Gen Con 2012 Recap!

Whew! It's uncanny how a convention can be so jam-packed with epic fun times that afterwards you may feel like you need a vacation from your vacation, but I'd argue that this sensation is the best possible kind of exhaustion.  Gen Con 2012 was a glorious whirlwind of dice, costumes, comics, and laughs studded with exciting developments from several different gaming companies. It's truly breathtaking what the organizers are able to fit into a mere 3.5-5 days and is a wonderful evolution of Gary Gygax's original vision incepted exactly 45 years ago. In that spirit, you can bet that this is going to be an information-packed post. It's like you're there! (minus the Eau de Indianapolis)

Rewind just a tad. Speaking of the convention organizers, it was very clear that they were making every effort to improve the con-going experience while simultaneously seeking to trim waste wherever possible. One great example of the latter was the lack of 'swag bags' traditionally distributed to con-goers just before the opening of the vendor hall. Our swag was instead proffered via a coupon book and it was up to attendees to collect the freebies up for grabs at individual booths; this worked brilliantly and the bags weren't missed for a minute. The Great Recession, in conjunction with a lawsuit from LucasArts, hit Gen Con LLC extremely hard in the not-so-distant past and it was encouraging to see the convention beginning to bounce back from those doldrums. Official attendance numbers are still being tabulated, but I'd be very surprised if there were fewer than the 36,000+ nerds that hit the turnstiles last year. 

As mentioned above, the convention was a sounding ground for major developments  and disappointing setbacks. I've grouped these by company for simplicity's sake.

Fantasy Flight Games (FFG): These industry heavyweights have had a sizable presence at the convention for the past few years and 2012 was no exception. In addition to offering a number of demo tables in the heart of the dealer hall, the company offered gamers a thorough preview of their pipeline in their "InFlight Review". Though this seminar bore a strong resemblance to a presentation for equity analysts, CEO Christian T. Petersen managed to keep attendees at the edge of their seats as he unfurled the line of games slated for release in the next six months. The major themes in FFG's pipeline are 1) reimaginings of obscure/niche games, 2) active partnerships with other game developers, and 3) Star Wars. Mr. Petersen kindly provided details for the following games:

- The company's resurrection of the cult classic Living Card Game (LCG) Android: Netrunner was undoubtedly the biggest hit of the convention. How big are we talking here? FFG sold out of their entire stock of the game, meant to last for the duration of the con, in a mere 10 minutes after doors opened. In an attempt to get more product into the halls, an FFG employee drove all night to escort a second shipment of the game to Indianapolis. Unsurprisingly, this second shipment also flew off the shelves in a matter of minutes. Those of us unable to get our fix of cyberpunk dystopia at the con will only have to wait until September before the game will be released to the larger market.

- An expansion for the board game Descent titled the Lair of the Wyrm.  Lair will introduce new side quests, 2 new playable heros/monsters, and the new game mechanic "rumors". The expansion should hit stores in November of 2012.

- Demonstrations for all Star Wars related games seemed to be constantly wreathed in lines of eager geeks and a spot at the Star Wars LCG table was one of the most hotly contested seats at the con. Designed for 2-players, this head-to-head card game will be available for purchase in late 2012.

- FFG, in conjunction with Stronghold Games, will release a reboot of the classic economy-management-in-space game, Merchant of Venus. The joint venture will feature elements from both Richard Hamblen's original game as well as the later Rob Kouba edition. Merchant of Venus is scheduled for release in September of 2012.  

The epic Death Star board for the X-Wing minis game
- 4 new models will be sold for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures. The new minis include an A-Wing, a TIE Interceptor, Slave I and the Millennium Falcon. All models will be to scale with the minis presently used in the base game. (which was incredibly fun, but the majority of this enjoyment was derived from the custom resin playscape FFG had on hand; subsequent playthroughs on the actual base game were less thrilling)

- A product of FFG's now 4-year-old collaboration with the legendary Games Workshop will be Relic, essentially a new rendition of the best-selling Talisman set in the Warhammer 40K universe. Look for Relic in late 2012.

- Borderlands, a game featuring the complexities that FFG is renowned for (diplomacy, backstabbing, resource management and territorial conquest) will be amongst the first releases of 2013.

- As the sole license holder for games related to all avatars of the Song of Ice and Fire series, Fantasy Flight looks to plumb that property for all it's worth. In addition to its earlier Game of Thrones-based releases, the company will debut a new LCG centered exclusively around the HBO series. The LCG is a stand-alone rendition of FFG's existing living card game, assumes the standard 2-player head-to-head playstyle, and features stills from the television show. This LCG will be available for purchase in the next two months or so.

- Fall of 2012 will see an expansion to the much-beloved Blood Bowl. This expansion, titled Sudden Death, will feature a new playable league, novel game mechanics, new payouts and 3 new teams: Vampires, the Undead, and Dark Elves.

- The last entry on the LCG release front was the planned expansion to the Lord of the Rings living card game. This expansion, the Heirs of Numenor, will build upon the core game and simultaneously set players up for future cycles of story arcs. Heirs of Numenor will be available in November of 2012.

These announcements were promising, but nothing that we didn't already expect from a major developer like Fantasy Flight. Mr. Petersen seemed to sense this and, with the panache of someone who's clearly practiced at this sort of thing, built up to a reveal that elicited gasps and a standing ovation. What could this possibly be?

Star Wars: the Role Playing Game (RPG)

You read that right. Even if you'd only just heard of FFG from the above list you can quickly ascertain that these guys know a thing or two about obtaining and retaining some serious licensing rights and their relationship with LucasArts is the crown jewel in that brilliant repertoire. They've put an enormous amount of time and other resources into developing a comprehensive RPG that seeks to treat the Star Wars universe with the complexity and respect for the source material that FFG is renowned for. The game will be released in three successive content-specific installments:

- Edge of the Empire: Focused on the Outer Rim, bounty hunters, smugglers and those living on the fringes of the galaxy (Early 2013)
- Age of Rebellion: The inverse of its predecessor, this chapter of the Star Wars saga will be devoted to those individuals in the Core worlds on both sides of the Galactic Civil War. (2014)
- Force & Destiny: As the title suggests, the final third of the series will detail the stories of Force users, both Light and Dark side, throughout the galaxy (2015)

I received a copy of the rulebook for the beta of Edge of the Empire and will be making my way through it in between assignments for school (how we can have homework before the semester even starts is still beyond me). A full review on Edge will be forthcoming. If you want to get in on the public beta, feel free to check out their webpage and indicate your interest. They'd love to hear from you. Bonus: FFG will offer an application for both iOS and Android smartphones that will assist with interpreting/converting the custom resolution dice required for the RPG until the company releases physical versions of said dice.

Wizards of the Coast (WotC): Like Fantasy Flight, WotC has a lengthy history and a typically sizable presence at Gen Con. Given that they are the current caretaker of founder Gary Gygax's seminal invention, Dungeons & Dragons, there's a certain onus on the company to outperform in Indianapolis. If anything, 2012 was to be the banner year for Wizards, as they were to deliver the convention's keynote address on the heels of their January announcement that a fifth edition of Dungeon's & Dragons was in the works. The address disappointed some attendees, as lead developer Mike Mearls admitted that the playtesting process for 5th Edition, also termed "D&D Next", was taking far longer than WotC had anticipated, and the company released nearly all subsequent news in a series of muddled, occasionally contradictory information leaks. The guys over at Forbes do an excellent job of splicing these leaks together into a coherent narrative (summary: lots of Forgotten Realms). Still, the giant booth, enormous Drizzt and Lolth statues, and flashy new play terrain were shiny but left con-goers bewildered and uncertain where their beloved games were headed.

Mayfair Games (MG):  Another titan in the gaming realm, MG offered Gen Con attendees a chance to preview its new Star Trek themed iteration of its blockbuster hit, Settlers of Catan. Not terribly surprising for tabletop aficionados, but what did raise eyebrows was the caveat tacked tacitly onto Star Trek Catan: that the game would be sold exclusively at Target. Gaming purists are still trying to wrap their heads around this, raising some of the same questions of authenticity that we chatted about earlier. The next few months, specifically the holiday shopping season, will speak volumes as to the future of Mayfair, Catan, and perhaps even tabletop gaming as a whole.

Asmadi Games:  The creators of We Didn't Playtest This At All and Fealty came into Gen Con with proverbial guns blazing. The company had an offering for each of the two gaming subcategories that they've come to build their reputation around: clever, rapid fire party games and substantive strategy-based adventures. Representing the former was Flower Fall, a spatial awareness and placement game that could appeal to nearly all ages. The latter, Consequential, was probably my favorite playtest of the entire convention. A cooperative hybrid role-playing and strategy game, Consequential introduces an entirely novel gameplay mechanic: blending physical play on the board with interactive downloadable content. The game is the late stages of development and is scheduled to premier at PAX East 2013. In the meantime, check out its Kickstarter for a full description of this unique offering.

There were a number of individual games I sampled over the course of the convention that weren't mentioned above, but these will be the subject of future reviews. The con also played host to the first ever Yu-Gi-Oh World Cup and Settlers of Catan North American qualifier. Other Gen Con highlights included not one, but two hilarious shows from the Damsels of Dorkington (proving definitively that Gen Con audiences are the best to be had), lots of noodles from Noodles & Company, and mindblowingly amazing costumes. Check out our albums on Facebook, G+ and Pinterest for pictures and more notes on the con.

On the topic of costumes Kel, how'd Aayla Secura turn out?

Short answer: just as I hoped it would. 

The finished product
 Longer answer: While I didn't place in the Gen Con costume contest and my body paint was less cooperative than I would have liked, I met a lot of incredible cosplayers, posed for a ton of pictures and had all sorts of fun. I liked being a jedi so much that I might just reprise the costume at PAX East in the spring. You can never really have too many lightsaber battles :-)

Darth Revan's got NOTHING on me

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