Whew, what a weekend at Gen Con. For those who don’t know, this was my first every convention. Yep, not just first Gen Con. Any convention ever. And I went in thinking I had an idea of what to expect, but there was probably nothing that could have fully prepared me for the experience that awaited me. I played only a fraction of the games I wanted to try, missed out on meeting a few of the people I really wanted to catch, and spent far more time in the evening walking around not knowing what to do once the Vendor Hall closed down. Without further ado, here is my recap for the first day, with posts on the other two days of attendance to follow.
My day started off by driving 7 or so hours from central Iowa to Indianapolis. I wanted to be there before 2:00 to meet with some of the Level 99 Games crew, so I left long before the sun was up in the sky. After an uneventful trip, I went straight to where I parked and shuttled into the Convention Center where I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of things. After finding the Press Room to get my badge, I had about 20 minutes to make my way over to the Level 99 booth.
Chris Solis & Temporal Odyssey, Level 99 Games
First up was meeting Chris Solis, the designer of Temporal Odyssey. He turned out to be a really great guy (something that can be said of every single person to follow in this post) and was very open to playing a quick round of his latest game with me. I had played once before with a buddy of mine. so I knew the basics, but it was great to see his strategies taken and to pick his brain a few times about the importance of certain cards or decisions he made along the way. The game itself was as fun as I remembered, being a fast and furious competition between two time travelers. I pulled out some really fun cards, including a late Paladin (my favorite deck) that nearly won me the game. He managed to just barely finish me off a turn before I would have defeated him. This one is a game I am enjoying in my collection, and will be reviewing in the near future for sure. It plays out a little like a CCG duel, but with the ramp up for each side happening almost instantly. There have been times in both games I’ve played where I’ve been stunned at the sheer power of some of these cards, and that makes it fun and unpredictable as you play. There is a ton of room for this game to grow and expand, which is something I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing.
However, the best part was getting to know him a little and hearing about Terrene Odyssey (the “prequel” to this game) and how a lot of the characters and villains in that game appear on cards in Temporal Odyssey. Being a person who grew up playing JRPG games, the idea of each player forming a party of adventurers really appeals to me, and I’ll definitely be checking that one out. I made one key suggestion to Chris regarding Temporal Odyssey, and was very reassured to see him make note of the suggestion. He takes note of everything suggested by players, which is awesome to hear.
D. Brad Talton Jr., Level 99 Games
Unfortunately, my time with Brad was very short but in that span of time I got to know the man behind the mic in the Level 99 Podcast (highly recommended listening!). We talked BattleCON a little bit, as I have a fair amount of recent experience with it after reviewing Trials of the Indines and the BETA of BattleCON Online back in June. His biggest challenge, with BattleCON Online, was getting the right team in place for the project. My understanding is this is essentially 2.0 right now, as it sounds like there was previously an attempt to make it that didn’t succeed in reaching a final product. This time around has gone a lot better, and having played the online version I am very pleased with the product. There is going to be an Adventure Mode to the online game, which will enhance the experience available to players much like old fighting video games would have storyline experiences to progress through. Look for BattleCON Online to launch on August 10th (you can find it listed already on Steam!)
The final big Kickstarter for the physical game of BattleCON is coming around the end of August (tentative date of the 30th), and will have the box large enough to contain EVERYTHING for the game. Which is great, as I currently have three BattleCON boxes to fit on my shelf and I would really prefer to consolidate them into one box! One of the things I’m most excited for in the campaign will be the “social” goals, which will include things such as submitting fanart and fanfiction for the game. He confirmed it was still his intent to have that (I can’t recall all of the categories discussed a few podcast episodes ago), and I’m going to get to work on some fanfiction in the near future for this Kickstarter.
Finally we talked Exceed, and I asked him why he developed a very similar game when BattleCON already existed. He got to tell me a little about how the randomness of the deck opens the game to where it feels familiar to someone who might come into it with a CCG or LCG background, and makes it so you can have those moments where the right card comes at the right time for you. So while it may be similar in concept to BattleCON, having the players drawing from preconstructed decks of cards rather than having everything open information provides a very different experience.
Exceed Demo Game, Level 99 Games
Since they were demoing the Exceed game at the booth as well, I decided to take a swing at the game and see how it played out. I played as Lily, and was matched against the demonstrator who used Ulrik. Since I knew BattleCON, it made it fairly easy for him to explain the game and were were up and playing with very little downtime. I had to agree with Brad by the end, this game is very different from BattleCON. While the key concept is the game, its execution makes it a totally fresh gameplay experience. Not only with the drawing of cards, but how the turns play out and the ability to always be able to do a Wild Swing, allowing you to play a card from the top of your deck during a battle sequence. The EX attacks are also a nice addition, making it rewarding to play two of the same card on the same sequence for a boost.
While I didn’t end up purchasing anything Exceed for myself (yet), this is definitely one I could have in my collection even if I own everything BattleCON. I’ll be using these two demo decks to teach my friends who enjoyed the BattleCON game, and let them decide which of the two they prefer. Odds are, it will be both that remain in my collection. I’m so glad I got the chance to try the game.
Edward Uhler, Heavy Cardboard
The top of my must-meet list was Edward from Heavy Cardboard and so I sought him out as soon as I was done with my Level 99 Games time. He was demoing the new Teotihuacan: City of Gods coming from NSKN Games. I happened to catch him while the players were already going strong in the game, so he was willing to step aside for a few moments and just chat. I fanboyed a little, and picked up my Heavy Cardboard challenge coin from him in person. I love how he emphasized how important the integrity of his channel is, and how they distinguish between sponsored playthroughs (which is just that: them playing the game to show it to you) and reviews (which are never sponsored or paid for, just them giving the game its time in the spotlight).
He was personable and approachable, and commented on my HC shirt (and that of several others as they passed by the booth). He is as gracious and as humble as he always sounds on the podcast when I listen to them. I had hoped to make it back sometime to catch a demo of Teotihuacan, but never got that opportunity in the whirlwind of the convention. However, this meeting was everything I could have hoped for in a 5-minute greeting and I look forward to continuing to interact with them going forward. Seriously, check out their content. The podcast reviews are thoughtful and have convinced me to try several of my new favorites (notable: Lisboa & Ora et Labora), and their Teach & Playthroughs of games are my go-to source to learn the rules for a game.
Clay Ross, Capstone Games
I made my way to my other must-meet of the convention: Clay Ross. He’s been a huge supporter for my blog since last year, and I wanted to take the time to thank him for that and to let him know how much I appreciate the work he’s done. Honestly, I haven’t met a Capstone Games product I didn’t like, and I brought home a copy of Carthago (more on that in Day Two) to add into my collection. It was a really hard choice between that, the expansion for Haspelknecht, or Arkwright.
The latter game there was only in the debate after Clay specifically talked about that game and recommended I give it a play sometime soon. The prices at Capstone were all great, with games being individually stickered for pricing and showing the MSRP as well as the Gen Con pricing. As I found more and more booths selling their games at MSRP, I really came to appreciate his discounted pricing structure.
Unfortunately, just like Edward, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Clay as I would have liked. We got to talk about our love for Lignum and how great it is, as well as The Ruhr/The Ohio and its incredible depth. But it was great to meet him, and to mention how much I enjoy the Deep End Podcast (another must-subscribe. Don’t worry, they don’t produce shows on a regular basis. But they are always worth the wait for the discussion, the banter, and the laughter that comes from listening to an episode.
Firefly Adventures, Gale Force Nine
My first scheduled event at Gen Con at 4:00, and I was torn on whether or not to attend. Honestly, I wanted to go around the vendor hall and this was the first time I learned the hard way about booking things during the Vendor Hall hours. Still, I was excited to try this as a big Firefly fan and knowing my wife isn’t going to be interested in trying this cooperative game. We were playing with the Respectable Folk expansion, and did a scenario that I believe was the Garden Gala. The four of us were ready and eager to dive in, and the person who eventually came to help run it wasn’t the most personable guy. The rules overview was spotty, as we had a lot of questions as we went through the session.
It also didn’t help things that we discovered what we needed to with the very first investigation, which was done by the very first person to act. Then we had to spend several turns “treading water”, so to speak, while waiting for the group of people to disperse to their houses. Luckily for us, it got to a point where the guy we needed was literally the only one (besides the bartender) in the room so we were able to take him on without any complications. Mal shot him up with a shotgun, we retrieved Inara’s stolen items, and high-tailed it out of there before the other folk got to react to anything.
If that sounds like an incredibly boring sequence, you’re right. It was unexciting and left me feeling really unimpressed with the game. Granted, most of that was due to the immense luck we experienced. Another play of that same scenario might have resulted in a very different sequence that would have been more exciting. But ultimately I walked away disappointed and wishing I could regain that time spent at that table. Would I play it again? Sure. Will I buy it? Not without a much, much better experience or two with the game that can show me just how amazing the game can be.
Thunderstone Quest, Alderac Entertainment Group
Next came a long, long break to go check into my hotel, facetime my wife and son, eat, and head back to the convention center for more gaming. It was after 8 by the time I arrived, and I had previously purchased a ticket to attend the newest campaign for Hero Realms. However, that was cancelled a week before the convention so I didn’t know what to do next. I missed my chance to get in on the Stronghold Games event, and so I found myself wandering the Rio Grande room, the Czech Games room, and the Exhibit Hall and eventually sat down to watch two people playing Thunderstone Quest.
During my spectatorship, one of the volunteers came and sat next to me and started chatting. I mentioned I hadn’t played this yet, nor any of the Thunderstone line before. So I was given about a 15 minute rundown of the game and how it is played while watching these two play out the game in front of me. Needless to say, this sounds like a very unique entry into an arguably crowded deckbuilding genre. I wasn’t sure about Thunderstone Quest going into the convention, but I left this short session feeling determined to get a play in the next night if I could. Alas, it never worked out but I was able to get enough of a feel to know that this game is destined for my collection one day. The progressing through levels of the dungeon, and moving your figure from there to the market, all makes for a more hands-on visual than most deckbuilding games. It is almost like a dungeon crawl married to a deckbuilding game, which checks two pretty nice boxes for me.
More than anything, the kindness and enthusiasm of the volunteer convinced me that I wanted to give the game a serious look. Had she not sat there and interacted with me, I might have lurked for a few minutes and moved on without any impression on the game. If you’re not sure about whether or not to back it on Kickstarter, my initial reaction is that this is definitely going to be worth picking up if you like deckbuilders. I can’t promise there are no games like it out there, but it is definitely stronger in the integration than many of the staples.
Roll for the Galaxy, Rio Grande Games
Finally, after about 90 minutes of looking for an event or a game to play, I was able to gettin on Roll for the Galaxy in the Rio Grande room.
Race for the Galaxy is a Top 10 game for me. I love everything about that game, and I know some fans of Race have been converted into bigger fans of Roll. So I have always been curious, although I knew better than to buy it before playing because of the dice. And…
It was okay. I can see the differences, and the reasons why some people might come to prefer this over the card-based version. However, it failed to impress me. The cost to chance a die to what you want it to be is often too steep, and it can be really hard to build an efficient engine because you always need to generate more money to buy dice back into your cup for usage on the next turn. I’m glad I got to play it, but it cemented Race for the Galaxy into my collection. It was possibly the biggest disappointment for me at Gen Con, although Firefly Adventures is competing for that slot.