Gen Con is one of the biggest events of the year, and being in the hobby you’ll hear about it as much as Essen because they’re both very important. Amidst the demos, checkout lines, photo opportunities, and cosplay, there’s a lot of buzz and hype being generated, money being exchanged, and a lot of…well, chaos and fun. It’s really easy to get swept up in it all, not knowing whether to buy, or play, or rush from point A to point B to catch an event or a signing, and this is coming from someone who’s been going to these things for 5 years now! So that’s why, this year, I’m writing about what this Gen Con was like in a nutshell, with the uninitiated in mind, on just the opening day.
The torches were lit, the masses swelled and rallied to the exhibit hall doors to prepare for the yearly traditions. Opening ceremonies occurs amidst an amazing crowd each year, itching to get within a breath of the hall doors so that, when they open, they can race to where they need to be. It’s the kind of thing that evokes imagery of Black Friday shopping, but forgive my humor and don’t let me lead you astray – the Gen Con crowd is reasonable, calm, briskly walking, and exceptionally forward thinking. Most attendees at 10 AM on opening day strategically plot which set of doors to huddle towards in the hopes of getting their place in line for what hot new titles await in limited supply.
This year’s hotness was undoubtedly SeaFall, and while it was predictably anticipated it was not without good reason. A big new 4X game with a familiar theme that dipped itself into the slowly-growing pool of legacy titles that have quickly climbed the board gaming ranks. It was no surprise that by the time I meandered toward Plaid Hat’s booth, a quaint cardboard sign let loose my expectations leaving me with a wry smile. I was not at all unlike the other con-goers, though, since my target was Grimslingers instead and I just as easily contributed to it’s forfeiture of copies. The art is stunning, the game-play is intriguing, the replay value enticing, and I got a copy just a month shy of it’s official street date. Huzzah!
There’s so much more to do at Gen Con and always so little time, especially for just one day. There are events, activity rooms, and tournaments to name a few, but I was determined to participate in demos. Demoing games is a great way to try titles you might not get the opportunity to try otherwise, and plenty of popular new titles are easily accessible on throughout the hall. Too many to even mention them all. It was an incredible offering this year with the many adventurous features and Intellectual Properties making it to board gaming scene – from the app controlled second edition of Mansions of Madness, to the surprisingly enthralling card game for Bloodborne. I was particularly impressed with how good looking the newest Cosmic Encounter looked with it’s Game of Thrones ensemble.
Yet I couldn’t leave the day without getting in on a game of Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails – the biggest baddest game in the series yet. It was everything I could have dreamed it would be: A bigger, grittier, deeper version of the game I love. When first I read news about it, I feared the boats would not be a worthwhile gimmick, but I can happily admit I was wrong. For those familiar with standard Ticket to Ride, Rails and Sails features a separate deck of cards just for boats along with the familiar train cards. Three of each deck are offered face up and drafted just like normal, with boats needed for waterways just as trains for tracks. The catch is that when a card is picked up, the active player can choose from which deck the card is replaced, allowing manipulation of the offer. With a few other minor rules tweaks, the newest Ticket to Ride is one incredible “Gamer’s edition” of the popular family game.
The exhibit hall floor was rife with big names and big personalities, all caught up in the same maelstrom of games and gamers. A smorgasbord of game designers were available to show off their games, answer questions, and greet fans. I shook more than a few hands, and took more than a few bad pictures, but at no point was I ungrateful for the experience to meet those hard working people who bring us the games we love. Many prominent game reviewers were bombarded by incredible news and beloved fans alike, including our own Dice Tower team. It’s always a joy to see them, and one of the few opportunities I have to speak with them casually. This year, however, was a little more special, in that I got the chance to meet with our head editor here at Dice Tower News – Robert Searing. It was my privilege to personally thank him and Tom Vasel for the wonderful opportunities they’ve allowed me through working with them, and I’ll have a picture to remember it.
Gen Con 2016 has come and gone, hall emptied and the people having returned home with fond memories and stories to tell. Many groups on social media have already sprung up to prepare for next year, ready to experience the excitement all over again. There’s a spark there I see, in everyone, that lights that fervor, that passion for this convention, and it’s really subtle – you can blink and miss it. You can’t capture it photos or video. It’s not the race for the hottest games, or the tournaments for the competitive devotees, but instead it’s the community. The global presence of the gaming world all mashed together in one spot. Gamer, producer, designer, reviewer – all people equal under a single, unifying purpose: To be among our own, sharing in that excitement, talking about what we love, all willing to simply sit down together and play. That’s what makes Gen Con so special, and what keeps me, and many, ever anticipating the next one.