Board Game Gumbo: GEN CON 50 Wrap Up
It’s been a week since I winged my way from Indy back to the bayou, and the days full of activity are still a blur. I’ve been a demo guy at other conventions, but this was my first volunteering gig at GEN CON, and it was a lot more challenging (and a lot more rewarding) than I could have ever expected.
The Krewe de Gumbo was already out there, having driven up on Wednesday, and I was looking forward to hanging with my buddies. But I was also excited to work with Fireside Games through my contacts with Envoy, the program that puts passionate board game teachers in touch with companies needing booth help throughout the year.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 17
Adrenaline rushed through me as I made my way from the airport straight to the convention. I had a tight window — my plane arrived in Indy just after noon, and I was scheduled to be at the booth at two. Thanks to some very friendly and excited first timers, Caleb and Matthew, I was able to share a ride directly to my hotel, drop my gear off (my room key was with my new Envoy Herald roommates) and meet up with the Fireside team already in action.
I was quickly introduced to Justin De Witt and Anne-Marie De Witt the owners of Fireside, and they could not have been nicer. Edgar and Haley, who ran the booth for Fireside, gave me a quick refresher on Hotshots and Kaiju Crush, the two hot new games for sale, and then I was given a table.
I taught Hotshots all day on Thursday. I think Justin and Tim, the designers, have a real hit on their hands here. Hotshots is a cooperative firefighting game, with large forest tiles and beautifully bright red fire minis, where players play distinct roles on a wild fire fighting team in national forest type scenarios.
The fire spreads by wind and also ratchets up when the players “scorch” a tile if the fire minis overwhelm that area. The game is thematic, plays quickly in about forty minutes, and is very tense.
My usual problem with co-op games is that they seem just a big puzzle, and lose thematic sense along the way. Not so with Hotshots. Clearly, Justin has done his homework here. The roles are unique, with special powers tied to their individual abilities, and players must not only put out fires but also protect the tiles that provide them with those powers — which negates the typical alpha gamer dysfunction many coops have. The rule book is well written, and is sprinkled with history and quotes relating to the heroism of these wild fire fighters. Two thumbs up.
With my shift over, it was time to find the Krewe. Most of the guys had Star Wars: Destiny on the brain. The North American championships were being run here at GEN CON, and the guys were in full prep mode. After a quick run to the food truck area for dinner — right outside the convention center were always 15-20 food trucks with a huge variety of meals — we headed to the Envoy demo area in Hall D.
If you have never been to GEN CON, the main gaming hall is hard to explain. It is as large as any other convention center I have ever been and is filled to the brim with tables and chairs, with companies running demos, contests, full games, tutorials and tournaments all convention.
Envoy set up a demo area in Hall D that had about fifty of the hottest games from the companies that it represents. Envoy Heralds were available to teach the games, too. We grabbed Word Slam off the shelf, and split up into two teams. I had played it for hours with Jessie Seidule and his friends at Dice Tower Con in July, so I was pretty familikar with the rules, but it was nice to have a Herald there to walk us through again.
Word Slam is a team based word guessing game, where the clue giver cannot speak and is limited to putting word clues from four piles of types of words (nouns, verbs, etc). Everybody was pretty brain dead from a long day teaching / demoing / shopping, so we were not at our tip top game shape, but we tried every type of word and scored a few. With the right group, Word Slam is a hoot.
Next up, Carlos broke out Tiny Epic Quest from Gamelyn Games designed by Scott Almes. Two of the guys went back for more Desitny practice and also to participate in the Legend of Five Rings event with Fantasy Flight. Luckily, my roommate, Sean from Envoy, showed up. I grabbed my key from him and we sat down to play.
Wow, when I heard that Quest was basically Zelda the board game, they were not kidding. The card locations are colorful, the item-meeples were ingenious, and the quests were fun to complete. We all loved the feeling of adding weapons and equipment to our meeples. With the teaching of the rules, we finished in about 2.5 hours, a little long for this game but in all honesty, we hadn’t seen Carlos in months, so there was a lot of joshin’ and frivolity during the game. I definitely want to play this game again; it was a blast.
FRIDAY, August 18, 2017
Sean and I are both early risers, and our other roommates (Peter and Nick) were not, so Sean and I quietly headed out early to grab breakfast at First Watch, a great little chain breakfast place near the hotel.
We had a little time before our scheduled start, so we went back to the Envoy demo area and grabbed Imperial Settlers: Atlanteans. I am a big fan of Imperial Settlers, having played dozens of games with my two sons, but had not tried the expansions yet. That was probably a mistake. Besides teaching the game to Sean, I had to learn the new faction rules and set up. Should’ve stuck to Barbarians, my favorite faction. We didn’t quite finish but got the basics down. I hope to play again with Sean at a later convention.
On my way to the demo booth, I stopped at a few exhibitors, one of which was the very much talked about Restoration Games. There, I got a quick demo of Downforce, the new/old racing game by Wolfgang Kramer that confirmed my interest. Picked it up and brought it home with me!
Back to the Fireside booth. I moved to Kaiju Crush, where I would be the rest of the week. Kaiju Crush is a fun little thirty minute thematic movement based game. Players are giant tv monsters, smashing each other and crashing buildings, all for points. Whoever can smash the most points in buildings and win more battles will be declared the winner once no one has any moves left on the grid. The monster battles are a modified rock-paper-scissors mechanic that is easy to learn and exciting to play.
Throw in some unique special powers for each different monster relating to battle, some extra point goal cards for things like set collection, and most importantly, a unique movement mechanic where each monster has a different movement but can also utilize a community movement — but if the player uses his individual movement card, it gets exchanged with the community movement card freeing it up for other players to use.
A great little game to start out or finish a game night, with just enough luck, thrash, and chaos to please any new gamer and just enough strategy and point collection to satisfy the Euro style gamer.
I demoed Kaiju Crush for tons of gamers, including two guys that I became friends with (Jason and Derek) from Slidell (on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain near New Orleans) as well as players from all over the country.
Then when the demoing was done, the Gumbo Krewe headed over to the Georgia Street area for a meet up with our friends at Punchboard Media. Punchboard Media is a collection of bloggers, v-loggers, reviewers, photographers and podcasters who have banded together to share ideas and promote each other’s work. Board Game Gumbo received an invitation to join, one which we were extremely pleased to accept.
The meet up lasted for an hour, and we gave away tons of games, introduced ourselves to fellow board game evangelists, and grabbed an adult beverage or two. We were reunited with our friends from The Dice Tower Con including Danielle & Jake Bock from the Draft Mechanic Podcast and Sean Ramirez from the The Dukes of Dice Podcast, and many others. I even got to meet some Twitter “friends” I had made over the last few months: Jeremy the Game Geek Ninja, as well as the Weird Giraffe Games crew from Alabama and Eric from What’s Eric Playing?.
Next up, the group split up — while most of the guys went to their hotel to play some games, I headed over to the Omni Hotel with Sean and the Draft Mechanic crew to play some Strike!Marty and The Other Guy (Tony), those lovable Moon Pie slinging guys from Rolling Dice & Taking Names Podcast, scheduled a humongously successful tournament. For weeks, they have been talking trash about whether Strike! was just dice thrown in a plastic tupperware bowl, or was actually Gladiators Battling In An Arena. Sean and I joined forces with Team Gladiator, but after a mix up in the numbers, we decided quickly to pool our lottery numbers. (More on that later).
Sean and I were matched up in the first round with Jamie from The Secret Cabal, and the match went down to the wire. I had only two heroes at one point, but twice made Jamie toss a fist ful of gladiators into the arena. With a little luck, and tremendous strategy (not), Jamie and I ended up on top and onto the second round.
I grabbed some flatbread pizza and an IPA recommended by Jake, and geared up for round two. This time Jamie and I were matched up against Danielle and her friend and also Ambie and Toby from Board Game Blitz (well, at least Ambie is from that podcast.) Through impressive skill, Toby vanquished all of us quickly, and then knocked off Marty’s dice thrower to give Tony bragging rights and preserve the name Gladiators In An Arena for another year. (Plus, Marty had to wear a silly squirrel costume all day on Saturday!)
But the night was not done! I met up with Jeremy and we headed over to Exhibit Hall D. We ran into the Weird Giraffe crew (Carla and Nick) and joined them in a raucous game of Hellapagos with seven other gamers! As our demoer described it, this is the survival get off the island game that is cooperative — until it isn’t! Boy, was she right.
Each day, survivors have to collect enough water and food for as many survivors to eat and drink, all while building rafts to get people off the island. But eventually, water and food get scarce, and we cannot complete and outfit enough rafts for everyone.
That’s when the scheming begins. All four of us bandied together and started picking people off, until we had just enough food, water and rafts for seven of us to survive! It was good fun, but I’m not sure that I ever need to play it again.
We ran into my roommate’s buddy, Niles, who had never played Karuba, so I quickly grabbed the game from the Envoy library and set it up. This is a Kosmos game that was nominated for the Spiel Des Jahres for good reason. It is an easy to teach tile laying, adventure searching and racing game that plays in 30 minutes. There is a lot of strategy, and a little bit of interaction as each player watches the other to see if you can grab one of the idols quicker than the other players. I love bringing this game out with experienced or beginning gamers, and Niles enjoyed it.
He had bought a small little card game called Pick-a-Polar Bear, and even though our brains were fried after a long day, we attempted to play this brain burning memory game. I actually enjoyed it once I got the hang of what we were doing. Players have to pick up polar bears that match or have only one distinguishing characteristic from the one in their hand — all while racing other players simultaneously to pick the best cards.
Finally, Jason and Derek, our buddies from Slidell showed up with a copy of Kaiju Crush, so I was happy to oblige their request to teach it again to them and to Jeremy and Niles. After that, it was time to get some rest for another big day.
Sean and I got up early again, hit the breakfast at First Watch — this time with our buddy Patrick Hillier, the “over the hillier” gamer from the What Did You Play This Week Podcast. Patrick and Sean are both “old hands” at GEN CON, having attended when they were wee younger lads. It was interesting to hear them talk about the changes that have happened over the last twenty years.
Sean and I had just enough time to head back to Envoy and try out The Game. Sean knew the rules, so we were off to the races pretty quickly. The Game is another spiel nominee, which has a Hanabi feel in that we are trying to connect a series of numbered cards from our hands and from our deck without skipping any cards, but are not allowed to show the other player the cards in our hand before playing. I think we did well, as we got down to only one or two cards before bowing out. That is a game I would like to play again.
On the way to the booth, I spied Alex Goldsmith from the Dukes of Dice podcast visiting with his hero, Mike Fitzgerald, the famed designer of Baseball Highlights:2045 and other card games too numerous to mention. Mike was there at the R&R booth demoing his first ever table top game, Dragon Island. It was on my list to check out anyway, and after seeing the demo, both Sean and I purchased a copy. Mike was even gracious enough to sign mine.
Our booth was full all day, and we ran out of Hotshots and nearly all of our Kaiju Crush that day, but I had a lot of fun demoing games all day. Jeremy from Blue Peg Pink Peg stopped by for a promised demo of Kaiju Crush, and dragged Patrick along for a second shot after the first one. Jeremy even picked up the game, so we should be hearing about it on a later podcast. (ed. Note: check out episode 105!) I had met Jeremy at the Strike tourney the night before, and he is as friendly and outgoing as he is on the podcast. I really enjoyed visiting with him at the Omni and at the booth, and look forward to playing more games with him in the future.
During my lunch break, Jason and Derek came by and convinced me to take my first spin around the exhibitor’s section. We ran into Alex demoing Flip Ships at the Renegade Game Studios booth, and Derek and Jason gave it a quick try. Right after that, Sean came by with TJ “Firebeard”, and they got in a demo while Derek & Jason tried out the very hot Clank In Space. The entire Renegade booth was a madhouse of “must haves” — everything from Ex Libris to Flip Ships was either sold out or moving like hot cakes. I got to thank Kane Klenko (the designer) and Kwanchai Moriya (one of the artists) for making one of my favorite games of 2017 so far.
Bradly from our crew was doing fantastic in Star Wars: Destiny, placing in the top eight over all. We headed back to their hotel, and had our first ever Board Game Gumbo meetup. We grabbed pizza and some cold drinks, and broke out some of the games we had picked up. Dave had been wanting to set up Century: Golem Edition, and he ended up playing it twice.
I had played the spice edition at Dice Tower Con, and found it meh, but I thought it was worth a second try. I had a much better time, grokking the strategies a little better. It reminds me of Splendor but with the Noble part (my favorite part of the game) on steroids. Definitely a keeper for Dave, especially with those oversized gems and the gorgeous playmat.
Next up, we played a quick game of Fires of Eidolan. This is a small card game with chits that allows for a big range of players. I think we played it with seven, with each player taking on the role of a different hero each with unique special powers. Players try to explore a dungeon filled with treasure and traps, and try to capture all of the missing elements before escaping. If I am a little hazy, it’s because the theme was a little suspect and it was late in the evening of a long day! I’ll just say that I liked Century much better than Fires, although I would definitely play it one more time.
And then it was off to bed to prep for one more day…
After heading to an early morning Mass at the beautiful St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, I met up with Sean for one last breakfast and then off to the halls. I was back on the Kaiju Crush table, and again demoed for people from all over the country.
But what a thrill it was about mid day when none other than Bruno Faidutti stopped by for a visit. After hearing my demo, he politely excused himself. I figured he did not like the demo enough to stay, until I spied out of the corner of my eye Bruno chatting it up with Justin. A few minutes later, and a happy Faidutti walked away after purchasing Kaiju Crush. Justin said he really enjoyed my explanation of the movement mechanic, so that was a cool encounter.
I had a little time on my lunch break to check out some more games. I watched a brief demo of Fallout, the new apocalyptic game from Fantasy Flight with Bryan and Eric and Dave.
Then, Dave and I went check out a brief demo of the new edition of Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game, before heading over to Arcane Wonders to watch VIRAL in action. While grabbing lunch, Sam Healey from the Dice Tower saw my Dice Tower Con hat and struck up a conversation. We talked about his surprise game of the con, which was Batman: The Board Game, a game coming out in 2018 from Monolith, that he said was a little like the Conan game that was all the rage a few months ago. Sam is an extremely friendly guy in person, nothing like the gruff character he plays in the Dice Tower videos.
Then, it was back to the booth for some more demos. We sold out of our last Kaiju Crush copy in the morning, and sold out of about another four or five titles — a great success that we heard was echoed in booths around the convention.
The Krewe has a tradition of grabbing a really nice burger to celebrate on Sunday at a local upscale burger joint, so we headed to Bru Burger Bar and had some amazing burgers. I tried the bourbon burger snack size, and sampled the charcuterie and onion rings appetizers, too, but I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the choices.
GEN CON 50 was big, bold, brash and better than last year. I wish I could have seen more of it, although I genuinely enjoyed my time with my new friends at Fireside. If I have to compare it to the other cons I have been to, I must say that it is not my favorite. Dice Tower Con (which is) has a lot more time and space for gaming. I will catch some internet troll hell for saying this, but it is just not as easy to game at GEN CON as it is at other conventions.
But, that’s not necessarily a negative. No other convention in America can come close to having 19,000 organized events (including plenty of chances to play the hottest games or to learn an old grail game), tons of music and artists and writers, workshops, entertainment, amazing food trucks, a tremendous shopping experience PLUS free events all over the convention hosted by your favorite companies or board game media creators.
Will I go back again? Heck yes, but maybe not to demo for thirty two hours. I love teaching games, but I also loving playing games, too, and teaching all day is just not conducive to exploring the convention and meeting people to play new games.
Well, that’s GEN CON 50. I hope you had a great time at the convention. If you have never been, make sure to hit me up on Twitter @boardgamegumbo and ask any questions you may have. Next up for some of the Krewe is BGG in November — but even closer is our very own Lafayette’s Louisiana Comic Con in September 15-17 where the Krewe is manning the board game room. Lots of demos in between spicy boudin and hot sauce — what could be better.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!