Gen Con 2016 Trip Report

Gen Con has come and gone for another year. I went, I gamed, I had a darn good time. Let’s break it down.


Wednesday was primarily our travel day. We set out from Pittsburgh bright and early and immediately slammed into the city’s morning rush hour traffic. Instead of sitting through probably almost an hour of traffic, we turned around and went a slightly longer route distance-wise that arguably saved us a few minutes.

Seven and a half hours and one Cracker Barrel lunch later, we arrived in Indianapolis and checked in at the JW Marriott. We headed to the convention center to get our badges and discovered just how big this year’s show was going to be. The line for Will Call stretched all the way to the end of the convention center, and it stayed that long until well after midnight.

My companions decided to put off getting their packets until Thursday morning, but I decided to wait in the line for GM HQ to get our game master badges. Let me reiterate that: there was a line for GM HQ. I have never seen that before. And it was long. I waited for 45 minutes, and I was lucky enough to get there early. Still, it gave me a chance to have a lovely chat with Simon Rogers and later Cat Tobin of Pelgrane Press, so I couldn’t be too frustrated with it.

Speaking of Pelgrane, I finally made it to the Pelgrane GM meet-up after two years of running games for them but getting into town too late to attend. It was neat to see so many people all gathered together in support of their favorite games.

I ended the night at the Diana Jones Awards, the annual convention kickoff for game industry types. It’s a loud, crowded, frankly overwhelming affair, but it’s also a chance to see folks you haven’t seen since last Gen Con. Mark Richardson and I shared a moment where we both marveled at just how weird it is building a career in the industry. Plus it’s an opportunity to recognize the best in gaming in the previous year through the presentation of a quirky, inside-baseball trophy.


Rather than face the crush of humanity surging into the exhibit hall Thursday morning, I instead ran a session of Feng Shui 2 for a great first group of players. The scenario was an original adventure using the future juncture material I contributed to Secrets of the Chi War called Apeworld on Fire. Following a Fury Road-inspired car chase, the heroes infiltrated the heart of the New Simian Army, defeated the city’s champions in the Gladiatorial Bowl and the Demolition Derby, and then dispatched both the Organgutank and Furious George in a final confrontation. The future will never be the same!

Later on Thursday, I attended the State of the Hat panel where Chris Hanrahan and Sean Nittner talked about recent developments at Evil Hat Productions as well as upcoming projects the company has in the works. At the end, everyone in attendance got to grab a free product from the table, so I walked away with a copy of the Ennie-nominated Don’t Turn Your Back, which we played in our hotel room that very night. After the panel, I also got a chance to demo the Dresden Files Co-Op Card Game, which was a lot of fun.


On Friday, I ran two sessions of Wardens of Ouon, bookending the day with great improvised Fate games. I’ve talked about Wardens of Ouon before, but these games were a chance to try out a few new design and presentation elements, and they were tons of fun as well.

In between those games, I attended the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff live panel. I got a fine answer out of the hosts contrasting the anti-horror conspiracies of Robin’s Esoterrorists game and Delta Green, a subject close to Ken’s heart. After that, I played in my only RPG session of the con, as a psychic cat in a Blue Rose 2e adventure, Bitter Heart of Tanglewood. I thoroughly enjoyed that, and I’m looking forward even more to getting my copy from the Kickstarter.

Friday night, after my second Wardens of Ouon game, I managed to make it over to the Ennie Awards ceremony during its intermission. I figured I should attend since I was nominated, and I was lucky enough to be there to see Ryuutama and No Thank You, Evil! take the Silver and Gold respectively for Best Family Game. Congratulations to Kotodama Heavy Industries and Monte Cook Games on their wins! After the awards, I got to chat with a number of industry folks, something I wish I’d had more chance to do throughout the con.


Saturday was my day to troll around the exhibit hall and check out the staggering number of new booths stuffed into the extra space. I saw too much to talk about coherently, and way too much that I wanted to take home with but couldn’t. If you ever doubt that the tabletop gaming industry is a robust, vibrant, and growing, just visit the hall at Gen Con. (I’ll detail some of the stuff I did bring home from the hall at the end of this report.)

Saturday night, I ran a session of TimeWatch using my Time-Crime campaign frame called The Amber Room. I only had three players, but they were awesome and it turned out to be a wonderful, kind of intimate game. Hired to steal a 10-ton collection of amber, gold, mirrors, and jewels from a Nazi castle before it could be destroyed by Soviet bombardment in 1945, the crew ended up in 24th-century Mumbai, facing one of the time-stream’s most terrifying villains: the Ursarch, a time-bear crime boss with the ability to rewrite your past and turn you into his loyal minion. The players prevailed, however, and all they had to do was sacrifice one PC’s lover to become the very lieutenant they had just been fighting.


On Sunday morning, Jamie and I went to the board game hall and played Mayfair’s Star Trek: Five Year Mission. This is a co-op dice game for 3-7 players where you each take the roll of a member of the main cast of either the original series or The Next Generation. We played as Kirk and company with two other players, and despite some hiccups figuring out the rules during our first game, we won twice (on the lowest difficulty). It’s a fun game, but I’m not sure I’d pick it up for myself. I’ll probably put it on my Amazon wish list, though, as I wouldn’t turn it down as a gift.

A few more hours in the exhibit hall, where I picked up a couple last-minute cool things, then it was time to say goodbye. As is our tradition, we ate lunch at a nice Indian place not far from the convention center, then back to the car and onto the road. Construction added over an hour to our trip, and we didn’t arrive home until nearly midnight.

Loot Haul

So, what cool stuff did I come home with? Here’s a list. I’ll try to come back to some of these with reviews as I dig into them.

Saloon Tycoon (Van Ryder Games) — This cool looking building game includes gold nuggets and cowboy meeples. Cowboy. Meeples.

Don’t Turn Your Back (Evil Hat Productions) — A unique combination of deck builder and worker placement game. I had the chance to play this one before its Kickstarter, and I talked about it then.

Romance Trilogy (Black and Green Games) — A trio of groundbreaking RPGs from designer Emily Care Boss and a number of expansions and hacks. I’m really looking forward to reading these.

Headspace (Green Hat Designs) — Mark Richardson’s first game is an intriguing take on cyberpunk, and I’m happy to finally support it.

Ravens of Thri Sahashri (Osprey Games) — A gorgeous and potentially headache-inducing co-op two-player card game.

Card Caddy — A cool plastic deck case that opens to also include a discard tray. And they click together for future expansion.

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules (Chaosium) — I picked this one up because it was a $5 bundle with the Free RPG Day adventure The Derelict and the Keeper’s Screen.

Shadowrun: Anarchy Prototype (Catalyst) — An attempt to slim down the rules baggage of the venerable Sixth World setting by pairing it with a drift of the company’s rules light Cue System. It’s a preview of an alternate core rule book they’re working on for later in the year.

Life Counter Ring (Crit Success) — From the dice ring people, this new model adds a spring between the number bands so it can turn freely but then click into place, keeping your score.

Feng Shui Dice (Atlas Games) — I picked up a few more of these, because they’re gorgeous and Feng Shui 2 is awesome.

Book of Changing Years (Pelgrane Press) — A quirky fiction collection based on the TimeWatch RPG that follows a number of time travelers across the centuries.

Fear Itself 2nd Edition (Pelgrane Press) — The update of the “normal folks caught up in horror” little brother of the original GUMSHOE game, The Esoterrorists. If you’re looking for a system to do Netflix’s Stranger Things, this is a good one.

Worldbreaker (Pelgrane Press) — Robin Laws’ globe-hopping campaign for the afore-mentioned Esoterrorists. It has a clown on the cover, and it has Ebola grenades. I expect even weirder things wait inside.


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