Wednesday, August 5, 2015

GenCon Wrap Up

As of this writing I am back home with my body in full recovery mode from the con. Why recovery? Well, if you've never gone to a con before there are two things you may not be aware of: one, cons can be very physically taxing from all the walking, standing, and longer hours people tend to pull at them; and two, by interacting with people from all across the country/world you are also exposing yourself to those germs.

In other words, you're exhausting yourself while providing a wonderful opportunity to catch strains of germs, viruses, and bacteria that may not have made it to your home region yet. In some cases (i.e. PAX) it can be extreme enough that people do things like the Iron-Guard position instead of shaking hands to reduce contagion.

But that's enough about recovery. How was the con itself? In a word, great. I had a blast. RPG wise we stuck primarily to D&D 5th Edition and Legend of the Five Rings, but we managed to get some Star Wars into the mix as well as a round or two of Pathfinder in. We also got to try out some board games.

For lack of a better way to break things down, I figure I'll go by section of what was done.

Role Playing Games

Best Experience: The personal best experience I had was probably playing in the AEG canon story event for Legend of the Five Rings. It helps that my dice were cooperative for bad-assery in this event, but I also liked some of just what happened. Getting to play an Utaku wielding the sword of Otaku felt meaningful. Getting a notable event written down in the after-action report also felt cool. The map is pretty and nice, and it was a fun adventure that had a good mix of desperation, heroism, and a feeling of Rokugan about it.

Worst Experience: Again for me, the worst experience was probably the line before the AEG event. This is in no way a shot against the coordinators, but the lack of communication and late start time made the line feel awkward. Several rumors spread down the line, up to and including that the event was cancelled, and with each moment spent in line also potentially cuting off the possibility of other games it felt awkward. In the end the running of the event more than made up for it, and I think the problem was caused by the organizers trying to get enough GMs so that people didn't wait in vain. This is more a case of being "the worst" experience because, in all honesty, it was the only real experience with any RPG event that I wouldn't consider good to great, and for an event like this - a first time thing for GenCon - 'average' is a hell of an accomplishment.

Most Improved Experience: Last year I had the worst experience with Paizo's gameplay area. A combination of conflicting information, not being allowed access to the room's information booths to get real information, and being forced to have a full group before being seated for a game made it very awkward. This year they fixed the issues. They had multiple information booths, all positioned near doors. Their area was set up into sections for different levels of play. The staff seemed a LOT less stressed (at the same time relative to the con and events they were running), and it was just a much more pleasant experience. Hats off to the GM we got for the beginner event. His voice was gone, he was exhausted, and he was borderline manic but I'll be damned if I've ever had a more entertaining GM.

Most Hopeful: Heroes of Rokugan completely turned around my perspective of them and organizations like them. It helped that things like the D&D Adventurer's Guild and Pathfinder Society showed how they should work, but the HoR modules I played and saw did a great job of showing the full scope of Rokugan and what it could mean, with a focus on narrative that just wasn't as present in the D&D/Pathfinder modules I've seen (not that I've seen enough of those to make an absolute statement.)  HoR ended their third season (Spirit of Bushido) at GenCon and it seemed to be a blast for those playing. I'm looking forward to their 4th season and seeing how it plays out.

Board Games

Board Games are weird. I didn't play many of them last year, so there is no "Most Improved" nor does it seem right to have a "Worst Experience" when all of them were pretty good. So I'll try for different categories.

Best Execution: 100 A.D. I'm not a fan of PVP games like diplomacy but still had fun playing this. It was cut throat without feeling truly cut throat and that was fine. The pieces for the version they had at the con were all very nice, and they did a good job representing the high stakes political movements the game was trying for. I highly recommend it.

Most Fun: The Ghostbuster's Boardgame was probably the most fun I had in a relatively simple package. The hard part here would be the set up. The hardest thing about this game though? Waiting until October when I can buy a copy since I didn't get in on the kickstarter when it happened.

Most Interesting: Sol was probably the most interesting boardgame at the con. I talked about it earlier in the daily reports. The game is a fun mix of cooperative and PVP that gets really fun and intense as you get closer to the sun going nova and wiping everyone out. I'll be plugging this game when the kickstarter comes out. Trust me.

Most Complex: The most complex game I played at the con was called Specter Ops. Specter Ops is a stealth action game in the vein of Clue: The Great Museum Caper. In the game, one person plays the Agent and moves around in stealth trying to steal data from a facility. The other players play highly advanced security personnel and try to catch them. The demo we played seemed weighted in favor of the agent a little, but that could have just been unfamiliarity with the game. It was fun, but perhaps a little too complex for a demo game in a vendor hall. Still, I could see people really liking it and getting tons of ideas for characters and games out of it.

Special Merit

I honestly have to give a special merit shout out to the GenCon volunteers and Convention Center staff that ran the con. I only saw one person in the whole con close to being on the verge of losing patience and while that was on the first day, he was a lot better every other time I saw him. Staff were friendly and professional. Volunteers did a great job of being informative and guiding people to where they needed to be. They ran the con well, and it shows. I wonder how many people even realize how hard working and well organized the event support staff are. You wouldn't even know they were doing anything if it wasn't for the fact that nothing that large works that smoothly without a lot of effort going into things behind the scenes.

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