After hitting Gen Con last year, I knew it would never get any better than that.
“That” is getting to the Indiana Convention Center and experiencing maybe the quietest Gen Con of the last 20 years. No massive crowds. No out-of-control gold rush for games to kick off the session. Getting a hotel room was a cinch: the week of the convention, there were still rooms at hotels attached to the ICC, which will never happen again.
This year’s event felt much like an “olden times” Gen Con, complete with big crowds, a busy cosplay Saturday afternoon, and lots of publishers sharing signs saying that they were sold out of various games.
My big mistake? Picking the Friday of Gen Con weekend to move to a new house in the Chicagoland area. As a result, I was only able to take in Saturday and Sunday at Gen Con this year, and those two days were chock full of meetings.
Still, I had a blast. Here are some of my highlights!
“Sorry, I’m Heading to Another Meeting”
Once again, I basically spent 10 AM – 6 PM on both days of the weekend strolling each aisle of the Expo Hall to shake hands, hand out business cards, and chat with publishers about their game catalog. (I keep thinking I’ll have more time to hang out with friends, and each time, I am wrong!!)
Although I have only been a part of the business of games for about 18 months, I’ve made a lot of great friends in that time. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the people remembered who I was before I even stepped into each booth.
That made meetings with teams at WizKids, Weird Giraffe, Pegasus Spiele, Goliath, Thunderworks, AEG, and so many others that much more special. The meetings were sometimes very brief; I said hey to Justin Jacobson and Rob Daviau at the Restoration Games booth (Return to Dark Tower) in the final hour of the show.
“How are you? Need anything?” Justin said. We chatted about the games that weren’t on display, had the chance to catch up on some art assets we are looking to feature in a piece regarding Thunder Road: Vendetta later this year, and then I moved on.
It was maybe a three-minute interaction, and I’m sure it meant more to me than it did to the Restoration team, but these are the kinds of things that are so important about this, or any other industry:
Relationships. And I think that our team has done a great job of getting out to conventions to make sure Meeple Mountain has the face time we need to continue curating great relationships with publishers and designers of all sizes in the tabletop space.
I spent time with Board & Dice chatting about the upcoming release Tiletum. As Ola Sklodowska, Head of Marketing, went over the game, it was hard to hide my excitement even through my mask, so I’m excited to spend more time with the game this fall. (It sounds like expansion content is on the way for one of my favorite games of this year, Origins: First Builders, but that content will be shared in detail at Essen Spiel.)
Brotherwise was showing off games I mostly own or have played, such as Overboss and the recent Kickstarter Castles by the Sea. However, Empire’s End has real promise and John D. Clair (Space Base) is the designer, so I think this might be the first time Brotherwise appears to be shooting for “games that can win awards.” I’m excited to see how it marries the Brotherwise philosophy of fun, accessible family games to a just-above-lightweight ruleset.
Devir? I had to stop by. After our Gen Con 2022 preview you may know that The Red Cathedral: Contractors was the #1 game on my list. The Devir team shared a review copy so that is the game I’m most excited to break out soon. Devir also has lots of “small box” games on the way, in addition to Mille Fiori and Lacrimosa, both of which will arrive in the US late this year or early next.
My #1 bust from Gen Con 2022 was Twilight Inscription, a roll-and-write game based on the Twilight Imperium universe. I did a full 8-player game that took 115 minutes (!!!); the best thing I can say is that it really is shorter than a full game of Imperium. I’ll share more in an upcoming hot take piece soon.
Capstone’s booth was jammed all weekend with sales of both Ark Nova and that game’s first Map Pack; both sold out by Sunday afternoon. I met with Clay Ross and he noted this was the busiest his booth had ever been at a US show; the stellar run Capstone has been on will be a feature I’ll be publishing here on the site soon. Some big news is coming from Capstone but I can’t share more of it until October.
One thing Clay did discuss was his excitement about the Capstone+ program. Similar to other initiatives like the Stonemaier Champion program, Capstone fans can pay an annual fee to get 20% off of all Capstone games plus be first on the list to receive games before other online shoppers at the Capstone virtual store. The program also lets fans receive a newsletter and other perks for $20 a year. It sounds like hundreds of people have already signed up, and with a dozen or more games coming out each year, the savings could stack up quickly for fans of medium-to-heavy strategy titles.
I had the chance to meet with three people at the Osprey Games booth, including designer David Thompson, one half of the duo responsible for the design of the excellent Undaunted game series (we’ve previously covered one of the expansions, Normandy). I’m excited to see what that series’ next game, Undaunted: Stalingrad, adds to the series. I have only played the original game, but that was one of the best two-player games I’ve ever experienced. We also discussed my thoughts on Osprey’s Crescent Moon and what might be coming in the months ahead.
I also spoke with Anthony Howgego at Osprey because I wanted to hear the pitch for what Osprey is going for; what is their brand proposition? I loved his responses: “Euro-y DNA”; lots of strategic gameplay; “restrained” production quality, to ensure gamers can afford to get the games to the table (which, save for Crescent Moon, has mostly been on point).
The catalog for Hachette Boardgames looks very promising thanks to the mix of games releasing through their 8 (!!!) design studios. Lots of party games are inbound from Hachette including Linkto, a co-op trivia game with two different modules sold separately, and Olé Guacamole, a happy hour party game. (It says it right on the box!) Hachette also hinted at more titles in the Zombie series coming soon, which our team is very excited to see based on our reviews of both Zombie Kids Evolution and Zombie Teenz Evolution.
Oh, and did I mention that Idavoll, the next expansion to Nidavellir, is coming soon too? And that there may or may not be even more coming next year? (You did not hear that here!)
WizKids had lots to share but I was laser focused on just one title—Sidereal Confluence: Bifurcation, which essentially offers a “B” side to each of the 9 factions from the base game. Adding even more options to an already deep negotiation game made me happy, and this should release by the end of the year. The Fantasy Realms train keeps rolling for WizKids, with Marvel: Remix hitting stores soon. I’ll have a review of that coming up soon.
The most interesting WizKids title I learned about was Marvel: Damage Control. Yes, I know, ANOTHER Marvel game. However, this one builds on something that doesn’t make me show my “frowny face” at yet another comic book cash grab.
Marvel: Damage Control lets you take control of private contractors tasked with cleaning up the mess after any of the hundreds of superhero battles that leave cities in ruins. For example, let’s say Spider-Man shows up, defeats The Green Goblin, but New York City is left with millions of dollars in damages. In the movies, the movie just ends; in Marvel: Damage Control, you have to sort through “rubble” (mostly facedown cards) to build a deck and work with some of the heroes from the comics to clean up. Count me in; this one should land by year-end.
I got to play a round of Tidal Blades: Banner Festival with Bree Goldman from Lucky Duck, and I have to say I was intrigued by this one. Not nearly the level of production that Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef brought to the table (thank goodness, because that previous game was a table beast!), Banner Festival has a couple of familiar mechanics in a race to score the most points by racing around a small 8-space boat track. I’ll try to get a full play in at Essen to see if this really lands over four rounds or not.
I received a review copy of Cult of the Deep from the Stockton brothers at BA Games; I’m very intrigued about their dice worker placement game Forges of Ravenspire. The game seems to borrow some elements of games like Raiders of the North Sea, where placing dice in one location will trigger an action while removing a die from a different space will trigger another, but with a production that even in prototype looks to be quite strong. If the dice from Cult of the Deep are any indication, Forges of Ravenspire will be worth keeping on the radar when it hits crowdfunding in the next few months.
XYZ Game Labs brought the largest prop to Gen Con, thanks to BIGFOOT. Their newest game, BIGFOOT: Roll & Smash, is going to be a hit at my house thanks to my son’s love of monster trucks, but also at many other houses thanks to XYZ’s showing at the convention. The original BIGFOOT truck was on display for fans, and a big thanks to Rachael and Lauren from XYZ for providing a review copy and pictures with the truck.
Many other publishers had hot games available, or prototypes of Kickstarters coming soon, such as Knight Fall (Red Raven), Ahoy (which sold out at the Leder Games booth), Great Western Trail: Argentina (couldn’t even get a seat to demo at Eggertspiele’s booth!), and Cat in the Box: Deluxe Edition (Bezier Games), which may have been the biggest winner at the convention (and also sold out).
In fact, that was the big story at Gen Con this year: the games business is booming, and customers who stayed away for two, even three years, came back ready to spend that cash.
I spoke to maybe 30 publishers about sales at the convention, and almost all of them looked very happy with the results. The proof was in the pudding: even on Sunday afternoon—usually a dead zone, in convention shopping terms—the floor was packed and publishers were air shipping games in on Sunday morning for the shortest day of the convention, and STILL selling some of those games out.
It was amazing.
Last year, I walked the entire expo hall offering to take stock off of publishers’ hands because so many games were left over (publishers despise paying to ship games back to warehouses). This year? I don’t know if I grabbed a single final hour “hot” game from anyone.
This makes me very happy. Don’t worry about me: I’ll get games somehow. But if publishers sell all of their games, they will come back next year with larger stock. Then everyone gets the chance to win again.
I’m happy to share that this year’s event was almost the perfect balance for me. Mask adherence was solid on the Expo Hall floor during each of the two days I was in town. Same was true for pretty much everywhere I went inside of the Indiana Convention Center, which was all Gen Con space during the four days of the weekend.
However, I am exhausted with mask wearing. I realized during the show that I hadn’t worn a mask anywhere the entire summer now that flights do not require masking. So, each evening, I was able to find plenty of spaces where masks were optional, so that I could play games with friends and see smiling faces. I’m expecting a similar experience in Germany when I follow in my colleague Andrew’s footsteps to attend Essen Spiel in October: masks during the work day, no masks in the evenings.
Where the mask policies really hurt was in Halls A-D, where I used to always spend my evenings playing games after days were done at Gen Con. Demos and show floor from 10-6, grab a quick bite, game it up in Hall C from 7 PM until the wee hours of the morning.
No more, and watching Halls A-D thin out by 9-10 PM was a bit sad. I still remember shows in 2018 and 2019 where there was still a ton of foot traffic at 1 AM on Friday night.
I Think We Are Back, Baby!!
Although it was a blast as a member of the media to attend Gen Con 2021 (I’ll never forget being able to book a hotel room the week OF the convention last year), it was great to see large crowds again in Indianapolis for gaming. I’m overjoyed that publishers saw value in being present as well, because their high sales volume means that all of them will be back next year.
In between all of those meetings, I had the chance to do a Twitch livestream with the CGE team for their new Galaxy Trucker expansion with one of my favorite people, Eric Yurko of What’s Eric Playing? (He’s also a favorite because it’s hard to meet other people of color who write about board games!) Even though I still really have no idea what Twitch is all about, I had a blast with Ray from CGE as she smoked Eric and I during our two-round play of the expansion, Galaxy Trucker: Keep On Trucking.
The official attendance numbers were released in time for this publication: more than 50,000 people attended Gen Con 2022, which is very close to pre-pandemic numbers. In fact, one of the publishers quoted in the official Gen Con press release indicated that sales were better than their 2019 booth result, a story I heard myself while speaking to many publishers.
I’m already fired up for August 3-6, 2023!!