Tuesday, August 20, 2013

GenCon 2013

GenCon 2013 marked many firsts for me: my wife’s first roleplaying game session, our first convention as a couple, and our first trip to Indianapolis. Also, it was my first gaming convention since GenCon 2000 (I think).

We prepaid for a ride-share shuttle to and from the airport. Upon arrival, we were the only ones needing a ride on the shuttle, so we didn’t end up sharing. Also, our “shuttle” was … a stretch limousine. This was my first ride in a limo. Thankfully, no one we know saw our ostentatious arrival at GenCon.

As our first trip to Indianapolis, we wanted to see some local sights while we were there. We also learned about some of the local history. Indianapolis is one of the most beautiful and pleasant cities I have been to. It didn’t hurt that the weather was unseasonably pleasant – mid 70s, with blue sky and puffy clouds throughout.

We were told that Indianapolis is second only to Washington, D.C. in the U.S. in museums and monuments. The area is the source of the white limestone used in monuments around the country. A “canal walk” connects many of the museums and public buildings. Also, many of the buildings in the center of the city date from the era of westward expansion through to the roaring twenties, and they appear to be in great condition.

Our hotel room had a perfect view overlooking the Triple-A Indy Indians baseball stadium. (My wife would chime in here to point out that I am a baseball fanatic.) We did attend one baseball game, and the stadium is beautiful up close as well. There is an operational power plant, or something, visible behind the stadium, which enhanced the feeling for me that I might be watching a game played during the 1920s.

We learned that Indianapolis has 30 “local craft breweries”, four of which we sampled. We only recently had a “growler” (a reference to the refillable jugs used to take craft beer home) open near us, and we haven’t been there yet. We also learned that the Scottish Rite Cathedral is not a house of worship, and that the Scottish Rite is a continuation of the Masonic lodge. There is a large Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital near us, but I did not know the history behind the Scottish Rite.

The Indianapolis Convention Center is HUGE. I mean  H U G E ! Add in the nearby hotels and connecting skywalks, and there is nigh unlimited space for gaming. I saw about a soccer field’s worth of card games and about half that of miniature games. Board and roleplaying games were all over the place. With all that space, the dealers’ room was uncomfortably crowded and steamy with the press of humanity. Still HUGE mind you, just not big enough to comfortably and safely house the crowds in there, in my opinion.

When I attend gaming conventions, I usually play games I don’t otherwise get to play very often, as well as demos of new games. I was disappointed when the day before the convention my two NetEpic sessions were cancelled by the organizer. I love the old Space Marine/Titan Legions game. Another convention favorite of mine, Silent Death, had only one event, which I could not attend. Alas, the times they are a changin’.

My wife’s first roleplaying game session was in a “mystery teens” GUMSHOE game. My wife reads voraciously, mostly mysteries, and GUMSHOE is a simple system to start with. By the end of the session, my wife was roleplaying her character and having a good time. I like elements of GUMSHOE and plan to learn more about it.

I attended a 13th Age session. As my first game of 13th Age, I chose to play a 2nd level Wood Elf Ranger because it looked easy to grok. He ended up being quite the Hollywood Legolas, attacking two or three times a round by virtue of his Elven Grace and Double Shot powers. With the Escalation Die at 6, he was +13 to hit for 2d8+4 damage on a hit, 2 on a miss. I didn’t care for how gnomes were presented as either whimsical airheads or Krynn-like tinker gnomes with a leaning toward machine-driven madness (a la Cyberpunk), but I believe this was in part the GM’s take on 13th Age gnomes. A demigod-like “Icon” made an appearance near the end of the session. It was a fun session, if very high-powered for 2nd level (in my experience). I would play 13th Age again, but I don’t think I would run it as a long-term, regular game. A lot of creativity is required on the GM’s part to weave into play the players’ Indie-game style story control elements. I suspect this works best in wacky, wahoo settings. (It might be interesting to adapt the story control elements to “dials and levers” having an impact on sandbox play, such as affecting random encounters.)

“Back in the day” I would return from GenCon with a huge stack of swag. In the age of the internet, there are fewer surprises and more opportunities to acquire anything from anywhere. I did make some purchases, however.

The surprise of the con for me was a board game called The Duke. It reminds me a little of Chinese Chess on a small board. There are three key innovations: 1) you start with the Duke and two Footmen, “mustering” additional pieces by pulling them from a bag in lieu of movement, 2) when a piece moves, it flips over, potentially changing how it moves next time, 3) you can create custom pieces.  For example, a custom Cannon piece might move one square in any direction on the front side, and “strike” at range without moving on the flip side. Robert E. Howard characters, Arthurian Legends, Robin Hood and Three Musketeers themed pieces are available “pre-customized” add-ons. Like Chinese Chess, the game has “terrain”, although the terrain comes in the form of optional pieces rather than being printed on the board. Because of the small 6x6 board, the game plays fast. Because of the many pieces and their flip sides, as well as add-ons, the game is very replayable.

I purchased the ACKS 2nd printing softcover, BattleTech AlphaStrike, The Duke plus add-ons and a leather dice cup/holder. Also, I brought back brochures/catalogs to follow-up on: Iello (the Phantom Society board game caught my eye), Fireside Games (Castle Panic looked interesting), Geek Chic (gaming furniture; someday …), Pelgrane Press (GUMSHOE and 13th Age), Wargames Factory and Zvezda (plastic, mostly historical figures and vehicles; I don’t like the cherub-like, sometimes cartoonish appearance of commonly available metal historical miniatures).

In short, we had a good time!