Gen Con Report – by Ryan Brady

Before I get going with what I saw this year, I’ll comment on why Jenn got to do so much more stuff than I did.  I decided to volunteer to work for Gen Con this year.  Volunteering at the 16 hour level gets you $4 in free event tickets and reimbursement for your badge.  This isn’t really why I volunteer so much as I’ve really enjoyed volunteering for PAX and this year decided to branch out.   Volunteers are important, no con runs without them, and I encourage anybody who truly wants to help out to give it a whirl, as long as you can accept that it will likely get in the way of you being able to do everything you want to do over the weekend in a pretty serious way.  That said, I didn’t have a very good time and can’t really recommend working for Gen Con itself.  I’m not giving up though.  My plan for next year is to volunteer for a specific exhibitor or event, which hopefully will go better.  And, hey, Wil Wheaton did speak to me as I waved him through my door, so it wasn’t all bad.



Since Chase wasn’t able to make it to the con after all, I went to the Wednesday exhibitor day where I attended panels and got to have conversations with the good people at Gary Games and Wizards of the Coast.  I can’t give specifics, because even they still haven’t figured out the details, but I feel safe in telling you to expect exciting things in the next year from the worlds of Magic, Kaijudo, and Ascension.


After the day’s seminars, there was a demo session where I played a few hours of the current incarnation of D&D Next.  I haven’t played D&D since it was called AD&D, (or so I thought, turns out I have, in the form of Fallout and KOTOR) but had no problem slipping into the system and having a great time with only a little bit of guidance.


Once my party cleared the dungeon, I had the chance to quickly watch a demo of a recently released card game from WizKids called Mage Knight by designer Vlaada Chvatil.  I say card game, but that doesn’t really do it justice.  Mage knight is a hex strategy game combined with a deck building game with RPG elements in a fantasy setting that also incorporates WizKids’ signature clix system.  You might think that with all those things going on the game would be a mess, but somehow it seems to work.  Definitely something I’m interested in getting a longer look at.



Thursday morning in the exhibit hall during early access, I was called into the booth of Smirk & Dagger games, where their team explained that they specifically make games where you have the opportunity to stab your friends in the back.  The game I chose to demo is called Sutakku, a dice stacking game.  In this game you stack up six sided dice to score points, the catch being that you can only stack numbers which are equal or greater than the one below it.  If you can’t stack, you bust and get no points at all.  Your score is the number on the top die multiplied by the size of the stack, which can get as high as 12 dice.  While you’re stacking your opponents can play cards on you which make it harder for you to succeed, but provide rewards if you are able to defeat the odds.  They also recommended that adults play with the “drunk rule”, which is that if you knock the stack over you bust.  So this game is dice munchkin jenga, and was fun enough for me to pick it up.

The only other game I was able to play on Thursday was Mage Wars from Arcane Wonders, which I demoed in the morning and then played in a tournament in the evening.  Mage Wars is a lot like Magic in that you have creatures, spells, enchantments, and equipment, but that’s where the similarities end.  The game is played out on a 3×2 battle arena, which introduces a tactical element where you have to think about how far things can move and attack ranges.  The other huge change from other similar games is that you have no deck, you instead have a spellbook, from which you can select the two cards each turn you need most right then, provided you can pay for them.  Each turn you gain a set amount of  mana, so planning ahead is important.  It’s not always the right move to blow all your mana every turn.  Mage Wars is a non-collectable card game, and the base set comes with enough cards for two decent decks plus extras.  An extra set of just the cards will also be available, which should give you enough cards for four decks.  The game will hopefully be shipping in two weeks and has plans for tournaments, leagues, and team play in the future.



On Friday, I learned to play Paint the Line: Red Tide, a ping-pong card game from game-ism, Penny Arcade, and Game Salute which released at the show.  Yes, you read that right, a ping-pong card game. Paint the Line is set in a world where cold war America and Russia level their military might to defeat each other in ping-pong combat.  The game revolves around rolling a d20 high enough to meet the current shot difficulty.  Each time a successful shot is made, the difficulty goes up until you face the daunting possibility of rolling a 20.  Cards in your deck make shots easier for you or harder for your opponent and even include impossible saves and devastating single use effects.   Once someone misses a shot, their opponent scores a point, the difficulty resets to 6, and the crescendo starts again.  I had a lot of fun with this and bought it.


Friday’s other highlight was Gen Con’s signature event, True Dungeon.  True Dungeon is a little hard to describe, it’s sort of like LARPing, but is different in many ways.  You and 9 other party members traverse through one of three dungeons which are completely built with walls and props and speakers piping in sound.  The whole thing is dark, save for the LED lights you are issued at the start and any actual lights which may be part of the set.  Combat is handled not by dice, but by a kind of shuffleboard making fighting actually skill based.  Your stats and damage are determined by the gear you have, which is represented by tokens in your possession.  The tokens are collectable and come in “booster packs” which contain 7 commons, two uncommons, and a rare.  Everybody gets a pack at the beginning of each dungeon run and they are available for $8 per pack in the tavern outside the dungeons.  It is seriously cool to get actual physical loot from your exploits.  Getting a good piece is the same feeling as getting a great drop in a video game, but multiplied times 10, it’s pretty addictive.


Some rooms are combat, but other rooms are puzzles.  You might have to place a set of runes in the correct order on an archway based on a cryptic poem, use two sticks to carry some balls quickly across the room, or work together to compile information that no single person can see/hear at the same time.  This ends up being the crux of the whole True Dungeon experience, that it’s really more of a teamwork exercise than an RPG.  Even the combat ends up being less about the sliding and more about how well you are able to organize your group to slide and get out of the way and make confident decisions about spells to cast.


The real enemy in the dungeon isn’t the dragon, it’s the clock.  Each room is on a 12 minute timer and failure tends to result in the whole party taking damage and/or missing out on treasure at the end.  A disorganized group may not be successful even if they slide awesomely or know the puzzle solution, because they just won’t be fast enough.  A volunteer told me that a full party of new players who all came together will often outperform one made up of small groups of better geared veterans just because of the team dynamic.


Everyone else who came with me thought that True Dungeon was the best thing at Gen Con and talked about it even as we were packing to head home.  There’s a reason it completely sells out in days, some people spend most of their weekends in the dungeons, and hardcore players spend thousands every year on gear.  Personally, I don’t have enough patience for strangers for it to be really fun for me, but if I could get a group of 8-10 people I knew together I would definitely go back.


New this year, since True Dungeon had more space to work with, was something called Truecraft.  There has always been a tavern outside the dungeons selling mead and turkey legs, but this year there were also an enchanter, diviner, abjurer, militia captain, shady dealer, and a few more NPCs constantly in character.  If you had managed to get your hands on a Truecraft ticket, you received tokens good for three enchantments, two divinations, two abjurations, and two quests.  Each of the mystical stations contained a skill test, which provided a boon if successfully completed.  Enchantment gave you a chance for gear, divination provided prophecy about what you would encounter in the dungeon, and abjuration cast a 24hr buff to assist you.

Quest tokens could be given to any NPC, and they would then tell you about a problem they were having and how you could do something to help them out with that.  Most of these were simple fetch quests for items or information available from other NPCs or that needed to be sought out in the dungeon.  In video games, I have always found fetch quests somewhat boring, but I thought these were a lot of fun.  It’s one thing to walk into a room and know you need to solve a puzzle or kill something, but knowing something you need is somewhere in the dungeon, but you don’t know where, exploring nooks and crannies with my little light was fun.  The rewards were pretty good too, often 10 pieces of gear out of a treasure chest or an exclusive crafted token of which only a few hundred exist (and saved me from a bunch of falling rocks).  I really liked the crafting, mostly because of the in-character interactions with the workers, and might do some again, even if I don’t do the dungeons.



Saturday was my double shifted volunteering day, so the only game I got to play was the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator.  You and 5 other player are the bridge crew of the starship Artemis, with one Captain coordinating helm, weapons, engineering, communications, and science stations as you attempt to protect your four space stations from alien attack.  This is a PC game designed for LAN play, but at Gen Con, they have a cool mini-bridge set up with the captain in the middle where they can see the 40″ main screen, helm and weapons in front, science and comms to the right, and engineering on the left along with ambient lighting which changes color depending on what’s going on.


Flat out, this was a blast.  I chose to be the captain during the Saturday run, and got nominated to do so again on Sunday.  If you’ve ever wanted to be on the bridge of the Enterprise, this is as close as you’re likely to get.  The first time I said “Shields up, Red Alert!” sent tingles up my spine.  Artemis isn’t easy, everybody really does have to be paying attention and working together for things to go well.  Each station can only see their own display, so they don’t have access to information or controls from the other stations.  We beat back alien invasions on two different difficulty levels and though my helmsman tried hard to fly us into a black hole, I managed to stop him in time.  The game is continuously adding new features, and is available for $40 as a direct download with a license to install it on a full bridge worth of computers.  They hope to add internet play in the near future, though the designer says it’s really intended to be played with other people in the same room so that you can throttle them when they’re not doing what you want them to.  I gather their physical copies sell out every year, and this year was no exception.  A free demo with just Helm and Tactical is also available, so go try it!



Sunday is a short day at Gen Con which focuses on family stuff, so we called it a day pretty early.  The only new thing I tried was SolForge, the newest game from Gary Games, the people behind Ascension.  SolForge is an all-digital CCG which is currently being kickstarted.  The playable version they had at Gen Con is an Alpha version.  It’s playable, but it’s certainly an early version with a bare bones UI and some kinks to shake out.  I like that there are no resources, you just get to play 2 cards a turn, no matter what they are.

Creatures you place in one of 5 lanes, and they can only attack other creatures in the same lane.  If there is no creature, then they attack the opponent directly.  Lanes can be buffed or debuffed by enchantments, making tactical play even more tricky.  The real strategy in the game though is in the leveling mechanic.  Whenever you play a card, it puts a creature/enchantment on the board or casts a spell, but the card itself isn’t placed on the board, instead it levels up and then goes into your discard pile.  So the next time you draw that card, it won’t be the basic version you drew, it will be a better version that may do something completely different.  So this means that sometimes it’s worth it to play something which may not be the most effective card in your current hand, because it’s a card you would really like access to the higher-level version of.  Some cards are downright bad at low levels, but devastating when played at level 3, the current max level.

There’s definite potential here.  The game has a launch target of January if their kickstarter is successful.  It’s presently on track to make it, but only just so, and ends in not quite three weeks.  If the drive fails, they say it will still likely come out, but it will take some time to assemble the investment required.

Overall, the show was great fun, and we’re looking forward to being at Gen Con 46, August 15-18, 2013 for more great games, new, old, and future.