GenCon 2008

A Newbie’s Point of View

Day 1

This is my first GenCon.  I have been involved with cons for several years, been to Dragon Con several times, and am not unfamiliar with big crowds or the other standard convention experiences. However, I have not had the pleasure of experiencing the Mecca of Gamers.

We drove up Wednesday before the con, ten hours with stops for gas and food.  I got to see part of the country I had never seen before.  Despite that, it was not  much different from what I had already seen before.  I am not sure what I really expected.

Arrival in Indianapolis came around 9 PM at night, when I made contact with my GamingReport buddy, Marc Shayed.  He gave me the rundown of what we wanted to accomplish this weekend, traded old gamer stories, and before I knew it, it was 11 PM and I was very tried.

I was also getting nervous about my first day at GenCon.  I had a lot lined up – one demo, one game to run, a movie sneak peek as well as a party.  I already had done a lot of walking and it looked like I had a lot more ahead of me.  Indy is a beautiful city and I thank God for the lack of hills, at least in the general vicinity of the convention center.

Leaving the very well-hidden Embassy Suites where Marc stayed, I got a chance to drop by the open gaming room at the Westin, which was where some of the new games were being run for some of the trade guests.  I saw Munchkin Quest, Monster Mayhem, and a game called Tomb.  Even at 11:30 at night, there was a lot of activity going on.

Walking back to my hotel, I also noted a lot of pick-up games being played in lobbies, on outside porches and anywhere else there was a table.  There was a very strong sense of gaming already building in the air.  It was an unbelievable sight.

Thursday morning came very early for me, as I had to pick up my Press badge and be at the vendor room for the special VIP opening of the vendor room.  Press, trade and VIG (very important gamers) were able to get into the vendor room an hour early.   There is nothing that can describe what one sees as they walk in.  It is gamer heaven!  For size comparison, DragonCon’s dealer room is about as big but they do not have the number of exhibitors and gaming companies GenCon has (as they are two totally different cons).  I spent a good amount of time taking pictures and getting a good feel for the lay of the land.

All the greats are here, of course.  Fantasy Flight Games was demoing all their games including a few prototypes, like a new A Game of Thrones game, a new version of Talisman and several others.  Their big release is the Battlestar Galactica game, which I bought later that day.  Wizards of the Coast, Paizo Publishing, Wizkids, Privateer Press and many others were here.  I can not think of a single gaming company that was not there.

My first demo of the weekend was with Seven Lights LLC and their game The Continuum.  I will be posting a separate article about that, but I can say I was highly impressed with their vision and their product.

After that, I had a few hours to fill before my game, so I took in another demo of a game called Juggernaut, a card game of starship combat, at the Alpha Omega booth.  It was a very creative and an easy game to play, but it reminded me of a game that already is out there – FFG’s Magblast. I told him as much and that he should look into that game and just work on trying to separate his game from that one so there will be less of a comparison.  He was very nice guy and I think he has a vision that will allow him to make it in the business.

With the biggest challenge of the day still facing me, I decided to get my things together for my game of d6 Bloodshadows and get to my table early.  I say biggest challenge because I knew it would be once again more walking and I had to find my table in an area I had not been.  In short, I walked the equivalent of 6 or 7 blocks trying to find it, and when I got to my table I found a game at it that did not look like it was finishing anytime soon.  All worked out in the end, as I found another table and the players that preregistered for my game showed up and we had a great game. I was glad I hung around.

With my game over and my return trip to the hotel behind me, I set out to get one more trip to the dealers room, looked around at some of the huge gaming rooms and then planned to go to the Midnight Chronicles movie premier.  This is a film produced by Fantasy Flight Productions, the movie branch of FFG, based on the Midnight role playing game.  This movie has been apparently in the works for years, and FFG has finally put it together and plans to pitch it to Sci-Fi or Spike to be used as a pilot for a new series.

The movie was 2 hours.  Without saying too much because the movie itself deserves a separate review, the show has lot of potential but I think they tried to pack in too much story in 2 hours without a lot of background.  I found myself saying … “Please do not introduce more characters….” because I was getting confused as to who was who.

FFG was hosting a party at Jillians afterwards, and all press and people that saw the movie were invited, but I passed as I had some writing to do and wanted to watch the Panthers preseason game.  That ended my first day at GenCon.

I learned a lot on the first day.  First, I really thought I packed light, but you really can not pack light enough when you stay 4 or 5 blocks away from all the events.  Next time, I am getting a cart.  Also, being press is A LOT of work, but it is really rewarding.  You have a purpose here, rather than just hanging out and gaming.  Indianapolis is a wonderful city with lots of history right downtown for you to see, and there is a ton of stuff within walking distance from the convention, albeit a long walking distance.

Now, on to day 2.

A Newbie’s Point of View

Day 2

Day 2… I got 5 hours of sleep, my feet are still sore and I had another full day ahead of me.  The day started with my game of Stargate SG-1 RPG.  This game as well as my other game took place in a building called Union Station.  This place is absolutely incredible.  Historically, it was the first union station ever built in the US.  Construction started in 1850, and it was completed in 1853.  At one time, over 200 trains were going through this station.  Eventually, it was abandoned, and by the 1970s, it was a dusty hulk of a building.

In the 80s, the resurrection of this Victorian style beast started.  Now, it is a conference center, adjoined by the Crown Plaza Hotel.  The Crown Plaza takes up a majority of the track buildings, using old train cars as rooms.  The Union Station was rebuilt for many uses, but for GenCon it acts as one of the big areas for gaming.  For gaming, it is an amazing setting.  With Victorian and gothic architecture throughout, it creates an incredible atmosphere.  There were many table top RPGs as well as LARPs running in the building throughout the weekend.  I was simply fascinated by the building and all its history.

My game did not make, however.  Only one player showed at 9 AM.  It was a little disappointing, but I needed the time to write.  It also gave my feet more time to recover.

After getting more writing done, I took yet another trip to the dealers room where, once again, I spent more money than I should have.  There is simply so much in there that you would be hard-pressed not to walk out of there without buying something.  I also walked by the FFG area again and talked to John Goodenough about
Talisman 4th Edition Revised.All I can say here is
Talismanis in very good hands.

One O’clock found me scrambling to find the FFG Flight Report panel.  Apparently the program book was wrong about the room they were holding it.  I finally found it, however.  See my report of this in a separate article.  Unlike Wizards of the Coast who tends to have a lot of glitz and flare with their panels, FFG kept it conservative and worked with us like we were on the same level.  They were very professional and open to the press.

By the late afternoon, I had more to write and it seemed like I had very little time to do it.  I had a game lined up to play in at 6 – a
Savage Worlds Rippers
game.  I was feeling very tired and wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but then the fact that I paid $6 for it convinced me that I should go.  This showed me the value of the pay-to-play concept.  I have never been a fan of that and do not do that for the cons I run, but for a con this size, I can understand.

The game was OK, but I was not totally satisfied with it.  In a game setting where I hoped there would be some plot, there was very little.  The adventure was more written as a starting adventure for a longer campaign and meant to introduce the characters to each other.  Focused mostly on player interaction, and less on some kind of plot, we pretty much ended up fumbling around each other with some silly and semi-pointless encounters and in the end just fought a bunch of monsters.  I could not do much because I made a poor decision earlier not to steal a ranged weapon, but I thought I was roleplaying the character right.  It was moderately fun with the character interaction but not very satisfying plot-wise.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by the Marriott to check out True Dungeon.  It was late, so as I expected, it was sealed up.  However, just to give you an idea – the room the have it in is HUGE!  I was told that is something I should check out, but to be quite honest, it looked quite involved and a little more than I had time for.

Onward to day 3 …

A Newbie’s Point of View

Day 3

Getting a much better night sleep despite the buzz saws called my roommates, I started the day with breakfast at
Le Peeps.  Saturday looked like it was going to be a busy day for Indianapolis downtown also.  There was a marathon being run down Capitol Street, the ribbon cutting for the new Lucas Oil Football Stadium for the Indianapolis Colts was drawing many Colts fans downtown, and I heard rumors of a wrestling event somewhere else.

At 10 AM, I had an appointment with Konami and their new CCG called Blue Dragon.  This I will review later for Gaming Report.

The Dealers room was really happening by Saturday.  Wizkids was doing large scale demos of Star Wars constructible game as well as an incredible demo game of live action Heroclix.  Absolutely genius.  Many dealers had deals on 3.5 stuff and as I do not see myself going to 4e anytime soon, I could not resist.

The night before, the Ennie awards were announced and many deserving games got awards.  One that I was pleasantly surprised at was Pelgrane Press and their
Trail of Cthulhu.
  They won several, so I picked up a review copy from them and will have a review of that soon.  They were very gracious and kind, and I think they have a good future ahead of them.  It is great to have these opportunities to meet many of the professionals in the industry.

That afternoon, I met with Marc Shayed and had lunch, where we discussed GR stuff.  After that, I went to a panel on
How to be a Gameplaywright,with panelists Keith Baker and Matt Forbeck.  This was my first non-press related panel and I found it very satisfying.  It made me realize what mistakes I have made in my last gaming campaign.

My roommates were there also.  These two, Neil Spicer and Heath Medlin, came to GenCon for their own reasons. They had attended many more panels than I had.  There were many opportunities to rub elbows with the industry’s major players, which is something that appealed to Neil.  Having lunches with many of the writers, gleaning off them ideas about the industry and ways to succeed while  at the same time making more and more contacts as he met their friends all give Neil the opportunities he seeks as he continues to build his game writing career.  This was his second trip to GenCon and like last year, he got very little gaming in.  However, he definitely comes out of GenCon satisfied.

Meanwhile, Heath meets with friends he knows through the internet and from other cons that play his passion –
Savage Worlds.He is the one that showed me how fun Savage Worlds can be.  His friends as well as some of the writers of the game line, a group he called the Savages, made plans to do some pick up games of their beloved game.  There is always space to do pick up games throughout the many hotels available.

That afternoon also had me interviewing the fine people of Geek Chic.  These are the designers of the fabulous Sulton Gaming Table.  I recorded a very enlightening interview with Robert Gifford, the man behind the design of the table.  The results of the interview as well as some video should be up on Gaming Report soon.  Simply put… I want one!!

The night ended with a game of Tide of Iron by Fantasy Flight Games.  I met some very cool people and played a much more satisfying game than the previous night’s game, probably partially because my opponent made more mistakes than I did which gave my side the win.

Day 4 will be a short one for me, because we will leave about midmorning for home. We probably will make one more swing by the dealers room but once we feel it is time, we will leave all this behind.

With the con this close to being done for me, I tend to reflect and look at all that I missed out on.  GenCon is so big that there is no way you can experience everything.  Things I missed out on included the FFG Jillians party Thursday night and the White Wolf party Saturday night.  Also, all the D&D 4e events were something I was not able to go to, as were many other panels and seminars.  Of course, as mentioned before, True Dungeon was something many people said I should check out but I simply did not have the time.  Along with that, there were many other LARPs throughout the con going on day and night.  I never got to see all the gaming rooms, although I did get to see a lot of them.  The GenCon auction is something that interested me, but I could not make the time.  The auction is something that simply goes on all weekend because they get so much stuff.  I wish I could have been at the Ennie awards as well.  Despite all this, I do feel like I got a lot out of GenCon.

This has been an amazing experience.  This is the first con since I have been married that I have gone to without my wife and kids.  Although my wife does game from time to time, with the kids that would have made things difficult, so this time I went on my own.  It was strange to be on my own.  Being a GR ‘reporter’ gave me purpose and I do not think I would have enjoyed myself as much if I was up here by myself without the press pass.  I demo’ed games I would not have otherwise and interviewed people I probably would not have talked to.  It made it much more satisfying.

A word about Indianapolis – it is amazing city with a rich history and great people.  If I lived here, I would be proud to say I did.  It is a gorgeous and fun city.  Everything was in reasonable walking distance, plenty of places to get food, and just a great atmosphere.  GenCon did a great job picking this city.

Will I come back?  If I could, I would absolutely.  But it takes a lot of money and effort to do this.  Maybe when the kids are older.

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