Gencon 2014

I flew in Wednesday evening.  Evan Haines (Eric’s son) was in town, but I didn’t try to meet him until Thursday.  Eric and Alison flew in Thursday evening.  Gencon was about the same this year as last year; I’d say the cosplay wasn’t quite as good, but not by much.  The games were numerous; collectable card gaming seemed a bit bigger, miniatures a bit smaller. 

The big difference was Alison, which meant it wasn’t quite as "game to game to game to game" as last year, but it was just as much fun and a lot less exhausting.  We stayed in the Conrad, a little farther than the hotel last year, but a high end luxury hotel.

I couldn’t help but compare Gencon to AnimeExpo, the anime convention Alison and I went to in LA a month or two ago, and it’s something like this:

Average age at AnimeExpo:                     20
Average age at Gencon:                           40 physically, 13 emotionally

Average body weight at AnimeExpo:        130
Average body weight at Gencon:              The scale pegs at 250, so I’m not really sure

Average body hair at AnimeExpo:            Are you kidding?  I wax.
Average body hair at Gencon:                  I check at least once a week for nests of vermin in my beard; it takes a while.

Most frequent outfit at AnimeExpo:         Gorgeous young women in skimpy “Sailor Moon” outfits
Most frequent outfit at Gencon:              Grungy, extra large T-shirts that read “Gamers do it with dice”

Number of board games at AnimeExpo:   6
Number of board games at Gencon:         Like grains of sand on the beach, impossible to count

So, Gencon clearly comes out on top.

Here are the games I played:

Belfort (it has been out for a while):  Nice resource allocation game with cash, three basic types of production units (elves, dwarves, gnomes), and three types of goods; production units give you goods, a mix of goods lets you lock in a building in a sector; you score points for most production units and more for majority of locked buildings in a sector.  Buildings give you more capabilities and you can combine them to build an engine (resource engine, cash engine, depends on how you’re trying to skin the cat).  This was my favorite game at Gencon.

Istanbul:  Played it in the demo booth. Decent game, but pretty tactical; there's no "engine" you build; upgrades to wheel barrels and special abilities are useful but generic. That doesn't make it simple; the options each turn are numerous, other players change the board enough that you have to adjust you move when it's your turn, and determining which one will have the best result is not trivial.  Parts are high quality, art work is excellent. The only thing I'd ding it on is that player interaction is very limited; mostly "he went to the square I wanted" ... but you are never thinking, "oh, if I go here, I can block his move." You're just maximizing your own return on investment. But if you like the "Alhambra" style interaction kind of games, this might suit.

Game of Thrones, Westoros Intrigue:  A simple tile (/card) laying game; you have four houses, you take turns to lay a row of cards that can be up to eight cards long, on top of the area between two cards you can play another whose house matches one of the two underlying cards, so at the end you have a pyramid of cards.  You can affect what houses can be played by, for instance, playing two cards from the same house next to each other (then the one on top has to match that house).  Your goal is to lock out the houses you don’t own to force other players to end up with unplayable cards.  Light, fast (maybe 10 minutes per round; you are supposed to play three but you could stop at one if you wanted).  A decent filler game while you wait for the last guy to show up at game night

Gothic Doctor:  A pattern matching card game.  Kind of a humorous theme, curing mythical creatures like Frankenstein.  But the mechanics are been-there-done-that, there are enough "bang zonker" cards that playing smart is not really that valuable, and the artwork is kind of humdrum.  Not bad, but not really good.

Shinobi Clans:  A card game with an interesting mechanic.  You have three “targets” out, you choose to attack or defend two of the three and score based on success, sharing with others that picked the same way you picked.  There are ways to ferret out which direction someone went at times, so you have some information about who might score for wins and losses.  But there’s a lot of semi-random affect cards (like reducing a more or less randomly selected character’s attack by half).  And almost all the cards are played face down, so you have to remember each of 10 cards the other three players picked up, guess which one they played, and then random events skew the entire thing anyway.  My sense is if you took it very, very seriously and did not drink at all, you might play intelligently.  Otherwise, it’s way too hard to have any idea what the outcome is going to be to make it worth thinking about, so you just play "ah whatever" card. 

Telestrations:  A party game that combines Pictionary and Telephone (the game where you whisper a phrase to someone and they pass it down a line of people and it comes out “Justin Beiber ate my cat” on the other end).  This was actually a lot of fun despite the 11 year old kid that would deliberately screw things up (like interpreting a drawing of a mermaid that was clearly a mermaid as “faceless crab lady with a U shaped body”). 

Escape: The Curse of the Temple:  This was kind of interesting, a real time “escape from the dungeon” game.  You have a 10 minutes and a set of five dice; you can roll them as much as you want and keep what you want, except for one symbol that means “this die is stuck.”   Two stuck dice can be cleared with a “coin” on a different die, but you can end up with all stuck dice and then you need someone to come rescue you.  But, generally, you are trying to get a match with the symbols in an adjoining room, or symbols in the room you are in that give you jewels.  You can get bigger numbers of gems with people combining die rolls.  This is all to a sound track; the sound track has a gong and you have sixty seconds to get back to the main room or you lose a die permanently.  Collect enough gems and you can escape if you’ve found the exit.  If the music ends, and everyone’s not out, you lose.  Lots and lots of frantic die rolling and calls to your team mates to help you unstick your dice.  It’s a little crazy for me but an interesting mechanic. 

Games I heard about that sounded good but I didn't get to play them:  Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Five Tribes