Saturday was my final day at Gen Con, as had been planned from the start. I would make my few purchases after my Lord of the Rings LCG event and hit the road, hoping to get home before my lovely wife was in bed. I had one thing initially scheduled for the day, but a chance meeting of Travis Hill on Friday night led to us planning to meet this morning to actually get to talk some and play his prototypes. What followed on Saturday, in just two meetings/events, made it easily the most memorable of days.
Travis Hill, Low Player Count, Penny Rails, The Struggle is Real
In all honesty, Travis might have been the most genuine, humble, and awesome person I had the honor to meet over the course of the convention. He was on my list of people I really wanted to connect with, and he is even more awesome in person than I ever expected. If you want some excellent podcasting in your ears, go listen to the Low Player Count podcast. Seriously. It is the podcast that got me hooked on podcasts, and I haven’t missed an episode in quite some time.
Travis also helps in the community by working on rulebooks. A task most wouldn’t envy, but I certainly do. It is a necessary job he performs, and I loved hearing him talk a little about what he looks over as part of the rulebook editing and just how busy he is with that. It means more designers and publishers are taking the rulebook seriously, something that I, as someone who frequently reads rulebooks and teaches players from them, can genuinely appreciate. A year from now, I hope to be doing a fraction of the great work that Travis is providing with his editing of the rulebooks.
I’d like to say that his two games were the highlight of this hour of time, but that’d be a lie. The games were both excellent. I loved Penny Rails so much, and he was truly excited to hear that I didn’t already have a background in train games. I am 100% certain that I will be setting aside some money in the coming months to back Penny Rails when it hits Kickstarter (or, the open market if it goes straight to being sold), as I found it to be a really clever game and easy enough for a non-train gamer to understand how it played. The scoring was equally straightforward, at least with the way Travis explained it. And I have no doubt that his rulebook for the game will present it well.
Then I got to try his solo game, right now called The Struggle is Real. It was an interesting little deck manipulation game that I found to be a nice challenge. Once again, his interactions and his genuine excitement at watching his game unfold and hearing my thoughts as it went was the most memorable part. I wish Travis lived closer, as he is the sort of guy I would love to hang out with (gaming optional) all the time. I hope to continue to interact with him, to talk solo and 2-player games, to play more of his games as they progress in their designs, to learn some lessons on editing rulebooks that I can implement if the opportunity ever arises to help with that, and to talk coffee.
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – The Wizard’s Quest Event, Caleb Grace, Fantasy Flight Games
By this point in the convention my social anxiety was finally hitting me in full force. I grabbed my quest pack and sat down at a table in the area, but not near any of the other amiable groups of people who were deep in conversation. I took my time and opened up the set, read the rules, and a Fantasy Flight guy let me know that if I needed some people to play with to let him know, as he could get me paired. After a long delay, I got up and went to find people to join and, ultimately, only made it to the other side of the table. Best decision I ever made, in hindsight.
It wasn’t too long after this that someone sat down across from me. I did a double take: Caleb Grace, long-time designer and developer for the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I was able to talk to him, breaking out of my shell because I knew I couldn’t waste this chance. And wow, what a fantastic guy! We talked about the digital card game (he was pleased to hear I tried and enjoyed it!). That led into the Limited Edition set that has the digital game and the 2-player set and he confirmed many players’ worst fears: right now, he knows of no plans to release that 2-player set outside of this bundle. So if you want these cards, or the quests, you need to jump on this limited edition offer. Thankfully, the digital game is really good so it should be worth the price in the long run.
We talked about the Saga series for the game, and I learned that he originally sat down and outlined the entire book series by chapters and used that to help map out the progression of quests and he wanted, back in 2012 when it started, for the game to be able to end with one group at the Black Gate while the other was (at the same time) trying to dunk the ring in Mount Doom. I haven’t made it there myself, but I understand he was successful in that. And, through all of the conversations with him, he kept emphasizing how much he loved the community of players and seeing their reactions to cards and sets. And that he loved what he was currently doing at conventions: sitting among the players.
And then the unthinkable happened: Caleb asked if I wanted to play against him. Gulp. Yes, of course. A surreal experience I never, in my wildest of Gen Con dreams, could have imagined.
For those not in the know, the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has been a completely cooperative gaming experience since its release in 2011. The Wizard’s Quest allows you to change it into a competitive mode, constructing the deck your opposing team of 1-2 players will work through while they do the same for you. In the competition, teams alternate going phase-by-phase through the quest. The first one to either finish, or the last one standing, will win.
I busted out my faithful Hobbit deck of Sam, Merry, and Pippin. He brought Cirdan the Shipwright, Arwen, and Caldara. And I ultimately lost the match, but not before one of the longest, and most intense, and most epic game I’ve ever played.
Because he is Caleb Grace, people took an interest in the game, and sometimes stopping to watch for a while. Everyone loved seeing the encounter deck hammer down on him, and early on his deck was bleeding allies while mine was building up a board state to progress. By the time I got to Stage 2, where a really strong enemy would attack early in every round, my Samwise Gamgee was able to defend the attack without a scratch (most of the time) and so I handled that area better. But the deck worked against me too, often inflating the number I needed to surpass by questing so that I would break even time and again. Ultimately, that was my demise. He was able to recover enough that he finished Stage 3 of the quest while I was still trying to regain enough control of the locations so I could start placing progress on the quest.
It will be a game of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game that I will never, ever forget.
And maybe, some day, I can get a chance to play with Caleb Grace once more. I love the game and the community, and I hope to do my small part moving forward to contribute by reviewing the expansions and writing about some of the decks I’ve tinkered with. I’ve been tempted a few times to just shift into a Lord of the Rings blog, and I’d jump at the chance to be more involved with the game.
Recap & Thoughts
So to close things out on the shortest post of the three, here are a few small lists:
Five People I Didn’t Meet But Wish I Had
- Trey Chambers, designer of Argent: The Consortium, Harvest, and Empyreal: Spells & Steam
- Paul Grogan, Gaming Rules!
- Christopher & Adam, Greater Than Games
- Jamey Stegmaier, Stonemaier Games
- Isaac Childress, Cephalofair Games (Okay, so I got to say hello as I was leaving, but I really would have liked to sit down and talk with him for a while and see Founders of Gloomhaven or the new Gloomhaven Expansion)
Five Games I Wanted to Try But Didn’t Get the Chance
- Empyreal: Spells & Steam by Level 99 Games
- Thunderstone Quest by Alderac Entertainment Group
- Founders of Gloomhaven by Cephalofair Games
- The Reckoners by Navuoo Games
- Everdell by Starling Games
Six Things I’d Do Differently for Gen Con 2019
- Schedule fewer things from 10-6 each day – I had less than two hours on Thursday, three hours on Friday, and about an hour on Saturday that were able to be used in the main hall. I gained a little time on Friday with Mystic Vale being cancelled, but overall I had such little time to stop at booths, greet the publishers and designers, and demo games at the tables. Big mistake. I’d almost prefer to just have this time to roam the halls and schedule just the must-play things like the Lord of the Rings event.
- Schedule more things after 6:00 – I had an event planned on Thursday night and it was cancelled, leaving me wandering for a while. No event on Friday night also left me looking around and finding almost nothing that I could do without a long wait. This is the time to meet with people, sit down, and play some games. I failed horribly at this.
- Plan sooner, stay longer – My coming to Gen Con was a late decision, and I could only scrape together enough for gas, food, and hotel funds for a short time. My ability to eat for cheap allowed me to make a few small purchases, but honestly I’d rather arrive Wednesday night and head home Sunday afternoon.
- Volunteer at a booth or two – I wanted to do this, but my short stay and the daytime events meant I couldn’t swing it. I missed out on getting to know a few people better, teaching a game I love to others, and just having a good time without navigating huge crowds. Next time, I will definitely take a shift or two just to enhance that experience.
- Business cards – It hit me the week of Gen Con that having business cards would be a great idea. Thankfully, I wasn’t able to stop and greet a ton of people in the industry so I didn’t necessarily miss out this time. But next year, I want to be able to hand out some information as I am meeting with others in the industry.
- Backpack – I had bags that were good in size, but none of them had padded shoulder straps. So my con experience was one of great discomfort, navigating with bags I had to hold (and dig into my hands) or that would rub on my shoulders. Biggest mistake I made overall, and one I won’t repeat.
5 People I Would Consider Cosplaying
- Aragon, The Lord of the Rings
- Perrin Aybara, The Wheel of Time series
- Joel, The Last of Us
- Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly
- A Viking Warrior