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Aug 21

GenCon 2014 Recap

As many of your know, this past week was GenCon.  GenCon is without a doubt the single greatest part of my year…every year!  Sure I like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and International Doughnut Day, but GenCon is better than all three combined!  Here are my tales of adventure from GenCon 2014!

Trade Day

Ahh…Trade Day, the extra super secret 5th best day of gaming!  Once again the wife and I were able to attend and stretch our GenCon bliss even further.  While much of Trade Day is made up of seminars that specifically target retailers and educators, they are often quite entertaining as well!  In addition to being entertaining, they are also informative and present and excellent opportunities for networking.  Heather and I were excited to attend because all of the fun we had last year, and after all, it is bonus GenCon!

Now, before I get into full on GenCon euphoria, I must describe the frustrating start to our day.  Upon arriving at the JW Marriott, and proceeding to Trade Day Will Call, our excitement was stifled somewhat when we discovered that Heather’s pass was nowhere to be found!  As tempting as it was to leave my wife behind and start spending quality time with the love of my life, GenCon, a combination of having to sleep in the same bed with her and the death stare, was enough to convince me to help her through this ordeal.  After roughly an hour of struggling to convince the GenCon staff that she was in fact my wife and that my email receipt proved my purchase of her badge, we were finally handed off to Wes, AKA the fixer man.  In fairness to the staff, they were only doing their job, but it was a frustrating experience.  Wes, proceeded to perform some computer wizardry, and voila…She had a pass!

Although we had finally overcome our initial struggles, we now found ourselves with about an hour and a half to kill before the next event in which we were interested was scheduled to begin.  This led to us playing three quick games of my newest design tentatively called, Insurrection.

It is a much simpler 2 player game than Strife, and Heather likes it way better.  This may have something to do with the fact that she crushed my face in the very first game that we played.  Having now refined the design somewhat, (read “I am winning more often.”) we figured it would be a nice way to fill our down time.  After three exciting games, with one being an anomaly (she won), we headed to our first event!

Teaching With Game Theory

Being the massive nerd that I am, I was super excited at the prospect of attending a seminar on the use of Game Theory for educational purposes, and Heather was willing to give it a chance.  When the presenter, Dr. Rudolf Kraus of Rhode Island College, informed us that it was not in fact a lecture on “Game Theory”, there was a sinking in my heart that was directly proportional to elation in Heather’s.  The good doctor, it seemed, would be discussing the use of games and game related tools for educating students at the college level as well as K-12.  As it turned out, his presentation both humorous and informative, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it!

In the closing portion of the presentation, when everyone was exchanging business cards, I spoke briefly with the professor about this site and the fact that I am a game designer (yes I feel extra cool saying that).  As Heather and I exited, we were approached by William Bain, a fellow Indy native who is part of the team over at the blog, Major Fun.

boardgameboxesWe discussed my game Strife, and I gave him a quick description and demo.  His reaction was completely positive and he took some pictures of me and the far more attractive game.  Later he posted a very positive blurb at his site.  To read it follow this link.  His enthusiasm for Strife was quite flattering and I thanked him for taking the time to learn about the game.

Darkness Returns

Seeing as we had a small window of time before our next event, we decided to grab some lunch and get the kids passes from normal Will Call.  I should have known better than to be optimistic at how short the line was after our earlier difficulties, but I foolishly let my pessimism shield down for just a second.  Upon reaching the front of the line and asking for the passes, we were informed that no passes existed for Katie and Jarrett.  Urge…to…kill…rising!  Once again we were confronted with a long line of people just doing their jobs in a very dutiful fashion, but unfortunately less than capable of solving our issue.  After approximately an hour and a half we were told that they would be calling a guy who could help us.  It turned out that our hero was none other than Wes, the fixer man himself!  He shook his head upon seeing us and got down to business.  Apparently, things were so screwed up, that it even took Wes about a half hour, but once again he saved the day!  As angry as we were about the situation, we were still glad that it all went down on Trade Day when I could handle it, rather than during the Con proper when I would have been demoing Strife in the V3G booth.  Small victories are still victories.  Right?

An Early End

We found ourselves between events once again, and realized we would have to wait for demo time after 6pm to get any gaming in for the day.  With kids home alone, we decided to make it quick and after the AEG room opened up, we got in on a game called, Valley of the Kings.

Valley of the Kings, is an Egyptian themed, relatively quick deck-building game that has players collecting a variety of treasures and entombing them for victory points.  It took Heather and I a bit to catch on, but before long our grasp of the rules became fairly solid.  However, our paths diverged quickly with her accidentally painting herself into a corner and me discovering some powerful combos to challenge the other players late in the game.  When the smoke cleared, I was the winner, and it was finally starting to feel like GenCon!  Sadly, given the time, we called it a day and headed home to prepare for a full day on Thursday.

I love Trade Day, and truly do enjoy seeing elements of the gaming industry from a different side, but with all of the challenges we faced, it was not the best day of GenCon we have ever had.

Thursday

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I knew going into this year’s GenCon, that I would be demoing Strife in the V3G booth during hall hours on both Thursday and Friday.  While my excitement over being published is near a fever pitch, I was not without a little regret that I would be missing out on quality gaming time at the Con.

My good friend, and most helpful play-tester, Nick Garwood volunteered to join me in demoing Strife for the first two days.  I let him take the full game table, where there was room for two complete games to be played, while I manned the quick demo.  If you have never been on that side of the Con, I recommend giving it a try someday.  It is far more exhausting than I ever imagined and will definitely give you a new respect for those that spend all four days running games in the exhibit hall!

After what amounted to an 8hr whirlwind, we finally wrapped for the day.  Everything felt like a blur, with few if any solid memories.  All I knew for sure, was that Strife had been tremendously well received, I had been interviewed by the local CBS news affiliate, and my voice was shattered!

This is a still from the reporter observing me run the quick demo of Strife.

This is a still from the reporter observing me run the quick demo of Strife.

While Nick and I had been demoing all day, Heather was running around with one her best friends, and GenCon virgin, Sheena.  They spent a fair amount of time in the hall, shopping, checking out the art show, and mostly just giving Sheena an eye-full of GenCon sights.  While Sheena is not a big gamer, she is a lot of fun, and Heather wanted to make sure she played Redneck Life with her so they could laugh their fool heads off together!  Having played it years before, and desperate for some gaming action, Nick and I opted to join a game of, Legacy:  The Gears of Time.

Legacy:  Gears of Time, is a game in which players travel backwards through time to invent technologies and earn points by having influence over the various techs across the span of the ages.  Players do this by managing their hands of tech and a few power cards, while moving along the time-line like board.  While somewhat light in appearance, this game has a lot of player interaction as you attempt to build a point engine for yourself and undermine those of your opponents.  Nick and I were enjoying it thoroughly when it was brought to our attention that the people running the game did not have the table space reserved, and a scheduled event forced us out.  Given that we had paid a generic ticket to play, we were somewhat annoyed, but due to our exhaustion from a long day of demoing we just shrugged and moved on.

We briefly considered rushing off to another event, but as the girls were finishing up their Redneck Life extravaganza, we decided to just play a couple of games of Insurrection, my most recent prototype.  Nick swears that it is all luck, but could not explain why I won every game in defiance of his assertions.  When the girls finished we called it day and headed home.

Friday

Right back to it first thing Friday morning!  The hall opened and you could almost feel a blast of air just ahead of the tsunami of people rushing in!  The blur was on full speed all through the morning, with notable moments being:  Recording a demo video with the blog Through Gamer Goggles and teaching the owner of Comic Bastards.  They both referred to Strife as being “quite elegant”, tweaking my geek ego in a most delightful way!

I had to cut out at two in the afternoon for a meeting with my business partner Jeff and a few luminaries in the gaming industry.  The meeting was certainly positive on the conceptual front and we are hopeful for the future!

As the meeting wrapped up, and I prepared to rush back to the hall, I was stopped by a member of the D20 podcast, and did a quick interview regarding Strife right on the spot.  Hey, as they say in Glenngary Glenn Ross, “ABC, always be closing if you want the knife set.”

After a brief trip to the GenCon Press Room to retrieve my press badge, which I did not know I was receiving until I paid for my others, it was right back to the demo table.

Engage blur… Describe battle abilities… Describe legacy abilities…What’s a Fatestone? Well let me explain it.  I am so glad you enjoyed the game! Thanks for playing!  Bam!  6pm has arrived!

So no one gets the wrong impression, demoing Strife and receiving all of the wonderful feedback directly from the gaming public is easily one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had, but it was definitely draining.  It was amazing to meet everyone, show them Strife and learn so much about how people would interpret certain wordings on the cards.  Much of this information will be put to good use in the final version!

GenCon Proper

My game or not, the work portion of GenCon was now over for Nick and I and it was on to the games!  After retrieving Heather, and the kids (Katie and Jarrett), who joined us on Friday, we headed off to checkout a couple of games from Mayfair so that we could rent them and play without a schedule.  First up was Five Points:  Gangs of New York.

In Five Points:  Gangs of New York, players are attempting gain political power through elections and direction of their “rabble” to control various neighborhoods in the legendary New York slum of Five Points during the late 19th Century.  The modular board is used to represent districts in which players place their rabble to force elections and attempt to place their ward bosses in charge.  Through a combination of area control, diplomacy, corruption, and set collections players vie for control of the Points.

The five of us felt that it was a solid game with fairly intuitive mechanics and fun to play.  Jarrett played very well and challenged for the win, but in the end, Nick was the winner.  He trapped Katie in a horrible situation and just managed to edge out Heather and I for the victory.

The last game of the night was the light, but action packed Family Business.  Each player takes control of a group of legendary mobsters and tries to be the last player with any gang members alive.  Nick got things off to a quick start by immediately executing one of my guys and the carnage went all out from there on!  While Family Business is not the most strategic of games, it filled the exact slot we were looking for at that point in the night.  Everyone was tired from a long day and Nick and Jarrett were especially hilarious during the game.  The comedy broke loose completely after I took out Nick’s mobster, Pretty Boy Floyd!  It became a running joke that had us all cracking up for the rest of the night!  When the smoke cleared, Heather’s Moran gang was the last family standing and she was the victor of an epic bloody mob war for the ages!

After Family Business, we called it a day, and prepared for a full day of gaming on Saturday!

Saturday

We got downtown about 10 in the morning, just in time to head straight to the Rio Grande Games Room, and hunker down for some free gaming!  After dispatching the kids to the video game room, Nick, Heather, and I got things started with a game of Myrmes.

In Myrmes, players are in charge of ant colonies that are competing for points, by gaining territory, performing notable deeds, keeping their ants fed, and killing competing insects.  Myrmes is a game that is very strongly based on actual ant behavior, as the designer apparently studied their biology extensively and incorporated as much of it as possible into the game design.  Heather struggled a little with the board, I with the strategy, and Nick seemed to grasp it right away running away with the victory.  While opinions varied a little, everyone agreed that it was good game, just not some of our cup of tea.

As the Rio Grande Games Room filled up, our options of games to play dwindled significantly after finishing Myrmes.  I normally try to avoid playing games that I have played before at GenCon, but of the games available Niagara was the best.  Despite having played before, we needed a little refresher, and ironically it was delivered by the smallest teacher of a game we had ever seen.  Little Nomi, who I believe was nine years old was sent over to teach us the game, and a fine job she did!  Clearly a very bright young lady raised on a steady diet of games, showed us the rules and joined us for a game.  After a hard-fought game of gem gathering on the raging river, Nick was able to snag the win just before I could finish the game.  It was a fun game, but I was becoming acutely aware of this disturbing trend of Nick winning games.  Something would have to be done!

Fealty was one of the games on my list to try out for the Con, and the three of us headed down to the Asmadi Room for a play.  Fealty was fairly easy to learn, and relatively quick to play, but is game of tremendous depth.  Its simple facade belies what a brain melting game it truly is.  Players place retainers about the countryside in an effort to accumulate the greatest amount of influence throughout the land in order to claim the newly available throne.  The player who manages to best assign his supporters will be the winner and in this case, it was me!  I managed to just barely beat Nick and Heather for a combined margin of victory around seven points.  A true nail biter!  Fealty is great game and by applying all three of our Asmadi discount coupons we picked it up in the hall for the ridiculously low price of $13!

It was back to the Rio Room to try out the newest game from designer Mac Gerdts.  I am a fan of Mac’s previous work having played Imperial, Imperial 2030 and Navegador with Imperial 2030 being one of only two games that I rate a perfect 10!  Needless to say, I was eager to give his newest offering a whirl.  Concordia is set in ancient Rome and players must colonize portions of the empire, engage in trade, gather resources, and recruit cards to aid in all of the above.  Concordia is a Euro to the bone, and despite the beautiful map, and gorgeous graphic design, it is pretty thin in the theme department.  That being said, it is about as smoothly a designed Euro as I have ever seen.  Possessing both strategic and tactical depth while being relatively easy to learn makes Concordia a masterpiece of design.  Only more plays will say for sure, but my initial impression was so strong that this is one that we made plans to purchase.  While seemingly a heavier game, Heather really enjoyed Concordia and looks forward to playing our copy, which is coming in the mail soon!  I am happy to report that I was the victor and that the world was returning to its proper order once again!

After Concordia, it was back to the lighter side of things, and we headed downstairs to the Asmadi room once again to play several games of Coup.  Coup is a hidden role, deduction, and straight up bluffing/lying game in which you try to be the last player standing.  This game was not Nick’s forte!  He can be a little paranoid and repeatedly called people out at the wrong time resulting in his repeated early elimination.  Although he did finally manage to win a game, Heather also won one and I was the victor in two!  Lots of laughs, and table slapping as we all connived against each other in this fun little game!

The last game of the night was, The Game of 49.  We were taught by the creator, Mark Corsey, for the first couple of games with two strangers and then he joined the fun after their departure.  The Game of 49, is at its core an auction game mixed with area control on a board with 49 spaces.  While it may sound dry on the surface, this game is a lot of fun to play!  While not a game of pure skill, as the order in which the spaces and wildcards come up for auction is random, I believe that over the long-haul, skillful play will win you vastly more games due to the weight of mathematically sound decisions adding up.  It is also my opinion that The Game of 49 could be a valuable education tool as it would be useful in teaching basic math, probabilities, understanding auction psychology, and the importance of relative valuation.  That sounds like a mouthful, but it does all of these things just below the surface, so children would not even realize they were learning these skills as they improved at the game.  Despite all of my high-minded theory speak regarding The Game of 49, perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt as I failed to win a single game.  Still it was a great game to play and Mark Coresy was a gentleman and scholar that we truly enjoyed meeting!

Sunday:  The Saddest Day of GenCon

I refer to Sunday as the saddest day, because it is the last day of GenCon.  It is like Christmas when you are a kid and you are unwrapping your last present.  You realize that it has been an awesome day, but that there are no more presents!  That is Sunday at GenCon.  You are painfully aware that the presents will gone soon.

As is often the case, we did very little actual gaming on Sunday.  I stopped by the booth to check on Strife and was overjoyed to see that all of our preview edition copies had sold out and that we were contending for the top 10 most buzzed about games on Board Game Geek!  We would eventually wind up in a three way tie for ninth, being relegated to 11th as we were the last game to reach that vote total. Still, it was amazing to do so well with very little press going into the Con and considering it was a 20 minute walk to the other end of the hall to vote for us.

We did manage to sneak in one more game before the end of the Con, Dragon Valley from Diamond K Games.  Nick picked this one off of the shelf in the board game library, because he, “needed some adventure.”  Apparently, the other games were not adventurous enough for his tastes and so we conceded to his wishes.

The basic idea of Dragon Valley, is that the forces of evil are spawning each turn and trying to encroach on the players’ territories.  The players, must build defenses, by constructing buildings, raising troops, and drafting power cards each turn.  After stopping the advance of the enemies, the players then push into enemy territory to try and destroy orc strongholds.  The players who manags to acquire the most victory points through defending their own lands and taking the fight to the enemy is the winner.  In this case, it happened to be Nick, who was also the biggest fan of the game.  I guess he really was ready or an adventure!

See You Next Year GenCon

Just like that, GenCon was gone.  While I played far fewer games this year than any year in the past, it was truly a special GenCon!  I met so many amazing bloggers/podcasters/designers/gamers while manning the booth and the best part is that I got to show all of them Strife!  If I forgot to mention anyone, I am sorry, but the blur was just too much to keep it all straight.  The V3G team did a wonderful job supporting Strife, and I am grateful for all of their hard work at the Con and leading up to it!  Exciting times are coming as we launch our Kickstarter on October 1st and I hope that all of the buzz from GenCon carries over into a successful campaign!  It was great to demo Strife and play games with Nick, who has been an integral part of developing it so far and such a huge all-around help.  However, and as always, the best part was getting to walk through the gates of Nerdhalla with my number one partner in crime, Heather, and see her smiling just as much as me!  She had to sacrifice some of her GenCon goodness while I demoed Strife and I can’t imagine what greater show of support a person could give!  I sure am glad I hung around and helped her get her pass after all!  See you next year!

 

If you would like to learn more about Strife, and our upcoming Kickstarter, you can look for us on Board Game Geek, or click on the Strife picture below to go to our Prefundia site.  By registering on that site you will receive an email when the campaign goes live!

Strife

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