Gen Con, which I attend nearly every year, is the largest RPG/Gaming convention in the world. For the last few years I have gone primarily as the eyes and ears of FantasyLiterature.com. The fantasy genre and game playing have been hand in hand since the 70′s, and maybe even further back if you count the various forms of story-based play acting and parlor games that have been played over the centuries. Gen Con is the culmination of all things Fantasy and game related. There are bigger conventions out there, such as Dragon Con and Comic-Con, but neither of those is as singularly focused on one element of the genre.
My goal when attending Gen Con for FanLit is to capture some images of crazy costumes, find out about upcoming Fantasy games, and meet cool Fantasy enthusiasts. This year I was only able to attend about a day and half, but I still managed to discover lots of cool things for Fantasy fans to look forward to.
Gen Con (“The Best Four Days in Gaming”) grows every year; last year boasted more than 41,000 attendees and this year broke that record with around 45,000 visitors. I snapped a quick picture as we waited for the exhibit hall to open. As press I could have gone inside earlier, but part of the fun, I think, is this kind of “Running of the Nerds” that starts as the doors to the hall are opened. This is where you truly get the perspective of how many people are really here.
I made a beeline for Heartland Consumer Products‘ booth where they were demoing a game called Squared Shooters. They had enticed press to the demo with a review copy of the game, and it certainly worked on me. This wasn’t a Fantasy themed game, and my motivations for attending the demo would be best summed up in the words “Yay! Free!” but I ended up being quite surprised at the niftiness of their game. It’s actually not really game — it’s more of a game platform with a simple and brilliant design. They printed playing cards on large dice so you can play any card game with the dice. It’s unfathomable that nobody has done this before, or at least implemented it in such a professional looking package.
Squared Shooters is something you could easily set on the shelf next to Uno or any of your favorite family games. The best thing about Squared Shooters and why I’m mentioning it on a Fantasy blog is that its uses for gaming are quite endless. The company itself has built a community around creating games for the dice. I thought the idea was cool, and in an industry where things seem to be getting more restrictive and endlessly complicated, it’s open and refreshing to see game creators telling their customers to use their game for whatever they want. Check out their website and Facebook page to see what I mean
I was feeling positive after my interaction with Sqaured Shooters, so I went to the Ubisoft room to check out their Might & Magic series of games. Ubisoft has been moving its M&M franchises to a free-to-play (F2P) platform which is somewhat controversial. It’s the strategy where game makers give you the base game for free, and then charge you micro-transactions to get cool stuff in the game. The controversial part is that a lot of companies make the game impossible to complete or even enjoy without paying a lot of money. Ubisoft has been getting a lot of praise for its fairness in its F2P games. I personally played the digital trading card game called Might & Magic: Duel of Champions, which is a great deal of fun, and I have yet to spend a dime on it. If you’re a fan of the old Might & Magic games, you should check them out. They’ve got a lot of cool stuff coming out and some of it would be of interest to you old-school dungeon crawlers.
I stepped away from the crowd for a bit and played Warmachine with my brother and some random strangers. Warmachine is my hobby, and I’ve talked about it before. After about a 4-hour game, we hit the floor again to scope out the Author Alley. In the past, the Author Alley has been hit or miss. It’s mostly filled with self-published authors trying to spread the word of their newest releases. Gen Con has not yet captured the attention of the big publishing houses, which is a shame. There are so many enthusiasts of the genre here; you’d think they’d be all over it.
Despite the lack of a lot of big title authors, I did bump into a few names you might recognize. Patrick Rothfuss had a Tinker’s Pack booth which supports his Worldbuilder’s charity. Pat is a favorite here at FanLit and someone I personally like to stalk at conventions and book signings. I had somehow not known he’d be at Gen Con, so it was a pleasant surprise. I also stopped to grab a photo of Margaret Weis. Her DRAGONLANCE and DARKSWORD series were an introduction to Fantasy for many fans of the genre. Tracy Hickman, the other half the Hickman and Weis writing team, was in a nearby booth as well.
Whenever I’m at Gen Con I also stop by the artists’ section which seems to attract quite the selection of who’s who in the Fantasy art business. I stopped to say hi to Emily Fiegenschuct who, unbelievably, seems to get better every year. It’s kind of cool to see some of the same artists each year and to witness how their work has progressed. Artists for Magic: The Gathering, and Dungeons & Dragons are common sights here. I wish I had about $4000 in disposable income, ‘cause I could spend it in a minute at Gen Con’s art show.
Overall I had a great time at Gen Con. The journalist part of me was overwhelmed trying to take in everything that might be interesting to our readers. The Fantasy and gaming fan part of me was like a kid at Disney World. Going to Gen Con is one of my favorite things to do all year, and well worth the expense it takes to go. Maybe I’ll see you there next year: August 14-17, 2014.