had a break shortly after that to read it and begin. I went with 5 to start.

While we’re on the topic, I was pleased to see that Devir was promoting The Color Monster.

I have the French version, Le Monstre des Couleurs, and have considered writing a post about “our favorite meeples” just to highlight that fellow on the right there. What a meeple.

It’s nominally a children’s game, based upon a children’s book, about talking about your feelings, but, um, adults can talk about their feelings too. I struggle with this, as if you ask me about feelings, I _think_ I’m giving you an accurate and appropriate answer, but it turns out to almost never actually involve _feelings_ and there are important psychological differences. In that sense, it’s more therapy than game, but that’s ok.

I swung by Space Cowboys to check out their upcoming release Ankh’or, a game that seems to be in the Splendor family of: draw 3 of these chips, or spend them on one of these items, and was perhaps, not coincidentally, next to many tables demoing the Marvel theming of Splendor.

Here, rather than acquiring cards that will help build an engine to later purchase more expensive cards, you’re acquiring tiles that you’ll play in a grid (including a possible 2nd level), and you’re aiming for contiguous sets of 5 that share a color or animal. The cost for each position in the row is static within a game, but different between games.

It was…fine. The size of the market, even at 2 player, made it too tactical for my tastes, and without any sort of engine component, the arc was fairly flat.

But. While I was in the Space Cowboys area, I found that there were demos of the next cycle of the T.I.M.E Stories series –where we do away with the board and the reboots. This was a con-specific demo scenario, that gave you a feel for how the system works without overstaying it’s welcome or spoiling anything for later. So none of what I say about it below will spoil anything –even though this was a prequel for one of the later sets.

(I love that Space Cowboys makes these demo scenarios, and I especially want to shout out the demo scenarios that are used for Unlock! at conventions – those have been some of my favorites!)

Anyway, there’s no board in T.I.M.E Stories now. That means no time track, but it also means that expansions can be self contained and not require a base game.

The concept of time units is now manifested in those blue gems. They represent how much time each specific agent has left. As they’re spent, they go to a common pool, and when an agent runs out, they may take some back, but 1 will go to a card that is used to over time, slowly dwindle your pool, while also keeping score.

The map, item cards, and locations largely work the same, though the die rolls for tests are gone. In their place, a deck of -2 to +2 cards that adjust your base values on a test. The cards will show any consequences of results that miss, exceed, or meet exactly the test requirement.

In this scenario, each character also had a set of backstory cards that would be unveiled as the mission progressed, and a private personal agenda.

I’ll add that the translation was fine…I had only noticed one tense issue when Paul Grogan walked by to talk to us about it (who at this point in our story I do not offer a pastry to. He was the first stop on the box’s tour of Gen Con, and at this point I only had basil, jalapeno, corn, & blueberry scones left, and he doesn’t like blueberries. He did get the only one of those peach things that was in the corner.) But the next card after he left, was, well, the start of the downhill on language.

It felt…like a T.I.M.E Stories scenario. But not the first run. More, later on when you feel less time pressure. (Though I will miss that pressure.) I didn’t ask, and we didn’t discuss, anything about the blue symbol representing items you keep. Maybe the soft redistribution of the time crystals is all there is, and you keep the items now. If the time crystals ultimately only affect our score…do I care? I’m here for the narrative and the puzzles. We’ll see.

I swung by the Mattel booth after that to try some of their new roll and writes. Some of them, like the Blokus themed one, I had tried and enjoyed earlier this year, but one I hadn’t had a chance to try is the Lowdown dice game.

Each player has an identical board, showing three boxes that are 3×3. There are 3 colored dice, and 3 standard six sided dice. The active player rolls two of each, and either chooses a pair and marks a corresponding box, or chooses what’s behind curtain number 2, a result on the remaining pair that they don’t see before they choose it. The remaining players will choose from the left over 4 dice and mark down the number.

The lowest score will win, so you want to cross out lines of numbers. A row/column/diagonal can be crossed out when all three numbers are identical, or they sum to 10; numbers can only be crossed out once, so diagonal is usually not your best choice. If you noticed that the markers don’t have erasers, well, the booth was using my new favorite and now preferred method of dry-erasing: lean over and rub it on the carpet. So easy and effective!

This crew at the Mattel booth was a lot of fun. If I had read my Spoon Con card thoroughly, I would’ve had them outline a few more spoons.

While at the Mattel booth, I picked up a copy of Pictionary Air. I’ll give it a thorough write up in the coming weeks, but it’s a blast. It consists of an electronic wand, an app, and a deck of cards. It works roughly like you think it would, in that you draw in the air with the pen, unsure of where your previous lines are, but your teammates can see what you’ve drawn in the app. That’s fun enough, but being able to interact with the images is the real juice.

Here’s a video of some folks playing it in Japan. I assume the second thing she’s drawing here is “newspaper”, but you can see some of the potential interaction as she draws the newspaper, and then turns to hold it and read it.

I stopped by Plaid Hat to check out Quirky Circuits, as I enjoy programming games, and the sort of cooperative disaster that is implied with a limited communication programming game where you need to play cards and have this cat-on-a-roomba vacuum certain locations in the room. Would this be the sort of clown show that running efficient robots in Twin Tin Bots is?

Um, not for me. So, where to begin. I stopped by the Asmodee store at one point to pick up Black Angel for Ryan, and Quirky Circuits was sold out! Hooray for the folks that bought and enjoy the game, and the publisher and designer for selling out.

It’s sort of like what if The Mind was a programming game, but the “dark” mode, or whatever it’s called where rather than playing your cards face up, you play them face down, and only check to see if you played them in order once all the cards have been played. The cards have two different backs, one showing if it is a movement card and one showing if it is a turn. However, there’s no way to distinguish if a movement card is backwards 1 or forward 3. Is the turn a turn once to the right or a u-turn? The communication restriction seems tighter than The Mind, as, if I understand correctly, Wolfgang’s intent is that the visual hesitation of playing cards or setting your cards down and refusing to play until later, is fine. Here, that’s not. This isn’t limited communication: it’s none. So in a real time game where I have no way to communicate to say, wait, I have a great thing to play, how do I let you know? And then if you are spending your time thinking about what someone else played, someone else will proclaim in their head “First Idea is the Best Idea!” and play a few more cards, and you had no way to affect the situation. It doesn’t have that pause of hands-on-the-table that The Mind has. I really didn’t get it.

Next, on my way to try out Little Town, I dropped off the penultimate scone to John who was demoing a game nearby, a fellow that I use to game with regularly, in the days when the initials at the top of our score sheets would be JN, J, J, and J.

Little Town is iello’s reprint of the Studio GG release Little Town Builders from a few years ago, and while I’m enamored with their game The King of Frontier, I hadn’t had a chance to try LTB.

Over the course of 4 rounds, you spend your turn either placing a worker out on the field to collect resources and activate any surrounding buildings, or purchase a building with the resources you’ve collected and place it onto the field. At the end of each round you’ll need to feed your workers, or lose 3 points for each unfed.

It is a brisk 4 rounds, and of the 16 feedings I needed to do, I think I managed 7? Yikes. There’s a lot to try to do, and pressure from both competition for buildings and squares to activate on the board is high. You should see a review from one of us, likely me, in the coming weeks.

The last time I came to Gen Con, I came alone, and didn’t have the network of friends that I’ve met through Board Game Twitter, and the convention, to me, was basically only the exhibition hall and confusion about how tickets work. This trip was more about catching up with friends and less about titles being released, but when I asked Andrew where he was and he said the ballroom at the JW, I, uh, had no idea what that meant.

Relaxed, medium-sized hotel ballroom open gaming with available tables, water stations, and windows? I never realized that was available at Gen Con. I had two occasions to play Across the United States in the open gaming space on the 3rd floor of the JW Marriott, this one with Andrew and later with Jason.

It’s a stock based train game where the general mechanic is that you play a card from your hand of a certain train company, extend their network, and take the two actions on either side of the extension you made.

My full write up of it is currently scheduled for Friday, August 16th, but I’m still working through some of the tone of what I want to say. The short version is that I love the game, and find a certain comfort-food quality to it. At the time I write this, there are a few copies available through meeplesource.

Andrew’s crew also introduced me to Nine Tiles Panic, from Oink, and which Brandon reviewed yesterday.

Each player takes a matching set of 9 two-sided tiles, and three scoring criteria are flipped up. Some are fairly simple “try to have a lot of houses”, and others are trickier “try to have the most food chains (a series of agent->ghost->hamburger, with their mouths facing in the right direction)”. You can use either side of your tiles, but sides must match: either plain or roads. The game is real time, with the first person to finish flipping over a fairly generous sand timer. Points are awarded based upon player count, with all players scoring something.

This was a lot of fun. If I had read my Spoon Con card thoroughly, I would’ve had Andrew outline a few more spoons.

My Across the United States game with Jason wrapped up around 9:30 or so, and then I headed to an afterparty that Alex had invited me to called something like “A Quiet Gen Con Party With Ample Seating And Free Water”. They promised me free food and threats of people roaming with a decibel meter kicking out anyone who is too loud.

Does that sound amazing to anyone else? It sounds perfect to me. I should’ve been driving home, but I went there instead. It was at the event space in this “cathedral” that has some sort of masonic affiliation.

I walked in, and, uh, there were a lot of people. A fellow asked if I was here for the event, but he didn’t mention any specific event. I said yes, though I don’t know a situation in which the answer could’ve been something else.

What I found on the second floor, was, well, something else.

I could hardly make it up the stairs but for the flow of scores of people down the steps. When I made it to the second floor, it was a solid mass of people, and well, far from quiet. There was no sign of food or water. Or seating.

At this point it dawned on me that it might have been a joke. Parties are about being loud and drinking, right? Who would go to a Saturday night party that offered quietness and free water? Me, that’s who. I had been so excited and gullible :/

But then I found it, behind a velvet rope off to the side. The party and I compromised on exactly-the-right-amount-of-seating, some alcohol, a jazz band, and no decibel meters. They did come through on the food, but also this water buffet! Iced tea, hot tea, lemon & cucumber water, lime and herb water, blueberry and a different herb water, and regular ice water. That was pretty fun. I also ate my fair share of some sort of tuna appetizer.

There was also a tray of cookies and brownies and whatnot.

Upon entering, they also had this body wellness station of sorts with ear plugs, hand sanitizer, and electrolytes. How thoughtful.

I ran into Alex and Justin who had the production sample of the Wavelength device, and I’m thrilled with how well it works. After playing with their homemade prototype few times, it’s awesome to see how smooth it operates.

Shout out to the fellow who I saw with a Wavelength card along the lines of “Easy to do/Difficult to do” who answered “Talk about your feelings”, and it was _not_ all the way on the difficult side. It was a little above that, and a person that I presume to be his significant other rubbed him gently on the arm after seeing where it was; it was touching, and now I know that it’s something easier for him than it is for me.

Jennifer and I found half an empty table and wrangled passer-bys into games of Tenka Meidou, Nine Tiles Panic, and Gossip and the City, but soon the party was shutting down. At this point, once again, I should’ve chosen to drive home, but I had enough spoons that I didn’t. I opted to go back towards the convention and try out Heist, a new release from the con, that I wasn’t aware of.

I was thrown off: I had missed this game, was it a prototype? Is it vintage? No. It’s a new Gen Con release from Rob Daviau, published by University Games. Unfortunately, it centers around an electronic talking safe that is difficult to hear in all Gen Con environs that I’ve found, including the “Quiet Party”, but after hours in the corner of the Hot Games room was just right.

In addition to the safe device, the game has a small deck of money and several crude orange plastic tokens that represent a laptop, a flashlight, some explosives, etc. The players each have a different role, depending on which side of the cube they sit: Explosives Expert, Money Man, etc. -though these are nominal only. The players select 1 of 5 difficulty levels and the game begins.

The safe will bark orders to you: “Explosives Expert, take the goggles”, “Pass the map to the Lookout”, “Swap the gloves and the headset”. Occasionally, it will say “Use the drill” -at which point the player who has it in front of them needs to push the big button in the middle of their side of the safe. If they do it in time, the players earn the top bill from the stack. Otherwise, the device records an error, and you lose at 3.

If you don’t make three errors, you eventually reach a conclusion, and well, there are a few surprises I’ll leave for you to discover when you play. We played 5 times by my count before I figured I should really start driving home, with a record of 3/5 or so. (My apologies to W. Eric who I saw across the room and was going to say hi to before I left, but I got so wrapped up in Heist-ing that he took off before I made it over.)

If I had any spoons left to fill in, those Heist games took care of it. All full.

OK, fine. I enjoyed Gen Con this time.

James Nathan

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7 Responses to GEN CON for a Day

  1. Pingback: GEN CON for a Day – Herman Watts

  2. First Time Gen Con Attendee says:

    Congratulations, you went to a con where it sounds like you did barely any research in advance, took about 10% of the opportunity available at the con, and almost exclusively wrote about the games you played rather than the experiences the con provides. You still enjoyed it. You may still not favor it. Yet you wrote an article that offers little to no information about the con itself, yet you start the article with an opinion on the con based on going for only 25% of it. Bravo.

    • xitoliv says:

      Thanks for reading. It sounds like my style of convention diary didn’t suit your needs; I hope you’re able to find the coverage you’re looking for.

    • leemc13 says:

      “No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ― Ansel Adams

  3. @mangozoid says:

    Great report, James. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Saturday at Buckeye Game Fest | The Opinionated Gamers

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