I’ve been telling everyone that Gen Con stood for “General Convention,” and that it was shortened for the sake of being unique. But this is not true. It’s actually short for “Geneva Convention”—named for Lake Geneva, where 12 Chicagoan members of the IFW (International Federation of Wargaming) met when they couldn’t make it to their club convention in 1967. The convention has met in California, Florida, and Pennsylvania in years since, but the event’s beating heart has always been in the Midwest. This year saw over 60,000 people in attendance.
The day I arrive in Indianapolis is clear and blue as a robin’s egg. I can still smell mint and corn from driving through the fields down from Chicago. The convention hall is a looming mass of steel and glass and measures almost 1.5 million square feet of space for meetings and exhibitions. I park, check my things, grab my pass, and walk into the exhibition hall. The ceiling stretches far overhead, booths arrayed in carefully organized canyons, staffed by hopeful developers and “industry people.” I greet everything with a mixture of wonder and cynicism.
Experiencing a convention on the scale of Gen Con is like trying to sip water from a fire hose. Every display is part sideshow attraction, part panhandling, part science fair. Each designer is begging to have their game rated, picked apart, played, and hopefully bought and talked about. The sheer volume of games is so much that, in the interest of fairness, I’m trying to list everything I saw with an equal measure of disrespect—boardgames, hairstyles, banter. Grab a coffee and wade through the tide with me:
– For everyone who’s ever wished for a spaghetti-western-flavored card game about dueling wizards set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, your dream has come true, and its name is Grimslingers (2015).
– Eric Lang, who designed the softly-competitive Bloodborne: The Card Game, has the most magnificent mad scientist hair and diabolical goatee. (2/10 for the Goatee; 3/10 for his Crazy Hair)
– Asmodee’s new game 4 Gods looks like Insane Olympian Carcassonne (2000).
– Despite its family-friendly art style, I’d say there’s nothing family-friendly about Exposed’s public nudity — 5/30 Offensively Naked Suspects
– Vesuvius Media’s Dwar7s Fall looks like Kingdom Rush (2011) in autumn, but the game’s focus is really on exploiting an underpaid and expendable workforce — 4/5 Overworked Dwarves
– Ryan Laukat’s Near and Far should win an award for “Most Earnest Art Style”: it looks like a Hayao Miyazaki-esque take on Journey (2012) — 7/7 Earnest & Inscrutible Characters
– The Betrayal at House on the Hill-inspired Secrets of the Lost Tomb (2015) could win an award for “Most Fonts On Box Art” (four in total). I’m really not kidding. It’s an achievement — 4/1 Fonts
– I blow my whole team’s brains out in a demo of World Championship Russian Roulette, a new bluffing game by the Tuesday Knight Games bros — 5/6 Empty Bullet Casings
– I watch some players test Gil Hova’s The Networks:
“Let me take that Very Serious Dramatic Actor,” says one.
“I need him for the Chainmail Bikini Warrior pilot,” the other says.
A third player sweeps up the Chainmail Bikini Warrior pilot starring That Kid From the Commercial.
– The creator of the highly sought-after Potion Explosion (2015), Lorenzo Silva, tells me his game was inspired by Candy Crush (2012). I do have a crush on his game: the rulebook is full of funny asides by a Dumbledore-inspired Potions professor! — 8/9 Pithy Rulebook Quotes
– Isaac Childress’s dark fantasy / legacy / dungeon-crawler game Gloomhaven could be one of the most overpromised games on the floor. It really looks like Childress is trying to make *the* biggest game ever.
– The Spoils (2006) just has too many breasts on its artwork. The CCG is 10 years old this year, and the suspiciously-topped gelatins on its anniversary kit are more than a little tasteless — 7/7 Deadly Sins; ∞ breasts
– If an evening role-playing a bitter technological feud sounds good to you, then Tesla v Edison (2015) is your everything — 2/2 Bitter Inventors
– SeaFall is the perfect seafaring game for anyone who loses their shit over managing cargo holds and naming islands after unseemly body parts. It’s the ultimate boardgamer’s boardgame: cerebral, dry, and mechanically complex, with a set of ever-evolving rules. It’s obviously someone’s [dry] dream, but that someone is definitely not me.
– In Escapehatch Games’ Tell Me A Story, trolling is built into the mechanics of the storytelling gameplay. While Once Upon a Time has been enabling screwy homebrew fairy tales since 1997, Tell Me A Story’s game engine is surprisingly lean and flexible, and isn’t just fairy tales.
– A tabletop adaptation of the 90s game, Centauri Saga, has a Power-Rangers-colored space centipede and guys wearing suits from Halo (2001). It’s a new kind of nostalgia grab — 14/15 Nostalgic Feelings
– So-called “Industry People” seem to have identified there are two diverging interests in tabletop gaming: Players Who Love Miniatures, and Players Who Like Simple Rules. The self-proclaimed “Boutique Nightmare Horror” Kingdom Death: Monster (2015) miniatures game exudes pretension and exclusivity with its soft-lit wooden cases in the far corner of the convention hall — 11/10 Pretension
– LFG’s Orphans and Ashes: Compete with a friend to either burn orphans alive or rescue them! Yep!
– Don Eskridge, who created The Resistance (2009), is shopping around a new game designed to engender deep distrust between friends, and it’s called Abandon Planet.
– I watch two bros misfire as one misreads the orders of the other in Goths Save the Queen. It’s games like this that teach us how truly alone we are — 4/4 Angry Goths (Visigoths—not the kind you probably were thinking)
– Dungeon crawler 100 Swords, like Pokémon, comes in both a red and blue version. Unlike Pokémon, the goal is to kill your particular monster-boss, rather than befriend it.
– Three Wishes plays like a game of Cups (1969), except instead of three cups, there are 14, and you’re trying to make sure none of your three cups has a bomb underneath it — 1/14 Bad Wishes
– Diabolical!’s sentient cell-phone supervillain is trying to take over the world with the help of a grumpy sock puppet and a robber cub. This is exactly what everyone wants — 4/4 Inept Henchmen
– Competitive card game Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn (2015) is spinning two new Highlander-esque wizards: a sensual lion tamer and ghostly burlesque duchess — 3/3 Hot Lion Tamers; 4/5 for the Masked Ghosts
– Grizzly Forged claims to have caught and trained wild bears to develop tabletop games. Their demo copy of Sabotile does not look like it was made by wild bears.
– At a buccaneer-themed booth, I demo a prototype of Scurvy Dice and roll all parrots as I build my ship.
“What are the parrots for?” I ask.
“Any dice you want,” the guy says.
I decide the parrots are all cannons.
“You don’t wanna do that,” he says.
Still, I blow him out of the water — 6/6 Parrot Dice