Gen Con 50 is in the history books now. The entire Meeple Mountain team attended and boy have we got some stories we could tell. While some things are better left in the memories of each attendee we decided to have Jesse Fletcher, David McMillan, Andrew Plassard, and Andy Matthews share their experiences with you. Take it away team!
Gen Con is always one of my most anticipated times of the year. It’s right up there with my birthday and Christmas, because I GET LOTS OF STUFF!! For me the most exciting part of Gen Con is the massive vendor hall. This year was no different. I’m not usually much of a shopper, but after being a part of the thousands of people waiting for the halls to open up, I totally understand why people camp out on Black Friday to be the first ones through the doors. I was there bright and early at 7:30 AM on Thursday and Friday. I’d rather be ahead of this crowd than behind it if I’m going to get any of the new hot games before they sell out.
I was able to get most of my shopping done on Thursday and Friday morning, clearing up the rest of the weekend for the #2 reason I go to Gen Con: game demos. Friday night I played the 4x space exploration game Star Trek: Ascendancy, along with the soon to be released Borg Assimilation expansion. Though it is sadly not yet for sale, it did make for an interesting and enjoyable play experience, throwing a new AI-controlled faction with new technologies, new mechanics, new tactics, and some amazing looking components.
On Saturday, I got some much needed rest, not having anything scheduled until the afternoon. After a quick lunch, I headed over to try out Detective: City of Angels, a new game coming to Kickstarter in October by Van Ryder Games. Think Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective meets L.A. Noire. I had a great time with this one. I really enjoyed the strong narrative and deduction elements, as well as the gorgeous art by the ever-impressive Vincent Dutrait.
After solving that case, I headed over to Tow Yard Brewing Company to discover a mystery of my own: How do you fit a thousand people inside one average-sized brewhouse? Yes, it was the storied Secret Cabal Meetup, which deservedly earns its reputation as the biggest and craziest party of the entire weekend. The bar and surrounding streets were as crowded as a mosh pit, but the beer was flowing, morale was high, and the crowds were jubilant. We chanted in unison the winning numbers of each game raffle ticket winner because the crowds were stretched so far down the street that a PA system just wouldn’t do. Although I didn’t win anything in the raffle, it was the most fun that I’ve had with a crowd of strangers that size since Bonnaroo.
Sunday came and it was time to pack up and head home, but not before I stopped by the CMON booth to participate in a charity event demoing their highly anticipated Rising Sun; a game which earlier this year finished a massive 4.2 million dollar Kickstarter campaign. I was able to play a full game of what is sure to be one of the most anticipated games of 2018. Rising Sun is an area-control game that is as much about negotiation, bidding, and planning as it is “dudes on a map.” I thought the game was fantastic, even though my Lotus Clan got sufficiently trounced by the Turtle and Dragonfly Clans.
All of the participants in the event were entered into a drawing to win a copy of one of the forty-some odd production copies in existence. Sadly, my ticket wasn’t drawn, but it didn’t spoil my experience. Best of all, the Rising Sun events raised over $11,000 for Child Advocates, a local non-profit charity that provides assistance to children who are victims of abuse and neglect. Playing a game I loved, with the knowledge that the price of my ticket purchase is going to an amazing cause, put a proper bookend to what was an incredible Gen Con experience. I can’t wait to go back. Only 50 more weeks until Gen Con 2018!
Gen Con has been billed as the “best five days in gaming”, but is it really? Having never been to one before, I envisioned massive crowds of smelly people zombie shuffling past communist Russia sized lines of consumers waiting to buy games. Just the thought of that filled me with dread. The way that Gen Con had been described to me was as one massive orgiastic buying frenzy with very little room or time for any kind of open gaming. That didn’t sound particularly appealing to me either. So it was, filled with doubt and pretty certain that this would be my only Gencon ever, that I set out for Indianapolis.
I didn’t go to Gen Con alone. My wife joined me and we began our festivities a day early on Wednesday by visiting the Indianapolis Zoo before meeting up with the other guys from Meeple Mountain for pizza at Giordano’s. After pizza we all headed over to the convention center in the hopes of picking up some coupon books, but they were already shut down for the day. It wasn’t a total waste of time, though, as my wife and I found some little coupons that had been hidden around the convention center entitling us to free copies of ‘The Chameleon’. The next few days went by in a blur.
Aside from claiming our copies of the free game, Thursday also saw us playing Barenpark for the first time (where we found out about Mayfair Games’s Ribbon Quest program where you can earn swag and discounts by playing lots of their games), followed by a playthrough of Blue Orange Games’s Photosynthesis (which I can honestly see taking the Spiel Des Jahres next year because it’s just that good), followed by a shopping frenzy which had me hauling around 60 pounds of games like a pack mule, and rounded out by an amazing They Might Be Giants concert.
The next day was my wife’s birthday and things started out rather poorly due to a hiccup with our credit card. But the day began to look up when we met some cool guys from Canada, on the ride into downtown, who were there to demo their game ‘Cardspiracy’. Once we arrived, we hit the gaming halls for several events we’d signed up for: Murano, My Village, and Fields of Green. We had a fourth event scheduled, but we shrugged it off in favor of dinner at St. Elmo’s which was insanely expensive, but very tasty. If you ever go there, go hungry because their portions are massive. In fact, I’d recommend splitting your entree with someone else. We had a lot of leftovers that just got wasted.
Saturday saw us playing Lorenzo il Magnifico by Cool Mini or Not which was a lot of fun even though I got annihilated at it. We had some time to spare before our next event, so we decided to begin working on our Mayfair ribbon quest in order to get to the 50% off coupon level. It went much faster than we’d anticipated, so we decided to begin working on the second tier because why not? Our next event was the one that I had been waiting for the most – a demo of the new Roll Player expansion where I finally got to meet the inestimable Keith Matejka in person. What an awesome game and amazing guy. After Roll Player, we went out to eat at a sushi place called Mikado which was overpriced and underwhelming and then we headed over to Mayfair Games HQ to finish up our ribbon quest at their nightly get together wherein you can pay $4 per person to play an unlimited amount of games from their library.
Sunday was a very light day. The only scheduled event on our docket was some early morning knitting. I never realized that knitting could be so painful. I suspect that lugging around all of those games just a few days before was finally catching up to me, so I did not have a very pleasant time during my knitting adventure. However, after the knitting, we began hunting down the Gen Con buttons and that was a heck of a lot of fun. Finally, we headed over to Mayfair Games HQ for their massive raffle event. We didn’t win anything, but we did get some neat pins and buttons.
And just like that, my first Gen Con came to an end. It was a fun, exhilarating weekend and if I’d had doubts about the experience when I began, those doubts had been assuaged by the end of it all. Mistakes were made. Lessons were learned. Games were played. Connections were made. Friendships were strengthened. Gen Con isn’t about getting the latest and greatest things. It’s about getting together with the gamer family you didn’t know you had and simply enjoying being in one another’s presence. It’s like Jolt Cola for the board gaming soul. It was my first Gen Con, but it certainly won’t be the last.
If you’re like me, the anticipation for something can consume your life, whether that be an anticipated package from Amazon, weekend plans, or in the case of the last few weeks, Gen Con 50! This was my first Gen Con experience, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but it definitely exceeded my hopes for the convention.
My Gen Con experience began by scouring the BGG Gen Con preview tool, trying to identify games I would be interested. I ended up with five must-buy items: The Climbers, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – The Monster Box of Monsters Expansion, Lisboa, Orleans: Trade & Intrigue, and the new Deckscape escape room games. So I plotted my course through the hall, and at 7:00 AM on Thursday morning I was in line.
After the initial rush of game buying, I was ready to sit at the tables and see some of the new hotness games. One of the hottest games at the con was the CMON mega-hit, Rising Sun. Though I didn’t get a chance to play a full game, the CMON team did a fantastic job demoing the game for me, and you can definitely color me excited for the release of that one.
Though Rising Sun got me incredibly excited, the game that I was giddiest to purchase was The Climbers. Though The Climbers was originally released in 2008, it has been out of print for years. Fortunately, new publisher Capstone Games acquired the rights to print it as the first game in their new “Simply Complex” line of games. To say The Climbers lived up to my excitement would be an understatement. It was the game I played most at the con and I’ve already introduced it to numerous people since then. Simply Complex is the perfect way to describe The Climbers, and it has quickly become a game I am excited to break out with any game group. Also, while I was at the Capstone booth I picked up all of their other titles that they had available. If you like heavier titles, then Capstone is a publisher to keep your eye on.
I was overwhelmed by the number of new prototypes and games to demo, and going in one stood out that I had to try, and that was City of the Big Shoulders. This game was initially touted as 18XX meets Arkwright and that had me wary. (Mostly) new designer, new publishing company, and combining two already big, weighty games. I was fortunate to play a two player game with the artist of the game (who did an absolutely stunning job with the muted Chicago artwork), and I have to say this game really impressed me. It really grabs the 18XX stock market, mimicking 1846, while combining a resource management, worker placement euro style puzzle. If you’re familiar with 18XX games, you’ll pick this one up after a turn or so. The two player game was a little too open for my taste, but I’m excited to play the game at higher player counts. City of the Big Shoulders is coming out on Kickstarter in early 2018 and I will be backing it the minute it comes out.
Gen Con was a great experience, meeting new people, strengthening old bonds, and seeing so much excitement around a hobby that I so dearly enjoy. If you can make it, I hope to see you at Gen Con 2018!
If I were to pick a single word that encompassed by 2017 Gen Con experience it would be “community”. While this was my first Gen Con, I’ve been part of the board game community for nearly three years on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The most amazing thing about an event like this was that I finally got to meet many of my online friends in person! Friendly familiar faces were all over the place, including a number of people I just happened to run into randomly. I even ran into a former coworker! One of the strengths of board gaming is being able to bring people together over a shared interest. For us, that’s board gaming, and it’s never so clear as at an event like this. I even got to drive up with my partners from Meeple Mountain LLC!
The event itself was great, but I did more walking in 5 days than I generally do in 3 weeks. I logged 62, 517 or almost 20 miles worth of walking. That sounds hard to believe, but when you see the size of the main vendor hall it starts to become really plausible. Look at that monstrous room. And that was only a fraction of the space used by the convention. Pretty sure it took me nearly 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other.
I spent most of my time interviewing lots and lots of industry people for our YouTube channel. I’m a people person so that was energizing and exciting to talk to people who are directly responsible for publishing games that I love. There’s too many to list, here but you’ll be able to check all of them out as we release them on the Meeple Mountain YouTube channel. I think you’ll enjoy them.
Amusingly for a gaming convention I didn’t get to do much gaming. But the times I did sit down to play, it was with good friends. I played (and bought) The Climbers from Capstone Games, Stockpile (which I also purchased) from Nauvoo Games, and Barenpark from Mayfair Games. I also got the chance to play a really unique party game from CGE called That’s a Question.
While I only purchased three games myself, I returned to Nashville with stacks of games. After talking about the Meeple Mountain Board Game Cafe that we’re opening, many publishers offered copies of games for us to feature on our shelves. Of course we’ll be purchasing the lion’s share of our games through traditional outlets, but it was humbling to see the commitment to driving our hobby forward. Thanks to you all!
If you’re trying to decide whether to attend Gen Con, perhaps Elijah Longwell’s Gen Con Experience Journal might help guide you. If you’ve already decided to attend your first board gaming convention, our Board Gamer’s Guide to Board Game Conventions will give you some great tips. Or you could just take the plunge and come try it out. You never know when you might run into a friend, or even make one or two!