This year’s convention circuit has been unique. With the already growing ability to play analog games over the internet, gaming conventions have been in an arguably better position to weather the pandemic than most. With Gen Con Online, I asked a few friends to write up their thoughts. Some were short, some were… less short. Either way let’s see what they had to say.
The Cardboard Kid
I was pretty down after needing to cancel Origins Online. I was invited as a guest, but… I won’t go into things, but I felt it was best to pull out. This was made worse because I was asked by Czech Games Edition to help demo, but I was at camp that week! Argh! I mean I had fun but still.
The week leading up to GenCon Online, AnnaMaria from GirlsGameShelf was like, “Hey, aren’t you doing something for the show?” As soon as she heard that I wasn’t, her and HABA made sure I joined them on the Saturday to show off Color It!, one of their new releases. AnnaMaria won the first round. Barely. I had an amazing comeback in the second to win that one. I sure hope we can have our tiebreaker soon.
After the stream, I joined Crystal from BoardGameBlitz in her karaoke night on Twitch Sings. Crystal was having a lot of fun, including doing “Weird Al” Yankovic’s White and Nerdy without looking at the lyrics! We were joined by Liz, iheartmuseums, and Stephen Buonocore – the founder and former president of Stronghold Games. He was doing Elton John, Billy Joel, and The Beatles! I sang punk and hard rock, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me.
Basically, it was an awesome weekend, and it made up a bit for not being able to be there in person.
Brian Hager – Board N Brew
I have now “been” to Gen Con 3 times! Once as an attendee, once helping friends exhibit, and now once online. For me, Gen Con is my one big excursion every year. I don’t really ever travel, so this is my “vacation.” I get to see friends, leave the area (and country, because really I don’t go anywhere) and spend too much money on Kingdom Death: Monster. So now, I’ve saved money on travel, saved money on board games and accessories, saved money on food, mostly just saved a lot of money and sleep. So I guess that’s nice. But I’m also missing out on so much you just can’t get online. I suppose the best place to actually start, is to talk about what I DID for Gen Con this year.
Chip Theory Games (makers of Too Many Bones and Cloudspire) had a big online stream going for 3 days. They showed off some game play of their games since they can’t demo, showed off the final version of their TMB: Trove Chest which looks amazing, and revealed their next game. I was never one to go to panels so this was actually pretty fantastic. And it’s all up on their Youtube Channel, so you didn’t actually have to miss any of it! Plus they did a couple online trivia sessions, and I came 7th out of 50-some people on Cloudspire! Neat-o!
Then I demoed some new games. Which, aside from buying new games (because Gen Con is for Capitalism) is the whole point of the thing right? The biggest difference here is that I had to know exactly what games I wanted to try, while normally I can walk the exhibit hall and get bombarded with options and walk into a booth for a quick demo. This year was all Gen Cons ticketed games system. They have this every year, you search for an event, buy a ticket for a scheduled game (which, by the way, all goes to Gen Con. The Devs see none of this ticket money), and then go for your appointment. It’s nice to have a scheduled time you for sure get to play. But unless you already know what you’re going to play, finding a random game to try out is just painful. The only filters they have are “board game, anime activity, LARP, collectable card game” and other extremely vague options. That doesn’t help me find cool board games to try? So I played some games I’d been following already, which was fantastic. I’m happy Gen Con gives a reason for so many devs to get a demo out to people.
I played AEGIS: Wild Moves, Outrange Co-Op JRPG Prototype (an AEGIS Dungeon Crawler), Pocket Paragons (featuring AEGIS), and Sento Fighter. Yes, there’s a theme there. But that’s just who I am.
Wild Moves and Pocket Paragons are both fighting games that use a small hand, rock-paper-scissors and rest style combat system. But they have some key differences. In Pocket Paragons each of your 3 rock/paper/scissors cards have unique effects built in. And when you play your rest card to get your cards back, your opponent could have played their “weapon” card to execute you killing you instantly. This was extremely satisfying to pull off. Wild Moves, on the other hand is a “roll and fight” where you roll dice to determine the power of all your attacks and to determine which special attack you have available. This influenced tie breaks, attack power, throw distance on the board, and ability affects. The randomness nicely spiced up the game, but didn’t make it overly swingy or anything. As similar as they are, both games still held their own.
Outrange is a VERY early development JRPG installed dungeon crawler set in the distant past of AEGIS lore. It has a nice deck construction system to advance your character development. As well you clear rooms in the dungeon one at a time, each on having a number of enemies to spawn, and additional actions and effects inside. But the interesting part is the blackjack-esque “teamwork” system. Every card you have has a positive or negative value to it, generally offensive cards are positive and defensive negative, that when played adjusts the teamwork value of the round. It starts at 5, and if it goes above 10 or under 0 you bust and something bad happens. But if you can hit those values exactly whatever card triggered that fires twice. So this encourages the team to both not go all in on offense or defence, as well as take risks to get that critical hit. The game played really nicely for an early prototype, I’m excited to see it continue.
Finally I got to play Sento Fighter. I’ve been following this game for a while and have been extremely excited to try it. It’s an asymmetrical fighting game that uses a potion explosion-esque marble dispenser (that’s styled like an arcade cabinet) to pull off your combos. There’s 3 colours available, and clearing 1/2/4 connected marbles of the same colour triggers the corresponding move. So setting the board up to give you the giant 4 hit supers is extremely satisfying. As well, a number of the characters have tokens they’ll place along the edge of the cabinet, that have varying effects on whatever row they’re sitting across from. Or they move up the cabinet like a counter before a devastating effect triggers, or dictate where you can pull marbles from, or some other cool effect that just makes your character feel alive. I got to play as the DJ, and drop different beats to do different effects. It immediately felt right to me and I had so much fun.
A nice side effect of having Gen Con online was that to participate in the games most devs hosted their event through Tabletop Simulator and their discord. First off, more games having TTSim mods means it can be more than a one-and-done demo day. I want to play Sento again, and now I don’t need to wait for the next con or it’s eventual release. They have the mod created, so they’re extremely likely to have more demo events of it and online tournaments. Which leads us to the second great side-effect of Gen Con Online. To get into the event you had to connect to the games discord. Yes, this can be viewed as bad because some people don’t like discord, or have too many servers already. But from the devs side, and the overzealous fan side, it’s great. Because now all the information is already at your fingertips and saved to your computer. You don’t get a business card that you eventually lose and forget you ever had and miss out on all the cool games you saw. You’re already inserted into the community, and have a direct link to the developers to ask questions, provide feedback, and do networking with. So many cool games and devs would share their card with me. And I would get back to maybe 2 of them. But now I’m already connected, tried their game, and have interacted with them past “hey check out my cool game.”
Sadly, among all of this, there’s a lot from Gen Con we’re missing out on. I don’t get to see my friends this year, and I was really looking forward to that. The first look playroom where tons of early prototype games are shown off is absent. Walking into that room, and just looking at what’s coming and so early in development is super interesting. These are games that probably don’t have a full event at Gen Con yet, and they’re gone. Kingdom Death: Monster just didn’t do anything. They sent out an update saying rather than online demos and streams and such they were going to just hunker down and use the extra time to catch up on development. Which actually, with all the insane scope creep that game has is for the best. It’s for the best of my wallet too. I also didn’t get to wander the aisles, eyeing out what looked cool. The coolest parts of Gen Con always happen here. I found Casket Land, a small indie RPG I’d never find on my own regularly. I walked up to Arcane Wonders booth just as a demo of Dragon Scales was starting, so I got to try that out. I met the developer of My Little Scythe and bonded over both being Canadian. In my first year, I went to the Greenbriar Games booth, to see if they had Champions of Hara on display with an advanced copy before the game released. I ran into the Developer of the game, Walter, there. And before I even got to say hello he saw my badge with my name on it and recognized me from the Kickstarter comment section. He just looked at me, pointed at my name, and said “Can I hug you?” Nothing beats moments like that. As nice as Gen Con Online has been, I still wish I was in Indianapolis with my friends playing board games. I want that back.
Brent Jans – TheRatHole.ca
We’re keeping things brief, so I am keeping to just a few paragraphs. First, Gen Con, you had so many panels submitted to you that were wonderfully diverse and I loved seeing the breadth and depth of our community coming out to talk about our hobby. BUT. But. Gen Con, you need to add that diversity to your own panels! Every single time I popped in to check out one of your panels I thought the white balance had blown out on my monitor. You can’t keep giving us dozens of versions of “White Guys Present!” and hide behind the diversity of the submitted panels. It’s your con, start doing the work.
That said, kudos to Gen Con for pulling off Gen Con Online! Shifting an entire four day, in person convention to an online format could not have been easy, and they pulled it off with far fewer issues than I would have expected, given the time frame. I’m hoping this equates to folx who never would have had the chance to get to Gen Con “attending” for the first time. I also hope this is the start of permanent streaming content for Gen Con going forward. Frankly, streaming content should have been an accessibility option for a good long while now, for folx who can’t attend in person even when there isn’t a pandemic raging; an obvious upgrade for “The Best Four Days in Gaming”.
I also tuned in to the ENnie Awards on Friday night of Gen Con Online, but that needed its own separate article so check it out if you want to know my thoughts on that. Fingers crossed for an in-person Gen Con 2021!
David Chapman – TheRatHole.ca
Did I REALLY need to give myself a separate header to match everyone else? Not really, but I like consistency and it gave me a chance to use a different photo.
I love going to Gen Con. This year it was suposed to be the final event in a 12,000 kilometre road trip of events. Without sugarcoating things, it is a lynchpin in this website’s schedule for the year, so the next 12 months will be interesting.
I don’t particularly like gaming online. That’s why you don’t see more about it here. So, I wasn’t specifically planning to do anything for Gen Con. I did end up taking in a few official panels, mostly in the background of other work, but I ended up haunting the Looney Labs Zoom meetups whenever I could. They ran through several of their upcoming Pyramids Quartet games, which I have always wanted to learn more about (and I’ll be looking at more in the future, to be sure). I learned to play Homeworlds, got decimated by Andy Looney in Martian Chess, played more than a few games of Nomids, and got decimated a less totally by the good Mr. Looney.
I also had the chance to play a couple of Andy Looney’s infamous and unpublished modules for the analog videogame Parsely, by Memento Mori Theatricks. That was an interesting experience to be sure.
I think everyone can agree that Gen Con online was a great experience, but that it’s a far cry from having Gen Con in person. I look forward to seeing everyone’s smiling faces again next August. So can we all agree to behave like grownups so we can have nice things again?
I’d like to finish off by thanking The Cardboard Kid (and family) as well as Brian from Board N Brew in Edmonton for their contributions to this piece, go check out their respective things. Until next time, good gaming and goodbye!