Monday, August 17, 2009

Gen Con AAR

Dramatis Personae

Mark and Brian - Co-workers of mine.
Mondo - Gaming friend.
Kevin - Your humble correspondent.


We arrived at the convention center around 7:30. Luckily we had already purchased our badges, so we were able to pick up our badges immediately. We took a quick walk around the convention center than headed back up to the room to play something. First up was a game of Magic: The Gathering using a couple of pre-constructed decks. Of course I picked a blue control deck, although it was focused on creature abilities instead of counter spells. Mark took a White Black Rebel themed deck. My deck started off pretty slowly, with Mark pumping out creatures and doing some early damage. Once the deck got rolling, though, I was able to block and destroy his creatures, eventually winning the game. Boy, having a Morphling would have been nice...

All three of us (Brian, Mark, and me) played the second game, Roll Through the Ages. Its a light version of the standard card driven game. Each player rolls dice to determine what food and resources that have to spend. They then purchase upgrades and build things using those resources. I had reasonably advanced civilization but suffered quite a bit from diseases/calamities. Brian had a pretty solid civ and won the game.


I woke up at 6:30 in the morning the first day. Just like a kid at Christmas. :-) We grabbed a bit to eat then found a demo room for Rio Grande Games. Since the dealer room didn't open for a while, we sat down and played a game of Zooloretto. It was a cool, light game, where you collect animals to put into your zoo, scoring victory points by filling up pens. It turned out to be a close game, with Mondo winning by 2 points. It was a quick, fun game that I would gladly play again.

The dealer room opened at 10:00 with a large cheer and swarm of people entering the hall. The first booth that I saw was Fantasy Flight and got swept up into the frenzy for the release of Middle Earth Quest. I was one of the first people in line, so it wasn't too bad, but others were stuck in a line for almost a half hour. Crazy.

After that, we wandered around the dealer hall and auction house. I picked up a used copy of Descent and the campaign expansion for $60, which was very cool. The AH was a lot like the old school Origins auctions, with time slots for each type of item: war games, RPGs, CCGs, etc. They even had an "Oddities" category, although I didn't stick around for that.

I did my first event Saturday afternoon. It was a 1st ed AD&D adventure called Brotherhood. It served as an introduction to a long running campaign called "The Story". The adventure involved starting as a 0 level character and completing tasks to become a 1st level paladin. I thought it was quite interesting and was well run.

After the event, Mondo and I grabbed dinner and met Brian and Mark for some evening gaming in the board game room. First, we played a game called Rush n Crush. Think Circus Minimus in the future. It had some interesting mechanics but was pretty lame. Then we played a couple of games of Dominion, which was a lot of fun. The first game became an arms race with the Witch, and everyone gained a pile of curses. Mark was able to defend himself a bit with the moat and was able to combine a couple of Throne Room plus Witch combos to win. In the second game, we used cards from the Intrigue expansion. It was much crazier than the first game, with capitalizing on the Harem/Scout combo for the win.


We poked around in the dealer hall and auction room a bit more, but didn't purchase anything of note. I did, however, get a demo of an Indie RPG called "The Burning Wheel". It was VERY interesting. Its a story based system that has some interesting mechanics. Each character has a set of two or three beliefs that provides their motivation, and the game revolves around the characters attempting to fulfill them. Its less about the DM running characters through an adventure and more about the players driving the system and the DM providing the details and obstacles. I might do a separate post on the game, I found it that interesting.

After lunch, I headed to my second scheduled event of the con. It was an introductory scenario for the Legend of the Five Rings campaign Heroes of Rokugan. L5R is an RPG set in a fantastic version of Feudal Japan. All players are technically samurai, but they can all have different classes, such as bushi or shukenja. All characters also belong to a specific clan and family, which provides certain skills, benefits, and drawbacks. No two characters are alike, which makes for an interesting variety. I played a Lion clan bushi from the Matsu clan, which is the family that produces military leaders. I was very skilled in the katana, but I was better in open battle than in a duel. Anyways, the adventure revolved around a wedding celebration that had plenty of contests, from dueling to poetry to painting to storytelling, and, of course, some evil spirit attempting to wreck everything. We were able to win a few contests, learn a bit about the system, and save the day. The nice part is that the campaign is ongoing, so if I go to Gen Con next year I'll be able to use the same character.

I had another event that evening, which was a follow up AD&D scenario for "The Story". I was able to use the paladin that I had created the day before, and I was all geared up for some cool gaming action. It was supposed be a multi-table event, but we didn't have enough people, so each table ended up playing separately. Sadly, we had a group that was absolutely horrible. We wandered aimlessly for the first two hours of the event, losing one guy because "his phone didn't work". Then we kind of blundered around for another hour, missing all of the DMs queues that we were doing the wrong thing. Finally, when we reached the climax of the story, we blundered into a valid solution to the problem, saving our skins and ending up with some shiny new stuff. It was a pretty painful process, though. Again, we can keep our characters from year to year, so I do want to play my guy in The Story in the future.


I didn't have any events scheduled for Saturday, so I wanted to wrap up some shopping and try some different games. Crazy Igor had a buy one, get one sale, so Mondo and I picked up a couple of games. We tried a demo for an interesting system set in a post-apocalyptic Roman world. (IOW, there was a big cataclysm around 0 AD.) The system was pretty interesting, but I couldn't justify spending money on yet another game that I'll never play.

After lunch, Mondo headed toward some Star Wars RPG event while Brian, Mark, and I tried Middle Earth Quest. MEQ is the standard kind of Fantasy Flight Game, with a ton of beautiful bits that requires a bit of time to set up and learn. The game is set in the time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. One person plays Sauron and everyone else plays Heroes that must cooperate to win. The object of the game is for Sauron to advance his plot elements and the heroes to prevent this from happening. The plot cards advance one of three plots (ring, corruption, and marshaling of forces), creating a location on the board marking the source of the plot. The heroes have to move to the various locations to defeat the plots, avoiding various monsters, encounters, and Sauron's minions along the way. It took me a couple of turns to realize the correct strategy, so I ended up getting behind the curve and couldn't recover, resulting in an easy win for the Free Peoples. Oh, well, I'll get them next time... I liked the game a lot. The play was very solid, including interesting mechanics for movement and combat. It was also very "themey", and the effects of different cards, encounters, etc. all worked very well in the context of the books. I though the game was very well done and look forward to playing it again.

I was feeling pretty burnt out by this time, so after dinner Mondo and I decided to watch one of the movies in the cinema area. We saw "Midnight Chronicles", a movies produced by Fantasy Flight Games based in the setting of the Midnight RPG. I thought the story and special effects were both well done. The acting and script were pretty cheesy, but didn't take too much away from the film. It was pretty cool and was definitely worth the hour and a half spent watching it.

After the movie, Mondo and I played Hera and Zeus, a two player card game by Rio Grande. It was kind of like Stratego with cards. It was entertaining, but seemed to be very luck dependent once you understood the basic strategy. On our way back to the room (by now it was about 1:00 in the morning), we watched a couple of groups play Werewolf. It was interesting seeing the group dynamics work from the outside, but I was too tired to actually join in a game. I think I'm all over it next year, though.


This was the last day of the con. I picked up a couple of minis for Roy, but that was it. The drive home was fairly uneventful, and I was completely exhausted when I got home.


It turned out to be a great trip. I had a lot of fun in the events and the shopping was very good.

How does it compare to Origins? Well, Gen Con is certainly bigger and was much more organized. The dealer room was about 50% bigger, and the bigger companies have a much larger presence there. As an added bonus, there are a lot of new releases that happen at GenCon, so there are a lot of shiny new things to check out. There were very few war games or miniatures at Gen Con, which was a bit disappointing (although, to be honest, I probably wouldn't have tried any of them.) Also, board gaming seems to be bigger at Origins than at Gen Con, and it has much better board gaming rooms. At Gen Con, all of the big companies (Rio Grande, Fantasy Flight, and Days of Wonder) have separate demo rooms where you can try all of their games. At Origins, most places have one or two tables and that's it. One final bit... costumes are a BIG DEAL at Gen Con. I saw tons of people, young and old, male and female, wearing costumes. Most of them were some sort of Anime characters, but they had the old standby fantasy and Star Wars people as well. There were so many people in costume, that you didn't even notice them after a while.

So would I go back again? Yeah, no doubt. Is it better than Origins? IMO, yes for some things, no for others. I heard a really good analogy comparing the two... Origins is like Kennywood and Gen Con is like Disneyland. Both are fun, but have different things that they do well.

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