GenCon 2012 – Good Times, Good Games

Having missed GenCon in 2011, it was very difficult to wait for the start of GenCon 2012.  I had to keep myself busy all year to avoid counting the days and hours for the Indiana Convention Center to open its doors to the horde of geeks that take over the city for the best 4 days of gaming…anywhere.

Unavoidable this year, I couldn’t actually get to the event until early Saturday morning which left me only 2 days to take in as much as I possibly could.  I had a long list of things I wanted to review, people I wanted to interview and events I wanted to try to capture for articles.  Oh, what a dreamer I was.  The mammoth that is GenCon quickly overwhelmed me with its offerings and sleep eventually became the thing I was going to have to give up in order to give myself at least a small chance of capturing half of my list.

Many of my friends and colleagues were eager to attend the many seminars and play tests for DNDNext, and normally I would have been as well, but I figured with the time I had and the fact that just about everyone is going to be covering it in some way, I’d opt for some potentially lesser known games.  I also had the pleasure of bringing along my son this year, so this gave me an opportunity to take a look at some kid oriented games and perhaps provide a different perspective.

Other than one game I wanted to review, I only scheduled a single gaming session for Saturday so that I could devote my time to meeting with people and reviewing games.  Sadly, the one game I did have scheduled turned out to be a bust because the GM never showed up.  Yes, the wonderful folks at GenCon quickly refunded the cost of the tickets but it still leaves a sour taste in your mouth when you’ve planned around such things.  I know players have the habit of doing the same thing, scheduling games and not showing, sometimes leaving a GM to scramble to fill his table to keep the game alive.  However, I wish the folks at Wizards had more control over the D&D games being run (I’ll explain more later).

Call To Arms: Star Fleet (Mongoose Publishing)

Now that I had some time free due to the cancellation, I hit the exhibit hall to try to work my way through my list of new games I wanted to play test and review.   One of the games, although its not really new but was still on my list;  A Call To Arms: Star Fleet, from Mongoose Publishing.  Star Fleet is a game of space combat in the Star Fleet Universe and uses miniatures which can be purchased separately.  It was simple enough for the demonstration to be played by a 9 year old and an 11 year old boy.  They seemed to enjoy the game but I didn’t get a feel that there was enough substance for me that it would be something I’d play much.

Shadows of Esteren booth

Another game I was eager to see, Shadows of Esteren, had a very crowded booth when I managed to make my way there and sadly no chance to playtest the game.  They did have Nelyhann at the booth creating beautiful artwork and Clovis (I hope I got that right), one of the translators.  The production quality of the material is unbelievable and I sadly made the mistake of not getting back to their booth in time to pick up a copy of the game (I had every intention of getting it but ran out of time).

Shadows of Esteren is a medieval role-playing game, with an emphasis on the horrific and the Gothic originally published in France but recently, thanks to Kickstarter, made available in English.  Their website describes it best:

this universe has a discreetly fantastic side hidden under a bleak, realistic surface. This world is populated with humans who have to cope with tough daily lives, and face a supernatural threat lurking in the dark. With the focus of its adventures being investigation and survival, Shadows of Esteren is a game that favors an immersive mood and interactions among the Players.

I really wish I had devoted more time to these guys and had managed to get a chance to sit down with them to go more into detail about what looks like an awesome production.  I highly recommend any goth-horror rpg fans to take a serious look at this one.

My day continued with play testing various games throughout the day, which you can read about here at  I also managed to attend the Ed Greenwood signing at the Wizard’s booth… I’ll just say, “Awesome!”   Additionally, given my love of Doctor Who, I couldn’t miss stopping by to see Nicholas Briggs, the voice of the Daleks!  How cool, right?!  “Exterminate!”

How can we talk about GenCon without mentioning all the costumes?!  At times I felt like I was at a Doctor Who convention because every time I turned around I was either confronted by a Dalek, Weeping Angels or any one of the many generations of Doctors.  It seems my personal favorite, the Tom Baker era, is the most popular amongst many Doctor Who fans as it was the one I saw the most.

Finally in the late evening on Saturday, overwhelmed by all that I had witnessed that day and quite honestly exhausted, I still found myself wanting to sit down and play a game.  I could hardly believe my 11 year old game partner was equally eager to play something.  Almost magically we were approached by someone from the Pathfinder Society asking if we’d be interested in sitting down for a game they were about to start.  How could I refuse?

After an awesome evening of a great game of Pathfinder, made even better by an excellent GM and group of players, we were invited back for an early morning game by the people at Pathfinder.  My son wouldn’t let me say know, even if it meant he was only going to get 5 hours of sleep.  So we showed up the next morning with the agreement that after our game I had to get back to covering the show.  However there appeared to be a shortage of GMs because they had an excellent turnout.  No problem, one of the guys from Pathfinder Society HQ subbed in as GM and helped make our experience a good one.  The people in the Pathfinder camp were eager to help people get into a game, obviously pumped by their brand and wanting to share it with the world.  They won some new players for sure.  This leads me back to the missed game of D&D, as I couldn’t help to wonder why they didn’t manage to have similar support behind their product.

I completed my Sunday with some more running around, sitting down for a few game demonstrations for articles I hope to write later.  On last run through the exhibit hall before it closed and then out the door for a very exhausting trip home.

A great job by the organizers of GenCon, a much deserved high-five to everyone involved.  The lines for will call were flowing if they existed at all, customer service staff were warm and helpful, event registration kiosks and the process were smooth.  Everyone I ran into was extremely helpful and made me feel like “part of the family”.  I look forward to next year and I have already been assured that I’ll be bringing along a 12 year old, he hasn’t stopped talking about GenCon since walking out of the Convention Center.

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