Saturday, August 23, 2014

GenCon - Best and Worst Experiences of 2014

Whoops. Here I go promising things then not delivering. Sorry about that, but I get a bit addled when on vacation and this is the last bit of mine. Anyhow, today's post is more subjective than the previous ones about GenCon but I've had some folks ask for what my best experience was and what the worst was, so I figured I'd share. I'm going to try to focus on the why this was the case, and who knows maybe it'll help someone fix things. In the interest of ending on a high note, I'm going to start with the worst experience of the con.

Worst Experience: Paizo's Pathfinder Society
I'm willing to chalk this up to bad luck, bad timing, or a bit of both but about the only negative experience I had with any group/event was when I tried to sign up for one of the Pathfinder Society Events. Now, in Paizo's defense the event in question was on Saturday night which seemed to be the big night for their GenCon exclusive bone keep but that doesn't excuse some of the things that happened that contributed to the negative experience.

First and foremost, as someone who doesn't play Pathfinder my assumption - which had been confirmed by several GMs and other Paizo volunteers - was that it worked much like how Dungeons and Dragons was working. I could show up, get a card for a PFS member number, grab a pre-gen and play. Only, when I showed up to the event area about an hour early I found that they had closed off their event area in preparation for the big gaming event to happen in about an hour. This wouldn't be a problem except that the information booth for the event and all the stuff was inside the event room and the people who were out in the hallway refused to talk saying they were too busy (and in one case I got a literal "I can't even, right now.") but all they seemed to be doing was blocking a door from people going through, which I believe would be helped by a couple of people standing with them in the doorway then not.

This did a couple of things to make the experience bad. First off, it blocked me and a friend from getting any useful information on the event at all. Second, it gave us a bad first impression of the people working the event who were all very quick to say they couldn't help but - in most cases - seemed to literally only be standing in a doorway to make sure no one walked through. Third, and finally, it over-filled the hallway by the event with people preparing to go in making traversal across the corridor, finding someone who maybe could help, or just finding a sign with information all but impossible.

Things just got worse when seating began as a quest for information resulted in being constantly told that someone else in an orange shirt with a clipboard had the information we needed. In the end we missed the event as seating finished and games started at ten minutes past the hour.

Now, to be clear, I do not think this is indicative of Paizo's presence at GenCon. I spoke to a lot of people - GMs, Volunteers, and Players - who all had a blast there. I think this was more a case of bad luck and bad timing on my part, but it does stand out as the only negative experience from the con and in the end was a big part of why I left GenCon with a copy of D&D 5th edition in my bag, and no Paizo products.

Also, as a note, the folks at the Paizo booth were super friendly. They were giving out badges everyday (sadly, I lost mine on the way home somehow) and had a big area set up showing off their product. They turned good business, and everyone I saw interact with them in the Vendor hall seemed pleased. I am hoping/looking forward to giving them and PFS another chance at future conventions. Maybe with more prep on my part ahead of time, just in case.

Honorable Mention: Wizards of the Coast - Dungeons and Dragons
If not for FFG's outstanding con performance D&D would have won this honor. D&D had the entirety of exhibit hall D to themselves, marked it off with a crumbling castle wall, and filled it with tables and areas. They set up an area for character creation and had a couple GMs available to help with any questions along with a couple copies of the book. Games were run on the hour (only for an hour, but whatever) and they managed to get a long line of generic ticket holders through every time. You could also, without leaving the area, buy the book and other swag as well.

The staff were all friendly, knew their stuff, and ran quick games. For larger events they mustered well and segregated people with proper tickets from generic tickets in a way that made sure everyone was organized (you weren't standing hoping to get into Sokol Keep with people waiting for Moon Sea for example) but also moved things along and kept the walkways clear.

Of course, some of the good points in D&D's favor that counted against Pathfinder are due to the age of the game. This was D&D 5th editions launch event, they knew that everyone would have a level 1-5 character (and at 5th level you were effectively done with the adventures they brought.) This gave them the freedom to just pass out pregens at any table and give people a DCI card to play that Pathfinder maybe couldn't since they had to cater to all levels of play. Still, this was a strong start for D&D and for the Adventurer's Guild. It will be interesting to see what the scenario is like next GenCon when D&D has to deal with multiple level bands of players and Pathfinder has established competition trying to rip its playerbase away. This makes me happy though, as the real winners in those situations are the players themselves.

Best Experience: Fantasy Flight Games - All Of It
In my opinion, and I only saw a limited amount of the con, Fantasy Flight Games won this GenCon. They had a huge presence in the vendor hall that was always full of people. Seriously, their "vendor" booth was at least twice as big as the next Vendor in the convention and they used the space to demo a lot of things, including the debut of their new game Star Wars Armada (big fleet battle system game like the X-Wing game.) On Thursday and Friday FFG had huge lines to get in to their store area to purchase, but not one to just let people stand there bored they came prepared with a card game. The game was based off trading with people in line or just wandering around. Assemble a team to beat your villain and you got to square off against an epic villain. Beat the epic villain and your prize? A one time trip to the front of the line to buy stuff.

Outside of the Vendor hall, FFG had a big area in the board game area for their games, and split an exhibit hall with WotC's magic guys for their other games. They ran a huge X-Wing Miniatures tournament, which seemed to draw a large number of spectators and players and the refs were willing to work with people (one player was allowed to just use her pilot cards and bases because someone had locked her minis away on her and her opponent wanted the match not a free win.)

Finally, there was the RPG area. This was the smallest area for FFG. They split a few rooms with catalyst and ran Dev-Run games for Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, Force and Destiny, and Dark Heresy (revised, edition 2, whatever.) What was cool about this though is that they had an active waiting list so when myself and a friend showed up we were told "well, you'd be 5th or 6th in line for this game, but 3rd for this one." We signed up on a list, were told when to be back, and were allowed to leave and return as we chose. When game started there was the normal wait until 5 minutes past the hour for ticket holders, and then we were seated with an awesome GM who had helped make the system (see this post for how I felt about that) and had a blast.

Beyond this, not a single FFG employee was anything but happy and helpful. Even the poor guy who spent four hours holding an "End of the Line" sign in the vendor hall was cheery and helped to make for a better con experience. The person running the waiting list for RPGs kept her GMs hydrated and with throat lozenges (being as they were talking about 8 hours a day) and it was just awesome.

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