Monday, August 26, 2013

The Madness That Was Gen Con 2013

If I could describe Gen Con 2013 in one word, it would be MADNESS.


A good madness though. Gen Con has released the numbers, and this is one of the biggest factors. Over 49,000 people attended this year, which makes it the largest year ever. 

The entire event is massive. Hotels are sold out for miles. Every parking lot in town is full. The lines for lunch are 30 minutes long. So why do we put ourselves through such insanity? The quick answer is that the games are fun and the people are great. You will hear this in every single recap of Gen Con and I can't stress it enough. If you want to meet people and test out a bunch of new games, you should start planning for Gen Con 2014 now (because the hotels are probably already selling out).

This year was tough for me. I had a lot of plans that were thwarted by terrible fitting new shoes (BIG MISTAKE) and limited time. But I still managed to see the awesomeness of the new releases and play some unreleased upcoming games. Click through the jump for the full recap.


The first day was a little short from flying in. Thursday morning is all about the new releases so I knew that I'd be missing out on some of them if I arrived at 1pm. I wasn't planning on buying much, but I bolted for the AEG booth. There I picked up Trains, Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set, and Love Letter (Japanese Reprint Version).


This was a total impulse buy. I know nothing about the game except that it's at the top of a bunch of hype lists. Since buying it I've heard from a lot of friends that they love it and a few that didn't. Now I know a little more, and with my gaming style and group in mind, I have no doubt that we'll all love it.

Trains is a Deckbuilding Game (all players start with the same deck, and build it throughout the game to allow for bigger and better things) with a map. That's the first big difference that it brings to the table. Some Deckbuilders have a board (Ascension, Marvel Legendary, Pixel Lincoln) that allows a different way to obtain cards. But in Trains, the board is a separate gameplay element where you are placing stations and rails for additional points.

I've watched the game played, but I still haven't had a chance because this dummy couldn't fit his games on the plane and had to send them home with a friend. I hope to reunite with them sometime over the next few days.

Bonus: AEG had a special event, The Big Game Night, and part of their swag box was an Indianapolis themed Trains board. It's very cool and now available as a download here:

Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set

So the theme of Gen Con was madness and so is the theme here. It's a 4 faction expansion for Smash Up (the game where you take 4 factions and shuffle them into one mega awesome set - Alien Ninjas is my go-to combo.), but this time it's all Cthulhu themed. I'm not an expert at all things Cthulhu, but I've played Call of Cthulhu and really enjoyed it. The mythos is pretty extensive and it seems like the 4 factions will be a cool spin on the game.

As for MADNESS, it's a new mechanic within the game that are super powerful, but negative points at the end of the game. I still haven't played, but I did manage to get a fancy limited-edition foil cover version.

Love Letter: The Original Japanese Limited Edition

To round out my trio of AEG games, I picked up the original Japanese Love Letter. Love Letter is a small game with under 20 cards where each player is vying for the attention of the princess. She's the highest numbered card in play and if you can end the game with the highest number you win. Sounds easy enough, BUT on your turn you must play one card (from your hand of two). The cards feature different abilities such as: look at another players' card, guess the name of another players' character, protection from everyone else, etc.. It can be super fun, and is fast enough that most of our sessions will last for 5-10 games.

I wanted this edition because it has new/old artwork that is wonderful. I can't wait to get it onto the table.

Pixel Lincoln and Maximum Throwdown

These are both games that I designed that were available for the first time at a convention. Both were released in the past few weeks and both had a huge presence at the convention. My 16-bit side scrolling game, Pixel Lincoln:The Deckbuilding Game was one of Game Salute's featured games (along with Tom Vasel's Nothing Personal).

The demo was right out front of their booth, next to a huge stack of games and a huge banner featuring Lincoln himself. Every time I stopped by the booth someone was learning the game. I even jumped in for a quick demo, which turned into about 10 quick demos. and before I knew it, the dealer hall was closing for the day.

Over at the AEG Booth, my card throwing battle game, Maximum Throwdown, was out in full force. A big stack of copies for sale right in the front of their booth and a demo table in the front corner where you enter the show.

Demos were happening at all times and I jumped in on a few of these as well. I also had the then-unreleased Maximum Throwdown Scorekeeper App on me, so I just kept score for some of the games. The big Maximum Throwdown event was still to come though...

Pixel Glory and Snafu by Frank Alberts

I sat down with Frank Alberts (who I worked with previously at Game Salute on the Pixel Lincoln Kickstarter campaign) to play 2 of his upcoming games. Pixel Glory and Snafu. Both are card games and both will be coming to Kickstarter soon, but the similarities end there. I will discuss them in detail as the projects near, but here are the basics. Pixel Glory is a classic 8-bit dungeon diver (looks and feels like Final Fantasy/Dragon Warrior) that starts out with players bidding for spells and ends with a big battle where those spells are used to defeat the enemies. Both phases were individually solid and together made for some great tension and great decisions.

Snafu is a multiplayer, realtime party game where players have 60 seconds to make fast trades for sets of a single color card (easy enough, right), BUT must take on a quirky personality trait/mission/obstacle during this time. "You lie about everything", "You have T-Rex arms", "You are Scooby Doo. Ruh-roh" are examples of the things that make it extremely difficult to do what you need to do. They also make it a lot of fun. There were tons of variables in the obstacle deck so I can see this getting a lot of replay.

James Mathe's Publisher Speed Dating

On Thursday night I attended an event where game designers had 5 minute pitch sessions with about a dozen publishers over the course of an hour. In the theme of MADNESS, this fits right in. You have 5 minutes to describe your game and answer questions and then Boom! you are onto the next set of publishers. At first 5 minutes seemed long enough, but if you spend a minute answering a question or even just introducing yourself, you are racing for the other 4.

Designers, keep an eye for this during upcoming conventions because it's a great opportunity that you don't see elsewhere.


Friday was my hangout day where I had very little planned. I was showing off a few of my games to publishers, but mostly just enjoying the con. I spent most of the day wandering and taking in the massive spectacle.

Coin Age by Adam McIver

I met up with Adam McIver early in the morning and had a chance to play his 3 card microgame, Coin Age. He had a limited supply of free copies on hand, and this was one of my "absolute must find" Gen Con items. Thanks to a few tweets, we found each other and I scored my copy.

This is a tiny, tiny game that uses the change in your pocket. Using pennies, nickels, dimes and a quarter, you will take turns shaking coins in your hand and dropping them. Depending on the amount of heads/tails you get, you can do specific actions. You'll add or remove coins from the map card or swap some existing ones. Each coin scores differently, and each area of the map provides additional bonuses for the player with the most coins. It's a deep game for it's small footprint.

Coin Age is simple, elegant, and most of all… extremely portable! You can take it anywhere and you should.

Board Game Geek Live

I didn't realize until I was walking over for my interview segment, but Board Game Geek was streaming live from Gen Con. You could sit at home and get a taste of all of the new games that were being released or announced as the publishers and designers would sit in for 10 minute demos. I've watched a bunch of these since the convention and there are so many great games coming out. Photos and descriptions can only go so far, here you get top see the full game in action as described by the people who know them best.

AEG's Big Game Night

AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group - creators of Smash Up, Trains, and many others) holds an annual event where they give away a ton of games, 500 or so people play their games, and with an entry fee of $32, each person gets a swag box. I think the most asked question of Gen Con was "what's going to be in the AEG Swag Box?". I asked it myself, and heard it throughout the halls on Thursday and Friday.

The box included the special Trains board of Indianapolis, an exclusive foil box version of Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set, Guildhall, Maximum Throwdown (my game!), and a whole bunch of Legend of the Five Rings decks and card packs. I would estimate the value at about $75-$100, as the Trains board is bringing over $30 alone on eBay right now.

The gaming was intense that night too. Maximum Throwdown alone had about 8-12 tables going at once, with players standing and throwing cards and yelling "MAXIMUM THROWDOWN!!" as loud as possible. (Players are supposed to stand, throw cards and yell). AEG had a huge staff for the event too, teaching and joining in on the games. This was a very fun, positive event and I'll definitely be there next year. It sells out quickly too, so keep it in mind when everything starts up again.


Saturday my last full day at Gen Con so I tried to squeeze in everything that I missed. I ran a few demo sessions of Pixel Lincoln in the morning and had some appointments in the afternoon, and did some more shopping. I ended up buying the most amazing stuffed llama/alpaca thing for my daughter.

I had so much I wanted to do, but by Saturday I was beat. Gen Con is a massive, massive force that will defeat you if you 1) don't get enough sleep, and 2) wear the wrong shoes. So I ended up missing out on a few of the things I wanted to do the most.

I missed out on Fantasy Flight's mega booth and the awesomeness that was contained within. Not only did they have Wave 3 of the X-Wing ships for sale well before they hit retail stores, but they also had a preview of the next ships. The Rebel Transport (with X-Wing) and Tantive IV! These are going to be $59 and $89 and I cannot wait to throw my money down on the counter of my local game store. Since I didn't even get a picture of these (I know… I was devastated when I found out), here is a look from Team Covenant.

I ended my stay with a huge dinner with a large group of friends (Indie Game Publishers and Designers) in the INSANE domed Pope room of Buca di Beppo. The food portions are huge (family style, so each meal feeds 2-4) and there is a bust of the Pope staring at you as you eat. And eat. And eat. And eat.

So once again... Gen Con 2013 was absolute MADNESS. And that's what makes Gen Con so special.

A few more photos:

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