Once again, thousands of gamers from across the world descended on central Indiana for the gaming nexus of North America that is Gen Con 2018. This year saw its attendance totals increase yet again, boasting over 60,000 unique attendees over a four day period for the fourth consecutive year, with four-day passes selling out the second year in a row. In addition, this year saw a notable uptick in the number of Saturday and badges and a surge in Sunday badge purchases. This means that Gen Con is humming right along, reaching a new equilibrium for attendance that should under all metrics be considered the new normal while somehow still managing to entice newcomers simultaneously.
The main reason that attendance can be up while also static is two-fold, really. First, more one-day passes mean Gen Con is attracting more regional people than in the recent past – those who can make a day trip or quick overnight of it.
Second, the number of people attending continues to cycle through. Not every person who does Gen Con one year is guaranteed to come back for one reason or another (though financial costs, available time off, hotel scarcity, and crowd size all undoubtedly factor in). But the convention has more or less reached a point that for every person who opts not to return, another steps up in their place. Gen Con hopefully is many years away (if ever) from becoming a convention where tickets themselves fall prey to scarcity issues, but if one thing is guaranteed, it’s that attention for the Best Four Days in Gaming has never been higher.
Thankfully, Gen Con has also refined many of the bottlenecks that arose over the lase few years due to this increased attention. This year’s housing lottery system was largely uneventful (the existence of such a system aside), and convention organization seemed to take extensive efforts trying to ensure that transportation to the outer ring of hotels was functioning and that the food truck carousel out front was as efficient as it could be.
All in all, Gen Con itself ran fairly smoothly this year, with only a few minor incidents involving attendees and exhibitors. Things can still be improved of course, such better utilization of the Lucas Oil play area and better traffic flow to the panel rooms there, but those are minor hurdles to overcome compared to issues of the past.
When it comes to Gen Con, though, most people think of the expo floor itself, and this year’s selection of games was certainly something to behold. Over 600 titles were mentioned leading up to the convention, and about half of those were on sale. This staggering amount of variety, coupled with the fact that there wasn’t the typical handful of marquee games garnering all the attention, ensured that there were plenty of games for everyone to get excited over. From crunchy Euros, to dexterity games, to a bevy of social deduction titles, the catalog of games available to Gen Con attendees ran the spectrum of options from incredibly light to sufficiently heavy.
This says nothing of the remaining few hundred titles on display to capture your attention for when they become available in the months ahead.
Scarcity is always a factor at larger game conventions for some of the buzziest games, and that remained true this year as well. However, in most cases the lack of salable copies for certain games was due to the cost of air freighting enough to be able to sell any at all. While there arguably were a couple publishers that understocked some titles on purpose to drive up hype for a game, the majority of unavailability at Gen Con 2018 was a result of normal logistics than anything else. A few boats delayed, a few production issues pushing back timelines, but, for the most part, if you wanted a game badly enough this time around, 95% of the time you could still get it if you made a concentrated effort.
If you weren’t after specific titles, Gen Con 2018 also had a wonderful array of games for you to peruse at your leisure, reflecting what amounts to be an ambitious year for board game releases. In fact, one could argue there were almost too many being released at a time, especially in the case of certain publishers churning out 20+ titles a year. Eventually the industry will need to address issues of sustainability and the impact of an ever-shortening board game release cycle. But for now, this year’s panoply of cardboard was on full display for everyone to browse through, from the biggest names to indie publishers making their first appearance.
What follows, then, is a comprehensive look at many pieces of information we acquired over our four days Gen Con. This spans the board gaming sphere as well as a few other areas that were worth mentioning.
Mind you, it’s impossible to catch everything at the con, so I apologize if I left anything or anyone out. Trying to report on everything is close to a statistic impossibility: with over 500 different game vendors, even if you spent the entirety of the expo hall’s 30 hours on the floor (and I do), that would leave you with less than 4 minutes to stop at every single booth. Still, we spent a lot of time running around gathering information, and over the next week, we’ll share some of the more pertinent pieces of that endeavor.
So, let’s get started. Without further ado, I give to you our Gen Con 2018 Recap: Deluxe Edition, with Part 1, the Kickstarters.
For the first part of the recap, we want to mention the ongoing Kickstarters that were happening during the convention or launched immediately afterwards, and a number of them don’t have a lot of time left. Hence why we’re starting with them. These Kickstarters include:
Unfair expansion – Alien, B-movie, Dinosaur, Western by Good Games. If you enjoy Unfair’s satirical flavor and tableau-building gameplay, the Unfair expansion is likely for you. The Good Games folks were good people and would gladly talk to anyone about what this expansion offers, which is four new distinct themes you can build your park around. Each expansion, be it Aliens, B-movies, Dinosaurs (because everyone wants dino parks these days), and Westerns, adds different twists on the core game, and each come with their own sets of game-changing antics.
Escape Plan by Eagle & Gryphon Games. If you’re a fan of designer Vital Lacerda or artist Ian O’Toole, you’ve probably already backed Escape Plan. That’s all you needed to know. For everyone else, Escape Plan is a complex game of trying to get out of Dodge with as much cash as possible.
The game starts with players as a team of bank robbers who successfully pulled off a massive heist and then properly stashed the cash. The only problem is that the cops are now on your tail and it’s everyone for themselves. Your goal is to avoid the cops, grab as much of the stolen loot as possible, and escape the city before the exits are completely locked down. Think Ocean’s Eleven but everything went to hell right afterwards and you’ll get the idea. The prototype of the game was on display at the EGG booth, but they oddly weren’t running demos of it. Which was a shame for those who hadn’t already backed this title Day 1.
Kingdom Builder Family Box by Queen Games. This is a straightforward Kickstarter campaign, offering a combination of Kingdom Builder, the Nomads expansion, the ability to expand the game to five players, and a couple “queenie” mini-expansions. Basically, it’s everything from the Big Box version from a few years back without the Crossroads expansion at a marginally cheaper price point.
Call to Adventure by Brotherwise Games. Brotherwise are the folks best known for the Boss Monster series, and they indeed had the latest iteration, Boss Monster 3 debuting (where mini-bosses now act as room enchantments). However, the biggest fervor at their booth over four days was demos for Call to Adventure, a game they’ve been working on nearly as long as Boss Monster itself.
It’s a flavorful card game with excellent artwork that basically melds the mechanical complexity and progression engine of a game like Splendor with a fantasy RPG-style adventure premise. The choices that you make help tell a story of your character as you move through the game, including whether your character stays good or veers into corruption territory. It proved interesting, especially the part where you’re tossing runes instead of rolling dice to determine event outcomes….
Sabotage by Fowers Games. The latest title by Tim Fowers is Sabotage, and it may be his most challenging yet: an asymmetric, team-based, hidden movement, 75 minute long roll-and-write game.
It’s a lot to process, but in typical Fowers game fashion, you can still learn the game fairly quickly. In this game, one team of players are your typical Bond villains trying to take over the world, and the other team are members of a group sent to infiltrate their lair and put a stop to their plans. Each side plays quite differently, and much of the game relies on a cat-and-mouse style deduction process of trying to figure out where each team is at any given time. It’s certainly not for everyone – think Fugitive on steroids. Still, going in to Gen Con this was one Kickstarter I knew I wanted to check out. I was not disappointed.
Trogdor!! The Board Game by Homestar Runner & James Ernest. I almost feel a little bad for Cheapass Games on this one, as a good chunk of both their pre-convention inquiries and a number of booth passerbys wanted to hear all about the Trogdor board game. This is despite the fact that the bulk of their booth was set up in tropical fashion to show off their latest title, The Island of Doctor Lucky. Plus, it seemed hard to explain that while James did have a hand in making the game, it really was more of a Homestar Runner enterprise. They did have one copy on display to show people, but the only way to actually try your hand at burninating the countryside was if you were lucky enough to get in on one of the very few demo events scheduled with the brothers Chapman (designers of Homestar). That said, I do weirdly wish this Kickstarter well.
Thunderstone Quest: Back to the Dungeon by AEG. Last year, AEG launched their first ever Kickstarter for the absolutely massive Thunderstone Quest (both in terms of box size and weight). This hefty game was a repurposing of the popular Thunderstone deckbuilder into a deckbuilder with a dungeon-diving apparatus around it. Get equipment! Slay monsters! Save the town! That sort of stuff. TQ adds a very modular adventuring experience and, honestly, helps give the classic game a better sense of identity in an ever-crowded deckbuilder genre.
AEG didn’t have copies of Thunderstone Quest for sale at the convention (currently looking at November for an official release), but just prior to Gen Con they did launch another Kickstarter for it. This consists of a reprint of Thunderstone Quest, allowing those who missed the first campaign to get in on all the Thunderstone Kickstarter goodness, as well as a new expansion, To The Barricades!, unique to this campaign. It’s a little surprising there’s already people clamoring for more content to this beastly box of over 1,500 cards given that it only started getting to backers in late February (we’ve only just scratched the material in this one). But gamers be gamers…
Terrors of London by Kolossal Games. Speaking of deckbuilders, enter Terrors of London. Terrors is a two-player head-to-head deckbuilder where each side is an Overlord looking to best their opponent by recruiting and summoning monsters of different factions, leveraging special Relics for powerful abilities, and using your horde of creatures both to chain different card effects and to take your opponent’s life total to zero. I didn’t get a chance to try this one myself, but watching it gave off a very Star Realms vibe. Just swap the space setting with classic Gothic horror.
Run Fight or Die: Reloaded by Grey Fox Games. A few years back, the Richard Launius-designed zombie survival game Run, Fight or Die was released, which was moderately well received as being an interesting first-person perspective game about trying to stave off shambling hordes of zombies trying to eat your delicious, delicious brains. It was also known for being rather punishing. So Grey Fox Games has decided to reboot it, and they had a couple copies of this version in full view at the booth for demo. This new edition of the game streamlines the gameplay, making the game a bit shorter, while also giving characters a slightly better means of surviving each individual zombie encounter. Also, this new version will have minis. We hear people like minis.
Alien Entity: Mutated by Braine Games. Braine had their entire booth dedicated to showing off Alien Entity: Mutated, but I admittedly didn’t have a chance to swing by personally. Luckily the premise is pretty familiar: a Thing happens on a spaceship, infecting one or more of your crew with an alien virus. Your goal as a human in this hidden role game is to either escape, get word out about the need to quarantine the place, or kill all the aliens. The aliens’ job is to turn everyone else into an alien as well. What helps differentiate this one a bit is that the game boats a mild legacy component as well. So if you’re a fan of social games with a couple twists, this one may be up your alley.
One Night Ultimate Super Villains by Bezier Games. At this point in the ever-growing ONU series, you likely either know if you’re a One Night fan or not. For those who are, Super Villains is the latest iteration of the idea. In this case, you’re either a villain trying to not get caught, a hero trying to find the villains, or a mad scientist whose victory condition is to actually get caught. It seemed to go over well at the Bezier booth, as there was always a continual demo of the game going on.
Hellenica: Story of Greece by Mr. B. Games. Unlike most of the other Kickstarters on this list, Hellenica is kind of odd. For one, it didn’t actually launch until after Gen Con ended. That part isn’t strange. What is, rather, is how little attention it seemed to bring upon itself.
It wasn’t on the BGG preview list, nor were there events scheduled to try it out. So the only way to really know about Hellenica was either to be aware of it ahead of time or to saunter over to the Mr. B. Games booth and check it out for yourself. Which is unfortunate in my case as I stumbled upon it so late in the convention that I didn’t have time for a first-hand account. Hellenica bills itself as a 3.5X civilization game set in ancient Greece, where each player guides the destiny of one of seven different city-states. Powers rose and fell with great regularity during that era of history, and admittedly that tumultuous time period does make a decent setting for a civ game. Consider my curiosity piqued.