Back in September, I made it back to Gen Con. It was different in so many ways after the year off from last year. First, and perhaps least significant, it was in mid-September instead of the beginning of August. On the personal level, it was extremely different because I was there as a game designer, playtesting my new card game design, Eureka Science Academy, in the First Exposure Playtest Hall (a profoundly unfortunately-named place to hang out during a global pandemic). Normally, I’m there on a press pass, and my goal is to get exposed to as much new material as I can to share with the Black Gate readership.
On top of all of that, though, it was profoundly different because most of my favorite game companies weren’t even there. No Paizo. No Privateer Press. No Fantasy Flight Games. No Asmodee. No Looney Labs. No IELLO. Instead, these companies took their Gen Con presence online this year, and Paizo had a particularly robust selection of online content.
I have been attending Gen Con regularly since 2009, and reporting on the events and new games here on Black Gate. It’s one of the highlights of my year, honestly. But this year, of course, Gen Con has suffered the same fate as so many other major in-person events … a shift to online participation. Gen Con Online will run from Thursday, July 30, through Sunday, August 2, 2020.
Registration for Gen Con Online is free for attendees. There will also be three different Twitch channels that are livestreaming demos, live games, and other broadcasts related to Gen Con, with links available here. There is also supposed to be a Discord server set up, though that is still coming. Not surprisingly, it looks like there will be ample abilities to purchase games through the Gen Con Game Store, and of course to purchase Gen Con merchandise. All of that goes live online when the convention begins on Thursday. Once you’ve signed up for your badge, you can register for individual events on the Event Page, though at this point many of the most popular events are sold out. (It is still worth checking in, though, as some people might not show up for their registered events.)
Favorite annual major events from Gen Con are still taking place, though in modified forms. For example, the annual Costume Contest allowed entries throughout the first half of July. Finalist videos will be placed on the Online Costume Contest website on July 29, allowing for votes from fans (1 vote per person). It isn’t going to be quite the same as the Saturday parade of costumes through the convention center, to be sure, but I’m definitely glad that they’ve found a way for these impressive cosplayers to show their stuff and get recognized for it.
The force is strong with this one, it seems. Yes, that’s my beloved son, taking his first steps toward a larger, more gamer-filled world, as he becomes a temporary apprentice to Lord Vader. (Don’t ask me why the Rebel Alliance officer is standing near them. It just doesn’t fit continuity!)
The second day of Gen Con was our family day, as I took my son and wife to the convention with me. This day is was lot more leisurely paced than yesterday, because we spent more time being selective and sitting down to demo games, because with a six-year-old, you really have to be a bit more picky. He’ll lose patience if you’re chatting up designers about setting specifics. He wants some action, and if he doesn’t get it, there will eventually be a meltdown. With summer ending, we’ve been in meltdown territory for the last couple of weeks anyway, so it was touch and go, but we found enough games for him to get up to speed on quickly that it kept him highly engaged.
One game that we found very interesting, though not particularly fantastic (in the narrative sense of being fantasy-driven) was Bears! from Fireside Games. This dice-based game aims to simulate a bear attack during a camping trip … so, you know, it teaches helpful life lessons, as well. Depending on different die combinations, the players are able to escape the rampaging bears by shooting them, running away, or sleeping contentedly in their tents. However, if there are more bears left over when this is all done, then those sleeping in tents get eaten and lose points instead of gaining them.
It’s that time of the year again, when all the good little gamers gather in Indianapolis to explores the exhibitor’s booths and discover treasures, new and old. I speak, of course, of Gen Con Indianapolis, the “Best Four Days in Gaming.”
If you recall from last year’s report (see Gen Con 2010 Reflections if you don’t recall), I had a lot of fun last year, mostly because I now have a family to take and with whom I could share the experience.
They also prove useful bait for dragons. (Just kidding. No infants were harmed in the making of this blog!)
Today, however, was all about me. I trekked into Indianapolis to experience the first day of the convention on my own, basically blasting through the Exhibit Hall and trying to look at every booth to find if there was anything interesting for me to report back on. …
Now that Gen Con is done, it’s time to offer up some final thoughts, experiences, and, of course, games.
One of the best areas to walk around at Gen Con is the art show. This is always fun for me, because I honestly don’t follow artists that much, so sometimes I stumble upon someone really famous whose work I’ve never seen before or who I’ve never heard of. Unfortunately, since the artwork is the artist’s main product, I really can’t reproduce it here without getting into all kinds of messy copyright issues. Fortunately, what I can do is link to the websites of some that I found most enjoyable:
While I covered some fun pulp roleplaying games in yesterday’s post, I didn’t get around to talking some fun games of other types. One publisher that I’d like to discuss is Slugfest Games, which has a wide assortment of card and board games which have a pulp feel to them. The one that I demoed this year was Kung Fu Fighting, a card game in which you play a series of karate moves.
Saturday was my last day at Gen Con, and it will be missed … at least for another year. Tomorrow, I’ll post a bit more in the way of reflections, but for now, let me cut straight to some of the games that I came across.
Pulp Adventure Roleplaying Games
For gamers who lean toward pulpy goodness (which I imagine includes many Black Gate readers), there are a lot of great options out there.
One of the best games available for pure pulp action is the Hollow Earth Expedition game (reviewed in Black Gate #12), which is sort of like Indiana Jones meets Journey to the Center of the Earth meets Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow … with some other craziness thrown in. You really can’t go wrong with a setting that conveniently allows apemen, dinosaurs, Nazis, ninjas, sorcerers, zeppelins, and mad scientists to intermingle.
Since the original release of the game there are now two hardcover supplements available: Mysteries of the Hollow Earth and Secrets of the Surface World. Starting in fall of this year, the creators are planning to begin releasing a series of PDF adventure modules, which they refer to as the “Perils” because they’ll have names like “Perils of Morocco” and “Perils of Brazil” … and, perhaps, if we should be so lucky, “Perils of Scranton.” These PDF modules should be available through DriveThruRPG when they are finally released. In 2011, however, the word is that they’ll be releasing a Revelations of Mars sourcebook … so keep your eyes open for that, lovers of planetary adventure settings!
Steampunk is vividly on display at Gen Con this year, which makes sense, based on the popularity of novels such as Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (a Hugo finalist) and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. The industrial revolution of technomagick from the Privateer Press campaign setting of the Iron Kingdoms also shows us what steampunk can accomplish.
More game systems seem to be embracing it, like in some of the new supplements for the Victoriana RPG (a game I’ll be reviewing in the next issue of Black Gate) and the growth of weird science-based pulp games like Hollow Earth Expedition. Heck, even Disney is getting into the steampunk spirit. (Not surprising given all the times which, as Scott Westerfeld pointed out, they’ve dipped into steampunk in the past). In a recent posting on his blog, Bowing to the Future, science fiction author and editor Lou Anders discussed the growth of the steampunk sub-genre. It seems like there’s hardly a “best of” list out there which doesn’t contain at least one steampunk title.
Gen Con is packed full of entertainers, in one form or another, but some of the most visible are the singers. There aren’t many of them, but they do stand out … mostly because they’re playing musical instruments.
In this case, it was the musical stylings of Dan the Bard and Water Street Bridge, carefully positioned in the high traffic areas right outside of the Exhibition Hall. Dan the Bard seems to be taking a page from the Old Spice Guy promotional playbook, as his business card indicates that he is “Now accepting commissions for songs about characters and campaigns!” Now you, too, can have your half-elf bard
While the entertainment is great, it doesn’t look like any of the big media guests show up until tomorrow. Sorry, no Wil Wheaton or “The Guild” cast members today … although at one point, I did believe that I passed Mo Rocca in a hallway. (And, it turns out, I may very well have been right. From his Twitter feed, @MoRocca said, about 7 hours ago “At #GenCon in Indianapolis. Far more authentically nerdy than ComicCon. That’s a compliment.”)
This gave me an opportunity to head into the Exhibition Hall and poke around the periphery a bit. I was able to check in with a couple of old friends from last year.
First, I talked with the folks over at the Shard RPG to see what fun they had coming. It turns out their game of Eastern mythology-based anthropomorphic animals (it’s a lot cooler than that just made it sound, honest) is going strong, and they’re expecting to have their new supplement, Magic and Martial Arts, out by Christmas. Their own website doesn’t even have this information yet, they said, but they had a preliminary copy of the book available. It looks like it will really expand the possibilities of the game in great ways.
After a hectic morning, my wife and I finally made the 45-minute drive into Indianapolis with our littlest, 8.5-month old Gideon. (The elder, 5-year old Elijah, will be joining us tomorrow.) Parking was crazy, but we found a spot finally and made our trek over to the convention center that is the home to Gen Con, the best four days in gamig (self-proclaimed).
This is the first year that Gen Con has offered free wi-fi access, but it’s not cooperating with my laptop too well, so this will be a short post. A lengthier post, with accompanying pictures will come later in the day, possibly in the evening when I get home to my computer.
In the meantime, follow my Tweets on the event (my iPad TweetDeck App seems to connect fine) at @azjauthor.
It’s that time of year again, when I’ll be slipping into full-on geek mode (as if I ever slip out of geek mode, of course) and reporting on this blog from Gen Con Indy, “The Best Four Days in Gaming.” This year, it’ll just be the best three days for me – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – and while that won’t be enough time to see everything at GenCon, it’ll definitely be time to see plenty, photograph it, and, who knows, maybe even pulls together a video or two. (No promises on that last one.)
First, let me link back to some of my reports from last year, so that we can see what the big stories were:
I expect nothing less this year, with the most fun usually coming from the games that I’d never even heard of until I stumbled upon the booth. This year, I’ll also try to get some coverage of the other aspects of Gen Con, such as the writing panels by top fantasy authors and editors.
And let us not forget the abundance of media guests, including the majority of the cast of the gamer-based web television series “The Guild.” (Dare I dream that I might get my DVD copy of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog autographed by Miss Felicia Day?) Actually, now that I think about it … I’ll have to find a way, if the opportunity arises, to present Wil Wheaton with an autographed copy of String Theory for Dummies. If I pull that off, rest assured, a picture will be posted!
Feel free to offer up any other tips on what you’d like to hear about.