There are gaming conventions, and then there's Gen Con. As Arna Kennerüd, Skyknight, once described the event, "It's big. Really, really, big. No, bigger than that. It was big!" This year's Gen Con hosted 56,614 gamers from around the world, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Gamers of all stripes made their mark on Gen Con, including miniatures gamers, board gamers, card gamers, and LARPers. However, tabletop roleplayers maintained the strongest presence. Video game aficionados had fewer options this year; their representation was primarily limited to cosplay and several pay-for-play rooms.
It's easy to get lost among the larger company displays and the crowds of Homestucks, but several trends stood out like cyclopean basalt monoliths. The most pervasive trend this year was the full-scale mechanization of traditional board and card games. App-fever has struck Gamer Valley and many companies are porting their flagship games over to pads, tablets, and phones. Other companies have ripped a page from the cursed tome of Nightmare, Dragon Strike, and the rest of the VCR board game subgenre to blend traditional tabletop gaming and virtual realities. For example:
- XCOM: The Board Game: Fantasy Flight Games uses the XCOM app to keep tension high in this cooperative board game. Players work against the app-controlled alien invaders (and the clock) to protect the Earth.
- Golem Arcana: Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, buzz was high for Harebrained Schemes' tablet-enhanced tabletop war game. Players move physical miniatures over terrain tiles, communicating with the tablet app using a special stylus. The tablet app takes care of the game's rules as well as scenario-specific content like secret missions.
- Sentinels of the Multiverse: Handelabra Games is taking Greater Than Games' cooperative superhero card game to Android tablets and iPads. Although there wasn't a playable demo, I've had a lot of fun playing the physical version. Automating all the record-keeping seems like a win/win decision at this point.
- The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is Obsidian Entertainment's first step into the wild world of Pathfinder. Although this game is a straight port of the cooperative fantasy card game, Obsidian's future plans for Pathfinder remain wreathed in shadows.
The casual game market seemed larger this year, perhaps because of the success of Cards Against Humanity. Like the Dominion clones of years past, the popularity of vulgar Apples to Apples-style social games has attracted many twists on the formula. Many of these new games have tighter themes than their inspiration, and don't depend on gross-out humor to carry the day, such as Superfight (who-would-win battles) and Slash (romantic fiction.) Others, like Funemployed! allow the vulgarity of the cards to speak for themselves.
Another trend of note was the family friendliness of Gen Con compared to other conventions. Younger Robins Hood and Pokémon masters shared downtown Indianapolis with the old guard wargamers and suitcase-dragging regulars. This atmosphere is an intentional move by Gen Con, which recognizes gamers come in all sorts. Although family activities (and baby-sitting!) were available throughout the con, Sunday was Family Fun Day. The $30 badge price for a family of four added some diversity to the standard convention crowd. Better yet, it led to lots of smiling children dressed up as their favorite superheroes, aliens, and fantasy figures. Their parents sported the omnipresent gamer fashion of mashup t-shirts or white-text-on-black gamer humor. +3 Charisma. Will Game for Food. Dr. Who. Batman. Adventure Time. There wasn't a single bear wearing an ill-fitting hat among them, but I refuse to give up hope. Fads long-delayed will be well met with a ringing of gongs and breathing of perfumed air.
Like any convention, one of the greatest pleasures is meeting the creators. These designers were kind enough to talk to RPGamer about who they were and what they were doing surrounded by color and noise:
In tabletop RPG news, there weren't too many big announcements. The Internet news cycle has made big convention reveals less important than in ages past. Nevertheless, the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons made a large, fire-breathing mark. I played in a sample scenario from the upcoming Tyranny of Dragons organized play campaign, and found it more to my liking than my past experience with the D&D Encounters campaign. The first difference was the rules: the new edition is a stripped-down, streamlined version of the game that wasn't written with the assumption that players would be using miniatures. The complete rules include optional rules for players who demand complexity, but it was refreshing to be able to just pick up a D&D character and play. Secondly, I received a big folder filled with faction-related handouts along with my character. As part of character creation, each character joins one of six different factions to support through adventuring. Membership in these organizations provides extra treasure, contacts, and roleplaying opportunities throughout the game. Outside of the game, it also provides a sticker, a nice folder, and a code that can be redeemed in the Neverwinter MMORPG. Finally, unless the encounter I played in was a fluke, not every Tyranny of Dragons adventure is dependent on combat. It was always an option, and my group was probably one of the outliers that chose to scheme instead of destroy, but it's always nice to have the mechanically supported option.
It was a treat to listen to Atlas Games' Robin Laws, Cam Banks, and Hal Engels talk about Feng Shui 2. The forthcoming reboot of the beloved Hong Kong action RPG is intended to be a complete overhaul of the game to make it in line with the past several years of developments in RPG design. Many of Feng Shui's groundbreaking mechanics (stunts, mooks, cinematic genre emulation) have proliferated in other games since they were first popularized. As a result, the designers of Feng Shui 2 hope to slim everything down mechanically and focus on the promise of those ideas rather than the mechanical implementation of their previous form. The goal is to create a new game as fast and furious as people remember it to be through their rose-tinted nostalgia goggles. The Kickstarter campaign for Feng Shui 2 will begin on September 17th.
Over at Pinnacle Entertainment Group, several new Savage Worlds settings are planned for the coming year. Weird War One takes a look at zombies in the trenches, Necessary Evil II: Breakout puts players in the role of supervillains trying to make sense of a prison the size of New York City, and there's always more Deadlands. Most interestingly, Pinnacle is planning on going toe-to-toe with their own flagship Weird Western with the Sixth Gun RPG. This Savage Worlds setting is in the world of Brian Hurt and Cullen Bunn's Sixth Gun comic series. Since the comic revolves around several untrustworthy individuals trying to control six magical guns with the power to recreate the world, it's likely the RPG will be optimized to tell similar stories.
In the world of board and card games, there was (as always) too much to see. Level 99 Games stuck out for its JRPG and anime-inspired games, including BattleCON (a 2-D brawler), Pixel Tactics (a SRPG in tabletop form), and Sellswords (which is pretty much a more flexible version of Final Fantasy 8's Triple Triad.) Repos Production's 7 Wonders: Babel draws players even closer together with the introduction of law cards that affect everybody. Following rules imposed by these laws can sink a strategy, but it also pays dividends.
Stay tuned for more Gen Con 2014 news and interviews over the next few days! Until then, feel free to feast your eyes on these convention photos taken by Zach Welhouse and Jim Porter.