Travelogue: GenCon 51 Recap



After attending a few other conventions between GenCon and now, and getting that fabled "con crud" (trust me, it's not a fable!), here's a summary of my time there:

The meeples are stored, the dice carefully placed in protective boxes, and the boxes all shut – the best 4 days in gaming have come to a close, so that means it’s time for a recap!

THURSDAY

I got into town around 1:30 p.m. and parked through a Parkwhiz lot about a 10-minute walk to the convention center. I used this company last year, and for $6 a day, it’s really an unbeatable spot (and deal). I had to purchase four days of parking because I was staying at a friend’s house about 30 minutes away for the weekend. I arrived at the convention center about 2 p.m.

My main goal for the first day was to buy the games I wanted and scope out games I potentially wanted. Also, to wander the vendor hall and tournament/play area.

With a highlighted map in hand, I pinballed from booth to booth that had interesting things to show. I bought the 2 games I had planned to buy: Lucidity and Pocket Mars, as I mentioned in my previews of these games. At the Portal Dragon booth, I picked up my Kickstarter copy of Palm Island. Then I demoed a prototype game of theirs called Planetoid, where you dig on a planet to find precious metal. It’s a grid-like game with some strategy and luck.

If you’re a fan of The Lost Expedition, then you can get excited for the expansion, The Fountain of Youth & Other Adventures! However, it’s more like 3 mini-expansions you can combine separately with the core or play all 3 at once. The Osprey Games booth didn’t have copies to buy or demo, but thy did have a set to show me. Looks like there’s plenty to change The Lost Expedition. There’s even a supernatural element in one of the expansions. And a dog! I was told the expansions will release “mid-September-ish.”

I managed to demo Fairy Tale from iello, a tile-placement strategy game where you’re trying to fulfill conditions to complete your storybook. It was more fun than expected, but I imagine it’s better with three (which is how many played in the game I was in) or four.

FRIDAY

Before the doors opened to the exhibit hall, I wandered to the second floor to the Rio Grande room where there was free play of their games. I got in on Pulsar 2849. You travel around claiming spots in space – pulsars and planets – accumulating victory points. In the game I played, the GM didn’t use a few victory point gains to keep the game short. It was decent, but even without using some elements, there seemed too much going on. Gamers who love VP games with a space theme will probably like this.

Spoke with Asmodee Digital in the morning about the digital apps for Terraforming Mars, Scythe, and Lord of the Rings LCG.

Played the tutorial of Terraforming Mars via STEAM. It looked like a faithful translation. Getting use to the interface took some time as not all the board is visible at once. For example, you have to click to see your cards, the awards, milestones, and standard projects. But in these regards, the visuals were gorgeous. Once I got acclimated to where everything was, I played the game smoothly. All that was available was the tutorial, which sent you on your own after about seven generations.

Scythe for STEAM was available, and as you know if you’ve played the physical version, there’s a lot going on with the board and player card. I’ve personally only played Scythe a few times, so one thing that was very helpful to me was how the information on the interface was presented. The main board took up the top 75% of the screen (unless you opened any of the sidebars) and your turn options (player card) the bottom left – information appeared on the bottom right. Click on the available highlighted options provided you with info about the action. Having rarely played Scythe before, I found this immensely helpful. I muddled through a few rounds, and suffice it to say, I got destroyed by the computer. My only concern was locating the workers at times: they weren’t always easy to find. Now to be fair, I demoed the game on a small laptop, so hopefully these types of icons are easier to see on a bigger screen.

After my interview with the Asmodee representatives, it was just a matter of walking around and finding games to play in. And maybe find games to buy.

Eschaton was the first game I played in the vendor hall on Friday. I had no clue what the game was about, but the dark and depressing art drew me in. Luckily, a game was just starting! In Eschaton, you play a cult leader looking to win the favor of the Dark One so that when Armageddon happens (as determined by an event card), your recruits will be the Chosen to survive. You can sacrifice your recruits to gain benefits, and when you fulfill a condition for your leader, it activates a special power (since you’ve turned). The games dark theme made it fun to play, giving you different ways to win.

As I walked by the Fireside booth, one demo girl looked lonely. It appeared she had just set up Hotshots and was ready for a new game. I had seen this game appearing in various Facebook board game groups. Seemed to be popular one, so I sat down to play it. In the game, you play a firefighter working with other ones to put out a forest fire. The tiles are laid randomly, but the designer does include tile setups resembling national parks. The demo girl and I tried our best to put out the fire, but we hit one of the losing conditions: when 7 tiles get completely scorched.

SATURDAY

Since I had plans on Sunday back home (In Illinois), Saturday was going to be a short day. Just a day of buying games I had been thinking about the past two days. And playing games of course!

I waited until the mass exodus into the exhibitor’s hall thinned enough before entering. People had a purpose: many raced to the Paizo booth. That was fine because as my luck would have it, something guided me to the Gale Force Nine area. A demo woman was setting up pieces for Star Trek: Ascendency. No one had planted themselves there yet. So, I asked her if she was preparing a game. She was and invited me to sit down. After a few minutes, three others joined me, and we were ready to rock!

I was given the Klingons. As the woman placed the pieces out and explained win conditions and a few steps to get there, the whole thing overwhelmed me. But it’s Star Trek; I would push through in the name of the Empire. One of the other players had played Ascendency before – lucky him. The demo GM did alleviate some of the daunting by saying, “It seems like a lot of pieces, but the rules are simple.”

And she was right. Within a couple of rounds, I (and the others how had no familiarity with the game) pretty much had the basics down, with the GM clarifying here and there and offering advice. But a Klingon doesn’t need advice from her! Okay, I took the game too seriously. And I am now.

Ascendency is a deep game. You explore, discover new planets and stellar phenomena, colonize planets, and command ships. Oh, and engage in battle to destroy ships, take over planets, and capture homeworlds. Of course, as a Klingon, I followed their path of destruction and warrior-mentality and had one goal: eliminate the Federation. I even created an alliance with the Romulan Empire (except I had always planned to betray them, don’t worry).

How into my role of the Klingon race did I get? At one point, I had been engaged in a heated battle with the Federation – which they started, by the way. Fleet against fleet. They destroyed one of my ships, but I eliminated the entire fleet on one lucky, lucky roll. So what did I do? No, I didn’t celebrate with Blood Wine and targ meat, I yelled, rather loudly, “Qapla’!”

For some reason, no one else wanted to sit down for some time. I got to play Ascendency with the same 3 for 2 hours. I loved the game. The only thing holding me back from buying it is the minimum play count is 3, and as mainly a solo player, I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to get a game in. Plus, the GM said that games could last hours; quite possibly 90-120 minutes per person total per game. Boy, that’s some commitment! However, if you enjoy games of area control, resource management, and strategy, I recommend ST: Ascendency. Like Star Trek would help too. Especially if you have two other gamers who can consistently play with you.

After getting my wife cupcakes from one of the food trucks outside, I journeyed home.

WRAP-UP

This year, I was able to spend more time at GenCon, play more games, and purchase more stuff. I had a blast. There’s no other word to describe that feeling. No other phrase is needed to convey it. I. Had. A. Blast. I’m sure there are some things I missed; hopefully, I’ll get to further my experience next year by scheduling games through Events and attending fun shows like the D20 Burlesque or the improv group. I just really wanted to play lots of games this year, and I got to do that, so I feel lucky in that respect.

If you’ve never been, and you enjoy board games or RPGs, GenCon needs to be on your radar in the next few years. The dates are planned until 2022 so start saving and planning now for one of those years. I implore you!

GenCon 2019 will be August 1-4. Most registration and hotel lotteries and badge purchases begin sometime in January/February. So keep updated at www.gencon.com.

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Gregory Gregory Author