Monday, August 9, 2010

GenCon Recap!

So, the wife & I are back from GenCon - I thought I'd give a day-by-day recap of the games I played, classes I attended, and the stuff I bought:

Friday

We rolled into Indianapolis around 2:30PM, checked into our hotel, and headed to the Indiana Convention Center. Downtown Indy is kind of a mess - there is substantial construction all around the convention center, in preparation for Indianapolis hosting the Super Bowl in 2011. The plus side of this is that they're doubling the size of the Convention Center. The down side is that all the streets surrounding the area are torn up, and GPS/Google Maps printouts are pretty worthless, since half the streets are closed down or marked "no right turns", etc. I told my wife, "I hope they don't have traffic cameras in this town, or we're going to have a mailbox full of tickets waiting for us when we get home". Regardless, we made it to a parking garage and picked our tickets up from the will-call desk.

My first game was Levithans from Catalyst Game Labs:


The premise is that in the early 20th century of an alternate history, technology is invented that allows the powers-that-be to wage war on each other with giant flying naval battleships. So, it's basically a naval minis game in the sky. (Which makes it kind of odd that there's no vertical movement mechanic in the game, but whatever).

It actually wasn't too bad - being from Catalyst (the company that brought you BattleTech) I expected the rules to be extremely fidgety. They were actually substantially more simple than BattleTech, which means they were only two- to three- times more fidgety than most games. This is accomplished by using color-coded dice to determine the modifiers instead of a mess of charts and tables. The downside to this is that if you lose the dice that come with the game (some of them are kind of weird specs, like a D12 that's 1-to-4 three times, etc) you're probably screwed.

As the game isn't published yet, I can't speak to how the minis look (we played with cardboard mockups). MSRP hasn't been announced, but I might consider buying this if the minis look good and it comes in under $50. (I doubt the latter is going to be the case). My wife finished with her game early and came over and sat in while I finished - one of the women who was running the demo struck up a conversation with her and started telling her that the game was great, you should let your husband buy it, it's sooo much fun, etc. My wife said she came real close to telling the lady "He's a grown man, and can buy whatever he damn well pleases", but she bit her tongue.


My next game was Merchants, another Catalyst game:


Catalyst has apparently decided to stop resting on their BattleTech & Shadowrun laurels, and have been making a fairly aggressive push towards boardgames and card games in the past year. This is the first one I've played - it's a very similar mechanic to games like San Juan & Traders of Carthage, so, not surprisingly, it's pretty good - it bums me out a bit that it's really derivative of several other games, and it's pricey ($25 for what amounts to a deck of cards and a handful of colored wooded blocks), but I would definitely consider buying this if it was cheaper. (I got a few $1 coupons for winning the game, and I still passed on it). I can get San Juan for around $15, so I'm more likely to just buy that.

The last game of Friday was Crokinole. This is actually a late nineteenth-century parlor game, where you flick wooden pucks on a round board:


The main reason most people haven't heard of Crokinole before is that a decent board was usually around $500. An enterprising company has recently brought them to market for around $130 (thanks to cheap Chinese labor), and boardgamers have been rediscovering this game.

This was actually a TON of fun. It's one of those "simple to learn, hard to master" games. It wouldn't surprise me terribly if "Santa" brought a Crokinole set for my wife & I this Christmas. The main problem is where to store it (the board is about three feet around, and made of solid hardwood). I also have a blood blister under my fingernail from flicking the pucks for two hours.

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Saturday

My first event of the day was a crafting class, Make a D20 Chainmaille Keychain. I like to take a chainmail class at the larger cons - mostly to remind myself not to take it up as a hobby. As such, I find it best to schedule these classes as early as possible in the morning, while I'm exhausted and have no fine motor skills. More challenging that way and all.

Actually, this wasn't too bad - much easier than when I made a dice bag last year. The keychain came out pretty neat:

After the class, I went to meet my wife for our next game, Poo (again from Catalyst Game Labs):



This game is kind of similar to some of the Fluxx variants, but the premise is that you're monkeys throwing feces at each other. Gee, clever. It actually played pretty well, but unless you're buying it for an eight-year-old who will find the word "poo" a source of endless amusement, it's nothing to write home about.

After a quick bite to eat and a lap through the dealer room, I headed to the first of my art classes, Airbrushing for Figurines with award-winning painter Mathieu Fontaine. I was excited to find this class in the catalog this year, as I've never seen an airbrushing class at GenCon before, and since I have been taking my first tentative steps into airbrushing, it seemed like perfect timing. Unfortunately, most of class dealt with the absolute basics of airbrushing (the types of airbrushes & compressors, mixing paint, etc) - stuff I had already managed to puzzle out on my own. I was hoping for some more advanced techniques, or maybe even some hands-on time, but I understand why that's not feasible (at least until Mathieu decides to travel with a dozen airbrushes and an industrial-sized compressor).

After that class, I proceeded immediately to the classroom next door for Sculpting with Greenstuff & Miniature Manipulation with 14-time Golden Demon winner Joe Orteza. Here's an example of Joe's work that he passed around for us to look at:

Note: my picture does not do this model justice. Almost every surface is hand-sculpted, and it's breathtaking in person.

This class was by far the standout event for me of the convention. First of all, many of these seminars are pretty expensive as far as convention events go, and many times you all you get is a two-hour lecture and a "thanks for coming". Joe gave each attendee a whole kit that contained a full set of sculpting tools, a tube of Green Stuff, and a mirror to use as a work surface:

In addition to that, there was a whole packet of tutorials and step-by-step illustrations about working with Green Stuff. Joe took us through three basic sculpting projects: A purity seal, a feather, and a chain:

...and there's my results. They're not going to win awards, to be sure, but seeing how I hadn't really used Green Stuff for much beyond filling gaps before, I was thrilled with how they turned out.

After dinner, the wife and I decided to ditch out on our last game and go relax at the hotel for the evening.
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Sunday

Sunday was a pretty light day. My first event of Sunday was a class with yet another multiple Golden Demon-winner: Scenic Bases with Aaron Lovejoy. As you can see by his web page, Aaron does amazing work, and since my basing techniques don't usually involve more than sand & static grass, it gave me a lot to think about. I gathered that the other two attendees in this class were painters that frequent the competition circuit as well, and a good bit of the class turned into a gossip-fest about the sordid lives of professional painters. While on one hand that was kind of interesting in it's own way, I also felt a bit like an outsider, and it felt a little awkward when I would interrupt their conversation with a question about technique. Anyway, I did get a lot of ideas out of the class that I hope to implement very soon.

After that class the wife & I headed to out last event of the day, Red Dragon Inn by Slugfest Games:


This was a card game with a "screw your neighbor"-type mechanic wrapped around the theme of a drinking game. You force the other players to drink, have gambling contests, etc. Each player has a deck based on a character that is a typical fantasy-RPG archetype, and has special cards appropriate to their race/class. If you pass out drunk, lose all your fortitude points, or go broke, you lose.

This was a lot of fun - we had eight players (the max) which I thought made the game a little slow. My wife really liked this one. I seriously considered picking it up, but Slugfest sold out of their entire runs of the original game and the first expansion, and the owner of the company said that they aren't going to be reprinted until the new expansion is released until the fall - so unless you can find one currently in stock at a retailer, you're out of luck.

Stuff I bought!

One thing I noticed this year was that the Indiana Convention Center was a bit warm - usually you have to remember to bring a sweatshirt to GenCon, but this year seemed to be a couple degrees warmer than I would have liked. Since the dealer room is usually ten- to fifteen- degrees warmer than the rest of the building, it was a freakin' furnace in there, not to mention being packed in like sardines. Since I generally dislike shopping, and I dislike crowds even more, I pretty much didn't do any browsing - I got in, grabbed what I wanted, and got out. My first stop was the Days of Wonder booth, for a whole bunch of Memoir '44 goodies. For those of you unfamiliar with Memoir '44, it's a great WWII boardgame with all the flavor of miniature wargames, but a much more streamlined ruleset. All in all, I picked up:

Mediterranean Theater Army Pack


Air Pack expansion set
Breakthrough Expansion

Disaster at Dieppe battle map


Sword of Stalingrad battle map

...and with this round of purchases, I now own everything there is for Memoir '44. I also whined to the employees at the Days of Wonder booth that now the fancy campaign bag they sold me isn't big enough.

Next up was the Z-Man Games booth, to grab a copy of Agricola:


I had wanted to get a copy of this at Origins, but they sold out, so I grabbed it early this time. (Plus they gave me a free t-shirt - w00t!)

My next stop was the Armorcast booth. I'm a huge fan of Armorcast's resin terrain, and there were a couple of boxed sets I had been wanting that they had at their booth:

Trench Outpost box set

3" River box set

In addition to the box sets, Armorcast was running a promotion where you could earn free stuff w/ purchase - I chose a lagoon end piece that works with the river set, and a set that turns a potato chip can into an industrial holding tank:


(looks like some decals & paints that I picked up snuck into this pic, too). Right after I bought this I headed to the airbrushing class, and Mathieu mentioned that painting terrain was a great way to hone your airbrushing skills, so I'm looking forward to trying my hand at it.

My next stop was The WarStore booth, to pick up some of the new Shock Troops from Wargames Factory:

The main purpose of these is to eventually build a Death Korps of Krieg army on the cheap.

That was the bulk of my shopping - right before we left I swung by the Reaper booth to pick up some supplies:

I never seem to have enough spare bottles, so I grabbed some of those, as well as some green ink that was on closeout (gotta get ready for those Orks!) The classes I took inspired me to find a cool-looking mini that was outside of my "comfort zone" to paint, so I found a really cool model of a female samurai to try.

And that was GenCon 2010. The wife & I stopped on the way out of town for a fantastic meal at The Rathskeller, and headed home...


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